ALISA CRAIG – The Grub-and-Stakers Spin a Yarn. Avon, paperback original, February 1990.


   The mystery begins in high gear and doesn’t let up until its over. A melodramatic shooting takes place in Miss Fuzzywuzzy’s yarn shop in downtown Lobelia Falls [somewhere in Ontario, Canada]. The dead man is the husband of Mother Matilda, owner of Mother Matilda’s Mincemeat, a million dollar operation in nearby Lammergen.

   He is also, or was, VP Nutmeg. At stake is Mother Matilda’s secret recipe for mincemeat, each VP being responsible for his/her ingredient only.

   Cutesy-poo, you must be thinking, and I wouldn’t blame you. I’d agree to a degree, but if not, then certainly sugary-sweet. Everybody in the book is as loopy as a loon, some more than others, with the (barely) possible exception of the detectives of record, Osbert and Dittany (formerly Henbit) Monk.

   Sometimes it makes for slow going, sometimes it’s worth an embarrassed chuckle or two. May I quote from pages 84-85? It sums it up as well as I ever could. (It could be author Alisa Craig, aka Charlotte MacLeod, speaking herself.)

    “If it’s tacky, if it’s garish, if it’s so cloyingly cute and whimsical it makes you long for a shot of insulin, then it sets my creative juices going ta-pocketa-ta-pocketa like the mad scientist’s chemistry tubes in the old horror movies. I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am.”

   I think the detective work is nothing more than inspired guess work myself, but maybe you could say that of Sherlock Holmes, too. Certainly if you’ve enjoyed the earlier entries in the series, you’ll enjoy this one as well. As for me, I’m going to go take a nice long walk.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 28,
       February 1991 (slightly revised).

Bibliographic Notes:   Besides pinpointing the setting of the novel somewhat better than it was in the original review, I’ve also added the information that Alisa Craig was the pen name of Charlotte MacLeod. It was common knowledge at the time, but although MacLeod/Craig was extremely popular back in the early 1990s, that’s a generation ago, and I think her books are on the verge of being forgotten, if they haven’t already.

   As Alisa Craig, she wrote five books in the “Grub-and-Stakers” series, of which this was the fourth; and five in a series of mysteries solved by Detective Inspector Madoc Rhys of the RCMP, along with his wife Janet.

   Under her own name, Charlotte MacLeod, who died in 2005, wrote another 10 mysteries tackled by Professor Peter Shandy Balaclava Agricultural College, somewhere in Massachusetts; plus another 12 cases solved by Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn in the Boston Area. Add to this several stand-alones, and you have a shelf filled with books, all (or mostly all) of them cozies to the core, from page one to the end.