The Rambling Mann

Book reviews and occasional other thoughts from writer Richard Mann.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

To Helvetica and Back, A Dangerous Type Mystery #1 by Paige Shelton

To Helvetica and Back
A Dangerous Type Mystery #1
Reviewed by Richard Mann of

AUTHOR: Paige Shelton
PUBLISHER: Berkley Prime Crime
ISBN: 978-0-425-27725-6 Paperback
Publication Date:  January 2016

FAIR WARNING:  Before I get into a discussion of the story and its merits, I will be indulging in some wandering personal thoughts and ideas.  You can skip down to the part called “Actual Review Starts Here” if you don’t want to bother with any of the preliminaries.

I started reading Paige Shelton’s books when I discovered that she lived in Utah, where I live.  (She has since moved to Arizona, which is a close second best to Utah….)  She had two series of cozy mysteries going at the time.  One involves a young woman in the South who runs a permanent farmer’s market.  The other is set in Broken Rope, Missouri, at a cooking school run by a feisty grandma and her granddaughter.  Interesting historical ghosts turn up in these stories.  Of the two, I like the Missouri series the best.  The ghosts are not over the top or involved in the sorts of things some other woo-woo mystery authors use, such as wars between factions of ghosts or witches or zombies or whatever.  These are well behaved ghosts that give us an interesting glimpse into their times and present a single historical problem to be solved along with the present-day murder that always seems to occur.

Then Ms. Shelton started her third series, this one set in Star City, Utah, which is really Park City Utah, in an almost completely transparent disguise.  Park City is an old mining community with Wild West roots. It’s now one of the world’s premiere ski resorts and a year-round tourist mecca.  This is perhaps the only city in Utah that does not descend from strong Mormon roots.  It’s a unique place of pristine mountain scenery with an Old West look and feel.  In one of Louis L’Amour’s western novels, a character is well known for the time he single-handedly tamed the wild, brawling boom town.  Over the years, I have spent a lot of time there in week-long timeshare condo stints and at multi-day conferences and seminars.  To know Park City is to love Park City.  Oh, yes, dozens and dozens of movie stars, billionaires, and other public figures have vacation homes there.

I had to read this book immediately.  I have to admit that, due to my relative poverty, I get most of my books through or from Amazon after the price for used copies goes down to a penny (or $4 with shipping).  That means I’m usually reading books that are one to three years old.  This time I paid full price at for the privilege of getting this one hot off the presses.

Actual Review Starts Here

The story involves Clare Henry and her grandfather Chester, who owns a combination typewriter repair/printing/book restoration shop called The Rescued Word.  They have an interesting history that we learn about in bits and pieces as we go; I found that history to be endearing. 
One day, old friend and professional novelist Mirabelle Montgomery brings in her trusty old Underwood #5 typewriter for repair.  Soon a leather-clad biker dude comes into the store and demands that Clare sell him Mirabelle’s typewriter—now.  Not some other typewriter; specifically that typewriter.  As he becomes increasingly demanding, then threatening, a quick call to the Clare’s best friend, a woman police officer, scares away the would-be thief.  Thus starts an intriguing chain of events that includes a murder (of course), and suspicion thrown on all and sundry, but mostly on Clare’s friends.  

Include a new-to-town geologist as a love interest for Clare, the revelation of a similarly new girlfriend for aging old grandpa Chester, and complications from Clare’s prior relationship gone sour with her best friend’s brother, another local cop, and we have a nice simmering stew of uncertainties to keep Clare on edge through the book.  It’s fun.

I enjoy today’s standard cozy mysteries with their fairly formulaic elements, but at times the formula features that publishers seem to require descend into unnecessary situational clichés.  For instance, the amateur sleuth has to have a contact in the local police department.  They vary from boyfriends to best friends, from exes of various degrees of distastefulness to actual nemeses.  Here, Clare’s lifelong best friend Jodie is a local cop.  Jodie’s brother is Clare’s ex-boyfriend, but he’s not a complete jerk.  Their relationship is not clichéd; it’s realistic and it’s interesting. 

There’s a cantankerous cat that lives in the store—all shops in cozy mysteries must have a cat or two.  I really get tired of them.  This one, however, does not play too big a part and seems natural rather than being there because the reading public demands there be a lovable cat present.

Clues are deftly strewn about the story with a comfortable ease that avoids calling attention to them.  There are enough red herrings to keep us happily guessing wrong about what’s really going on, but they are understated and arise naturally from the flow of events.  I enjoyed the real mystery here, which is that we have no idea for a long time why someone would want to buy or steal an old typewriter.  When the reasons slowly come into focus, they have a natural feel while yet being different from anything else I have ever read.  That’s the product of an author with talent, imagination, and a refreshing creativity.  It must be that clear, crisp, high-altitude mountain air up there in Park City that brings out such a wonderful story.

There’s one more frequent feature of many mystery novels that is missing here—to my everlasting delight.  There is no moment when the sleuth suddenly knows the solution to the mystery but coyly refuses to share it with us, the readers.  Those books go on for another chapter while the main character toys with us, not revealing what she now knows.  I hate that—and I’m overjoyed that Ms. Shelton did not do that to us in this refreshingly different book.

I guess you can tell that I liked the book.  I loved its setting.  The characters resonated with me.  The events rang true with a solid logical progression.  One little aspect of the final solution seemed a bit off to me, but I was quickly willing to suspend my disbelief and get on with the story.  I was having too much fun to let a little thing like that get in the way.

If, like me, you are tiring of all those mysteries set in small southern towns, charming New England townships, and Atlantic seaboard cities, come on out west and hang around in a real historical western town in the Rocky Mountains.  You’ll like it.


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