Sunday, April 8, 2012

Death of a playwright

File M for Murder, Miranda James

This is the third in a series, the "Cat in the Stacks" mysteries (the first is Murder Past Due and the second Classified as Murder, which I posted about back last May).  "Miranda James" is a nom de plume of Dean James, whom I have known for many years through my beloved Murder by the Book here in Houston, where he was previously a manager.

The series focuses on Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat Diesel, the cat in the stacks of the title.  At the death of his aunt Dottie, Charlie inherited her house in the small town of Athena, Mississippi, and he moved there from Houston following the death of his wife.  He volunteers at the local public library, as well as working two days a week as the special collections librarian and archivist at Athena College.  Charlie is presently cataloging a fantastic collection of rare and early books that the college recently received through a  bequest, which includes a first edition of Pride and Prejudice.  Dean is himself a librarian, and it's a pleasure to note the details about work in archives and special collections, which many books and TV shows get so wrong.

Not all archives and libraries, though, would allow Charlie to bring in Diesel, though he is a perfectly-behaved cat.  In the first book, he seemed to be Charlie's main emotional connection.  But now his home includes two boarders, who each played a part in the earlier cases, as well as his son Sean, who has also moved back to Athena from Houston, and who helped his father solve the mystery in the second book.

In File M for Murder, Charlie's daughter Laura arrives in her turn to surprise her father.  A rising young actress, she has accepted a temporary teaching position in the college's drama department.  Connor Lawton, an Athena native and a successful playwright who is the college's new writer in residence, will be directing his own play featuring Laura's students.  Abrasive and arrogant, trailing a string of affairs, he quickly stirs up trouble, and Charlie is dismayed to learn that he and Laura were once involved.  When Laura finds Connor dead in his apartment, she becomes a suspect in his murder, and she herself the target of mysterious attacks.  At the same time, she is hiding something, from her father and the police.  Charlie and Sean, with Diesel, set out to protect Laura, clear her name, and find the real killer.

I have enjoyed all three books in this series, especially the small-town Southern setting, and the characters.  Charlie is a good guy, a loving and protective father, and he has great taste in books (at a particularly stressful moment, he settles down with Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy).  I'm already looking forward to his and Diesel's next adventure.


  1. Oh my gosh I love every single element of this book! Libraries! Southern small town! Cats!
    My library has the first in the series and it might just become my new bath book after I finish my current Mary Stewart. The cover is great, too!

  2. Anbolyn, I'm with you on all three elements! I need to re-read the first one myself.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!