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Archived Newsletter Content


Newsletter #99 September November, 2012

by Elizabeth LaVelle

        Precinct 13 ($15.00) by Twin Cities author Tate Hallaway (aka Lyda Morehouse) is a lot of fun; part fantasy, part police procedural, with some forensics thrown in, including an experiment that the squints at the Jeffersonian would be proud of. Growing up in Chicago, Alex always saw things no one else believed in - and was systematically convinced by her stepmother that mental illness was involved. After relocating to Pierre, South Dakota, she's is thrilled to be elected coroner for Hughes County. The pay is great, and how much work could it be? Then her first autopsy ends with the corpse walking off, the police chief refers her to Precinct 13, and suddenly she has colleagues - some human, some not - who specialize in paranormal crimes. Not only do they believe her story about the body, they're certain Alex has magical abilities. Alex helps them hunt for the reanimated body, which belongs to a necromancer who was up to no good, while she tries to figure out how her magic works. The dead now speak to Alex, but usually don't have anything useful to say (especially the cattle). And exactly how does her curse power work? I really enjoyed the humor, and the matter-of-fact midwestern characters.

        In Killed at the Whim of a Hat ($14.99), Colin Cotterill brings his talent for mysteries with wit, a strong sense of locale, and an unusual cast of characters to a new series. Jimm Juree is 34, and senior crime reporter at the Chiang Mai Daily Mail. She's smart, tenacious, and very ingenious (not to mention sneaky) when it comes to getting the information she needs for her stories. Then her mom Mair sells the family's home and shop, and buys a tiny resort in rural southern Thailand. Mair's mental processes having become a bit erratic, Jimm feels obliged to go along and keep an eye on the family, which includes her brother Arny, a sensitive, not too bright bodybuilder, and granddad Jah, who spent forty years as a traffic cop because he didn't have what it takes to get ahead in the Thai police, namely a willingness to lie and take bribes. (Jimm's older sister Sissi, formerly her older brother Somkiet, stays behind in the city with her computers.) The resort is rundown and likely to wash into the bay at the next monsoon, and Jimm winds up doing most of the work there. So when a neighbor digging a new well unearths a VW van with two skeletons sitting in it, Jimm is delighted to do some reporting. She heads to the local police station to follow up; while she's there, she manages to find out about another crime that's being kept out of the news: an abbot has been stabbed to death at a nearby Buddhist monastery. Quite a scoop, if Jimm can get the story. She sets out to investigate both stories, teaming up with the very capable Lt. Chompu (who's been transferred to this backwater district for being obviously gay), and getting some long-distance assistance from internet whiz and hacker extraordinaire Sissi. Meanwhile, Mair teams up with her new friends from the village to teach the local dog poisoner a lesson, Arny falls in love for the first time (with a female bodybuilder his mother's age), and granddad Jah and another retired policeman team up to put a local gangster in his place.

        Granddad, There's a Head on the Beach ($24.99) opens with Jimm discovering a human head among the garbage that's washed ashore. She's disgusted when no investigation follows - Lt. Egg, newly transferred to the district, just turns the head over to a funeral facility and files a false report. Since the victim is obviously Burmese, nobody cares - except Jimm, who is appalled when she learns about the widespread exploitation of Burmese workers in Thailand. She makes contact with the local Burmese community, and learns that Burmese workers, both documented and illegal, are disappearing after being picked up by a police van. There are rumors of Burmese being held as slave workers on deep-sea fishing vessels. Jimm is determined to learn the truth, and when it looks like Lt. Egg is somehow involved, Lt. Chompu is more than willing to help, because he's stuck sharing an office with the obnoxious bully. In the end, Jimm's entire family - including Sissi, who arrives at the resort in time to supply backup and much-needed technical support - and several of their friends from the village team up to get the goods on Lt. Egg, and put together a delightfully improbable plan to rescue the Burmese and draw attention to their plight. Meanwhile, a mother and daughter, obviously well to do and obviously in hiding, arrive at the resort; Jimm eventually learns that the daughter caused a wealthy university classmate to 'lose face', and is now being threatened by her classmate's powerful and vindictive family. Once again the villagers come through, disguising and hiding the women until Jimm can come up with a plan to set things right.

        If you're in the mood for a mystery that doesn't involve a string of dead bodies, Collared ($15.00, expected mid November) by L.A. Kornetsky (aka Laura Anne Gilman) introduces Ginny Mallard, who works as a private concierge, taking on tasks that her clients don't have the time or inclination to handle themselves. Usually that means making reservations, organizing events, doing research, and handling a variety of minor problems. But after offering her services to an acquaintance at her local bar, she finds herself hired - at double her usual rate - to track down the man's uncle/business partner, who has taken off with some important documents needed to close a big commercial real estate deal. Realizing she's out of her depth, and with only a few days to get the job done, she talks bartender Teddy Tonica into helping her. It isn't long before they discover that other parties, some of them menacing, are very interested in the documents. And that there's something not quite right about their client's real estate deals. Ginny and Teddy start out acquaintances (and verbal sparring partners), but they make a good team: Ginny's strength is research and interpreting data, while Teddy is very good at reading people, and getting them to talk. Behind the scenes, Ginny's shar-pei Georgie and Penny (a free-ranging cat who sometimes hangs out with Teddy at the bar) confer, worry, and do what they can to keep their humans safe and happy.

        The Camelot Caper ($9.99) by Elizabeth Peters: Before he morphed into the charming scoundrel Vicky Bliss hated to love, John Smythe made his semi-villainous debut in this very funny send-up of 1960s gothic novels. Invited to England to meet her dying grandfather, Jessica Tregarth finds herself on the run from two villains intent on acquiring a family ring her grandfather asked her to bring. David Randall comes to her assistance, but doesn't believe her story; he writes gothic novels, and thinks his friends have put her up to playing a prank on him - until the villains show up at his flat. After being chased around the countryside, David and Jess try to figure out what the villains are hoping to gain - the ring isn't valuable - and finally realize that delay is the goal. But can they make it to the family estate in Cornwall without the villains doing damage to them - or to David's beloved bright-red Jaguar?

        In Summer of the Dragon ($9.99) by Elizabeth Peters, anthropology grad student D.J. Abbott is desperate to escape her family for the summer: her mom thinks she should get married and produce grandchildren; her father pities her because she flunked Greek and will never be a classical archaeologist; and her siblings are in the throes of their teen years. So she's is willing to take a well-paid summer job at an Arizona ranch, even if her employer Hank Hunnicutt is a wealthy oddball, funding research into everything from UFOs to reincarnation. She's relieved to discover that, although Hank is open-minded, he's not particularly gullible. However, his generous hospitality has attracted a host of con artists, charlatans, and treasure-seekers. While she waits for Hank to reveal why he needs her particular expertise, the logical D.J. amuses herself by debating - and baiting - the crackpots and enjoying the lavish buffets. When Hank disappears, she teams up with some of his staff, including infuriating and attractive resident classical archaeologist Tom, to find him.

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        In Trial by Fire ($7.99) by J.A. Jance, Ali Reynolds begins a new job as the police department’s media consultant. One of her first duties is to deal with the questions resulting from a fire that burned a woman over almost all of her body. She is on a ventilator, can’t talk, and isn’t expected to live. Ali meets Sister Anselm, an advocate for unidentified patients. Ali and Sister Anselm work together to find out who the woman is. The killer, believing Sister Anselm knows more than she’s saying, kidnaps her. Ali sets out to rescue her and find out the truth, which might lead to her death in spite of the fact that she believes she can take care of herself.

        Treason at Lisson Grove ($15.00) by Anne Perry brings Charlotte and Thomas Pitt face-to-face with Queen Victoria. Special Investigator Pitt and one of his subordinates see a man commit murder, and pursue him to France, where they hope to uncover the reason for his crime. Meanwhile Pitt’s superior, Victor Narraway, has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Charlotte goes to Ireland with Narraway to help him clear his name because she’s afraid of what will happen to her husband: Narraway is the only man who believes in Pitt. What they find out in Ireland leads them back to London. Meanwhile, Pitt comes back to London after finding out the truth behind the killing he witnessed. The two cases are linked to a more dangerous crime that may bring down the Queen of England.

        One of the things that brings new life to a mystery series is when the protagonist’s life is shaken up. That’s what happens to Olivia Paras in Buffalo West Wing ($7.99). A new President moves into the White House with his wife and young children. They don’t know the rules. Olivia upsets the new First Lady by refusing to let the kids eat chicken wings that someone unknown brought into the kitchen. When the housekeeping staff gets sick after eating them, Olivia feels vindicated, but she’s told not to say anything to the First Lady. Things become worse when the First Lady brings in her own personal chef, who not only doesn’t know the rules, but feels he’s above all that. Olivia is afraid she will lose her job, which means everything to her. When she and the President’s son are kidnapped, she knows that she will have to do whatever is necessary to protect the boy, no matter what may happen to her.

        I especially like Katie Bonner in A Crafty Killing ($7.99) by Lorraine Bartlett because she’s not perfect. She makes mistakes. When she finds the body of her business partner, she takes an instant dislike to the police officer in charge of the case. He doesn’t seem to be doing enough to find the killer. When he does start to work on it, he seems to think she is the prime suspect, especially after she finds another dead body. All she wants to do is find a way to make her business - Artisans Alley, a collection of booths for artisans and craft sellers located in a renovated apple warehouse - financially viable. (She knows nothing about crafts, but a great deal about how to run a business.) In order to do that, she has to find out who’s committing the murders.

        Sheer Folly ($14.99) by Carola Dunn begins in March of 1926. Daisy Dalrymple hates to leave her twins, but she needs to go to an estate to work on a book of architectural follies with her friend Lucy. It is only supposed to be for a weekend. She convinces her husband to join her there. When one of the guests is murdered, they are stuck at the estate until the killer is found. Since she can’t stand being away from her children any longer, she is determined to find the killer. Her husband, a Scotland Yard Chief Inspector, doesn’t like the idea, but he knows better than to stop her. The killer has other ideas. Daisy’s life will be forfeit if she gets in the killer’s way.

        In Murder in Miniature ($7.99) by Margaret Grace, Geraldine Porter is one busy lady even though she’s retired. She’s entertaining her granddaughter while chairing the Dollhouse and Miniatures Fair. When her friend, Linda, is a suspect in the murder of a stranger, Geraldine feels compelled to find the killer. Her granddaughter wants to help, which doesn’t please Geraldine at all. Trying to find the killer doesn’t please the police or the killer, who will do what’s necessary to keep Geraldine from finding the truth.

        The Chocolate Cupid Killings ($7.99) by JoAnna Carl is a cozy mystery that’s not so cozy. It begins when a PI insists that the woman he’s looking for works at TenHuis Chocolate Shop. Lee, the shop owner, tells him he’s wrong even though she knows it’s a lie: she is part of a network that aids abused women, helping protect the woman from her abusive husband. Then the PI is murdered, and the woman and the person who helped her leave town disappear. Could the woman’s husband have found them? When Lee’s Aunt Nettie becomes a suspect, Lee has to prove her innocence.

        Nell’s grandmother’s boyfriend is digging up her yard to plant roses as a surprise when he uncovers a dead body in The Devil’s Puzzle ($14.00) by Clare O’Donohue. Even when Nell's grandmother becomes a suspect in the murder, she refuses to tell Nell anything about the body. Nell refuses to let it go, even though finding the truth might ruin her grandmother’s life. She doesn't believe that her grandmother would harm anyone. She digs up the pasts of several people who have secrets they would prefer to keep buried. One of them is ready to kill again.

        In Drip Dead ($6.99) by Christy Evans, Georgiana Neverall’s mother is getting married, and selling her home to Georgiana, who crawls under the house to check the pipes and finds the dead body of the groom to be. With no place to live, her mother moves into Georgiana’s current home, driving her crazy. The only way to get her mother to leave is to find the killer. That becomes even more complicated when her mother becomes the main suspect. Georgiana enlists her friends to help her to find out the truth, because anything, even death, is better than living with her mother.

        When Harry Houdini performs in New York in 1903, Molly Murphy and her intended, Captain Daniel Sullivan, go to see him as The Last Illusion ($7.99) by Rhys Bowen begins. A girl in the opening act is to be sawed in half. Then blood appears: the illusion has gone wrong, and the girl bleeds to death. Daniel investigates the crime. Molly doesn’t plan to become involved, but Houdini’s wife begs Molly to guard her husband because someone is trying to kill him. Even though Daniel doesn’t like it, Molly takes the case. Then she finds out that the only way to guard Houdini is by taking the place of his assistant. Even though she does her best, Houdini disappears. Because of his reputation for spectacular escapes, he has been taking audiences away from other magicians. One of them may be responsible. Then there is the mysterious man Houdini met with before his disappearance. He might be responsible. Perhaps Houdini disappeared to get publicity. Molly is determined to help his wife by finding out the truth.

        Dae O’Donnell is very happy as A Touch of Gold ($7.99) by Joyce and Jim Lavene begins. She loves her job as mayor as well as her shop, Missing Pieces. She has a date with Kevin Brickman, an ex-FBI agent who has moved to town. Everything changes when she is caught in the explosion that destroys the Duck Historical Museum and kills her friend Max Candle. Now every time she touches an object, she has visions of what happened to the object. She finds it difficult to leave the visions. Kevin knows about this kind of talent and helps her learn how to use it. She uses it to try to find out who killed Max and why, not realizing that the stories she’s heard about pirates and treasure may be true, and that modern pirates may be determined to keep their treasure from being found.

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