Book Review: Murder at the Bus Depot by Judy Alter and Lethal in Old Lace by Duffy Brown

Murder at the Bus Depot
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #4
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9990371-5-7
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Is the depot a symbol of the worst episode in a town’s history or does it stand for revitalization, bringing the citizens of Wheeler together with pride in their community?

Kate Chamber’s trouble antenna goes up when Dallas developer Silas Fletcher decides to help “grow” Wheeler. She and her brother-in-law, Mayor Tom Bryson, have less spectacular and drastic ideas for revitalizing the town. When Old Man Jackson dies in an automobile accident, the specter of the past comes back to haunt the town. Thirty years ago, Jackson’s daughter, Sallie, was murdered at the bus depot. The murder is still unsolved.

Kate and Silas clash over almost everything, from the future use of the abandoned depot to a fall festival celebrating Wheeler. Another murder at the depot blows the town apart, and Kate know she must do something to solve the murders and save her town, let alone the festival she’s planning.

One of the things I like about this series is that each book, while clearly part of a series, is pretty well self-contained and can be read as a standalone. The author provides enough backstory so the reader has an understanding of earlier episodes but not so much that spoilers ruin the previous stories.

Kate and her fellow Wheeler citizens feel like old friends and the town itself reminds me of so many small towns dotted here and there, especially those that are suffering from a failing economy. Some of the local businesses are about ready to move while other townsfolk are always ready to talk about what might be done to bring in tourists and, thus, at least moderate cash infusion. When a developer comes to town with big ideas, Kate feels compelled to preserve the old bus depot where an unsolved murder occurred years ago but she certainly wasn’t prepared for a new killing.

Kate is a thoughtful woman, by which I mean she doesn’t go rushing willy-nilly into dangerous situations but thinks things through. The town of Wheeler has become her home and she’s intent on protecting it, a cause I can appreciate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Lethal in Old Lace
The Consignment Shop Mysteries #5
Duffy Brown
Crooked Lane Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-535-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

There are two social functions in Savannah guaranteed to get people talking: weddings and funerals. And just as consignment shop owner Reagan Summerside agrees to marry the hunky Walker Boone, her neighbors, sisters Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbot, step up their business as professional mourners. They are so successful that the Sleepy Pines Retirement Center has hired them as a part of their retirement package. But the celebration over good business is cut short when the residents at Pines suddenly begin dying at an alarming rate. And the sisters are the first suspects.

Reagan has her doubts, however, and begins to look into the strange phenomenon. But then something even stranger happens: a body winds up in the sisters’ pink Caddy. The evidence begins to pile up and the suspicious case of Willie Fishbine, who swindled the sisters out of a fortune and coincidentally died prior to the Pines case, is reopened.

Not wanting Willie to be buried until they can find the killer responsible for the murders, Reagan must catch the culprit in time to walk down the aisle.

There’s no place better than Savannah for a consignment shop and the city has the extra attraction of feeling like a small town in the sense that everyone knows who’s who and what’s what. It’s no surprise that shopkeeper Reagan would get involved when Annie and Elsie are suspected of doing away with some of the senior citizens at Sleepy Pines to beef up their most unusual business. With the help of her cohorts, particularly Aunt Kiki and Reagan’s mom, Judge Gloria, the race is on to prove the sisters’ innocence and still get Reagan to the church on time, so to speak.

Once again, humor fills the pages of Reagan’s latest escapade and the case is as wacky as they come. I do recommend a reader new to the series start with the first one and be prepared to be totally charmed by this Southern fiction with a mysterious flair 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Book Review: Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed by John Keyse-Walker

Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed
Teddy Creque Mysteries #2
John Keyse-Walker
Minotaur Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14847-6
Hardcover

Constable Teddy Creque returns in Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed, the second book in a series set in the British Virgin Islands. The setting of these books alone makes them worth reading in the Winter. This time, readers get to go with Teddy to Virgin Gorda.

With a beach covered with fine white sand and clear aqua blue water, the section of the island known as The Baths is beautiful. Tourists with cash in hand flock to Virgin Gorda because of the beautiful beaches, so the last thing the island needs is a shark attack. But Constable Creque has been assigned to deal with just that thing. The trunk of a woman’s body has washed up onto the beach. Teddy’s assignment is to find the shark responsible and kill it.  With a multitude of people watching, Teddy goes out to track sharks and find the one responsible. A shark is caught and killed and when cut open, a human hand rolls out of its belly. But soon Teddy begins to suspect that it was not the shark that caused the woman’s death.  As one would expect, not everyone is happy to see Teddy nosing around.

Constable Creque has grown into his role since the first book in the series, Sand, Sun, Murder.  While he seems to have an innate ability for solving crimes, his methods are a bit unorthodox at times. Since his first case when he was nearly killed, Teddy has learned a bit more of what is expected of a good officer including how to get along with his bosses. Still, situations come up that are not in any manual and can’t fit into standard policing. Such is the case with this murder when Teddy’s only apparent witness is a young child who is mute. Again, Teddy figures out a way to work through the problem.

This book is, in my opinion, a much better book than the first book in the series.  The protagonist has grown into his job a bit more. The plot is well done leaving a trail of clues without giving too much away for readers to puzzle over. The entire book just seems to fit together better.

One of the best things in the first book that continues in this book is the excellent descriptions of the various places. Reading this during a bleak week of raw weather, it was a bit like taking a breezy warm vacation to the islands. If you are feeling a bit beaten down by the winter that won’t give up, let me suggest a quick trip to the British Virgin Islands.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, March 2018.

Book Review: The Rat Catchers’ Olympics by Colin Cotterill

The Rat Catchers’ Olympics
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery #12
Colin Cotterill

Soho Crime, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-825-1
Hardcover

First of all, I’ve got to admit I’m horribly musophobic, so the mere title of the book put me off. Then there is the cover. A lurid graphic of a black rat caught in a red fist. What the title had going for it was the word “Olympics” considering the opening ceremony to the winter Olympics in South Korea was, as I write this, only a couple days ago.

Okay, so the Olympics referred to in the book are the Moscow Summer Olympics of 1980, but . . .

Anyway, I delved into the book whose cover led me not to expect much. Boy, was I ever wrong. Only a few pages in I was already in love with the characters, a group of very political Laotians. Old folks, for the most part, including the ex-national coroner of Laos, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his wife Madame Daeng. What a couple, both still filled with youthful exuberance.

In a nutshell, Siri has been invited to head up the Laotian contingent of athletics invited to the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow, Russia, and, in between spurring on some national pride, investigate a nebulous plot to blow someone up. He, nor any of the Laotians, whether the support group or the athletes, give a hoot that the only reason they’ve been invited to Russia is because so many of the competitive countries are boycotting the games. None of them expect to win anything. Just participating is honor enough.

In what could’ve turned into either slapstick humor–the story is written with spot-on timing for the many humorous parts–or centered on the sad history of Laos, with its poverty and political upheaval, the plot is a perfect blend of both. Each is treated with respect for the diverse characters, every single one who is capable of surprising you.

A murder mystery? Well, yes, that’s in the plot, too, but sort of faded into the background on the strength of Cotterill’s characters. As for the rat catchers in the title? They do play their parts and amusing as it is, I’m still musophobic. Even a story this good isn’t going to change that.

Rat Catchers’ Olympics has been added to my Best Books read in 2018 list. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Zombie Abbey by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Zombie Abbey
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Entangled Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63375-911-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

1920, England

And the three teenage Clarke sisters thought what they’d wear to dinner was their biggest problem…

Lady Kate, the entitled eldest.

Lady Grace, lost in the middle and wishing she were braver.

Lady Lizzy, so endlessly sunny, it’s easy to underestimate her.

Then there’s Will Harvey, the proud, to-die-for—and possibly die with!—stable boy; Daniel Murray, the resourceful second footman with a secret; Raymond Allen, the unfortunate-looking young duke; and Fanny Rogers, the unsinkable kitchen maid.

Upstairs! Downstairs! Toss in some farmers and villagers!

None of them ever expected to work together for any reason.

But none of them had ever seen anything like this.

There are zombies and then there are zombies, you know? To put it in TV perspective, you can watch The Walking Dead if you like the serious sort,  Z Nation for pure camp or iZombie if you’re looking for smile-worthy unadulterated fun. Or, hey, go for all three!

Zombie Abbey falls squarely into the fun category although it takes a while to get there. I thought the first half or so was more like an oldfashioned comedy of manners but with a plethora of characters I had to get to know as well as possible. As an historical novel set at an English manor on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, it reminded me a lot of the Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs stories which are very appealing to me. In fact, I almost expected an Agatha Christie kind of mystery to evolve.

The introduction of the zombie factor had its amusing moments, especially in the stereotypical ability of the British high society to live in denial, unable to fully comprehend the possibility of such a thing upsetting the routine. Each of the many primary characters has a part to play and I most appreciated the three sisters (although Lady Kate is not exactly likeable) and Fanny, the maid with attitude.

Zombie Abbey won’t be for all readers but I enjoyed it, largely because I’m a zombie fan 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // Entangled Publishing

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An Excerpt from Zombie Abbey

Dr. Webb was lurching toward the church out of the mist, something terribly off about his halting gait. More specifically, he was lurching toward Mr. Young.

“Are you all right, Dr. Webb?” Mr. Young called, the former joy in his voice replaced now with concern for the other man.

“Merry!” Lady Grace called out a warning. “Don’t go any farther!”

“But can’t you all see?” Mr. Young said, still walking forward. “Poor Dr. Webb is sick.”

Yes, Dr. Webb was sick. His clothing and general appearance were all disheveled. And he smelled bad, too, the duke realized, as a rotting stench made its way to his nostrils, which flared in response. Why, the smell was similar to that which had enveloped the dead valet, his dead valet, yesterday. Perhaps Dr. Webb had acquired the wretched smell while tending to some poor person in the village?

Dr. Webb still lurched, his arms spreading out now as Mr. Young approached.

“Merry, please!” Lady Grace cried. Then she moved to step forward herself, no doubt to try to stop Mr. Young, but Benedict Clarke held her back, catching her with one arm around the waist.

And now Mr. Young was opening his arms wide, too, as though to warmly greet the returning doctor, but when their bodies met and the doctor embraced him, he immediately began to chew on the closest part of Mr. Young’s body that was available to him, which, in this case, happened to be his upper arm.

The duke watched, frozen in horror as no doubt the others were, too, as the doctor chewed through Mr. Young’s jacket and shirt, straight down to the flesh beneath. It might have been almost comical, were it not so downright horrifying.

Among the things you never expect to see in life: one human being attempting to feed on another like an animal.

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About the Author

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of over 30 books for adults (Vertigo), teens (The Twin’s Daughter) and children (The Sisters 8 series which she created with her husband and daughter). She’d love to dress up in period costume from the 1920s but she’d be a lot less excited about meeting zombies. Lauren lives in Danbury, CT, with her husband and daughter and cat, all of whom are writers (well, maybe not the cat).

Author Links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Giveaway
Signed copy

Enter here.

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Book Reviews: IQ by Joe Ide and Righteous by Joe Ide

IQ
An IQ Novel #1
Joe Ide
Mulholland, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6773-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  East Long Beach.  The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate.  Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered.  But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.  A high school dropout, Isaiah Quintabe has an unassuming nature that disguises a ferocious intelligence.  Most people call him IQ.  Word has gotten around:  If you’ve got a problem, Isaiah will take care of it, his rates adjustable to your income or lack thereof.  Because of his unconventional business model, cash is getting tight for Isaiah, forcing him to take on the case of a rap mogul whose life is in danger.  The list of suspects includes a socially inept marksman who never misses, a crew of hangers-on that conceals that one man with a dangerous agenda, and an attack dog the size of a horse.  IQ finds his investigation encompassing much more than he bargained for.  No one expects a kid from East Long Beach to have what Isaiah’s packing – – a blistering intellect, an incredible sense of percepti9on, and some serious skills behind the wheel.  It all adds up to one major advantage:  When you come from nothing, nobody sees you coming.

 

This is the first in a very original new series from Joe Ide, an author of Japanese-American descent, who has created an even more original protagonist in IQ, in a book which won the Macavity Award for best first novel.

The year is 2013.  In the opening pages, we meet Isaiah, an unlicensed detective described as six feet tall and rail thin, his roommate, Juanell Dodson, 17, who has been sharing IQ’s apartment since the death of the latter’s beloved brother, Marcus, 25 years old, in a hit-and-run incident in 2005 which completely devastated IQ. We also meet Juanell’s sometime girlfriend, an innocent teenage girl named Deronda. We are told that IQ had more work than he could handle but not many who could pay him.   A client who could “pay his per diem gave him enough income to support himself” but often the only compensation given him would be “with a sweet potato pie or cleaning his yard or one brand-new radial tire if they paid him at all.”  In one instance payment came in the form of a chicken named Alejandro.  After his brother’s death IQ dropped out of school and quit the academic decathlon team he was on.

IQ likes rap because “music without words let him fill his head with images of his own making or no images at all.”  Juanell brings IQ a new case, if they can split the fee, the client being one Calvin Wright, a rapper known as Black the Knife. Juanell tells IQ “you lucky you got skills, son, ‘cause if you had to survive on your personality you’d be working at the morgue with dead people.”  But the team does just fine.

The author creates some fascinating characters here, primarily of course IQ, and a book that won’t soon be forgotten.  One of the many glowing reviews of this book [from fellow author Ben Winters] ended with the words “you’ll be as excited as I am for a sequel.”  I couldn’t, and can’t, disagree, and when that sequel was published, less than a month ago, I read it as soon as I could, the result of which can be found in the review which will be written as soon as this one concludes – it’s every bit as excellent as is this debut novel and, like this one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

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Righteous
An IQ Novel #2
Joe Ide
Mulholland Books, October 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6777-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Ten years ago, when Isaiah Quintabe was just a boy, his beloved brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The unsolved crime has gnawed at his gut and kept him up nights, boiling with anger and thoughts of revenge.  The search for the killer sent him plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life.  Now, Isaiah has a flourishing career, a new dog, and a near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown of East Long Beach, but a chance encounter reopens a wound that never fully healed.  He has to begin the hunt again – – or lose his mind.  A case takes him and his skeptical don’t-call-me-a-sidekick partner, Dodson, to Vegas, where Chinese gangsters and a terrifying seven-foot loan shark are stalking a beautiful DJ and her deadbeat boyfriend.  If Isaiah doesn’t find the couple first, they’ll be murdered.  Awaiting the outcome is the love of IQ’s life:  fail, and he’ll lose her.  Isaiah’s quest is fraught with treachery, menace, and startling twists, leading to the mastermind behind his brother’s death, Isaiah’s own sinister Moriarty.  Rich with action, suspense, and ingenious surprises, Righteous confirms Joe Ide as one of crime fiction’s most exciting new voices.

 

To say that Marcus was “the best person in the world” is only an understatement to Isaiah.  He’d never gotten over his brother’s death, which haunts him more each day, and he is determined to track down the person responsible.  Everything that follows in this second book in the series stems from that.  And this book is everything that the initial book led the reader to expect from this author.  And the more he discovers leads him to only one conclusion:  “This was no accident.  This was a hit.”

Chapter One introduces Janine Van, a young Asian woman working as a DJ, whose name as a DJ is Dama, so chosen because “it was different and the Chinese word for weed.”  Only 21 years old, she gets paid $750 a set, and plays 2 sets a week, but the gambling she does in her hometown of Vegas eats up her paychecks very ably. Now she and her boyfriend Benny are deeply in debt; the 20% vig has now raised that debt to $9,000, $1400 for the vig alone.  She loved Benny, but he was a lousy gambler, “More than half the debt was his.”  The loan shark is getting very impatient for his money, Janine and Benny were living out of a seedy motel room, “a dump to begin with,” and the collector, a man named Balthazar, was seven feet tall, from Saskatchewan, “right across the border from Montana.”  Their reaction to the unpaid debt is to dump Benny in a 360 acre, 200 foot deep landfill, threatening to give the same punishment to Janine if the debt isn’t paid by the end of the week.

The author has a new assortment of fascinating characters to whom his readers are introduced in this book, including Sarita, a young woman who had been Marcus’ girlfriend “back when Isaiah was in high school, and he’d always had a crush on her.”   The bad guys in this series entry are pretty frightening, and there’s a great deal of violence and gunplay, reader be warned.  But the tale is brilliantly told, Isaiah a fascinating protagonist.  Can’t wait for the next in the series!  And this entry, as was the first one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A.L. Herbert

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles
A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery #1
A.L. Herbert
Kensington, January 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0502-0
Mass Market Paperback

Murder With Fried Chicken and Waffles was first released in 2015, but has been re-released this year in mass paperback form. I don’t know how I missed this book the first time around but I am glad I caught it now. The author, A.L. Herbert, has given readers a  mystery with a likable protagonist in Mahalia Watkins.

Halia, as she’s known to her friends, took a chance and opened an upscale restaurant serving soul food  in Prince George’s County Maryland. Being a life long resident of the county she wanted folks to be able to go out for a nice meal without having to drive into Washington. By all appearances, her gamble has paid off. Mahalia’s Sweet Tea is packed most days for both lunch and dinner. They come for the fried chicken and waffles, macaroni and cheese, corn casserole and airy light biscuits and stay for the banana pudding and red velvet cake. The fly in the ointment was that Mahalia had to borrow some money from one smooth talking Marcus Rand to open her restaurant. This leaves her at his beckoned call. So when Marcus comes by asking for special dinner items for his guests, no matter how inconvenient she feels she must oblige.

If only the special menu items were the only problems Marcus brought down on Mahalia’s Sweet Tea.  But sadly it isn’t. That fast talking smooth operator ended up dead on the kitchen floor of the restaurant apparently clunked on the head by one of Mahalia’s heavy duty cast iron skillets. If the body is found in the restaurant, the restaurant might be closed for days as a crime scene. And the customers! Would people still come to a place where a person was found murdered? On impulse, Mahalia and her cousin Wavonne lug the body outside and down the alley to behind the bookstore. Problem solved right? Wrong. From there the story takes off with plenty of twists and turns until Mahalia figures out who killed Marcus.

There are plenty of reasons to love this book. The protagonist, her cousin and mother are all very likable, well defined characters. The three of them make up a household that will resonate with some readers. In some families, adult children live with an aged parent to help out and for everyone to save money.  Mahalia is a strong, ambitious African American – a character mostly missing from the cozy genre. She runs a highly successful business but she hasn’t forgotten where she came from. She employs her less than reliable cousin Wavonne to help keep her on the straight and narrow. She chose to put her restaurant in her home community so the town could have something nice. Mahalia is a person of character.

The mystery – who killed Marcus, takes some interesting turns. Mahalia is perhaps a bit more vested in finding the killer than some because Wavonne acts impulsively and ends up as a suspect so Mahalia is trying to solve the case to get Wavonne off the hook. If I have any quibble at all with the book, it is that the author didn’t really give readers ample clues to solve the murder completely, but the end solution does make sense.

Cozies are often set around food establishments, but this is the first that I am aware of with soul food as the focus. I have to say, as a bit of a foodie, my mouth was watering reading the descriptions of the food. There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book. I hadn’t even finished reading the book when I tried out the cornbread recipe and it is melt in your mouth good. The fried chicken has a surprising ingredient and the banana pudding has a different twist to it from what I have made before. Both are on my try list in the near future.

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles is a wonderful start to a series. I know there is a second book already out, and I hope there are many more to follow.

I received this book from the publisher for review.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, February 2018.

Book Review: Murder and Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction by Amy Metz

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