Book Review: The Dead of Autumn

This morning, I want to put a word in your ear (a pixel in your eye?) about The Dead of Autumn by Jean Rabe. This is the the fifth entry in her Piper Blackwell Mystery series and a book I strongly recommend for anyone who loves police procedurals or cozy mysteries or just a darned good story. To put it simply, there are very few authors I will stop to read when I’m up against a deadline. Jean Rabe is one of the few. Her latest, The Dead of Autumn, just came out and was well worth the time away from the keyboard and is, in my opinion, the best of the series.


I’ll start off by admitting this isn’t your normal mystery series. It doesn’t fall into any easy category and I’m perfectly all right about it. It is a police procedural but that is exactly what it is. Jean herself called them “cozy police procedurals” in an earlier appearance here on MGC. In my opinion they are just good books that I eat up when a new one comes out and I wait anxiously for the next book to arrive.

Without going into spoilers for The Dead of Autumn, like the rest of the series, is set in Spencer County, Indiana. Jean brings her version of the county–and, yes, there really is a Spencer County and even a town called Santa Claus–to life. It is inhabited with real people, some good, some bad and most a mix of both. When I read the series, I can close my eyes and see the area and that is especially true in The Dead of Autumn which opens on Halloween. 

And, as most any cop will tell you, Halloween is never “just another day” for those in law enforcement. Which makes this a pretty good place to give the book description.

A teenager dressed as Tinker Bell never made it to the Halloween party.

Her murders sends a ripple of fear through Piper Blackwell’s rural jurisdiction.

Investigating the crime, the young sheriff and her detective are drawn into an underworld they didn’t know existed. Can the pair survive the trip into the dark heart of once idyllic Spencer County?

Can they find the killer before more lives are are destroyed and he strikes again?

Sheriff Piper Blackwell is one of my favorite characters. She’s flawed and knows it, something we don’t always see in other series. She knows she has a lot left to learn about being sheriff, not that she always likes asking for help. She’s loyal to her friends and dedicated to protecting those who look to her Department to protect the county. 

What I like most about Piper is how Jean is letting her grow in this series. Each book reveals a new layer or three to Piper, making her both more real and more interesting. But Jean doesn’t stop there. She does the same with her supporting characters, something that is part of what makes this latest installment in the series so much fun. 

In The Dead of Autumn, Piper and company find themselves investigating two murders, the meth problem in the county and even a set of bones found in a trunk in the attic of an old house just purchased by one of the Sheriff’s Department’s dispatchers. Oh, and there’s the little thing about Piper’s upcoming wedding to Nang and the fact she has yet to set a date even though she is now looking at wedding magazines and staring at a certain wedding dress in the window of one of the shops down the street from her office.

If you want an entertaining mystery that combines police procedurals with cozy mysteries with real life issue, this is the series for you. The books can be read on their own but you will get much more out of them if you read them in order. 

I highly recommend this book. It is one of the few I’ve read in the last year or more than I not only started as soon as it hit my Kindle but that I can, without a doubt, give 5-stars to. The characters are real, complete with strengths and weaknesses. They are people I want to know better. Characters I care about. The plot is believable. The book entertains and doesn’t hide the fact that darkness exists everywhere, even in a rural county with towns like Santa Claus in them.

The Dead of Autumn

Publisher: ‎Boone Street Press (May 15, 2022)
Publication date: ‎May 15, 2022
Language:  English
Print length:‎ 319 pages
Buy link here

Dead of Autumn is book five of the Piper Blackwell Series. Want to read the series in order? Check it out here.

Prefer audio? The Piper Blackwell series is in audio, read by Catherine Wenglowski. Start with book one of the series.

Sign-up for Jean’s newsletter and follow her on Amazon to keep up with her latest works!

Here’s where to enter her Rafflecopter giveaway.

About the Author:
USA Today best-seller, Jean Rabe’s impressive writing career spans decades, starting as a newspaper reporter and bureau chief.
From there she went on to become the director of RPGA, a co-editor with Martin H. Greenberg for DAW books, and, most notably, Rabe is an award-winning author of more than forty science fiction/fantasy and murder mystery thrillers.

She writes mysteries and fantasies, because life is too short to be limited to one genre–and she does it with dogs tangled at her feet, because life is too short not to be covered in fur.
Find out more about her at
Walk, don’t run, over to Amazon to grab your copy of this book. Now I’m off to read it again. Or maybe I’ll start the series over and enjoy them all.

29 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dead of Autumn

  1. I have the other four. Have been checking for the fifth every month or so, so thanks for the head’s up.

    1. Glad to be of help. I really enjoyed this one and I love how she is developing the characters. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    1. Most folks think of cozies as being stories like Miss Marple. They don’t have cops as the main investigative character. But, as with so many things, the definition has changed some–at least depending on who you ask. To me, I like Jean’s description of this series being a cozy police procedural. Piper didn’t start off wanting to be a cop. She ran for sheriff after her father, who had been sheriff, came down with cancer. Before then, Piper had been in the Army (an MP iirc). She was happy there and planned on staying in. But she came home and needed something to do. So, when her father did not run again, she ran in his place. During the first book or two, she suffers a very definite case of imposter syndrome–something else that takes it out of straight police procedural in my mind.

      Cozies are also more character driven than police procedurals which are exactly what they sound like. They are the investigation, the step-by-step by the cop or detective investigating the case. You can have scenes from the perp’s POV but the focus is on how the cop gets to the arrest. Think the first half of any Law & Order episode.

      And, yes, there are things that make a story more one mystery genre over another but there are very few that fit only one sub-genre any longer.

      1. Ok cool. Cozy’s follow the personalities to resolve the mystery, while procedurals are process oriented. Would that make the Sherlock Holmes mysteries a prototype of the procedural then?

        Are their tonal limits as well? Or would a cozy structure on a higher tension story typically fall in a different genre?

        1. Not quite. Remember, cozies don’t usually focus on the cop leading the investigation. But here’s the thing, you can’t get hung up on definitions because they do change with time, just like some words no longer mean what they used to. sub-genres are more a marketing tool for bookstores, publishers and authors to use to point readers in the right direction. For example, cozies used to be almost always some older woman in a British village who stumbled upon a dead body and then used her observation skills and local gossip to help solve the crime–usually without the approval or thanks of the cops also investigating.

          Now there are any number of sub-cozy genres. You have the Miss Marple type of books. There are cozies where the main character is usually a single woman, sometimes young but often middle-aged, who is divorced or widowed and living in small town America. She is often a working woman and quite often finds herself accused of the crime. The Goldie Schultz series could be viewed as one such example. Then there are similar books that have a paranormal twist where the female lead is a witch or sensitive of some sort (can see ghosts, etc).

          But all of these have one thing in common beyond the fact the main character is not a cop. That is they take place in a small town populated with “interesting” characters. It is a feel you don’t get with police procedurals that are most often set in a big city or metropolitan area.

          1. Ok. Interesting.

            I’ve got a couple shorts I’m trying to finish that are both missing person arcs, and trying to find things to draw on to get their tones right. Thing is, both of these the viewpoint character has close personal ties to, so have a high investment in seeing them found in one piece. They definitely align with the small town, not a cop, but isn’t going to have the same sort of intellectual exercise feel of the Miss Marple type stories.

            Probably need to sit down and start mapping out how each of the characters thinks and what they care about.

          2. I had thought the series was complete(ish) at Book 4, but am happy it’s continuing. $SPOUSE doesn’t care for SF/F, but loves a good mystery. I saw a promotion the first one either here or in Sarah’s Book promo, and I’m willing to go for a good mystery, too.

            Another author in a similar vein is George Collord. He’s done two books, set in “Kurak County”, which bears a strong resemblance to Siskiyou and Modoc counties in very northern California. The protagonist and the usual POV character is a retired L.A. homicide detective who transferred to the Sheriff’s department as a deputy. Hint: it doesn’t stay that way. There’s a lot of procedural, but also a good chunk of character development. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat, and if another book comes out, I’ll buy immediately.

            Some of the plot developments seem obvious, though there are some key twists to make it highly interesting.

            The first book: Hear the Wind Blow
            Second: The Devil Danced on Church Street

        2. Sherlock Holmes down through maybe Poirot and other male sleuths by similar writers are “classic British mystery” I think. They are a precursor and cousin to cozies because they emphasize the more “fun” or escapist aspects of the mystery genre: pulp adventure trappings,* colorful amateur detectives, a puzzle with enough clues to where the reader could hypothetically figure out the resolution before the detective spells it out. American equivalents included the books of Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr (who’s getting to be impossible to find online), and Rex Stout. “Hard-boiled” detective stories like those starring Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Lew Archer have some of the same emphasis on good vs. evil, pulp adventure trappings, and the restoration of order at the end of the story, but they tend to emphasize the grittiness and violence at the expense of the puzzle elements.

          I tend to think that cozy=female-targeted classic-style mystery. It doesn’t mean that men don’t read them or write them or appear as amateur detectives in them, but the local color/hobby/signature quirkiness are things more calculated to appeal to female demographics. The Cat Who books may have a male reporter as the main human character, but he’s still a crazy cat lady, not to put too fine a point on it.

          *Think of the murder weapon in The Speckled Band, for instance, or the setting in Murder on the Orient Express.

          1. I always really liked how the Holmes mysteries were not all murders. Things like the League of Redheaded Men were marvelous adventures.

    2. It’s a lot like trying to decide if Pern is fantasy or scifi– it depends on what you’re looking for with that ‘flavor’.

      Even the Harper’s Hall books read like science fiction to me, because they’re placed in a world that works like a scientific one does. Someone else may consider them fantasy because they have dragons, mind-reading, and some sizable hand-waving any time things get too crunchy on the details. 😀

      1. I will admit, I did like the way the Pern books did what, to me, felt like a fantasy setting with scientific underpinnings.

        It was a real mind blown moment when I hit that point in the books.

      2. Yes! I felt the same way when I first read them. They were SF. I didn’t really start thinking about the “fantasy” aspect until much later. Now when I do, I find myself smirking with all the authors who think science fiction fantasy is something new.

        1. :laughs: Like the current fad for crossing country over with every blessed thing? My parents talk about how when they were growing up, they just had music, not “country” and “pop” and whatever else.

          OTOH, the National Fantasy Fan Federation was founded way back in the 40s, and it included scifi and horror and…. well, ALL fantas-tic fiction, so I guess McCaffrey was also getting back to her roots as far as “stuff that I thought was awesome when I was younger.”

          ….I guess I want the labels to be descriptions, not cookie cutters. Give me the rockets and dragons. Give me wooden ships going between stars. Give me space elves, and wizards dealing with technology! I want something FANTASTIC, in a good story.

    3. Also, setting is important. They tend to take place in cozy settings. Small towns, for instance.

  2. I’ll be honest, I got turned off by Jean Rabe when she was tapped to write the initial 5th Age for Dragonlance. It, to but it mildly, stank on ice.

    Of course, this was in 1996 and writing for Wizards of the Coast – I am assuming she has gotten significantly better over time, and that mystery is a genre she fits better than fantasy? From your post, it sounds like it may be worth giving her another chance.

    1. Lots of folks will disagree with you, but each of us look for something different in books. I will admit, there are books by certain authors well loved by many of the readers here that I can’t stand. But that doesn’t stop me from trying new material from them when it comes out. Give these books a try. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.

      1. Feelings about genre matter (or fit? Some authors just seem to fit me better, even though I can appreciate the artistry of others).

        I read the 1st Piper book, and thought it was very well done but, especially in middle, was not sure I liked its genre (it’s towards the thriller side, not puzzle) but liked it better at the end.

        1. Jean Rabe has written a lot of things. A lot. A lot a lot. She’s been publishing since the 1980’s, and a lot of her stuff was “work for hire’ in franchises.

          However, after she got caught up in the beginning of Puppy-Related Sadness stuff with SJWs, she seems to have gotten out there and done her own thing. I’m sad that it’s outside sf/f, but the move to mystery seems to have set her muse on overdrive.

          (I could swear she was one of the people who wrote choose-your-own-adventure-romance-fantasy, but I can’t remember for sure and it’s not in the bibliography linked above.)

          1. Nope, that was somebody else. There were 6 HeartQuest books from TSR, with very early Larry Elmore covers. All published in 1983 and 1984. Kate Novak went on to write better known TSR novels like Azure Bonds. Linda Lowery wrote some of the Endless Quest normal D&D choose your own adventure novels. Madeleine Simon was apparently a pseudonym for a romance writer hired to write two books. Jeannie Black was a pseudonym for Jean Blashfield, who also had previously written generic TSR choose your own adventure books, including some of the SF ones.

          2. She hasn’t moved out of the other genres. You might want to check out Black Heart of the Dragon God that she wrote with Craig Martelle last year. She has also a couple of books in the Love-Haight Case File Series with Donald J. Bringle.

  3. I think the thing about cozies is the detective is not a cop and not a professional PI. Nero Wolfe shares a lot of characteristics of cozies, but is not a cozy. The China Bales stories (by Susan Wittig Albert) are cozies, even though the detective was a lawyer (she is now running an herb shop) and her now husband used to be a cop and is now a PI.

    And the detective does not have to be a woman for it to be a cozy. I remember reading a couple of cozy series where the detective was male and a librarian (one set in a small town in Texas and the other in a college town in Georgia.) But usually to qualify as a cozy the detective is not a professional crime fighter.

  4. In The Dead of Autumn, wouldn’t Lefty Jay be a “Chekhov’s gun?”

    I found that reference pretty jarring and kept looking for him to pop up in the solution to the crime.

    1. Jay was a breadcrumb leading to the nature of the real killer. The same question Blackwell senior asked about Jay could be asked about the real killer.

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