Canine Cops

Of Mutts and Men is the tenth book in Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series. Bernie Little is the proprietor of the Little Detective Agency, and Chet, who weighs something over a hundred pounds and flunked out of K9 training on the last day (he thinks a cat may have been involved), is his loyal partner and narrator of the books. Needless to say, Chet is easily distracted (squirrel! bacon crumb!), but he’s always there when Bernie needs him, ready to grab a perp by the pant leg.

Chet and Bernie live in the Valley, in desert country somewhere between California and New Mexico, and Bernie has been worried for years about the depletion of the aquifer that provides water for the area. So when hydrographer Wendell Nero invites him to see something interesting in Dollhouse Canyon, Bernie is intrigued. Unfortunately, all he finds in Nero’s RV office is the scientist’s body, and not many clues.

Bernie does come up with a suspect quickly (more than the local sheriff’s deputy can manage on his own), but soon begins to wonder if he’s rounded up the wrong man. What did Nero want to show him? What’s going on at the vineyard in the next canyon? Who ended up with Nero’s laptop and cell phone?

Of Mutts and Men pits Chet and Bernie against a string of villains and sends them all around the Valley and even into Mexico in search of answers, in another excellent entry in the series. Chet and Bernie’s devotion to each other remains at the heart of these stories.

Bending the Paw is the ninth installment in Diane Kelly’s Paw Enforcement series, featuring Officer Megan Luz of the Fort Worth Police and her K-9 partner, Sergeant Brigit. In this one, Megan and Brigit team up with Detective Audrey Jackson to investigate what appears to be a particularly gruesome murder—lots of blood, but no body. Meanwhile, on her regular patrol duties, Megan searches for a conman who is cleaning up selling nonexistent roofing services to unfortunate homeowners hit by a recent hailstorm. And in between her duties, Megan is planning her wedding to Seth, her firefighter fiancé. (I’m looking forward to seeing how Brigit and Blast, Seth’s bomb-sniffing dog, fit into the wedding party.)

As always, Brigit (who doesn’t speak human and wishes Megan spoke dog) has a brief chapter between Megan’s first person narratives. Always eager to chase someone, Brigit doesn’t worry too much about anything beyond liver treats and chew toys.

Diane Kelly’s books have been on my auto-buy list for years. They always make me laugh out loud at least once. If you’re looking for a light hearted, well constructed mystery full of entertaining characters, you’ll enjoy any of her books.

Two from Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl Bolen brings us two charming Regency romances this season, Once Upon a Time in Bath, and A Proposal of Marriage.

When wide-eyed country girl Dorothea Pankhurst arrives in Bath with her four cats and her widowed father, she has few plans beyond convincing Mr. Pankhurst that the waters may improve his health. Mr. Pankhurst, however, harbors thoughts of launching his only child into society. Neither of them expect that Dot, who considers herself rather plain, and definitely out of touch with current fashion, will attract a titled suitor.

When Viscount Appleton strikes up an acquaintance with Dot on the street (aided by one of her cats), it’s not the coincidence it appears to be. For Mr. Pankhurst is a very wealthy man, and Dot is his only heiress—and Appleton is in dire need of an heiress’s dowry to rescue his family fortunes.

Appleton is not entirely sure what happened that night at Mrs. Starr’s gaming establishment, only that before the night was over he had bet—and lost—nearly everything he owned. Even worse, his enemy Henry Wolf now holds the IOUs. To save his family fortune—and to save his sister Annie from marriage to Wolf—Appleton needs to marry an heiress, and fast.

Appleton is sure he doesn’t love Miss Pankhurst, although he finds her increasingly interesting (in spite of the cats), while Dot worries that Lord Appleton is only interested in her dowry (and worse than that, she knows, thanks to the gossipy Bath Chronicle, that he keeps a mistress).

When the two unlikely partners team up to solve a murder mystery, they begin to realize how much they truly have in common.

Once Upon a Time in Bath will delight Bolen’s longtime fans with visits from several characters from her previous books, but first time readers will have no problems jumping in.

In A Proposal of Marriage, Rebecca Peabody is a woman with a mission. Bespectacled, American born, and the 20-year-old younger sister of the Countess of Warwick, she feels every restriction placed upon young unmarried women in Regency London. No one knows that she has a secret career as the essayist P. Corpus, and she means to keep it that way. How better than to marry someone who will free her from those restrictions and let her live her own life.

She sets her sights on John Compton, the Earl of Aynsley, a 43-year-old widower with seven children and estates in Shropshire. Surely such a man could use a wife with organizational skills (Rebecca once cataloged the largest private library in Britain) to manage his household, without expecting much in the way of those unpleasant physical intimacies Rebecca has only heard about. And one day she marches right into his London house and proposes a marriage of convenience.

Aynsley, a good-hearted soul, lets this strange (but clearly intelligent and passionate) young woman down as gently as he can. It’s only after she leaves his house that he associates the name Peabody with P. Corpus, an essayist he reads faithfully in the Edinburgh Review and greatly admires. Intelligent indeed, and rather pretty, and so very young . . .

It doesn’t take long for Aynsley to realize this marriage might be a really good idea, and a solution to several problems. Before she can quite realize what she’s gotten herself into, Rebecca is the new Countess of Aynsley (despite her American dislike of titles), settling into Aynsley’s Shropshire estates.

Only four of Aynsley’s children remain at home, but they are indeed a handful. Spencer, age 8, Alex, age 6, and Chuckie, age 3, miss having a mother and welcome Rebecca (although that doesn’t stop some creative misbehavior), but 18-year-old Emily, losing her place as mistress of the house, is another matter entirely.

Throw in a slightly deaf uncle who likes to garden in the nude, a moon-struck cousin who won’t find steady work because he can’t bear to be away from Emily, and that portrait of the previous countess hanging over the dining room table, and Rebecca has almost more than she can deal with. And then she realizes that she’s falling in love with her husband.

A Proposal of Marriage combines humor, politics, likeable characters, and growing romance into a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

“Deadly” Reading

Kate Parker continues her pre-WWII series with Deadly Travel. It’s the spring of 1939, and Olivia Denis has been recruited to fill in as a chaperone on a KinderTransport run to Germany and back. Run by local Quakers, the organization rescues German children, mostly Jewish, who are in danger under the Nazis. Olivia’s cover is to write a favorable article which will help raise money for the work, but she’s really going on an errand for spymaster Sir Malcolm Freemantle. The woman she is replacing, Alice Waterson, has been murdered, and Sir Malcolm wants to know who did it. When Olivia arrives in Berlin and checks in with the British Embassy, she’s given another assignment: smuggle the wife and sons of a German dissident and British spy who has been arrested by the Gestapo to safety in England on the KinderTransport.

When another murder occurs, Olivia is certain one of the Quaker chaperones is the killer, but how can that be? These people are Pacifists, after all. Juggling her job, Sir Malcolm’s demands, a seemingly dead end investigation, and her plans to marry Adam Redmond, Olivia has her hands full.

Kate Parker combines the serious, and frequently terrifying, circumstances of the late 1930s, as Olivia and all of England wait on edge for the war they know is coming, with domestic humor and the details of daily life. You can’t go wrong with any of her novels.

Colleen Thompson’s Deadly Texas Summer is a tense and fast-paced tale of romantic suspense. Wildlife biologist Emma Copley is studying the effect of wind turbines on endangered birds, but her project begins to unravel as she gets more and more threatening calls from her unbalanced ex-husband. When her research assistant is killed, Emma is sure her ex is somehow responsible, but the local sheriff pronounces the death an accident.

Beau Kingston, owner of the ranch who’s future may depend on the success of the wind turbines, doesn’t want to believe the researcher was murdered—he has a whole pile of other problems to worry about, including the sheriff, who is his cousin and rival for control of the ranch. But he finds it harder and harder to ignore Emma’s concerns—or Emma herself.

With the sheriff playing them against each other for his own reasons, Emma and Beau don’t know who to trust, but it’s so hard to resist their growing attraction to each other. With suspects mounting amid contradictory alibis, will Emma survive to discover the truth? Well, it’s a romance, folks. You can count on a happy ending. But getting there will be quite a struggle, with layers of suspense and mystery—and two irresistible little boys.

I’ve been missing in action for a couple of months for a number of reasons, not the least of which was WordPress moving to their new block editor. But I’ve finally overcome a couple of problems, and I have a backlog of book reviews to post. I’ll try to catch up by the end of the year. Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by.

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