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Newsletter #79 September November, 2007

Mystery Review
by Jeff Hatfield

        It was interesting to receive an e-mail order for a used hardcover copy of The Tick of Death (Invitation to a Dynamite Party in the U. K., ‘74) from the novel’s author, Diamond Dagger recipient Peter Lovesey. Soho Press has plans to reissue all eight of the scarce Victorian Sergeant Cribb titles in 2008. They needed a hardcover to work from–and Mr. Lovesey knew who to call. In 1969 Lovesey was a college lecturer in English with his eye on a 1,000 pound writing prize. The winning result was his first novel and first Sergeant Cribb (able assisted by Constable Thackeray) Wobble to Death. The series has the distinction of inaugurating the much loved BBC/PBS TV series “Mystery” in April, 1980. The return of Cribb and Thackeray will be very welcome.
        Recently Lovesey edited The Verdict of Us All ($20 trade paper, $43 ltd. ed. hardcover) with seventeen original stories by members of London’s Detection Club honoring fellow Diamond Dagger holder and long standing President of the Club H. R. F. Keating.
        Out this May was Lovesey’s The Secret Hangman ($24), the ninth featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond. In this moderately paced Scotland Yard procedural Diamond pursues a Bath serial killer who prominently displays his victims in public places. He’s distracted in his investigation by a secret admirer and a romantic interest of his own. His colleagues (and likely the reader) are also distracted by the entanglement. The clank of coincidence slightly mars the plot, but excellent dialogue and humorous moments help propel this strong entry to this fine series. Still, it falls short of The Vault ($13), the high water mark in the Peter Diamond set, and clearly the fan favorite of the series.

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        For those of you who are fans of the Emma Lord series, you have heard about Vida and her deceased husband. In The Alpine Quilt by Mary Daheim ($6.99), we find out what happened to Vida’s husband. It begins with the Genevieve Baynard’s murder. She comes home to see her old friends and her son. Not everyone is happy to see her. Vida has nothing good to say about her even before her death and that doesn’t change afterwards. She refuses to tell Emma why she hates Genevieve so much. Since she was out of town when Genevieve was killed, Emma is sure Vida had nothing to do with Genevieve’s death. Emma finds out that Vida was in town when Genevieve was murdered. Could she be guilty? Emma doesn’t want to think so. The problem is that Vida seems to be the only suspect left. Emma has to dig deeper to find out the truth. What she finds is more shocking than anything she imagines.

        Things are not going well for Molly Murphy in Oh Danny Boy by Rhys Bowen ($6.99). Molly is thinking of giving up PI work and leaving New York. She is furious with NYPD captain Danny Sullivan because he lied to her. Yet she can’t seem to get him out of her heart. He has been sending her letters that she refuses to open. Finally, one of the men under his command forces her to go see him. He is in jail, accused of taking a bribe. He wants her to take information to someone who he thinks can help him. Although Molly does not want him in her life, she knows he would not take a bribe. She is determined to prove his innocence even though he commands her to stay out of it. The reason is that she is pregnant and Daniel is the father. She believes that someone wants him not to investigate one of his cases. He has been working on two cases. One is a horse doping case. The other is a case he just began working on, the murder of women who are thought to be prostitutes because of their clothes. Their faces are beaten in so badly; they can’t be recognized. She meets one of the fi rst New York police matrons while trying to investigating the murders and the two team up to find out the truth. The police matron is run over by a horse and wagon and is so badly hurt that Molly must continue on her own. All clues lead to Coney Island where people have fun and a killer is waiting to make sure Molly does not find anything that would clear Daniel’s name.

        When friends of Jessie Arnold invite her and her lover, Alex, to visit their new home, a lighthouse, she agrees to go. Alex has other plans and can’t make it. Jessie thinks it’s for the best because she trying to decide what to do about their relationship. Murder at Five Finger Light by Sue Henry ($6.99) tells what happens at the lighthouse. Jessie meets a young woman on the way to the lighthouse who tells Jessie she is running away from someone who’s stalking her. Jessie invites her to the lighthouse where she should be safe. Unfortunately, there are people who think differently. A man is found dead near the lighthouse. One of the people at the lighthouse disappears. Someone captures everyone and locks them up after stealing their cell phones. Meanwhile, Alex tries calling Jessie and no one answers. He grows worried and goes out to the lighthouse. Can he get there before the killer decides to kill the others so no one would know what was going out at the lighthouse?

        Delectable Mountains by Earlene Fowler ($7.99) begins when Benni Harper is convinced by her grandmother to help put on a children’s play at the church. When the church handyman is found murdered, Benni learns that one of the children witnessed the crime. The problem is that this child is in the country illegally. Benni has to decide whether or not to tell her Police Chief husband, Gabe, about the child. Gabe is immersed in problems of his own. His cousin, Luis, has come to stay with them. The two men are close, but Luis has secrets that make the two men quarrel. Gabe doesn’t want to tell Benni about them and that leads to marital discord. Benni is determined to mend her marriage and help Gabe mend his quarrel with Luis. She tries not to get involved in the murder. She becomes involved when the killer holds her and the children hostage. It’s up to her to save the children without losing her own life.

        Near the end of To Darkness and to Death by Julia Spencer-Fleming ($6.99 pb or $23.95 signed hc), Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne says, “I’ve decided I’m not going to have another birthday until I turn sixty. Maybe by then the town will have recovered from this one.” No matter what happened during your worst birthday, nothing compares with what happens to the people of Millers Kill during Russ’s fiftieth birthday. The disasters include murder, beating, arson, kidnapping, and the destruction of several people’s lives. The saddest part is that most of the people involved are doing what they think they must in order to survive. While this is all going on, Russ and Clare have to come to terms with how they feel about each other, their future, and their relationships with others.

        In Dead Days of Summer by Carolyn Hart ($6.99), Annie is planning a surprise birthday party for Max while he wants to surprise her with a new house. Both plans have to be put on hold when Max is the prime suspect in the murder of his client. Members of the press are asking whether he is a philandering husband who kills the other woman when she threatens to tell his wife. Annie and their friends know better, but the evidence is overwhelming and the mayor wants to close the case without investigating further. Annie refuses to let that happen. With the help of her friends, she learns all she can about the murdered woman. The answers lie in the house the murdered woman worked in and the people who live there. The only way Annie can find out the truth is to find a way to get into the house. Once she’s in, will she be able to find out who the killer is before the killer targets her?

        Ophelia is no happier with her psychic powers in Charmed to Death by Shirley Damsgaard ($6.99) than she was when she first learned about them. She is even less happy when she learns from her grandmother that she is going to be involved in solving her best friend’s murder five years earlier. It seems that the killer has found her and is starting to threaten those close to Ophelia. When her grandmother is attacked, Ophelia knows she has to find out the truth. The problem is that she’s isn’t sure she can face it. If she doesn’t, someone else will be murdered and that someone else might be her.

        Dead Boogie by Victoria Houston ($6.99) begins with a triple murder. One of them, Peg Garmin, was a member of one of the wealthiest families in Chicago. At first Doc Paul Osborne and Lew Ferris don’t want to believe that she was the reason the three women were killed. However, they soon learn that she was the only one whose death benefited other people. She was suing a plastic surgeon that botched some surgery. When her mother died, she received a large inheritance. Her sister received nothing. With her death, they assumed her sister would inherit. Then they found out that she had a son out of wedlock that she gave up for inheritance. Another suspect added to the list. They have to work together to find out the truth as to who wanted Peg dead.

        What would you do if your child claimed she saw a dead body, but when you got there, the body had disappeared? That’s what happened to Claire Malloy in The Goodbye Body by Joan Hess ($6.99). Claire’s place is being fumigated and one of her customers, Dolly Goforth, asks her to housesit. So Claire, Caron, her daughter, and Inez, Caron’s best friend move in. That’s when Caron and Inez see the dead body. Claire believes her daughter as does Claire’s boyfriend, police Lieutenant Peter Rosen. Unfortunately no one else does. Caron and Inez spot the body a second time and again, it disappears. Finally, Claire finds the body in the freezer. That’s when all sorts of strange things happen. Dolly doesn’t seem to be who she says she is or where she says she is. Two young women, who claim to be nieces of Dolly’s dead husband appear and ask to stay at Dolly’s. One-by-one they disappear. No one seems to know where they are. People appear at the house and ask all sorts of questions to which Claire has no answers. She fears for the safety of her daughter and herself. She has to find out the answers before the murderer comes for her or someone she loves.

        When Sarah Brandt is asked to visit Mr. and Mrs. Linton, who live in Lenox Hill, she is plunged into a mystery that leads to murder in Murder on Lenox Hill by Victoria Thompson ($6.99). The Lintons’ daughter, Grace is pregnant. Grace is mentally retarded and is rarely left unattended. Not only that, but she has no memory of being sexually molested. Sarah’s investigation brings her to the church attended by the Lintons and the minister Reverend Oliver Upchurch. She, with the help of Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy, find out that something sinister is occurring in the church. Then the Reverend Upchurch is poisoned. Several people claim to have murdered him. Malloy easily proves that none of them did it, but has difficulty finding the guilty person. They have to find out the truth about what happened to Reverend Upchurch and who impregnated Grace before the guilty party wreaks more havoc with people’s lives.

        The last think Harrison Black expected to find when he went kayaking was a body, especially the body of his ex-girlfriend, Becka. The cause of death was an overdose of sleeping pills. The sheriff believes she committed suicide. Harrison knows better. He investigates her death in A Flicker of Doubt by Tim Myers ($6.99). He also has other problems. One of his friends refuses to see him. A couple of his tenants are thinking about leaving. He has to learn to manage all of these problems while seeking a killer who doesn’t mind killing again to keep from being caught.

        Although Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry ($13.95) deals with World War I, it helps me to realize what the loved ones of those who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan must be feeling. She also does a wonderful job of letting the reader see that the people who are against the allies winning the war are just as committed to their cause as the allies are to theirs.
        Joseph Reavley is home trying to recover from his wounds. He begins to realize the people who are on the homefront are suffering, including his sister and her children. The local minister doesn’t know how to deal with people’s pain. He has lost his own faith. It is up to Joseph to comfort the bereaved. Meanwhile one of the scientists working on a new weapon is murdered and the lab vandalized. The scientist was unfaithful to his wife so there are plenty of suspects. Joseph and his brother, Matthew, soon realize that there is a spy in the weapon’s facility and suspect the spy is the guilty person. What they find out is even more heinous.

        Anyone who has gone on vacation with their in-laws will know how Faith Fairchild feels in The Body in the Snowdrift by Katherine Hall Page ($6.99) when her father-in-law insists that everyone get together for a family vacation at the Pine Slopes Ski Resort in Vermont for his seventieth birthday. She goes, of course, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, her hope is in vain. The vacation begins with her finding a body and goes downhill from there. When the chef at the resort leaves with no warning, Faith takes his place. Several malicious pranks occur and no one knows who is responsible. Her nephews are miserable. Both sister-in-laws are angry at her for no apparent reason. Family issues take a backseat when another body is found. Faith has to find out the truth of what is happening before she is the next victim.

        Anyone whose relative has had a stroke will commiserate with Rich Haggard. His mother has had a stroke and he has to put her in a nursing home temporarily to recover in Poison Heart by Mary Logue ($6.99 pb or $23.95 signed hc). There she meets Patty Jo Tilde. Her husband had a stroke too, but he died. The question is how did he die? Deputy Claire Watkins thinks she knows. Patty caused his death. There doesn’t seem to be any proof. Then there are those barn burnings. They occurred to anyone who angered Patty Jo. There is no proof she is guilty of those crimes either. That doesn’t stop Claire. She refuses to give up until she finds the truth. That truth is stranger than she realizes.
        In a Dark House by Deborah Crombie ($7.50) refers to several dark houses. One is the house where a child is held against her will. Another refers to a house where a woman suffering from Gillian Barre syndrome is imprisoned by her illness. Then there is the dark house of a mind that belongs to someone who loves to set fires and is even happier when people die in the fire. While Duncan Kincaid investigates the death due to fire, Gemma investigates a missing person case, a woman who disappears from the house where she takes care of a woman suffering from Gillian Barre. Could they be connected? Duncan and Gemma think so. While they struggle to find the truth, they worry about the custody case that can take Duncan’s son away from them.

        The Serpent on the Crown by Elizabeth Peters ($9.99 pb or $25.95 signed hc) refers to the crown of a small statue that Magda Petherick gives to Amelia and Emerson. She claims that it is cursed and is sure Emerson can remove the curse. They don’t believe her, but they accept the statue to get rid of her. Once Emerson examines it, he realizes it is worth a great deal of money. He tries to find out where the statue comes from and promises to buy it from Magda. Before he can do so, Magda disappears. They think it’s a trick. Magda writes books and they feel it’s a way to gain publicity. Besides they have bigger problems. Someone keeps trying to steal the statue. Someone also keeps trying to kill Ramses. Amelia knows the truth, but proving it could cost her more than she realizes. It could cost her life.

        Normally, Bel Barrett investigates murders where other people are the prime suspects. In Hot Wired by Jane Isenberg ($6.99), Bel is the prime suspect. A college student has started a website where other students can rate their teachers. Bel receives several positive reviews. The only one she pays attention to is a hip-hop review done by a former student that she gave a D to. The student claims Bel is a poor teacher. She finds out that he went to Iraq and returned, minus an arm. She feels sorry for him and is guilt ridden because she thinks she drove him to enlist. He doesn’t stop with the review. He goes on TV and blames her for what happened to him. Because of the negative publicity, the president of the college suggests that she retires. When this former student is found murdered, Bel has no alibi. Sol was gone at the time and she was alone. The police seem to think she murdered him because of his review. Bel knows she is innocent and with the help of her friends, she begins to investigate her former student’s life. She finds that there were several people who disliked him. Unfortunately, all of them seem to have alibis. The answer has to be somewhere. For the first time, Bel doubts her own abilities. She wonders what will happen if she can’t find out the truth. Could she be convicted of a crime she didn’t commit? What would it do to her family?

        The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell by Lilian Jackson Braun ($7.99) begins in April of one year and ends in January of the following year. The residents of Pickax are celebrating their town’s 150th anniversary. The name of the celebration is Pickax Now. There are a great many festivities including a parade and performances. An architecture student named Henry, whose grandparents live nearby, has received permission to sketch Qwill’s barn. Koko has taken a dislike to Henry and drops on his head. At first all goes well. That bothers Qwill. He waits for something to happen. Of course it does. Two young men go hunting. One is shot. Henry’s parents die and his former fiancée thinks that their deaths are not from natural causes. The weather turns bad. Although Qwill can’t do anything about the weather or what happened to the man who was shot while hunting, he can find out what really caused Henry’s grandparents death.

        In Like Flynn by Rhys Bowen ($6.99), Molly Murphy learns that it is tough being a female private investigator. She needs money badly enough to accept police captain Daniel Sullivan’s offer to go undercover to expose a couple of spiritualists who are taking advantage of a senator’s wife. She pretends to be the senator’s cousin visiting from Ireland. She finds out that the senator’s wife wants the supposed spiritualists to contact her son who was kidnapped and never found. Although Molly can’t figure out how the spiritualists are conning the senator’s wife, she knows they are phonies because they conjure up the dead mother of the woman Molly pretends to be. What Molly doesn’t expect are the deaths of two women, one of them the senator’s wife. She believes the women have been murdered. While she investigates the crimes, she also finds out that the man she thinks she killed in Ireland, which led her to flee to the United States, is really alive. He recognizes her, too. She has to find out the truth about the murders before he convinces the senator that she isn’t who she claims to be.

        Have you ever taken a detour on a trip somewhere because you wanted to see something that wasn’t on the main road? You may think twice about doing it once you’ve read Dead Run by P.J. Tracy ($7.99 pb or $23.95 signed hc). Grace MacBride, Annie Belinsky, and Sharon Mueller are driving to Green Bay, Wisconsin to bring some computer software to law enforcement there. They decide to leave the main highway in order to see a barn with the Mona Lisa painted on it. The Mona Lisa is wearing a T-shirt with “On Wisconsin” on it. Their Range Rover breaks down in the northern Wisconsin wilderness. Looking for help, they wander into a small town called Four Corners. The town is deserted. While they look around, they see what looks like soldiers shooting at a car that is trying to drive into town. They kill the passengers. The women realize that something strange is going on. The women hide. They hear the soldiers talking and realize that they plan to kill anyone who tries to enter the town. They think it best to hide until they can get help. Meanwhile when they don’t arrive, their friends start looking for them. Everyone realizes that something strange is going on in the Four Corners area. The problem is that no one is quite sure what it is. All they do know is that if they don’t find out what is happening and stop it, they might not get out alive and more people may be killed, as well.
        The Lighthouse by P.D. James ($13.95) begins when the body of Oliver North is found at the lighthouse on Coombe Island off the Cornish Coast. It’s an island where men and women in high positions go to unwind after being overstressed. Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team are summoned to the island to investigate the crime. It’s a bad time for Dalgliesh. He is involved with a woman whom he wishes to marry. They are scheduled to spend the weekend together when he is called away. Putting her out of his mind, he begins to investigate the murder. Most of the other inhabitants of the island try to tell him that Oliver North committed suicide. The autopsy proves that he was murdered. Most of the people on the island would love to have gotten rid of Oliver. Before Dalgliesh can find the killer, another man on the island has been murdered. Then Dalgliesh contracts SARS. While he fights for his life, the two detectives with him are left to find the killer before the killer strikes again.

        White Thunder by Aimee & David Thurlo ($6.99) begins with the disappearance of FBI agent Andrew Thomas. He interrupted a Navajo Sing so the FBI believe someone on the reservation is responsible for his disappearance. Special Investigator Ella Clah is brought in to investigate because she has FBI training and is part of the Navajo police force. If she can’t find him, the FBI will send their people in to search the reservation. No one on the reservation wants that. Ella wonders if maybe someone else is responsible for his disappearance. She begins to look into his latest case—a fraud investigation. Her investigation isn’t easy. His computer crashed and his online files can’t be retrieved soon enough. If she doesn’t find the FBI agent soon, he will die. Some of the paper evidence is missing. There are those who will do anything to keep her from finding the truth, including taking her life. Ella knows what it’s like to be lost in a place where no one may be able to find her. She is determined to do her best to find him.

        Whether you believe in magic or witches or not, I think you will like The Trouble with Magic by Madelyn Alt ($6.99). Unhappy with her current job, Maggie O’Neill literally falls in to a new one when she accepts a job to work in a store called Enchantments. She likes her new employer, Felicity Dow, even when Felicity tells Maggie that she is a witch. Maggie doesn’t really believe in witches. When Felicity is the prime suspect in her sister’s murder, Maggie is worried. Felicity doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. She feels that everything will straighten itself out. Maggie feels differently especially after she begins hearing voices and feeling emotions that make no sense to her. She is determined to prove Felicity’s innocence especially to a police officer that shows distain for everything Felicity believes in. The problem is that the killer knows what she is trying to do and will do anything to stop her. And even witchcraft can’t protect her from being killed.

        I normally skip descriptions in the books I read. In A Killer Collection by J.B. Stanley ($6.99) the descriptions are so beautifully written, I read every word of them. This author does a fantastic job of describing what it’s like being a potter.
        Molly Appleby, a writer for Collector’s Weekly, goes to a kiln opening with her mother as research for the article she’s writing. When one of the collector’s, George-Bradley Staunton, dies, Molly realizes he has been murdered. She feels that investigating his death is just as important as the article she is writing. When she helps inventory his collection, she finds that several pieces are missing. Could the pieces have been stolen? Could he have find out who was stealing from him? Maybe the thief killed him? He was unfaithful to his wife. Maybe she did it. He often cheated other collectors out of pieces they wanted. Maybe one of them killed him. Molly has plenty of suspects. She clears them one by one until she finds the killer. Now she has another, even bigger decision to make.

        When Jeff Talbot is shot at the end of chapter 1 of The Majolica Murders by Deborah Morgan ($6.99), I wondered if this would be the end of the series. I have heard of authors who kill their characters at the end of the series. I couldn’t wait to get to chapter two to find out. Instead of telling me whether Jeff lives or dies, she tells the story leading up to his being shot. Jeff is celebrating his 40th birthday a short time before Halloween. The celebration in interrupted when he finds out that Lanny, a fellow picker and a former informant of his, has been arrested for murder. Jeff realizes he doesn’t know much about Lanny when his guests ask him what Lanny’s name is, his age, where he lives and Jeff doesn’t know any of the answers. He goes down to the jail and learns from Lanny that he went to see an antiques dealer to find some Majolica pieces that Jeff wants to buy for his wife. He quarreled with the dealer when she told him she sold the pieces to someone else. He goes back later to apologize and finds her dead body. Jeff is positive Lanny is innocent and tries to investigate the case. His job is made more difficult because some of the people involved do not want to be found. He kept on hearing about a man and a child, but he couldn’t find them. They find him and the results are disastrous.

        I read the second book in the Kate Collins Flower Shop Mystery series first. It was enough for me to pick up the first book in the series, Mums the Word ($6.99). Abby Knight, the proud new owner of a flower shop called Bloomers, is having a bad day. Someone driving a black SUV rams her vintage Corvette and doesn’t stop. Business is not doing well. That doesn’t stop her from trying to find out who rammed her car. She enlists handsome Marco Salvare, who used to be a police officer. They find out that the person who rammed her car left the scene of a murder. Kate is sure the hit and run driver has something to do with the murder. The police think differently. When she keeps trying to find the driver, strange things start happening. She keeps getting parking tickets when she breaks no law. Someone cuts her breaks. Someone tries to run her off the road. A building inspector threatens to close her down. What does this have to do with the murder? That’s what she is determined to find out.

        Do bones talk? In Dead Man’s Bones by Susan Wittig Albert ($6.99 pb or $23.95 signed hc), they tell people a great deal. China Bayles’ stepson, Brian, finds a skeleton which leads to murder. Of course at the time the skeleton is found almost everyone thinks it belongs to a stranger and the death was accidental. However, further investigation finds that he was murdered. China, curious, as to who this stranger was finds clues that lead to his identity. Meanwhile two other people are murdered and China realizes that the three deaths are connected. She finds the truth, but the killer decides to kill again to make sure the truth is never told.

        Even if you haven’t seen the movie Pay It Forward, you’ll understand the how Hannah Ives feels in This Enemy Town by Marcia Talley ($6.99). She is a cancer survivor who believes in helping other people who are going through chemotherapy. So when Dorothy Hart asks for her help in building sets for the Naval Academy’s production of Sweeney Todd, Hannah agrees even though it’s not her favorite thing to do. However, when she sees Jennifer Goodall, she wishes she was somewhere else. Jennifer accused Hannah’s husband, Paul, of sexual harassment. Even though he was cleared, Hannah still had doubts about Paul. When she confronts Jennifer, the woman goads Hannah by describing her and Paul’s supposed sexual exploits. The women get into a loud argument heard by several members of the cast. When Jennifer is found murdered and the weapon is Hannah’s hammer found wrapped in her sweater, Hannah is the prime suspect. Even though Hannah is told to let her lawyer handle things, she isn’t about to sit around and do nothing. She begins to investigate Jennifer Goodall and when she finds out leads her to believe that there are others who might want Jennifer dead. Can she find out who the guilty person is before she’s convicted of the crime or worse?

        The kill two in Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton ($6.99) are the murders of the only two relatives Kelly Flynn knows about. First is her Aunt Helen, who raised her after her parents died. Supposedly, a vagrant killed her. Kelly doesn’t believe it. Aunt Helen cashed a check for $20,000 the day she died. No one knows what happened to it. A family quilt made by Aunt Helen also disappeared. When Kelly investigates her aunt’s past looking for clues, she finds out that she has a distant cousin who knows Aunt Helen well. A short time later someone murders the cousin. Kelly feels that she is alone now and is determined to find who has done this to her. Her new friends at the local knitting shop are willing to help her especially after she learns to knit and finds out how enjoyable it is. With their help, she finds out things about her aunt, she wishes she had never learned. In spite of everything, she needs to know the truth, no matter who gets hurt.



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