Tag Archives: mysteries

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)

reek-of-red-herrings

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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Magic Unleashed

Unleashed amazon

Unleashed: A Kate Turner, DVM, Mystery by Eileen Brady (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 266 pages)

Animal lovers get set for an adventure-filled mystery from Eileen Brady, the second in her Kate Turner series (Muzzled was the first book). Toto, a wire haired Cairn terrier owned by artist Claire Burnham, is left an orphan in the care of Dr. Kate Turner, the vet in Oak Falls, New York. Claire’s death is an apparent suicide but the prologue of Unleashed sets up the death as a pre-meditated murder.

The cheerful easy-going narrative of Kate’s life as a small town vet is engaging and her relationships are consistent with the first book in the series. Kate and her assistant, Mari, make house calls when emergencies or problems with non-portable pets such as potbellied pigs occur.

Kate’s wide circle of friends and clients provides her with several potential alternatives for Claire’s “suicide.” Readers will be brought along as she works through each of her suspicions about Claire’s demise.

Unleashed 3

Brady’s journal quality writing brings the reader along during Kate’s work and off-hours. There are many fascinating veterinary cases presented throughout the text. This book has much to offer.

Well recommended.

Magician's Daughter

The Magician’s Daughter: A Valentine Hill Mystery by Judith Janeway (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 236 pages)

Next up is the first in a series featuring an aspiring magician named Valentine Hill. Valentine is a young woman who is working as a magician’s assistant in a casino in Las Vegas. Her first person narrative is brisk and fast-paced. Her status as an actual person is tenuous because her mother has withheld Valentine’s birthdate and the name of her father. Yes, this is an odd situation for anyone and is especially so due to her mother’s habit of running scams and flitting from one duped mark to another.

There’s a fine line between a quirky story and a silly one. Author Janeway has mastered the art of telling a really good story, albeit one definitely off the beaten path. Valentine moves from Las Vegas to San Francisco in search of her vital statistics as she follows clues to her mother’s whereabouts. The folks she encounters along the way provide the reader with an inside look at a segment of society (hustlers and buskers) that is not part of most mysteries.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Tailgating

Tail Gait (Amazon)

Tail Gait: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown (Bantam, $26.00, 307 pages)

“Smartest thing we ever did, separation of church and state, and we can thank Madison for drawing up those Articles for Virginia when we were a colony.” Ginger’s tone brooked no interference, but then the rest agreed on this issue.

Professor Greg “Ginger” McConnell, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Virginia is a tenacious researcher who has been digging into land ownership matters that must be sensitive to someone who wants to keep the past buried. Ginger is the victim of that someone and he’s found dead in the rough of a golf course by several of his former students.

Tail Gait follows two story threads, one set in the Revolutionary War and the other in 2015. The plight of a brave young British soldier captured by the Americans is contrasted with the murder of the history professor. The locale is Rita Mae Brown’s home turf, Virginia.

Typical of Ms. Brown, there are many teaching moments inserted here and there. Readers familiar with the Sneaky Pie Brown mysteries may be disappointed that the feline Mrs. Murphy and her furry friends are not more prominently featured in the solution to Ginger’s murder.

The two story threads seem unrelated until more than halfway through the book. The reader is left wondering when, if ever, Ms. Brown will get to the point. The writing in both threads is sadly uneven. This reviewer needed to reread passages for clarification. This work is far below the standard earlier set by Brown; thus, it’s not engaging or entertaining. If there’s another book in the series, let’s hope that Mrs. Murphy is returned to her starring role!

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

You can read a review of Cat Striking Back: A Joe Grey Mystery by Shirley Rousseau Murphy here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/cat-striking-back/

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A Poisoned Pile of Mysteries

A Variety Pack from Poisoned Pen Press

Where the Bones are Buried

Where the Bones are Buried: A Dinah Pelerin Mystery by Jeanne Matthews (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 288 pages; $14.95, 288 pages)

Hold on to your hats Wild West fans! The improbable mix of Berlin, Germany and fans of American frontier lore are at the center of this wacky murder mystery. Dinah Pelerin is the heroine of this tale. She has a lover who is a former Norwegian cop and her mother, Swan, is a Native American from the Seminole tribe.

Author Jeanne Matthews presents a deeply puzzling death amid a powwow event held by the Berlin Der Indianer Club. Who knew that Native Americans might fascinate Germans? At least this explains how Dinah has a gig teaching Native American cultures in Berlin. This is Dinah’s fifth appearance in the series so there’s a fascination with her by mystery lovers.

Swan is a rather tricky character who’s out to get revenge. She visits Dinah in Berlin and together they manage to get themselves into some very tricky predicaments after finding a scalped murder victim.

Recommended for mystery lovers who are looking for a fresh perspective on murder.

Caught Dead

Caught Dead: A Rick Van Lam Mysery by Andrew Lanh (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 290 pages; $14.95, 290 pages)

Back in the USA we find Rick Van Lanh, an Amerasian private eye in Connecticut. Rick is hired by members of a small Vietnamese community in Hartford to determine whether the drive-by shooting of Mary Le is just a random incident or murder. Mary is a twin. She and her sister are known as the “beautiful Le sisters.”

The tale is told in a breathless, naive way that is heavily laden with racism both external (Vietnamese vs. others in Hartford) and internal (mixed race children who are a product of the war in Vietnam vs. pure blooded Vietnamese). The clashes also include tensions between Buddhists and Catholics and, of course, the rich and the poor.

There’s a bit of meandering for Rick as he searches for a motive to explain Mary’s shooting. The complexity and conflicts he encounters make this somewhat of a laborious read. This would likely be an unlikely selection for the typical reader.

Murder in Picadilly

Murder in Picadilly by Charles Kingston – British Library Crime Classics (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 316 pages)

And now, back to our regularly scheduled mystery style – British mysteries of the 1930s, in other words, true classics! Poisoned Pen Press has brought back out-of-print mysteries that were popular in their day. This selection features Bobbie Cheldon and his nightclub dancer crush, Nancy Curzon. Bobbie is the lazy and self-centered son of a widowed mother. His uncle, his deceased father’s brother, is a wealthy tightwad. Bobbie longs for the day when he inherits his uncle’s fortune.

The book is written in fascinating syntax and figures of speech that draw the reader back in time. Make no mistake, there’s no casual cruising through this text. The reader cannot afford to be lazy or skim as the charm and humor of Charles Kingston’s writing style will be missed.

Members of the British caste system in its many permutations interact throughout the tale to form a truly tangled web of greed and deceit.

Highly recommended for purists who devour classic British mysteries!

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher and/or a publicist.

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The Living is Easy

One for the Money, Two for the Show, Three to Get Ready, and Four to Go!

Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, Edited by Martin Edwards (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 288 pages)

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 232 pages)

After the Funeral: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie (William Morrow, $12.99, 286 pages)

The Monagram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, $25.99, 302 pages)

Print

It’s summer and the living is easy; however, dying, not so much. Three classics that have been revived and a new Hercule Poirot tale are easy choices to bring along on vacation. All are British and they provide wonderful examples of the genre. Each has the charm and wit that fans expect.

Poisoned Pen Press of Scottsdale, Arizona, a publishing house dedicated to the mystery genre, has begun a series of rereleases of British crime novels from the golden age of crime writing. The British Library Crime Classics in this review are Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards, and The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude.

Resorting to Murder

The title Resorting to Murder is a play on words as each of the 14 engaging short stories takes place in a vacation/resort setting. The variety of murders is impressive given the theme restriction. The book is easily read several stories at a sitting or parceled out one per evening – depending on the length of the reader’s vacation.

Highly recommended.

Sussex Downs (kindle edition)

The Sussex Downs Murder comes complete with a map of the locations where the action takes place. Superintendent Meredith is called in to investigate when John Rother disappears leaving behind an abandoned car smeared with blood. The tale is full of twists and turns but the criminal responsible for John’s disappearance is no match for Meredith’s smart detecting.

Well recommended.

After the Funeral

In 2013 writer Sophie Hannah was commissioned by Agatha Christie’s family, estate and publishers to write a new Hercule Poirot novel. As a prelude to the release of said novel, Hannah was asked to name her favorite novel featuring Poirot. Her choice was After the Funeral. The rerelease of this book in trade paper includes a foreward by Ms. Hannah and a comprehensive listing of the titles in The Agatha Christie Collection.

As with all Poirot mysteries, the solution isn’t really plausible, rather, it’s the mental acrobatics the reader goes through while following Poirot’s investigation that makes for an enjoyable read. In this tale Cora Lansquentet, a widow, is savagely murdered the day after her brother’s funeral. Her announcement at the funeral that he was murdered sets the stage for the subsequent investigation of her murder. Each of the surviving attendees is a suspect. Never fear, Poirot is on the case, and, of course, he identifies the suspect – albeit after some laborious use of his little gray cells.

Well recommended.

Monogram Murders 3

The physical book is a nod to Agatha Christie’s long history of Poirot novels. The pages inside the front and back covers are vellum and the text pages are deckle edge. Thus, the reader is primed for a classic British mystery.

Poirot dines regularly at a coffee house in his neighborhood. A young woman who is fearful for her life approaches him. Subsequently, Poirot learns of the deaths of three guests at a London hotel.

Hannah employs the locked door, mysterious clue and anxious stranger seeking Poirot’s assistance to launch her take on Christie’s legacy. Readers will not be disappointed as she is clearly up to the task. Poirot’s voice is true and the details of his investigation are highly reminiscent of the classics written by the original author.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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A Question of Balance

A Question of Honor (nook book)

A Question of Honor: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 336 pages)

The 2013 installment of the Bess Crawford saga draws readers back to India in 1908 for the plot-setting incident. Bess grew up in colonial India where her father, Colonel Crawford, commanded a regiment. One of his officers was identified as a murderer; however, the fellow was presumed dead before he could be captured and tried for his crime. The regimental honor was sullied and the memory of the evil deed followed the men for years.

The secondary plot threads concern the perils faced by British citizens whose children were shipped back home due to sickness and the tensions between the British and local warring tribes in the early 1900s. Fast forward ten years to 1918 and we encounter Bess serving as a nurse on the battlefields of France. She is, as always, plucky and strong willed. Her eyes and ears gather information from the wounded as she carriers out her duties. One fellow in particular confides in her regarding the presumed dead murderer from her father’s regiment, thus sparking Bess to action. The regimental honor is family business!

The tale unfolds across Europe from this multi-level beginning. The book seems to be more Bess’ journal than a mystery novel. The narrative is a bit bouncy which may be due in part to the advance reader’s edition on which this review is based. There is an interesting contrast in perspective for fans of the authors, the mother-son duo who write under the pen name of Charles Todd. The Ian Rutledge series focuses on the post-war personal fallout for a male World War I officer; whereas, the Bess Crawford series details the ways in which women were expected to be brave and serve their country in time of battle and yet maintain their modesty. That’s quite a challenge.

Well recommended.

An Unwilling Accomplice (nook book)

An Unwilling Accomplice: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 352 pages)

This year’s Bess Crawford tale segues smoothly from the one reviewed above. There is an even pace to the telling as the reader learns of Bess’ experiences behind the battle lines in France. As the book begins, Bess is home in England on leave and planning to rest. A messenger delivers an order regarding a badly wounded soldier who has requested that she accompany him to Buckingham Palace. Bess must accept the assignment and forego her rest.

The soldier, Sergeant Jason Wilkins, is to receive a medal from the king. Social mores dictate that Bess restrict her care to checking in on Sergeant Wilkins and tending to his bandages. At no time is she to stay in his London hotel room. The evening after the ceremony, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon (known to fans in past mysteries) meets her for dinner in the hotel dining room. All seems well until the next morning when Bess goes to ready Sergeant Wilkins for his trip out of London. Wilkins’ bed is empty and he is missing!

The Army and the Nursing Service blame Bess. Her spotless record of service is now tainted and she is placed on administrative leave pending a review of the matter. That’s all she needs to spur her to find the vanished soldier and clear her good name. Simon assists Bess in her quest whenever he is between covert assignments.

The complex plot line is at times confusing. There are miles of back and forth driving in the English countryside chasing the elusive Wilkins. The search occurs among three small towns. A map of the vicinity would be helpful. This review is based on an advance reader’s edition. Hopefully, the final published version will include a map. One other matter is confusing – Bess and Simon are devoted friends and their relationship seems oddly platonic. Perhaps his military rank relegates him to only being a buddy?

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were received from the publisher. An Unwilling Accomplice was released on August 12, 2014.

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The Letter

Every Hidden Fear (nook book)

Every Hidden Fear: A Skeet Bannion Mystery by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur Books, $26.99, 292 pages)

Linda Rodriguez is serving up her third installment in the Skeet Bannion mystery series set in the fictitious town of Brewster, Missouri located 12 miles outside of Kansas City. Rodriguez provides a smooth segue from her prior book. The narrator, Skeet Bannion, is chief of police at a local college after a distinguished career with the Kansas City Police Department. As in the past, Skeet is somewhat entangled with her former husband, Sam. Together they care for Skeet’s dad who is an aging ex-cop.

Brewster is changing as outsiders are pushing for the development of a shopping mall. The prospect of an invasion of the big box stores is terrifying to the local shop owners in the provincial town square. The charm and quaint atmosphere of Brewster is its main draw.

The plot of Every Hidden Fear is fine; however, the author becomes a bit repetitive with background information already provided within the text. Some editing would have made for a smoother read. Moreover, the anger seething inside Skeet is present almost too often. The lack of comic relief or a few warm and fuzzy moments makes this a lesser in entry in Rodriguez’ ongoing saga of Middle America.

Recommended.

Moriarty Returns a Letter (nook book)

Moriarty Returns a Letter: A Baker Street Mystery by Michael Robertson (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 263 pagesl $14.99, 272 pages)

Moriarty Returns a Letter (alt. cover)

Across the Atlantic Ocean in England the reader is treated to the fourth installment of the charming Baker Street series. The series features Crown Barrister Council Reggie Heath whose office is located at the historic 221B Baker Street address made famous by the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Heath is drawn into a murder mystery that ties to the abduction of his soon-to-be bride, movie star Laura Rankin. Laura is beautiful and clearly knows the value of a trustworthy and loyal man. She has chosen Reggie over the pompous publisher of a sensationalist news corporation – think Rupert Murdoch. Together, Reggie and Laura set out to the countryside for a quiet weekend.

The dialogue is clever and the scenes are cinematic. The reader is happily riding along on their adventure when mayhem, madness and trickery insinuate themselves into the picture. This tale moves along smoothly despite a few mishaps.

The real question for fans of Reggie and Laura is – will this be a case of “and they lived happily ever after”?

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Moriarty Returns a Letter is available in both hardbound and trade paper versions.

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