Quote of the Week

"The key is to commit crimes so confusing that police feel too stupid to even write a crime report about them."
Randy K. Milholland, Something Positive Comic
10-30-03. Web Comic Pioneer

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cooking Up Trouble

"Cooking Up Trouble" by Joanne Pence features Angie Amalfie, cook and part-time journalist hired, in this book, to develop a menu for an inn slated to open in northern California. The menu is heavy on soy and light to non-existent on flavor but the protagonist is not discouraged mainly since her gorgeous, police officer boyfriend, Paavo, has agreed to spend the week with her at the inn.
From day one, people start dying or disappearing, weather strands the chef, her boyfriend, and an assorted assemblage of prospective owners on top of a mountain. Add to that secret passages, mysterious people, ghosts, unbelievable love interests, occasional menus, and of course, hostile neighbors and romance mystery emerges.
The resemblance to "And Then There Were Non" a movie based on Agatha Christie's novel, "10 Little Indians" becomes obvious at the beginning with even Angie mentioning it by the middle of the book. Some characters were very well drawn, interestingly not the main ones. There was more than one mystery happening and all were resolved by the end. Some situations portrayed were pretty unbelievable (not just the ghosts).
This was an easy read. This is the third book in this series so although the series did not grab my interest it has undoubtedly been possible with other readers. The series itself has received the independent Booksellers Golden Scroll Award while individual books have received a variety of awards. All these accolades make me think that I will try another of these books. Joanne Pence, according to her website, is NOT a gourmet cook, but she is a former journalist and employee of the federal government. The series continues to grow every year. I found my copy in paperback at the Thompson Public Library so it is available through bibliomation as well as from Amazon.com.

Reduced Circumstances

Meeting Frank Cole, a bankrupt techie, trying to evade his creditors while working as a fact checker and taxi dispatcher, was like meeting a neighbor. Cole is so absolutely real in his doubts, fears, and life issues that I couldn't help but route (no pun intended)for him from the opening sentence.
Equally real were his fellow taxi drivers. I kept expecting the description of the owner to match that of Danny DaVito , but it didn't. The remaining characters were as diverse and interesting as could possibly be brought together.
The Florida Panhandle comes to life in O'Neil's descriptions of not only the weather but the attitudes of various characters. Cole lives in Exile, Fla. which is an effective double meaning if there ever was one.
And then there is the plot!! Never before have I seen the the idea of using a number of matrices to line up clues and figure out what is happening. But, it made perfect sense - it wasn't perfectly foolproof but certainly helped. Using both insightful and less than motivated police officers kept the book evenly paced.
O'Neil has three books in this series about Frank Cole. "Reduced Circumstances" is the second. As soon as I finished I was off to the Thompson Public Library to take our "Murder in Exile" which should indicate how much I enjoyed this book. "Murder in Exile" was an excellent mechanism to use to get thoroughly educated about Cole's background and issues as well as meet some of the ongoing characters. I plan to move on to the third book as soon as time allows.
O'Neil is a Massachusetts native, a graduate of West Point with a masters in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Diplomacy. He won the St. Martin's Press "Malice Domestic" Writing Competition in 2005. In addition to the Frank Cole series he has published two anthologies.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Island of Exiles" by I. J. Parker

If you are a fan of historical novels, set your sights on this series. Sugawara Akitada is an 11th century Japanese sleuth set in a period of rustic adventures, political intrigue of the Heian Period , as well as a time of brutality. Don't let these descriptors throw you. This is a brilliant series with a surprisingly likeable main character. This is the fourth in the Akitada series and the character poses as a prisoner to find out who killed the son of a governor. So as you can imagine in a time of primitive technology, that the sleuth must use brain as well as brawn, and a sharp cunning to solve the crime. This is an exotic world and Parker is a brilliant writer. You feel the waves in the prison ship, you image the unbearable taste of the daily gruel and imagery of a period in Japanese history that is well researched. The author I. J. Parker has a great web site that let's you into the world of that period of history. Originally a short story writer Parker turned Akitada into a profitable and likeable series that now spans several books. I highly recommend this series. I tend to read contemporary novels but found this author by 'accident' a couple years ago and I am a complete devotee. For an unusual sleuth, setting, and crime solver, try Sugawara Akitada. He and his author Ms. Parker will not dissappoint you.