The Rambling Mann

Book reviews and occasional other thoughts from writer Richard Mann.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Played by the Book by Lucy Arlington

Played by the Book
Novel Ideas Mystery #4
Reviewed by Richard Mann of

AUTHOR: Lucy Arlington
PUBLISHER: Berkley Prime Crime
ISBN: 978-0-425-27663-1

Lila Watkins is a literary agent who handles mystery novels for an agency in a small, picturesque town called Inspiration Valley, North Carolina.  The town has remade itself for the tourist industry into a book-related theme town, of which the top-flight literary agency is a big player.  As an avid reader of mysteries and as a writer of non-fiction, how could I not be fascinated by such a book?

Not surprisingly, this series is one my favorites, which I have been reading with pleasure since the first book, Buried in a Book.  This entry into the series lives up to its expectations.

The premise here is that local boy made good, Damian York, is the star of his own TV show about landscaping and gardening.  He has written a book, and it falls to Lila to ramrod a last-minute gala book-launch event there in Inspiration Valley.  With the help of her coworker agents, things are going well when bad things start to happen. 

First, while working in her garden at home, Lila digs up a human skull.  Generally speaking, no one likes to learn that their yard has been used as a burial plot.  Then, a bit later, one of the gardening club ladies whose yard was to be a stop on the Garden Walk that is part of the planned festivities is murdered-with a gardening shovel, of course.  While these matters are the rightful responsibilities of Lila's long-time boyfriend, a police detective, somehow Lila needs to be involved in figuring what happened and who done it.

The plot moves on to a satisfactory conclusion with an appropriate sprinkling of false leads, new surprises, and all the other ingredients that make up a pleasant cozy mystery.  The writing is easy to read, well balanced (not overly descriptive, for instance, but giving an occasional description of someone's outfit or flower garden), and …well… cozy.

All of this is good news indeed.  The two authors who collaborated to produce the first three books in the series have moved on.  The publisher selected another writer, Susan Furlong, to take over the series.  In my experience, a replacement writer most often produces less than satisfactory books.  Happily, there isn't even a hint of disappointment in this case.  In fact, if you didn't know about the substitution, you probably would not notice any change at all.  One of the previous coauthors, Ellery Adams, has a unique ability to evoke charming, almost enchanted scenes that take place in special places.  Although this book had no particularly enchanted scenes, there was a special feeling about Lila's little yellow cottage that happily continues from the previous books.

It's funny that Lila's agency work required her to find a writer to replace a well-loved author.  The real-life author switch here worked very well.

The things that make this book and this series work so well are a great lead character who is easy to like, a wealth of ongoing series characters who make Lila's life pleasant and interesting, a unique setting in a literary agency, and excellent writing.  Things that provide just the slightest hint of a drawback include the apparent necessity that Lila be physically threatened in each story and a bit of boredom with yet another book-launch event.  (Not everyone has read the same set of mysteries that I have, but I seem to have encountered a few too many of these events in the last few years. There are a lot of cozy mystery series set in bookstores, for instance; they use book signing events all the time.)

Those tiny drawbacks are minor cavils.  I loved this book and look forward with great anticipation to many future adventures with Lila Wilkins and her cronies.

This review was originally written for


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