Tuesday, July 31, 2018

All around the Town

Peg Cochran
Random House Alibi
July 31, 2018

Elizabeth Adams is 22, a graduate of Wellesley, and made her Society Debut at the Waldorf. Her cautious father managed to keep the family money mostly intact, so they haven't suffered as others have in the Great Depression.  She also aspires to be a professional photographer and has taken a job at the NY Trumpet. So far, she has been relegated to "girl Friday" duties for the snooty Society Editor. No one at the paper knows about her background, and she hasn't told her friends. Her mother is horrified and her distant father, bemused. Things start to change when the scruffy veteran reporter, Kaminsky, asks if she knows how to use a camera. He needs a photographer to cover the coming-out ball for Gloria DeWitt, the "it-girl" debutante of 1938. When a murder takes place at the ball, Elizabeth is in the thick of things. Gloria DeWitt is a suspect, and due to an unfortunate photograph Elizabeth took, she threatens to have Elizabeth ostracized in society. Elizabeth may want a different life but is not ready to lose her friends.

Kaminsky likes Elizabeth's photos and attitude, taking her under his wing and even giving her a nickname, "Biz." Biz may have lived in Manhattan all her life, but the story takes her into places she has never seen, from Mulberry Street to the Aqueduct Racecourse, and into seamier areas of the city. She visits long-forgotten establishments like Horn and Hardart and even tastes her first Italian food, courtesy of handsome police detective, Sal Marino. Biz is naive but approaches everything with an open heart and mind. No doubt her childhood case of polio contributed to her attitude. She escaped with only a slight limp but made friends of all backgrounds during her extended hospitalization. Biz knows what is really important in life, making her a very likable heroine.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, July 30, 2018

Last Call at Mac's Bar?

LAST CALL (Mac's Bar Mystery # 6)
Allyson K. Abbott
Kensington Books
July 31, 2018

Mac Dalton is using her unusual talents as a consultant to the Milwaukee Police Department. After much skepticism, the police are grudgingly convinced that she can be of help to them in their investigations. Mac has a neurological condition called synesthesia; she perceives sights, sounds, and smells differently from most people. For example, she "tastes" the sound of detective and significant other, Duncan Albright's voice as the flavor of dark chocolate. Mac has helped him with investigations, but never with department approval. Mac is still actively managing and living above the bar left to her by her father but is glad to use her condition to help others. Synesthesia has never been easy to cope with, especially as a child. Her regular bar patrons, members of the "Capone Club," a group of crime enthusiasts, have always encouraged her to use her abilities.

Her first day on the job calls Duncan and Mac to the scene of a shooting, that of a somewhat shady businessman. Mac's feels that something is going on in the house that isn't visible to the eye and her perceptions lead her to a hidden room. Inside, they find a little girl, one who appears to live there. There are no signs of abuse, but the girl is non-verbal. Mac's interactions with the girl indicate that she is autistic and might possibly be a fellow synesthete. Other signs at the scene suggest that Mal Reynolds, a friend, and an undercover cop was at the shooting, but where is he now? Mal was undercover investigating a construction company; one that the dead man was also working for.

Last Call feels like the final book in the Mac's Bar series. I have enjoyed most of the books, primarily for the portrayal of Mac's condition. It's a condition I was only vaguely aware of, and it's a fascinating one; one that I am happy to not have. Mack barely escaped being institutionalized as a child because her widower father refused to let that happen. Mac's affinity for the little girl is entirely understandable in that context. However, I have always had difficulty keeping the multiple ongoing characters distinguished and even more were introduced in this book. It is time to bring the series to an end, and Last Call wraps it up well.

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

RATING- 3 Stars

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Any sort of evil can occur in an English village

A Beryl and Edwina Mystery #1
Jessica Ellicott
Kensington Books, Recorded Books
October 31st, 2017

It's 1920 in England, the Great War is over, but it's devastating effects are still widespread and deeply felt. Beryl Helliwell, much-married and divorced aviatrix and adventurer has returned from her latest headline-grabbing escapade but is feeling at loose ends. While perusing the newspaper, she discovers an advertisement for a lodger in the home of Edwina Davenport in the quiet village of Walmsley Parva. Beryl may be an American, but she went to boarding school in England, and Edwina was her dearest friend. Beryl knows that nothing other than dire financial emergency would induce the spinster Edwina to place such an advertisement. It's Beryl to the rescue in her flashy red touring car. Besides, a bucolic village might be just the place for a rest. As all devotees of Miss Marple know, just about any evil can happen in an English village.

Edwina's finances are as dire as Beryl suspected but still worse is the fact that the entire village knows it. The family home is deteriorating, she has had to let her already minimal help go except for an aging gardener, and she owes money to all the village shops. Beryl's solution is to settle Edwina's accounts and along the way spread the rumor that both she and Edwina are agents of the crown to the worst gossip in the village. This wacky tale backfires, however, when Edwina is attacked while out walking her dog. Who could have swallowed the wild tale whole and is afraid of what Edwina might know? Edwina thinks that it may be connected to the disappearance of a "Land Girl" working on a neighboring estate during the war. The local constable wrote it off as female flightiness, but Edwina pressed the issue as long as she could. The young woman in question had never shown any signs of irresponsibility. Bodies and suspects begin to pile up, with more possible motives than can be counted.

Murder in an English Village is a delightful and often humorous cozy mystery. Edwina and Beryl are opposites in so many ways but still fast friends who complement each other. Well-grounded in historical fact, the novel takes a look at the many changes in social mores occurring at the time and lingering class-based prejudices. Barbara Rosenblat narrates the story with her mostly seamless switching between Beryl's American and Edwina's British voices. I am looking forward to more of the adventures of these ladies of a "certain age." 

RATING- 4.5 Stars

The Course of True Love....

The Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite # 3
Kate Hewitt
Tule Publishing
July 16, 2018

Rachel Holley, one of four vicar's daughters in the village of Thornthwaite has always dreamed of the perfect wedding followed by the perfect life with lots of kids, a big home, and a dog. All that seems to be coming true until the night before the wedding, when her fiance, Dan, calls it off. Dan doesn't think that she really loves him. Rachel finds herself almost penniless after the wedding expenses, heartbroken, and soon to be homeless because her parents are moving to China to do mission work. Rachel is blindsided by it all, but somehow, her sisters and parents are not all that surprised. Rachel and her youngest sister, the footloose Miriam need to find a flat right away. Rachel finds one above the village's "rougher" pub, The Bell. The landlord, Sam West, is undeniably attractive, but more than a little taciturn and forbidding. As Rachel gets to know him better and sees him working hard at the pub and trying to raise his challenging nephew, Nathan, she sees him in a very different light. Rachel is Nathan's primary school teacher and becomes involved in his home care. Nathan has problems that need to be addressed clinically, but Sam is resistant for some reason.

I was not aware that A Vicarage Wedding is third in a projected four-book series but Kate Hewitt manages to paint a picture of the whole Holley family in a few words. I got to know them all without having to read the previous two books. I will be reading them, however, very soon. Rachel's journey to a better understanding of herself and what true love looks and feels like made for a most enjoyable afternoon and evening's read. Thanks to NetGalley and Tule Publishing for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Intrigue Front and Backstage

Sam Clair # 4
Judith Flanders
St. Martin's Minotaur
May 15, 2018

Sam Clair finds herself knee-deep in backstage intrigue when she and her boyfriend, a Scotland Yard detective attend a West End play, staged by famous director Campbell Davison. Her upstairs neighbors, Kay and Anthony, have small parts. Even their six-year-old, Bim, has a role in the play. Sam knows that the theater piece is called The Spanish Tragedy and is replete with gore, death, and revenge. The play more than lives up to its reputation when the final body is displayed, suspended from the rafters. The body is not a dummy, but the famous director himself. Campbell Davison was not universally loved, but who among the cast and crew might have hated him so much?

I always look forward to a new Sam Clair mystery. She is a bright and witty book editor in London and a grown-up in her mid-forties. Part of the series' enjoyment is Sam's somewhat jaded view of the publishing industry with its never-ending meetings, sales conferences, and maneuvering for position. The other attractions include the ongoing characters: Kay and Anthony, their son Bim, Jake the detective boyfriend, Sam's terrifyingly efficient mother, Helena, and Sam's other neighbor, the reclusive Mr. Rudiger. A Howl of Wolves is perhaps not as laugh-out-loud funny as some of the earlier books but still a fun and engaging read.

RATING-3.5 Stars

Friday, July 6, 2018

Some Things Never Change....

THE RIGHT JACK (Sigrid Harald # 4)
Margaret Maron
Oconee Spirit Press
May 1, 2013 (originally published 1987)

Lt. Sigrid Harald becomes involved in an investigation of a bombing at a cribbage tournament held in a posh NY boutique hotel. Her partner, Detective Tilden, "Tillie," was competing in the tournament and was severely injured. Further complicating matters, Sigrid was badly hurt the same evening taking down a serial rapist. She wants to handle the investigation herself, but since a US Naval Commander is also among the injured, the Navy sends in an assistant. Her look into the lives of the dead and living victims sends her way back to the days of the Students for a Democratic Society and the Weathermen, an era that I remember very well. 

All the elements that I have enjoyed in Margaret Maron's novels are on full display here; vivid characters, a sense of place and time, and a complicated heroine. It's clear Maron knows and loves NYC as she does her home state of North Carolina in the Deborah Knott series. The Sigrid Harald series was written back in the 80's and 90's and has not been updated. That means no DNA, nationwide databases, and communicating by landlines and payphones. Sigrid solves crime by pure digging and putting the pieces together. Somehow they remain timely, however. I was particularly struck by the following passage:

"When villages full of babies were carpet-bombed in Vietnam, where were the right-to-lifers? When babies starve all over Africa, when babies go hungry in our own rat-infested slums, where are all these so-called life-lovers? They care nothing about the quality of life once a baby's born, just that it gets born. They're so sure God's on their side!"

Some things never seem to change. But Sigrid herself is changing, building a support network and family of sorts, sometimes in spite of herself. I started reading the Sigrid Harald series quite a while back and somehow lost track of it but will be reading more. Especially since Maron has declared her most recent book, Take Out, also featuring Sigrid, to be her last.

RATING- 4.5 Stars