Carolyn Hart has been on my List of Favorite Authors for … ever. I’ve been reading the adventures of Annie and Max and Death on Demand for, yes, ever. They are quick and easy reads. Guilty pleasures, in a way; almost a waste of reading time that could be spent on more substantial books. But enough fun to read that I’ve never much cared.
They’ve also been kind of useful, especially in those halcyon pre-Goodreads days, in building wishlists. Because the basic setting of the series is a mystery bookshop, author names and book titles are dropped like ticker tape after a moon landing.
They are rained down indiscriminately, though, grimdark thrillers cheek by jowl with mysteries every bit as cozy as this DoD series, classics alongside new releases, so as to-be-read lists go it takes some homework. In this 66-page story there are over a dozen books mentioned. It can be a little overwhelming.
It has been a long time since I visited the series, though; I can’t remember when my last DoD read was. Before I was keeping track on Goodreads, at least … wow. Good grief, the series has doubled in length since I picked one up. I’m gobsmacked.
So “From the Queen” on Netgalley (free in exchange for an honest review) was an easy request to make. A monetarily struggling fellow shop owner, Ellen Gallagher, comes to Annie one evening hoping for help with a book she has received as a bequest – a beautifully kept first edition copy of Agatha Christie’s Poirot Investigates, inscribed by the author to the Queen. Of England. Annie gently corrects her friend’s guess that it might be worth a few dollars: it’s going to be worth beaucoup de dollars.
“Just think, the Queen held that book in her hands.” And Agatha Christie, too.
And here’s where the story elevated itself a bit for me. It went from “basic and kind of fluffy cozy” to… well, that with a thin layer of social commentary, which I don’t think was all in my head. The difference this book, or rather the sale of this book, will make to Ellen is … everything. Now she has trouble paying her bills, does without, lies awake at night worrying, is always afraid that some unforeseen catastrophe will put her on the streets. You know how they say money doesn’t buy happiness? Pfft. “If it turns out to be so, I don’t have to be afraid any more. I don’t have to be afraid …” Money brings security, which makes happiness more likely. Money allows one to do things for others, which brings happiness. Money means education is more easily obtained, and more and better health care can be paid for, and that one doesn’t ever need to lie awake at night worrying about what can and can’t be paid that month, or whether something absolutely must be paid at another creditor’s expense. Relief and alleviation of worry pretty much leads to happiness, I think. So the adage? Busted, as Adam Savage might say.
Anyway. The book is stolen, and I wound up yelling at the Kindle for the circumstances. It was improbable… but such is the way of cozies. Also improbable is the thinking of the thief. “She’ll never be able to prove I haven’t had a similar book for some time.” Similar … to a first edition of Poirot Investigates inscribed by Dame Agatha to Queen Elizabeth? Oh, sure. There’s bound to be more than one. But, you see, the suspension of disbelief required for this series is so high that little quibbles like these skate on by. After all, this is a series in which a woman makes a comfortable living running a small book shop (unlikely), specifically a mystery book shop (less likely), on a sparsely populated island that relies on seasonal tourism (so unlikely). So what’s a little more illogic?
“Petty crime was not much of a problem on a sea island accessible only by ferry. Crime happened, the occasional burglary in rural areas, stolen hubcaps and cell phones when the island teemed with vacationers in the summer, but burglaries on the boardwalk shops were rare.” Well, burglaries and petty crime may be rare; murders, though … Murders have led to a 25+ book series.