ARC Review: Shady Hollow: A Murder Mystery

Shady Hollow: A Murder Mystery by Juneau Black 

Imagine the quaintest small country village that you can. Quiet streets, most folks walking rather than driving. A friendly cafe where the locals hang out to share the gossip of the day. A multistory bookstore (because we all love books right?), and a laid back, mostly absent police force because there isn’t much for the police to do. That’s the village of Shady Hollow, tucked away in the north woods far from all the hustle and bustle of big city life.

Now imagine that quaint small town is populated by animals, or creatures as Juneau Black calls them in this first book of a series of cozy mysteries. The police chief and his deputy are bears. The ace reporter at the local newspaper is a fox, who works for a skunk of an editor. A raven runs the bookstore, a moose owns the cafe. Of course a family of beavers run the local sawmill, the economic engine of Shady Hollow.

The quiet life of this little village is disturbed one day by the discovery of the body of the town curmudgeon, an old toad of a creature. Vera Vixen, the foxy ace reporter, finds him floating face down in the millpond. When his body is pulled ashore it becomes clear that he’s been stabbed. A murderer is loose in Shady Hollow, and now Vera is hot on the trail.

Still with me? I know this isn’t the type of book I usually go for, but when I read the blurb I had to read it. Once upon a time I was a huge fan of mysteries. I favored the old time stuff - Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers - that kind of thing. With the occasional Tony Hillerman thrown into the mix. 

I supposed that I’d moved on from that type of book, but lately I’ve become intrigued with cozy mysteries. Throw in the almost fantasy element of a town populated by animals (sorry, creatures) and this book was speaking to me.

I’m not going to lie - this is a lightweight book that’s not going to change your life. I read it in one day. It’s an entertaining diversion, and I really liked it. Juneau Black gives us a well crafted, fully drawn world that will stick with me.

A couple of interesting bits of background on this book. For one,  “Juneau Black” is the pen name of not one but two authors, Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel, who collaborated on this series. I’m not sure why they chose to write under a singular pen name, as they tell us who they are on the first page of the book.

And second, it turns out that the authors wrote this book during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) several years back. It was initially an indie published book that has only now been picked up by Vintage Crime. I love that an indie book (and series) like this has broken through with a national publisher.

Anyway, the authors who are Juneau Black describe their series as a mix of Agatha Christie and Beatrix Potter.  It’s a fun cozy mystery. If that sounds like something you might like, go grab a copy. Like me, you’ll have a smile on your face as you race alongside Vera to figure out “who done it”. I give Shady Hollow Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.

NOTE: I received an advanced copy from Netgalley and Vintage Crime / Black Lizard. I am voluntarily providing this review. This book was just released on January 25th.

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Title: Shady Hollow: A Murder Mystery
Author: Juneau Black
Publisher: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard (Knopf Doubleday)
Publish Date: January 25, 2022
ISBN-13: 9780593315712
Publisher’s List Price: $16.00 (Paperback as of 02/2022)