Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Who Inherits?

A Potting Shed Mystery # 6
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
October 17, 2017

I am always happy to get my hands on a new Potting Shed Mystery with its mystery, gardening tips and lore, quirky characters and a touch of grown-up romance. Pru Parke is a transplanted Texan whose life dream was to relocate to her mother's native England. Her first year in England was a challenge, but now she has a good reputation and a steady flow of jobs. Not only is she established professionally, but she has married semi-retired police Chief Inspector, Christopher Pearse. All her success comes at the age of fifty-something. Both Christopher and she are feeling the need for a getaway when she receives a request to consult on restoring an Arts and Crafts garden in the Cotswolds.  The creator of the garden, Batsford Bede, has let it slide in recent years and needs help. Christopher and Pru have friends in the area and decide to take a working holiday. But, just as Pru makes a start she discovers Bede, dead, under a piece of garden statuary. What was the ailing, elderly man doing out in the garden alone? It also appears that the inheritance of the property is disputed and a codicil to the will is missing. Since the local police force is small, Christopher takes over the investigation.

The Potting Shed Mysteries are a pleasure to read. I am not a gardener, but this series might even inspire me to become one. I highly recommend Best Laid Plants, which can be read as a stand-alone, but why not enjoy it from the beginning,The Garden Plot? Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, October 16, 2017

A K-9 Nail-Biter

An FBI K-9 Novel # 2
Sara Driscoll
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Sara Driscoll's second FBI K-9 novel, Before It's Too Late, hits the ground running and never lets up. A woman in the D.C. area is abducted, leaving her dog running loose. Attached to his collar is a coded note with clues to the woman's location and a time limit. The note is directed to Meg Jennings personally. By the time the FBI unscrambles the code and clues, all based on Civil War history and locations, the time has run out. It's too late for the woman, but this is far from the end. More abductions occur, and notes arrive in quick succession, all to Meg's attention. Even worse, the victims are physically similar to Meg. It's clear that the FBI is up against a very organized serial killer; one with a personal grudge against her. Meg decides to take action that might very well cost her career. Against all Bureau policy, she enlists her sister, Cara, a puzzle-solving genius, and Clay McCord, Washington Post reporter and Civil War buff. The three are able to solve the puzzles more quickly than the FBI computers. But Meg can't imagine who her adversary might be, or why.

I liked the first in the FBI K-9 series, Lone Wolf, very much and Before It's Too Late does not disappoint. The action is non-stop, the mystery well-plotted and the characters engaging. The relationship between Meg and her Labrador, Hawk, is healthy and supportive, based on mutual respect and love. It's impressive what well-trained search and rescue dogs can do. I highly recommend the series to suspense fans and anyone interested in the inner workings of the FBI K-9 Units.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4 Stars

Friday, October 6, 2017

All is not well in Weycombe

G.M. Malliet
MIdnight Ink
October 8, 2017

All should be perfect in the chocolate box pretty village of Weycombe where transplanted American, Jillian White, lives with her titled husband in an upscale gated community. There are cracks though, both in the marriage and the village. Jillian was "made redundant" (a kind euphemism for laid-off) nine months earlier from her job at the BBC, and her marriage to Will White is falling apart. But when Jillian discovers the dead body of Anna Monroe, local real estate agent and femme fatale, on a walking path next to the river, all the pettiness, secrets and evil in Weycombe begin to rise to the surface of this tranquil pond. Anna has always wanted to write a novel, so she begins to investigate the murder on her own, with an eye to using the case as a basis. There are consequences for everyone involved.

It's a challenge to review Weycombe without giving anything away. I have enjoyed Malliet's previous books, but this stand-alone novel is entirely different. I was immediately captured by Jillian's acid voice: she is not someone that I would like, but I wanted to listen to what she had to say. It's not often that I can't put down a book, but I stayed up late just to find out what came next. I began to get the feeling early on that Jillian was a far from reliable narrator, but the extent of her unreliability was stunning. The twists and turns in the plotting kept me intrigued until the end. I highly recommend Weycombe for fans of psychological suspense with a dark edge.

Thanks to Midnight Ink and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own. 

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is Our Agatha Finally Growing Up?

Agatha Raisin # 28
M.C. Beaton
St. Martins Minotaur
October 3, 2017

I am a latecomer to the Agatha Raisin series, having discovered them only a few years ago. I was looking for short, undemanding listens and the reviews seemed to fill the bill. I ended up listening to all of the series over time. I often had mixed feelings about them, finding Agatha annoying at times, but entertaining to a greater or lesser degree. The Witches Tree begins with a dreadful dinner party given by the local "wannabe" squire and his flashy wife. The new vicar and his wife, Rory and Molly Devere, can't wait to get home. But their plan is disrupted when they drive by the Witches Tree and see a body hanging from the branches. It's Margaret Darby, an inoffensive elderly spinster and everyone in the odd little Cotswold village of Sumpton Harcourt can't imagine why....or so they say. The Deveres draw Agatha Raisin and her sometimes sidekick, Sir Charles Fraith, into the investigation. Agatha is feeling bored with her usual lost pet and divorce cases, but two more murders and a practicing witches coven add up to almost more than she can handle.

Agatha is a mixture of overconfidence and insecurity, despite great success as a Public Relations executive and now as a PI. She seems to be unable to feel worthy unless she is in a relationship with a man but none of those are ever a success. Her longest relationship has been with Sir Charles, but he is averse to commitment of any kind with the exception of keeping his money pit of an ancestral estate afloat. I admit that I had hopes that he was moving towards realizing how important Agatha is to him, but no such luck. Agatha at least appears to avoid falling for every eligible male she meets in The Witches Tree, which is a welcome development. I do enjoy the sly social commentary that Ms. Beaton injects into all the Agatha Raisin books.

Thanks to St.Martin's Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Intrigue and Ambiguity

Verity Kent Mysteries # 1
Anna Lee Huber
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Verity Kent has been adrift in a sea of alcohol-fueled frivolity since her husband, Sidney, was killed in the trenches fifteen months earlier. Sidney left her a very well off widow, but life seems meaningless. Especially since she has also lost her wartime work with the Secret Service, something of which even Sidney knew nothing. When she receives an invitation to a house party on an island, celebrating the engagement of an old friend of Sidney's she initially refuses. The other party guests are men who served in the trenches with Sidney, most of whom she did not know. Then a letter arrives with a cryptic message: ..." I know the secrets you hide. Why shouldn't I also know your husband's?" Verity knows then that she must join the house party, as the clear implication is that Sidney was involved in treasonous activity. The party guests range from slightly offensive to obnoxious, with intense hostile undercurrents. There is no one that Verity can trust, with the possible exception of Max, Earl of Ryde, and her childhood friend, Tom. But everyone has secrets and some are poisonous.

I waffled quite a bit on assigning a rating to This Side of Murder. The period of time during and just after WWI has always been fascinating to me. The war set up huge changes in the established order, with the wholesale slaughter of nearly an entire generation. The treaties at the war's end and the reparations required from the German people sent ripples leading to the horrors of the 20th century and into the present day. Huber has certainly done her research into the period, but I found it a little overpowering at times. Long explanations of cryptography and ciphers tend to make my eyes cross and seemed to bog down the narrative. I also thought that the supporting characters were not as well defined as I would like. It took me quite awhile to get names associated with characters. On the other hand, I kept reading way past my bedtime and was completely knocked back by the identity of the "mastermind." I also enjoyed the homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None with all the suspense and ambiguity holding until the end. This Side of Murder promises a series to watch for in the future.

Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Return of the Red-Headed-She-Devil

A Java Jive Mystery # 5
Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
October 24, 2017

Business is good at Nashville's Java Jive Coffeehouse where Juliet Langley is manager and her "best friend" Pete Bennett is the owner. Her fledgling second career as a PI keeps her busy and she is even making progress toward overcoming the crippling stage fright that destroyed her singing career. What could go wrong, right? Trouble comes in the form of Scott O'Malley, Juliet's former fiance who left her high and dry. Scott not only left her for a waitress that worked at the coffeehouse the two co-owned, he cleaned out the bank accounts and emptied their apartment of belongings. The business also failed, bringing Juliet back to Nashville.  No wonder the sight of him strolling into Java Jive prompts Juliet to punch him in the nose. He gives her a garbled story of the waitress he dumped her for (and later married) being kidnapped. He has heard she is a PI and asks her to help him find her. Too bad that he drops dead after drinking a mocha that she served him. Now Juliet is the prime suspect.

Murder over Mochas feels like the end of this humorous series. Questions are answered, and the long-simmering attraction between Pete and Juliet comes to a satisfactory conclusion.  I have enjoyed all the books and recommend it for a quick read with lots of laughs. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A Jimmy Vega Mystery #4
Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Suzanne Chazin has taken her personal experience with outreach to the immigrant population and her considerable writing skills to produce a stellar series on one of the "hot-button" issues of the day. Jimmy Vega is a Bronx-born Hispanic cop who now lives and works in the fictional upstate New York town of Lake Holly. After his involvement in the shooting of an unarmed man in the previous book, No Witness but the Moon, Jimmy is on desk duty and keeping his head down. His attempt to keep a low profile goes out the window when a teenage volunteer at the local outreach center, La Casa, goes missing and is found dead in the woods. La Casa is run by Jimmy's girlfriend, Harvard educated lawyer Adele Figueroa, so Jimmy can hardly avoid getting involved. Disaster strikes in the form of a botched surrender and Jimmy is assigned to be the driver for a local politician whose primary focus is immigrant bashing. Racial tensions in Lake Holly, always high, ratchet up to a level that threatens the peace of the community, and Jimmy's and Adele's relationship and careers.

A Place in the Wind takes us deep into the lives and hearts of two undocumented Guatemalan brothers, Wilfredo Martinez and Rolando Benitez. Wil has the protection of DACA, works multiple jobs, goes to school, dreams of becoming a doctor and tries to keep tabs on his brother. Rolando is wounded by his experiences, both in Guatemala and in the US and is a barely functional drunk. This case of the dead girl will throw both into the teeth of an unforgiving legal and immigration system. The characters in this series are extraordinarily well-rounded, and most of them from previous books make an appearance. A welcome addition is Mr. Zimmerman, Adele's elderly neighbor, who is much more than he appears to be. I highly recommend the Jimmy Vega Mysteries to fans of suspense and police procedurals that are firmly grounded in the events of today.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars