Autumn is the coziest of the seasons with reading moods turning towards snuggling up, warm drinks, and… solving adorable murders?
For those unaware, Shady Hollow is a series of cosy mystery novels by Juneau Black – aka Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel – following a remote little area of the wilderness in which anthropomorphic animals live in harmony – think Wes Anderson‘s Fantastic Mr Fox meets Murder She Wrote and you’re there.
The fourth of these books, Twilight Falls, continues the adventures of Vera Vixen, a well-meaning and intrepid reporter type who finds herself frequently entangled with the dealings of Shady Hollow’s residents, whether that’s unearthed skeletons, dead bodies found floating in rivers, or in the case of Twilight Falls, sudden violent disappearances. This time the town is out at the gorgeous Twilight Falls for a spring picnic (as you do) when they witness local town handyman Shelby go over the falls after a violent struggle, following an argument with his son Jonah over Jonah’s forbidden love with Stasia (the pairing is forbidden because one is an otter, the other a beaver, naturally).
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The wide-reaching charm of Twilight Falls – and of Shady Hollow in general – is part of the big appeal; in the cozy crime subgenre, the appeal of a small, close-knit community, full of locally-owned businesses and sweet-natured folks, is all but ever-present. It also helps that the cast of characters that Black create are so delightful that readers would turn up for any occasion to spend time with them. Vera is a smart, quietly compassionate heroine, with allies such as her romantic interest Orville (a bear police officer) and Lenore (the raven bookstore seller in town) bolstering the appeals of the series, along with the lush descriptions of the physical pleasures in life. Black ensures that the beauty of the falls or the delicious treats on offer, are never not commented upon, building upon the tenets of the cosy mystery with a visceral pleasure that makes reading the story with a baked good or hot drink of choice a must.
Twilight Falls‘ mystery is pleasingly fair, with enough clues sprinkled throughout that when the mystery is unveiled, it feels satisfying, with character beats layered in for full amounts of catharsis and emotional heft, providing grace to characters the reader may have known from the first book or newcomers to the series. The conceit behind the stories – woodland animals with jobs solving murders – doesn’t run out of steam, focusing on the all-too-human personal dynamics.
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As the latest instalment of one of the most unique and charming current mystery series, Twilight Falls manages to continue the series’ trend of wholesome whodunnits, pulling off a pleasing cast of characters and growing relationships with a satisfying mystery. If you’ve not yet taken a trip to Shady Hollow, and want to sink your teeth into a comforting, good-natured series, there’s no better time to get caught up.
Twilight Falls is out now from Penguin Random House.