Murder Past Due (Cat in the Stacks)
by Miranda James
Cover Artist: Dan Craig
Review by Gayle Surrette
Berkley Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425236031
Date: 03 August 2010 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Sometimes you can go home again, and Charlie Harris did just that. However, it was at a great cost; his wife died and shortly thereafter his aunt also died. With his children grown and on their own he moved into his aunt's house, which he inherited, and settled in working part-time as an archivist at the library of his alma mater, Athena College, as well as volunteering at the local public library. Part of his aunt's will requested that he also take in students as boarders. In many ways, this request has helped keep him involved with people as in his grief he tends to isolate himself. A student currently boarding with him is Justin, the son of one of Charlie's high school friends, Julia Wardlaw. Everything is going well until his high school and college nemesis, Godfrey Priest, comes to town on a book tour. Things don't get any better when Godfrey is found dead.
Charlie Harris is complex and interesting. He's not the type you'd expect to get involved in trying to solve a crime. A librarian and archivist, Charlie is still in mourning for his wife and his aunt. He has a huge Maine Coon cat, Diesel, that he walks on a leash and most of the townspeople recognize him as the man with the cat if they don't know his name. Quiet and a bit of a loner, Charlie gets involved because he knows the people involved in the case and he believes in their innocence.
Godfrey, on the other hand, returned to the area often even after he made it big as an author. However, Charlie didn't like him when they were in high school and came to really detest him when they were in college together. As the story moves along the reader learns that just about everyone who knew Godfrey had a motive for killing him which makes finding the killer that much more complicated. Just too many people are happy he's dead and gone.
So, there's twist and upsets a-plenty as the relationships between Godfrey and various people in the town come to light. Charlie is hard pressed to identify the clues, but then the police are doing their job too. This is one of the rare books where while the amateur may be finding many of the clues, the personal involvement with the people who had motive and opportunity blinds him to the possibilities. The police on the other hand, take the clues that Charlie turns over and then investigate even further without letting emotion rule the way the information is put together.
While readers may figure out the killer before the end of the book, finding the killer is not the only joy in reading Murder Past Due, it is the journey to the discovery as much as the final denouement that makes the book. The writing is very evocative of the social community of a small college town with a southern feel. Characters are well defined and our major viewpoint character is someone we can care about and trust. The cat on the other hand, while a wonderful addition to the cast, is a cat and never goes beyond the inscrutability of catness while adding an additional dimension to Charlie's character.
Pick this up but be aware the it may set you up to add a new series to your reading list.