Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae

I have a wee bit of a fascination with Scotland and I've been trying hard to broaden my horizons with my reading lately so Molly MacRae's Plaid and Plagiarism, a Scottish Highlands set cozy mystery (a genre I rarely read) where the amateur sleuths have bought a bookshop should be a perfect way to ease into something not in my usual way of things, right? It certainly should have so I'm left wondering if it was the book or if it was me or some unfortunate combination of the two since the bones and the desire were there (so appropriate a phrase given a mystery, no?).

American Janet Marsh, her best friend Christine, Janet's daughter Tallie, and Tallie's college roommate Summer, have bought a Scottish bookshop called Yon Bonnie Books and are embarking on second careers as book sellers in the quaint Highlands town, Inversgail, where Christine grew up. Janet and her family used to spend summers in Inversgail and Janet ended up with the cottage they summered in after her divorce from her ex, The Rat. The four women, who used to be a librarian, a social worker, a reporter, and a lawyer respectively, plan to learn the book selling business from the former owners Kenneth and Pamela. They are also renovating the upstairs as a B and B and next door as a tea shop. When they first arrive, Janet, who is truly the main character and who the narrative focus is mostly on, discovers that she and Tallie cannot move into her cottage because it has been vandalized. The realtor is convinced that the local agony aunt, Una Graham, who wants desperately to be an investigative reporter, is behind the vandalism. But then Una's body, a sickle in her neck, turns up in the ugly shed at the back of Janet's garden. Secrets come to light showing that almost everyone in town had a reason to dislike Una so figuring out who disliked her enough to actually kill her won't be easy. As Una's body is found at Janet's and as the bookshop is also involved, the four new owners team up to try and discover the murderer at the same time they are trying to get ready for the local Inversgail Literary Festival and navigate the tensions in the local literary community.

As the first in a new series, MacRae introduced a lot of characters here in addition to her four bookshop owners. Creating so many characters and trying to give them each enough of a backstory that she wasn't just introducing names with no identifying characteristics, she also had to add plot thread after plot thread. This might have worked better with fewer secondary characters, waiting to introduce some of the locals later on in the series. As it was, there were too many characters and not enough fleshing out of those most important to this first book. The narrative pacing was uneven, slow and drawn out in the beginning and too quick in the end. The constant rehashing of what each of the four women knew took away from the story and could easily have been skipped. Their sleuthing was rather scattershot, making it surprising that they figured out who the murderer was (although on the plus side, the who of it was a surprise to the reader). In fact the plot, the characters, and the book as a whole could have used a lot of tightening up. I really did want to like this but found myself easily distracted from the story and had a hard time settling back down into it each time I picked it up. If you are a cozy mystery reader and are used to the long build up in the first of a series, you might appreciate this one enough to pick up the second. For me though, I just don't think I'm cut out for the slow start, or maybe mysteries are never going to be my thing.

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