Tag Archives: hardbound book releases

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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Coming Up Next…

Something Borrowed 2

A review of Something Borrowed, Someone Dead: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M. C. Beaton, and more.

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Coming Up Next…

Fire Season (nook book)

A look at four mysteries, including Fire Season: A Frank Coffin Mystery by Jon Loomis.

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Time Travel Mysteries

The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton (Atria Books, $26.99, 496 pages)

Every family has a secret or two.   It might be an escapade by great-aunt Sally that nobody wants to acknowledge for fear of losing social standing in the community.   On the other hand, it might be a secret so huge and shocking that it lays buried in the subconscious of the only witness to the event.

Author Kate Morton makes good use of poetic illusions and warped time as she slowly peels back the layers of a family history with Laurel Nicolson (a renowned actress), Vivien Jenkins (a lovely and wealthy socialite), and Dorothy Nicholson (the mother of Laurel, her sisters and her brother) at its center.   The tale switches back and forth between time periods, mostly World War II and 2011.   Although the reader is provided with ample notice of the time switches, there exists a vague sense of unease and confusion conveyed by Laurel and her sisters.

Perhaps the fact that this is a story with action locales in the English countryside and sea-shore, London, as well as a flashback to Australia adds to the sense of wondering and aimlessness felt by this reviewer.   The descriptions of the devastation wrought by the London bombings are no doubt accurate and they are terrifying.   Also, there were times when a look back at prior chapters was necessary to clarify character names and roles.   This mild discomfort was well worth enduring for the remarkable payoff Ms. Morton reveals at the conclusion of her saga.

Well recommended.

Far North: A Magnus Jonson Mystery by Michael Ridpath (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)

Get ready for a strange adventure when you read Far North.   By strange I mean out of the ordinary in terms of setting and vocabulary.   The setting is Iceland and the time is post-2007 economic crash that basically ruined the economy of the country.   While the rampant cheating and leveraging engaged in by business and banking moguls all over the world caused great harm, it was devastating for this cold and wind-swept country of less than half a million residents.

Basically, the tale is an English style detective story displaced to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.   As such the reader is treated to a nice travelogue with multi-generational murders and Nordic style myths and sagas.   Time switches among several periods beginning with August 1934 and progresses in odd intervals toward the fall of 2009.   Main character/protagonist Magnus Jonson is a detective of Icelandic background whose home is Boston, Massachusetts.   Magnus is hiding from gangsters he has fingered in Boston as he attends the police academy in Iceland.

Conveniently, Magnus is the sort of detective that can’t help detecting, even when the case may not be his own assignment.   Along the way he coordinates with other detectives to make sense of revelations he has made.   Childhood traumas have a way of insidiously seeping into the actions of damaged adults.   That lesson is hammered home throughout the gripping tale.

Note to potential readers:  The complex naming system for people in Iceland may be confusing and the pronunciation of geographic names may be daunting.   Don’t let that get between you and an exhilarating chase to the end.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Bang Bang

Gun Games: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow, $25.99, 375 pages)

“She kissed his shoulder.   He was a ball of coiled muscle.   ‘I’m sorry.’   She kissed his shoulder and he felt a tear drop onto his skin.”

Enter a new generation of characters for the charming and endearing series about Rina Lazarus and Pete Decker written by Faye Kellerman.   Now that the older children have been launched into the adult world, Uber-parents Rina and Pete are devoting time and energy to Gabriel Whitman, the son of acquaintances with Las Vegas mob connections.   Gabe is a 15-year-old piano prodigy who studies with a professor at the University of Southern California – Fight On!!!

Gabe has been invited to live with the Deckers until he is ready to head off to college.   This is a desirable placement for all concerned, what with his dad being a gangster and his  mom having run off to faraway lands to have someone else’s baby.   Some of his time is spent at the private school where Rina’s two sons by her first husband were students.   The school provides a suicide victim, Gregory Hesse, a student whose mother refuses to believe he took his own life.   The investigation centers on the weapon used in the suicide or murder.   It seems that there are students at the school who are fixated on guns.

The twist to this plot is Ms. Kellerman’s use of a passionate love/youthful romance between Gabe and a 14-year-old girl, Yasmine, the daughter of devout, observant Jews.   This sets up a bit of a culture clash that is the reason for a whole lot of sneaking around and trysting at the local coffee shop.   The detailed scenes of their passion border on kiddie porn and this reviewer often felt like it was a bit too much.

The story moves slowly for the first two-thirds of the book and the tale is spread among many characters; Pete, his co-workers, the kid’s parents and a few guest appearances by Rina.   The gears of the story finally engage and the last third reads more like a John Grisham novel of years ago.

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Gun Games is also available as an Audible Audio Edition, and as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.

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