With its pink and lavender cover and its airy insides, Janis Thornton’s Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies reminds me of cotton candy: sweet, fluffy, probably not good for you in overlarge portions but quite delicious for a bite or two. Crystal Cropper, a small town newspaper woman with a penchant for investigation, serves as Thornton’s protagonist. Exposés delight Crystal, and she’s always looking for fresh information. Gertie Tyroo, a cleaning lady who regularly communicates newsworthy tidbits to Crystal, asks for a meeting. She has a tip about a crime committed years ago. But Gertie never appears. When Crystal goes looking, she finds Gertie unconscious, in a coma, and near death.
Crystal phones 911. The Elm Country sheriff comes quickly. He and Crystal are long-time, bickering buddies. Even though Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies is Janis Thornton’s debut novel, these two characters have a history together. Never lovers, they nonetheless have had a “complicated, gnarly relationship” that began in kindergarten more than half a century ago. Their friendship dictates much of the subsequent plot, as Crystal continually gets herself into trouble and Verlin regularly extricates his “kindred spirit” from one unsafe situation after another.
If all this sounds familiar, that would be correct. Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies follows the cozy mystery formula from start to finish. I don’t mean to suggest that Thornton’s writing is trite, however. Quite the contrary. Despite the predictable plotting twists and turns, this novel is eminently readable and its characters are quite loveable. It makes a reader smile, and brings sweetness to every page. The plotting is sharp, too. I couldn’t quite guess the solution, and I thoroughly enjoyed the dead ends and misdirections. Even the hair-raising finale is well-executed, as is Verlin’s personal rescue of the damsel in distress. Then Thornton adds a coda, explaining the denouement and digressing about various characters whose fates were hanging precariously until the final pages. Altogether, Thornton’s novel is quite satisfying to read.
I predict that a sequel (or several sequels) will soon follow Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies. Crystal and Verlin deserve more stories, and I can imagine a whole series about their relationship and their involvements in other Elm County murders. Thornton may be writing for a limited audience—lovers of cozy mysteries who relish the taste of pink-spun cotton candy—but she delivers exactly what is promised. Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies suits a certain readership, and suits it very well indeed. – Ann Ronald
Dust Bunnies is available through Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and select independent bookstores. As you know, BWS is a strong supporter of local bookstores, so check with them first before you order from you-know-who. – Sunny Solomon