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.


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

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

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

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

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.

Book Review: False Diamond by Veronica Heley

False DiamondFalse Diamond
An Abbot Agency Mystery
Veronica Heley
Severn House Publishers, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8298-1

Author Veronica Heley has created a fine character in Bea Abbott. Bea is a middle-aged woman with excellent business acumen, who runs her own domestic agency to supply rich people with the help they need. She’s also a good boss who’s has earned the loyalty of her employees as well as a couple foster children, grown and on their own now, who are happy to help her out if need be.

Well, needs be.

Bea’s son, Max, is a Member of Parliament (the story is set in London) and is ambitious to rise in his party. He’s married to a wealthy society woman, has a child on whom Bea dotes, and seems to have everything going for him. His problem is that he needs more money, or he–and his wife– think he does.He gets mixed up with a shady character who is determined to acquire not only Bea’s business, but demands she run his and make it as successful as she has her own.

Bea says “no” and there’s the rub. Turns out the shady character is one Ben Benton who isn’t above knocking his wife and small daughter about. Worse, he isn’t above threatening–and striking–Bea when she refuses his “business offer” even as her son stands by and allows it to happen.

Then Benton is murdered, his abused wife disappears, and Bea is left to solve the mystery, just as a new man enters her life.

The mystery here is intriguing, the way Bea and her helpers work to solve it well done. Most of the characters are well-drawn. The problem for me was that I didn’t like any of them, except Bea, her foster children and her staff. Her son treated her despicably, the new man strikes me as untrustworthy, and even her “old friend” seems dismissive. I think she should give them all the boot! A worthy read that stirred my ire.

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

Book Review: Purebred Dead by Kathleen Delaney

Purebred DeadPurebred Dead
A Mary McGill Mystery #1
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-7278-8501-2

From the publisher—

Pillar of the community, Mary McGill has a finger in every pie, a place on every committee. She’s the one the townsfolk can count on when they need help. Everything Mary organizes runs smoothly – apart, that is, from the town’s traditional Christmas pageant. For the festivities are rudely interrupted by the discovery of a blood-stained corpse lying in the manger. Cowering beside the body is a small black-and-white puppy.

Two local children report seeing a shadowy figure fleeing from the scene – but there are no clues as to the murderer’s identity. If Mary could only find out what the puppy was doing there, she would be one step closer to finding the killer. As someone who knows nothing about dogs, purebred or otherwise, Mary had better learn – and fast – before she and the children become the next victims.

Like many other mystery aficionados, I enjoy a good cozy set in a small town where everybody seems to know everybody else, where the sleuth has some common sense and where the murderous activity turns out to be a puzzle that keeps me guessing for a while. Such is Purebred Dead and this one has the added attraction of a pet-related theme that is quite evident in real life, the very profitable world of dog breeding.

As in many mysteries of this type, character development is paramount and I have to say I found Mary to be very appealing in her normalcy. Here’s a woman we’ve all run into before, the retiree who throws herself into civic and charitable work first because she believes she should but also because she simply can’t NOT do it. Mary is actually a little annoying because she complains, very mildly, that she just can’t take on one more task and then she does anyway. That annoyance is overshadowed, though, by her intelligence and her determination to set things right as well as she can while not interfering with police efforts.

Other characters are also quite likeable, especially the children and Mary’s family, and the canine element is interesting as well as educational. I don’t think it’s farfetched that dog breeding would be at the core of the crime as this has become a sort of cottage industry with too many opportunities for abuse, fraud, greed, etc. Puppy mills abound and small towns are certainly not immune to the dark side of breeding; they may even be more likely settings since official scrutiny is probably less intense.

Killing a veterinarian, even one who is disgraced, is a bit unusual since there’s no immediately apparent motive and Mary doesn’t have any particular expertise in investigating crime nor does she know much about the dog world. What she does offer is a logical mind and concern for truth plus she knows the people in her town. It’s not surprising that the chief of police, who happens to be her nephew, recognizes that Mary might be an asset in his investigation and I really appreciated the mutual respect between Mary and Dan, not always evident in a small town cozy.

The solution itself is not especially deep but it’s a good puzzle full of potential suspects and motives. Ms. Delaney is an accomplished mystery author with multiple books to her credit and it shows in this new series, one I’ll be following with much enjoyment. Besides, how can I resist Millie?  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

Book Review: Cry Wolf by Michael Gregorio

Cry WolfCry Wolf      
A Sebastiano Cangio Thriller #1
Michael Gregorio
Severn House Publishers, Ltd., April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-78010-617-5
Also available in hardcover and trade paperback

Wolf as symbol. Wolf as metaphor. Wolves in Umbria, a relatively unpopulated region of Italy, as motivating presence. In this wide-ranging novel of Mafia and murder, the author challenges readers to maintain attention and patience as he directs us through years in the life of a young man from Calabria in the south of Italy, to his abrupt decampment to England, to his return to Italy and a new life as a park ranger in Umbria. It’s a lot to take in but those who stick with it will be richly rewarded.

The man, Sebastiano Cangio, is obsessed with wolves. They are the subject of his Phd. thesis at a local university. But a murder on the beach, execution style, changes all that. He hides, unhappily, in London. But then an opportunity to return to Italy and become a Park Ranger in Umbria, with his beloved wolves, occurs.

Unfortunately, new commercial development after earthquakes in Umbria is bringing crime of the worst sort, a rising Mafia cell. There are many players in this churning story, some who fall in and out of the narrative so readers must pay attention. Most are interesting and even unusual. The plot is vastly complicated and enthralling at the same time. This author is a very good writer and while the plot seems to move ponderously for a time, once all the important characters are in place, things get hot exceedingly fast. Yet there are no missteps and the last third of the novel is as fast and intense as any fan of thrillers could ask.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.