As I get older, I find that I’m less and less willing to work hard for a read. That isn’t to say that I don’t like rich, deep characterisation, complex plots, or intriguing, well crafted settings. I just don’t want to have to take a lot of time or energy to become absorbed into them. That’s why Aaron Paul Lazar’s mysteries are always such a pleasurable reading experience for me. They’re easy without being facile. They’re lighthearted and fun without being silly, and they’re warm without sentimentality. You can’t help liking the characters and admiring the way in which they use brains and integrity rather than brawns to outsmart the bad guys.
The newest series is the Tall Pines Mysteries, of which For the Birds is the first book. Like all of Lazar’s books, the settings are based on places Lazar himself knows well and are beautifully depicted, showing a respect for the unique beauty of nature. The Tall Pines are all set in the Finger Lakes and Adirondacks regions of New York, with their white water lakes, tall trees (of course), and blue mountains. For the Birds is set primarily in a large, fancy hotel of the same name, designed specifically for bird lovers, with a two story glass aviary centre piece surrounded by star shaped rooms radiating outward.
The narrator of the story is the gutsy Marcella Hollister, married to the attentive and handsome Quinn, who has a propensity to walk around shirtless, showing off his toned physique. Lazar does a superb job with Marcella — it’s hard to believe that this novel is written by a man, as Marcella admires her husband, removes makeup, and ponders her relationship with her mother in a way that’s authentically female. Quinn is a good foil for her with his obsessive compulsive tidiness and fear of germs coupled with a tender protectiveness, while Marcella’s mother Thelma provides a strong comic element with her sharp opinions, and generous bankrolling of the holiday. The star of the book, however, is without doubt, Ruby, their colourful parakeet:
“The vet stepped back with a smile when Ruby raised her little beak in the air and wobbled to her feet. She took one false step, then trotted across the table to the edge toward Quinn and me. “You da man!.” Her weak voice cackled. She jumped back into her cage and swung from her wooden perch. “You da man! Feed Ruby! What da heck. Gimme cookies..”
Ruby is not only clever, she’s the “paranormal” element, as a bolt of electricity causes her to share portions of her personality with Thelma, providing much needed clues to the mystery that unfolds when Thelma suddenly disappears. Despite the supernatural elements, Ruby is utterly believable, and by the end of the novel, the reader becomes thoroughly enamored of her. For the Birds is a charming, engrossing story that keeps the reader guessing throughout, combining fast-paced plotting, and high quality thematics, with fun, easy to follow narration and a rich, enticing setting. It’s hard to read this novel without being charmed by the real affection that the characters have or develop towards one another. There’s much to be excited about in this new series, and I hope we’ll be seeing more of Ruby and Marcella in future books.