Archive for the ‘Amateur Sleuth’ Category

Dying to Know-TJ O’Connor

January 15, 2014

Dying to Know
TJ O’Connor
Midnight Ink, Jan 8 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 9780738739502

In Frederick County, Virginia working late hours for days with his partner Bear Braddock, police detective Oliver Tucker feels good about being home asleep for a change with his wife Angela, a university archeology professor. When she wakes him up having heard a noise, he investigates only someone shoots him. Oliver realizes he is dead and the only one who sees him as a ghost is their dog Hercule. He assumes he remains on earth to find his killer though his memory is porous.

Bear and the rest of the cops assume the murder of one of them is tied to a killing last week of a security guard Oliver and his partner were investigating. To forget temporarily, grieving Angela works her consulting assignment at a development site where bones were found that stopped the project until she can ascertain its historical significance. As Oliver makes contact with his Angel, he begins to suspect his best friend Bear might be involved with his wife and perhaps his murder since his partner of fifteen years acts strange. Still with the help of Angel and other ghosts, Oliver works the case, which expands from just finding his killer but also keeping his beloved safe and helping restless spirits.

The first Gumshoe Ghost Mystery is an entertaining paranormal whodunit with a strong investigation, a super late twist and a deep cast led by the confused jealous Oliver. Fans will appreciate this supernatural whodunit though the bewildered mental filter of the lead ghost re relationships at times slows down the pacing of an otherwise fun tale.

Harriet Klausner

Death of a Chocoholic-Lee Hollis

January 13, 2014

Death of a Chocoholic
Lee Hollis
Kensington, Jan 7 2014, $7.99
ISBN: 9780758294494

In Bar Harbor, Maine, Island Times food and wine reporter single mom (of teenagers Gemma and Dustin) Hayley Powell writes a popular column. Because she believes there can never be enough chocolate, Hayley wants Bessie Winthrop to succeed as a chocolatier, but the woman’s feline roommates make her treats unhealthy due to an abundance of cat hairs mixed in with the sweets.

Not long after Bessie tries to make it as a chocolate creator, she dies of an apparent heart attack. Slightly depressed when she learns the sad news, Haley tries one of the late Bessie’s concoctions while also finding a threatening note that leads her to believe the chocolatier wannabe was murdered. No one including her BFFs Mona and Liddy, who help her anyway investigate, believe Hayley’s concocted theory.

The latest Hayley Powell Mystery (see Death of a Country Fried Redneck) is an engaging amusing amateur sleuth that will have readers thinking of the classic Lucy and Ethel candy assembly line. Character-driven by the heroine, the sub-genre audience will appreciate the zany escapades of the three amigas as they seek a killer who probably will target them if they make any progress.

Harriet Klausner

Forget Me Knot-Mary Marks

January 12, 2014

Forget Me Knot
Mary Marks
Kensington, Jan 7 2014, $7.99
ISBN: 9780758292056

In the San Fernando Valley Martha, Lucy and Birdie meet every Tuesday to quilt. This time the trio heads to the affluent home of local quilting award winning Claire to ask her if she would like to join their group. Upon arrival, the threesome finds Claire dead.

Not long afterward, Claire’s first place prize winning quilt and award winners by Martha and Birdie are stolen. Fuming Martha wants her quilt back while the deceased’s mother asks her to read her late daughters quilt stories. As Martha seeks to catch a thief, she also begins to find clues as to whom murdered the quilter and why in Claire’s work.

The first Quilting Mystery is an engaging amateur sleuth tale starring a strong middle aged woman who refuses to allow her fibromyalgia to dictate who she is. Although there is some sub-genre stereotyping (i.e., her changing relationship with the lead homicide investigator) readers will enjoy marvelous Martha’s opening act as she stitches together the clues left behind by Claire.

Harriet Klausner

Plain Murder-Emma Miller

December 29, 2013

Plain Murder
Emma Miller
Kensington, Dec 31 2013 $15.00
ISBN 9780758291721

Fifteen years ago Rachel Mast left her Old Order “Ah-mish” community in Stone Mill, Pennsylvania to go corporate. She proved very successful but never found happiness so she recently quit. Though Rachel understands she can never go back to the Old Order, she returns home with a plan to turn her quaint village into a popular tourist stop by opening the Stone Mill House Bed & Breakfast with an Amish gift shop.

Eight months ago, prominent English businessman Willy O’Day vanished without a trace. Though there is plenty of conjecture, no one except for his twin George seemed to care what happened to him. Rachel’s upset cousin Mary rushes into the gift shop needing her help as the body of Willy has been found in her dat Aaron Hostetler’s cow pasture, which makes him the prime suspect. Adhering to his faith, Aaron rejects council or defending himself in spite of his concerned niece begging him to do so. Knowing someone must defend Uncle Aaron, Rachel doning traditional garb, investigates the murder.

Plain Murder is an entertaining Amish amateur sleuth in which the focus on the heroine’s internal lifestyle schism enhances her inquiry as her relatives will only speak to her about the homicide if she adheres to specific conditions they demand of her. Though there is some sub-genre stereotyping like Rachel’s relationship with police officer Evan Parks, fans will enjoy the protagonist’s effort to keep her uncle out of prison by uncovering the identity of the killer who buried O’Day in a shallow grave on Aaron’s property.

Harriet Klausner

Killing Cupid-Laura Levine

December 27, 2013

Killing Cupid
Laura Levine
Kensington, Dec 31 2013, $25.00
ISBN 9780758285034

When freelance author Jaine Austen received the job offer from Joy Amoroso to create a brochure and more for the latter’s Beverly Hills-based Dates of Joy matchmaking service, the writer was ecstatic with the upbeat work and the hope of finding happiness by Valentine’s Day. However, Jaine quickly becomes disillusioned with her termagant tyrant of a boss as Joy viciously rips her employees, misleads with net photos of “hired guns” (models), and makes empty promises of finding love to clients paying thousands for romance.

When Joy hosts a Valentine’s Day singles mixer, someone murders her. Jaine knows she is one of many suspects among clients, workers, family and others. Since she has had success in solving homicides (see Death by Pantyhose and Death of a Neighborhood Witch), she investigates who killed the false Cupid.

The latest Austen whodunit is an entertaining clever whodunit with an intriguing mystery somewhat distracted by too much sidebar humor including Jaine’s overindulgences. Still series fans will enjoy the heroine’s hunt for the truth (and Valentine sweets).

Harriet Klausner

Death By Misadventure-E.E. Smith

December 11, 2013

Death By Misadventure
E.E. Smith
Phoenix International, Nov 16 2013, $3.99
ISBN: 9780989935609

In 1947, War Widow Alexis J Smith is late for work as a conductor of “Discreet Inquiries because she learned of the blood splattered on two floors of the building where her office is. When she finally arrives, Lexie’s secretary Sandy tells her boss that she has a client with apparently plenty of money waiting for her. Mrs. Kate Farraday offers the sleuth a lot of cash to find her missing husband Frank who vanished a year ago with their baby Daisy and a lot more if she kills him. Lexie is taken aback as she failed to recognize Mrs. Farraday until the woman said she is her 1941 Sacramento High School friend Katie O’Toole and Frank is the boy Lexie loved six years ago.

Believing Kate’s tale of woe is false and fearing her old buddy will find a gun for hire, Lexie decides to locate Frank in London to warn him of his mad mate’s murderous plot. In England, Lexie obtains help from Harry of “The Yard” as she locates Frank at haunted Old Vicarage Inn with Kate trailing the American gumshoe.

This opening act is a terrific historical mystery in which E.E. Smith captures the dreams of high school seniors a few months before Pearl Harbor and life in California and mostly London after WWII ended. Although minor I could not accept Lexie failing to recognize her BFF Katie even with an affluent make-over. Still readers will enjoy spending the 1940s with the heroine as our guide to post-war England, which enhances an excellent investigation made stronger by vivid flashbacks and a stunning twisted motive.

Harriet Klausner

Leave Tomorrow Behind-Judy Clemens

December 8, 2013

Leave Tomorrow Behind
Judy Clemens
Poisoned Pen, Dec 3 2013, $24.95
ISBN 9781464202049

Bucks County, Pennsylvania veterinarian Carla Beaumont insures the safety of the animals at the annual 4-H county fair. Assisting the vet with her endeavor is her friend dairy farmer Stella Crowne who arrives with her fiancé Nick, an MS sufferer. Stella hopes the fair will allow her a respite from Nick’s pushy sister Miranda demanding to host the wedding of the century for them.

Following a concert starring country-western performer Rikki Raines, Stella watches the female singer and Mr. Gregg argue. Since Stella also exchanged heated words with Gregg over his daughter’s animal entries, she commiserates with Raines. Not much later, Stella uncovers Raines’ corpse in a pile of manure. Not trusting the police to conduct a thorough investigation especially since their not so subtle inclination is to go after the person who found the body and having solved homicide cases before (see Different Paths); Stella makes inquiries into the murder of the singer.

The latest Crowne amateur sleuth (see THE DAY WILL COME) is an engaging whodunit as eccentric Stella remains an extremely opinionated judge and executioner based on her first impressions. Her snap judgments often lead her into mistaken conclusions and fabulous red herrings for readers. Miranda adds comic relief at the same Stella being Stella (with a nod to Manny) works the case her way.

Harriet Klausner

Staged to Death-Karen Rose Smith

December 5, 2013

Staged to Death
Karen Rose Smith
Kensington, Dec 3 2013, $7.99
ISBN: 9780758284846

In Kismet, Pennsylvania, thirty-two year old realtor Caprice DeLuca works with wealthy clients staging a for sale home with a theme. Her open house productions are events catered by her sister Nikki.

Her current assignment is turning her friend Roz Winslow’s mansion into a Camelot castle. However, Roz’s husband Ted refuses to cooperate in ridding the place of clutter like all the swords and daggers in his antiques weapons collection room. During the gala, Caprice observes Ted kissing a woman. Unsure what to do, her indecision becomes meaningless when Caprice and Roz find Ted’s corpse with an antique dagger protruding from his back. Realizing the police focus on Roz as the prime person of interest, Caprice looks to prove her friend is innocent; though that may mean identifying the killer.

The first Caprice De Luca mystery is an enjoyable amateur sleuth with a Cecil Demille size cast including the heroine’s supportive family; as the queen of family romantic dramas, Karen Rose Smith, brings her upbeat uniqueness to the amateur sleuth sub-genre. Character-driven with several suspects and a town that cares, readers will relish Caprice’s complex case as the home designer stages her initial investigation.

Harriet Klausner

Murder On The Orient Espresso-Sandra Balzo

November 22, 2013

Murder On The Orient Espresso
Sandra Balzo
Severn House Publishers, Dec 1 2013, $27.95
ISBN: 9780727883117

Leaving Wisconsin, Uncommon Grounds gourmet coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen accompanies her lover Brookhills County Sheriff Jake Pavlik to attend the Mystery 101 writer’s convention in Fort Lauderdale where he is a presenter on forensics and she a tourist. Having worked GenCon in Milwaukee, Maggy is disappointed that no one dresses up as Miss Marple or Monsieur Poirot and knows what organizer Zoe Scarlett wants from Jake and her.

Attendees participate in a Christie reenactment while riding the Murder on the Orient Espresso train into the Everglades with Maggy as a Narrator, Zoe as the Woman in the Red Kimono and Jake as Rachett. To Maggy’s joy many riders wear 1930s garb to reflect the era of the classic. As the key role players are introduced, Laurence Potter playing Monsieur Poirot fails to appear. Soon Jake with Maggy’s help and others search for the missing Potter and that soon turns into a homicide investigation.

Paying homage to Agatha Christie, the latest Thorsen caffeine crime cozy (see Triple Shot) is refreshed with the South Florida locale especially the murder train into the Everglades. Although the storyline slowly but amusingly percolates by introducing the attendees in Fort Lauderdale; once the players and fans are on board, Murder On The Orient Espresso high speeds (in spite of Florida rejecting this form of rail) into a fabulous mystery.

Harriet Klausner

Murder As A Second Language-Joan Hess

November 21, 2013

Murder As A Second Language
Joan Hess
Minotaur, Dec 17 2013, $25.99
ISBN 9781250011961

To fill out the volunteer section of their college applications to schools like Vanderbilt, teenage BFFs Caron and Inez become ESL tutors. At the same time, Caron’s bookselling mom Claire applies as a volunteer at the troubled Farberville Literacy Council. Instead of becoming a tutor like her daughter, Claire ends up on the Board of Directors, but quickly seeks an exit strategy as the FLC is a cesspool filled with embezzlement claims and financial problems.

Not long after Claire joins the FLC, her new husband Deputy Police Chief Peter Rosen rationalizes breaking a personal vow that she will sleuth anyway when he asks his wife to help him investigate the murder of ESL student Ludmila Grabowski; she has insider access he does not have. The elderly acrimonious Russian was found dead in a FLC storage room, but her body seems to have been moved as evidence suggests she banged her head on a copying machine. Claire finds many of her board member peers with the opportunity and concealing all sorts of activities that mostly do not relate to the late Ludmila, but who committed the act remains out of reach.

The latest Claire Malloy Arkansas whodunit (see Closely Akin to Murder, Mummy Dearest and Deader Homes And Gardens) is an exciting mystery. The enjoyable storyline contains the typical albeit somewhat toned down zaniness especially the suspect pool filled with amusing underdeveloped characters. Series fans will enjoy this fun regional whodunit; as Claire learns that volunteerism in her case proves that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Harriet Klausner