Sunday, August 7, 2022

A "Witches Brew" of a Cozy Mystery

 

STEEPED TO DEATH
A Witches' Brew Mystery #1
Gretchen Rue
Crooked Lane Books
September 6, 2022



Sometimes a reader needs a break from the darker side of mayhem and murder and suspend disbelief for a few hours. The first in a new cozy series, Steeped to Death, fits the bill exactly. A picturesque small town, a gutsy heroine amid a life change, a companion cat, and a touch of magic are all present. 

Phoebe Winchester is coming out of a divorce from her philandering husband when her beloved Aunt Eudora dies, leaving her a large Victorian house in the tourist-based village of Ravens Creek, WA. Along with the house comes Aunt Eudora's used bookshop/tea shop, the Earl's Study, and a companion ginger cat named Bob. Eudora was known for her sense of adventure and ability to blend unique teas with possibly magical qualities. In fact, many residents of Ravens Creek think she was a witch. Phoebe doesn't believe that for a moment since she spent many childhood summers with Eudora and saw no evidence of magic. 

Everyone seems welcoming to Phoebe, except for Dierdre Miller, who accosts her at every turn. Dierdre wants to buy the house and business and doesn't accept "No" as an answer. Then there is Owen, owner of a shoe store nearby who doesn't miss an opportunity to insult her, and The Earl's Study. On the other hand, Phoebe meets a childhood friend, Rich Lofting (formerly Ricky), now a handsome P.I. living in an apartment over The Earl's Study. When Phoebe finds a dead body outside her store and she is being stalked, she doesn't know who to trust. Even stranger, it seems that Aunt Eudora might have been a witch after all, and Phoebe might have inherited her abilities and some of her own.

Steeped to Death is a promising beginning to a new series, one that is very enjoyable. Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars


Saturday, August 6, 2022

A Long Ago Retreat Haunts Its Particpants


 THE RISING TIDE
 Vera Stanhope #10
 Ann Cleeves
 Minotaur Books
 September 6, 2022



Ann Cleeves' newest Vera Stanhope mystery reaches back into the past for the motive behind a series of murders. Fifty years ago, a group of students at Kimmerston Grammar, brought together by their teacher, had a sort of retreat on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and formed strong bonds that have lasted a lifetime. Five have gathered on the island every five years for a reunion. Those meeting this October include Rick Kelsall, a celebrity journalist whose career has come to a screeching halt by accusations of sexual harassment from an intern. There is also Annie Laidler, co-owner of a successful bakery/deli in Kimmerston; Philip Robson, an Anglican priest; Ken Hampton, a successful head-teacher now suffering from Alzheimer's, and his wife, Louise. Holy Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway, inundated by the rising tide once a day. On the first reunion, Isobel Hall left the island in a temper when the tide rose and was swept away in her small car. She is much remembered by the remaining group.

Vera has had no cases for a while that challenged her, so when news of a possible suicide on Holy Island reaches her, she secretly hopes for a murder. Rick Kelsall is dead, found hanging in his room by Annie. Rick had been surprisingly upbeat with his career in shambles, talking about new projects, including a novel. It does look like a suicide, but the postmortem shows that Rick was smothered with a pillow and strung up. This investigation, with the wives, ex-wives, friends, and the now-retired teacher who brought them together, will prove to be the most dangerous and tragic of her career. All her team is involved, particularly Holly and Joe Ashworth. Even the upstanding police commissioner, Katherine Willmore, has a connection to the group, making the case more political than usual.

The Holy Island, with its dangerous tides, mists, and the sound of foghorns, is almost a character on its own. Who, among this group of seemingly respectable seniors, is a dangerous killer, willing to do anything to keep the secrets of the past? The Rising Tide is a masterpiece of plotting, keeping me guessing until the end. The end itself is shockingly unexpected and may portend some changes for the irascible Vera. Ann Cleeves continues to provide mysteries that are not only puzzles but investigations into the human heart.

Thanks to Netgalley.com and Minotaur for an advance digital copy, The opinions are my own.

RATING  4 Stars

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

And then the Pooch Showed up with a Human Leg!!!



FLIGHT RISK ( The Booking Agents #2)
Cherie Priest
Atria Books
November 1, 2022



Seattle's only psychic/travel agent, Leda Foley, has her hands full when she is hired to find Dan Matarese's sister, Robin Reddick, who has gone missing. Not only Robin is missing, but also her vintage orange Volvo and thirty thousand dollars in her employer's money. Robin has worked as a landscaping architect for a large construction company. Her specialty is lessening the environmental impact, and she is completely trusted. When Dan contacts Robin's husband, college professor Paul Reddick, Paul is supremely unconcerned, saying that she is probably just on a get-away. Brother Dan is not convinced. Neither he, his other sister, or Robin's son have heard anything from her in more than a month.

Meanwhile, Detective Grady Merritt  (Leda's sometime collaborator) has his own case to deal with. He and his teenage daughter, Molly, are on an outing with their dog at Mt. Ranier. Cairo, the dog, goes bounding off into the brush and disappears. Molly and Grady are passing out flyers at the visitor's center when Cairo comes back....with a human leg in his mouth. Immediately called "Mr. Leg," DNA testing shows it belongs to Paul Reddick, the missing Robin's philandering husband. So Leda's and Grady's cases intersect once again. Grady has become a true believer after Leda booked him on an ill-fated flight and then canceled the ticket because she had one of her "feelings." The plane crashed on take-off. Leda is not always consistent in her predictions but has honed her skills. She does an occasional karaoke show at a neighborhood bar, The Castaways. Billed as The Psychic Songstress, she has become quite a draw. Finding out what happened to Robin and the whys and hows of "Mr. Leg" landing in a tree is a tall order.

I have been a fan of Cherie Priest since reading her award-winning Steampunk fantasy, Boneshaker, several years ago. She writes in several genres, always with flair and humor. Likable, quirky characters and laugh-out-loud dialogue make Flight Risk and its predecessor, Grave Reservations, winning and most enjoyable reads.





 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Missing Persons, a Mystery Writer, and very Bad Men





AUGUSTA HAWKE
G.M. Malliet
Severn House
July 6, 2022


I've read quite a few of G.M.Malliet's books and always appreciated her ability to use humor to such good effect and her deft plotting. Most of her whodunnits are set in the UK, and she created the perfect English village in her Max Tudor mysteries. I've read quite a few of G.M.Malliet's books and always appreciated her ability to use humor to such good effect and her deft plotting. Most of her whodunnits are set in the UK, and she created the perfect English village in her Max Tudor mysteries. Augusta Hawke, however, is set in the Washington DC area in Georgetown. Augusta is a successful mystery writer, with 18 novels to her credit. She is widowed, living in an upscale townhouse community. She is intensely private and organized, knowing little about her neighbors. Like many such developments in America, people come and go, keeping themselves to themselves. She does take some interest in the young couple living directly across from her. Zora and Niko Norman are a handsome pair with an almost-year-old baby. It's not that she watches them purposely, but they have no curtains, and she is home almost all the time. Plus, she is stalled on novel #19. 


When the perfect couple goes missing, the dishy Detective Narducci asks what Augusta knows about them. She realizes that she is probably the only one who knows there is trouble in the Norman marriage. Augusta saw a heated argument through the window and heard a shriek from who she thought must be Zora. Augusta doesn't want to be stereotyped as nosy, so she doesn't tell Narducci at that time. Instead, she contacts Zora's mother at the downtown DC gallery she owns. The baby is safe, and Zora's parents never liked or trusted Niko. Augusta enlists Misaki Nelson, a retired lawyer, in her search for the Normans. The two are off to the races. A sleazy PI (and true crime writer) involves himself in their investigation as well. Detective Narducci is decidedly not happy. There are moments of wry humor, hilarity, and great danger before they find the missing Normans. The only negative is an overly quick wrap-up.


Some people don't enjoy the first-person narrative, but I enjoyed being in Augusta's head. She is unique and fearless. I hope there are more novels to come. I like Augusta, and new opportunities open up in her life, which has been stagnant. Thanks to NetGalley and Severn Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.


RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, July 4, 2022

And then Covid-19 Comes at You.


 THE LOCKED ROOM
 Ruth Galloway #14
 Elly Griffiths
 Mariner Books, Audible
 June 28, 2022


The Dr. Ruth Galloway series has become one of my favorites since I discovered them several years ago. Dr. Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist specializing in bones, a college professor, and a single mother of an 11-year-old daughter, Kate. She lives in a cottage on the wind-swept marshes of Norfolk. Ruth's mother, Jean, died five years ago, and she is going through her belongings at her father's request. She finds an old photograph of her cottage, a place that Jean hated and refused to stay in overnight. On the back is a notation, "Dawn, 1963." Ruth is determined to find out the meaning of the photograph. Upon arriving home, she finds that she has a new neighbor with whom she feels an immediate connection. The woman is a nurse, a bit older than Ruth, named Zoe.

Ruth's plans go out of her head when Covid-19 goes from a rumor to a full-fledged crisis. Everything gets locked down, and the country is brought to a standstill. DCI Harry Nelson, the father of Ruth's child, Kate, finds himself working with a skeleton crew. His right hand, Judy, has to quarantine when her husband, Cathbad, is one of the earliest victims and goes almost immediately into intensive care. Nelson has a series of deaths of middle-aged women. They are all labeled as suicides, but Nelson is sure they are murders. He doesn't have the manpower to investigate as he might but enlists Ruth to nose around. Besides, his wife, Michelle, is stranded in Blackpool with her mother. Nelson ends up on Ruth's doorstep. Again. Another thread of mystery is the story is a woman locked in an underground room, starving and being encouraged to use a handful of pills to end her ordeal.

Reading The Locked Room brought back all the uncertainty and anxiety of the early days of Covid-19. I was fearful for Cathbad, one of my favorite characters. So many died in the earliest days when even medical science was at a loss. When the murderer of the women was exposed, I was also reminded of the evil men can do without even trying very hard. We are left with a bit of a cliffhanger as far as the relationship between Nelson and Ruth goes. Nelson seems to be growing (somewhat) as a human being, but.....

I highly recommend The Ruth Galloway Series for lovers of intricate, atmospheric mysteries, peopled by distinctive characters.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Assassins to Remember



 KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books
September 6,2022


Deanna Raybourn takes a leap into the present day
with this intelligent and action-packed new book, and may I say, she hits it out of the park. Anyone who has read her successful Lady Julia and Veronica Speedwell Series knows that her heroines are sophisticated and competent yet rooted in the Victorian Era. The ladies are anything but shrinking violets. But they would have never imagined a foursome like this!

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie first met when recruited by a shadowy, non-governmental agency called The Museum. The Museum was started by US and British former agents, disgruntled by so many Nazis who were allowed to escape justice after World War II. They had managed to clean up many of them before the seventies when they moved their efforts to more familiar, garden-variety tinpot dictators, drug dealers, murderers, and the like. The women became assassins, often working as a team, the first female team in Museum history. They each had their own specialty; Billie, for instance, is accomplished in hand-to-hand combat. Billie also tells the story in Killers of a Certain Age. They came from widely divergent backgrounds but naturally developed a close relationship, having kept themselves alive in dangerous circumstances. Now, they have all entered their sixties, and retirement beckons. The Museum wants to send them on a luxury cruise together as a thank-you with a retirement package meant to keep them in comfort for the rest of their lives. However, much to their surprise, they are the targets of a young assassin, one from their own former employer. The chase to find out why they have been targeted and how to get the mark removed makes up the rest of this bang-up thriller. It's not easy, but none of these women have lost their skills. Or their desire to settle some old scores.

Killers of a Certain Age jumps back and forth in time, revisiting their training days and various missions they have done together and separately. I especially enjoyed their defeats of younger agents, often dependent on technology, using more "old-fashioned" methods. It's tremendous fun, and I couldn't put it down. The Museum should have known better. 

RATING- 5 Stars




Thursday, June 2, 2022

Mayhem, Murder and Apple Cider



 ROTTEN TO THE CORE
Lady Hardcastle Mystery # 8
T. E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
June 7, 2022



It's 1911 in the English countryside and the hottest one 
anyone can remember. The people of the small market town of Littleton Cotterell are planning for an early harvest and the obligatory Harvest Festival. As usual, Lady Hardcastle and her maid/sidekick/friend Flo Armstrong are knee-deep in the planning, whether they want to be or not. They stroll down to the local pub one hot evening and find everyone at tables outside. When they go inside to order, they find a group of men gathered. These are the " Weryers of The Pomary" or the Cider Wardens. The organization has been around for hundreds of years, doing "good works" and holding much sway in the area. Lady Hardcastle and Flo think it to be just another eccentric feature of rural life. Until the next day, they learn that one of the Wardens has been murdered. When Wardens are murdered, one by one, their friend, Inspector Sunderland, asks them to become involved. They soon find that much more is going on than is ever mentioned in "polite" conversation. Those unmentioned things nearly get them killed.

Rotten To The Core is delightful, full of humor, and clever repartee. I always know I will be immersed in a few hours of pure enjoyment. A quote from Agatha Christie, "In an English village, you turn over a stone and have no idea what will crawl out," always comes to mind when reading this series. T.E. Kinsey owes much to Miss Marple, but Lady Hardcastle and Flo are much more fun. The characters, like their friend, Daisy the barmaid, Inspector Sunderland, and the Farley-Strouds add an extra bit of laughter to the mix. I highly recommend starting with the first in the series, A Quiet Life in the Country, to discover more about Lady Hardcastle and Flo's adventures in the years before the country life.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars