Saturday Savings with MiddleSisterReviews

More funny mysteries — for free!

And discounts on a classic, plus a funny film memoir

I have read and enjoyed some books in all of these mystery series, though not the ones that are offered free today.  Please remember to verify the price before purchase, as they are always subject to change without notice.

List price, $4.99 (USD)
List price, $4.99 (USD)

Murder on Opening Night:  When Myrtle Clover and her friend Miles attend a play in their small town, there’s a full house on opening night. It’s clear to Myrtle that one of the actresses is a stage hog who loves stealing the spotlight. Nandina Marshall certainly does upstage everyone—when her murder forces an unexpected intermission. Can Myrtle and Miles discover who was behind her final curtain call….before murder makes an encore?

Add Audible for only $1.99!  And, thanks JoJoPNW for pointing out that others in this series are free today as well:

Progressive Dinner Deadly, which I have read and recommend:Progressive

To the residents of the sleepy town of Bradley, North Carolina, hardworking Jill Caulfield seemed beyond reproach. She volunteered at the women’s shelter, worked at the church preschool, cleaned houses for extra money, and actually enjoyed yard work. And she was nothing less than a saint to cheerfully put up with her unemployed, skirt-chasing, boozer of a husband. When intrepid octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover caught Jill, her new housekeeper, peering into her medicine cabinet, she should have been upset. But discovering that Jill wasn’t such a squeaky-clean goody-goody made her vastly more interesting in Myrtle’s eyes. Myrtle would have happily continued figuring out what made Jill Caulfield tick. If Jill hadn’t foolishly gone and gotten herself murdered, that is.  Add Audible for $1.99.

dyeingA Dyeing Shame:  Some beauty secrets are more dangerous than others. When Beauty Box beautician Tammy Smith is discovered with a pair of hair shears in her back, there are suspects and secrets aplenty in her small Southern town. Octogenarian Myrtle Clover, bored by bingo and bridge, is intrigued by the crime…and her neighbors’ secrets. But discovering, and blabbing, secrets got Tammy killed and Myrtle soon learns her sleuthing isn’t just dangerous…it’s deadly.

A Body in the Backyard:  Extreme gardening often involves gnomes andbody in the backyard planted bodies. It’s just an ordinary day for octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover—until her yardman discovers a dead body planted in her backyard. This death isn’t cut and dried—the victim was bashed in the head with one of Myrtle’s garden gnomes. Myrtle’s friend Miles recognizes the body and identifies him as Charles Clayborne… reluctantly admitting he’s a cousin. Charles wasn’t the sort of relative you bragged about—he was a garden variety sleaze, which is very likely why he ended up murdered. As Myrtle starts digging up dirt to nip the killings in the bud, someone’s focused on scaring her off the case. Myrtle vows to find the murderer…before she’s pushing up daisies, herself.

Frances and Richard Lockridge‘s Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries are classics — and a series I regret not encountering long, long ago.  I’m making up for what I’ve missed whenever I find these on sale, and Mysterious Press is offering the fifth in the series today for $1.99:

Discounted to $1.99 (USD)
Discounted to $1.99 (USD)

Hanged for a Sheep:  Mrs. North must protect her aunt from being poisoned—whether she likes it or not. Pamela North has never worried about making sense. When she has a thought, she expresses it, and if no one in the room knows what she’s talking about, it’s no trouble to her. While Mrs. North’s unique style of thought can make her a challenging conversational partner, it also makes her one of the finest amateur sleuths in New York City. But no matter how sharp her wit, she can’t pin down Aunt Flora. An indomitable old woman, shaped like a snowman and just as icy, Flora is convinced that someone is trying to slip her arsenic, and she’ll be very cross if her niece can’t stop the culprit before he succeeds.

Aunt Flora stubbornly refuses to let Pamela call in the police, until a suspicious dead body forces them to ask the opinion of Lt. William Weigand. It’s a screwy mystery, and that means it’s perfect for Mrs. North.

Hanged for a Sheep is the 5th book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.

Also today, Geraldine Evans is offering a boxed set of the first four mysteries in her comic and almost-cosy series of 17 (so far!) mysteries featuring a pair of British detectives, Rafferty and Llewellyn:

DEAD BEFORE MORNING:  British Detective Joe Rafferty and his partner,

List price, $4.99 (USD)
List price, $4.99 (USD)

Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn in a murder mystery involving the killing of a young woman bludgeoned beyond recognition, with no ID and found in a secure place to which she supposedly had no admission. Who is she? How has she gained access? And who was responsible for her murder? These are just a few of the questions the detective duo must answer in this first novel in the cozy mystery series. With difficulties besetting them on all sides, including their own superintendent and a media that has decided to adopt the case of the ‘Faceless Lady’ as their own personal crusade for justice, newly promoted Inspector Rafferty has something to prove.

DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN:  British Detectives Joe Rafferty and his partner, Dafyd Llewellyn, in their second murder mystery investigation, set out to discover who killed Barbara Longman, a woman with no known enemies. But when it soon becomes apparent that the murder has been committed by someone who must have known the victim well, the police investigation shifts to the victim’s family, the wealthy and influential Shores. Rafferty suspects that Charles Shore, not a man known to forgive failure, will use his influence to damage Rafferty’s career should he fail to find the murderer.

DEATH LINE:  Third novel in the Rafferty & Llewellyn mystery series, Death Line sees the detective duo trying to solve the murder mystery of the famed “seer,” Jasper Moon, with his own crystal ball. Gradually it becomes clear that Jasper Moon was a man of many parts, not all of them appeared very savoury. Moon was a wealthy man, but seems to have written no will; certainly, Detectives Rafferty and Llewellyn can’t find it. In a case involving as many twists and turns as a snake avoiding capture, the detectives must take their murder investigation back through the years to the victim’s youth to answer that question: ‘Who did it?’ And Rafferty fears that after such a long time, the evidence their murder inquiry needs will no longer be there to find.

THE HANGING TREE:  Fourth novel in the Rafferty & Llewellyn mystery series. This murder mystery involves the detective pair in the case of the vanishing hanged man. But when the hanged man turns up in Dedman Woods for a second time, the British detectives are able to confirm that he is a man many had reason to hate. Because Maurice Smith, charged years earlier with four child rapes, had escaped on a legal technicality. Detective Rafferty feels ambivalent about the case from the start. Not sure his desire to solve it is strong enough, he has to fight the feeling that natural justice, in winning out against the judicial sort, has right on its side. The punishment has, in his book, fitted the crime. As the usual police procedure continues towards an unwanted conclusion, Rafferty, caught between the law and his own sense of morality, feels this is an investigation that could cause him to demand his own resignation as a detective.

Discounted to $3.99 (USD)
Discounted to $3.99 (USD)

Also today, film fans — and anyone who enjoys a quick wit — may want to take advantage of a discount on the previously out-of-print autobiography of George Sanders, Memoirs of a Professional Cad. I’ve read only a small portion, but that’s only because I’ve had too many demands on my reading time to go further.  I don’t often read celebrity biographies, much less autobiographies, but I’m convinced Sanders could write about nothing at all and I’d still want to read it.  He really has a way with words, and, to my mind, this is a bargain at the discounted price of $3.99 (USD).

Description:  What might we dare to expect from an actor’s autobiography, even one from a star as personable as George Sanders? In the case of Memoirs of A Professional Cad, we possibly get more than we deserve. George Sanders undoubtedly led a colourful, glamorous and even action-packed life, spanning the peak years of Hollywood’s golden age. But the greatest joy of his memoirs is how funny they are, and how penetrating their author’s wit. Endlessly quotable, every chapter shows that the sardonic charm and intelligence he lent to the silver screen were not merely implied.

George’s early childhood was spent in Tsarist Russia, before he was obliged to flee with his family to England on the eve of the Russian Revolution. He survived two English boarding schools before seeking adventure in Chile and Argentina where he sold cigarettes and kept a pet ostrich in his apartment. We can only be grateful that George was eventually asked to leave South America following a duel of honour (very nearly to the death), and was forced to take up acting for a living instead.

Memoirs of A Professional Cad has much to say about Hollywood and the stars George Sanders worked with and befriended, not to mention the irrepressible Tsa Tsa Gabor who became his wife. But at heart it is less a conventional autobiography, and more a Machiavellian guide to life, and the art of living, from a man who knew a thing or two on the subject. So we are invited to share George’s thought-provoking views on women, friendship, the pros and cons of therapy, ageing, possessions, and the necessity of contrasts (Sanders’s maxim: “the more extreme the contrast, the fuller the life”).

Previously out of print for many decades, Memoirs of A Professional Cad stands today as one of the classic Hollywood memoirs, from one of its most original, enduring and inimitable stars. This edition also features a new afterword by George Sanders’s niece, Ulla Watson.

Spend summer in Sudbury Falls

Kay DriscollThis is a terrific time to discover Susan Bernhardt and her cozy mysteries – The Ginseng Conspiracy, Murder under the Tree, and Murder by Fireworks – all set in a fictional town in northern Wisconsin and each set around a different season, from Halloween to the Fourth of July.

I’ve known Susan since shortly after the publication of her first mystery, The Ginseng Conspiracy, when I first began participating in an Amazon.com discussion group for writers (and readers) of cozy mysteries, so I don’t claim to be unbiased when it comes to her writing. Read the reviews, or read an excerpt, and make your own judgment there. Instead, I’d like to introduce you to Susan . . . which is especially interesting as her own life, her own friends, and her own community, inspired much in these mysteries.

Susan, like the heroine of her three-book series, is a retired registered nurse who lives in northern Wisconsin. Like the fictional Kay Driscoll, Susan volunteers in her local free clinic. She and her husband, William, have two sons, and love to travel, and travel (as well as the thousands of reports she penned in her nursing career) provided an early opportunity for Susan to develop her writing skills.

“At the beginning, I kept a journal of each trip,” says Susan, who still has those journals.

Susan BSusan’s hobbies and interests including working in stained glass, bicycling, kayaking, reading – especially cozy mysteries – and traveling.  Oh, and chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.  In fact, readers should be warned that Susan’s cozies can be deadly to diets.  Kay and her friends frequent a delightful patisserie, and the descriptions of the decadent desserts they enjoy are irresistible!  (Hint: Susan shares the recipe for their favorite chocolate torte, which I have baked to much acclaim, on her website: http://susanbernhardt.com.)

Susan decided to try her own hand at writing cozies after reading M.C. Beaton’s The Quiche of Death.  The result – The Ginseng Conspiracy – was published in January 2014.  After publishing the third Kay Driscoll mystery, Susan began a new mystery based in Manhattan and featuring a retired ballet dancer, Irina, who runs a ballet studio for young children.

“A normally healthy neighbor becomes ill over time, dies, and Irina sets out to prove it wasn’t from natural causes.  There’s a bit about Lithuania in the Cold War. Subplots include a lover from Irina’s college years at NYU who suddenly re-enters her life and a stranger obsessed with Irina who moves into her neighborhood in the Upper West Side,” says Susan.

Plotting the puzzle of the mystery, and all the thinking required to turn fiction into fact, is the fun part for Susan, and that part consumes her attention, whether she’s taking a shower, going for a walk or falling asleep in bed.

“When I am writing a mystery it is often all-consuming. I love writing the first draft, including anything and everything I can think of.  I want those raw thoughts down on paper.  I don’t ever edit along the way.  Writing is very exciting for me. I love to write, and I really get into it. It’s fun and extremely satisfying,” Susan shares.

The hard part, as for other writers, is promoting the books.

Susan had intended to teach, but she went into nursing after an older brother who had earned an education degree had trouble finding a job.

“There were too many teachers at the time.  Being a practical person, I went into nursing because I knew I would get a job.  I received an academic scholarship and didn’t look back. My last paid nursing job was as a public health nurse in maternal child nursing. I loved it. I worked with mothers on medical assistance, doing assessments and teaching. I also developed the first Health Check in the Home Program in the state of Wisconsin.  I’m quite proud of that.”

After completing all her college prep courses, Susan opted to take art and shop classes in high school rather than graduate early.

“I made jewelry, designed my future home, threw some clay, worked with acrylics and wood, etc.  In college, I had a roommate who was an art major.  I started painting in oil that year.  Also in college I took two drawing classes with all art majors. I received some of my lowest grades in those classes, but I loved the experience. I took guitar in college, and did manage to get an A in that,” Susan recalls.

This love of art is incorporated in Susan’s fiction, both in the Kay Driscoll mysteries and in her current mystery-in-progress.  It’s also formed a basis for some of her travels, taking Susan and her husband to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Guggenheim museums in NYC and in Bilbao, Spain, as well as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Prado in Madrid, and the National Gallery in London.

“I love Impressionist art,” says Susan.  “A couple of years ago when I visited the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, I acquired an appreciation for Picasso and Cubism.”

Susan also shared some of her favorite reads:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – “I’m quite interested in NYC and the time period of the book, the early 20th Century. It was my favorite novel last summer.”

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron – “This book opened a whole new world of literature to me.”

The Angels Game also by Zafron, about the love of writing – “It’s also excellent.”

The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte – “It’s such great writing and contains wonderful description.”

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro – “It’s an exciting mystery with art as the main theme and deals with Degas, a favorite artist of mine.”

Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Polifax series is one of many favorites in mysteries.

Read excerpts from Susan’s series:

fireworks

Reining in Murder by Leigh Hearon

Recommended, but with reservations

Kensington Books
Kensington Books

Paperback ($7.99, USD) or Kindle e-book ($5.99)  released Tuesday, 29 March 2016

When horse trainer Annie Carson rescues a beautiful thoroughbred from a roadside rollover, she knows the horse is lucky to be alive … unlike the driver. After rehabilitating the injured animal at her Carson Stables ranch, Annie delivers the horse to Hilda Colbert – the thoroughbred’s neurotic and controlling owner – only to find she’s been permanently put out to pasture. Two deaths in three days is unheard of in the small Olympic Peninsula county, and Annie decides to start sniffing around. She’s confident she can track down a killer … but she may not know how ruthless this killer really is …

Like an untried Thoroughbred, Leigh Hearon’s Reining in Murder (A Carson Stables Mystery) shows a lot of promise – but this clean, cozy mystery set in the world of high-stakes horse competition isn’t quite up to the standard of the blue rosettes.

Annie Carson, the heroine who rescues horses, is well-defined, a woman who’s meant to be a little rough around the edges and as comfortable in her own skin as Trotter, the donkey she keeps on her small farm in the Pacific Northwest.  The storyline is complex, with just a few untidy strands sticking out here and there and begging for a defter hand with the clippers.

Given time, I expect Hearon will grow more comfortable with her skills and give her readers that cleaner, tighter finish that will earn blue ribbons with her future mysteries.  Her prose, for the most part, flows like a smooth and easy trot, but it occasionally breaks into bumps where she flings stable jargon around without explanation, in or out of context, and leaves her readers to hang on as best they can.  Most of them won’t know how.

I’ve ridden horses since my father saved pocket-money to pay for pony rides on Saturdays.  He gave me an ancient cutting horse for my 11th birthday, a horse who’d been put out to pasture and who proved to be perfect for a horse-crazy girl who knew next to nothing.  I now have a 16.3-hand* Palomino Quarter Horse who, over the last eight years, has learned as much as I have.

We both know that I can’t cross-tie him unless I leave his halter on, unlike Annie and that $50,000 Thoroughbred she rescues as the story opens.  My husband only knows what cross-tying is because he drilled the screws for the brackets, after I showed him where I wanted them to go.  My best friends don’t know what cross ties are, much less how to use them.  Nor do they know what cribbing is, or even that it’s a stable vice.  Do they even know what “stable vice” means?  I suspect not.  Nor do they know what I mean when I say that my vet “floated” my horse’s teeth, or whether a flake of hay is bigger or smaller than a bale of hay.

Yet, readers will encounter all of those equine terms in Reining in Murder (A Carson Stables Mystery) and I’m betting few, very few, will know how to decipher them.  Even with the built-in dictionaries on e-readers.

Writing vices like these will pull readers right out of a story, as surely as a wicked buck will fling a rider out of a jump saddle.  (Ask me how I broke my back.)  I don’t know why Hearon’s editors didn’t catch these flaws and insist that she recast the offending sentences.  It’s not fair, not to her, nor to her readers.  Especially not to her readers.  And that’s a shame.  Because the promise is there.  It just isn’t kept with this first book out of the starting blocks of what I believe can become a satisfying series.

As a result, I think this mystery is likely to appeal only to fans of cozy mysteries who know a good bit about horses, or who have the patience and the willingness to work through these flaws for the pleasure of being in on the beginning of a new series.

*The height of horses is measured in “hands,” from the top of the horse’s withers (at the end of the mane, where the neck joins the back) to the ground, with each hand equal to 4 inches.  So, Sis’s horse is 5’7″ tall — a long way to the ground.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Kensington Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and independent review.  Sis values her integrity and her independence far too much to exchange either for one book or a library full of them.