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Archive for the ‘Cosy mysteries’ Category

Karma’s a Killer by Tracy Weber

Early in January 2016 Midnight Ink Books of Woodbury, MN published a charming little cozy mystery by award-winning author Tracy Weber, “Karma’s a Killer,” featuring amateur sleuth and Seattle yoga instructor, Kate Davidson. Weber lives in Seattle and she’s a yoga therapist, so she knows her subject matter.

The plot starts out at a fund-raiser for an animal rescue called DogMa where Kate has agreed to teach a yoga for dogs class (doga) with their owners.  When a bossy rabbit owner insists on attending the crowded class with her pet, all hell breaks loose.  The same event is invaded by a group of animal rights activists led by a former employee at DogMa and two of her friends.  The older woman in the animal rights group turns out to be Kate’s estranged mother, Dharma, or Daisy.  The younger protester is found murdered and Dharma is arrested on suspicion of murder, based on a presumption of jealousy because the two women were dating the same man.

Karma’s a Killer” is both highly entertaining, and very thought-provoking in ways that make it almost a psychological thriller.  Dharma’s presence forces Kate to examine the nightmares she has regularly and many of the personal flaws of mistrust and deception that have made it difficult for her to open up to others.  It also makes her question the mythology that she has built around her parents and the circumstances that led to her being raised exclusively by her now deceased father.  The difficult task of coming to terms with her mother and why her mother abandoned her is handled very intelligently and sensitively in “Karma’s a Killer” and it sets up this “A Downward Dog Mystery” series to show more growth in Kate’s relationship with her boyfriend, her best friend, her mother, and herself in future installments.

Karma’s a Killer” is a two-thumbs up mystery for me.

Liz Nichols

Reviewed from a supplied Reader’s Advance copy.

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The Winemaker Detective by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

I received a pre-publication uncorrected proof copy of “The Winemaker Detective” by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen, translated into English by Le French Book translators Anne Trager and Sally Pane.  The paperback version was published in English translation in December 2015.  This French cozy mystery is aimed at those who enjoy “Murder She Wrote” type plots in French wine country settings.  Like “Murder She Wrote” the books in the Winemaker Detective Series are being made into a successful television series seen in France and other French-speaking countries.  This collection includes the first three books in the series.

Each book represents an independent plot tied together with two amateur detectives and winemakers, Benjamin Cooker and his young employee, Virgile Lanssien.  Cooker is a fifty-something product of a French mother and British father.  He grew up in London but spent his summers on the acreage owned by his French grandparents, which he eventually inherited.  Cooker is a curious mixture in personality, temperament and interests of his Franco-Britsh heritage.  He spends a lot of his time driving around the French countryside in his beloved Mercedes exploring different wine-making regions and reviewing the best vintages in each one.  Along the way he runs into many eccentric and a good many shady characters.  The plots include industrial sabotage of the product of a winemaker in Bordeaux; the murder of a call girl and a hotel clerk, and theft of fine wines in the Loire Valley; and the murder of two graffitti artists in Burgundy.

Each book is highly descriptive.  Those who enjoy travel will get to know the French wine regions quite well through  Cooker’s adventures.  The plots are intriguing, as well, so that it is easy to see why this mystery series makes for successful television in France.  I have to admit, however, that some of the detective work drags on as Cooker and Virgile find themselves retracing their steps in order to pick up new pieces of information, and there is not a lot of  action.  The pace is more sedate than I generally like– again, rather like episodes of “Murder She Wrote”.

Still, the series will have wide appeal within the British and American mystery-reading market, and particularly for those who enjoy a bit of armchair travel and lots of detailed descriptions of great French food and wine.

I give “The Winemaker Detective” French cozy mystery compilation a one-thumb up.

Liz Nichols

 

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Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A L Herbert

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles” is the first in “A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery” series. The sleuth in this cosy “food” mystery is Mahalia Watkins, owner of purportedly the best restaurant in Prince Georges County, Maryland.  The book contains mouth-watering recipes for what can only be described as gourmet soul food such as “Halia’s Sweet Corn Casserole.”

Halia, not surprisingly, also becomes a sleuth to solve a murder that takes place in her restaurant after she finds out that her cousin is the prime suspect.  Halia knows that her cousin did not commit the murder but the police seem to stop investigating once they focus on the cousin, Wavonne.  Halia also has a vested interest in turning the heat away from her kitchen because she and Wavonne are guilty of tampering with the body and other evidence when they decide to move the body to the back alley and away from the restaurant.

The Mahalia-Wavonne pair remind me of Stephanie Plum and Lula in the Evanovich series in the zany relationship between the two main characters and the hair-brained capers they engage in.  Somehow, though, I mind more that Watkins and her cousin skirt on the other side of the law and try to justify their law-breaking, than I do when Plum and Lula rationalize similar brushes with the law.  I really do not buy Mahalia’s justification for tampering with evidence, let alone covering up her cousin’s theft of the dead guy’s credit cards and use of those cards to buy expensive goods.  I lose empathy with characters who skate that far outside the law, frankly and it significantly detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

Nonetheless, the writing and characters in “Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles” are engaging, and I anticipate I will pick up and review the next book in this series when it comes out.  There will be many others who will be enthusiastic about this new food mystery/cosy series.  This series is particularly significant in that I cannot recall another where the main characters are black and it is set in an area that is primarily African-American.  It is about time!

Liz Nichols

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Two British Mysteries from British Library Crime Classics

I was recently introduced to a revival series of long-forgotten British mysteries and crime novels from the 1920s and 1930s republished into the British Library of Crime Classics and made available in the U.S. through Poisoned Pen Press.  I found my first two reads in this series quite delightful.  They were “The Sussex Downs Murder” by John Bude and “Murder in Piccadilly” by Charles Kingston.

John Bude wrote “The Sussex Downs Murder” in 1936.  He was a full time mystery writer for 20 years before his untimely death at the age of 56 in 1957.  During World War II he remained at home in charge of the local Home Guard.  After the war he was a founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association.  Charles Kingston also published “Murder in Piccadilly” in 1936 but little is known about the writer.  He began writing crime novels in 1921 and continued for about 25 years producing about a book a year.

Of the two I find the plot and characters, as well as the setting, more memorable in “The Sussex Downs Murder.” It is set along the dramatic white cliffs of Sussex in England where the Rother brothers have a family farmhouse and a lime kiln business.  One day John takes off on a trip and never comes back.  His car is found abandoned. Suspicion builds among the investigating police on the brother, and also on the brother’s wife.  There had been rumors about an affair between the wife and her brother-in-law.  When human bones are found mixed into bags of lime from the Rother’s kiln the police confirm that John Rother was murdered.  There are a number of clever twists in the plot that will leave the reader second-guessing the killer.  “The Sussex Downs Murder” was one of those books that was hard to put down until the very end.

In “Murder in Piccadilly” a young member of the aristocratic Cheldon family, Bobbie, has fallen for a dancer named Nancy Curzon who works at a Piccadilly night club called the Frozen Fang owned by a gangland character named Nosey Ruslin.  Nancy is invited to the family estate to meet the family.  Bobbie wants to get his uncle’s blessing and a hand with his monthly expenses so he can afford to marry.  Nancy does not realize that her suitor is not already financially set.  Bobbie is initially the prime suspect when Uncle Massy Curzon is found murdered.  Is he just a fall-guy for someone else’s greed?

Any lover of the Golden Age of murder mysteries will love this duo of British crime novels.

Reviewed from supplied copies.

Liz Nichols

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Double Fudge Browie Murder by Joanne Fluke

The Hannah Swensen Mystery series reminds me of the days growing up in Minnesota in and around the area described as the imaginary Lake Eden.  “Double Fudge Brownie Murder” was another walk down memory lane for me.

In this installment Hannah is confronted with the dilemma of being proposed to by three men including the handsome Ross Barton, a film producer Hannah had met in college.  There is at least as much romance in this book as murder mystery it and therefore it does not have quite the dramatic weight of most mysteries.  The fact that there are also recipies thrown in at the end of every chapter also makes this work (and this series) seem a little less substantial than most of the mysteries I read.

There is a murder in the midst of the romantic plot. Hannah finds a murder victim, a judge who has been assigned to try Hannah in a manslaughter case stemming from a freak accident Hannah and her bakery truck were involved in during a storm.  Hannah discovers the judge’s body in his chambers shortly after she is summoned to see the him about her case.  There are lots of potential killers to rule out and for the first time Hannah ends up crossing everyone off her suspect list.  The killer comes out of left field and very nearly gets Hannah as well.

The recipies alone are usually worth the read in the Hannah Swensen series.  In “Double Fudge Brownie Murder” there is not only a sinful brownie recipie, but also such unusual fare as baked doughnuts, hot pepper jam cookies, and a wierd spice cookie recipe with ketchup in it.

Light weight fare, but recommended for those who like food-related cosy mystery books.

Liz Nichols

 

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Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron

Barron’s “Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas” is fittingly the twelfth novel in the “Being a Jane Austen Mystery” series.  Barron continues to write in the style of Jane Austen and uses the nineteenth century writer as a fictional character in the crime-solving series.

Jane and her family are invited to spend the holidays at The Vyne, a large manorhouse several miles from the parsonage at Steventon where Jane’s brother, James is vicar.  The invitation comes after Jane, her sister and mother are run off the road by a carriage with a mysterious gentleman who is headed to The Vyne rather as an apology.  At The Vyne they meet the Gambier’s the wife and young adult son and daughter of an Admiral, Mr. West, the son of a famous painter, and Thomas Vere-Chute, the brother of William Chute, the lord of the manor.   There are also assorted staff at the manor, including Benedict L’Anglois, secretary to Mr. Chute.  A messenger arrives from Admiral Gambier with the original of the Treaty of Ghent that signaled the truce between Great Britain and the United States in the War of 1812.  The charter required Chute’s review and signature as a Member of Parliament.  The young officer is killed before he even gets off The Vyne property the day after her arrived on his way back to London.  Jane finds a thin wire that was used to bring down the officer’s horse and several other clues also point to murder.  There is a second murder a couple days later.  Were the crimes committed by the same hand?

The solution to the murders is absorbing even though there are relatively few potential suspects and relatively little character development to help point toward one or more culprit.  The book also serves as a good reminder of how easy life is for most of us now compared to days before modern utilities and transportation.  A 15 mile trip in winter could easily take a couple days in a conveyance which might only have a few hot bricks to keep the feet warm.  Yet families braved the elements to celebrate the holidays with family and friends just as they do now.

Lovers of this series will enjoy “Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas.” It is certainly appropriate to curl up with this book on a cold winter’s night in front of a roaring fire.

Liz Nichols

 

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A Trio of Cosy Mysteries

I am hoping to catch up on my review writing by grouping some of the mysteries I have read over the past couple of months into related by somewhat shorter reviews.

The following books are Cosy mysteries with a strong sense of place and community.

Poisoned Ground” by Sandra Parshall is the sixth installment in the Rachel Goddard Mystery series.  Rachel Goddard is a veterinarian in rural  Blue Ridge Mountain Mason County, VA.  She makes a farm visit at the Kelly place and finds both Lincoln and Marie Kelly shot to death.  A packet of information from a resort company hoping to buy up a number of prime Mason County farms is found on the kitchen table.  The mystery revolves around determining whether pro-resort forces or anti-resort forces are behind the murders and stopping any further mayhem.  If the story was only about the struggle between pro-development sources and pro-agrarian forces it would be a story that has been told before, but there are many twists and turns and querky characters that make this plot much more interesting and unique.  Recommended.

Alan Beechey‘s “This Private Plot” is a British cosy set in the Cotswolds near Stratford-Upon-Avon and is part of Beechey’s Oliver Swithin Mysteries.  Oliver is a children’s book author who’s girlfriend, Effie, is a Scotland Yard detective. Oliver is also an amateur sleuth.  They are on their way to visit Oliver’s family in the Village of Synne when they come upon a body swinging on the end of a jump rope tied to the Synne hanging tree on the edge of town.  The initial conclusion is that the man hanged himself, but Effie and Oliver prove otherwise and thus also become targets of the killer.  The book is a little too punny for my tastes, but many who appreciate British humor, and all the references to Shakespeare will enjoy this book.  The mystery not only revolves around discovering who murdered Mr. Breedlove, but also seeing if Oliver’s brother, Toby, an archaeologist doing a dig in Stratford, can definitively prove the connection between Stratford Will Shakespeare and the London Will Shakespeare.  Once I got into the mystery, and especially the elements having to do with the historic mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s identity, this book grew on me and I give it at least one thumb up.

Death at the Door” by Carolyn Hart is the third in the “Death on Demand Bookstore Mysteries.”  Annie Darling is the owner of the Broward’s Rock bookstore while her husband, Max, operates a private investigation service.  There are the usual bevy of mystery loving members of the community who help Annie solve the most recent spate of Broward’s Rock murders.  First one of the island’s most respected doctors is shot and is at first thought to have committed suicide.  When the wife of a local artist is hammered to death by her husband’s sculpture mallet, Annie, Max and the island’s group of amateur sleuths make the connection between the two deaths and determine that the sheriff has the wrong guy locked up.  As usual, Hart has drafted an absorbing mystery with lots of potential suspects.  Again, recommended.

Liz Nichols

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Pet Noir Mysteries

I’ve recently read two offerings in the “pet noir” mystery sub-genre.  They are “Panthers Play for Keeps” by Clea Simon and “Muzzled” by Eileen Brady.  Clea Simon is a former journalist who lives in Massachusetts with her husband and cat, Musetta. (See her site, www.cleasimon.com.)  “Panthers” is the fourth novel in her Pru Marlowe series.  Eileen Brady’s “Muzzled” is the first in the Kate Turner, DVM Mystery series.  Brady, who is a veterinarian with 20 years of experience in that field, decided to submit this book to Poisoned Press’ 2013 Discover Mystery Award and won.  Brady’s site is www.eileenbradymysteries.com. Both books are very well written and edited.  Both are quite humorous page-turners published by Poisoned Pen Press.

Pru Marlowe, the “Panthers” heroine, trains dogs to become service animals.  The dog she is currently training to assist a man who is rapidly going blind discovers the dead body of a woman who appears to have been mauled by a wild animal.  Pru decides to use her unique power to decipher what animals are thinking and saying to help the police figure out what happened.  Pru and her animal informants determine that this was not just a random animal attack, but a case of murder.

Dr. Kate Turner in “Muzzled” is the substitute vet in an upstate New York practice while the long-time owner takes a lengthy trip. While making a house call at the home of some champion Cavalier King Charles spaniels Kate discovers the dead bodies of the owners in what initially looks like a murder-suicide.  The more Kate discovers about the crotchety and vindictive Langthorne’s, the more likely it appears to Kate that the couple were murdered.  She is almost the victim of the killer before she gets a chance to report irrefutable evidence of murder and other ancillary crimes to the police.

While I recommend both of these entertaining “pet noirs” I admit that “Muzzled” is more to my taste.  I liked getting a realistic taste of what it is like to be in the shoes of a real vet.  The plot is totally believable and it builds with increasing drama to the final tense and exciting chapters.  With “Panthers Play for Keeps” I enjoyed the humor and how in tune Pru is with her surroundings and the animals under her care. The thought process between Pru and her cat, Wallis, are especially humorous. Even though I believe the author and her protagonist do have a finely-tuned “animal whisperer” sensitivity, I must admit I am not a fan of books where the animals’ thoughts are put into quotes as if they are speaking to the protagonist.  This anthropomorphism makes “Panthers” less believable to me.  It also bothers me that panthers and cougars seem to be used interchangeably in the book and my brief research into these animals indicates that it has not necessarily been proven that they are the same.

Still, there will be many fans who will enjoy both pet noirs, “Muzzled” and “Panthers Play for Keeps,” and I give a thumbs up for both.

Reviewed from supplied copies.

Liz Nichols

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Dying to Know by TJ OConnor

Dying to Know” is the first installment in a brand new mystery series “A Gumshoe Ghost Mystery.”  It was published by Midnight Ink in January.  Using a ghost as a detective is not new to the cosy subgenre.  Carolyn Hart’s Bailey Ruth also offers ghostly investigations, but is a very different ghost than O’Connor’s version.

O’Connor’s Oliver “Tuck” Tucker is unique.  He has been a police detective for 15 years and is suddenly murdered in the middle of the night by an intruder who does not also kill Tuck’s wife, Angel, or the family dog, Hercule.  Is Angel somehow part of a plot to get rid of Tuck?  Is his best friend, and detective partner, Theodore “Bear” Braddock the perpetrator of the crime?  Bear’s attentive interest in Angel may not just be the natural desire to comfort and protect the grieving widow.  Then again, there are plenty of other suspects that range from a retired mob killer, to a local businessman who wants to buy a farm where Angel’s archeological dig team is unearthing Civil War relics.  Even fellow academics from Angel’s university are suspects.  Plenty of potential perps for a recently deceased detective to investigate.

Tuck the ghost does not experience the stereotypical ghostly hijinx.  He can’t just flit around appearing and disappearing at will.  He must find an electrical source regularly to power up or he will be unable to do anything.  He must rely on Angel, the only person who is able to sense his presence, for transportation and to voice his questions to suspects and witnesses.  The interesting new relationship that Angel and Tuck develop after his death is a complex co-dependence that inevitably will hold both back and at the same time empower both in new and unique ways.  I am looking forward to seeing how that relationship develops.

Dying to Know” is a fast-paced, humorous exploration of the netherworld and how life goes on after death.  Inevitably crimes will be committed and, fortunately, Tuck will be on the job ready to investigate through the Gumshoe Ghost series.

Liz Nichols

 

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Ghost Gone Wild by Carolyn Hart

Carolyn Hart has come up with another adventure in “Ghosts Gone Wild” for her human-saving ghost, Bailey Ruth Raeburn, formerly of Adelaide, OK.  This time Hart has invented a side-kick for Bailey Ruth who has a very different personality, Delilah Delahunt Duvall, the horse-riding ghost who was Aunt Dee to Nick Magruder, the guy who is the one Bailey Ruth is supposed to save.  Nick made it big as an entrepreneur and has retired back home to Adelaide.  Jealous former high school friends goad him into being everyone’s least favorite town citizen until someone actually takes a shot at him and he is saved by Bailey Ruth just to be accused of killing one of these former friends.  Nick’s personality is such that the head of celestial visiting to earth, Wiggins, never actually sent Bailey Ruth back to earth to save the man; it was all connived by Delilah Duvall.  Therefore, once Bailey Ruth makes herself visible during her rescue visit to Nick she is unable to turn herself back into a ghost, and she worries that she will be stuck in a half-life state forever unable to get back to heaven.

Bailey Ruth and Dee are delightfully contrasting characters, and yet they make a good team.  It is pretty clear by the end of the adventure that they could easily be paired up again for another book plot.  I was not an easy convert to the Bailey Ruth Ghost Novel series.  It all seems pretty silly, but rescuer-ghosts have been a successful part of literature for centuries amusing readers in a way that seems almost timeless.  “Ghost Gone Wild” is not necessarily great literature (unlike Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”) but it does provide a few amusing evenings of laugh-out-loud reading for the cosy mystery lover.

Liz Nichols

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