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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Spanish Dagger" by Susan Wittig Albert

Spanish Dagger is the 16th book in the durable China Bayles Mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert. .  I have been a fan from the beginning and when ever possible I like to get these on CD for the car.  This book was no disappointment.  As many of my friends know I appreciate when the author spends a little time catching you up on what is going in the series, JUST in case you have been busy reading other things.  Set in Pecan Springs, Texas about half-way from Austin to San Antonio this book fit nicely with my trek around the country reading mysteries by state.  Consistent with the herbal themes in the series Spanish dagger or also known as yucca plays a big part in the story.  China as usual is a busy bee between her catering business, the herb shop, and a weekend paper making class.But while gathering supplies for her paper making class, she finds a dead body in a patch of yucca plants.  In a side story, China's half-brother Miles has decided to investigate their father's death which was a old and cold case.  Miles asks McQuaid, China's husband and former cop and current PI to help with the case.  The book moves fast and the tidbits about the landscape and the yucca plants was very interesting.  I think Albert was on her game with this book and shows why she has such a devoted following.  In my quest to have books have place be a significant part of the story, this did not disappoint.  I found myself loving the heat, the descriptions and, the flavor of this part of Texas.  Albert keeps a web site and blog about her books which is a great resource.  She provides reading resources too.  If you have not read her books,  I would suggest reading one or two of the beginning in the series where the author establishes the characters and the type of books they will be.  Then, if you read out of order, you can follow along.  I got my book from my public library but check out now your local system for e-books and audios as well as print and as always support your favorite independent book store that I am sure has a few of these great mysteries on the shelf.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chat by Archer Mayor

Chat by Archer Mayor
Archer Mayor’s best selling series about Lt. Joe Gunther is set in a very different Vermont then is usually conjured up by tourist advertisements. This is the Vermont where houses are set far apart along such winding roads as Route 7; the Vermont where the local car repair shop and its reliability is more critical than the local government. People are few; families are valued and much depends on the weather.
One of Gunther’s biggest woes is the unreliability of cellphones in Vermont, something I experienced myself. He often comments on the effects of snow in softening the rocky landscape and then the less beautiful scenery in Bellows Falls and Brattleboro.
In “Chat” protagonist Gunther is faced with a possible tragedy in his own family with mysterious cause. At the same time, as the lead officer in the fictional Vermont Bureau of Investigation he is striving to solve the mystery of apparently unmarked and unidentified bodies turning up.
Mayor is known for the authenticity of details involving crime investigation and well drawn characters in his 22 book series and this the 18th is no exception.  Details such as the fact that taser cartridges have ID numbers abound, not to mention details about tie-rods. Some of those details are a result of his varied career covering everything from writer to tour director to part-time EMT and police officer.
More than that, the details about the characters and their motivations are equally intriguing.  Archer’s mother, confined to a wheelchair, is dealing with her own mortality as well as the possible loss of an adult son.  Both sons are dealing with her end of life concerns. Gunther is in transit between relationships in this book making his personal life an additional issue.
A search for Archer Mayor’s website can produce a Joe Gunther bio on a drop down menu which I highly recommend for anyone jumping into the series midway. Equally interesting is Mayor’s autobiography found in the same website. 
This was a perfect read with not one but three surprise endings. More of Joe Gunther is definitely on my reading list.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Next in my Mystery travels, I chose "Dolled Up for Murder" by
Jane Cleland which is set in fictitious coastal New Hampshire town called Rocky Point.  For those of you who know the region it seems very similar to Portsmouth.  For my new readers, my friend Wendy and I are taking a geographical approach to our passion for mystery books and reading novels set in a state in which 'place' is essential to the plot, character, or story.  This book fit the bill for me.  This is book seven in the cozy series that Cleland writes about her main character Josie Prescott who is an antiques dealer.  In this book, Josie acquires a valuable doll collection, and while showing it to one of the town's leading investment gurus Alice Michaels, the woman is shot and killed in front of Josie.  The plot thickens as it were as one of Josie's employees Eric is kidnapped with one simple demand, turn over the doll collection.  The coastal community of New Hampshire is the perfect backdrop to this interesting mystery.   Cleland is descriptive and you can almost smell the sea air as you travel the roads that is Josie's world.  In deciding what to do to help find Eric and handle the kidnappers, Josie finds out inadvertently that the dolls themselves have secrets from the Civil War, including the placement of mystery items inside the dolls.  It is not often that the author crafts a novel that basically began six books ago and keeps your interest.  I am sure that there is a wealth of characters and back story that precede the previous books, but all it did was make me want to go back and read the previous ones.  Josie is a gutsy character that I would love to know and can't wait to delve into other books by this author.  So if you are like me and always looking for that next series that you didn't know existed, choose these mysteries as your next stop and visit Josie at her antique shop in beautiful coastal New Hampshire.  These are available at most public libraries and book stores and print and ebook formats.  Happy reading

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Way with Widows by Harold Adams

This book was picked because for its setting in North Dakota, but turned out to be about a setting of 1930s rural America. Author Harold Adams has garnered praise for his mysteries with P.I. Carl Wilcox as the antagonist including a Shamus award for The Man Who was Taller than God. In this taste of life during the depression, Wilcox goes to the aid of his sister’s friend who is accused of killing her husband albeit in a neighbor’s home.
Wilcox leaves his money-making efforts behind (he repaints signs for merchants) and gets to the task while at the same time training his nephew in the art of fighting the town bully and providing sexual favors to some widows in exchange for information. Wilcox who is a World War I veteran and has done jail time and been a police officer before taking on part time private eye work seemed to be very one dimensional. None of the characters were very likeable even the kind-hearted sister.
I could almost hear the screen doors slamming every time someone came in or out of a house. Summertime in a small town took on entirely new meaning with no shortage of possible killers all female incidentally.  The ending saved Wilcox’s sister’s friend from jail or a trial but did not really seem to solve the crime. Does anyone really commit suicide by slitting their own throat? Questions lingered. It’s is enough to create a desire to read another of Adams series about Carl Wilcox to see if others are more substantial.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney

Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney

What could be more symbolic of Maine then charming old inns, located on rocky cliffs, with wild rose bushes and blueberries in abundance. This first book in the Grey Whale Inn mystery series was a hook drawing the reader into following books. The setting on Cranberry Island reminded me very much of Monhegan Island, a well-known artist retreat off the Maine coast. The characters were well drawn and represented the charming and sometimes eccentric residents of Maine quite well.
Protagonist Natalie Barnes is a real woman who struggles with financial woes, family issues, lack of eligible men and her beloved inn not to mention being a newcomer on a Maine island which has issues all of its own. Add in business competition, environmental problems and some rather despicable characters and the scene is set for a murder with no shortage of possible suspects. Beset by a police investigation centered on herself, while ignoring other possibilities, Barnes takes matters in her own hands with some hazardous consequences.

This book was a quick and enjoyable read perfect for hot summer days. I can’t wait to read the next in the series.
Murder on the rocks was nominated for an Agatha Award for best first novel. There are three additional adventures for Natalie Barnes available and another in the works. MacInerney describes herself as an “eclectic” writer as she explores an number of genres including fantasy. Check out her blog at karenmacinerney@blogspot.com for more information. Her books are available at most online vendors and at local libraries and independent bookstores. And… they include recipes which are awesome.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Swan for the Money by Donna Andrews

Set in Caerphilly, Virginia, this is the 11th is a series of books about Meg Langslow and her endlessly interesting and eccentric family. Each mystery somehow involves a type of (often exotic) bird in the plot. In the latest of this charming series, Meg deserts her blacksmithing business and Llama farm to help organize the prestigious annual rose show. With both her parents competing for the Black Swan award, the highest honor, and the show being hosted on the property on a thoroughly unpleasant member of the club, it is not a job she relishes.
The hostess of the event soon appears to be the obvious victim of jealous competitors and unhappy employees at her estate, but when the body is turned over it turns out to be someone else entirely. Suspects abound as do motives ranging from jealousy to rage over animal cruelty.
Reading about the intricate details involved in prepping flowers for a professional show was eye-opening to say the least. Tiny tools and perfect timing are all apparently critical, interesting that those very things could be critical to a murder as well.
Andrews has one at least one award for every book in this series and more than one for many. They are fun to read, informative, and often the mystery is hard to solve in advance. This particular book was a finalist for the Lefty Award and the 2008 Agatha Award for Best Novel. Andrews is a member of Sisters of Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Private Investigators & Security Association. There are a total of 13 books in the series and I have only read about five, the rest are on my summer reading list.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"The Interrogation of Gabriel James" by Charlie Price

I know you aren't supposed to choose a book  by it's cover, but while browsing the YA shelves at a local book store, I found this title and liked the idea of a mystery. As some of our followers know, I am a high school librarian, I have seen that mysteries aren't currently the cool genre and I wanted to see what passes as mystery today.  The book is set in Billings, Montana where two killings have happened.  Gabriel  a local teen is sitting at the local police department in the interrogation room with two officers going through not only the event surrounding the actual crime, but what led up to it.  The book takes place over the course of that interrogation, but flips back and forth in time as the officers go through what happened. Filled with creepy innuendos that can only be described as disturbing, this book deals with racism largely about Native Americans, drugs, and other dark family secrets.  Gabriel finds out more than he bargains for including the indiscretions of his parents. Gabriel unwittingly over the interest of a girl, is drawn into the remnants of a former Hippie type commune with a checkered past.  Gabriel is stunned to find out who is doing the bidding of this former cult leader and the people whose agenda is no longer love but hate.  The back woods of Montana is a great back drop for the secrets. I don't want to be a spoiler.  The book has an extensive interview with the author and I found it a great way to get into his mind and why this particular story.  The questions are posed to intrigue the teen reader and enrich the story after the fact and it does.   If you follow the reviews on the book, you will find them greatly mixed.   The innuendo about incest is pretty creepy no matter what your age, but you may find kids drawn to the story through it's taboos.  Over all I think this is a good story and I would recommend to my older teen readers that want a psychological book with a crime thrown in for good measure.   My only criticism might have been a bit more forensics thrown in.   As a person who developed their love of mysteries as a teen, I think that a book based purely on the psychological angle might not have been enough to make a teen what to read more in the genre.  But  I  found Price a good author with a true understanding of teens and I would definitely order more of his books and place them on the shelves for my teen readers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Murder at the PTA

Murder at the PTA by Laura Alden

First in a projected series, Murder at the PTA has believable characters and situations and a truly surprise ending. The story is set in upstate Wisconsin with many characters including the deceased principal very involved in sports.  Anyone who has seen the famous cheese heads on sports TBV knows how critical the rivalries are. I was taken by the comparison of PTA members, and Board of Education members. Beth Kennedy, new divorced mother of two small children and owner of a children’s bookstore, finds herself involved in solving the murder of an unpopular elementary school principal.  Even after the principal is dead, Alden succeeds in rounding out the woman’s character through interaction with other people and disillusioned relatives.  Beth is further hampered by an almost obnoxiously pushy friend who embroils her in dangerous situations through her mainly thoughtless blog.  Checking on details in northern Wisconsin requires a short six hour drive which thankfully happens before the snow falls. Beth comes to life in her deep connection to her children including giving in to the request for a dog, her interest in a new man, and her ideas for making the children’s school even better.

This book was easy to read although solving the mystery was not that easy.  Modern technology played an important part in the detective work which was quite interesting.  This book felt very modern day.

Laura Alden graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a BS in science.  She spent 25 years surveying and engineering. Those talents came into play in not only the proposed new construction of a school in the mystery but also some of the clues.  Two more books in the series have been published on in 2011 and another scheduled for a July 2012 publishing.  A fourth book is in the works.  I will definitely read more. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pineapple Grenade by Tim Dorsey

Pineapple Grenade is the latest offering of renowned author Tim Dorsey which is set in hot and steamy Miami, Florida.  Readers are introduced to the ongoing character Serge Storms who is a vigilante serial killer of sorts and his stoned out friend Coleman.  The 15th in the series by Tim Dorsey, readers immediately get a feel for the quirkiness of the writing with the washing up of an artificial limb on the shore and a body that has been disposed in a forensically very interesting way (don't want to be a spoiler).  As Wendy and I set out to read stories in states where place was important as the characters, this book fit the bill.  I rambled the stacks in the mystery section of the bookstore and wound up with this book as the next in line of my journey. However, as an avid mystery reader, I am often choosing a book in the middle of the series. You can often pick up threads of the past in the first chapter or two that help you move through the book.  It’s those story bits that leads you back and connect the people to really motivate a reader new to your series.  This book provided none of that.  I began stark and new and clueless.
The lead character Serge seems to be an appealing enough guy with the bumbling stoned out sidekick Coleman.  I am unsure if I am supposed to like these people or finding their brand of vigilante killing something to care about.  The blurbs about Dorsey's books often include the word humor, so I was looking out for those moments.  Maybe I just didn't recognize humor when I saw it, but what do I know? Serge and Coleman insinuate themselves into a group that is protecting the dictator of a fictitious banana republic who is coming to Miami for a summit. Serge becomes a secret agent of sorts that helps the dubious factions and winds up playing mind games among the players.   They all wonder who Serge really is and who does he work for?  And as Serge goes along his merry way with Coleman in tow (who really does that much drugs), he kills a few people with what seems to be a familiar mantra…” I always leave a way out…” but in this book none of Serge’s victims survive.  I will say Serge is ingenious.  But Dorsey as an author lost me.   This reminds me that maybe this character is the love child of Dexter the serial killer and Carl Hiaasen type characters.  But I am really not sure I want to know more or revisit the previous 14 to find out how these characters came to be.  It’s obvious Dorsey has a huge following, but while I didn’t hate the book, I am likely not to read another unless I come across one at a library sale or swap table. Sorry Mr. Dorsey.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Twilight by Nancy Pickard

What could be more Massachusetts then walking trails, charitable foundations, tiffs between conservationists and businesses and particularly fall festivals on the common? The lengths to which human beings will go to assuage guilt and protect loved ones are common motivators for plots. In Twilight, Nancy Pickard combines these to make for a fast-reading mystery with believable and interesting characters.
The center of the controversy was God’s Highway, which immediately made me think of the Appalachian Trail. Three people had been killed in unexplained accidents where the trail intersected a main road. Families of victims wanted it closed or made safer and conservationists were willing to go to extreme and possibly illegal lengths to keep it open. A stop sign should have prevented these incidents but somehow it did not.
Heroine Jenny Cain plans a fall festival to get her newly organized foundation recognized and bring much needed revenue to her town. A small city commission stands in the way. All these issues are familiar to New Englanders. Pickard puts them all together to tell a story that is hard to put down. There are no murders here although it was tempting to think so while reading. What Pickard serves up is another modern day issue concerning health which should remain unnamed at this point. Pay attention to the behaviors of the main characters – there is a hint there.
Twilight marks the end of the Jenny Cain series nevertheless it has inspired me to read the series from the beginning and truthfully it did not feel like the conclusion.
Many mystery awards have been given to Nancy Pickard for her short stories and novels including an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award and nominated for an Edgar Award. She is a former reporter and editor and past president of Sisters in Crime.What could be more Massachusetts then walking trails, charitable foundations, tiffs between conservationists and businesses and particularly fall festivals on the common? The lengths to which human beings will go to assuage guilt and protect loved ones are common motivators for plots. In Twilight, Nancy Pickard combines these to make for a fast-reading mystery with believable and interesting characters.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron
Set in rural Maine, this was a natural choice for my next trip through the mystery United States.  My parents and aunts and uncles are all from Maine and I grew up with most childhood trips and holidays spent there.  This story takes place in the rural northwest part of the state near the Canadian border that I knew nothing about.  The story is about game warden Mike Bowditch who is drawn into a murder that supposedly his father Jack, a local game poacher has committed.  Mike puts his career on the line to defend his father and often runs a foul of the law himself in trying to figure out who actually committed the murder of a local cop and another local man. Mike has grown up around a deep woods subculture of people who hunt not only for sport but to survive.  You find out that being a game warden is a tough job.  The position is basically a woods police force.  Bowditch is checking licenses and making sure drunks don't travel the waterways just to name a few mundane jobs.  In one scenario he had to kill a bear that had wandered into a home and the owner maimed trying to defend himself.  It's a gritty hard tack life for many of these people, but most would not change it.  An interesting side note is that there were Nazi prisoner camps in these deep woods during WWII.  At Seboomook, Maine a camp was developed for about 250 prisoners from Rommel's Afrika Korps.  Prisoners were put to work cutting trees and literally feeding in to the Maine paper industry.  This was a small back ground story to this book but as a first novel from Doiron, this fit nicely into my attempt to make a sense of place as important as the mystery itself.  You find yourself really seeing and understanding what this area of the state looks and feels like with this adjunct story.  This is a fast paced novel and Doiron kept you guessing with a variety of red herrings.  He develops his characters carefully and everyone has his/her purpose.  You follow Bowditch as he continues to try to find evidence of his dad's innocence even as you found out he's a hard life man with a problem with alcohol and women..  But largely Mike is the only person who thinks Dad didn't do the crime.  The conclusion is explosive and I won't spoil it for you.  I will admit I didn't see it coming but it's good and ties the plots nicely. . I highly recommend this great book and I look forward to reading his next book.  If you are a fan of authors like Craig Johnson, Joseph Heywood, or Nevada Barr and you like a character with guts and compassion and a love of the wilderness, this is your newest author.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by Sharyn McCrumb

The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter by Sharyn McCrumb
As with all McCrumb’s novels, setting is off paramount importance. Just the name, “Dark Hollow”, Tennessee sets the mood for a haunting but regionally realistic murder. Mix an old woman with “site” into the future, an old man dying due to environmental pollution on a gigantic scale, with a newcomer preacher’s wife (he’s been called to the Mid-East), an understanding sheriff, vulnerable children and four brutal murders and the recipe results in a page turner in true McCrumb style. As always, McCrumb begins each chapter with an appropriate quote from Appalachian songs, poems, essays. All add to the sense of foreboding building to the climax of the story. Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter is one of nine ballad novels which combine legends, nature and modern day issues in a mystery at once believable and possible. McCrumb’s characters deserve mention for their reality. Lead characters are developed with great detail not only to attributes but to weaknesses as well. They grow, change, lie, sneak, are brave, scared, just generally cover the gamut of human experience.
This is not the first McCrumb novel I have read and is certainly not the last. In addition to a huge amount of fiction including, NASCAR Novels, Elizabeth MacPherson novels, Jay Omega novels, short stories and reams of contributions to anthologies and literary magazines, McCrumb is a prolific non-fiction writer provide amazing amounts of information of the Appalachian Mountain land and people of North Carolina and Tennessee. To see her long list of awards and complete list of writing, visit: http://www.sharynmccrumb.com/bio.html. Her books, including audio versions, are widely available nationwide at public libraries and at retailers such as independent books stores and online.