Friday, April 29, 2016

Silence of the Lamps (A Caprice De Luca Mystery Book 5)

Author:  Karen Rose Smith
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback, Kindle
ISBN #:  9781617737725
Kensington Publishing
352 Pages
$7.99, $5.99
April 26, 2016
Five Stars

Caprice's house staging is interrupted by Drew Pierson, a caterer who opened Portable Edibles, a business in direct competition with her sister Nikki's Catered Capers.  Nikki turned down Drew as a possible partner and he seems determined to undermine and bury her.  However his successful launch of a deal for his blackberry barbecue sauce must have stirred up his enemies.  When Nikki visits the house where Drew lives with his grandmother to resolve differences, she and Caprice find him dead -- murdered with the base of a valuable Tiffany lamp.

Caprice discovers clues about Drew's sly business dealings -- from stealing recipes from another chef, to friends who hold grudges, to a sister who will now inherit half of her grandmother's estate since Drew is dead.  In the midst of her own romantic relationship upheaval, helping her uncle set up his pet sitting-business, assisting a friend care for a pregnant stray cat, Caprice follows the suspect trail, inadvertently putting herself in danger once more.

********

Caprice De Luca is a home stager - she decorates homes with 'themes' in order to make them more attractive to potential buyers.  Her sister Nikki, is a chef who caters the open houses (among other events) with Caprice.  At one of these open houses Caprice and Nikki are surprised to see Drew Pierson, who at one time worked with Nikki and was almost her partner until she decided that they just weren't a 'good fit' for each other.  Since then, he has opened his own catering company, which is in direct competition with Nikki.  It is there that he informs her he's planning on putting her out of business.

Not long after they are at a wedding expo, there is an altercation between Drew and Nikki which is witnessed by others, and Caprice and Nikki find that Drew is serving the same dish as Nikki's, which is one of her own creations and passing it off as his; an altercation that is witnessed by others, all the while luring customers away from Nikki with his own creation of a chocolate walnut groom's cake.  This is just too much for Nikki, who later tells Caprice Drew's not only been stealing her dishes, he's also been stealing her clients, and she wants to confront him; so Caprice agrees to go along as moral support. 

When they arrive at the home Drew shares with his grandmother Rowena, Nikki enters first and it isn't a sight she wants to see...Drew is dead, lying in a pool of blood, with an upturned Tiffany floor lamp next to him.  She runs out, and Caprice quickly scans the scene and Drew for any signs of life before calling the police.  When it becomes clear to Caprice that Nikki is the main suspect, she knows she must investigate to find the real killer before Nikki is railroaded into a crime she didn't commit.  

Even though Caprice is worried about her sister, she also has some romantic worries of her own:  new to her relationship with Grant Weatherford, her brother's law partner, he tells her that his ex-wife is coming to town and he needs to spend some time with her because they've never had any closure.

When Caprice begins digging into Drew's past, she becomes aware of a very different man than what she or Nikki knows; one that isn't as well-liked as he appeared to be, and one that wasn't above using and manipulating people to get what he wants.  And the more she finds out, the closer it brings her to a killer...

I found this book not only to be a delightful read, but one that gives us an insight into Caprice and her life.  For not only do we have our intrepid home stager investigating yet another murder, we see other glimpses of her life as well: her innate kindness to others, as when she visits the bereaved grandmother; her caring in her friends and animals - offering her neighbor Dulcina the homeless cat she's recently rescued; her enduring friendships and love for her family; her determination to rescue animals and find them good homes - these are things that make Caprice a real person, someone I would like to know and spend time with.

Of all the books in this series, I think that Silence of the Lamps is my favorite to date.  We see not only the inner traits I've mentioned above, but also her weaknesses and her own uncertainty in her relationship with Grant, and her angst in trying to decide what to do to resolve the situation.  It makes her whole, and most likely one of the most believable characters I've come across in a long time.

In the end, when the true killer is revealed (for you and I know as readers that of course her sister Nikki wouldn't do such a deed), it comes as a surprise, but nevertheless a realistic one; and proof enough that while some people will do almost anything for money, there are still others who will stand up and do the right thing in the end.  Highly recommended.



More on Karen Rose Smith's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/s/karen-rose-smith/                  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dead Loudmouth (Loon Lake Fishing Mystery #16)

Author:  Victoria Houston
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
9781440568459; 9781440568442
Tyrus Books
208 Pages
June 1, 2016
Five Stars

It's a bright summer morning in Loon Lake when Police Chief Lewellyn Ferris is called to the scene of a horrific accident that occurred in the dead of night at a local gentleman's club.  the club is owned by one of the victims, a member of the private Deer Creek Fishing and Hunting Preserve and the scion of a wealthy family.  When the county coroner is unavailable due to a car accident, Chief Ferris deputizes her close friend and fellow fly-fisherman, retired dentist "Doc" Osborne, to step in.

Osborne's discovery of mysterious footprints confirms Chief Ferris's suspicions: this is no accident; it's murder.  Leaning on Doc Osborne for his forensic and interrogation skills, Lew also hopes to enlist the help of Ray Pradt, fishing guide and expert tracker.  But Ray's time is limited as he is coaching the University of Wisconsin's fishing team in a muskie fishing tournament.  Things get complicated when Doc Osborne's granddaughter disappears on the first day of the tournament.  Sunny June days turn dark as a desperate search ensues.

********

Lewellyn (Lew) Ferris is the police chief of small town Loon Lake, Wisconsin.  She's just getting comfortable in the fact that there hasn't been any crimes committed lately when she receives a phone call from her deputy Roger Adamczak that there's been what appears to be an accident:  it seems a couple were crushed to death on a piano that was hoisted to the ceiling while they were in the middle of having sex (to be blunt).

It turns out the dead couple are Chet Wright and Tiffany Niedermeier.  Chet is the owner of the club where they were found, and Tiffany was one of his employees.  While what they were doing was obvious to anyone, why they were on the piano, and one that was connected to lines which allowed it to be hoisted to the ceiling, was not.

With the head coroner involved in an accident and in the hospital, Lew must depend on Dr. Paul "Doc" Osborne, deputy coroner, with certification of the deaths until the crime lab crew can arrive from Wausau to help out.  Doc has helped her before; she depends on him noticing things she might have missed, and this case is no different.  When finished examining the bodies, he notices something not readily visible: two sandy footprints on a table.  When he brings it to the attention of Lew, she requests that Ray Pradt, a master tracker, to check a perimeter outside the club and see if he can find any more clues to who might be involved in the deaths.

Ray is also coaching the Wisconsin State College fishing team, and has offered Doc's granddaughter Mason a job helping out.  Mason, eleven years old, is like her grandfather and enjoys fishing; she's excited to be doing this and eager to learn in the process.

But as Lew carries on the investigation, learning that it wasn't an accident but a double homicide, she also learns that there are people who may have wanted Chet Wright dead:  his widow Karen, on whom he had been cheating for some time; and three friends whom he had been defrauding.  But what surprises her is that there are even more who might have wanted Tiffany dead:  her co-worker Nina Krezminski, for one, and, as it turns out, everyone else she came in contact with.  Tiffany, by all accounts, was not a nice person, and nobody seemed to like her - except Chet.  Which makes for a very interesting situation that Lew is left to untangle.

But Lew gets a break when a deer cam is found in a tree outside the club, with its camera trained on the back entrance.  When it is discovered that the camera belongs to Joyce Harmon, the janitor who found the bodies, Lew thinks she might have gotten a break.  But Joyce explains that she bought the camera because her supervisor, Fred Smith, is looking for a reason to fire her, and she needs the job.  Fred, for his part, has known Chet's widow Karen since they were children and Karen saved him from a fire at his home.  But what is also discovered on the camera is someone who was entering the club on the night of the murders; but since the person was covered head to foot and never faced the camera, it makes her job no easier than before; she still needs to discover if there is anything in the image on the camera that will help her find the killer.

To complicate matters, while Mason is working for Ray, she goes missing; and the murder investigation is temporarily suspended to find her, leaving Doc Osborne frightened and desperate, and Ray and his boys searching along with the police to locate her...

This was an excellent mystery.  While not deeply enmeshed in suspense, it was well written and the characters are fleshed out and convincing.  We sympathize with Doc when he agonizes over his granddaughter; we see the way Lew is sifting through clues and trying to come up with answers.  It makes for a very good book, with people who are interesting and who you might want to spend time with.
  
Sometimes you have to ignore letting others in on the plot because in doing so would give too much away in solving the murder, and this is one of those books.  Suffice it to say that when the murderer was discovered, it made sense while at the same time seeming rather sad.  This book is the 16th Loon Lake book, and proves that a series need not become stale as it grows.  Highly recommended.



More on Victoria Houston's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/h/victoria-houston/                                                                                            

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dying for a Taste (A Sally Solari Mystery)

Author:  Leslie Karst
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover, Ebook
ISBN #:  9781629535975
Crooked Lane Books
304 Pages
$19.67; $9.99 Amazon
April 12, 2016
Five Stars

After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California.  But managing the front of the house is far from her dream job.

Then in a sudden twist her Aunt Letta is found murdered in her own restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place running.  But when her sous chef is accused of the crime, and she finds herself suddenly short-staffed, Sally must delve into the world of sustainable farming - not to mention a few family secrets - to help him clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out.

********

Sally Solari quit her job as a corporate attorney to return to her father's Italian restaurant after her mother passed away.  Although she doesn't miss her old life, her new one is about to become more complicated than she ever thought...

While having lunch one afternoon she receives a phone call from her ex-boyfriend Eric, a District Attorney, who tells her that her Aunt Letta has been murdered; and it occurred at Letta's restaurant, Gauguin.  To make it worse, all the evidence is pointing toward Letta's head chef Javier, as the guilty party.  But neither Eric nor Sally believe he's the killer, and Eric quietly urges her to help Javier if she can, since Eric isn't able to due to his job.

So Sally, after speaking with Javier, reluctantly agrees and sets about trying to find out who killed Letta and why.  What she comes across not only knocks her for a loop, it also becomes a tale enmeshed with secrets and lies, leaving her to wonder if she ever really knew Letta at all...

Letta, her father's younger sister, hated working at the restaurant when she was young and bailed as soon as she came of age.  After spending several years away, she returned and opened Gauguin, but still remained semi-estranged from her family, only occasionally returning for the weekly Sunday dinners at her mother's, and never really connecting with her brother again.  The only one she remained somewhat close to was Sally, who also considered herself an outsider, because she too left and went to law school.

Even so, Sally is stunned when she learns that Letta willed the restaurant to her and she is now the new owner.  Not sure if she wants the responsibility, it strains her own relationship with her father when he treats this as a betrayal by his late sister, figuring Sally will want to leave Solari's once again.  

As the police don't seem to be looking for another suspect, Sally continues searching, uncovering things Letta never intended for anyone to know.  Along the way, she also discovers that Gauguin was under attack by a radical who wanted her to serve only sustainable seafood and humanely raised meats, and with this new suspect also added soon finds more than enough people on her list.  Eventually she realizes, almost too late, that's she's not only on the tail of the real killer, but that the real killer is on her tail as well...

Dying for a Taste is the freshman debut of Leslie Karst, and it's a very good one indeed.  I will be honest and tell you that it didn't grab my attention right away, but after a few chapters I 'fell in with the action,' as it were, and found myself enjoying the story and trying to figure out the clues leading to the killer right along with Sally.  

I did realize who the killer was ahead of time, but it never stopped my enjoyment of the book.  When the final chapters arrive, it is riveting, and we wind up right along with Sally, in a frenetic intensity to escape a killer before she becomes the next victim.  Highly recommended.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Crime and Poetry (A Magical Bookshop Mystery)

Author:  Amanda Flower
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Ebook, Audiobook
ISBN #:  9780451477448; 9781515950394
NAL Publishing
368 Pages
$7.99; $7.99; $29.99
April 5, 2016
Five Stars

Rushing home to sit by her ailing grandmother's bedside, Violet Waverly is shocked to find Grandma Daisy the picture of perfect health.  Violet doesn't need to read between the lines: her grandma wants Violet back home and working in her magical store, Charming Books.  It's where the perfect book tends to fly off the shelf and pick you...

Violet has every intention to hightail it back to Chicago, but then a dead man is discovered clutching a volume of Emily Dickinson's poems from Grandma Daisy's shop.  The victim is Benedict Raisin, who recently put Grandma Daisy in his will, making her a prime suspect.  now, with the help of a tuxedo cat named Emerson, Violet will have to find a killer to keep Grandma from getting booked for good...

********
Charming Books, Daisy's store, is a lovely old Victorian that has been built up around a towering birch tree - that's right; there's a tree growing in the middle of the home that has been converted into a bookstore.  It is where Violet grew up and has been there since the 1800's, with additions and alterations over the years and Violet is about to learn the magic of the house, the tree and the books...

Violet Waverly returns home to Cascade Springs, New York after receiving a distressing phone call from her grandmother.  She is sure that Grandma Daisy is ill, or worse, dying.  So it is with some surprise that when she enters her grandmother's bookstore, she sees Daisy appearing quite healthy for a woman in her seventies and admitting that it was all a ruse to get Violet back home.  Daisy informs her that it's time she came back, it's her turn as the Caretaker; something Violet has never heard of before and isn't sure she wants to hear about now.  

After Violet realizes it was all a ruse, she reiterates her plan to return to Chicago, where she is working on a dissertation in order that she may at last fulfill her dream of becoming a college professor.  Daisy, of course, is against the idea of Violet leaving and has plans of her own, which will allow Violet to achieve her dream and stay in Cascade Springs.

Just as Daisy and Violet are going to settle in with a glass of lemonade and a comforting talk, the doorbell rings and an older man steps in, dressed in livery.  Violet notices the warm way he looks at Daisy, and he is introduced as Benedict Raisin, a close friend who is also a carriage driver for this tourist village.  He's looking for a book, and when a volume of Emily Dickinson's poems literally flies off the shelf and hits him in the kneecap, he thinks he's found the perfect one.  And although Daisy, who appears distressed, does her best to try and talk him out of hit, this is the book he will have.

The next morning Violet is about to have her coffee when she looks out the window of Daisy's house and sees a carriage parked in the driveway.  When she goes to investigate, she sees that it is none other than Benedict Raisin, with her grandmother's scarf tied around his neck, and he isn't breathing.  The attending officer seems to think that Daisy had something to do with the murder, and Violet sees it happening all over again, just like it did twelve years ago - for Violet hasn't been back in all that time since she left right after high school due to the fact that her best friend Colleen died and she was briefly accused of causing it.  No, she's not about to allow her grandmother to be put in the same position she was put in.  She wasn't guilty then and she's not about to allow her grandmother to be railroaded, either... 

Seeing what appears to be a similar case of deja vu, Violet is trying to keep Daisy out of jail.  Even though Chief David Rainwater tells her he doesn't believe Daisy is guilty, he also tells her that she had a motive, and until he has more information, she has to remain on the suspect list.  This, of course, doesn't sit well with Violet, who doesn't trust the village police and she vows to try and move the investigation along, determined to find the real killer.  Along the way, Chief Rainwater keeps turning up (and making her knees turn to jelly), always seeming to be one step ahead of her and always seeming to know what she's been up to.  This is no dunderheaded police officer; he's sharp, smart, and wildly attractive, which isn't helping Violet whenever she sees him.

As if this weren't bad enough, there's Violet's ex-boyfriend Nathan Morton, the boy she broke up with just before she left town.  He's the last person she wants to see, but since he's now the Mayor of Cascade Springs, she's going to see him whether she wants to or not.  And it's also apparent that Nathan is very glad she's back, and finds opportunity plenty to seek her out.

Violet doesn't stumble into situations randomly, and the questions she asks don't appear invasive, so people are willing to answer.  Who was Benedict Raisin?  What did he have in his past that he never wanted to talk about?  Was this what got him killed?  Yet the more she digs for answers, it raises more questions about the murder.    

I truly enjoyed this book and the premise of the story.  A magical bookshop, with books that speak to you?  Becoming a Caretaker of a tree?  A cat and a talking crow?  Emerson the cat, who once belonged to Benedict, has now attached himself to Violet, whether she wants it or not.  What Violet is reluctantly coming to understand is that Emerson was always meant for her, and he's not your usual cat, because it seems he's actually helping her in her investigation.  What could be better for anyone who likes a good mystery?

This book is the first in the Magical Bookshop Mysteries by Amanda Flower, and I hope not to be the last.  It is delightful, enchanting, well-written and with characters that have a real feel to them and make you want to know them better.  Cascade Springs is a sleepy little village that has a touch of magic in it, much like this book.  Highly recommended.



More on Amanda Flower's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/f/amanda-flower/
                                                        

Friday, April 8, 2016

Stop the Presses! (The Nero Wolfe Mysteries)

Author:  Robert Goldsborough
Genre:  Mystery/Suspense

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781504023573
252 Pages
$11.54; $9.99 Amazon
March 8, 2016
Five Stars

There are few people Nero Wolfe respects, and Lon Cohen of the New York Gazette is one of them.  So Cohen asks for a favor, the famously brilliant - and notoriously lazy - detective is inclined to listen.  According to Cohen, someone wants to kill the Gazette's gossip columnist, Cameron clay.  Death threats are a regular hazard for Clay, who's hurled insults and accusations at every bold-faced name in the five boroughs.  But the latest threats have carried a more sinister tone.

The columnist has narrowed his potential killers down to five people:  an egomanical developer, a disgraced cop, a corrupt councilman, a sleazy lawyer, and his ex-wife.  But when Clay turns up dead, the cops deem it a suicide.  The bigwigs at the Gazette don't agree, so they retain Wolfe and his indefatigable assistant, Archie Goodwin, to figure out which of the suspects had the mettle to pull the trigger.

********

Archie Goodwin is relaxing after breakfast when he receives a call from Lon Cohen of the New York Gazette, who is also a longtime friend of Archie's and his boss, Nero Wolfe.  It seems one of Lon's coworkers, Cameron Clay, is receiving death threats.  Cameron writes a popular gossip column, Stop the Presses! and because of this, he has made enemies throughout the years.  Lon wants Nero to speak with him; and after some cajoling Wolfe agrees.

When Clay arrives, both Archie and Wolfe take a dislike to him.  But this notwithstanding, they listen to his tale:  he has been receiving death threats by telephone and has it figured that it must be one of five people who he thinks hate him the most:  Roswell Stokes, a high-powered attorney; Kerwin Andrews, a real estate developer; Millard Beardsley, a city councilman; Michael Tobin, a disgraced ex-cop who has recently gotten out of prison; and Serena Sanchez, an opera diva and Clay's ex-wife.

When Wolfe advises Clay to accept police protection or hire a private security firm, Clay disregards the notion.  Wolfe then informs Lon that he has done all he can and Clay is on his own.  As luck would have it, Clay is not too soon after found dead, shot through the temple.  While the police have registered it as a suicide, Lon calls Wolfe and tells him that his bosses - Ashton Cordwell, the Gazette's editor and publisher, and Eric Haverhill, owner of the newspaper, believe that Clay was murdered, and they want Wolfe to find the killer.

After meeting with the men, Wolfe accepts the case only under the condition that they will accept whatever conclusions he comes up with, and they agree.  It is then that Wolfe sets Archie out and about, seeking those persons who allegedly wished to do Clay harm, and have them brought to the brownstone to meet with Wolfe.

This, of course, Archie does with his usual flair and wit - and a bit of lying thrown in, but nothing that would get his license revoked.  As would be expected, nearly all are loathe to visit Wolfe for even a few moments, but Archie has a way with words and convinces them it would be in their best interests to show up, speak with Wolfe and answer his questions.  Along with questioning them, Wolfe also meets with Clay's 'legman', Larry McNeil, and Archie questions Clay's personal taxi driver in hopes of finding the truth of his death.

This book, like the others in the series, is a sheer masterpiece in enjoyment.  Nero Wolfe, with his brilliant mind yet with innate laziness, and Archie Goodwin, private detective extraordinaire who is Wolfe's eyes, ears, and jack-of-all-trades, mesh together in a fine clockwork of thought and action that is fascinating to listen to as they wield words like weapons.  This is no blood-and-guts book; nor is there any heart-stopping activity.  In this, we see through the voice of Archie, his thoughts and words defining beautifully all that is laid out before us.

And what a tale it is:  Greed, hatred, anger - the worst definition of man; and yet the best - respect, honor, integrity - in the interactions between Wolfe and Archie.  Peppered throughout delightfully are scenes of Archie and his lady-love, Lily Rowan, who, by chance, helps Archie in his investigation of the shady characters involved.

When Wolfe comes to the conclusion of his investigation he has gathered as per his wont, all the suspects together along with the presence of Inspector Cramer and his crony, Sergeant Purley Stebbins, whose mutual dislike neither Stebbins nor Archie has ever tried to hide.  Wolfe then lays out the facts as he sees them, and the conclusion he comes to satisfies, as it was meant to do all along.

This is the latest entry in the Nero Wolfe books, following Archie in the Crosshairs, and I sincerely hope it will not be the last.  Highly recommended.



More on Robert Goldsborough's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/g/robert-goldsborough/                                                                               

The Clock Strikes Nun (A Giulia Driscoll Mystery Book 4)

Author:  Alice Loweecey Genre:  Mystery, Suspense Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781635112184; 9781635112153 Henery...