Review: Nine Lives (A Lily Dale Mystery) by Wendy Corsi Staub

Nine-Lives-coverReview: Nine Lives (A Lily Dale Mystery) by Wendy Corsi Staub
Source: ARC courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 27, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books
Verdict: Good/Very Good
Book Description:

In this warm and witty series debut from New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub, a widowed young mom plans a fresh start in Chicago–but instead finds her way to a quirky lakeside village that just happens to be populated by mediums.

When reluctant road trippers Bella Jordan and her son Max detour to Lily Dale, New York, they’re planning to deliver a lost cat to its home and then move on, searching for one of their own. But the footloose feline’s owner Leona Gatto has unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind a pregnant pet without a mistress, a busy inn without a keeper–and a lovable circle of neighbors who chat with dead people.

After agreeing to help out temporarily, sensible Bella doesn’t need psychic gifts to figure out that a houseful of tourists and a litter of kittens lie in her immediate future–or that Leona was murdered. It’s up to her to solve the case so that she and Max can leave town, but their new home–like Leona’s killer–might just lurk where she least expects it.

This has been a great year for mystery reading! I have read everything from historical mysteries in children’s, teen and adult fiction to contempoary thrillers, procedural crime fiction, and now further forays into supernatural mysteries. Nine Lives, from prolific suspense writer Wendy Corsi Staub, is a cozy mystery with a paranormal touch.

Staub writes elegantly and brings to life a town filled with eccentrics, busybody’s and kind and caring people. Imagine a supernaturally inclined Stars Hollow, slow down the dialogue, and you might get a picture of what Lily Dale looks like. Readers follow young widow Bella and her son Max as they pack up their lives in New York to move closer to a grandparent in Chicago. Early into their road trip, however, they’re derailed by a malfunctioning car and…a peculiar and pregnant cat.

Winding up in the unusual small town of Lily Dale- beacon to physics, mediums, individuals who contact and converse with the departed- Bella is immediately taken in by a beloved local named Odelia and learns that the owner of Chance the cat- a celebrated physic named Leona- has recently died. With her son completely besotted by Chance, Odelia and the town, Bella reluctantly agrees to stay in town for a few days- running Leona’s guesthouse. The overarching mystery of Nine Lives is the investigation into the death of Chance’s owner: first thought to be an accident, clues start to point to the possibility of murder. Unexplained occurrences such as nightly visions, mysterious footprints, and shadows in the lake happen and Bella becomes increasingly suspicious of everyone around her.

One of the strengths of Nine Lives lies in the author’s crafting of Lily Dale and its characters. Bella is not the most memorable of protagonists, however the inhabitants of Lily Dale, along with the bustle of the guesthouse, more than pick up the slack. Staub is also great in building an uneasy atmosphere; that prickly and uncomfortable feeling of ‘something is just not right’ pervades the novel. Lighter on suspense and action than I anticipated, Nine Lives runs at a slower pace and tends to drift in various directions, but it still works itself to a good climax and heartwarming ending. A few characters get lost in the shuffle here as well, with Bella’s amateur sleuthing and distrustful internal dialogue overshadowing character development. That being said though, once I started Nine Lives and got into the groove of Bella’s viewpoint and the phantasmal world of Lily Dale, I could not put it down.

Overall, I was really charmed by Nine Lives. A sub-genre of mystery writing that is relatively new for me (as I tend to historical and contemporary suspense), I find myself growing increasingly enamored of paranormal/supernatural mysteries. For readers looking for a new series to try that combines elements of small town quirkiness, supernatural leanings, felines and murder, Nine Lives is a solid pick. With specific plot points left pretty wide open- including some potential romantic entanglements- I do hope we get to read more about Lily Dale in the future.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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