Tag Archives: mystery

Death in Special Collections

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

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As she dug through the possessions Leila left behind, she was aware that what she searched through was not so different than what she might find in any of the boxes in the manuscripts and archives collection.

Author Con Lehane follows his first novel in this series, Murder at the 42nd Street Library, with an equally engaging tale.  Raymond Amber, newly-discovered grandfather of Johnny, jumps into another quirky situation in his role as the curator of the crime fiction collection at the New York City landmark/institution.

The cast of characters includes several carry-overs, the most prominent among them are: Raymond’s almost-love-interest librarian Adele Morgan, New York police detective Mike Cosgrove, and beloved Library Tavern bartender McNulty.  Despite the obvious enormity of New York City, Lehane deftly conveys a small town vibe by further developing the strong relationships among the characters introduced in the first book.  They interact within a fairly tight radius around the library and their respective neighborhoods.

Of course there is the promised murder and ensuing investigation into the who and why of the event.  New member of the library staff and murder victim, Leila Stone, gave off strange vibes and did not fit in with the normal flow of work.  Mike and Raymond form a tension-filled team to solve the crime.  In the past, Raymond has proved his skill at detective work which puts him in friendly competition with his buddy the detective.

Adele is the one library staff member who was able to forge a relationship with Leila and she takes up the thankless task of delving into Leila’s past in the hope of finding a motive for the otherwise pointless murder.  Adele ventures away from New York City all the way to Texas.  There are murky figures lurking wherever she travels which adds a menacing note to the tale.

Numerous plot threads connect the characters within the murder investigation, while at the same time daily life goes on.  Raymond’s continuing custody tug-of-war with Johnny’s wealthy grandmother allows the reader to experience his evolving emotional development from a neat and tidy librarian’s life to the messiness of a life infused with deep feelings.

The satisfying second novel in the 42nd Street Library series from Con Lehane is a  product of his adept skill at writing dialogue, describing scenery and portraying emotions.  The added bonus blended into the mystery is another behind-the-scenes glimpse of the workings of a priceless institution.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Desert Kill

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Desert Kill Switch: Nostalgia City Mystery – Book #2 by Mark S. Bacon (Black Opal Books, $14.99, 286 pages)

In Desert Kill Switch, Lyle Deming, an ex-cop from Phoenix, serves as a security guard of sorts for Nostalgia City, a retro theme park that recreates small town life from the early 70s just outside of Reno.  Kate Sorenson is a marketing specialist who is in town on business related to Nostalgia City.

Lyle arrives on the scene of a brutal car accident in the desert, but by the time the police get to the scene the body is gone.  As the story unfolds, Kate is framed for the murder of Al Busick, a car dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” in cars as a means to collect money from customers who do not make their loan payments

Together, the ex-cop  and former female college basketball player go on a mission to solve the mystery, catch the true killer, and exonerate Kate.  It appears as if the motive has to do with a conspiracy to move a major music festival from Nostalgia City to Las Vegas.

The story hits the ground running and moves quickly, and the action and plot are solid from start to finish.  However, the character development is not as strong. For example, scenes with Kate’s current and soon-to-be ex-lover seem like they are included without much of a purpose.  (Desert Kill Switch is the second in the series of Nostalgia City novels, following Death in Nostalgia City.)  Perhaps some of those who read the initial book in the series will have a different opinion.

As Lyle and Kate take the law into their own hands, Lyle calls in favors from his former law enforcement partners, and Kate – who only masquerades as a journalist, morphs from a former athlete to Wonder Woman.

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Desert Kill Switch is enjoyable but is, at 286 pages, a bit longer than necessary.  Not all of the many twists and turns work, and a brisker version of this thriller might have been just a touch more thrilling.  As it stands, this book is a solid, engaging read for those who enjoy this type of murder mystery.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois who has never been to Reno, Nevada.

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Hearts and Bones

Casting Bones: A Quentin Archer Mystery by Dan Bruns (Seven House Publishers, $29.99, 256 pages)

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Dark, Darker, Darkest

Don Bruns is the author of 12 previous novels, five in the Mike Sever Caribbean mystery series and seven Lesser and Moore mysteries.  Casting Bones is the first Quentin Archer mystery, and Bruns fans or crime readers should not only read Bones but look forward to the next several offerings.

Archer is a New Orleans cop, exiled from Detroit for pushing the envelope to find the truth.  In Bones, old habits die hard.  Archer finds himself mired in – and inserts himself into, a tangled web of evil that extends to some of the richest power brokers in Louisiana.

Still reeling from his wife’s death, Archer has a partner he doesn’t trust (for good reason), forces that are breathing down on him to get a conviction, truth be damned (a common theme in many crime novels), and – for grins – a Voodoo Queen, Solpange Cordray, both advising and protecting him.  Cordray makes for an interesting good luck charm, and Archer needs one.

The Krewe Charbonerrie is a secret society – essentially a mafia of rich, white people established to preserve and advance the power and affluence and influence of the privileged few.  Cordray tips Archer that the Krewe is likely connected to the death of a judge, and – multiple murders later, with his life on the line, Archer must connect the dots.  He must also be the lone voice of integrity in a sea of dishonesty and criminal collusion.

Bones manages to naturally introduce many characters and plot twists that are all plausible and unforced.  The New Orleans Chamber of Commerce may not exactly be pleased with this novel; there is not much sunlight present in this portrayal of post-Katrina New Orleans.

As might be expected, Archer steps up and does his part, but as the novel comes to a close, clues to his dysfunctional family’s past and questions about his wife’s death continue to haunt him.  It is suggested that Cordray’s special powers will be needed to guide him in his quest for justice.  Loose ends thus linger upon the conclusion of Bones.  And thus the stage is set for Bones II.

Mystery lovers should be eager to find out what happens next.  Especially as Bruns is extremely adept at spinning a fascinating yarn.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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

 

 

 

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White or red?

White with Fish, Red with Murder: A Frank Swiver Novel by Harley Mazuk (Driven Press, $15.99, 372 pages)

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White with Fish, Red with Murder is a debut work by Harley Mazuk.  This is a mystery novel with some clever locations, quirky characters, and pitch perfect 1940s dialogue.  The narrator, Frank Swiver, is a private detective in San Francisco – circa 1948, who is eager for a paying client.  As luck would have it, Frank’s interest in wine is the ticket to a job!  Retired General Lloyd F. Thursby has planned an excursion on his private rail car with wine tasting as the entertainment.

“Hey, sweetheart.  Sorry I was late.  You look like a million bucks, you know?”

The general has an ulterior motive.  His good friend Rusty O’Callaghan was murdered and the general wants Swiver to finger the guilty party as the train wends its way from Oakland, CA to the wine country.  Swiver, under cover as a writer, brings along his trusty secretary/girlfriend, Vera, ostensibly as his date; but actually Vera is working with Swiver.  The party becomes complicated as each of the invitees boards the train.  The most notable guest, as far as Swiver and Vera are concerned, is Rusty’s widow, Cici O’Callaghan.  And, to make matters more complicated, Swiver and Cici have a shared romantic past.

“Look kid, I know you’re sore at me.  But the surest way to get you out of here is to find the real killer…”

Author Harley Mazuk has done his homework.  The cast of characters is straight out of a black and white mystery movie ala George Raft and Edward G. Robinson.  Even their names are indicative of the era.  And the language fits the period:  “A dame who may have been on the make perched at the other end (of the bar).”

Mazuk’s attention to detail is remarkable.  Of course it helps that this reviewer’s all-time favorite movie is the 1944 classic, Laura, making me a suitable critic of these matters.  And, I think mystery readers of all ages will be sure to enjoy the train trip and ensuing action to its conclusion.

The only slight detraction lies with the book’s cover art.  Yes, the story could be considered to be of the noir genre; however, the color and placement of the author’s name is far too dark.  Mazuk deserves better billing.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from a publicist.

“A delicious throwback to the  PI stories of Hammett and Chandler when all the dames had shapely gams.”  Alan Orloff, author of Running From the Past.

 

 

 

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Colour My World

liberty-cb

The Liberty Coloring Book (Abrams Noterie, $12.95, 112 pages)

Edward Gorey Coloring Book (Pomegranate Kids, $7.95, 48 pages)

Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald (Chronicle Books, $14.95, 60 pages)

The array of coloring books for grown-ups is staggering and inspiring. Here are reviews of three such books that stand out due to their subject matter, intricate details and quirkiness.

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First up is an exquisite offering titled, The Liberty Coloring Book (The Liberty Colouring Book in the U.K. edition). Within its covers are 55 pages of designs from the Liberty of London design archives that span nearly a century of printed fabrics. Anyone who has ever purchased clothing made from Liberty textiles or sewn with the yardage knows the joy of touching and gazing at prints of the very highest caliber – cotton fabric print prices run around $26.00 U.S. per yard and up.

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Each page of the Liberty Coloring Book contains a print design on heavy paper suitable for colored pencils, markers or watercolor paints. The pages can be easily removed for framing in standard 6″ X 8″ frames. This reviewer went beyond the suggested implements and colored with Sakura Stardust Gelly Roll pens as well as Doodle Art Pro pens. The results are nearly magical as the ink in both sets is infused with subtle glitter.

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Second up is the Edward Gorey Coloring Book: The Wuggly Ump and Other Delights. As with the Liberty prints, these pages are printed on one side only. The paper stock has a lovely hard finish and is sturdy. The book contains 22 drawings, the originals of which are printed on the inside covers. The nature of Mr. Gorey’s work being somewhat ethereal, if not otherworldly, calls for colored pencils. I colored with Pedigree Empire pencils with excellent results.

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This reviewer has many of the author’s small, published works in her personal library. The larger format (8.5″ X 11″) of the coloring book showcases the intricate details of his work. Readers not familiar with Gorey’s published work may recognize his style from the opening and closing credits of the PBS series, Mystery!

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The third offering in this group is Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald. The largest of this group, the book measures 11.75″ X 11.25″. There are pictures on both sides of the 26 pages printed on stiff paper. The artist/author has traveled the world and presents his take on the wonders he has seen. There are amazingly intricate overhead views of streets and buildings, close-ups of architectural details and some individual buildings as well.

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Mr. McDonald is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design. He infuses each drawing with a point of view, a perspective on the city or the details that best identify the locale. He works on a large scale and his drawings are reduced in size giving them a remarkable feeling of intensity. This reviewer has only used colored pencils in this book; however, some of the drawings would lend themselves to the gel pens – San Francisco Painted Ladies, I’m looking at your page!

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The publisher provided the Liberty Coloring Book. The Edward Gorey Coloring Book was purchased in the gift shop of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. Fantastic Cities was purchased at the Whole Foods Market at 450 Rhode Island Street, San Francisco.

All three coloring books are highly recommended for adults and older children. They would make excellent holiday gifts. Just remember to include colored pencils and/or gel pens.

Ruta Arellano

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Arsenic and Old Lace

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Arsenic with Austen: A Crime with the Classics Mystery by Katherine Bolger Hyde (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 312 pages)

Professor Emily Cavanaugh is a 21st Century woman who finds herself caught up in the dealings of a sleepy village on the Oregon coast. She’s been widowed for two years, is childless and growing restless with her duties in the Language and Literature Department of Reed College in Portland.

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As would be anticipated in a traditional British mystery by Agatha Christie, Emily receives a piece of formal correspondence from an attorney in Stony Beach, Oregon. It seems her dear Great Aunt Beatrice has died and left her a legacy. What follows is one of the most heart-warming murder mysteries this reviewer has read.

Emily Cavanaugh is summoned to Aunt Beatrice’s funeral and the reading of the will. It seems Emily was fantasizing a modest inheritance when she hoped that the extensive library filled with leather bound books would be hers. Emily spent many summers sitting in that same library reading with the encouragement of her aunt. Clearly, the Victorian mansion, half of the town of Stony Beach and millions of dollars was way beyond her hopeful anticipation.

Yes, there are villains scattered among the townsfolk. How else would there be a mystery for Emily to solve? She also reconnects with her former boyfriend who seemingly dumped her at the end of a summer romance. As with Dame Agatha’s stories, Ms. Hyde leads the reader around leaving a trail of tantalizing clues and misdirection.

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Author Hyde has hit all the right notes in this her debut mystery novel. She weaves in enough credible references to classic literature written by women such as Jane Austen and Emily Bronte to prove her in depth understanding of the genre. While Ms. Hyde is a resident of Santa Cruz County in California, she credits a writer’s retreat on the Oregon coast with inspiring the location of her tale. And, by the way, she is an alumna of Reed College. Let’s hope there will be more enjoyable mysteries from Ms. Hyde in the future.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Arsenic with Austen was released on July 12, 2016.

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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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