P.J. Coldren, longtime Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Mystery judge and fan guest of honor at this year’s Malice Domestic has posted a review of A Spell of Murder saying, “Clea Simon’s new series may be just the thing…” and concluding, “Great fun for lovers of the cozy mystery.”
‘A Spell of Murder’ by Clea Simon
Published by Polis Books,
27 December 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-947993-32-7. (HB)Clea Simon has been writing for a while; this is by no means her first rodeo. It is, however, the first in a new series about a witch (in training) in Cambridge, Massachusetts and her three felines. Becca is the only woman who has actually “done” any magic: she conjured up a very nice gold velvet pillow, complete with tassels. The members of her coven are all agog, and to one degree or another, jealous, skeptical, curious, and varying other normal emotions. The lone male warlock, Trent, is quite interested. Becca just isn’t sure what is piquing that interest. Is it her magical skills (so far, confined to this one cushion) or her feminine attributes? She is recently single, and also unemployed – so one plus, one minus.
Suzanne, one of the other members of the group invites Becca over to discuss something private. Becca meets Nathan on Suzanne’s doorstep; he’s gone before Becca discovers Suzanne’s dead body. Becca’s ex-boyfriend Jeff calls her just as she approaches Suzanne’s open door. What are the chances that both the meeting and the call are purely coincidence? Is it relevant that Jeff was, until very recently, dating Suzanne? Detective Abrams has lots of questions, about all of this and more. In the meantime, Becca is job-hunting with the help of some other members of the coven. Is it relevant that one interview is with the ex-husband of one of the group? Apparently not to Larissa, who fails to mention this possibly salient fact to Becca before the interview. What is Nathan doing at the interview site? Competition? Does any of this have to do with Becca’s ancestor, once caught up in a witch trial back in the dark times in Salem? Becca’s skills as a researcher come in handy as she tries to figure out who killed Suzanne and what her connection was to the Salem ancestor.
What Becca doesn’t know (and neither does anyone else in the story) is that all the magic belongs to her cats, three sisters from an old and royal feline lineage. Clara, the youngest, is the narrator, with interruptions and interjections from Harriet (the oldest) and Laurel (the middle child). It was Harriet, always in search of physical comfort and food, who conjured up the pillow. Clara seems to use the most magic in this story, however; she uses her ability to blend into her surroundings in order to follow Becca all over town. She and her sisters, to varying degrees, are vested in Becca not being arrested for the murder of Suzanne.
As I said, Simon isn’t new to writing mysteries. If a reader has no issues with domestic animals as narrators (fans of Rita Mae Brown and Spencer Quinn will know whereof I speak) then Clea Simon’s new series may be just the thing. The plotting is good, with enough leftovers to fuel a few more books. Cambridge is just about the perfect setting for a historical researcher interested in witches and the like. The romantic angles alone can keep this going for a while. Simon writes well enough to keep all the cats separate in the mind of the reader, and also does this for the numerous secondary characters. Again, enough there for at least two or three more books. Great fun for lovers of the cozy mystery.
Reviewer: P.J. Coldren