Diamond sparkles, as always
Diamond Solitaire by Peter Lovesey; first published in Great Britain in 1992 by Little, Brown and Company; this edition published by Soho Crime, Kindle list price $9.99 (USD), paperback edition, list $16.95 (but discounted at Amazon to $14.69 (USD); Book 2 of a 16-book series. As always, prices are subject to change without warning.
Diamond Solitaire is a gem of a detective story.
The second in the series of 16 detective stories featuring the irascible and overweight ex-detective superintendent Peter Diamond begins in the furniture department of Harrods’s, the landmark London department store, and takes the reader on a worldwide journey from Europe to North America and on to the Far East. And the journeys are chief among the joys of Peter Lovesey’s series, as well as other series from Soho Crime.
I read it as a continuation of Soho Crime’s reading challenge, celebrating 25 years of publishing international crime fiction. The publisher has given me two months to read my way through the series. This is a challenge I’ve accepted with alacrity.
First, the stories shine with the highly polished prose so often found in British fiction, even among the so-called “genre” fiction of crime fiction, or mysteries. Second, Diamond is an outwardly unlovable but in fact oh-so-lovable character! Here, he is stripped of the authority he once held with Scotland Yard, yet he maintains an inner authority that no shield can provide. Third, like all the Soho Crime series, these stories are rich in their international settings.
This time out, Lovesey takes readers from London to Milan, New York, Tokyo and Yokohama, picking up a sumo wrestler along the way. He explores the cut-throat pharmaceutical industry, and the more conventionally cut-throat Mafioso. He gives glimpses into post-graduate research at prestigious universities as well as the uniquely Japanese culture of sumo wrestling.
The pace is leisurely, and the mystery multi-faceted. The young girl found under a pile of pillows is speechless. Is this a symptom of autism, or a symptom of terror? And who, and where, are her parents? Diamond can’t let it go. Meanwhile, the founder of a pharmaceutical company is given a deadly diagnosis, while his firm struggles to keep a competitive edge and come up with a new and profitable drug – and deal with the question of his succession. The mafia is lurking around on the fringes with contract killers and hired henchmen.
Once again, Lovesey provides a pleasing puzzle in this semi-police procedural. The language is not as clean as The Last Detective, and some readers may not care for the four-lettered words scattered in the speeches of some of the characters. The violence, though, is handled with discretion. You can’t have murder without violence, but the details are never nauseating.
NOTE: Sis received a complimentary copy of Diamond Solitaire from Soho Crime via NetGalley for her participation in the publisher’s 25th anniversary reading challenge. Neither the publisher, nor any of its authors, have challenged her integrity in regard to her reviews. They remain uniquely hers. She is, however, most grateful to Soho Crime for the opportunity to read and review this series!
Description: After resigning from the Avon and Somerset Police Force in a fit of pique, Peter Diamond is reduced to working as a security guard at Harrods’s, but he loses that job after an abandoned Japanese girl if found under a pile of pillows after the store closes. Diamond’s search for another job is sidetracked by the mystery of the speechless girl’s identity – and the plot that threatens her safety.
PETER LOVESEY wrote the 16 Peter Diamond mysteries, known for their use of surprise, strong characters and hard-to-crack puzzles. He was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000, the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, the Anthony, the Ellery Queen Readers’ Award and is Grand Master of the Swedish Academy of Detection. He has been a full-time author since 1975. Earlier series include the Sergeant Cribb mysteries seen on TV and the Bertie, Prince of Wales novels. The Diamond novels, set in Bath, England, where Peter lived for some years, feature a burly, warm-hearted, but no-nonsense police detective whose personal life becomes as engaging to the reader as the intricate mysteries he solves. Peter and his wife Jax, who co-scripted the TV series, have a son, Phil, a teacher and mystery writer, and a daughter Kathy, who was a Vice-President of J.P.Morgan-Chase, and now lives with her family in Greenwich, Ct. Peter currently lives in Chichester, England. Visit his website at www.peterlovesey.com for more.
Soho Crime has been publishing atmospheric crime fiction set all over the world for the last 25 years. The publisher’s popular series take readers to France, China, England, Laos, Northern Ireland, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Italy, Denmark, and Palestine, among other locales, with entire range of crime fiction—detective fiction, police procedurals, thrillers, espionage novels, revenge novels, stories of thieves, assassins, and underworld mob bosses.
Death in Disguise delights
Death in Disguise slayed me with its first sentence:
“The Royal Victoria Hotel, Whitebridge, was widely considered to be a superior hotel for superior people, and most of the guests who stayed there would have thought it very bad manners to allow themselves to be murdered within its confines.”
How could I resist a mystery about a woman so gauche as to allow herself to be murdered under such circumstances? I couldn’t. I didn’t. The author rewarded me, strewing the story with many delightful witticisms while weaving a complex and memorable mystery.
Make that mysteries. The fatal faux pas is one. The victim’s identity, and her presence at the Royal Victoria and, indeed, in Lancashire itself, are others. And they all tie into a murder committed some 54 years in the past, with the accused unsatisfyingly acquitted but not cleared of suspicion. This ending is all a reader can expect, unmasking the identity of victims and villains in crimes old and new.
I’d not read the earlier Monika Poniatowski mysteries, nor the DCI Woodend series that preceded them, but I wasn’t lost. The story had just enough hints of earlier events to pique my interest in the past without pulling me out of the present. The setting is handled with equal ease. The “present day” mystery occurs in 1978, while the old murder took place in 1924. Nothing shouts nostalgia, nothing constantly reminds you that the present day is not, in fact, present, except that detecting does involve detecting and not simply forensic sciences.
All in all, this was a pleasure to read . . . good writing without gratuitous violence or embarrassing sexual encounters. Hints of the unsavory provide a bit of spice without making the reader squirm in discomfort. Nothing unmannerly, except murder, of course!
The hardcover edition is now on sale with a list price of $28.99 (USD) but an actual price of $24.09 (USD) at Amazon.com; the Kindle edition is available for pre-order with an expected release date of 1 August 2016, at a price of $20.93 at the time of this post.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House, via NetGalley. Sis, and Severn House, would have thought it very bad manners to expect anything more than an honest and independent review in return.
Description: When the body of an American woman is found in the Prince Alfred suite at the Royal Victoria Hotel, DCI Monika Paniatowski is faced with one of the most baffling cases of her career. The woman who called herself Mary Edwards had been a guest at the hotel for the past two weeks, having paid cash in advance. But who was she really – and what was she doing in a small town like Whitebridge? If Monika could discover why the dead woman had come to Lancashire, she would be one step closer to catching her killer. The investigation takes an intriguing twist when Monika learns of a possible link to a 50-year-old murder – but the only person who could tell her why it’s relevant is lying in a coma.
About the author: Sally Spencer is the pen name of Alan Rustage, first adopted when he wrote sagas and convention dictated that a woman’s name appeared on the cover. Rustage was a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. He worked in Iran in 1978-78 when the Shah was overthrown. He writes that he got used to having rifles – and on one occasion, a rocket launcher – pointed at him but was never entirely comfortable with it. He lived in Madrid for more than 20 years and now lives in the seaside town of Calpe, on the Costa Blanca.
His first series of books were historical sagas set in Cheshire (where he grew up) and London. He has written 20 books featuring DCI Woodend (a character based partly on a furniture dealer he used to play dominoes with) and 10 or so about Woodend’s protegé Monika Paniatowski. His DI Sam Blackstone books are set in Victorian/Edwardian London, New York and Russia, and the Inspector Paco Ruiz books have as their backdrop the Spanish Civil War.
Take a chance on No Second Chances
No Second Chances opens with an unintended mystery: Why should Daniel Whelan, an ex-cop delivering farm supplies, jump to the aid of a client he scarcely knows and her insanely impulsive 15-year-old daughter? It doesn’t make sense, and it never makes sense, yet the mystery deserves a second chance and readers, especially those with a passion for animal rescue and dogs in particular, should give it that chance.
Whelan and Taz, the German shepherd who retired from the police force when his handler resigned and now accompanies him on his farm rounds, are engaging and fully developed characters. I liked them, and I’d like to know them better. Lorna Myers, the client who only learns her husband has disappeared when a pair of thugs shows up at their farmhouse in search of him, is never much more than a supporting character. Her daughter, Zoe, is a primary personality, and utterly annoying.
Yet these irritations are what drive the plot. She rushes headlong into danger, pulling Whelan and everyone else along and irritating both characters and readers alike as she searches for her missing boyfriend while all but ignoring the danger confronting her mother in the wake of her stepfather’s disappearance. Not to mention the dangers confronting herself, both from those who want to stop her from finding the 19-year-old Traveler (also known as a gypsy, though from Ireland rather than Romany), those who are searching for her stepfather, and those who know that her search for the boy may very well lead to the whereabouts of the stepfather – or at least the reason for his disappearance.
Against all odds, Whelan sticks with Zoe, her boyfriend, and her mother. Readers who are willing to give the book a second chance should ignore the odds and stick, too, because the mystery is neatly plotted, Stacey’s writing is a pleasure to read, and several of the characters are deftly drawn. The book introduces a character, a beauty who rescues greyhounds, who seems poised to appear in future books in the series, and, like Whelan, I’d like to know her better.
Mysteries, by definition, must include some violence. This isn’t a cozy (although Amazon.com currently has it categorized as such), but the violence shouldn’t offend most readers’ sensibilities. The dialogue does include some vulgar language, though far from egregious by common standards and not unexpected with Travelers among the cast of characters. I did, however, object to Daniel’s use of an epithet as a term of endearment in the last line. It stopped the story from ending on an otherwise good note for me.
Note: Severn House provided a complimentary advanced reading copy via NetGalley to allow Sis to read and review this mystery. The review reflects her own and only her own opinions. Sis doesn’t take any chances where her reputation is concerned.
Publisher’s Description: Ex-police dog handler Daniel Whelan finds himself drawn into the complex affairs of a neighbouring family – with potentially fatal consequences. Lorna Myers thinks she knows where her businessman husband is – until two men come looking for him one October evening. By lucky chance, ex-police officer Daniel Whelan happens to be on hand to take control of the situation, but for Lorna it’s the start of a nightmare. If Harvey isn’t abroad working, then where is he? When Lorna’s daughter asks Daniel for help with a problem of her own, he finds himself reluctantly drawn into the complex affairs of the Myers family – with what could be deadly consequences for both him and his faithful canine partner, Taz.
Pre-order Kindle edition:
Previous books in this series:
No Going Back (Daniel Whelan Mystery, Book 1)
The first in an exciting new mystery series featuring ex-police dog handler Charlie Whelan – When two young sisters run away on Dartmoor, Charlie Whelan and his German shepherd, Taz, are called into action, and a desperate search quickly turns up one of the girls. However, rather than showing relief at being rescued, she seems terrified. Darkness halts their hunt for her elder sister, and Charlie returns home with one distressing question on his mind: just what were the girls running from?
No Holds Barred (Daniel Whelan Mystery, Book 2)
The second in the exciting new mystery series featuring ex-police dog handler Daniel Whelan – When ex-police dog handler Daniel Whelan is asked by his former boss to help a friend who is struggling to run her husband’s haulage company while he is recovering from a vicious attack, he and his German shepherd, Taz, rapidly find themselves attracting the wrong sort of attention. Daniel investigates and soon finds evidence of some very nasty business indeed – but after several violent warnings, he begins to wonder . . has he bitten off more than he can chew?
Nothing But Lies: A British police dog-handler mystery (Daniel Whelan Mystery, Book 3)
Daniel’s ex-colleague, police officer Joey Matsuki, has asked for his help. Joey is concerned for the safety of his fiancée, Tami, who has reported sightings of a sinister, hoodie-clad figure lurking in the area. Joey fears the involvement of a notorious local criminal recently released from prison. But with nothing concrete to go on and police resources scarce, he’s asked Daniel to keep an eye on Tami on his behalf. Working undercover as Tami’s temporary horse-box driver, Daniel soon begins to believe there may be more to the situation than meets the eye. As he questions Tami’s friends and neighbours, it becomes clear that something is not quite right. There are things people aren’t telling him; small but significant incidents that can’t be explained. Events take a tragic turn when there is a fatal hit-and-run incident. But was it really an accident – and could Tami herself have been the intended target?
About the author: Lyndon Stacey is an animal portraitist by trade and loves Western style horse riding. She lives in the Blackmore Vale in Dorset, with three assorted dogs and two cats, and is now a full-time writer. Her many interests include horse riding, animal psychology, classical music, genealogy and exploring the countryside on her motorcycle.
Deep Waters, and the Swinging Sixties
Patricia Hall’s Deep Waters pulls London Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant “Flash” Harry Barnard and his girlfriend into the undertow of an old crime that churns up new victims in the Swinging Sixties of London’s East End and its environs.
The story focuses more on Harry than on Kate O’Donnell, his photographer girlfriend, and Hall crafts a complex mystery using Harry’s wartime childhood, his national service during the floods that devastated England’s East Coast in 1953, and his assignment on the CID’s Vice Squad more than a decade later. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read the previous mysteries in this series, but Hall provides sufficient background and this story stands on its own.
The writing is strong, with a literary style that maintains just the right amount of tension while bringing just enough of the past into the present. This is no Austin Powers parody, swamping readers with references to cultural icons. Hall tosses out a few references to Lennon and the Beatles, the Kinx, the Rolling Stones and Cilla Black. She also tosses in a few phrases from Sixties’ slang, like dolly bird, but younger readers and U.S. readers ought to be able to follow along without any real difficulty even if, unlike me, they haven’t previously encountered these.
For me, learning about different places and different times is part of the fun of reading fiction – and I’ve been reading British literature nearly as long as I’ve been reading American literature. Those who are well-versed in Brit lit won’t find any obstacles. Those who are not should enjoy the exposure to different spellings and new words.
The ending might disappoint some readers, as Hall doesn’t mop up every single storyline. It’s no cliffhanger, but neither is it neat and utterly complete. The crimes are violent – it is, after all, a murder mystery – but the depictions are no real threat to the reader’s sensibilities. The dialogue does include some of the vulgar words to be heard in London’s East End, both then and now, but Hall doesn’t drown the reader in them.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley, for which she is grateful. This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.
Deep Waters by Patricia Hall; 208 pp. Severn House. Hardcover $28.95 (USD); Kindle list price $22.91 (USD), pre-order price $14.99. Hardcover available now; Kindle edition scheduled for release 1 July 2016.
Synopsis: A past crime leads to new murder in the latest O’Donnell mystery
It’s 1964. Detective Sergeant Harry Barnard has been ordered to track down notorious Soho club owner Ray Robertson, who hasn’t been seen for several days. The case takes on a greater urgency when a battered body is discovered at the gym Ray owns. Is Ray the killer … or is he a victim? Photographer Kate O’Donnell works on a feature about the rebuilding of Canvey Island after the devastating East Coast floods of 1953. But as Kate and Harry are about to discover, the Canvey Island floods, the murder and Ray Robertson’s disappearance are connected in more ways than one …
A classic locked-room mystery, from the creator of Pooh
A hot, drowsy afternoon at Red House, home of wealthy Mark Ablett. Downstairs the servants are resting. Outside the secretary is reading. Then the peace is shattered by a piercing cry for help and a gunshot. Minutes later, Robert Ablett’s body is found in a locked room with no possible means of entry or exit.
A.A. Milne’s classic manor house mystery is one of my all-time favorites, as much a delight to read today as when I first found it on my grandmother’s bookshelves. I know it by heart, yet I still enjoy reading every word of it.
The Mysterious Press edition of The Red House Mystery, in an optimized for e-reader version, is a bargain at its list price of $0.99 (USD).
Milne, of course, is best known for his Winnie-the-Pooh stories — which I adore — but he was an avid mystery reader and I think he wrote one of the best ever, beginning with the dedication to his father, John Vine Milne. In many respects, it is a typical Golden Age mystery. The setting is an English manor house, the home of an unusual snob and the cousin who acts as his secretary, land agent, business advisor and companion. The snob, Mark Ablett, is fond of house parties — but prefers guests who cannot repay his hospitality — and the house is full when his previously unknown brother arrives unexpectedly from Australia, only to be found murdered behind a locked door in Mark’s office.
All typical . . . yet not at all typical with Milne’s witty writing, pleasing plotting, and a (mostly) charming cast of characters. If you haven’t read it, here’s an exceptional opportunity. If you have only a print edition or the public domain digital edition, here’s an excellent opportunity to upgrade to a properly formatted edition. Enjoy!
From the publisher: Mark Ablett is not really a snob—not the worst kind of snob, at least. He simply prefers artists to everyone else, and the discussion of his own creative abilities to any other talk whatsoever. His vanities are easily forgiven especially since he is generous with his money—inherited not from his clergyman father but from a neighborhood spinster who took a liking to him—and he is always willing to play the host at the Red House, his delightful country estate.
One lazy summer morning, as his guests enjoy breakfast before a round of golf, Mark opens a surprising letter. His brother Robert, the black sheep of the family, gone some fifteen years now, is back from Australia and plans to call at the Red House that very afternoon. It is the first that Mark’s friends and servants have heard of a brother, but that shock is nothing compared to what happens next: After being shown into an empty office to wait for the master of the house, Robert is shot dead. Mark is nowhere to be found, not unlike the pistol that fired the fatal bullet. It is up to Tony Gillingham, man of leisure, and his young friend Bill Beverley to assume the roles of Sherlock and Watson and solve a crime so clever that Alexander Woollcott pronounced it “one of the three best mystery stories of all time.”
Mysteries with a French flair . . .
The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus introduces a master winemaker and his assistant, an unlikely pair of detectives, in an amusing series that shines like a rich Bordeaux with a style that could be called continental cosy.
Benjamin Cooker, the French-English master winemaker, and his assistant, the virile Virgile, manage to solve murder as well as mayhem in the world of wine. The three novellas – Treachery in Bordeaux, Grand Cru Heist and Nightmare in Burgundy – each combine a satisfying mystery with an ample serving of French culture and especially French viniculture.
For some, the stories may start a bit slow . . . more like traditional British mysteries of a bygone era. I didn’t mind. For others, the technical details may be distracting. Again, I didn’t mind – I quite enjoyed learning more about wines, vineyards and vintages, and other aspects of French culture and the French countryside. I’m no oenophile – I’ve been known to drink pink wine out of a box and to purchase bottles with screwcaps – but such a background is happily not needed. Especially with an e-reader, which makes it easy to take a brief detour into the exact definition of grand cru or Haut-Brion without losing the threads of the story or stories.
Indeed, one of the pleasures of the series is learning more about the French countryside in general and the wine regions in particular – a vacation in a volume (or two, or three).
The contrast of Cooker, a man of integrity as well as a man of faith, with his assistant, Virgile, an agnostic and a bit of a lady’s man, lends strength to the series.
But, readers should take warning that the series isn’t strictly cosy: The stories include a spattering of vulgar language and one explicit (but delicately described) sexual scene – fairly tame in both respects. That’s why I called it continental cosy. (And, yes, given the setting, I’m opting for the English spelling here.)
In Treachery in Bordeaux, barrels at the prestigious grand cru Moniales Haut-Brion wine estate in Bordeaux have been contaminated. Is it negligence or sabotage? In Grand Cru Heist, Benjamin Cooker’s world gets turned upside down one night in Paris with a carjacking. He retreats to the region around Tours to recover, where he and his assistant Virgile turn PI to solve two murders and an unusual theft. In Nightmare in Burgundy, a dream wine-tasting trip to Burgundy turns into a troubling nightmare when Cooker and his assistant stumble upon a mystery revolving around messages from another era.
Also in this series:
Deadly Tasting – a serial killer stalks Bordeaux. To understand the wine-related symbolism, the local police call on the famous wine critic Benjamin Cooker. The investigation leads them to the dark hours of France’s history, as the mystery thickens among the once-peaceful vineyards of Pomerol.
Cognac Conspiracies – the heirs to one of the oldest Cognac estates in France face a hostile takeover by foreign investors. Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books. In what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he and his assistant, Virgile, have their loyalties tested.
About the authors: Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen came up with the winemaker detective over a glass of wine, of course. Alaux is a magazine, radio, and television journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. The grandson of a winemaker, he has a passion for food, wine, and winemaking. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine. Noël Balen lives in Paris, where he writes, makes records, and lectures on music. He plays bass, is a music critic, and has written a number of books about musicians, as well as many novels and short stories.
A Brilliant — and hilarious — mystery series
A Brilliant Plan and its sequel, Brilliant Actors (Calendar Moonstone “Brilliant” Book 2), are a pair of brilliantly plotted and wickedly funny cozy mysteries, featuring Calendar Moonstone, the daughter of middle-aged hippies and a talented designer of beautiful jewelry . . . who happens to moonlight as a cat burglar!
In her debut, Calendar plans to combine a Thanksgiving visit to her parents’ home in San Diego with an unacknowledgeable visit to a swanky art gallery with a small collection of very large diamonds. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one with plans, not to mention designs on another treasure, and Cal finds the body of the night watchman before she can exit with the diamonds. If that isn’t bad enough, the police are waiting for her at her parents’ home, House of Moon, full of suspicion. Nor are they alone in that.
The only way to hold the plan together is to find the killer, along with the missing jewelry. Cal does just that, though it’s not easy – of course!
Ames writes that he decided to become a writer because he didn’t have the courage to become a cat burglar. So, he set out to create a character worthy of Cary Grant’s character in To Catch a Thief and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, but I’ll take Calendar over Stephanie any day.
She may be a thief, but she’s got scruples. She’s also smart – and she needs to be because the cops are merely a few among many who’d like to pin the crimes on her! My only real complaint is how long it is taking Ames to write a third one in this series. He does have a day job, plus another series in print, but I’m absolutely smitten with this one and I want more.
This set of clever, cozy mysteries is likely to appeal to fans of Marion Babson, M.C. Beaton, Kate Carlisle, Kate Collins, Janet Evanovich (especially those who got tired of Stephanie after four or five books), Joan Hess, Elizabeth Peters and others who combine mirth and mystery.
Synopsis: Book 1 in the Calendar Moonstone mystery series
A Brilliant Plan, 309 pgs.
Meet Calendar Moonstone, acclaimed creator of jewelry for the rich, the royals and the famous. And compulsive part-time cat burglar whenever there are rare diamonds whispering her name.
It was planned as a routine Thanksgiving part-time job: get in, crack the safe, fetch the diamonds. Instead Calendar finds the dead body of a night watchman and by sheer chance becomes involved to find the murderer and the stolen jewels. She gets teamed up with a cute police detective and a not so cute insurance investigator who sees Calendar behind almost every jewelry heist ever committed. To stay out of jail, Calendar has to use all her wits, skills and charm. And must solve a century old jewelry mystery.
What could be more exciting than attending the Academy Awards ceremony, joining the hottest after-show party, and have an A-movie star wearing your jewelry? All of the above, plus spending the rest of the night in jail! Acclaimed jewelry maker and part-time cat burglar Calendar Moonstone finds a stolen necklace in her purse, an enigmatic, unemployed actor with a cheesy name working against her, full-time insurance nemesis Fowler Wynn hard on her trail, and an intriguing chief of police asking for a date. The only catch is she has just thirty days to clear her name or go to jail—permanently. With the help of her trusted friend Mundy Millar, good ties in the movie business, and her uncle Bernie’s biker gang, Calendar sets out to make sure that the right person is caught and her own name cleared again. Even if it means she has to cut some corners, pick some locks, and break some hearts—Calendar style.
About the Author: Alex Ames always dreamed but never dared to become a famous jewel thief or computer hacker or super spy. After some considerations, his only morally feasible option was to become a writer. Alex is the author of the Brilliant – Calendar Moonstone cat burglar adventures and the Troubleshooter corporate thrillers. Find his books in print exclusively on Amazon and electronically at most eBook-sellers.
Lighthouse Library Mystery series
By Book or by Crook (Book 1), Booked for Trouble (Book 2), and Reading Up a Storm (Book 3), by Vicki Delany, writing as Eva Gates, from Obsidian/Penguin Group.
In real life, the Bodie Island Lighthouse warns ships away from the Graveyard of the Atlantic off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In fiction, the black-and-white striped structure lures readers into a delightful series of cozy mysteries beginning with By Book or by Crook.
The setting shines as strong as the original first order Fresnal light blinking atop the lighthouse at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s a shame the light doesn’t really house a library, much less a tiny apartment at the top for an assistant librarian, because it would be the perfect place to curl up with a good book, by day or by night. I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that settings are an important consideration for the author, Vicki Delany, writing here as Eva Gates.
Lucy Richardson, the assistant librarian, is another strength in this series. She flees Boston and the Harvard Library after rejecting an insipid proposal from the son of her father’s law partner and a match made by their mothers. Lucy spurns the suitor and the superficial society, choosing substance in the South instead. I like that. She’s no silly filly, rushing headlong into danger . . . well, not often. And, even better, she’s not rushing into bed with either of the two men whose attention she attracts, even if one of them is the grown-up version of the boy she first kissed. I really like that!
The second book in the series, Booked for Trouble, explores more of Lucy’s family background, opening with a surprise visit from her mother. Gates/Delany has a gift for exploring the complex mother-daughter relationship, which adds another layer of interest to the second book in this series.
I could quibble over a few teeny, tiny things – but who reads a cozy to quibble? This is the kind of book to read for a pleasant escape, whether you’re relaxing on the beach or in a bubble bath, curled up in the corner of your couch or on a window seat. It’s fun fiction, and you should have fun reading it. The only serious fault I can find is with the publisher, who having priced the Kindle editions at $7.99 – as high as the list price of the mass market paperback editions – has now discovered that cozy readers don’t care to pay more for an e-book than for a paperback and is threatening to cut series like this from its list. I opted for the paperbacks, which I now own and could lend or resell . . . but I won’t. I’ll keep them and read them again.
By Book or by Crook
For 10 years Lucy has enjoyed her job poring over rare tomes of literature for the Harvard Library, but she has not enjoyed the demands of her family’s social whorl or her sort-of-engagement to the staid son of her father’s law partner. But when the relationship implodes, Lucy realizes that the plot of her life is in need of a serious rewrite. Calling on her aunt Ellen, Lucy hopes that a little fun in the Outer Banks sun—and some confections from her cousin Josie’s bakery—will help clear her head. But her retreat quickly turns into an unexpected opportunity when Aunt Ellen gets her involved in the lighthouse library tucked away on Bodie Island. Lucy is thrilled to land a librarian job in her favorite place in the world. But when a priceless first edition Jane Austen novel is stolen and the chair of the library board is murdered, Lucy suddenly finds herself ensnared in a real-life mystery—and she’s not so sure there’s going to be a happy ending . . . .
Booked for Trouble
Lucy has finally found her bliss as a librarian and resident of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. She loves walking on the beach, passing her evenings with the local book club, bonding with the library cat, Charles, and enjoying the attention of not one, but TWO eligible men. But then her socialite mother, Suzanne, unexpectedly drops in, determined to move Lucy back to Boston—and reunite her with her ex-fiancé. To make matters worse, Suzanne picks a very public fight at the local hotel with her former classmate Karen Kivas. So, when Karen turns up dead outside the library the next morning, Suzanne is immediately at the top of the suspect list. Now Lucy must hunt down a dangerous killer—before the authorities throw the book at her poor mother . . . .
Reading up a Storm
Misfortune blows into North Carolina’s Outer Banks when a dead body in a boat on the shore leaves local librarian Lucy Richardson racing to solve a strange new mystery. After a successful party at Bodie Island’s Lighthouse Library, librarian Lucy Richardson is ready to curl up with her cat, Charles, and a good book. But her R and R is cut short when she notices some mysterious lights leading a small boat to crash into the coast. The two shipwrecked seafarers survive the ordeal—but one of them shows up dead ashore a few days later. Lucy finds herself again roped into a murder investigation and navigating a sea of suspects, all of whom had motives to deep-six the deceased. And this time, she has a sinking feeling that finding the real killer won’t be so easy . . . .
About the author: Vicki Delany began writing on Sundays, and not on every Sunday at that, while mothering three daughters and working full time as a computer programmer. In 2007, she opted for early retirement and moved to Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she writes as often as she likes. She has penned several stand-alone novels, all set in Ontario, as well as a historical mystery series set in Dawson during the Klondike Gold Rush. For more, view her website: www.vickidelany.com
Save Our Cozies Campaign: Readers and reviewers are joining forces to show support for cozy mystery series we’d like to see continued. You can join by reading, writing reviews on consumer sites like Amazon.com and Goodreads, and, most importantly, by purchasing these books when your budget allows.
Redemption Road by John Hart
The road to redemption runs from Hell to Heaven, and Hell is where John Hart’s latest literary thriller begins, in the shadows of sins old and new . . . but whether the road ends in Heaven or merely Purgatory is in the eye, or mind, of the reader.
This is a dark, disturbing thriller. The crimes are brutal. The characters are sick and sadistic, tortured and torturing. The pace is frenetic, from first word to last. The beginning isn’t the beginning but the tangled twist of stories that come together more than 13 years after the first transgression, tying the good and the bad, the innocent and guilty.
From the publisher: A boy with a gun waits for the man who killed his mother. A troubled detective confronts her past in the aftermath of a brutal shooting. After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free as deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen…This is a town on the brink. This is Redemption Road. Brimming with tension, secrets, and betrayal, Redemption Road proves again that John Hart is a master of the literary thriller.
Hart hurls his readers into the deep end of this cesspool of sins as a killer snatches a young girl, a troubled teen sets out for revenge, and a battered cop walks free from prison, and he’ll take them all the way down before he begins to shine light into the utter darkness of lies, betrayals and secrets that bind the victimized and the villains. At times, I wanted to walk away — but I couldn’t put it down.
Just don’t expect too much good, or too much innocence because even the good can be bad and innocence can be illusive.
Redemption Road isn’t for the meek of spirit. With the 40-hour rape of a teenaged girl, the 18 gunshots that freed her from her captors, the 13-year sentence of a cop convicted of killing a young mother and his torture at the hands of a ruthless warden, to the bodies found on and beneath the altar of an abandoned church, the violence is visceral, perhaps even egregious. What else would you expect from Hell?
John Hart, who debuted with The King of Lies, is the first and only writer to win back-to-back Edgars for Best Novel, for Down River and The Last Child.
NOTE: Sis received a complimentary advanced reading copy from St. Martin’s Press in expectation that she would read and review this novel, yet she was never coerced to write anything other than her own, independent opinion.
Written in Red by Annie Dalton
Neither headaches nor hurricanes are powerful enough to pull me from the pages of a good mystery, yet I set aside Written in Red on my own accord somewhere in the fifth chapter – but only to add the first book of Annie Dalton’s Oxford Dogwalkers Mystery series to my TBR list. As soon as I had done so, I picked up where I’d left off and read straight through–despite a growing headache and, so I’m told, violent thunderstorms outside (a factor, no doubt, in the headache). This award-winning YA author has created a multi-layered mystery with story lines that twist and wrap like a leash attached to a capricious canine.
From the publisher: Shortly before Christmas, Professor James Lowell is found brutally attacked in his rooms at Walsingham College, where Anna Hopkins works as an administrator. Baffled as to why anyone would wish to harm such a gentle, scholarly man, Anna discovers that Lowell had a connection with her fellow dogwalker, Isadora Salzman, who knew him as an undergraduate in the 1960s, a co-member of the so-called Oxford Six. It turns out that Isadora has been keeping a surprising secret all these years. But someone else knows about Isadora’s secret: someone who has sent her a threatening, frightening letter. Could the attack on Professor Lowell have its roots in a 50-year-old murder? And who is targeting Isadora and the surviving members of the Oxford Six? Anna, Isadora and Tansy, the dogwalking detectives, make it their business to find out.
For me, the novel has two flaws: Too little restraint with “four-lettered” words that became tiresome, rather than effective, by the middle of the mystery and an over-tidiness in a late and otherwise dramatic scene that left me somewhat, just a tiny bit, less eager to read the next one.
I still have Book One – The White Shepherd – on my To-Be-Read list and I still look forward to a third book in this series, but less is very much more when it comes to salty speech for readers like me who don’t encounter these words in our everyday lives and don’t care to add them to our everyday vocabularies. Less can be more when it comes to tension, too. If you pull too tightly, even a strong strap of leather will snap and you may be left holding a broken leash in one hand while watching a four-legged friend rush toward potential dangers.
Dalton shows she has the talent, though, to stitch the pieces back together, and I expect nothing less when Anna, Isadora, and Tansy return to Oxford’s Port Meadow to walk Bonnie (the beautiful white shepherd with a past as traumatic as Anna’s own) and Hero (Isadora’s half-spaniel, half-terrier puppy) for a third time.
These delightful dogs are among the many pleasures to be found within the pages of Written in Red, and dog lovers in particular will want to devour this series. The dogs are characters in their own right, as beautifully drawn as the portraits Anna’s grandfather paints of them, as well as devices Dalton uses to breathe life into her two-legged characters. For example, consider one of the benefits Anna derives from sharing her home and her life with Bonnie:
“When you have a dog, you can say, ‘I need to go out and walk Fido now,’ and nobody thinks you’re strange. Whereas saying ‘I urgently need to be by myself . . .’ made you sound as if you were somewhere along the spectrum.”
Anna herself is a mystery, a mystery that begins to unfold in the first book in the series and continues in the second, a mystery that Dalton holds out as a reward for following her further and further into the series. The relationships between the continuing characters provide further enticement to keep reading. And the writing is good enough to be its own reward.
Note: In obedience of federal regulations, Sis must disclose that she received an advanced reading copy courtesy of Severn House, the publisher, through NetGalley in exchange for an independent and unbiased review of the novel. The biases here are Sis’s and Sis’s alone – no one has attempted to influence her review or her writing . . . except her reliable editor, who serves as a faithful watchdog against errors without attempting to affect Sis’s views.
Highly recommended, despite reservations:
Quick and the Dead
Introducing outspoken female sleuth Alex Quick in the first of a new mystery series by Susan Moody. When her business partner, acclaimed art historian and university professor Dr. Helena Drummond, disappears, Alexandra Quick is consumed by guilt. Shortly before she vanished, Helena had complained of being menaced by a stalker, and Alex had dismissed her fears as groundless. Now Alex, a former police detective, is determined to use her finely-honed investigative skills to find out what’s happened to her friend and colleague. But the more she uncovers, the more Alex realizes how little she really knew Dr. Helena Drummond. As it becomes increasingly clear that the woman she thought she knew so well has been keeping a great many secrets from her, Alex must decide: is Helena a victim . . . or is she a killer?
Susan Moody’s Quick and The Dead is exactly the kind of mystery I want to fling in the face of my more intellectual friends who decry my preference for “frivolous” fiction – or, as they scathingly condemn such books, “mind candy.”
First, you won’t find anything “frivolous” about Alex Quick, a former high-ranking homicide detective who left the force after finding out about her husband’s infidelities . . . and suffering a heart-rending miscarriage of the child she hadn’t known she carried. Second, no one who reads Quick and The Dead with a mind even partially pried open could dismiss this as “mind candy.”
Instead, this is the highly literate fiction for which British mystery writers, in particular, are so well known – and well regarded. Think P.D. James, although I am not suggesting that Moody’s style is anything other than her own. Not for a moment. No, this is literature that just so happens to involve murder and other mysteries.
The murder is disturbingly violent – and readers need to know that the initial depiction of the murder scene is disturbingly detailed as well. This is no comfortable cosy! Yet, I strongly recommend Quick and The Dead to readers who even think they may be able to handle it, and they can thank Moody’s deftness in dealing with the scene from there on out for that recommendation. Quick herself is so deeply affected by the violent killing that she cannot (and Moody does not) continue to dwell on these details. Instead, the restraint employed by the character and her creator serve to heighten the sense of heinousness without subjecting the reader’s mental imagery to further violence.
Readers should also be prepared for a bit more than a sprinkling of four-letter words, in particular one that is usually considered the most objectionable by those of us who dislike them. (That includes me.) And yet, I still think readers who can possibly overlook their objections to graphic violence and obscene words should and would enjoy this novel. Some can’t, and those won’t. And that’s a pity, because this is a stunning read.
Alex Quick is both tough and tender. It’s not just “cop-speak” when she blurts out such words. This is who she is, and that is how she would speak. Moody has created a complex, multi-dimensional character who fascinates, and I look forward to getting to know her better. I also look forward (and plan to look backward, too) to more from Moody. I like her way with words, even if I don’t like all of the words she employs, and I like her sense of story.
The mystery begins when Quick discovers a dead woman in her colleague’s flat . . . and quickly realizes how little she knows about the woman with whom she works. Helena Drummond, the art historian with a body in her bed, is as much a mystery as the identity of the killer.
“She comes across as so open and let-it-all-hang-outish, but in fact she gives almost nothing away. So I don’t know anything about her background or her family situation. Nothing. Apart from the fact that she’s been married twice,” Quick tells another character as she begins her search for her missing partner. She’s immediately stunned to learn that one of those husbands is a painter whose work she has long admired and has urged Helena to include in one of the compilations of pictures and text that they have published to much acclaim and some profit.
The police, not surprisingly, want to find Helena, too. One does tend to wonder about the disappearance of a woman when another woman’s body is found, brutalized, in her bed. Quick is sure Helena couldn’t be involved . . . but the more she searches for answers, the more questions she finds. About Helena. About the victim. About herself.
The intensity builds, as Moody layers mystery upon mystery, pulling the reader further and further into the story, swiping page after page until there is nothing left to discover. And that’s just as well, because, by then, the reader should be thoroughly satisfied, even satiated.
One final warning: Readers may very well have a hard time settling on what to read next because, I promise, they will not want to settle for less.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley. This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions. The book is for sale, but Sis is not – nor has the publisher nor anyone else connected with this or any other book attempted to corrupt her.
Hardcover $28.95 (USD), pre-order price $23.01 as of 30 March 2016; Kindle list price $22.36 (USD), pre-order price $14.99 as of 30 March 2016. Scheduled for release in the U.S. on 1 May 2016.
Recommended, with reservations:
Reining in Murder
Reining in Murder (A Carson Stables Mystery) by Leigh Hearon, 352 pgs., published 29 March 2016 by Kensington. Paperback ($6.86, USD) or Kindle e-book ($5.99). Please verify pricing before purchasing — prices are subject to change without any notice to Sis.
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 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.
For the record:
Cross ties are short lengths of rope, sometimes stretchy like bungee cords, sometimes not, mounted on opposite sides of an aisle or similar space in or around a stable. One end may be permanently affixed to the brackets, but the end that attaches to rings on each side of a horse’s halter will have some kind of quick-release fastening so that a horse who panics can be set free (hopefully) without harm to horse or human. Cross ties are generally used for grooming and “tacking up” or saddling a horse, occasionally while a farrier trims the horse’s hooves but, in my experience, never during a dental exam.
Floating refers to the “float rasp” used to file down a horse’s teeth. Horse teeth, unlike human teeth, continue to grow. Over time, they become uneven and prevent a horse from eating its grain and, if untended, even grass and hay.
Cribbing is a bad habit, or stable vice, acquired by bored horses who spend too much time standing in a stall and get too little exercise and attention. The horse grabs a fence post, a barn door or some other fixture in his teeth, arches his neck and sucks air into his stomach. The sucking air creates a head rush that becomes addictive – and it can be extremely harmful to the horse’s delicate digestive system.
Hay bales are divided into “flakes,” generally a slice a few inches thick. The number of flakes per bale depends entirely on the grower and the equipment used to bale the hay.
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.
Recommended, with reservations:
The God’s Eye View
The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler, 418 pgs., published by Thomas & Mercer (an Amazon company). Released 2 February 2016; available in hardcover ($14.99, USD); paperback ($9.01, USD); Kindle e-book ($5.99, USD); plus audio editions through Audible or MP3 format. (Prices subject to change without notice to Sis, so please verify before purchasing.)
The God’s Eye View is a crisp, taut political thriller, somewhat akin to those once written by the late Robert Ludlum or Nelson DeMille, Ken Follett and their brethren. The title is especially appropriate, as those who choose to read the novel will discover as the story unfolds.
The pace is intense, making it a compelling read that is hard to put down, even when one’s eyes are struggling to stay open enough to squint at the print. The storyline is just plausible enough to make readers wonder, could this be happening? Now? To us? And give us all a few shudders at these thoughts.
All the same, I’m recommending it with reservations because some readers will not care for the explicit sexual scenes, the graphic depictions of violence and the seemingly mandatory obscene and profane dialogue now so very common to political thrillers. I’m probably much in the minority for yearning for a more creative use of language, even among characters who very likely do use such words with abandon.
From what I hear from other readers, though, I believe others are also getting tired of the characters who ought to be the good guys instead being the bad guys, while the bad guys are either downright evil, loyal to an egregious fault, or redeemed or redeemable by the love of a good woman. I know, I know — so many otherwise intelligent women want to believe it can happen, but why reinforce their fantasies?
For myself, I’m tired of the explicit sex that now seems required of thrillers. I don’t want to inject myself into the sex lives of others, even fictional characters. Worse, so often the writers get it wrong, ascribing very masculine fantasies and reactions to their female characters or ascribing to the men such patience in preparation that would have my husband falling asleep long before anything remotely romantic could actually occur.
Still, I doubt if most of those who like thrillers will mind these things as much as I, and the male readers in particular may quite like the idea of a woman who is ready and willing and able under any and all circumstances. No matter how uncomfortable or how at odds with the laws of physics.
I did mind, and yet I did like the book. The premise is frightening, yet believable. The writing is first-rate. The characters are, for the most part, believable, with no more exception than is typically found in politically thrillers and well within the willingness of readers to suspend disbelief. I will likely read more by Barry Eisler, I just wouldn’t want to read too many books like this in succession.
NOTE: Sis received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Her opinions are not easily influenced, nor have any attempts been made to do so. Her advice? Don’t even try.
Recommended, with reservations
Million Dollar Baby
Million Dollar Baby (The Marjorie McClelland Mysteries Book 1) by Amy Patricia Meade, est. 305 pgs., Kindle exclusive, list price $3.99. Released 5 March 2015.
Million Dollar Baby is a cosy-romantic read rich in the glamour of the 1930s, though poor in regard to its history and mystery. It probably won’t satisfy the most discriminating readers, but it is an easy and enjoyable story for those who don’t expect too much.
Marjorie McClelland, a 20-something moderately successful mystery writer, debuts in the first of this series from Amy Patricia Meade. Creighton Ashcroft, an Englishman with a million-dollar fortune and a 1929 Rolls Royce Phantom II, is immediately smitten, and readers should be too. With both.
Several of the characters are equally attractive – Mrs. Patterson, with whom Creighton boards as the 27-room mansion he’s just bought has been empty since the previous owner’s death five years earlier and needs extensive renovations; Det. Robert Jameson, with matinée idol appeal; and a few other residents of the small town of Ridgebury, Conn. Others, including the widow who previously owned the mansion, and the local bookseller, are appealingly repulsive.
Ridgebury isn’t the problem, nor the scenes in New York City. The difficulty is in setting – and keeping – the story in the 1930s. Writing historical fiction is a challenge, and, while Meade does better than many first-time writers, the story still comes up short. The dialogue occasionally betrays her, and Creighton sometimes “forgets” to speak British English. (The Brits have gardens, whether consisting of flowers, lawns, or vegetables, but they do not have yards surrounding their homes.)
For the most part, the characters do possess the morals of the ‘30s, but the exceptions are, for those discriminating fans of historical fiction, simply egregious. It’s debatable whether Creighton would or would not deign to sit in the kitchen rather than be served in the dining room. Artistic license should give Meade the benefit of the doubt here.
But, it is utterly impossible for a respectable young woman like Marjorie to accept a gift of clothing from a man other than her husband. It is absolutely impossible for a gentleman like Creighton to offer them, and it is wildly beyond the realm of reason for Mrs. Patterson to urge Marjorie to forego pride and accept the gown, shoes, bag and fur! My own mother, who was a mere infant at the time depicted, still doesn’t approve of girls receiving gifts of clothing from boys.
The plot gets tangled at about this point in the story, and the mystery gets lost in the process. The enlightenment leaves a bit to be desired. And, from beginning to end, the characters occasionally act irrationally and in ways that jar. None of this will sit well with the discriminating reader, but those who are eager to be entertained will find enough here to amuse them.
Sis received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review reflecting her own, original and unbiased opinions. Not that Sis was ever a copycat.