Tag Archives: hardbound book releases

A Six Pack of Mystery Novels

a-death-at-the-yoga-cafe

A Death at the Yoga Cafe: A Mystery by Michelle Kelly (Minotaur Books, $27.99, 261 pages)

What could be more wholesome than a yoga studio/vegetarian cafe in a small English village?  Everyone knows everyone else; Keeley Carpenter, the proprietor of said studio/cafe, is dating Ben Taylor, the local detective.  The bucolic atmosphere in town abruptly shifts when a prominent citizen is found murdered.  Of course Keeley, who is a curious and bold young woman, jumps right in and does some detecting of her own.  It’s a recipe for danger!  This book has a bonus feature.  Scattered among the chapters are instructions on yoga poses.  The most appropriate entry is corpse pose, which is located at the end of the chapter in which the murder is discovered.  Death at the Yoga Cafe is the second book in a series featuring Keeley Carpenter.

Well recommended.

teetotaled

Teetotaled: A Mystery by Maia Chance (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 291 pages) 

The era is the 1920s and the action takes place in and around New York City.  Widowed socialite Lola Woodby and her former cook Berta Lundgren have teamed up to form a business, the Discrete Retrieval Agency.  Lola’s husband died leaving her penniless after years of enjoying the high life.  Their cases have mostly focused on finding lost pets for well-to-do clients.  A high stakes case finds its way to their office/apartment.  A diary belonging to the daughter of Lola’s mother’s best friend must be purloined.  The revelation of corruption, war crimes, envy, greed and determination uncovered by the lady detectives are timeless, yet author Chance makes them fun to read about when mixed with her wry, droll humor.

Highly recommended.

The Champagne Conspiracy: A Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 360 pages)

champagne-conspiracy

This book, the seventh in the Wine Country Mystery series, is heavy on detail regarding grape growing, wine production and family dynasties in present day Virginia and California as well as both locales during American Prohibition.  The lives of many of the characters are interwoven both in the past and the present.  Lucie Montgomery inherited the family estate vineyard in Virginia and she is determined to produce a high quality product.  Her comrade in wine making is Quinn Santori, a fellow with a closely guarded past.  Together they face some rather harrowing scrapes with death while planning the bottling of a sparkling wine, a new addition to their carefully crafted line.  Readers new to Crosby would doubtless appreciate a bit more character introduction.

Recommended.

Buried in the Country: A Cornish Mystery by Carola Dunn (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 324 pages)

buried-in-the-country

The charming fourth installment of the Cornish Mystery series set in the 1970s is an escape to a bucolic area of the United Kingdom where the pursuit of criminals requires the navigational skills of local fixture, Eleanor Trewynn.  Ms. Trewynn is a retired executive of an international nonprofit agency who now gathers donations for a local thrift shop.  Her skills at cross-border negotiation are what lead to involvement in a secret conference regarding apartheid held by a friend in the Commonwealth Relations Department.  Ms. Trewynn’s niece, Detective Sargent Megan Pencarrow, is to provide security at a hotel on the coast.  There are evil spies who want to derail the event.  One crime leads to another and the reader is brought along for a wild ride through the Cornish countryside while the bad guys bumble along back lanes and impassible roads just ahead of the police.

Highly recommended.

The Reek of Red Herrings: A Dandy Gilver Mystery by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books, $26.99, 295 pages)

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This 1930s British murder mystery from Catriona McPherson featuing Dandy Gilver and her partner in detecting Alec Osborne will delight readers.  Dandy and Alec have been working together for eight years; however, the outlandish predicaments these two willingly take on here are by far the best of the series.  Christmas time or not, the two accept a job from Mr. H. Birchfield, an importer and distributor of fish, herring to be precise.  The partial remains of a human have sullied a barrel of his product.  Birchfield wants Dandy and Alec to travel to Banffshire coast and solve the “who” and “why” of this creepy occurrence.  Never mind that Christmas is but a few days away and Dandy will miss celebrating with her husband and sons.  The treacherous cliffs along the seacoast, rain, wind and seriously inbred inhabitants make for ideal subjects of this the fifth in author McPherson’s series.  Be prepared for laughs and groans as she fills the pages with puns and outlandish characters!

Highly recommended.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library: A Mystery by Con Lehane (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 320 pages)

murder-at-the-42nd-street-library

Con Lehane presents the first mystery of his new series featuring Raymond Ambler, a mild mannered librarian at the world famous 42nd Street research library located at 476 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  Ray, as his coworkers refer to him, is the curator of the crime fiction collection.  While the collection is a figment of Author Lehane’s imagination as is Ray’s boss’s office, the rest of the library is accurately depicted in stunning detail.  Who knew that a cold blooded murder could take place within the hallowed halls of the glorious Beau Arts building that is guarded by two fierce lion statues?  The lives of several famous and infamous mystery writers are tangled into a confounding web of murders and past evil deeds.  This is no breezy read because the details matter and not all the clues lead to a convenient solution.

Well recommended.  

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

 

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Three for the Read

fallout

Fallout: A V.I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow, $27.99, 448 pages)

The latest V.I. Warshawski mystery (the 21st in the series) moves away from V.I.’s usual stomping grounds in and around Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas in the heart of the Midwest.   As the tale begins, V.I. has been hired to find two missing persons, a former movie star and a trainer at the local gym who also happens to be a videographer.   Emerald Ferring and August Veriden disappeared the week prior without leaving an itinerary or contact information.   August’s cousin, Angela Creedy, and V.I.’s young friend, Bernardine Fouchard, are adamant that something awful has happened.

Author Paretsky explores the racial and regional biases within the area surrounding Lawrence.   She takes a 360-degree view that includes the clergy, the military, university cell biologists, and private industry.   There are flashbacks to the mid 1980s when protest by local militants included encampments at a Minuteman missile silo.   Paretsky lets fly with her views on the cruel actions taken to cover up the serious harm inflicted on innocent civilians.   V.I. and Paretsky are on the case!

Well recommended.

Fallout will be released on April 18, 2017.

no-place-to-die

No Place to Die: A Novel by Clare Donoghue (Minotaur Books, $27.99, 372 pages)

Clare Donoghue has developed a relatively new mystery series featuring London police officers Jane Bennett and Mike Lockyer.   No Place to Die is the second installment in this classic British police procedural set in present day London.   Bennett is the featured character in this tale.   The way she is portrayed brings to mind Maeve Kerrigan in Jane Casey’s crime novels.   The diabolical nature of the crimes to be solved by Bennett is reminiscent of Peter James’ Roy Grace series.   There are the typical British words and phrases liberally used throughout the text – bottom of the garden, fringe (hair bangs), etc.

No Place to Die includes victims buried alive that need rescuing in very short order.   Each chapter examines the action from various characters’ viewpoints.   Jane Bennett is dealing with her absentee boss, Mike Lockyer, who was traumatized by their prior case.   Jane’s son, Peter, is autistic.   Jane must rely on the assistance of her somewhat helpful mother who steps in to care for Peter when casework calls Jane away after school hours.   Life is not easy!

Well recommended.

poisonous

Poisonous: A Novel by Allison Brennan (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 354 pages)

Back in the USA on the west coast we meet Maxine Revere, an investigative reporter who is contacted by an 18-year-old developmentally disabled boy named Tommy.   His half-sister died as the result of a fall from a cliff in Corte Madera, California more than a year ago.   Ms. Revere, or Max as she is known, becomes entangled in the issues of a very dysfunctional family.   There are the usual matters of jealousy and bickering that happen among teens.   When you add divorce and remarriage by the dad to a woman who has her own teenager, there’s bound to be trouble.

Allison Brennan has had over 20 novels published since 2005.   Poisonous is her latest.   Clearly, Ms. Brennan is very good at character development as well as weaving plot threads.   The book is engaging if not a bit challenging.   Perhaps the array of relationships that sometimes confused this reviewer could have been simplified with a chart of the characters.   That aside, I’m unable to resist enumerating the parallels between Ms. Brennan and myself.   They are threefold: we both reside in the same community; each of us has worked in government; and we share an astrological sign.

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I look forward to reading more of her books.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Have Faith

body in the birches

The Body in the Birches: A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page (William Morris, $24.99, 242 pages)

Prolific author Katherine Hall Page places her title character, Faith Fairchild, into the middle of an extended family squabble over a lovely Maine vacation home called The Birches. The Sanpere Island retreat has been in the Proctor family for many generations, its value increasing with each passing decade. The death of Priscilla Proctor Maxwell was the triggering event in the squabble. Priscilla, a pragmatist, left specific instructions in her will that nixed the notion of sharing the retreat among the various family members. She felt that would only lead to friction around who would use it, and when, and who would pay for the upkeep and repairs.

Paul Maxwell, Priscilla’s widower, has been directed to gather the extended family during July with the intent of selecting the best recipient of The Birches. The second most important character, Sophie Maxwell, a lawyer who’s taking a break from corporate legal life, goes to The Birches at the urging of her mother. Sophie and her mother are contenders for the retreat. The rest of the family runs the gamut from greedy to vicious.

Faith Fairchild, daughter of a minister and wife of a minister, is in the midst of a remodel to the modest Sampere Island vacation home that she, her husband and children cherish. During the remodel, Faith and the children are staying with a dear friend who happens to live next door to The Birches. Surprise, Faith stumbles across a dead body in the woods that separate the two houses. Thus begins Faith’s sleuthing.

Along the way, there are accusations, suspicions and the involvement of the great-nephew of Paul Maxwell that spice up the interactions of the characters. No spoiler alerts here!

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The Body in the Birches is a worthy read for a summer vacation at the beach or in the mountains. The author does an excellent job of creating a sense of place and peoples it with well-developed and interesting characters.

Well recommended.

body in the wardrobe amazon

The Body in the Wardrobe: A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page (William Morrow, $25.99, 237 pages)

This installment of the series features Sophie Maxwell as she begins to acclimate in her new hometown of Savannah, Georgia. Sophie has taken up residence in a house that is being fixed up by her new mother-in-law. Yes, Sophie has married. No, I’m not going to reveal who she has married as that will be a definite spoiler for readers who are working their way through the series and haven’t yet read The Body in the Birches. All you need to know is that Sophie is surrounded by a very tight clique of locals who delight in reminding her of her outside/Yankee status.

Savannah is possibly best known as a city with ghosts and spirits that haunt older homes. There are several references within this story to the wonderful book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. Sophie has her own up close and personal encounter with a dead man in the large wardrobe upstairs in one of the bedrooms of the house where she and her husband are living until they find a place of their own to purchase.

Sadly, few of Sophie’s new acquaintances, and most-notably her husband, do not believe that she has found a dead body. That’s because it vanishes before the police arrive in response to her call for assistance. There are more instances that set Sophie’s nerves on edge and she reaches out to her new friend Faith Fairchild for moral support and assistance. Faith is having a tough time dealing with her kids and husband. Together, Faith and Sophie bolster each other’s morale and get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the disappearing body.

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This book will be appreciated most by readers who love the South and have an acquaintance with Savannah. The author knows her topic and presents it seamlessly while putting her characters through their paces.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Who Let the Dogs Out

Three Guys to Take Along on Vacation

Who let

Who Let the Dog Out?: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)

And they’re off… Andy, Laurie, Rick and the two dogs are back with a strange dilemma at the Tara Foundation Shelter. Cheyenne, a lost dog, took up residence at Andy’s shelter only to be spirited away by a professional burglar.

David Rosenfelt is back to his funny and wise cracking self as he spins the tale of a murder and a missing pooch. This, the 13th Andy Carpenter mystery, is every bit as fresh and engaging as the ones that preceded it. Rosenfelt makes his characters vulnerable in a writing style that is easy to enjoy.

This is a book that’s an excellent read over a lazy weekend or during a week away on vacation.

Well recommended.

World gone by

World Gone: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $27.99, 320 pages)

Indeed, the world of his third book in a trilogy by Dennis Lehane has gone by. The time is World War II and the settings include Cuba and Tampa, Florida. The fact that a war is raging affects both the good and evil people who move through this tale. The notion that war takes the best men for duty thus leaving the less competent behind at home is applicable to gangs of criminals. This is an aspect of war that has never occurred to this reviewer before.

The location during Lehane’s chosen time frame is not one this reader considered particularly compelling or relevant for today. Perhaps with U.S.-Cuban relations resuming the connection between the main character, Joe Coughlin, and Cuba has some merit. Coughlin has business challenges not unlike his counterparts in the legitimate business world.

Dennis Lehane is a very well known author (12 books, four of which have been made into movies). He seasons this tale, World Gone By, with abundant background and biographical information about his characters – thieves, murderers, and extortionists. The pace is slow and a bit plodding. As the plot develops, the reader becomes aware of the human foibles and quirks of these “bad guys.” They should be despicable but Lehane sympathetically portrays the people behind their life situations.

Recommended for Lehane fans.

dead simple

Dead Simple: The First Thriller in the Acclaimed Roy Grace Series by Peter James (Minotaur Books, $9.99, 457 pages)

Claustrophobia warning! Author Peter James casts his story lines one by one to set up a race against the suffocation death of Mike Harrison, a bridegroom and prankster, who is being dealt some serious playback by his buddies just days prior to his wedding.

Crisp dialogue with the right balance of details and description keep the action going. A third person narrator leads the reader through the crash of the bachelor party van and the deadly aftermath. Readers will settle in with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace while he addresses the disappearance of Mike Harrison.

Dead Simple is the first in a nine volume series by James featuring Roy Grace. Clearly, this thriller has piqued this reviewer’s interest. Here’s hoping the rest of the series matches up with this splendid beginning.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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It Takes Two

Writing Teams Present Prequels to Their Mystery Series

A Fine Summer’s Day: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (HarperLuxe, $26.99, 368 pages)

A Fine Summer's Day

Just months before the outbreak of the Great War, Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard anticipates a wonderful future with a beautiful woman. The peril that his country will face isn’t yet a concern. His life as an inspector is satisfying and he uses his instincts while he chases after killers.

At the outset of the book, a series of events are presented to the reader in order to establish their gravity as they coalesce into the tale that unfolds thereafter. Rutledge is a 24-year-old who sees a great life ahead for himself, his fiance, Jean, and his beloved sister, Frances. Together they will become a new family after the loss of his parents. The notion of those left behind, surviving family members, runs through the book.

The mother and son writing team billed as Charles Todd has produced a prequel of sorts, or perhaps a reflection of the pre-World War I challenges and choices faced by Rutledge. Unique to this writing team is the balance between male and female points of view and characterizations.

The resulting tale reads not as neutral, but rather as a subtle balance between points of view. The plot is enriched by myriad details – be they scenery, modes of transportation, clothing, manners or class distinctions specific to the time period in which this complex English mystery occurs.

Highly recommended.

The Breaking Point: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $26.99, 373 pages)

Breaking Point cover

As the 10th novel in the series opens, Dr. Bill Brockton is in his element at the Body Farm located at the University of Tennessee. Offering wry humor to FBI agents studying decomposition to aid them in solving crimes. The time is June 18, 2004. This tells the reader that a flashback/prequel is about to unfold.

Brockton, for lovers of mysteries who have not yet discovered the series, is a warm, caring man whose unlikely expertise brings him into startling crime scene investigations as he assists law enforcement agencies all over the USA. He exhibits reverence and respect for the bodies entrusted to his first-of-its-kind research facility.

The crime scene this time around is a fiery private plane crash site in southern California. The victim is a philanthropist who Brockton and his equally talented wife, Kathleen Walker Brockton, Ph.D., have supported with both financial and personal time and effort donations. The loss of this man is not the only one to be endured in the tale.

The writing duo, Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, are head and shoulders above other writers of the same genre (i.e., Patricia Cornwell). This novel puts a lock on their ability to engage their readers with facts, gore (though tempered just this side of grossness) and compassion for the suffering of mankind.

The Breaking Point is a deeply moving tale that fills in the events in the years preceding the rest of the books in this fascinating and educational series. Family, trust, caring and civic duty make their presence notable in a struggle between good and evil of many sorts. No spoilers here out of respect for the talent this awesome twosome display in book after book.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Coming Up Next…

After-Im-Gone Book Review

A review of After I’m Gone: A Novel by Laura Lippman, and more.

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Elderberry Wine

Spunky Ladies to the Rescue

Foal Play by Kathryn O’Sullivan (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 258 pages)

Foal Play

Colleen’s heart raced. It was unusual for Sparky to run after someone unless he was feeling threatened or protecting his territory. If the man was the person who had burned and dumped the body that has washed up on the beach, she had no doubt he’d harm a dog.

The setting for this debut mystery is a small town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Colleen McCabe is the Corolla town fire chief. She and her border collie Sparky are familiar figures around town. The locale is steeped in traditions; however, a spunky female in the fire chief’s job is not exactly traditional. Colleen has 15 years of firefighting experience and is well qualified for her job. It’s only when she steps over the line and begins investigating a murder that she irritates Sheriff Bill Dorman. There are plenty of subsequent crimes to keep the reader’s attention.

To Ms. O’Sullivan’s credit, the character relationships in this most entertaining novel are longstanding as evidenced by the way she sets up her scenes and describes the interplay that takes place among the townspeople. O’Sullivan has a confident, easy writing style that draws the reader into the quaint town of Corolla and the wide range of activities that take place there. The area is home to a herd of wild horses and there is a strong commitment by some locals to protect the herd. The Lighthouse Wild Horse Preservation Society officers are often at odds with tourists. There’s plenty of tension what with the horses, arson fires and deaths!

Well recommended.

Something Borrowed, Someone Dead: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M. C. Beaton (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 291 pages)

Something Borrowed (audio)

She had a “county” voice and manner reminiscent of Maggie Smith playing the part of the dowager in Downtown Abbey. She had large hands and feet and a slim flat-chested figure dressed in a faded cotton shirt-waister. A large collagen-enhanced mouth dominated her face. Her hair was iron grey and cropped short.

This witty and biting tale is the most recent in a very long list of Agatha Raisin mysteries. Agatha is an aggressive and outspoken 50-something divorcee who operates a detective agency. The tales are set in modern day England but these are by no means the fussy old lady-type stories a la Miss Marple. Stuffy butlers or reticent townspeople rarely put off Agatha. She has infinite patience as she badgers the inhabitants of a Cotswold village.

Agatha works diligently to solve the murder of a very outgoing newcomer to the village who is murdered with elderberry wine. The victim, Gloria French, had a nasty habit of borrowing from her neighbors. We’re not dealing with a cup of sugar or flour; rather, Gloria borrowed and kept furniture, jewelry and other valuable items. Close on the heels of this murder come several more. Agatha and her staff are kept busy checking out the theft victims, like Lady Framington who is described above.

Ms. Beaton always delivers a charming and edgy story. This one is no exception!

Well recommended.

Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble: A Mystery by Mignon F. Ballard (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 262 pages)

Miss Dimple Picks

Back across the pond in rural Georgia in time is the World War II era and the spunky lady detective is Miss Dimple Patrick. Miss Dimple’s fourth adventure in prolific author Ballard’s series centers around the disappearance of the prettiest and sweetest girl in town, Prentice Blair. Prentice has recently broken off a two year relationship with Clay Jarrett, whose family own the peach orchard and fruit stand where Prentice has been working during summer vacation.

The characters are mostly women as the men are off fighting in the war. The basics of life – baking, canning and rationing gasoline and sugar, are always present in the action and dialogue. This may seem quaint and a bit odd for a reader who is under the age of 50. This reviewer has seen rationing stamps and heard stories of mended stockings. I’m not sure it would make sense to a younger reader.

Blair’s friends and former teacher Miss Dimple make it their mission to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Along the way, the town drunk and loony old lady go missing as well. For such a small town, the happenings seem highly improbable.

Recommended to a nostalgia-seeking older audience or a curious younger one.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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