Elizabeth Penney’s A Treacherous Tale

51nrHJ0vJfL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_Elizabeth Penney’s A Trecherous Tale is the second in her Cambridge Bookshop series. While a little time is spent catching up the reader with the lead, Molly Kimball, and her life the majority is spent upon the mystery itself. 

Molly is living her life and working on her business, a family bookstore, in England when her issues seem to stack up. She is dating a young man named Kieran who is friendly and a nearby business owner. His parents are also actual English title holders. The depiction of her intimidation related to this is believable, although the level of acceptance that they give to an outsider might be considered less so. She also has a cat, the friendly Clarence depicted on the cover. As someone who has frequented independent bookshops, one without either a cat or a dog is decidedly rare, and as a result the presence of the animal gives the story a little more life and texture.

Other members of the cast, including Molly’s boyfriend, get comparatively little characterization but enough to be serviceable. More temporary characters, such as author Iona York or her two grown daughters, our characterized more clearly due to the necessity of plot. In a first volume or a standalone this would be somewhat risky bordering on a flaw, however when dealing with a series leaving some characters more thinly sketched than others is easy to justify.

Much of this volume deals with the in universe children’s book Strawberry Girls. Indeed large portion of the book transition to italicized excerpt of that volume’s text. While the first one or two might be justifiable on their own as flavor, the fact they keep recurring afterward makes it clear to the reader these passages will be relevant to the overall plot and mystery.

This is always a tricky proposition, as it requiress the author to carefully keep  more than one narrative clear. Ever harder the author must make sure that both texts are engaging yet clearly differentiated from one another. Penney chose here to handle that problem by making the book within a children’s fantasy, which is comfortable enough to be familiar and work well with the cozy mystery as a genre. At the same time it never become so similar that the reader will confuse one for the other, even as certain character names seem to overlap slightly.

The mystery itself, beginning with discovering that a local man named Robin has plummeted to his death, manages to be mostly believable and entertaining. Initially seeming likely nothing more than an accident to those who view it, evidence quickly piles up for the lead as well as the coroner’s office that something just doesn’t add up. As more and more tantalizing hints are put forth in the pieces of Strawberry Girls, Molly fines for self-balancing questions about the story and it’s relation to reality.

Overall, A Treacherous Tale is an enjoyable entry in the series from an author who has already proven her skill with dozens of books. Anyone who enjoys her novels would do well to check it out, as would fans of bookshop mysteries in general.


(St. Martin’s Paperbacks 2022)

Warner Holme

Warner Holme is a longtime booklover who tends to read anything he can. He has held many positions, ranging from the educational to medical all the way to the mildly usurous. Largely forgotten by those around him, Warner has lived in a number of locations, yet keeps being pulled back to the south. He currently lives there with his pets, and politely asks not to be disturbed.

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