“Murder at Harbor Village”
Author: G. P. Gardner
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Co.
Price: $15.00 (Paper)
Cozies are springing up all over.
Just a few weeks ago a new series, The Sarah Blair Mysteries by Debra Goldstein, was launched in Birmingham; now the first in a new series is out in Fairhope, Alabama.
In the opening pages of “Murder at Harbor Village,” we meet Cleo Mack, our heroine and narrator. Dr. Mack lives in Atlanta where she is a professor of social work and chair of the department.
We know from the start that she is something of a psychologist, a trained observer of human nature and, as chair of an academic department, has seen her share of human pettiness and strife.
Mack, not yet 50 years old, has been offered an early retirement package and is visiting Fairhope, wondering if it is a place she might want to move to and if she can afford to live there.
Gardner, a Fairhoper, has a good time moving Mack around town. The Fairhope Chamber of Commerce will have no complaints about the picture she paints. Cleo eats shrimp and grits on the Fairhope Pier and, her first night there, enjoys not just a regular sunset but a gorgeous multi-colored Cathedral Sunset.
Her impromptu dinner companion is warm and friendly and the next morning at Julwin’s she overhears a conversation at the next table, two men discussing internal rhyme and the poetry of Billy Collins.
The town is so beautiful and picturesque that in a phone call with her grown daughter, Stephanie, she says “You’ve got to see this place, honey. It’s St. Mary Mead come to life.” St. Mary Mead is the pretty village of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and it is one of the most dangerous places on earth to live. There is a murder every little while, as in Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove in “Murder She Wrote.”
Cleo Mack, a widow and too young for Social Security, will have to work some, and is soon taken on at Harbor Village, a retirement community with several tiers, including assisted living. She will work in Resident Services, right up her alley.
She is just starting when she meets, in the administration building, an unpleasant woman in a bright green, size two dress and wearing tall, platform shoes, wedgies. This is Lee Ferrell, from corporate. The family name is well-known from their donations to Public Television, but Lee Ferrell is awful anyway. She has a “forced smile” and she leaves their meeting with “long, fashion-model strides.”
In a few minutes, that woman will be dead, her body found in the community pool. Cleo thinks, first, that she must have tripped in her stupid shoes and fallen and drowned, but the title is not “Accidental Drowning at Harbor Village.”
It was murder and, surprise, the nasty, dead Lee Ferrell is the brand-new wife of Cleo’s long-ago ex-husband, Travis, father of her Stephanie.
Cleo, calmly taking the reins at the Village, learns of embezzlement, opioid medication theft, and ghost employees. Much is rotten at Harbor Village.
This is a perfectly bloodless cozy—no torture, violence, actually very few angry words. The police are competent. Suspects are interrogated, CCTV video is scrutinized, the financial records reveal the thieves, and the murderer is discovered, all very civilly. Cleo adopts a stray cat, of course, named Tinkerbelle (with an e on the end) and kittens are successfully established in the assistant living section as therapy animals.
“Kittens were everywhere, sleeping in laps and climbing the furniture.”
No cozy without kitties.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.