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Archive for the ‘Cosy mysteries’ Category

Now You See It by Jane Tesh

The inhabitants of the Grace Street boarding house in “Parkland” North Carolina are back in Jane Tesh’s latest mystery, “Now You See It.”  This is a cosy mystery about the murder of a member of The Magic Club who is found locked inside a box that the magician should have been able to escape from.  David Randall, local owner of a detective agency and resident of the Grace Street house, is hired to find out who killed Taft Finch.  In addition, Finch’s brother, Lucas, wants Randall to locate a missing box that was reportedly once owned by Houdini and had been recently purchased by Lucas Finch, brother of the man who is killed.  Could the disappearance of the Houdini box and Taft’s death be related?

The third mystery to be solved is the disappearance of a diamond bracelet lost by a socialite who might have left it at one of the charity events she helped to run the week the bracelet disappeared.  The search for this bracelet provides more frustration than diversion from the more serious investigations for Randall.

Now You See It” is the third in Tesh’s “A Grace Street Mystery” series.  The reader continues to learn more about the inhabitants of the Grace Street Mansion including Randall, his girlfriend, Kary, and Camden, who is a mentalist.  Through Cam and his girlfriend Randal and Kary get to know the even quirkier members of The Magic Club and get involved in the death investigation as a result of those connections.

Now You See It” is a quirky, occasionally funny introduction to the world of magical deception and mental perception.  It will be a fast read for cosy lovers.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols


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Staged to Death by Karen Rose Smith

Staged to Death” is the first in what looks to be an entertaining “Caprice DeLuca Mystery” series by Karen Rose Smith.  This book was published in December 2013.

Caprice DeLuca is a home stager in a town that is supposed to be near York, PA called Kismet.  Kismet apparently has a wealth of upscale homes that need staging in order to sell at a higher price. The person who gets called in on these types of jobs in Kismet and nearby York is Caprice DeLuca, a 30-something home stager.  Caprice themes her stagings to match the decor appropriate to the home and the interests of likely buyers.  What she gets when she holds  an open house in the newly staged mansion of Roz and Ted Winslow is one owner who is found slain in his antique sword room and the other owner, Caprice’s friend, Roz, who is accused of the crime.  Caprice takes on the task, to the chagrin of the investigating police detective, of proving that Roz did not murder her husband.

This book is part mystery and part romance.  Karen Rose Smith is an experienced romance writer, and the plot includes a considerable amount of back-and-forth between Caprice and two potential love interests, an attractive but aloof attorney who is Caprice’s brother’s partner, Grant, and an even more handsome emergency care doctor, Seth, who immediately fires up the mutual sexual attraction in Caprice.  There are also a lot of cute cats and dogs in the book to pique the interest of animal lovers as Caprice is a well-known animal rescuer in the town.

Staged to Death” will find a strong fan base among cosy mystery lovers, and especially among those who are also fans of Leslie Meier.

Reviewed with a provided copy.

Liz Nichols

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Angora Alibi by Sally Goldenbaum

Angora Alibi” is the 7th novel in Goldenbaum’s “A Seaside Knitters Mystery” series, a cosy set along the coast of New England in the fictional town of Sea Harbor.

The series feature a multi-generational group of women who get together in this small town every day to knit, gossip and solve the latest mystery in the community.  In this book we find the knit shop owner, Izzy Perry, extremely pregnant and ready to give birth to a little girl.  All of her friends are busily knitting baby gear in advance of Izzy’s shower.  In the midst of this blessed event the knitters are sharing their thoughts on the latest murders in the community with the local police chief.

A young man has been drowned in a diving accident that turned out to be a case of faulty equipment that had clearly been tampered with.  Justin Dorsey was no angel.  He had been caught selling weed to local young adults and had obviously been doing some petty theft at local establishments.  Justin had hinted that he had some bigger fish to fry when he was suddenly killed.  Was he moving in on some bigger illegal crime activity?  Was he blackmailing someone?  An older resident seemed to have figured out what was going on and was about to tell the ladies of the knitting circle what he knew when he was found dead from an overdose of morphine.  Who would have access to morphine and a reason to use it on the old man?

Angora Alibi” is certainly not an example of great literature, but it will satisfy the need for a fast read with an appealing cast of characters and an attractive venue for lovers of Cosy mysteries.  Recommended for those who enjoy a good, fast reading cosy now and then.

Liz Nichols

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Pinot Envy by Edward Finstein

Pinot Envy” is the perfect mystery to be written by an international wine expert like Edward Finstein.  Finstein is a Canadian who is known as “The Wine Doctor” and hosts TV and radio shows on the subject.  He lives in Toronto, but he obviously is very familiar with the Napa Valley, and that region of California inspired this particular mystery.

The protagonist is a private detective and wine connoisseur, Woody Robins who lives in San Francisco, writes a wine column and articles for various publications and teaches viticulture and wine appreciation to staff at fine restaurants and elsewhere.  He also consults on rare and historic vintages, and that is what brings him to the home of  James McCall, a Napa estate owner, grape grower, and wine collector.  McCall has had the theft of a rare double magnum of a burgundy from Napoleon’s collection worth a reported $2.5 million and he has asked Woody to sniff out the thief.

Finstein’s descriptions of the haunts of the Napa Valley will bring back memories of pleasant afternoons spent touring wineries and wine tasting rooms for anyone who has had the pleasure of spending time in northern California’s wine country.  I enjoyed getting to know Woody, a very eccentric fellow who loves to wear 1950s zoot suits and suspenders. The other characters, including McCall, his daughters, his staff and several of his friends, are all vividly described so the reader will tend to get inside of the mystery to help Woody solve the case.

Of course, the case gets more serious for the closer Woody gets to solving the crime, the more he is personally threatened– and the more other people are killed or beaten up.  The real murders don’t start happening until well into the book, so the first half does not seem quite as suspenseful or serious.

Pinot Envy” is definitely worth reading over a large glass or two of pinot noir during these last few weeks of summer.  It’s a fairly light and fast read that especially will appeal to those who consider themselves serious wine lovers and dedicated mystery readers.

Liz Nichols


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The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards has created a Halloween ghost tale in “The Frozen Shroud.”  The setting is the atmospheric Lake District in England and is part of Edwards’ “A Lake District Mystery” series in a fictional village called Ravenbank.  The protagonist is the District’s DCI Hannah Scarlett, who teams up with a history of murder expert from London, Daniel Kind.  Scarlett is head of the Cold Case Review Team and is investigating a five year old murder at the Ravenbank manor where a woman was brutally beaten about the head and killed. A shroud is put over the dead woman’s head.  The MO resembles that of the murder of a young Scottish housemaid at Ravenbank just prior to World War I.  She was also beaten faceless and left with a shroud over her bloody head.  The ghost of Gertrude was said to roam the old manor.

During a Halloween party at Ravenbank attended by the visiting murder history professor and the DCI another young woman disappeared and was found the next day murdered in the same manor as the earlier cases.  With the earlier cases there were either suicides or accidental deaths that happened right after the murders and in both cases the crimes were blamed on these people.  Neither DCI Scarlett nor Kind are so sure that the cold cases were correctly closed, and the new murder renews suspicions that someone is still creeping about Ravenbank causing murder and mayhem.

The Frozen Shroud” is a bit creepy, and the British dialogue takes a bit getting used to for American readers.  That being said, this is a good, fast read for a dark and foggy night.

Liz Nichols


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Red Velvet Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

I enjoy the “Hannah Swensen Mystery” series by Joanne Fluke the more I get to know Hannah and her friends and family.  What Fluke does so well is to engage the reader with the characters so it almost feels as if as the reader you are part of Hannah’s group of family and friends.  The characters are more than one-dimensional, something that is somewhat of a rarity among Cosy mysteries.  The plots are inventive and the settings go beyond the confines of Hannah Swensen’s bakery.

Having grown up in Minnesota I am able to picture the kind of small lake town that Fluke describes in Lake Eden.  It’s just far enough from “The Cities” as Minneapolis and St Paul are called by Minnesotans to have the small town feel, but just close enough to the Twin Cities to have some sophistication about it.  The town attracts many well educated and wealthy residents and visitors because of the lake resort.  This leads to an interesting mix of characters to interact with Hannah and other long time residents of the town.

In this particular book Hannah caters an open house for some condos that are ready to be sold in a building that had been an old bed and breakfast.  The 3rd floor unit is particularly posh and is about to get a domed sunroof over the garden and pool area.  The police chief’s secretary manages to fall from the third story garden area during the open house.  Was she pushed or did she fall in a terrible accident?  Fortunately, she lives, but she has too much brain swelling to remember the details of the fall initially and keeps making statements that sound crazy to her friends– until Hannah and others start to witness mysterious things happening in the hospital room of the victim.  Is someone trying to kill Barbara?  Will Hannah be next if she tries to investigate?

There is the subplot of the vain and unpleasant doctor who is trying to steal Hannah’s love interest, the town dentist.  Will Dr. Bev succeed in wooing away Norman, or will she be stopped in her tracks?

Red Velvet Cupcake Murder” is a most entertaining cosy with a bunch of delicious recipes from Hannah’s kitchen interspersed throughout.

Liz Nichols


The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith

Initially, I was attracted to “The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds” by the title.  I’d also read others in the Isabel Dalhousie Novel series of McCall Smith and enjoyed the philosophical bent of this sleuth.  This time it took reading to the very end of the book to understand the context for the title.  Once the mystery was solved and things were returning to normal for Isabel and her husband, Jamie, they sat out looking at clouds on an unusually bright day in Edinburgh, Scotland, appreciating the beauty and different shapes of clouds as they passed by.  Their comments are simply an appreciation of the natural beauty of the world and their thankfulness for the lives they lead that allows them to love and appreciate each other.  Jamie says to Isabel that he sees her in the clouds.  What a lovely thought!

This is a gentle mystery told by a philosopher who loves to consider life’s questions, big and little, through his protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, the editor of a little academic journal called “Review of Applied Ethics.”  Working out of her home on this journal and kibitzing child care responsibilities with her musician husband, Jamie, allows Isabel the freedom to research and investigate not only practical philosophical applications, but also mysteries.  She tackles tackles every issue by examining all sides before coming up with a solution or a decision.  In this book Isabel agrees to investigate the theft of a painting by Poussin from the collection of a wealthy landowner named Duncan Munrowe and she is employed to help negotiate a deal for the painting’s return and/or to determine who took the painting. She learned that from the insurance company’s point of view it was better to pay a ransom for art theft than to see a work destroyed and have to pay out millions on the estimated market value of a masterpiece painting.

At the same time Isabel and Jamie are confronted with a decision whether to allow their child sitter, Grace, to continue teaching their three-year-old, Charlie, mathematics.  Isabel and Jamie decide that he is too young and earn the indignation of their nanny for questioning her judgment.  Isabel also helps a young friend who works at Isabel’s niece’s sandwich shop to determine whether moving in with his girlfriend is the right decision in the face of the disapproval of the young woman’s parents.  Every issue is considered from all angles.  Isabel rarely seems to make a snap decision.

Those looking for a lot of action will not find the Isabel Dalhousie their cup of tea, but for those of us who enjoy a more leisurely inquiry into every day issues and problems will find the deliberations of McCall Smith’s sleuth, Isabel, refreshingly cerebral.

Liz Nichols

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The Llama of Death by Betty Webb

The Llama of Death” is the third in Betty Webb’s “A Gunn Zoo Mystery” series.  In this installment, zookeeper, Teddy Bentley, is put in charge of the llama rides at the local renaissance faire near Monterey Bay.  The llama, Alejandro, is on loan from the nearby Gunn Zoo where Teddy works during the week days.  I found myself falling in love with the sensitive llama who became very protective of the children he gave rides to.  Who wouldn’t love that adorable face on the cover of the book? Alejandro is unjustly accused of killing one of the Renaissance players and later of injuring the man who was formerly his abusive owner.  Several others are later suspected of committing the murder, including Teddy and her mother, socialite, Caro.  Teddy’s investigation of the real culprit is hampered by the incompetence of the acting police chief and by Teddy’s own father, an embezzler who comes back from his sanctuary in Costa Rica to see his family and friends.

Webb, a journalist, mystery writer, and apparent expert in zoos, intersperses lots of humor and action into the plot making “The Llama of Death” an enjoyable read, if somewhat predictable.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)






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Champagne: The Farewell by Janet Hubbard

Champagne” is the first of Hubbard’s “A Vengeance in the Vineyard Mystery” series. Janet Hubbard says that this book is the result of about 20 years of frequent trips from her home in Vermont to France, and especially to the wine-making regions of Champagne and Bordeaux.

This gem is set in the Champagne region of France and features French inspector, Olivier Chaumont and Max McGuire, a female detective from the New York Police Department.  They meet at the wedding of Max’s best friend, Chloe, which turns into a disaster when Chloe’s aunt, Lea is discovered murdered.  Lea ran one of France’s leading wineries. The higher-ups in Paris decide to match up Olivier with Max to investigate, and Olivier later learns that his boss is Max’s uncle whom she has never met. (Max’s mother is French.)

Suspicion revolves around almost every member of the wedding party and some of the guests.  The winemaker is worried that Lea is about to kick him out of the house that he had been given to use indefinitely.  The guest from Germany, Hans, arrived with a large amount of cash presumably to buy the winery from Lea and learns that Lea has changed her mind.  Chloe’s new husband wants to solidify his power within the company and avenge the slights that his mother, Genevieve, suffered after the war from members of Lea and Chloe’s family.  Marc and his friends, the investigators discovered, were using cocaine during the post-wedding celebration.  Did they commit murder in order to avoid being discovered?

This combination vineyard cosy, police procedural contains enough twists and turns to please most mystery readers.  I certainly started dreaming of a trip to the champagne region of France after this book, although I would have liked to have had even more description of the region in the book.

I did find the number of characters and their interrelationships a little confusing.  It took awhile to get all these relationships.  Once I got over the relationship hurdle about half way through the book I enjoyed seeing the two detectives work together (and sometimes separately) to solve what eventually became two murders.  I look forward to finding out if Max and Olivier will be paired again in another mystery.

Liz Nichols

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Mixed Signals by Jane Tesh

Mixed Signals” is the second in Jane Tesh’s “A Grace Street Mystery” series set in her home state of North Carolina.  The cast of characters includes a PI, David Randall, and his assorted housemates in a coop set in a town called Parkland, NC.  David’s friend, Camden, lives in the house.  Cam sings in a local choral society and does carpentry work.  The young woman David is in love with, Kary, works at a downtown store.  Kary and some of the other members of the household are also involved in a Superhero Society that dresses up in superhero costumes and patrols the town looking for good deeds to do.

When one of Cam’s friends is murdered and left for dead in his garage some of the superhero members come under suspicion.  Specifically, a costumed person called the Parkland Avenger, is suspected of the crime.  The Superheros claim this person is not one of their members and some of the group members set out to help David and the police chief find out, who killed Jared, and secondarily who this masked Avenger is.

There is a lot of sleuthing around some of the downtown stores in a secret underground tunnel and over rooftops and trying to figure out which stores the Avenger has been haunting during the night time hours.  The plot almost seems more appropriate if it has been set at Halloween than Christmas time.

The plot seems a little far-fetched in “Mixed Signals“, but it is a fun romp and a light read.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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