Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah Fox

Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah FoxFor Whom the Bread Rolls (A Pancake House Mystery #2) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #2
Pages: 248
Published by Alibi on March 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

From the author of The Crêpes of Wrath comes another decadent cozy mystery. This time, pancake house owner Marley McKinney is tangling with a salty troublemaker . . . and a ravenous killer.
Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!
Tourist season’s in full swing in the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove, and Marley McKinney couldn’t be happier. Since taking over the Flip Side restaurant, she’s made a few close friends, adopted a cat named Flapjack, and started dating her childhood crush. The only cloud on the horizon is local nuisance Ida Winkler, who blames Marley for landing her nephew in prison. Trying to get a rise out of Marley, Ida’s been making crank calls and even vandalizing the pancake house.
The police can’t do much about the pranks, so Marley sets out to bury the hatchet once and for all. But someone’s beat her to it—in the most shocking way possible. After stumbling across Ida’s dead body, Marley’s suddenly the number-one suspect in her murder. Clearing her good name is going to be a tall order, but Marley’s not about to let Ida keep ruining her life—especially from beyond the grave.

My Review:

Just like the first book in this cozy series, The Crepes of Wrath, the title of this second book is just a bit over-the-top cute. And so is the book.

The series is definitely very cozy. In Crepes, Marley inherited her cousin Jimmy’s small-town pancake house, The Flip Side. And solved his murder. In this second book, Marley is settling into her new life in tiny, touristy Wildwood Cove – and neck deep in yet another murder.

I sense a trend.

At the end of Crepes, Marley’s meddling into the investigation of Cousin Jimmy’s death results in, among other things, nasty Ida Winkler’s son landing, quite justifiably, in prison. But Ida is both nasty and crazy, and is doing everything she can to run Marley out of business and out of town. However, Ida isn’t terribly effective, and Marley is just (and quite justifiably) annoyed.

Not that anyone in town has a single nice thing to say about Ida. She’s a piece of work. But while no one would miss her if she moved away, no one seems to hate her enough to want her dead. Which doesn’t stop Marley from just about tripping over Ida’s corpse.

And Marley has just enough of a motive, and just enough of a window of opportunity, to put herself at the top of the suspect list. So of course she decides that the best thing she can do to clear her name and protect her business is to “help” the police investigate the murder, annoying half the town (but not as badly as Ida) and putting herself squarely in the killer’s sights.

Again.

Escape Rating C+: The series is still cute. I particularly love Marley’s cat Flapjack, who is just a cat and doesn’t solve murders. But he’s a sweet boy and I wouldn’t mind having one just like him. He’s also very good, as cats often are, at knowing when his person needs an extra cuddle.

Sticking oneself into the middle of a murder investigation is enough to make any sane person need a little extra feline TLC.

But Marley’s motives for nosing around town don’t seem quite as clear-cut or as compelling as in the previous book. She loved Cousin Jimmy, and felt terribly guilty that she hadn’t been around more. And as his unexpected heir, she really was the logical murderer, if not the correct one. Following the money led straight to Marley.

However, no one seriously believes that Marley is Ida’s murderer, and that includes the cops. Not just because they know her now, but because they actually are capable of doing their jobs. Marley’s insecurity about how this latest investigation will affect her business is a bit all in her head.

And while she “investigates” one crime, she trips over two more. Someone seems to have been blackmailing local residents over mostly petty incidents, and everyone assumes that it was the late, unlamented Ida. She certainly was nasty and judgmental enough to have been the blackmailer. As if that wasn’t enough of a crime spree, someone is illegally dumping large garbage piles on the shore, and one of those dumps contains remnants of a meth lab.

While this probably isn’t a lot of crime for a small town with loads of tourists, it is a lot of coincidence for one completely amateur and occasionally inept investigator to trip over and more or less solve. The connections between the crimes feels tangential at best, and Marley just can’t resist poking her nose into all of them. It felt like more than a bit much.

Over-the-top, just like the titles. But I like Marley a lot, and I’m still enough interested in her adventures to give the series one more try. The next book, Of Spice and Men, is scheduled for the end of the summer. The perfect time for a beach read, set in a beach town, possibly with a beach murder. We’ll see.

Review: Every Trick in the Rook by Marty Wingate

Review: Every Trick in the Rook by Marty WingateEvery Trick in the Rook (Birds of a Feather #3) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #3
Pages: 251
Published by Alibi on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Julia Lanchester’s perch is knocked askew when murder hits a little too close to home in this delightful cozy mystery.
Julia Lanchester is flying high. She’s nesting with her boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, and she’s found her niche as manager of the tourist center in her picturesque British village. Thanks to all her hard work, visitors are up—way up. Her reward is an even more hectic schedule. Michael’s busy, too, traveling all over as the personal assistant to Julia’s father, celebrity ornithologist Rupert Lanchester. With precious little time together, Julia’s romantic weekend with Michael can’t come soon enough.
But the getaway is spoiled when Julia’s ex-husband is found murdered on her boss’s estate. And after a witness reports seeing Michael near the scene of the crime, the press descends, printing lies and wreaking havoc. To protect Julia, Michael vanishes into thin air, leaving her to pick up the slack on Rupert’s show and track down the real killer—even if it means putting herself in the flight path of a vicious predator.

My Review:

Welcome to the latest chapter in the trials and tribulations of Julia Lanchester, otherwise known as the Birds of a Feather series.

I put it that way because Julia’s very amateur mystery solving keeps getting itself tied up in Julia’s romantic life as well as Julia’s relationship with her famous father, Rupert Lanchester. Rupert just happens to be a well-known ornithologist (read bird watcher) on the BBC, and producing his weekly TV program used to be Julia’s job.

Now it’s the job of her boyfriend, the much put-upon Michael Sedgwick. Or at least it’s Michael’s job when Julia’s past, Rupert’s present, and dead bodies don’t turn up and get themselves in everybody’s way.

Especially Julia’s. Especially because the dead body in this mystery is the body of her ex-husband. Not that there seems to have been much life in Nick Hawkins, or in their marriage, when they were together. A time that is now five years in Julia’s past, and not missed at all. And neither was Nick.

Julia just wishes he’d stayed out of her life, and on his extremely remote island birding sanctuary where he belonged, instead of turning up dead on the grounds of the local estate where she runs the Tourist Information Center. Even in death, Nick Hawkins manages to snuff all the joy out of Julia’s life. One last time.

Escape Rating B: My teaser/summary of the plot above feels just a bit sarcastic, and reflects some of my mixed feelings about the book.

I like Julia Lanchester as the heroine quite a bit. She seems both real and relatable, except for the way that dead bodies and mysteries keep inserting themselves into her life. But we wouldn’t be reading about her if they didn’t.

And her ex sounds like a complete piece of work. We are never sorry that he’s dead. And neither is Julia, which provides a great deal of angst in her story. His death brings up all of her negative feelings about him from their unhappy marriage, and she feels guilty for not feeling more grief. Mostly she’s angry, and mostly at herself. I’ll admit to being able to relate. Many of us probably have a couple of exes that we firmly believe the world won’t miss.

The behavior of the paparazzi is utterly hateful. Again, something that we all currently believe is all too possible. The gutter-press seems willing to insinuate anything and everything dirty, salacious and malicious in the hopes of getting a reaction. Their story will then be the reaction – none of them seem remotely interested in the truth. And doesn’t that feel all too familiar?

But what made this outing in the series less entertaining than particularly the first book, The Rhyme of the Magpie, has to do with Julia’s, as well as her boyfriend Michael’s, reaction to the ensuing mess.

Many long-running mystery series have either a romantic subplot, or a will they/won’t they romantic dilemma in them somewhere. Julia and Michael resolve their romantic quandary in the first book. But unlike the author’s other series, the Potting Shed mysteries, Julia and Michael have not (or at least not yet) become true partners in solving the murders that Julia trips over. Instead, the murder investigations in Empty Nest and now Every Trick in the Rook drive a wedge between them. Once seems plausible, twice starts to stretch coincidence.

I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen again in the fourth book, which is another way of saying that I also sincerely hope that there IS a fourth book. I still like the series.

And one of the reasons that I like the series is that the author usually does manage to fool me into not solving the mystery too soon. I got my inklings of the solution about the same time that Julia did, and the resolution kept me turning pages briskly, especially at the very end. And if that wasn’t enough, Tennyson, the rook of the title, absolutely steals the show – along with the shortbread!

Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox

Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah FoxThe Crêpes of Wrath (A Pancake House Mystery #1) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #1
Pages: 240
Published by Alibi on August 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the debut of a delightful cozy mystery series, Sarah Fox introduces a charming new heroine who finds herself in a sticky situation: stacking pancakes, pouring coffee, and investigating murder.
When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers, but then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff.
After she stumbles across evidence of stolen goods in Jimmy’s workshop, Marley is determined to find out what’s really going on in the not-so-quiet town of Wildwood Cove. With help from her childhood crush and her adopted cat, Flapjack, Marley sinks her teeth into the investigation. But if she’s not careful, she’s going to get burned by a killer who’s only interested in serving up trouble.

My Review:

This is a very cute start to a new cozy mystery series. On the one hand, it’s a bit light and fluffy, sort of like the pancakes at The Flip Side Pancake House. On that other hand, the red herrings are savory enough to be served at one of the dinner options in beautiful Wildwood Cove.

The story starts out a bit in the middle, but in a good way. As events begin, Marley McKinney is taking a vacation from her job in Seattle by covering for her cousin Jimmy at his pancake place while Jimmy is recovering from pneumonia in the hospital. We don’t need to see Jimmy get sick or Marley go through her decision process about helping Jimmy out. By the time we meet Marley, she is starting to think about what she’ll do when Jimmy gets out of the hospital and back on his feet. And we see that the residents of Wildwood Cove and the regulars at The Flip Side have taken her into their hearts.

Jimmy is more her mother’s cousin than hers, and Marley has very, very fond memories of visiting Jimmy and his late wife, Grace, when Marley was young. After Grace’s death, the visits tapered off, but Marley and her mother still kept in touch with Jimmy. He was one of the few relatives they have left – and he seems to have been a really nice guy.

Past tense. Because the mystery that Marley takes it upon herself to solve is the mystery of who killed Jimmy, a man that nearly everyone in the small community seems to have loved. Jimmy’s death is tied into a second mystery – who stashed stolen goods in Jimmy’s generally unused shed?

As Marley pokes her nose into places it really doesn’t belong, we get to know the good people (and the bad people) of Wildwood Cove. While Marley spent her childhood summers here, the world has moved on and there are lots of new people in this little coastal town. Some of whom are lovely, and some of whom are, as the old saying goes, “no better than they ought to be” but in different ways.

Marley is left trying to pick through the pieces of what Jimmy left behind, and what Jimmy might have been into that could have caused his death. When the news gets out that Marley inherits both the house and the restaurant, the buzzards start circling. Some want the house, some want the business, and some just want to take back anything incriminating that might be left in Jimmy’s house.

It’s up to Marley to help the police figure out which of the many frightening events, home invasions and business break-ins have to do with Jimmy’s death and which are just their own separate nastiness.

All the while trying to figure out what her own future should be. Should she keep the home and business she has come to love – even though she knows nothing about running a restaurant and has a life back in Seattle? Or should she go back to the city, knowing that she is leaving her heart behind/

And will she have to die before she gets everything figured out?

Escape Rating B+: I think this may be one of those series where if you fall in love with the people and the place, it just works. Wildwood Cove feels like a nice place to visit, and I wouldn’t mind living there. But like every small town, at least in fiction, not every person is a gem and not everyone is someone you would want as your neighbor.

Marley is an interesting heroine because her life is completely in flux. The longer she stays at Jimmy’s and runs The Flip Side for him the more she sees how hollow and lonely her life is in Seattle. She has few connections back in the city that she misses or that miss her, while in Wildwood Cove nearly everyone has become connected to her, through the pancake house if not in other ways. She’ll be missed when she goes back to the city.

Jimmy’s death changes her life. Not just because she feels compelled to investigate that death, but because Jimmy leaves her his house, his restaurant, and most of his rather significant accumulated savings. He knew that Wildwood Cove was where her heart belonged, and he gave her enough resources to make that very nebulous dream come true. She feels both incredibly grateful and terribly guilty. She always cared, but didn’t see nearly as much of him as she feels she should have. Especially now that he is gone.

Those childhood summers were clearly the highlight of her life. It feels like the icing on a very yummy cake when her childhood crush turns up at her door, all grown up and much, much handsomer than she imagined he could grow up to be. And he’s a big part of her dilemma. She wants the chance to explore what they might have as adults, but giving up her life in Seattle for a whole lot of uncertainties is a big step that she quite reasonably isn’t ready to take, especially in the midst of all the upheaval.

Again, on my other hand, the sheer number and depth of the tragedies that Marley experienced in her past felt a bit like “piling on”. They felt over-the-top and they didn’t seem to be a big part of the baggage she was carrying, at least for the depth of the tragedies. But it may be a building block for the next book. We’ll see.

And then there’s the mystery. Or rather, mysteries. Jimmy was murdered. There has been a rash of home invasion robberies up and down the coast, and some of the stolen goods were stashed in Jimmy’s shed. Someone breaks into The Flip Side after hours, and there are multiple break-ins at Jimmy’s house. Some of this rash of crimes is probably connected, but which parts?

Although Jimmy was almost universally liked, there’s a difference between almost and universally. His neighbor wanted to drive him out of his house, so he can bulldoze it and turn it into another post-modern monstrosity. Jimmy’s supposed ex-ladyfriend wants to strip the house of all of Jimmy’s valuables that aren’t nailed down. And someone is trying to run Marley off the road, out of business and out of town.

Figuring out which crimes are connected and which are coincidental keeps the reader, and Marley, guessing until the very end. And that’s a great thing for a mystery. I am very, very curious to see how Marley and this series get on in book 2, For Whom the Bread Rolls.

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Review: The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty Wingate

Review: The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty WingateThe Bluebonnet Betraya (Potting Shed Mystery, #5) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #5
Pages: 294
Published by Alibi on August 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Bestselling author Marty Wingate “plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice,” raves Mary Daheim. Now Wingate’s inimitable gardening heroine, Pru Parke, is importing a precious bloom from Texas—and she won’t let a vicious murder stop her.   Pru’s life in England is coming full circle. A Texas transplant, she’s married to the love of her life, thriving in the plum gardening position she shares with her long-lost brother, and prepping a Chelsea Flower Show exhibit featuring the beloved bluebonnets of the Texas hill country. Technically, Twyla Woodford, the president of a gardening club in the Lone Star State, is in charge of the London event, but Pru seems to be the one getting her hands dirty. When they finally do meet, Pru senses a kindred spirit—until Twyla turns up dead.   Although Twyla’s body was half buried under a wall in their display, Pru remains determined to mount a spectacular show. Twyla would have insisted. So Pru recruits her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, to go undercover and do a bit of unofficial digging into Twyla’s final hours. If Pru has anything to say about it, this killer is going to learn the hard way not to mess with Texas.

My Review:

Another garden, another dead body. In real life, I think that people would be just a bit afraid to hire Pru Parke. She’s an excellent gardener with a top-notch reputation in her field, but wherever she plants her spade, a corpse pops up.

No Man's land at Chelsea Flower Show 2014 By muffinn - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwf2005/14281586381/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33304732
No Man’s land at Chelsea Flower Show 2014 By muffinn

In this fifth outing in the Potting Shed series, Pru is planting her spade in the illustrious and internationally renowned Chelsea Flower Show. It’s the kind of opportunity that no gardener could possibly refuse, even if it’s only for a few days until the real crew arrives in London. A crew coming from Pru’s former home state of Texas.

That’s Pru’s connection to the group. Someone in the Austin Rocks Garden Society (ARGS!) remembers Pru from her days in Texas, and asks her to keep an eye on their Chelsea entry until their über-organized garden club president arrives on the scene. Only to promptly get murdered in the middle of the barely-started display.

Pru finds herself and puts herself in the thick of things yet again. With their fearless leader out of the picture, the somewhat shattered ARGS members turn to Pru to keep their disaster-prone entry on track. And Pru, as usual, can’t resist attempting to solve the murder. In spite of a whole lot of stonewalling by the police Inspector who takes the case. He’s one of Pru’s husband Christopher’s former sergeants, and the position he has is Christopher’s former job. He feels the need to prove himself at any cost, including ignoring the sage advice of both his former boss and that boss’s intrepid new spouse.

So Pru sticks her nose into the investigation in spite of being warned off at every turn. And Christopher goes undercover among the garden assistants, partly to help Pru investigate, but mostly to keep that investigation from putting Pru into deadly danger, as her investigations usually do.

But Pru rushes in where angels and sensible people would rightly fear to tread. As usual. And the killer very nearly catches her.

Escape Rating B+: This series is always a real treat for both cozy mystery fans and gardening mystery fans. For anyone who is a fan of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series, the frequent references to Pru’s gardening past in Texas should make those readers feel right at home.

And for those who are new to this series, unlike most cozies this is not a series where the cast of players continues from one book to the next. Except for Christopher, almost everyone in this book is new to Pru Parke and her world. Pru is always going from one garden to another, and has new assistants and new plants to work with in every book, as well as new murders to solve.

Every trick in the rook by marty wingatePart of the fun in this particular entry is the peek behind the scenes at the famous Chelsea Flower Show. I saw a bit of it once on a trip to London, and it is a sight not to be missed if one is there at the right time. It is the ultimate flower festival, and even for someone with a black thumb (like me) the displays are beyond beautiful.

One of the other things that makes this particular mystery interesting is the scientific aspect both to the display that is being created and to the crime. There are some thought-provoking points made about the use and purposes of scientific advancement in agriculture and ecology. The questions about whether the ends justify the particular means linger after the mystery is solved.

The Potting Shed is a terrific series and I sincerely hope there will be more to come. In the meantime, the author’s other cozy series, Birds of a Feather, will be continuing with Every Trick in the Rook in January.

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Review: Maggie Dove by Susan Breen

Review: Maggie Dove by Susan BreenMaggie Dove: A Mystery by Susan Breen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery
Pages: 236
Published by Alibi on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Susan Breen introduces a charming new series heroine in this poignant and absorbing cozy mystery with a bite. Maggie Dove thinks everyone in her small Westchester County community knows everyone else’s secrets. Then murder comes to town.
When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.

My Review:

If this cozy mystery were any cozier, it would knit itself a sweater. Or perhaps crochet an afghan. And as much as I occasionally love a good cozy (Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed AND Birds of a Feather series for example) this one just didn’t work for me.

In spite of the contemporary setting, there’s something slightly old-fashioned about both the heroine and the story. Although the story isn’t strictly first person singular, it is definitely written from protagonist Maggie Dove’s point of view. And a lot of the time her point of view is small and self-absorbed.

I don’t mean that Maggie is vain or egotistical. But her daughter died 20 years ago in an automobile accident, and Maggie has isolated herself in her house and her small town and her grief, and hasn’t ever moved on. Neither has her daughter’s boyfriend Peter, who was luckily thrown from that car all those years ago.

Peter is now the Assistant Police Chief, and in very big trouble. First a hated villager dies on Maggie’s lawn. Then a beloved old woman, and Maggie’s best friend, dies in a nursing home, both of the same cause – an overdose of Ecstasy that Peter has easy access to. And a substance that has gotten him in trouble before.

Maggie finally shakes herself out of her 20 year depression in order to prove Peter’s innocence, because he’s too sunk into his own morass of despond to take care of his own business his own self. But then that’s part of what his and Maggie’s functions are in each other’s lives. They take care of each other and they keep the memory of the late, lamented Juliet alive. So that neither of them has to move on.

Until Maggie is forced to make an irrevocable choice – either to surrender to the same forces that brought her best friend down, or to step forward and finally make something of the rest of her life.

Escape Rating C: This book is very slow going, right up until the end, then it’s a race for the finish. It’s also very clearly the setup for a series, as Maggie takes the entire book to make us wallow in her grief and passivity, introduce us to her town and her friends (and frenemies) and finally, finally get up and move on.

Maggie is a terribly nice person, but she also congratulates herself on her niceness just a bit too much, and beats herself up unmercifully when she acts or even merely feels human.

Also, part of Maggie’s persona and her self-judgement revolves around her faith and her attachment to her church and its activities. She’s been a Sunday School teacher there for years, and that has clearly provided a sense of stability and a circle of friends. Her faith is very important to her, and she thinks about it often. So often, in fact, that readers who are not expecting this story to have an inspirational tinge to it may wonder what they have wandered into.

But about the mystery. One of the things that is done well in this story is to peel back all the layers of everyone in this small town. No one is quite what they appear to be, and Maggie has been oblivious to much of what lies beneath the surface for many years. The investigation that she throws herself into is a big and much needed wake up call.

As far as the murderer goes, the author manages to scatter an entire net full of red herrings, and I did nibble at most of them. In the end, I figured out whodunnit right about the same time Maggie did, and only because there were no other suspects left. The author leads us readers on quite the chase. The last 10% wraps things up at a furious pace as Maggie and the reader finally see what has been successfully hiding in plain sight all along.

Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. Hobart

Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. HobartDeath at a Fixer-Upper: A Home Sweet Home Mystery by Sarah Hobart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Home Sweet Home
Pages: 267
Published by Alibi on May 17th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In Sarah T. Hobart’s wickedly funny and fast-paced Home Sweet Home mystery series, small-town real estate agent Sam Turner discovers it’s bad for business when her clients keep dropping dead.   Newly armed with her real estate license, Sam Turner loves Arlinda, her quirky seaside hometown in Northern California. But life by the beach isn’t exactly a breeze: She and her teenage son, Max, are being evicted from their apartment, her long absent ex-husband unexpectedly resurfaces, and her possibly romantic relationship with sexy Chief of Police Bernie Aguilar is, well . . . complicated. All Sam wants is a quick and easy sale. What she gets instead is a killer headache—or three.   Sam’s trying to drum up interest in 13 Aster Lane, a rambling Victorian fixer-upper that’s more than a little neglected—and possibly haunted—so when a trio of offers arrive out of the blue, she can’t help thinking it’s too good to be true. But after a new client drops dead on the property, she fears she’s lost more than a commission. Before Sam’s out of house and home, she must unmask a killer targeting her clients, or the only property she’ll be moving will be plots—at the local cemetery.

My Review:

This was one of those books where I’m still trying to figure out what I think and how I feel about it. I finished it last night and I’ll admit that it isn’t sticking with me. This is not a good sign.

The story certainly had possibilities. Single-mother Sam Turner is a fledgling real estate agent in what sounds like a down market, so the story felt a bit dated, as though it was set in the recession. The housing market has picked up the last couple of years, and it feels like we are now in a sellers’ market, so Sam’s lack of success didn’t feel current, especially given the description of Arlinda as a quirky if desirable place to live.

The house she is trying to sell is equally quirky, not to mention downright creepy. Did the address have to be 13 Aster Lane? Couldn’t it have been 15? Or 12? As events kept spiraling into the weird, it seemed as if the address was either intended as a portent or was just too much over the top. And in spite of the opening of the story, there is not a paranormal element in it.

This is also a small town with a lot of interesting (again, read that as quirky) characters, and it felt as if we met ALL of them.

The word “quirky” comes up a lot in descriptions of and reviews of this book. You would think that there would be some relatively normal, meaning non-quirky, people in this town. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

It also seems as if Sam is just one of those people to whom bad things happen, not always with any rhyme or reason. Her neighbors spy on her, her landlord hates her, the appraiser for her upcoming house purchase rules against her, and most of her colleagues in the real estate business are just plain nasty pieces of work.

In a twist, her boss is actually a nice guy. But everyone else she has to deal with regarding the sale of 13 Aster Lane is just nasty. She has rivals both at her own agency and at the listing agency, and both women are just unreasonably bitchy.

The mystery in this book surrounds that estate at 13 Aster Lane. For reasons that Sam doesn’t figure out until the very end, all sorts of strange and bizarre people are interested in the broken-down mansion, sight unseen. And Sam keeps tripping over the dead bodies of all of those potential purchasers.

It all seems very bizarrely coincidental, until a figure out of her own wacky past turns up out of the seeming blue. And then she discovers that she’s been played all along.

Escape Rating C-: I never warmed up to Sam. In the story, it always seems like she’s in way over her head, which can make things interesting. However, she takes that “over her head” feeling and spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself, and/or letting other people walk all over her.

Ironically, the deed that most of her fellow real estate agents, those of the cutthroat variety, would most laugh at her for is the one that reaps her the biggest reward at the end.

But the world of real estate that Sam is attempting to inhabit is not a good place, not for her, not for anyone. And she’s mostly unsuccessful in a realm where you have to support yourself on commissions and not salary. She’s not managing and not rethinking. And letting herself be run over by bitches on wheels. In one case, almost literally.

This was also a story where there were two sets of villains, each more unlikely than the other, and both equally out of left field. While the reader always suspects that there is something hinky about all of the sudden offers on the very dilapidated property, and that none of the prospective buyers are remotely on the up and up, the degree to which the solution comes out of nowhere was a bit breathtaking.

And the other piece of villainy was completely out of the blue.

I received this book from NetGalley via Random House Chatterbox for an honest review. Which is turning out to be a review that says I honestly didn’t like this book very much. While I loved the first book I received through this program, The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate, that was a book in a series I had previously read and enjoyed. The second book, Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig, was okay but not as good as the Wingate. This one continues the downward trend, and I’m rethinking my entire participation in the Chatterbox.

Reviewer’s Note: In the process of prepping this post I discovered that the author has published at least two previous books in this series under another name. That explains why it seems like we’re meeting Sam in the middle of her mess rather than being introduced to her. But I am even less thrilled that this is the third book in a series and that the marketing makes it seem like the first book. Your mileage may vary.

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline FardigMug Shot by Caroline Fardig
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Java Jive #2
Pages: 292
Published by Alibi on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Former musician Juliet Langley has barely had a day off since taking over management of the coffeehouse owned by her best friend, Pete Bennett. But there's always more to be done—such as prepping for the annual Holiday 5K Race organized by Pete's snobby socialite girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth. This year, Java Jive has a booth right at the finish line, and since Juliet and Cecilia don't always see eye to eye, everything has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing . . . like Juliet stumbling over Cecilia's dead body on the morning of the race.
When Pete is arrested for Cecilia's murder, Juliet sets out to clear his name. She'll do whatever it takes—even if it means standing up to the police, her ex-boyfriend, and the grande dames of Nashville. But there isn't enough espresso in the world for the greatest challenge in her path: infiltrating Nashville's high society to uncover the hidden hotbed of scandal without running afoul of the law herself. With her last dime staked on Pete's bail bond and her staff growing jittery, the last thing Juliet needs is for her trademark temper to land her behind bars. As time drips away, Juliet needs to crack this case before the killer comes back for another shot.

My Review:

If you crossed Goldy Schulz from Diana Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear Culinary Mysteries with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, you’d get someone like Juliet Langley from Mug Shot. And that’s definitely a mixed blessing.

Like Goldy, Juliet seems to get involved in solving mysteries because someone near and dear to her (or her own self) gets accused of murder. And of course the police focus on someone that Juliet is just sure can’t be guilty. Also like Goldy, Juliet’s life and her mysteries revolve around a food establishment. In Juliet’s case, that establishment is the Java Jive, the cafe she manages for her best friend Pete Bennett.

Like Stephanie Plum, Juliet is more than a bit hapless as well as rather klutzy. However, unlike Stephanie, Juliet has no pretensions to being a profession crime solver, crime stopper, or investigator of any kind. Juliet gets caught in the middle trying to save a friend. Her involvement always begins as an accident. She’s not supposed to be any good at it, where Stephanie Plum, if she were as inept a bail bonds investigator as she appears, would be dead several times over by now.

Not that Juliet doesn’t put herself in more than enough danger to get herself killed, but it’s not her job. If she’s bad at it, it is less of a suspension of disbelief.

death before decaf by caroline fardigAlso, unfortunately like Stephanie, it looks like Juliet is caught in the midst of a romantic triangle. She’s falling for the cop who frequently rescues her, Ryder Hamilton, in spite of his having lied to her in the first book (Death Before Decaf) when he was undercover. It is a somewhat fraught relationship.

On that other hand, Jessica has always been more than a little in love with her best friend Pete, and definitely vice versa. But they have been friends so long, and their friendship is so much a part of their lives, that they are both afraid that if they try for more, they’ll end up ruining the most important relationship they have.

But their closeness doesn’t leave a lot of room for either of them to become seriously involved with a significant other.

So when Pete’s current attempt at a significant other ends up murdered, Pete is the prime suspect. His socialite fiance, Cecilia Hollingsworth, is, quite frankly, a bitch. But she is also pregnant with someone else’s child, and too many people heard Pete and Cecilia arguing just before she was killed and left in a crime scene that naturally has Pete’s fingerprints all over it, as well as his DNA in the victim.

The cops are almost sure it must be Pete. But Juliet is equally sure that Pete is incapable of murder. And there are an awful lot of awful people who benefit an awful lot from Cecilia’s oh-so-convenient death.

It’s up to Juliet to keep Pete out of jail and suss out the real killer before she becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: I have mixed feelings about this book. It was fun and fast, but at the same time, it felt too much like too many other books I’ve read. If you haven’t read one of the food-related mystery series like Goldy Bear, and haven’t read Stephanie Plum, or really, really enjoyed Stephanie Plum, you’ll probably find this book to be a treat.

For this reader, it was an okay read but didn’t shine in comparison to some of its antecedents. And I’ll confess, Juliet’s “torn between two lovers” thing reminded me way too much of Stephanie Plum’s indecision between Morelli and Ranger.

However, on the plus side, the author does a very good job of catching readers new to the series up to current events. I didn’t even realize that there was a previous book in the series, and didn’t feel the lack of context that one so often does in this situation. So if this is your cup of coffee, it will taste good even if you haven’t tasted the previous book.

As mysteries go, I didn’t figure out whodunnit until Juliet did. There were oodles of red herrings in this story, and they all dangled very enticingly. While the usual rule applies, “Who Benefits?” there were so many people that benefited from Cecilia’s death that it was amazing that she lived as long as she did. She was worth more dead than alive to a whole lot of people, and she was a nasty bitch into the bargain. She won’t be missed.

If you like your coffee, and your mysteries, with a lot of froth on top, Mug Shot might just tickle your taste buds.

Review: For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul

Review: For Dead Men Only by Paula PaulFor Dead Men Only by Paula Paul
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: Dr. Alexandra Gladstone #5
Pages: 202
Published by Alibi on April 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Hailed as “an intriguing mixture of mystery, romance, and history” by Lois Duncan, the Alexandra Gladstone series from award-winning author Paula Paul continues as an ominous horseman heralds the emergence of a secret society, hidden riches—and a string of chilling murders.   The Temple of the Ninth Daughter sits on a hill at the edge of Newton-upon-Sea, an aura of mystery lingering over its tall, gray silhouette. Villagers whisper about the treasure housed inside, protected by local Freemasons who are bound by clandestine oaths.   Dr. Alexandra Gladstone has no time for such nonsense. Between the patients in her surgery and the rounds she makes with her faithful dog, Zack, her days are busy enough. But Alexandra has no logical explanation when the Freemasons start dying, one by one, with no sign of foul play other than smears of blood on their Masonic aprons. And what to make of reports that a Knight Templar rides through the village before each passing?   After the constable disappears in the midst of the crisis, Alexandra reaches out to her dashing, diligent friend, Nicholas Forsythe, Lord Dunsford, for assistance. Is someone after the treasure, or might a more sinister game be afoot? In order to solve this puzzle, Alexandra must somehow catch a killer who shows no remorse—and leaves no witnesses.

My Review:

The title is a clue, but one that won’t make sense to most readers, including this one, until after the murderer is caught.

In the tiny village of Newton-upon-Sea, it is the late 1800s, and the local doctor is a woman. She can’t be licensed to practice because of her sex, but, it’s a tiny and remote village and Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is all they have. That she is both the daughter and the apprentice of their previous doctor is the only thing that makes her remotely acceptable to some of her patients, even after several years of successful practice.

Alexa is lucky that no other doctor, no male doctor, seems to want to start a practice in her little village.

But Alexa doesn’t just practice medicine. When murder comes to her village, she also engages in a spot of private detecting. She’s not exactly trained at it, but a logical and intelligent mind will get a person fairly far at figuring out who done it, especially in a place where one knows most if not all of the possible perpetrators and their victims.

However, in this case, it seems like Alexa is surprised up until the very end. Breaking one’s leg, and setting it oneself, in the middle of a case will do that to even the most stalwart person.

It all begins when first one man, then a second is found dead in the local Freemason Lodge. Both men were members, and both were discovered in suspiciously similar circumstances. Posed in the exact same place and position in their Lodge, Neither body seemed to have any wounds, but both were dressed in their ceremonial aprons and both aprons had blood on them.

And both of the victims were relatively young. Certainly not nearly old enough to both suffer from heart attacks. But the local police constable dismisses any suspicion of murder and refuses to investigate. Then he decamps suddenly for parts unknown. Rumors begin to swirl – either he fears becoming the next victim, or he is the perpetrator.

The case becomes even more convoluted when rumors of an old Templar treasure buried under the Masonic Lodge resurface. And when what appears to be the ghost of a Templar is spotted riding around the village.

Events are already at a fever pitch when a young woman confesses to Alexa that she believes her father is responsible for the crimes. Her reasoning seems hysterical but plausible, until her father turns up dead in the next village. Whether he was responsible for the first crimes, or for his own death, he cannot be responsible for what comes after.

Just as Alexa begins to zero in on the killer, her own household comes under attack. Either she is closing in on the truth, or someone is afraid that she is. When she nearly becomes a victim herself, Alexa finally figures out what is really going on in Newton-upon-Sea.

medium dead by paula paulEscape Rating B+: With its references to local myths and legends, ghosts of Templar horsemen, Masonic secret rituals and old-line family ties, For Dead Men Only has even more of a Gothic feel to it than the previous entry in the series, Medium Dead.

But just as with the earlier book, the real story here is firmly rooted in Newton-upon-Sea’s here and now. All the Gothic folderol is just a way for the murderer to cover up their series of crimes. And it works on both the protagonists and the reader quite well.

Just as in Medium Dead, the story rests on Dr. Alexandra Gladstone and her assorted household, with some able assistance from Lord Dunsford, who is both a practiced barrister and the local squire. He’s also sweet on Alexa, to the consternation and growling resentment of her faithful (and large) Newfoundland dog, Zack.

Zack correctly believes that Nicholas Forsythe, Lord Dunsford, is a rival for his mistress’s affections. He only declares a temporary truce when Nicholas is needed to rescue Alexa from her latest misadventure.

Although this is book five in the series, I believe that a reader could start the series here and find everything that they need to know about the personalities and positions of Alexa’s little band of irregulars contained within this story. Personally, I have only read books 4 and 5, and even though I’m terribly curious about previous events, it wasn’t necessary to have read the earlier books to enjoy the later ones.

The story, just like Alexa herself, is very much involved in the small doings of the community. Her practice provides her both with the opportunity to hear everything that is going on, and a whole lot of distractions when she reaches the point where she has to put all the clues together.

Alexa is all too often distracted or stymied by official prohibitions against a woman doctor, or even a woman professional. And she is equally condemned by unofficial but perhaps more dangerous social opprobrium against a woman who sees and does things that such “delicate creatures” are never supposed to engage in.

The author does an excellent job of making Alexa just enough of a woman of her time to experience the slings and arrows levied at her because of her sex, while at the same time making her modern enough for contemporary readers to identify with.

Readers who enjoy the slightly later adventures of Maisie Dobbs, Bess Crawford and/or Mary Russell will find a kindred spirit in Dr. Alexandra Gladstone.

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Review: The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate

Review: The Skeleton Garden by Marty WingateThe Skeleton Garden (Potting Shed Mystery #4) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #4
Pages: 233
Published by Alibi on March 15th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed series continues as expert gardener Pru Parke digs up a Nazi warplane—and a fresh murder.
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.

My Review:

garden plot by marty wingateThe Potting Shed series has been fun from its beginning in The Garden Plot to its latest outing in The Skeleton Garden. And if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a little bit of a twist, or if you are a fan of the Rosemary & Thyme TV series, The Potting Shed is a terrific place to dig up a little gardening and a little murder.

In this book, series’ protagonists have turned a new leaf on their lives. Gardener Pru Parke, transplanted to England from Texas, has come to Greenoak to work with her long-lost brother Simon on the estate’s extensive gardens. Pru’s new husband, Christopher Pearse, has taken a step back from his very stressful job as a Detective Chief Inspector for the London Police and has become a hopefully much less stressed Special Constable near Greenoak.

Pru and Christopher are also house-sitting for friends, so they think they have a year to de-stress, get comfortable and put down roots in the community. Instead, Pru and her brother Simon are constantly at loggerheads, and, as seems to be unfortunately usual, Pru digs up a dead body.

In this case, it’s literal. When she and Simon investigate why one dying tree is not thriving, they discover that the poor thing’s shallow roots are right over, not just a body, but also a crashed World War II German plane. It only takes a little bit of forensics, and some historical archives, to discover that whoever the deceased was, he wasn’t the pilot. There was plenty of newspaper coverage of the pilot’s capture a mile or two from the plane way back when.

What’s difficult is that no one seems to be able to identify the body. But when Pru starts digging into missing persons cases from the war years, she stirs up a whole lot memories, including some that would have been better off remaining buried.

Someone wants that body, or at least its identity, to remain buried, and is willing to go to any lengths to keep it that way. And whoever it is seems to be way too active to be the original perpetrator. As Pru keeps digging, as she can never resist, she discovers that just because a secret is 70+ years old, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be worth killing for.

Escape Rating B+: As with all of The Potting Shed mysteries, this book really hit the spot. And also like the earlier books, I think it would be possible for a reader who was interested in this series to just start here. Pru and Christopher move around so much, and change their circumstances so often, that the things that do carry over from book to book are easily explained within the story.

One of those things is the strained history between Pru and her brother Simon. When Pru first comes to England in The Garden Plot, she has no idea that she has a brother in England. And Simon was told that his parents were dead. When they discover each other, it is a revelation for both of them. Now that Pru is in England for good, she has taken the opportunity presented to work with Simon, so that they can get to know each other.

The secondary plot in The Skeleton Garden is all about Simon and Pru navigating the skeletons in their own closet. They both have a whole wagonload of unresolved resentments at their parents. Simon is angry that Pru got to have them, Pru is angry that they lied about Simon, and Simon is angry that the aunt who raised him also lied to him. And as Simon’s wife puts it so well, since Simon and Pru did not get the chance to negotiate all their sibling rivalry and sibling in-fighting as children, they are going through all those stages now, and all at once.

But their issues with each other also link back to the mystery that they get caught in the middle of. It all goes back to the War. The reasons why Simon’s parents left him behind in England have direct parallels in the case they unravel.

The circumstances of the long-ago murder will be familiar to anyone who watched Foyle’s War. It’s all about the things that went wrong, sometimes criminally wrong, on the homefront while the war was going on. And that includes the problems of rationing and the black market. Also, there’s a parallel between Simon’s story and that of the young woman left behind and pregnant by the young soldier that old corpse used to be.

bluebonnet betrayal by marty wingateOne of the lovely things in this particular story was the way that the past impacts upon the present, both because the war is still much closer to people’s memories in England than is in America, but also because everyone involved, or their descendants, are all still in the area. The past, as they say, isn’t even past.

This isn’t a flashback story, at least not after the opening scene. Instead, it’s all about the impacts. The events of the war are still affecting the lives of the people in the village today. Not just Simon and Pru and their unresolved issues regarding their parents’ actions during and after the war, but every single person and their descendants is still living with, or living out, their actions at that crucial time.

And that’s what made this story so much fun to read.

I’ve just discovered that there will be another book in this series! I am looking forward to seeing just what Pru and Christopher dig up in The Bluebonnet Betrayal this summer.

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Review: The Big Brush-Off by Michael Murphy

Review: The Big Brush-Off by Michael MurphyThe Big Brush-off by Michael Murphy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Jake & Laura #4
Pages: 228
Published by Alibi on February 9th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The irresistible Jake & Laura return in Michael Murphy's witty, fast-paced mystery series—perfect for readers of Dorothy Cannell and Christopher Fowler. In The Big Brush-off, the charming and indomitable duo heads to the Midwest to solve a chilling cold case of a young girl's murder.
Blackie Doyle is dying. That's what Jake Donovan's literary agent tells him. Sales are falling, and the rough draft of Jake's latest Blackie novel doesn't look promising. Maybe Jake has been distracted by a recent barrage of real-life homicides, or by his marriage to the beautiful up-and-coming actress Laura Wilson, now slated for a part opposite Clark Gable himself. Whatever the reason, Jake decides to return to his roots. Which is why he and Laura hop the next train to the small town in Pennsylvania where Jake once worked as a Pinkerton detective.
Ten years ago, the murder of a teenage girl interrupted life in quiet, God-fearing Hanover. The unsolved case has always gnawed at Jake, and it seems no coincidence that as soon as he starts digging up old ghosts, he's once again writing like a dervish. Nor is it surprising that some townfolk would rather see the truth stay buried—and maybe even Jake and Laura with it. But the glamorous crime-solving pair refuse to leave before sorting through a bevy of suspects—and at long last nailing the one who almost got away with the not-so-perfect crime.

My Review:

By this point in Jake and Laura’s life, and the Jake and Laura mystery series, our heroes have come a long way from their hard-knocks childhoods in Queens.

And while the fame and fortune is wonderful, it unfortunately also means that Jake Donovan seems to have lost his ability to channel Blackie Doyle, the struggling private eye who is the hero of his best-selling mystery series.

At the beginning, Jake was Blackie, a former cop and former Pinkerton detective who did his best to get justice, or at least closure, for clients who were every bit as down on their luck as Blackie. And Jake.

But now that Jake’s wife Laura is a Hollywood star, Jake and Laura are living the high life. And Jake has been too caught up in taking care of Laura to take care of his own career.

It takes a wake-up visit to his literary agent to make Jake see that something has to change. He either needs to find Blackie again, or give up his career and settle for a well-heeled life as “Mr. Wilson”. Jake loves his wife, and he is pretty understanding that her Hollywood career, while it lasts, will make her much more famous than his literary career ever will him. But he’s not willing to go through life as just her appendage, either.

So, Jake (and Blackie) do what so many struggling detectives do when they can’t get back on track. Jake and Laura return to the small town in Pennsylvania where Jake worked his last case as a Pinkerton. A case that he spectacularly failed to solve.

Jake’s life took a different track after leaving Hanover, Pennsylvania, and leaving Mary Caldwell in the lurch over the murder of her teenaged daughter. Now Mary is dying, and Jake needs a place to find Blackie again. What Jake isn’t willing to admit is that he needs to close that case to get Blackie back on track.

As Jake gets reacquainted with the town, and Laura pokes her nose into the town’s gossip circuit, too many people attempt to run them out of town, with or without a rail. In the intervening 10 years, the former suspects have become the mainstays of the struggling town, and no one wants to see their gravy train disrupted.

Can Jake and Laura figure out who the killer is before someone kills them by mistake?

yankee club by michael murphyEscape Rating B+: This entry in the series is every bit as much fun as the previous books (start with The Yankee Club to get the flavor of where Jake and Laura began). But The Big Brush-Off is a bit different. In the earlier books, especially All the Glitters and Wings in the Dark, the author inserts real historical personages and events into the mystery in order to cement the 1930s setting.

The Big Brush-Off takes place almost entirely in Hanover. The most famous person in Hanover is Laura. So in this case the author uses telegrams from Hollywood and discussions of Laura’s next film, (possibly co-starring with Clark Gable!), as a way of establishing the period. And it works.

This story is in one of the classic detective genre tropes. The detective goes back to solve the case that got away. He thinks he’s providing closure to someone else, but in reality he is redeeming himself. Jake needs to find the killer to move on with his own life. It’s an added benefit that Mary gets to see her daughter’s killer brought to justice before she herself dies, and that the innocent suspects see the cloud of suspicion removed from their lives.

Because Jake and Laura have done well financially, the Depression hasn’t affected them much. Part of the way that the author establishes the setting in The Big Brush-Off is that Jake sees just how much the Depression has taken away from what he remembered as a lovely and prosperous little town.

It’s terrific to see the way that Jake and Laura work together. He lays most of the groundwork, but Laura is the one who gets closest to figuring out who the killer is. And even then, she’s just slightly off target.

Speaking of Jake and Laura working together, one of the things that is very well done is the way that Jake expresses his need to have a career of his own without resorting to stereotypes, sexist or otherwise. His worthfulness, or worthlessness, is never dependent on Laura or her career. At the same time he supports her absolutely. and never tries to cut her down to make himself feel better. While that attitude may be more 21st century than early 20th, it still felt good.