Mystery Round Up

Julie Mulhern’s The Deep End is the first in her new Country Club Murders series, set in Kansas City The Deep Endin the 1970s. When Ellison Russell goes for her usual early morning swim in the country club pool, finding a body in the water is only the beginning of her problems. The body is her husband’s mistress. Her husband is missing. And her oh-so-proper and oh-so-controlling mother is appalled. As Ellison sets out to discover the truth behind the murder, and as more bodies turn up, she makes some discoveries about herself and what she wants from life as well.

The Deep End is a good mystery with a clever solution; it’s also fun for the references to the pop culture and politics of the 1970s, the absence of cell phones and computers, and the supporting cast of eccentric characters. And there’s an attractive police detective (with a little surprise of his own) and a charming lawyer, and another installment (Guaranteed to Bleed) waiting on my Kindle.

 

Lowcountry Bordello is the fourth installment in Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot mystery series. Liz is Lowcountry Bordelloonly days away from her wedding, her mother and sister planning up a storm, when her friend Robert asks her to follow his wife Olivia, also Liz’ close friend, for a few nights. Busy with the wedding, and unwilling to get into the middle of her friends’ marriage, Liz declines. But then Olivia calls, terrified, sure she’s seen Robert’s corpse. In the parlor of a high-class bordello.

Liz can’t stay out of it now, so with the help of her partner/fiance Nate and her ghostly friend Colleen, she sets out to peel away the layers of mystery surrounding the bordello on Church Street in Charleston, while dodging her mother and a dictatorial wedding planner. As usual, the city of Charleston and Liz’ home on the island of Stella Maris area as much a part of the story as the mystery.

 

Tara Holloway, gun-toting Special Agent of the IRS, is back in Death, Taxes, and Cheap Sunglasses. While Tara’s boyfriend, Special Agent Nick Pratt, and DEA Agent Death, Taxes and Cheap SunglassesChristina Marquez are off to infiltrate a drug cartel run by the murderous El Cuchillo, Tara and her partner Eddie Barton tackle a variety of cases, including an art museum that doesn’t seem to know much about art (macaroni mosaics, anyone?), a wild life refuge that may not be as charitable as it claims, an identity thief (that one sends Tara to a toga party—dressed in a fitted sheet), and a charity scam on Facebook. Throw in some forbidden legwork for Nick, and Tara is up to her neck in excitement. This is a series I never miss (and I love Kelly’s Paw and Order series just as much).

 

Aaron Elkins’ Switcheroo is the latest adventure in the career of forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver, the Skeleton Detective. I’ve been following this Switcherooseries, one of my favorites, for many years. Part of the charm of these books, beyond the mysteries, are the settings, as Gideon and his wife stumble into cases all over the world. This one is set on Jersey in the Channel Isles, and moves from the German occupation during World War II to the present day. (The first book in the series came out in 1982, but Gideon has only aged about five years — I wish I new that secret!) Switcheroo is more about people (and food) than bones (of which there are actually very few in evidence) and thoroughly enjoyable.

Recent Reading

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week, I hoped to have more time for reading, writing, and sleeping.  I’m doing fine on the sleeping (driving into Houston an hour later really helps), and not too badly on the writing (a couple of writing group challenges have been keeping me on track).

On the reading, not so much.  I’ve still been falling asleep with the TV on and/or a book in my hand most nights.  Lately I’ve been wondering, though, if that might have something to do with the new bedside lamp I bought a while back.  It’s a very nice study/desk lamp, with some sort of high tech bright light.  But it doesn’t throw a very wide area of light, and I’ve been finding myself curling onto odd positions to read with it.  Last evening I unplugged it and brought back my old standby, a standard table lamp with a 200-watt incandescent bulb.  And last night I read for forty minutes before I got sleepy (and by then it was 12:45 AM).

The problem, and the reason I was looking for a new lamp to begin with, is that it’s getting harder to find 200-watt incandescent bulbs, and the compact fluorescent 42-watt bulbs (roughly the equivalent of 150 old-style watts) aren’t on every shelf, either (and require in most cases a different style of lamp shade).  I like the smaller CLFs that fill the 40-, 60-, and 100-watt spots around the house, but I’m still looking for the perfect reading strength.

Dying On The VineLighting conditions aside, I have managed to read a couple of good mysteries recently.  Aaron Elkins’ series about Gideon Oliver, the Skeleton Detective, has been a favorite of mine for many years, because of my own background in anthropology and archeology.  Oliver is a forensic anthropologist, a professor in Washington state, but most of the stories takes place in exotic locations where he happens to be lecturing, visiting friends, or doing research.  In Dying on the Vine, the seventeenth in the series, Oliver and his wife are visiting friends in Tuscany when he is called upon to unravel the mysterious deaths of a vineyard owner and his wife, missing and presumed dead for a year, whose remains have recently been found.  Add a family feud, food and wine, a tour of Florence, and old Sicilian customs to the mystery and you have a very entertaining read.

I’ve been a fan of Carl Hiaasen for years, too, for entirely different reasons.  Hiaasen writes wildly funny novels about south Florida, where I lived from the time I was ten until I graduated from Florida State.  My family and some friends Bad Monkeystayed longer, and although I don’t have any strong connections there now, I still love to read about the place.  I started to call Hiaasen’s writing “satirical,” but so much of Florida is so bizarre on its own that perhaps that word doesn’t apply.  I’m not sure Hiaasen’s novels really fall into the mystery genre, either, although there is generally some sort of mystery to be solved.  In the latest, Bad Monkey, the protagonist is Andrew Yancy, a former Monroe County sheriff’s deputy demoted to roach patrol (restaurant inspector) for assaulting his girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner in a most personal way and a most public venue.  Yancy figures if he can solve the mystery of the human arm brought up by a fishing boat (and stashed in Yancy’s freezer), he can work his way back up the departmental ladder.  Along the way he meets a wide variety of  remarkable characters, including a charming coroner, a not-so-charming real estate developer, a Bahamian voodoo queen, a couple of practitioners of Medicare fraud, and the bad monkey of the title.  Hop on Carl Hiaasen’s rollercoaster for a wildly enjoyable ride.

Abibliophobia Strikes Again

Abibliophobia

I’ve suffered from abibliophobia all my life, but until recently I had no idea some kindred soul had coined a name for the problem.  Mind you, there’s no chance of running out of reading material in my house.  Along with the shelves of book I Really Want To Read, there are whole walls of books I can’t give up because I might want to read them again one day.  But I never go anywhere that might involve a waiting room or a meal eaten alone without a book (or these days my Kindle).

The truth is, I’m an incurable bookaholic, and I have no desire to change.  There are far more dangerous (or anti-social) addictions.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped at the local Barnes & Noble, armed with a Christmas gift card, and bought one book, a lovely large volume called Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions by Brian J. Robb.  I’d spotted the book on line and bought it brick and mortar; on the same trip I spotted several books at the store to order on line.  I have gift cards for Amazon, too, and they stretch farther.

Yesterday I made another stop at Barnes & Noble, gift card balance in hand, but I didn’t buy anything.  The particular book I was looking for hadn’t hit the shelves yet, and I knew that the box of books I’d ordered from Amazon was due to arrive.  And sometimes I find a bookstore the size of B&N overwhelming.  So many, many books that I would like to read.  So many, many books that I will never have time to read.  So many, many books that I should be writing myself.

book pileWhen I got home from my errand-running rounds, the big box of books from Amazon was waiting on my doorstep.  Four of the books are recently released romances by my Firebird sisters (that group is beginning to make me feel like a serious underachiever!):  Highland Surrender by Tracy Brogan, Midnight Shadows by Carol J. Post, and two by Kim Law, Caught on Camera and Sugar Springs.

Beguiled, by Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand, is a romantic suspense novel set in Charleston.  Dee used it as an example in her workshop on research, and it was the only one of her books I didn’t have, so when I saw it on sale at Amazon, I clicked it into my cart.  Darynda Jones’ latest tale, Fourth Grave Beneath my Feet is the latest release in her series.  I’m running behind on those; I’ve read First Grave on the Right (a Golden Heart winner), but Fourth Grave will be joining Second and Third on the TBR pile.

For pure mystery, I’d ordered Aaron Elkin’s latest Gideon Oliver novel, Dying on the Vine.  I’ve been reading this series since the beginning.  I’ve also read Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone novels since the beginning (the latest is wating for me), so I couldn’t resist The Bughouse Affair, the first in a new historical mystery series set in 1890s San Francisco by Muller and her husband, Bill Pronzini.

I should be able to hold off the Heartbreak of Abibliophobia for a good while yet.  Say, the next twenty-five years or so.