The Dead End Job Mysteries

I’ve been a fan of Elaine Viets’ Dead End Job mystery series since the first one came out in 2003, and I have all fifteen on a keeper shelf. The first thirteen have just been re-released with new covers (and prices) in eBook form. If you enjoy humorous mysteries as much as I do, you won’t want to miss them.

Dead End Jobs

The series gets its name from the dreadful jobs Helen Hawthorne works to stay under the radar and off the books. She’s fled St. Louis for the sunnier climate of Fort Lauderdale, a few steps ahead of the law. I’m not going to tell you exactly why Helen is on the run, because it’s too much fun to find out for yourself, but I’ll just say it involves her ex-husband, a neighbor, and a baseball bat.

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Helen finds a new home at the Coronado Tropic Apartments, run by chain-smoking, purple-clad, seventyish Margery Flax, a great character throughout the series. Helen also meets Peggy and her parrot Pete, and Thumbs the cat, and wonders about the pot-smoking hippie in one of the upstairs apartments (keep an eye on him). I grew up in South Florida (the suburbs of Miami), so I especially enjoy the Fort Lauderdale setting.

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Through the series, Helen works at some awful jobs. She’s worked at penny-pinching retail shops (a bridal shop, a book store, a doggy boutique, a resale shop, and a beauty salon), and cleaned hotel rooms and litter pans. She’s been a telemarketer and a yacht stewardess. All these jobs and more are tasks Elaine Viets has actually done as research for the books.

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As I write this, Helen’s first three adventures (Shop Til You Drop,Murder Between the Covers, and Dying to Call You) are available from Amazon for only $2.99 each, a perfect time to try one. One of these days I’m going to binge-read them all in order.

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You can check them all out and read the first chapters on Elaine’s site. (While you’re there, check out the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series, set in St. Louis—I’m a big fan of those books, too!)

 

The Boleyn King

What might have happened if Anne Boleyn had borne a healthy son? That’s the premise of Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King. As the novel opens, Henry IX is turning 17. He has been King for several years, since the death of his father, but he has one more year to wait before Lord Rochford (his uncle George Boleyn) steps down as Regent. Known as William to those closest to him (his older sister Elizabeth, his cousin and confidante Dominic Courtenay, and Minuette Wyatt, an orphan born on the same day as Will was and raised in Queen Anne’s court), the young King is eager to rule on his own.

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The story centers on the lives of these four young people as they navigate the excitement and danger of the Royal Court. They deal with political intrigue, gossip, illicit affairs, and even a questionable death. Beyond the concerns of everyday life, there is war with France, tension with Spain (will Elizabeth marry King Phillip?), and diplomatic jousting on the rest of the continent.

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The Boleyn KingIn this version of Tudor England, Anne remains Queen Mother (and a controversial figure), and four of Henry VIII’s famous marriages never happened. Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, is long dead, but her daughter Mary (demoted from Princess to Lady and removed from the line of succession) lives on, doing her best to incite a Catholic rebellion. Lady Jane Grey is alive and well, suggested as a suitable wife for Henry. (I always thought poor Jane, with her nine days as Queen, got the worst deal of the period.)

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I love alternate history, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Boleyn King, but I have to say it reads as historical rather than speculative fiction, perhaps because the change in history occurs less than twenty years before the beginning of the novel. This leaves Andersen free to write her vision of the Tudor period without worrying too much about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

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The Boleyn King has a very different feel from Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories, set in a twentieth century Britain fair removed from the “hinge” that changed its history, in which Richard I stayed home and enjoyed a long and successful reign, and the Plantagenet line still rules Britain, or S. M. Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers, in which a twenty-first century British royal family rules from India, driven there by a nineteen century meteorite fall that destroyed much of Europe and derailed the Industrial Revolution.

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I know enough about the Tudor period to enjoy Andersen’s imaginings and not enough to troll for historical errors. Now, of course, I have to know what comes next, in the rest of the Boleyn trilogy (The Boleyn Deceit and The Boleyn Reckoning) and in the Tudor Legacy trilogy about the reign of Elizabeth (The Virgin’s Daughter, The Virgin’s Spy, and The Virgin’s War).

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Sigh. This is what happens when I download those interesting loss-leader titles from the daily ebook emails. Next thing I know I have another series to pursue, and even more books in my Amazon cloud.

 

Flash Drives!

Recently the topic of backing up computer files came up at my local RWA chapter meeting. The next day I had a minor back up problem of my own. Either the monthly Windows update or the middle-of-the-night reboot that accompanied it scrambled my open Quicken file beyond repair. The most recent back up I had of the file was almost three weeks old, and it took a lot of paper (check book, bills paid, debit card receipts, etc.) to reconstruct the missing time (I’m a little OCD about financial records). Not a disaster, took me an hour or so to fix, but it did get me thinking about backing up files.

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I have an external hard drive to which my computer backs up frequently, but I’ve never bothered to learn how to retrieve specific files from it. It just sits there on my desk. I’ve always backed up (with varying degrees of frequency) to flash drives (or, back in the day, diskettes, and I’ll bet I have a box of those in the attic, with no computer in the house that will read them).

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I had been using a pair of 16GB drives, but I’ve been warned they don’t last forever, and they were starting to feel small (!), so I stopped by Office Depot and picked up a pair of 32GB drives (between the sale price and my OD rewards, the two drives cost me 16 bucks and change, sales tax included).

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flash drivesAnd I discovered a cache of seventeen flash drives in a small drawer on my desk, with no idea what’s on most of them, how old they are, how much they hold, or why I’ve kept them. So I decided to take a trip down (computer) memory lane.

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Four small round drives, 16MB each. The blue one is empty. The red one has a tiny file called “autorun.” One yellow one has a few files from 2007 and photos from the surprise birthday party my friends gave me that year. The other yellow one has an early version of a novel (all 640KB of it). Ten years ago those 16MB drives were quite roomy.

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A 128MB drive last used in 2010 has copies of four novels and a financial program Microsoft discontinued, and 45MB of empty space. Took me a minute to figure out how to open that one.

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Another 128MB drive from 2007 (a Corsair Flash Voyager) contains a few random files, a couple of fonts, and a collection of pictures by the artist Kliban.

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A 512MB drive shaped like a bullet has one back up each from my home and work computers, dated 2007. A 512MB Lexar drive holds the 2011 version of my novel that made the Golden Heart finals that year and a collection of landscape photos.

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A red Lexar drive holding about 1GB contains back ups from my work computer dated 2010. A matching blue drive, labeled “downloads,” holds a list of random files and a collection of wildlife photos from 2008 and 2009. Another 1GB Lexar holds birthday party pictures, software I don’t even recognize, and a few random files.

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Moving up to 2GB drives, I have two that I probably bought because they have pretty floral cases. One has a copy of a novel and a back up from December 2012. The other one contains the set up file for a Sudoku program that has long since disappeared from commercial availability and the chapter affiliation files for 2011 for West Houston RWA (I was president of the chapter that year). A 4GB drive in a floral case has back ups from 2014.

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Then came a pair of Lexar 8GB drives, both holding back ups from 2015, and another pair of Lexars, 16GB each, that I started using in 2016.

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Clearly, I could throw most of these drives out right now, and never miss them. But I don’t think I will. It’s fun to poke through them and see what I’ve saved over the years. I’m impressed by the fact that, despite dire warnings of shelf life, every one of these drives opened without a problem (at least digitally—a few of them were a bit puzzling to open physically). I am not impressed by my rather spotty back up practices.

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I resolve to do better with my new 32GB flash drives, rather like carrying an umbrella on an overcast day. If you have it, chances are you won’t need it, but if you need it you’ll be glad you have it.

 

And More Mystery Reviews

I’m running out of titles for these review collections—obviously my reading has leaned heavily to cozy mysteries of late. On the other hand, as I write this I’m reading one alternate history novel (The Boleyn King by Laura Anderson) and one alternate world novel (Within the Sanctuary of Wings, the last—alas—Lady Trent Memoir by Marie Brennan). More on those later.

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Meanwhile, back in mystery land, Diane Kelly’s Death and Taxes series comes to an end Death, Taxes and a Shotgun Weddingwith Death, Taxes, and a Shotgun Wedding, the twelfth adventure of Tara Holloway, gun-toting IRS Special Agent. I’m sure it’s no spoiler to admit that Tara and Nick do manage to get married by the end of the book, or that shotguns actually are present at the wedding.

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Before they make it to the altar, though, Tara tackles a home rental scam, pursuing the fake property manager through an undercover job with Backseat Driver, and all her colleagues lend their talents to track down whoever is sending Tara death threats. That search serves as a trip down memory lane, as Tara and her friends check in with folks they’ve met—and some they’ve arrested—over Tara’s relatively brief career as an agent. (She’s sure packed a lot of action into less than two years on the job!) If you’ve been following the series you’ll enjoy catching up with all the characters.

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I’m glad to see Tara’s Happily Ever After (complete with a five-years-later epilogue), but sorry to see the series end. Never fear, though—Kelly’s Paw and Order K9 team of Megan and Brigit will continue, and rumor has it Kelly has a new series in the works.

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Zara Keane’s Rebel Without a Claus continues the adventures (and sometimes misadventures) of Maggie Doyle, an American ex-cop starting over on the little Irish Rebel Without a Clausisland where much of her father’s family lives. Maggie and her friend and assistant P.I. Lenny are doing undercover work for their newly established Movie Reel Investigations when they find a body in a bathtub. And that’s not the last body Maggie, widely known as a corpse magnet, will find in the course of the book. Throw in a half dozen Bad Santas, some odd behavior on the part of Liam Reynolds, Maggie’s police officer boyfriend, and the unexpected arrival of Maggie’s estranged sister Beth, now a famous beauty vlogger, and you have the ingredients for another tale combining mayhem and laughter.

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I’ve read the whole Movie Club Mysteries series over the past year and enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ll be watching for the next one, Some Like It Shot, due out in the spring.

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Deadly Fashion is the third in Kate Parker’s series set in pre-WWII London. Olivia Denis, Deadly Fashiona young widow (she solved her husband’s murder in Deadly Scandal), works as a barely competent writer on the society page of a London newspaper, holding down the job because she’s also handling investigations for the paper’s publisher. In Deadly Fashion, an interview with a long-admired couturier, Madame Mimi Mareau, leads Olivia into murder investigations and another trip to the continent.

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Parker does a wonderful job of bringing her setting to life. London is still reeling from the Abdication, everyone knows that war is coming sooner or later, and no one is entirely sure whose side of the conflict their neighbor might be on. Olivia and her good friend Captain Adam Richmond know where they stand, and don’t hesitate to follow their investigations, even when the answers aren’t what they might have hoped for.

 

Lark Brennan’s Durand Chronicles

Somehow Recklessly Yours, the third in Lark Brennan’s Durand Chronicles series, hid in a corner of my Kindle for a few months, but finishing it kept me up until 2 o’clock one Recklessly Yoursmorning (and I had to go fetch the charging cable and plug my Kindle in for the last half hour). The series might best be described as paranormal romantic suspense, although the characters are all human and the paranormal elements are all psychic. This entry involves a decidedly non-Indian artifact found on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana and two Durand Protectors (who haven’t spoken in seven years) sent to investigate and retrieve it.

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Chantal Durand has been working as an archaeologist in Australia (where she was briefly jailed for shooting an ex-lover in the butt), but she’s called back to her Protector duties when a mysterious artifact turns up in Montana. Her psychic abilities are just what’s needed to find a clue to the origin and meaning of the strange piece of tile. As if landing in the frozen north without the proper wardrobe wasn’t trouble enough, she finds herself working with Tanner Hays, the last partner she wants. The last time they worked together, Tanner’s best friend was killed, and he still blames Chantal for that disaster. The search for the more powerful artifact connected to the tile leads to suspense and more than a few plot twists as Chantal and Tanner make their way through dangerous blizzards and even more dangerous opponents equally determined to find the missing treasure.

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Recklessly Yours works as a stand alone novel of romantic suspense, but if you want to read the Chronicles from the beginning, and follow the twists and turns within the powerful Durand family and among their allies and opponents (not always easy to tell apart), start with Dangerously Yours. To outside eyes, Lex Durand is a marine biologist studying whales and dolphins. Only her close relatives in the large and powerful Durand clan know that she is an animal telepath, and that some of her study subjects have gone mysteriously missing.

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Her brother sends Lex to ask for assistance from Bodie Flynn, a near-recluse scientist Dangerously Yoursstudying newly discovered forms of energy which may just hold the clue to the disappearances. But Bodie used to be someone else entirely, and he blames Lex’s family for his current situation.

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The scientific puzzles are too much for either to resist (and pretty soon they’re having trouble resisting one another, as well). Off they go, via sailboat and seaplane, to one small island after another in pursuit of missing whales, reappearing, and possibly insane, dolphins, mysterious energy, psychic powers, and the occasional explosion.

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Book two, Irresistibly Yours, moves to Paris, headquarters of the Durand empire. When Tate Fulbright wanders into a shop in Paris, looking for an entomological collection she’d Irresistibly Yoursheard about from her scientist mother, she finds instead an amazing collection of taxidermied animals, as well as Adrien Durand, who seems just as amazing to a girl from Indiana, in the City of Light for a pharmaceutical convention. But despite her inexperience with the high society and wealth that Durand represents, Tate isn’t just another tourist from Indianapolis. She communicates with animals at a deep level, hears voices in her head, feels the emotions of the crowds around her, and has no idea where these abilities—or disabilities—come from.

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Adrien Durand, head of the far-flung Durand clan and its many commercial and charitable interests, doesn’t know where Tate’s talents come from, either, and that worries him. Is she a wild talent, or someone sent to spy on the Durands by one of the other psychic clans, some shaky allies, some outright enemies. For the Durands and their counterparts fight a long and continuing battle to either protect or enslave the ordinaires of the world.

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The Durand Chronicles works on all levels: romance, suspense, and psychic adventure.

 

More Series Mystery

In Enforcing the Paw, Fort Worth PD Officer Megan Luz and her canine partner Brigit run into a puzzling situation: two ex-lovers who each claim the other is harassing them. Enforcing the PawVandalism, stalking, Internet hook-up sites: one darn thing just leads to another. Megan’s problem is that she just doesn’t know who to believe. Each of her complainants seems sincere and suspicious by turns, and neither Megan nor her mentor, Detective Bustamente, can decide who’s telling the truth. (Brigit knows what’s going on before the humans do.)

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Meanwhile, Megan and Brigit follow the exploits of a small time thief dressed in surgical scrubs and mask, who only steals grape Tootsie Pops, and hang out with Seth, Megan’s firefighter boyfriend, and his bomb-sniffing dog Blast, Brigit’s Best Furry Friend.

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This series is so much fun, and so funny. The characters are wonderful. I love the short chapters from Brigit’s point of view, in which liver treats outweigh most anything else. Megan and Brigit are definitely among my favorite crime fighters.

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Another very entertaining series is Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders, set in Kansas Cold As IceCity in 1974—before computers and cell phones changed our lives. The latest installment, Cold As Ice, finds artist, mom, and unwilling sleuth Ellison Russell embroiled in a case that may seriously affect her daughter Grace’s inheritance. It’s almost Thanksgiving, the weather is terrible, and the guest list for dinner is worse. Grace is dating a boy her mother warned her about. And there’s a corpse in the Country Club freezer.

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I have enjoyed this series immensely (as well as several others from Henery Press), and this one does not disappoint.

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Stephanie Plum, the world’s most disorganized bond enforcement agent, and her circle of friends and relatives are back in Janet Evanovich’s Hardcore Twenty-Four. Stephanie and Hardcore Twenty-FourLula are investigating what appears to be a zombie infestation in Trenton, while Grandma Mazur is corresponding with a man in Florida who looks suspiciously like George Hamilton. Joe Morelli is investigating headless corpses, Diesel is looking for someone, and Stephanie is baby-sitting a fifty-pound boa constrictor named Ethel. And, oh, yes, she finds inventive new ways to total a couple more cars. If you enjoy Evanovich’s zany characters and humor, you’ll like this installment in the Saga of Stephanie Plum.

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AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planners series continues with To Have and to Howl, the story of Julia Cole and Jack Dawson. Julia is human, a lawyer, and a widow who lost her elf husband to a band of supernatural supremacists who object to mixed marriages. Her To Have and To Howlcrusade for justice appears to be complete when the supremacist leader is convicted by the supernatural Tribunal, but when the criminal breaks out of his magically reinforced handcuffs, she knows there’s more danger to come, and it may come from inside the supernatural justice system.

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Jack is a werewolf with a secret that’s interfering with his current assignment as Julia’s bodyguard, something he can’t bring himself to talk about with anyone, not even his twin brother Connor. If his secret gets out, more than Julia’s safety will be at stake.

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This is book three in the series (after In Sickness and In Elf and From This Fae Forward), and it runs a bit more to suspense and mystery and a bit less to humor than the earlier installments. In fact, there’s no wedding in To Have and To Howl, and the wedding planners take a back seat to the team of paranormal security men, as Jones’ paranormal world continues to expand.

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Paranormal Wedding Planners is a most enjoyable series from a talented author, probably best read in order. There’s more to come: I’ll be watching for For Better or For Wolf.

 

Pamela Kopfler’s Better Dead

We had a weather day today: the temperature dropped, the rain turned to sleet, the schools were closed, and everyone with any sense stayed off the roads. So I sat down with a good book—well, actually, I ran down the charge on my Kindle, but it hung on long enough for me to finish.

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Better Dead is the first in a new cozy mystery series by Pamela Kopfler. Holly Davis has Better Deadturned her ancestral home on the bank of the Mississippi, Holly Grove, into a B&B in a desperate attempt to keep it, but prospects don’t look good. Business is slow—and changing the place from a residence to a business has doubled the tax bill. But the worst of it is the ghost of her late and unlamented husband, Burl. He crashed his plane before Holly could serve him with divorce papers, and now he’s back, although only Holly and her faithful Yorkie, Rhett, can see him.

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So Holly makes a deal with Burl: she’ll try to help him settle the unfinished business that’s keeping him out of heaven (as if he ever deserved to get in!) if he’ll haunt Holly Grove through the October Haunted Plantation Tour season.

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As if Burl weren’t enough trouble, who should show up but Holly’s long gone high school sweet heart, Jake McCann, returning to the little Louisiana town of Delta Ridge to sub for the local newspaper editor and—unbeknownst to Holly—to investigate the drug smuggling going on at Holly Grove.

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Holly can’t tell Jake about Burl’s ghost—who would believe that? And Jake can’t tell Holly that he’s an ICE agent—she may well be running Burl’s smuggling ring!

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Throw in the local bridge club, with its fearless leader Miss Alice, Jake’s missing (and probably soused) father, an unhelpful sheriff and a very cranky dog, and you have a thoroughly delightful read. (And a few recipes at the end.)

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I’ll be looking forward to Holly’s next adventure, Downright Dead, coming in September.

 

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