Book Review: Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark

Fiction Can Be Murder
A Mystery Writer’s Mystery #1
Becky Clark
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5332-4
Trade Paperback

Mystery writer Charlemagne Russo is an up and coming, best selling author, who is having a bit of trouble with her agent, Melinda Walter. According to the agent, Charlee’s royalties are falling off, and no one seems to know why. Angry words pass between them. Then Melinda is murdered and the method used is the exact way Charlee’s latest fictional victim dies. Who is the easiest potential murder suspect for the police to glom onto? Why, Charlee, of course.

Afraid she’s going to be hauled in on a murder charge at any moment, Charlee frantically begins investigating on her own. Her interests center on her critique group, all of whom have read the manuscript and may have a reason to dislike Melinda, who is well known for her harsh rejections.

Now, in order to avoid any spoilers, I’m going to say Charlee is one of those TSTL heroines. The surprise at the end when the guilty person is unveiled is a good one, even if getting there was sometimes a bit torturous. And I’m afraid Charlee’s love interest just didn’t turn me on. Awkward!

That said, the writing is good, and the story is paced well, although Charlee’s investigative questions and the answers received became a bit repetitious. And since the story takes place in a Denver winter, I think Fiction Can Be Murder would make a good book for a hot weather beach read.

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

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Book Review: Beyond the Pale by Clare O’Donohue

Beyond the Pale
A World of Spies #1
Clare O’Donohue
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5650-9
Trade Paperback

Hollis Larsson is a tenured university professor married to her college sweetheart.  She has a comfortable middle-class life in Michigan and she is bored senseless. Her husband Finn is an internationally recognized expert in European literature. He enjoys interacting with his students and watching baseball more than spending time with his wife, who keeps trying to reignite his interest in her. When a former friend from her brief fling with the CIA shows up and asks them to go to Ireland to buy a rare manuscript to save the life of a U.S. agent, it seems just the break from monotony she’s been looking for. Her husband is not interested but eventually agrees to the trip with the understanding that the task is a fast and simple one and they will be home again after a long weekend. Oh, and Holly owes him big time.

Once in Ireland, equipped with a large amount of cash, Holly and Finn approach the store to make the purchase, only to find their designated contact has disappeared. They retreat to regroup and quickly discover that they are being followed by competing CIA and Interpol agents who plan to take the manuscript as quickly as it can be acquired, followed by an unfortunate accident for Holly and Finn. Their search for the manuscript while eluding the agents who all claim the others are part of a criminal gang takes them across much of the country with wonderful descriptions of the scenery and history. The verbal sniping between Holly and Finn that opened the book vanishes as their teamwork kicks into gear to keep them both alive.

O’Donohue’s previous books include five mysteries in the Someday Quilts series. This title is the first of a new spy series that will take occasional agents Holly and Finn around the world.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, May 2018.

Book Review: Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz

Treble at the Jam Fest
A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery #4
Leslie Budewitz
Midnight Ink, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5240-2
Trade Paperback

Jazz guitarist Gerry Martin, one of the headliners at the Jewel Bay, Montana, jazz festival, falls to his death from the rocks above the Jewel River. Local police call it an accident, that Martin slipped while out hiking, but Erin Murphy has her suspicions. Erin is manager of Murphy’s Mercantile, a general store in this food lovers’ town. There seems to be bad blood between Martin and Dave Barber, local musician who upstaged Martin in the concert on opening night. Newcomer Gabrielle Drake and her pushy stage mother also seem to have a problem with the headliner.

When Erin examines the crime scene, she notices a discarded coffee cup overlooked by the police, as well as the footprints left by the victim. Would Gerry Martin wear dress boots when setting out for a hike along rugged terrain? No, but he might if he was planning to meet someone.

Subplots and supporting characters surround Erin and her store—she hires a new salesperson, finally gets to meet her boyfriend’s best friend from childhood, and her mother has news of her own. Erin is more level -headed and believable than many of the protagonists in cozy mystery series, and Jewel Bay is a setting than carries the story along. Who wouldn’t like to visit a town with such a variety of restaurants, shops, and festivals, set in the natural beauty of Montana? Recipes are included, rhubarb fans will be especially pleased. This is the fourth book in the series, but it stands well on its own.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

Book Review: Judgment of Murder by C.S. Challinor

Judgment of Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #8
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5009-5
Trade paperback

For a mystery, this British entry into the field is so low key that I think even I might have a more exciting life. Scottish barrister Rex Graves’ old mentor, Lord Murgatroyd–also known as Judge Murder, has passed away. Phoebe, his daughter, thinks he may have been murdered, although the evidence is flimsy. An unlocked window? A not very valuable stamp album gone missing? None of it seems very convincing, but Rex travels from Edinburgh to Canterbury upon her invitation to see what he makes of the situation.

Not much, as it turns out. But he makes a few phone calls when he gets back to Edinburgh, and oddly enough, is put in danger by a man the judge had put in prison, but who has been released.

Meanwhile, a schoolgirl from the area has been kidnapped and is feared dead. It happened not far from the judge’s house, and is a subplot that runs through the story. Actually, it’s the most interesting part, as the characters in this story did not intrigue me, nor were they particularly sympathetic. The most interesting is Rex’s pal Alistair, who also has the most action. Turns out the judge’s daughter is a tippler and a would-be man eater, not that that sort of thing works on a man like Rex.

The dialogue seemed mundane to me, and old-fashioned in the extreme for people who carry mobile phones and drive a Jaguar, but it does get the job done. In the climax, all the ends are tied, the plot holes explained, and everyone gets their due.

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

Book Review: The Price of Vengeance by James R. Scarantino

The Price of Vengeance
A Denise Aragon Novel #3
James R. Scarantino
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5067-5
Trade Paperback

In this third book in the Denise Aragon series, the tough-as-nails Santa Fe police detective runs up against an unscrupulous United States Senator Sam Baca Valles. His family is being held hostage by Peter Cervantes, a contractor who blames the senator for the death of his two sons, by supporting political schemes.  Cervantes believes Valles is one of those people who make decisions other people pay for while he lives a comfortable life at a safe distance. Aragon had dinner with Cervantes and was overheard saying “take him out,” regarding the senator. She meant that Valles should be ousted in the next election, but that comment brought her to the attention of the FBI. The federal agents believe she is withholding information about Cervantes, and she is considered an accomplice to the kidnapping.

Aragon’s dislike of the senator goes back twenty years.  She knew Valles and his wife Patricia in college—Valles raped her friend who died shortly thereafter in a suspicious hiking accident. She has always blamed him for her death.

Valles, an opportunist who never misses a chance to make himself look good, has gathered a team around him to manipulate the kidnapping to fashion himself as a hero. He plans to rush to the house in an effort to save his family, only to be turned back. He considers having an FBI agent shoot him to add veracity to his effort, while leaving his wife and two sons to the kidnapper.

While Aragon is on another case, hunting for the killer of a Boy Scout, she discovers a meth lab, and she is seriously hurt while arresting the killers—she has no feeling in her legs. When she discovers that the FBI considers her a suspect in the Valles case, she starts her own investigation from her hospital bed.

The Santa Fe setting of this series is spectacular and is the perfect backdrop for the tough detective. Readers who enjoy a main character with nerves of steel and hidden depths, like J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas or Ann Cleeve’s Vera Stanhope, should meet up with Denise Aragon.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

Book Review: February Fever by Jess Lourey

February Fever
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #10
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4214-4
Trade Paperback

February Fever finds librarian Mira James’s sizzling relationship with her boyfriend Johnny Leeson in jeopardy when Johnny gets a month long internship across the country. Because Jess is not wild about flying she figures the relationship will be on hold until Mrs. Berns comes to the rescue by suggesting the two of them travel cross-country via train. Sounds like a good idea until it turns out the train is a Valentine special for singles to meet. And then the train gets stuck in a snow storm. Those two things would be bad enough, but this is after all Mira and the series is called Murder by Month so of course Mira once again has a murder happen in her vicinity and Mira being Mira  is soon investigating.

Things to like about this book are that the main characters, or at least those on the trip, stay true to form. Once again, Ms. Lourey delivers a book that while very funny in some places isn’t quite your typical cozy. The plot is interesting, and while snowbound trains are not exactly new to the mystery genre, the author does it very well.

There are a couple of things about the series as a whole that rub me wrong. I hate the near slap stick comedy routines that show up throughout the series. In this book  Mira agrees to dance with a guy once, only one dance, but then trips and face plants into his crotch. This and things like it just add too much silliness to a book that doesn’t need it for laughs and in my opinion takes away from the good writing.

The other thing that I definitely did not like, nor I imagine will other readers who follow this series,

 

(semi spoiler alert)

is that the author kills off one of the regular characters. I don’t want to spoil the book for readers, so I won’t say who or how, but this was a shocking development.

(end spoiler)

 

This is the tenth book in the series with March and April to go to finish the year of murders. Since this book came out in 2015, I’m not sure the series will wrap up or not. I hope so. In spite of a few quibbles, I enjoy visiting with Mira and the other characters.

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

Book Review: Death and the Gravedigger’s Angel by Loretta Ross

Death and The Gravedigger’s Angel
An Auction Block Mystery #3
Loretta Ross
Midnight Ink, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5041-5
Trade Paperback

This is a wonderful, amusing and emotionally fraught novel. Like most of us, the characters are quirky, odd, some with skewed views of their world. When murder visits their community, their reactions are often unpredictable.

Start with the lead protagonist, a private detective in the community of East Bledsoe Ferry, Missouri. His name is Death Bogart. Yes, he of the title line for this series. His brother, a paramedic, is Randy. Death’s girl friend is Wren Morgan who is employed by a local auction house.

Immediately, readers will understand that the names of the characters play almost as important roles in the narrative as do the humans to which the individuals are attached. The dialogue ranges from testy to heartfelt and at times, sarcastic, but always appropriate. Readers will quickly become familiar with the connections between the characters.

Wren Morgan is an auctioneer. Part of her job entails cataloging and organizing estates contracted for sale by her employer. She’s anxious to start work at the late nineteenth century and long abandoned Hadleigh estate. Her work is delayed because the body of a man clad in a stolen Civil War uniform has been discovered on the property. Death Bogart gets involved when he’s asked to investigate the circumstances of the murder. Then things get complicated.

There are other elements that further complicate Wren’s and Death’s life. One is the leader of an out-of-ordinary religious cult who often argues with biblical references. The pastor doesn’t actually quote the bible, he quotes the book, chapter and verse. In one hilarious scene, Wren’s brother looks up the barked references and relays them verbally to his sister.

Ultimately the crimes are solved but not before a terrifying experience menaces Wren and Death solves the case of the mysterious dancing can. A most enjoyable reading experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.