Pros: Quirky, cozy, funny mystery
Cons: Not for everyone
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Perennial Boarder is a republication of a 1941 mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor. As the back of the book tells us, “Taylor was one of the first mystery writers to give a regional and rural rather than urban focus during the time known as the “golden age” of mystery writing.” While Ms. Taylor died in 1976 (at age 67), her many books live on.
Miss Olive has been coming to the Inn for several decades, and she’s reliable as reliable can be. She stays in the same room and eats the same food at the same time; the innkeeper’s daughter could set her watch by when Miss Olive returns from the movies.
Then Asey Mayo returns home, and his Cousin Jennie corrals him into helping her deliver clams to the inn. After an odd encounter with Miss Olive on the way, they arrive to find the power out, the inn apparently deserted, and a body in the phone booth! That, of course, is only the start of the fun. There’s the chef who has a history of biffing people on the head; the innkeeper who’d do anything to protect her inn’s reputation; the wanna-be actress with an all-too-convenient migraine; the genealogist with the lost lighter; the young actress with ambition; the coroner with an acid tongue; the chauffeur-driven rich woman who’d much rather be driving herself (even if it means paying off some officers to turn a blind eye to whatever she’s run over this time); the chauffeur who used to be a bribe-taking cop; and, in other words, more suspects than you could shake a stick at!
Meanwhile, Asey Mayo himself is a real character of a sleuth. His laid-back attitude and constant quizzicalness don’t stop him from running off at the drop of a hat to follow a lead, even if it means leaving his cohorts back at the diner fetching dinner.
The Perennial Boarder is quirky and cozy, yet that hardly makes it slow-paced. The rapid-fire discoveries, wide cast of beautifully-drawn characters, and hilarious antics keep your head spinning and your neurons firing page after page. Despite the number of characters, I never became confused—characterization is clearly one of Ms. Taylor’s strongest points, as is description:
[Asey Mayo] followed her up a rutted lane. Sometimes the sedan’s two front wheels canted over the ruts to the right, sometimes they canted to the left. In general, Mrs. Clutterfield’s progress resembled that of a mortally sick earthworm.
Taylor has carried her characters to the extreme, and made them so delightful that you just can’t resist spending time with them. I found that the anticipation of “whodunit” ended up being far less interesting than just finding out what all these unique characters were up to! Anyone who’s primarily accustomed to modern mysteries and procedurals would most likely be driven insane by actions that modern lawyers would use to drive gaping holes through a case, but this isn’t a modern mystery, and I think anyone who enjoys the genre knows you just kind of have to set those sensibilities aside and enjoy the ride.