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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


I really love this series. Jump on board now and read them in order: MacDeath, The Sound of Murder, and Oliver Twisted. Great fun.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Random Reviews

I keep a file called Book Notes for Posts in my reviews and articles Scrivener project, and now and then it fills up with thoughts on totally unrelated books. Time to clean it out, so here are a few random reviews.


between-home-heartbreakWho is Eldorado Jane? The heroine of Jacqui Nelson’s Between Home & Heartbreak (second in her Gambling Hearts series) is the star of Calhoun’s Wild West Show, but is she also Jane Dority, who disappeared as a child eighteen years ago after Gypson’s Medicine Show visited the tiny town of Juniper Flats, Texas? She says she is, and she’s laying claim to the Dority homestead.


But Lewis Adams, Jane’s childhood friend and current owner of the Dority property, doesn’t believe her. She seems to have Jane’s memories, but she doesn’t have Jane’s eyes. But she does know horses, and Lewis needs help with the herd he’s contracted to train for the Texas Rangers.


The bet Eldora and Lewis make for ownership of the homestead turns out to be the least of their worries, as deception, blackmail, old enemies, and even the weather combine to thwart their plans.


Readers of Nelson’s Old West adventures first met Lewis in Between Love and Lies. Also reappearing from that novel are Noah and Sadie Ballantyne and a few other unexpected visitors. Between Home and Heartbreak is a very satisfying follow up to Between Love and Lies. You don’t have to read them in order, but why not?


Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Book Club is the fifth entry in the Liz Talbot Mystery series, and just as good as its predecessors. This time Liz and Nate, back from their honeymoon, are investigating the murder of a locallowcountry-book-club socialite/volunteer who seems to have been loved by everyone around her, including the husband accused of pushing her over the balcony (and possibly another man—but who?). With the help of her ghostly friend Colleen, Liz narrows down the suspect list and discovers just how much turmoil can develop in a very prestigious Book Club.


As always, the city of Charleston and the island community of Stella Maris contribute essential aspects to the story and Liz’ family members make cameo appearances. I’ve enjoyed this series from Henery Press since it began with Lowcountry Boil—worth reading in order.


I’ve loved Elaine Viets’ Dead End Jobs series from the beginning, and The Art of the-art-of-murderMurder is an excellent entry. Helen doesn’t actually have to work a terrible job in this one (although Phil does time as a condo security guard), but she does join a painting class (for which she has no aptitude at all) to solve the murder of one of the students. Margery is back, of course, as well as Peggy and the parrots, Thumbs the cat, and Valerie the reporter. Definitely a fun read.


For science fiction written in 1968, The Goblin Reservation holds up fairly well. I read pretty much all of Clifford Simak’s work back a few decades ago, although I didn’t remember this one. It involves a man who has accidentally been duplicated in a transporter accident (shades of Star Trek), a genetically the-goblin-reservationdesigned pet saber-tooth tiger, a Neanderthal time traveler named Alley Oop, William Shakespeare (who insists he never wrote anything), a Ghost who doesn’t know whose ghost he is, transport reminiscent of Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll,” and of course goblins, fairies, and trolls. Set, by the way, in Wisconsin about five hundred years in the future, with mention of phones but not of computers. A fun, rather nostalgic reminder of classic science fiction.


The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, has been on the best seller lists for more than a year the-girl-on-the-trainnow, and I understand why. I’m not a fan of first person present tense narration, and there are three such narrators in the book, all of them undependable. The characters spend the entire book lying, cheating, and fantasizing. Terrible secrets are revealed and hearts are broken. This is not a feel-good book. But it is fascinating and difficult to put down, and I recommend it.

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.

Recent Reading: Friends

Today I am blatantly promoting books by friends, women I have met through RWA’s Golden Heart contest, but I wouldn’t steer you wrong. These are books, and writers, that I enjoy.

Nan Dixon is a Starcatcher (2011) and Lucky 13 (2013) GH finalist. Her debut novel, Southern Comforts, offers the reader a lovely trip to Savannah (with a side trip to Boston) and food and wine descriptions that will leave her mouth watering. (Psst: the recipe for those brandy pecan bars is on Nan’s website!).

Southern ComfortsAbby Fitzgerald is determined to make a success of her family’s bed and Breakfast, Fitzgerald House, but her long term plan is to add her own restaurant, Southern Comforts, and prove her standing as a top-drawer chef. And despite the business assistance of her two sisters, Bess and Dolley, she’s set on doing it herself. Her irresponsible father and the chef who dumped her in New York, blocking her culinary career, have led her to distrust men—and their money.

And money is what Grayson Smythe has a lot of. The Boston businessman has booked a six-month stay at Fitzgerald House while he oversees the conversion of a warehouse to condos, and Abby’s sister has forgotten to tell her that the deal includes dinner. Gray quickly falls in love with Abby’s cooking, but admitting that he’s falling in love with her is another matter. And persuading her to trust his good intentions is even harder.

I thoroughly enjoyed Southern Comforts and I’m looking forward to reading Bess and Dolley’s stories one of these days.

Heather Ashby is a Firebird (2012) GH finalist, and a Navy veteran (and long-time Navy wife) herself. UnforgetttableWith co-author (and retired Marine) Christopher Bergeron, she wraps up her four-book Love in the Fleet series with Unforgettable, a follow up to the previous book, Never Forget, continuing the story of Royal Navy Lieutenant Gwyn Pritchard and Marine Gunnery Sergeant Adam Connor and adding a romance for Navy pilot Mike Nickolopoulos and Marine pilot Cate Hawkins. Unforgettable also ties up the stories of the 9/11 spirits trapped aboard the U.S.S. New York. Ashby and Bergeron blend romance and healing among the officers with exciting military action and suspense, producing a very satisfying finale to the series.

Susan Boyer is also a Firebird. Her 2012 GH finalist mystery novel, Lowcountry Boil, won an Agatha Award for Best First Book. Lowcountry Boneyard is the third installment in Susan’s Liz Talbot mystery series. Liz is a private investigator based on Stella Maris, an island off the coast of South Carolina, a ferry ride from Charleston. She works cases with her partner Nate Andrews and occasional well-placed help from the ghost of Colleen, her long-dead high school best friend, whose mission in the afterlife is to protect Stella Maris.

Lowcountry BoneyardIn Lowcountry Boneyard, Liz and Nate take on the case of missing heiress Kent Heyward, cutting their way through long-buried family secrets and rivalries. They have some problems of their own to solve, too—their business may do well with Liz based on Stella Maris and Nate a few hours away in Greenville, but their romantic relationship is suffering.

I’m looking forward to Liz’ next case (Lowcountry Bordello, due out in November) and hope there will be many more. By the way, if you enjoy cozy regional mysteries, check out Susan and Liz’ publisher, Henery Press.

Recent Reading

This evening I finished reading The Sound and the Furry, the sixth Chet and Bernie mystery by Spencer Quinn.  I enjoy this series so much that I went to my local Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago looking for the latest installment, and it did not disappoint.  The mysteries are always interesting, but the real charm of the books is their narrator, Chet, the canine half of the Little Detective Agency (Bernie Little being the human partner).  Chet’s interpretation of what’s going on is often hilarious, but clearly Bernie couldn’t have a better partner.  Open the book just about anywhere and you’ll find Chet’s take on Bernie (who can do no wrong), humans in general, and the joys of being a dog.

The Sound and the FurryHere’s an example:  “Batshit crazy,” Scooter said, hanging me up right there,  The night a bat flew into the house, back in the Leda days, and Bernie chasing after it with a broom, swatting and swatting the air!  Had I ever been more excited in my life?  The screams of Leda’s: I can still hear them.  Had the bat left any poop behind?  Would I have missed something like that? Does the bear shit in the woods?  That was too much.  I lost the thread completely.

Chet loses the thread quite often, distracted by a stray bit of bacon or an equally stray memory, but he always comes through for Bernie.  In The Sound and the Furry, the partners leave their Arizona home territory for a trip to Louisiana, where Chet enjoys some fascinating new smells and has a close encounter with an alligator.

Another mystery series I am enjoying comes from my friend Susan M. Boyer.  Last year Susan’s Lowcountry Boil won the Lowcountry BombshellAgatha Award for best first mystery.  Lowcountry Bombshell, the second adventure of South Carolina private investigator Liz Talbot, is, if anything, even better, involving a client who appears to be Marilyn Monroe’s doppelganger.  Calista McQueen was born exactly fifty years after Marilyn, and her life has mirrored the late actress’ in too many ways.  As she approaches the anniversary of Marilyn’s death, it becomes Liz’s job to make sure Calista doesn’t become a dead ringer.   By the time she reaches a solution, Liz finds herself in as much danger as Calista.

The Lowcountry mysteries are set on the coastal island of Stella Maris, populated with Liz’s family and friends (including one occasionally helpful ghost), and reading them is like going home with Liz for a visit.  I recommend them highly.  And if you like cozy mysteries, check out the rest of the Henery Press catalog.

I’m Back

It’s been at least a couple of weeks since I’ve posted here, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks, with six days in Atlanta for the RWA Conference in the middle.  I’m still recovering.  The Scorekeeper is a three-person office, so it takes some planning beforehand and catching up afterwards for any one of us to be gone for most of a week.

I left on Tuesday the 16th with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson.  We got to Atlanta mid-afternoon, and walked for what seemed like miles before we figured out that the speedy  little train running along one side of the passage would take us directly to the baggage area, apparently located in the next county.  (And I’m not kidding about speedy–anyone foolish enough to ignore the warnings about holding on to the conveniently-positioned poles was likely to be tossed the length of the car when it started or stopped.)

We arrived at the Marriott Marquis before check-in time, left our bags in the designated area, and began exploring.  The hotel is gorgeous, with a vertigo-inducing fifty-story atrium and those speedy glass elevator cars that make some people nervous (I love them).  (And the Best Ladies’ Rooms Ever–over six days I never once had to wait for a stall.  The perfect amenities for a conference attended by two thousand women.)

Tuesday evening I felt like a real social butterfly, having dinner at a nearby Turkish restaurant with the Firebirds (the Golden Heart finalists of 2012) and dessert at a Latin-Pacific fusion place with the Lucky 13s (this year’s GH finalists).  The annual RWA conference is as much about renewing long distance friendships as it is about workshops and industry networking.

On Wednesday I attended the Golden Network retreat, the annual meeting of the on-line chapter for Golden Heart finalists.  This year the planners went straight for the top.  Our opening speaker was Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a fabulously warm and funny lady, followed by Courtney Milan, an extremely successful and knowledgeable pioneer in the field of self-publishing.

Our keynote speaker was the incomparable Nora Roberts.  Yes, that Nora.  Her advice to us, a mixed crowd of published and unpublished writers, was “Just Keep Writing,” a motto she clearly follows: her typical yearly output, she told us, is one hardback suspense novel, two J.D. Robb books, and a paperback trilogy.  Exhilarating and terrifying at once.

After lunch we had a panel of agents and editors, followed by a group of multi-published authors, all answering our questions and letting us pick their brains.  Between speakers our talented emcees, Susan Boyer and Lorenda Christensen, kept us entertained with their rap intros and commentary, sometimes even in sync with their prerecorded accompaniment.  We’re writers–technology is not always our strong point.

Wednesday evening was the annual “Readers for Life” Literacy Booksigning, as crowded and noisy as always, with hundreds of authors singing their books.  The event is open to the public, and this year raised more than $50,000 for RWA’s continuing support of literacy programs.  I managed to restrain myself–after all, I had to get back to Houston with one suitcase and a carry on–but I visited with friends around the room.

WordPress is not being its usual cooperative self tonight, won’t even let me upload a photo, so I think I’ll save the rest of the conference for a day or two.  I had a wonderful time in Atlanta, but I’m still trying to catch up with my ordinary world.



Previous Older Entries