A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry is the first book in a new cozy mystery series called the Family Skeleton. It centers on Dr. Georgia Thackery as she returns to her hometown to be an adjunct professor at the college both her tenured professor parents work at. While they are on sabbatical, she and her teenage daughter, Madison move into the family home. But the house isn’t empty when they move in. For thirty years living in the attic has been a walking, talking, wise-cracking skeleton named Sid. He’s known only to Georgia, her sister Deborah, who believes the family needs to get rid of Sid because it’s not normal to have a skeleton friend, and their parents.
As soon as Georgia moves back to start her new job and get her daughter settled into yet another new school, things become complicated in the most unusual way. One weekend Sid convinces Georgia to take him along with Madison, who doesn’t know of his existence by his choice, to a local anime/manga convention. Genuinely a fan of the genre via reading Madison’s books, it’s the perfect way for Sid to get out of the house as he cosplays as a Shinigami from a famous manga. It’s while he’s roaming the convention floor taking pictures with people who think his “costume” is the coolest that he recognizes someone from his past. Problem is he doesn’t who she is nor why seeing her gives him such a bad feeling.
That’s the first of two mysteries in A Skeleton in the Family. Even though Sid’s been in the family for thirty years, it wasn’t as if he came with the house or was a member of the family that passed on. Eventually we get the story of how Sid came to live with the Thackery family. No one knows anything about him including Sid. Yet when he sees this woman, a retired, famous zoo anthropologist from another local college, that he and Georgia begin to investigate Sid’s origins as this woman means something to him. Determining Sid’s true identity becomes Georgia’s focus until the mystery woman turns up dead and a series of break-ins involving people in Georgia’s life cause the two of them to question his identity further.
I like quite a few things about this book. First off I really enjoyed the main characters. Georgia is smart and very down-to-earth and seems like a really good mom. Her interactions with her fellow adjunct staff is hilarious as they are all fishes swimming in the same bowl year after year.
Sid is truly a well-fleshed out character even if all he is a bag of bones. He’s smart and with lots of time on his hands does a lot of the investigative work including risking exposure. He’s protective of the family to the point he doesn’t want Madison to know who he is even though Madison definitely comes across as one of those people who would be okay with having a skeleton in the house.
The supporting characters are all right. They serve their various purposes and one main source of conflict comes from Deborah. Although she has long ago tried distancing herself from Sid, to the point of ignoring him completely in conversations, and is disapproving of Georgia’s choices, she still cares about her sister and niece. They get along and fight but the reader gets the impression they’ve never been at each other’s throats.
Another positive is how the world of academia is portrayed. Georgia has been a lifelong adjunct teacher tromping from college to college for temporary jobs. This is difficult for her not only financially as adjuncts aren’t paid much and don’t generally get too many benefits, but because with having not one but two parents who are respected, tenured academics, she catches a lot of heat from others as to why she didn’t follow in their footsteps. From the start we are introduced to world that resembles more elementary or high school rather than a college. Adjuncts are crammed together into a coop of desks. They backstab each other and fight over space and negotiate favors. Apparently they are treated even worse than grad students are which having supported a spouse through grad school really boggles my mind.
The story itself was fun and while the pacing was quick, it still felt realistic especially when compared to a lot of mysteries and police procedurals where everything is wrapped up in a matter of days or a week. Georgia and Sid do break some laws which is to be expected. How else can you explain to the police you believe the family skeleton and a dead professor are linked? It was a brisk, easy read but still managed to obtain solid character development all while introducing a new series.
And while I did thoroughly enjoy this book, there were a few things I didn’t particularly care for. One was Georgia’s blossoming relationship with a fellow adjunct, Fletcher. Throughout the book he is presented as someone who respects and likes her yet by the end their blossoming romance has ended. The explanation given made little sense and seemed contradictory to everything the reader was shown.
The twist at the end about whom the real murder was felt a little like a Scooby Doo re-run. I needed a few more hints as to who the murderer might have been. In fact I had to search my brain to remember if the murderer had even been introduced before the reveal. This rushed reveal also meant the ending was rushed including a fairly monumental moment I had hoped would have been given more of a proper time in the sun.
Overall I really, really enjoyed A Skeleton in the Family. It was adorable, which is an odd thing to say considering it’s a murder mystery with a real skeleton as a main character. I look forward to the next books in the series and would recommend to anyone wanting a light, fun read. On a scale of one to five pencils I give A Skeleton in the Family three and three-quarter pencils.