Author: Sofie Ryan
Returning to her summer childhood home in North Harbor, Maine, Sarah Grayson is ready to mend the threads of her life. She’s opened Second Chance, a quaint store where neglected and vintage furniture comes for restoration and her own zany re-interpretation. Elvis, a feisty street feline with a scar and the preternatural ability to distinguish lies, has adopted the store as his new home, and meanwhile Sarah is connecting with her grandmother’s friends, the ladies who pampered her as she grew up. Everything seems to be all roses and glossy polish . . . until one of the old ladies is accused of offing her sleazy new beau with a pinch of poison. Tainted tea cups, dashing ex-flames, militant ex-friends, feisty groups of older ladies, and a black cat with attitude tie together to create a cozy mystery with verve. The action (and investigation!) is continual, and yet the laid back feel-good aura of a cozy is there the entire way . . . just don’t drink any of the tea!
My husband found these books for me originally knowing my penchant for cozy mysteries and love of cats. I came home one day from an excessively late and stressful work evening to find The Whole Cat and Caboodle nestled on our dining room table; it was instant love. First in the Second Chance mysteries, this novel introduces us to one of my personal favorite spots – a small town in Maine. Sadly, Maine itself and the locale around the characters doesn’t truly star in the novel (it could be California in all honesty), but the shop with all the repainted knick-knacks, the tea-cup succulent gardens, the dusty boxes of treasures waiting to be restored, and the requisite sleeping kitty on a box is everything a cozy should be.
The typical downfall of a cozy mystery, as fans know, is usually the mystery itself which tends to be an “also ran” in the overall tale and often end with the luckless amateur sleuths being handed the answer, typically by an exceptionally talkative villain. The Whole Cat and Caboodle, however, didn’t fall into this snare. It took awhile for the mystery (and by that I mean murder) to occur, but once it did, the who-dunnit became the focus. Clustering around their suspiciously reticent friend, Sarah’s grandmother’s friends (and by extension, her friends), use everything from computer hacking to good old-fashioned witness questioning to get to the bottom of a jumbled puzzle. Along the way, it turns out that the deceased beau had quite a history and more than one lady in his scarred past who would love to serve him a final meal (or… tea).
As the details of the investigation coalesce, the picture is compounded. We have multiple motives and opportunities, yet suspicious parties have alibis . . . or do they? With the web ever tightening around a vengeful killer, Sarah and her old lady cohorts are courting danger, all in the name of friendship. The answer has a portion of the cozy’s easiness to it, but is mostly satisfying and ties up the loose threads of a gold digging beau’s demise. It even results in a charming setup for another book in the series with talk of an amateur detective agency being opened.
What’s difficult within The Whole Cat and Caboodle is the characters themselves. The initial characterization of Sarah is well conveyed, yet her elderly friends blend and merge together. It’s difficult to keep up with the large cast of ladies and even the smaller cast of men (I mixed up Nick and Liam multiple times). Fewer characters would have been nice and more distinct characters would have also helped. I even mixed up the accused (Maddie) with her elderly friends a few times and found myself flipping back pages in search of a quick reminder.
Overall, the Second Chance mystery series is off to a positive, if not perfect, start with The Whole Cat and Caboodle. The aura of cozy is strong as is the actual investigation and concentration on mystery, which is woefully ignored in the cozy genre. Sarah and her feisty feline Elvis are well conveyed and her shop glows with the comfort of a beloved home. I look forward to following this series as it grows and matures.
– Frances Carden
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