Archive | October 2016

Review: Judgment of Murder by C. S. Challinor. Midnight Ink.

judgment-of-murderIt all begins with Lord Gordon Murgatroyd, a judge famous for his severe meting out of justice, dies. Rex Graves, a Scottish barrister who remembers that Murgatroyd, despite his fabled severity, was kind to him, and contacts his bereaved daughter Phoebe to offer his condolences.

 

It’s meant to be a civil paying of respects, but Rex finds more than he expected. Phoebe confides to Rex that she is not convinced her father’s death was a natural one, and she asks Rex to look into it. Rex, busy with Court duties and also with a lovely fiancée Helen, is reluctant at first to get involved. But finally he promises Phoebe to look into it a bit.

 

Events become more heated when Rex, meeting with a suspect, is drugged, beaten, and possibly looking forward to worse when he rescued by his good friend Alistair. Rex and Alistair start following clues and before long see a possible link between their search and a current child abduction case.

 

Rex and Alistair prove to be a dignified but formidable pair as they delve more deeply into the trail they are following. Ultimately, they meet with success in a most satisfactory way. Not unimportantly, Rex and Helen come to an understanding that may pave the way for further adventures for Rex and Alistair.

 

This is a splendid tale, solidly in the British tradition. The Scottish setting lends atmosphere to a well-told and satisfying story. I suspect we will be hearing more from Rex, Helen and Alistair.  My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for sharing an advance copy for me to read and review.

Review: Tea Cups and Carnage by Lynn Calhoun. Kensington Books: Lyrical Press Underground.

tea-cups-carnage“Is family defined by blood or it is more than that?”

 

Thus does this story begin, featuring Jill Gardner, whose shop Coffee, Books and More is a popular gathering place in the “perfect tourist town” of South Cove. California. As I live near the mid-California coast, I felt immediately at home with this setting.

 

Jill’s world centers on her coffee/book shop and also importantly on her relationship with handsome police detective Greg King. At the start, this story seems to be a study of daily life in a quaint, bustling seaside town. But ripples soon appear in the charming pool, starting with the addition of blonde Texas beauty Kathi Corbin to the South Cove business community. She immediately charms a business gathering (particularly the men) with her plans to start a new tea shop called Tee Hee. (OK, the title’s a little cute, but typical of businesses in this particular tourist-friendly setting).

 

More ripples soon appear: problems with bank deposits and the new bank teller, the sudden absence of antique shop owner Josh on undefined personal business, an unidentified motorcyclist who repeatedly tears through the little town causing noise problems and ruffled nerves before speeding away. Circumstances soon rises to another level when Jill’s aunt Jackie sprains her ankle in her haste to avoid a collision with the speeding cyclist. Soon after, a body is discovered at a local motel, and now we have a murder mystery.

 

Ms. Calhoun skillfully builds her story. Kathi’s family and history appear to be involved in the emerging problems, but how? Why are relations between Kathi and her sister so strained? Who is this rampaging motorcycle rider? What happened to Jill’s large bank deposit? Why is Josh so secretive about his actions?

 

Jill’s becomes engrossed in finding answers to these questions; Greg deals with the police side of things while trying to keep Jill away from harm. But Jill’s curiosity does not stop, and she keeps pressing forward for answers, which ultimately brings her into a dramatic confrontation.

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy available for me to read and review.

Review: Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency, by Susan Breen. Random House – Alibi.

maggie-dove-detectiveGentle Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove has started an exciting new career with her own detective agency–along with her business partner Agnes.   There’s just one problem: business is slow getting started, and Agnes is getting restless.

 

So when Racine Stern, one of the wealthiest residents of Maggie’s Hudson-on-Darby community, asks her help, Agnes is anxious for Maggie to take the case–but Maggie is reluctant. For Racine wants her “evil” sister, the flamboyant Domino, to be stopped from returning home after a long absence abroad. After hearing from the outraged Agnes, Maggie informs Racine that she will take her case, only to hear Racine say that it’s “too late.” Still, with Agnes pushing her, Maggie continues to investigate on Racine’s behalf.

 

Soon after Domino does arrive, Racine comes to Maggie again, saying her sister wanted to kill her. Racine shows Maggie the marks of a tarantula spider bite. It seem Domino has a pet tarantula named Charlotte, and Racine believes that the spider bite was no accident. But before things progress much further there is a stunning surprise when it is Domino who dies suddenly from a publicly viewed fall that appears to be a tragic accident.

 

Then, in an about-face, Racine drops her request for the services of Maggie’s agency; but about the same time Maggie, sensing the presence of evil in this complicated story, wants to find the truth and decides to forge ahead.

 

This is a complex and troubling story with Maggie feeling she is engaged in a battle between the forces of good and evil. There are witches, spells, psychedelic drugs, and the continued presence of Charlotte. This story tries Maggie’s beliefs and trust. Ultimately, she finds her way through her dilemma to the truth.

 

Now, here I must comment. I have a spider phobia, and when Charlotte appeared on the scene, I nearly exited the book. But I persisted out of a sense of duty to a commitment, also remembering that I read and enjoyed Breen’s initial Maggie Dove and actually requested to read and review this second book. I’m glad I persevered. For Charlotte’s is a cameo appearance, to enhance the “evil” scenario. Charlotte herself, I’m glad to report, is not actually a major player.

 

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making this advance copy available for me to read and review.

WholeReview: A Whole Latte Murder: A Java Jive Mystery, by Caroline Fardig. Random House – Alibi

 

whole-latteJuliet Langley surely leads an interesting life. One might say she’s a Renaissance woman. She manages the popular Java Jive coffee house, she is a beautiful, feisty redhead, a talented musician, and has a number of attractive men in her life–police detective Ryder Hamilton is her primary romantic interest as the story opens, but she also has her very best friend Pete Bennett, and as the tale progresses, interest builds in another policeman, Detective Stafford.

 

Juliet has vowed to stay out of detective endeavors, but her life gets complicated. Ryder gets a promotion to Homicide. That’s a good thing, right? Well, maybe for him, but not for Juliet, who finds her anxiety climbing. Then Pete takes a nasty fall and breaks his wrist, and a local college student goes missing, causing concern for Juliet’s friend Chelsea. Soon after that, Chelsea is found dead in her bathtub, apparently electrocuted.

 

Faced with all this, Juliet goes into full sleuthing mode with Pete as events continue to escalate. Juliet’s relationship with Ryder blows up, while Juliet and Pete’s interactions are heating up. As if that weren’t enough, detective Stafford is becoming a Person of Interest, and Juliet’s musical performing talents are renewed.

 

This is a lively tale, full of curves and twists, which leaves us looking for what the next episode may bring.  My thanks to author, publisher and NetGalley for making an advance copy available for me to read and review.

Review: Dangling By a Thread by Lea Wait. Kensington Books

dangling-by-threadThis is a skillfully crafted story, constructed with as much love and attention to detail as the needlework produced by the Mainely Needlepointers of Haven Harbor, Maine, where the story is set. Our heroine, Angie, is drawn to a recluse known as The Solitary. Learning that his name is Jesse and that he lives alone on tiny Kings Island, she is drawn in to his devotion to the cormorants nesting on the island that Jesse so fiercely protects.

 

But Jesse’s peaceful refuge is threatened when a wealthy visitor seeks to purchase Kings Island for a dream home for himself and his family. Angie and the Needlepointers band together to save the cormorant nesting grounds, but meanwhile other events occur and then Jesse is found dead on the island.

 

I found this story held my attention. I kept thinking, “just one more chapter…”

 

In addition to being a well-told tale, more interest is added by the needlework vignettes at the head of each chapter–centuries-old samplers that tell stories of our ancestors and of their way of life.

 

This is a truly admirable book–one I thoroughly enjoyed.  My thanks to author, Publisher and NetGalley for making an advance copy available for me to read and review.

Miss Seaton Rocks the Cradle by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago.

seeton-cradleThis portion of the Seeton saga brings some new elements. First, as the title indicates, Miss Seeton’s connection to an infant plays a major part in the story. When she happens upon the bunting-wrapped infant heiress Lady Marguerite, feared kidnapped, she endears herself to the baby’s parents, Lord and Lady Glenclachan, and to the Scottish village they live in. That brings us to the second important difference in this story–we find Miss Seeton spending time in Scotland. This is partly an expression of gratitude from Lady Marguerite’s parents, and partly a gentle summons from Scotland Yard, fueled by the efforts of journalist Amelita (“Mel”) Forby, who has fond memories of earlier shared experiences with Miss Ess. She wouldn’t mind another news scope, either. Lady Glenclachan is happy for Miss Seeton’s company, also, as she seems to have a magical way of soothing the fretful teething baby.

 

If you were looking to refresh your memory of Scottish history, this story is the place for that. We hear tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Scottish pearls, gold and silver, and hints of a modern-day Jacobite uprising. There is also the tantalizing possibility that Miss Seeton might enjoy a second visit with Her Majesty at nearby Balmoral (her first, you may recall, was during a Royal garden party).

 

Does Miss Ess meet the Queen again? Is the uprising successful? Is there a Scottish Gold Rush? For answers to these questions and more, you are cordially invited to read this captivating book.

 

Once again, my sincere thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for sharing this advance copy for me to read and review.

A Quiet Life in the Country: A Lady Hardcastle Mystery, Book 1, by T. E. Kinsey. Thomas & Mercer

quiet-life-countryThis is a splendid book, with all the favored elements of a British country village mystery–and some important differences. We do have an intrepid aristocratic sleuth and a valued companion, as Lord Peter has his Bunter and Albert Campion has his Lugg. But our hero is a pleasantly eccentric heroine, Lady Emily Hardcastle, and her outspoken companion is Flo, her maid. But this is the most egalitarian lady and maid you are likely to meet.

 

Apparently Lady Hardcastle and Flo go back quite a number of years, have traveled extensively–China and India are mentioned–and have had some exciting, not to say dangerous adventures. Lady Hardcastle has been widowed, but she seems to have more than adequate independent means. As the story opens, it is Emily’s decision to forsake London life for a quieter country existence. At least, that’s the plan, but we soon learn that adventure seems to follow Lady Hardcastle wherever she goes.

 

Milady and Flo are barely settled in their new home before the villagers clamor to know Lady Hardcastle better, and not long after that there is a body found in the woods. The police pick an obvious suspect, but Lady Hardcastle is convinced they are in error. So she and Flo start applying their not-inconsiderable skills to the problem at hand. Before long, there is another murder, and a jewel theft.

 

In this story, there is no silliness with the police telling the talented amateurs to stay out of their way. The local Inspector has the good sense to recognize that Lady Hardcastle is quite useful, and actively seeks out her assistance.

 

The story is engagingly told. Needless to say, the country life of milady and Flo is hardly quiet, and it would appear that the duo is just getting started on their adventures.

 

My thanks to author, publisher and NetGalley for making a somewhat belated advance copy of this book available for me to read and review.

 

Margery Allingham Box Set 2. Peters Fraser & Dunlop. 1. Death of a Ghost 2. Flowers for the Judge 3. The Case of the Late Pig

  1. Death of a Ghost

 

death-of-a-ghost-largerThe enigmatic “Albert Campion” is invited to a remarkable art showing by the widow of painter John Sebastian Lafcadio. This is the eighth of twelve scheduled events to exhibit a set of posthumous works left by the temperamental artist with explicit instructions about the annual showing of the paintings, one at a time. But the carefully choreographed event goes seriously awry when the lights go out. When they are restored one of the attendees is found stabbed. This last event, needless to say, was not in the exhibition script.

 

Albert Campion is noted for his ability to solve puzzling crimes. He is also known to be mild-mannered and inoffensive to a remarkable extent. Therefore, it is shocking for those of us who know Albert when he becomes really angry in this story. The question here, you see, is not the identity of the murderer. The exasperating challenge here is to prove what is already known.

 

For Albert does know, early on, who is behind the murder. Indeed, the murderer knows that he knows, and taunts him expertly and incessantly with high good humor. After all Albert’s efforts go unrewarded, there is a startling and surprising resolution.

 

Once again, Allingham’s ability to create fascinating characters and intriguing situations makes for a tour de force of the writer’s art.

 

 

  1. Flowers for the Judge

 

flowers-for-the-judgeWith every book of hers that I read, I am reminded anew that Margery Allingham was simply a magnificent writer. Flowers for the Judge is no exception.

 

This is a fascinating tale filled with characters we come to know and have definite feelings for–or against. Once again Albert Campion and the excellent Lugg combine their abilities to the matter at hand. I’ve always been fond of Lugg–there is a curious fascination with his character in all its eccentric flamboyance.

 

In the chapter describing the Coroner’s inquest, aptly titled “Inquisition” Miss Allingham constructs the coroner’s case before our eyes, with a procession of well-defined characters. With surgical precision, Miss Allingham uses the words of these witnesses to construct a case board-by-board and nail-by-nail, until at the last we view with amazement a sturdy gallows for the perpetrator of the murder that is the central subject of the book. We and the coroner’s jury are left with no question but that it was deliberately planned. The identity of the guilty party is less apparent, and we are left hoping that somehow the jury has erred in this last portion of their duty.

 

The excellence of that chapter is manifest throughout this intricately woven story of families and personalities, of justice obliquely but firmly served. Once again, quite masterful in its richness of settings and personalities. I am simply in awe of Allingham’s writing ability that holds our fascination through many complexities and happenings. Oh, and what about the title? It seems that there is a tradition in this British court to bring a fragrant nosegay for the judge, to sweeten the aromas that august personage is subjected to: perhaps a metaphor for the events of the story at hand.

 

  1. The Case of the Late Pig

 llingham-late-pig

Well now, “Albert Campion”, as alter ego for Margery Allingham, has some fun with us in this one. Styled as a bit of autobiography, Mr. Campion relates to us how he receives a cryptic anonymous letter. At precisely the same time his man Lugg reads a funeral notice for one R. I. Peters, whereupon Mr. Campion recalls “Pig” Peters as an uncommonly unpleasant schoolmate whose funeral he vowed one day to attend.

 

Mr. Campion launches into his story with his attendance in January at the last rites for the aforementioned Peters. He is therefore taken aback when six months later he is called upon to view the newly deceased body of Pig Peters!

 

The tale unfolds with a decidedly baroque flavor to it, and Albert doesn’t quite tell it straight. He peppers his narrative with occasional side comments on how wrong he was, thus leading us–his surrogate allies–blithely down the primrose path. He drops pointed hints of barely-noticed details that he realized later were important. It’s all quite intriguing and also exasperating.

 

This is an entertaining, ingeniously plotted tale. Albert (Miss Allingham) dazzles us with fancy footwork and literary sleight of hand. The surreal quality of the story makes us wonder, in the end, if Albert/Margery was just having us on?

 

 

 

My thanks to Camilla of the Margery Allingham Estate for making an advance copy of this box set available for me to read and review.

Review: Miss Seeton by Moonlight by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago.

seeton-moonlightMiss Seeton is trying to enjoy her peaceful village life in her little cottage. She enjoys doing a bit of sketching and gardening, and improving her yoga skills But once again, there are villains at work in the area. This time, there are two. The first is a cat burglar known as Raffles who cleverly makes off with art and precious jewels and holds the valuables for ransom. Then there is the entity known as Croesus who seems to favor quite varied art objects with a wintery flavor.

It is a given that the village gossip mill is in full operation, and of course Miss Seeton is called upon for her unique talents. She spends quite a pleasant time sight-seeing (on assignment) with her adopted niece Anne, wife of Scotland Yard detective Bob Ranger.

I must admit, while entertained by this bucolic tale, I was wondering where the “moonlight” of the title came into the story. Not to worry. The moon does arise, about two-thirds of the way into the book, and it’s worth the wait. You know, while I really admire the efforts of those who have taken up the storytelling mantle of the original author, Heron Carvic, I have not found the later books to contain as many laugh-out-loud passages as Mr. Carvic gave us. But the description of the moonlight ride of Miss Seeton comes very close to emulating the best of the original author’s work. These books are just great fun to read.

Once again, my sincere thanks to Farrago and NetGalley for making an advance copy available for me to read and review.