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Newsletter #100 December, 2012 February, 2013

by Elizabeth LaVelle

        The Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch is a great combination of urban fantasy and police procedural, set in modern-day London with lots of action, a decidedly British sense of humor, and a refreshingly diverse cast of character. Police constable Peter Grant hails from the Peckwater housing estate; his mum is from Sierra Leone, and works as a cleaning lady; his dad comes from a long line of cockney geezers, and used to be a notable jazz trumpeter. In Midnight Riot ($7.99), Peter has just completed his two-year probationary period, and appears to be destined, much to his dismay, for the unit that takes care of all the paperwork. All that changes one freezing night when he interviews a murder witness who turns out to be a ghost. He finds himself assigned to DCI Nightingale, the last remaining member of a Met division that doesn't officially exist: a magic practitioner who is called in on all the 'special' cases. Peter becomes his apprentice, and with some help from Peter's classmate, PC Leslie May, they set out to stop a revenant spirit from London folklore who's jumping from host to host, leaving a trail of corpses and mayhem in his wake. And they also have to sort out a territorial dispute between Mother Thames, who started life as a Nigerian immigrant, and has controlled the tidal part of the river since the 1960s, and Father Thames, who dates back to Roman times and controls the freshwater part of the river. Moon over Soho ($7.99) begins with the sudden death of a jazz musician. Peter hears an old jazz standard coming from the corpse, a sure sign that magic was involved, and the dead man's brain shows familiar damage: someone or something used the man's brain as a power source for their magic. The investigation turns up other recent deaths in the jazz community, same damage. Jazz vampires, anyone? We get to see more of Peter's mum and dad as Peter works the jazz end of the case. And a second string of unusual crimes leads to what Peter refers to as the Strip Club of Doctor Moreau, and puts Peter and Nightingale on the trail of an ethically challenged magic practitioner (Peter naturally objects to Nightingale calling the evildoer a 'black magician') - or possibly a group of them. In Whispers Under Ground ($7.99), a young man is found dead in the Baker Street Underground Station shortly before Christmas, stabbed with what turns out to be a piece of pottery with 'special' qualities. There's no record of the young man on any of the CCTV footage, so how did he get there? And the victim was the son of a US Senator, which brings a very inquisitive FBI agent to London to observe the investigation. Peter and Leslie (now apprenticed to Nightingale, although officially still on medical leave) work with DCI Seawoll's murder team on the case, even as they and Nightingale continue the search for the rogue magician who almost killed Peter in book 2. This book was the most fun yet; in addition to Peter's humorous observations about British architecture, clueless drivers, and life in the Metropolitan police, it's full of pop culture references to delight the geek soul, from Tolkien to Blackadder to Pratchett to Call of Cthulhu. I'm really looking forward to reading more of these (the author has contracts through book 6 so far).

        The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters ($9.99): When a freak accident at the Copenhagen airport puts Margaret Rosenberg's secretary in the hospital, Elizabeth Jones is delighted to abandon her vacation plans and fill in. After all, Margaret is her favorite writer, famous for well-researched historical novels. Then Margaret disappears. Is this another of the eccentric writer's escapades, as her handsome, stuffy son Christian thinks? Or has she been kidnapped? A note demanding Margaret's bathrobe only adds to the confusion as Elizabeth and Christian try to figure out what's going on. Peters has a lot of fun with one of her favorite themes - older characters refusing to be stifled by younger companions - as the various plot twists unfold.

        Christine and Christopher Russell's Warrior Sheep books (ages 9 and up, $6.99 each) are perfect for fans of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, with the same sense of humor and wacky but consistent internal logic. The five rare breed sheep live on a farm in England, with Ida White and her great-grandson Tod. The Quest of the Warrior Sheep begins when an object falls mysteriously from the sky, bonking Sal on the head. The sheep are convinced this is a sign; an ancient ovine prophecy is being fulfilled, and they must go North (to Scotland, perhaps?) on a mission to aid Lord Aries, Sheep of all Sheepdom, in his battle against Lambad the Bad. In fact, the mysterious object is a cell phone dropped by a couple of bank robbers who will do anything to get it back, so you know the woolly warriors are going to face some trouble along the way. As it turns out, the robbers are going to face even more. The Warrior Sheep Go West after another strange occurrence convinces them they must once again act to save all Sheepdom from a deadly threat foretold in the Songs of the Fleece. The prophecy specifies a land of hot sun and scorching winds, so not Wales then, but the American West. How are they going to get there? Fortuitously, some villainous humans have just arrived at the farm. They have a plan to take the sheep to the U.S. for their own nefarious purposes - and they're going to be amazed at how quickly their plan falls apart. In The Warrior Sheep Down Under, a surfing, bungee-jumping, white-water-rafting Antipodean adventure awaits the five heroic sheep. With only a very crooked fairy godmother to guide them, they set out to rescue Tuftella, the fairest ewe maiden of them all, who is locked away in a tall tower surrounded by a moat full of monsters.

        The Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer feature Sherlock and Mycroft's much younger sister ($6.99 each, ages 8 and up according to the publisher, I'd say early teens and up, due to discussion of some of the grittier facts of life in Victorian London). Enola has a very appealing combination of intelligence, practicality, and derring-do, and in each case, the success of her investigation hinges on things she notices and understands that older male detectives miss, and on her ability to decipher an encoded message. Also, the books are full of historical detail, particularly about the rigors of life in the London slums, and the narrow confines of acceptable behavior for upper-class women. In The Case of the Missing Marquess, when her mother disappears from their country home on her fourteenth birthday, Enola sends word to her brothers in the city. But when they arrive, they mostly seem concerned with forcing Enola to wear corsets and proper lady-like clothing, and packing her off to boarding school at the end of the summer. Her mother left some coded messages and a great deal of hidden money for Enola, so since her brothers' plans don't suit her at all, Enola decides to run away, and head for London. Along the way, she passes an estate where a duke's young son has gone missing, kidnapped, his parents think, but Enola discovers signs that he has run away. And she begins to realize she might make a career of finding things. In The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, Enola has settled in London under an assumed name, become adept at the art of disguise (particularly padding to make herself look older), and invented a fictitious male employer for her investigation business: Dr. Ragostin, Scientific Perditorian. She undertakes to find a missing noblewoman, while being hunted herself by her famous sleuth brother. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets finds Enola using all her wits to outsmart a sinister villain and save Dr. Watson's life. In The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, she must rescue her friend Lady Cecily from being forced into a miserable marriage; but for her plan to succeed, she'll need some help from Sherlock. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline starts with the kidnapping of Enola's dear landlady; the clues lead her to Florence Nightingale, and to a noble family willing to go to great lengths to conceal a scandal dating back to the Crimean War. The Case of the Gypsy Good-Bye finds Enola searching for a missing Duquessa, a fragile beauty who disappeared after unaccountably deciding to descend into the depths of the Baker Street Underground Station. Meanwhile, Sherlock is once again searching for Enola, this time because he needs her help to decipher an encrypted message from their mother.

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        You never know what secrets your neighbors are hiding. That's what Phyllis Newsom finds out in The Christmas Cookie Killer by Livia J. Washburn ($7.99). Phyllis feels sorry for Mrs. Simmons, who can't come to the annual Christmas cookie exchange because she is recovering from a broken hip, and brings her neighbor some cookies. When Mrs. Simmons asks for the cookie cutter Phyllis used for her snowflake cookies, she goes back home to get it. When she returns, Mrs. Simmons has been murdered. The killer is still in the house and knocks Phyllis unconscious. She doesn't think she saw anything that will help the police. When Mrs. Simmons' grandson is arrested for the crime, Phyllis doesn't believe he's guilty. She finds out that Mrs. Simmons wasn't the sweet old lady Phyllis thought she was. Mrs. Simmons watched her neighbors. Maybe she saw something she shouldn't have. Could one of them have killed her? And what happens when the killer realizes what Phyllis is doing?

        A Night Too Dark by Dana Stabenow ($7.99) is filled with politics. Too many people have been dying under strange circumstances. It seems to have something to do with the opening of the Suulutaq gold mine. Kate Shugak thinks the mine is a good idea, jobs for people who need them and money for those who operate small businesses nearby. But the number of deaths bothers her and Jim Chopin. There must be a reason, and they have to find it, no matter who gets hurt in the process.

        A year after the death of his wife, Cork O'Connor is trying to put his life back together as Vermilion Drift by William Kent Krueger ($15.00) begins. He's been having strange nightmares about his father, as though he was responsible for his father's death. He tries to forget them, to concentrate on his job as security consultant for an underground mine that might become a site for nuclear waste storage. There are those who disagree with it becoming a storage site and feel that Cork is betraying his Native American heritage. While he explores the mine, he finds a secret room that contains the remains of six murder victims. Two of the bodies were killed with Cork's gun, left to him by his father. He has always idealized his father, who was a sheriff during the time five of the victims were murdered. Now he wonders if his father wasn't as honest as he thought. There are also those who don't want him to investigate and will do what they must to stop him. Finally, he realizes he must come to terms with who killed the six people and why, no matter how painful it might be.

        Sentenced to Death by Lorna Barrett ($7.99) deals with the change that comes with murder. Tricia Miles, owner of Haven't Got a Clue bookstore, is a happy woman because her life is going the way she wants. Then a good friend is killed, one of her employees finds a new job, and Tricia's love life is going badly. Tricia doesn't deal well with change, especially when it makes her realize that she doesn't know her friends as well as she thought she did. She doesn't believe her friend's death was an accident. She works hard to find the truth, a truth that changes how she views everyone.

        The Lover's Knot by Clare O'Donohue ($14.00) begins with happiness. Nell Fitzgerald is in love and about to be married when her fiancé decides that he isn't ready for marriage. Nell runs away to visit her grandmother, who runs a quilt shop in a small town. When her grandmother breaks her leg, Nell stays to take care of her. She meets a handyman who's helping her grandmother make repairs to her home and expand the quilt shop. When he is murdered after arguing with her ex-fiancé, Nell has to know if her ex-fiancé is guilty of the crime. What she does find out causes her more sadness than she expected.

        Holly Blues by Susan Wittig Albert ($7.99) takes place during the Christmas season. China Bayles is not too thrilled when her husband's ex-wife Sally shows up. Sally has a split personality and is known to be dishonest. At first, all goes well. Sally works on her relationship with her son, who lives with his father and China. She even forms a bond with China's troubled niece. Unfortunately, Sally's past comes to find her, a stalker who is willing to kill anyone who gets in the way. With China's PI husband out of town, it's up to China to protect the kids.

        Stitch Me Deadly by Amanda Lee ($6.99) begins when Marcy Singer walks over to open her embroidery shop, and finds a frail elderly woman waiting outside. Marcy invites her in and the woman shows her an embroidery sampler and asks her to find Ivy. Before Marcy can find out more, the woman collapses, dying a short time later. When the police find out she was murdered, Marcy becomes a suspect. The type of pills that killed the woman are found in Marcy's apartment. Marcy has no idea how they got there, but her mother does: she works as a wardrobe mistress for movies, and she took them away from an actress and accidentally left them at Marcy's. She tells the police about the pills, but they still believe Marcy is guilty. Meanwhile, Marcy tries to figure out why the dead woman gave her the sampler. She discovers that someone pulled out some of the stitches and stitched something else over it, but she can't figure out who or what Ivy is. Then the dead woman's lawyer is murdered after Marcy goes to see him, and once again she's the main suspect. Marcy is more determined than ever to find out the truth, especially since her mother is dating one of the dead woman's relatives. The truth brings danger to both Marcy and her mother.

        Poor Mace Bauer. Her mama's getting married for the fifth time in Mama Gets Hitched by Deborah Sharp ($14.95). This wedding has a Gone with the Wind theme, with Scarlett O'Hara bridesmaid dresses for Mace and her sisters. When Mama's wedding planner is murdered, Mace tries not to become involved. But Mama won't let it go, especially since the prime suspect is the groom's cousin C'ndee, who had an affair with the murdered man, and who may have Mafia ties. In spite of detective Carlos Martinez's objections, Mace finds herself investigating the crime. The answer is found during the wedding, when the killer decides to kill again.

        After a murder during her first literary tour, Delilah Dickinson hopes her current tour has a better outcome, but in Huckleberry Finished by Livia J. Washburn ($6.99), as they travel by steamboat down the Mississippi, one of the tour members is murdered. No one can leave until the killer is found. Delilah's daughter tells her that the name given by the murdered man is a false one. Curious and feeling responsible for the man's death, Delilah decides to investigate who the dead man was and who might have killed him. She finds out that a year earlier a young woman was killed on the same boat. Could the two crimes be linked? She finds out more than she wants to know.

        When Grace Wheaton allows a group of Civil War reenactors to use Marshfield Manor, she thinks it's a good business decision in Grace Interrupted by Julie Hyzy ($7.99). When one of the reenactors is murdered, Grace feels that it's up to her to help Marshfield Manor by finding the killer. She talks her assistant into joining the reenactors, hoping Frances can find out something that will help. When groundskeeper Jack Embers becomes the prime suspect, Grace believes he's innocent, and she's going to do what she must to prove it, no matter what.

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