Thursday, February 25, 2016

Shards of Murder (A Webb's Glass Shop Mystery)

Author:  Cheryl Hollon
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781617737626
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
February 23, 2016
Five Stars

As the new proprietor of Webb's Glass Shop, Savannah has been appointed to fill her late father's shoes as a judge for the Spinnaker Arts Festival, held in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.  With her innovative glass works, the clear winner is Megan Loyola, a student of Savannah's former mentor.

But when Megan doesn't show up to accept her $25,000 award, rumors start flying.  And when Savannah discovers the dead woman's body on festival grounds, the police immediately suspect her of murder.  To keep from appearing before a judge herself, Savannah sorts through the broken pieces of glass scattered around the victim for clues as to who took this killer competition too far...

********

Savannah Webb lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is the owner of Webb's Glass Shop, having inherited it after her father's recent murder.  She has been asked to take her father's place as a glass judge for the Spinnaker Arts Festival.  Happily for Savannah, her former instructor, Keith Irving is also in town to support one of his proteges in the competition, Megan Loyola.  When Savannah sees Megan's work, she has to agree that she is the hands down winner for Best in Show.

But when it comes time to distribute the awards, Megan is nowhere to be found.  The next day, while running with her dog Rooney near Tampa Bay, she sees Megan's body floating in the surf.  When she is told by her friend Detective Parker that she is high on the suspect list - having been seen with the victim right before she died, Megan had her business card on her person, and finding the body - well, it all seems to be circumstantial evidence, but evidence nonetheless.  So what can Savannah do but try and find the murder herself?  She gathers together her "posse," Amanda Blake and Jacob Underwood, who work for her, and Edward Morris, the pub owner from next door, and together they devise a plan to try and find the truth.

They make a list of possible suspects and then agree to try and find information regarding their whereabouts during the time Megan was killed.  But this is easier said than done when one of their potential suspects doesn't want to speak with them and another has seemingly disappeared.  What makes her even more determined to find the murderer is the fact that Savannah herself seems to be in the killer's crosshairs...

I enjoyed the book and thought it was well written with the author well able to give us characters who are both unique and likable.  There are no real villains in the fact that there isn't a character who is just a hateful person (I really get tired of reading about the one person in town that the protagonist hates and appears in every single book).  But although, of course, there are 'villains' as it were, none of them seem to be of the evil type - which makes it harder to pick out the person who actually was the killer, and this is as it should be.

We also have the burgeoning (slowly) relationship between Savannah and Edward; and in this book he shows a bit of jealousy, while you get the idea that Amanda may be on the verge of having an admirer herself in the guise of one of Savannah's students (or not, although it seemed so to me).  There is also a nice subplot involving Rooney, Savannah's dog and Suzy, Jacob's helper dog, which should please dog lovers as well.

Ms. Hollon manages to write characters that have depth, not just the protagonist, but everyone who plays a major part in the story.  They are all part of an ensemble, with their friendship toward each other clearly playing out.  This is the second book in Webb's Glass Shop Mysteries, the first being Pane and Suffering, which explains more on how Savannah came to leave Seattle and arrive back in St. Petersburg.  I think you will find it as delightful as this story.  Highly recommended.



More on Cheryl Hollon's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/cheryl-hollon/

http://joannesbooks.blogspot.com/2015/09/pane-and-suffering-webbs-glass-shop.html                                                                       

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fogged Inn (A Maine Clambake Mystery #4)

Author:  Barbara Ross
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496700377
Kensington Publishing
320 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
February 23, 2016
Five Stars

An autumn chill has settled over Busman's Harbor, Maine, but Julia Snowden is warming up the town by offering lobster stew at the local diner.  When her landlord discovers a dead body in the walk-in refrigerator, Julia must figure out who ordered up a side of murder.

Nothing's colder than a corpse -- especially one stashed inside a sub-zero fridge.  The victim spent his last night on earth dining at the restaurant bar, so naturally Julia finds herself at the center of the ensuing investigation.  Lost in the November fog, however, is who'd want to kill the unidentified stranger -- and why.  It might have something to do with a suspicious group of retirees and a decades-old tragedy to which they're all connected.  One thing's for sure:  Julia's going to make solving this mystery her early bird special...

********

Julia Snowden lives in an apartment above the restaurant that she and her boyfriend Chris, operate for dinner.  It is just after Thanksgiving in Maine, and it gives her and Chris much-needed income to get through the off-season winter.  Her landlord Gus owns the restaurant and runs it for breakfast and lunch.  One morning she is awakened by Gus screaming up the stairs at her - telling her there's a dead body in the walk-in refrigerator.

Yes, a dead body...in the walk-in refrigerator.  It's not anyone they know, but she does recognize him as being at the restaurant the night before.  Other than that, he's a complete stranger, and no one seems to know anything about him.  Naturally, the police close the restaurant until they can investigate the crime scene.

Julia, never one to sit around and wait for things to be done in their own time, starts thinking back to the night before.  There were, besides the dead man, four older couples in the restaurant - Henry and Caroline Caswell; Phil and Deborah Bennett; Michael and Sheila Smith; and Barry and Fran Walker.  All four couples sat on opposite sides of the restaurant, and didn't speak with each other - at first.

The night was a foggy one, and Julia's childhood friend, Jamie Dawes, now a police officer, arrived and told them they couldn't leave because there had been an accident blocking the road.  So, until they were given the all clear, they managed to make small talk among themselves, mostly about the weather, but little else.

Julia soon remembers that all four couples paid, at least partly, with gift certificates for the restaurant.  When she checks them, she sees that they had an expiration date of the night they dined.  But according to Maine law, gift certificates can't have an expiration.  She intends to mention this to Lt. Jerry Binder and Tom Flynn, of the state police Major Crimes Unit in Augusta, first chance she has.  Until then, she has them in a cigar box she keeps in her apartment.  But when she goes to check, the certificates are missing, and she's convinced that they've been stolen, although Jamie thinks she may have merely misplaced them.

Rattled by the fact that someone was in her apartment and took the certificates, she vows to find out more about the couples and how they received them.  It seems the certificates were sold in a lot of five, and she knows that someone must have given them to each couple, and wants to find out who it was.  What she does learn isn't much: only that each couple received the certificate in the mail, and according to their answers, they don't know each other.

When Julia later visits Vee and Fee Snugg, sisters who run a B&B and where the deceased man was staying, she learns something new that leads her to a an old photograph at the Yacht Club.  In the photo, taken many years before when they were young, she discovers all four couples standing together - which proves that they lied to her, and they do indeed have some sort of a past.  But why would they deny knowing each other?  And why would they barely acknowledge each other in the restaurant if they did know each other?

Julia is sure that they are all hiding something, and that one of the group may have killed the as yet unidentified man.  She is determined to find out why they lied to her, and proceeds to question them all again, even after she is warned by Lt. Binder to stay away.

What Julia eventually finds out, through dogged investigation, is that not only do the four couples have a history together, but that it connects them to a tragedy which occurred decades earlier, and could have a bearing on what happened that fateful night in the restaurant.

Fogged Inn is the fourth book in the Maine Clambake series, and I found it intriguing in the fact that in solving one mystery Julia may have solved two.  Both plots were linked together in such a way that it never seemed artificial nor doubtful, making the characters involved sympathetic in the process, and a gratifying read.  For while Julia is actually trying to find the person who has been sneaking into her apartment stealing items related to the case while she sleeps, she is drawn into the old cold case that is tied to the current murder.

Along the way we find that there is more tying these people together than what is first seen; a part of their past that they have never been able to escape and has tainted their lives with a sort of sadness and guilt, even in the fact that they were able to find happiness among themselves.

The clues are all there if you look for them, but not always easy to find, and when the case is finally solved, the answers are a bit surprising and unexpected, but satisfying nonetheless.  As I have stated above, this book has an unusual plot which, unlike most cozies, leaves a sort of sadness in the story that makes it even more believable when the ending comes.  Highly recommended.



More on Barbara Ross's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/r/barbara-ross/

       

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Murder on the Half Shell (A Red Carpet Catering Mystery #2)

Author:  Shawn Reilly Simmons
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781943390649; 9781943390618
Henery Press
230 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $2.99 Amazon
February 23. 2016
Five Stars

Filming a movie on a sunny Florida beach may seem like working in paradise, but dealing with the brutal heat, a difficult director and a leading lady with a serious aversion to seafood makes for a challenging task for Penelope Sutherland and her Red Carpet Catering crew.  After two girls go missing during a raucous beach party thrown by the movie's director, the cast and crew fall out of favor with the Andrea Island locals.  When a flashy celebrity chef is accused of the crime, Penelope Sutherland steps in to help her former culinary school instructor find the truth.  Surrounded by suspicious locals with a history all their own, Penelope uncovers clues from the past that reveal an undercurrent of evil amid the magnificent sandy beaches.

********

Penelope Sutherland, chef and owner of Red Carpet Catering, is on location in Andrea Island, Florida with her best friend and housemate, Arlena Madison where Arlena is filming a movie with a temperamental director and a cast and crew of over 100 people; needless to say, she's kept busy throughout - so busy that she has hired local teens to help out when they can:  Regan, a young man who is helping the kitchen staff, and two girls, Rebekkah and Sabina, as waitresses.

Shane, the director, has arranged a beach party one Friday night after shooting for the week was finished.  Penelope was pleasantly surprised to learn that the caterer was none other than one of her culinary school instructors, Emilio Babineau, owner of Craw Daddy's a New Orleans restaurant; and that he is also planning on opening one of his restaurants on the island.  It turns out that Emilio had left the school under clouded circumstances concerning two of his students, but since then has managed to become quite successful.

The night of the party Penelope sees Regan with a beer in his hand, and since he is not yet twenty-one, tells him that he can't be drinking; he profusely apologizes.  She speaks with the teen girls and they tell her that they are staying over at one's home, and leaves them to enjoy their evening.  Feeling responsible, she asks her sous chef Francis to keep an eye on them.

Before the weekend is over, it is learned that Rebekkah and Sabina are missing, and they were last seen in Emilio's company.  What makes it worse is that Rebekkah's purse is found in Emilio's truck, and he seems to have no idea how it got there.  Then the girls are found - in critical shape - locked in the building which is to be Emilio's new restaurant, which makes him the chief suspect.

Then Penelope couldn't be more surprised when her boyfriend, Homicide detective Joey Baglioni, shows up.  It turns out he had some vacation time coming, and decided to use it to visit her.  She's both pleased and grateful he's there, but still worried about Emilio, wondering if what supposedly occurred in culinary school could be repeating itself...

This is the second book in the series, the first being Murder on a Silver Platter, and I will say that this one does not disappoint.  I find the characters both believable and engaging, without a 'true villain' among them (one gets tired of finding someone to hate right off the bat, which isn't too say there aren't those that are just not likable at all).  They are three-dimensional and in this book I found that Joey isn't quite your usual homicide detective.  You can tell, by small snippets only, that he thinks he might have a rival in Max, Arlena's brother, and doesn't like it one bit even though he's not saying it aloud to Penelope.  That makes him not quite sure of himself, but quite human in nature.  Penelope, I am glad to say, is still the smart and independent woman she was in the first book, not caving to needing help from her boyfriend or anyone else, when she knows things need to be done.  But do not be fooled:  this is in no way a mystery woven into a romance; it is strictly the other way around - the romance is woven into the mystery, and in such a way that it is not primary, but enough that you want to know more as it progresses.  My only disappointment was that the delightful Randall Madison, father of Arlena, did not appear in this book too.  Well, you can't have everything!

  Once in a while an author will come along who has a fresh voice; one who can take a tired genre and make it seem new again.  Such is Ms. Simmons.  She manages, in both books, to create a mystery within a mystery, which isn't to say it will be a murder within a murder by any means; but rather two intriguing stories which tie in together to create one.  Quite unique, and quite refreshing.  She is a gratifying addition to the mystery genre and I heartily await the next in the series.  Highly recommended.




                                                

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Murder on a Silver Platter (A Red Carpet Catering Mystery #1)

Author:  Shawn Reilly Simmons
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781943390601; 9781943390571
Henery Press
236 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $2.99 Amazon
February 23, 2016
Five Stars

Penelope Sutherland and her Red Carpet Catering company just got their big break as the on-set caterer for an upcoming blockbuster.  But when she discovers a dead body outside her house, Penelope finds herself in hot water.  Things start to boil over when serious accidents threaten the lives of the cast and crew.  And when the film's star, who happens to be Penelope's best friend, is poisoned, the entire production is nearly shut down.  Threats and accusations send Penelope out of the frying pan and into the fire as she struggles to keep her company afloat.  Before Penelope can dish up dessert, she must find the killer or she'll be the one served up on a silver platter.

********

Penelope Sutherland is the personal chef and best friend of Arlena Madison.  Arlena is an up-and-coming actress who, up until this point, has always starred in B-movies, but is being given her first big break.  She and Arlena share a house in Glendale, New Jersey.  On this night, during what may turn out to be a blizzard, Arlena's dog Zazoo has escaped, running out into the snow.  Both women go out to search for him, in the hopes they can find him before he freezes to death.  After a short time Arlena heads back toward the house in the hopes he may be returning, and Penelope continues on.  Soon after, Penelope sees a motionless white furry object half-buried, and is afraid it might be the little dog.  Moving forward, she calls his name, and when he doesn't respond, she reaches for him and falls into the snow...but it's not Zazoo...it's a hat, and it belongs to the dead girl lying next to her.  

When Detective Joseph Baglioni arrives to investigate, Penelope recognizes him as an old friend from grade school.  However, with a dead body at the forefront, there's no time to reminisce about the past.  After determining neither of the women recognized the girl, the police leave them to try and get some sleep, and they figure this will be the end of them hearing about the death...but it is not to be.

Once they discover the identity of the dead girl, Holly Anderson, they discover that she has an amazing resemblance to Arlena, but neither woman knows her.  It also happens that Arlena's father, a famous actor, has had several wives (not to mention girlfriends) and children who live in different states.  While he readily supports all of them, he too maintains he's never heard of nor seen her before, nor does he recognize the name.  And when it is discovered the girl was murdered right outside Arlena's home, it soon becomes apparent that there is more to the death than meets the eye.

Then a series of circumstances arise:  Arlena's half-brother Max arrives, and finds out about the 'accidents' which have suddenly befallen Arlena, and alerts her father,  Randall Madison, who appears almost on the heels of Max.

What ensues is a captivating mystery surrounding the film industry.  We meet Penelope Sutherland, a strong, intelligent woman who is beginning to get her Red Carpet Catering company in full swing and doesn't shirk work to investigate a murder.  Her friend Arlena Madison is somewhat more fragile; being an actress who is trying to be taken seriously in a business not known for sensitivity, she shows us she has morals (she won't appear topless) and does her best to keep going regardless of what is occurring around her.  

For you romantics, there was a bit of a love triangle toward the middle of the book, but nothing that was unbelievable nor distracting to the story.  In fact, it only showed Penelope reasoning things out in her mind and making a decision that was right for her at the time.  I found Arlena's father Randall to be a hoot, he seemed like such a friendly and happy-go-lucky person who still took his responsibilities seriously, and he's someone I would like to know (on a platonic basis, of course - he does have a way with the ladies).

I also found it interesting that there was an intrigue afoot within the murder.  More than meets the eye, as it were.  Without giving too much away, I will venture to say this:  don't assume that all the questions lead up to one answer.  

Ms. Simmons has given us quite a good beginning to a new series; she manages to create characters that are both believable and likable, while weaving in small tidbits of movie-making and what is involved in catering food to a movie crew.  I look forward to reading the next in the series.  Highly recommended.     



More on Shawn Reilly Simmons:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/shawn-reilly-simmons/                                                                                        . 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Muddied Murder (A Greenhouse Mystery Book 1)

Author:  Wendy Tyson
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN#:  9781635110050
Henery Press
$14.36; $2.99 Amazon
March 29, 2016

Five Stars

When Megan Sawyer gives up her big-city law career to care for her grandmother and run the family's organic farm and cafe, she expects to find peace and tranquility in her scenic hometown of Winsome, Pennsylvania.  Instead, her goat goes missing, rain muddies her fields, the town denies her business permits, and her family's Colonial-era farm sucks up the remains of her savings.

Just when she thinks she's reached the bottom of the rain barrel, Megan and the town's hunky veterinarian discover the local zoning commissioner's battered body in her barn.  Now Megan is thrust into the middle of a murder investigation - and she's the chief suspect.  Can Megan dig through small-town secrets, local politics, and old grievances in time to find a killer before that killer strikes again?

********

Megan Sawyer has come home.  After a telephone call from her father, who told her he was moving to Italy, she made the decision to move home and care for her family's farm, along with her grandmother, Bibi.  She's trying to turn the farm into a completely organic one, and also has plans to open a cafe/market in town, but is stymied at every turn by Simon Duvall, the zoning commissioner, and town historian.  Tired of his endless inspection requirements, Megan and Simon have an argument at her cafe, witnessed by several people.

Later that evening, when the town's veterinarian, Dr. Daniel "Denver" Finn stops in to check on one of Megan's goats, her dog Sadie begins nosing around her barn.  When Megan and Denver go to find her, they find something else...the body of Simon Duvall.  It was apparent he was hit with a shovel to the head - Megan's shovel.  So when police chief Bobby King arrives the next day to question Megan, he already knows about Simon's stonewalling and their argument, making Megan a suspect.  Although she refuses to be cowed, she does become even more suspicious when Simon's inspector, Roger Becker, arrives at her home with the 'passed inspection' notices.  It seems he's had them for awhile, but Simon wouldn't give them to her, instead trying to financially break her in the waiting process.  But why?

Megan soon begins discovering small tidbits during the investigation - things like her grandmother was going to sell the farm to Simon, even though Bibi denies it; and more than one person had reason to dislike Simon, who ruled with an iron thumb.  But even more disturbing is Simon's mother Lenora, who wants the farm to be listed in the historical register, which means that Megan wouldn't be able to make any improvements without the assent of the Historical Society, and that is something Megan isn't willing to allow to happen.

When the police find a bloody glove that suddenly changes suspects, it's one that isn't a welcome change to Megan.  Suddenly, things begin to happen - Megan's store is broken into, she sees someone out by her barn at night, etc.  Now she knows that someone is after something on her farm, but what?  
So with the whys and the whats, Megan needs answers, but she's not getting any from Chief King or anyone else.  She is able to garner a bit of information now and then from her employee Clover, who is Chief King's girlfriend.  But all that does is make more questions.  And if she doesn't find out the answers soon, then her life, or worse, the life of Bibi, could be in danger.

Ms. Tyson gives us an intriguing novel in this first of the Greenhouse series.  She has fleshed out all the main characters - Megan, Denver, Bibi - to make us understand them, and why they are the people they are.  There is just enough background on Megan and Denver to make you realize that you have two wounded people who are slowly finding their way toward each other; and enough of Bibi in that you begin to realize what she does and does not say is only to protect Megan in some way (although I have high hopes we will learn more in future books).  The secondary characters, of which there are many, are given a background too, and I also look forward to learning more about Clay, Clover, Brian, and Bobby.

I enjoyed the fact that this isn't the typical 'amateur sleuth moves to town and gets involved with the police chief.'  Denver, as I mentioned, is the town's Scottish veterinarian, and has his own demons to fight, although not the same ones as Megan.  Megan, for her part, has no interest in becoming an amateur sleuth, as it were, and doesn't really even go searching for clues to the killer.  She's more interested in the opening of her cafe and why someone is roaming around her farm at night.  Very refreshing indeed.  (Although, as we know, it isn't going to keep her from getting involved or being in danger).

When we finally learn the truth and the killer is revealed, it comes as a complete surprise.  I was pleased with the way Ms. Tyson put the final pieces together, weaving the clues into a nice tapestry that made it all the more believable.  With this, the first in the series, she has introduced us to a new set of friends that I hope I will spend time with for years to come.  Highly recommended. 



More on Wendy Tyson's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/t/wendy-tyson/

                                                                 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Likely Story (A Library Lover's Mystery #6)

Author:  Jenn McKinlay
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover, E-book
ISBN #:  9780425260746
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
$13.72 Amazon; $11.99 Kindle
November 3, 2015

Five Stars

Delivering books to the household residents of the Thumb Islands, just a short boat ride from the town of Briar Creek, library director Lindsey Norris has befriended two elderly brothers, Stewart and Peter Rosen.  She enjoys visiting them in their treasure-filled, ramshackle Victorian on Star Island until she discovers that Peter has been killed and Stewart is missing.  Now she's determined to solve a murder and find Stewart before he suffers his brother's fate.

********

Lindsay Norris, Director of the Briar Creek Library, is delivering a box of books to the Rosen Brothers, Stewart and Peter.  When arriving on their private island, Stewart is not waiting on the dock for her, as is usual.  Lindsay believes something is wrong, and along with Sully, the boat captain and ex-boyfriend of Lindsey, think something is wrong.

They decide to investigate, and approach the Rosens' home.   In doing so, Lindsey learns from Sully that the place is booby-trapped and any false move could mean injury, or worse, death.  Once inside the house, they discover the body of Peter Rosen, who has been shot.  Stewart is nowhere to be found.  Lindsey is convinced that Stewart had nothing to do with this, and is likely hiding from them.

After notifying the authorities, Lindsey is determined to bring Stewart out into the open in order to find out what happened on the island.  But this is easier said than done.  After one encounter with Stewart, he disappeared again just as quickly, and is on the run.

It also happens that two antique dealers arrived in town and are very interested in the brothers' property; and, what is even more curious, a wealthy woman arrives and is buying up the nearby islands - and wants Star Island as well.  And, as they say, the Plot Thickens...

I really enjoyed the book and the fact that Ms. McKinlay wrapped one mystery inside of another; and the stories were blended well.  The characters are well done and believable; there are also a couple of side stories going on, just as there would be in real life, but are not the main focus, as they shouldn't be anyway.

If there were one thing I didn't care for, it was the love triangle.  For anyone who has been following this series, it did seem as if it were going to be resolved, but then...it's not.  I found that a disappointment (really, Lindsey should be able to figure out who she is interested in by now).  Aside from that, a worthy read and one to pick up, if you get the chance.  Recommended.



More on Jenn McKinlay's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/jenn-mckinlay/

                                                  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Smart But Dead (An Aggie Mundeen Mystery)

Author:  Nancy G. West
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781943390281; 9781493390250
Henery Press Publishing
246 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $4.99
November 17, 2015

Four Stars

Skirting forty and appalled by the prospect of descending into middle-age decrepitude, Aggie Mundeen blasts off to the local university to study the genetics of aging.  In addition to providing youthful hints for readers of her column, "Stay Young with Aggie," Aggie is doggedly determined to stay young.  Despite conflicts with her professor, she learns about the Human Genome project and DNA.  When she discovers a dead body, Detective Sam reminds her not to "help" with the investigation.  But dangerously curious and programmed to prod, she races to solve the crime, winds up the prime suspect, and is on target to become the next campus corpse. 

********

Aggie Mundeen lives in San Antonio, Texas, and writes a newspaper column, "Stay Young with Aggie."  She's terrified of getting older, and is constantly looking for ways to maintain her youth.  In this vein, she is taking a college class about the Human Genome project and DNA.  But after asking questions one day in class, her professor, Kermit Carmody, drops dead.  She becomes suspicious that he might have been murdered, and decides to solve the case on her own, because she thinks it will make Detective Sam Vanderhoven, the object of her affections, realize he can't live without her.

First off, Aggie doesn't seem to realize she's thirty-nine, hardly even close to a rocking chair.  She also has a limited amount of self-esteem, thinking if she ages Sam won't even be interested in her.  What she fails to realize is that she's independent and successful.  Aggie never seems to come to terms that perhaps what she needs is to figure out why she thinks the way she does, even when others in the story (including Sam) point things out to her.  Happiness can't be found with another person until you find the happiness within yourself.

But I digress:  After her professor dies, Aggie is sure he was murdered - she just doesn't know how.  So she sets about thinking of ways to find out the killer, and more importantly, what it was that got him killed.  Aggie is sure it has something to do with his research into anti-aging.  But who?  She becomes suspicious of everyone in the class, and everyone he worked with.

So much so, that she goes around actively seeking people and asking them questions - just until they begin to get suspicious, then she backs off.  Even when Aggie is attacked one night, she not only doesn't tell Sam what happened, she doesn't stop investigating...and finally it leads to the fact that she discovers another dead body, and is accused of burglary and murder and booked into jail.  But does this stop our intrepid Aggie?  No.  The minute she's released, she decides she wants to find out who killed the second person, and clear herself of the crime.

It seems Aggie has an uncanny ability to put herself in all manner of eventful situations that aren't healthy to her.  For someone who's interested in anti-aging, she seems to be going into things that can age a person pretty fast.  Yet, as we know, all will come about in the end, and the murderer will be found.  But after that...does Aggie finally get the response from Sam that she's looking for?  You'll have to read the book to find out; there are some things I just won't tell...  Recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/SMART-BUT-DEAD-Nancy-West/dp/1943390282/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1543139379

More on Nancy G. West's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/w/nancy-g-west/ 

                                                   

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Skeleton Garden (A Potting Shed Mystery)

Author:  Marty Wingate
Genre:  Mystery

Ebook
Random House Publishing
$2.99 Amazon
March 15, 2016
Five Stars

Texas transplant Pru Parke has put down roots in England, but she never dreamed she'd live in a grand place such as Greenoak.  When her former employers offer Pru and her new husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, the use of their nineteenth-century estate while they're away for a year, she jumps at the chance.  Sweetening the deal is the prospect of further bonding with her long-lost brother, Simon, who happens to be Greenoak's head gardener.  But the majestic manor has at least one skeleton in its closet - or rather, its garden.

Working on renovations to the extensive grounds, siblings Pru and Simon squabble about everything from boxwood to bay hedges.  But when the removal of a half-dead tree turns up the wreckage of a World War II-era German fighter plane and a pile of bones, the arguments stop.  That is, until a rival from Simon's past pays a surprise visit and creates even more upheaval.  It's suddenly clear someone is unhappy their secrets have been unearthed.  Still, Pru's not about to sit back and let Simon take the fall for the dirty deed without a fight.

********

When Pru Parke's parents passed away, she moved to England searching for her brother.  While there, she met Christopher Pearse, a London Detective Chief Inspector, and eventually they were married.  In this fourth Potting Shed mystery,  Pru, a master gardener, has accepted a job working alongside her brother Simon at Greenoak, where she is also temporarily residing while the owners are away for a year.

Also staying with them for a couple of weeks is Christopher's nephew Orlando, who has been sent there due to an unfortunate incident regarding computer hacking.  When Pru first puts him to work in the garden, he sees it as nothing more than punishment, but soon begins adapting, and starts to enjoy his time in the country.

One day, while working in the garden, Pru and Simon discover the remains of a World War II German plane, and when it is excavated, they discover something else - human remains.  But whose?  Christopher has left London and taken a job on the local force as a Special Constable, and is working with Martin Chatters, his superior, to find out who it could be - they know it's not the pilot, but why would there be a body in with an abandoned plane?  Then later on, there is another body discovered in the garden, and Pru has to wonder - along with everyone else - what could it possibly have to do with the remains which have yet to be identified?

While working alongside her brother Simon is a dream for Pru, it is also a challenge; they argue at every turn about the best things for the garden, and Simon has his heart set on Pru agreeing to a magazine layout that would highlight Greenoak and the work they've done.  Then Jack, an old beau of Polly's - Simon's wife - shows up, and the seeds of jealousy are forming within him, even though he and Polly have been married thirty years.  It doesn't help when Jack begins to show up anywhere and everywhere, not really causing trouble, but not easing Simon's mind, either.  

Since it is necessary to the rest of what I say, I do not believe I am offering a spoiler in telling you this:  In the first pages of the book we are privvy to a conversation that takes place during the war.  One of the men is killed, and then...

...we have the background for our story.  I will tell you that I absolutely love mysteries within mysteries.  I love the idea that there is not only one, but two mysteries to solve - the old and the new, coming together; because there is no way the murderer could be the same person (or, if it were, they would be extremely old).  So why was the second person killed?  And what does it have to do with the first?

In this, Ms. Wingate does not disappoint.  She manages to weave the two stories together effortlessly, giving us glimpse of the past interspersed with the present.  When Pru begins investigating on her own, with the help of Orlando, she learns about the people she has chosen to live with, and what happened during the war; she learns about the history of the plane and why it is still on the grounds of Greenoak.  But when she begins digging deeper, it is then the second body is found...

Soon after the second body, there are a series of break-ins around town, with papers being left strewn about, even though it appears nothing is ever taken.  This sets off alarm bells in Christopher's head, and he is asked by another DI to quietly investigate and see if he can tell why the investigation seems to be stalled.

I hesitate to say any more about the book, since I do believe that in doing so would truly give away too much of the plot.  But I will say that there are enough red herrings to keep even the most dedicated mystery reader intrigued.  I have always said that it is not just knowing who the murderer is - and this book is no different than any other in that respect; even if you figure it out before Pru and Christopher do.  What is important is the "getting there."  Watching the clues and pieces of history come together is gratifying and allows us to see things that might have been, both satisfying and bittersweet.

Although this wouldn't be characterized as a humorous mystery, there is one very funny scene where Pru is attempting to make a traditional English Christmas pudding...and she can't cook.  I also like the fact that Pru is smart and knowledgeable without being smug, and her friends and family are both realistic and people you'd like to know; there isn't a nasty character among them, which is a nice change. 

In the end, the plot is well thought out, put together beautifully, and takes us on an enjoyable journey through history and the English countryside.  Highly recommended.



More on Marty Wingate's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/w/marty-wingate/

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Drawing Blood (A Sketch in Crime Mystery)

Author:  Deirdre Verne
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9780738742281
Midnight Ink Publishing
336 Pages
$14.99; $11.99
February 8, 2016
Five Stars

When Big Bob, manager of the town recycling center, goes missing, CeCe is worried about more than where she'll score her next salvaged car.  As one of the only people present when Bob's body is recovered from under the weekly recycling haul, CeCe is able to identify witnesses and provide sketches of the scene.  But when she's startled by an unidentified woman at Bob's empty house, CeCe's artistic talents are challenged and her drawings come up short.  With her observational skills on the fritz, CeCe joins Detective Frank DeRosa and her network of Freegan friends to re-create Big Bob's life from the garbage up.  The team is soon thrust into the underworld of recycling, where what appears to be junk could actually be the clue that saves a life.

********

CeCe Prentice and her friends are Freegans, who are people who believe in not wasting anything.  They pretty much "dumpster dive" for food and possessions.  She is also a skilled portrait artist, and has done work for the local police from time to time.

When her friend Bob, the manager of a recycling plant, disappears, CeCe knows he wouldn't just walk away.  And when his body is recovered in a massive pile of garbage, she knows there was foul play afoot.  The death seems even more suspicious when there is a discovery regarding computer hard drives which is traced back to Bob, and which leaves Detective Frank DeRosa, CeCe, and her computer whiz roommate Charlie looking for a killer.

Yet it is also time for her friend and housemate Katrina to soon give birth, and with Katrina's other half Jonathan away at med school, it leaves CeCe and Charlie to watch over her; while the sudden appearance of a mysterious woman whom everyone assumes to have something to do with Bob's murder, but can't be located.

As if this weren't involved enough, CeCe is looking for her child, if she has one.  Her father, while doing scientific experiments, decided to harvest her egg years ago and use it an a biological experiment.  And here's where it gets tricky:  Her brother, now deceased, was not her biological brother.  He was adopted, and her father, unbeknownst to both of them, used his sperm with her egg, and CeCe wants to know if there was a child of that union.  To make things more problematic, Frank, who is also her boyfriend, happens to be her late brother's biological twin, which would make him the uncle of any child found.  Intrigued?  Confused?  Trust me, it's worth reading, but you must stay with the plot all the way through or you could miss a key point.  However, this is not a book you are likely to put aside once reading it.

Once CeCe begins to delve into the world of:  Where is Bob's killer?  Where is Bob's widow?  Where is my egg?  Where is Katrina's baby?  it seems there is a whole lot of 'wheres' but no answers, and CeCe, not the most patient of people in the first place, wants the questions answered.  What we wind up with is the fact that Ms. Verne is able to skillfully blend a myriad of plots together and connect them in such a way to keep you guessing throughout.  While the book runs into a veritable quagmire, things do manage to keep interesting without being confusing, and keep you interested in finding out the truth all around.  Again, as in the first in the series, it takes some time to unravel, yet you eventually see all the pieces and how they fit together.  Highly recommended.



More on Deirdre Verne's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/v/deirdre-verne/

                                                                                

Monday, February 1, 2016

Murder on Wheels (A Tourist Trap Mystery #6)

Author:  Lynn Cahoon
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; E-book; Audiobook
ISBN #:  9781601834201
Lyrical Underground Publishing
198 Pages
$15.00; $4.61; $24.99
February 2, 2016
Five Stars

The food truck craze has reached the charming coastal town of South Cove, California, but before Jill Gardner - owner of Coffee, Books and More - can sample the eats, she has to shift gears and put the brakes on a killer.  Now that Kacey Austin has got her new gluten-free dessert truck up and running, there's no curbing her enthusiasm - not even when someone vandalizes the vehicle and steals her recipes.  But when Kacey turns up dead on the beach and Jill's friend, Sadie, becomes the prime suspect, Jill needs to step on it to serve the real killer some just desserts.     

********

Jill Gardner, owner of Coffee, Books, and More, is trying something new:  geocaching - thanks to her best friend Amy's boyfriend, Jason, who thinks this is a great new hobby.  Unfortunately, neither Jill nor her boyfriend, Greg, have the same thoughts, but unwilling to hurt Amy's feelings, they say nothing and go along with it.  But something is rotten in South Cove:  while out treasure hunting, Jill meets the president of the local geocaching club, Kacey Austin, and after talking with her, she decides she likes her, but soon has a  slight problem...she discovers that Kacey is the wife of the local bike shop owner, Dustin Austin.  The same Dustin who broke her friend Sadie's heart when he went back to his wife - and took Sadie's best recipes with him.  Everyone in town is under the impression that Dustin only dated Sadie to get the recipes (and they could be right).  And now Kacey tells Jill that she is opening a new food truck (the same food truck that Jill tried to buy earlier) filled with gluten-free desserts - Sadie's desserts, modified to be gluten free.

But before the food truck can get up and running, Kacey is found dead on the beach, and Sadie is the prime suspect.  Jill knows her friend didn't commit murder (even if she thought about it) and Jill is determined to figure out who killed Kacey (though she's warned off the case by her police detective boyfriend).  So she decides to do a bit of sleuthing herself while trying to stay under the radar in doing so.  But oh, if this were her only problem...

The mayor has decided because of the California drought that a committee needs to be formed to decide what to do in order for the city to save water.  The committee is comprised of Jill's Aunt Jackie, Amy, Jackie's beau Josh Thomas, and Harrold Snider, owner of The Train Station.  But when Amy asks Jill to spy on a neighbor to see if she's been watering her grass, Jill rebels and tells Amy no, which prompts Amy to stop speaking to or have anything to do with Jill.  This naturally hurts Jill, but she's knee-deep in trying to find a killer, so knows any repairing of their relationship will have to wait, and both Jackie and Toby are encountering problems in their own relationships to boot.

So when Jill starts getting closer to what might actually be the truth, the killer also realizes it, and it's only a matter of time before Jill's sleuthing could make her the next victim...

Jill and Greg are moving forward in their relationship, but not being thrown forward, if you get my drift.  I'm quite comfortable with the way they're progressing.  And in this book we also get to see a little bit of how people are looking at Jill - that although she's the owner of the shop, she's just the money behind it (read the book and you'll understand that statement).  I enjoy the fact that in each book the characters (other than Jill and Greg, of course) are given equal "face time;" there is always a side plot or two that involves someone in the town and gives us a little more insight into that person.  It makes for delightful reading, indeed.

Ms. Cahoon is one of a handful of authors who manages to keep a series feeling both interesting and new, without resorting to trite plot lines in order to do so.  Each book is a true delight to read, and as always, she again has given us a lively mystery that keeps us interested from beginning to end.  Although I'm not interested in geocaching - where you take an object and hide it, coordinated to a GPS in order to locate it - she doesn't overwhelm the book with it; in other words, doesn't bombard us with so much information regarding it that you get bored reading about it.  It is part of the plot, but it is not the main plot, which is the murder, and well it should be.

When the ending comes and we find out who the murderer is (and to be honest, I had enough clues along the way that I knew the who but not the why), it makes perfect sense and even if you do figure it out early, as I did, it doesn't make any difference, because these mysteries are well written and entertaining.  Highly recommended.



More on Lynn Cahoon's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/c/lynn-cahoon/