Tag Archives: A Mystery

A Puzzle Worth Pondering

Baker Street Jurors

The Baker Street Jurors: A Baker Street Mystery by Michael Robertson (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 260 pages)

A tall, fiftyish man, clean-shaven, with a thin, aquiline nose stepped into line behind Nigel. “Bloody Hell,” he said, “Is this really the jurors’ queue?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Nigel. “It’s enough to make you want to commit a crime of your own, just to get inside and be warm.”

Author Michael Robertson picks up right where we left off with his fifth installment in the Baker Street Mystery Series. Robertson maintains his crisp sense of humor while delivering a puzzle worth pondering. The books are ideal to take along for a weekend in the country or at the shore. [Or to jury duty!] No need to muddle through the travesty that is the 2016 U.S. election campaign season or the seeming endless reports of man’s inhumanity to man broadcast on CNN. A quick trip to London will be a refreshing change even though it, too, deals with murder, although on a small scale.

Reggie Heath, Queen’s Counsel, and his bride, Laura Rankin, are on an extended honeymoon. Brother Nigel Health has decamped from the U.S. and now makes his home in one of the offices at 221B Baker Street, in Marylebone. An official jury summons is in the morning’s mail; however, the person being summoned is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Nigel makes quick work of fashioning the summons into an airplane and sends it out the open office window toward the street below. His own jury summons is within the stack of mail awaiting him and thus begins another engaging look at the British court system, albeit from the perspective of the jury rather than Reggie’s Queen’s Counsel view.

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The jury panel members and alternates, of which Nigel is one, endure unusual circumstances and even great peril as they work their way through the evidence presented by the prosecution in the case against Liam McSweeney, a celebrated cricket player accused of murdering his wife. The book is definitely an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. That’s enough of the plot. No need to spoil the fun. Great fun.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on July 19, 2016.


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(Not Quite) By The Numbers

Crooked Numbers Amazon

Crooked Numbers: A Raymond Donne Mystery (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 320 pages)

Tim O’Mara’s Crooked Numbers, the second in the Raymond Donne mystery series, follows a very familiar – perhaps too familiar – path for those who read his debut novel Sacrifice Fly.

Donne is a former police officer turned public school teacher in Brooklyn. He had to leave the force when injured in the line of duty but just can’t get the cop out of him.

In Crooked Numbers, a young kid with a promising future, Doug Lee, is killed. Lee’s mother approaches Donne for help, and soon thereafter another teenager turns up dead and yet another end up in the hospital. Donne can’t fight his instincts and springs into action. Similar to the storyline in Sacrifice Fly, he becomes more valuable than the actual police in solving the mystery and catching the bad guys.

Well known characters permeate the scene – Uncle Ray, also a former cop; Allison, the love-interest newspaper reporter; and Muscles, the physical therapist who pushes Donne to return to normal functioning all reappear.

Crooked Numbers back Amazon

O’Mara’s writing is solid, and Donne is generally an interesting fellow. But there isn’t a lot of intrigue in this story that would move it into the page turner category. It is good, but perhaps a bit of a sophomore slump. Odds are that the third installment will bounce back with a little more needed oomph.


Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Oddly, none of Tim O’Mara’s books are available in trade paperback form.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Pop Fly

Sacrifice Fly A Mystery

Sacrifice Fly: A Mystery by Tim O’Mara (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 320 pages)

“Noontime, and I’m still pushin’ myself along the road, the darkest part
Into the narrow lanes, I can’t stumble or stay put…” Bob Dylan, “I and I”

O’Mara Connects with Sacrifice Fly

Tim O’Mara’s debut novel Sacrifice Fly is one of the better mystery novels this reviewer has read in recent years.

Raymond Donne is a Brooklyn school teacher and former cop who becomes entangled in the disappearance of one of this students, Frankie Rivas, and his sister when their father is murdered. Donne, whose police career ended due to a freak injury, can’t resist his innate urges to play detective when he is disappointed with the actions of the men in blue. Donne gets in over his head, making for enough drama that his uncle, the chief of detectives, has to get involved to help bail him out.

The best aspect of the novel is the consistency of storytelling and voice from start to finish, which is not easy to pull off. The only blip here is the incident when Donne is on a date at a police gathering and lets some of his blue machismo surface unnecessarily. This is out of character for him and does not seem to fit.

Frankie is billed as a baseball phenom whose “way out” of the neighborhood is a scholarship to a local private high school baseball power that Donne helped him secure. However, this does not actually have much to do with the story, so any reader expecting a story focusing on baseball will likely be let down.

Sacrifice Fly back cover

The story is told without pretense and it works. The reader gets a happy ending, though Donne himself is left dangling with the loose ends of his relationships and physical rehabilitation still in limbo, which screams for a sequel.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Tim O’Mara’s novels have only been released in hardback and Kindle and Nook Book editions, not in trade paperback versions.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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The North Country

Jack Pine: A Northwoods Mystery (Koehler Books, $15.99, 300 pages)

Jack Pine

Hazelgrove Pulls Off Another High Quality Tale In An Unlikely Setting

Jack Pine is an inferior pine that has been relegated to Indian cultivation. When an Indian moves from suspect to witness in a rape, Jack Pine takes off, and Deputy Sheriff Rueger London follows his intuition, defies authority, falls in love, and eventually supports his status as the moral conscience of an entire region, the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, which border Canada.

The story includes the contemporary themes of man versus environment, second chances, good versus evil, etc., and manages to defy convention or stereotype because author William Hazelgrove has a unique ability to construct characters that the reader cares about.

Rueger must relive his past in order to imagine a future. An unlikely, and, in retrospect, welcome visitor inject life into a man who has been pretending and going through the motions for years. In order to be true to himself and fair to one who has challenged his imagination, Rueger puts his reputation on the line, only to face the indignation of the community and an equally uncertain future.

Jack Pine banner

Hazelgrove is at his best when he takes on the theme of suburban angst, as he does in Rocket Man and Real Santa, but his storytelling translates well to the hinterlands because he is, at heart, a storyteller. Jack Pine is not merely a whodunit or a love story, nor is it subject to the confines of time and/or place. It is about people, and Mr. Hazelgrove is awfully darn good at getting the essence of all of our collective and individual strengths and weaknesses.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is the Superintendent of the Elmhurst (Illinois) Community Unit School District 205, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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The Quest

The Sirena Quest (nook book)

The Sirena Quest: A Mystery by Michael A. Kahn (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 298 pages)

What is the likelihood of two widowed lawyers featured in a mystery – one a January 2015 release from Poisoned Pen Press and the other a December 2013 release from author Adam Mizner, A Case of Redemption? It’s probably not unheard of, but this reviewer read them both within a few weeks of each other purely by accident. That’s where the similarity ends.

Author Kahn provides a slow start to his latest book, a stand-alone. By the way, Sirena is a 300 pound bronze statue that has been the subject of many pranks since it was donated to an eastern college. Ultimately, it disappears. The main characters are four fellows, freshman roommates at the college in 1970. Sirena is still a legend many years after the abduction when they begin college life.

Fast forward to 1994 when a wealthy alumnus offers up a huge reward for the return of the statue, $25 million. The bulk of the reward is an endowment to the college; however two million is a reward for the finder(s). The four roommates decide to take the challenge. The pace picks up as clues are deciphered. The fellows only have a limited time before the deadline and they are hot on the trail.

Kahn shifts among the main characters giving the reader glimpses of the men 24 years ago during their freshman year at “Barrett College.” Barrett is a stand-in for Kahn’s alma mater, Amherst. The true value of this tale is the touching way the author portrays his characters. Their lives, like most of the rest of us, have their highs and lows. As the story concludes, the reader can feel emotions seep from the page into the real world.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Spunky Ladies, Part Deux

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery by Tessa Arlen (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 310 pages)

Class confusion erupts as rascal nephew Teddy Mallory’s body is found hanging in the woods of Lord and Lady Montfort’s country estate the morning after their much celebrated annual summer ball. The setting is the English country manor house and grounds as well as miles of fertile farmland that is worked by hundreds of families dependent on the estate for a livelihood. The time is the early 20th century Edwardian Era.

Author Tessa Arlen has taken on the shifting social dynamics of upper crust society just after the dawn of the industrial revolution. There are strict unspoken rules observed as the gentry interact with their social peers. The set of social rules for interactions between the gentry and their manager servants (in this case, the housekeeper) and the household staff she commands are just as rigid.

To Arlen’s credit, her characters are made real by their thoughts, actions and feelings. The beautiful annual event has been turned into the search for the murder of Lord and Lady Montfort’s college age nephew who has always been difficult but lately has gotten himself deeply involved in criminal activities.

Clementine came downstairs for dinner early. She had taken care over her appearance and had chosen her dress thoughtfully; it was part of her resolution not to let the side down, it was important to keep up appearances at times like these. Her friends gathered together in miserable little huddles throughout the room and were a far more introspective and reserved group this evening, compared to the convivial get-together of the preceding night.

The reader can’t help empathizing with the houseguests trapped into staying while Teddy’s death is being investigated. The lot of them fear that there is a murderer among them. Lady Montfort (Clementine Talbot) takes on the challenge of solving the murder with the help of her stalwart housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, and together they forge a bond and take on sleuthing that most would deem inappropriate, especially since the local constabulary is actively seeking the murderer.

A well-recommended debut novel.

Vintage Gloss

Vintage: A Novel by Susan Gloss (William Morrow, $14.99, 320 pages)

Fast forward to present day Madison, Wisconsin where Violet Turner, a late twenties divorcee and owner of Hourglass Vintage, revels in expressing her individuality in a community that encourages folks like her. Hourglass Vintage, a clothing shop featuring many high-quality items, serves as the nexus for several women of varying ages and backgrounds, each of whom is faced with a life crisis.

Author Susan Gloss patiently sets out the circumstances that bring these women together. April Morgan, a pregnant teenage math wizard who has had a rough childhood and Amithi Singh, a comfortably settled middle aged naturalized citizen who emigrated from India with her academic husband 40 years ago, find refuge at Hourglass Vintage in the person of their most empathetic friend, Violet, when their lives are derailed by deceit and abandonment.

As April’s midsection grew, so did Violet’s sense of longing. She knew it was ridiculous to be jealous. April hadn’t had an easy life, and wouldn’t any time soon. Still, there was a luminosity about her lately, a quiet confidence. Violet had seen it in Karen’s face when she was pregnant with Edith, and she feared she’d never know the feeling herself.

Vintage is Gloss’ debut novel and it is reminiscent of The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean (reviewed on this site in March of 2011). Both proprietors face challenges as they struggle to maintain a vintage clothing shop. Violet has the advantage of having weathered a disastrous marriage, if that’s an advantage, and she knows how to stand up to bullies. April has been forced to step up and be the adult in her childhood with a bipolar mother who has recently died. Amithi is discovering that her world is not what it has seemed to be and she needs to sort out a new approach to her life.

The novel allows the reader breathing room so that the ups and downs experienced by the characters are not overwhelming. Clearly, this is not a tearjerker story.

Well recommended.

Rosemary and Crime

Rosemary and Crime: A Mystery by Gail Oust (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 310 pages)

Rosemary and Crime is the fourth book written by Gail Oust and the first of her Spice Shop mysteries. The main character and narrator is Piper Prescott, the recent former wife of C J Prescott, III, Esq. who is an ambulance chaser. Piper has plunged her divorce settlement money into Spice It Up!, a culinary seasonings boutique situated in Brandywine Creek, Georgia, an up and coming town where she is a Yankee among the Southern townspeople. The opening day for her shop is ruined by the murder of a local celebrity chef, Mario Barrone, who was scheduled to present a cooking demonstration.

“Must have been awful,” Gina continued, “what with finding Mario’s body and all.” She scooped a forkful of chocolate chess pie, a classic Southern sweet, into her mouth. “It it’d been me, I would’ve screamed bloody murder.”

Piper’s BFF Reba Mae Johnson, mother of twin sons, a widow and owner of Klassy Kuts beauty salon, jumps in to assist after the unfortunate discovery of Mario’s body by Piper focuses all the town’s attention on the crime. Naive Piper has picked up the murder weapon and left her fingerprints as she enters through the back door of Trattoria Milano, Mario’s high-end restaurant the night before her shop is set to open.

These better-than-average gal pals get themselves into some hilarious scrapes as they work furiously to solve Mario’s murder. Their nemesis is Police Chief Wyatt McBride, a recent hire in Brandywine, who has returned to his hometown after a law enforcement career in Florida.

Several of the males in this story have mighty character flaws to overcome as author Oust portrays them making many demeaning comments and acting in chauvinistic ways.

Recommended for readers who enjoy cooking and light-hearted drama.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were received from the publishers.

You can read a review of The Secret Lives of Dresses here:


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A Deadly Game

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone: A Dandy Gilver Mystery by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur, $26.99, 304 pages)

A Scottish health spa is just the destination for Dandy Gilver’s husband and two sons, all of whom have been suffering from one illness or another. Never mind that Dandy has an ulterior motive for bustling her family off to the coastal retreat.

Dandy and her partner Alec Osborne are on a sleuthing case and they shamelessly use the outing to cover up their assignment. A guest at the spa has died and the bereaved family needs to know the truth of her demise; accident or murder?

The time is post World War I and the Gilver family is rather well off. Dandy’s husband, Hugh, is reasonably tolerant of his wife’s need to pursue her detective career although sometimes his patience is stretched to its limits.

The spa, Laidlaw’s Hyrdropathic Establishment, is quite the place for encountering all manner of folks. There are the usual staid and and proper ladies and gents taking in the cures along with a rather odd mix of spiritualists, a partying crowd and the family that runs the spa.

Dandy, her family and Alec encounter more than a few bizarre happenings before the mystery death is solved.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The author, Catriona McPherson, lives in Davis, California.

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