The latest entry in the Stain-busting mystery series featuring Josie Toadfern opens with the gang literally up to their necks in trouble and the action is virtually non-stop from there.
Josie has been asked to speak at the opening of the Pearl Oglevee Ohio History room at the local public library. Josie is embarrassed to be asked because Oglevee, the long time junior high school teacher, had always seemed to delight in berating her. But, as it is pointed out, Josie (who owns a Laundromat and has a stain-busting column running in newspapers statewide) is Mrs. Oglevee’s most successful former pupil…who still lives in town.
Josie and her friends Cherry (who owns the Cut’N’Curl) and Sally (who owns Bar-None) work on Josie’s speech over drinks at the Bar-None and reminisce about the bad old times. To Josie’s shock – just as she is set to go on stage – she is handed a note supposedly penned by Mrs. Oglevee’s daughter, claiming that her mother, who died ten years before of a heart attack, was actually murdered. Josie spots the woman she thinks sent the note, but the woman disappears before Josie can question her.
Josie and her friends, with the help of Cherry’s boy friend Dean and Josie’s newspaper publisher and part-time boy friend Caleb, set off for Port Clinton to watch the Walleye Fish drop on New Year’s Eve and coincidentally to celebrate Josie’s 30th birthday. Port Clinton is also their former teacher’s hometown and they decide to combine fun with investigation into their teacher’s past. What they find is not only scandalous but dangerous to their health. As they interview people who knew Pearl, a very different picture of their often bitter and angry teacher begins to emerge. But, too late they discover that their teacher’s early scandals reverberate to the present and cause them to end up on an icy boat trying to save their lives.
Josie and her buddies have a little help with their quest from the “ghost” of Mrs. Oglevee, who appears in Josie’s dreams. The shade chose her to talk to because she is well known as a busybody. If anybody can discover whether or not Mrs. Oglevee was murdered or died of natural causes, surely it is Nosie Josie. I enjoyed Josie’s discussions with her ghostly teacher a lot, and it was nice to see that as she celebrated her 30th birthday, she used this search into her teacher’s past to look at her own hopes and dreams. As guardian to an autistic cousin, she comes to realize that while he is getting excellent care, she has used this reponsibility to avoid developing relationships in her own life.
Josie and Caleb are a very likable pair and I really loved the interaction between Josie and her lifetime friends Cherry and Sally. These girls know how to have fun. Plus, as only childhood friends can, they see through excuses and bull to the heart of each other’s needs. There was a small amount of drag in the middle of the book and at times there were so many characters it was hard to figure out “who’s on first.” But, this was a minor quibble and I really enjoyed Short’s often droll humor; the “whoop whoop” sound of sex between motel walls still has me chuckling.
Murder Unfolds is that rare combination of mystery, romance, and humor that get all three right and actually show the emotional growth of the lead detective as well. Josie and company were lots of fun and I look forward to reading the backlist in this series.