Mary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She's worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character's stead, but Maggie's skills leave her in the dust.
“Feliz is strong at characterization...Details are endearing. A skillful amateur detective with an impressive to-do list emerges in this inventive series opener.”
– Kirkus Reviews
A professional organizer adds solving a murder to her to-do list in this resort community cozy.
When the main character in Feliz’s sixth Maggie McDonald Mystery agrees to help ready a friend’s Lake Tahoe ski cabin for sale, slipping over a frozen body buried in the snow outside the garage isn’t part of the plan. Dev Bailey, always known as a “chill guy,” is now an ice-cold corpse. He had been missing for months, leaving behind his pregnant wife, Leslie, and their two preschool kids. Dev was a neighbor of Maggie’s friend Tess Olmos. She enlisted Maggie in her capacity of professional organizer to help clean her vacation home before listing it for sale. Contrary to public opinion that Dev was “everyone’s favorite neighbor,” it appears someone felt otherwise, as his autopsy reveals broken bones, bruises, and death by head injury. Maggie soon comes up with a list of possible suspects, including Leslie’s ex-lover, the unlikely named businessperson Walter Raleigh; former class clown and current snowplow driver Ryan Stillwell; and gruff shopkeeper Jens Zimmer, “who can’t get along with anyone for more than a few minutes.” Even the deceased’s younger sister, Amrita, working as a nanny for the Bailey children, seems dodgy, especially because of her recent baffling behavior. Feliz’s mysteries are always a welcome read. The cast of characters she’s created—Maggie and her family, friends, neighbors, and dogs—slides easily in and out of the series’ half-dozen mysteries. Unlike the first five books, this story takes place in the frosty mountains, four hours away from Maggie’s Silicon Valley home. The author nails the terror of driving in blizzard conditions, the joy of snuggling under puffy quilts, and the winter desire for “food, fire, a little booze.” Particularly charming are the ways Maggie finds to entertain Dev’s young children when she offers to babysit. Although a crime is the hook for the book, friendship and neighborliness are its core.
While the mystery tends to take a back seat, this tale offers a winning wintry ride.
Pub Date: June 9, 2020
Page count: 227pp
Publisher: Lyrical Underground
Review Posted Online: May 11, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020
In this fifth installment of a series, a professional organizer once again becomes embroiled in crime-solving when a family claims her teenage sons are responsible for a man’s death.
Maggie McDonald and her boys, David, 16, and Brian, 14, are ready for a summer at a Monterey Bay beach resort in California. Of course, Maggie is there to work, helping Renée Alvarez, the new manager of the condo complex where they’re staying. On the first day, David and Brian come to the aid of Jake Peterson, who’s injured after crashing his ultralight. They call 911; EMTs rush Jake to a hospital; and the teens become local heroes. But Jake doesn’t survive, and his parents respond with a lawsuit against David and Brian, claiming their untrained attempt to rescue the pilot ultimately caused his death. Consequently, Maggie looks into the ultralight accident, which is already suspicious, as Jake, an experienced pilot, regularly checked his aircraft. She gets assistance from her sons and husband, Max (when not working at his engineering job back home), along with a few friends. Not only could someone have sabotaged Jake’s propeller or fired a gunshot at him during flight, but criminal activity in the area suggests motives for his murder as well. And Maggie knows she’s on the right track when someone threatens her via text message. As in preceding volumes, Feliz’s (Disorderly Conduct, 2018, etc.) novel is light on mystery. Nevertheless, in this case, Maggie isn’t necessarily solving a murder; she’s trying to prove her sons’ innocence. This entails drumming up suspects in potentially unrelated crimes for any links to Jake. But what the story lacks in mystery, it more than makes up for in winsomeness. Maggie, for example, has an infectious, positive attitude and stays cool-headed when others are agitated. Her ever-present golden retriever, Belle, is a delightful sidekick. Descriptions of the canine often reflect the narrative’s low-key humor: Maggie seems to find solace in Belle “conked out for the night” near David and Brian, as the boys “were in good paws.”
Another outing bolstered by the endlessly appealing amateur gumshoe and her furry Watson.
Pub Date: July 16, 2019
Page count: 215pp
Publisher: Lyrical Underground
Review Posted Online: June 21, 2019
In Feliz’s (Dead Storage, 2017, etc.) murder mystery, amateur sleuth and professional organizer Maggie McDonald comes to the aid of her best friend, whom the cops suspect of murder.
Maggie’s skills as an organizer include prepping for emergencies—for example, the spreading wildfire in the vicinity of Silicon Valley, where her family’s home is located. But it turns out that her friend, real estate agent Tess Olmos, needs her even more. Tess’ husband, Patrick, initially appears to have died from an accidental fall. However, a bullet wound in his shoulder, among other signs, points to a violent assault. When police later find a gun on a workbench in the Olmoses’ garage, Tess becomes a person of interest. Maggie, however, is suspicious, as no one recalls seeing the gun there before. She’s been involved in murder investigations in the past (in previous installments of this series), and she embarks on a mission to clear her friend’s name, starting by questioning other suspects, including Tess’ assistant and Patrick’s running partner. Maggie has plenty of help, particularly from her cop pal, Jason Mueller, who’s not officially working on Patrick’s homicide case. But other troubles soon arise involving local drug cartels, and, later, Maggie’s two sons disappear—along with Tess’ son. Feliz’s mystery features myriad appealing characters, most of them returning from previous books in the series; Jason is an always-reliable ally, as is his war-veteran husband, Stephen. Even Maggie’s pets have distinct personalities—golden retriever Belle, for instance, repeatedly nudges people with her nose for comfort or attention. The mystery plot is lightweight, and Maggie’s suspicions of others seem based more on her own impressions than any real evidence. But the whip-smart amateur detective does show considerable skill, particularly when it comes to organizing; at one point, she wisely anticipates and prepares for neighbors arriving at the Olmoses’ home to support newly widowed Tess. And Maggie’s charm knows no bounds, even when she’s interviewing an especially loathsome man: “I squelched my desire to kick him in the shins, or worse.”
An enticing fourth series installment thanks to an engaging cast.
Pub Date: July 18, 2018
Page count: 218pp
Publisher: Lyrical Underground
Review Posted Online: July 10, 2018
In this Bay Area cozy, a body in the freezer and a friend in jail throw a professional organizer’s life into disarray.
In Feliz’s (Scheduled to Death, 2017, etc.) latest Maggie McDonald mystery, Maggie again must clean up a murder mess, this time before she assists friends Stephen Laird and Jason Mueller in organizing and storing the couple’s stuff prior to a home remodel. Police detective Jason is out of state with a rapid-response team of officers the morning Maggie and Stephen are to meet at the home to strategize a packing plan. But when Maggie arrives, the always-punctual retired Marine isn’t there, and his beloved mastiff, Munchkin (who’s Maggie’s golden retriever’s BFF), eventually limps home solo, bloodied but able to recover. Maggie learns Stephen is in jail, charged with the murder of Mr. Xiang, whose body was discovered in the freezer of his restaurant. Cops found Stephen at the scene, wiping down tables. In Jason’s absence, Stephen will only talk to Maggie. She realizes he’s protecting Xiang’s employee, Rafi Maldonado, an undocumented teenager who was home-birthed in the U.S. The night of the murder, Stephen and Munchkin intervened when assailants were beating Rafi, only to be pounded themselves by the thugs who’d killed Xiang. Because he didn’t want Rafi connected to the murder, Stephen gave him his car keys and erased the teen’s fingerprints from the scene. Now, instead of systemizing toss/donate/keep piles, Maggie must prove Stephen is innocent and Rafi is legal. Perhaps one of the homeless people Xiang and Rafi regularly fed behind the restaurant witnessed the beatings? After previously solving murders in the series, recent transplants Maggie and her family are now mainstays in the upscale community filled with diverse, colorful characters. But now, with concern and compassion, Feliz has Maggie delve into the problems of homeless, poor, and immigrant populations. Yet in spite of societal concerns and murder, the tone of this well-written book is hopeful, occasionally playful. Feliz writes confidently, having done her homework on such things as immigration legal issues and even how to breeze through jailhouse metal detectors (carry your passport, keys; don’t wear jewelry, zippers, or an underwire bra).
Feliz again delivers a well-written, immensely likable story that can stand alone, although readers will want to read previous books in the series.
Pub Date: July 4, 2017
Page count: 216pp
Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017
In this California-based cozy, a professional organizer sorts through suspects in the mysterious death of a client’s fiancee.
In Feliz’s (Address to Die For, 2016, etc.) second Maggie McDonald mystery, organizer Maggie is hired by Nobel-nominated Stanford professor Lincoln “Linc” Sinclair to declutter his large Victorian home. In an upstairs room of the messy house, there are more than stacks of papers for Maggie to contend with; there’s also a body. It belongs to Linc’s intended, Sarah Palmer. Clues suggest she’s been electrocuted. Phlegmy, dandruff-y detective Lt. Gordon Apfel (Maggie dubs him “Detective Awful”) believes it wasn’t an accident, and he homes in on Linc as the killer. Awful/Apfel is filling in on the police force for Maggie’s friend Detective Jason Mueller, sidelined with a broken leg. In a previous mystery, Jason, his husband, Stephen, and other locals helped Maggie crack an earlier case. The same crew backs her up in this equally good caper as she relies on her organizational skills to determine who might want to frame Linc for Sarah’s death. One possibility is Claire “Boots” Domingo. Boots runs the community garden that allegedly would acquire Linc’s property if he were to vacate it. Aside from a recent spate of suspicious deaths, the community Feliz has created is a loving, lively one populated by colorful, diverse characters who are funny (one asks, “Did you think I didn’t know any vulgar expressions? I was a middle-school principal, dear, not a hermit”) and charming, especially Maggie herself, who, when upset, doesn’t want to cry in front of her own golden retriever and Linc’s wolfhound because doing so would upset the dogs. Fans of Feliz’s first book as well as newcomers to the series won’t be disappointed.
An engaging but not complex mystery that moves forward quickly with freshness, a few surprises, and a couple of real scares.
Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017
Page count: 236pp
Publisher: Time Tunnel Media
Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017
An inherited dream house turns into a nightmare in this debut California mystery.
Professional organizer Maggie McDonald was led to believe her family’s newly acquired 100-year-old American Craftsman home was move-in ready. But there is a major issue in the basement: a dead body. If that isn’t enough to make the home anything but turnkey, there are also holes in floorboards, broken windows, and electrical issues. Two phone calls worsen the situation. The first, to Maggie’s husband, Max, is from his boss telling him to fly to Bangalore immediately. The second is from movers who report the family’s belongings won’t arrive until the next week. Maggie’s organizational skills are put to the test as she gets her sons enrolled in school, immerses herself in her new community, and deals with a house full of detectives and family pets (two cats and a golden retriever) but devoid of furniture. She also makes arrangements to make the home livable, though it’s subjected to ongoing vandalism. When she finds another body, her to-do list includes finding the killer in her tightknit community. Creepiness—a dead squirrel impaled on the porch, an electrical box rigged to catch fire—is well-captured in the novel, as is humor. Maggie is known to compensate with carbs when things go awry, and they often do (cookie-eating punctuates the book). Details are endearing: an older woman’s living room has a doorframe with the faded marks of a growth chart; the McDonalds use sign language to say “I love you.” Maggie’s kids are intriguing, and her new acquaintances eclectic. Feliz is strong at characterization; a strict principal is known for slapping shut the cover of her iPad, and a burly war veteran needs tissues to tell of rescuing a puppy from a dumpster (“I stuffed him in my shirt, fleas and all”). Breaking up the first-person narrative are emails between Maggie and India-based Max, and each chapter begins with a helpful planning suggestion From the Notebook of Maggie McDonald / Simplicity Itself Organizing Services, such as “Sometimes, life gets in the way, and there are other things far more important to attend to than being organized.” Indeed.
A skillful amateur detective with an impressive to-do list emerges in this inventive series opener.
Pub Date: July 19, 2016
Page count: 250pp
Publisher: Time Tunnel Media
Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016
Kirkus Star: Address to Die For
Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2017: Address to Die For
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