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Secret

Anna Blanc

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc: A Mystery by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 367 pages)

Sweat beaded on Wolf’s brow as he led Anna among the desks to meet the man in charge. His lips stretched in a tense smile, his skin a little paler than before he had hired Anna. “Captain Wells, may I present Mrs. Anna Holmes, our lovely new assistant matron. She types, speaks Spanish, but most importantly, she’s nervy. I say that’s a vital quality for a matron who will be venturing into unsavory territory.”

Fans of the history of southern California will find this remarkably charming mystery an accurate period piece. The opening chapters of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc offer a well-described glimpse into the life of Miss Blanc. Anna is the only daughter of Christopher Blanc, a wealthy banker and business leader in Los Angeles. Mr. Blanc treats Anna as though she were an asset/possession. Who she marries means more to him than does her happiness.

The time is 1907 and the locales for the tale include Riverside and both the wealthy and shabby areas of Los Angeles. The action begins when Anna has eloped from her father’s Bunker Hill mansion with Louis Taylor. They hop onto a train bound for the historic Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside where they plan to marry in the chapel. Due to the strictness of her Catholic upbringing, Anna has never actually touched a man without wearing gloves. The exception is her father. As she and Louis sit in a third class rail car rolling toward their destination, the action speeds up and one thing leads to another.

Jennifer Kincheloe

Author Jennifer Kincheloe infuses Anna with equal measures of spunk and cleverness. Our heroine longs to be a lady detective just like the ones she reads about in the contraband books she hides by using the covers of books that meet her father’s approval. Fate throws Anna into a controversial encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. This encounter leads to the opportunity she has been dreaming about. Trickery and abundant guts are all Anna needs to launch her career!

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The novel is way too well written to give away any more than the barest of plot details. It’s rare that a thrilling mystery is also a laugh out loud read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Fast, funny, and fabulous. You’re going to love this book!” Lori Rader-Day, author of Pretty Little Things. “A madcap frolic through turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, Jennifer Kincheloe’s debut mystery is an addictive read.” James W. Ziskin, author of Stone Cold Dead.

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Murder She Wrote

Stone Cold Dead

Stone Cold Dead: An Ellie Stone Mystery by James W. Ziskin (Prometheus Books, $15.95, 317 pages)

James W. Ziskin’s Stone Cold Dead is the third in a series of Ellie Stone novels (Styx and Stone, No Stone Unturned), each with a take on the heroine’s name. The young heroine is the journalistic version of fictional novelist Jessica Fletcher, she of Murder, She Wrote fame.

Stone is endearingly petulant, to the extent that that is possible.

Like Fletcher, Stone seems to forget that she is a writer, not a detective, and so does everyone else in the novel, including all of the law enforcement officials. In real life, it is hard to imagine that people would answer this reporter’s questions at all, much less without a lawyer – or that she would be permitted such access in the first place, but such license is often the basis of an enjoyable novel.

The book revolves around Stone’s investigation of the murder of 15-year-old Darlene Hicks and takes place over 29 days, from December 1, 1960, to January 28, 1961.

The characters are mostly likeable and realistic, and the writing generally holds up, with a few exceptions. For example, on pages 126-128, Ellie hospitably feeds a no-good townie in her apartment who may or may not be plotting to kill her. An editor might have been helpful here. In Ellie’s world it is anything for a story, but still….

This book is better than most mystery/crime novels I’ve read and/or reviewed. The basis for this statement is that there is a much better attempt by the author to actually tell a story as opposed to plugging settings and characters into a formula. For that reason – and because the storytelling engages the reader – my rating of Stone Cold Dead is above average as compared to other books of this genre.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Ellie Stone is the kind of gal you’d want to share a malt with… or a fifth of Scotch.” Matt Coyle, author of Yesterday’s Echo and Night Tremors.

Dave Moyer is an educator who has published Superintendent and Teacher Perceptions of Performance Based Pay (Lambert Academic Publishing). He is also the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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