I’m sure there’s an interesting sociological reason for the recent rise of anthropomorphism in popular culture aimed at adults, where once it was considered primarily the province of children’s books and media. From the bestselling Wanderhome role-playing game to this delightful Shady Hollow mystery series, a longing for creature comforts seems to have seized grown-ups looking for diverting entertainment in places usually dominated by violence, even as heroic and/or off-the-page as in sword and sorcery epics or, as here in the ultimate fantasy of justice, cozy mysteries.
Cold Clay is the second book in the Shady Hollow series penned by the writing duo that goes by the name Juneau Black. I was lucky enough to review the series’ debut over at CriminalElement.com, and found it perfectly charming, escapist fiction. The world-building is terrific, fully immersing readers in a world reminiscent of, as I mentioned in my other review, Disney’s Zootopia. The second book picks up a short while after the first left off, as reporter Vera Vixen contemplates how much her life has calmed down since moving to the sleepy town of Shady Hollow from the big city further south. While the recent murder certainly enlivened affairs, things have swiftly gone back to normal, and both Vera and her editor at the paper, BW Stone, are chafing slightly at the lack of hard-hitting headline news.
Fortunately or otherwise, this changes once a set of bones is discovered while workers are digging up old trees at nearby Cold Clay Orchards, a fruit farm renowned for its cider as well as its other apple products. As the bones appear to be quite old, Vera is ready to just write about an unfortunate and perhaps mysterious discovery… till all signs point to the skeleton belonging to the missing wife of local cafe owner Joe Elkin.
Joe and Julia Elkin came to town over a decade ago and established the now-beloved institution of Joe’s Mug. Alas, Julia’s ambitions were for far greater things, even after the birth of their son Joe Jr. So no one was really surprised when Julia disappeared one day. Everyone assumed that she’d just left her family and was off wandering the world. She’d never made a secret of her dissatisfaction with small town life, and everyone sympathized with poor, steadfast Joe, left behind to raise their son while running the cafe and nursing a wounded heart.
Only now it’s clear that Julia didn’t get very far. Even worse, the medical examiner confirms that she was a victim of foul play. Suspicion immediately falls on Joe despite his reputation for gentleness, as who else might have had a beef with the aloof, if otherwise polite Julia?
That’s what Vera is determined to find out, despite the local police department coming down hard on Joe. She refuses to believe that her friend could have killed his own wife, and is determined to clear his name. This puts her at odds with her beau, Deputy Orville Braun, who is uncomfortable with the way her sleuthing has already put her in mortal peril. But when a killer threatens to take out any investigator, official or otherwise, who will end up saving whom?
This was another cozy, easy read, tho I don’t remember the question of whodunnit being quite so obvious in the first book as here. The construction of the mystery is quite simple — making it perfect for mystery novices — but the ample charms of this novel are anything but. From the characterizations to the world-building, from the dialog to the relationships, this is a fully realized setting with a deeply absorbing tale perfect for whiling away a few pleasant hours.
If you’re looking for maximum coziness, I can’t recommend this series highly enough! The third book, Mirror Lake, comes out next week (and I’ll be covering it over at Criminal Element!) Also, the physical copies are absolutely darling, with those lovely covers and their wonderful fingertip feel. I love my ebooks for convenience and maximum portability, but having these delightful novels on my bookshelf is so aesthetically pleasing, too!
Cold Clay (Shady Hollow #2) by Juneau Black was published March 1 2022 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard and is available from all good booksellers, including