I’ve read a few Will Ferguson books in my day, as he’s a beloved local Calgary author who has won many awards for his writing – impressively, in very different genres and categories. In this first of a promised series, Will Ferguson has teamed up with his brother Ian Ferguson in the cozy mystery I Only Read Murder, which is not only a great name for a book, but an even better name for a book store, which features prominently in this novel. It’s no Murder She Wrote, but I loved how funny the writing was in this one, made even better by the entertainingly narcissistic protagonist and unlikely detective, Miranda Abbott.

Plot Summary

Miranda Abbott is a once-famous, now failed actress. Best known for her now-cancelled television series Pastor Fran in which she wore sexy outfits while solving crimes and karate-chopping criminals, she’s been out of work for awhile, recently turning down a fiber-supplement commercial in fear it would sound the final death knell of her career. She receives a note from her estranged husband to return to the small town Happy Rock where he now lives and runs the aforementioned book store, so she leaves L.A. (she was being evicted anyway) to see him. Once there, she’s shocked to discover he wants a divorce, and in hopes of winning his heart back, auditions for a local theatre company with the intention of ‘wowing’ him. But we learn early on in the book that this won’t be a simple production. Happy Rock has a strange way of doing things, including running the same play for ten years straight, but what makes this year different is the untimely death of one of its lead actresses before opening night.

My Thoughts

As any first book in a series, there is much time spent setting up the backstory and present-day circumstances of Miranda’s life. The murder itself is delayed by a multiple flashbacks into Miranda’s past, but because she is such deliciously cringe-worthy character, these glimpses into her life are welcome. Miranda’s competition for the lead role is eventually murdered, so everyone is a suspect, including Miranda herself. The local townspeople involved in the production are also all suspects, and because the victim was generally hated by many (a common plot point in cozy mysteries), there is no shortage of motives. I didn’t guess the murderer correctly, but the writing suggests almost every single person is suspicious of something, so I don’t think many would have guessed the culprit, although it was technically fair play. I enjoyed reading about Miranda’s exploits too much to really closely pay attention to any clues, happy to follow along and discover the murderer at the same time as the other characters.

There are plenty of little winks to the reader as the book continues. When we are first introduced to the bookstore, Miranda surveys the various sub-genres for sale, which offer a laugh-out-loud summary of just a few of the different kinds of mysteries one can indulge in. One of the clerks at the store, Susan, loves cozy mysteries, so she takes some time to explain to Miranda what that means, which links to later developments in the book. Miranda’s constant demands of those around her also act as an inside joke with the reader; everyone hates her lemonade, but no one is willing to tell her, but the reader is on it too. Miranda has snarky thoughts that are funny to read about, but the best humor comes from her genuine lack of self-awareness:

“She [Miranda] would go back to Bea’s, phone Andrew, pack her valise and arrange a ride to Portland. She would give up the lead, fly back to L.A, even if she had to max out Andrew’s credit card to do so. That was the type of sacrifice she was willing to make!”

-p. 198 of I Only Read Murder, ARC edition

Miranda isn’t entirely selfish, her kinder side begins to show towards the end of the book, which leads us to believe there will be future books with her as the detective.  There is also a suggestion that Happy Rock will likely act as the setting for future stories, so much like Cabot Cove in my beloved Murder She Wrote series, there is a chance this little hamlet may end up becoming the new murder capital of America by simple proximity to a crime-solving character with series potential like Miranda Abbott.

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