Thursday, May 14, 2020

“Bells, Tails, & Murder” by Kathy Manos Penn

Leta Parker has a rather unusual gift. Since childhood, she can talk with dogs and cats. Now, a lot of us are known for talking with dogs and/or cats, but Leta really talks with them. She understands everything a dog or cat will bark or meow, respectively. She doesn’t advertise this gift; her family thought she was really strange, and she doesn’t need other people thinking she’s more than strange.

She’s an American who’s just moved to Astonbury in the Cotswolds in England. Leta is a widow; her husband Henry died from injuries when he was struck by a car while cycling, and Leta is not really over his death. His pension and life insurance gave her the financial freedom necessary to do something she always wanted to do – live in the Cotswolds. And she’s made good friends throughout the town – the car garage owner, the bookstore proprietor, the innkeeper and his wife, and many others. One town resident everyone knows is Alice Johnson, who cleans houses (and the inn) and is an excellent cook.

Kathy Manos Penn
Early one morning, Leta takes her dog Dickens (the pets invariably have literary names; Leta’s cat is named Christie) for a walk neat the town’s memorial cricket pavilion. The walk barely starts when Leta and Dickens discover Alice’s body. While her death appears accidental, as if she tripped and hit her head, her purse is missing. When Leta goes to find and feed Alice’s cat, she discovers the home has been ransacked.  Even worse, Leta sees a figurine that her late husband had given her; did Alice steal it? As it turns out, Alice had a penchant for pilfering, especially valuable books, like first editions of the worlds of J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan and who had strong connections to the Astonbury area.

Bells, Tails, & Murder by Kathy Manos Penn is the first mystery novel in the Dickens & Christie series, and it’s a fun fusion of literary history, life in the Cotswolds, talking pets, theft and greed, and murder. It’s officially classed as a “cozy” mystery, which means it’s a clean story, with no bad language or R- or NC-17-rated scenes. It also includes a recipe for Greek salad, which plays a small role in the story. Penn also artfully keeps the reader guessing as to the villain’s identity, and it’s great fun to keep guessing as new clues emerge.

Penn is also the author of the second novel in the Dickens & Christie series, Pumpkins, Paws, & MurderLord Banjo the Royal Pooch; and The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday.

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