Mystery and Humor

If you stop by here often, you know that mysteries and humor are two of my favorite reads, all the better if combined. Here are three more I’ve enjoyed.

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A Novel Way to Die is the second in Tamra Baumann’s bookshop mystery series, following Plotting For Murder and continuing the misadventures of Sawyer Davis, an accomplished chef who has found herself back in the small northern California town where she grew up, running the mystery bookshop she inherited from her mother, trying to understand the fifteen-year-old girl her mother had adopted, fighting her uncle over the very strange terms of the family trust, and making sense of her feelings for the local sheriff, the man who jilted her years ago.

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As if that weren’t enough, Sawyer keeps stumbling into homicides. This time the husband of an author signing her books at Sawyer’s shop turns up dead in the freezer of Sawyer’s best friend Renee’s ice cream shop. The victim and Renee once had a bad break up, too, and all the evidence points to her as the killer. But Sawyer knows that’s impossible. Now all she has to do is prove it.

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That requires the computer expertise of Brittany, Sawyer’s adopted sister and ward, inside information from Madge, the gossip loving manager of the sheriff’s office, and support from the members of the shop’s book club. Even Max, Sawyer’s third-rate magician dad, pops in with a few good ideas.

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A Novel Way to Die is a thoroughly entertaining tale, solving the mystery but leaving that strange family trust begging for another installment.

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Stayin’ Alive is the latest installment in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders, set in Kansas City in the mid 1970s. The setting here is part of the fun, taking the reader back to the days when people did not carry cell phones or while away their time on computers. Ellison Russell is an artist, the mother of a teenage daughter, and a widow, and her talent for stumbling over bodies matches that of Jessica Fletcher. This horrifies her mother, who regards Ellison’s involvement in murder investigations—and her friendship with homicide detective Anarchy Jones—as a threat to her social standing.

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In Stayin’ Alive, Ellison chairs a fund raising gala for a local museum’s touring display of Chinese funerary art—and finds a body during the festivities, albeit in a closed section of the museum. And that’s not the last body. Meanwhile Ellison’s relatives and friends contribute both information and aggravation, and Max, Ellison’s incorrigible dog, falls in love. It seems like nothing surprises Ellison any more—until she finds out that even Anarchy Jones has been keeping a secret from her.

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This is number 10 in the series. I recommend reading the Country Club Murders from the beginning, because it’s so much fun getting to know the characters and following the threads running through Ellison’s adventures. Number 11 is due out in late June.

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Twisted Twenty-Six is, not surprisingly, Janet Evanovich’s 26th Stephanie Plum novel. I’ve been reading them since the first one came out in 1994. I recently replace my shabby paperback copy of that first one (One for the Money) with a newer trade paperback edition, and I have all the rest in hardback on my keeper shelf. Clearly, I’m a fan.

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When I opened Twisted Twenty-Six, the first line rang a bell: “Some men enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.” One for the Money opened with almost exactly these words, referring to Stephanie’s relationship with Joe Morelli (I, by the way, am Team Morelli: Ranger has his charms, but Morelli is the keeper). In Twisted Twenty-Six the line refers to Jimmy Rosolli, and his forty-five minute marriage to Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur.

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The aftermath of that brief union leaves Grandma Mazur at the center of a complicated web of intrigue involving missing keys, the Jersey mob (or at least a small, elderly, but definitely dangerous branch called the Laz-Y-Boys), Rosolli’s ex-wives, and random enemies. While Stephanie and Lula, Morelli, and Ranger try to figure out who is gunning for Grandma, life goes on at the bail bond agency, and Stephanie and Lula search for the usual motley assortment of oddballs who Fail To Appear for their hearings.

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Twisted Twenty-Six continues with Evanovich’s trademark combination of humor and mystery. It’s the characters that keep me coming back year after year, and Grandma Mazur has always been a favorite. She’s front and center in this one, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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.

Recent Reading: Cozies

I have found so many enjoyable cozy mystery series, it’s hard to keep up. Oh, all right, it’s hard to keep up with any section of my To Be Read shelves. But I’m a real sucker for first-in-a-series sales, and then I get hooked. Here are three from series that have held my attention past the first entry.

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Chihuahua Confidential is the second entry in Waverly Curtis’ Barking Detective series. Chihuahua ConfidentialThis time Geri and Pepe, the talking chihuahua that only Geri can understand, are in Los Angeles for the taping of Dancing With Dogs, the pilot for a potential reality TV series. Dance lessons, costume fittings, dognappings, and the occasional murder keep Geri and Pepe on the go, even more so when Geri’s PI boss, the notably eccentric Jimmy G, shows up looking for a missing package. Pepe and Geri even find some answers regarding Pepe’s rather mysterious past life. The characters, both human and canine, are totally entertaining.

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In Better Dead, the first in Pamela Kopfler’s B&B Spirits Mystery series, Holly Davis helped the ghost of her late (and largely unlamented) husband move on. But with Burl’s departure, her haunted B&B and ancestral home, Holly Grove, is no longer haunted. Or is it?

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As Downright Dead opens, the reality show producer who made Holly Grove famous is Downright Deaddemanding a sequel episode, spurred on by a dedicated debunker who plans to expose the whole story as a fake. The original haunting was real, but with the ghost gone, Holly does feel like a fake, and has no idea how to honor her option contract without destroying her business.

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And that’s not Holly’s only problem. Her handyman has an accident, her ICE agent boyfriend is AWOL, and her cook has taken an inexplicable dislike to a perfectly inoffensive guest. The portrait of the Unknown Ancestor keeps jumping off the wall, a visiting psychic predicts a dire future for the debunker, and Bayou St. Agnes rises, cutting Holly Grove off from any way out.

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And then there’s a murder. Or two.

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What’s a girl to do? Holly deals with it all with charm and aplomb, and help from her band of loyal friends—and a ghost or two.

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In Back Stabbers (number 8 in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders series), Ellison Back StabbersRussell discovers a body. Not a surprise. Ellison has developed quite a reputation for discovering bodies. This time it’s her stockbroker, siting behind his desk, with his pants around his ankles. And that’s not the last of the disasters plaguing the firm.

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Meanwhile, Ellison’s half-sister Karma comes to visit, staying with Ellison at her dad’s insistence. After all the only other choice would be for Karma to stay with Ellison’s parents, and if Ellison is surprised by Karma’s existence, she can hardly imagine how her mother will react.

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And then there’s Ellison’s relationship with Anarchy Jones, who is all too previously acquainted with Karma. And Ellison’s daughter Grace, who has brought home a rescue cat. Max, the dog in residence, does not approve.

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As always, Mulhern has written a good mystery, populated with quirky and amusing characters, and set in the upper social circles of Kansas City in the early 1970s, back before cell phones and computers changed life so much.

 

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