Berkley Prime Crime, 2008. ISBN 978-0-425-21946-1.
Reviewed by Gwen Whitehead
Posted on 05/27/2008
I've been a fan of mystery and detective fiction since I opened my first Trixie Belden book when I was in elementary school. I devoured Nancy Drew, pined for the Hardy Boys (my mother, in one of her rare fits of sexist behavior, wouldn't let me enjoy Frank and Joe's exploits), and quickly moved on to whatever romantic mysteries my mother was reading. As I grew older, my tastes ranged from the Golden Age mysteries to police procedurals to cozies to hard-boiled tales. Now, as an adult and the possessor of an advanced degree in English, I still indulge my passion for mysteries. Laura Childs' The Silver Needle Murder, the ninth Tea Shop Mystery, satisfies my perpetual longing to find a new voice in mystery fiction.
Laura Childs is not a newcomer to the mystery genre. In addition to the Tea Shop Mysteries, she writes a series involving scrapbooking and another one about a group of middle-aged women who have formed what they call the Cackleberry Club.
Childs' heroine, Theodosia Browning, is the owner of the Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston, South Carolina. As the novel opens, all of Charleston is abuzz about the Charleston Film Festival. Theodosia hopes looks to gain extra business in the tea shop during the festival and looks forward to the social aspect of the event. Before long, she is pressed into service as a judge. On the first night of the festival, a murder occurs, setting all of Charleston fluttering and Theodosia sleuthing.
Theodosia Browning is an intriguing heroine. She is all the things we've come to expect of the main character of a cozy mystery. She can be nosy; she is persistent; she is dogged when pursuing a thread that she thinks will lead somewhere; she is passionate about finding the culprit and simultaneously clearing anyone who may be unjustly or incorrectly accused; she is fearless when she needs to be. Theodosia is a well-rounded character with just enough mystery about her to entice a reader to return for more.
Childs surrounds Theo with a cast of wacky counterparts, but she avoids the pitfall of making Theodosia's friends too odd. Drayton, the catering manager and master tea blender, is just persnickety enough to satisfy the reader, but not so stuffy that he becomes a distraction or a drag. Childs says: "Drayton was a self-proclaimed arbiter of style and taste. He was also imbued with a keen sense of melodrama" (2). Even as she paints him with a broad brush, Childs avoids caricature. While his pronouncements are a bit waspish and even old-womanish, he is rounded enough to make the reader care about him and what happens to him.
In addition to Drayton, Childs supplies Theodosia with a love interest (Parker) who is attentive enough to keep Theodosia—and the reader—happy, but is not smothering in his affections. Haley, the cook at the Indigo Tea Shop, is inventive in the kitchen and supportive of her employer's sleuthing. While Haley does not figure largely in The Silver Needle Murder, her presence is necessary, and it leaves room for Haley to grow and become more involved in the other cases that are sure to come Theodosia's way. Two other character types are included: the crotchety police detective, Detective Tidwell, and the endearing pet, Theodosia's dog Earl Grey.
Before coming to The Silver Needle Murder, I had not read any of Childs' work, and I opened the book with some trepidation. I wasn't familiar with these characters; what if I didn't like them? The book was a cozy, and I'm more of a hard-boiled fan. I needn't have worried. I fell into the first chapter of The Silver Needle Murder and was only disappointed when the book came to an end.
Laura Childs began her career in the advertising business as a writer and producer. After trying her hand at screenplays, Childs turned to writing mysteries. More information about Childs and her novels can be found at her website.
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