Book Review: Denied by Mary Keliikoa @mary_keliikoa @CamelPressBooks @tlcbooktours

Denied
A Kelly Pruett Mystery #2
Mary Keliikoa
Camel Press, May 2021
ISBN 978-1-60381-783-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A high-risk pregnancy. A dangerous secret. When her case turns deadly, can this investigator avoid racking up a fatal debt?

PI Kelly Pruett’s search to locate a former classmate’s missing father ends in what appears to be a tragic accident. But putting the pieces together that led to that fateful night will require Kelly to play a high risk game of chance with a killer willing to gamble everything to win.

As private investigators go, Kelly Pruett has one quality that sets her apart to my way of thinking. Like Goldilocks and her bears, Kelly is not overwhelmingly good at her job nor is she TSTL. No, this lady falls right in the middle, meaning she has the smarts she needs most of the time but occasionally goes haywire. In other words, she’s normal and I really appreciate that.

Kelly was injured on the job in her first book and is still recovering but, let’s face it, an overload of cheating significant others can be a tad boring. Hearing from an old friend whose estranged dad is missing gives Kelly the chance to work on something a little more interesting. Little does she know this case is going to turn ugly all too soon and she’ll find herself up against the mob.

In this second adventure, Mary Keliikoa continues establishing Kelly as a woman of thought and determination, one who does her best to balance work with her personal life, especially her deaf daughter. I like Kelly and I’m already anticipating book # 3.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

Mary Keliikoa is the author of the Lefty and Agatha award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series and the upcoming Misty Pines mystery series featuring Sheriff Jax Turner slated for release in September 2022. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the anthology Peace, Love and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by Music of the ‘60s. A Pacific NW native, she spent a part of her life working around lawyers. Combining her love of legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails.

When not in Washington, you can find Mary on the beach in Hawaii where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.

Find out more about Mary on her websiteInstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Derailed by Mary Keliikoa @mary_keliikoa @CamelPressBooks @partnersincr1me

Derailed
A Kelly Pruett Mystery #1
Mary Keliikoa
Camel Press, May 2020
ISBN 978-1-60381-706-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A dying wish. A secret world.

Can this grieving investigator stay on the right track?

PI Kelly Pruett is determined to make it on her own. And juggling clients at her late father’s detective agency, a controlling ex, and caring for a deaf daughter was never going to be easy. She takes it as a good sign when a letter left by her dad ties into an unsolved case of a young woman struck by a train.

Hunting down the one person who can prove the mysterious death was not just a drunken accident, Kelly discovers this witness is in no condition to talk. And the closer she gets to the truth the longer her list of sleazy suspects with murderous motives grows. Each clue exposes another layer of the victim’s steamy double life.

Can Kelly pinpoint the murderer, or is she on the fast track to disaster?

It all begins with a secret.

Kelly Pruett may be relatively inexperienced as a private investigator but that doesn’t mean she’s out of her depth. Before her father’s death, she worked alongside him and completed the requisite 1,500 hours of training. She just hasn’t taken on any “real” cases, until the day that Georgette Hanson walks through the door. The grieving mother wants someone to look into her daughter’s death a few weeks earlier when she was hit by a train and Kelly agrees to do so, prompted by the enigmatic letter her father left behind, somehow connected to this woman.

In addition to tracking down the truth about Brooke’s death, Kelly has plenty going on in her personal life what with her ex and his mother continually meddling in the raising of her deaf child but it helps that she has Floyd, a Basset Hound who always seems to know when a little comforting attention is in order. Of course, otherwise, he’d just as soon be napping, thank you very much. Floyd is one of my favorite characters, not that he helps out with the sleuthing, mind you; no, he’s just a good ol’ dawg.

Even a seasoned PI would be distracted by all the convoluted leads and deep, dark secrets Kelly soon discovers but she won’t be deterred and, in the end, learns a lot about Brooke and her shadier side and also about what it means to be a legitimate private investigator. This is a well-conceived and well-written debut and I like Kelly very much with all her normal, human shortcomings plus I’m happy to have another strong, intelligent woman on the job 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Amazon

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An Excerpt from Derailed

CHAPTER 1

Portland, Oregon has as many parts as the human anatomy. Like the body, some are more attractive than others. My father’s P.I. business that I’d inherited was in what many considered the armpit, the northeast, where pickpockets and drug dealers dotted the narrow streets and spray paint tags of bubble-lettered gang signatures striped the concrete. In other words, home. I’m Kelly Pruett and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

I’d just finished invoicing a client for a skip trace and flicked off the light in the front office my dad and I used to share when a series of taps came from the locked front door. It was three o’clock on a gloomy Friday afternoon. A panhandler looking for a handout or a bathroom was my best guess. Sitting at the desk, I couldn’t tell.

Floyd, my basset hound and the only real man in my life, lifted his droopy eyes to meet mine before flopping his head back down on his bed. No help there.

Another rap, louder this time.

Someone wanted my attention. I retrieved the canister of pepper spray from my purse and opened the door to a woman, her umbrella sheltering her from the late October drizzle. Her angle made it hard to see her face, only the soft curls in her hair and the briefcase hanging from her hand. I slipped the pepper spray into the pocket of my Nike warmup jacket.

“Is Roger Pruett in?” she asked, water droplets splatting the ground.

She hadn’t heard the news and I hadn’t brought myself to update R&K Investigation’s website. I swallowed the lump before it could form and clutch my throat. “No, sorry,” I said. “My dad died earlier this year. I’m his daughter, Kelly.”

“I’m so sorry.” She peered from under the umbrella, her expression pinched. She searched my face for a different answer.

I’d give anything to have one. “What do you need?”

“To hire a P.I. to investigate my daughter’s death. Can you help me?” Her voice cracked.

My stomach fluttered. Process serving, court document searches, and the occasional tedious stakeout had made up the bulk of my fifteen hundred hours of P.I. experience requirement. Not that I wasn’t capable of more. Dad had enjoyed handling cases himself with the plan to train me later. In the year since his death, no one had come knocking, and going through the motions of what I knew how to do well had been hard enough. Now this lady was here for my father’s help. I couldn’t turn her away. I raked my fingers through the top of my shoulder length hair and opened the door. “Come in.”

“Bless you.” She slid her umbrella closed and brushed past me.

After securing the lock, I led her through the small reception area and into my office. A bathroom and another office that substituted for a storage closet were down the long hallway heading to the rear exit. Floyd decided to take interest and lumbered over. With his butt in the air, he stretched at her feet before nearly snuffling my soon-to-be client’s shoe up his nose. She nodded at him before vicious Floyd found his way back to his corner, tail swaying behind him. Guess he approved.

The woman looked in her mid-sixties. She had coiffed hair the color of burnt almonds, high cheekbones, and a prominent nose. She reminded me of my middle school librarian who could get you to shut up with one glance. “Would you like coffee, Ms…?”

“No thank you. It’s Hanson.” She settled in the red vinyl chair across from my dad’s beaten and scarred desk. “Georgette Hanson.”

My skin tingled when she said her name.

“My condolences on your father,” she said.

“Thank you.” Her words were simple, and expected, but her eyes held pain. Having lost her daughter, she clearly could relate.

“How did it happen?” she asked.

I swallowed again. With as many people as I’d had to tell, it should be getting easier. It wasn’t. “Stroke. Were you a former client of my father’s?”

She waved her hand. “Something like that.” She lifted the briefcase to her lap and popped the latch. Her eyes softened. “He was a fine man. You look just like him.”

My confident, broad-shouldered, Welshman father had been quite fit and handsome in his youth. Most of my adult life he’d carried an extra fifty pounds, but that never undermined his strong chin, wise blue eyes, and thick chestnut hair. I’d been blessed with my Dad’s eyes and hair and had my mom’s round chin. But since I’d ballooned a couple of sizes while pregnant with Mitz, I knew which version she thought I resembled. “What were you hoping he could do for you with regards to your daughter?”

“Find out why she’s dead.” Georgette shoved a paper dated a few weeks ago onto the desk and snapped the case lid closed.

A picture of a young woman with a warm smile, a button nose, and long wavy brunette hair sat below the fold on the front page under the headline: WOMAN STRUCK BY MAX TRAIN DIES.

I winced at the thought of her violent end. “I’m sorry. Such a pretty girl.”

“She was perfect.” Georgette pulled off her gloves, her eyes brimming. “The train destroyed that. Do you know what a train does to a hundred-pound woman?” Her voice trembled.

To avoid envisioning the impact, I replaced it with the smiling face of Mitz, my eight-year-old daughter. Which made it worse. If anything ever happened to her… How Georgette wasn’t a puddle on the Formica eluded me. I took a minute to read the story. According to the article, Brooke Hanson fell from the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming MAX train downtown at Ninth and Morrison Street. The police reported alcohol was a contributing factor. “They detained the sole witness who found her, Jay Nightingale. Why?” I set the paper down.

Georgette brushed her hair away from her forehead flashing nails chewed to the quick. “At first, the police thought he had something to do with her fall. He told them he’d seen my Brooke stumble down the sidewalk and teeter on the edge of the curb. Supposedly, he called out the train was coming and she didn’t hear him. He made no effort to get her away from those tracks. When the autopsy showed she’d been drinking, they wrote her death off as an accident, released Mr. Nightingale, and closed the case.”

Their decision couldn’t have been that cut and dry. “How much had she been drinking?”

“You sound like the police.” Georgette lifted her chin and met my gaze. There are many stages to grief. One of them anger, another denial. Georgette straddled both, something I knew plenty about. “Not sure…exactly. You’ll have to check the report.”

I scanned her face for the truth. “You don’t know or you’re afraid to tell me?”

She massaged the palm of her hand with her thumb. “The bartender at the Limbo said she’d had a few before he’d cut her off and asked her to leave. None of that matters because Nightingale’s lying. He had something to do with her fall. He may have even pushed her. At the very least, he knows more than he’s telling.”

My eyebrows raised. The police weren’t perfect, but they had solid procedures in death investigations. They would have explored that angle. “What are you basing that on?”

“My gut.”

A mother’s intuition while undeniable, alone didn’t prove foul play. “Did the MAX operator see Mr. Nightingale next to her at any point?”

“He didn’t even see her because the area wasn’t well lit.”

“Do you have his name?”

“Chris Foley.”

I jotted the information down. “What do the train’s cameras show?”

“There weren’t any. And no passenger statements because the train was done for the night. But Brooke shouldn’t have even been in the vicinity of that train.”

“Where is the Limbo located?”

“Ten blocks from where she was hit.”

A half mile, give or take. “Could she have been heading to catch the MAX to go home?”

“Brooke detested mass transit. The people who ride during the day scared her. She wouldn’t go there at night. Besides, she lived south of town. The train wouldn’t have taken her there.” She sighed. “I’m telling you, she wouldn’t be that far from the bar unless someone…” She closed her eyes.

Georgette talked in circles attempting to make sense of it all, but I had first-hand knowledge of drunk people doing things out of character. Given what she’d described, I could understand why the police had closed the matter. Even so, her devastation gripped my heart. And something had brought her out on this rainy Friday. “What are you holding back, Ms. Hanson? Why do you feel so strongly Mr. Nightingale was involved that you’d come to my dad for help?”

She stared at her hands as if they held the answers. “Brooke had changed in the last year. Become more distant. Not visiting. Missing our weekly calls.” The corner of her mouth turned upward in a sad smile. “We used to go for pie once a month. She loved pie. Apple pie. Cherry pie.” Her smile melted. “One day she was too busy and couldn’t get away. When she did, she didn’t look well. Stressed.”

“Did she say what was bothering her?”

“No. She shut me out, which she’d never done before. Now to have been killed by a train downtown when that Nightingale fellow was close enough to stop it from happening? He’s involved. I can feel it.” She straightened. “Until I know what happened that night, I won’t rest.” Georgette reached into her purse and produced an envelope grasped in her right hand. “Here’s three thousand for you to find the truth. Please say you’ll help me.”

Despite steady work from a few law firms around town, and an adequate divorce settlement, being a single mom often meant more month than money. Georgette was offering twice what I made in a good month of process serving and that would go a long way in taking care of my little girl. Not needing to ever rely on my ex would have been incentive alone, but there was more to it than that.

I’d recognized Georgette’s name the moment she’d said it. At the reading of my dad’s will, his lawyer had handed me a handwritten letter. It was a request from my dad that if a Georgette Hanson ever came to his door asking for help, I should assist and not ask questions why. It had meant nothing at the time. I’d figured it was due to his unending dedication to his clients.

Because Georgette had a connection to my dad in some capacity, that sealed my decision to at least try and help her. While I’d been directed not to ask questions, even he would have needed the obvious one answered before he took her money.

“You said she’d changed. Is there any chance she might have…I mean, was she depressed? Could she have stepped…”

Georgette cut me off. “Stop.” Her eyes grew wide with denial and the damn broke. Tears poured over her cheeks; her shoulders shook, buckling from the weight of her anguish. The anger and determination she’d used as a mask crumbled, and each passing second exposed another layer of her gut-wrenching grief.

I shifted at witnessing her raw emotion, bracing myself against my own around my father, and my thoughts on Mitz. Tears stung my eyes, unsure how to comfort my client when I struggled to do that for myself.

She muffled a wail with the back of her hand and finally drew in deep breaths until the sobs subsided.

I grabbed a box of Kleenex behind me. She already had a handful of tissue ready from her purse. I’d back off the notion of suicide—for the moment. The woman didn’t need any more distress than she’d already endured.

She sniffed hard a couple of times and sopped up her face with the tissue. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I swiped under my eyes with my fingers, gaining control over my thoughts. “I’m not sure I’ll uncover anything new, but I will look for you.”

“Thank you.” She composed herself and stuffed the tissue back in her purse for the next inevitable breakdown.

I handed Georgette one of my dad’s old contracts, explaining my hourly rate, and a couple of authorization forms that might come in handy if requesting any case files was necessary.

She signed her name without bothering to read the fine print. She stood, the vinyl chair screeching against the hardwood floor startling Floyd. Her expression softened. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.”

“Brooke was a couple of years older, but pretty, like you and with the same flowing brown hair and kind eyes.” She sniffed. “I came to Roger because he could get to the heart of things. If you’re like him, you’ll find out what happened to my baby.”

I’d never be as good as my dad, but I did possess his mule-like stubbornness to get to the bottom of things. My ex could attest to that. “I’ll do what I can.”

She nodded. “Brooke was a good girl. She loved animals, ran every morning, and worked for the law firm Anderson, Hiefield & Price. She was the head accountant there.” Her face beamed with pride before her chin trembled again, but she held it together.

“It might help if I get a better sense of who she was.” I slid the legal pad to her. “If I could get her address, I’d like to start there.”

Georgette jotted the information down and pushed it back to me. She dug into her purse and produced the key. “I haven’t brought myself to go there yet.”

I gave her a sympathetic smile. “Are there family or friends I should start with?”

“Besides my husband, Chester, there’s just her sister, Hannah, who lives in Seattle. They weren’t close.” Georgette cleared her throat. “She never spoke to me about friends or boyfriends. Honestly, with her work schedule, she didn’t have time for any.”

With my own social life lacking, I related. “Do you have her cell? I’d like to check who she had on speed dial.”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t among her belongings.”

What thirty-something didn’t have their phone glued to them? Unless the impact of the train threw it. Another image I pushed away. I rounded my desk and walked her out of my office.

“Please keep in touch on how the investigation is going,” she said.

I assured her I would. She squeezed my arm to thank me as she left. With a twist of the deadbolt, I rested my shoulder against the door and closed my eyes. Mitz would get hugged a little closer tonight.

At my desk, Floyd trotted over and sat at my feet. He rested his chin on my lap while I added a few more notes. His sixth sense of when I needed him never faltered. I tucked the notes, along with a couple of divorce petitions into my bag to serve in between outings with Mitz.

It was early enough to get to Brooke’s place, about twenty minutes away, and to the grocery store so Mitz and I weren’t eating PB&Js for dinner. The faster I got started and found answers, the sooner Georgette could begin healing. If I was lucky, Brooke’s phone would be sitting on her nightstand waiting to be found.

Before getting up, I pulled the letter from my dad out of the top drawer and unfolded the paper. I traced the ruts in the desk we shared with my finger as I read his words. Georgette’s name was there in black and white. I had wanted to ask her more about how she knew my dad, but he’d been explicit in his request. He was a good man, albeit a tough man that I didn’t question. Nor had I ever felt the need to. It hadn’t been easy for him after my mom died, and we became the Two Musketeers. We may have run out of time for him to teach me everything he knew about being a P.I., but I’d learn as I went. I had no other choice. Helping Georgette was the last thing I could do for him. And I would.

“Ready to boogie, Floyd?” I flicked off the lights and Floyd padded behind me down the narrow hall to the backdoor.

We jogged to my yellow 1980 Triumph Spitfire, a gift from my dad when I graduated. “You know the routine, buddy.” Floyd stretched himself halfway into the car, and with a grunt, I lifted in his other half. He tripped over the manual gearshift and settled into the passenger seat as I slunk behind the wheel. The engine started right up, for a change.

Brooke was a couple of years older than me—far too young to die. Was Nightingale involved in her death? Did he know more than he was telling? Or was he just a helpless bystander who could only watch Brooke fall because she was drunk off her ass? I had a feeling I’d be returning the bulk of Georgette’s money after putting in some legwork. With a case the Portland police had already closed and an eyewitness who’d already been cleared, what other possibility was there?

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About the Author

Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She has had a short story published in Woman’s World and is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett Mystery Series.

At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her writing companions/fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.

Catch Up With Mary Keliikoa:
MaryKeliikoa.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by
Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for
Mary Keliikoa. There will be 2 winners of one (1)
Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway
begins on September 1, 2020 and runs through
October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

Enter here.

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Book Review: The Hidden Key by David E. Grogan

The Hidden Key
A Steve Stilwell Thriller #3
David E. Grogan
Camel Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-60381-580-2
Trade Paperback

Having never read David E. Grogan’s previous books, when I finished this one, I read reviews of Sapphire Pavilion and The Siegel Dispositions.  Having done so I discovered I am definitely in a minority when it comes to Grogan’s books.  Praise for those previous stories abounds but I just could not get on board (no pun intended).  I found both the story and the writing not even close to believable including his use of verbs that just did not match the emotions being communicated.

The Hidden Key begins with two men breaking into the home of a former Navy Seabee looking for an artifact, a clay tablet stolen from Iraq, that he advertised for sale on the internet.  Unbelievable violence ensues when the Seabee denies any knowledge of the artifact.  This is just the beginning of the body count.

About a week later Steve Stilwell, a lawyer in Virginia and a retired Navy JAG officer, meets a prospective client for dinner in London, having been contacted by the man and asked to join him in London as soon as possible.  The prospective client wants to hire Stilwell to probate his estate in the US.  As they are discussing the matter, two armed men enter the restaurant and the client ends up dead.  Stilwell later discovers that the client has wills in the US, India, and Italy but his job involves only the one in the US.  However, in addition to his will, the client has  left specific instructions as to how cash he left in a safe deposit box was to be distributed and where he was to be buried, specifying that his wife in India might not agree to either but he wanted his wishes honored.

Of course, the man’s wife needed to be informed of these instructions so Stilwell’s law partner, Casey, a former Army helicopter pilot, is dispatched to India to meet with her.  Despite a warm welcome from the woman, Casey ends up being attacked after their meeting.  Meanwhile, Stilwell has gone to Italy to meet with his client’s mistress where, perhaps you guessed it, more violence and murders ensue.  Meanwhile, the artifact that started this whole venture has been found, then lost, then found again.  It turns out that the artifact is a map to the Garden of Eden.  And, oh yes, the FBI, New Scotland Yard, and the Italian Carabinieri (because of a heist of the Shroud of Turin) are also involved.

Because I found this book beyond fantastical, I cannot recommend it but if you liked Grogan’s previous books you will probably like this one too.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, April 2020.

Book Review: Four Dog’s Sake by Lia Farrell

four-dogs-sakeFour Dog’s Sake
A Mae December Mystery #4
Lia Farrell
Camel Press, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-246-7
Trade Paperback

Let’s see. Mae December is in a relationship with the sheriff of Rosedale, Tennessee, Ben Bradley. Tammy is having a baby, and she is married to Patrick. Dr. Lucy Ingram is thinking about inviting her boyfriend, Chief Detective Wayne Nichols to live with her, and Rick Willis and Meredith Flynn are about to get engaged. Then there’s Chester Willis and Brooke Piper . . . oh, wait a minute. Chester has been murdered and they think Brooke might’ve done it since she was short of money and stood to inherit a bundle from the Willis brother’s father. Whew! And those are just a few of the featured characters.

This is one book where a cast of characters section at the front might’ve been helpful. I don’t usually have a problem keeping track of who is who, but this story almost overwhelmed. Many characters seemed extraneous. Same for the dogs. The title seems odd to me since the dogs are just there to be cared for and serve no other real purpose.

That said, the mystery part of the plot is solid and law enforcement works hard to bring the right person to justice. The medical parts of the story seem spot on and well done. We can all hope our emergency room physician is as on-the-mark as Dr. Lucy Ingram who discovers Chester has even been murdered. In the end, it takes the entire medical community and a large group of friends to finally solve the mystery.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Due for Discard by Sharon St. George and A Chorus of Innocents by P.F. Chisholm

Due for DiscardDue for Discard
An Aimee Machado Mystery #1
Sharon St. George
Camel Press, March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-223-8
Trade Paperback

Author Sharon St. George is a good writer but she writes long and wordy. The novel has an interesting premise because the protagonist, Aimee Machado, has a relatively rare but useful degree in forensic librarian-ship. She works in the northern California town of Timbergate, her first job out of graduate school. Her job is to create a forensic research library for the hospital she works at. It is the hope of her mentor and the principal funder of the project that various area law enforcement agencies will use the developing library as a research resource.

It is clear from the beginning, in which readers get a sense of trouble, that the director of the project is largely absent because he has to deal with police in the matter of his wife being found murdered. So, Aimee is left to her own devices which includes nosing into the relationships and back stories of several characters, some of whom readers of crime fiction will instantly recognize.

The story moves at a leisurely pace, punctuated in the early going by Aimee’s occasional explosions of ire at her uncooperative brother who lives in the same town and knew the deceased woman. Various characters some with ulterior motives, others like the gossipy volunteer library worker, move through the story, sometimes contributing little to the plot. Most of the characters are logically drawn if not particularly inspiring. But more and more as the plot deepens, we learn of multiple connections, motives and desires until plot threads inspire visions of a plate of spaghetti.

This novel is coherent, logical, well-put together and fulfills any reader’s expectation of a cozy-type mystery. It has a rousing climax with a satisfactory conclusion and I expect this author will enjoy success with a series of additional stories featuring Aimee Machado. I hope, in the process, she examines her sense of pace and quantity.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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A Chorus of InnocentsA Chorus of Innocents
A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #7
P.F. Chisolm
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0460-9
Hardcover

This reviewer is not a big fan of historical crime novels. There are, however, a few authors working in the genre who have deep understanding of the requirements of the genre, and who honor the strictures of whatever time period they choose to write about. That always includes being keenly aware of the technical, scientific and cultural circumstances and limitations of the period. This author is one such.

This novel, one of a series, involves the death of a churchman—a minister of the “new” meaning protestant—religion. It is a fine example of all of the above plus this is a cracking good story. When the churchman, Jamie Burn, is murdered and his wife, Poppy, raped, these events in the far north country along the English-Scottish border in 1592, set in motion turbulence that will disturb the court of Elizabeth I. Sir Robert Carey, a powerful courtier, is ranging across the border region, trying to maintain order and keep away from the married woman he desperately loves.

The novel is really the story of a woman, the Lady Elizabeth Widdrington, who takes on herself responsibility for pursuing and identifying the men who killed Poppy’s husband and raped her. This in spite of her awareness that her abusive husband will object to her activities. Lady Widdrington is a marvelous character, carefully developed, fully formed, emotionally consistent, who through adroit force of will and a keen sense of propriety, is able to manipulate and bend to her will, a number of the rude and brawling men who populate her world.

Chisholm’s style is tight, forward pressing, and she tries successfully to use the language of the time. That can be difficult at times. One of the “rules” of crime novel writing is to limit the number of characters in order, presumably, to make things comfortable for readers. Well, perhaps with her tongue firmly planted in cheek, this author has given readers three pages of characters and included as well some horses and dogs that played roles in the story.

I recommend the series, the writing is strong and excellent, the characters are compelling and interesting and the plot of this novel is thoughtfully and properly conceived and resolved.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Secondhand Murder by Lesley A. Diehl—and a Giveaway

A Secondhand Murder Tour Banner

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Title: A Secondhand Murder
Author: Lesley A. Diehl
Publisher: Camel Press
Publication Date: September 15, 2013
Genre: Cozy Mystery

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

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A Secondhand MurderA Secondhand Murder
An Eve Appel Mystery
Lesley A. Diehl
Camel Press, September 2013
ISBN 978-1-60381-935-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Spunky and outspoken Eve Appel moves from Connecticut to rural Florida intent on starting a new life, free of drama, and more importantly, her soon-to-be ex-husband. The rural Florida town of Sabal Bay, situated only an hour from West Palm, proves to be the perfect spot for her consignment store. Thanks to the recent economic downturn, Florida’s society matrons need a place to discreetly sell their stuff and pick up expensive-looking bargains. But Eve’s life, and her business with it, is turned upside down when a wealthy customer is found stabbed to death in a fitting room. As accusations fly and business slows, Eve decides to take things into her own hands. With the help of an unlikely bunch of friends-including her estranged ex, her best friend, a handsome private eye, and a charming mafia don-she struggles to find answers and save lives. Through a maze of distorted half-truths, dramatic cover-ups, and unrequited passions, Eve learns just how far the wealthy will go to regain what they have lost. A Secondhand Murder is Book 1 of the Eve Appel Mysteries Series.

Every reader needs a little fluff now and then—at least, I do—and A Secondhand Murder fills that need quite nicely. The combination of a small shop and wealthy customers works well and I particularly appreciated that author Lesley A. Diehl gets the action up and running on the very first page with a body on the dressing room floor.

Despite the fluffy effect, the mystery here, multiple mysteries actually, are well-drawn and it’s not until nearly the end that all the pieces begin to come together and make some sense. Besides murder, shop owner Eve has to cope with an obnoxious ex-husband, a mobster with questionable motives, and a private eye who may not be the real thing but the crowd manages to pull off some kind of silly sleuthing without too much damage to themselves or others (if you don’t count the klutziness of Eve’s partner, Madeleine).

Speaking of characters, I found myself not liking Eve a whole lot, mainly because she’s a bit too impulsive and reckless for my taste, and borders on the amateur sleuth who always has to be rescued. I also was a little annoyed by Grandy for being too much like a stereotypical grandmother who wants to matchmake but is oh-so-cute on her own. Other characters, though, hit me just right, especially a pair of cowboys and a charming mobster.

All in all, cozy fans will enjoy a pleasant few hours with A Secondhand Murder and then look forward to the next Eve Appel adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor. November 2013.

An Excerpt

It was still early so I strode back into the restaurant, indicated to the hostess I wanted a booth and ordered the breakfast buffet. Anger paired with disbelief gave me a hearty appetite. Returning to my booth after loading my plate with eggs, bacon, pancakes, pastries and a slice of toast, I noticed someone had joined me for breakfast. He was seated with his back to me as I approached the booth but I recognized the sun-streaked hair curling over his collar. My favorite PI. I almost dropped my plate.

“Hi.” I tried for nonchalant but sounded more like a hormone-addled teenager.

“Saw you come in. I guess you had an early morning chitchat with the local gendarmes.”

“To be continued this afternoon at the station.”

“Fingerprints?” He stirred a packet of sugar into his coffee.

“Nope.” The tingle in my tummy was more than simple hunger for food. I tried to satisfy it by stuffing a large forkful of pancake into my mouth. I nodded and swallowed. “Like anyone would be dumb enough to leave their prints.”

“Certainly, we know you’re smart.”

“I had no reason to kill Mrs. Sanders. That would be like killing the golden goose.”

“You didn’t like her very much, did you?”

I dropped my fork on the plate. “What do you mean? I hardly knew the woman.”

“So you say, but my sources indicate that’s not the whole story.” He stared at me. Last night I thought those azure eyes looked inviting. Now they looked more like ice. He smiled.

“You said you were investigating Mrs. Sanders. Sounds like you’re trying to nose into my affairs. Why?”

“Don’t get mad. I’m not accusing you of murder, you know.” He took a sip of coffee.

“I’m not mad.” I was a little miffed, peeved even, but not really mad. Okay, I was mad.

“Oh yes you are, and when you get angry, you stick your chin out and turn your head ever so slightly to the right. Your cheek twitches, probably from clenching your teeth. Did you know that?”

I had lost my appetite. I grabbed my purse and slid out of the booth. “I don’t recall inviting you to join me for breakfast. I just remembered I have an important appointment.”

“That would be …?” He also stood.

“That would be none of your business.”

I stalked out of the restaurant, then remembered as I approached my car that I had forgotten to pay my bill. Damn. Now I’d have to go back in there and face him again. I gritted my teeth, stuck out my chin and slammed through the door. He turned from the counter, credit card in hand.

“Don’t worry about it. I got it. Your treat next time.”

“There won’t be a next time.” I spun around and pushed open the door. By the time he reached his car, I was already starting my engine, wondering what the man knew about Mrs. Sanders and me.

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About the Author

Lesley A. DiehlLesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida–cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew.

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To enter the drawing for an ebook copy of
A Secondhand Murder by Lesley A. Diehl, leave
a comment below. The winning name will be
drawn Saturday evening, November 9th, and
the prize will be sent out at the end of the tour.

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Book Review: Murder by Syllabub by Kathleen Delaney—and a Giveaway

Murder by Syllabub Tour Banner

Title: Murder by Syllabub
Series: An Ellen McKenzie Mystery #5
Author: Kathleen Delaney
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Cozy Mystery

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Murder by SyllabubMurder by Syllabub
An Ellen McKenzie Mystery #5
Kathleen Delaney
Camel Press, July 2013
ISBN 978-1-60381-957-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A ghost in Colonial dress has been wreaking havoc at an old plantation house in Virginia. The house is owned by Elizabeth Smithwood, the best friend of Ellen McKenzie’s Aunt Mary. Mary is determined to fly to the rescue, and Ellen has no choice but to leave her real estate business and new husband to accompany her. Who else will keep the old girl out of trouble? When Ellen and Aunt Mary arrive, they find that Elizabeth’s “house” comprises three sprawling buildings containing all manner of secret entrances and passages, not to mention slave cabins. But who owns what and who owned whom? After Monty-the so-called ghost and stepson of Elizabeth’s dead husband-turns up dead in Elizabeth’s house, suspicion falls on her. Especially when the cause of death is a poisoned glass of syllabub taken from a batch of the sweet, creamy after-dinner drink sitting in Elizabeth’s refrigerator. Monty had enemies to spare. Why was he roaming the old house? What was he searching for? To find the truth, Ellen and her Aunt Mary will have to do much more than rummage through stacks of old crates; they will have to expose two hundred years of grudges and vendettas. The spirits they disturb are far deadlier than the one who brought them to Virginia.

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Different aspects of a book of fiction appeal to readers in varying degrees and a local setting is one that can really get me. When I found out that this entry in the Ellen McKenzie series—of which I was already a fan—is set in Colonial Williamsburg, I was immediately hooked. That lovely spot is right down the road from me, maybe an hour if I take the scenic route down Route 5 and I’ve been there many times. I’m a history junkie to start with and I feel privileged to live in a state where so much of the beginnings of our country took place.

The early plantations (many of which can be seen on the aforementioned Route 5) also appeal to me and, serendipitously, my daughter and I took a day trip just this past Saturday to tour one of them and drive around the grounds of several others. At one time or another in my lifetime, I’ve visited most of them  but I never get tired of them so I was delighted to find that a fictional plantation is a central character in Murder by Syllabub. The author does a terrific job of letting the reader “feel” this plantation, Smithwood, and I had no trouble picturing in my mind where everything was happening. I really enjoyed all the authentic historical touches the author includes, such as how baking was done “back then”, as well as contemporary activities like the preservation of rare breeds.

Murder by Syllabub is a mixture of several mystery subgenres. It teeters on the edge of being a locked room mystery, it mixes police procedural with amateur sleuthing, it includes shades of historical fiction, it has a cold case as well as a current murder. There’s a strong hint of racial tension but also racial acceptance. Many would categorize this book, and the rest of the series, as cozy but I don’t really think that fits. For one thing, there is the blending of amateur and police, but I also think the settings take them out of the cozy domain, especially this one because Ellen is not finding bodies in her own small town, there isn’t a lot of humor (although there are light touches) and she doesn’t run around doing stupid things. (Don’t get me wrong, I love cozies but I just don’t think this is one.) So, I call this a traditional mystery.

Ms. Delaney has incorporated lots of characters in her story and we get to know just enough about the non-regulars to realize that any one of them MIGHT be the killer.  I already am fond of Ellen, Dan and Aunt Mary but now I like some of these new folks and I hope Ellen will have a chance to see them again sometime in a future book. We also have a plethora of potential motives so it’s fair to say that red herrings are scattered around to make the reader have to do a bit of thinking, something I always appreciate. Does Cora Lee seem to be a little too defensive? Does Lt. McMann have a reason for dropping the search for Louis all those years ago? Is the shadow of slavery someone’s motive or could it be the desire to own property? Is a family name sacred enough to warrant murder or is this all about simple greed?

When things came to a head, I have to admit I was surprised. I had my suspicions but they were only partially right and, yet, the denouement made perfect sense. Once again, Ms. Delaney and Ellen have brought mystery readers a fine story. Oh, and you should try some syllabub ;-). Here’s a recipe from Ms. Delaney’s website—

http://www.kathleendelaney.net/recipes.php

Now, a little housekeeping: I did come across one historical error but I didn’t notice anything else being off. However, while other reviews of Murder by Syllabub have been really good, I have to take exception with the reviewers that think the historical period is the Civil War (Colonial Williamsburg is all about the period from the late 1600’s through much of the Revolutionary War) and I’ll point out that Colonial Williamsburg and Virginia are not in New England although that error is probably due to the reviewer’s own location. No doubt I take umbrage at these things because it’s my home state that’s involved 😉 but none of this takes away from the fact that reviewers, including me, are loving this book.

One last note: there is no reason to be afraid of starting the series with this book as you will have no need to know what has happened in previous books. This is a terrific part of the series but serves just as well as a standalone.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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An Excerpt from Murder by Syllabub

Mildred leaned back against the drain board, as if she needed it to prop her up. “Do you think he’ll be back?”

I set the dish on the drain board along with the other rinsed dishes. “You mean the murderer?”

Mildred nodded.

I’d wondered the same thing. “I think it was Monty prowling around upstairs, looking for something. Why he was dressed like that, I can’t imagine, but I don’t think he found whatever it was he was looking for. The only reason I can think of for both Monty and whoever slipped him the poison to be here is they were looking for the same thing. I don’t think they found it. So, yes, I think whoever it is will be back.”

Mildred nodded. “I think so, too. That crate was no accident.” She paused before going on, her voice filled with apprehension. “You know, McMann isn’t going to buy the mysterious prowler story. He’s going to take the easy way out. Elizabeth fed Monty the poison before she left for the airport and we’re protecting her.” She sighed deeply and turned to the dishwasher. “Might as well load this. Can you hand me that bowl?”

She opened the door, pulled out the top rack and froze. “How did that get in here?”

“What’s the matter? Oh no.”

We stood, frozen, staring at the immaculately clean crystal glass, sitting on the top rack in solitary splendor.

“That’s one of the old syllabub glasses.” Mildred turned around to look at the glasses on the hutch and returned her gaze to the dishwasher. She pulled the rack out all the way but the dishwasher was empty, except for the one glass.

I’d had a close enough look at the glass next to Monty to know this was from the same set. “It’s the missing syllabub glass.”

“Missing?” Mildred’s hand went out to touch it, but she quickly withdrew. “Where are the others? Cora Lee and I packed these away years ago. There were eight of them. How did this one get in here?”

“Noah didn’t tell you?”

“That boy only tells me what he wants me to know. What was it he should have told me?”

“The set of these glasses were on the sideboard in the dining room where Monty was killed. Six of them. One was beside Monty with the remains of a sticky drink in it. That made seven. One was missing. The one the murderer used.”

We stared at each other then back into the dishwasher. “That’s got to be the missing one, right there.” Mildred took a better look. “It’s clean. Someone’s trying to frame Elizabeth.”

About the Author

Kathleen Delaney with Books 2Kathleen Delaney has written four previous Ellen McKenzie Real Estate mysteries, but has never before transported her characters out of California. A number of years ago she visited Colonial Williamsburg and fell in love. Long fascinated with our country’s history, especially the formation years, she knew she wanted to set a story there. Another trip with her brother and sister-in-law solidified the idea that had been rolling around in her head but she needed more information. A phone call to the nice people at Colonial Williamsburg provided her with appointments to visit the kitchen at the Payton Randolph house, where she got her first lesson in hearth cooking and a meeting with the people who manage the almost extinct animal breeds the foundation is working to preserve. A number of books purchased at the wonderful bookstore at the visitor’s center gave her the additional information she needed and the story that was to become Murder by Syllabub came into being. Kathleen lived most of her life in California but now resides in Georgia. She is close to many historical sites, which she has eagerly visited, not only as research for this book but because the east is rich in monuments to the history of our country. Luckily, her grandchildren are more than willing to accompany her on their tours of exploration. You can find Kathleen on the Web at kathleendelaney.net and delaney.camelpress.com .

Catch Up With the Author:

  

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One lucky reader will win a print copy of
Murder by Syllabub
by Kathleen Delaney
and you have two chances to enter the
drawing. For the first entry, leave a comment
here . To have a second
entry, come back
tomorrow, September 24th, when Kathleen will
be guest blogging
and leave a comment there.
The winning name will be drawn
on the evening of
Thursday, September 26th. This drawing is open
to
residents of the US and Canada. 

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