Book Review: February Fever by Jess Lourey

February Fever
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #10
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4214-4
Trade Paperback

February Fever finds librarian Mira James’s sizzling relationship with her boyfriend Johnny Leeson in jeopardy when Johnny gets a month long internship across the country. Because Jess is not wild about flying she figures the relationship will be on hold until Mrs. Berns comes to the rescue by suggesting the two of them travel cross-country via train. Sounds like a good idea until it turns out the train is a Valentine special for singles to meet. And then the train gets stuck in a snow storm. Those two things would be bad enough, but this is after all Mira and the series is called Murder by Month so of course Mira once again has a murder happen in her vicinity and Mira being Mira  is soon investigating.

Things to like about this book are that the main characters, or at least those on the trip, stay true to form. Once again, Ms. Lourey delivers a book that while very funny in some places isn’t quite your typical cozy. The plot is interesting, and while snowbound trains are not exactly new to the mystery genre, the author does it very well.

There are a couple of things about the series as a whole that rub me wrong. I hate the near slap stick comedy routines that show up throughout the series. In this book  Mira agrees to dance with a guy once, only one dance, but then trips and face plants into his crotch. This and things like it just add too much silliness to a book that doesn’t need it for laughs and in my opinion takes away from the good writing.

The other thing that I definitely did not like, nor I imagine will other readers who follow this series,

 

(semi spoiler alert)

is that the author kills off one of the regular characters. I don’t want to spoil the book for readers, so I won’t say who or how, but this was a shocking development.

(end spoiler)

 

This is the tenth book in the series with March and April to go to finish the year of murders. Since this book came out in 2015, I’m not sure the series will wrap up or not. I hope so. In spite of a few quibbles, I enjoy visiting with Mira and the other characters.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, January 2018.

Book Reviews: Run by Kody Keplinger and Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Run
Kody Keplinger
Scholastic Press, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0
Hardcover

To say that Agnes and Bo are polar opposites would be grossly overstating their similarities….at least at first glance.  It is difficult to imagine what the serene, docile blind girl would discuss with the most promiscuous wild-child in the small southern town.  It is initially inconceivable that the two would form a bond built on trust and whole-hearted acceptance.  Run isn’t a SnapChat view of two teenagers’ lives.  Ms. Keplinger uses a wide lens to clearly capture the vast and complicated contributing factors that affect not only how other people see the girls; but also their own perceptions of themselves.

That is not to say, however, that this is a dark and heavy tome.  Contrarily, I found this to be immediately irresistible and I ended up reading the book in one day.   It is so easy to become immersed, then invested in a story that is told from two points of view.  Ms. Keplinger spins the tale in that fashion, with a fantastic little tense twist.  True to her very core, Bo’s side of the story is happening right now, present tense, in your face—exactly the way she lives her life.  Agnes takes us back—remembering, yes….but also, considering and contemplating.

While I hesitate to use comparisons in reviews, I genuinely feel that I would be remiss if I did not say: this story, to me, feels important in an Eleanor and Park kind of way.  Although it is undeniably Bo and Agnes’ story; their parents do play a key role.  Just like the teens; adults can be guilty of making and sticking to snap judgments.  Also alongside adolescents; adults have plenty of room to grow.  I’ve no doubt Run will have mass appeal in the YA world and I’m pretty confident that there are plenty of Not-So-Young Adults that will dig it, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Death in the Tunnel
A British Library Crime Classic
Miles Burton
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0581-1
Trade Paperback

First of all, a short synopsis: Sir Wilfred Saxonby dies as he takes the five o’clock train home. He’s in a locked compartment, shot through the heart by one bullet, the pistol that fired it under his own seat. His death seems straightforward enough, the only odd thing being the fact the train was traveling through a long tunnel at the time. A very noisy, very dark tunnel. And there were the mysterious lights the engineer and fireman saw on the tracks, changing from red, which slowed the train, to green again, when the train sped up.

Was Sir Wilfred’s death suicide, or was it murder?

That is the question posed to Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard. Terribly puzzled himself, Arnold calls in Desmond Merrion, an amateur expert on criminology. Together they set out to discover the truth in this convoluted plot.

See. No spoilers.

Death in the Tunnel was first published in 1936, the author contemporaneous with Agatha Christie. The plot plods, in my most humble opinion, although the premise is classically intriguing. The characters never really come alive, composed, for the most part, of talking heads. I never really see them. The action, what there is of it, seems constrained. Nobody, even the dead man’s children, seems to care all that much.

Writing styles come and go. Perhaps the British version of that day was more stilted, although Christie, Sayers, Creasey, among others, always struck me a writers of good stories. American author Mabel Seeley, from the same era, brought the reader into her characters’ world, always with a sense of danger involved.

As a puzzle concept, Death in the Tunnel, delivers. As a rousing good story, I can only say, “Not for me.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Murder on the Mullet Express by Gwen Mayo and Sarah E. Glenn

murder-on-the-mullet-expressMurder on the Mullet Express
Three Snowbirds #1
Gwen Mayo and Sarah E. Glenn
Mystery and Horror LLC, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9964209-7-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s 1926. The West Coast Development Company is staging its biggest land deal in Homosassa, Florida, selling pieces of a planned city to speculators who dream of a tropical paradise. Army nurse Cornelia Pettijohn takes leave to travel to Florida with her ancient uncle, who claims that he wants a warm winter home. When their car breaks down, they take the local train, The Mullet Express, into Homosassa. By the time they arrive, though, a passenger has been poisoned. A second murder victim boards the train later, iced down with the fish. Uncle Percival’s hidden agenda makes him the sheriff’s prime suspect. Cornelia and Teddy Lawless, a twenty-year-old flapper in a body pushing sixty, must chase mobsters and corner suspects to dig her uncle out of the hole he’s dug for himself.

“…two old crows and one old coot…”

Those few words on the first page of this book told me I was most likely going to enjoy Murder on the Mullet Express and, indeed, I did. Cornelia, Teddy and Uncle Percival are such charming characters and I truly enjoyed spending time with them.

Generally speaking, worldbuilding is not as critical to mystery fiction as it is to speculative fiction, largely because most mysteries are set in a world we can relate to. It becomes more important in historical settings, as I’m sure you’ll understand, and Ms. Mayo and Ms. Glenn really do a nice job with their worldbuilding. Without cramming anything down the reader’s throat, they introduce elements common in the 1920’s such as the falling numbers of whooping cranes, the 1918 Spanish Flu, the lingering effects of mustard gas, racism, the KKK, Prohibition, and chain gangs. Those little touches, some of which are part and parcel of the story, pulled me right in and gave me a better understanding of what life was like then.

As for characterization, I found myself seeing the humor and strong personality of the elderly Percival but also the courage and determination of the women who served as nurses in World War I. Those qualities have carried over into their post-war lives and getting involved with death and ensuing investigations really does work here. In fact, although this has been labeled as a cozy, I think it leans more towards the traditional mystery category. Yes, they are amateur sleuths, but the locale is not a hometown and the players are not well-known to each other, both elements common to cozies.

There’s a kind of dry humor here, which I found refreshing, and a lively plot with mobsters, flappers, socialites and all sorts of folks. To wrap things up, Murder on the Mullet Express is a most enjoyable and auspicious beginning to what I anticipate will be a long-running series and I’m hoping the next book will be out before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.