Catching Up with Cozies

Telephone Line is the ninth installment in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Mystery series, set in Kansas City in the mid 1970s. A year after the murder of her unlamented husband (in The Deep End), Ellison Russell finds his sins (which were many) coming back to haunt her, as people mentioned in his secret blackmail files are being murdered. To protect her daughter, Grace, Ellison won’t reveal the existence of those files, even to her boyfriend, homicide detective Anarchy Jones, so she and her housekeeper, Aggie, set out to establish connections between the murder victims that don’t involve Henry’s files.

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As usual, Ellison discovers corpses (much to the horror of her domineering mother) and finds it impossible to “stay out of this one,” as Anarchy frequently suggests. It’s not like she finds bodies on purpose.

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I really enjoy this series. Ellison’s voice is a treat, sharp, intelligent, and often exasperated. The supporting characters are every bit as interesting. There’s a lot of humor, but Mulhern also tackles some tough topics. I hope we won’t have to wait too long for number 10.

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Lowcountry Boomerang is the eighth installment in Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot mystery series, set in Charleston and the nearby coastal islands. When Darius Baker, a local man who left the area after high school, made a fortune in reality TV, and now wants to retire, returns home to the island of Stella Maris, residents, including the PI team of Liz Talbot and her husband Nate Andrews, are curious. When Darius’ high school sweetheart, Trina Lynn Causby, an investigative reporter for a Charleston TV station, is murdered, curiosity turns to suspicion.

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The death of Trina Lynn brings up secrets old and new. Darius has three ex-wives, and Trina Lynn had at least one stalker, two lovers, and a hot lead on an unsolved case. When Darius hires the defense lawyer who keeps Liz and Nate on retainer for investigations, they jump in to search for the truth.

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One of the attractions of this series is the setting. Stella Maris, the other islands, and the city of Charleston play a big part in the story, and Boyer does a great job of bringing them to life. This is a series I thoroughly enjoy and heartily recommend.

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After a long gap, AE Jones has returned to her delightful Paranormal Wedding Planners series with For Better or For Wolf, the story of Olivia Jennings, human psychiatrist, and Connor Dawson, werewolf. Olivia doesn’t know that one of her patients is a fairie—or that supernatural beings exist at all. When she finds out it’s in a big way, and she’s drawn into the affairs of the west coast werewolf pack. It seems they need an unbiased expert to assess the mental state of the new Alpha. What could possibly go wrong?

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Connor is a member of a sort of supernatural special ops team, working for the Supernatural Council, along with his twin brother Jack, Devin the elf, Charlie the nymph, and Giz the wizard. All the characters from the first three Wedding Planner books are back to see what they can do to solve the pack’s problems—and Connor’s.

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The Paranormal Wedding Planner series has one foot in the romance world and one on the mystery shelf, with either foot slipping on the occasional banana peel. The books are bright and funny and thoroughly enjoyable, and I’ve preordered number 5, For Witch or For Poorer.

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And for an extra treat: Caveat Emptor and other stories brings together a handful of short stories by the late Joan Hess, one of my long-time favorite mystery authors. Her novels in the Claire Malloy series and the Arly Hanks/Maggody series are light and funny. Her short stories, in this book and the previous Bigfoot Stole My Wife and other stories, tend to have darker humor and often a twist in which someone gets their just deserts, not usually in any legal way. Two stories in Caveat Emptor, “Death of a Romance Writer” and “A Little More Research,” are tales of writers with problems. Two stories, “Death in Bloom” and “Time Will Tell,” are set in Maggody. “Too Much to Bare,” “Caveat Emptor,” and “All’s Well That Ends” are unrelated but delightfully twisty.

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.

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?

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