Author: Matt Ferraz
With fall in the air and pumpkin-spice everything on the shelves, it’s a good season to cuddle up with a kitty or two and indulge in a cozy mystery. The first in the Grandma Bertha Solving Mysteries Series, The Convenient Cadaver pits a quirky old lady with a love for horror movies and a penchant for beer at any time of the day, against a conniving killer. What ensues is a romp that is eccentric, hilarious, and tense, all at the same time, giving readers that essential dose of cozy alongside some daring shenanigans propagated by a witty protagonist.
It all starts when Todd and his wife Lydia, caretakers of Grandma Bertha who, alongside her three dogs, lives in their remodeled shed, set-up a shindig to impress the new boss. When a corpse, elaborately staged, is found in their house’s back alleyway, however, and the dead girl turns out to be the boss’s daughter, the night’s schmoozefest is canceled. Having years ago discounted her own abilities, Grandma Bertha sees a new chance to make something of her life and right an old wrong. If it annoys her shrewish daughter-in-law along the way, all the better! But once the dastardly begins to unravel and threats swarm the house, it appears that Grandma Bertha is in way over her curly grey head. Grandma Bertha’s last hurrah may just land her straight in the nursing home and leave a cold-blooded killer at large.
The Convenient Cadaver is that rare and perfect mix of kitchsy cozy complimented by investigation and multi-layered plotting that keeps readers both entertained and at times breathlessly glued to the page. Grandma Bertha herself is fun, a larger-than-life character who has let age and knowledge mold her into being unafraid of just being who she is, warts and all. Discounted by everyone except her young grandson, who sees the old lady as more role model than washed up relative living in the back shed, Grandma Bertha is both sensitive to the mistreatment and more than able to rise above it. Her strength combined with good humor, ability to crack the perfect joke or hatch the most elegant scheme, and intuitive nature make her a sleuth who is both relatable and believable in a real-world setting.
In keeping with the cozy, The Convenient Cadaver provides the underestimated Grandma Bertha with plenty of opportunities to trick those near and dear, prove her mettle, and make some tongue-in-cheek horror movie references. A quirky octogenarian who does what she pleases, Bertha’s stalwart nature allows for plenty of bonding moments with her chuckling readers, her grandson, Stu, and her frolicking canine companions. Lydia, the overly anxious and socially conscious daughter-in-law, even provides her own moments of misguided hilarity, telling the story from her side on several occasions and giving us a unique prospective on the perceived absurdity of a character who is ultimately self-realized and far more complex than she appears.
As the plot unfolds, the bodies invariably begin to stack up. With the fear that Grandma Bertha’s vocal investigation will lead the killer to take drastic measures, Todd and Lydia hire a part-time caretaker to keep Grandma Bertha out of trouble and in her shed. Little do they suspect, however, that the plot has thickened and the seemingly innocent caretaker has a history and a motive to hide. As Grandma Bertha is slowly alienated from the few people who will actually listen, the ante ups and the wily old lady decides to play to both her captor’s weaknesses and a killer’s craftiness, all while giving the readers some belly-laughs along the way.
Combining tension and humor into one atmosphere, the conclusion delivers something incredibly human, sad, and yet ultimately hopeful in a rise-above-everything way that leaves the grey-haired Grandma our favorite rebel. The serpentine nature of the crimes, all staged with a flourish and spiked with future warnings, finally unravels into the baseness of criminality and the strange indominatable nature of corrupted love and tragic loyalty. The ending gives readers pause, the solution both satisfying and surprising while being ultimately inevitable and complex enough to throw shades of grey over the usual cozy black-and-white atmosphere of clear-cut right and wrong.
Grandma Bertha herself grows as a character, ending the story with some sobering thoughts and a wild declaration that sets her up to move out of the shed and once again grab life by the horns. It’s evident that nothing will keep this Grandma down and readers will conclude The Convenient Cadaver with hands itching for the next installment.
– Frances Carden
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