“At the Bottom of the Stairs,” a Blackfriar Mystery by M’lissa Moorcroft

Cozy Mysteries: crime stories in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. Well, the community in this case is an old mansion-turned-apartment building on the California coast near the Bay Area. As we expect in this genre, the building is populated by individuals, to say the least. Each is gleefully laid out for us in the first chapter by the local gossip, an old Russian with a bent for prying into other people’s business. With, as we soon find out, financial gain in mind. Which doesn’t make her very popular with anyone, and the plot goes exactly where we expect it to from there.

But on the topic of character exposition, I do have a small complaint. This book starts with a Cast of Characters, with a lengthy description of each person, far too detailed and complex to make head or tail of. I am not in favour of this technique. In the first place, it means that the Amazon “Read Inside” function gives us more pages of Cast of Characters description than pages of Chapter One. This, in turn, leads us to expect that this author is more interested in telling us about people than showing us their actions. Which, fortunately, is not the case in this book.

The main character, Irene, is appropriately empathetic, with a grasping about-to-be-ex-husband trying to get his hands on the hidden profits from her sexy romance novels. The other characters range from Tatiana the perfectly nasty, through Robert the funeral home director, all the way to Marlon, a rather expressively gay hairdresser and Bob, whose James Bond looks and secretive ways make him rather alluring.

The plot is as complex as one would expect with so many characters getting equal screen time, and the humour is a constant pleasant thread through the writing. All very cozy, rather low-key but entertaining.

This is Book 1 of a very tightly interconnected serial of 4 books, each building on the plotline of the others, so expect to read them all eventually. I did.

Recommended for Cosy Mystery fans. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


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