Three Mysteries

Valentine Beaumont goes to sea in Arlene McFarlane’s Murder, Curlers & Cruises. When Murder, Curlers & Cruisesshe wins passage on a beauty cruise for her salon, she sets out with Max, Jock, and Phyllis, all of them competing in an onboard makeover contest (with Valentine’s family tagging along). When one of the contestants turns up dead in an ice sculpture and Valentine’s great aunt goes missing, Valentine’s sleuthing skills rise to the occasion, along with a bottle of nail polish remover and a very sturdy nail file. To add to Valentine’s dismay, she’s pretty sure something’s going on with Romero and a cop named Belinda, and who’s leaving that trail of Tic Tacs around the ship? And just how did Valentine’s stilettos end up on that ceiling fan? Another fun adventure, number three in the Murder & Curlers series.

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Lowcountry Bookshop, the seventh book in Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot series, begins with what appears to be a simple hit-and-run case (not that the circumstances in which Liz and Nate enter the case are so simple) but quickly morphs into something far more Lowcountry Bookshopcomplicated. Was the hit-and-run victim an abusive husband? Is the slightly eccentric mail carrier as innocent as she appears to Liz, or as guilty as she appears to the Charleston police detective handling the case? What’s going on at the bookshop, where there appears to be an inexplicably high demand for The Ghosts of Charleston? Why is the blonde in the Honda stalking the mail carrier? And that’s only the beginning.

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Most of this story takes place in Charleston (one almost needs a street map of the city to follow the action), but we do visit Stella Maris long enough to see what antics Liz’ father is up to (involving a pig, three goats, and a large hole in the backyard). Liz’ brother and sister pop in, as does Colleen, Liz’ long dead but still active best friend. Another excellent entry in the Lowcountry series.

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Julie Mulhern’s Shadow Dancing is the seventh installment in the Country Club Murders series,set in Kansas City in the 1970s. Ellison Russell and her sixteen-year-old daughter Shadow DancingGrace have an uncomfortable habit of finding bodies, but as this book opens, it’s been quite a while. It’s also been quite a while since Ellison has seen Detective Anarchy Jones. And she’s not entirely sure how she feels about that. The situation changes when Ellison’s socialite mother finds an unidentified box of ashes in her hall closet. A visit to a psychic and a minor traffic incident lead Ellison back into the world of investigating murders, especially when a body turns up on her own driveway. All this may upset her mother, but it also brings Anarchy Jones back to her door.

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Shadow Dancing includes Mulhern’s usual wit and humor, with Grace’s wisecracks, her friend Libba’s terrible taste in men, and some unwelcome surprises for her mother. Mulhern also investigates the serious subject of human trafficking an teen prostitution, as Ellison and Grace do their best to help a girl who calls herself Starry Knight.

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The Country Club Murders is one of my favorite series, with its pre-Internet and cell phone setting. I have not yet read the first book in Mulhern’s new series, Fields’ Guide to Abduction, but it’s waiting on my Kindle.

 

More Series Mystery

In Enforcing the Paw, Fort Worth PD Officer Megan Luz and her canine partner Brigit run into a puzzling situation: two ex-lovers who each claim the other is harassing them. Enforcing the PawVandalism, stalking, Internet hook-up sites: one darn thing just leads to another. Megan’s problem is that she just doesn’t know who to believe. Each of her complainants seems sincere and suspicious by turns, and neither Megan nor her mentor, Detective Bustamente, can decide who’s telling the truth. (Brigit knows what’s going on before the humans do.)

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Meanwhile, Megan and Brigit follow the exploits of a small time thief dressed in surgical scrubs and mask, who only steals grape Tootsie Pops, and hang out with Seth, Megan’s firefighter boyfriend, and his bomb-sniffing dog Blast, Brigit’s Best Furry Friend.

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This series is so much fun, and so funny. The characters are wonderful. I love the short chapters from Brigit’s point of view, in which liver treats outweigh most anything else. Megan and Brigit are definitely among my favorite crime fighters.

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Another very entertaining series is Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders, set in Kansas Cold As IceCity in 1974—before computers and cell phones changed our lives. The latest installment, Cold As Ice, finds artist, mom, and unwilling sleuth Ellison Russell embroiled in a case that may seriously affect her daughter Grace’s inheritance. It’s almost Thanksgiving, the weather is terrible, and the guest list for dinner is worse. Grace is dating a boy her mother warned her about. And there’s a corpse in the Country Club freezer.

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I have enjoyed this series immensely (as well as several others from Henery Press), and this one does not disappoint.

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Stephanie Plum, the world’s most disorganized bond enforcement agent, and her circle of friends and relatives are back in Janet Evanovich’s Hardcore Twenty-Four. Stephanie and Hardcore Twenty-FourLula are investigating what appears to be a zombie infestation in Trenton, while Grandma Mazur is corresponding with a man in Florida who looks suspiciously like George Hamilton. Joe Morelli is investigating headless corpses, Diesel is looking for someone, and Stephanie is baby-sitting a fifty-pound boa constrictor named Ethel. And, oh, yes, she finds inventive new ways to total a couple more cars. If you enjoy Evanovich’s zany characters and humor, you’ll like this installment in the Saga of Stephanie Plum.

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AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planners series continues with To Have and to Howl, the story of Julia Cole and Jack Dawson. Julia is human, a lawyer, and a widow who lost her elf husband to a band of supernatural supremacists who object to mixed marriages. Her To Have and To Howlcrusade for justice appears to be complete when the supremacist leader is convicted by the supernatural Tribunal, but when the criminal breaks out of his magically reinforced handcuffs, she knows there’s more danger to come, and it may come from inside the supernatural justice system.

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Jack is a werewolf with a secret that’s interfering with his current assignment as Julia’s bodyguard, something he can’t bring himself to talk about with anyone, not even his twin brother Connor. If his secret gets out, more than Julia’s safety will be at stake.

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This is book three in the series (after In Sickness and In Elf and From This Fae Forward), and it runs a bit more to suspense and mystery and a bit less to humor than the earlier installments. In fact, there’s no wedding in To Have and To Howl, and the wedding planners take a back seat to the team of paranormal security men, as Jones’ paranormal world continues to expand.

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Paranormal Wedding Planners is a most enjoyable series from a talented author, probably best read in order. There’s more to come: I’ll be watching for For Better or For Wolf.

 

And More Mysteries

I came back from RWA 2017 last week with a small stack of new romance novels (only eight this year, which is pretty conservative for a conference where free books practically fly into one’s tote bag—and picture 2000 women with identical green and blue tote bags!). I even bought three of them at the Literacy Signing (where RWA raised over $44,000 for literacy organizations).

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I’ll get to those books, and the several new downloads on my Kindle, sooner or later, but in the meantime, here are a few more mysteries. (The biggest mystery remains: when do I think I’m going to read all the books I collect?).

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The Great Detectives: The World’s Most Celebrated Sleuths Unmasked by Their Authors, edited by Otto Penzler, was first published back in the 1970s, so the detectives profiled date back to the early to mid twentieth century. Back in my voracious mystery reader days (how did I ever have that much time for reading?), I ran through the adventures some of these detectives: Roderick Alleyn (by Ngaio Marsh), Lew Archer (by Ross MacDonald), Jose da Silva (by Robert Fish), Nancy Drew (by Carolyn Keene), the 87th Precinct (by Ed McBain), Luis Mendoza (by Dell Shannon), and Mr. and Mrs, North (by Frances & Richard Lockridge), and I at least recognize most of the others (including the Shadow and Dick Tracy).

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The authors’ essays range from biographies of their characters to interviews with the detectives (a technique many authors favor) to discussions of how these fictional people were created (some well planned in advance, some appearing on the page with no warning). For me, those peeks into the minds of those writers was the most interesting part of the book.

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I know some Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe purists are not thrilled with Robert Goldsborough’s continuation of the series, but I’ve been enjoying his efforts. The Last Coincidence was published in 1989, and, although the characters have not aged over several decades, they are now living in the late twentieth century, and Archie is keeping the orchid records and doing other office tasks on a computer. His relationship with long-time lady friend Lily Rowan gets a bit more attention, too, although Archie remains a gentleman and never goes into detail.

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The Last CoincidenceIn this installment, Wolfe and Archie investigate the murder of a young man who assaulted Lily’s niece. For a moment even Archie might be a suspect, but attention soon turns to a collection of Lily’s relatives and their friends. The novel ends, as Wolfe’s cases often do, with all the suspects gathered in Wolfe’s office, as the great detective drinks beer and explains all.

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Many years ago, when I was a book-a-day reader, I barreled through all the Nero Wolfe novels. I’ve picked up and enjoyed a few of those more recently, but I’m also happy to see the cases continue. I’ve managed to accumulate all of Goldsborough’s entries on my Kindle—now I just need more reading time.

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Watching the DetectivesWatching the Detectives is the fifth entry in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders series, Set in Kansas City in 1974, in that bygone era before computers, the Internet, and cell phones changed our lives. Ellison Russell has developed a remarkable talent for discovering bodies, sometimes in her own house, while juggling her teenage daughter Grace, her overbearing mother, and two attractive men, police detective Anarchy Jones and attorney Hunter Tafft. This time around, Ellison discovers an interior decorator whose life is as much a mystery as her death, contributes to a luncheon without finding out who the guest speaker is, and delves into some dark domestic secrets. Excellent as always. I’ve just preordered the next book in the series, Cold As Ice, available in October.

Three Good Mysteries

Kate Parker’s Deadly Wedding continues the adventures of Olivia Denis, begun in Deadly Scandal. Set in London in the late 1930s, the series combines mystery with a touch of cloak and dagger adventure. When Olivia agrees to help out with the wedding of a distant cousin, she doesn’t expect to find herself investigating a deadly-weddingmurder. And two attempts and another murder. As Olivia probes the family’s secrets, she has more and more reason to be glad that these people, with whom she spent much of her childhood, are only distant relations. Along the way she learns things she never knew about her father (they’re working together to investigate the murders, but Sir Ronald still doesn’t want to acknowledge Olivia’s job as a journalist), she sees some terrible sights on a trip to Vienna shortly after the Nazis move in, and the coming war colors everyone’s future. Olivia is a determined, independent woman, surrounded by a range of interesting characters, and her instincts for mystery solving are strong. I hope we’ll be seeing more of her Deadly adventures.

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Send In the Clowns is another (#4) thoroughly enjoyable Country Club Murder from Julie Mulhern. This time Ellison Russell witnesses a murder in The Gates of Hell—a haunted house attraction where her daughter Grace appears to have overstayed her curfew. Of course the body disappears send-in-the-clownsbefore the police get there, but when it does turn up it opens a whole can of worms for Kansas City society. Ellison deals with her snobbish mother, her goodhearted but old fashioned father (who thinks Ellison needs a man to “manage” her), and struggles with her up and down feelings for police detective Anarchy Jones and lawyer Hunter Taft. I love the characters in Mulhern’s series, and the 1970s setting is spot on.

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Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty Three is the latest in the long-running series about Stephanie Plum, accidental (and accident-prone) bond recovery agent. I still love this series. Stephanie and Lula still make me laugh out loud. If Lula’s turbo-twenty-threedescription of going into a public men’s room (her idea for a new reality series, after Naked Bungee Jumping didn’t work out) doesn’t make you laugh, you should probably be reading something else. This installment features an enraged clown, murders at an ice cream factory, Grandma’s new boyfriend (a tattooed biker, but age appropriate), Randy Briggs (the three-foot-tall naked bungee jumper), Joe, Ranger, Rex the Hamster, a slimy booby trap, several fugitives, and another wrecked car. All in a day’s work for Stephanie and Lula.

Cozy Mysteries

Follow the Dotted Line by Nancy Hersage is a very entertaining cozy mystery, and I enjoyed it immensely. Andrea Bravos is a woman of a certain age (fairly close to my own, which is a nice change), probably over the hill by the standards of her screen writing career, wondering what the rest of her life holds, when that life is shaken up by the arrival of her ex-husband’s ashes. In a styrofoam burger box.

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Follow the Dotted LineAndy is determined, for reasons that aren’t clear even to her, to find out exactly what happened to the late father of her four grown children. The kids don’t much care. The widow who sent the ashes sent nothing else but a tersely worded demand that no one bother her about it. But Andy wants to know.

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The mystery surrounding the ashes is clever and well plotted, but what I enjoyed most about the book was the characters. Andy is determined, smart, and a bit snarky. Her kids are individuals, wildly different but still believable as siblings. Her CPA buddy fills in the blanks. And Andy’s teen-aged nephew, Harley Davidson (yes, and there’s a reason for that), dumped on her by her hippy sister, is a real piece of work, a dim bulb with remarkable flashes of brilliance.

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Follow the Dotted Line is full of sharp, snarky writing and interesting side trails, and it pulled me right in. I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review, and I’ll sum that up by saying that when the next Andrea Bravos mystery comes out, I’ll snap it up.

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I enjoyed the first book in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders series (The Deep End, set in Kansas City in the 1970s), but I think Guaranteed to Bleed is even better—I know I could hardly put it down. Ellison Guaranteed to Bleedand her daughter Grace are faced with some real dilemmas in this one, and the humor is balanced by some serious issues. Ellison’s mother is as insufferable as ever—but Ellison uses a few of the tricks she learned from Frances to good effect.

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As soon as I finished Guaranteed to Bleed, I downloaded the third book, Clouds in My Coffee, and it’s just as good as the first two. I’ve never lived in Country-Club-Land myself, but Mulhern does a wonderful job of bringing it to life. I do remember 1974, and she does a great job with that, too.

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Clouds in My CoffeeIn this adventure, it appears that someone is trying to kill Ellison, and she has no idea why, much less who. But Anarchy Jones is there to worry about her, and give her a ride home from the hospital now and then. Ellison’s aunt Sis turns out to be as formidable in her own way as Ellison’s mother, and then there’s Ellison’s sister Marjorie. And a fire bomb, and a duck pond, and a couple of disastrous parties.

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If you like cozy mystery with a significant helping of snark, you’ll love this series.

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.