Book Review: Puddin’ on the Blitz by Tamar Myers @severnhouse

Puddin’ on the Blitz
A Pennsylvania-Dutch Mystery #21
Tamar Myers
Severn House, December 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8915-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Although the culinary fare at Magdalena Yoder’s new restaurant, Asian Sensations – a unique combination of Asian and Amish cuisine – is not to everyone’s taste, the good citizens of Hernia are unanimously agreed that the desserts concocted by the restaurant chef, Barbara Hostetler, are to die for.

Not literally however. When a guest at the PennDutch Inn drops dead shortly after consuming a slice of Barbara’s delicious Blitz torte, Magdalena finds herself arrested for murder. Did someone deliberately set her up? In order to clear her name and protect her nearest and dearest, Magdalena must identify a ruthless killer – before they strike again.

Tamar Myers has been entertaining mystery readers—including me, most decidedly—for many years and this latest Pennsylvania Dutch entry is no exception to the rule. Magdalena Yoder is an enduring protagonist and, after so many adventures, has gotten amateur sleuthing down to a fine science, you might say.

Now, if you’re looking for a dynamic crime thriller with a well-tuned sleuth, you’re in the wrong place. Magdalena isn’t always the nicest person around, a bit too sharp-tongued, and, as cozies often do, a lot of attention is directed towards her personal life and the goings-on in the inn and the village. The mystery to be solved isn’t as strong as in some earlier books but it’s interesting and there are some  unusual aspects to it, not least of which is the true identities of the couple who rented the restaurant for an exclusive meal.

This is the first in the series that I’ve read in several years but I had no trouble catching up, so to speak, and I enjoyed it even though it’s not quite up to snuff with some of the previous books. It’s a nice read for a lazy day and I’ll definitely be back.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.

Book Review: Dressed to Kill by Kathleen Delaney @kdkoppang @severnhouse

Dressed to Kill
A Mary McGill Canine Mystery #4
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8894-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Mary McGill and her cocker spaniel Millie get the fright of their lives on Halloween when they hear gunshots coming from the bank and the robber, dressed in a clown costume, points his gun at them before fleeing the scene. Mary is horrified when she discovers Police Chief Dan Dunham has been shot in the shoulder and a woman has been killed. Why would the clown shoot an ordinary citizen?

Mary soon learns that the victim is Victoria Witherspoon, a local woman who owned a sewing shop and must have recognised the clown costume – because she made it herself. With Dan in hospital and unable to investigate, can Mary and Millie unmask the savage killer clown before he strikes again?

Like a whole lot of other people, I really hate clowns and I felt this way even before Stephen King gave us IT (a great book, BTW, despite my aversion). Still, I know Kathleen Delaney‘s work and had no doubt this particular clown would leave my nerves alone…and I was right 😉

Police Chief Dan Dunham, Mary McGill’s nephew-in-law, is shot by a bank robber dressed as a clown but he’s not the only victim. The local seamstress, Victoria Witherspoon, might have been killed because she could identify the robber, despite the rubber mask. Dan will be recovering from surgery for a while and Mary saw the robber run out of the bank so she decides she’ll need to help Detective Sean Ryan from San Louis Obispo Homicide even though he’s rude and obnoxious. Mary has to oversee the cleanup from the very successful Halloween in the Park event she chaired but, more importantly, she’s pretty sure there’s something familiar about the clown and she needs to figure it out.

With more than a little help from her Cocker Spaniel, Millie, and some human friends, Mary thinks her way through some baffling leads, frequently a half-step ahead of law enforcement officials. That’s at least partly because the locals soon tire of the “imported” detective and his supercilious attitude that actually gets in the way of seeing clues; those same locals have come to believe in Mary’s sleuthing abilities after several earlier crimes. Soon enough, another death increases the pressure and Mary’s common sense and the wisdom that comes with age become invaluable in identifying the killer and the “why” behind the crimes. I thoroughly enjoyed not only this story but also spending time with some old friends and new, not to mention the delightful four-legged variety.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

Note: Goodreads, Amazon and other sites all have this incorrectly listed as Book 19 but it’s really Book 4 in the series. Mary McGill appears in several earlier books but she’s the central character in these four books.

Book Reviews: Proof of Life by Sheila Lowe and Simply Dead by Eleanor Kuhns @sheila_lowe @suspensemag @EleanorKuhns @severnhouse

Proof of Life
A Beyond the Veil Mystery #2
Sheila Lowe
Suspense Publishing, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-45315-6
Trade Paperback

After the accident in which her abusive husband and their infant son died, Jessica Mack had amnesia and began to experience strange noises and even voices. This enthralling thriller traces her development from confused and upset to more and deeper understanding of non-corporeal experiences. A practicing artist, Jessica Mack creates art that seems to illustrate crime scenes, but she cannot recall making the art, nor where the detailed information came from.

Gradually over the space of this excellent novel, Jessica begins to understand what may be happening to her. It is unsettling, disrupts her life at times, but instead of resisting or rejecting the forces, she instinctively sets out to learn more.

For many people whose religious or world views reject the idea of other worlds co-existing with that which we inhabit, this may become unsettling. I would urge such people to persist and read this book. Jessica Mack, an identical twin, has already experienced odd experiences with her twin sister. So she is open to learning more about the spirit world. As should we readers.

Unlike many novels that create a spirit world to fit the story, this author has created a character who is not a willing subject, but one who becomes interested in life for those beyond the veil and in a fascinating and consistent way, struggles to learn more and then to use her developing awareness to aid in a race to locate a small child who may have been kidnapped.

The author steadily raises the tension as time inexorably passes. Jessica must deal with her sister, her FBI acquaintance, other skeptics and a burgeoning love interest. The novel is very-well written, extremely carefully plotted, logical and peopled with very interesting, well-drawn characters It will capture the interest of a wide range of crime novel addicts. I strongly recommend this excellent novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Simply Dead
A Will Rees Mystery #7
Eleanor Kuhns
Severn House, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8884-6
Hardcover

Winter in northern climes is difficult in the best of times. In late eighteenth century rural Maine, winter can be deadly. In a small Shaker community located in a snow bound village, a deeply disturbed murderer threatens to tear apart an already uneasy relationship with the World, as it is known among Shakers.

Will Rees is a weaver and hard-scrabble farmer with several children and a bright loving wife in his care. The weaver and farmer is an interesting motivator for the novel, husband and father of a teen girl and some even younger children. His almost insatiable curiosity propels him into conflicts at several levels when a local midwife goes missing in the snowy woods. Naturally he seeks her, exposing himself to storms and cold. He finds the midwife almost dead of exposure in the snow and rescues her while realizing the young woman is distraught and hiding something, something truly horrible.

The novel is a deliberate and accurate portrayal of early life for settlers in Maine during the period and is liberally strewn with a wide range of characters one might expect to find in an isolated settlement like this in early America. His small village has a constable who owns and runs the town bar and restaurant and thus is not reliable to protect locals against the menace of hungry wolves.

Conflicts arise for Rees and his family on all sides, affording the author ample opportunity to make deep dives into a host of personalities and situations and she takes most opportunities to do that, including brief but telling examination of the Shaker community. Consequently, the well-written, finely organized story presents several varied and useful personalities in both ordinary and highly fraught situations in a novel of manners, murder and detection. Readers will finish the novel having a concentrated experience of a particular part of America and its people before there was a United States.

Simply Dead is simply a good story with a lot of excellent characters, very well told.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
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 Reviews: A Measure of Murder by Leslie Karst and Mile High Murder by Marcia Talley

A Measure of Murder
A Sally Solari Mystery #2
Leslie Karst
Crooked Lane Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-493-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping Javier plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard–and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.

Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin–set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

Good food and good music go together beautifully but not so much when death—most likely murder—is in the mix. Sally Solari had looked forward to singing in the chorus performing this special piece but gets drawn into the peculiarities surrounding Kyle’s death. She has very little spare time in her life for this, though, because she’s working at both her family’s restaurant and the one she recently inherited from her aunt but Sally is a Type-A Energizer Bunny who can be downright exhausting. In fact, the one weakness (in my mind) was that, because Sally is often off chasing leads, we don’t get to spend as much time as I would like in the restaurants but then I’m an unofficial foodie 😉

Nobody wishes death on people but Kyle was not a pleasant person and, quite frankly, he won’t be missed by many other than his girlfriend, Jill. It isn’t long before possible motives seem to pile up and Sally becomes suspicious about several possible killers but I have to say it took me a while to settle on one. Before Sally can bring the perpetrator to justice, she becomes a target herself.

As a former attorney, Sally is probably more qualified than most amateurs to investigate a crime and that lends her snooping a certain credibility other amateurs don’t have but her rationale still doesn’t hold much water. That’s okay, however, because (1) this is a cozy and sleuths in cozies don’t need a lot of justification and (2) I enjoyed this mystery as much as the first in the series. Let’s face it, Sally and her family and friends are fun to be around—I especially enjoyed re-connecting with Javier and Eric—and we’re rewarded at the end with a handful of recipes that just might entice you to try them out. I’m feeling the munchies for the grilled cheese sandwich right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Mile High Murder
A Hannah Ives Mystery #16
Marcia Talley
Severn House, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7278-8768-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Hannah Ives embarks on a trip to the Mile High City on a fact-finding mission. But is she about to get ‘high’ on murder?

It’s a well-known fact that some of the Reach for Recovery cancer support group survivors Hannah Ives works with take marijuana. Recreational use of the drug may be illegal, but a few, like Maryland State Senator Claire Thompson, are prescribed it on medical grounds.

Claire has co-sponsored a Cannabis Legalisation Bill and wants Hannah to be part of a fact-finding task force that testifies before the Maryland State Senate.

Before long, Hannah is in Denver, Colorado – the Mile High City – staying at a B&B with a group of pot pilgrims and medical refugees – some of whom, like her, are on a mission for information. But when one of the group is found dead, and a closer inspection of the body reveals they may not be who they seem, Hannah is plunged into a dangerous cocktail of drugs and death.

Hannah Ives has been a comfortable fictional friend for a long time now and I’m always happy to see a new book come out. This time she gets involved in “research” to bolster State Senator Claire Thompson’s hopes to get a marijuana bill passed in Maryland, one to broaden and organize the specifics of already passed legislation that legalized the drug for medical use. To do this, they have to go to a state where recreational pot use is already lawful so they head out to Colorado, Denver to be specific. As a long-term cancer survivor, Hannah doesn’t need medical marijuana but Claire has a prescription and is inclined to use it even if she’s at risk of being caught breaking the law.

Hannah decides to go, mainly because she’ll have a chance to testify before the senate, a taste of the old days when she dealt with bureaucrats on a regular basis. This seems like a fairly simple task but Hannah did try to tell Claire that Hannah seems to attract dead bodies, a lengthy list of them, in fact. Still, they didn’t expect to find themselves so completely surrounded by hippie types and a million different ways to indulge at their “bud-and-breakfast”, Bell House…nor did they expect a fellow guest to be a victim of foul play.

I think the mystery here is a little less suspenseful than in Hannah’s previous adventures but I still had a good time learning all the ins and outs of legalized marijuana and watching Hannah do what she does so well, identify a murderer. Fans will be happy to see her again (and, Paul, her lovely Navy professor husband) but new readers might want to start with at least the first book to have a better idea of who Hannah is.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: Blood Red, White and Blue by Kathleen Delaney

Blood Red, White and Blue
Mary McGill Canine Mystery #3
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, July 2017
ISBN 978-0-7278-8689-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s the 4th July and the town celebrations have gone off without a hitch. Except for the body in the oak grove, shot in the back. The unfortunate victim was a visitor to the town. Mary McGill and her cocker spaniel Millie had seen him only that morning, staring in the window of Lowell’s Jewellery store, his German Shepherd, Ranger, at his side. Could the diamond and sapphire necklace which caught his attention have some connection with his untimely death? What brought him to Santa Louisa in the first place?

Having agreed to look after Ranger temporarily, Mary is unwillingly drawn into the murder investigation. She never dreamed that her enquiries would lead her into serious danger … and more murder.

Santa Louisa’s 4th of July celebrations are underway when Mary and Millie have a casual meeting with Ian Miller and his German Shepherd, Ranger, in front of the jewelry store. Everything is pleasant among humans and dogs and, certainly, Mary has no inkling that the next time she sees him, Mr. Miller will be dead. The only good thing about it is that the glorious fireworks show went off without a hitch but, of course, it’s probably those very fireworks that covered up the shot.

Mary and her “crew” are soon doing what they do so well, sniffing out clues and even being a fair amount of help to Mary’s nephew-in-law, Police Chief Dan Dunham. Dan is a police chief with sense, recognizing that there are some things civilians can do better than the police can while he’s also cognizant of the dangers inherent in murder investigations. Mary is the one who’s most likely to figure things out with the information that comes her way but she couldn’t do it without the help of her family and close friends.

Mary is such a delight, thoughtful and intelligent without being ridiculously nosy, and she never lets the routines of life get pushed aside by snooping. Instead, she does much of her thinking about a crime while having her morning coffee or taking Millie for a walk. This time, there are repercussions beyond the community because it turns out that Ian was with the California Bureau of Investigations and was in Santa Louisa following up on leads about a series of jewelry store robberies. His death naturally brings state investigators to town, some helpful, some not but, once Mary suddenly sees the truth, it’s Ranger who becomes so very important.

Spending a few hours with Mary McGill and her friends and family is always so nice and I have fun with these people while I appreciate the camaraderie and the feelings they all have for each other, canines as well as humans. Kathleen Delaney‘s series is one of my favorites and I really, really wish that I could have their next adventure right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

Book Review: Death at Dovecote Hatch by Dorothy Cannell

Death at Dovecote HatchDeath at Dovecote Hatch
A Florence Norris Mystery #2
Dorothy Cannell
Severn House, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-7278-8480-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

November, 1932. Still reeling from the recent murder at Mullings, country estate of the wealthy Stodmarsh family, the peaceful little village of Dovecote Hatch is about to be rocked by news of another violent death. When mild-mannered Kenneth Tenneson is found dead from a fall down the stairs at his home, the coroner’s inquest announces a verdict of accidental death. Florence Norris, however – the quietly observant housekeeper at Mullings – suspects there may be more to it than that.

Florence’s suspicions of foul play would appear to be confirmed when a second will turns up revealing details of a dark secret in the Tenneson family’s past. Determined to find out the truth about Kenneth’s death, Florence gradually pieces the clues together – but will she be in time to prevent a catastrophic turn of events?

There’s something special about English country house and village mysteries, isn’t there? I’m not even all that particular about the time period but I do have a fondness for historical, especially those set in the 1700’s to early 1900’s. In the case of Death at Dovecote Hatch, we’re visiting a time when people (primarily the “upstairs”) had lost that certain innocence prevalent prior to the first World War but not yet aware of the coming horror. They’re all, no matter what class, in the grip of the Great Depression to varying degrees.

All that is background noise to the events occurring in the village of Dovecote Hatch a few months after the affair at Mullings during which housekeeper Florence Norris was seen to be an intelligent, thoughtful woman who became invaluable in solving the crime. Now, though, life has settled down and Florence is on a visit with her cousin, Hattie Fly, in London when Inspector LeCrane seeks a private conversation with George Bird, pub owner and Florie’s intended. LeCrane is quietly and unofficially looking into the recent death at Bogmire of Kenneth Tenneson, ruled an accident at the inquest, but LeCrane is acting on a hunch that something isn’t right. Having experienced Florence’s innate abilities in the Mullings case, he requests that George let her know her assistance—as well as George’s—this time would be most welcome. And thus begins their investigation.

Much of the appeal in this book lies in the village goings-on outside of the case, the day to day lives of its people, and I truly enjoyed spending time with them, as much as with the mystery (mysteries?). These are characters who are so nicely fleshed out that it’s easy to feel that they’re old friends and acquaintances, all with their own concerns whether they be happily content or worried about their circumstances. The interesting thing to me is that there is quite a large cast and, yet, I had no trouble keeping them straight, testament to Ms. Cannell‘s fine characterizations.

The mystery itself is a true puzzle with lots of potential resolutions and, as it happens, one or two other mysteries add to the fun. All in all, the author has once again offered a very pleasing tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Curtains for Miss Plym by Kathleen Delaney

Curtains for Miss PlymCurtains for Miss Plym
A Mary McGill Mystery #2
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-7278-8574-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Preparations for Santa Louisa’s annual spring rummage sale are thrown into chaos when organizer Mary McGill and her devoted cocker spaniel Millie come across a dead body on the premises. Still wearing her pink nightdress and slippers, what on earth was Miss Emilie Plym doing in a locked church hall in the dead of night? And who on earth would want to harm a sweet-natured but confused elderly lady who wouldn’t hurt a fly?

As Mary questions the victim’s nearest and dearest, she discovers that not everyone had Miss Plym’s best interests at heart, and that at least one of those who should have been caring for her is hiding a shocking secret.

Readers of cozy mysteries have varying tastes and expectations, which should come as no surprise because the term “cozy” can cover quite a wide spectrum. For me, a good cozy features an intelligent sleuth who thinks her or his way through to the solution of a crime rather than falling into the clues accidentally. She is too smart to put herself in dangerous situations—those dangerous situations do exist but she’s not necessarily in them because she’s snooping—and she has legitimate reasons for being involved in an investigation rather than just being nosy or thinking she can do the job better than the local cops (unless, of course, she really can and there are some good cozies like that). Another element that appeals to me is a setting in which the reader is not expected to believe that the amateur sleuth knows every single person in town no matter how small it might be.

I found all of that in the first book in this series, Purebred Dead, and I’m very happy to say that Kathleen Delaney has done it again with Curtains for Miss Plym. Mary McGill has reason to be at the church hall very early one morning but she certainly didn’t anticipate finding any dead body, much less that of a sweet, elderly woman in her nightclothes. What on earth could provoke someone to kill Miss Emilie?

Mary becomes even more involved when the chief of police, Dan Dunham, asks her and his wife, Ellen, to go to the Plym residence to wait with the family and household help until he can leave the crime scene. Why does he ask Mary to do this? As it happens, she is Ellen’s aunt and Dan is well aware that she’s a calming presence and can be trusted to unobtrusively look for signs of odd behavior. As it turns out, there are some questionable people in Miss Emilie’s life including family members but is it possible any of them could wish her harm or could it be some one else in town? And why was she taking such large withdrawals from her trust fund?

Plenty of clues along the way keep the investigation moving along and, while the end result is not particularly surprising, that doesn’t really matter. The real strength of this series is the characters, primary and secondary, and most of them come to feel like old friends, people you don’t mind spending time with. Don’t get me wrong, though—they’re not all squeaky clean and living on the side of the angels and for that we can be very glad. No one wants to be surrounded by a town full of goody two shoes, do we?

There are quiet little touches that added to my understanding of the characters as well as my overall enjoyment of the story, things like Miss Emilie’s attachment to Willis, a stuffed dog, and the way so many people in town had taken it upon themselves to get her home when she wandered. I also really appreciated the passages in which Mary talks through her thinking process with her dog, Millie. No, Millie does not help solve the crime in any way but it’s very natural for any pet owner, especially one who lives only with the pet, to talk to the animal without expecting the animal to talk back. It’s just a good way to hash things out before coming to conclusions and those talks with Millie eventually bear fruit. It should also be noted that Millie has an important role to play beyond being a sounding board.

Now, are there things about Mary or the story that are not high on my list? Yes, mostly the fact that Mary is just a little too, well, good. The woman is practically a saint and that can get just a teensy bit old but, when you get right down to it, I can’t help liking Mary a lot  😉 I hope she and Millie and the whole town of Santa Louisa will be around for a long time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.