Review published on June 9, 2018.
In Shelved Under Murder, the second instalment in the Blue Ridge Library Mysteries series, library director Amy Webber is trying to avoid the wrath of crotchety Mel Riley, recently appointed chairperson of the Taylorsford Friends of the Library, while organising a fundraiser. The donation to the library’s Heritage Festival sale of three paintings by internationally renowned local artist Rachel LeBlanc should have been a real coup, but when Amy and her assistant Sunny go to collect the paintings, they find Rachel stabbed to death with her own palette knife. The stash of forged paintings found hidden in Rachel’s studio is also something of a puzzler.
Amy’s expertise in art history, to say nothing of her friendship with Chief Deputy Brad Tucker, mean that she is called upon to assist with the investigation and help determine the link (if any) between the forgeries and the murder of Rachel LeBlanc. Matters are further complicated when the investigation reveals a shocking potential link between Amy’s deceased uncle, the (not particularly renowned) artist Andrew Talbot, and the murder. Spurred on by a desire to protect her Aunt Lydia’s memories of her late husband, Amy and new boyfriend Richard Muir redouble their efforts to catch the killer.
Shelved Under Murder is truly a cosy mystery. The setting of Taylorsford, Virginia, is a charming Cabot Cove-like small town (right down to the surprisingly high murder rate it seems) wherein the buildings are quaint and the landscape picturesque. The townsfolk are mainly friendly (and those who are not are just nicely villainous), everyone knows everyone else’s business, and there are a fair few entertaining local “characters”. The Heritage Festival sounds like it would be an absolute delight to visit and the Taylorsford library seems to have everything a booklover could possibly need. Victoria Gilbert provides plenty of information to introduce both the town and the recurring characters, which means that Shelved Under Murder can be read as a standalone story by those who haven’t read A Murder for the Books, the first book in the series.
Amy Webber is an appealing central character whose attempts at investigating the murder do seem to ring true of an amateur sleuth inspired by a deeply personal connection to the case. However, the fact of her being deputised so that she has access to a database detailing worldwide cases of forgery is something of a stretch. The police have their own art expert on hand, so it seems odd that they are so keen to make use of Amy’s knowledge of art history. It would perhaps have been better, especially considering her late uncle’s potential link to the case, if she had remained more of an outsider to the investigation, someone who used wholly unofficial means to beat the police to the identity of the suspect. Still, she certainly manages to sniff out the truth in the end.
The reasoning behind the murder of Rachel LeBlanc is not particularly convoluted and it is certainly possible to make a guess as to the killer’s identity based on the clues that Gilbert provides, but following along with Amy’s investigation is very entertaining. In addition to the crime, Shelved Under Murder features a very healthy dose of romance – Amy and Richard have to find out whether the couple who investigates together stays together, while Sunny and Chief Deputy Brad have to consider whether they’re at the same stage in life – which will appeal to some and detract from the mystery for others. It’s also arguable that the inclusion of a few more red herrings among the suspect pool would have helped to make the central mystery more complex and hence more difficult to crack.
Shelved Under Murder is an easy-going and gore-free mystery novel populated by agreeable characters (save for the killer of course!) who lead the reader through a very pleasant investigation that ultimately reaches a satisfactory and convincing conclusion. If you like your murders extremely cosy with a great deal of romance thrown in for good measure, then this is the book for you.
Erin Britton 3/-
Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert
Crooked Lane Books 9781683315957 hbk Jul 2018