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Friday, June 30, 2017

The Things That Make Us Who We Are

Typically I respond to any hint of a book being a “cozy” (or “cosy”, if you prefer the British spelling) mystery in much the same way I approach certain other things which I hold in disregard, at best (or abject fear and/or great distaste, at worst)—Spiders. Liver (as a “food”, not a necessary part of my body). Rats (as in, not the cute-&-domesticated variety). Visits to the dentist.—I back away, shaking my head and wrinkling my nose from a safe distance. 

You see, anything that smacks of being remotely twee—which is how I tend to view that subset of the mystery genre—holds little to no interest for me. (If, of course, so-called cozies are your bag, that’s totally cool.)

It was definitely, then, with some trepidation—and a really hesitant trigger finger (hovering above the “purchase now” button on Amazon)—that I deigned to purchase what was described as a (modern) cozy, John Bowen’s Death Stalks Kettle Street. (Point of fact, though, the description—and the recommendation I’d read somewhere—sounded really good.) 

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Greg Unsworth is a pretty great guy. Smart, funny, considerate, responsible, good-looking, healthy, fit—seems like just the sort of chap who would lead at least a semi-charmed life, you know? But there’s a catch: Greg suffers from a serious case of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which has basically condemned him to living a very small life. He can’t walk on cracks, lines, etc. He can’t cross streets (without first performing what usually turns out to be numerous countdowns in his head from 100, before his foot can even leave the curb). He wakes up at the crack of dawn and cleans his small, already-meticulous flat. His mug handles all have to face precisely the same direction in the cupboard. He has to close his front door several times upon entering or leaving to make sure it’s actually, really, truly closed. 

Shorter? This lovely man is not quite—but is very nearly—house-bound.

One day, however, something happens to shake up his quiet little neighborhood on Kettle Street: he learns that a neighbor—an older man, so not a huge surprise—has died a rather unpleasant death. 

Life goes on, as it tends to do, until a few days later, when Greg sees a young woman frantically yelling at the front door of another one of his neighbors—an elderly woman, with a fondness for whisky—and, after being co-opted by the agitated girl, they discover the body of that nice old lady, apparently the victim of a very bad fall. 

Another sad thing, but surely just fate, right? Both of the dearly-departed were in their golden years, and all. 

But, when yet another neighbor—one not so up-in-the-years, this time—winds up dead,  Greg can only conclude there’s more at work than a series of unfortunate coincidences. 

The highly-anxious Greg, along with his new friend, the beautiful Beth (a librarian who lives and works just a few blocks away, who’d been checking up on one of the library’s patrons--the tippling widow--on the day they met), take their story to the police… where, naturally, they’re met with skepticism and disbelief. (“A serial killer on Kettle Street? Knocking people off randomly? Pish-posh!”) All of this leaves, of course, the intrepid-in-spirit (if not in physicality) duo to try to piece together what’s going on, before the entire population of Kettle Street winds up six feet under.   

What makes things so very much more interesting is that Beth isn’t just a pretty face, either; like Greg, Beth has to deal with her own Thing. (Yes, yes, so do we all, but we’re not talking in any generic sense, here.) Beth has cerebral palsy, which renders her speech a bit off, gives a decidedly-noticeable wobble to her gait, and makes doing things with her hands a not-always-successful-on-the-first-(or-even-second)-attempt ordeal.

As these two individuals come together—first, to stop a killer, and then, as friends, once they start looking beyond their neighbors and take a closer look at each other—the story becomes something far greater than the sum of its parts (which are, in their own rights, actually pretty darn good parts).

Oh, and the denouement, when it comes? Not one I was expecting… (so, kudos to the author for keeping me guessing).

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Death Stalks Kettle Street unexpectedly struck all the right notes with me. It’s a crackling-good mystery, first—with a tinge of Rear Window, in parts (one of my favorite movies, so a good thing, that). The supporting characters and other relationships are all interesting and are responsible for some nifty little twists, as well.

It’s the main characters, though—Greg and Beth—who sparkle like beautifully-imperfect diamonds, here… even under the extraordinarily-bright light which Bowen shines upon them (and all their issues, baggage, eccentricities, and just plain stuff). That each of them is a little further out of the mainstream than we generally see in mysteries (of any type) lends a wonderful dimension to the tale… and to their individual stories, as we see how they live, cope, and thrive. 

The fact that neither of their impairments is anything which can be “tidied up” by book’s end, but is something that each of them, instead, will have to continue living and dealing with forever, because those things are intrinsic parts of themselves? Leaves the reader—certainly this one—with a lovely sense that everything can still, under all sorts of odds and less-than-ideal (on paper) situations, be quite “right”. 

There is magic in that message… and I highly recommend giving Death Stalks Kettle Street your time.


~GlamKitty

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