Murder Comes First, the 15th of 26 novels in the Mr. and Mrs. North series from Frances and Richard Lockridge, is now available in an e-book edition — and is discounted to $1.99 now $7.99, from $9.99, for a limited time. (Sorry to those who missed out!)
I grew up on Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, but the Lockridge books were not often found in my childhood home and I have many yet to read . . . including this one. Some readers prefer to read all series in order, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t need to read these in order to enjoy them. I grab them when they’re discounted, as the list prices are fairly expensive as ebooks go, and read them as I can.
Synopsis: When an old widow is murdered, Mr. and Mrs. North work to prove a trio of aunts innocent of the crime. Jerry and Pamela North have tangled with countless murderers, blackmailers, and thieves, but nothing could prepare them for a weekend with Pamela’s aunts. Thelma, Lucinda, and Pennina sweep into town like hurricanes, and take no notice of the destruction they cause. No amount of martinis can soothe Pamela and Jerry’s rattled nerves, and when the martinis stop working, the Norths are in trouble. The aunts are in town to see their old friend Grace Logan, a widow whose temperament is as cold as iced gin. But while sipping tea, Grace does something terribly out of character. She seizes up, gasps for air, and dies. When the trio of aunts is implicated in her poisoning, it falls to the Norths to clear their names—and get them out of Manhattan forever.
About the Authors: Frances and Richard Lockridge were some of the most popular names in mystery during the 1940s and 1950s. Having written numerous novels and stories, the husband-and-wife team was most famous for their Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries. What started in 1936 as a series of stories written for the New Yorker turned into 26 novels, including adaptions for Broadway, film, television, and radio. The Lockridges continued writing together until Frances’s death in 1963, after which Richard discontinued the Mr. and Mrs. North series and wrote other works until his own death in 1982.
Recommended without reservation: 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.
Karen B won a free cozy & a gift — but the fun’s not over yet . . .
Sis’s friend at mjbreviewers has paired her review of the first in a new cozy mystery series by Kathi Daley with gifts from the author — a copy of the book and either a tote bag or an Amazon gift card (depending on the winner’s locale) on her site. Readers must comment on the site to register for a chance to win the gifts — Sis can only redirect you:
Read the review, along with a synopsis of the book, and enter at Review and Contest. Good luck . . . although you’ll be competing with Sis!
Update 5 April 2016: Congratulations to Karen B., who won the gift package from Kathi Daley and mjbreviewers! And, to all who are still interested? Goodreads also has a giveaway of the book running:
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.
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.
Strongly recommended for fans of traditional or cosy mysteries, especially British manor house mysteries or the Golden Age of Mystery. Kindle edition re-released by Bloomsbury Reader. List price: $5.99
Albert Campion plays a minor, almost a cameo role, in his first appearance in the classic mystery series begun by Margery Allingham in 1929 with The Crime at Black Dudley.
The story has all the hallmarks of the Golden Age Mysteries: a house party at an English country mansion in the period between the two World Wars; a murder committed during a rather ghoulish after-dinner game; secret passages connecting the most unexpected places; sinister foreigners involved in elaborate crimes; clues and misdirections that cast suspicion on just about every character, major and minor; and the satisfying ending that allows justice to prevail and good to triumph over evil.
Indeed, the latter is one of the reasons these mysteries were so popular amongst a generation that had fought or endured what was supposed to be the war to end all wars, then found themselves plunged into a worldwide economic depression. Well-written, witty fiction such as Allingham’s provided much-needed escape from a reality that was far too real.
“It’s people like you,” exclaims a London bobby in the final pages of the mystery, “wot gives us officers all our work. But we’re not goin’ to have these offences, I can tell you. We’re making a clean sweep. Persons offending against the Law are not going to be tolerated.”
“Splendid!” the hero replies . . . “Really, really splendid, Officer! You don’t know how comforting that sounds. My fervent wishes for your success.”
The Crime at Black Dudley wasn’t Allingham’s first novel, nor even her first mystery, but it is the first in a popular and long-running series that ended after her death, when her husband, Philip Youngman Carter, finished the final novel, A Cargo of Eagles, and had it published in 1968. Campion plays a major role in most of the other novels in the series, though not all.
For some of her fans, his minor role in The Crime at Black Dudley is a cause for disappointment. Campion’s often fatuous, even silly, actions and dialogue provide plenty of wit and surprises. He is, in many ways, similar to Dorothy L. Sayers’ aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, but in this story, the hero is a rotund little physician who unravels the mystery and confronts the murderer.
“I couldn’t help it,” the physician tells the killer. “It was too perfect. It left nothing to chance.”
For those who have never read any of Allingham’s mysteries, The Crime at Black Dudley is an excellent place to start as it allows the reader to follow the development of Campion throughout the series. It may be a little slow for many of today’s younger readers, who are accustomed to a fast and furious pace in all forms of entertainment. But perseverance pays off. It’s a delightful story, a perfect example of the Golden Age of Mystery, and a great introduction to the series.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review of her own, unbiased opinion. Sis’s opinions are strong enough that she has never felt the need to allow others to influence them.
Margery Louise Allingham was born in Ealing, London in 1904 to a very literary family; her parents were both writers, and her aunt ran a magazine, so it was natural that Margery too would begin writing at an early age. The Allingham family retained a house on Mersea Island, a few miles from Layer Breton, and it was here that Margery found the material for her first novel, the adventure story Blackkerchief Dick (1923), which was published when she was just nineteen. She went on to pen multiple novels, some of which dealt with occult themes and some with mystery, as well as writing plays and stories—her first detective story, The White Cottage Mystery, was serialized in the Daily Express in 1927. Allingham died at the age of 62, and her final novel, A Cargo of Eagles, was finished by her husband at her request and published posthumously in 1968.
Anything might be hidden in the mists of a thick, pea-soup fog – and Barbara Ross makes the most of this element in the fourth of her Maine Clambake Mystery series, Fogged Inn, released last month by Kensington Books.
The mystery opens when Gus, the owner of a breakfast-and-lunch diner, finds a stiff in his walk-in refrigerator and rouses Julia Snowden, who’s now renting an apartment upstairs while serving dinners downstairs with her boyfriend, home-trained chef Chris, as a way to make money during the off-season in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. Before his demise, the victim-to-be ate a bowl of the hearty pea soup that turned out to be his last dinner at the bar, while a quartet of couples spread themselves as far apart as possible in the dining room, as though none wanted to be caught dead in the vicinity of any other.
A collision on Main Street in the thick, freezing fog leaves them trapped in the diner, however, as local police work to clear the scene of the accident, search for the missing driver of borrowed-without-permission car and reopen the road, which will allow the couples stranded in the diner to make their way to their own homes, spread around Busman’s Harbor.
But the stiff growing cold in the diner’s refrigerator is just one of the mysteries obscured in the fog that Barbara Ross creates in her well-written and carefully plotted mystery. Others include a door to the diner that apparently unlocks itself, items that disappear from the small apartment upstairs while an exhausted Julia and Chris sleep like the dead, the theft of a photograph that has hung in plain view for decades and a series of gift certificates – all with a forged expiration date – that bring the four couples to Gus’s Too just in time to encounter the murder victim, as well as one another.
Ross takes a big risk – but not nearly as big as the one my aunt-by-marriage took by replacing seven chocolate bars and a quantity of chocolate syrup with unsweetened cocoa powder in my decadent Chocolate Bar Pound Cake. My aunt was left with a disaster – a bitter batter that wouldn’t rise – but Fogged Inn is everything a culinary cozy mystery should be.
The author plays absolutely fair – the clues are all there. But, just as some eluded Julia while others eluded the cops, readers may find that they, too, failed to take note of a few. I did, and, just like anyone who goes astray in a fog, I retraced my steps through the last few chapters and found the right path at last. I also cheated, and checked with the author to be sure I had found the right path.
“I realize the structure and resolution of this mystery is a little unusual,” Barbara Ross wrote in reply to an email from me. “I went with it for three reasons. One, I don’t like cozies where the amateur must jump in because the police are buffoons. I always try to have my detectives have a solid theory of the case, even when Julia beats them to the solution. But in this case the solution depends on knowledge she doesn’t have, so I thought I would give them one.”
She also wrote that she realized the structure was going to require long conversations with all of the suspects after the revelation of a tragedy that connects them so that she could resolve their own, individual stories of the intervening years. So, while searching for the clue that the police have, Julia keeps hunting for the last piece of the puzzle.
Her final reason was sentiment . . . and she’ll share it with you at the end of the book. It’s a fine sentiment, and well worth the price of the mystery.
Finally, it isn’t absolutely necessary to read the Maine Clambake Mystery series in order – the mysteries themselves stand quite on their own. But, even if you were as skeptical as I had been about culinary cozies, you’ll want to read all of them anyway because a Barbara Ross culinary cozy mystery is nothing less than a satisfying cozy mystery that just so happens to have a culinary background, much like Rex Stout provided for Nero Wolfe. Except she does go one step further: She includes a number of recipes that you won’t need a French chef to produce. I confess that I have yet to try them, but I do know how to read recipes (as well as how to prepare them), and these read like ones I intend to add to my own personal collection. Now, that’s not a gimmick. That’s what my Cajun cousins call a Lagniappe – an extra gift, gratis, from the author to you. If you like to cook as well as to read cozy mysteries, you’re going to come out way, way ahead on this deal.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for her own, unbiased review of this novel. Neither the author, nor the publisher, nor NetGalley has, or has attempted, to influence her opinion or my review in any way. They didn’t need to — she loves the Maine Clambake Mystery series, and she hopes you will, too.
Iced Under, the newest in the series is now available for pre-order, with release scheduled for 27 December 2016!
Veronica Heley has a unique – and beloved – voice in the world of British cosy mysteries, as well as Christian cosy mysteries, because she manages to blend the two without blemish to the other. Once again, her gift is apparent in False Wall, the 10th volume in the Abbot Agency Mysteries series.
The story, and the mystery, open with Bea’s garden wall suddenly collapsing, almost on Bea herself, as an amateur attacks the ivy that has covered the wall in his family’s garden. The disaster destroys Bea’s mature sycamore tree, the one that she has enjoyed gazing upon when perplexed, as well as the wall separating her back garden from the newly purchased home of her friend, and would-be fiancé, Leon Holland. The destruction then sets off an inexplicable hostility between the owners of the garden wall that fell, as well as equally inexplicable attacks on Bea and the Abbot Agency itself.
The reaction to each succeeding event falls fast and furiously, distracting Bea from her efforts to think things through and see what is really going on and why.And that’s no coincidence, but part of the plan to keep her off balance and unable to respond to the efforts to undermine not only her, but also Leon.
I love double entendres and puns, equally, so the title delighted me. It refers not only to the wall separating so many back gardens, but to the walls between Bea and Leon – the false walls that have kept Bea from accepting his many proposals of marriage – as well as to the walls between others. In fact, this is as much British cosy mystery as it is as novel about the relationships between families and friends, although the latter certainly serve to promote the former.
Like both of Mrs. Heley’s mystery series, these books are best read in order – because the relationships between the characters have as much to do with the mysteries as the mysteries themselves. The mysteries do stand on their own, but one would lose so much without understanding the growth and development of the relationships between the recurring characters in the Abbot Agency Mysteries, as well as the Ellie Quicke Mysteries.
I believe this book will appeal most to fans of clean, comfortably cosy mysteries who are not hostile to Christianity. As always, Mrs. Heley writes with a deft hand that makes the Christian fiction part merely a natural part of the stories’ backgrounds, and this is especially true with the Abbot Agency Mysteries, where Bea, a 60ish widow, is herself a fairly new Christian. Readers who are absolutely hostile to Christianity won’t like the book, because some of the characters, including Bea, are portrayed as the average practicing Christian. To all except those, this is a book I highly recommend. Personally, I couldn’t read it fast enough . . . and then I wanted to read it all over again.
I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review reflecting my own, original and unbiased opinions. For what it’s worth, I have yet to read a book written by Veronica Heley that I did not absolutely love, and I bought most of them, regretting only that the exchange rate at the time made me buy them over a longer period than I would have preferred!
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