In Vienna Waltz ($15.00), Teresa Grant delivers a story with as many intricate layers and hidden underpinnings as a lady's toilette. It's 1814, and the Congress of Vienna is a hotbed of political maneuvering and international intrigue accompanied by a social whirl of dinners, balls, and entertainments, and plenty of scandalous love affairs. Suzanne Rannoch and her husband Malcolm find Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, one of Tsar Alexander's mistresses and a former lover of Austrian foreign minster Prince Metternich, murdered in her rooms. There is no sign of a struggle - she trusted her attacker. Metternich insists that the Austrian authorities will handle the investigation, but the head of the British delegation also wants Malcolm, his top intelligence agent, to look into the matter. Tatiana was supplying information to the British, and no doubt to other parties at the Congress as well - perhaps she stumbled across a dangerous secret that led to her death. Suzanne and Malcolm soon learn that Tatiana had acquired compromising letters that could put some very powerful people in very difficult positions, adding blackmail to the list of possible motives. When the Austrians arrest Malcolm for the murder, Suzanne continues investigating with the assistance of her women friends. Suzanne is a great character, intelligent, capable, and unflappable - early in the book, when she and Malcolm are attacked on a dark street, she calmly shoots one of the attackers in the shoulder, twists her cape into a rope to haul Malcolm up onto a balcony, and joins him in a scrambling escape across the rooftops. In fact, the book is full of smart, capable, formidable women, from princesses to lady's maids to Malcolm's cousin Aline, who prefers mathematics to gossip, which comes in really handy when something needs to be decoded. I'm looking forward to more of the Rannochs' adventures in Imperial Scandal ($15.00) and The Paris Affair ($15.00).
Woof at the Door by Laura Morrigan ($7.99) is the first in a new series set in Florida. Grace Wilde is an animal behaviorist with a secret knack: she can communicate telepathically with animals. Sometimes using words, if the animal has the vocabulary, more often using images and emotions, including projecting waves of calming energy to soothe the animal. And animals can communicate with her in the same ways. Mostly she works with pets, but she also helps the zoo and the police deal with frightened animals. Which is how she winds up called to the scene of a murder; Jax, the victim's pet Doberman, is in a frenzy. As she calms him, she realizes that he saw the murderer, although at the moment he's so traumatized that he can't show her clearly, and that the killer was someone that the victim, and Jax, really trusted. When the police settle on a suspect Grace knows is innocent (his pet provides an alibi), she has to decide. Will she share what she's learned from the animals in the case, and how she learned it? And, if she does, will the distractingly handsome Sergeant Kai Duncan believe her? If you love animals, you'll really enjoy watching Grace interact with them, whether she's trying to coax a panic-stricken young lemur off her head, or rescuing an injured giraffe, or helping Jax work through the trauma of losing his beloved master. Morrigan also supplies a solid plot with plenty of twists, and a good supporting cast of family and friends for Grace.
What's not to love about Odelia Grey? She's smart, independent, and happily middle-aged. She's a paralegal, but she doesn't let the overly demanding lawyer she works with push her around. Her dad loves her, but her stepfamily would fit right in on the Jerry Springer show. She's fat, and belongs to Reality Therapy, a support group for large people that dispenses advice, comfort, and support, and cheers on its members in their daily struggles in an unkind world. She goes walking most mornings with friends from the group. In Too Big to Miss by Sue Ann Jaffarian ($14.95), after Odelia's good friend Sophie London, the beautiful, confident woman who started Reality Check, commits suicide, Odelia learns that Sophie had an ex-husband, and a twenty-year-old son who thinks his mom died years ago. And that she was the star of her own adult website, and several dozen subscribers saw her shoot herself. What made her do it? At the wake, Odelia meets a handsome thirty-something man in a wheelchair - Greg Stevens, who worked with Sophie on her website. He's determined to find out what led to Sophie's death; Odelia isn't entirely sure she trusts him, but she agrees to help. One of the things I like best about the book is that, as they uncover information, they share it with the detective handling Sophie's case, which makes a refreshing change from the tiresome plot device of characters not telling the police, then winding up in deadly peril as a result.
by Gerri Balter
When I read the title Bowled Over by Victoria Hamilton ($7.99), I thought it had something to do with bowling. But it has to do with a glass bowl used to kill Kathy Cooper. Kathy and Jaymie Leighton were good friends until, for some reason, Kathy decided that Jaymie had done something awful to her. Because they had quarreled, Jaymie is one of the murder suspects. She sets out to discover what she did that upset Kathy. No one seems to know, but she finds lots of people who had fought with Kathy and had a motive to kill her.
In A Deadly Cliché by Ellery Adams ($7.99), Olivia Limoges has enough money to do whatever she wishes. What she doesn’t wish is to find a dead body on the beach. She wonders if the dead man had anything to do with the strange robberies that are taking place. Weird clues are being left, butter with a knife through it, antique dolls with silver spoons in their mouths, and a deck of cards with one queen missing. Olivia and Laurel, a member of her writing group, interview the people who have been robbed, and realize who is guilty. When the robbers come to attack Laurel, Olivia is the only one who can help her.
I chose to read Diane Kelly’s Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria ($7.99) because of the title. What could those things have in common? Tara Holloway is an IRS special agent going after tax preparers who do phony tax preparations for people, promising them high returns. She and her partner are asked to find out how cash is being funneled to terrorists, but people are afraid to talk to them. Meanwhile Tara, her friends, and her co-workers are having problems finding the right person for them. Even peach sangria doesn’t help them feel better. All this comes together when Tara realizes who is helping the terrorists.
Everything is going well for Becca Robins when Crops and Robbers by Paige Shelton ($7.99) begins. Her jams and jellies are selling well. Her parents have arrived in town to see her success. The Central South Carolina Restaurant Association is coming to visit. Everything is perfect, until the association president tastes her strawberry preserves and says they’re awful. When Becca finds the woman's dead body in her barn, Becca's mother is arrested for the crime. Becca is sure that her mother is innocent, and works with the police on the investigation.
What would you do if you found out that you were a witch? In It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake ($7.99), Darcy and Harper Merriweather were raised as though they had no powers until after their father’s death. That’s when their Aunt Velma tells them that they have the power to grant wishes, and they join her in Enchanted Village in Salem. When a woman who claims to have powers is strangled with their aunt’s scarf and her boyfriend is found by the body, Aunt Velma assures them that her boyfriend is innocent. To help her, Darcy starts to investigate the case. The murder victim isn’t well liked, but there are a few people who seem to care about her. It’s all very confusing to Darcy, who is having enough problems learning her new powers.
State Fair by Earlene Fowler ($7.99) shows the inner workings of a small town state fair, where Benni Harper is working as a volunteer. First one of the quilts is stolen. Then her grandmother wants her to find out what’s wrong with her great aunt, who is acting strangely. When Benni finds a dead body, her great aunt wants to investigate, and Benni has to go with her to keep her out of trouble. This isn’t like TV or the movies. The killer isn’t about to let them find out anything.
After something bad happened to Abby Cooper without warning, for the first time she began to doubt her abilities. In Crime Seen by Victoria Laurie ($7.99), to help her recover, her FBI agent boyfriend Dutch asks her to look at some cold cases, hoping that she will see something he missed. Instead she senses something about a case that Dutch had closed. Abby thinks the wrong person was sent to prison, and asks a PI friend to help her find out the truth. She ends up going undercover and finding out more than she wanted to know.
When The Alpine Vengeance by Mary Daheim ($7.99) begins, Sheriff Milo Dodge has received three letters, saying that a murder conviction ten years earlier was a miscarriage of justice, and demanding that Milo find the real killer. When the man convicted of the murder dies behind bars, another letter arrives threatening that someone else will die because nothing was done. Since both Emma and Milo were responsible for the man’s conviction, Emma decides to find out the truth.
Flyers with “SUGAR KILLS” on them cover Olivia Greyson’s lawn as A Cookie Before Dying by Virginia Lowell ($7.99) begins. Olivia owns The Gingerbread House, where she sells cookie cutters and cookies, and she knows who put the flyers on her lawn. When she goes to The Vegetable Plate to confront Charlene Critch, she sees a man running away, and discovers that the store has been trashed. Charlene doesn’t believe her, and becomes even angrier when Olivia’s partner makes vegetable-shaped cookies. When Olivia and her dog find a dead body that resembles the man she saw running away, Charlene’s brother confesses to the murder, but Olivia doesn’t believe that he’s guilty. Then Charlene says that she’s guilty, but Olivia doesn’t believe that either. Who really is guilty? Olivia is determined to find out.
In One Book in the Grave by Kate Carlisle ($7.99), when Brooklyn Wainwright is asked to restore a first edition of Beauty and the Beast, she recognizes it. She gave it to her friends Max and Emily when they became engaged. When she goes to the rare book dealer to ask how he got it, she finds him murdered with a weapon that belonged to the late Max. When she tries to contact Emily to find out why she gave up the book, no one seems to know where Emily is. Brooklyn’s boyfriend Derek insists on helping her find out the truth.
Kate Shugak thinks she knows all about her uncle Sam Dementieff when Though Not Dead by Dana Stabenow ($7.99) begins. He has just died and has left her everything, which includes land she had no idea he owned and a letter asking her to find his father. She learns that Sam’s real father left before he was born. As she begins her search, someone begins killing those who can help her and attacking her each time she gets close.
In Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinlay ($7.99), Melanie and Angie enter the Scottsdale Food Festival, where Vic Mazzota, Melanie Cooper’s culinary school mentor, is one of the judges. When Vic is murdered, his wife takes his place as judge. Melanie doesn’t plan to investigate, but when someone tries to poison Angie, she changes her mind. In between working on cupcakes for the contest, she looks into Vic’s life, and finds out more about him than she really wants to know.
Ghost Hero by S.J. Rozan ($15.99): Ghost Hero Chau is a Chinese artist who supposedly died during the Tiananmen Square uprising. When some artwork allegedly painted by him shows up, Lydia Chin is hired to investigate. Another Chinese American PI, Jack Lee, has been hired to find out the same information. They are both threatened, and people try to kill them. That doesn’t stop Lydia and Bill Smith from searching for the truth. Jack Lee reluctantly joins them. It seems that everyone they interview isn’t exactly what they seem. It will take every bit of their skill to get to the truth.
White House executive chef Ollie Paras and White House sensitivity director Peter Sargeant seem to disagree about everything. So in Affairs of Steak by Julie Hyzy ($7.99), when they both find one of the First Lady’s assistants and the chief of staff murdered, Sargeant blames Ollie even though he knows she didn’t commit the crimes. Then someone goes after both of them, and Sargeant realizes that he has to cooperate with Ollie. When the killer kidnaps them, it’s up to Sargeant to save Ollie.
What would you do if an old friend showed up asking for a place to stay? When Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett ($7.99) begins, Tricia Miles is sorry she said yes to her old friend Pammy, who steals money, leaves the apartment messy, and is a menace in Tricia's bookstore. Finally Tricia asks Pammy to leave. When she finds Pammy's body, Tricia feels responsible. She finds out is that Pammy searched dumpsters for usable items. Now someone is threatening Tricia, demanding a diary, but she has no idea where it is.