I've just spent the last month in Athena, Mississippi, with Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon companion, Diesel. Honestly, I really don't know where to begin this sordid tale of addiction, but I'll try.
I hadn't read any male authored cozies until I read the Mary Handley Mystery series written by a man, Lawrence H. Levy who's main character is a woman so I was curious to know if other men wrote cozy mysteries. Wrong moment to be curious - and the Good Lord knows, I should have known better given that old saying "curiosity killed the cat". Well, it didn't kill me - the cat - but it certainly proved the other old saying of "be careful what you wish for" ... or what cozy series you start. As a result, this cozy cat ended up spending a month in Athena. Naturally, my research didn't provide me with a simple, "yes, there are male authored cozies", oh no. It rendered information that left me completely agog. Let's see ... uh ... there was indeed a rather prolific male writer of cozies named Dean James who wrote a series called A Cat In The Stacks Mystery under the pen name, Miranda James ... a female ... yet who's main character is a male, Charlie Harris, or rather two males: Charlie and Charlie's Maine Coon cat, Diesel. So a male writer, writing as a woman telling the story as a man. Did I get that right?
First of all, I am a southerner - born and raised in The Old Dominion. Secondly, my husband, Jeff, is a librarian We are both hopeless bibliophiles, have a proper library and probably 3000-5000 books between us. And thirdly, every time I turned a page, some reference ... some old southern expression like the ones my third grade teacher, Miss Trula Elswick, used every two seconds ... even some of the dedications ... there was some kind of weird connection. It was as if I was reading mysteries written by a kid I really liked and bonded with in the first grade, who moved away and I never saw again and now have discovered they are a successful cozy mystery writer. By the time I got to the dedication of The Silence of the Library I was stupefied. It's one thing to love Nancy Drew, but to know and love Judy Bolton and Trixie Belden and know what the Stratemeyer Syndicate was ... well ... well ... it was just too much. And then there's reference to a character named, Angeline. Never, ever, EVER, have I known anyone who knew that name: the name of my maternal grandfather's mother, Angeline Ruth Foley Thomas. Then I begin to wonder if somehow we were related. He had an Aunt Dottie. A woman named, Dottie White - whom I adored - worked in my father's men's store forever. And THEN I come to find out he writes FIVE other series - one of which - The Emma Diamond Series under the name of Honor Hartman - is Bridge based. Did I mention that I played Bridge every Sunday for 10 years? That I have a shameful number of vintage Bridge playing card sets, vintage Bridge accoutrements, and vintage Jello molds for Bridge luncheons??????? And as if that wasn't enough, he had the colossal nerve to begin a new series that is a cross-over series featuring two divine old southern lady characters from The Cat In The Stacks Mystery series called A Southern Ladies Mystery that I am in the middle of reading now and will blog about when finished!
So here's what I want to say about this series and about Mr. Dean James. I am an actor and narrator of audiobooks, so prose and dialogue are my life-blood. All who know me know Dickens is my hero and he is the master wordsmith whose words are the easiest and most delicious to read aloud. I often read the dialogue of certain cozy characters aloud as practice. As much as I love ALL my cozy series, and as amazing as ALL of the writers are, not all have a deftly gifted hand with dialogue. But this gentlemen? A word wizard and a dialogue god. Charlie's lines trip off my tongue and out of my mouth in the single most natural way of any cozy writer I follow. It's sheer joy. The ease and naturalness of the dialogue that comes out is pure bliss! And this isn't only true for Charlie, but for all his characters. His housekeeper Azalea? She's perfection. And it takes courage in this day and age to write Azalea's dialogue for fear someone will think it's disrespectful or politically incorrect, but the reality is that people speak like Azalea because it's the speech pattern of the region. So I am grateful and gleeful when I am reading A Cat In The Stacks Mystery out loud.
Mr. James's stories are plausible, all well thought out and he throws more red herrings than rice at a wedding. And praise the Lord he doesn't belabor all the love interest stuff - he just cuts to the chase. For that alone, I bow down to him. He is one of the very best storytellers, mystery weavers and character painters among all the cozy writers. And as for Diesel, well, if you aren't a cat lover, believe me you'll find yourself longing for one just like him.
I know I am always encouraging others in their cozy addiction and suggesting they start a new series, but I promise you this is a dear, sweet, sharp, tight, perfect series that shouldn't be missed and sure to please. The next title in the series is out in February 2016, No Cats Allowed.
Please, please check out the indomitable Mr. James's website for every bit of information about him. I have no idea how on earth he works as a librarian and writes all these wonderful stories.
As, always I'd love to hear from my fellow cozy addicts. And should you wish to know more about me, please visit my site:
My month-long sojourn in Athena was a lovely, lovely cozy time. And I am resting up with more cozies!