Book Review: Ink and Shadows by Ellery Adams
By Janet WebbFebruary 16, 2021
If Ink and Shadows is your first Ellery Adam’s mystery, a useful entry point is the series name, Secret, Book, and Scone Society series. The secret refers to bookseller Nora Pennington’s hidden past that led to a new life in the fictional town of Miracle Springs, North Carolina. Book is self-evident: Nora’s bookstore, Miracle Books, is the heart of the community. Nora and her closest friends have a weekly, after-hours book club. And finally, scone refers to the delicious comfort scones baked by Hester Winthrop, owner of the Gingerbread House Bakery and a member of the book club, but also a stand-in for breaking bread with your closest friends. The other women in The Secret, Book, and Scone Society are Estella Sadler, owner of Magnolia Salon and Spa, and June Dixon, thermal pools manager, Miracle Springs Lodge.
Nora is a bibliotherapist who cures what ails ya with a perfectly chosen book: books for troubled teens, books for reluctant readers in their upper decades, books that cure this and books that cure that. She’s famous for her provocative and enticing window displays that match seasonal themes with appropriate books. Nora and her assistant Sheldon Vega mull over how to spotlight Halloween without going the “ghosts and goblins” route.
“Dracula and Frankenstein. Do they really have a wow factor?” Sheldon pursed his lips. “These stuffed paratroopers failed. They didn’t lure people inside. We need to do better.”
“True,” said Nora. “But in our defense, September is all about back-to-school. I’ve talked to a few of the moms about their schedules, and it stressed me out just listening to them.”
Nora and Sheldon segue from stressed-out moms, with Nora wishing she “could afford to give away a spa voucher with every purchase,” to Sheldon opining that “today’s women are women of power.” Perhaps they’re busy and over-scheduled but they’re also magical. Sheldon isn’t thinking of a display of “hags with hairy warts and pointy hats.” No siree. His vision is wonderous and woke.
“Beautiful witches. Multi-generational. Culturally diverse. What if they brew books in their cauldron? Stories about powerful females?”
Nora was instantly caught up by the idea. “Yes! We could display book covers featuring powerful women. Lady Macbeth. Medusa.”
“Elphaba, Alina Starkov, Matilda.”
“Medea.” Nora could see books flying out of the cauldron. Books with cardboard wings and paper bodies. Colorful, glossy, magical books.
But “colorful, glossy, magical books” about powerful women are not everyone’s catnip and there’s a powerful backlash to Nora’s stunning display: “A family-values group disapproves of the magical themes, though, and wastes no time launching a modern-day witch hunt” … encompassing picketing, spreading gossip, and averted glances. The Women of Lasting Values Society also disapprove of a new shop called SOOTHE. Its proprietor, newcomer Celeste Leopold, is a gentle artist who sells CBD oil, crystals, and all things mystical and mellow, with the assistance of her daughter Bren. Additionally, the Lasting Values ladies criticize Red Bird Gallery and Gifts, which sells a variety of items made by the Cherokee. What a spot-on plot from Ellery Adams, putting a community-face on those who want to inflict their religious and cultural beliefs on others. This plot point is so depressingly familiar, although the reader never doubts that freedom of thought through the aegis of choosing your own books will prevail.
Violence and murder follow in the wake of the street protests. Bren is found dead and the frenzied killer appears to have torn all her belongings to shreds. Nora and her book group resolve to find Bren’s killer, something they have a knack for. Concurrently, a page torn out of a book—apparently an ancient tome—is left under Nora’s welcome mat. Sheriff McCabe thinks it’s important to translate the unknown language on the page. He needs Nora’s help.
“Do you know someone who could identify it? An expert on antique books?”
Roberta Rabinowitz, Nora thought. If anyone can identify that book page, it’s her.
“I could give you a couple of names,” she said.
Tit for tat, Nora has some questions for McCabe. She inquires about why Bren’s house was torn apart and if it could be related to the page she found. Ink and Shadows is an apt title—the secret of Bren’s murder is wrapped up in a mysterious package of shadowy, secretive words, penned in hundreds-year-old ink.
Every long-running series needs an infusion of new blood and Ellery Adams doesn’t disappoint, introducing force-of-nature Roberta (Bobbie) Rabinowitz, who shows up uninvited and unexpectedly after Sheriff McCabe reaches out to her. Bobbie pounds on Nora’s door, saying “We were friends for twenty years and then, poof! You were gone.” How can Nora resist? She knows Bobbie’s way too smart not to put two and two together—only her former college roommate could have known of her obscure research abilities.
“I go by Nora now,” she told the woman on her welcome mat.
“I assumed it’s after the Nara from Ibsen’s play, though I don’t see why. You can explain that to me, among other things. Or you can tell me nothing.” Bobbie held out her hands. “Just let me come inside so I can give you a hug.”
Ink and Shadows is a big hug of a book for bookstore lovers who have been pining to visit their favorite emporiums for the past year. Ellery Adams has penned a cracking good mystery and I have no doubt folks who are new to the series will track down the earlier volumes. Nora is endearingly brilliant and all-too-human, as when she wishes secretly that little kidlets would not munch on goldfish during their story hour at Miracle Books.