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Newsletter #83 September November, 2008

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        Everyone has someone in their immediate or extended family who doesn’t get along with the rest. That describes Aggie Sloan-Wilcox’s foster sister Ginger, who comes to visit in Let There Be Suspects by Emilie Richards ($6.99). Ginger is the type of person who manages to antagonize everyone she meets. It’s no surprise when she is murdered. Unfortunately, Aggie’s sister, Sid, is the prime suspect because the two of them never got along. In spite of the fact that both the police and Aggie’s minister husband asks her to stay out of the investigation, Aggie can’t do it. She has to clear Sid’s name. The problem is that there are so many suspects, including Sid’s former boyfriend and a member of her husband’s congregation. One by one she investigates and clears each one. Along the way, she finds out more about Ginger that she ever wanted to know. With the help of a runaway guinea pig, she finally finds out the truth and hopes it won’t cost her, her life.

        In The Chocolate Bridal Bash by JoAnna Carl ($6.99), Lee McKinney tries to convince her mother, Sally, to come to Warner Pier for her wedding. For some reason, Sally has no desire to return to the place where she grew up. Finally, Lee finds out that her mother was once engaged to another man and left town right before her wedding. Lee finally convinces her mother to come back to her childhood home. Several people tell Lee to make sure her mother doesn’t return. Filled with curiosity, Lee begins to delve into her mother’s past. She founds out that her mother’s fiancé committed suicide shortly after her mother left town--or did he? His best friend never believed he committed suicide even though that’s what the police reported. Lee’s search for the truth leads her and her mother into danger that could cost them their lives.

        The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman ($9.99) takes place after Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito come back from their honeymoon. Joe Leaphorn gets a message from an old friend, Mel Bork. He found a magazine article with a picture of a Navajo rug that he saw before it was supposedly destroyed by a fire. He also remembers the case because he started out by trying to find out who stole some pinyon sap from Grandma Peshlakai. He had to leave that case and she was not happy. What could those two cases have in common? Joe never found out, but he’s still curious. By the time Joe gets back to Mel, he finds that he has disappeared after going to look for the rug. The trail leads Joe to a mysterious man named Ted Rostic who happens to be the last person who saw Mel Bork and a Hmong servant named Tommy Vang. Tommy has a unique past that in some ways is similar to Joe’s. He finds himself depending on Tommy to save his life and not at all sure Tommy will do so.

        We get to know more about Helma Zukas in Miss Zukas and the Stroke of Death by Jo Dereske ($6.99). It seems that she used to be an expert canoeist. She decides to join the Bellehaven Library relay race team in the Snow to Surf race. The problem is that she also is trying to clear her friend, Ruth Winthrop, who seems to be the prime suspect in the murder of Joshman Lutz. She found the man’s dead body near her home. He tried to make a pass earlier in the evening and she didn’t appreciate it. She threatened him. Helma is determined to prove that her friend is innocent. The killer has other ideas and shoots at her while she is practicing canoeing. She doesn’t let that stop her. She continues to investigate until she finds the killer. Think that’s the end of the story? Wrong. The killer tells her something that makes her wonder whether or not to tell the police what she knows. Her answer changes everything.

        Rituals of the Season by Margaret Maron ($6.99) deals with days before Deborah Knott marries Dwight Bryant. It begins when Tracy Johnson, ADA, is murdered. Dwight investigates the case. Deborah can’t help getting involved. Tracy was her friend. It seems that Tracy was investigating the case of a convicted killer, Martha Hurst, who is due to be executed. In between parties for the happy couple, Dwight looks into who might want Tracy dead while Deborah looks into the Martha Hurst case. Tracy is pregnant at the time of her death. Could the father of her baby be the one who killed her? When it seems that the father of her child committed suicide, the case is considered closed. Not to Deborah. She wonders why Tracy decides to look into Martha Hurst’s case. Could Martha be innocent? Could there be new evidence somewhere? She is determined to find the truth before it’s too late.

        Murder in the North End by P.B. Ryan ($7.99) begins as Nell Sweeney prepares to go to the country with the Hewitt family for the summer. Then she finds out that a friend of hers, a police lieutenant named Colin Cook, was wanted for murder. Nell is sure he’s innocent. She asks and receives permission to stay behind. She thinks she will have to learn the truth on her own. Then she finds out that the Hewitt’s son, Dr. Will Hewitt, has returned to Boston. He insists on going with her. The man Colin Cook is accused of murdering works in a combination whore house/fighting establishment in the North End. Will doesn’t think it’s a proper place for Nell to go to on her own. They go there, pretending to want to rent the room that the dead man lived in. They find several suspects including a young boy who Will befriends and several whores who work there as well as the woman who runs the place. It seems that the murder victim held out on money that he owed her. In spite of the evidence against Colin, Nell is sure he is innocent. She is determined to find out to clear his name, not only for his sake, but for the sake of his pregnant wife.

        Cherry Cheesecake Murder by Joanne Fluke ($6.99 pb or $22.00 signed hardcover) takes place after two men, Mike, an acting sheriff, and Norman, a dentist, propose to Hannah Swensen. She is trying to make up her mind which man to accept. The whole town begs her to make up her mind because neither man is able to do his work. Lucky for her, the fact that a movie company has decided to come to Lake Eden to film a independent movie takes everyone’s mind off of Hannah. Hannah’s niece and cat have roles in the production. Hannah and her partner, Lisa, are busier than ever making cherry cheesecake for the director and treats for the crew. When the director shows the star how to do a scene which includes a suicide scene, it turns deadly when the gun turns out to be real and the director is killed. It is obvious to everyone that it wasn’t an accident when the prop gun disappears. Mike tries to make Hannah promise not to investigate, but that doesn’t stop her. She enlists the help of her mother and sister and they start looking at the people in the movie company. Hannah knows two of them, the producer and the female lead. They went to school with her. She’s sure they’re innocent, or are they? People do change. Then there’s the director’s chauffer who has a prison record. The director fired him right before he was murdered. Could he have done it? Even when Hannah thinks she’s found the guilty party, there isn’t any proof. She has to bluff the murderer to reveal the truth before her life is forfeit.

        One complaint I’ve heard from people who dislike cozy mysteries is that the protagonist goes after the murderer and doesn’t realize the danger of doing so. That doesn’t happen in The Tooth of Time by Sue Henry ($6.99). Maxie McNabb runs away from the killer. It all started so innocently. She drives her motorhome to Taos, New Mexico to see the sights and visit a knitting shop she had purchased yarn from by phone. That’s when she meets Pat Dozier, the owner, and Shirley Morgan. Pat invites Maxie to lunch and then stops by to see Shirley, who was in the hospital, supposedly because she tried to commit suicide, which she denies. All she wants to do is leave. On impulse, Maxie invites Shirley to stay with her. The next day Shirley disappears and later Maxie finds her dead in the bathtub of the home she rented. That should have been the end. It isn’t. Someone breaks into Maxie’s motorhome, looking for something. She has no idea what they wanted. Then they kidnap her dog and threaten to kill him unless she gives them what they’re looking for. Since she has no idea what it is, she manages to bluff them and get her dog back. That’s when she leaves. She’s had enough. Once she starts to recover, she finds what they are looking for, Shirley’s journal. She doesn’t want to go back, but knows she must in order to turn it over to the police. She hopes that she’ll be safe. The murderer has other ideas.

        The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon ($26.95 hardcover or $15.95 trade paperback) takes place in an alternate history. In this world, there is no state of Israel. Instead the Jewish refugees and their descendants have lived in the district of Sitka, Alaska for the past sixty years. The problem is that Sitka will be reverting to Alaskan rule and the Jewish people will have to leave. Homicide Detective Meyer Landsman has enough problems of his own including losing his job, a failed marriage, and a serious drinking problem. Yet he is intrigued when he is asked to investigate the murder of a man in the hotel that he calls home. Why would someone kill a heroin addict who didn’t hurt anyone, except himself? When Meyer’s s ex-wife and boss tells him not to bother investigating, he becomes even more curious. Why is it so important that the case be dropped? The answers are more shocking than he can imagine and convince him to face his own demons. The world that Michael Chabon imagines makes the one we live in seem calm and peaceful.

        A Case of Imagination by Jane Tesh ($14.95 trade paperback or $24.95 signed hardcover) begins in Parkland. North Carolina. Madeline Maclin, a former beauty queen, is trying to make it as a private investigator. So far she hasn’t done too well. Then her friend, Jerry Fairweather, invites her to go with him to Celosia, a short distance away, to see his uncle’s house which he inherited when his uncle died. When she gets there, she is asked to investigate two cases. One has to do with someone trying to sabotage a local beauty pageant. The other has to do with a ghost that is supposedly haunting a house. Since Jerry thinks he is a psychic, he offers to help her. Before she can investigate either case in detail, one of the pageant contestants is murdered. Even though the police ask her not to investigate, she is determined to find the killer and refuses to let anything stand in her way until she realizes that innocent people might be hurt. She has a decision to make, one that could cost more than one life.

        I feel so sorry for Benjamin Perkins in A Mold for Murder by Tim Myers ($6.99). His great idea of having a Soap Celebration with a special guest, Contessa New Berne, turns out to be a disaster when she is found murdered. His current girlfriend is the prime suspect. One of his former girlfriends, who is now dating his younger brother, is investigating the case, and another of his former girlfriends is the lawyer he asks to defend his current girlfriend. If that isn’t bad enough, it’s hurting the family business. It’s up to him to find out the truth. The Contessa has plenty of people who could want to kill her besides his girlfriend, including two ex-boyfriends, her assistant, and a woman who accuses the Contessa of plagiarism. He alienates all the suspects by his questions, especially when he finds out that none of them are telling the complete truth. That doesn’t stop him from searching for the truth wherever it takes him, even into the danger of being the next victim.
        It’s tough planning your wedding when you work as a wedding planner. That’s what Carnegie Kincaid finds out in Bride and Doom by Deborah Donnelly ($6.99). So Carnegie works hard to help plan another wedding. The problem is that someone dies during a party for the bride and groom. Boris the florist is charged with committing the crime. Carnegie is sure he’s innocent. She lies to her fiancé and decides to try to prove that he didn’t commit the crime. The murdered man, a sports reporter, has plenty of enemies and something the killer is looking for. Someone trashes Carnegie’s home and office looking for it. Carnegie has no idea what it is until a friend of hers accidentally gives it to her, thinking it’s hers. Carnegie thinks she has found the killer. The killer has other ideas and goes after her.



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