Carol Cox writes an amusing tale of history and mystery in her latest novel, Trouble in Store. As both proprietors of an Arizona mercantile have recently passed away, Caleb Nelson inherits the shop, not realizing that his uncle's partner left an heir as well - his cousin, a pretty, young governess who is out of options. When Melanie arrives, she discovers that although the store has the best selection of goods in town, some things are not necessary - an excessive number of chamber pots, for example, and the dead body on the back stoop. As Melanie improves the stock and drives Caleb crazy (altering perfection, as it were), they have to deal with the mystery surrounding the dead man and some former deaths that may not have been as innocent as they seemed, especially when each one has a connection to the mercantile.
In the first half of the book the mystery is introduced, but it is largely devoted to Melanie settling in and Caleb trying to get rid of her, prompting some fun sparring and minor disasters. However, the suspense crescendos from there when they are both suspected of being involved in the murder and the town threatens to organize a vigilante committee. The novel highlighted just how easy it is to jump to conclusions based on gossip and coincidence - even the main characters had to admit that they suffer overly much suspicion about various townsfolk.
I was amused and understanding over Melanie's wariness regarding little Levi - after her last disastrous charge who was constantly in mischief and blithely lying his way out, it is no wonder she should be reticent to deal with another active little boy. Thankfully she is reasonable enough not to let her past experiences blind her to Levi's true personality - an active boy who simply needs more attention, not a malicious, undisciplined liar. While their relationship is not delved into deeply, it still is sweet to watch them come to an understanding.
Cox paints a lovely picture of that part of Arizona, highlighting the local fauna and mysterious Pueblo villages high up the cliff walls. Her appreciation for the scenery is clear, and it comes through effortlessly in her writing, inviting us to share it with her.
Over all, it was a sweet story with a mystery good enough that I did not guess the culprit. Though there were no major epiphanies or lessons to be learned, the main characters were God-honoring people and enjoyable to get to know. 4 out of 5 stars
As a side note, relating to my hopes and dreams: Although we do not get to know him as well as Caleb, the competition Will Blake seems an honorable man worthy of being the hero of his own story. Hopefully there will be a following novel about him!