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.

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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.

Book Review: Pressed to Death by Kirsten Weiss

Pressed to Death
A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery #2
Kirsten Weiss
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5031-6
Trade Paperback

Maddie Kosloski, the owner of the paranormal museum, displays items with a history, usually a bloody history, in her small shop that also sell ouija boards, spooky T-shirts, and other touristy stuff. Oddly enough, she seems to make a living at it, even as she participates in the celebrations and festivals in the California wine country where she lives. As this story opens, she is being accused of stealing an antique grape press–reportedly haunted–from a local winery. Thankfully, she has a receipt signed by the winery owner’s wife, but that doesn’t stop Detective Laurel Hammer’s accusations. Only because the Halloween/autumn festival is in the offing does Maddie escape arrest. Unfortunately, as she’s setting up the display for her paranormal museum, she stumbles upon the body of–who else–the man who owned the wine press.

Trouble, as you might expect, ensues.

Somehow, the Ladies Aid Society, a lively bunch of do-gooders with a lot of influence in the community, persuade Maddie to investigate the death, which of course, turns out to be murder. At the Ladies Aid forefront is Maddie’s own mother.

Maddie’s poking and prying manages to stir up a hornet’s nest, some of which puts her in a peck of trouble, not to mention danger. It takes a lot of help from her friends to put this haunting to rest. Worse, as Maddie’s investigation winds down, she discovers why the wine press is haunted. Should she tell? Because once revealed, an unhaunted wine press isn’t much of a draw to her museum.

I wouldn’t say as this is a strong mystery, but the writing is good, the characters are engaging, the setting is warm and friendly (hauntings aside) and the story, with all it’s twists and turns, has a really good cat character.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: A Cold Day in Hell by Lissa Marie Redmond

A Cold Day in Hell
A Cold Case Investigation #1
Lissa Marie Redmond
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5410-9
Trade Paperback

A Cold Day in Hell (A Cold Case Investigation) is the first book in a planned series by Lissa Marie Redmond, a retired Buffalo, New York, homicide detective. Lauren Riley is a well-known homicide cold case detective on the Buffalo, New York, police force. She also holds a private investigator’s license. Her absolute least favorite defense attorney asks her to help him in her capacity as a PI to defend his 18-year-old godson against murder charges. She loathes the attorney but agrees to help the youthful defendant after meeting him. She juggles her responsibilities as a cold case investigator with running down leads to help build an alternative theory of the murder.

The arresting officer turns out to be a former flame who still feels free to use his fists on Lauren. When that doesn’t deter her from helping the recent high school graduate, he begins to follow her outside working hours. His anger increases when he learns that Lauren is seeing her second husband again. That she did not file assault charges against this man when he hit her made me question the characterization of Lauren. It seems inconsistent with the idea of a take-charge, no-nonsense police detective.

This story has solid pacing and a detailed plot that comes together nicely in a surprise ending. The courtroom scenes are tense with good dialog. I have a hard time, however, believing that any police force would allow one of its staff to also act as a private investigator. This seems to me to be a significant conflict of interest. This potential conflict was addressed in the book two or three times by Lauren’s superiors who said they saw no issue with her choice of moonlighting careers, although Lauren herself wonders if she has damaged working relationships by taking on a role that is by definition in opposition to the police force. No question but what the answer is yes.

A lot of readers will enjoy this book with its mix of police procedure and deep involvement with the lead character’s personal life. There are enough irregularities with the portrayal of the protagonist, though, to make me doubt that I will look for the next title in the series.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, January 2018.

Book Review: Pre-Meditated Murder by Tracy Weber

Pre-Meditated Murder
A Downward Dog Mystery #5
Tracy Weber
Midnight Ink, January 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5068-2
Trade Paperback

Kate Davidson and her trusty canine companion Bella return in Pre-Meditated Murder. As the book opens, Kate and her boyfriend are celebrating Kate’s birthday at the fancy restaurant atop the Seattle Space Needle. SkyCity was the perfect place for what Kate assumed was going to be a moment of her lifetime. After avoiding any thought of “commitment, marriage or children,” Kate is ready.  She is sure tonight is the night that Michael is going to pop the big question and Kate is ready to say yes. In fact, she can hardly wait to say yes. They are at the restaurant, he pulls out her gift, she opens it and-it’s a necklace. Stunned for sure, but her evening is going to get much worse.

Michael professes his love for Kate, but then proceeds to tell her that he can’t marry her, at least not yet because there is this little detail he has failed to mention before. He is already married, wants a divorce but Gabriella won’t budge without a big pay out.

Kate and Michael decide to go to Oregon to try to talk Gabriella into giving Michael the divorce. I was right with the book up until this point but then  things get a little strange even for a “cozy” mystery series. They take Bella with them, BUT, here is where it goes a little wonky for me. Kate’s best friend Rene, her husband, their twins and their dogs also make the trip. Really?

Skipping ahead and overlooking that fact that entirely too many people have made the trip, Kate and Michael meet with Gabriella and the meeting goes poorly. The next day, things take an even worse turn when Kate and Bella are out for a walk and Bella digs up Gabriella’s body. Things get worse still when the police turn up at Michael’s sister’s house and Michael has no alibi for the time of the death.  Obviously Michael is suspect number one on the police’s list. In keeping with the cozy mystery genre, Kate then  jumps in to solve the crime and clear Michael. What Kate uncovers surprises her and changes how she thinks of Michael.

From there the book takes a few interesting twists which might well push it off the “cozy” shelf for subject matter.

The book gives readers a chance to learn more of Michael’s background while certainly wondering what is next for Kate and Michael.

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

Book Review: Salem’s Cipher by Jess Lourey

Salem’s Cipher
A Salem’s Cipher Mystery #1
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-4969-3
Trade Paperback

Here’s a beauty and a brawn novel with a twist⏤they’re both women. Best friends from childhood, Salem Wiley is a well-known genius at codebreaking, and Bel Odegaard is an FBI agent with special abilities. Bel is both the beauty and the brawn. Salem is an overweight woman of Persian heritage  who hardly ever leaves her house. Besides being best friends, the two have another bond. Their mothers belong to a secret society determined to bring down a worldwide conspiracy group known as “the Heritage,” one of whose main aims is to keep women always in secondary positions of power. Right now, the Heritage plans on assassinating presidential candidate Senator Gina Hayes, who, on the cusp of the election, is already considered the winner.

This is a convoluted story supposedly hundreds of years in the making, with an unbreakable code floating around that leads to a treasure of jewels and money and wonderful artifacts. The discovery would break the Heritage if found by outsiders. Alternatively, it would fill their coffers if they found it first. Salem provides the key.

The first scene depicts the murder of one of the young women’s mothers, and the capture of the other. Salem and Bel are the next targets. As Salem and Bel crisscross the country,they find some wonderful allies, some horrendous villains, and some who might be either.

The characters here are well-drawn and interesting. The dialogue is good and draws the story forward. The plot moves quickly from one catastrophe to another, and even though  at 460 pages it’s a fairly long book, you’re never going to be bored by repetition or a slowing of the action. An excellent thriller all around.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Reviews: The Final Vow by Amanda Flower and Sip by Brian Allen Carr

The Final Vow
A Living History Museum Mystery #3
Amanda Flower
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4592-3
Trade Paperback

A hugely important wedding is taking place at the Barton Farm Living History Museum. Museum director Kelsey Cambridge is in charge of corroborating with the wedding planner to make sure everything goes smoothly. Tough times. Not only are they contending with a supreme bridezilla, but the wedding planner gets thrown from the church steeple.

Turns out Vianna Pine was not only rather unpleasant, but was almost as demanding as her clients. Not only that, she’d just found out she was the real heiress to the Barton Farm property and people are running scared. Plenty motive for murder.

Meanwhile, Kelsey is under time restraints to have the murder solved before the wedding and so, predictably, she takes a hand in the investigation. The catch? Her ex-husband is the bridezilla’s groom.

I admit I found myself annoyed with Kelsey. For a character supposedly in charge of a project like the living history museum, I thought she lacked backbone. I’d like to have seen her much stronger and more decisive. A great many of her employees, to whom she was so loyal, were thoroughly unpleasant. And the motive for the murder seemed too light. The chemistry between Kelsey and her boyfriend Chase was almost non-existent, seemingly thrown in because she needs a romantic interest.

Even so, the book moves along at a lively pace, and is clean fun read for a summer evening.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sip
Brian Allen Carr
Soho Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-827-5
Hardcover

What a premise! Mr. Carr has an extraordinarily creative mind to have come up with the idea of people who get high by drinking their own shadow. A sort of disease afflicting one child quickly took over the world, with only small pockets of non-addicted people. Soon, certain factions moved into domes and shut the addicts out. Trains began running in circles⏤I’ve got to admit I never did figure out the purpose of this⏤and folks began cutting off limbs and drinking the shadows these arms and legs made. Violence, destruction, and death became commonplace. And apparently nobody cared.

Except Mira, whose shadow has been stolen, and is friends with Murk, who is an addict, and they are joined by Bale, a “domer” who was thrown off a train to die because he wasn’t murderous enough. Together, they go on a quest to discover a cure to the shadow addiction, but there’s a time problem. They have to find it before the return of Halley’s Comet in just a few days.

What did I think of this story? To tell the truth, I’m not quite sure. I keep asking myself why? Why would anybody do the things they do, or think the things they think. But then I turn on the news or read a paper and it all becomes almost logical.

The characters in this story are strong personalities, each and every one. The dialogue is sharp, the frequent obscenities seeming normal in context. There are twists and turns and puzzles at every point, so you don’t dare miss a word. And the end makes sense. Don’t expect this novel to give you the warm fuzzies, by any means. But be assured this is a book that will make you think, and that you won’t forget⏤ever.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.