Book Review: Death at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon

Death at BreakfastDeath at Breakfast
Beth Gutcheon
William Morrow, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243196-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.

Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.

But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.

Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.

Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.

I nearly always enjoy a cozy mystery series that features senior sleuths so Death at Breakfast had a head start with me from the beginning. I also enjoyed the setting in a bed and breakfast because such a location allows for a diverse cast of characters rather than the usual somebody-in-this-small-town-must-be-the-killer scenario and it accommodates a group of people who are mostly strangers to each other. Those points open up the solution to the crime to a wide range of possibilities.

Another aspect of the story that works well is that the murder doesn’t occur until well into the book. Normally, I prefer it to happen early on but, in this case, the delay gives the reader the opportunity to get to know the B&B guests and staff as well as a few townspeople so I really didn’t mind.

Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin are a pair of sleuths I’m happy to have met. Intelligent and friendly, they’re using this trip to Maine to see if they can stand each other well enough to do some traveling together, a terrific idea. They’re not snoopy, either, just well-suited to think about various potential clues and come to a rational conclusion. Very appealing sleuths, indeed. I also liked deputy sheriff Buster Babbin, Hope’s son, who’s definitely conflicted in his feelings about his mother and who suffers from a lack of self-confidence; watching some of those issues get worked out was a worthy side trail.

I have to admit that I figured out the general solution to who hated the obnoxious Alexander enough to kill him in a rather gruesome manner fairly early but not the details so the actual denouement held some surprises for me.  I suspect each succeeding entry in the series will be tighter and I’m hoping this will become a long run.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

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Purchase Links:

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Indiebound // HarperCollins

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About the Author

Beth GutcheonBeth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of eight previous novels: The New GirlsStill MissingDomestic PleasuresSaying GraceFive FortunesMore Than You KnowLeeway Cottage, and Good-bye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy-Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.

Find out more about Beth at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Book Reviews: Doing It at the Dixie Dew by Ruth Moose and Chilled to the Bone by Quentin Bates

Doing It at the Dixie DewDoing It at the Dixie Dew
Ruth Moose
Minotaur Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-04638-3
Hardcover

This is a charming little cozy mystery, set in the small town of Littleboro, North Carolina. Beth McKenzie is doing her best to remodel her late grandmother’s Victorian mansion into a charming Bed and Breakfast. But when Levinia Lovingood, an elderly woman from a wealthy family, returns to town after many years, and becomes one of Beth’s first overnight guests, she is murdered in her sleep.

The very next day, the local parish priest is also murdered. What on earth is happening to the peace and quiet in this picturesque little town where everyone knows your name and no one ever locks their doors at night?

In the midst of scraping paint, redecorating the porch into a Tea Room and polishing hardwood floors, Beth is dragged into a nest of intrigue, suspicious notes and harrowing experiences as she attempts to find the answers to the murders.

Quaint characters flit through the story including a crazy bag lady living under a tree and several octogenarians who behave in bizarre ways. Verna takes her rabbit on a leash everywhere she goes and Miss Tempie visits the cemetery daily where she buried her dog next to a mausoleum.

Secrets abound and threats on Beth’s life turn ugly and all too real as she gets closer to the truth.

Miss Ruth Moose has created a fun mystery with just the right touch of humor, plot and suspense. Recommend this as a good summertime read for all cozy mystery lovers.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, September 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.

 

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Chilled to the BoneChilled to the Bone
An Officer Gunnhildur Mystery
Quentin Bates
Soho Crime, December 2013
ISBN 978-1-6169-5330-0
Hardcover

A police procedural is a police procedural, whether it takes place in Brooklyn, Los Angeles or Iceland. And in this, the third novel in the series, Police Sgt. Gunna Gisladottir, gets into a complicated investigation when an elderly retired ship-owner is found dead in a hotel room, nude and tied to the four corners of the bedstead. It turns out he had a heart attack, so no murder, but it is followed by a series of similar attacks at various hotels, during which each victim was relieved of cash, and credit and debit cards, which were milked for whatever they were worth. Moreover, the laptop of one of the victims was confiscated, leading to the knotty issues raised during the plodding investigation, including two murders. It seems the laptop contains information embarrassing to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Gunna is unlike many protagonists: A relatively subdued, ‘normal’ woman, with a home, husband and family, who goes about her business quietly and steadily, snow or ice. The author, who lived in Iceland for ten years before moving back to the UK, writes for a commercial fishing magazine, so he knows the island well and writes about it and its environment with authority.

The novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2014.

Book Review: Rebel Spirits by Lois Ruby

Rebel SpiritsRebel Spirits
Lois Ruby
Point, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-42623-7
Hardcover

The first feature to grab me was the tone of Rebel Spirits. It is more than confident, not yet cocky; accepting, unapologetic; charming; and totally void of any defensive vibe. As the story centers around “nearly seventeen” year old Lorelei; this reader was stunned by Ms. Ruby’s ability to, seemingly effortlessly, capture the open desire, the willingness to believe, that most teens still carry inside of them (albeit, some much…much deeper than others). While her steadier, yet clearly open-minded older brother, leans more towards logic and rational explanations; even he has that tiny glimmer of hope….the “why not?” that is sometimes lost in adulthood.

Yes, Lori’s parents truly are startlingly naïve and absent-minded with matters of upmost importance; yet oddly tenacious and relentless on the most trivial of things. The “caretakers” are undoubtedly a bit past odd, edging toward dangerous. The “lawn-boy”…well, okay, he seems like a typical, bleary-eyed, sun-baked kid. Nathaniel Pierce has a starring role, as…..well, Nathaniel is: of course, and why not; a ghost. Not just “a ghost”; but the ghost of a Civil War Soldier, calmly and curiously, standing over Lori’s shoulder, in her tower room, in the creepy, creaky bed-and-breakfast that she can now call home…in Gettysburg.

None of the aforementioned could be construed as spoilers, and that is one of the coolest quirks of Ms. Ruby’s story. At a blush, it would seem that with all of this already in the open, there can’t be room for mystique and intrigue; on the contrary, the plot thickens….and thickens. As quick as Lorelei is to end an annoying conversation; this reader was immersed. Mysteries abound, romance flickers and flutters by, all while Miss Lori boldly plows through, looking for answers and keeping careful watch on the caretakers and some pretty suspicious guests.

Rebel Spirits is historical fiction, but with Ms. Ruby’s characters feeling oh, so human; the history revealed in such a heart-felt fashion, this reader effortlessly let the “fiction” part slip away, to become fully mesmerized in the few, time-critical, fast-paced days Lori & Nathaniel spend together. Ms. Ruby’s enviable skill of combining a story that in turn; elicits chills, danger, even fear and yet references “red-checkered Vans” under an 1860s(ish) hoop skirt is impressive and makes for a fascinating book.

 

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2014.