Sunday, November 20, 2022

Shady Hollow #3 Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is the third Shady Hollow murder mystery by Juneau Black. First released in 2020, this reformat and re-release 28th April 2022 from Hatchette on their Hodder & Stoughton imprint is 240 pages and available in paperback format. Other editions available in audio and ebook formats.

This is a whimsical and offbeat semi-cozy mystery with the unusual twist that all the characters are highly anthropomorphic animals who talk, have jobs, and occasionally commit crimes. The story is set in a village (Shady Hollow) and the book is replete with those oddball/eccentric small-town cozy characters. Main protagonist Vera Vixen is the local beat reporter who is investigating events surrounding the discovery of a skeleton long buried in a local orchard. 

All the standard cozy tropes are front and center: amateur plucky reporter who can't let a mystery go uninvestigated, handsome lawman love interest (he's a bear), a long ago unsolved disappearance, skullduggery, and village secrets. There are several disparate plot threads which are skillfully woven together into a comfortably satisfying denouement and resolution.

Despite being full of talking animals with "schtick-y" alliterative names, it's definitely not a children's or juvenile book and wouldn't be appropriate for small kids. It's also not animals as characters (à la Rita Mae Brown, Lillian Jackson Braun, & co.), but more like Mandy Morton's trippy Hettie Bagshot mysteries. The characters - are - animals. They speak and go about their business like humans in animal form. They do seem to refrain from eating one another for the most part and rabbits and mice coexist mostly peacefully with foxes, mink, and bears. 

The mystery was straightforward, if somewhat surreal. A local wealthy socialite (who is a rat, whiskers and all) claims her husband has been murdered, though everyone can see him standing beside her, perfectly alive (or is it an imposter?). The dialogue was a bit choppy in places, but more oddly paced than badly constructed in any way. There is a weird atmospheric vibe throughout, but that could just be the surreal effect of the characters being talking animals which is never addressed. I had some issues engaging with the main protagonist. She strikes me as an appalling combination of gullible and obnoxious, but she is undoubtedly plucky.

Odd mystery. Well constructed, but off-kilter in some way which is difficult to define. It has definite shadings of noir, but is, at the heart of it, a village cozy. 

Three and a half stars. There are currently three full length novels and a shorter work in the series, making it a good choice for fans of anthropomorphic mysteries, for a buddy/binge read. I would strongly recommend reading the books in order, to get a feel for the characters and setup.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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