The sleuth in R. Marquez’s first cozy mystery is Matty Cruz, a no-nonsense woman, with a strong sense of fairness and justice. She’s introduced to the reader when she points out to a shifty cashier that he’d shorted the older man who’d just purchased a lottery ticket–one dollar. It’s clear that Matty considers a one dollar theft as important as a hundred-dollar theft. She couldn’t pretend that she didn’t notice. I really liked this character for pointing theft out when she could’ve remained silent. The reader quickly learns Matty is in her fifties, lost her job when she left to care for her dying mother, lives alone, and has lost everything she valued in her life. To top it off she’s left California, a state she knew well, and as crazy as it sounds, she moved to scenic Couper, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest to start over.
Matty hasn’t left her house in over a week. She prefers lying on her sofa wearing her pajamas and robe while watching TV. She’s is in conflict with her neighbors and her savings are dwindling, but she has no where else to go. Yes, Matty is struggling with the weight of her depression, but the reader can hear a cracking noise in the first pages as she begins to break free from her gray-shrouded miasma. The chisel that reduces her to mush is a dog, a terrier mix, that survived a fire. The miserable dog arrives on her doorstep dark with soot and in need of food and water. Matty has little experience with pets, but this dog weaves its magic as dog lovers know all to well. I loved the growing bond between Matty and Pretty Girl, if fact, all dog lovers will.
The author weaves subtle themes around the protagonist, her stray pooch, and the antagonists she encounters. By trying to find the dog’s rightful owners instead of dropping it off at the pound, she finds herself in the middle of mystery.
Sleuth Sidekicks: Pretty Girl, the stray terrier, who leads Matty into a murder investigation.
Detective Phil Bester is introduced briefly, and the reader gets the impression that he’ll be her “inside” sidekick. For now, we know he’s thin, tall, and married.
Couper is vastly different from Matty’s previous home in California. The people are weird, it’s colder, and the streets aren’t as well-kept. The author does a great job of coloring in the setting. Matty chose to live in Couper because of its natural beauty. She likens Couper to being dropped in the middle of a forest near the Colombia River.
The setting is deftly shadowed throughout the story, it can be cold and hard-edged or a jaw-dropping moment of natural awe. It’s clear Couper may be beautiful, but it’s not a place for hot-house flowers. My impression is Matty is tough enough to thrive in Couper, and I’ll be checking out her new forays.