Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Telephone Line (The Country Club Murders Book 9)

Author:  Julie Mulhern
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; ; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #: 9781635115505; 9781635115475; 9781515963738
Henery Press [Tantor Audio]
304 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $; $24.99; $6.99
June 18, 2019

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A killer is calling, and Ellison's life is on the line.

Ellison Russell is planning the event of the season -- and she's stressed.  Why not yoga?

Because the yoga instructor gets murdered during class -- and Ellison's stress level rises exponentially.  Now, in addition to raising a ridiculous amount of money, she's babysitting for a deranged cat (named after the devil himself), taking ten million phone calls (most of them from Mother), and finding more bodies (they're popping up like dandelions after a spring rain).

There's no such thing as balance when the killer makes it personal.  Can Ellison catch a murderer or will her namaste be her last?

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Ellison Russell is an artist and mother who lives in 1975 Kansas City - before cell phones, computers, and the Internet.  This was a time when people actually had to communicate with each other by talking on the phone or visiting in person.  No selfies, no Instagram, no Facebook.  It was a time when people actually had relationships with other people, and didn't have thousands of 'friends' that they'd never met.

Ellison is a well-to-do young widow who's doing her best to raise her teenage daughter Grace and cope with her overbearing, social-conscious mother.  She's attending a yoga class at her friend Winnie Flournoy's home to de-stress and the instructor, Marigold, has told everyone to relax and wind down.  Ellison has had enough of winding down and just wants to leave.  But she can't, because Marigold has locked them in.

After calling for help from a passing elderly neighbor, Ellison is wondering why, instead of letting them out, the neighbor leaves and runs from the home.  Elderly.  Runs.  This can't be good.  But surprise turns to resignation when she hears the sirens and sees her boyfriend, homicide detective Anarchy Jones, arrive.  It turns out that Marigold is dead, and once again Ellison is involved in murder.

Ellison wants to stay out of the murder but can't.  Her late husband was worse than anyone ever knew.  He kept secret files of people - people he was blackmailing, and Lark Flournoy was one of his victims.  She wonders if something in those files might tell her why someone was killed in Lark's home...

However, things don't end there.  When Ellison gets home, her mother calls (the grapevine in this city is admirable) and asks her about finding another body, practically insinuating that Ellison does it on purpose.  After she gets her mother off the phone, someone is at her door, and she's surprised to discover it's the mother of Grace's best friend Debbie.

Martha Clayton wants to know about Grace being at a bar on Saturday with Debbie, and Ellison gives her an alibi (Grace was with her all night), but Martha, distraught about Debbie, leaves unsaid things hanging in the air and leaves - and Ellison is determined to ferret out the truth from Grace.

She also is hosting a dinner for her new neighbor Jennifer, who has moved from California to Kansas City with her husband.  Jennifer appears to be some sort of hippie, while Marshall is rarely home, being a pharmaceutical salesman, so there goes Ellison's last hope of getting any rest that night.

Ellison is also chairing a gala for an art exhibit at the museum and gets a phone call from her mother Frances who demands she 'raise the stakes'.  It seems the other cities where the event was held all raised a million dollars, while Ellison has raised a paltry three hundred fifty thousand.  Never mind that they are larger, coastal cities.  Frances Walford will not be thought a yokel, and demands Ellison do something, and right now. 

When another murder occurs, Ellison is getting suspicious, because she's the only one who knows (courtesy of Henry's files) that the two might be connected.  She knows she should tell Anarchy, but for obvious reasons doesn't want him - or her daughter - to know how vile Henry was.  Only she and her attorney Hunter Tafft are aware of the nefarious practice.

Then Lark is run down by a car while leaving work.  Anarchy calls and tells her, asking if she'll stay with Winnie.  Just as things seem they can't get any worse, they do.  When Ellison leaves the table for a moment, Winnie collapses, and it's later discovered she was poisoned.

Ellison  wants to know what's going on.  The problem is the killer doesn't want her to find out...

This is the ninth book in the series and just as much fun to read as the first.  Although this book touches on the subject of rape and its aftermath on the victims, it is interwoven with lively banter between Ellison, her family, and her friends regarding murder - mainly because Ellison seems to always be in the center of it.

There are also a few hilarious scenes, one in particular involving a strange Jell-O mold made by Jennifer that Ellison and Grace are forced to eat, and dinner table conversation that is priceless - mostly by Grace.  (Whom, coincidentally, is rapidly developing the same dry wit as her mother).  I may never eat Jell-O again.

We also have the relationship between Ellison and Anarchy ready to reach a new stage in development.  Ellison is an extremely strong woman, but in one area she's extremely vulnerable, and it is this that is focused upon (and it's about time).

Watching Ellison find the clues and put them all together is fascinating.  She takes each piece of the puzzle and tries it one way, then another, and then at last another until she figures out where it's supposed to go.  It's a delightful romp of a tale, pulling the reader in from the first page that leaves you holding on tight until you reach the end. 

The use of wordplay is paramount, and it conveys more than any descriptions (of which there are many) could do.  It is the crux of the story, the heart of who these people are.  And it's winsome, lively, and thoroughly delicious.  Ellison is no fool, nor is she foolish, and she can hold her own with the best of them (and often has to).

Therefore, I should really learn not to read one of Ms. Mulhern's books when I go to bed, because it means that I won't get any sleep.  Her books are that good.  Really. She's one of those authors that you know you're going to like the book even before you've passed the first page.  Unfortunately, the side effect is I'm groggy in the morning from lack of sleep and it takes more coffee than Ellison drinks on a bad day to get me moving again.

When the ending comes and the killer is revealed, it comes as a bit of a surprise.  The clues are there, if you look for them but they're not overt.  They don't hit you over the head and you get the 'aha' moment almost the same time as Ellison.  It's a revelation, and a bit sad at the same time.  One realizes how easy it is for someone to lose a tenuous grip on reality without anyone even noticing. 

All in all, this is one of my favorite books in the series, and I've been enchanted with them all.  Ms. Mulhern is a wonderful writer who manages to not only put words on a page, but people as well.  I look forward to the next in the series.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Telephone-Line-Country-Club-Murders/dp/1635115477/ref

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2847599913

More on Julie Mulhern's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/julie-mulhern/

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