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Libby Cudmore’s ‘The Big Rewind’ finds breezy nostalgia and compelling mystery on a mixtape

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Heather Scott Partington

Three stars

The Big Rewind By Libby Cudmore, $15.

“Nothing good ever comes in the mail,” Jett Bennett says in the first line of Libby Cudmore’s mystery, The Big Rewind. When Bennett—a temp in Brooklyn—receives a mixtape meant for her downstairs neighbor KitKat by mistake, she goes to return it and discovers KitKat’s lifeless body. Soon the amateur sleuth is on the hunt for the killer—this is Jett Bennett as a hipster Jessica Fletcher. Cudmore’s love for the mixtape shines through this play on the cozy, as does her love of Brooklyn and romance. The Big Rewind is tongue-in-cheek, but moves along with the requisite suspense and discoveries of a good mystery. It celebrates the world it inhabits.

KitKat’s tape isn’t just a clue to her murder; it allows Bennett to reflect on her own life and love through the musical artifacts of former relationships. Cudmore writes, “I’m not too young to remember the exact weight and feel of a Maxell mixtape. They’re just slightly heavier than a regular cassette, weighed down with love and angst, track lists thick with rubber cement and collage.” Bennett remembers her past relationships through the kinds of songs on her own tapes—gifts from boyfriends past. Cudmore’s nostalgia for the ’90s and early ’00s is evident in her protagonist’s musings. The Big Rewind reminds us of the cringe-worthy things we used to record on cassettes for the people we loved—and mixes that with a twinge of sadness for the personal element that’s been lost in digital music sharing.

“Mixtapes are like diaries,” one character says. “Each corresponds to a very specific place and feeling, and to go pawing through someone else’s collection is a huge breach of trust. It’s musical espionage, emotional voyeurism, and just plain rude.” Yet Jett Bennett’s piecing together of clues from KitKat’s tape leads her to one discovery after another. Are some elements of The Big Rewind a little obvious? Sure. But it’s written with such affection for music and memories that it’s a fun read. This is a (mostly) bloodless treasure hunt from one musical clue to the next.

“There isn’t a better feeling in the world …” Bennett says, “than acknowledgment that your mixtape was not only received and played, but enjoyed.” The Big Rewind is entertaining and clever. And, to borrow from the novel: “weird, twee and oddly appropriate.”

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