Book Review: Ming Tea Murder by Laura Childs

Ming Tea MurderMing Tea Murder
A Tea Shop Mystery #16
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2015
ISBN: 978-0-425-28164-2
Hardcover

Theodosia Browning and the rest of her crew at the Indigo Tea Shop are back for another go at solving a murder—if she can beat Detective Tidwell to it.

This time around, Theo’s boyfriend, Max, who is public relations honcho at the Gibbes museum, is fired when a wealthy contributor is murdered inside a display Max had advocated. He is a suspect in the murder, which has taken place in the middle of the gala opening of a Chinese teahouse exhibit. When Detective Tidwell’s investigation moves too slowly for Theo, she is compelled to take a hand.

As we’ve come to expect of an Indigo Tea Shop mystery, the murder seems to play second fiddle to the business of running a popular tea shop. Tea, food, and friendship fill more pages than the sleuthing. Still, it is interesting how criminal activity seems to permeate Charleston high society—in fiction, that is.

If I have one complaint, it is that there’s not much chemistry between Theodosia and Max. I often wonder what she sees in him. Also, although Theo and some of the other characters are supposed to be young, vibrant people, they strike me as being at least a generation older than they are. Some seem almost like caricatures. Still, the mystery always intrigues, the tea and food sounds elegant, and it is fun to visit for a few hundred pages with the cream of society.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill, and Buffalo Bill’s Dead Now by Margaret Coel

The ThiefThe Thief
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates
Soho Crime, January 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61695-202-0
Trade Paperback

This novel is an interesting idea in need of fulfillment.  Somehow, it leaves the reader somewhat confused.  It recounts the development of a pickpocket who generally only removes wallets from rich people.  Along the way, the author philosophizes about the “profession” of picking pockets, including a little history of some of the more famous practitioners of the art.

The thief himself tells the story in the first person.  However, for all he has to say about his work and life, we learn very little about him and exactly why what happens to him in the end occurs.  Or, really, about any of the other characters.  They all seem to be symbols of something, but none is precisely explained.

Tightly written, the book is a fast read.  But on reaching the conclusion this reader, at least, wondered what it was all about.  Hopefully, in a future work, the author will turn his talent to a more fully developed plot and characterizations, of which The Thief indicates he is capable.  The book is worthy of note, and therefore is recommended despite the above reservations.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2013.

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The Woman Who Wouldn't DieThe Woman Who Wouldn’t Die
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95206-8
Hardcover

This newest in the Dr. Siri mysteries not only takes on the Laotian coroner’s obsession with contact with the dead, but provides us with a lot of background on the good doctor and his wife and the role they played in the revolution. At the same time, the novel is a first rate mystery.  It begins when Dr. Siri is offered a “vacation” upriver to supervise the recovery of the brother of a Lao general whose body is supposedly at the bottom of a river, lying in a submerged boat for many years.

The general is prodded to undertake the excavation of the boat by his wife, who is influenced by a woman clairvoyant who was supposedly shot to death, only to reappear after the body was burned on a pyre.  The woman claims she can speak to the dead and knows where the body is located.  Wary but open to the suggestion that the woman might teach him to be able to contact the dead, Dr. Siri goes along.

Meanwhile, Dr. Siri encourages his wife, Madam Daeng, to write an autobiography, from which we learn a lot about her earlier life as a participant in the liberation forces.  This book, as were previous entries in the series, is an education into the people and culture of Laos.  The dialog is wry and often humorous, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2013.

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Buffalo Bill's Dead NowBuffalo Bill’s Dead Now
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25225-3
Mass Market Paperback

This novel, the newest in the widely acclaimed Wind River Mystery series, is a little different from its predecessors.  While still featuring Vicki and Father John, the thrust of the book is well in the past: the late 19th century, to be exact, when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show toured Europe featuring various Indian groups, including Arapahos like Chief Black Heart.

It appears that the regalia worn by the Chief went missing when the tour came to an end, only to be discovered when the building in which it was hidden was being demolished.  The items were purchased by a local rancher and donated to the museum at the St. Francis mission. However, en route from Germany the shipment is hijacked, and Vicki and Father John, as usual, have to come to the rescue.  The mystery includes the murder of the donor, who might have known more about the stolen goods.  Complicating the investigation is a feud between two Arapaho families with lineage back to the principal players way back when.

Intertwined in the tale are descriptions of what it is like living on a reservation, now and in the distant past, and the effect on the lives of Native Americans.  The plot is well-presented, with the requisite suspense to keep the reader wondering what comes next.  The real question, always present, is the relationship between Vicki and Father John and what, if anything, will ever develop.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.

Book Reviews: Blackwood by Gwenda Bond and A Pocketful of Eyes by Lili Wilkinson

BlackwoodBlackwood
Gwenda Bond
Strange Chemistry / Angry Robot, September 2012
ISBN 9781908844071
Trade Paperback

The Blackwoods have always been cursed and Miranda is no exception. Stuck on Roanoke Island she’s become the local high school freak, especially after the new boy Phillips calls her a snake and a traitor in front of most of the school. But she’s not the only one is she? And the island has its own secrets, secrets that Miranda and Phillips have to uncover before history repeats itself.

This is an intriguing tale that was easy to read and contained different elements that make this type of book appealing to younger readers. There’s a teenage love story, battles against bullying and local prejudice and of trying to be your own person against overwhelming expectation that you’ll end up just like everyone else in your dysfunctional family. In amongst these threads, a little bit of American history has been added. Loosely based on the original disappearance of over 100 people from Roanoke Island back in the days of Sir Walter Raleigh and the new world, the author adds her own theory as to what made all those people just vanish without trace. As the author herself states, liberties have been taken and at best, the historical element is really a reference point upon which a fantastical theory has been pinned. But surely this is the type of things that young adults today tend to love and I have to admit, I quite liked it myself.

This book is one I enjoyed. It certainly kept me interested and the characters had enough of a back-story that I actually cared about what happened to them. It’s not overly long either and I easily read it in a few hours. Blackwood is one that I’d recommend to young adults. It’s an engaging read, one that has a little bit of fantasy wrapped up in history with a side of romance against the odds. What’s not to like?

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, January 2013.

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A Pocketful of EyesA Pocketful of Eyes
Lili Wilkinson
Allen & Unwin, May 2011
ISBN 978-1-74237-619-6
Trade Paperback
Currently available in the US in secondary markets

Bee Ross enjoys her work in the taxidermy department of the museum. It’s the presence of a body in the Red Rotunda room that poses the start of her problems and just what is with that annoying intern Toby? Bee has until the start of school to solve the mystery otherwise it will haunt her forever.

  1. This is an ok book, probably best suited for younger readers.
  2. There’s a weaving mystery plot.
  3. There’s also a tentative romance plot.
  4. There are references to crime writers like Agatha Christie and Ian Rankin.
  5. There are many references to crime characters like Nancy Drew.
  6. Like, a lot!
  7. The writing is good but could benefit from having a tighter plot.
  8. Some characters behave unrealistically and end up being farcical.
  9. Like, really farcical.
  10. It eventually sounds like a Scooby-Doo episode.
  11. I could have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling kids!
  12. The title character Bee really likes lists.
  13. I mean really likes lists!
  14. Even her mother leaves notes for her in list form.
  15. Bee even thinks in lists and cannot make any important decision without, yes, you’ve guessed it, making a list.
  16. Reading 19 lists in one book is quite annoying.
  17. I think I’ve lost the will to live now.
  18. Having so many lists in one book is really distracting and unnecessary, especially when the author is a decent writer.
  19. I’m going to deliberately stop on an odd number, just to be awkward.
  20. I would have liked this book much more if it weren’t for those pesky lists.
  21. Oh God, now I’m stuck in Scooby-Doo mode!
  22. Someone call for help.
  23. Actually, I quite like it here now, the walls are so soft and padded.

Have I made my point? Good, I’m glad I got that over with. This is a decent enough book that has one major drawback that is off-putting and detracts from the overall story. I think you know what it is…

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, March 2013.