Mystery Roundup

I seem to be reading a lot of cozy mysteries lately (when I’m not solving logic problems on my new tablet and telling myself it’s good mental exercise). Here are the three latest offerings in series I enjoy a lot.

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Ivy Get Your GunIvy Get Your Gun is the fourth installment in Cindy Brown’s mystery series set in and around Phoenix and featuring Ivy Meadows (nee Olive Ziegwart), a working actress who moonlights with her private investigator uncle to make ends meet. But it’s one of her theatrical friends who asks her to check out the situation at a newly opened Wild West tourist attraction, where she finds herself in a two-actor, four-character melodrama, and in the middle of trouble. Meanwhile, she’s auditioning for the lead in Annie Get Your Gun, researching the real Annie Oakley, and tracking a pack of feral chihuahuas across the golf courses in pursuit of a missing (male) pug named Lassie. And then there’s her sort of secret relationship with her boyfriend Matt.

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I really love this series. Jump on board now and read them in order: MacDeath, The Sound of Murder, and Oliver Twisted. Great fun.

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Murder, Curlers & Canes is Arlene McFarlane’s second Valentine Beaumont mystery, and it’s just as much fun as the first (Murder, Curlers & Cream). This time around, Valentine’s salon is doing well, thanks in part to the sexy new stylist she’s hired. He’s not only Murder, Curlers & Canesdrawing in a bevy of clients who look like supermodels even before he does their hair, but he’s almost enough to take Valentine’s mind off Detective Romero, who’s been missing with no explanation for a couple of months.

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But then Phyllis, the world’s worst salon employee, marches back in, and Valentine finds one of her retirement home clients, Sister Madeline, dead in a plate of lasagna. The police are ready to call that natural causes, but Valentine suspects something else. But who would want to murder a retired nun?

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Everyone has a secret: the dead nun, the sexy stylist, the returning Romero, and practically everybody at the retirement home. Only one of them is threatening Valentine as she gets too close to the truth, but who is it?

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Add to that a series of disastrous blind dates (engineered by Valentine’s mother), a car chase through the mountains, and Valentine’s improvisational skills with the tools of her trade and whatever else she can lay her hands on, and you have a fast paced and funny mystery with more than a dash of romance.

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Lowcountry Bonfire is the sixth entry in Susan M. Boyer’s series about private investigator Liz Talbot, her husband and partner Nate Andrews, and Liz’s long-dead friend Colleen. Yes, Colleen is the guardian spirit assigned to protect Stella Maris, Liz’s island home off the South Carolina coast near Charleston.

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Lowcountry BonfireThis case stays close to home on the island, when its small community is disrupted by the discovery of a body in the trunk of a burning 1969 Mustang convertible, right across the street from Liz’s parents’ house. The victim (and owner of the classic car), Zeke Lyerly, had clearly not committed suicide. Although Zeke was a Stella Maris native, much of his life was a blank filled with grandiose stories most of his friends took for imaginative fables. But Liz, who doesn’t believe Zeke’s wife knew he was in the trunk (or even that he was dead) when she set the car (filled with Zeke’s clothing) on fire, digs for the truth.

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As Liz hunts through Zeke’s mysterious past, she comes to suspect that the answer to this mystery may lie closer to home, but long in the past.

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Boyer’s Lowcountry series features a great cast of characters and well developed mysteries, but a big part of their charm is the setting. The island community of Stella Maris, which Colleen works to protect from both disaster and development plays an important role in the series, as does the nearby city of Charleston. Very entertaining, and almost as good as an island vacation.

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And a short story bonus, Big Foot Stole My Wife, and other stories: I’ve been a Joan Hess fan forever, and have all the Claire Malloy and Maggody books on my keeper shelf, so I grabbed this collection of short stories when I saw it. The stories were all written in the 90s, but they were new to me. Two are Claire Malloy shorts, two Maggody stories (one with Arly and one with only Ruby Bee and Estelle). The other seven are funny in a very dark and sometimes rather twisted way, most of them rooted in domestic tension. Let’s just say no one in these stories is happily married. I enjoyed them all.

Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows Mysteries

MacDeath is the first installment in Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows series, and it’s a delightful backstage mystery, as Ivy plays one of the Witches in a wild circus-themed production of MacBeth. (MacBeth is the lion MacDeathtamer, the king is the ringmaster, and the witches tumble in and out of a flying cauldron.) When a cast member dies under suspicious (at least to Ivy) circumstances, she undertakes her own investigation, dragging in her private investigator uncle, never sure which cast members she can trust.

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Quirky characters include a fellow witch who calls herself Candy MoonPie (Ivy’s own real name is Olive Ziegwart), a local news personality who wants to be a Shakespearean actor, a very attractive MacBeth, and a decidedly odd Lady MacBeth. The setting and background, local theater in Phoenix, Arizona, are well described and entertaining.

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When I finished reading MacDeath, I downloaded Ivy’s next two adventures. In The Sound of Murder, Ivy’s theatrical career becomes even wackier, as she plays sixteen-year-old Teazel in “The Sound of Cabaret,” a mash-up of, you guessed it, “The Sound of Music” and “Cabaret.” Well, they’re both set in Germany in the 1930s, aren’t they? Ivy’s just glad to have a dinner theater gig, while she works days at her Uncle Bob’s PI office, Duda Detectives (try saying that while introducing yourself). And a house sitting gig, since she set fire to her apartment, and it will be under repair for a couple of months. Even if that gig includes taking care of a The Sound of Murderswimming pool, not an easy job for someone with a water phobia.

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And then there’s the suicide next door (who turns out to be connected to the theater), the lead actress who can’t remember her lines, Ivy’s own problems with singing in front of an audience, that guy with the mirror sunglasses, and the hot fireman she met when her apartment combusted. Just another day in Phoenix—whoops, is that Ivy’s car catching fire again?

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Ivy and Uncle Bob go undercover in Oliver Twisted, aboard a Dickens-themed cruise ship (the S.S. David Copperfield—and honestly, I want to go on that cruise). They’re looking for a gang of pick pockets and thieves that has been plaguing the entire Get Lit! literary-themed cruise line (they’re redoing the S.S. Anna Karenina because Tolstoy was too depressing). Ivy takes on the part of Nancy in the on board production Oliver Twistedof Oliver! At Sea! (with some amusing lyric changes) and finds herself filling in for an aerial dancer in the magic show, something for which she has no training at all, while Bob poses as a wealthy rancher, and attracts a lady who arouses Ivy’s suspicions.

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Poor cell phone service hinders Ivy’s communications with Bob, and with with Matt back at the group home in Phoenix from which her brother Cody has vanished. Bodies pile up on the ship, along with both real and fake thieves (the boys playing Fagin’s miscreants run loose on the ship, as do all the “ambient characters” from Dickens’ tales).

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There’s a big bonus in the job for Ivy and Bob, as well as a few days cruising Hawaii, if they can figure out what’s going on, who they can trust, and what family ties really mean.

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I hope Cindy Brown is planning more adventures for Ivy and Bob. This is a funny, entertaining series, one of several I am enjoying from Henery Press, a small house specializing in cozy mysteries with a light tone (and great cover art). Their catalog is definitely worth checking out.