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Newsletter #58 June - August, 2002

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter


        China Bayles is trying to plan for her wedding to McQuaid in Lavender Lies ($6.50) by Susan Wittig Albert. As usual with weddings, there are things that go wrong. However, not every prospective bride has to solve a murder to ensure that she will be able to go on her honeymoon, but that's what China feels she has to do when Edgar Coleman is murdered and McQuaid, as temporary sheriff, has to investigate it. Edgar was trying to persuade the town council to agree to a land development deal when he was murdered. All the members of the town council were suspects, and some of them went to China for her help. China soon realized that it was in her best interest to solve the case. The problem is that with so many suspects with great motives, it's difficult to weed out the one who did it.
        Susan Wittig Albert does a wonderful job telling the reader all about the uses of Lavender at the beginning of each chapter in an interesting and entertaining way. It's part of why I like this series so much. I learn something about herbs and read an intriguing mystery at the same time.

        How hard could it be to plan a wedding? Jane Jeffry thought it would be easy when she took the job of planning Livvy Thatcher's wedding at the beginning of A Groom with a View ($6.50) by Jill Churchill. A remote monastery-turned hunt club is where the wedding is to take place. Jane and her best friend, Shelley, along with the bridal party, the caterer, and the decorators all arrive and the bickering begins. Jane is too busy trying to make sure that everything is going okay to pay attention until the seamstress falls down the stairs and dies. Is it murder or an accident? Jane thinks it's murder. She tries to stop the wedding, but Livvy is determined to go through with it. When another murder occurs and Livvy is the prime suspect, Jane knows she has to find out the truth no matter what the cost.

        Claire Watkins and her daughter Meg moved to Fort St. Antoine, a small town in Wisconsin after her husband was killed by a hit-and-run driver in the Twin Cities. She accepted a job with the Fort St. Antoine's sheriff department. She was beginning to settle in when her next door neighbor, Landers Anderson, was murdered. Her sister Bridget was having marital problems. What is the connection between all these events? That's what Claire Watkins has to find out in Blood Country by Mary Logue ($24.95 signed hardcover or $5.99 pb). This novel is filled with richly developed characters and a plot that's a real page turner. Mary draws her characters in such a way that the reader can't help caring about them and worrying about their safety.

        Shop until you drop takes on a whole new meaning in Death at a Discount ($6.50 by Valerie Wolzien. Susan Henshaw and her friend Kathleen Gordon can't wait to go to Once in a Blue Moon, a discount outlet filled with brand-name stores. They find all sorts of bargains. What they also find is the body of one of their neighbors, Amanda Worth, strangled by her own scarf. Susan has no desire to get involved. Then another neighbor, Lauren, asks Susan to help in finding the killer. Before she realizes it, along with investigating Amanda's murder, she is planning the reception after Amanda's funeral. During the investigation, Susan learns that she doesn't think much about finances. Her husband earns enough money so that she and the children have whatever they need. She is accepted in the small town she calls home but not because of who she is but because of her financial situation. She learns that there are others in town that will do anything to be accepted, including commit murder.

        A group of six people have gathered at the unfinished Lazaire Hotel for a therapy retreat. Before the weekend is over they will have renamed the hotel, The Lazarus Hotel ($4.99) by Jo Bannister. At first all they seem to have in common is the need to change their lives. Then they find out they have something else in common. Each of them has been in contact with a young girl who committed suicide. They realize that it's no accident that they have been brought to the hotel. They can't leave because the only exit has been abandoned by the workmen for the weekend. Then the accidents begin to happen. Or are they accidents? Who wants to hurt them? Can they survive until help arrives?
        If you are able to suspend your disbelief enough to believe that one person could engineer events to force all these people to be at the top of the hotel, you are in for a fantastic read. Little by little the characters reveal who they really are and why they act the way they do. In this novel, plot mixes with characters to make this book an on-the-edge-of-your-seat read and one you won't want to put down until the very end.

        Poor Bel. Her only daughter is pregnant, getting married, and is on the other side of the country. All she wants to go is take a walk to calm down. Instead she finds a dead body--a man who looks exactly like Frank Sinatra when he was 25 in Mood Swings to Murder ($5.99) by Jane Isenberg. Bel doesn't plan to get involved. She has enough to deal with. However, when one of her students is the main suspect, Bel feels she has no choice. Bel learns that there is big business in impersonating Frank Sinatra. The murdered man, Louie Palumbo, was one of many Sinatra impersonators around. While Bel tries to come to terms with her daughter's decisions, she becomes more involved in the world of Sinatra impersonators and the people in their lives. Even though her life is in danger, nothing will stop Bel from finding the truth.

        As the summer heat covers Girona Spain in 1354, Isaac, a blind Jewish physician, finds a merchant who was murdered and robbed of a fortune of gold in Solace For a Sinner ($6.50) by Caroline Roe. Rumors fly through the city that the reason the merchant was carrying the gold was to buy the Holy Grail. Suddenly everyone in the city is looking for the Grail. More people die. Isaac's life is threatened because there are those who think he knows more that he does. Meanwhile his daughter Raquel has her own problems. Everyone wants her to marry Daniel, an old family friend. She knows she doesn't love him and continually insists he is a friend. Then why does she feel so jealous when another young woman shows an interest in him? When Raquel and Isaac are kidnapped by those who think they know more about the whereabouts of the Holy Grail than they do, it's up to Daniel to help rescue them and help Isaac find out the truth.

        Half Moon Street ($6.99) by Anne Perry is the first book in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series where Charlotte Pitt is not present. She's in Paris with her sister. Their maid took the kids to the seaside. Thomas is by himself and lonely until a murder takes up his time. A man is found murdered in a boat. Who is he? Can he be a French diplomat who disappeared or a photographer who takes pictures that show people the way they are, not the way they would like to be? Charlotte's mother, Caroline, is drawn into the investigation because her husband is part of the theater scene and knows some of the suspects. Caroline has her own troubles as well. She is stuck with having her mother-in-law from her first marriage, Mariah, staying with her. Whatever she did was never good enough for Mariah. Mariah hates Caroline's new husband who is younger than her. It bothers Caroline too. Then she meets a man who resembles her dead husband. That's when she finds out that her father-in-law had a wife before he married Mariah. That was something Mariah didn't want Caroline to find out. While Pitt is trying to solve his murder, Caroline is trying to come to terms with the fears she has about her younger husband and Mariah's strange attitude. This novel deals with issues that still trouble us today.

        When a writer writes develops more than one series, readers, myself included, wonder when the characters from the two series will meet. That's what Joyce Christmas does in A Better Class of Murder ($6.50) when she brings together Betty Trenka and Lady Margaret Priam. The novel starts Reddings's Point, Connecticut where Jane Xaviera Corvo is murdered. Nearby, in East Moulton, Connecticut, Betty Trenka is hired by her friend, Ted Kelso. He tests software for developers. Gerald Toth wants to hire him to test some software. Ted doesn't trust Gerald and wants Betty to go to New York where Gerald lives and talk to him. Ted thinks Betty will be able to tell whether Gerald is an honest businessman or a liar and maybe a thief. Meanwhile, in New York, Carolyn Sue Hoopes calls her friend Lady Margaret Priam and asks her to help entertain Betty when she comes to New York. Lady Margaret agrees and the two women meet. Lady Margaret sees her world through the eyes of someone who is not a member of that world and realizes that part of her restlessness is due to the fact that her world is rather empty. Meanwhile they also find out that Jane, the woman who was killed, was Gerald's former lover and employee. Jane also had a disk on her that is part of the software that Gerald wants Ted to test, software that is claimed by Gerald and another man. It's up to Betty and Lady Margaret to find out the truth.
        This book would be interesting for those who have never read either series to get a taste of what both are like.

        I have been a fan of the Inspector Luke Thanet series ever since I read the first book in the series. I've watched his children grow from youngsters to adults and seen his relationship with his wife grow and change. In Dead and Gone ($5.99) by Dorothy Simpson, Inspector Thanet's daughter Bridget is pregnant. Complications have set in. He'd rather be at home in case his son-in-law calls. Instead he gets called out to investigate the disappearance of Virginia Mintar whose husband is Queen's counsel Ralph Mintar, a prominent barrister who is to become a high-court judge. The last time anyone saw her was at dinner where her husband, mother-in-law, daughter, daughter's fiancee, the family doctor and his wife, Virginia's sister and her boyfriend were present. The next morning her body is found at the bottom of the well. The problem with this case is that almost everyone has a motive and no one has an alibi. Virginia tries to have sex with every man she sees. Her husband is aware of her many affairs. She told her mother-in-law that she would tell Ralph that his mother was seriously ill. Her mother-in-law knew that he would stop her from going on her many trips which was her one joy in life. The family doctor was Virginia's current lover and she kept flirting with her sister's boyfriend. The doctor's wife knew about the affair. Virginia's sister was tired of having Virginia go after any man she found interesting. Virginia and Ralph didn't approve of their daughter's fiancee and were looking for ways to break them up. And then there was their older daughter Caroline who disappeared four years before when they disapproved of the man she wanted to married. They believe Caroline and the man they disapproved of went off together. Maybe she came back and decided to kill her parents. It is hard for Luke to concentrate because everyone and everything reminds himhis daughter, Bridget and her unborn child. With all the motives, it's hard to figure out which one killed Virginia especially since somehow Caroline's disappearance is somehow involved in all of this.

        The citizens of Maggody, Arkansas are dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century in murder@maggody.com ($6.99) by Joan Hess when computers are introduced to town in spite of the fears of some of the townspeople that the high school kids would access porn sites. Justin Bailey was hired to teach the kids and anyone else how to use the internet. He promises that no one could access any porn sites. Famous last words. It seems that not only has someone hacked into porn sites, they took the pictures and superimposed the faces of some of Maggody's citizens. Not only does Arly Hanks have to investigate that crime, she also has to investigate the murder of a 17-year-old girl who had come to Maggody with her two year old son.

        Hunting the Witch ($24.95 signed hardcover or $6.50 pb) by Ellen Hart is the most powerful and intense of her Jane Lawless mysteries. Jane is recovering from a serious wound. She is weak and vulnerable. She suffers from severe headaches and has to use a cane to get around. She longs to be independent. Yet those closest to her want nothing more than to tell her what to do. That's why when Jeffrey Chapel is killed and his wife Brenna wants to hire her to find out whether her dead husband was gay, she takes the case. What she doesn't realize is that it's more complicated than that. Someone wants to blackmail Brenna, threatening to tell the world that her husband was gay. Brenna isn't the only one being blackmailed. Then there's the man in the ski mask who tries to break into Dr. Julie Martinsen's home to steal her files. Jane was staying with Julie until the break-in. Then Julie disappears and Jane is on her own. Miserable because she believes the woman she loves is keeping secrets from her, she turns to alcohol. She has to make a choice between drinking and finding out the truth.

        There are several series that chronicle the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Few capture the voice of Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Wayne Worcester in The Jewel of Covent Garden ($5.99). The novel starts with an introduction explaining why the story hadn't surfaced before now. It begins with a Thomas Payton Rogers' arrival at 221B Baker Street. Tommy is a poor young boy who has been invited to an upper class dinner gala. His uncle, who Holmes had put in jail some years earlier, sent Tommy to Holmes for help and to find out why he would be invited to such a fancy event. The woman who sponsors the dinner gala explained to Holmes that she invited many poor children to the dinner so that they could receive at least one good meal. Somehow that didn't ring true to Holmes. As he and Watson investigate further, someone begins to plot against Holmes. Strange messages, supposedly coming from Holmes, appear in the paper. A man is killed and Holmes is accused of his murder. Holmes has to go into hiding to find out the truth before both he and Tommy are killed.

        If you think you are having a bad day, read Island Murders ($6.99) by Wanda Canada and I guarantee you will think differently. After Carroll Davenport found her husband brutally murdered, she left the country until she began to heal. Then she returned home to Figure Eight Island near Wilmington, North Carolina where she began a business building houses for the wealthy. Her cousin Eddie was a partner in the business. A short time later the killing begins. First, it's Dennis Mason, an alcoholic and drug user. Then it's her cousin Eddie. The house she builds burns to the ground, a case of arson. Someone breaks into her home and searches for something which they don't find. Reeling from the death around her, Carroll is determined to find the truth even though no one seems to want her to do so. The more she investigates, the more danger she finds herself in. The question is will she find out the truth before the murderer catches up with her.

        The title of The Wedding Game ($5.99) by Susan Holtzer has to do with a computer game as well as the upcoming wedding of Anneke Haagen and Karl Genesko. The computer game has been designed by one of the members of Anneke's online chat room. Anneke goes on line to relax from the stress of getting ready for her wedding to Karl and worrying about how her daughters, son-in-law and grandchild will react to the man she plans to marry. When one of the members of the online chat room is murdered, the rest of the members are suspects, including Anneke. Karl is asked to take an early vacation. Anneke and Karl are angry enough with the way the investigation is going to decide to solve the crime themselves. The investigation is made more difficult by the fact that they have never met any of these people. They have no idea who they really are. The more they learn the more they realize how easy it is for someone to be whoever and whatever they want online. As the wedding approaches so does the danger.

        Stone Quarry ($23.95 signed hardcover or $6.50 pb) by S.J. Rozan doesn't take place in Manhattan. It takes place in upstate New York where Bill Smith owns a cabin. He goes there when he wants to get away from city life and relax. This time, however, he goes up there because he has a client, Eve Colgate. She wants him to find six paintings which would reveal a secret she has kept hidden for 30 years. When he finds a dead body in Antonelli's, a restaurant/bar owned by a friend of his, he finds himself involved with gangsters and a rich man's daughter. Somehow all this is intertwined. The police and the state troopers are no help. The BCA's senior investigator tells Bill to leave it alone. The local sheriff blames Bill for letting a criminal get away years ago. It's up to Bill with the help of Lydia Chin to find the truth without getting killed.

        The Body in the Big Apple ($6.50) by Katherine Hall Page takes place in the late '80s when Faith Sibley Fairchild was young and owned her own catering business. She is doing pretty well when she runs into an old high school friend, Emma Stanstead. Emma's husband is launching his political career and the last thing he needs is scandal. Unfortunately, Emma has had a baby out of wedlock and she was born out of wedlock. If that weren't enough, her birth father, Nathan Fox, an underground radical, has been found murdered. Emma pays off the blackmailers at first. She figures that they will leave her alone once they get money. Faith knows better. When the blackmailers come back for more, Faith begins trying to find out who's blackmailing Emma and who murdered Nathan. She is sure that the murderer is also the blackmailer. Between the catering jobs, she interviews the suspects. What she fails to realize is that the murderer might want to silence her as well.



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