Skeletons in the Attic, by the Canadian author Judy Penz Sheluk, is the first book in the Marketville Mystery series.
It revolves around the story of Calamity Jane, a protagonist caught unawares in the middle of a codicil of her father’s will, after his unexpected death. Calamity or Callie is expected to find the reason behind the disappearance of her mother, Abigail Barnstable, who left her at the tender age of six. The events begin unfolding as Callie moves into her father’s old house in Marketville. She is surrounded by her handsome neighbor Royce, the gossip lady Ella Cole, and Misty Rivers, the self-proclaimed psychic who is responsible for stirring this buried case.
Skeletons in the Attic is an apt title for a book that explores the past of Callie and her family after she finds a skeleton hidden in the attic of the old house. The protagonist Calamity is named after the movie Calamity Jane but does not resemble any characteristics of the movie’s central character or the historical figure of Calamity Jane.
Callie comes across as a weak female protagonist who is at first, unwilling to explore the cause of her mother’s disappearance. She works a dead-end job at the bank’s call center and her only motive to move into the house is to fulfill the codicil and access her inheritance which would otherwise be given to Misty Rivers for solving the case.
Sheluk’s novel aims to please the category of readers who are involved in appreciating crime-fiction. Her style strangely resembles the way in which the Nancy Drew series have been penned. Although Callie is nothing like Nancy Drew who is a proficient sleuth. Callie is unsure, she relies on her acquaintances and easily passes on information to suspicious characters. Her vulnerability adds to her image of being the girl-next-door which might make her character relatable.
Sheluk’s style of writing fails to establish the transition from one scene to the other. At times, the bombardment of numerous characters with extremely long introductions leaves the reader feeling jaded.
The mid 30s female protagonist at times seems like a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. The only strong female character that the book has to offer is that of G.G. Pietrangelo, a photo-journalist who tried to investigate the case in the past before Callie. Pietrangelo is abandoned towards the end when her interview, which seems to be full of potential, is dissed by the ending of the novel.
Misty Rivers, Ella Cole, Leith Hampton, all seem to be operating under certain paranoia as the novel reveals an extremely unexpected end. It seems rushed and leaves the reader demanding more explanation. There is not enough speculation over the suspects behind the disappearance. The element of surprise fades after every character seems to be knocking at Calamity’s door to claim their innocence.
The end does not do justice to the plot that has been built from the beginning. Callie’s father’s death which seemed to be a planned killing is dismissed as an accident, even though several proofs state otherwise throughout the plot. The explanation of the mother’s disappearance seems to be an emblem of sacrifice, giving the novel a chaotic conclusion.
The book leaves many questions unanswered but makes for a good, fast-paced reading.