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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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Fatal Induction by Bernadette Pajer

Bernadette Pajer’s second installment in the Professor Bradshaw Mystery series was just published as of May 1.  “Fatal Induction” is a worthy companion to the first title in the series “A Spark of Death” which was published some months ago.  Again, I was lucky to have a review copy of this book.

Pajer sets her story during a most interesting time and area: Seattle in 1901 during the tense days during and immediately after the assassination of President McKinley.  The first Professor Bradshaw book dealt with a fictional threat on McKinley’s life in Seattle by an anarchist.  The second book starts off with the actual assassination a few months later.  In “Fatal Induction” Professor Bradshaw is trying to win a contest to create a loud-talker device (a loud speaker system) that will pipe entertainment from a local theater into Seattle homes with good sound quality.  At the same time, he is trying to solve the mystery of who killed an itinerant medicine peddler and where the peddler’s 10 year old daughter is hiding from the murderer she saw.  The peddler’s wagon was found parked in the professor’s alley and he finds that his son has hidden the girl for a night or two before the professor discovers the girl and causes her to run away.  The professor searches high and low among the underbelly of Seattle society in the Tenderloin district before he finally figures out where she is hidden.  Has the killer also discovered her hiding place?

Pajer uses great care to retell history accurately and to explain complex scientific discoveries in a way that can be understood and appreciated by the average reader.  She reveals for the reader in an Afterword what is fact and what is fiction in the story.  It is fascinating how skillfully she blends fact and fiction.

I’m a big fan of Pajer’s work.  Her characters are multidimensional with all the good, bad and ugly blended in so the reader can get to know these characters as if they were real people.  Her characters think in ways that are appropriate to their era, age and station in life.  Professor Bradshaw is the kind of character who’s home and inventor’s workshop can be visited time and again and not become boring.  His relationship with his relative and boarder, Henry, who has just returned from the Alaska gold fields in this book, will certainly be developed further in future books in this series.  I’m also looking forward to how Bradshaw’s other relationships with his son, Justin, his police contact, Detective O’Brien, Henry’s niece, Missouri, and others develop over the coming books.

Great series.  Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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A Perilous Conception by Larry Karp

Larry Karp is a retired Seattle area physician who was involved in reproductive genetics from the early days of in vitro fertilization. There was so much controversy over the procedure in the mid-1970s that Karp remembers thinking at the time that the issue would make a good plot for a mystery. To Karp’s knowledge, no one actually was murdered over the issue of in vitro fertilization, but the controversy raised so many heated arguments that the potential for violence and blackmail was certainly present.

Karp’s intimate knowledge of what can and does go on in a medical research facility and in an OB/GYN practice make the plot of “A Perilous Conception” chillingly real. I can recall reading about the race for the first “test tube baby” (more accurately, petri dish fertilized eggs) and there was definitely divided opinion about what would happen if the baby turned out to be abnormal. Did man have a right to play God? Others saw it as the best chance for couples who could not conceive normally to have a baby. Time has proven out most of the positive results that have come from in vitro fertilization.

The book is set in 1976 when teams in the U.S. and the U.K. were in the midst of a race to the birth of the first in vitro baby. The story is about an in vitro fertilization that went seriously wrong and had to be covered up to protect the doctors involved when a distraught dad kills the research doctor who was responsible for the fertilization process for his son.

Police Detective, Bernie Baumgartner latches on to the case and will not let it go until he gets the OB/GYN, Dr. Colin Sanford, to admit that the procedure used was in vitro fertilization against the express orders of the chairman of the OB/GYN program at the University hospital. Baumgartner also is determined to find out what happened to a lab tech supervisor who disappeared shortly after the patient involved in the covered up in vitro case conceived.

The author uses a fairly unusual technique of writing alternatively in the voices of Sanford and Baumgartner. By doing so the reader gets inside the heads of both guys and finds out that both men are flawed. It is actually hard to like either character at times, although both redeem themselves in some ways by the end of the book.

Sanford displays that annoying hubris that is common in doctors who make it clear that they possess superior intelligence and can wield god-like power over the lives of other people. In the end Sanford recognizes his hubris as a short-coming and understands how deep scars from childhood helped to mold his character.

Baumgartner is the stereotypical cop who works so much of the time that it ruins his marriage. He is content to sleep on the couch of one of his regular informants. After proving that he’s the smartest cop on the force he can’t wait to thumb his nose at the police department and to go independent as a PI. Karp could easily turn Baumgartner into a mystery series character.

This is a unique story with an intricate cat-and-mouse plot that will particularly appeal to those who are familiar with academia and medical research.

Liz Nichols

A review copy was provided for this article.

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