Book Reviews: Nine Lives to Die by Rita Mae Brown and An Intimate Murder by Stacy Verdick Case

Nine Lives to DieNine Lives to Die
A Mrs. Murphy Mystery
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Illustrated by Michael Gellatly
Bantam Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-345-53050-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Winter has come to Crozet, Virginia, bringing with it a fresh blanket of snow. Harry and her husband, Fair, are hip deep in their usual end-of-the-year activities: distributing food to needy residents, and shopping for outfits for the Silver Linings youth organization’s annual fundraising gala. But buried beneath the white stuff are dark secrets from Crozet’s past—and Harry and her posse of pet detectives are determined to sniff them out.
 
Two Silver Linings mentors have been found dead in suspicious circumstances. If that weren’t enough to chill the bones of the locals, a pair of severed human fingers has turned up in a pencil jar in the bookkeeper’s office at St. Cyril’s church. What does this grisly display have to do with the mysterious disappearance of Harry’s voluptuous high school Latin teacher, a quarter of a century ago? Maybe nothing. But when the animals make another gruesome discovery in the woods behind Harry’s farm, it becomes clear that terrible crimes have been committed in Crozet—and somebody’s gone to great lengths to cover them up. It’s time to stop shoveling snow and start digging for clues.
 
The truth will be revealed. A cold case will be solved. And a twenty-five-year-old love triangle is about to get untangled. The weather outside may be frightful, but Harry and her four-legged friends refuse to be spooked off the case.

It’s hard to believe this series has been going on for so long but, indeed, it has—this is the twenty-second adventure for Harry and her four-footed pals and I still think spending a few hours with this crew is just about the most comforting and entertaining way to indulge my fancy for a cozy mystery. I’m a reader who generally prefers edgier crime fiction but sometimes I need a break from the dark stuff and Rita Mae Brown always delivers or almost always. There have been a few books that I felt were written as a means of sharing an agenda but Nine Lives to Die is back on track. (There is one unexplained oddity when Harry is referred to as “Harriet” which is not her name.)

Harry and the rest of her rural locality are appealing people (other than the ones who will turn out to be the bad guys) and, after all these years, I consider them friends. Harry and Fair are a couple I wish were in my life for real and the rest of the town denizens always give me a sense of coming home after a time away. I especially like the faith they have in each other and in a higher power and the way they come together as a community to solve problems.

In this case, modern-day murder and some years-old questions become entwined, beginning with what appears at first blush to be a fatal car accident.  Missing fingers are one of the first clues that foul play might have occurred. Not long after, Harry’s pets find a great Christmas present for Mom even if it was originally on a human arm bone. Does the rest of this skeleton have anything to do with current events?

A cast of characters makes it easy to keep all these folks—and a bunch of critters—straight but it is a couple of cats and a dog who are the real stars of the show. Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tee Tucker all have one common goal: keep Mom (Harry) from getting herself into too much trouble. Their conversations with each other and other creatures as they track down clues are a lot of fun and, no, I have no problem with talking animals, whether they talk to humans or only to each other. This is fiction, folks, and we’re allowed to have fun with it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

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An Intimate MurderAn Intimate Murder
Stacy Verdick Case
Before the Fall Books, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-9837137-6-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jonathan and Susan Luther are murder in their home, St. Paul homicide detective Catherine O’Brien and her partner Louise discover this isn’t the first time the Luther family has been visited by tragedy.  Is it a case of bad family luck or is there something more?

Having a reporter tag along as you investigate a murder is not any detective’s dream but that’s precisely what happens when Detective Catherine O’Brien mouths off about the media and her punishment is to have Jane Katts along for the ride. It’s even more aggravating when it becomes apparent that Jane has little interest in portraying how the police do their jobs.

Catherine is the kind of detective you’d want on the case should you ever find yourself involved in a murder. She’s determined to root out the truth but she’s not one to believe the ends justify the means; she’ll get the job done honestly and with good oldfashioned hard work. Her friendship with Louise Montgomery is what makes their partnership so successful and, like many partnerships, their differences solidify their compatibility and mutual trust.

Getting to the truth of the Luthers’ murders is a complex and tangled mystery and could easily turn totally dark and depressing but Catherine’s brand of humor adds a dimension that not only helps protect the sanity of cops doing a tough job but also keeps this particular tale a bit more engaging than the usual police procedural and the twists and turns kept me guessing. I really like these women and will be going back to read the first two books as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

Book Review: Death’s Way by Christopher Valen

Death's WayDeath’s Way
A John Santana Novel
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, March 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-9800017-7-8
Trade Paperback

John Santana, St. Paul Homicide Detective, is called to a death scene in a downtown hotel room. The case at first glance appears to be a case of autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong. She was choked by the plastic bag over her head that evidently was to serve as a safety device but the victim passed out before she could get the bag off. There was a silk scarf around the waist of the corpse and hooks of a red bungee cord bound around her waist was attached to a second strap that stretched up her back, around her neck, and down to the waist strap again. From all appearances, this death was an accidental suicide but Santana always considered death by strangulation a homicide until proved otherwise.

The hotel room was actually a spacious, private suite. Santana searched the purse left in the room and found a driver’s license identifying the deceased as Catalina Diaz, twenty-two years old. The purse contained no keys or cell phone which was unusual since most people carried a cell phone and keys of some type to an apartment, house or car. He also found a small envelope containing five one hundred dollar bills and a business card for a Dr. Philip Campbell.

John’s partner, Kacie Hawkins, checks and finds that Catalina Diaz had used the same hotel two weeks earlier. Hawkins has her car towed to the impound lot. According to the key log, Diaz entered the hotel room at 9:32 p.m. the previous night and never left. Philip Campbell checked out at 6:00 a.m. this morning. Santana and Hawkins search the victim’s condo in downtown St. Paul and Santana finds a couple of items commonly used in Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. He also found a picture of Diaz with a woman he thought was probably Nina Rivera, Diaz’s roommate. Santana also finds a list of the names of three men hidden in a drawer.

A woman brings her daughter to the police department with a story of a similar death six years before. This strange story captures Santana’s interest and he searches for connections between call girls and their involvement with powerful men. This is just a brief summary of the beginning of the case.

The story is very exciting and is a fast read and many of the details will be shocking and hard to imagine. Detective John Santana is a complex character and the reader gets to know him better with each novel. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2014.

Book Reviews: Bad Weeds Never Die by Christopher Valen, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis, and Danger Sector by Jenifer LeClair

Bad Weeds Never Die
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001730
Trade Paperback

“Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives,” is a quote from my review of White Tombs, the book that introduced Detective John Santana.  The Black Minute, the second Santana book, was even more exciting than the first book.  Now author Christopher Valen has brought Detective John Santana back in Bad Weeds Never Die.  “Bad weeds never die,” is an old Colombian saying and turns out to be an excellent title for this book.

John Santana was born in Colombia.  He had avenged his Mother’s death and he was forced to flee leaving behind his younger sister Natalia.  Santana hopes someday to locate her.  He knows that his sister could be dead but his dreams and his senses tell him that she is still alive.

Santana’s current case is the death of Teresa Blackwood.  Teresa’s vehicle is found in a parking lot. The car is full of blood and some dirt and an orchid are on the floorboard of the car. Although the vehicle was empty, the police felt that someone had died in that car and that the body had been moved.  When Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins call on Jonathan  Blackwood, Teresa’s father, they discover that Teresa has a twin sister, Maria.  Blackwood tells the detectives that although the twins are identical their personalities are very different. Teresa is head of an adoption agency.  Maria is a part time musician and mystery writer with a history of some drug problems.  The twins were adopted by the Blackwood’s when they were six months old. The twins were adopted in Colombia.

As Santana delves deeper into the case, he finds suspects at every turn.  Teresa lived with Steven Larson, a man who was cheating on her.  Blackwood’s family attorney was having an affair with the other daughter, Maria.  To make things even more tedious in the investigation Rita Gamboni, Santana’s boss, admitted that she had dated Jonathan Blackwood.

When the case becomes more complicated Santana decides that he has no choice but to travel to Colombia and investigate the agency that was working with Teresa’s adoption agency in the states.  No one wants Santana to make this trip since he has enemies in Colombia that would like to see him dead.

Santana feels that in order to solve his current case as well as face his demons and hopefully find his sister he must make the trip.  The trip does prove to be a dangerous move and readers will be shocked at the facts that Santana discovers in Colombia.

The case is finally solved but there are no end of surprises and no way to predict the final outcome.  An excellent book that will keep the reader on edge until the last page.  It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the current book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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The Good, The Bad and The Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

At the request of Jaz LeMieux, private investigator Sid Chance agrees to help Djuan Burden, who is accused of murder.   Djuan’s grandmother is a long time friend of Jaz’s live-in housekeeper, Marie Wallace.  Djuan has only been out of jail for about six months and now he is back in jail on a murder charge.   His grandmother is convinced that he is innocent and Jaz wants to do everything she can to help a friend of Marie’s.

Jaz is an ex-cop and wealthy business owner but enjoys being a sidekick on Sid’s investigations.  When the two visit Djuan’s grandmother, they discover that Djuan went to a small medical equipment store in Nashville’s Green Hills section. The purpose of his visit was to complain about charges on his grandmother’s Medicare account.  Djuan’s grandmother, Rachel Ransom, had not paid a lot of attention to the many notices she received from Medicare but when Djuan saw that she had been charged for items such as a power wheelchair he decided to complain.  Rachel has never owned a wheel chair and has no need of one.    When Djuan went to the equipment store to complain, he found a dead man behind the desk.  Frightened that he would be accused of murder because of his prison history, he ran.  A witness spotted Djuan leaving the scene of the crime and the police immediately charged him with murder. A crooked cop who had no qualms about planting evidence didn’t help Djuan’s case one bit.

Besides trying to assist Sid in the murder investigation Jaz was also dealing with a problem of her own. Jaz’ company has been accused of racial discrimination.  There was no basis for the accusation, but the fact that it had been made brought about a lot of bad publicity for Jaz and her company.

Before Sid can prove that Djuan did not commit murder, Jaz finds that she is in trouble with the police.  As the two work together to clear both Djuan and the false accusations against Jaz, it becomes obvious to Sid that there is a professional hit man in town and it would appear the hit man has decided that Sid will be his next victim.

This is a great addition to the Sid Chance series.  The problem of Medicare fraud needs to be addressed because so many older people like Djuan’s mother don’t take time to analyze all the information they receive from Medicare so phony charges many times are paid and go unnoticed.

Chester Campbell’s books always make good reads but the Sid Chance series is special.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Murder In the 11th House
Mitchell Scott Lewis
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-950-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

David Lowell is not your run of the mill detective.  David is an astrological detective and is very good at his job.  David has studied astrology and has become such an expert that he has used his knowledge of to buy and sell in the stock market and is now a wealthy man.

When Lowell is asked to use his skills to prove the innocence of Johnny Colbert, a woman accused of murdering Farrah Winston, a Judge in the Debit Claims Court in Lower Manhattan, Lowell’s first inclination is to decline.  The fact that Johnny Colbert is represented by Melinda Lowell, David Lowell’s daughter, is a convincing enough fact to make him take the case.

Johnny proves to be loud-mouthed and a rather rough person on the exterior but further investigation proves that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.  When Johnny is attacked in the jail Melinda talks her father into posting bail and letting Johnny stay in his townhouse.  Lowell is not too pleased with this arrangement but tends to do most anything his daughter asks.

Lowell is helped in the investigation by his assistant Sarah as well as Mort, a talented computer hacker.   Lowell’s bodyguard is always right around the corner when Lowell needs him.

It seems that Judge Winston had big plans for her future and, as Lowell finds out, that certain people did not want her plans to become a reality.

This first book in the Starlight Detective Agency series is a good one and shows that astrology can be used in many ways.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Danger Sector
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001709
Trade Paperback

The last place you would expect to find a Minneapolis Police Detective on leave is working aboard a sailing ship but that is exactly what Brie Beaumont is doing.  The Maine Wind is a working ship owned by Captain John DeLuc.   Brie and John are very attracted to each other but Brie is still uncertain what the future holds for her and is unwilling to make a commitment to John on a personal level or to the ship as a permanent job.

Brie left the police department after her partner was killed and she felt she needed some distance from police work but when the ship makes a stop on Sentinel Island to help John’s friend repair an old lighthouse Brie is immediately caught up in a mystery surrounding the lighthouse and the small island.

Amanda Whitcombe is an artist, a prominent member of the Sentinel Island community and a good friend of Ben, the owner of the lighthouse.  Amanda has disappeared and when Brie finds her cottage unlocked she investigates and some clues lead Brie to believe that Amanda did not leave voluntarily.

Ben inherited the lighthouse when the previous owner died after an accident at the lighthouse.  The previous owner of the lighthouse was also a good friend of Amanda’s.  When John and Brie accidentally discover an old journal hidden in the lighthouse, belonging to the previous owner, the two decide there are mysterious happenings on the island that might bring danger to Ben as well as Brie, John and the crew of The Maine Wind.

Danger Sector is a good mystery.  The descriptions of the scenery around Sentinel Island and the food served by the cook on The Maine Wind makes the reader want to experience a trip by sailing ship although life aboard the ship is anything but easy.

This is the second book in The Windjammer Mystery series.  Rigged for Murder is the first in the series and both are recommended.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.