Monday, February 29, 2016

Mayhem Old and New in the Garden

Potting Shed Mysteries # 4
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
March 15, 2016

Texas transplant Pru Parke and her new husband, Christopher Pearse are settling down for the first year of their marriage on the country estate of Pru's former employer. The owners have offered them the estate while they are off on an archeological dig. Christopher has resigned his position as a CID Inspector in London and taken a position as a sort of village community policeman. Pru is still working on landscaping the estate along with her long-lost brother, Simon. Things are not going very well with Simon, who is still resentful that their mother gave him up for adoption while Pru had the advantage of growing up with both parents. Simon understands the reasons for the adoption and admits that he had a very happy childhood but relations are tense with Pru. The tension puts them at loggerheads over both the landscaping and their personal lives. When a skeleton turns up in the garden, a skeleton buried along with a WWII fighter plane, many old secrets threaten the peace of the village. Simon becomes edgier when an old resident of the village comes home after years away and stirs up bad memories for someone. The newly returned man turns up dead as well in the crater in the garden where the skeleton and plane were found. Chris does not want to interfere but his police superior seems not only incapable of conducting a murder investigation but downright obstructive at times. 

The Potting Shed Mysteries are wonderful cozy mysteries. As an Anglophile, I am always glad to add to my store of "Britishisms" which abound in the series. I think I have learned more about gardening in general than I ever knew before, which was admittedly very little. Marty Wingate is a well-known gardening expert and it shows to advantage in this series. There is plenty of humor as well, especially with Pru's attempts at cooking, a skill she has never mastered. The secondary characters are well realized, often quirky, and the setting is a place I would love to visit. I recommend The Skeleton Garden highly, along with its' predecessors. Brew up a cuppa and enjoy!

Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Art and Publishing Intersect with Murder

Judith Flanders
St. Martins Minotaur
March 1, 2016

I was delighted to have the opportunity to read the second book in the Sam Clair Mystery series, as I enjoyed the first, A Murder of Magpies, so much. Sam Clair is a 40ish editor in a British publishing house. Witty, sarcastic and endlessly curious, Sam never lets go when she gets a problem between her teeth. This time, the problem starts when she has lunch with an old friend and former lover, art dealer Aidan Merriam. The very morning of the lunch Aidan discovered the body of his partner in business, Frank Compton. The Yard thinks the death was probably a suicide, but will be tearing the gallery's business dealings apart before a decision is made. Aidan is afraid that something may be wrong with the business that he knows nothing about. Of course, the investigating officer is Jake Field, Sam's new boyfriend and part-time live-in. Jake wants to keep her out of the investigation, especially after Sam was nearly killed in A Murder of Magpies. No such luck, though, since Sam is determined to help her friend. The discovery of another dead body, one who had connections to the gallery, just cements her resolve; Jake's misgivings or not.

Sam's terrifyingly efficient barrister mother, Helena, is back, managing her daughter and just about everyone else she meets. Whatever slack she leaves is handled by Miranda, Sam's goth assistant. In the end, it is Sam's somewhat arcane publishing knowledge that solves the crime, but the clues are plentiful if one looks for them. Having worked in bookselling and publishing for years, I find this series especially delightful. The politics, attitudes and mechanics of the industry (endless meetings, insane scheduling, etc.) are spot-on. Sam's voice is one that I can relate to as well as her love of books. I didn't find A Bed Of Scorpions quite as funny as A Murder of Magpies but the excellent characterization and well-plotted mystery more than made up for fewer laughs. I would recommend Sam Clair to anyone with an interest in publishing and crime, with a little romance to spice it up. 

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins Minotaur for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, February 7, 2016

THE BIG BRUSH-OFF (Jake & Laura Mystery #4)
Michael Murphy
Random House Alibi
February 9, 2016

Everything seems to be going Laura's way in her acting career. She has a couple of big movies under her belt and is in demand for even more prestigious projects. On the other hand, Jake's writing career is in danger. Despite several best-sellers his editor, Mildred, feels that Jake has lost touch with his gumshoe hero, Blackie Doyle. She has rejected his rough draft of the first few chapters of a new book and demanded a re-write. He has one chance to prove himself or lose his contract with Empire Publishing.

Jake thinks that returning to his roots as a Pinkerton Detective may give him the boost that he needs. One case has always been at the back of his mind; that of teenage Katie Caldwell. Katie was murdered in her own bedroom ten years earlier. Jake had worked on the case then but was called away when his father suffered a stroke. Now Katie's mother is asking him to take another look.There were plenty of  suspects at the time, most of whom are still around in the small town of Hanover, PA. Jake and Laura hop a train to Hanover, but surprisingly, no one is very interested in solving the case and some are actively opposed.

Anyone with a weakness for the screwball comedies and crime films of the 1930's (like me) should enjoy the Jake and Laura Mysteries. The couple is very well off in an era when most Americans are not, but neither has forgotten their hard-scrabble beginnings. They are well aware of how lucky they have both been. The Big Brush-Off is well grounded with lots of period detail and two likable protagonists, and a mystery with plenty of twists and turns. I highly recommend the series for fans of historical mysteries and those who enjoy "Nick and Nora Charles" type banter.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars