Three Murders & a Death

Arlene McFarlane’s Murder, Curlers & Cream introduces Valentine Beaumont, beautician and amateur detective. It’s not that Valentine wants to be a sleuth—she’s already trying to live down a past incident involving a killer and a perm rod—but she’s got problems. Murder, Curlers & CreamBusiness is down, the mortgage on her salon is due, and she’s short of rent money. She’s also saddled with the world’s worst employee, a distant cousin she can’t quite bring herself to fire, despite regular disasters, and a rival salon owner trying to poach her best employee. But all that takes a back seat to the client waiting for a facial, found dead with an electric cord around her throat.

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Desperate to restore her salon’s good reputation (before the bank forecloses on the shop and her landlord kicks her out of her house), Valentine sets out to solve the case, armed only with her bag of beauty tools. Her plan leads to more problems, not the least of which is handsome police detective Mike Romero, who thinks Valentine should stick to the beauty business.

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She tries, but between a fire, an explosion, and another murder, she can’t seem to avoid trouble. This is a delightful first installment of Valentine’s adventures. And by the time you finish reading about the potential weaponization of various beauty products, you may think twice before your next salon visit.

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Death, Taxes, and Sweet Potato Fries is another hilarious installment in the saga of Tara Holloway, gun-toting IRA agent. This time she’s dealing with human smugglers, Death, Taxes, and Sweet Potato Frieskidnapped girls, fake 1099 forms, an addictive Spanish telenovela, and, of course, those sweet potato fries. Perhaps scariest of all, her mother has teamed up with Nick’s mom to plan The Wedding.

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I love this series, and it never lets me down. This is number 11, and Kelly promises one more, Death, Taxes, and a Shotgun Wedding, in November. And when you’ve caught up with Tara’s adventures, don’t miss Kelly’s series of K9 mysteries, featuring Megan Luz and Brigit.

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I read all the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout back in the day, and Robert Goldsborough has done a good job of picking up where Stout left off. Murder in E Minor is set in 1977, Muder in E Minortwo years after Stout’s last installment (A Family Affair), and I had to do a little research (you can find out just about anything on line) to catch up with the events mentioned in the book. Wolfe is lured into taking on his first case in two years by the niece of a man he knew back in Montenegro.

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I’ve only read a couple of Goldsborough’s books (I have more waiting on my Kindle), but so far I think he’s done an excellent job of capturing Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe, and all their associates (none of whom have aged a day since Stout began writing about them in 1934). I’m enjoying returning to the old brownstone on West 35th Street.

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I know I read all the Mr. & Mrs. North mysteries back in the day, so I picked this ebook edition up on sale for a nostalgia read. Murder Out of Turn was published in 1941, only the Murder Out of Turnsecond of the 26 installments Frances and Richard Lockridge eventually wrote, and I suspect they hadn’t quite hit their form yet. The main character in the book is actually Lt. Weigand of the NYPD; the Norths (often referred to rather formally as Mrs. North and Mr. North) are really supporting characters. The book is rather slowly paced (at least until the last couple of chapters), wandering off into detailed descriptions of martinis and such, and definitely old fashioned. Nostalgic indeed, but not enough to send me off in pursuit of more of the series. In my opinion, Rex Stout and Agatha Christie hold up better.

Three Funny Books

The only thing these three recent reads have in common is that they made me laugh. Since that’s my favorite kind of book, it’s what you’re likely to find here more often than not.

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Razor Girl: I love Carl Hiaasen’s books. I lived in Florida way back when, but that’s not a prerequisite for appreciating Hiaasen’s hysterical recombining of things that actually happen there. As usual, this novel has a razor-girlmyriad of characters whose lives become improbably tangled together, the main one being Andrew Yancy, former detective reduced to health inspector, determined to get his badge back by involving himself in matters he really should avoid.

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As for the Razor Girl of the title, she certainly has carved out a unique occupational niche for herself, and brings an unexpected helping of madcap adventure into Andrew’s life.

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Featuring bearded reality(?) stars, Gambian pouched rats, bizarre pharmaceuticals, Hollywood talent agents, fake service dogs, and a mongoose, Razor Girl is a fine example of Hiaasen’s frenetic storytelling.

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From This Fae Forward is the second installment in AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planner series. This time out, Bennett Bridal’s exercise instructor, Sheila Hampton, finds herself having to pretend that ex-SEAL andfrom-this-fae-forward security expert Charlie Tucker is her fiance for thirty days. The operative word here is pretend, because Sheila is a woodland nymph and Charlie is a sea nymph, and never the twain shall meet. Or marry.

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That’s not so much of a problem for Sheila, who has been banished from her clan, or Charlie, who has cut ties with his, but it sure upsets Sheila’s father and the rest of the woodland faction, who have been holding a grudge against the sea folk for generations (to the point that no one really remembers why). No, Sheila and Charlie’s problem is that they don’t like each other. Well, that’s what they try to believe, but it isn’t really working out that way.

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All the characters from In Sickness and in Elf are back, planning a fabulous nymph wedding for Sheila and Charlie (who are about the only people who don’t expect the wedding to happen) and From This Fae Forward is just as much fun as the first story.

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Diane Kelly’s Above the Paw continues the adventures of Forth Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her four-above-the-pawfooted partner Brigit. This time around we find Megan going undercover to search for the drug dealer selling Molly to university students. She hasn’t been out of school more than a few years herself, but going back is something of a culture shock. Brigit, posing as an epilepsy alert dog, enjoys all the attention. Megan’s investigation leads in unexpected directions, and puts her and Brigit in danger when they get too close to the truth.

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I never miss one of Kelly’s books, and this one does not disappoint. With mystery, humor, and Brigit, how could it miss?

Tara Holloway Is Back

Tara Holloway, gun-toting Special Agent of the IRS, returns in Diane Kelly’s latest novel, Death, Taxes, and a Satin Garter, and she’s just as feisty—and funny—as ever.

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Death Taxes and a Satin GarterIn this outing, Tara is investigating Flo Cash, owner of a small radio station carrying financial advice shows, including her own Flo Cash Cash Flow Show. Trouble is, Flo Cash’s own cash flow seems to be pretty nearly nonexistent, and Tara can’t figure out how Flo supports her lavish lifestyle without so much as a checking account to her name. She sure isn’t following the advice she gives her listeners. Tara knows there’s something else going on, but what?

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One case won’t be enough to keep our Tara busy. When three intelligent—and somewhat embarrassed—women turn up looking for help cornering the online catfisher who scammed them for two grand apiece, Tara takes a personal interest. She’s an IRS agent, and six grand in unreported income isn’t exactly a major case. But where there are three victims, maybe there are more, and Tara, with help from colleagues Josh Schmidt (the office computer whiz) and Special Agent Hana Kim, sets out to track down the illusive “Jack Smirnoff,” although her activities as catfish bait don’t sit well with her boyfriend, Special Agent Nick Pratt.

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But the Satin Garter of the title has nothing to do with either of Tara’s investigations. Tara’s BFF, Alicia, is getting married on Sunday, and Tara is neck-deep in helping with wedding preparations—and wondering about her own marital prospects.

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Death, Taxes, and a Satin Garter is the tenth in Kelly’s delightful series, with new cases, great characters, and a wild bachelorette party. I enjoyed it immensely. Many thanks to the folks at St. Martins and Net Galley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. The book will be available at your favorite bookseller on August 2.

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.

Chet & Brigit: Dog Detectives

I don’t have a dog of my own these days, but I’ve been keeping up with the adventures of two favorite canine detectives, Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Diane Kelly’s Brigit.

 

Besides their work as investigators, Chet and Brigit have a few thing in common. Both are large dogs (one hundred pounds or so) of mixed heritage. Both survived stretches with thoroughly irresponsible early owners, did time in the pound, and were rescued as recruits for K9 service.

 

Chet washed out of his K9 course on the very last day. He’s not quite sure what happened, but he thinks a cat may have been involved. That failure was a stroke of luck in disguise, because it led to his adoption by Bernie Little, a private investigator and, in Chet’s opinion, the best human in the world.

 

Brigit, on the other hand, charged through K9 training like the alpha dog she is. She spent her first couple of years in the Forth Worth Police Department with an experienced male partner, but when he left the job, she was reassigned to a quick-tempered rookie officer, Megan Luz, who had recently tasered her male partner (The Big Dick) in a most sensitive location. Brigit thinks Megan is very green but trainable. Megan’s closet full of chewable shoes is a plus, as is her friendship with a fire department explosives expert and his bomb-sniffing dog, Blast, just the sort of beta male Brigit enjoys.

 

Chet is the narrator of Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mysteries, the latest of which (number eight) is Scents and Sensibility. The story starts with the mysterious appearance of an illegal saguaro cactus in Scents and Sensibilitythe neighbors’ front yard but quickly escalates to include murder and the missing ransom from a fifteen-year-old kidnapping. Chet’s best furry friend, Iggy, comes to visit and proves to be a less than satisfactory house guest, while Chet finds himself puzzling over a puppy named Shooter, whose scent and appearance are strangely familiar.

 

Here’s a little sample of Chet’s narrative style, picking up after he has lost track of Bernie’s conversation with a police detective in the parking lot of Donut Heaven: I looked up from what I was doing. Case closed? Had we even started yet? Cases at the Little Detective Agency almost always ended with me grabbing the perp by the pant leg. The only pants wearers in the picture at the moment were Bernie and Captain Stine. This can be a tricky job. I went back to the bear claw.

 

Brigit’s latest adventure, number three in Kelly’s K9 series, is Laying Down the Paw, in which Megan and Brigit survive a wild ride through a tornado, face down a band of looters, and search for a killer. Megan tells her story in first person, a boy named Dub tells his in third person, and Kelly Laying Down the Pawgives us a glimpse of Brigit’s reactions after each of Megan’s chapters.

 

Here’s Brigit, after meeting a pampered dachshund in the line of duty: She thanked her lucky stars she hadn’t been born a wiener dog. They were the laughingstocks of the canine world, what with their disproportionately long ears and stretched-out bodies and too-short legs. They looked as if they’d been assembled with spare parts. Yes, shepherds were a far superior breed. Stealthier, too. That’s how Brigit had gotten away with that poor little schmuck’s raccoon toy.

 

Megan took the stuffed raccoon away and returned it to the dachshund’s porch, but she also stopped at the pet store and bought Brigit a stuffed mallard, which Megan calls Duckie. Yeah, Brigit had Megan wrapped around her paw.

 

If you love dogs, humor, and mystery, you’ll love Chet and Bernie and Megan and Brigit.

Recent Reading: Mystery

I recently came across Robert Goldsborough’s When Archie Met Nero Wolfe on an ebook special, and downloaded it to my Kindle. Back in my voracious mystery-reading days, I read all of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, but I had not read any of Goldsborough’s books (authorized by Stout’s heirs). The idea of a prequel to the long history of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe is enough to tempt any Rex Stout fan.

Archie Meets Nero WolfeAnd the book is lots of fun. Goldsborough captures the flavor of Stout’s novels and includes many of the supporting characters populating Wolfe’s world: Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather and Fred Durkin, Fritz Brenner, Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins, and of course Wolfe’s Brownstone on West 35th Street.

He also captures the flavor of Wolfe’s New York City in the 1930s: the new Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building under construction, diners, coffee shops, and apartment hotels, as well as the elegant estate that is the site of the kidnapping Wolfe is hired to solve. Goldsborough includes an Author’s Note explaining how he mined Stout’s work for backstory to use in this novel.

When Archie Met Nero Wolfe made me nostalgic for all those great old mysteries (Stout, Christie, Allingham, Marsh, et al). Given the number of unread books on my shelves, it’s probably just as well I no longer have my Nero Wolfe collection. But I do have a DVD set of the Tim Hutton/Maury Chaykin TV series, and I may just have to watch those again.

These days I stay busy enough trying to keep up with my favorite modern mystery writers (Elaine Viets, Spencer Quinn, Marcia Muller and more). One of these is Diane Kelly and her chronicles of Tara Death, Taxes and Hot Pink Leg WarmersHolloway, gun-toting (and all too often firing) Special Agent of the IRS. I’m a couple of books behind on Tara’s adventures (oh, for an extra reading day every week—why did I ever think cutting back my working days would solve this problem?), and I’ve just recently read Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers. Yes, the title pretty much sets the tone.

This time around, Tara is after mortgage fraud by day and moonlighting in a strip club by night—no, as a bookkeeper. And her romance with fellow agent Nick Pratt is heating up nicely. Kelly manages to hit me with at least one scene in each book that has me laughing out loud (to the disapproval of my cat). In this book that scene involves Tara’s partner Eddie Bardin and a Vietnamese grandma with OCD and a hand-held vacuum cleaner. Tara’s friend Alicia and DEA Agent Christina Marquez are back, too.

Another current mystery author on my auto-buy list is Joan Hess. Her latest Claire Malloy mystery is Pride V. Prejudice. When a prosecutor with a grudge against Claire’s husband rejects her for jury service, Pride V Prejudicebehaving like a total jerk in the process, Claire decides to investigate the murder in question, for no good reason beyond embarrassing the prosecutor. As usual, she finds herself dealing with more complications than she expected, and her mother-in-law, whom she has never met, is arriving for a visit in three days. This time around Claire deals with aging hippies, organic farmers, and a four-year-old witness with a zombie obsession.

Told with Hess’ usual mixture of humor and mystery, Pride V. Prejudice is a fun read and a welcome addition to the Claire Malloy series, which I’ve been enjoying (and keeping) since it began in 1986 (when hard cover mysteries cost $12.95!).

What mystery solvers live on your keeper shelves?

Another Box of Books

When I got home from work last night, I found a lovely box of books on my doorstep. Now, you might think, with all the (mostly free) books I brought home from the RWA conference, that I wouldn’t need to be book shopping again any time soon. (Well, no, if you stop by here often, you wouldn’t think that at all.)

most books 2Ha! I always need books. I’m a book junkie. And the August release of books in two series that I never miss sent me mousing over to Amazon a couple of weeks ago to order them: Paw And Order, the latest Chet and Bernie mystery from Spencer Quinn, and Death, Taxes, and Silver Spurs, the latest adventure of Tara Holloway, Diane Kelly’s intrepid (and armed) IRS Special Agent. Chet, Bernie, and Tara are among my very favorite book people (well, Chet’s a dog, but he’s still a favorite character) and I never miss their stories.

As long as I was there (and making sure to order enough for free shipping—I have yet to succumb to the lures of Amazon Prime, for fear I would never be able to tear myself away from all those videos), I ordered Kate Parker’s The Counterfeit Lady (the second installment in the Victorian Bookshop Mysteries) and Lauren Christopher’s The Red Bikini, a contemporary romance set on a California beach.

I’d heard through the RWA grapevine that the writers who went to Lisa Cron’s workshop were raving about it, and about her book, Wired for Story, so I ordered that, too. Haven’t cracked it yet, but a friend who has been reading it assures me that she’s gotten a lot of ideas from it. The subtitle, The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, is a bit intimidating (Brain Science? Really?), but I’m always up for a few nuggets of inspiration.

I wanted one more book from a series I’ve loved since its beginning, Marcia Muller’s The Night Searchers, the latest Sharon McCone mystery, but when I pulled it up on Amazon, it was listed at full price and with a possible two-week delay. Aha—published by Grand Central and caught in the ongoing feud between Amazon and Hachette.

So I moused on over to the Mystery Guild. I’ve belonged to the Mystery Guild and the Science Fiction Book Club since the pre-Internet days of the early 1970s, when I lived in a small town in Louisiana, thirty miles from the nearest book store (and short of money at that). Over at the Mystery Guild, I not only found The Night Searchers, but they were running a sale, so I preordered another series favorite, Margaret Maron’s latest Deborah Knott mystery, Designated Daughters, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ new release, Heroes Are my Weakness.

Then last weekend I went to a West Houston RWA meeting and bought three new books by chapter sisters: Sophie Jordan’s A Good Debutante’s Guide to Ruin (first in a new historical romance series), Shana Galen’s Love and Let Spy (third in the Lord and Lady Spy trilogy), and Heather MacAllister’s Taken By Storm (Harlequin Blaze romance).

Clearly, I’m still devoted to the paper book, but I’ve added several novels to my Kindle since the conference, too, some by friends, some through BookBub (even more temptation than the Kindle Daily Deal!). As soon as I find another day or two in the week to devote to reading, I’ll put up some more reviews.

Meanwhile, what are you reading?

Abibliophobia

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