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Newsletter #104 December, 2013 February, 2014

Recommendations
by Elizabeth LaVelle

        A Morning for Flamingos ($9.99) is the fourth book in the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke. After money troubles push Dave back onto the New Iberia police force, the Cajun detective gets talked into running a sting for the DEA, working to get inside a Mafia drug dealer's operation in New Orleans. And Dave - recently sober, recuperating from a near-fatal bullet wound, missing his adopted daughter and bayou home - discovers that Mafioso Tony C. is a drug-addicted veteran, still traumatized from his experiences in Vietnam, and a loving father to a bright, wheelchair-bound little boy. Burke works magic with standard plot devices, drawing us into a Louisiana where bigotry and corruption are routine, and the Feds' motives are based on election-year politics. And through it all, as Dave tries to accomplish his assignment while dealing with his own PTSD from the shooting and from Vietnam, he struggles to protect and serve, not some abstract idea of the law, but the people who have been damaged by abuse and wronged by an uncaring system. The book has plenty of action and tough-guy stuff, interspersed with beautiful descriptions of quiet moments: fishing on the bayou with his daughter, coffee and beignets for breakfast in the French quarter, the trees and flowers outside a window. It's easy to see why he has garnered so many awards and nominations.

        You Cannoli Die Once ($7.99) by Shelley Costa introduces Miracolo, an Italian restaurant not far from Philadelphia. It's owned by seventy-six-year-old Maria Pia Angelotta, and her granddaughter Eve is head chef. It's a cozy operation: relatives help out in the kitchen and dining room, and neighborhood musicians show up after the dinner rush to drink grappa and play old standards, with everyone singing along. When Eve arrives one morning to find her grandmother's boyfriend dead in the dining room, and the police arrest Maria Pia, Eve and her family and friends are determined to find the real culprit. Along the way, the author treats us to chefs prepping for the dinner rush while singing show tunes, Eve questioning a local restaurant owner while mentally logging the woman's health code violations, and hunky neighborhood lawyer Joe Beck's attempts to keep Eve from doing anything too illegal as she investigates. Eve is a great character, smart, independent, funny, a little snarky, and genuinely fond of her family and staff, even when they are at their most exasperating. (To snap Maria Pia out of jail-induced melancholy, Eve tells her that the restaurant will be serving cannoli, a Sicilian dessert that her Genovese grandmother has strictly forbidden.) I spent a lot of time laughing while I read this book, and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.

        In Dial C for Chihuahua by Waverly Curtis ($7.99), Geri's divorce was just finalized, her career as a real estate stager is stalled by the economy, and the only job interview she's managed to get was with a strange PI who refers to himself in the third person. So she decides she needs some unconditional love, and heads to the shelter to adopt a dog. She gets her new Chihuahua home and dishes up some food for him. "Muchas gracias" says the dog, and introduces himself as Pepe. Geri figures she's hallucinating, but just then PI Jimmy G calls; he's hiring her, and he needs her to go interview a woman whose husband is missing. Right now. Pepe insists on going along. When they find a man's dead body instead of a woman to interview, and the police show up, Geri becomes a murder suspect. Geri's not sure why she can hear Pepe speak, or why other people can't. She has no PI training, but she's smart and very observant. Pepe is good at sniffing out clues, determined to keep Geri safe, and has experience in both law enforcement and search & rescue - if we can believe the stories he tells. Plus he's watched a lot of crime and forensics shows on TV. And thus an investigative team is born, as they go looking for evidence to convince the police that Geri isn't the killer. Pepe turns out to be very good at suggesting questions for Geri to ask when they interview people. And when someone plants evidence in Geri's home and then tips off the police, Pepe stashes the incriminating item in the one place the police will never look. He also watches Mexican soap operas on TV, falls for a beautiful Pomeranian, squabbles with Geri's cat, and tells an amazing number of stories about the things he did before he met Geri. Throw in a very nice, handsome dog trainer who's interested in Geri, and you've got a lively mystery that's laced with humor and low on violence. The series continues in Chihuahua Confidential ($7.99) and The Big Chihuahua ($7.99), both of which are sitting on my to-be-read shelf.

        P.K. Pinkerton and the Deadly Desperados ($6.99, ages 10 and up) by Caroline Lawrence takes place in the Nevada Territory in 1862. Twelve-year-old P.K. Pinkerton arrives home from school to find both foster parents lying in a pool of blood, apparently victims of a Paiute attack. With her last strength, Ma Evangeline tells P.K. that the attackers were white men, and that the medicine bag from P.K.'s Lakota mom holds P.K.'s destiny. On the run from the killers, P.K. winds up in Virginia City, but staying alive long enough to use the deed from the medicine bag to prove a claim to a silver mine is going to take all of P.K.'s smarts, a lot of luck, and some help from, among others, artist Grafton T. Brown, newspapermen Dan De Quille and Sam Clemens, and gambler Poker Face Jace. P.K. is equally matter of fact about being blessed with intelligence and practical survival skills, and being confounded by people, unable to accurately interpret facial expressions - a decided disadvantage for someone who hopes to become a detective. And P.K. has a lot of unfamiliar things to figure out in Virginia City - a rough and tumble town full of saloons, miners, gamblers, and soiled doves (explained for the younger set as women who take money to cuddle with strangers). I really enjoyed P.K.'s point of view, combining everything learned from an Indian mother and from strongly moral Methodist foster parents and then incorporating new ideas acquired from the sundry characters met in Virginia City. I'm looking forward to reading P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man ($7.99) when it arrives in January.

        Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey fans, listen up. It's mayhem time on the Mississippi Delta again for Nick and Desmond in Beluga ($14.99) by Rick Gavin. After Desmond's fearsome ex-wife Shawnica - known for her mean temper and dangerous stick-on fingernails - convinces him to lend money to her ex-con brother Larry (who changed his name legally to Beluga while in prison), Larry and his buddy Skeeter use it to finance stealing a truckload of tires. Thing is, in the process they run over a guy, breaking his leg. Turns out he's a Shambrough - a rich local family with plenty of connections both criminal and political - and they're willing to put folks in the hospital to find out where Larry is. Nick visits the head of the clan, but that Shambrough isn't inclined to be reasonable. Besides sorting out lowlife criminals and vicious landed gentry, Nick is hoping to spend some time with Tula Raintree, the new cop in town, that doesn't involve her writing him a ticket. It's a good, solid sequel to Ranchero ($14.99), and I really enjoyed it, although it wasn't quite as funny as the first book. And then I read Nowhere Nice ($24.99), the third book in the series, and was back to laughing so hard I had to set the book down. When Boudrot, the psychopathic meth lord they took on in Ranchero, escapes into the bayou from a prison work crew, Nick and Desmond know he's going to be bent on bloody revenge. It's up to them to warn everyone who helped them take him down, so they set out in Desmond's Escalade to track down Luther and Percy Dwayne, Dale, and swamp rat Eugene (Tommy is safely incarcerated somewhere). But when that Boudrot goes and steals Nick's Ranchero again and heads for Alabama, it's time for a road trip of retribution. Especially after Tula stops when she sees the Ranchero outside a convenience store, expecting to say hi to Nick, and winds up knocked out and tied up in the back of the Ranchero. With a full complement of crackers in the back of the Escalade (plus one of Eugene's hounds), there's plenty of loopy chatter, plus trouble at every stop along the road. Dale picks fights everywhere (and gets the worst in all of them); Percy Dwayne, Luther, and Eugene see no point in backing down if they think they can take the other guys (mostly they can); there's an entire town full of irate male relatives of a woman Desmond dated briefly; and assorted cops to be reasoned with, calmed down, outsmarted, or outmaneuvered. Through it all, Nick and Desmond keep heading more or less towards their destination, mostly stop the crackers from randomly beating up or shooting people, and try to work out how they'll take down that Boudrot.

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        When I started reading The Mirror and the Mask by Ellen Hart ($14.95), I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. Ellen does a fantastic job of making even the minor characters interesting. The plot of this novel is so intricate that even though you think you know the solution, you might be surprised at how this story ends. Although Jane Lawless is the investigator, this is really Annie Archer’s story. She comes to Minneapolis to find her stepfather Johnny. She meets Jane, who gives her a job and offers to find him. Jane locates Johnny, but she’s bothered by the fact that Annie hasn’t been truthful with her. When Johnny’s current wife dies, Jane becomes even more concerned. There are too many inconsistencies in this case, as well as in the death of Annie’s mother, and Jane can’t let it go. Something isn’t right, and she won’t stop until she finds the truth.

        I’m a big fan of Michael Connelly. I like both his Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller novels. And I really like it when both of them appear in the same novel like The Reversal ($9.99). Mickey Haller becomes a special prosecutor when child killer Jason Jessup gets a retrial because new DNA evidence shows that the semen on a dead girl’s dress wasn’t his. Mickey chooses Harry Bosch to be his investigator. When Jason is released on bail, Harry makes sure he is watched carefully, and tracks down the witnesses in the original case to learn more about Jason, hoping to find something that will help reconvict him. Learning that Jason goes to isolated places, light candles, and sits down for long periods of time, Harry wonders what the significance of these places is. Could this be the break they’re looking for?

        When the Cookie Crumbles by Virginia Lowell (aka Deborah Woodworth) ($7.99) is a tale of murder in the midst Chatterley Heights’s 250th birthday celebration. One of the highlights of the celebration consists of tours of the Chatterley mansion. But when Paine Chatterley–presumed to be dead–shows up with his wife to claim his father’s house, he refuses to let that happen. He also threatens two members of the committee. When he is murdered, Sheriff Del Jenkins turns to his girlfriend Olivia for help with Paine’s wife. Olivia is the only one the woman feels comfortable talking to because Olivia tried to befriend her. Olivia finds herself becoming involved in solving the case.
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