Book Review: Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison and Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck

Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall
A Honeychurch Hall Mystery #4
Hannah Dennison
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-06549-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When the only copy of Ravished, Iris Stanford’s new manuscript, never arrives at her London publisher’s office, her daughter Kat investigates the tiny local village post office, where it appears the package never left the building. Iris is on tenterhooks―not only is her novel gone with the wind, but she’s deathly afraid that Muriel Jarvis, the postmistress and notorious busybody, will expose her secret identity as the bestselling romance writer Krystalle Storm. Meanwhile, Muriel has her own problems with the sudden death of her husband Fred, which has left her heavily in debt. In the spine-tingling climax, both past and present collide as Kat fights for her life and those she holds most dear, dancing once again with the dark forces lurking behind the grandeur of Honeychurch Hall.

I think I’ve found my new one-of-my-favorites British cozy/traditional series (although I’m apparently the last in my local book club circle of cozy readers to get around to trying it). I’m not bothered by reading out of order and, while I expect my purist friends would disagree with me, I really think this is a good starter. The author does a nice job of dropping in those little tidbits you need to understand prior activities and her characterizations of the people are as full as I could ask them to be. These people are just downright funny and a little bit crazy.

However, murder has been done and somebody has to pay attention. Since Kat is one of the very few levelheaded folks around, the task naturally falls to her. There’s a local copper (named Cropper), of course, but he’s overrun by Lord Rupert as well as Kat and her mum, Iris, when it comes to looking into the death of the centuries-old skeleton found in a sewer line trench. It’s all curiously coincidental considering the upcoming English Civil War re-enactment and, before long, Kat finds herself in the midst of a plethora of mysteries including Iris’ missing manuscript, a suspiciously behaving man in possession (momentarily) of a vastly expensive doll, a prison escapee, and, oh, another body.

There’s a good deal of silliness here—how can there not be with such wacky villagers—but I truly loved this book. Kat’s a great sleuth, although there are no easy denouements, and she has mastered the art of dealing with all these people. I can just imagine driving through the countryside and coming across this lovely little place. What fun!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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Bad Boy Boogie
A Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller
Thomas Pluck
Down & Out Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-943402-59-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jay Desmarteaux steps out of from prison after serving twenty-five years for murdering a vicious school bully, he tries to follow his convict mentor’s advice: the best revenge is living well.

But questions gnaw at his gut: Where have his folks disappeared to? Why do old friends want him gone? And who wants him dead?

Teaming with his high school sweetheart turned legal Valkyrie, a hulking body shop bodybuilder, and a razor-wielding gentleman’s club house mother, Jay will unravel a tangle of deception all the way back to the bayous where he was born. With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.

This is one of those times when you can’t help sympathizing with the bad guy; after all, he’s served his time so why is he now facing these unexpected troubles? And since law enforcement isn’t interested in helping him find answers, how is he going to? Clearly, he’ll have to form what current slang would call a posse and what a group of misfits these are!

To understand Jay, we’re taken back to his unhappy childhood that, even so, had times of normalcy—young love and friendships as well as conflicts with bullies—and we learn what caused the teenaged Jay to commit the ultimate act of violence. Perhaps the “friends” that didn’t support him then are the ones that want him out of town now, except for the mayor who has his own reasons. A bright point, maybe, is the connection he makes with high school sweetheart Ramona but Jay is driven by a need to settle things in New Jersey before he heads to Louisiana, the place he really wants to be.

Jay is a complex man and the author truly brings him to life, this ex-con with a hard outer shell that’s slightly penetrated by the life he finds on the outside after 25 years on the inside. There’s a considerable amount of graphic violence, including sexual, here but it’s understandable although this man’s sense of justice is often very different from yours and mine. This is a book that could have resided in the old black & white, hardboiled days just as well as today and I suspect I’ll remember Jay and his story for a long, long time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Reviews: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley, Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff, and The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAs Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
A Flavia de Luce Novel #7
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-345-53993-9
Hardcover
Random House Audio, January 2015
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book
Read by Jayne Entwistle

From the publisher—

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.

There are just a handful of series that I never miss these days and this is one of them, largely because I so adore the protagonist but also because I can always depend on the author to offer a truly good book. In the case of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, I was slightly less enthused but certainly not enough to say I didn’t like it.

My discontent stems from the setting of this particular entry. Much of Flavia’s charm comes from her interactions with her family, her father’s “man”, their home, Buckshaw, and their village, Bishop’s Lacey. This time, though, Flavia has been sent to Canada to attend her mother’s boarding school and, to me, it just seemed awkward to have her suddenly isolated from all she has known in her short life. Having said that, Mr. Bradley soon develops some pretty good reasons for Flavia to be in this particular school and, of course, she becomes involved in a death investigation in her quite inimitable way.

As much as I missed those familiar characters, there are certainly some at Miss Bodycote’s that appealed to me in various ways, especially Collingwood, and it doesn’t hurt that a body appears on the scene quite fortuitously, a most welcome distraction for the homesick Flavia.

No matter her circumstances, Flavia cannot be repressed and my only true concern is that I have to wait till September for her next adventure, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d.

Note: I both read the book and listened to the audio edition and, as always, Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and continues to wow me as a wonderful narrator and voice of this charming young girl.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Huntress MoonHuntress Moon
The Huntress/FBI Thrillers #1
Alexandra Sokoloff
Read by R.C. Bray
Alexandra Sokoloff, May 2014
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of accidents and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states… while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year-old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and he must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

It would be easy to say that if you’ve read one FBI crime novel, you’ve read them all but authors manage to keep finding ways to make their own stories just a little bit different, enough to catch a reader’s attention. In Huntress Moon, I was drawn in by the notion of a female serial killer. In real life, such a person is rare and that’s what makes the idea so interesting, at least for me.

Special Agent Roarke is an appealing protagonist in a number of ways, not least of which are his intelligence and his dogged determination to track down this elusive young woman. What’s surprising is how fascinating she is, especially since we don’t even know her name. Clearly, she has an agenda and she hunts her victims as much as Roarke hunts her; with each new killing, she becomes more real, as it were, perhaps just a little more understandable. It becomes difficult to see her as entirely evil when she meets a young father and his son and, yet, she is a bloodthirsty killer. How she came to be the way she is and Roarke’s pursuit of her are what make this such a fine story.

R.C. Bray is a new narrator to me and, at first, I wasn’t completely on board with him largely because his voices seemed not very distinctive. As the novel wore on, his performance became more satisfying and he has won awards so it was my problem, not his. He is the narrator of the second and third books in the trilogy and I’m looking forward to spending time with him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Sound and the Furry AudioThe Sound and the Furry
A Chet and Bernie Mystery #6
Spencer Quinn
Read by Jim Frangione
Recorded Books, September 2013
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

When Chet and Bernie happen upon a prison work crew that includes Frenchie Boutette, an old criminal pal they sent up the river, getting a new case is the last thing they expect. But Frenchie, who comes from an old Louisiana family full of black sheep, needs help finding his one law-abiding relative, his brother Ralph, a reclusive inventor who has gone missing with his houseboat. Though he’s tempted to take another job (with a big payday) in Alaska, Bernie decides to set course for the bayous of Louisiana, a trip that will introduce Chet to a world of sights, smells, and tastes that are like nothing he’s ever encountered. Out in bayou country, Chet and Bernie meet the no-good Boutette family and their ancient enemies, the maybe-even-worse Robideaus, and at first it seems as if Ralph’s disappearance is connected to a dispute over a load of stolen shrimp. But when Chet uncovers a buried clue, the investigation heads in a dangerous new direction involving the oil business and an impending environmental catastrophe. The more Chet and Bernie discover about Ralph, the more treacherous the job becomes, and soon they’re fighting not only Big Oil, but also shadowy black ops figures, a violent biker gang from back home, and Iko- a legendary bayou gator with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Meanwhile, deep under the Gulf, the pressure just keeps building.

Ah, it’s always so good to be back in the world of Chet and Bernie, two of my all-time favorite detectives, and following them to the bayous of Louisiana was a special treat. If ever a pair were out of their element, this is it and, to make matters worse, they fall right into the middle of a longstanding feud between two less-than-nice families.

What seems at first to be a rather simple case of thievery soon turns out to be much deeper and the missing Ralph, perhaps the only non-criminal in this unruly and menacing bunch, is still missing. Chet and Bernie learn that there’s much more than stolen shrimp going on and these two may be dealing with their most sinister case yet.

As narrator, Chet is a delight as he always is and there were many moments when I found myself grinning out loud, so to speak. I can’t help it, Chet is a terrific storyteller and his ruminations on life are hilarious 😉

There’s definitely a difference between this book and the earlier titles in the series and I think it has to do with atmosphere. Having lived in Louisiana for several years long ago, I can attest to a certain darkness, for lack of a better word, that comes from the insularity of the bayous, a kind of hostility and distrust towards the rest of the world that can lead to an uneasiness not found elsewhere. In contrast, Chet and Bernie’s usual terrain is open, perhaps deceptively so, and one can’t help feeling a little less threatened so these two are definitely in a different world when they go to the bayous.

Speaking of narrators, I always enjoy Jim Frangione as the voice of Chet and The Sound and the Furry is no exception. A good reader can make all the difference and Mr. Frangione really does the job well. He and Spencer Quinn (and the delightful Chet) are a team that can’t be beat.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.