Hanging by a Hair
A Bad Hair Day Mystery
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, April 2014
Marla Vail, just can’t find enough to do in her spare time, even though she owns a hair salon, is the new bride of a homicide detective, and stepmother to a teenage girl and two dogs. Following the murder of the man next door, despite her husband’s repeated warnings to stay clear of his homicide case, Marla proceeds to investigate the murder.
Customs of the Jewish faith are sprinkled throughout the story as the family approaches the Passover holiday, planning meals and rituals.
It seems that Mr. Krabber, (the murder victim’s name is most fitting as he was a curmudgeon, a womanizer and an all-around stinker) was killed in a most gruesome manner. The suspects are all connected, one way or another, to Marla’s community and Home Owner’s Association. Secrets from Mr. Krabber’s past are discovered, creating more intrigue and unanswered questions.
A tribe of Florida Native Americans play a role in the mystery and quirky characters abound, including Marla’s mother, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend. The newlyweds offer a touch of romance to the story from time to time, that is, when hubby Dalton can catch Marla between her jaunts thither and yon questioning suspects.
As for a mystery plot, it was pretty good. I didn’t figure out who-dun-it until Marla was unexpectedly waylaid and hauled off by the killer, potentially to become another victim in a rather formulaic scene, (yawn). I’d like to see a different ending in a cozy mystery, but this seems to be pretty much the norm these days.
Overall, it was a pretty good little cozy mystery.
Reviewed by Elaine Faber, March 2014.
A Murder in Passing
A Sam Blackman Mystery #4
Mark de Castrique
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2013
Also available in trade paperback
The Blackman-Robertson mysteries are rooted in South Carolina history. In previous novels, such landmarks as Carl Sandburg’s farm played a role. Other links included Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this book, it is a photo taken 80 years before by a famous woman photographer, Doris Ulmann, the subjects of which were three blacks, mother, daughter and five-year-old Marsha Montgomery, and some boys. Marsha retains Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson to find the photo which she claims was stolen from her mother’s home, along with a rifle, in 1932. That is the first plot twist of many that lie ahead, before the truth is revealed.
The mystery involves the identity of a skeleton which Sam inadvertently uncovers when he trips, crashing into a rotted log while hunting for mushrooms. Racial attitudes in the South play a prominent role in the novel. Sam is white, Nakayla is black. Not only are they partners in the detective agency bearing their names, but lovers as well. Marsha’s 85-year-old mother is black, but had a white lover, Jimmy Lang, who fathered Marsha. He also was in the supposedly valuable photo which disappeared in 1932. As did he, after his proposal of marriage was rejected for sound reasons based on local prejudices.
This is a well-told tale that moves along swiftly, keeping the reader intrigued as it introduces nuances and new facts wending its way toward a conclusion. Written with economy and a keen eye on the socio-economic society of the post-Civil War South, the author has an excellent grasp of his subject, and the novel is recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.