Jeanne of the Bookblogof the Bristol Library is back today with her latest review….
Treadmill Books: Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery Series by Jane K. Cleland
Josie Prescott is the owner of Prescott’s Antiques, a thriving business that specializes in antiques and collectibles of all sorts, from Chinese porcelains to movie posters. She started her business after learning the trade in a New York auction house but found her career in shambles when she testified against her boss in a price fixing scandal that sent him to prison. Starting over from the ground up was the only solution.
Fortunately for readers, expensive antiques seem to attract all sorts of felonies, murder among them. Josie’s expertise in antiques is often the key to solving these crimes in these solid, entertaining books.
Uncharacteristically for me, this is not a series I’ve read in order; I have yet to read the first in series, hence the overview description.
For the most part, Cleland takes her clues from the Golden Age mysteries; she plays fair with the reader in presenting clues; murders may be violent but occur off stage; and while there are personal developments among the characters, it’s never a soap opera. (Cleland is a fan of the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout; one of her police officers is also named Rowcliff and several times she’s dropped in names to make an Archie aficionado smile.) The surrounding cast members are there to support Josie, either personally or professionally. There is mutual respect and fondness between Josie and employees but she doesn’t pry into their personal lives.
Josie is the best developed character, and she’s someone I like a lot. She’s smart, practical, and down to earth. As a boss, she’s fair and generous, but she also expects results. One reviewer complained about the number of times that Josie mentioned or quoted her late father; while I noticed it, I wasn’t unduly bothered by it. Her father was a huge influence on her life and I didn’t find it odd that she continues to refer to him. I find myself still quoting my late mother and I notice other people doing the same, especially as we age.
The antiques aspect is fascinating to me. Think “Antiques Roadshow,” because Josie will give brief but interesting comments on items that turn up at her auction house or that she is called upon to appraise. For example, 1860s era dolls may have been used to smuggle small items across borders during the American Civil War; early movie posters might be designed by local artists, some of whom went on to garner more fame as designers or painters; snow globes became popular in France in the 1800s and spread to England during the Victorian era. Each of these facts became important during a book, sometimes as part of the process of valuing an object and often in solving the murder. I enjoy reading about how items are authenticated, which may entail finding out if the purported manufacturer had a particular component in his inventory when the object was allegedly created. I also appreciate the behind the scenes look at how things come together. For example, Josie offers a tag sale each week, usually of lower end, affordable items that draw in crowds and reduce excess inventory. Occasionally, she will put in items of higher value at low prices to give savvy shoppers the thrill of finding a treasure. It almost makes me want to go to a tag sale, except that I don’t really need or want any more things. It’s the thrill of the chase.
Later on in the series, there’s even a cat!
As you might gather, I do enjoy this series. I’ve recommended it to several people. However, it’s not a treadmill book. Cleland likes to plant clues subtly so a reader has to pay attention to solve the mystery. Like Agatha Christie, she will drop in tidbits in casual conversations that have crime solving implications, and I am not at my sharpest when I’m trudging along. Equally, I’m not going to enjoy all those lovely bits of information about antiques when part of my mind is wondering if I’m close to getting in my quota of steps for the day.
Treadmill, no. Fine mystery series, yes.