Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I occasionally get emails with photos captioned something like, "If FDR married Marilyn Monroe, their kids would look like this:" Well, if Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse wrote a book together, it would be something like this one. Malliet adheres to the traditional mystery framework endorsed by Christie and enriches it with high jinks worthy of Plum himself.

The setting is a house party in a Cambridgeshire mansion. Best-selling mystery writer Sir Adrian Beauclerek-Fisk has invited  his four not-so-successful adult children to his wedding to a widow with a dubious past. Naturally, the children are not pleased with the proposed alliance; neither is Sir Adrian's cook, Mrs. Romano. Murder is inevitable.

I was a bit skeptical when Donna Andrews almost forced me to buy this, but I'm oh, so happy she did. Save this for a Sunday afternoon in front of the fireplace—with a cup of tea by your side.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Authors YOU Should Know

We had a good time at the Cary Library last week when we talked about some of the authors I think everybody should be reading. It was fun not having any particular topic but just telling folks about some of the folks I've enjoyed reading—recently and over the years. If you'd like to compare likes, try downloading the handout

MURDER IN FOUR PARTS by Bill Crider (Minotaur)

Sheriff Dan Rhodes figures there's something fishy about an invitation to join a barbershop chorus. After all, he's not much of a shower singer. Before he can figure out the motive behind his invitation though, he's out on a call to catch the alligator in a drainage ditch. And the alligator leads to chickens…

Yep, it's pretty much business as normal in Blacklin County, Texas, and Rhodes has just about all he can handle even before a murder in the barbershop group. Once again, Dan manages to keep his wits about him despite continual heckling from his staff and misdirection from those he's sworn to protect and serve. 

I'll take a trip to this part of Texas any time!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

NEVER TELL A LIE by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow)

Ivy Rose is in definite "nesting" mode. Eight months pregnant, she's having a yard sale to clear out the junk that came alone with her Victorian house. One of the customers is a former high school classmate of Ivy's and her husband David. Melinda White, also pregnant, manipulates David into letting her look inside the house—where she used to play as a child. Although David returns to the yard sale, Melinda doesn't come out of the house. When a full-blown police investigation centers on David, Ivy realizes that she doesn't know him as well as she thought. 

Just as I thought I saw where this truly creepy thriller was headed, Ephron snatched the rails of the roller coaster and twisted them into a whole new ride. Fortunately, I started this book early in an afternoon and was able to finish it before burning the midnight oil. I suggest you do the same. Don't miss Ephron's debut solo novel. It's on sale January 6, 2009.

A DOG AMONG DIPLOMATS by J. F. Englert (Dell)

Crime novels often require that the reader suspends disbelief for one reason or another. For instance, private investigators simply don't work on open murder investigations. Amateur sleuths rarely discover bodies. Animals don't talk.

Manhattan native Labrador Retriever Randolph doesn't talk. He communicates with his owner via Alpha-Bits cereal. He also reads and writes books, and he surfs the Web for clues to crime. In his second appearance, Randolph goes undercover at the U.N. as a therapy dog for a depressed diplomat. 

Beth says, "My dog is just as smart as Randolph, and I suspect that the cats alter the shopping lists. This is a fun read. I'm looking forward to another mystery with Randolph." 

GOODY GOODY GUNSHOTS by Sammi Carter (Berkley)

The fourth "candy shop mystery" set in the Colorado Rockies won't make you gain weight unless you indulge in the recipes at the end. In this outing, Divinity candy shop owner Abby Shaw witnesses a a man being gunned down, but there's no proof. Could a body that turns up days later possibly be related? Abby's got plenty to do running her store, training a new employee, and working with her nephew's basketball team, but she's always got time to ply her sleuthing skills. Interesting, well-drawn characters propel this well-paced story to the perfect ending.

--Beth Carroll

A New Reviewer is Heard…

We've all heard the phrase "so many books, so little time" often. I thought I'd have more time to read when I retired (I used to read about 250 mysteries a year), but I find I spend a lot of time now writing about books, talking about books, and getting ready to talk about books. Of course, I also spend considerable hours looking for books and other things I've misplaced. Recognizing my inability to keep up with all the reading I should do, I've begun asking friends to help out occasionally by sharing their thoughts.

Beth Carroll absolutely loves cozy mysteries. I've been loaning bags of them to her for years. She keeps a note in the bag explaining that "these books belong to Molly Weston" in case something happens and she doesn't get to return them. We laugh about that. Now, I've begun targeting new cozies that I think she'll like and she's agreed to let you know about them.

Welcome, Beth!

Harris & Kelner Updates

I just saw some great news on Publishers Lunch about two of my long-time mystery buddies:

"Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner's Death's Excellent Vacation, an anthology crossing genres from the sci-fi/fantasy, mystery and paranormal genres, with each story revolving around death and a holiday, in the similar spirit of their earlier anthologies Many Bloody Returns (vampires and birthdays) and Wolfsbane & Mistletoe (werewolves and Christmas)…for publication in Spring 2010…"


"NYT bestselling author Charlaine Harris's Harper Connelly #4… for publication in Fall 2009."

It looks like the good times will keep rolling! Congratulations, gals!

Friday, October 31, 2008

SIBA Photos

I wasn't clever enough to get more photos placed where I wanted them in my SIBA report, so I'm sticking in a couple here.

On the left is Julia Spencer-Fleming; to the right is Charlaine Harris.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

SIBA - Mobile, Alabama

I just got back from the Southeastern Independent Booksellers' Association (SIBA) meeting and trade show in Mobile, Alabama. It was a great show, as always, and I got to renew acquaintances with old friends and to meet a lot of new people.

On Friday, I gave a presentation to booksellers on marketing mysteries using lists from the library programs I've been doing over the years. We worked on ways to combine mysteries with mainstream titles and on planning tie-in events with outside agencies and businesses. 

After the marketing session, I moderated a thriller panel with four great authors, all of whom were new to me. What fun I had reading their books in preparation for the panel. It seems no matter how many books you read, you always miss somebody, and I had missed some good ones! The panelists were F. Paul Wilson, Erica Spindler, Kirk Curnutt, and Darden North. We had a good time, the authors related some great stories, and the folks in attendance asked insightful questions after the author presentations.

Wilson talked about his first book for young adults, Jack: Secret Histories. Repairman Jack adult fans will also grab this book because it tells the story of Jack as a teenager. He inscribed my copy, "Where it all begins."

Spindler's upcoming book, Breakneck, won't hit stores until January, but I can assure you it's a roller coaster ride from beginning to end! It's a totally current thriller dealing with computer hackers, identity theft, and ripping off the wrong person.

Breathing Out the Ghost, as you might expect from a college teacher was our literary thriller for the day. Curnutt explores the effects of  a missing child, not only upon his father, but the private detective hired to find the child. Not stopping there, he brings in other people who have suffered the same loss and parallels their stories.

Darden North, MD, writes what he knows: He's a practicing OB-GYN in Mississippi, and his third medical thriller, Fresh Frozen, explores new practices in fertility treatments. Because it's fiction, he takes the scenario a step further to include murder. 

We were all glad to see Julia Spencer-Fleming in the audience for our panel. She added some great marketing ideas for the booksellers.

I enjoyed seeing former mystery author, Susan McBride. Susan is now writing great books for the young adult market. Although she's as busy as ever, she still looks totally elegant! Her publisher, Random House, and Lily Pulitzer are sponsoring a great contest in conjunction with The Debs, which is in stores now. Details are in the back of the book and on Susan's website.

At the trade show on Sunday, one of the first familiar faces I saw was Charlaine Harris, who was totally excited about seven--count 'em--seven of her Sookie Stackhouse titles being on the NY Times Bestseller's List. Cathy Pickens was a blur at the elevator, but she took time to chat a moment about life and books. 

All in all, it was a great trip. I can't wait for next year's SIBA closer to home in Columbia, South Carolina.

Monday, September 01, 2008

THE CASE OF THE GREEDY LAWYERS by Carl Brookins (Nodin Press)

I'm a sucker for detectives who are throwbacks to the original hardboiled PIs—in fact, I stayed up late last night to watch a black and white Mike Hammer TV show. If the title of this one doesn't tip you off that this one would suit me, the cover artwork certainly would: a fedora-topped chisel-faced man, cigarette in mouth, stands in a dark alley.

Sean Sean narrates his story in the parlance of old, "You see, I'm a throwback. I'm passé, out of date, a lost cause. The world is no longer interested in me and my kind. I'm no longer needed. Or so they say." Thus, I was hooked on the first page.

Sean's cases are strictly contemporary, but his self-deprecating style reminds me of the 25¢ Pocket paperbacks I adored. The story is sound. The red herrings abound. But my favorite part of the book was the trip down memory lane.

Thank you, Carl Brookins, for taking me back!

PRODIGAL SON by Thomas B. Cavanagh (Thomas Dunne Books)

Now that retired police detective Mike Garrity's brain cancer is in remission, he realizes that he's got to get back in the work force. When he takes his teenaged daughter to the funeral of one of her classmates, the boy's father approaches him. "Victor didn't kill himself…He wouldn't. He didn't. I want you to find out what happened." Even without a PI license, Mike agrees to help the father.

Later that day, Mike meets Debbie Watson at his cancer support group. Debbie urges him to persue a job interview with a PI company. Surprisingly, the interview is quite short, culminating in "So, when can you start?" Mike's generous employment packages includes health insurance and a percentage of any work he brings to the company. When Debbie offers Mike another case, his new job looks even better.

As Mike starts working the two cases, he unravels more threads than he intended—and the threads lead to some very scary people. Add a Category 5 hurricane to the mix, and Mike is in 'way deeper than he ever invisioned. Fortunately, he gets support from a totally unexpected source. I look forward to more adventures with Mike Garrity!

STALKING SUSAN by Julie Kramer (Doubleday)

While investigative reporter Riley Spartz is recovering from heartbreak, her friend and police source hands her two homicide files which haunted him during his career. Garnett is retiring as a homicide detective. Both files concern young women named Susan who were murdered exactly one year apart.

Riley is desperate for a headline story—she's been on leave for three months— and she needs to be back on TV with a hard-hitting story. Unfortunately, her boss hands her some fluff pieces and gives them high priority, so Riley has to relegate the Susan files to the back burner. Just as the Susan stories begin to make sense, the fluff pieces take on a life of their own.

Stalking Susan is a great contemporary story about TV journalism told from an insiders' point of view. Kramer is a freelance TV news producer for NBC.

PAINT THE TOWN DEAD by Nancy Bell (Thomas Dunne Books)

I was a big fan of Bell's Biggie Weatherford series, mostly because I loved the voice. Now I'm a fan of the Judge Jackson Crain series mostly because I really like the characters and the way Bell includes the small Texas town as a character. Jackson, a widower with a teenaged daughter, is a close friend of Sheriff Gibs, who occasionally requests Jackson's sleuthing skills.

When a hotshot real estate tycoon is murdered, all eyes turn to his wife (whose money the deceased used to propel himself to wealth). Neither Jackson nor Gibbs is convinced of the widow's guilt, so Jackson probes deeper into the deceased former life—where he finds the glamorous evangelist, Sister McDermott.

While Jackson is busy solving the murder, life in Post Oak, Texas continues to evolve, introducing readers to delightful characters we'll want to get to know better.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE GARDEN OF EVIL by David Hewson (Delacorte Press)

The back copy on the advanced reader's copy reeled me in: "Looming over the corpses is a haunting Caravaggio masterpiece…" What an opportunity for me—a modern thriller set in Rome with an opportunity to learn more about one of my favorite painters. 

A grisly murder scene leads Detective Nic Costa into a chase he'd much rather not make, one that leads to personal tragedy, to having to work outside police confines, and to confronting a society of wealthy aristocracy who have plunged into depravity. The Caravaggio painting is central to finding the answers to all Nic's questions. 

I found myself carrying this book with me from room to room until I'd finished!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SINGULARITY by Kahtryn Casey (St. Martin's Minotaur)

This debut thriller is everything I wanted: a protagonist I liked, a fast pace, and fair play from the author. Widowed mom Sarah Armstrong is a profiler for the Texas Rangers who faces antagonism from some local law enforcement officers and FBI personnel alike.

When a prominent businessman and his mistress are found murdered, Sarah suspects a serial killer, but the locals suspect the wife. Subsequent murders convince Sarah she's right, but there are enough differences that she can't convince her superiors. When Sarah becomes the target, her theory is proven—but is it too late?

I look forward to more from Casey, a former true crime writer.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Somebody Knows Your Mama (first printed in "Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence"

My husband and I made a two-week trip across the Deep South in May to visit daylily gardens and to attend the national daylily convention. As I planned our stops, I was reminded of an axiom familiar to everyone who grew up in the South (or probably in a small town anywhere else!): No matter where you go, somebody’s gonna know your mama!

Turns out, that is true in the world of mystery readers and writers, too. The first hint I got that I’d be in mystery company was when reading the list of gardens on the conference tour. One was in Alvin, Texas. A light bulb immediately flashed above my head—that’s the home of Bill Crider. If you’re not familiar with Bill’s Texas sagas (and he’s got several excellent series), you’re in for a reading good time. The garden was beautiful, but there wasn’t a mystery writer in sight. I was able though to get an opportunity to suggest his books to several gardeners.

Since our conference was held in Houston, I knew I’d absolutely have to make a pilgrimage to the bookstore Carolyn Hart used as a prototype for her wonderful Death on Demand series featuring Annie Darling. In fact, when I visited with Carolyn when she was in North Carolina in April, she reminded me to spend some time at Murder by the Book. Would you believe that Ben Rehder was speaking there the same night we were due to arrive in Houston? I had just finished reading and reviewing Holy Roller and was delighted to get the opportunity to meet him (and buy the early books in this hilarious down home series).

Ben Rehder was kind enough to pose for a photo with me.

I spent a couple of hours in the wonderful store, salivating over the huge selection of mysteries. Naturally I didn’t confine myself to buying just what was on my list. I knew they’d carry titles by Jimmie Ruth Evans aka Dean James. (He managed the store for many years.) I was right, and I thoroughly enjoyed Bring Your Own Poison, the latest entry in his Trailer Park series. I also bought several titles recommended by the knowledgeable staff. (I’m still working on reading that stack.) Noel just shook his head when I came out of the store. Could it be because I already had a huge tote bag stuffed with books to occupy me on the trip?

We really did have an unusually large number of books with us. I had offered to donate a mystery basket as an auction item for the conference. I arranged about twenty books, a cotton lap throw, assorted teas, and chocolate to tempt mystery readers— in a huge basket all tied up with crime scene tape. When Noel loaded the car, he awarded a spot in the back seat to the basket. (We had to put our bottled water in the trunk to assure the safety of the basket!)

As one always does at a national conference, we met people from all over the country. Often when I met someone, their name tag indicated they lived in a place where I knew a mystery writer or where a particular series is set. I didn’t find a soul who knew the writer in question, but I always assured them they would enjoy reading the author. Several actually took notes! When I saw someone from New Iberia, Louisiana, I merely said to her, “James Robichaux country.” She nodded her head enthusiastically.

When we rode by a Mississippi River levee, I was reminded of the wonderful mysteries set just after Hurricane Katrina. As we drove through Mississippi, Noel commented on the canals diverting water for barges for casinos. That reminded me of the library in Tunica where I gave a library talk on southern writers, “Sweet Tea and Murder.” One of the authors I featured was Charlaine Harris. Several of the ladies in the group said as one, “Tunica is her hometown!” Charlaine knows that wherever she goes, somebody’s gonna know her mama!

As we rode through Birmingham, Alabama, I craned my neck to see the statue of Vulcan that Anne George often mentioned in her Southern Sisters mysteries. I didn’t see him, but I relived many happy hours spent with the delightful Patricia Anne Hollowell and Mary Alice Crane. Going through Atlanta always recalls the work of Kathy Hogan Trocheck (and her new pseudonym, Mary Kay Andrews) and Patricia Sprinkle.

Surely the world of mystery is populated with folks I know and love—and I’d be proud to introduce them all to my mama!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Mystery Readers International (Mystery Readers Journal) announces the Macavity Award nominations for works published in 2007. The awards will be presented during opening ceremonies at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention (Baltimore, October 2008).

For more information on the Macavity Award, go to: or contact: Janet Rudolph at

Best Mystery Novel
o Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House)
o The Unquiet by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton*/Atria)
o Blood of Paradise by David Corbett (Ballantine Mortalis)
o Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie (HarperCollins)
o What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

Best First Mystery
o In the Woods by Tana French (Hodder & Stoughton*/Viking)
o Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (William Morrow)
o The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)
o Stealing the Dragon by Tim Maleeny (Midnight Ink)
o The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees (Soho)

Best Mystery Short Story
o "A Rat's Tale" by Donna Andrews (EQMM, Sep-Oct 2007)
o "Please Watch Your Step" by Rhys Bowen (The Strand Magazine, Spring 2007)
o "The Missing Elevator Puzzle" by Jon L. Breen (EQMM, Feb 2007)
o "Brimstone P.I." by Beverle Graves Myers (AHMM, May 2007)
o "The Old Wife's Tale" by Gillian Roberts (EQMM, Mar-Apr 2007)

Best Mystery Non-Fiction
o Rough Guide to Crime Fiction by Barry Forshaw (Penguin Rough Guides)
o Chester Gould: A Daughter's Biography of the Creator of Dick Tracy by Jean Gould O'Connell (McFarland & Company)
o Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley (HarperPress*/Penguin)
o Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland (Howdunit Series, Writers Digest Books)
o The Essential Mystery Lists: For Readers, Collectors, and Librarians, compiled and edited by Roger Sobin (Poisoned Pen Press)

Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery
o Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen (Penguin)
o Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (Putnam)
o The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin (Faber & Faber*/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
o Consequences of Sin by Clare Langley-Hawthorne (Viking*/Penguin)
o The Gravediggers Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates (HarperCollins Ecco)

*UK publisher (first edition)


The "Nero" is an annual award presented to an author for literary excellence in the mystery genre. The award is presented at the Black Orchid Banquet, which is traditionally held on the first Saturday in December in New York City.

This year, the finalists are:

GLASS HOUSES Jane Haddam, St. Martins Minotaur

BURNT HOUSES Faye Kellerman, Harper

IN THIS RAIN S. J. Rozan, Delta

ANATOMY OF FEAR Jonathan Santlofer, Harper

IN SECRET SERVICE Mitch Silver, Pocket Star

MURDER IN MINIATURE by Margaret Grace (Berkley Prime Crime)

Crafters will enjoy this look at the world of miniature. Geraldine Porter is chairwoman of her local dollhouse and miniatures fair. As often happens with retirees, the date of the fair corresponds with a visit from her young granddaughter. As if the two weren't enough, her friend Linda, whose exhibit adjoins Geri's, disappears on the first day of the fair. Linda seems to carry around a trouble magnet, so no one is surprised that her adopted son and n'er-do-well ex-husband are both on the scene. As Geri tries to help her friend, her investigations are hampered by trying to keep her granddaughter safe, threats on her own life, and her nephew, who just happens to be investigating the murder which may be connected to Linda's disappearance.

I SHALL NOT WANT by Julia Spencer-Fleming (Thomas Dunne Books)

The continuing saga of Episcopal priest Clare Ferguson and Police Chief Russ Van Alstayne improves with every outing. That said, I encourage new readers to begin at the first of the series and enjoy the journey. I SHALL NOT WANT begins with a flashback of a rookie policewoman at a bloody shootout which ensnares the reader and holds on until the book is finished.

Clare has become involved with working with Latino migrant workers and the farmers to whom they are essential. Conflict arises with people who assert the migrants are taking work away from US citizens.

As always, Spencer-Fleming allows bad things to happen to good people and forces her protagonists to look at all sides of a situation. Again, thhe relationship between Clare and Russ colors the situations and the way they make decisions.

The publishers consider this a "breakout" novel. I agree.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Lunch with an Author - Sylva, NC

I just picked up this notice on the NC Writers' Network calendar. I wished I lived about 3 hours closer to the mountains!

New!!! LUNCH WITH AN AUTHOR: City Lights Bookstore hosts a lunchtime meet-the-author event with Vicki Lane, author of the mystery series featuring Elizabeth Goodweather on her Western North Carolina farm, most recently “In a Dark Season,” at 3 E. Jackson St., Sylva, noon. Call 828-586-9499.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

DeKOK AND MURDER ON BLOOD MOUNTAIN by A. C. Baantjer (Speck Press)

When attending a funeral, Amsterdam Inspector DeKok sees a man at the cemetery who is supposed to have been dead for some time (it's not the guest of honor at the funeral!). Vledder, his young partner and friend thinks the gray sleuth is mistaken, but hearing reports of sightings of other presumed dead men, DeKok's certainty is confirmed. The subsequent investigation leads the two policemen to the notorious Bloedberg (Blood Mountain) area of Antwerp. Can it be that a religious order is connected to the reappearance of the dead?

Count me among the fans of the most widely read author in the Netherlands. Baantjer and DeKok are great!

Monday, May 12, 2008

HOLY MOLY by Ben Rehder (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Pick a controversial subject and Ben Rehder will lampoon it, all the while making those in each camp think he's making light of the other side. In his follow-up to Edgar finalist GUN SHY, Rehder takes on television evangelists, conservationists, and academia. The setting once again is Blanco County, Texas and the wild and wacky cast includes Game Warden John Marlin, Sheriff Bobby Garza, and everybody's favorite good ol' boys Red O'Brien and Billy Don Craddock.

The trouble begins when backhoe operator Hollis Farley unearths a dinosaur bone while excavating for construction of "Pastor Pete" Boothe's new megachurch on the banks of the Pedernales River. Murder, mayhem, and mirth leave just enough room for romance—John and Nicole Brooks are planning a wedding, and you'll never believe who else gets lucky.

I started this series late, but I can't wait to get to Texas next week and pick up the earlier books in the series. Y'all have fun now!

THE DIRTY SECRETS CLUB by Meg Gardiner (Dutton)

During a San Francisco earthquake two members of a secret club enact a stunt that becomes the beginning of disaster. Soon afterwards, police lieutenant Amy Tang calls forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett to a wreck to determine whether it was accident or suicide. Tang's concern is that similar events have ben recurring in 48-hour increments. The two women work frantically to determine who, why—and who's next. Jo's work is intensified when she becomes personally involved, both physically and emotionally.

Gardiner plays totally fair with the reader—the clues are there—but the twists are hidden. Fortunately, I began this one on Sunday afternoon, with plenty of time to reach the riveting climax before bedtime.

HOW TO WRITE KILLER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES by Kathy Lynn Emerson (Perseverance Press)

I knew Kathy was writing this book and I knew it would be good; but, I didn't know it would be THIS good! Kathy Emerson writes cracker-jack historical mysteries (two series), and she's sharing all her secrets in this short primer. Just glancing through the table of contents would help a novice writer avoid dangerous pitfalls—but the glancer would miss wonderful tidbits of information from some of the most widely-read historical mystery writers. Emerson doesn't limit her suggestions to her own; she's solicited input from writers, booksellers, reviewers, and readers. Her points are valid from multiple views.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is considering writing mysteries (whether historical or not) or historicals (whether mysteries or not).

COUNT TO TEN by Karen Rose (Grand Central Publishing)

I don't usually review books by bestselling authors--I figure they're too easy to find, but Rose's publicist did a good job of follow-up with me, so I promised to read this one and give it a chance. Boy, I'm glad I did!

Arson investigator Lt. Reed Solliday isn't too happy with being teamed with brash, bossy Det. Mia Mitchell, but the rash of house fires has just accelerated into homicide. There's an obvious thread among the crimes, and Sully and Mia must define it before they can identify the perp. Even as the two make headway on their investigations (and their relationship) the crimes become more violent—and personal.

Rose really knows how to plot a page-turner! You'll find yourself looking over your shoulder as you read by the midnight oil.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

THE MERCY OAK by Kathryn Wall (St. Martin's Minotaur)

I knew my cousin Ann Schafran was a big fan of Kathryn Wall, so I asked her to review this one for you. Here's her assessment:

Spring is my favorite time of the year. I love it because the long dark days of winter are gone, trees and flowers begin to bloom and leaf, and Kathryn Wall publishes another Bay Tanner mystery. Since reading her first book, I have become addicted. I love the thrill of the mystery and the way she weaves two or more into her books. I also lover Hilton Head Island, so I thoroughly enjoy reading about places I know and enjoy visiting.

In this outing, Bay is faced with a mystery that has touched very close to home—her very much loved housekeeper and her family are involved. While trying to find out what happened in a hit and run, Bay deals with an immigration problem, several holdups, the disappearance of her housekeeper and her family and even finds herself in danger along with her father’s longtime housekeeper Lavinia.

She has also found a stronger liking for Red, the deputy sheriff and the brother of her deceased husband. By the end of the book, all problems have been solved to the satisfaction of the reader; and, Bay, along with the Sheriff’s Department has solved the crimes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

EVEN CAT SITTERS GET THE BLUES by Blaize Clement (Thomas Dunne)

Don't let the turquoise cover with the cute cat picture scare you off reading this! Dixie Hemingway IS a pet sitter, and she does get around her barrier island home on a bicycle. BUT when the first sentence in a book is "Christmas was coming, and I had killed a man," you can put your money down that it's not going to be a light-weight cozy. It's a cozy, but it's got real murder, real drama, and an imaginative story line.

An ex-homicide cop, Dixie is burned out on dealing with dead bodies and crime, so she neglects to report the body of a dead man while she's out on her pet-sitting rounds. Naturally, she's seen and tied to the crime. Did I mention that the body was at the home of her newest client or that the client has a mystery of his own?

I look forward to my next visit to Florida to spend time with Dixie!

EASY INNOCENCE by Libby Fischer Hellmann (Bleak House)

There's a new female PI in Chicago! Suspended cop Georgia Davis isn't afraid of a challenge. When a mentally retarded man is about to be railroaded for the murder of a beautiful high school girl, Georgia signs on to help, even though his attorney is ready to accept a plea bargain. There's plenty rotten in the case—and it's not just the fish guts that make two cameo appearances. From dirty politics to lazy cops to teenage hazing, this case is bad from beginning to end. Georgia Davis, however, is one tough cookie, and she's not about to let a little personal danger (well, a lot of personal danger) deter her from following her leads. Welcome, Georgia Davis, to the world of crime fiction!

THE ANATONISTS by Hal McDonald (Harper)

McDonald pays homage to the great one and his chronicler in this tale of two medical students in Victorian London. Forced to apply to a "ressurectionist" for a body to complete their anatomy studies, Edward Montague (Watson) and Jean-Claude Legard (Holmes) find themselves compelled to solve a crime before they can perform an autopsy—and before their medical school is brought down for sanctioning grave-robbing. Sit back and enjoy the game!

McDonald is the winner of the truTV "Search for the Next Great Crime Writer" and a professor of English at Mars Hill College in North Carolina. I was delighted that McDonald bestowed encomium without writing a pastiche.

DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER by Elizabeth Zelvin (Thomas Dunne)

You guessed it! The protagonist in this book is drying out in rehab. There's a lot of death going on--first Bruce stumbles on a body in the laundry room and then his new friend dies in front of him. And they're just the first two! Fortunately, Bruce has a strong support team--Jimmy, his best friend from childhood (also a recovering alcoholic) and Jimmy's girlfriend Barbara who's a counselor. There are plenty of deaths for the team to investigate, and Bruce quickly realizes that he will have to stay sober to keep hold of all the threads.

This first Zelvin outing is filled with compelling characters and a solid story line even if a bit overladen with twelve-step rules. I look forward to future adventures with Bruce, Jimmy, and Barbara.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

SLEEPING DOGS by Ed Gorman (Thomas Dunne Books)

What could be more appropriate at this time than a political whodunnit? Dev Conrad is a political consultant who admires the policies of his candidate while abhorring the man. Dev was hired to run Sen. Warren Nichols' reelection campaign after the former manager's suicide. All of Dev's resources are called to the front when Warren collapses at a televised debate. Gorman skillfully weaves reality into his fast-paced story filled with warm fuzzy and truly sleezy characters. This one could be, almost literally, "ripped from the headlines."

SLEIGHT OF HAND by Robin Hathaway (Thomas Dunne Books)

This Agatha winner just gets better and better! In her third outing, Dr. Jo Banks interrupts a country bike ride to investigate a sound from her childhood: the hum of an old printing press. The printer is surprised by her visit and catches his hand in the press. He refuses to go to the hospital and insists that Jo treat him in his home. Guilt overwhelms her, so she also provides follow-up treatment. She soon becomes entangled with the printer, his child-like daughter, and the woman who mysteriously abandoned them.

The story is engrossing, the characters compelling, and the read delightful.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

THE KILLING ROOM by Peter May (Thomas Dunne)

Autopsies are considered gruesome for most of us, but 18 bodies in a mass grave in Shanghai chill even the professionals—these bodies appear to have been autopsied while alive. The grisly murders appear tied to an unsolved case in Beijing, so the whole mess becomes the responsibility of Beijing Detective Li Yan. He calls for the help of his estranged lover, American pathologist Margaret Campbell and the hunt is on. If the case were not difficult enough, the young deputy head of Shanghai's serious crime squad sets her eyes on Li, Margaret is just back from burying her father, and Li's young niece is kidnapped.

This was my first Peter May read, but it certainly won't be my last! I enjoyed the portrayal of China and its customs and being with characters who, while flawed, are good people performing badly under pressure.

GUN SHY by Donna Ball (Signet)

If you like dogs, mysteries, and stories set in the North Carolina mountains, you'll like this one. Raine Stockton has many parts: kennel owner, consultant for the Forest Service, dog trainer for search and rescue operations, wife, and full-time dog lover. Her two-time marriage with Deputy Sheriff Buck is loose, but ardent during on-again times, and that relationship is one reason she is called into emergencies for search and rescue operations. She is now called to resuce a trapped and wild-with-terror dog who's ferociously barking in a remote and unused cabin. If she can't help this Labrador Retriever, he will need to be shot. He's frantic because the body of his murdered mistress is in the bedroom of the cabin and the dog has been in there for several days. Dog lovers will understand the depth of this dog's pain and suffering.

The plot in this mystery is good with a surprise ending that couldn't be imagined. The labyrinthine trail to owner's identity is interesting. While superbly trained, the dog is understandably gun shy. The cast of characters in this small town is interesting, the plot is good, and the descriptions of the mountains during peak leaf season is great. This is a quick, satisfying read-especially on a cold North Carolina day.

--Diane Esterly

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

FRIEND OF THE DEVIL by Peter Robinson (William Morrow)

Although DCI Alan Banks and DI Annie Cabbot are no longer a couple, they're still tied together through their work, even when Annie is out on loan to another area. Annie's challenge is the murder of a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. Banks is faced with the brutal rape and murder of a teenager. Normally these cases wouldn't overlap, based on type of crime and divergent locations; however, Robinson is a master at intertwining story lines, so even without the jacket copy, the reader knows to pay attention.

I particularly like the way Robinson uses different formats in his writing. No one can ever accuse him of writing the same book over and over. This one had me finding excuses to eat alone in order to read!

Monday, January 21, 2008

STATE OF THE ONION by Julie Hyzy (Berkley)

Ok, it IS another culinary mystery—but this one is something more. Olivia "Ollie" Paras is an assistant chef at the White House, and in the running for executive chef. Along with Ollie, the reader meets the president and first lady, members of the Secret Service, and international terrorists. The story is current, edgy, and laden with calories—the kitchen staff is preparing for a state dinner. Did I mention that Ollie's competition for the new position is a cooking show star? Onion is a worthy entry to the ranks of engrossing cozies.

Friday, January 18, 2008

CONSEQUENCES OF SIN by Clare Langley-Hawthorne (Penguin)

All modern women need to be reminded now and again of the women who came before us--those who lobbied for women's rights. Ursula Marlow is a daughter of privilege in 1910 London, but she's also Oxford educated and a member of the Women's Social and Political Union. When she gets a middle-of-the-night phone call from a WSPU friend, she knows it's trouble. Finding the naked body of one's lover in one's bed is indeed trouble. Ursula does the only thing she can think of that will help Freddie--she calls in her father's business advisor and King's Counsel Lord Oliver Wrotham. Just getting an attorney doesn't help Freddie because Ursula is the only one who believes her friend is innocent. Ursula's fight to free Freddie takes her on an arduous adventure which brings to light wrongs from long ago and twisted relationships that continue over time. Overlaying the contorted mystery is the enormous struggle for women's rights.

Readers who enjoyed Miriam Grace Monfredo's series tracing the US women's rights movement from the Senecca Falls conference will relish Langley-Hawthorne's work.

PEPPERMINT TWISTED by Sammi Carter (Berkley Prime Crime)

Of all people, I should know better than to judge a book by its cover. Sometimes, though, I have to be reminded. Seeing a wagon made of candy, filled with candy, and the words "recipes inclulded" on the front, I thought this one would be mostly fluff. Instead I found a solid cozy mystery that was well written and thoroughly enjoyable.

Anyone who's ever been involved with a volunteer event will empathize with Paradise, Colorado's local artist guild when wealthy Felicity Asbury manages to get herself named director of the annual arts festival, replacing a dedicated, well-organized volunteer. As expected, Felicity throws her weight around and chaos ensues, followed by murder. Candy shop owner Abby Shaw finds herself not only more involved with the festival than she'd planned, but also a prime murder suspect.

Bonus: The recipes appear to be simple and tasty.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

MURDER IN GOTHAM by Isidore Haiblum

This fun, fast-paced PI mystery is a throwback to the hardboilded thrillers I devoured from the 1950s.Haiblum puts in his own twists--Weiss, his likeable PI is Jewish, and his characters' speech patterns are straight from Damon Runyon. The mystery is clever, the people likeable, and the chapter headings from "The Casebooks of Morris Weiss" are not to be skipped. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Gotham!