Crime and Poetry

Title: Crime and Poetry (A Magical Bookshop Mystery Book One)

Publisher: Obsidian/Penguin

Author: Amanda Flower

Pages: 355pp

Price: $7.99US

Twelve years ago, Violet Waverly fled the tiny town of Cascade Springs, haunted by the tragic death of her best friend and the accusations that she was somehow involved. She remained in contact with her beloved grandmother, Daisy, but otherwise had nothing to do with Cascade Springs or its people. But then a frantic phone call from Grandma Daisy brings her running home, and when her grandmother’s boyfriend is murdered, Violet finds herself reluctantly staying in town to help clear Daisy’s name and run Charming Books. Then her grandmother lets Violet in on the big family secret: the spring for which the town is named is magical, and the women of her family have been its caretakers for centuries. The spring is now in danger. How does the threat to the spring connect to the murder? Will Violet leave behind the life she has built for herself to take up her responsibilities as Caretaker? Or will the murderer target Violet next?

I stumbled across a copy of Crime and Poetry at my local used bookstore. I was unfamiliar with the work of Amanda Flower, but the cover was adorable and I like paranormal mysteries. I decided to give Crime and Poetry a chance, and I am glad that I did.

First, the characters are delightful and engaging. They are sympathetic and quirky, without being so oddball as to fall into cliche. Violet is a rational, book-obsessed academic. When Grandma Daisy tells her that the spring is magical, and that the books in Charming Books talk to her, she is understandably skeptical. It takes a lot to convince her. There was no immediate acceptance, which I found true to Violet’s character.

Grandma Daisy is wonderful: warm-hearted, endearing, and passionate about books and her legacy as Caretaker. Relationships are vital to her, whether they are with the anima loci of the spring, the books in Charming Books, the injured crow and other animals she has taken in, or her customers and friends. She forgives the wrongs of the past much more readily than Violet, and so has a hard time understanding why her granddaughter is reluctant to return to Cascade Springs.

Then there is the town itself. Cascade Springs lies just down the road from Niagara Falls. Tourism and the water bottling plant are the two biggest employers, and locals take full advantage of their town’s historic and quirky nature. Most of the businesses are converted houses. Charming Books itself is a converted Victorian with gigantic windows and a live birch tree growing in the middle of the main floor. Parks and wild spots abound, and horse-drawn carriages are almost as common as automobiles. More importantly, the people are (for the most part) genuinely nice. If I were to hazard a guess, that has something to do with the magic spring that is the main water supply ….

The mystery at the heart of Crime and Poetry is, thankfully, not easy to solve. Although I had some idea as to the why about halfway through, I still didn’t know who. There were plenty of suspects, and Flower kept me guessing right up until Violet herself figured it out. Even better, books play a critical role in the story and in solving the murder; in the case of Crime and Poetry, the works of Emily Dickinson are key. (I’m curious to see which author pops up in the following books.)

And, of course, there is the spring itself. There is nothing flashy or in-your-face magical about the spring. It simply is, and has been for thousands of years. Police Chief Rainwater’s Seneca ancestors honored the spring for generations. When they “traded” it to English colonists, Violet’s ancestors came to recognize the spring for what it was: numinous, enspirited, the home of an anima loci. But that is a carefully guarded secret and any talk of a “magical” spring is assumed by everyone to be a marketing ploy.

The first volume in A Magical Bookshop Mystery is a fun, light read filled with wonderful characters. Highly recommended to fans of paranormal mysteries and lovers of Emily Dickinson.

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have been published in a variety of venues, a complete list of which can be found on EHS.]