More Cozies

I’ve read been reading cozy mysteries lately, so here are a few I’ve enjoyed, one from a brand new series by Kate Parker, plus series entries from Annabel Chase and Cindy Brown.

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The Killing at Kaldaire House begins a new series from Kate Parker, this one set in Edwardian London and featuring Emily Gates, a young, talented, and reasonably The Killing at Kaldaire Housesuccessful milliner who inherited her shop from her mother. Unfortunately some of her aristocratic clients seem to see no need to actually pay their bills, and Emily is forced to take extreme measures, using the burglary skills she learned from her father’s disreputable (but highly successful) family to take their valuables (some of which turn out not to be valuable at all) hostage.

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On a late night visit to Kaldaire House, Emily discovers the dying master of the mansion lying on the floor of his study. Unwilling to abandon anyone in that condition, she alerts the household. When Lady Kaldaire promises to vouch for her (and pay Emily’s bill herself) if Emily will help her solve the mystery of Lord Kaldaire’s murder, Emily has little choice.

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She doesn’t have much choice when the attractive detective assigned to the case, James Russell, recognizes Emily as a member of the notorious Gates family and promises not to arrest her if she will help him keep an eye on her relatives. Needing her income to send the relative she cares most about, her younger brother Matthew, to a special school for the deaf, she finds herself juggling her investigating for Lady Kaldaire, her family, and her growing attraction to Detective Inspector Russell.

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With a range of entertaining supporting characters, lots of period detail, and a good mystery, The Killing at Kaldaire House promises another fun series of cozy mysteries from Parker.

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Better Than Hex is the fifth installment in Annabel Chase’s Spellbound series of humorous paranormal mysteries, following the adventures of Emma Hart, who didn’t know she was Better Than Hexa witch until she stumbled into Spellbound, a community of paranormals trapped in their town by a very old spell, and found she couldn’t leave. In this tale, Emma, now the local public defender (and witch in remedial training) takes on the case of a young were-lion who won’t explain why he was caught in possession of deadly nightshade. Meanwhile she frets over the impending marriage of her not-so-secret crush, fallen angel Daniel Starr, to mean-spirited (but gorgeous) fairy Elsa Knightsbridge. Has Daniel really fallen back in love with his ex-girlfriend, or has he been the victim of an Obsession potion administered by Elsa?

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Better Than Hex ends on something of a cliffhanger, so I immediately downloaded the Cast Awaysixth installment, Cast Away, in which Emma is only slightly distracted from her concerns about Daniel by a new client (a macho young werewolf accused of peeing inappropriately in a peony bed) and a new mystery (the death of a likable troll found frozen under a bridge). Emma’s experiment with potions at the nightclub hosting Elsa’s bachelorette party goes awry, of course. Will she break the Obsession spell in time to stop the wedding? Or will the secret she’s been keeping trip her up? Chase answers these questions while leaving plenty of story lines for the next books in the series.

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Cindy Brown’s The Phantom of Oz is another fun theatrical mystery, this one set in an elegant old theater haunted by the Lady in White. Ivy Meadows is a hardworking young The Phantom of Ozactress who also works for her Uncle Bob’s PI firm (Duda Detectives), so naturally when her best friend, Candy, disappears from the touring company of The Wizard: A Space OZpera Ivy dives in to investigate, landing herself an understudy role with the company in the process. Props include spaceships and Trekian costumes, and the cast includes munchkins and flying monkeys (played by children ranging from adorable to creepy), a famous director, a toxic reality star, a costume mistress who might be a witch, and Toto. Misunderstandings with her boyfriend and her brother only make Ivy’s life more complicated, not to mention the wardrobe mistress’ well-intentioned cold remedies. I love this series, with its madly scrambled theatrical productions and hilariously close-but-not-quite-there movie titles.

 

The Dead End Job Mysteries

I’ve been a fan of Elaine Viets’ Dead End Job mystery series since the first one came out in 2003, and I have all fifteen on a keeper shelf. The first thirteen have just been re-released with new covers (and prices) in eBook form. If you enjoy humorous mysteries as much as I do, you won’t want to miss them.

Dead End Jobs

The series gets its name from the dreadful jobs Helen Hawthorne works to stay under the radar and off the books. She’s fled St. Louis for the sunnier climate of Fort Lauderdale, a few steps ahead of the law. I’m not going to tell you exactly why Helen is on the run, because it’s too much fun to find out for yourself, but I’ll just say it involves her ex-husband, a neighbor, and a baseball bat.

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Helen finds a new home at the Coronado Tropic Apartments, run by chain-smoking, purple-clad, seventyish Margery Flax, a great character throughout the series. Helen also meets Peggy and her parrot Pete, and Thumbs the cat, and wonders about the pot-smoking hippie in one of the upstairs apartments (keep an eye on him). I grew up in South Florida (the suburbs of Miami), so I especially enjoy the Fort Lauderdale setting.

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Through the series, Helen works at some awful jobs. She’s worked at penny-pinching retail shops (a bridal shop, a book store, a doggy boutique, a resale shop, and a beauty salon), and cleaned hotel rooms and litter pans. She’s been a telemarketer and a yacht stewardess. All these jobs and more are tasks Elaine Viets has actually done as research for the books.

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As I write this, Helen’s first three adventures (Shop Til You Drop,Murder Between the Covers, and Dying to Call You) are available from Amazon for only $2.99 each, a perfect time to try one. One of these days I’m going to binge-read them all in order.

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You can check them all out and read the first chapters on Elaine’s site. (While you’re there, check out the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series, set in St. Louis—I’m a big fan of those books, too!)

 

And More Mystery Reviews

I’m running out of titles for these review collections—obviously my reading has leaned heavily to cozy mysteries of late. On the other hand, as I write this I’m reading one alternate history novel (The Boleyn King by Laura Anderson) and one alternate world novel (Within the Sanctuary of Wings, the last—alas—Lady Trent Memoir by Marie Brennan). More on those later.

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Meanwhile, back in mystery land, Diane Kelly’s Death and Taxes series comes to an end Death, Taxes and a Shotgun Weddingwith Death, Taxes, and a Shotgun Wedding, the twelfth adventure of Tara Holloway, gun-toting IRS Special Agent. I’m sure it’s no spoiler to admit that Tara and Nick do manage to get married by the end of the book, or that shotguns actually are present at the wedding.

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Before they make it to the altar, though, Tara tackles a home rental scam, pursuing the fake property manager through an undercover job with Backseat Driver, and all her colleagues lend their talents to track down whoever is sending Tara death threats. That search serves as a trip down memory lane, as Tara and her friends check in with folks they’ve met—and some they’ve arrested—over Tara’s relatively brief career as an agent. (She’s sure packed a lot of action into less than two years on the job!) If you’ve been following the series you’ll enjoy catching up with all the characters.

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I’m glad to see Tara’s Happily Ever After (complete with a five-years-later epilogue), but sorry to see the series end. Never fear, though—Kelly’s Paw and Order K9 team of Megan and Brigit will continue, and rumor has it Kelly has a new series in the works.

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Zara Keane’s Rebel Without a Claus continues the adventures (and sometimes misadventures) of Maggie Doyle, an American ex-cop starting over on the little Irish Rebel Without a Clausisland where much of her father’s family lives. Maggie and her friend and assistant P.I. Lenny are doing undercover work for their newly established Movie Reel Investigations when they find a body in a bathtub. And that’s not the last body Maggie, widely known as a corpse magnet, will find in the course of the book. Throw in a half dozen Bad Santas, some odd behavior on the part of Liam Reynolds, Maggie’s police officer boyfriend, and the unexpected arrival of Maggie’s estranged sister Beth, now a famous beauty vlogger, and you have the ingredients for another tale combining mayhem and laughter.

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I’ve read the whole Movie Club Mysteries series over the past year and enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ll be watching for the next one, Some Like It Shot, due out in the spring.

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Deadly Fashion is the third in Kate Parker’s series set in pre-WWII London. Olivia Denis, Deadly Fashiona young widow (she solved her husband’s murder in Deadly Scandal), works as a barely competent writer on the society page of a London newspaper, holding down the job because she’s also handling investigations for the paper’s publisher. In Deadly Fashion, an interview with a long-admired couturier, Madame Mimi Mareau, leads Olivia into murder investigations and another trip to the continent.

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Parker does a wonderful job of bringing her setting to life. London is still reeling from the Abdication, everyone knows that war is coming sooner or later, and no one is entirely sure whose side of the conflict their neighbor might be on. Olivia and her good friend Captain Adam Richmond know where they stand, and don’t hesitate to follow their investigations, even when the answers aren’t what they might have hoped for.

 

Pamela Kopfler’s Better Dead

We had a weather day today: the temperature dropped, the rain turned to sleet, the schools were closed, and everyone with any sense stayed off the roads. So I sat down with a good book—well, actually, I ran down the charge on my Kindle, but it hung on long enough for me to finish.

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Better Dead is the first in a new cozy mystery series by Pamela Kopfler. Holly Davis has Better Deadturned her ancestral home on the bank of the Mississippi, Holly Grove, into a B&B in a desperate attempt to keep it, but prospects don’t look good. Business is slow—and changing the place from a residence to a business has doubled the tax bill. But the worst of it is the ghost of her late and unlamented husband, Burl. He crashed his plane before Holly could serve him with divorce papers, and now he’s back, although only Holly and her faithful Yorkie, Rhett, can see him.

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So Holly makes a deal with Burl: she’ll try to help him settle the unfinished business that’s keeping him out of heaven (as if he ever deserved to get in!) if he’ll haunt Holly Grove through the October Haunted Plantation Tour season.

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As if Burl weren’t enough trouble, who should show up but Holly’s long gone high school sweet heart, Jake McCann, returning to the little Louisiana town of Delta Ridge to sub for the local newspaper editor and—unbeknownst to Holly—to investigate the drug smuggling going on at Holly Grove.

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Holly can’t tell Jake about Burl’s ghost—who would believe that? And Jake can’t tell Holly that he’s an ICE agent—she may well be running Burl’s smuggling ring!

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Throw in the local bridge club, with its fearless leader Miss Alice, Jake’s missing (and probably soused) father, an unhelpful sheriff and a very cranky dog, and you have a thoroughly delightful read. (And a few recipes at the end.)

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I’ll be looking forward to Holly’s next adventure, Downright Dead, coming in September.

 

Spellbound Mysteries

Doom and Broom is the second installment in Annabel Chase’s charming Spellbound series. Emma Hart is settling into her new life in Spellbound, a mysterious town populated Doom and Broomby a wide variety of supernatural sorts trapped there by a curse so old no one really remembers the details. Emma, who didn’t even know she was a witch until she wandered into town and found she couldn’t leave (in Curse the Day), now has a house, a vampire ghost roommate (the previous owner), and a job as the local public defender.

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Her first court case involves defending a teenage Berserker accused of vandalism, but the real news in town involves the suspicious death of a soon-to-be-married female werewolf. Did Jolene commit suicide, or is there a more dastardly explanation?

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While investigating that, Emma also deals with her remedial witch training, especially the broomstick course, not easy for someone with a fear of heights. And then there’s harp therapy, ladies poker night, a sexy vampire named Demetrius, and of course Daniel the depressed fallen angel.

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The third book, Spell’s Bells, is every bit as entertaining, as Emma defends a lovesick Spell's Bellsbrownie on burglary charges and tries her hand at speed dating to meet a wereweasel (that dates goes about as badly as one might expect), all the while investigating the mysterious glass coffin holding a comatose dwarf named Freddie. She goes for a hike with a werelion named Fabio and visits a hilariously demented witch in the local retirement home.

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Lucky CharmLucky Charm is another delightfully funny entry, fourth in the series. While searching for a cure for the spell that has the town council behaving like children (and requiring constant supervision), Emma finds new ways to deal with her sometimes scary paranormal neighbors and learns a bit more about her own background. Chase continues to add new and interesting characters to her “cursed” town.

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There are five more books in the series. I think I’ll go download the next one.

 

More Mysteries (To Read!)

No technological enigmas today, just three very readable mystery novels.

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Maggie Doyle is back in a new adventure in Zara Keane’s The 39 Cupcakes. She’s settling into her new life as a private investigator on Whisper Island, just off the coast of Ireland, and into her growing relationship with Garda Sergeant Liam Reynolds (at least until his outspoken eight-year-old daughter comes to visit). The Movie Theater Cafe is hanging on (with a showing of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps) despite the opening of The Cupcake Cafe right across the road. And Maggie’s cousin Julie has recruited her to help chaperone thirty summer camp kids on a tour of an archaeological excavation.

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The 39 CupcakesPeople may call Maggie a Corpse Magnet, but it’s actually one of the kids who discovers the first body. Bones do turn up in archaeological sites, but not with modern dental work. With Reynolds technically on vacation, Maggie and her unofficial assistant Lenny are off and running on the investigation.

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The 39 Cupcakes brings back many of the characters from Maggie’s previous cases and adds a few new ones. The cast and the setting of these books is so much fun, and Maggie works her way through the mayhem around her with great humor, seeing her father’s country with American eyes, struggling to pronounce Irish names, and waiting for those official divorce papers.

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Fortunately we won’t have to wait too long for Maggie’s next case: Rebel Without a Claus, coming this holiday season.

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Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone mysteries never spend much time on my TBR shelf. I’ve been a fan of the series since the first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, came out in 1977. Over the years we have met more and more members of Sharon’s large and increasingly The Color of Fearcomplicated family, and a number of them figure prominently in the latest installment, The Color of Fear. When Sharon’s visiting Shoshone father is attacked and beaten on a San Francisco street, the incident appears at first to be a random hate crime, perhaps related to other recent crimes against minorities. But when Sharon and her colleagues investigate, it appears there’s a lot more going on—and someone will go to any lengths to stop Sharon from finding out the truth.

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Sue Grafton also has a new mystery on the shelf, Y Is For Yesterday. I haven’t picked that one up yet, because I’m three behind—V, W, and X are still waiting for me. I’ve been reading Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone novels since A Is For Alibi (1982), and I will catch up. These are two series that will stay on my keeper shelf.

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I missed David Handler’s Stewart Hoag mysteries completely when they were published in the 1980s. I picked up the first one, The Man Who Died Laughing, when it popped up on an ebook sale email recently (I get far too many of those). How could I resist a mystery starring a one-hit wonder writer conned into trying his hand at ghostwriting? Not to mention the basset hound, Lulu.

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The Man Who Died LaughingIn The Man Who Died Laughing, Hoagy heads to California to ghostwrite the autobiography of famous comic Sonny Day. Much of Sonny’s story comes out in the form of interview tapes, but he’s reluctant to answer the one question everyone asks—what caused the public fistfight which ended his partnership with straight man Gabe Knight. That question seems to be at the heart of a whole string of drastic events: death threats, vandalism, arson, and finally murder. Someone clearly does not want the answer to become public.

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The book is set in the early 1980s, and many celebrities of the day wander in and out of the story (perhaps to assure the reader that Day and Knight are not based directly on any real people), lending considerable atmosphere to the setting. There’s quite a bit of wry humor, but the mystery is a bit darker than I expected. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I have another Handler tale (The Woman Who Fell From Grace) waiting on my Kindle. I’ll be watching for others in the series.

 

The Movie Club Mysteries

I am loving this series of cozies by Zara Keane, set on a small island off the west coast of Ireland. The central character, Maggie Doyle, is an American whose father came from Whisper Island, and she has fond memories of spending childhood summers there. So when her marriage and her job with the San Francisco police department both go down the tubes, she goes to visit her Aunt Noreen and help out at the Movie Theater Cafe, just for a little while.

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I had started reading book two, The Postman Always Dies Twice, when I discovered To To Hatch a ThiefHatch a Thief, a longish novella set between the first (Dial P for Poison) and second novels. So I switched over to read it first. To Hatch a Thief involves stolen diamonds and dancing chickens (in leprechaun costumes!), not to mention the intriguing Sergeant Reynolds. 

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The second full-length novel, The Postman Always Dies Twice is another funny, fast-moving entry. This time Maggie and her friend Lenny discover the body of the The Postman Always Dies Twicelocal postal carrier, and Maggie goes undercover at the island hotel in an attempt to find the poltergeist scaring the guests away. Meanwhile Sergeant Reynolds has moved into the cottage next to Maggie’s, but he may not be there long if the postman’s murder gets any more complicated. Between wardrobe disasters, bootleg whiskey, and pot-laced brownies, Maggie’s stay on Whisper Island is far from the uneventful r&r she was looking for–but maybe just what she needs.

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By the time How To Murder a Millionaire rolls around, Maggie has decided to stay on Whisper Island, and has gotten How To Murder a Millionaireherself a private investigator’s license, and her first job—investigating the disappearance of a sheep named Nancy, who went missing twenty-two years ago. When she goes to interview the prime suspect in that very cold case, she finds his body in his barn—clad in a crotchless mankini. (Yes, I had to google that, and even with an intact crotch, a mankini is a terrible thing to behold. You have been warned.) Soon Maggie is dealing with the horrible American family of her late grandmother’s oldest friend, who just may be connected to the mankini murder. And then there’s Sergeant Reynolds . . .

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I’m looking forward to Maggie’s next adventure, The 39 Cupcakes, due out next month.

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