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Newsletter #111 September November, 2015

Recommendations
by Elizabeth LaVelle

                                
        Barbara Hamilton (aka Barbara Hambly) takes us to 1770s Massachusetts, a colony deeply divided between patriots demanding changes in governance and loyalists supporting British rule. The Sons of Liberty are agitating for change: firebrand Sam Adams is their leader, silversmith Paul Revere organizes their information network, and lawyer John Adams, Sam's cousin, writes broadsides under a variety of pen names - all of them risking imprisonment or hanging for treason if the Provost General can find evidence connecting them to these activities. This makes things quite complicated for John's wife Abigail in The Ninth Daughter ($8.99), when she finds a brutally murdered woman in her friend Rebecca's kitchen one morning. Rebecca, who also works with the Sons of Liberty, has disappeared, no one knows where. And the dead woman turns out to be the wife of a wealthy loyalist, not to mention the mistress of the commander of the British garrison. Assistant Provost Marshal Lieutenant Coldstone suspects John Adams of being the killer. As Coldstone investigates the murder, he and Abigail go from adversaries to allies, but it's a cautious partnership: they each have political knowledge they don't want revealed to the other. Abigail is also determined to find out what has become of Rebecca.
        In A Marked Man ($8.99), bookseller Harry Knox is arrested for the murder of crown official Sir Jonathan Cottrell, an unscrupulous lecher who was planning to marry the woman Knox loves - Lucy Fluckner, the daughter of a wealthy loyalist. There is also suspicion of a political motive for the killing - Cottrell was dispatched from England to gather information about traitors in the colony, and Knox is known to be a patriot. (In fact, Knox was printing broadsides for the Sons of Liberty the night of the killing, which leaves him unable to supply an alibi.) But Lieutenant Coldstone has serious doubts about the case, based on the condition of the corpse and what he's discovered, and turns to Abigail for help finding out more about the dead man's activities the day of his death (she turns to Paul Revere for help gathering information). Abigail is additionally motivated to help by a request from Lucy Fluckner, a very determined young woman who had no intention of marrying Cottrell, and has every intention of marrying Knox. As she investigates, Abigail also tries to find out what happened to Philomena, a slave woman who has vanished from the Fluckner household, leaving behind two small children.
        Sup with the Devil ($7.99) takes Abigail to Harvard, where her young nephew Horace is a student, to investigate a strange attempt on his life. While she is there, George Fairfield, a pleasant and popular student from Virginia, is murdered. The sheriff and the college officials are certain Fairfield was killed by his slave Diomede, but the facts Abigail discovers don't bear that out. She has her work cut out getting to the bottom of both mysteries. Hambly is a historian, and the plots are nicely fleshed out with details about the politics of the day, the lives of colonial men and women, and daily life in the Adams household. Abigail and John have a strong, loving marriage, and John has great respect for Abigail's intelligence - his nickname for her is 'Portia', after Shakespeare's intrepid woman lawyer. And, despite occasional grumbles about the absences entailed by John's travels as a lawyer, Abigail's affection for him is clear. Also clear are her feelings about cousin Sam - as much as Abigail supports the political positions of the Sons of Liberty, she is not in favor of Sam's more reckless activities, which repeatedly complicate both her personal life and her investigations. And I really enjoyed her interactions with Coldstone - their verbal fencing is delightful, and their gradual transition from icy enmity to cautious alliance to mutual respect and cooperation is entirely believable. I loved Abigail as a character, and as a sleuth, and I wish the series was longer.

        Although her skills with humans still need some work, animal behaviorist Grace Wilde puts her ability to communicate with animals to good use again in Horse of a Different Killer ($7.99, third in the series after Woof at the Door and A Tiger's Tale, $7.99 each) by Laura Morrigan. Grace sheds no tears when she learns that Tony Ortega, the abusive ex who put her sister Emma in the hospital years ago, is dead. Unfortunately, Emma been arrested for his murder, and a strangely hostile detective is in charge of the investigation. Ortega had been trying to reach Grace for days before his death, but she hadn't returned any of his calls. When she decides to do some digging, her only lead is Ortega's fiancee Jasmine, who thinks the calls were probably about a Friesian horse Ortega purchased as a gift for her - a horse that has disappeared from the stable where it was boarded. Jasmine asks Grace to track down the horse; along the way, Grace hopes to find some ideas about who really killed Ortega. And she'll have some help doing that from Kai, her hunky crime scene investigator boyfriend. As always, Morrigan does a great job with her characters, both human and animal (I especially enjoyed the goats this time), and the suspense of the investigation is nicely leavened with scenes of Grace at work - figuring out how to get an escaped koala out of a tree, or why a normally quiet cat is suddenly shredding the curtains - and at home, talking to her sister, walking her dog, dealing with the latest chaos her kitten has created. I also love Grace's snarky sense of humor (like telling the detective staring at Emma's antique wardrobe that it leads to Narnia), and the fact that she's smart, capable, and pretty good at getting out of whatever trouble she manages to get herself into as she investigates.

        Mo and Dale, aka the Desperado Detective Agency, are back in business in The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing ($7.99, ages 10 and up) by Sheila Turnage, sequel to Three Times Lucky ($7.99, ages 10 and up, a Newbery Honor book and Edgar Award finalist). When the Old Tupelo Inn (established 1880, closed 1938) and its contents go to the auction block, pretty much everyone in town plans to attend. Miss Lana has her eye on an umbrella stand, but teams up with Miss Lacy to buy the inn when a nasty out-of-towner starts bidding on it. They plan to resell the inn to someone nicer, but there might be some trouble with that: the inn also has a bona fide ghost (as disclosed in the fine print of the auction documents). Next thing you know, Mo loses her temper at school, and says she and Dale are going to interview the ghost for a history assignment. While working on this project, they find plenty of mysteries at the inn. Who is the ghost, and why is she haunting the place? Why is curmudgeonly local moonshiner Mr. Red Baker sneaking around the grounds at night? And why is that out-of-towner really interested in the property? It's a lot to investigate, but Mo and Dale are up to the job (with some help from new kid in town Harm Crenshaw and the supporting cast of responsible adults). The book is humorous and warm-hearted, and also deals gently with thornier issues, like poverty in the community, and Dale's mixed feelings about his violent father's incarceration. I'm looking forward to book 3 in the series, The Odds of Getting Even ($16.99, expected early October).

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        The most interesting thing about Death on Blackheath by Anne Perry ($16.00) is that even though the mystery took place during the Victorian era, it could have just as easily taken place today. It begins with the disappearance of a lady’s maid, not something that Thomas Pitt, head of Special Branch, should have investigated. The problem is that the maid is part of the household of naval weapons expert, Dudley Kynaston. Pitt finds blood, hair, and shards of glass outside the house. Although he finds no proof of anything lethal, a mutilated body of a young woman who could have been the maid is found near the Kynaston home. There is no proof that this woman is the maid he’s looking for. But there is something’s wrong with the whole thing. Could the maid have seen something she shouldn’t? Could the truth harm the country? That’s what Pitt has to find out.

        Desert Noir by Betty Webb ($14.95) begins with a murder. Lena Jones finds the body of her friend, Clarice Kobe, who has been beaten to death. She felt sure she knew who the guilty person was, Clarice’s husband who beat her on a regular basis. When his lawyer asks for her help in proving his innocence, she doesn’t want to say yes. But then she finds out that he has an alibi. Delving into Clarice’s life is sad for her as she finds out her friend isn’t the nice person she thought she was. She comes from a dysfunctional family and she was dysfunctional as well. Clarice angered a great many people to get what she wanted. Lena has more suspects than she realized she would have. Meanwhile someone is trying to kill her to get her off the case.

        I came back from London and picked up a book that is set in, you guessed it, London. Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay ($7.99) begins when Scarlett Parker escapes from her viral video depicting her attacking the man who lied to her. She goes to London, hoping to find some peace and quiet while working at Mim’s Whims, a ladies hat shop on Portebello Run that has been left to her and her cousin Viv. Viv has been running the shop but when Scarlett arrives, Viv has disappeared. With no idea of what is going on, she takes over the shop. Then one of her customers is murdered wearing nothing but a hot that Scarlett sold her. Because the dead woman’s husband is in love with Viv, she is the prime suspect. Scarlett is not about to let anyone accuse her cousin of murder. She decides to find out the truth with the help of a former boyfriend who has turned into a very handsome man.

        A Deadly Grind ($7.99) is the first of a new series by Victoria Hamilton. The first thing I liked about this book, long before I knew anything about the plot, was that the protagonist, Jaymie Leighton, stands up to her sister, Rebecca. Also it is obvious that in spite of their differences that they care about each other. Jaymie is a collector of vintage cookware. When she sees an original 1920’s Hoosier-brand kitchen cabinet at an estate auction, she is determined to have it in spite of her sister’s protests that the house they both own has too many objects in it. She manages to bid high enough to win the cabinet. She gets help bringing the cabinet home and storing it temporarily on her summer porch until she can clean it. What she doesn’t expect is that a man will be murdered with the grinder from that cabinet. She doesn’t know the dead man and has no idea what he’s doing on her summer porch. Could it have something to do with the cabinet? She begins to investigate the cabinet’s past. The truth is more disturbing than that and Jaymie learns that an item’s past could lead to murder.

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