I’m Always Write: ‘Shady Hollow’ takes twist on murder mystery genre

Through their use of mystic worldbuilding and creation of woodland creatures as characters, author Juneau Black crafts a subversive murder mystery. “Shady Hollow” is a clever, quick-read and perfect for a chilly day spent in bed.


A classic story of a sudden murder in a small town is tweaked by authors Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel, who write under the pen name Juneau Black, resulting in a charming yet unsettling mystery.
The quaint town of Shady Hollow appears truly innocent.
Its Stars Hollow atmosphere establishes a setting of cozy book shops and cafes.
The front-page story of the town’s newspaper is usually an event like the local middle school’s spelling bee.
However, all is disrupted when the grumpy and irritable toad Otto Sumpf is found floating face-down in the Millpond with a knife wielded into his back.
The news is shocking to the town of woodland creatures.
Even though Otto wasn’t well liked by most, he certainly never harmed anyone.
Vera Vixen, a fox reporter for the town’s Herald, immediately puts herself on the case.
Vera, her raven-friend Lenore Lee, and the sometimes clueless bear deputy Orville Braun aid one another in finding the culprit.
Tensions rise when someone attempts to murder prominent sawmill tycoon and beaver Reginald von Beaverpelt and Vera as well.
Is the murderer local thief and racoon Lefty, Reginald’s possibly revengeful wife Edith, Reginald’s sheep mistress, the sweet Ruby Ewing or the mysterious newcomer and panda Sun Li?
Although the concept of employing animals as characters seems childish and like it could potentially distract from the murder mystery plot, Black is able to do so in a manner that makes the creatures very human-like in how they behave while implementing witty characteristics for each animal that encapsulates a certain charisma throughout the book.
For example, Lenore is named after the ghost of the young girl from author Edgar Allan Poe’s disquieting poem titled “Lenore.”
Lenore of “Shady Hollow” even owns a bookstore called Nevermore Books, a reference to Poe’s poem “The Raven.”
There are also characters with more overtly fitting names and traits, such as the mouse Howard Chitters or the wise professor and owl Ambrosius Heidegger, who are named after important historical figures.
Black’s continuous attention to these kinds of details establishes a lighthearted tone.
When the plot turns to focus on darker subjects, this underlying tone not only allows the story to retain its charm but also emphasizes the weight of these murderers and the toll it’s taking on the town.
Black is also able to carefully peel back the layers of the mystery, simultaneously revealing the hidden secrets and corruption of this supposedly innocent town while building suspense.
Though I felt that the budding suspense built up a little too slowly at times, it was ultimately worth it for the explosion of tension in the story’s conclusion: Vera finally discovers the town’s murderer, but will the discovery cost her her life?
“Shady Hollow” is the first in a series of books of unsolved murders in the quiet town.
Its sequel is titled “Cold Clay,” which follows the mystery of discovered moose bones.
Beloved citizen and owner of Joe’s Mug, a moose named Joe, is immediately detained and questioned on why and if his wife really did leave him years ago or if there’s more to the seemingly sad romance.
I look forward to reading “Cold Clay” and seeing how Vera attempts to prove Joe’s innocence.