Have you ever heard of Postcrossing? Or the Letter Writers Alliance (LWA)? About a year ago my hobby of sending postcards to friends across Canada turned into a bit of an obsession. I went digging into the far corners of the internet to discover that good old snail mail is still alive and well. The LWA picked this book to launch their latest project, a bookclub where you mail in your thoughts on the book, and then they will compile the responses in a newsletter. It’s just so convoluted that I knew I had to give it a try. The first pick for their new bookclub is Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers.
Synopsis: After being dumped by her fiancé, Cassie Miller decides to return to her small hometown in the Berkshires to take over as the Postmaster for North Ashcot, Massachusetts. Everything is business as usual until Cassie arrives at work one day to find that someone has broken in and stolen stacks of telephone books. Then, the body of an unidentified man is found in the woods, and the handsome antiques dealer she just had lunch with is taken into custody. With a crime enveloped in mystery, she needs to track the killer–before another victim’s fate is sealed in the dead letter office…
One of the most important parts of a cozy mystery is a likeable main character, and I really didn’t find Cassie all that engaging. She grew up in North Ashcot, but chose to never keep in touch with any of the locals. So I found it rather frustrating when she continuously complained that everyone treats her like an outsider, but never seems to realize that it is her fault that she has no friends. She’s friendly with a few people in town but always seems to be judging them, such as the Chief of Police who enjoys quilting and has offered to teach Cassie how to do it and get her involved in the local quilting group. Instead of jumping at the chance to make some new friends, Cassie is always trying to avoid the subject whenever it is brought up, and then continues to complain that she has no hobbies or interests outside of work and solving mysteries.
I knew I had to stop thinking of quilting and find myself a viable hobby before Sunni swooped in and gave me one of her old machines.
There were a few redeeming qualities to this story, namely in some of the secondary characters. Quinn and Ben are quite helpful and likeable, and the times when Cassie is working in the post office and interacting with customers are actually entertaining. I really enjoyed the parts where Cassie broke the rules to help out the people in her new community. It added a depth to her personality that often seems to be lacking otherwise.
It seems like the author really missed an opportunity to use the unique setting of a post office to assist in crime solving. Cassie constantly brings up the fact that she knows so much about the people in town based on their mail, and yet she never uses that information. People gather in the post office regularly, since it also houses the local community space, and still she stands behind the counter handing out stamps and ignoring the chance speak with the very people who could provide valuable information. Instead of enhancing her ability to solve crime, her job seems like more of a hindrance. And in the end, the bad guys could be spotted a mile away. There weren’t any real red herrings, which meant that I was just waiting for Cassie and the police to finally clue in to what was rather obvious from the beginning. If a person acts creepy, it’s pretty safe to assume he is a creep.
Sadly, it looks like I have been disappointed with my first foray into long-distance book clubbing. Hopefully the next book that is selected has a bit more meat to it, and a more likeable main character. That said, I’m a sucker for a cozy mystery series, and now that I’ve started this one I feel like I’ll probably give Book 2 a try just to see if it gets any better.