Archive for March, 2011

The Redeemed-M.R. Hall

March 31, 2011

The Redeemed

M.R. Hall

Simon & Schuster, May 3 2011, $25.00

ISBN 9781439157121

Thirtyish Conway Unit senior psychiatric nurse Alan Jacobs is found dead in a churchyard of Saint Peter’s Church in the Severn Vale district.  Coroner Jenny Cooper looks into what appears to be a suicide. 

Not long afterward prison priest Father Lucas Starr asks Jenny to investigate the murder of adult film actress Eva Donaldson.  The request is odd as Paul Craven, who confessed, was convicted of the homicide.  Father Starr believes Craven confessed because he is a bit touched and that the man did not commit the killing.  Jenny agrees to do a cursory look.  She finds out that that the late actress joined the Mission Church of God after quitting the porn industry.  The victim also supported Decency a group demanding internet pornography be outlawed.  As she works on both cases while still struggling with her nasty divorce that pile on top of her uglier childhood, Cooper finds connections between Donaldson and Jacobs; even as her fuming superiors (over Jenny solving the Disappearance case) demand she wrap up her two investigations immediately.

Cooper is an incredible character as she is so F up that it is amazing she is not restrained; the subplot when she was five years old enhance how mentally hurt she is.  The whodunit focuses on religious and political corruption that the brass prefers disappears as M. R. Hall makes a strong case that justice is a two tiered system: the wealthy can flaunt the law and then there is the masses.  Sub-genre fans will appreciate The Redeemed as Cooper battles with her personal problems fearing a breakdown and wars with her superiors over her successful inquiries breaking the Golden Rule of those with the gold make the rule.

Harriet Klausner

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The Law of Angels-Cassandra Clark

March 31, 2011

The Law of Angels

Cassandra Clark

Minotaur, Apr 12 2011, $24.99

ISBN: 9780312674557

In 1385, Abbess Hildegard sets up a tiny religious cell in Deepdale, England.  However, her serene rustic retreat is disturbed when armed men attack two of her youthful guests, Maud and Petronilla, who had turned to her for protection.  They are fortunate to have survived the crisis, but Hildegard and the two victims fear they will return to finish the job.

Maud is especially worried that she was the intended target as she escaped from killers who murdered her young brother and destroyed their home.  Hildegard knows no one is safe in England since the Wat Tyler revolt and the latest Papal excommunication.  She escorts the girls to York where she hopes they can obtain protection, but soon the Abbess finds herself in the middle of a murderous plot centering on the Cross of Constantine, which she found.

The third Abbess Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery (see Hangman Blind and The Red Velvet Turnshoe) is a charming tale in which the late fourteenth century era of abject fear supersedes the slower suspense subplot.  Hildegard is a wonderful caring person who risks her life to insure her two wards are safe as she keeps the story line focused.  Fans of profound historical tales with a supporting mystery will enjoy the Abbess’ latest adventures.

Harriet Klausner

Spider Web-Earlene Fowler

March 31, 2011

Spider Web

Earlene Fowler

Berkley May 3 2011, $25.95

ISBN 9780425240984

In San Celina, California, a sniper fires at the driver’s side window of a parked police car near the town courthouse.  Nobody was hurt as the vehicle was empty at the time of the shooting.  Town police chief Gabe Ortiz leads the inquiry wondering what the motive could be.

Gabe’s wife Benni Harper is busy with her myriad of jobs as a museum curator, rancher and caring for her beloved older relatives while also preparing for the first annual Memory Festival where she and the Coffin Star Quilt Guild will show their Graveyard Quilt for the first time in public.  At the same time Benni scrambles with not enough hours in the day, a woman comes to town seeking a retirement home.  However, instead she meets with Benni to discuss Gabe.

The latest Harper whodunit (see State Fair) is a fun amusing cozy due to the antics of the lead couple’s eccentric family and friends.  The sniper mystery is cleverly set up with readers, Benni and Gabe wondering about the motive; while the female stranger in town adds quite a wallop to the mix.  This is a strong entry as even the most powerful people sometimes need help.

Harriet Klausner

Classified as Murder-Miranda James

March 31, 2011

Classified as Murder

Miranda James

Berkley, May 3 2011, $7.99

ISBN: 9781101514351

In Athena, Mississippi elderly eccentric James Delacorte hires librarian Charlie Harris to catalogue his prized rare book collection.  He explains to Harris that he has supported his extended family even allowing them residence in his vast mansion though they show little respect to him from the heart.  However, he is upset as he believes one of his relatives is stealing his valuable books.

Harris begins his inventory while listening to the taunts of boorish family members.  When one of them kills Delacorte, Charlie assumes the stolen books are the clue to who the culprit is. With the help of Diesel his Maine Coon Cat in the Stacks partner, Charlie seeks to uncover the identity of the ungrateful murderer.

The second Cat-in-the-Stacks amateur sleuth who-done it (see Murder Past Due) is an engaging whodunit due to the male lead whose detecting is suspect (and fun).  However, Charlie’s relationships with his paw partner and with his adult son Sean make him seem real even with a sort of anthropomorphic dialogue between the two sleuths.  Readers will enjoy this entertaining regional whodunit as the librarian and the cat work the case.

Harriet Klausner

Ding Dong the Diva’s Dead-Cat Melodia

March 30, 2011

Ding Dong the Diva’s Dead

Cat Melodia

Camel Press, Jan 30 2011, $15.97

ISBN: 9781603818070

Thirtyish opera singer Deborah de Lille is thinking of ending her career as she sees her future on stage performing as a two bit player on minor league tours.  However, her agent gets the mezzo-soprano a part with the new Ville d’Aurore troupe in Idaho.  The production is Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann.

In Idaho Debbie quickly joins the production in time for rehearsal.  She learns she got the demanding support role of Nicklausse when the performer she replaced died in a car accident.  Her role is demanding though always in a secondary role.  Debbie plans to be professional on and off stage, but when she gets a second part due to a performer leaving, she becomes the victim of petty jealousies, megalomaniacal performers and sexual thrusts from both genders, while someone wants the new diva dead.

The fun in this entertaining amateur sleuth is observing the humorous goings-on behind the scenes of a local opera company as the cut throat competition is not just about roles on stage.  Whereas Debbie is the star holding the tale together, the support cast is solid with a range of egomaniacal personalities at the opera house and zany (insane may be more descriptive) friends and family of the heroine.  Fans will appreciate A Night At The Opera.

Harriet Klausner

Nightshade-P.C. Doherty

March 30, 2011

Nightshade

P.C. Doherty

Minotaur, Apr 12 2011, $25.99

ISBN 9780312678180

In 1304 King Edward I directs his most-trusted aide and the keeper of the secret seal Sir Hugh Corbett to travel to Essex.  There Sir Hugh is to retrieve an ornate cross from Lord Oliver Scrope who took it from a sect the latter declared heretical.  The monarch also orders Sir Hugh to censure Scrope for going outside his power when he slaughtered the members of the sect.

Corbett arrives in Essex to learn a serial killer Sagittarius stalks the residents.  The attacks by this predatory hunter have left everyone fearful as the killer seems to randomly choose who is next to kill before the sound of the hunter’s horn announces an arrow has been sent at a target.  When an impossible homicide occurs on a remote nearly unattainable island inside a locked room, Corbett knows he must end the reign of terror.

The latest Corbett medieval mystery (see The Waxman Murders) may be the historical whodunit of the year as P.C. Doherty provides a super investigative tale.  Fast-paced yet setting time and place so that fans will feel they accompany the hero in January 1304 England on his regal mission.  Set aside plenty of time as Nightshade is nearly impossible to put down.

Harriet Klausner

A Pizza to Die For-Chris Cavender

March 30, 2011

A Pizza to Die For

Chris Cavender

Kensington, May 1 2011, $22.00

ISBN: 9780758229526

In Timber Ridge, North Carolina, A Slice of Delight pizza shop owners sisters Eleanor and Maddy Swift are despondent to learn Judson Sizemore, paternal nephew of the affluent eccentric Nathan, plans to open Italia’s specializing in wood-fired pizzas on the same street as their restaurant.  However, someone kills Judson with a piece of firewood in his new store just before the grand opening.

Eleanor learns Judson’s Uncle was the money behind the pizzeria.  The deceased’s sister Gina publically accuses Eleanor of her sibling’s homicide while the townsfolk look at who had the motive to kill the competition.  At the same time Maddy’s boyfriend Bob Lemon harangues the Swift sisters to not investigate the murder while Eleanor’s ex David Quinton offers to help.  However, the Swift sisters cannot help but make inquiries.

The latest cozy served with pizza (see Pepperoni Pizza Can Be Murder) is another Swift regional Slice of Murder, but tastes somewhat like its predecessors.  The sleuth siblings are an engaging lead while the men in their lives and the townsfolk add depth to the entertaining story line.  Culinary mystery fans will enjoy the snoop sisters investigating the murder of their new competitor.

Harriet Klausner

An Ocean Away-Lisa Harris

March 29, 2011

An Ocean Away

Lisa Harris

Summerside, Mar 1 2011, $12.99

ISBN: 9781609361075

In 1921 in Northern Rhodesia, Lizzie MacTavis continues to provide the Lord’s word to the locals.  She is dedicated to God and to people residing along the Zambezi River.

Anthropologist and explorer Andrew Styles is hired to locate Lizzie and escort her back to New York.  When he finds her in Southern Africa, he tries to persuade her to come home.  She refuses as she feels her work is here.  However, Andrew explains back in America, she has a fortune that can help her adopted impoverished people.  Thus, Lizzie reluctantly and tearfully leaves even while vowing to return.  In New York, Lizzie is unprepared for falling in love with an unbeliever who may be her enemy and with someone trying to kill her in so called civilized America. 

This is an intriguing historical thriller starring a caring missionary who feels safer in Rhodesia than she does in the jungle of New York.  Lizzie is terrific as she firmly believes God wants her to remain in Africa, but Andrew makes a convincing case she can do more if she goes home; which she counters is Rhodesia.  Though An Ocean Away lacks the intensity of the Mission Hope thriller Blood Ransom (few novels do), readers will enjoy this engaging 1920s tale with its message to embrace God rather than running away from the Lord even when a tragedy strikes a loved one.

Harriet Klausner

Death in the Fifth Position-Gore Vidal writing as Edgar Box

March 29, 2011

Death in the Fifth Position

Gore Vidal writing as Edgar Box

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, Mar 22 2011, $14.95

ISBN: 9780307741424

In New York City, as the House Un-American Activities Committee conducts hearings, the Grand Saint Petersburg Ballet hires public relations specialist Peter Cutler Sargent to create a positive spin to avert trouble since renowned choreographer Jed Wilbur was once a communist.  He expects a relatively easy assignment by controlling the media though the director Ivan Washburn explains the pickets and an accusation letter have unnerved him especially as the fifth ballet to arrive in town.

However, a dark cloud surfaces when the star ballerina Ella Sutton dies during a performance by falling from thirty feet above the stage.  Sargent investigates though NYPD Inspector Gleason tells “Harvard” to stick to the PR lies.  He finds that behind the scenes of the ballet people are loaded with backstabbing machinations as rivalries and affairs are the norm for this troupe even as he hopes his new lover Jane Garden who replaced the unfortunate Ella is not the culprit.

This is a reprint of a Gore Vidal’s first terrific novella written pseudonymously as Edgar Box due to his being blacklisted by the NY Times for the then controversial The City and the Pillar; the author gives kudos to brave publisher Victor Weybright for his support.  The super storyline is obviously a theatre whodunit, but six decades later provides an interesting timely look at 1950s censorship as the present gurus want to rewrite Mark Twain.  The novella is clever, but it is the cast starting with the PR amateur sleuth who makes for a wonderful night at the Russian Ballet.

Harriet Klausner

Gone with a Handsomer Man-Michael Lee West

March 28, 2011

Gone with a Handsomer Man

Michael Lee West

Minotaur, Apr 12 2011, $24.99

ISBN 9780312571221

In Charleston, South Carolina, wannabe pastry chef Teeny Templeton is excited about marrying Bing Jackson and making the perfect red velvet cake.  However, her euphoria ends abruptly when she sees an excited Bing playing badminton with two pretty ladies without one stich of clothing on any of them.  Irate, Teeny plays dodge ball with the naked threesome by throwing unripe peaches at their butts.

She is charged with assault and receives probation.  Additionally a restraining order is processed to keep her away from Bing and his women.  A few days after being legally warned to stay away from her ex fiancé, Teeny finds Bing dead.  Obviously, the prime (and only) suspect as pointed out by the local news, Teeny distrusts the police (and the media) to search elsewhere for the killer so she applies the Templeton Tradition of creating recipes to solving the murder.

This entertaining regional culinary amateur sleuth mystery with a pinch of romance is a delightful tale due to the strong cast starting with Teeny.  The secondary characters are fully developed as Michael Lee West provides a super Southern whodunit enhanced by the refreshing Templeton Tradition.

Harriet Klausner