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Newsletter #94 June August, 2011

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        Lee Woodyard became involved in the Winter Arts Festival to help a friend when The Chocolate Snowman Murders by JoAnna Carl ($6.99) begins. She soon wishes she hadn’t. First, the guest juror for the festival is found murdered. Lee and her husband, Joe, are the prime suspects. Then one of the committee members is murdered. Again the clues point to Lee and Joe as the prime suspects. Lee is determined to clear her and her husband’s names. The problem is that everyone else seems to have an alibi, or do they? That’s what Lee has to find out while the killer does whatever is necessary to stop her.

        Have you ever wondered what the story is behind the items that are for sale in want ads? That’s what TV news reporter, Riley Spartz wondered when she saw the ad for “Wedding Dress for Sale: Never Worn” in Missing Mark by Julie Kramer ($7.99). She finds out that Madeline was stood up on her wedding day. Her husband-to-be, Mark, disappeared. Riley thought this would be a great story for sweeps month. Her boss wasn’t so sure. She was determined to prove her boss wrong. Mark was a working class comedian while Madeline came from a rich family. They had only known each other a short time. He also had an ex-girlfriend who is pregnant with his child. Could they have run away together? With the help of a police dog staying with her temporarily, she found Mark’s body. He had been murdered. She found the ex-girlfriend who was angry with Mark for deserting her when she was pregnant. Could she have killed him? Could Madeline have killed him in anger because she find out about the baby? The truth was even more complicated and finding it might cause Riley to lose her life.

        Hail to the Chef by Julie Hyzy ($7.99) begins with a bomb scare in the White House and the death of two men, one the chief electrician and the other the First Lady’s nephew. Ollie Paras, the White House executive chef, has a great deal to do to plan meals for the holiday season. She also has to take classes in how to notice incendiary devices in the White House. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t take time to investigate the two deaths. The chief electrician was supposedly electrocuted due to his error. Ollie doesn’t believe that. No one wants to listen to her. The First Lady’s nephew supposedly committed suicide. She doesn’t believe that either. She spoke with him shortly before his death. He didn’t say or do anything that would cause her to believe that he would take his own life. The First Lady agrees with her. After Ollie is attacked on her way home, she feels sure she is right. The killer is determined to murder the one person who stands in the way and doesn’t care how many others die in the attempt, including Ollie.

        One of the most interesting things in the Inspector Gamache novels besides the mystery is that the reader learns more about the inspector’s private life and family. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny ($14.99) is no exception. Armand Gamache and his wife go to Manoir Bellechasse, an inn, for their wedding anniversary. The only other people there, beside the staff, are the Finny family who are there for a reunion. Imagine their surprise when friends of theirs, Clare and Peter Morrow, arrive. It seems that Mrs. Finny is Peter’s mother. When one of Peter’s sister’s is murdered, Peter is one of the suspects, as well as the rest of the family and staff. Gamache sends his wife away for her safety while he sends for his staff to investigate the crime. Everyone in the family has secrets that could cause them to commit the crime. It’s up to Gamache to find out the truth before the killer can strike again, even if the killer is one of his friends.

        Meg Corey is working on restoring the apple orchard she inherited as Rotten to the Core by Sheila Connolly ($7.99) begins. She is shocked to find in her springhouse the dead body of a man who is working toward farmers using organic methods. She becomes a suspect when the police find out that the poison that killed him was found on her property. Meg knows nothing about him, but she begins to investigate his death to clear her name. She finds out that some of the people who work for her knew the dead man and have a motive to kill him. She learns more than enough about organic farming and the reason why someone might commit murder because of it.

        Going on a literary tour sounded interesting to me even before I read Frankly My Dear, I’m Dead by Livia J. Washburn ($6.99). I will admit that I am even more interested in going now that I’ve read it. Delilah Dickinson, newly divorced, has just opened a literary travel agency in Atlanta. Her first tour is a Gone With the Wind tour. She employs her son-in-law to help her and also brings two of her granddaughters with. When the man who portrays Rhett Butler is murdered, Delilah doesn’t set out to find the killer. However, when she is a suspect because the murdered man propositioned her granddaughters and her son-in-law knows the murdered man, who he dislikes, she feels compelled to find the truth. What complicates matters is that the other actors on the tour seem to be taking their roles a bit too seriously. It seems that almost anyone could have killed him. Delilah doesn’t stop until she finds out the truth, which has a higher price than she realizes.

        I don’t usually do disclaimers for my reviews. However, I feel obliged to say that part of the reason I enjoyed Mourning in Miniature by Margaret Grace ($7.99) is because the protagonist has the same first name as I do. That isn’t the only reason. The characters were well done and the plot kept me intrigued to the very end.
How far do you go to help a friend? That’s what Gerry Porter has to decide. When her friend, Rosie Norman, asks Gerry to accompany her to her 30th high school reunion, Gerry agrees. It will give her a chance to see former students and a chance to show her granddaughter, Madison, around San Francisco. Rosie believes that a boy she had a crush on in high school wants to reconnect with her. When she finds out he wants nothing to do with her, she storms away. When he is murdered, Rosie is the prime suspect. Gerry is determined to clear her name. Madison is determined to help even though Gerry tries to stop her. Madison’s computer skills give Gerry the help she needs to find the truth. The killer is determined to stop Gerry from telling her nephew, a police officer, what she knows. Madison is at the house when the killer shows up. Now Gerry has to protect her granddaughter while trying to keep from being the next victim.

        In Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson ($7.99), two men want to solve the murder of Sarah Brandt’s husband, Dr. Tom Brandt. One is Sarah’s father, who hopes that will bring her back home. The other is Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy, because he cares for Sarah. The problem is that solving the murder is more painful to Sarah than she realizes. Frank finds that several women believe that Dr. Brandt was in love with them. Although they are delusional, they might not have imagined his feelings for them. One of the women has given birth to a child and the family believes that Dr. Brandt is the child’s father. Phoebe, who owes her existence to Sarah who saved her from a life on the streets, wants to help Sarah find out the truth, a truth Sarah may not want to hear and a truth that may cost Phoebe her life.

        There are day care centers for babies. In Doggie Day Care Murder ($6.99), Laurie Berenson explores day care for pets. Melanie Travis would never let her poodles go to day care. She has no reason to. She is a stay at home mom with a baby who doesn’t want to sleep at night. When a friend asks her to investigate a dog day care center, she agrees. After all, she does know a great deal about caring for dogs. When one of the owners is murdered and the other is a prime suspect, she is convinced to get involved. She finds plenty of suspects, including staff and customers. Nothing prepares her for what she finds out and a killer who traps her and threatens to end her life as well makes her realize how much she has to lose.

        If you are looking for a book that combines humor of everyday life and mystery, try Mama Does Time by Deborah Sharp ($13.95). Mama is Rosalee Deveraux, a woman who has been married four times and is about to get married a fifth time. Her three daughters don’t like her husband to be. They think he’s a criminal. When a dead body is found in mama’s car, she is taken into custody and her daughters are determined to prove her innocence. Mace Bauer, her middle daughter, is the one that does most of the detecting. She finds more than one suspect who might want to kill the dead man, including her first love who cheated on her. The killer is determined to stop her by kidnapping her mother. Mace is going to do whatever she has to in order to save her mother’s life.

        Burn Out by Marcia Muller ($7.99) aptly describes Sharon McCone at the beginning of the novel. She goes to her ranch to decide what to do with her life. Then she sees an Indian girl standing alone, looking lost. The girl disappears from view before she can help her. She tries to forget the girl, but she can’t. She finds out the girl is related to Ramon, a man who runs the ranch. She finds herself drawn into the girl’s life which leads her to investigate the murder of the girl’s mother and sister. It seems as though the girl either knows something or has something that someone wants and will do whatever is necessary to find it. Sharon begins to straighten out her life while trying to find the girl before the killer does.

        Point No Point by Mary Logue ($24.95 hc or $14.95 trade pb) begins with two deaths. Deputy Sheriff Claire Watkins finds the bloated body of a man with no ID in the water. His only identifying mark is a tattoo of a tree. Then Rich, the man she’s living with, gets a call from Chet, a friend of his, asking Rich to come over. Rich arrives to find Chet with his dead wife, Annie. He calls Claire who joins them. She believes Chet killed his wife. Rich disagrees. They argue and he goes to live at Chet’s place. When Chet escapes custody, Claire falls while chasing him and breaks her arm. Rich comes back to care for her. He begins to believe that Chet killed his wife. Now Claire isn’t sure. Meanwhile other members of her team are looking into who the dead man was and who killed him. The two cases don’t seem to have anything in common. Or do they? The answers change the lives of both Claire and Rich.

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