Genre: cozy mystery with a paranormal twist
When cat lover and quilter Jillian Hart volunteers to help a local animal shelter relocate a large colony of feral cats living in an abandoned textile mill, she never expects to find a woman living there as well. Jeannie went missing from Mercy, South Carolina, a decade ago, after her own daughter's disappearance. Folks believed she’d left in search of her runaway daughter, but she’s been hiding in the mill all this time.
Jeannie refuses to leave the mill or abandon her cat, Boots - who died years ago. After all, her job is to protect the premises from “creepers" who come in the night. After Jeannie is taken out on a stretcher following an accident, a body is found concealed in the mill’s old fireplace. As the wheels start turning in Jillian’s mind, she is aided in unearthing a long-kept dark secret by a mysterious new feline friend.
The local textile mill in Mercy, South Carolina, has been abandoned for many years now, and is slowly falling apart. And now, suddenly, two different investor groups have plans for the refurbishing of the old place, and the Mercy Council will have to decide which plan has the most benefit for the town. To find that out, they have hired a young architect to study the mill, and recommend what is needed to convert the old place in condo’s or a mill museum with shops. But first, they will have to relocate the colony of feral cats living in the place.
And so Dustin Gray, the architect, is taking Shawn Cuddahee, the owner of the local animal shelter and Jillian Hart on a tour through the mill. They need to find out how many cats are living in the old place, and how best to distribute the cages to catch them. Shawn is really no people person, so he has asked Jillian to help out. As she loves cats, and helps out as a volunteer at the animal shelter more often, Jillian has agreed. Plus, as she has a degree in textile arts, she is very curious about the inside of the old mill.
But they don’t find just some feral cats inside, they find an old homeless woman in one of the offices, and she refuses to leave. She has to protect the holy place. Jillian does feel a connection to the woman, and the woman does answer her questions, while ignoring the men. Jillian is determined to find out more about this woman, Jeannie, who seems to have been living in the mill for many years now, and to find her a real home. And so she asks Candace, her best friend and a local deputy, some questions. She will also ask her relations if they have a place for Jeannie. And when she finds out Jeannie’s story, it really is a sad one. Jeannie her parents worked in the mill, and as Jeannie was not so bright, she did some easy jobs there as well. And one day she got pregnant, and got a sweet bright baby girl, everyone loved. But when Kay Ellen disappeared one day, every one though she had just run away. And deputy Morris, who was in charge of the case back then, though so as well. He did little to find out what really happened, as he never got any answers or clues that might point to something else, more sinister. So when Jeannie one day stopped harassing him, and disappeared as well, case closed. After all, adults are free to leave as they please, and there was no one left to file a missing person’s form.
The next day, Jillian revisits the old mill with Candace, to ask some more questions of Jeannie, and to persuade her to leave this place. But when they find Jeannie with a broken hip, there is no choice for Jeannie but to go to the hospital. But she only agrees when Jillian helps explaining her what will happen to her, and promises to be there for her. But when they find the remains of a body, hidden in the room where Jeannie was living, everything changes. The old mill becomes a crime scene, and the two groups of investors are getting upset. They want to know what is happening inside, and why they suddenly can’t go on a tour of the mill.
Jillian and Candace are determined to find help for Jeannie, as she needs to have some therapy after her hip surgery, and are very glad to find Jeannie’s old minister and his wife willing to take her in. They are appalled that they never suspected she was living in the old mill, so close to the parish. Then a new murder finds place, and Jeannie’s old case is becoming less important. After all, the Mercy PD is not big enough to handle two murder cases at the same time. And so Jillian, with the help of her stepdaughter Kara, and her boyfriend Tom, start investigating some leads on their own, determined to find out the truth. And Jillian gets some help from an unsuspected source as well, which creeps her out at first, but is also a big help and a comfort when needed.
Wow, this sure is an emotional cozy mystery. It is not as light-hearted and fun as most, and I was really feeling for Jeannie. The murderer was not so difficult to figure out, but that is perhaps because I read so many of them. Still, the why was very intriguing, all the twists in this story kept me second guessing a few times.
Morris sure is feeling bad that he handled the case of Kay Ellen so badly; especially when it comes to light she might have had a boyfriend after all. And he really tries to make it up, and asks Jillian to help him question some new leads. There is a real gap between the “mill village people” and the people living in the town of Mercy itself, and that is a cultural thing I as a not US citizen cannot understand at all. Sort of living on the wrong side of the tracks. But it is explained very well, and feels real and important.
There are plenty of suspects in this book, and it really is a case of feeling entitled and arrogance. Not caring about any one else (who are beneath you anyway) but yourself and what you want.
As usual, I do love the updates to Jillian’s private life. Her boyfriend Tom, and their growing relationship. Then there is Kara, her stepdaughter, who is settling into her life in Mercy well, and of course Candace. Candace who wants to do her job by the book, handling things scientifically, always careful of the evidence. She tends to be blunt and direct, and Jillian has a mellowing effect on her. And of course the three cats (or four this time?) are great secondary characters as well, comforting Jillian when necessary, but also scolding her if she has too little time for them.
Leann Sweeney has a very nice writing style. The story is very well paced, with some action, and then a moment of rest for Jillian, doing her quilting thing, and spending time with her cats. It reads very easily, and I do love all her main characters. Reading a cozy mystery series is like visiting good friends, and catching up on their lives of the last few months. And Leann is a master in that, without having to rehash everything that happened before, you are never lost.
I am looking forward to the next book in this series, especially after the last sentence of this book … which is a fun sort of cliffhanger.
© 2013 Reviews by Aurian