A Teeny Book Review Trio @dpeterfreund @ABRAMSbooks @martywingate @BerkleyMystery @atticalocke @mulhollandbooks

In the Hall with the Knife
A Clue Mystery #1
Diana Peterfreund
Harry N. Abrams, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-4197-3834-0
Hardcover

I whiled away many, many hours with friends years ago playing Clue, one of the best board games ever, and then I fell in love with the game-based movie starring Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan and the rest of a wonderful cast. A series of novelizations came along; a new movie is in pre-production and there was a movie or mini-series (hard to tell which) that bears no real resemblance and I wasn’t impressed. Now, there’s a new book and, I must say, I had a lot of fun with this.

Ms. Peterfreund has turned this into a teen cast and they all have names that fit the game, names such as Finn Plum and Scarlet Mistry. Rather than a gloomy mansion with guests who must discover a murderer before they’re all killed, we have a small group of students who are stranded in their forest-bound school with the headmaster who is soon found murdered. The game is on, not only to find the killer but to figure out who can be trusted and who has much to hide. Readers of all ages will really enjoy this.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

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The Bodies in the Library
A First Edition Library Mystery #1
Marty Wingate
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-984-80410-5
Hardcover

Hayley Burke recently started her dream job as curator of a book collection focused on the women authors of the Golden Age, authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The late Lady Georgiana Fowling’s personal assistant and now permanent The First Edition Society secretary, Glynis Woolgar, views Hailey with suspicion but she hasn’t figured out the curator’s big secret yet—while Hayley has experience with libraries and literature, she knows next to nothing about the Golden Age or, in fact, mysteries and detectives. The two women do NOT see eye to eye on how Hayley is running things, including hosting a fan fiction writing group in the library, and things certainly don’t get better when a body is found in their own locked room mystery. To get to the answers she needs before her position as curator implodes, Hayley reads her first mystery, The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie, and is soon assisting the police with their investigation, whether they want her help or not.

Marty Wingate has been one of my favorite traditional mystery authors for some time although I’ve been seriously remiss about writing reviews. With this new series, she has created an ambience of the very Golden Age mysteries the Society promotes but with a charming modern-day setting and the de rigueur sleuthing works really well. Kudos to the author for what looks to be a clever and appealing new series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

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Heaven, My Home
A Highway 59 Mystery #2
Attica Locke
Mulholland Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-0-316-36340-2
Hardcover

Being a black Texas Ranger comes with its own set of problems, as you might expect, and Darren Mathews is indeed dealing with those issues as well as repercussions from his last case. On top of that, his own mother is blackmailing him, his marriage is strained and alcohol is getting the better of him. Investigating the disappearance of a young boy draws him back into the world of white supremacy when the Rangers think Darren is the best man to work with the local white sheriff because the boy, son of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was last seen in a black community.

Darren is confronted by racial prejudice from the white people in town, including the sheriff, but also believes that Leroy Page, an elderly black man who saw the child, is not cooperating with the hunt for the boy. Darren’s friend, Greg, a white FBI agent, shocks Darren when he posits that Leroy just might be guilty of a hate crime in reverse. Could he be right?

Several threads in this story reflect the racial stress that has been growing in this country but Ms. Locke has a deft way with words and creates a kind of tension we don’t often see. Getting to the resolution of this disappearance is rough but I couldn’t look away until I knew what really happened.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

Book Review: A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum

A Welcome Murder
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63388-263-8
Trade Paperback

Steubenville, Ohio, residents come front and center in this engaging if somewhat rambling novel of drug dealing, infidelity, teen-aged pranks, civic wrong-doing and, of course, murder. Hence the title. While the title refers to a single death, several other characters would be cheerfully done away with by many readers.

That doesn’t take anything away from the delightful atmosphere created by the author with fine, accurate writing and an insouciance rarely found in crime fiction. Johnny Earl is a BMIT, a big man in town with a spectacular athletic career in high school and serious prospects for a pro career in baseball. A knee injury wipes that out and Earl returns to Steubenville where he fashions a new career selling cocaine and other illegal drugs.

Busted, he serves seven years. Now released, Earl returns to his home town intent on retrieving a large stash of cash he secreted in a bolt hole in case he had to leave town quickly, a plan interrupted by Earl’s arrest and imprisonment.

Several of his school classmates, a wandering wife or two and various law enforcement agencies tangle over his maneuverings and then, the man who nailed Earl is murdered. He is a most hated man and there are several suspects from the Sheriff, a classmate of Johnny, to the sheriff’s wife, Earl‘s lover, and two convicts Earl encountered while in prison.

Those two are neo-Nazis, planning to create a separate white male-dominated nation within the boundaries of the United States. They are after Johnny’s cash stash.

Eventually things get sorted, the FBI agents are sent packing, as are the nasty neo-Nazis, the killer is revealed, and….well, does Johnny get his cash? Read the book. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
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: Adam’s Needle by Beth Lyon Barnett and Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

Adam's NeedleAdam’s Needle
Beth Lyon Barnett
Prairie Acres Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-1503268968
Trade Paperback

Will grows up in a shack tucked away outside of the town of Pecan Grove in the Ozarks. His father is an abusive alcoholic who causes Will to quit talking when he is five years old, and his mother has been beaten down by abuse, ailments, and life. Will’s rescuer is his part Native-American granny who instills in him a sense of right and wrong and inner strength that allows him to survive.

Some of the town leaders, members of the local fundamentalist church, and several uneducated hotheads on neighboring farms are connected with white supremacist organizations. The towering white cross on Adam’s Needle was placed there by the Ku Klux Klan. Incidents of teenage pregnancy and the drug culture are growing among the poverty-stricken families.

A young Jewish couple, scientists from K.U. dedicated to improving agriculture and restoring wildlife in the area, buy a neighboring farm. A gay couple moves to town to run the florist shop. Then, the church’s pastor retires and is replaced by a phony preacher bent on making his reputation by stirring up trouble with his xenophobic interpretations of Bible passages that appeal to the poor farmers and townsfolk ready to blame their situations on something or someone. Predictable trouble.

Mass hysteria can be caused by unscrupulous, power-hungry leaders anywhere. This book is both an engrossing story unique to Will’s Ozark community and also a universal phenomenon. It’s both timely and ancient. Compare it to Winter’s Bone but with a political edge.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, March 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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DissolutionDissolution
Lee S. Hawke
Blind Mirror Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-925299-03-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head and your entire city might turn out to be a lie… what would you sell yourself for?

In recent times, we in the US have come to have a rather jaundiced view of corporations, particularly the big ones, and we’ve largely lost the naive faith our parents and grandparents had that corporations cared about people. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good ones that DO have an altruistic bent but the moneycrunching type seem to be prevalent. Even with our mounting distrust, though, I don’t think we’ve anticipated the theme that Lee S. Hawke has built her story around in Dissolution.

How repugnant is the idea that our children can be bought and sold by corporations with the true parents aiding and abetting the process? I immediately felt a good deal of empathy for Maddie not only because of the auction that’s happening but also because she doesn’t know how wrong this is, never having experienced any other lifestyle. She’s an interesting girl, quite appealing, and I came to like her quite a lot despite her blind dependence on the existing system (and imagine how unromantic it must be to have to pay to spend time with your boyfriend!).

More than anything else, I found Dissolution to be somewhat incomplete. There’s no real worldbuilding and that’s pretty important in a tale like this one, a way to let the reader know how we got to such a point in our future and what propelled the corporations to a position of absolute control. The lack of such information is understandable in a novella but I’m sure I would have enjoyed Maddie’s story more in a full-length novel with space enough to provide the backstory and flesh out the characters more.

All that said, I do want to know more and I appreciated Dissolution enough to hope Ms. Hawke will bring Maddie back in the near future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.