“I need a cozy murder mystery to snuggle up with,” Jenny said, looking out the window at the rain, which was bringing down the remaining yellow and red leaves in their yard.
“A murder mystery that’s cozy?” Her husband, Matt, watched the wind bring down the leaves in the front yard of their hundred-year-old home, where he had just raked. “Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”
“That’s the magic of a cozy murder mystery. The characters, their town, relationships, food, are just that—cozy. The murder makes all of that warm and snuggly by contrast. Goodness wins out and everyone has cookies and a hot beverage to celebrate. Meanwhile, we get to meet the characters in all their charm and feel like we’ve conquered evil. At least that’s what happened in the one cozy mystery I read.”
“Evil? In a small town?” Matt taught Greek and Roman History at the local college, where departmental in-fighting could lead to tense moments at faculty meetings. “Like warring factions?”
“No, more like hurt feelings or old grudges. Like getting left out of a will or eloping with someone’s boyfriend. Nothing too political. Cozy, remember?”
“How do you know where to find a cozy murder mystery? Are they on a special shelf in libraries? In our library?” The town library, a renovated old home on Maple Street, had few shelves compared to most libraries, but they were filled with classic novels, children’s books, and film and music selections, as well as do-it-yourself books like engine repair and gardening. They often found a book for Jenny’s class at the college, where she taught parttime in the English department. “I don’t think I’ve seen that shelf. And I don’t think Miss Perkins reads murder mysteries, especially cozy ones.”
“You might be surprised. I think Miss Perkins has a whole other side to her. You know, the whole sexy librarian underneath the disapproving and prim, buttoned-up blouse librarian thing.”
“Miss Perkins? Efficient, precise Nora Perkins? Not sure I can see that. But– cozy mysteries are also sexy? You didn’t mention that. Cupcakes, hot chocolate and steamy sex?”
“Those books might be on another shelf, but maybe some hints of sex, cozy sex, of course.” Jennifer watched Matt studying the yard. His body was lean and lanky, a pick-up basketball player’s body. His outdoor time and hoops helped calm his college tensions. It also kept him attractive around campus and at home, she thought, admiring his lankiness.
“Cozy sex, followed by chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate. Do you want me to drive with you to the library?” he said.
“Maybe, if we can stop and get some chocolate chip cookies on the way home.”
Matt turned from the window. “I’ll get the car keys.”
The Greenfield library was tucked into three stories of one of the town’s oldest homes in the town center. Miss Perkins was head librarian who, despite a small budget, still kept shelves neat and filled. The big difference was the library itself, a Victorian house with narrow halls leading to rooms filled with books and big, stuffed cushioned chairs, where readers could curl up with a book. On days like today, the rain and wind made the library rooms feel warm and familiar. Miss Perkins, her hair showing threads of gray and tucked up in a bun, looked up at Jenny and Matt as they shook off rain from their coats and boots. The librarian looked past them out the curtained windows to the November rain and then back at her cataloging.
“Excuse me,” said Jenny. Miss Perkins had a way of making her fumble with her words. Maybe it was her tight bun or lack of small talk. Jenny thought she probably read grammar books for fun. “I’m looking for murder mysteries, cozy ones,” she said. “Something with culinary associations, maybe. Nothing serious, but nothing too—trivial.”
Miss Perkins was wearing a soft sweater and a pencil skirt. She wore little makeup, but her hair pulled up exposed high cheekbones and her sweater and skirt silhouette revealed a trim figure, soft and possibly capable of something steamy under a blanket, Jenny thought.
“Trivial? I’ll let you decide about that. We’ll need to head upstairs.”
“Thank you. I probably can find my way.” Jenny glanced at Matt. He was studying the sports standings in the newspapers by the checkout desk. She wished he’d come with her. She followed the librarian to the bottom of the narrow stairway where photos hung of the original home owner, a handsome man who never married.
“This is your benefactor, the original owner?” Jenny said. Of course he was, she thought, but walking behind the librarian heightened her interest in everything to do with Miss Perkins’s library. She wondered what the prim Miss Perkins thought about someone who would leave his home to the town so that readers could spend rainy Saturdays curled up in its chairs. Maybe Nora Perkins curled up with a mystery in one of the chairs with the light on once all the patrons had gone home. With her capable ways and in her soft sweater and skirt, she seemed to be the responsible older sister. Maybe she wanted to break lose and run off with someone capable of being an ardent lover. Jenny noticed Miss Perkins wore calf-length boots with high heels. “Sexy,” she said.
“Excuse me?” Miss Perkins said, looking confused.
“Oh, I wondered if some of these mysteries might be sexy. I’m not into that, of course.” She knew she was babbling. How had she gotten herself into this situation? She stood in front of students and handled difficult questions. Miss Perkins’s dismissive, competent way plus her bun, sweater, and heels disoriented her.
“Miss Perkins,” phone call for you. A library aide stopped her before they started up the stairs.
“I’ll be right there.” Miss Perkins peered up the stairs, then turned toward the front desk.
“I’ll be fine.” Jenny was relieved to be on her own. She just wanted to grab a few murder mysteries, something with a cup of hot chocolate pictured on the cover, maybe even one suggesting something cozy with a heroine with soft hair around her shoulders with rain coming down and a plate of chocolate chip cookies nearby.
“The mysteries are upstairs to the left, past biographies and dramas. I expect the cozy mysteries are mixed in with the other ones.”
Jenny continued up the creaking stairs, past more photos of the handsome gentleman standing outside the Victorian house before it was a library. He must have loved to garden and Golden Retrievers, she noticed. Jenny turned left and located the biographies. Austen, Alcott, Eliot. The biographies blended into dramas. The wood floors creaked as she walked on and the rain hit windows and leaves flew by.
“Hmm…. mysteries. They must be here at the end.” She studied the titles. Jenny heard a floorboard creek in the next aisle. Miss Perkins must be back. She turned her head to listen and a book fell to the floor a few feet from her. Then another and another. She wanted to run and find Matt but the flying books and their sudden appearance on the floor mystified her. She walked toward them and picked them up in her shaking hands. The Blueberry Muffin Mystery. Death by Apple Tarts. The Cherry Pie Murder.
Clutching the books to her, she turned toward the stairs and ran. Another book fell to her left and she looked at it, startled and panicking. Killer Banana Custard Pie. A handsome man in a soft wool sweater and carrying a leather dog leash stood at the end of the aisle. He looked at her, threw back his head, laughed, and vanished into thin air.
Jenny tore down the stairs, afraid to look at the photos along the stairways, fearing they, too, would come to life and follow her with more laughter. Her heart beat hard and fast. Her feet flew. This was crazy, ridiculous. She only wanted to grab a few mysteries books. Instead she’d run into the handsome library benefactor and discovered the secret for Nora Perkins’s heels, tight pencil skirts, and sultry sexiness. Cozy indeed, she thought. Macabre was more like it. She was still out of breath as she made her way to the checkout counter, where the librarian and Matt met her with wide, curious eyes.
“Jen-“ Matt said and stopped. His eyes scanned her trembling body.
Nora Perkins reached for the books and with a wry smile clicked them through the book scanner. “I see you found your cozy mystery.”