Fresh Meat: Death of a Mad Hatter by Jenn McKinlay

Death of a Mad Hatter by Jenn McKinlay is the second cozy installment in the Hat Shop Mystery Series about two women whose London store falls under investigation after poison from a murder is found on one of their hats (available May 6, 2014).

The second in prolific cozy author Jenn McKinlay’s London hat shop mystery series, Death of a Mad Hatter revolves around the latest customer of Mim’s Whims, owned by cousins Scarlett, an American who fled the States to get away from relationship drama that went viral, and her cousin Vivian, who’ve jointly inherited the shop from their grandmother. They’ve been commissioned by the wacky and not altogether happy Grimsby family to create custom designs for an Alice in Wonderland themed party. Despite the family’s oddness, the job itself sounds fun, and the hats themselves stand out, as co-owner Scarlett admires her cousin Vivian’s work once they’re on display:

I glanced across the crowd, trying to spot the brothers, I could see several of the hats Viv had made. Lily was the White Rabbit; Daphne, the Dormouse; and, true to her word, Viv had made Rose the Cheshire Cat. Their hats stood out among the others with whimsical details like a ticking clock on Lily’s and glittery black fronds fashioned to look like whiskers on Daphne’s and orange-and-yellow-striped feathers on Rose’s. Viv really had done an amazing job.

But the party soon takes a somber tone when Scarlett discovers Geoffrey Grisby, dressed as the Mad Hatter, dead. When traces of poison are found on the hat he’d been wearing, the shop and its staff come under suspicion, while the lead detective is already predisposed to look warily upon Scarlett after encountering her in her last adventure. Scarlett has to dig deep into the Grisbys’ sordid family history, complete with a secret pregnancy, a batty grandmother and plenty of backstabbing and bad blood.

Scarlett is intent on sleuthing, while also trying to solve her own relationship with Harrison, her childhood friend who she knows spars and flirts with in equal measures. The will-they-or-won’t-they romantic tension which began in Cloche and Dagger continues at a gentle pace, something McKinlay excels at. Scarlett tries to deny her jealousy, but she can’t help letting it creep in.

“Listen, Scarlett,” Harrison said before I could continue walking. “About before—“
“No.” I held up my hand. “It’s none of my business.”

“But you need to know—“ he began, but again I interrupted.

“No, I really don’t need the particulars of your whatever,” I said. “If college girls are what you’re into, it’s none of my affair.”

“College girls are what I’m into?” he repeated, sounding confounded.

Two older gentlemen walking around us stopped, and one of them nudged Harrison with his elbow. “Nothing wrong with that, Batch; enjoy your youth while you can.”
Harrison gave him a dark look and he and his friend hurried off. I surmised from the wobble in their walks that they’d been indulging in a pint or three of Fuller’s ale.

Their interpersonal drama spills over into shop business when Scarlett finds out that, unbeknownst to her, Harrison, as Mim’s Whims’ business manager, has approval over all business decisions. This doesn’t sit well with the outspoken American:

“Fine,” I said. “You want us to stop having anything to do with the Grisbys and as ‘the boss’ you feel you have the right to demand that. Yes?”

“That sounds a bit harsh,” Harrison said. His brows lowered in a frown over his bright-green eyes and his mouth twisted to one side in an unhappy pucker.

“Yes or no?” I asked as I rose to stand. I dumped my dinner plate in a nearby trash can.

“Well, then yes, I do think I have the right as your manager to insist,” he said.

“All right,” I said. I brushed my hands together over the trash, getting rid of any crumbs. “Then I quit.”

I heard a collective gasp. Viv and Andre both called my name, but I had already turned on my heel and bolted for the stairs that led up to our apartment. On the scale of dramatic exists, this was a solid seven. I slammed the door behind me, discouraging anyone from following.

When the two have to team up and pretend to be husband and wife to infiltrate a funeral home, it yields one of the book’s most humorous scenes. This is a fun, madcap cozy, perfect for fashion lovers and Anglophiles, full of light-hearted humor and the unabashed enthusiasm of the novice amateur sleuth mixed with the stirrings of romance. Scarlett’s fish out of water status and delight in everything from the Underground to the Savoy, along with her newcomer’s ear for British wording and culture, lend this series a fresh spin.


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Rachel Kramer Bussel is a freelance and erotica writer, and editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms69 Sexy StoriesOnly You: Erotic Romance for Women; Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission and others. She tweets @raquelita and blogs at Lusty Lady.

Read all of Rachel Kramer Bussel's posts for Criminal Element.

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