I read this Myrtle Clover mystery right after finishing 'A Body In The Backyard', another in the series. As before, this is an enjoyably quaint excursion into small-town amateur sleuthing. After reading two, it's clear that Ms Craig is struggling with a self-imposed difficulty, that of situating a series of murder mysteries in a small town where typically, murders don't actually happen very often. Not only do we have the killings that occur in this book, but those in the previous title are also referred to. Although Bradley, North Carolina has clearly become the murder capital of the American South, this remarkable circumstance is taken by the characters in their stride. Gosh, another murder! Octogenarian Myrtle Clover will soon have it solved. It all makes for a pretty faithful rerun of the earlier formula - same folks, same jokes and pretty much the same crimes (first victim in first book bashed over the head with a garden gnome; first victim in second book bashed over the head with an iron skillet). If you take my advice you'll read one Myrtle Clover mystery (either of the ones I tried will do), but stop right there. Unless you're a fan of deja vu, that is.
The second in the Mrytle Clover mystery series. Octogenarian Mrytle has recently joined the town's book club, but as a retired librarian, she finds their choices of reading materials horrifying. She tries to change the book clubs focus to a more literary bent, but things get out of hand and somehow, the book club is changed to a dinner club (but they all think it's Mrytle's idea). Everyone who has ever suffered through eating anything concocted by Mrytle know she's a terrible cook, and she certainly has no interest in participating in a Progressive Dinner, but since it was her idea, how can she refuse? She becomes quite enthusiastic, however, when one of the dinners' hosts is found dead. Here is another chance for her to solve the murder and show up her son, the town's police chief.
Mrytle is a bit much sometimes, and I admit to frequently wanting to bop her over the head. She pretty much steamrolls through life, and it is hard to understand how she has any close friends. Her son definitely has his work cut out for him, trying to solve the murder and at the same time trying to keep his mother out of trouble. Her attitude towards her son in constantly trying to outdo him is annoying as is her nosiness and lack of feeling for others. But she's funny and courageous and somehow the reader ends up rooting for her.
Though in her eighties, Myrtle Clover is fit for fight. The local book club has stagnated, and Myrtle is not pleased with their diet of bland beach books so something must change. Myrtle is not the only one who has plans for the club, however, so before she and her ally Miles have a chance to unfold their ideas for a literary club, everybody else has turned it into a progressive dinner club. Grudgingly Myrtle accepts her defeat, and during the frantic preparations for the first night we get to know all the generous women of Bradley, California, and we can begin to wonder how they have survived so many conflicts and embarrassing secrets for so long. Obviously their premiere must end in murder, and when Myrtle happens to tell her troublesome neighbour Erma Sherman that she is on the verge of discovering who did it, the editor of the Bradley Bugle puts the story about the aged detective on the front page. Now Myrtle is forced to solve the case to save face. Her son Red, the local chief of police, reacts with a mixture of anger and over-protectiveness, but no matter what he does, he cannot keep Myrtle and the various suspects apart. A very fine cosy mystery, and one of my favourite characters, the vicious cat Pasha made me laugh out loud more than once. No, don't worry, this is not a speaking Disney character, just an animal with a bit of personality. So my only complaint is that the story was over far too soon.
This is the second Myrtle Clover Mystery I've read, and I liked this one as much as the first. The characters in these stories are likeable and believable. From the nosy, gossipy neighbor to the casserole-friendly church ladies who are prepared to offer edible comfort to anyone in need, the characters are easy to imagine. Of course, the main character, Myrtle Clover, is the highlight of the story. She is an elderly woman who refuses to slow down as time marches on. Although she seems to attract murderers and is too often on the scene of a crime, she is a kindly grandmother who tries to outwit her police chief son when it comes to solving crimes. In this story, Myrtle finds herself unhappy with the selection of books being read by her book club. She decides to push the group to a higher level of literature and is ready to launch her plan when someone else suggests a progressive dinner. The group loves the idea, and it becomes the new plan. Of course, murder is on the menu for this dinner gathering, and before we know it, Myrtle is on the case. She enlists the help of her friend Miles as she eventually unravels the case. While reading PROGRESSIVE DINNER DEADLY, I felt more like a participant than a spectator, feeling like I was right in there with the rest of the characters. I enjoy getting lost in a book, especially a mystery, and this book did not disappoint me. I give this book five stars for the characters, including Pasha, the feral feline, and also for the satisfying solution to the well-developed mystery. It's a fun book, a good mystery, and I think it's another winner from Elizabeth Spann Craig.