Jillian Hart is back in Leann Sweeney’s The Cat, the Mill, and the Murder. There are a lot of feral cats living in the old textile mill in her hometown of Mercy, SC, and Jillian has volunteered to help relocate them. But she and the man who runs the local cat shelter do not expect to find a homeless woman living in the mill. She seems very mentally disturbed, talking about not being able to leave the mill because the fireplace there is a holy place. When Jillian talks to get best friend, Candace, a deputy for the sheriff’s department in love with forensics, Candace recognizes the woman, Jeannie, as someone who went missing 10 years earlier, several months after her high school age daughter, Kay Ellen, disappeared. The next day, they return to the mill to find Jeannie lying in pain with a broken hip. While Jeannie goes into surgery, the police excavate the fireplace, where they find the skeleton of Kay Ellen.
As the police work this cold case, they can’t reach Penelope, the town councilwoman, so Jillian goes to her house, only to find her body beaten brutally to death. With a small police department, Mercy doesn’t have the resources to devote to two cases at the same time, so the case of Kay Ellen gets pushed to the back burner, leaving Jillian and her special friend, Tom, a former big-city homicide detective turned private security expert, to look into the case.
This book has a really compelling plot that kept me drawn to it and made me want to keep listening without putting it down. I love the character of Jillian, who gets involved in cases not because she likes to investigate but because she has a large heart and genuinely wants to help other people and cats. I also appreciate the way all the characters in the book are painted vividly and with great detail. The character of Jeannie is someone I could really picture and have real empathy for.
I really loved the narration of Vanessa Johannson, who reads this series in such a way as to bring it to life. Jillian, the narrator of the series, is described by everyone as the nicest person they know, and Johansson embodies niceness in her performance as Jillian. But she also does great voices for other people in the series, especially making Jeannie sound old and traumatized by her experiences. I also really like the way Johannson gives voice to a particularly nasty woman, making her come across as especially terrible.
I have loved every book by Leann Sweeney so far, and The Cat, the Mill, and the Murder did not disappoint. Sweeney clearly did a lot of research into textile mills and the total discrimination that mill workers underwent, seen as “white trash.” The book has a lot of interesting details to go along with a fascinating plot. I give this book five stars!
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