There are all kinds of cozies on the planet: ones about soap, cats, clutter, scrapbooking, tea, etc.—those books have a built-in hook. Another type of cozy is cozy in spirit, but starts from the same point as any mystery novel does: character, plot, and setting, without the obvious hook. Triss Stein’s book is of the second type.
Stein’s main character, Erica Donato, is a youngish, widowed, single mom in Brooklyn who is rehabbing her old brownstone on the un-fancy edge of Park Slope. She’s an overbooked grad student, working at the local history museum by day. When her teenage daughter and her contractor find a skeleton in the wall behind the fireplace, all heck breaks loose. I say “heck” rather than “hell” because this is not a particularly scary crime—it’s an old skeleton. What’s more interesting is the effect it has on mother and daughter, and the research into Brooklyn history that it inspires that begins to lead Erica to the corpse’s identity.
While Erica is a classic amateur detective, she uses real skills as a researcher and historian to help solve the crime. Some of the things she uncovers and figures out literally could not have been handled by the police. So kudos on that plot point to Ms. Stein, as I always feel as a reader that a book is stronger when it’s more or less imperative for the amateur to be folded into the investigation.
I enjoyed the Brooklyn location, the look back into the late ’60s (which is the vintage of the skeleton), and the look at what the hippies and the response of their elders did to this particular neighborhood. I also liked the relationship between Erica and her daughter, who is a very believable teen. I was less surprised by the love interest, which is a fairly typical one for this kind of cozy.
I was also a little heartbroken by the eventual murder victim. The choice of the victim gave the rest of the novel real emotional resonance—and no, I’m not going to give away the identity of that person here. You’ll have to read the book.