"A charming cozy mystery that is full of excitement!"
Reviewed by Teresa Cross
Posted January 14, 2020
Mystery Book Lover | Mystery
As a reader of cozy mysteries, I just finished THISTLES AND THIEVES by Molly MacRae, and I am thrilled to say it was enjoyable. Even though this is the third in the Highland Bookshop Mysteries, it is my first in the series. MacRae makes it easy for you to pick this one up as a stand-alone with a very interesting storyline that is great for a leisurely read. However, after you finish it, you are going to want to read the rest of this series if you have not already.
Janet Marsh is out riding her bike and discovers a body that is just under the bridge. Did he drive off the road accidentally, or is there something more troublesome that has happened? Not recognizing him, she finds out that he is known around town as Dr. Malcolm Murray. He was well-loved which makes this even harder to believe that someone could do this on purpose.
Days later at the bookshop, a mysterious box shows up with some very vintage books inside with a note asking her to please look after them. Did that mean they could not sell them? Many questions are asked about these books as Janet and her friends try to find out who left them. Then there are more deaths, including Dr. Murray’s brother and the more she asks about these books the more Janet realizes there may be some connections to them and Dr. Murray.
I love a cozy mystery that I can hardly wait to get home to read that keeps me so excited with the turn of every page. THISTLES AND THIEVES is one that surely did that for me. I cannot wait to see what Molly MacRae will have for the ladies at Yon Bonnie Books Bookstore in the future. I know the next book will be on my to read list.
The latest entry in the charming Highland Bookshop mystery series finds the women of Yon Bonnie Books embroiled in the death of a local doctor, which sets off a chain of other curious—and deadly—events.
Out for a bicycle ride in the hills beyond Inversgail, Janet Marsh discovers the body of Dr. Malcolm Murray. The elderly Murray and his own bicycle went off the road and down a steep slope—he’s sprawled in the burn at the bottom, his damaged bike in a patch of thistles on the bank. Janet calls the Police Scotland emergency number. Tire tracks at the side of the narrow road suggest a vehicle might have been involved. But if it was an accident, the driver hasn’t come forward. And if it wasn’t an accident. . . . But who would want the well-loved, retired doctor dead?
A few days after the death, a box of vintage first editions is left on the doorstep of Yon Bonnie Books with a note: “Please look after these books. Thank you.” Janet and her crew at the shop are at first delighted, and then mystified—what exactly does “look after” mean? Are they free to sell them? And what are the odd notes penciled in the margins? With a little digging, the women decide the books might belong to Malcolm Murray or his reclusive brother, Gerald. When Janet and Christine call at Malcolm’s house, they find his confused, angry sister and evidence of a burglary. When they go to Gerald’s modest croft house, they find the door ajar and Gerald dead inside, stabbed with a regimental dagger.
While the police try to determine if the Murray brothers’ deaths are connected and who’s responsible, Janet and the bookshop owners try to find out how and why the box of books ended up on their doorstep. The police are interested in those questions, too, and they’re more than a little suspicious. Are the Yon Bonnie women as good with burglar tools as they are with books—and at finding bodies?
Janet Marsh pedaled for the rise ahead, wondering if shifting bicycle gears would come back to her as easily as riding. After how many years? Fifteen? Twenty? All right, since she’d ridden with her youngest on the back of the bike in graduate school. Could it really be thirty years? But she felt fit, despite the years and extra pounds. She’d been walking up and down hills every day since moving to the Highlands. Almost every day.
Her initial plan for her maiden bike ride had been too easy—sticking to the somewhat level streets running parallel to Inversgail’s High Street and working her way, zig by zag, down toward the harbor and her shop, Yon Bonnie Books. That hardly gave her and the sleek new bike—or the striped yoga leggings—a workout. She’d sailed past the bookshop, singing, “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie books,” with more than enough time to pedal back home, shower, change, and arrive to help her daughter and their business partners open the shop and tearoom at ten. Too much time.
No, if she wanted to be ready for the next Haggis Half-Hundred Ride—her first Half-Hundred—she needed more of a challenge. And if the hill she’d started up proved to be too much, then all she had to do was turn around and coast back down.
Janet pictured herself gaining speed on the downward glide, wind streaming off her gleaming blue-and-black helmet. Like a carapace. An aerodynamic exoskeleton. Empowering. The shell’s color scheme went well with her graying hair, too; she’d noted that when she tried the helmet on in front of the mirror before stepping out into the chilly fall morning. She adjusted the helmet’s chin strap, glad she’d adjusted the bike’s brakes before setting out, too. And that she’d tested them. Twice. She tested them again, then put her mind and her thighs into the climb ahead, up into the hills that embraced her new town, her new life.
She sang a few lines from an old favorite, “I’m goin’ up the country, baby don’t you want to go? I’m goin’ to some place I’ve never been before.” But she put the brakes on that song pretty quickly. The twang in that one didn’t work in this landscape of banks and braes. She looked at the autumn-browned bracken covering the hills around her and imagined a cold wind rattling corn stubble in a field back home in Illinois. Home but not home. Not anymore.
What’s this? A wee bit homesick? Janet examined that unexpected twinge of emotion and decided there was nothing wrong with it. But as the road took a sharper incline, she countered her twinge with a burst from a more appropriate favorite: “On the steep, steep side o’ Ben Lomond.”
Breath for singing soon failed. Janet pressed the pedals grimly onward, muttering altered words to another favorite. “But I would ride 500 miles, and I would ride 500 more, just to be the lass who rides a thousand miles, to fall down dead at her own door.”
And I’d . . . like to see, she thought between gasps, the bloody . . . Proclaimers . . . do . . . a better job . . . of singing . . . while pedaling . . . up this . . . bloody . . . hill.
She ground to a halt. Straddled the bike. Gulped air. Leaned her forehead against the cool metal of the handlebars. Maybe she’d proved enough for one morning. The downward glide toward home was calling.
She straightened and looked behind her—the view! She felt it in her heart. And no, this is not a heart attack. It’s love. Undulant hills rose to the left and right, with the slate rooftops and chimneys of Inversgail nestled in their laps. The tide was out in the harbor, but that didn’t matter. Even the colors of the harbor muck were picturesque at this distance. Could she see the islands? Just barely. And the sea—cerulean shades all the way out to where they blended into the sky. A view to die for.
If she could make herself go a little farther, she could turn again and stretch her arms to hold it all in her embrace. If I can gasp my way to that bridge . . .
By the time Janet reached the ancient stone bridge, she didn’t think she’d stay standing if she got off the bike. Her legs felt like a quivering blancmange. But the bridge looked just wide enough for a car to pass her safely. She stopped at the crown of the span, close to the lichen-covered wall, and leaned herself and her bike against it. The top of the wall was a perfect height for her to rest her elbow on, and she was glad for the strength of the rough, cool granite.
She pondered “bridge” and “strength” as her breath caught up with her. Age had nothing and everything to do with the strength of this bridge. Built by whose hands, she wondered, and how long ago? Made of stones, the bones of the earth. Not like the abandoned bridge she’d walked across with a group of birders back in Illinois. She hadn’t enjoyed that experience, didn’t like heights with poorly guarded edges. Remembering the creaking and groaning of the arthritic planks as they’d skirted holes in the deck of that bridge, Janet shuddered. Not the smartest thing she’d ever done. That poor stretch of wood and iron was barely more than a century old and already left to rust and rot.
She patted the side of this stout fellow, like patting the flank of a trusty steed. Your strength has been, it is, and it will continue to be. It was also the only thing keeping her from toppling into the burn below. She chanced a look over the side to see where she would go if she did topple. Headfirst onto rocks the size of Shetland ponies and Highland cattle, by the looks of it.
Janet shuddered again and made herself focus instead on the gurgling water, letting her eyes follow the burn wending its whisky-colored way beyond the rocks and between banks of frost-killed thistles. There were more rocks farther along. But rocks on their own weren’t threatening. Except—what was that?
On the nearside of the burn, near the largest nonthreatening rock—what was that in the thistles? A bike wheel? And beyond the wheel, half in the burn—plastic? A bag? Cloth. A sleeve, an arm. Not moving.
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