Written by Judy Penz Sheluk — A Fool’s Journey is the third cosy mystery in Canadian author Judy Penz Sheluk’s entertaining Marketville Mystery series. In the first (Skeletons in the Attic), protagonist Callie Barnstable moved from Toronto to Marketville to investigate her mother’s long-ago disappearance, and in the second (Past & Present), she launched a new business that focuses on finding missing persons.
Though she’s not a licensed private investigator, Callie has assembled a team with many of the requisite skills who work with her as needed. Genealogical research is the domain of her friend Chantelle Marchand. Former librarian Shirley Harrington conducts online and archival research – if something was ever published, Shirley will track it down. Antique shop owner Arabella Carpenter is occasionally called upon to evaluate a client’s physical evidence, such as old letters, jewellery, and, in this story, tattoo art. The oddest member of the team is Misty Rivers, a tarot reader who posts surprisingly popular insights drawn from tarot cards on the Past & Present website.
There’s an inventive ‘look to your strengths’ vibe to Callie’s team and a strong sense of cooperation among the women. This, along with the appealing descriptions of local restaurants and businesses, adds greatly to the novel’s cosy feeling.
The Past & Present Investigations team’s current case comes to Callie via what amounts to a gentle bribe. In her will, Callie’s great-grandmother has asked her to investigate the disappearance of Brandon Colbeck, grandson of great-grandma’s best friend in the nursing home. In 2000, 20-year-old Colbeck left home to find himself, taking very little with him and leaving behind his identification. If Callie gives her search a good effort, regardless of whether she actually finds Colbeck, she’ll receive her great-grandmother’s legacy.
Over the years, Colbeck’s family has engaged in numerous fruitless attempts to locate him. Nevertheless, they have agreed to cooperate with Callie as she gives it one last try. Not surprisingly, there’s at least some feeling that if he is alive he doesn’t want to be found.
Their willingness to have Callie investigate arises in part from a recent telephone call Colbeck’s grandmother received from someone claiming to be the long-lost grandson. The rest of the family – Colbeck’s mother, stepfather, and sister – and the police fraud investigator are inclined to believe the call was a scam. But was it?
Callie learns Brandon had a tattoo, which tarot expert Misty recognises as a portion of the card The Fool. A local tattoo artist remembers it, and regrets not having a chance to finish it. Sheluk artfully weaves interesting information about tattooing, tattoo art and tarot into her story, telling you what you need to know without hindering the action.
On the surface the family members are cooperating, but in her initial interviews, Callie is convinced each of them is holding out on her. They have secrets, and to find and follow Brandon Colbeck’s trail, she must uncover them. With the help of her team, she goes about this with determination and considerable savvy and skill.
Not everything occupying Callie is this case. She’s been in a sort-of-romance with Royce, the handyman who helped her get her late father’s house in shape. But she’s always too busy for him, possibly not that interested, and the relationship is languishing. She and Royce are both nurturing other budding romances, and the ultimate fate of their twosome must await future novels.
In Callie, author Sheluk has created a competent, conscientious protagonist – the kind of super-responsible person her clients can entrust their secrets to. She’s not deeply reflective, she’s a doer. The story doesn’t get bogged down in any emotional swamps but move steadily forward, sure-footedly crossing the murky waters of people’s hidden lives.
Callie is a character with a definite personality. You learn her likes and dislikes, her strengths and weaknesses, how she spends her day. Sheluk’s clear writing style helps the plot and the discoveries move along briskly, and it’s fun to see how every team member makes her unique and valuable contribution to the investigation.
Superior Shores Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars