Saturday, December 23, 2023

"To Conjure a Killer"

Clea Simon is the Boston Globe-bestselling author of three nonfiction books and 30 mysteries. Her crime fiction is divided between cozy mysteries (most recently her “Witch Cats of Cambridge” series) and psychological suspense, including the recent Hold Me Down (a Massachusetts Center for the Book “must read”). A graduate of Harvard University, she has contributed to publications ranging from and Harvard Magazine to Rolling StoneYankee, and The New York Times. Born and raised in New York, she now lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband, the writer Jon S. Garelick, and one (1) cat, Thisbe.

Simon applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, To Conjure a Killer, and reported the following:
Page 69 of To Conjure a Killer:
Her person was speed-walking down the sidewalk when her phone began to buzz again. Considering how rushed Becca seemed, Clara wasn’t surprised when her person ignored it at first, only pulling it from her bag when the vibrating hum kept on, as persistent as a trapped bee.

Pausing on the sidewalk, she frowned at the tiny screen, before finally holding the device to her ear.

“Renee, hi,” she said, beginning to walk again. “Thanks for inviting me last night. I’m sorry if I seemed to run out right when—” She broke off, evidently listening to the woman on the other end.

“No, I’m sorry. I haven’t spoken to him.” Walking this quickly had brought Becca in sight of the brightly colored storefront. “Look, I’m just arriving at work. I’ve got to go.”

“That was weird,” she said to herself as she fished the keys from her bag and let herself in. Turning on the lights and flipping the “Closed” sign to “Open,” she seemed to regain her equanimity. “Maybe Jeff was cheating on her. But if she thinks I’m some kind of femme fatale…”

After hanging her coat in the back room, she grabbed a dust cloth and began to vigorously attack the front shelves, which had gone a bit gray. Clara had just settled on one of the clean shelves, watching as Becca reached for a crystal globe when a cheery jangling caught both their attention. “Welcome to Charm and Cherish,” Becca called, replacing the ball as she brushed the dust from her own top

“And charming it is,” replied the newcomer. Flipping a fall of auburn hair from his eyes, he scanned the shelves with a broad smile, apparently unaware of the dust Becca hadn’t reached yet. As he turned, Clara noticed how short the rest of his hair was, only slightly longer than the neat beard, barely more than stubble, that covered a strong jaw. Taking in his jacket, a dark plaid with the same rust color running through it, her cat recalled that this was what her person would call a style choice. Something that signaled affluence, she remembered someone—maybe Maddy—saying. Whatever it mean, she felt a twinge of concern as Becca glanced
Well, page 69 of To Conjure a Killer certainly drops you in the middle of things! As this page opens Becca, my protagonist and the series’ wannabe witch detective, has just had a bothersome phone conversation with Renee, her ex-boyfriend Jeff’s new girlfriend, a jealous type who has more or less accused Becca of meddling in their relationship. Becca rings off having arrived at her workplace, the magic store Charm and Cherish, so we get a bit of that setting, where so much of the action happens.

Perhaps most important, at the top of the page we get the point of view of her cat Clara, who (unbeknown to Becca) has shaded herself to invisibility and followed her. Plus, the page ends with the arrival of an attractive and apparently wealthy man, hinting at complications to come.

What this page doesn’t have is any hint of the original crime! The reason Renee is so upset – and the reason Clara is worried about Becca – is that Jeff has been murdered and Becca, who found his bloody body in an alley right by Charm and Cherish, is implicated in his stabbing death.

In a way, this page is the calm in the middle of the murderous storm. But Conjure is very much a cozy, with the three magical “witch cats” of the series title at its core. So no matter how complicated the case gets readers can rest assured that Clara and her sisters Harriet and Laurel will do their best to keep their human safe, lending their feline powers to Becca to clear her name and, along the way, solve the central crime.
Visit Clea Simon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue