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Fateful Words

This week, Don reviews “Fateful Words; a Scottish Bookshop Mystery” by Paige Shelton.

Paige Shelton has five mystery series going. Besides this one, set in Edinburgh, partly in the Cracked Spine bookstore, there is a series in Alaska, one centered around a country cooking school, one in a farmers’ market, and one based on typefaces—Helvetica, Sans Serif, etc. That is a LOT of expertise. How is that possible?

The bookstore novels have as protagonist the amateur sleuth Delaney Nichols, an American from Kansas, who moved to Edinburgh, fell in love with the city and married a pub owner named Tom. She works in the bookstore, but her real job is to organize the many collections of an eccentric millionaire named Edwin MacAlister, kept in a warehouse behind the bookstore. “Fateful Words” opens with Delaney meeting with an expert appraiser to ask for an assessment of the value of Edwin’s antique monocle and spectacle collection. She is given a monocle on a chain with, by coincidence, the inscription “Tom” engraved on it. We know this will be important later.

In any case, she leads the tour to literary sites around Edinburgh. This material is intrinsically interesting and, surely, the reader’s favorite part. We are told, rather briefly, about Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful dog who stays for years by his master’s grave, the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, and an old school that may be a partial setting for Hogwarts. There are references on the tour to Muriel Spark’s “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” From time to time in this series, Delaney hears advice-giving voices in her head. In this novel the voice is from “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, among others.

Another woman is struck in the head, a woman goes missing, secret relationships are revealed, Edwin’s problem solved, and eventually, of course, Delaney finds herself in mortal danger. Having captured her, the villain foolishly, egotistically, explains his actions to her and us. As is typical for cozies, all the actual violence is off-stage. Even though the plot is thin, and Delaney does not seem to solve the various mysteries, readers of this series are fond of Delaney, and Edinburgh and bookstores and pubs and the Royal Mile and Harry Potter locales, and who am I to begrudge the public its taste?

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.