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Newsletter #50 June - August, 2000

Mystery Reviews
by Geri Balter

        Concourse by S. J. Rozan ($5.99) is a Bill Smith mystery where Bill is asked to investigate the death of security guard at a senior citizen's home in the Bronx by the man who helped him become a P.I., Bobby Moran. Because he feels he owes Bobby, he keeps going after other security guards die and a street gang lord threaten him. He finds out more about politics in the Bronx than he wants. Along the way he befriends a couple of senior citizens and a young
man who is trying to make a new life for himself and his children and leave the street gang. Of course Lydia Chen is involved, doing background checks and saving his life at one point. However, she's not around when he's almost killed by someone who doesn't want him to find out the truth.
        Like all Bill Smith_Lydia Chen mysteries I've read so far, the plot and characters keeps the reader wanting to know more and carrying for the people involved.

        Have you ever read the first book in a series, then picked up the second book and find yourself disappointed? It's happened to me more often than I can remember. However the second book in the Dorothy Martin series by Jeanne M. Dams, Murder in the Town Hall ($5.99) is just as good as the first. This is a series for people who like low key mysteries, where the setting is as much of a character as any of the people. The series takes place in a small town in England where the people have to decide whether to turn their historic town hall into a modern shopping mall or restore it. When Dorothy Martin finds a stranger dead in the town hall, the problems only increase. There are members of the town who don't want Dorothy to investigate the murder, which of course she does anyway. When a prominent member of the town is murdered too, Dorothy is determined to get to the bottom of things no matter what.
        Jeanne Dams does a wonderful job involving the reader in small town life in England.

        Mind Over Murder by Bill Pomidor ($5.99) starts out with Cal Marley being threatened by an insane man she helped send to prison and who had escaped. Her husband, Plato, and friends have no idea where she is. Will they find her in time? Will she die? From there the novel only gets more exciting as this insane man continues to threaten people who helped convict him, all the while insisting he's innocent. He is spotted several times but continually escapes. Not only is he insane, he also has a genius IQ. When his former psychiatrist is killed, the manhunt intensifies. Will they catch him before he kills everyone who was responsible for his imprisonment? As much as I like this book, it's hard for me to say much about the plot without giving it away. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much besides the interesting characters and the plot is that I was totally wrong about how it would end. I should have known when every time I was sure one thing would happen, something entirely different happened instead.

        In Deck the Halls with Murder by Valerie Wolzien ($5.99), Josie Pigeon does what so many of us do during the holiday season, she takes on more than she can handle. She accepts the tough job of trying to make a house livable for a crotchety paraplegic while volunteering to plan and make Christmas dinner. For those of you who have read other books in this series, you know how tough that can be for Josie, who doesn't cook. When one of the members of her construction crew is murdered and another of her workers, Betty, is accused of the murder, Josie adds trying to find the killer to her busy schedule. What complicates matters is that Betty won't talk to Josie or participate in her own defense. Josie tries to solve the mystery with no help from Betty. Can she do it in time?
        The fun thing about this series is that Valerie Wolzien does a wonderful job creating interesting situations and characters that the reader can care about.

        Old Bones by Aaron Elkins ($6.50) is the first Gideon Oliver mystery I have read. It won't be the last. This novel has a plot that kept me intrigued with its twists and turns and a setting that was fascinating to me because it took place in a part of the world that I knew little about, the isle of Mont St. Michel. I also enjoy reading a novel where the main character doesn't know it all. Gideon made his share of mistakes in trying to solve this crime.
        It starts out innocuously enough, an old, crippled man dies trying to outrun the tide that caught him unawares. Then an old skeleton is found in his home because of some work he asked to have done in the basement of his home. By the time one of the suspects is poisoned, I began to suspect everyone and everything. So did Gideon Oliver. He was in France lecturing on skeletal remains at a police convention in France. When Inspector Joly, one of the police attending the convention, asks him to examine the skeleton found in the old man's house, Gideon agrees. Soon the inspector begins to regret asking Gideon. Every explanation of the skeleton he comes up with, Gideon disagrees with. He also doesn't believe the old man's death was an accident. Soon Gideon's own life is threatened. He has to come up with the truth before it's too late.

        Sew Deadly by Jean Hagar ($5.99) is part of the Iris House B&B mystery series. In this book, however, most of the action takes place in a senior center where Tess Darcy (who owns and operates Iris House) is doing volunteer work because things are slow in the B&B business. As she gets to know the members, she sees that one of them, Edwina, doesn't get along with the rest of the members. The question isn't who is going to be murdered, but when. No one is surprised when Edwina's death is murder. What does surprise Tess is that the police chief asks for her help. Each member of Edwina's group in the center has a motive for killing Edwina as does her nephew and his girlfriend, who have come to town hoping that Edwina will give them money. As Tess learns about the past of each of the seniors, she finds plenty of motives. Only one is strong enough to lead to murder.

        China Bayles is pretty happy with her life in the beginning of Love Lies Bleeding by Susan Albert ($5.99). Her business is doing so well that she's hired full_time help and is thinking of opening up a tearoom. She's also thinking of marrying her live-in boyfriend, McQuaid. Everything falls apart when the husband of one of her part_time workers is murdered and she suspects that McQuaid is having an affair with another woman. To keep from thinking about it, she begins to investigate the murder. McQuaid warns her not to get involved but won't tell her why. This only makes her more determined to find out what is going on in spite of the danger. This book is filled with strong characters, both male and female, and plenty of plot twists. A great read.

        Jane Jeffry and her friend, Shelley, go to a rustic resort in Wisconsin to see if it would be a good summer camp for kids. When they find a dead man, they rush off to call the sheriff. When they want to show it to him, the body has disappeared. Then the dead man reappears very much alive. In Fear of Frying ($5.99), Jill Churchill tells the story of what happens when a group of people, most of whom are strangers, get together at the resort for reasons that have little to do with looking the place over. When they are cut off from the rest of the world due to bad weather, it takes all of Jane's and Shelley's investigative ability to find out the truth.

        When Callahan Garrity refuses to help Wuvvy, short for Virginia Lee Poole, it's because she is sure Wuvvy is guilty of murdering her stepson, Jackson Poole. After all, Wuvvy did go prison for killing her husband. When Wuvvy supposedly commits suicide, Callahan begins to feel guilty. Maybe she should have done more. When Jackson's partner and lover, Anna Frisch, wants her to look into what happened, she takes the case. In between trying to run her cleaning business and take care of her mother, Callahan tries to solve the case. The more she finds about Wuvvy, the more questions she has about what happened to Jackson Poole and his father. Strange Brew by Kathy Hogan Trocheck ($5.99) is filled with twists and turns filled with humor and danger. It's an interesting combination.

        When I read one of Steve Allen's mysteries, it is as if I can hear his voice telling me the story. It's no different with Die Laughing ($5.99). When a dying comic asks Steve to do him a favor and host a show honoring comics, Steve agrees reluctantly. That's before the comics start dying one at a time. Then he wishes he had never agreed to the whole thing. This mystery is grittier than the others I've read in this series are. Even his wife, Jayne's, life is threatened. Steve does a wonderful job on commenting on life in Hollywood today and in the past interspersed with his detecting. It's a fun read.

        Poor Emma Lord. It's hard enough to break up with a boyfriend. It's even harder when he's the sheriff and she needs his help. That's what happens in The Alpine Kindred by Mary Daheim ($5.99). When Einar Rasmussen, Jr. is murdered, Emma decides to find out the facts for the newspaper she owns. None of the relatives will talk to her. Not only does her former boyfriend, Sheriff Milo Dodge, refuse to talk to her, he tells his deputies not to tell her anything either. She goes out on her own. She finds a human skeleton no one can identify and family secrets that no one wants to talk about.

        If you have ever bought and/or sold a home, you will enjoy Final Closing by Barbara Lee ($4.99). If not, I still recommend you read it. It gives a realistic portrayal of what life is like for real estate agents.
        Eve Elliott is only selling real estate to help out her elderly aunt who is recovering from a broken ankle. She is really in the advertising business in New York. When real estate agents start receiving obscene phone calls and getting killed, Eve knew she should run back to New York. Instead she began to investigate the murders. She didn't want to leave her elderly aunt in a situation where she could become the next victim. She meets all sorts of real estate agents, from those who care for their clients to those who are only interested in a sale at any cost, all the while trying to sell homes not knowing if the client is a murderer or not. When she is caught in a empty house with the murderer and a flood threatening them both, you begin to wonder if either of them will survive.

        In Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M. C. Beaton ($5.99), the last thing Agatha Raisin wants to do is investigate another murder. The man she loves wants to have nothing to do with her. The small town she lives is becoming stifling. So when the Ancombe Water Company wants to hire her to do their publicity when they take over a natural spring in the town where she lives, she takes the job even though the townspeople are against it. Then she finds the dead body of the only person on the town council who hadn't decided on whether or not to let them do it. She would have gone on with her job if her ex_fiance didn't start his own investigation. She couldn't let him get away with it. Finally they joined forces to find the killer, which Agatha hopes will rekindle their relationship.

        When Judge Deborah Knott goes to High Point, North Carolina, to preside over some cases in Killer Market ($6.50) by Margaret Maron, she is shocked to find there isn't a hotel room to be had. The International Home Furnishings Market has taken every room. When she meets a mysterious elderly lady who promises to find her a place to stay, Deborah agrees and soon wishes she hadn't. A dead man is found whom Deborah knows. Beside him is her purse that the mysterious elderly lady actually took. Soon Deborah finds herself trying to find out who killed the man. The mysterious elderly lady seems to hold the key to the murder, or maybe she's the murderer. This story is filled with unique characters and plot twists that kept me guessing until the end.

        Even though it takes 145 pages before someone is murdered in Sins of a Shaker Summer by Deborah Woodworth ($5.99), there are plenty of other mysteries that will intrigue the reader. The mysteries start when two small children become mysteriously ill. No one knows what caused their illness or how they recovered. Then there are the new Shakers who have joined them. Each one has a secret that bothers Rose. As Eldress, she has responsibility to see that everything runs smoothly. One or perhaps more leads to the murder of one of the group. It's up to Rose to find the answers before one of her friends is arrested for the crime.
        I will admit I was so busy trying to figure out the answers to all the other mysteries, I paid no attention to the fact that no one had been murdered until the murder took place. I think this is the best book in the series so far. The new characters are interesting and mysterious enough so that I found myself wanting to know more about them. Rose and several of the characters who were in previous books also grow and mature as their lives change. After reading this book, I can't wait to see what will happen next to this Shaker community.

        Black Diamond by Susan Holtzer ($5.99) tells two stories. One takes place in the present; the other takes place a century earlier. It all starts in the present when Zoe Kaplan offers to drive her dorm_mate, Clare Swann, to her aunt's house. Clare's aunt is the only one who wanted her to go to college and paid her expenses until she died. Claire assumed that she would inherit enough to continue with her education. What she found out was that her aunt had little money left and what she did have would be split three ways. All that was left to her alone was a Black Diamond box filled with old letters and papers. Claire was disappointed because she was sure her aunt had provided for her in some way so that she wouldn't be dependent on her family, who didn't think much of her and did everything to erode her self_confidence. After meeting Claire's family, I was sure her mother would be the one who was killed. I wouldn't have blamed Claire if she had done that. Instead Claire's father, a man who had deserted his family and was presumed dead, was murdered and the Black Diamond box was stolen. Luckily for Claire, there was nothing inside. She and Zoe had taken the papers to be copied, hoping that they could read them easier. Zoe calls in Anneke Haagen for help. Anneke, who is having problems getting along with one of her own daughters, works with them. The three of them begin to piece together a story of one of Claire's ancestors who befriended a whore a century earlier. The women realize that there is something in those papers that someone wants, perhaps enough to kill for. The mystery of the papers and the murder unfold together.
        One of the things I enjoyed about this mystery is that it realistically portrays the difficulty of deciphering writing from the past, especially since one of the people doesn't have much schooling. The characters both from the present and the past are portrayed in such a way that I cared what happened to them. The plot was complex yet held my interest throughout.





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