Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae is the 1st book in the Highland Bookshop Mystery series, where a murder in a garden turns the four new owners of Yon Bonnie Books into amateur detectives.
In Inversgail, Scotland, Janet Marsh and Christine Robertson own a bookshop called Yon Bonnie Books along with Janet’s thirty-eight-year-old daughter, Tallie, and Tallie’s former college roommate, Summer Jacobs. Janet is divorced—after her husband “the rat” cheated on her—and Christine is a widower. Janet is slower to act, while Christine is a bit more impetuous, though both women have a curious nature that balances their friendship nicely.
Their inquisitiveness comes in handy when both become suspicious as to why estate agent Jess Bailee, who is handling the renting of Janet’s house, has been dodging her. Janet is anxious to move back into her old digs where she spent many happy years with her husband and children. Janet and Christine stop by the house to find it vandalized, with Jess cowering inside, overwhelmed to the point of tears in cleaning it up.
Jess also has a weird hypothesis as to who did it, namely, Una “Ug” Graham, an advice columnist—Hedda Hopper variety—for the Inversgail Guardian. Unfortunately for Jess’s theory, while Janet, Christine, Tallie, and Summer are tidying up the house, a brutal discovery is made.
She leaned out the window for another blessed breath of fresh air and heard another groan. An echo? Her scalp prickled.
The sound came again, higher pitched and rising at the end. Behind her she heard Christine opening and closing drawers, and above her were Tallie’s feet. But at the bottom of the garden, Summer held onto the shed door, then doubled over, retching.
Afterward, Janet tried to imagine how she’d got to Summer so quickly. Her only memory was of flying, arms stretched out to gather her in. But she must have called Christine and Tallie as she flew, because they followed, and they were there when Summer told them not to look in the shed. But of course they did, and they all saw the crumpled woman, and the pool of blood, and in her poor, thin neck, the sickle.
Una has been murdered. Being an unpopular person who spreads gossip in her pursuit of being an investigative reporter, there’s seemingly no end to the number of likely suspects. This is made painfully more obvious when garbage bags full of letters are found behind Yon Bonnie Books that testify as to why Una was roundly disliked.
Besides the ill-fated loss of life, the homicide couldn’t have happened at a worse time: the bookstore is in the process of changing hands, and the popular Inversgail Literary Festival is soon approaching. Una’s death isn’t the kind of publicity Janet and Christine were looking for, and bigger questions linger for the sleuth-minded women—like what was she doing in the shed and who murdered her?
Plaid and Plagiarism is subtitled The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series Book I. Muy bien! I’m finally at the start of a series instead of ten books lagging, which seems to be my usual late arrival. While this may be the first in the series, it isn’t MacRae’s debut outing. There is also her Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, an award-winning series about wool shop owner Kath Rutledge, who partners with a tenacious ghost to solve murder cases. And MacRae has been a regular in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
A well-crafted cozy is a piece of art. Add too much coziness and it becomes maudlin, overflowing with syrupy phrases and bland situations; add too much blood to a scene and you could send your target audience packing. But balance it with the right amount of intrigue and you can even get the hardboiled crew to cross the street. I’m not sure if that last part holds true in this case, but I do think cozy aficionados will be charmed by Molly MacRae’s Plaid and Plagiarism.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.