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Newsletter #106 June August, 2014

Recommendations
by Elizabeth Lavelle

        When London isn't being supernaturally ravaged, things are a bit calmer around the Folly, as we see in Broken Homes ($7.99) by Ben Aaronovitch. Molly is experimenting with recipes from the new cookbooks everyone has given her. There's Latin to study and formae to practice, as Peter and Lesley continue their apprenticeships. And Peter is still spending time pursuing lines of inquiry that Nightingale and Lesley find irrelevant. Which is how he discovers that the Arts and Antiquities Squad has picked up a stolen antique German grimoire, which he traces to a theft at the National Trust home of an expatriate German architect, who designed Skygarden Tower in Southwark. Add to that the highly suspect apparent suicide of a Southwark Council planner, and the extremely unpleasant and unnatural death of the man who nicked the grimoire, and you can make a pretty good case that the Faceless Man is after something in Elephant and Castle. The trick, of course, will be finding out exactly what, and stopping him. Plus Peter attends Officer Safety Training, the Folly organizes the policing for the first-ever joint Spring Court of the God and Goddess of the River Thames, Peter's formae still occasionally explode unexpectedly - and we get to see what Nightingale can really do as a magician. But the thing I enjoyed most about this book? Peter's supposedly useless knowledge is what puts the case together - Lesley and Nightingale wouldn't have seen any of it.

        In the mood for a straightforward old-school British procedural? Then the Inspector Sloan mysteries by Catherine Aird are just what you're looking for. I am very happy that Rue Morgue has been reprinting some of the earlier ones. The first in the series, The Religious Body ($14.95, originally published in 1966), takes Inspector Sloan to the unfamiliar environs of the Convent of St. Anselm. It looks like Sister Anne tumbled down the cellar stairs, but the lack of blood on the floor makes it clear the body has been moved. The case grows more confusing when pathologist Dr. Dabbe determines that she died well before Vespers. Someone was in her stall at the service - how did the imposter get into the convent, which should have been locked up tight? A tasteless Guy Fawkes prank at the nearby Agricultural Institute muddies the waters further - how did the students get their hands on the dead woman's missing eyeglasses? The investigation into Sister Anne's pre-convent life brings even more suspects and possible motives into the picture. Luckily, Sloan's sharp wits and considerable experience are up to the task of bringing the killer to book. The series continues with Henrietta Who? ($14.95, originally published in 1968), in which a hit-and-run near a quiet village proves to be homicide, not accident. When Dr. Dabbe's postmortem reveals that middle-aged Grace Jenkins couldn't possibly have been Henrietta Jenkins' mother, Inspector Sloan and his colleagues find their search for the killer greatly complicated. What was stolen from the locked desk in the cottage? What was the victim's real identity? How and why did she end up in the village? Who are Henrietta's real parents? The next six books in the series are also available, $14.95 each, and Dead Heading ($25.99, #24 in the series) will be available in mid-June.

        Minnie Hamilton was thrilled to get a job as librarian in Chilson, Michigan. She's glad to be back in the small town where she spent happy childhood summers. Mostly she lives in her aunt's big house, but come summer Minnie relocates to a small houseboat to make room for her aunt's paying guests. And now she has company there: Eddie, a purring, mrrring, head-butting cat who followed her home one day. In Lending a Paw ($7.99) by Laurie Cass, Minnie was not expecting Eddie to sneak aboard the district's brand-new bookmobile for its inaugural run. And she definitely wasn't expecting him to run off at a stop and lead her to the dead body of her friend Stan Larabee, who donated the money to buy the bookmobile. Her aunt's strange reaction to the news of Stan's death sends Minnie looking for answers. Why do most of the townsfolk have such a bad opinion of Stan? What was his connection to her aunt? And to local society matron Caroline Grice? Who had a motive to kill him? But the most important question of all is, how much trouble is Minnie going to be in if her boss finds out that, due to popular demand, Eddie has become a regular on the bookmobile runs? Quite a bit of the book takes place at the library and aboard the bookmobile, and I really enjoyed Minnie's interactions with her patrons and co-workers, as well as with her friends and neighbors around town. I'm looking forward to spending more time with Minnie and Eddie and their friends when Tailing a Tabby ($7.99) arrives in early July.

        Kneading to Die ($7.99, a 2013 Agatha Award finalist for Best First Novel) by Liz Mugavero introduces us to Kristan 'Stan' Connor, who has recently lost her high-powered PR job with an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. When her best friend Nikki gets tired of Stan's moping and drags her along to take a rescue dog to its new home, Stan falls in love with a pretty little house in the small town of Frog Ledge, and decides that a change of scenery is just what she and her Maine coon cat Nutty need. Stan is an independent, urban woman who is quite happy to find herself in a less frantic, friendlier small town milieu, where it's easy to walk or bike to the local shops, and the air is fresh (except for the occasional whiff of manure from the local dairy farm). When Stan finds the local veterinarian murdered - and, as the town newcomer, finds herself under suspicion - her attempts to find out more about the locals and the vet turn up plenty of other suspects, including her best friend Nikki. Mugavero does a great job populating the town with interesting characters, especially Ray and Char Mackey, owners of the Alpaca Haven bed & breakfast / alpaca farm; Izzy Sweet, purveyor of fine coffe and delicious sweets; and bar owner Jake McGee. And of course assorted pet cats and dogs, all of whom love the healthy snacks Stan bakes for Nutty and for Nikki's pet adoption events. Throw in a local farmer's market, a costume party on the town green, and a rescue dog named Scruffy, and it wasn't long before I found myself liking Frog Ledge as much as Stan does! I've just started reading the next book in the series, A Biscuit, A Casket ($7.99).

        A bit further north is the town of Busman's Harbor, where Barbara Ross brings us the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Maine, as well an occasional murder. Clammed Up ($7.99, a 2013 Agatha Award finalist for Best Contemporary Novel) introduces us to Julia Snowden, recently returned to her hometown from New York City, where she worked in the high-pressure world of venture capital. Now she's doing her best to save her family's clambake business, which has been hard hit by her father's death and by decreased tourism. On the line? Dozens of jobs, Morrow Island - which has been in her mother's family for generations, and is where they hold the clambakes - and her mom's house in town. Julia is organized and smart about business, and she's decided to try having weddings and receptions on the island to help increase revenue. But the very first event has to be cancelled after the best man is found hanged in the old mansion on the island. With the clambake shut down while the police investigate, and the bank threatening to call in the loan, Julia decides to do some sleuthing of her own. In Boiled Over ($7.99, #2 in the series), Busman's Harbor has decided to hold a Founder's Weekend Festival to draw in tourists, with a variety of events and local food cooked at the pier. To bring the clambake ashore from the island, Julia's brother-in-law Sonny has put together a 20-foot by 4-foot contraption (dubbed the Claminator) to cook the lobsters, clams, corn, potatoes, onions, and eggs they serve. His plans definitely did not include someone stashing a Festival organizer's dead body in the Claminator's firewood. When Sonny's assistant runs off, suspicion naturally falls on him, but the Snowdens can't believe the young man is a killer, so once again Julia decides to investigate. This is a warm-hearted small town series with great characters. Local cop Jamie Dawes may have been sweet on Julia since high school, but he still refuses to fill her in on confidential investigation details. Gus won't serve anyone he doesn't know at his restaurant - and despite his curmudgeonly exterior, he's willing to give Julia advice to steer her right when she gets her priorities wrong. Cab driver / landscaper / bouncer Chris Durand, even better looking than he was back in high school when Julia developed her crush on him, has proven to be a good listener. And Julia's family really take care of each other, despite occasional squabbles (or, in the case of Sonny and Julia, shouting matches).

        The Agatha Mistery books ($5.99 each, ages 7 and up, chapter books with black & white illustrations) star twelve-year-old Agatha, an aspiring mystery writer with an amazing memory, sharp observational skills, and a keen sense of adventure. Her regular co-stars are her fourteen-year-old cousin Dash (short for Dashiell), who is studying - well, mostly dodging his assignments - at a prestigious detective academy, and Chandler, a formidable ex-boxer turned butler. The books are fast-paced and humorous, and features assorted members of the scattered and eccentric Mistery Clan, who tend to embrace unusual careers, like camel breeding or hot air balloons design. The Curse of the Pharaoh (#1) takes them to Egypt's Valley of the Kings to help a team of archaeologists recover a clay tablet, vanished from their dig, that may reveal the location of a previously undiscovered tomb. This is a school exam for Dash, but it is actually Agatha's quick wits that turn up the clues and find a way to trick the culprit into giving himself away. The series continues with The Pearl of Bengal (#2), The King of Scotland's Sword (#3), The Heist at Niagara Falls (#4), and The Eiffel Tower Incident (#5). The Treasure of the Bermuda Triangle (#6) is expected in mid-July.
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