A cozy mystery, by design, keeps the viscera of murder offstage and brings a community to the forefront. A GAME OF CONES (Berkley, 352 pp., paper, $16), the delightful second mystery by Abby Collette (a pseudonym for Abby L. Vandiver), officially stars Bronwyn Crewse, who fled New York City to take over her family’s decades-old ice cream shop (something that “had more bumps in it than a double dip of rocky road”). But the true protagonist is the village of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where moderate small-town conflicts spike when a visiting developer, determined to build a mall over the protest of the village small business owners, ends up dead.
Bronwyn has played amateur sleuth before and isn’t keen on repeating the experience. (Collette, however, has wicked fun dropping “Murder She Wrote” references throughout the novel.) Internecine family squabbles over the shop, nosy but well-meaning friends and the surprise appearance of a former co-worker behaving in increasingly suspicious ways complicate matters even further.
By the time the killer is revealed — a resolution that plays fair without the slightest telegraphing — Bronwyn is ever more confident about rooting herself in her community. Chagrin Falls turns out to be an entrancing place to spend time, even if it’s worth asking how many more murders it can take.
“No one cares about a Black girl going missing.” Readers of crime narratives will recognize the truth of this declaration, uttered with justifiable anger by the relative of a serial murderer’s victim in Nadine Matheson’s THE JIGSAW MAN (Hanover Square, 496 pp., $27.99). So, too, does Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley, who pushes through a torrent of past and present trauma to catch this killer, who discriminates not by race or gender, but by degrees of dismemberment and gruesomeness.
It is a lot to stomach. So, too, is the plot, which borrows wholesale at least one set piece from “The Silence of the Lambs,” and paints the killers with a more loving brush than necessary. Matheson describes murder scenes in plain and stark language, emphasizing Henley’s revulsion and showing how they affect her psyche rather than reveling in the details. Yet the very nature of this type of crime novel can’t help glorifying the serial killer and devaluing the victims.