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The Cat in the Stacks is an armchair/amateur sleuth/Cozy Mystery series by Dean James writing as Miranda James. The series features librarian Charlie Harris, a widowed father of two adult children, and his pet Maine coon cat Diesel. Having moved back to his old hometown of Athena, Mississippi three years before the start of the series and met Diesel one year later, Charlie works at an archivist in the library of Athena College and, with Diesel, has a tendency to stumble across mysteries.

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The series also has a Spinoff series, Southern Ladies Mysteries, featuring sisters Miss An'gel and Miss Dickce Ducote, who debuted in the fourth book of the original series.

The two series (by publication order) consist of:

  • Cat #1: Murder Past Due (August 2010) Summary 
  • Cat #2: Classified as Murder (May 2011) Summary 
  • Cat #3: File M for Murder (January 2012) Summary 
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  • Cat #4: Out of Circulation (January 2013) Summary 
  • Cat #5: The Silence of the Library (January 2014) Summary 
  • Ladies #1: Bless Her Dead Little Heart (October 2014) Summary 
  • Cat #6: Arsenic and Old Books (January 2015) Summary 
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    • When Charlie Met Diesel Summary 
  • Ladies #2: Dead with the Wind (September 2015) Summary 
  • Cat #7: No Cats Allowed (January 2016) Summary 
  • Ladies #3: Digging Up the Dirt (September 2016) Summary 
  • Cat #8: Twelve Angry Librarians (February 2017) Summary 
  • Ladies #4: Fixing to Die (October 2017) Summary 
  • Cat #9: Claws for Concern (February 2018) Summary 
  • Cat #10: Six Cats a Slayin' (October 2018) Summary 
  • Cat #11: The Pawful Truth (July 2019) Summary 
  • Cat #12: Careless Whiskers (announced for January 2020) Summary 


These series provide examples of:

  • Absentee Actor: Charlie's boarder Justin Wardlaw is absent for the entirety of book 5. Unlike other cases (see Written-In Absence), there's no reason given for his not being around this time. He's also off-screen for all of book 6, being mentioned all of once.
  • Accidental Murder: In book 6, while reading the diaries of Rachel Long (who lived in Athena during the 1800s, including the Civil War), Charlie learns how she received a bolt of cloth, green tarlatan, and gave it to a neighboring family to make clothes for their children, who all died soon afterward, as did their mother. In the final chapter, Charlie's daughter Laura and son-in-law Frank inform him that green tarlatan was made with arsenic, to fix the dye in the cloth. In giving that cloth to the neighbors, Rachel had unwittingly poisoned them.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Charlie Harris in the main series, sisters Miss An'gel and Miss Dickce Ducote in the spinoff series.
  • Amoral Attorney: The main villain of Ladies #2 is Mirielle Champlain's lawyer Richard Thurston, who's trying to manipulate things so he can get all her money.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Godfrey Priest, a notorious lady's man who was also regularly cheating his business partner, the man who wrote most of the books published under Priest's name, out of his fair share of the money they brought in, in book 1.
    • Vera Cassity, the town busybody who wants to be known as Someone in their town, in book 4. She's made plenty of enemies with her offensive and manipulative ways, and when she's killed, most people are more surprised it didn't happen sooner.
    • Oscar Reilly, the interim library director, in book 7. A wife-beater who robbed his own wife of her heirloom jewelry and notorious flirt, who tries to fire anyone who disagrees with him; he also tried to cut valued library services just to reduce the budget and let the villains, who'd been embezzling from the library, continue their scheme while also taking a cut of their profits for himself; this effort at blackmail is what got him killed. His brother-in-law, likewise, is a huge jerk who tries to pick up where Reilly left off with his blackmail scheme and is also murdered.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Subverted - Charlie is noted as being very careful not to let Diesel eat anything that isn't good for cats, such as onions. In book 4, he lets Azalea's sister Lily know exactly what Diesel can't have, including milk, cheese, chocolate, raisins, grapes, green tomatoes, raw potatoes and the aforementioned onions. It's also noted that while Diesel loves to play with ribbon, Charlie's always careful to make sure he doesn't eat any.
  • Attack of the Political Ad: Discussed in book 6. Charlie notes on the tendency of most election ads being thinly disguised attacks on the other candidate, and how in the current election for state senate, with Andrew Beckford Long competing for his now-retiring father's seat against Jasper Singletary, the candidates are running a cleaner campaign than most. That doesn't stop Long's mother from having a diary forged that would make Jasper look bad by claiming one of his ancestors was a freed slave and thus could never have been legally married to the Civil War-era Jasper Singletary (who shares his name with his descendent); it never actually gets used in the campaign before it's found out as fake.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: In Ladies #2, the Ducote sisters' cousin Mireille Champlain fakes her death by heart attack; later, after the sisters find out about this, they attend her fake funeral where she sits up in the coffin, points to her lawyer, and yells "Thief! Murderer!" at him, freaking him out and helping expose his crimes.
  • The Beard: In book 4, Vera Cassity's husband Morty is having an affair with Hank Beauchamp. While Hank is openly gay, Morty isn't, so Hank's sister Sissy pretends to be the one that Morty's with. She eventually kills Vera so Hank and Morty can be together openly, since the Beauchamps are broke and Morty can't divorce his wife like he wants without being taken to the cleaners by her.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Delacortes in book 2. James cares only for his books (and secretly pines for his butler), his sister Daphne's always pretending to be ill, her son Hubert can't hold down a job because he thinks he's entitled to anything because of his lineage (something he got from his mother), Hubert's wife Eloise is mentally ill, and James' grandniece Cynthia (granddaughter of James' late brother Thomas) is cold to most everyone. The closest to normal is James' flamboyantly gay grandnephew Stewart (grandson of James' other late brother, Arthur), who can't stand most of his blood relatives (except for James, to some extent) and can't wait to get out of that house, just to get away from them all (save for Eloise, the only non-blood relative among them and the one he liked most) - he mainly stayed in order to save money on housing.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": In book 2, when they catch Hubert Morris yelling at his cowering wife Eloise, both Sean and Deputy Bates roar "Quiet!" at him.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Twice in book 7. Oscar Reilly's attempt at blackmailing the villains of the book gets him killed by them. When his former brother-in-law tries to pick up where he left off, the killers eliminate him too.
  • The Butler Did It: Literally in book 2, where James Delacorte's butler Truesdale became his boss's primary heir and then killed him to speed up the process after finding out by means of a gossipy paralegal and her aunt, the latter of whom was having an affair with one of the other heirs and shared this information with Truesdale after learning of his status. Both Sean and Kanesha Berry are rather incredulous, especially since two other major suspects have just been arrested, but that doesn't stop it from being true.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • Late in book 2, Charlie's son Sean lets him have it for basically ignoring his children since his wife died. Charlie acknowledges his own mistakes in judgement and promises to do better.
    • Newton Pittman Junior does it to his grandmother for her behavior in Ladies #1, treating her children harshly and then throwing a fit when they dare to object.
  • Camp Gay: Stewart Delacorte, introduced in book 2, is out and not shy about it.
  • Car Fu: The Victim of the Week in book 6 is killed in a hit-and-run. The one responsible insists it was an accident. The fact that she borrowed her neighbor's car without their knowing and committed the crime with it, however, means the police have their doubts.
  • The Casanova: Godfrey Priest, the Victim of the Week in book 1, is a notorious ladies' man with four ex-wives and multiple lovers over the years. His father is noted as having been one too.
  • Chronic Evidence Retention Syndrome:
    • The killer in book 2 turns out to have saved the receipt for the peanut cookies that were used to poison the victims, as revealed in the last chapter.
    • The killer in Ladies #2 is revealed to be guilty of this in the final chapter, having failed to dispose of the murder weapon. Unusually for the trope, this fact is only revealed to the audience (and the characters in-story) after they gave themselves away with their other actions in the penultimate chapter.
  • Clear My Name: Charlie, in book 8.
  • Clear Their Name: More than a few of the books have Charlie working to clear the name of a friend or relative of his.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: James Delacorte's niece-in-law Eloise Morris, in book 2, who makes strange comments at random times and tends to dress up like Scarlet O'Hara. It's implied that she's genuinely mentally ill, and it's not helped by everyone except James and Stewart yelling at her whenever she says anything.
  • Cool Old Guy: Charlie Harris himself, who's almost fifty in the first book and is a supportive friend and father figure to his boarders.
  • Cool Old Lady: Miss An'gel and Miss Richelle "Dickce" Ducote, who debuted in the fourth book of the original series and wind up as amateur sleuths themselves. Charlie also thinks of his late aunt Dottie as one.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: In book 4, Azalea Berry becomes the main suspect after being found over the dead woman's body.
  • Creepy Housekeeper: Estelle in Ladies #2, a very superstitious woman who keeps saying the chosen date is bad luck for the wedding being planned, since there's another woman who was set to get married then and instead died the night before; she also falsely claims to have a psychic connection to Mireille Champlain and knew the instant she died. Estelle herself is already dead by the time Mirielle turns up alive and well. Sondra, the bride-to-be, can't stand her and keeps demanding that Mirielle make her leave.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Oscar Reilly is found crushed to death in the compact, automated shelves in the library basement in book 7.
  • Daddy's Girl: Charlie's daughter Laura, a 23-year-old actress at the time of the first book, who is noted as having always been closer to her father than her mother.
  • Disguised in Drag: In book 5, Mrs. Cartwright's grandson Eugene disguises himself as his grandmother for public appearances. He also used his disguise to throw off any potential witnesses when he entered (as a man) and left (as a woman) the house of the woman he murdered.
  • Disney Villain Death: In Ladies #2, a story is told of how a woman, the night before she was to get married, was caught by the wind and thrown from her balcony to her death. Later, when Sondra Delevan is found dead on the lawn, it's believed she was also caught by the wind and fell to her death. Subverted when it turns out she was killed by a blow to the head and thrown off the balcony by her killer.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • In book 7, Charlie corrects Oscar Reilly's pronunciation of the Ducote sisters' surname, and Reilly responds by doing everything he can to harass Charlie into quitting (including by trying to ban him from bringing Diesel to work with him), finally deciding to close the archives outright and sell off the rare book collection, ostensibly to make up a deficit in the library budget (though it's pretty obvious that his real motivation is to cut Charlie's job). Before Reilly can actually go through with this, he's killed by the real villains of the book, and Charlie is requested to take over Reilly's job as interim head of the department by the college president.
    • Also in book 7, Cassandra Brownley, head of the library's collection development and acquisitions department, is identified as having done this to two different people. One tactfully corrected her in front of several people; Cassandra's retaliation (filling her office with plastic bugs, since she was scared of them) caused her to suffer a panic attack and break two limbs when she tripped over a chair while trying to flee them. The other went over her head to get some materials for the library that he felt were needed and she didn't; she tricked him into eating a large quantity of laxatives, which resulted in a hospital visit. In both cases, the victims left the college soon after.
  • Driven to Suicide: In book 6, Charlie reads the diaries of Rachel Long, and learns of someone whom this happened to: Rachel's husband, Andrew Long III, became horrified by what he saw during the war. He deserted during Gettysburg, returned home and, soon after being scorned by his father for what the latter viewed as a cowardly act, went out to his barn and hung himself.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Or cat, rather - Diesel has a knack for telling nice people from nasty ones. In book 7, for instance, he backs away from Oscar Reilly when they first meet, and his instincts are spot on, since the man soon proves to be a total jerkwad.
  • Faking the Dead: In Ladies #2, the Ducote sisters' cousin Mireille Champlain fakes her death by heart attack in order to trick the man who's been trying to steal from her.
  • False Widow: In Ladies #1, Rosabelle Sultan claims her husbands have all died. It turns out the last one had just gone overseas, and he returns for her partway through the book.
  • Family of Choice:
    • Charlie comes to see Stewart Delacorte as a younger brother, as he admits to himself in book 4.
    • In book 6, he notes that his coworker Melba Gilley is like the sister he never had.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Justin Wardlaw, supporting character throughout the series, learns early in book 1 that his biological father is supposedly famous writer Godfrey Priest. Godfrey ends up the book's Victim of the Week when he figures out he was lied to and who Justin's actual birth father was - it's Godfrey's older half-brother Rick Tackett, making Godfrey into Justin's uncle instead. Justin's mother, who was the one lying about Justin's parentage so that he'd inherit Godfrey's millions, is the killer.
  • Friend on the Force:
    • Initially averted with Kanesha Berry, who's annoyed that Charlie keeps getting involved in cases around Athena (and also doesn't like that her mother insists on continuing to work for him instead of retiring). Finally played straight in book 4 when she asks him to investigate on her behalf and clear her mother's name, and comes to accept his aid afterward.
    • Haskell Bates, a fellow deputy, also becomes friendly with Charlie and becomes one of his boarders at the end of book 7, sharing a room with another of Charlie's boarders - Bates' boyfriend Stewart Delacorte.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Benjy Stephens, introduced in Ladies #1, who is in training to be a vet. He befriends Diesel easily, and is the one to see Peanut by the side of the road when he and Dickce went out to get groceries.
  • From Stray to Pet:
    • Diesel himself, found shivering in the rain as an eight-to-ten-weeks-old kitten. Charlie rescues him, takes him to a vet to be checked out, and adopts him.
    • In Ladies #1, while Dickce and Benjy Stephens are on their way to town to get groceries, they find a labradoodle by the side of the road, and an Abyssinian that comes running to join him. Later in the afternoon, after taking the animals to the vet's office to be checked out, Dickce meets the owner - a local farmer, who explains the two (named Peanut and Endora, respectively) were his mother's, but he was taking them to a shelter after she died (since he couldn't give them the attention they needed) and they escaped from his truck en route. Having already come to care for the two, Dickce immediately makes arrangements with Claud to adopt them.
  • Full-Name Ultimatum:
    • Sean Robert Harris is on the receiving end from his father in book 2, after he loses his temper over a phone call from someone he never wants to hear from ever again. It leads to a Calling the Old Man Out moment, in which he lets Charlie know just how upset he is that Charlie's basically ignored him since Sean's mother died.
    • Newton Aloysius Pittman Jr. is on the receiving end from Rosabelle Sultan in Ladies #1, when he calls her out on her bad behavior.
  • Funetik Aksent: In Ladies #2, little four-year-old Tippy speaks with a lisp, portrayed as changing all "L"s in her dialogue into "W"s.
  • Fur and Loathing: Vera Cassity, the thoroughly unpleasant victim in book 4, wears a mink coat when she comes to see Charlie, who reacts with disgust.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Willie Clark in the first book, who's pretty grouchy towards everyone but especially disdainful towards women. It also comes through in the books he wrote for Godfrey Priest, where women are often the victims of brutal violence.
  • Ice Queen: Cynthia Delacorte, James Delacorte's great-niece in book 2, who is rather cold to essentially everyone. However, she eventually provides a key piece of evidence that reveals the real killer.
  • If I Had a Nickel: In Charlie's narration in book 2, when talking about how most people aren't familiar with the Maine Coon breed of cat and are confused when they see Diesel, he thinks to himself that "If I had the proverbial dime for every time someone asked me, "What is that?" I could donate a hefty sum to the library and solve some of its ongoing budget woes."
  • Incompatible Orientation:
    • In book 2, Stewart Delacorte flirts with Sean Harris, but Sean is straight as an arrow. Sean later mentions to his father that a coworker of his, Arthur, had also hit on him but stopped when Sean made it clear he wasn't interested.
    • In the same book, James Delacorte has been in love with his butler Nigel Truesdale for years, but Nigel is very straight.
  • Inheritance Murder:
    • Discussed more than once, as the first two books make mention of the fact that in Mississippi, murderers aren't allowed to profit from their crimes, so killing someone they were supposed to inherit from automatically makes them ineligible to inherit.
    • A variant happens in book 1, when Godfrey Priest has added his supposed son Justin Wardlaw to his will, but soon figures out that Justin is actually his nephew. It's not Justin himself, but rather Justin's mother who kills Godfrey to ensure that he can't change his will again in light of this discovery. It's never confirmed in later books if Justin got his inheritance after this, due to the above law.
    • In book 2, when James Delacorte turns up dead, it's suspected that the killer did so to speed up their inheritance. Turns out that's exactly the case. It's not a family member, as initially suspected, though - it's his butler and primary heir, Nigel Truesdale.
    • In Ladies #1, the victims are all killed to clear the way for the murderer to inherit, the first two because their portions revert to the estate that way and the last a straight-out inheritance murder.
  • Interspecies Friendship:
    • In book 2, Sean Harris comes to Athena from Houston, bringing his poodle Dante. Dante and Diesel quickly become fast friends, and this remains even after Stewart Delacorte becomes Charlie's new boarder and subsequently Dante's new owner (since Sean admits that Stewart really likes him and Sean himself can't give the dog the attention he needs).
    • In Ladies #1, Dickce Ducote meets (and ultimately adopts) the labradoodle Peanut and his Abyssinian friend Endora, who are practically attached at the hip.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro Pay: The Ducote sisters' surname is pronounced "Du/Dew-COH-tee", and they (and their friends) don't let other people forget it.
  • I Want Grandkids:
    • Despite the fact that they tend to butt heads on several matters, Azalea Berry is fiercely proud of her daughter Kanesha and her accomplishments, with one exception - Azalea is disappointed that Kanesha hasn't married and given her grandchildren, which is a touchy subject between the pair.
    • Charlie is mentioned as looking forward to being a grandfather as well. He gets his wish when, at the end of book 6, his daughter Laura informs him that she's pregnant; in book 7, his son Sean informs him that Sean's fiancee Alexandra is also expecting, so they're moving their wedding up to immediately.
  • Kick the Dog: Almost literally in book 2. Sean Harris was in a relationship with his boss, even buying her a dog as a present, but she refused to take the animal (a poodle named Dante) when she found out he came from a shelter. It's only after this that Sean finds out she was just using him.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: Bernice Cameron, Rosabelle's second daughter in Ladies #1, is suffocated to death by her own daughter after Juanita realizes Bernice had murdered Rosabelle, her daughter-in-law Marla, and Bernice's older sister Maudine. Juanita justifies it as a case of Killing in Self-Defense, since Bernice had attacked her when confronted, and says she couldn't stand to see her mother go to jail or a mental institution for her crimes.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: The murderer in Ladies #1 dies after attacking their own daughter. When she stumbled and fell mid-attack, the daughter acted quickly and smothered her with a pillow.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Charlie, who found the young Diesel as a cold, wet stray and quickly took him in. He also takes in five kittens in book 10, and is noted as having owned cats before.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Azalea Berry, who was a part-time housekeeper for Charlie Harris' Aunt Dottie for years and continues in the role for Charlie after Dottie dies and Charlie inherits the house, in part since she's not ready to stop working (she also works part-time for other families).
  • Marriage of Convenience: In Ladies #2, Sondra Delevan is set to marry Lance Perigold, a gay man who's not too bright, but has aspirations of being a model, in order to meet the conditions in her father's will (she inherits when she marries or turns 25, whichever comes sooner). She herself just wants to marry so she can claim her money, get out of the house and go to New York to become an actress. And then she agrees to marry her grandmother's lawyer when he claimed he wanted to take her the next day to elope, despite his age. She's killed before it happens, and it turns out he was just manipulating her so he could get his hands on her money.
  • Mega Neko: Diesel, the titular "cat in the stacks", is a massive and very intelligent 36-pound Maine Coon (a species that's naturally very large) who is said to be about half the size of a full-grown Labrador and accompanies his owner Charlie Harris everywhere on a leash and harness. The small Mississippi town they live in are still adjusting to the sight of him (and some don't even realize he's a cat at first). It's explained in-story that Charlie had found him as a stray eight-to-ten-weeks-old kitten and, due to his size, had mistaken him for an adult cat until the vet corrected him.
  • Momma's Boy: Positive version in 27-year-old (as of book 1) lawyer Sean Harris, who is noted as having been closer to his mother before she died. He gets to bond more with his father in books 2 and beyond.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Used multiple times throughout the series. In book 4 in particular, Helen Louise is subject to this when Charlie informs her of what Vera Cassity had tried earlier.
    Helen Louise used a word I had never heard her speak, disconcerting me.
  • Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Subverted with James Delacorte in book 2 - he's in his eighties, and his great-nephew Stewart informs Charlie that James has been gay but closeted (not that he's very good at hiding it) his whole life.
  • Not Blood Siblings: In Ladies #2, Sondra Delevan and her stepbrother Horace Mims the Third, or Trey, get as far as having a child together. Sondra refuses to marry him though, even though he's head-over-heels for her.
  • Old Retainer: Azalea Berry, who served as a part-time housekeeper for Charlie Harris' Aunt Dottie for years and continues in the role for Charlie after Dottie dies and Charlie inherits the house, in part since she's not ready to stop working (unusually for the trope, she also works part-time for other families). Azalea's daughter Kanesha, a deputy for the local police, is not happy about this and just wants her mother to retire, blaming Charlie for Azalea's refusal to do so.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Miss Dickce Ducote's real first name is Richelle, but nobody's called her that in years.
  • On One Condition: In Ladies #2, it's explained that Sondra Delevan will receive an inheritance from her late father either when she marries or when she turns 25, whichever comes first, but that if she marries before she turns 20, she gets nothing. This is part of why she refused to marry her stepbrother when she was seventeen, despite him getting her pregnant.
  • Origin Story: When Charlie Met Diesel, included as a bonus feature in book 6.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: In book 2, James Delacorte leaves his mansion and the majority of his money (excluding certain other bequests) to his butler, Nigel Truesdale, rather than to a direct relative. His nephew Hubert Morris (son of James' sister Daphne) is most upset, having expected to inherit the bulk of it. When it turns out Truesdale is the killer, it's suggested that the trope will be subverted and Daphne, as the next of kin, will inherit Truesdale's share.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: In book 2, James Delacorte's library and personal papers reveals his most recent rare book purchase - and also that someone had stolen it.
  • Persona Non Grata: Anyone who complains about Diesel being at Helen Louise's restaurant gets banned from there for good, as seen in book 2.
  • Pet Heir:
    • Discussed but subverted in book 2, when the lawyer of the by-then deceased James Delacorte calls Charlie to meet with him about the will, and Sean Harris jokingly suggests that Delacorte might have changed his will to include Diesel as an heir. It's not the case though.
    Sean: "Or maybe he took a shine to Diesel. You could have a very wealthy cat on your hands."
    • Referenced again in book 5, when Sean jokingly says he doesn't want his father to die until he's made out his will. Charlie just as jokingly says he already has, and that he's left everything to Diesel, to which Sean rolls his eyes.
  • Playing Sick: In book 2, Daphne Morris is always playing like she's deathly ill. She does have some heart troubles, but most of her illnesses are just faking for attention.
  • Plot Allergy:
    • In book 2, both James Delacorte and his niece-in-law Eloise are deathly allergic to peanuts, and James doesn't allow them in the house because of it. This allergy is used to kill them.
    • Similarly, in Ladies #2, Estelle is murdered when someone puts ground-up peanuts, which she's allergic to, in her whiskey.
  • Posthumous Character: Charlie's wife Jackie and aunt Dottie, who'd both died of cancer within a few weeks of one another three years before the series began.
  • Raised by Grandparents:
    • In book 2, Stewart Delacorte came to live with his grandparents at Delacorte House after his parents died when he was younger.
    • In Ladies #2, the final chapter states that with her mother Sondra's death, little Tippy Delevan will be raised by her grandmother and great-grandmother.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: The first observed murder in book 7 is a cover-up for a longer-running scheme. Investigating the man's death leads to the discovery of an embezzlement scheme that lasted over a decade, plus an earlier murder that was also an attempt to cover it up.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Attempted in book 4, Vera Cassity tries to use her status and wealth as a library donor to get access to the Ducote family papers in the college library's archives. Charlie, however, won't back down, since the papers aren't available to the public without written permission from a member or a legal representative of the Ducote family.
  • Shotgun Wedding: No shotguns or threats are involved, but in book 7, Sean Harris and his fiancee Alexandra Pendergast move their wedding up to immediately as soon as they find out Alexandra is pregnant.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: The five kittens that appear in book 10 are all given names that are shout-outs to literature. Charlie names one of them Marlowe after the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe (also after a female cat he'd once owned by the same name). Her sister is named Bastet, after a character from Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books, and one of her brothers is Ramses, after a character from the same series. The last two males are named Fred and George, after the Weasley twins.
  • Show Within a Show: Book 5 contains much of the text of The Mystery at Spellwood Mansion, the first in the fictional Veronica Thane series by Electra Barnes Cartwright.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: In book 2, Charlie's son Sean unexpectedly turns up at his house, and reveals he quit his job at the law firm he worked at in Houston. He eventually confesses that his boss had manipulated him, sleeping with him while getting him to do most of the work on a project, and then moving on to the next guy. He quit to get away from her after he figured out her con.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: A downplayed version in book 5. While researching author Electra Barnes Cartwright (who is almost 100 by this point), Charlie finds that her daughter Marcella, an adult with a grown son of her own by this time, was born two months after Mr. Cartwright's death by heart attack.
  • Sore Loser: Vera Cassity in book 4, who threatens Charlie's job and cat when he refuses to break the rules and let her see the Ducote family papers without written permission. The Ducote sisters hear about this and have their lawyer deliver a warning. Vera then tries to hassle Charlie's girlfriend, but again, the Ducote sisters find out and step in.
  • Spiteful Will: When James Delacorte dies in book 2, he shows just how poorly he thought of his surviving relatives.
    • He leaves some money to his brother's grandson Stewart and his other brother's granddaughter Cynthia, but also gives them just three months from the date of his death to move out of his house, and specifically informs Stewart that when he leaves, he may not take any furnishings he himself didn't bring into the house (something that Stewart is particularly disappointed about, as he mentions later).
    • To his nephew Hubert (son of James' sister Daphne), he leaves a trust fund, to be managed by James' lawyer, but anything left of it when Hubert himself dies will go to Athena College to fund a scholarship in James' name. He also orders Hubert and his wife to move out of Delacorte House, leaving them a sum that can only be used on a house (including taxes).
    • To his sister Daphne, he basically tells her to move out, and that if she chooses to go to an assisted living facility, his lawyers will help her with finding one and the estate will pay her expenses. If she moves anywhere else (such as choosing to go with her son to whatever new house he moves into), she gets nothing.
    • Finally, he leaves everything else (save for his rare book collection, which goes to Athena College, and a sum that goes to Charlie Harris for his work in cataloguing it), including the house, to his butler (with a stipulation that when Truesdale dies, the house and estate go to the Athena County Historical Society).
  • Stealing from the Till: The villains in book 7 were embezzling from the library budget for over a decade using a phony e-book company, which they themselves had set up and then got a subscription to it for the library, allowing the college access to the e-books it provided. Except all the items were permanently checked out, and the money supposedly going to the company went straight into the villains' pocket. When the library director tried to cancel the subscription in order to reduce the library's spending, the villains killed him and faked his resignation; when his successor figured out what was going on and tried to blackmail the villains, he was killed; and a witness who tried to continue the blackmail was also killed.
  • Straw Feminist: Marie Steverton in book 6, a history professor at Athena College who tries to throw her (metaphorical) weight around to get what she wants and, if a man refuses to comply with her wishes, she accuses him of sexism and not wanting her to "achieve anything significant" just because she's a woman. It's noted, by both men and women, that her rudeness and prejudice are the issue, and why she's so unpopular, rather than her gender.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Azalea and her sister Lily are almost identical, as Charlie discovers when he sees them together for the first time in book 4 - when he comes in the room and sees them standing side by side (and with their backs to him), he initially thinks he's seeing double until he gets a better look.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Peter Vanderkeller, Athena College's library director (and Charlie's boss) in the first six books, abruptly sent in a resignation letter in book 7; he is later discovered to have been murdered, and the letter was sent by his killers to delay the discovery of their crime.
  • The Summation: Happens in the last chapter of pretty much every book, clarifying whatever wasn't already confirmed or explained in the earlier chapters.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Stewart Delacorte describes Sean Harris as "Tall, dark and gorgeous" shortly after they first meet in book 2.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: In book 2, when Eloise Morris turns up dead, Charlie considers that her husband might have killed her to clear the way for him to marry the woman he's been having an affair with. It's not him though.
  • Two Dun It: In book 2, it turns out that the two major crimes (the murders of James Delacorte and Eloise Morris, and the theft of some of Delacorte's rare book collection) were committed by different people. The killer, Nigel Truesdale, did so to speed up his inheritance. The thief, Delacorte's nephew Hubert, stole part of his uncle's rare book collection to pay for pretty things for his mistress.
  • Unexpected Inheritance:
    • In book 2, James Delacorte's butler Nigel Truesdale faints when he finds out Delacorte left him almost all his money and the house. He's faking, having learned about the contents of the will in advance and murdered Delacorte to speed up the process.
    • A variant with Charlie Harris, who is shocked to find he was named co-executor of the will. He's also surprised to find that Delacorte had specifically named him in the will, leaving Charlie the job of cataloguing Delacorte's library (a job he'd only hired Charlie for just a short while ago). He also left his rare book collection to Athena College, where Charlie works.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: In Ladies #2, Sondra Delevan's brand new car has its brake line cut, and she crashes into a tree. It's suspected the real target was her grandmother, who was supposed to be with her but backed out at the last minute.
  • What an Idiot!: In-Universe, in Ladies #2, the final chapter has the Ducote sisters remarking on how they already knew Sondra's killer was stupid, but then he really blew it when the police find he still has the murder weapon.
    Dickce: "How many killers are actually dumb enough to drive around with the murder weapon in the trunk of their cars?"
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?:
    • The Ducote sisters' mother was deathly afraid of storms, and the sisters themselves don't like them either (though it's noted that they actually worked to try and get over their fear).
    • In book 5, Della Duffy is deathly afraid of cats.
    • In Ladies #1, Maudine Pittman is deathly afraid of spiders, and suffers a fatal heart attack at the sight of rubber spiders in her bath towel, placed there by the killer. Her mother is the same, and her niece isn't too fond of them either.
  • Witch with a Capital B:
    • In book 3, Laura quotes another character, but censors herself because she doesn't want the language to upset her father.
    "All he said was 'That fat witch' - except he didn't say witch - 'may think she can shut me in like she used to, but I'm too big now.'"
    • Ladies #1 does it too, when Rosabelle Sultan talks about her daughter-in-law Marla.
    "If I weren't in polite company, I could tell you what I think of her in a single word, and I'm sure you can imagine the word I mean - it rhymes with witch."
  • Written-In Absence:
    • Justin Wardlaw, one of Charlie's boarders in book 1 and a regular for much of the series, is absent from books 2 and 7. It's explained that he's away with his family for spring break in the former and in England for the semester in the latter.
    • The spinoff series starts with one, as Charlie, his girlfriend Helen Louise, his children, their love partners and his boarder Stewart Delacorte are all off in Europe for a few weeks. This allows the action to focus on the Ducote sisters, who are cat-sitting for Charlie in his absence (since he can't take Diesel on the trip with him).
  • You Got Murder: Charlie receives a letter bomb in book 3. Luckily, Diesel detects that something's off about it, warning Charlie away before he can set it off, and he calls the sheriff's department right away so it can be safely disposed of.
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