Librarians and cats – what’s not to like?
In this second Cat in the Stacks mystery, retired librarian Charlie Harris and his constant feline companion, Diesel, are recruited by wealthy James Delacorte to catalog his vast collection of rare books. The patriarch of an eccentric and contentious Southern family, Delacorte suspects that someone is stealing from his collection, and he wants Charlie’s help in determining how many of his volumes have disappeared.
Charlie is delighted to help, and not just because he’s being paid for the work. Delacorte’s collection includes books that Charlie is thrilled to hold in his hands. The constant bickering and sniping of Delacorte’s ungrateful kin provide a steady drone of background noise, but it isn’t disturbing enough to dilute Charlie’s excitement - until he finds Delacorte’s dead body.
Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry is none too happy to find Charlie at the center of another murder, following their set-to in Murder Past Due. This time, however, she recognizes that Charlie can be an asset to her investigation. Knowing that the possible theft of rare books could be connected to Delacorte’s murder, Berry encourages him to report anything suspicious he sees or hears as he completes the inventory.
Charlie is one of the wiser amateur sleuths we’ll ever meet; he agrees to do just that, without the typical nosing-in found in so many cozy mysteries. No car chases or gun fights for this sensible man. With Diesel always at his side, Charlie copes with the Delacorte heirs and their arguments, tries to get to the bottom of his son’s sudden appearance on his doorstep, and even begins to recognize that a certain local business owner has more than a passing interest in him.
There’s no need for cutesy gimmicks here because the writing stands firmly on its own merits. Diesel, the supersized Maine Coon, charms readers simply by being a cat. Charlie, too, is a strongly developed character, an ordinary man who is drawn into an extraordinary situation and handles it realistically and with common sense. He’s not a daredevil, not an adrenaline junkie – Charlie is simply a good man who tries to do the right thing, and that is part of what makes Classified as Murder such a compelling read: regular folks can easily identify with him.
So far the Cat in the Stacks series has proven that James has what it takes to captivate readers with pure storytelling talent. Miranda James is a pseudonym for Dean James, author of a number of popular mystery series. No matter the name, this is an author who always gives us a solidly plotted and structure mystery and Classified as Murder is one of the best to date.