Borrowing Death: A Charlotte Brody Mystery

Written by Cathy Pegau
Review by Lorraine Norwood

The Alaska Territory seems like an unlikely place for a tea-cozy mystery—think whiskey and frigid temperatures instead of tea and scones—but author Cathy Pegau’s second book set in the rough-and-tumble town of Cordova in 1919 provides a unique setting for crime.

While many in Cordova feel that Alaska is no place for a woman on her own, suffragette and journalist Charlotte Brody has journeyed to the last frontier for the same reason many come to Alaska – to start over. Working on the town’s newspaper, Charlotte covers the story of hardware store owner Lyle Fiske, whose body is discovered after a fire. Charlotte and Deputy Marshal (and blossoming love interest) James Eddington assume the fire is the work of an arsonist, but Charlotte’s brother Michael, the town’s doctor and coroner, reveals that Fiske died from a stab wound. Charlotte’s investigation of the murder turns up a number of likely suspects as the shady activities in Fiske’s business and in his marriage come to light.

The author peppers the book with interesting historical information regarding Prohibition and the right to vote as well as cultural dilemmas affecting women, such as practicing a full-time profession and dealing with unwanted pregnancies. At times, Pegau’s attempts at historical verisimilitude can be heavy-handed, a problem she will likely work out in future editions. Charlotte Brody is a bright and intelligent character, full of the same energy and sparkle as the Alaskan setting itself. This is likely to become a popular series in the Kensington line-up, particularly for readers more interested in history and women’s issues than in dark psychological fare or gore.