Book Review: Presumed Puzzled by Parnell Hall

Presumed Puzzled
A Puzzle Lady Mystery #17
Parnell Hall
Minotaur Books, January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-2500-6123-2
Hardcover

The Puzzle Lady novels are meant to be cute, and this one has some light moments, but since the lady in question ends up tried for murder it turns out to be anything but.  Actually, there are two courtroom scenes. First, the wife of the murder victim is initially charged with the crime, but halfway through the trial those charges are dismissed when a witness for the prosecution provides an alibi for her and another implicates Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady.

It seems Cora was having an affair with the murdered man, and the irony is that she is employed by the wife’s attorney to find him after the wife reports him missing when he doesn’t come home from work.  And, to add insult to injury, Cora accompanies the Police Chief to his home only to discover him lying on the floor, having bled to death, and his wife covered with blood holding a butcher knife.

A series of clues appear to indicate Cora is guilty, and the courtroom drama plays out until she unravels the mystery by testifying for the prosecution in her own trial in typical Puzzle Lady fashion. While events throughout both trials are dramatic and push the story forward, it is unlikely that such occurrences could possibly take place in a real trial.  Of course, there is always a last minute fact or witness that occasionally pop up in real life, but hardly to the extent that this plot requires.  Other than this objection, the Puzzle Lady mysteries are always cute and fun, and so is this novel.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2017.

Book Review: A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen

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Book Reviews: Badlands by C.J. Box and Murder on the Quai by Cara Black

badlandsBadlands
C.J. Box
Minotaur Books, , August 2016
ISBN 978-1-3125-4690-8
Mass MarketPaperback

When the art of fracking created an oil boom in North Dakota, it also gave rise to all sorts of complications from housing shortages to drug crime.  What was before a sleepy little town, now arose a bustling area where the sheriff’s staff grew like topsy to keep pace.  The latest addition is Cassie Dewell, hired as chief investigator from her old job in Montana where she became obsessed with the so-called Lizard King, a trucker who preyed and killed prostitutes plying truck stops from coast to coast.

In fact, that’s how we are introduced to Cassie, as she travels to North Carolina to participate in an interrogation of a person suspected of being the perpetrator just before she assumes her new duties.  When she arrives in Bakken County, ND, the sheriff confides in Cassie his suspicion that all is not well in the department, and asks her to undertake an investigation by herself without telling her why.  Meanwhile, a shipment of a large quantity of drugs is delivered by car, which is forced off the road by a rival gang, and a  duffel bag is flung wide of the accident scene and recovered by a 12-year-old newspaper delivery boy.

As the plot unfolds, Cassie is in the middle of it all, making assumptions, detecting, analyzing, and finally guessing that the boy is the key to it all, except for the possible corruption that might exist in the law enforcement personnel (which of course is related to the drug gangs).  The author demonstrates his reputation for writing novels with excellent characterizations and providing detailed environmental descriptions.  When the outside temperature falls to 20 and 30 degrees below freezing, the reader almost feels compelled to turn up the heat.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2016.

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murder-on-the-quaiMurder on the Quai
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #16
Cara Black
Soho Crime, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-616-95624-0
Hardcover

After 15 Aimée Leduc mysteries, Cara Black turned her attention backward in time to the start of Aimee’s career, providing a back story to her beginnings as a detective, and introducing some of the basics which inhabit subsequent novels, namely how she met Rene Friant, her partner in Leduc Detective, and acquired Miles Davis, her bichon frise.  At the time, Aimée was a first-year medical student, hating every moment.

Then one day while Aimée was in her father’s office, as he was about to leave for Berlin to obtain the Stasi file on his renegade wife, who had  disappeared years before, a distant relation asks him to find a young woman who perhaps was the last person to see her father before he was murdered.  Instead, Aimée takes the case on herself as her father had refused to do so before he left.

From that point on, all the attributes of an Aimée Leduc mystery flow:  Aimée getting into all kinds of danger; all the flavor and smells of Paris streets and neighborhoods; the give-and-take between Aimée and her godfather and high police official Morbier; Aimée’s passion for discounted fashion clothes; among other common features of the series.  Since it was her first case, the progress is not as smooth as future investigations, as she stumbles and learns, but unquestionably the book is recommended as an introduction to her subsequent adventures.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016.

Book Review: Teetotaled by Maia Chance—and a Giveaway!

teetotaledTeetotaled
Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #2
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-072214
Hardcover

From the publisher—

After her philandering husband died and left her penniless in Prohibition-era New York, Lola Woodby escaped with her Swedish cook to the only place she could―her deceased husband’s secret love nest in the middle of Manhattan. Her only comforts were chocolate cake, dime store detective novels, and the occasional highball (okay, maybe not so occasional). But rent came due and Lola and Berta were forced to accept the first job that came their way, leading them to set up shop as private detectives operating out of Alfie’s cramped love nest.

Now Lola and Berta are in danger of losing the business they’ve barely gotten off the ground―work is sparse and money is running out. So when a society matron offers them a job, they take it―even if it means sneaking into a slimming and exercise facility and consuming only water and health food until they can steal a diary from Grace Whiddle, a resident at the “health farm.” But barely a day in, Grace and her diary escape from the facility―and Grace’s future mother-in-law is found murdered on the premises. Lola and Berta are promptly fired. But before they can climb into Lola’s brown and white Duesenberg Model A and whiz off the health farm property, they find themselves with a new client and a new charge: to solve the murder of Grace’s future mother-in-law.

I’m not a strong fan of fiction set in the Roaring Twenties but, every now and then, I come across an author who just does it right, if you know what I mean. I had “met” Maia Chance before with a very different series and knew from that one that I would almost certainly love this book (I haven’t read the first one) and indeed I do.

While Lola does indulge in a bit of wallowing in self-pity—who wouldn’t, considering the circumstances?—she’s a woman who’s not afraid to step out of her society comfort zone when it becomes obvious she needs to make a living. With one sleuthing case under their belts, Lola and Berta have enough confidence to take on a second retrieval which is a good thing if they want to pay the rent and have a cocktail or two, not to mention fulfill Lola’s craving for sweets. Unfortunately for a mother-in-law-to-be, that retrieval turns into a murder investigation and Lola and Berta may or may not be up to the job.

These two very different ladies are a hoot and, as often as not, they come across clues because they sort of stumble their way there, not because they’re really good at what they do (although it must be noted that Berta is probably the more intelligent of the duo). There’s a lot of humor here but also a darned good cozy mystery, one that kept me entertained from beginning to end.

Although there’s a vast difference in wealth, readers who are drawn to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher and her faithful companion, Dot, will also love Lola and Berta and enjoy the heck out of their adventures. Maia Chance has a fine touch and creates characters and plots filled with humor and more than a bit of pizazz; I am most certainly a fan of Lola and Berta 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

************

Lola and Berta may not be Holmes and Watson,
but their deficits in experience and talent are balanced
by determination and an abundance of action.
P.G. Wodehouse fans will find a lot to like.
—Publishers Weekly

************

To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Teetotaled
by Maia Chance,
just leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn on Friday

night, October 7th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Seven Days Dead by John Farrow

Seven Days DeadSeven Days Dead
The Storm Murders #2

John Farrow
Minotaur Books, May 2016
ISBN  978-1-250-05769-3
Hardcover

From the publisher:  During an epic storm in the Gulf of Maine, a lone woman races – – first by car, then by a life-threatening sea crossing – – to the island of Grand Manan.  Her father is dying – – will she make it in time?  Others also venture out into the maelstrom that night, including a mysterious band of men and women who gather on Seven Days Work, the sheer cliff that overlooks the wild sea.  A housekeeper, a pastor, and a strange recluse are also wandering about in the tempest.  Who else risks being out in the turbulent black night?  And how many murder victims will be revealed at the break of dawn?

Emile Cinq-Mars, a retired Montreal detective whose reputation precedes him, is embarking on the first ever summer holiday he and his wife have taken in their long years of marriage.  They have booked a cabin built in the 1920’s, “tidy, clean, and as charming as a fawn nuzzling a doe in a spring meadow.”  When three men are found dead, he is asked to assist Officer Wade Louwagie (who suffers from PTSD) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,.  They have absolutely nothing to go on, no leads, and too many suspects.

Early on, we meet 57-year-old Reverend Simon Lescavage, “a pastor who’s lost his faith yet still enjoys, and wants to keep, his job,” who is called – – ordered, really – – to hear the confession of Alfred Orrock, the patriarch of the island with the reputation, well-earned, as a tyrant, and now at death’s door.  The day does not end well for either man.

The area is brought to graphic life in the wonderfully evocative descriptions by this author.  As are the inhabitants:  “For the most part . . . the natural friendliness of islanders surfaces first.  Sometimes disputes are resolved by burning cars, but not a tourist’s car, and rarely even in the summer, because that’s just bad for the island’s reputation.  Even when it comes to arson, a standard of etiquette is followed.  You wrong me, I burn your dinghy.  I wrong you, you burn my shed.”  Towards the end, things take a much more lethal turn, and the writing at times had me breathless, as in literally holding my breath.

There is a wholly unexpected finish to the novel.  I found this book, as its predecessor, The Storm Murders, very enjoyable, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2016.

Book Review: Black Lies, Red Blood by Kjell Eriksson

Black Lies, Red BloodBlack Lies, Red Blood
Ann Lindell Mysteries #5
Kjell Eriksson
Minotaur Books, May 2015
ISBN : 978-1-250-04263-7
Trade Paperback

Ann Lindell has been portrayed in prior entries in this series as an unhappy person but an excellent detective.  In this novel she starts off on cloud nine, having hooked up with Anders Brant in a short but highly satisfactory love affair, only to be disappointed when he takes off on a trip.  And soon she learns that he might be involved in a murder inquiry; no one knows how to contact him and he doesn’t respond to e-mails.

Meanwhile, Ann becomes obsessed with a different murder, that of a 16-year-old girl, while the rest of the department is involved with the slaying of a homeless man, which in turn is followed by additional killings.  And Brant, somehow, has some involvement with all three investigations.  Ann keeps mum about knowing Brant and the pressure mounts on her, not only to solve her own case, but somehow to get in contact with her sometime lover and discover the facts about him and his connection with the murders.

This is not an easy novel to read; it is slow reading, and one has to plod through it with all of its complications and permutations, much less the unsatisfactory descriptions of Ann’s assorted sex life and other sexual references, many of which appear to be gratuitous. Despite these comments, the author has once again written an excellent crime story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Review: Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon by Donna Andrews

Crouching Buzzard, Leaping LoonCrouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon
A Meg Langslow Mystery #4
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, January 2003
ISBN 978-0-312-27731-4
Hardcover

Poor Meg Langslow—injured in a freak accident, she’s agreed to work temporarily in her brother’s hot computer game company until she can get back to her blacksmithing. Rob can’t give her any real details but he thinks something “fishy” is going on in the company and wants her to be his undercover sleuth.

Mutant Wizards is full of the usual bizarre computer geeks and has a bunch of definitely strange psychotherapists sharing the office space because they refuse to vacate the premises. Rob is continually leaping around in his decidedly untalented attempts to master the martial arts. Among the other crazies are rabid computer game fans trying to steal secrets, a large and very scary biker whose reason for staging menacing appearances is not quite clear, an injured and cranky buzzard recuperating on a perch in the reception lobby and a practical joker named Ted who likes to ride around the office on the mail cart pretending to be dead. So how could Rob notice that anything’s fishy? To Meg, it all seems fairly normal, considering what kind of business this is, except maybe for the buzzard.

Fairly normal, that is, until she realizes that Ted isn’t pretending anymore…

Replete with a cast of decidedly odd characters, nearly all of whom look like pretty good suspects with a wealth of motives, this latest in the Meg Langslow series is laugh-out-loud funny and has a good mystery to boot. Author Donna Andrews, winner of multiple awards, delivers again and I can only say “I want more!”

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2002. Slightly revised 2016.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

Note 7/3/16: After years of following this wacky and wonderful series, Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon is still one of my very favorite cozies 😉