This is a book review of the first in the Darcy and Flora Cozy Mystery Books, The Cemetery Club by Blanche Day Manos and Barbara Burgess, published by Pen-L Publishing in Nov. 2014. This is a book review for both authors and readers, helping the reader decide if this book is for you and helping the author hone your craft.
The Cemetery Club is a "cozy mystery" set in a small town in Oklahoma. I've noticed people are confused about what makes a cozy, so before I get into this particular one, here are some conventions of the genre.
What is a cozy mystery?
A cozy mystery has a dead body or two, but not a lot of gore. An amateur sleuth gets involved trying to solve the riddle of "whodunit."
Examples of cozy mysteries include:
Murder, She Wrote series by Jessica Fletcher was turned into a TV series. Fletcher is a mystery writer who stumbles over dead bodies the way some folks trip over their own two feet.
The Cat Who mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun: Reporter Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cat Koko (and later another Siamese named YumYum joins them) solve all sorts of mysteries, first in New York, then, more conventionally to the genre, in a small town.
Royal Spyness Mysteries by Rhys Bowen is a historical cozy series about a minor royal without estate or fortune trying to make her way in a changing world. Meanwhile, she stumbles across mysteries and tries to keep her head above water.
and of course, the Darcy and Flora Cozy Mystery Series, of which The Cemetery Club is the first. Reporter Darcy has returned to her hometown where she quite literally stumbles over a dead body while helping her mother Flora tend the cemetery.
I would call this a Christian cozy series, because prayer and Christianity figure heavily in the plot. There is also a delightful Cherokee influence with the omen of the Owl, thanks to co-author Barbara Burgess..
Here is the information on Amazon about The Cemetery Club:
Goshen Cemetery lay quiet and peaceful under a benevolent spring sky. Darcy Campbell and her mother, Flora Tucker, had no inkling that in a few moments, the scene would change and they would face a horror on the ground and a threat from above, beyond their imaginations.bla
I enjoy cozies. I'm not one for the true crime books full of blood and viscera. I don't watch CSI. I don't enjoy reading steamy love scenes either. None of that is in any cozy.
I gravitate toward stories about people finding themselves in unexpected situations from which they must extract themselves. That's part and parcel of the cozy.
One of the aspects of this book I enjoyed was the mother-daughter team. Daughter Darcy couldn't have figured things out without her mother Flora.
Interestingly, Flora had the bigger emotional stake in solving the mystery, as she was long-time friends with the family of the deceased.
As they go through the experience, you see the kinds of things that happen with a grown daughter and her aging mother. FLora asserted her independence. Darcy helped her around puddles and other obstacles, and Darcy's purpose for coming to see her mother and going with her to the cemetery was simply to be with her.
The job of the first paragraph of any novel is to grab the reader's interest. If you're a writer, remember that well when you write those first words.
Here's how The Cemetery Club begins:
When I awoke to sunshine, blue skies, and the smell of freshly perked coffee that morning, I had no inkling that a few hours later the sun would be blotted out by menacing clouds or that my mother and I would stumble upon a dead bo dy in a brush pile in Goshen Cemetery.
Isn't that just how momentous changes come upon us all? That was a good hook for the story.
At this point, the reader doesn't know anything about who's talking, so we don't "care" yet. That hook needs to show there's something newsworthy.
Some Blood But Nothing Gruesome
This is a murder mystery. There will be something other than sunshine and puppies, but it's not grotesque. Here is Darcy's discovery of dead Ben:
Only a bloody stump remained where the third finger of Ben's left hand should have been.
The two shaken women had little time to consider what to do next. Because what should happen to disturb the scene but a tornado that churns up the whole area.
I admit the storm felt a little over the top to me as a reader, but not so much I wanted to stop. Tornadoes definitely come up suddenly in Oklahoma as well as where I live in Missouri.
Motives and Secrets
Look at any newspaper or story online about a murder, and there is always a motive. Out here in the real world, plenty of families keep secrets. The Cemetery Club is no exception.
This secret involves a cache of hidden gold and plenty of people wanting to find it and call it their own. That adds a layer to the mystery.
Omens and Portents
The Cemetery Club includes a character who never speaks a word, though he talks in his way: the Owl.
At various key points in the tale, the owl makes himself known. I found the implication that believing in Native American ways was superstitious. The owl turns out to be a most helpful sign.
About the Authors Blanche Day Manos and Barbara Burgess
It may seem strange to some that a mild-mannered kindergarten teacher would become an author of cozy mysteries, but it's actually a good fit. A teacher is a word craft. So is a writer. A teacher wants the efforts of her labor to have a positive outcome. So does a writer. A teacher prays and hopes that each student has a positive take-away from her work. A writer hopes that for her readers too. A teacher would like each of the children in her classroom to achieve a satisfying life. Although she can't control that, as a writer she can control the way her books conclude!
A native Oklahoman, Blanche has a deep familiarity with the Sooner state, so it's the logical setting for her books. Her Cherokee heritage and feeling at home in the rural settings of Oklahoma are vividly woven into the background fabric of her books. Her other published cozies include Grave Shift and Best Left Buried, books two and three of the Darcy & Flora Series.
Barbara Burgess is a retired trial court administrator who says she found many good story ideas in the courtroom. One of those ideas evolved into her first suspense novel, Lethal Justice, published in 2010. She also co-authored The Cemetery Club, a mystery novel based on Cherokee history. Her father was half Cherokee and she says much of her family history involves Cherokee legend and beliefs similar to those found in Grave Shift. She has also written short fiction for Woman's World and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and freelanced for several Arkansas newspapers.
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