‘Shady Hollow’ a cheeky ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ with animals


The heroine of “Shady Hollow” (Hammer & Birch) is a foxy, hardworking reporter whose best friend owns a bookstore. She drinks strong coffee, sticks her nose into rich folks’ business and finds clues the police overlooked.

Only a toad could dislike that setup.

Under the pseudonym of Juneau Black, Sharon Nagel and Jocelyn Koehler have written and published one of the more unusual mysteries of the season. It would be perfect for the person who enjoys Agatha Christie and “Murder, She Wrote” but winks or groans a little at their cozy conventions.

Koehler and Nagel have set their story, first of a planned series, in a little animal village that’s small and sleepy enough the police chief can spend his time fishing – until cranky toad Otto Sumpf turns unnaturally belly up in the pond.

Otto Sumpf? The authors’ cheeky approach to character names is a case of Dickens meets “Looney Tunes:” reporter Vera Vixen, a fox, figuratively and literally; wealthy sawmill owner Reginald Von Beaverpelt; his mousy factotum, Howard Chitters; town gossip Gladys Honeysuckle, a hummingbird; owlish, self-important scholar Ambrosius Heidegger (perhaps a bit of a nod here to Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Owl).

With touches of sly humor in the narration and a number of literary allusions, “Shady Hollow” is a divertissement for bookish people, especially mystery lovers. Lenore Lee, a raven, runs the Nevermore bookstore. Sherlock Holmes gets a nod, as does Stieg Larsson.

“Shady Hollow” is also one of the nicest-looking self-published novels I have ever seen. Nagel, a bookseller at Boswell Books, and Koehler, a former bookseller turned independent writer, took pains to make their creation, inside and out, a book that could compete with mysteries from mainstream publishers.

“Shady Hollow: A Murder Mystery”

by Juneau Black

Hammer & Birch

176 pages, $12.95