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 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.

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.

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.

Cheryl Bolen’s Egyptian Affair

An Egyptian Affair is the fourth installment in Cheryl Bolen’s light-hearted Regent Mystery series, continuing the adventures of Captain Jack Dryden, former spy for the Duke of Wellington, and his wife and investigating partner, Lady Daphne.

An Egyptian AffairThe Prince Regent has turned over a substantial sum of money to a trusted Indian dealer in antiquities, Prince Edward Duleep Singh, for the purchase of a golden mask of the mummy of the pharaoh Amun-re. Now the dealer, the money, and the mask have all gone missing in Egypt, and the Regent wants Jack and Daphne to track them down.

Jack is more than ready for the job, but he thinks it may be too dangerous for Daphne (not to mention her propensity for sea-sickness). Daphne, however, is not about to be left at home, and the Regent agrees. Jack can hardly refuse when the Regent announces he will send ten of his own House Guards as security, and Stanton Maxwell, a young but renowned Orientologist, as guide and interpreter.

With Daphne’s youngest sister, Rosemary, along for the voyage, the party arrives in Egypt, where they are welcomed by Ralph Arbuthnot of the British Consulate in Cairo. Their trip down the Nile, complete with naked farm workers on shore, serves to convince the British travelers that they’re definitely not in London any more.

Cairo swarms with suspicious characters. Habeeb, the local dragoman hired for them by Arbuthnot, disappears from time to time. Gareth Williams, a deserter from Jack’s company at the Battle of Badajoz, pops up when least expected. What does the Turkish Pasha who rules the country know about the missing antiquities dealer? Is Ahmed Hassein, a rival antiquities dealer, not quite the “friendly competitor” he claims to be? And what about rival antiquities collector Sheik al Mustafa? Or Lord Beddington, the British explorer whose location is so hard to pin down?

Before long Jack and Daphne have discovered a murder, and things only become more complicated when Rosemary disappears from her tent during a visit to the pyramids.

Jack and Daphne take the reader on a tour of early nineteenth century Egypt while searching for answers to their many questions. An Egyptian Affair combines exotic locations, mysterious disappearances, and a bit of romance into a very entertaining story.

Catch up with the Regent Mystery series: With His Lady’s Assistance, A Most Discreet Inquiry, and The Theft Before Christmas, available separately or as a boxed set for your favorite e-reader.

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: More Mysteries

Here are three more mysteries I’ve enjoyed recently, two set in Texas and one in Florida, all quick and entertaining reads.

Katie Graykowski’s Rest in Pieces is the first in a new humorous mystery series, the PTO Murder Club, set in the Austin, Texas, area. Mustang Ridges, the first person narrator is funny and snarky and goes off on Rest in Pieceshilarious tangents, all while trying to hold together her life as a recently divorced mom. She doesn’t really need to be investigating the death of the local kindergarten teacher, unlikely as the verdict of death by heroin overdose may seem, but she and her fellow PTO board members, Haley and Monica, just can’t leave it alone. Add the suspicious attentions of TWO attractive men, a bit of breaking and entering, and a midnight manicure, and you have quite an adventure. Graykowski leaves enough loose ends to fuel the next installment; I hope it comes soon!

Murder at Veranda House is one of Cheryl Bolen’s Texas Heroines in Peril romantic suspense quartet, but it is a stand-alone novel. Annette Holcombe is a young widow, opening the historic Galveston Island homeMurder at Veranda House she inherited from her late (but not particularly lamented) husband as a Bed and Breakfast. Her first week as hostess at Veranda House brings a lot more than she counted on: murder, guests who may not be who they claim to be, a possible missing treasure, and a tropical storm that can’t seem to make up its mind. Annette can’t make up her mind, either, about the handsome guest who charms her young daughter and has designs of his own on her.

This tale of romance and mystery will be especially entertaining to readers who are familiar with Galveston Island, featuring as it does historic houses and island charm. All in all, Murder at Veranda House is a quick and suspenseful read.

Killer BlondeKiller Blonde is a novella entry in Elaine Viets’ Dead End Jobs series, a long-time favorite of mine. Fans will enjoy hearing the voice of Marjorie Flax, colorful (mainly purple) septuagenarian owner of the Coronado apartments, as she tells Helen Hawthorne the story of a perfect murder committed forty years before. The tale is especially entertaining if you remember the office politics (and fashions!) of the 1970s. A must for Helen and Marjorie’s many fans.

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