Cold Clay: A Murder Mystery by Juneau Black – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Cold Clay: A Murder Mystery by Juneau Black.
Philadelphia, PA, Hammer & Birch, November 2017, trade paperback, $12.95 (198 {+ 1] pages), Kindle $4.99.

This sequel to Shady Hollow: A Murder Mystery, described as “a Murder, She Wrote with animals”, is a worthy followup to it. Again the cast is:

Vera Vixen: This cunning, foxy reporter has a nose for trouble and a desire to find out the truth, no matter where the path leads.

Deputy Orville Braun: This large brown bear is the more hardworking half of the Shady Hollow constabulary. He works by the book. But his book has half the pages ripped out.

Joe Elkin: This genial giant of a moose runs the town coffee shop – the local gathering spot. If gossip is spoken, Joe has heard it, but this time, he is the gossip.”

And too many others to list here. Cold Clay takes place several months after the events in Shady Hollow.   The animal inhabitants of the village of Shady Hollow are settling back into their peaceful routine – newspaper reporter Vera Vixen might call it boring – when the rabbit farm workers of Cold Clay Orchards who are transplanting an apple tree find the skeleton of a moose buried beneath it.

The news soon spreads, and all thoughts turn to the popular moose proprietor of Joe’s Mug, Shady Hollow’s coffee shop. Joe’s wife Julia disappeared eleven years ago. She was flighty and hadn’t wanted to stay in what she considered a nowheresville, so when she vanished, leaving Joe with their baby son, everyone assumed that she had walked out on them. But a moose’s skeleton, which is soon determined to be the missing Julia’s, and that she was murdered, sets all Shady Hollow talking again. There’s not really any evidence against Joe, but there isn’t against anyone else, either.

“Orville gestured for Vera to come to his desk. He handed her a copy of the arrest report, and said, ‘The orders from Chief Meade [another bear] are clear. In light of the evidence of a troubled marriage and Julia’s disappearance eleven years ago, and the recovery of the body this week, we arrested Joe Elkin on the charge of murder.’

‘Oh, Orville,’ Vera said, unable to hide her disappointment.

He bent his head, saying in a much lower voice, ‘You can’t print this, Vera. Meade insisted I arrest somebody, and Joe is the only suspect. He wants it to be understood that the police are on top of the matter.’

‘But you don’t think Joe did it!’ Vera guessed.

‘If he’s innocent, he’ll be fine.’ Orville’s expression was one of extreme doubt.” (pgs. 91-92)

Vera, an investigative reporter, is determined to discover who really did it since the police aren’t looking for anyone else. But where are there clues to an unsuspected murder eleven years earlier? And Vera is forcibly sidetracked when Octavia Grey, a haughty silver-furred mink, moves to Shady Hollow, starts a school of etiquette, and takes out a full-page ad for it in Vera’s newspaper. Vera’s skunk editor, who doesn’t want to offend a major advertiser, orders Vera to enroll in Ms. Grey’s school and spend all her time writing puff pieces on it.

Vera senses something suspicious about the aristocratic Ms. Grey almost immediately. But she suspects some kind of con artist at worst. How could a newcomer to Shady Hollow be connected to a murder eleven years in the past?

Cold Clay is full of the animal inhabitants of Shady Hollow. There’s Vera’s friend Lenore Lee, the raven proprietor of the village’s bookshop. There are Edith Von Beaverpelt and her daughter Anastasia, snobs who don’t want to be interviewed by a lowly reporter, and Howard Chitters, Mrs. Von Beaverpelt’s mouse manager of the local sawmill. There are Gladys Honeysuckle, the town gossip (a professional; she writes a gossip column for the Shady Hollow Herald), and Sun Li, the panda owner of The Bamboo Patch, an Oriental vegetarian restaurant. Professor Ambrosius Heidegger, the owl philosopher, seems too stuffy to be a serious suspect.

“‘Hmpf.’ Lenore ruffled her feathers. She wasnot the most cheerful of birds. ‘So what’s she like, then? This new mink?’

‘She’s very classy,’ Vera said. ‘But nice as well. Shesounds like she’s had an interesting life. Born into a family of aristocrats and has all sorts of stories about meeting royalty and such.’

Lenore gave a skeptical-sounding squawk. ‘Oh, indeed? And she gave it all up for Shady Hollow?’

‘There’s nothing wrong with Shady Hollow,’ Vera said defensively.

‘Course there is! No place is perfect, and we have bones out in the orchard, don’t we?’” (p. 62)

Cold Clay (cover by James T. Egan) is a second witty “cozy” murder mystery by “Juneau Black” (Jocelyn Koehler and Sharon Nagel). With animals. The characters are mostly funny animals (although Lenore Lee, a raven, does fly looking for clues from the air), but if this doesn’t bother you, it’s an enjoyable light read.

– Fred Patten