Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Boughs of Holly (A Liz Talbot Mystery, #10) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #10
Pages: 258
Published by Henery Press on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but Private Investigator Liz Talbot is struggling to feel festive. She hasn’t seen her best friend, Colleen, in weeks and fears she may never see her again in this life. Meanwhile Nate, Liz’s husband and partner, is spending money like he prints it in the attic on a mysterious family Christmas celebration. Liz’s nerves are shot, and she hasn’t even decked a single hall. But there’s simply no time to fret.
On a morning beach run, Liz spots a wooden rowboat run aground with Santa inside. Did Old Saint Nick have too much eggnog at the boat parade? No indeedy—Santa’s been shot. And he’s none other than C.C. Bounetheau, patriarch of one of Charleston’s wealthiest families.
Liz and Nate already unwrapped quite a few family secrets while searching for the Bounetheau’s missing granddaughter last year—enough to make them swear to steer forever clear of the entire clan. But as Mr. Bounetheau’s body is found in Stella Maris, and Liz and Nate are the police chief’s on-call detectives, they’re on the case.
With no shortage of suspects, Liz and Nate dash to find a killer who may be working his or her way down a naughty list.
Spend Christmas in the Lowcountry with the Talbot family and their friends in Susan M. Boyer’s latest Southern charmer, Lowcountry Boughs of Holly. Tis the season for merry mayhem!

My Review:

As the saying goes, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” But there’s a kind of codicil to that saying that goes, “Every woman needs roots.” And in several peculiar, holly covered and sometimes holly strangled ways, that combination of contradictions is the essence of this story.

Along with that always-applicable thing about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Not that anyone in Stella Maris actually has absolute power, not even Colleen the ghost with her mission from, let’s call it, “on high” to preserve the character, ecology and population balance of beautiful Stella Maris island.

(Please consider all of the above as a tease, because if I explain ANY of it I’ll give away the entire thing.)

There are always some people who think they have that power – and certainly act like they do. And one of them has just turned up dead on the Stella Maris shoreline, the morning after the island’s annual Christmas boat parade. Whatever the circumstances surrounding C.C. Bounetheau’s death, one thing that Private Investigator Liz Talbot is certain of is that he didn’t die of drowning, despite his corpse’s location.

Someone shot C.C. straight through the heart. While he was wearing a Santa suit.

The question is not only whodunnit but why they did it. C.C.’s wife has a well-deserved reputation for “eliminating” people that get in her way, but Abigail Bounetheau has always hired out her dirty work.

The family certainly has plenty of money to make that possible. Even after the ill-gotten gains of her drug-kingpin twin sons were removed from the equation – along with the two men, the apples of their mother’s eye, who are now serving a lot of time in prison.

But money makes for plenty of motives, and the Bounetheaus certainly have plenty of it.

The question before Liz and her partner/husband Nate is whether that money is the reason for C.C.’s murder – and if so in what way? Did someone need C.C. to die earlier than nature intended – even though the man was 80 – so that they could inherit whatever they believed was coming to them?

Did someone want revenge for either the twins’ actions or C.C.’s own – even if that action was in the long past? Or did one of the twins’ former partners fear that C.C. knew of their involvement – and would talk?

Liz and Nate, contracted to the Stella Maris Police Department for any cases that required more investigative skills that the tiny SMPD has on tap, find themselves in the thick of the case and under the gun – literally and figuratively – and without the assistant of Liz’ ghostly friend Colleen.

But this case is so twisted that it may take Colleen’s “special gifts” to get it solved in time for Christmas!

Escape Rating B+: I didn’t realize until I started this entry in the series that I missed a couple of the preceding books. While I didn’t absolutely NEED to have read Lowcountry Boomerang and Lowcountry Boondoggle to get into this one, I’m kinda sorry that I hadn’t read them first, as they introduce the Bounetheau family and explain why Colleen seems to have abandoned Liz at the beginning of this story.

Howsomever, there’s plenty of explication about the Bounetheaus to make the situation perfectly clear to anyone who hasn’t read those two books. But the whole thing, particularly Abigail’s apparently well-known but never proven murderous ways, sounds absolutely fascinating and I’ll have to go back and pick up what I missed.

That being said, this is not the place to get started with this series if you haven’t read any of them at all. The background on Colleen’s part in the whole series as the genius loci of Stella Maris needs more explanation than one gets 10 books into this series.

Besides, the whole thing is tremendously fun and highly recommended pretty much anytime there’s a Goodreads or Facebook query about terrific cozy mystery series. So if you haven’t had the pleasure, and it definitely is a great deal of pleasure, start with Lowcountry Boil.

But I decided to read this now instead of backtracking because, this is a holiday story and well, ‘tis the season and all that. And I’m very happy that I did!

There’s something about this series that reminds me of both of Miranda James’ cozy mystery series, Cat in the Stacks and Southern Ladies Mysteries. Part of that is the setting, as James’ series are set in a small college town in Mississippi, while Stella Maris is a small town on a small island in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The towns do have a similar feel to them, as well as a similarly unrealistic number of murders.

I think I just compared Diesel, the intelligent and empathetic Maine Coon cat from the Cat in the Stacks to Colleen the ghost, and it sorta/kinda works. Abigail Bounetheau certainly reads like the Ducote Sisters’ evil twin. But they wield the same kind of economic and social power in their respective communities, even though the Ducote Sisters only use their powers for good.

And I’ll confess that I like the idea of an 80something woman as an evil villain. It gives me something to aspire towards. Not the villainy, but certainly the vitality!

If you like Liz Talbot and Stella Maris, you’ll like Charlie Harris and Diesel, and very much vice versa. Which is a great thing as the publication date for Liz’ next adventure is still a mystery!

Review: Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Bookshop (Liz Talbot Mystery #7) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #7
Pages: 270
Published by Henery Press on May 29, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lowcountry PI Liz Talbot returns to the streets of Charleston in the seventh installment of Susan M. Boyer’s USA TODAY bestselling mystery series.

Between an epic downpour and a King Tide, those historic streets are flooded—and dangerous. A late night tragic accident along the Lower Battery leads Liz Talbot straight to her next case.

Who’s the client? Well, now, therein lies the first puzzle. When the police arrive at the scene of the accident, Poppy Oliver claims she’s only trying to help.

But the dent on the front of her Subaru and the victim’s injuries provoke a certain Charleston police detective’s suspicious nature. A wealthy, anonymous benefactor hires Liz and her partner Nate Andrews to prove Poppy Oliver’s innocence.

What exactly was Poppy Oliver up to? Is she a random good Samaritan who happens upon the accident scene? Or perhaps this tragedy wasn’t an accident. She just might be his abused wife’s accomplice.

Why does everyone involved in this case have a sudden burning urge for reading material, leading them to the same charming bookshop along the waterfront?

From a risqué, exclusive club in an old plantation to an upscale resale shop in the historic King Street shopping district to a downtown graveyard crawling with ghosts, Liz tracks a group of women who band together to help victims of domestic violence.

In her most challenging case yet, Liz fears she may find a killer, but justice may prove elusive.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

LOWCOUNTRY BOOKSHOP by Susan M. Boyer | A Henery Press Mystery. If you like one, you’ll probably like them all.

My Review:

This a story about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. A whole bunch of roads and a whole lot of hells. And plenty of good intentions that go into so many wrong directions.

Phillip Drayton is dead, to begin with. Someone ran him over during a pounding rainstorm just around a blind curve near his house.

It looks like a hit and run, at least at first. But a woman was found standing over the body, her car with a dented fender just in the right place to have been the cause of death. Poor Poppy Oliver says she was just being a good Samaritan, but Detective Sonny Ravenal is absolutely certain that she did it and just doesn’t want to admit it.

But there are at least two people on Poppy’s side. A mysterious benefactor who is paying for the best lawyer in town, who has in turn just hired Liz and Nate to investigate, and Liz Talbot’s guardian spirit Colleen. The lawyer is doing his job, as much as he enjoys riling up Liz in the process.

Colleen, on the other hand, can read Poppy’s mind – and Colleen knows she’s innocent. Which doesn’t tell her a damn thing about who might be guilty.

Then the evidence starts piling up, and the case goes from relatively straightforward to absolutely insane, right along with the shenanigans at Liz’ parents’ house – not that anything is all that far out of what passes for normal on that front.

It looks like Drayton’s wife was being abused, and that makes the victim seem a whole lot less sympathetic. On the other hand, not all of his injuries are consistent with a hit and run, or even a hit and not run. Cars don’t generally taser their victims before they run them over.

But the group of women who assist abused women in getting away from their abusers sometimes do. And seem to all be frequenting not just the same local bookstore but browsing the same display and actually buying multiple copies of the same book.

They might not be connected to the case. But they might.

The more Liz investigates, the weirder things get. Which isn’t actually atypical for any of her cases. The evidence is contradictory, and nothing quite seems to add up.

Until it suddenly does, and the real villain tries to subtract Liz, once and for all.

Escape Rating B: I picked this book for this week because I wanted some light, absorbing fiction to read during some recovery time, and I knew this series would take care of that admirably. And it certainly did.

There are lots of red herrings in this case, sending Liz on lots of wild goose chases. One of the terrific things about the way this particular case works is that pretty much everyone, with the exception of the villain and for once Liz’ cop friend Sonny, seem to be bent on doing the right thing. And while they all are to some extent, they also aren’t.

One of the things that was slightly off was Sonny’s attitude to Poppy. He was much too dogged in pursuing the expedient possibility instead of looking for the real one. He’s usually a better detective than that and it didn’t quite ring true.

A significant part of the story, both in the sense of a group obfuscating the issue to further their own agenda and in the sense that they were determinedly doing the right thing even if some of their methods were underhanded, was the group of women rescuing abused women. Not only did they mean well but they generally did well. And their inclusion in this story did a good job of shining a bit more light on a terrible problem that happens everywhere, even in tiny towns like Stella Maris.

The problem they introduce in the story is that their need for secrecy comes into direct conflict with Liz and Nate’s need to investigate the case. They are also part of what makes the resolution so convoluted. No one really wants to expose the details of their operation, but at the same time no one wants an innocent woman to be tried for a crime she did not commit.

As fascinating as the case itself turned out to be, the villain came a bit out of left field. I can’t say that at least some of the clues weren’t there, but either he did a really, really good job of misdirection or he didn’t appear enough until the very end.

And as much as I love this series, a very little of Liz’ family (other than her husband and partner Nate) goes a very, very long way. Your mileage may vary.

Review: Lowcountry Bonfire by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Bonfire by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Bonfire (Liz Talbot Mystery #6) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #6
Pages: 268
Published by Henery Press on June 27, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Private Investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews have worked their share of domestic cases. So when Tammy Sue Lyerly hires them to find out what her husband is hiding, they expect to find something looney but harmless. After all, this is the guy who claims to have been a DEA agent, a champion bull rider, and a NASCAR driver. But when he turns up dead the morning after Liz and Nate deliver the incriminating photos, Tammy is the prime suspect.

Questioning the truth of Zeke Lyerly’s tall-tales, Liz and Nate race to uncover small town scandals, long buried secrets, and the victim’s tumultuous past to keep Tammy Sue out of jail and the case from going up in flames.

My Review:

After a few serious books, and with a few serious books yet to come, it felt like time for something a bit lighter and fluffier, even if that light and fluffy included just a bit of murder. So I was more than ready to return to the Carolina lowcountry, the island of Stella Maris, and the investigations of Liz Talbot and her husband Nate Andrews.

This particular entry in the series takes off like a house on fire. Although it literally begins with a car on fire. There’s no mystery about the fire. Tammy Sue Lyerly sets her husband’s prized Mustang, an absolutely gorgeous classic car, on fire. In the middle of the street. With all his clothes inside it.

Tammy Lee just found out that her husband has been cheating on her. She hired Liz and Nate to find out what she didn’t want to know. And they found out.

But what no one expected to find was the body of her husband, Zeke Lyerly, crammed into the trunk of his Mustang. The only saving grace is that the body was found before the fire reached the trunk.

Of course Tammy Lee is the prime suspect. But Liz doesn’t believe she did it. Not that she wasn’t angry enough, or even that she was completely overcome when the body was discovered. Liz doesn’t think Tammy Lee committed the murder because she’s pretty sure that Zeke died of strychnine poisoning, and that’s not exactly the hallmark of the crime of passion that Tammy Lee would have committed.

So who did?

Some cases are all about the how. Those are the ones where forensics play a big part, and the investigators find themselves trying to figure out the complicated shenanigans that resulted in murder.

There are plenty of complicated shenanigans in Zeke Lyerly’s death, but when Liz and Nate investigate, the most difficult question they have to solve is “just who the hell was Zeke Lyerly, anyway?”

It’s not just that he was away from Stella Maris for 20 years, but that those 20 years seem to be a complete blank. The deeper that Liz and Nate dive into Zeke’s life, the more they begin to suspect that a whole lot more of Zeke’s really tall tales were really true. Especially the ones about his being in the CIA.

Did someone from his mysterious past track him down and kill him? Or is the motive, after all, a lot closer to home?

Escape Rating B+: This was one of those ‘right book at the right time’ situations. I’ve read a few heavier and weightier books recently. Even I Met a Traveller in an Ancient Land has a surprising amount of emotional heft considering its small size. So I was in the mood for something a bit less fraught.

This series always serves a tasty slice of pecan pie along with a juicy murder. And just a bit of paranormal woo-woo to add a bit of spice to the body. I suspect that how one feels about this series may relate, at least in part, to how one feels about the character of Colleen, Liz’ childhood friend. Colleen is a ghost, perpetually stuck at age 17 when she committed suicide. And her ghostly, perhaps even heavenly mission is to protect the island of Stella Maris. A mission she often stretches just a bit into protecting and helping Liz.

Like all cozy mysteries, there’s a group of regulars that surround Liz and Nate. In addition to the ghostly Colleen, that case of regulars is mostly made of up Liz’ family, all residents of Stella Maris, including her older brother Blake, the island’s chief of police. And he’s usually just thrilled to be working with his kid sister.

As a coastal island, Stella Maris has a lot of seafood restaurants, and that’s very appropriate, because this series always serves up some tasty red herrings. This case is interesting because it starts out so mundane, veers into some surprisingly strange places, but eventually, returns to motives that are close to home. And says a lot about acts and their consequences along the way.

As always, this was a fun read. I like Liz as a character to follow, and her relationship with Nate is still romantic without the romance getting in the way of solving the mystery. In real life, her parents would drive me bonkers, but then, this is fiction and not real life. A little of them still goes a long way.

But it is Liz that we follow, and she always leads her readers to interesting places and cases. I’ll be back in Stella Maris for the next book in this series, Lowcountry Bookshop.

Review: Lowcountry Book Club by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Book Club by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Book Club (Liz Talbot Mystery #5) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #5
Pages: 268
Published by Henery Press on July 5, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who could have pushed Shelby Poinsett out her second-floor library window besides her husband? In USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author Susan M. Boyer’s new novel Lowcountry Book Club, Private Investigator Liz Talbot enters a tight-knit community of Charleston, SC’s genteel women who have gossip to spill, secrets of their own, and a hundred-year-old book club they are dying to join.

Newlywed couple and business partners Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews are hired by a prestigious Charleston law firm to prove the innocence of Shelby Poinsett’s husband, Clint Gerdhart, before his trial begins. As the two begin to dig into the case, they learn that Shelby may not have been the perfect wife everyone thought she was. When Liz uncovers a photo of Shelby and Sonny, a Talbot family friend and Charleston police officer, looking too cozy for comfort, Shelby’s true character comes into question. Did the woman who ran a book club, adopted animals, and volunteered at a homeless shelter have a past that would make someone kill?

As Liz interviews the eighteen members of the closed club, she notices an anger bubbling under these women’s polite exteriors. Through conversation, she finds that the hostile undertone of the book club began when Shelby was named president. Liz is convinced that one of them knows who pushed Shelby Poinsett out her window—or may be the murderer herself.

Liz must run the gamut of Southern society to keep an innocent man out of jail and bring a killer to justice. With Boyer’s authentic Southern voice, Lowcountry Book Club merges Charleston charm with a mystery that leaves readers guessing until the very end.

My Review:

After finishing The Queens of Innis Lear and The Poppy War, both epic fantasies and both epic tragedies, I went looking for something just a bit (OK a lot) lighter and brighter. And remembered the Liz Talbot series. I read the first few books (starting with Lowcountry Boil), enjoyed them, but ran into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum and picked up the subsequent books but never got around to them.

The seventh book in the series, Lowcountry Bookshop is coming out next month, which made this the perfect time to get caught up. I find mysteries to be a good “palate-cleanser” for reading, and this was definitely the right time!

The series features private investigator Liz Talbot, her business partner and new husband, Nate Andrews, and Liz’ guardian ghost, the spirit of her childhood best friend Colleen. Yes, you read that right, one of the main characters is a ghost.

But in spite of the woo-woo that Colleen occasionally contributes, the mystery in this story is very firmly grounded in the reality of here and now. Shelby Poinsett is dead, her husband is accused of her murder, and his lawyer believes that he is innocent and hires Liz and Nate to find the evidence before it is too late.

Shelby was rich, her husband inherits and no one else was in the house. It seems pretty cut and dried, and it looks like Shelby died for the oldest reasons in the book.

Except that no one believes her husband did it. And he already has his half of their very considerable fortune, and did not need to bump off his wife to get his hands on the cash. Theories abound. If it wasn’t the money, maybe jealousy was the motivating factor. There are nasty rumors that Shelby was having an affair.

But no one seriously believes that, either.

It seems impossible to believe that she died over the traditions of a 100-plus year old book club, but it’s starting to seem like what happens at book club stays at book club – at least until Liz prevails on old Southern hospitality and a few people’s need for hot gossip to wedge her way, if not into the inner circle, at least to a near-enough fringe to overhear the juiciest bits.

When someone starts taking poorly aimed potshots at both Liz and her best police pal, it’s obvious that they are getting close to something – even if they still can’t figure out what. Or who. Or why.

Escape Rating B: Lowcountry Book Club is just plain good fun, and it was exactly what I needed this week.

This is a case with a lot of red herrings – an entire school of them. On the one hand, no one seems to have wanted Shelby dead. She seems to be one woman who really was every bit as nice as people originally claimed she was,

Some of the “ladies” in the book club are pretty vile, or at least venal. Even so, the possible murder motives that stem from the book club seem pretty thin, at best. Unless someone really is seriously off their meds.

A lot of the investigation in this case involves removing possibilities, because they begin with a ton of potential suspects, no evidence at all, and very little time before the trial. But they also begin with the notes from the first investigator who worked on the case, and that’s where they finally unearth the leads, which are just a bit glaringly obvious in that direction if no other.

Lowcountry Book Club, in spite of the murder investigation, is a light, quick read. The two leads, Liz and Nate, are fun to follow and it’s a pleasure to see them working together in the middle of their happy ever after, in spite of some of the craziness that brought them together.

I was a bit disappointed that after all of the buildup, the motive for Shelby Poinsett’s murder was so… mundane. She sounded like such a great person, and there was so much drama in the investigation, that when the killer was eventually revealed it seemed a bit out of left field and felt a bit flat.

But I was still reminded of just how much i liked Liz and enjoyed the earlier books in the series. I’ll be back for Lowcountry Bonfire.

Review: Lowcountry Bordello by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Bordello by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Bordello (A Liz Talbot Mystery, #4) by Susan M. Boyer
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Series: Liz Talbot #4
Pages: 272
Published by Henery Press on November 3rd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Charleston streets are dressed for the holidays in sophisticated Southern style: topiaries adorned with red ribbons, garland entwined with white lights, and poinsettias potted in gold planters. The high class bordello in a stately historic home is certainly no exception. When Private Investigator Liz Talbot’s dear friend Olivia swears she saw a dead body in the parlor of this bordello, one Olivia accidentally co-owns, Liz promptly comes to her aid.
With her wedding back home on Stella Maris less than a week away, Liz must juggle one elderly madam, two ex and future in-laws, three ghosts in the bordello, four giddy bridesmaids, five lovely courtesans, six suspicious patrons…and a partridge in a pear tree as she tries to keep her bridesmaid out of jail and live to walk down the aisle.

My Review:

I didn’t realize I was working on a theme when I started Lowcountry Bordello. Both the heroine of this book, and yesterday’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place, are brides who are heading to the altar sometime well after their 20s, and both women are planning their weddings while in the middle of solving murders.

I think that Pru Parke and Liz Talbot would probably get along like a house on fire.

But today is Liz’ day, at least for the book review. In the book, it almost isn’t Liz’ day to get married.

lowcountry boil by susan m boyerThe Liz Talbot series (Lowcountry Boil, Lowcountry Bombshell, Lowcountry Boneyard) centers around the island of Stella Maris, just off the South Carolina coast near Charleston. Stella Maris has managed to remain a small and cozy town, in spite of its marvelous location and its proximity to bustling Charleston. Liz Talbot, and her entire family going back generations, are partially responsible for Stella Maris still being beautiful and livable. The other force that is responsible for keeping Stella Maris Stella Maris is currently named Colleen.

Colleen was Liz’ best friend when they were kids. But Colleen committed suicide when she was 17, and her ghost is the genius loci of Stella Maris. In other words, Colleen is the protective spirit of Stella Maris. (One is forced to wonder who has occupied the office before, and how they got there. A minor digression.)

So we have a mostly cozy mystery series with one slightly paranormal element. Liz sees Colleen, and Colleen occasionally helps Liz. And often still infuriates her. Because Liz’ presence on Stella Maris is deemed necessary by whatever powers that be, as long as Liz remains a Stella Maris resident and a member of the Stella Maris town council, she is Colleen’s liaison. And while Colleen is not supposed to directly help her friend, keeping Liz alive is important enough that the rules occasionally get bent.

Mostly in the manner of cryptic advice and instructions. Colleen can’t manifest and impact the world directly. At least not yet.

Liz’ matron of honor calls in the middle of the night that she’s found a dead body at her great aunt’s house in Charleston. By the time Liz takes the ferry, the body has been whisked away, as if by magic. No body, no evidence that there even was a body. Just Olivia, overdramatic as usual, insisting that she saw her husband dead on the floor of her great aunt’s house. Olivia’s husband Robert is home with the kids, wondering if all of his wife’s late night meandering is indicative of an affair.

And this is where things get interesting, as well as convoluted in the way that Liz business typically, and often dangerously as well as hilariously, does. Olivia’s great aunt is running a very high class whorehouse. A whorehouse in which Olivia “accidentally” became part owner upon the recent death of her other great aunt.

This story gets better. Or worse depending on who you are in it. Olivia is being blackmailed about owning the whorehouse. Not by just anyone, but by her own cousin, who is the handyman at said whorehouse, and mightily resents that Olivia has inherited the place instead of him.

But since Olivia’s husband is not dead, what happened to the body she saw? Or did Olivia imagine it? (Olivia is so much of a drama queen that it is entirely believable that she DID imagine it.) And then the body of a local politician turns up in the middle of a park, and suddenly Liz has a case to solve, less than a week before her wedding.

After all, it would ruin the ceremony if the police came to arrest her maid of honor before they get to the “I do’s”. Or even after.

In order to figure out who killed the politician, Liz has to find out what the man was doing at the whorehouse. And that’s where things get interesting. The solution hinges on discovering exactly who are the rich and powerful men who sponsor young women through college by setting them up in an expensive house with a big allowance as their “nieces”. There are a lot of dirty secrets involved (as well as one fascinating clean but kinky secret). And the men keeping those secrets have a lot to lose if they are exposed.

But which of them has enough on the line to kill for?

Escape Rating A-: Lowcountry Bordello, and the entire Liz Talbot series, always edge toward going over the top without actually getting there. Alternatively, the way that Liz’ life and family are portrayed is so much fun that the going over the top is part of the charm.

The stories are all told from Liz’ first person point of view. So we only see what she sees and know what she knows. So when the craziness is revealed to her, it is also revealed to us.

However, that first person point of view is sometimes especially poignant, particularly when it comes to Liz’ interactions with Colleen. Liz still misses her friend terribly, so when Colleen appears in the middle of the bridal party, dressed as one of the bridesmaids, as she absolutely would have been had she lived, it brings a tear to Liz’ eyes (and to the reader’s).

Part of what makes this series so much fun is Liz’ crazy family and equally crazy friends. But her friendships don’t just exist so that the author has a crazy person, in this case Olivia, to work with. Olivia and Liz are friends for excellent reasons that go back to the childhood they shared on Stella Maris. So much of what makes this series work, and makes the characters work together, are the relationships they built when they were kids.

The set up for this story is particularly hilarious. How does one come to accidentally own a whorehouse? Or even half a whorehouse? (It’s not often I get to use the word “whorehouse” in a review, I’m having a little too much fun with it.)

And yet, once Olivia’s place in this mess is established, it is so easy to see how things got out of hand. Her great aunts needed a way to keep their century-plus family home in the ritzy historical section of Charleston. Old houses need a lot of expensive upkeep. The old ladies started out taking in boarders, as one does. But then some of their kindly neighbors convinced them or colluded with them that it would be much more profitable for the old ladies if their boarding house was very exclusive and sponsored by gentlemen in need of a place for their “young nieces” to live while the girls attended college. Everyone benefits. Until they don’t.

That’s where Liz steps in. Once the secret starts unraveling, everyone near the unravel is in danger, especially the girls. Only Liz, with a little help from Colleen and the resident ghosts of the house, can get everyone to safety before it’s too late. But once Liz starts protecting the girls, the killer starts chasing after her.

While it would have been a damper for her maid of honor to be handcuffed, it would be a absolute showstopper if the bride were in a bodybag.