October Read of the Month: “Trouble in Action,” by Susan Y. Tanner

Susan Y. Tanner

Susan Y. Tanner

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Susan Y. Tanner’s Trouble in Action (KaliOka Press July 8, 2019), book ten of Familiar Legacy mystery series, is as captivating and well-written as her prior two entries in the series, Trouble in Summer Valley and Turning for Trouble. While holding on to the charms of her prior cozy mystery/romantic suspense books, Tanner ups her game with Trouble in Action in terms of suspense and mystery as she offers readers a complex story of not one, but two murders against the backdrop of a Civil War re-enactment.

The star, of course, is Trouble, a sleek black cat and the Sherlock Holmes of cat detectives. For those not familiar with the series, the Familiar legacy books are the original brain-child of award-winning, best-selling author Carolyn Haines. But the ten books (and counting) in the series are authored by a rotation of women writers with variations in setting and style. Yet all have Trouble, the black cat detective, as an active point of view and engaging sleuth. Don’t let the cat detective aspects fool you, though—the books, like Trouble in Action, are strong mysteries with classic romances.

Aside from Trouble, the book focuses on the two romantic leads: pretty, strong, yet emotionally wounded Kylah West, a horse trainer and stunt rider, and attentive, protective Wolf Stockton, a U.S. Marshal with strong ties to the Cherokee Nation, who also works with troubled teens. Jake, Kylah’s friend, helper, and side-kick is also an intriguing and well-used character in the story, as is Wolf’s ex-wife, who figures subtly in the plot.

Kylah still suffers emotionally from the suicide of her husband, and hides her pain with work. While she maintains the utmost trust in her horses and in her skill to ride them in the reenactment, she is leery of men and relationships. Still, she can’t deny that Wolf catches her eye. But can she trust him as well as she can her side-kick Jake and her horses? At their first meeting, she tells him right off the bat she doesn’t dance with men, and puts up a substantial barrier to Wolf’s gentle overtures.

Soon after Kylah and Wolf meet, one of Wolf’s Native American at-risk youths finds the body of a young reenactor, shot through her heart with a vintage rifle. There are no defensive wounds and it appears someone the woman knew simply walked up and shot her at her camp site. Because the young man who found her body appears to be hiding something, he is an initial suspect—as are other members of the Cherokee Nation because their land abuts the re-enactment site and many of them are unhappy with the planned re-enactment. The local sheriff, who is Wolf’s former brother-in-law, has primary jurisdiction, but brings Wolf into the case because of the possible involvement of the Cherokee Nation.

As Wolf’s attraction to the aloof Kylah grows, his investigation turns personal when Kylah is first shot at, and then is the target of an ambush attempt to injure her and one of her horses as they rehearse for the reenactment. A second murder compounds the suspense as no one can find the nexus between the two killings or any apparent reason for the murders. As the first victim is a woman reenactor, Kylah is a reenactor who is attacked twice, and another reactor is later killed, it seems logical there must be some connection between Kylah and the other victims. But what? The missing link keeps Kylah in jeopardy.

Trouble attaches to Kylah as a protective force even as he works with Wolf to determine who is behind the murders—and who is attempting to ambush Kylah and her horses as she gives the key performance of the reenactment. Wolf’s grudging acceptance of Trouble’s detective skills are some of the most charming aspects of the story as the alpha male Wolf learns to trust the alpha cat Trouble.

Trouble’s voice in the story is charming, astute, and has just that touch of arrogance that cat lovers appreciate in their felines. Trouble’s acerbic asides often add a splash of sly humor to the story. For example, as to grits, he notes, “Even with a quantity of melted butter, the real thing from real cream, I find what is basically cornmeal mush too bland for words.”

Trouble isn’t the only voice in the story that’s great with the one-liners. Wolf wisely observes that “Crazy had logic but it was a logic only crazy understood.” And: “Insanity lives in whatever world it chooses.”

Tanner, a respected author of romance novels as well as the Trouble books, is skilled not only with quick insightful bites, but also with the lyricism of her prose. For example: “Kylah and I continue to stand together, watching as the purples of dusk fade to the charcoals of night.”

Trouble in Action is delightful and fast-paced, with just the right touch of whimsy, yet it contains serious sleuthing, an authentic set-up, and two heart-breaking murders. Romance readers will have much to enjoy in the book, as will mystery readers. As with most cozy mysteries, and more assuredly with animal cozies, Trouble in Action requires a bucket full of willing suspension of disbelief. But that’s all part of the fun, excitement, and escapist lure.

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