I read the words “cozy mystery set in Australia” and was immediately sold on Jess Lea’s quirky, fun coastal town. Bess Campbell, procurer and exhibit extraordinaire for the Cabinet of Curiosities, finds herself amidst murder and an unlikely romance with the local history museum’s frosty curator, Margaret Campbell. Port Bannir is full of interesting characters that help move the action along, even while exploring some of the side characters’ relationships. Everyone’s personal demons provide ample room for red herrings. The culprit may seem obvious, but are you sure it’s really so glaringly apparent?*
Lea moves between Bess’ and Margaret’s perspectives, providing insights into possible motives and the town’s less than sparkly history. Bess, formerly of Melbourne, lives in a tiny house off the beaten path with her beloved chickens and rooster, Genghis. She doesn’t shy away from unpopular stances or from being herself. As I read, I couldn’t help but cast Margaret as actress Michelle Gomez (currently playing the devilish Ms. Wardwell in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). Margaret blends austerity with a carefully hidden vulnerability that allows readers to thaw towards her as the story progress.
I’ve read other reviews that point out the on-screen sex scene as a non-Cozy element. If you prefer Cozies with more flirtations and allusions to sex, this might come as a surprise and feel free to fast forward. However, the other aspects of this genre are in full bloom: off-screen murder, townsfolk with close relationships and years of dirt on each other, and a plucky, intelligent amateur heroine who is determined to solve the case.
*A portion of this review was shared via my Goodreads account.