Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Delightful Debut Mystery from South Africa

Sally Andrew
November 3, 2015
Ecco Books

Coming in under the wire in 2015, Recipes for Love and Murder has risen to the top of my favorite list. I ran across a review and thought it might be something I might enjoy; food, love and murder in a place I have very little real knowledge of. It ticked all the boxes.

Tannie (a respectful Afrikaans address for ladies of a certain age) Maria is a widow living in a cottage on the veldt in South Africa. She has her chickens and her food for company and writes a recipe column for the local newspaper. The column has been very successful, but the syndication agency governing the paper has decreed that they want an advice column. Tannie Maria and her boss, Hattie, come up with the notion that advice and recipes can be combined, thereby pleasing both the big bosses and the readers. Tannie Maria doesn't think that she will be any good at giving advice but Hattie has confidence in her. One of the first letters she receives is from a woman living with a violently abusive husband. Tannie Maria lived for years in a very abusive marriage so the letter triggers unwelcome memories. She sends the woman a mutton curry recipe and advises her to make a plan to escape as soon as possible. When the woman is murdered, Tannie Maria is sure that the husband is guilty and goes to the police with what she knows. Of course, the solution is not so simple. Tannie Maria's knowledge and attempts at independent investigation place her and her friends in great danger. It's a good thing that the handsome police officer, Henk Kannemeyer, is determined to protect her.

Recipes for Love and Murder is a delight from beginning to end; packed with descriptions of the veldt and the life there. Marauding baboon packs and jackal's calls in the  night are not exactly a part of my daily experiences. The food descriptions are drool-worthy and are accompanied by liberal sprinklings of Afrikaans words and expressions. Tannie Maria was so wounded by her marriage that she has shut herself off from all notions of romantic love. All her love goes to her friends at work and into her cooking. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out; supportive Hattie, intrepid investigative reporter Jessie, the steady Kannemeyer, and many others spring to vivid life. The subject matter is serious but there are many humorous moments. The incident of the purple flowered dress comes to mind, for one. Watching Tannie Maria slowly open herself up to the possibility of love and trust was a pleasure I won't soon forget.

Now I think I may go out and get the ingredients for vetkoek and babootie from the extensive recipe collection provided at the end of the book! Highly Recommended!

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Twisted Tale from The Great North Woods

Sarah Graves
January 5, 2016
Bantam Books

The Girls She Left Behind begins 15 years ago on the mean streets of New Haven, CT. Two young cousins, Jane and Cam, make a mistake that has far reaching consequences. Jane is a bit of a goody-two-shoes who is often led astray by her "wild child" cousin, Cam. The two sneak away from their youth group meeting to go to an outdoor party in the park. When they leave the party they are abducted by a sexual predator and imprisoned in a basement with two other girls. Jane manages to escape and tells no one, believing that Cam is dead. But is she? And what about the other girls?

In the present day, Lizzie Snow is settling into her new job as a deputy in Bearkill, ME, on the edge of The Great North Woods. We left Lizzie (Winter at the Door) in a blizzard, in the midst of one of the worst winters on record. Now the area is suffering from extreme drought and fighting widespread wildfires. Bearkill itself is threatened and local manpower is stretched to the limit. When a local girl goes missing, Lizzie is just about the only one available to search. The girl has gone missing before and showed up unharmed, and her mother is oddly unforthcoming. Lizzie has a bad feeling about this disappearance, though. Maybe it is her ongoing search for her lost niece that has her spooked, but Lizzie doesn't think so. Strange people and connections to the earlier New Haven case keep popping up as well.

The Girls She Left Behind is a very dark look into the effects of sexual crimes on the victims. Secrets and revenge play a part in those effects and lead to a pulse-pounding conclusion. The Lizzie Snow Series is one that I greatly enjoy, but it is by no means cozy or light reading. I highly recommend The Girls She Left Behind for thriller and suspense fans. Thanks to NetGalley and Bantam for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Downton Abbeyish" Mystery Set in Aftermath of World War I

Alyssa Maxwell
December 29, 2015
Kensington Books

I was delighted to receive a copy of Allyssa Maxwell's new mystery set in England in the immediate aftermath of WWI. I had greatly enjoyed her series set in Gilded Age Newport, RI Murder at the Breakers, Murder at Marble House, Murder at Beechwood). They seemed to me well-researched and were populated with fully formed and believable characters. I wish I could say the same for Murder Most Malicious.

Set in the large country house of Lord Wroxley, the story takes place at Christmas in the immediate aftermath of WWI. Lady Phoebe, 19-year-old second granddaughter of the house, overhears a heated argument between her icy older sister, Lady Julia, and a houseguest, Lord Allerton. It is clear that Lord Allerton is a cad and the expected engagement between the two will never happen. The next morning, Boxing Day, dawns with the discovery that Lord Allerton is missing from the house. Later in the day, some very unpleasant inclusions are found in the Christmas boxes of several servants and villagers. The search for the body of Lord Allerton is unsuccessful, but it appears that he must be dead. When a footman falls under suspicion, Lay Phoebe and her maid, Eva, join forces to clear his name.

I found it very difficult to keep the large cast of characters sorted and kept putting the book down in sheer frustration. All the country house mystery tropes were trotted out; the bumbling village policeman, the eccentric houseguests, the rakish valet and the martinet housekeeper. This was an uncorrected proof, which I usually take into account when reviewing. Hopefully, errors get corrected before publication, but there were a couple  in the early part of the book that seemed to betray a lack of knowledge and research that I couldn't overlook. Finishing the book was a struggle. I don't require a mystery that keeps me guessing, but I do need characters that seem real to me. Other than Lady Phoebe and Eva, such characters are not present.

I wish I could recommend Murder Most Malicious. It was a great disappointment to me, especially after Maxwell's earlier Gilded Age mysteries. Those I do recommend highly to fans of historical mysteries. Thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING-2 Stars

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

EMPTY NEST (Birds of a Feather # 2)
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
December 1, 2015

Long-time travel and gardening writer Marty Wingate has branched out in the past couple of years and produced not one but two utterly charming series; The Potting Shed Mysteries and Birds of a Feather Mysteries. I have had hours of enjoyment from each series and Empty Nest does not disappoint. It is a feast for the unashamed Anglophile. Julia Lanchester, daughter of famed environmentalist and birder, Rupert Lanchester, is settling into her new position as head of tourism for the Fotheringill Estate. Her relationship with her father's assistant, Michael Sedgewick, is going well despite frequent job-related separations. Her only problems are her mold contaminated cottage and Lord Fotheringill's evident infatuation with her. She has been bunking at the Hall while the cottage is being decontaminated and longs to get back her own place. When Lord Fotheringill's son Cecil arrives unexpectedly with an obnoxious friend in tow, things begin to go downhill fast. Cecil shows every sign that he would like to get rid of Julia and sets up roadblocks to her every plan. The new estate manager seems to be set against her as well. A murder at the Hall makes things even more complicated.

Empty Nest  has wonderful descriptions of the countryside and village life, lots of birding and environmental lore and many of the wonderful characters we met in the previous book, The Rhyme of the Magpie. The addition of a very twisted mystery and a little romantic spice make for a very enjoyable read. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars