Book Reviews: No Substitute for Mimes by Carolyn J. Rose and Mental State by M. Todd Henderson @CarolynJRose @DownAndOutBooks

No Substitute for Mimes
Subbing Isn’t for Sissies #12
Carolyn J. Rose
Carolyn J. Rose, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-7342412-0-4
Trade Paperback

Set in the fictional town of Reckless River, Washington, residents are by turns, bemused, irked, and barely tolerant as their quiet town is besieged by a group of mimes.

Suddenly, they seem to be everywhere. And they are stealing things; small things, useless trinkets. But then, the stolen items reappear. Residents become increasingly bewildered and irritated, but that fails to suppress the turbulent life of substitute teacher, Barbara Reed. Her principal seems bent on handing her the most problematic assignments at the local school where she is a long-time fixture.

Reed’s life is crowded with a large number  of idiosyncratic individuals from a couple of cops, a wealthy retiree, some relatives and a host of friends. And there is a dog with few manners.

The novel is awash with incidents frequently involving several of Reed’s friends, especially local crime news reporter, Stan. People who like this kind of story in which the mystery or crime often takes a back seat to various social activities, will likely be enthralled.

The book is well-written, moves through town at a measured pace and arrives at a surprise ending that engages most of the town.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Mental State
M. Todd Henderson
Down and Out Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-948235-33-4
Trade Paperback

Royce Anderson, rogue FBI agent is on a personal crusade. He’s trying to nail the man who killed his brother Alex, a prominent professor of law at a prestigious law school in Chicago. Local police have tentatively ruled Alex’s death as a suicide. Royce is unbelieving, unimpressed, sure his brother would never have done such a thing.

But if Alex’s death wasn’t suicide, what was it? With almost no additional help, except that he sometimes receives along his troubled, occasionally stumbling way, the narrative wanders across the Eastern Seaboard. Indeed, because part of the story involves prior activities by the law professor, there are some undeveloped international elements as well.

The story follows a conflicted and disturbed agent, Royce Anderson, as he uses all his considerable skills and experience to confront and best some very evil and very well-connected people. There are some serious problems, not the least of which are interesting elements of the story which are undeveloped and some major jumps in points of view which may unnerve readers. The occasional political asides add little to what could have been a serious gripping thriller.

Nevertheless, readers with patience will be drawn to Royce’s side as he struggles to avenge his brother and save an innocent man, although at the price of several other lives hugely disrupted.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Death at the Yoga Cafe by Michelle Kelly

A Death at the Yoga Café
Keeley Carpenter #2
Michelle Kelly
Minotaur Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-06738-8
Hardcover

Michelle Kelly’s book has all the elements a reader expects in a cozy mystery. Keeley Carpenter, the main character, has returned to her hometown after years away in the big city, and opens a vegetarian café and yoga studio in the building that used to house her father’s butcher shop. Her mother, who shows up for a visit a week before she is expected, is a perfectionist and constantly criticizes Keeley.  Keeley’s boyfriend Ben, is a good-looking detective on the local police force.

Keeley witnesses an argument between the town’s mayor and his newest girlfriend, who is a business rival of Keeley’s and who was the “mean girl” in high school. Unfortunately, this mystery also includes some of the cozy mystery clichés. The girlfriend begs Keeley to investigate the death, instead of hiring a lawyer. Why would someone facing arrest for a murder beg for help from a yoga teacher that she bullied in school? And why would the yoga teacher confront the killer alone, without telling the police her suspicions.

The book contains recipes and instructions on how to do select yoga poses. While the premise of the book shows promise, it fails to deliver on a satisfying conclusion to the mystery.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2020.

Book Review: Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke @JoanneFluke @KensingtonBooks

Coconut Layer Cake Murder
A Hannah Swensen Mystery #25
Joanne Fluke
Kensington Books, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1889-1
Hardcover

The population of Eden Lake, Minnesota, is probably the most cookie-eating population in the country. It’s because baker and amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, gives everyone she comes in contact with cookies.  Butterscotch and Pretzel Cookies, Confetti Blizzard Whippersnapper cookies, Strawberry and Vanilla Pinwheel Cookies—you name it. In the latest book of this long running series, Hannah and her mother travel to California to help a friend pack for a cross country move and to fit in a little sightseeing.

A panicked phone call from her younger sister brings Hannah back to Minnesota. Sister Michelle’s boyfriend, Lonnie, a deputy, is the top suspect in the murder of a friend, Darcy. Darcy had been at a bar and had been drinking too much, and Lonnie drove her home. When he was in her house, making sure she got in safely, he passed out and when he awoke next morning, she was dead. Hannah investigates, with plates of Snowflake and Ice Cookies in hand, interviewing witnesses and suspects.

Readers who like recipes with their mysteries, and who haven’t discovered the delights of Eden Lake, will be pleased to discover this series. With twenty-five books now in the series, there are a lot of mysteries to be solved, and many recipes to be tried. Recipes have detailed instructions, so even the most inexperienced cook will not be intimidated.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2020.

Book Review: Bound for Murder by Victoria Gilbert @VGilbertauthor @crookedlanebks

Bound for Murder
A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #4
Victoria Gilbert
Crooked Lane Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-64385-243-0
Hardcover

Subtitled “A Blue Ridge Library Mystery,” Bound for Murder is the fourth in this series.  The amateur sleuth, Amy, is a librarian, and the director of the Taylorsford Public Library.  Her best friend and employee, Sunny, is running for mayor of their town.  When a skeleton is found on property owned by Sunny’s grandparents, Carol and P.J., it becomes the talk of the small town.  Bolstered by the fact that Carol and P.J. used their land for a hippie commune back in the 1960s, and a couple of hippies left the commune and were not seen again, the incumbent mayor insinuates that Sunny’s family had something to do with the death which, as it turns out, was a murder.  And, when the skeleton is identified as someone who lived in the commune, suspicion of Carol and P.J. intensifies.

Amy, who does not believe that Carol and P.J. could have been involved in a murder, becomes determined to investigate, despite her fiancé’s concern for her safety.  In this she has the backing of the local Chief Deputy – at least partially – who asked her to do some research into the commune and its time.  However, he did not ask her to do any live investigating!  But, when Carol and P.J. ask Amy to deliver a message to former members of the commune, it seems like a perfect opportunity to ask questions without further raising suspicions.  Would that it was so!  Shortly after completing her round of questioning, Amy starts getting threats and the message that she should back off.  Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t do so.

Bound for Murder is an engaging cozy mystery, perfect for a weekend read and, as such, I recommend it.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, February 2020.

Book Reviews: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford and Murderabilia by Carl Vondereau @joeclifford23 @DownAndOutBooks @CarlVonderau @midnightinkbook

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books, December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-948235-42-6
Trade Paperback

An upstate small town where almost everyone has at least one scurrilous or dangerous secret, is the fall setting for this story. Alex Salerno is the flawed, inept and persistent hero of this long and winding tale.

A decade ago she was one of several girls in the town, located in upstate New York, who was abducted and held for unnamed assaultive practices in a dark space. Waiting there, she knew the other girls had been killed. And then, a small miracle, she is rescued by the local detective who becomes her lover. Her abductor now resides in prison.

The experience, naturally, has permanently damaged Alex’s psyche and her life in New York State, at least as she relates it, is fraught, unrooted and filled with booze, drugs and impermanence. For uncertain reasons she has now returned to her home town to meet a reporter who may or may not be preparing a story for the local paper on the history of that time when so many young women and girls had been abducted and murdered.

She knew her abductor was in jail and the reporter was focusing on the later disappearance of another teenager named Kira Shanks. The rambling torturous plot is further obscured by the belief in some corners of this conflicted community that the man now held in a nearby mental institution was not responsible for Kira Shanks disappearance.

As the plot slowly unwinds and layer after layer of a depressing community are revealed, against her better judgement and with menace ever closer, Alex Salerno persists in sticking her nose in unwanted sometimes dangerous places. She is physically and mentally abused and even her tenuous family ties in the town are stressed. The narrative blends the viewpoints of several characters and at times readers may be confused as to who is speaking. Ultimately some of the mysteries and secrets of this town are resolved but one is left wondering about the future life of Alex Salerno.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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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Murderabilia
Carl Vonderau
Midnight Ink Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-007387-6130-5
Trade Paperback

A dark, intense story of murder and family destruction, this novel, after a slow start, will engage readers in a way that will leave them in thoughtful contemplation of family relationships.

Will McNary has a successful career as a private banker who works with individual clients on their financial investments and other monetary activities. He’s married with two young children and living in San Diego. His life is generally calm and ordinary, although he’s feeling a little heat in the form of competition from other officers of the bank. His sister Polly and their aging mother share an unsettling secret.

When Will was a child of only eight, his father was sent to prison for murdering and butchering several women. He compounded his heinous crime by posing and photographing the women, pictures that were circulated and sold on the underground market. McNary’s father was convicted and when the novel opens, has been in prison for more than thirty years. Now, a copy-cat killer linked to Will’s father has emerged, one who appears to be targeting Will and his family.

The story follows Will along a sordid twisting trail as he attempts to protect his loved ones, help law enforcement find the vicious copy-cat, and plumb the emotional depths of the knowledge that he is the son of an incredibly twisted killer.

The novel is well-written and once moving along its trail, enthralling. I hesitate to call it a page turner, however, for those readers attracted to the truly dark side of humanity in several of its manifestations, this carefully crafted story is insistently engaging.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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: Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima @margmizu @crookedlanebks

Tracking Game
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #5
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-64385-135-8
Hardcover

Deputy Mattie Cobb is at a local gathering enjoying an evening with Cole Walker the local vet, when there is an explosion nearby.  As they rush to the site they find a van on fire and a dead body, a body with two bullet holes.  The body is that of Nate Fletcher married to the daughter of Doyle Redman from a nearby ranch.

Who would want to kill Nate Fletcher? As the investigation quickly gets underway Mattie and her K-9 partner Robo make a few important discoveries including finding the gun used to kill Nate.

As the local police, along with Mattie and Robo focus on unravelling the mystery, another body turns up. The case grows ever more complicated as questions regarding possible drug running and other dangerous activities slowly surface.

This one started with a Bang, literally. The pace slowed somewhat during the investigation.  Mattie is dealing with some personal issues regarding her relationship with Cole, but she determinedly sets those aside to focus on finding the perpetrator or perpetrators.  There are a number of viable suspects and the mystery takes an unusual turn that sends Mattie, Robo and Cole on a tracking mission up into the mountains.

This is the fifth book but my first introduction to the Timber Creek Series, and even though there is back story regarding Mattie’s past referred to in the book, I didn’t feel I was missing too much and enjoyed meeting Mattie and her very smart K-9, Robo.

I was drawn in reading how Mattie and her K-9 worked together.  The author also vividly captured the beauty as well as the danger of the Timber Creek landscape.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, January 2020.

Book Review: A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames @TerryShames @SeventhStBooks

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #8
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-63388-490-8
Trade Paperback

This is the eighth book in the series with Chief Samuel Craddock.  Chief Craddock lives in the small town of Jarrett Creek, a rural community where, for the most part, the residents all know each other.  Recently, Samuel has noticed that his friend and neighbour, Loretta Singletary, has changed her hairstyle, has been wearing new clothes, and he’s more than a bit surprised to learn she’s signed onto an online Dating site.

The next day Samuel still hasn’t seen his friend and he’s beginning to worry.  He talks to several of her friends but no one has seen Loretta.  That’s when he decides to call her son. But he hasn’t seen her either. And when someone mentions they’d read of women being duped out of money, or worse,  by men they met on a dating site, Samuel decides it’s time to open an investigation.

When a woman’s body is found on a road leading to a nearby town, a woman who had also recently joined the same Dating site, Samuel is alarmed and the search for Loretta begins in earnest.  But unaccustomed with the internet Samuel quickly grows frustrated with his efforts, but he pushes on, worried that Loretta might suffer a similar fate.

Spending time with Chief Craddock is always a treat.  Check him out.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, November 2019.