Mira James, part-time librarian and part-time local newspaper reporter, is eking out a living in Battle Lake, Minnesota when she is advised the Town Council has decided to close the town library for 2 weeks at Christmas as a budgetary measure. Her editor, Ron, who is also a town councillor urges her to return home to Paynesville where she grew up to spend the Christmas season with her mother and attend a week long Private Investigator Course. When he pays the tuition for the course she is on her way home.
Her mother gratefully welcomes Mira home though Mira is less positive:
If there’s a phrase scarier to a 30 year old woman than, “Your room is just as you left it,” I have yet to hear it.
Mira describes her bedroom as she left it for university 12 years earlier:
I was greeted by Led Zeppelin and a Footloose-era Kevin Bacon poster on the wall, loaded bookshelves, a multi-colored dresser with Cabbage Patch stickers down the front, worn quilt on wrought-iron bd with my childhood sock monkey perched in the center and lingering smell of AquaNet and Love’s Baby Soft.
Being in the room returns her to memories she had worked to forget after leaving Paynesville.
Mira is credibly insensitive to her mother’s feelings. She rushes out to spend time in almost any way other than with her mother.
Mira finds the private investigator’s course more interesting than she had expected. The instructor, Mr. Denny, has experience as an investigator and as a former police officer.
While the class occupies part of her day the attention of Mira, as with every woman in the Midwest, is drawn to a serial killer who has been working his way west from Chicago each December. Two years earlier there were murders in Illinois. A year ago it was Wisconsin. Now it is Minnesota.
The killer has become known as the Candy Cane Killer because a candy cane or canes has been sent to or delivered to each victim.
Once the killer has slain a classmate of Mira’s in nearby River Grove she is determined to help find the killer.
She is joined in her quest by one of her best friends from Battle Lake, Mrs. Berns, who is under 5’ in height and over 80 years in age and has a tart and engaging tongue. As with Sheldon Horowitz in Norwegian by Night an octogenarian is a lively spirited character.
Their investigation leads them to an online dating service. Mira’s reaction:
“Ugh.” I had a theory that one should never shop online for leather pants or men. I could see why other people did it. It was so lonely in these parts, and if you didn’t fall in love at work or go to church, that left only bars and blind luck. There was just something about it that didn’t fit me right.
Such services are outside my experience.
When Mira is reluctant to go to a Christmas party of her high school classmates Mrs. Berns says:
“Only jocks, prom queens, and dumbasses hang on to high school this long. Everyone else goes on to better things. Go. Confront your past. Get over yourself.”
The mystery is well done but the real heart of the book is small town Minnesota. Lourey is very convincing in her portrayal of life in rural Minnesota. My next post will consider that portrayal with Small Town Mysteries in Saskatchewan.
Mira is a clever interesting woman. It is too bad Lourey is approaching the end of 12 months of mysteries in the series. Her publicist at the book launch was quick to say they will find a solution. (Mar. 6/14)