Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + Giveaway

Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + GiveawayOf Spice and Men by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #3
Pages: 256
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Lights. Camera. Murder? Wildwood Cove’s star turn is soured by a sneaky killer in this delicious cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of The Crêpes of Wrath.

Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!

With a Hollywood film crew in town to shoot a remake of the horror classic The Perishing, the residents of Wildwood Cove are all abuzz. Even Marley McKinney, owner of The Flip Side Pancake House, can overlook the fact that the lead actress, Alyssa Jayde, happens to be an old flame of her boyfriend. After all, the crew loves Marley’s crêpes—so much so that Christine, the head makeup artist, invites her onset for a behind-the-scenes tour. But when Marley arrives, the special-effects trailer is on fire . . . with Christine inside.

The cops quickly rule Christine’s death a murder, and Alyssa a suspect. Marley’s boyfriend insists that the actress is innocent, but when Marley sticks her nose into the complicated lives of The Perishing’s cast and crew, she discovers more questions than answers. It seems that everyone has a hidden agenda—and a plausible motive. And as the horror spills over from the silver screen, Marley gets a funny feeling that she may be the killer’s next victim.

Sarah Fox’s addictive Pancake House Mysteries can be enjoyed together or à la carte: THE CRÊPES OF WRATH | FOR WHOM THE BREAD ROLLS | OF SPICE AND MEN

My Review:

One of the things that makes cozy mysteries so cozy is that they are often set in small towns where there are lots of quirky and interesting characters and everyone knows everyone else’s business. One of the dilemmas of cozy mystery series set in small towns is that sooner or later the reader starts to wonder why anyone would continue to live in place where the odds of becoming either a murder victim or a murder suspect are so disproportionately high.

Could there be any remaining residents in Midsomer County who have not been involved in murder at some point? Or Cabot Cove?

In Of Spice and Men, the third book in the Pancake House mystery series, the author has solved the problem by bringing a film crew to the tiny town of Wildwood Cove. This is the kind of thing that really does happen, and lives in the town’s memories for decades after.

(If you are ever in tiny Micanopy, Florida they still have plenty of memorabilia from the local filming of the 1991 film Doc Hollywood on display)

The movie being filmed in Wildwood Cove is the remake of the cult horror classic The Perishing (apropos title, all things considered!), and the little coastal town has plenty of Victorian houses to use as stand-ins for the creep-o-rama. The film shoot is a lot of excitement for Wildwood Cove, but things get a bit too exciting when our amateur sleuth, Marley McKinney, finds the first victim in a burning trailer on set.

Marley tried to rescue the woman, but she was already dead when Marley found her. And even though Marley couldn’t have saved her, she still feels guilty that she didn’t. That’s enough to get Marley started on the case, even though, as usual, the sheriff would rather she resisted her impulse to conduct yet another amateur investigation.

When Marley discovers that the heroine of the movie is her boyfriend’s ex, that said ex is the prime suspect in the murder, that she expects Brett to “take care of things” with his uncle the sheriff, and that, most unnerving of all, Brett seems to be going along with her demands, Marley sees red. And green. Particularly as Brett keeps defending the woman, refusing to admit that she had both opportunity and motive.

After a lot of soul searching, Marley decides that solving the murder is the fastest way to get Allison Jayde out of her life – whether by landing her in jail for good or absolving her so that she doesn’t need Brett’s help. And who can blame her?

But the deeper that Marley digs, the more complicated the case gets. There are too many people who might have had a motive to kill the victim, and even more people who had a motive to pin it on the selfish and shallow Allison Jayde.

As Marley frequently complains, she has way more questions than she has answers. Right up to the moment she finds herself face-to-face with the murderer, and suddenly it all makes sense.

Unfortunately for Marley, it also makes sense for the murderer to make sure that she can’t reveal what she’s figured out to anyone else. Ever.

Escape Rating B: In the end, that I am still following this series boils down to the fact that I like Marley as the main character. Not just that she’s both plucky and nosy, but also the way that she has taken on the changes in her life and made a new life for herself in a new place with new (and interesting) people.

It takes as much courage in real life to immerse yourself in new surroundings with new people and especially take on the ownership of a business as it fictionally does to poke her nose into murder.

I like just how grounded Marley is, and how responsible she is. She genuinely does care about her town, her friends and her business – and occasionally that caring gets her into trouble.

It is interesting that all of the crimes she has poked her nose into, at least so far, have touched on her life directly in one way or another. Her first time out she was investigating the death of the cousin who left her the Flip Side Pancake House (The Crepes of Wrath). In her second “case” she investigated the death of a local misanthrope because Marley herself was the prime suspect (For Whom the Bread Rolls). Now in her third “case” she’s looking into the murder in order to get her boyfriend’s ex out of town as fast as possible.

No one’s circle of acquaintances in real life is quite this murder-prone, but it does make for quirky mysteries.

The case that Marley is stuck in this time has a lot of twists and turns. And this time out the victims, suspects and witnesses are all outsiders, so Marley has a difficult time finding out who wants to do what to whom. There’s plenty of drama (and melodrama) both onscreen and off, and Marley has her hands full sorting out what is real and what is make believe.

But she’s likeable and always fun to watch. Enough so that I’m looking forward to her next adventure.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty Wingate

Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty WingateBest-Laid Plants (Potting Shed Mystery #6) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Potting Shed #6
Pages: 281
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A trip to the English countryside turns into a brush with death for Pru Parke, the only gardener whose holiday wouldn’t be complete without a murder to solve.

Pru and her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, are long overdue for a getaway. So when Pru is invited to redesign an Arts and Crafts garden in the picturesque Cotswolds, she and Christopher jump at the chance. Unfortunately, their B&B is more ramshackle than charming, and the once thriving garden, with its lovely Thyme Walk, has fallen into heartbreaking neglect. With the garden’s owner and designer, Batsford Bede, under the weather, Pru tackles the renovation alone. But just as she’s starting to make headway, she stumbles upon Batsford’s body in the garden—dead and pinned beneath one of his limestone statues.

With such a small police force in the area, Christopher is called upon to lead the investigation. Pru can’t imagine anyone murdering Batsford Bede, a gentle man who preferred to spend his time in quiet contemplation, surrounded by nature. But as her work on the garden turns up one ominous clue after another, Pru discovers that the scenery is more dangerous than she or Christopher could have anticipated

Pru Parke digs up buried secrets in this charming series from an author who “plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice to satisfy any hungry mystery reader” (Mary Daheim).

My Review:

Another garden, another dead body. If one didn’t know better one could easily wonder if master gardener Pru Parke was somehow planting “corpse seeds” wherever she went. Because no matter where Pru travels to consult on gardens, whether in her beloved England or her native Texas, she seems to have a knack for finding a body, and getting herself involved in a murder investigation.

This particular case is return trip to the Cotswolds for Pru, with the intent of helping to bring back a famous Arts and Crafts style garden, visit friends and reminisce about her first trip (The Garden Plot) where she spent much of her time interfering in DCI Christopher Pearse’s murder investigation. Now Christopher is her husband, and this is supposed to be a bit of a vacation.

Until she trips over a body. As Pru so often does.

As Pru’s cases go (and they are all Pru’s cases, in spite of Christopher being a police detective) this one is a bit of a hodge-podge. A fact which is fitting for the garden she has come to restore, which began as rather a beautiful hodge-podge of the early 20th century Arts and Crafts Movement, but has descended into a neglected mess, albeit one with “good bones”.

And, as Pru inevitably discovers, real bones. Pru finds her erstwhile employer dead in the garden, under a fallen statue. But what should have looked like a clear case of accidental death is, of course, anything but.

The statue is all too obviously not the cause of death. It may be trapping the old man’s body, but it isn’t actually touching it. And Pru heard the sound of hammering, which is what drew her to the scene in the first place. The poor statue was quite securely on its plinth until someone viciously attacked it with a sledgehammer – someone who Pru obviously interrupted.

And there’s no blood at the scene. Anyone who has ever watched murder mysteries on TV knows that there’s blood at the actual murder site – especially if falling statuary is involved!

Poor old Batsford Bede was definitely murdered. And while he may have been in a physical decline, and he’s definitely very dead – he was far, far from poor. And wherever there’s a will, there’s a list of people who may have wanted to collect on their inheritance sooner rather than later, and another list of people who are at the very least unhappy that they are not one of the favored few.

This case positively sprouts with potential murderers with heaps of motive, and red herring clues that are so obviously planted that they stink like three day old fish.

It’s up to Pru and Christopher to figure out whodunnit and whydunnit before the wrong person gets convicted of a murder they certainly did not commit.

And, as usual for Pru, she figures it all out, but almost too late to save herself.

Escape Rating B: I love this series, and will cheerfully scoop up any mystery that Marty Wingate writes. (She also writes actual gardening books, and that’s just not my jam)

As much as I also enjoy her other series, Birds of a Feather, the Potting Shed mysteries have a special place in my heart because of, well, Pru’s heart. And Pru herself. It is not often, and not nearly often enough, that our heroine is a woman of a certain age who has found realistically portrayed romance, a new career in a new place, and becomes an amateur detective. Miss Marple falling in love with one of her oh-so-helpful detectives and continuing to solve mysteries – just with more respect.

But I said that this case was a bit of a hodge-podge. Part of that hodge-podge is the way that the story opens. Pru arrives in the Cotswolds with Christopher, and nothing is as it was purported to be – except the state of the garden. It’s not just that their B&B is a throwback to the 1970s disaster. That part of the story eventually becomes surprisingly heartwarming.

The crazy-making bit is the person who hired Pru, and her extremely evasive answers about the nature of the job and the state of the person who owns the estate. Coral Summersun is both there and not-there in a way that drove this reader a bit batty.

And one of Christopher’s exes lives in town. At the beginning of the story, there’s a bit too much melodrama. Once the body falls down, the story heats up. From that point onwards, everything runs at a very fast clip as Christopher finds himself back in harness and, for once, officially enlists Pru’s help with the investigation.

The killer hides in plain sight and keeps the police and Pru distracted, both by arranging for a series of minor disturbances to happen elsewhere, and by throwing false clues everywhere, all pointing to very plausible suspects.

There’s also more than a bit of heartbreak attached to this case. As Pru dives into the weeds of the garden, she learns the story of just how it came to be, and the ultimately tragic romance between Batsford Bede and Coral’s mother. It’s a shared loss that at first united the unlikely pair, and then suddenly divided them. It’s only as her “Uncle Batty” needed her again that he and Coral finally had a chance to regain their lovely father-daughter relationship. That their reconciliation was cut short by such a venal murder is an even bigger tragedy than the death itself.

I left the book satisfied that, if good had not exactly triumphed because a good man was dead before his time, that evil certainly got its just desserts. I look forward, as always, to Pru’s next adventure. In the meantime I have Farewell, My Cuckoo, the next book in her Birds of a Feather series, to look forward to in the spring, appropriately right along with the return of the migrating birds.

 

Review: The Ninja’s Illusion by Gigi Pandian + Giveaway

Review: The Ninja’s Illusion by Gigi Pandian + GiveawayThe Ninja's Illusion (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, #5) by Gigi Pandian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt #5
Pages: 288
Published by Henery Press on October 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A fabled illusion performed by a stage magician who claims to possess real supernatural powers. A treasure from the colonial era in India when international supremacies vied for power. A phantom trading ship lost over 200 years ago. And a ninja whose murderous intentions in present-day Japan connect the deeds of a long-dead trader who was much more than he seemed…

When Jaya travels from San Francisco to Japan with her stage magician best friend Sanjay—a.k.a. The Hindi Houdini—for his Japanese debut, she jumps at the chance to pursue her own research that could solve a tantalizing centuries-old mystery.

With the colorful autumn leaves of historic Kyoto falling around her, Jaya soon loses sight of what’s real and what’s a deception. A mysterious ninja attempts sabotage on Sanjay’s trick, along with Japan’s most controversial magician, Akira. Ancient folklore blurs the lines between illusion and reality when a magician’s assistant appears to be a kitsune, a mythical fox spirit. As tricks escalate to murder, Jaya and her friends must unravel secrets hidden in the ancient capital of Japan, before one of their own becomes the next victim.

My Review:

The Ninja’s Illusion is a lovely piece of misdirection and stage management, much like the trick that Jaya Jones’ best friend Sanjay, the “Hindu Houdini”, performs onstage as part of his magic act.

And it’s great fun to read.

This is a cozy mystery, and much of the fun, and the mystery, revolves around Jaya and her group of friends. Her best friend Sanjay has come to Japan to work with an ultra-famous Japanese magician on a trick that is famous for its impossibility – the Indian Rope Trick. But someone is stalking both Sanjay and Akira, so there is clearly much more going on than meets the eye.

Jaya, a respected historian and increasingly well-known treasure hunter, comes to Japan to support Sanjay. And to assist a Japanese historian who has unearthed a historical mystery that relates to Jaya’s area of expertise, the history of the Dutch East India Company.

But when Sanjay’s mentor is killed in a brutal attack, Jaya’s historical research takes a definite back seat to the need to figure out who killed Akira, and why. Because if it’s all about the secret of his marquee trick, then Sanjay may be next on the killer’s list. But if the trick isn’t the motive, then what is?

When Jaya finds that her original historical research leads right back to Akira and the trick that can’t be done, she has a difficult time separating the threads of her research from the increasingly desperate attempts to find something that Akira left hidden.

If all the clues from both puzzles point to the same mystery, then what is the real mystery after all? And can Jaya and her friends figure out the solution before it’s too late?

Escape Rating B+: The Ninja’s Illusion is the fifth book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series, and I had a great time with it. I have not read the previous books in the series, which begins in Artifact, and there were references to events from previous books that flew a bit past me, but I still had a terrific time with this one. Enough of a terrific time that I went back and bought the first four. I can’t wait to see how we get to this point, and the ways in which Jaya’s friendships with the other characters have developed over the series.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that it feels like a bit of an homage to the late Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss series. While Vicky Bliss was a librarian rather than a historian, she also spent much of her madcap career hunting for mysterious historical artifacts and treasures, and was surrounded by a very similar cast of “irregulars” including an elderly mentor (Sebastien in Jaya’s life, Herr Professor Anton Z. Schmidt in Vicky’s) and an on-again, off-again lover who is as much thief as he is adventurer (Lane Peters for Jaya and John Smythe for Vicky) as well as a supporting cast of friends and fellow researchers. While there are plenty of differences, the feeling of Nancy Drew jumping out of the frying pan into the fire and falling in love with someone completely impossible feels very familiar. And as Elizabeth Peters is sadly no longer with us to continue the Vicky Bliss series, it is very, very nice indeed to have a read-alike that looks like it has the legs to keep going.

The historical piece of the puzzle also reminds me of the historical setting of the Shinobi Mysteries by Susan Spann. So if the historical parts of this puzzle sound as fascinating to you as they did to me, take a look at Claws of the Cat, the first book in Spann’s series. That one of Akira and Sanjay’s stalkers in The Ninja’s Illusion is costumed as a shinobi, or ninja, makes the link between the two just that much closer.

Magic is at the heart of this story. Not magic like in Harry Potter, but magic like in stage magic. David Copperfield. The hand is quicker than the eye. Illusions, misdirection, smoke and mirrors. Jaya spends most of the case distracted. Some of her distraction is internal, she’s trying to resolve a sudden confusion in her relationships with and between Sanjay and Lane. So she’s not thinking on all cylinders, and she’s away from home and missing her usual resources, like her librarian best friend Tamarind Ortega, who definitely reads like “one of us”, librarians, that is.

Jaya is also distracted by the endless distractions offered by what begins as two cases, Akira and Sanjay’s stalker, and her historical research into a Dutch East India Company ship of the 1790s that managed to lose itself in history by flying a false flag. Things continue along the paths of confusion for quite a long time, as just because the two cases are coming together it does not mean that there is a single perpetrator, or even a single motive, for all events.

This case is like the old story of the blind men and elephant. Each person seems to be grasping a different part, and drawing different and equally erroneous conclusions about the nature of the elephant and the case.

So if you like madcap adventures with likable characters and multiple mysteries to solve, The Ninja’s Illusion will provide not a very good time, and that’s no illusion.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Cat Shining Bright by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Shining Bright by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Shining Bright (Joe Grey #20) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Joe Grey #20
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on August 15th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The stakes are higher and more personal than ever for feline investigator Joe Grey when death comes to his beloved coastal California town in this twentieth installment of the enchanting cat mystery series.
While new father Joe Grey is overjoyed to teach his three young kittens about the world, he misses his cop work — secretly helping solve crimes alongside his human friends at Molena Point P. D. But when beautician Barbara Conley and one of her customers are found dead in the salon, Joe makes an exception, he heads for the crime scene. He has no idea that the kittens are following him, or how they will complicate the investigation.
But this is not the only danger to the kittens. A stranger is lurking around the home of Joe’s tabby lady, Dulcie, where the kittens were born. Both parents’ backs are up and their claws out, ready to protect their babies and to protect Wilma Getz, Dulcie’s human housemate.
As the death of the beautician becomes entangled with a gang of thieves working the village, Joe, Dulcie, Kit and Pan are all into the investigation; and they are led to unexpected connections, to the building of the new cat shelter and to a neighbor who becomes suddenly an unexpected part of the tangle.
Joe Grey fans will relish this latest installment following their favorite feline detective and his growing group of friends.

My Review:

There are two threads in Cat Shining Bright. One is indeed a bright shiny thread, and the other is dark and twisted. A fairly fitting combination for this series.

The bright and shining thread revolves around talking feline detective Joe Grey, his tabby lady Dulcie, and their three kittens, born at the very beginning of the book (also at the very end of the previous book, Cat Shout for Joy.

Joe Grey, Dulcie, and their feline friends Kit and Pan are talking cats with human-level intelligence. Also with human-level emotions, maturity and conflicts. They walk a very fine line between feline instincts and human complications.

As for why these particular cats, or for that matter the feral clowder of cats that congregate at the old Pamillon Estate, all have the capacity for human speech, no one knows. Which brings an air of suspense to the birth of Joe Grey and Dulcie’s kittens. Everyone, both human and feline, hopes that they will be speaking cats like their parents, but there is no certainty until they open their little mouths and something comes out besides “meow”.

Because cats mature relatively quickly, a big part of this story encapsulates all the joys and trepidations of parenthood into a brief four-month period, as the three kittens, Buffin, Striker and Courtney grow from blind, mewling fluffballs to young adults ready to strike out on their own.

While Joe Grey worries about his new family, and Dulcie is both contented and stir-crazy hovering over the kittens during their early months, a gang of sophisticated car thieves preys on Molena Point and the neighboring small towns along the California Coast.

Their pattern is insidious. They strike a town, and for two or three days steal as many late-model cars as they can, while trashing all the cars they can’t steal and robbing the trashed cars of any valuables. After a two or three day rampage, they move to the next town, and the one after that. A few weeks later they return and start all over again. And even though the police manage to arrest a few members of the gang each time, the gang itself seems to continue unimpaired.

While Dulcie is cooped up with the kittens, Joe Grey, Kit and Pan do their best to help the police track the gang, at least whenever they hit Molena Point. Meanwhile, Dulcie’s human friend Wilma is threatened with a problem of her own, one that puts Dulcie, the kittens and possibly all the speaking cats in grave danger.

It’s not until Joe Grey and the police are able to connect ALL the dots that both cases can come to their proper conclusion. And unfortunately, not until after grand theft auto escalates to murder most foul.

Escape Rating B: I love this series, and I really enjoyed my visit to Molena Point to see both the cats and the humans are doing. As Cat Shining Bright is the 20th book in the series, and I’ve read them all (including the semi-sorta-prequel The Catswold Portal) I feel like these two and four-legged people are all friends and I’m always glad to visit and see what everyone is up to.

If the idea of a story featuring a sentient (and often smart-alecky) cat sounds like catnip to you, start with Joe Grey’s first adventure, Cat on the Edge. A lot of what makes Cat Shining Bright work for fans is the emotional investment, and that just takes time to develop. You could probably start anywhere in the earlier books, but the last four rely on previous knowledge and involvement with the series to really come together.

As much as I enjoyed Cat Shining Bright, it felt like both threads of the story were a bit blinded by that shining brightness.. Your mileage may vary.

On the mystery side of the equation, it doesn’t feel quite so much like Joe Grey and the Molena Point PD solve the case as that the solution falls into their laps (at least for those of the two-legged persuasion who actually HAVE laps, that it). The criminals were fairly ingenious in their methods, the cats were distracted, and the humans just couldn’t catch a break. At least not until everything broke all at once.

And I’m not sure we ever got the full story on Wilma’s problem. It ended, but for this reader it felt like some of the whys and wherefores were missing.

The feline side of the equation had a lot more bright spots. Listening in on Joe Grey’s thought processes as he deals with fatherhood and watches the kittens grow up in what to humans would be accelerated time works well. We feel for his dilemma. Joe Grey is a warrior and a protector. He wants to protect his family, his humans and his town, and those drives come into conflict. He also loves his kittens but recognizes that he has to not merely let them, but actually help them, grow up. And he’s “human” enough not to want to.

The fates and futures of the kittens are tied up in prophecies made the wise old cat Misto near his end, during Cat Shout for Joy. Misto’s wisdom and the kittens various powers are tied in with the feral speaking cats at the old Pamillon Estate, with the ancient past of the speaking cats, and with the events of The Catsworld Portal and an earlier book in Joe Grey’s series, Cat Bearing Gifts. It looks like little Courtney is going to be the cat that connects that particular set of dots, so there’s a lot left hanging.

One final note about the human side of the story. One of the issues for the humans in this story is what to do about the secret that they are the caretakers for. There is a small circle of humans that knows all about the cats’ talents, including Joe Grey’s people, Clyde and his wife Ryan, Dulcie’s human, Wilma, and Kit and Pan’s human family, the Greenlaws. The vet John Firetti also knows, which is both convenient for the cats and necessary for parts of this particular story. As their humans have found life companions, the circle of people in on this dangerous secret has slowly widened. That’s what happens here, as the speaking ferals take it upon themselves to let Scott Flannery in on their secret so their friend Kate can have her happily ever after. Kate was right that it would be impossible to have a good marriage with a lie that big at its heart.

Which begs the question, what about Charlie and Max? Charlie knows the secret, and has known for a long time. But her husband Max does not know. Max is the Chief of the Molena Point Police Department, and everyone is afraid that if Max discovers that his best snitches are Joe Grey, Dulcie and Kit, that he will stop letting them help him, which would certainly contribute to a rise in the Molena Point crime rate. But how long can this go on?

Hopefully we’ll find out in one of Joe Grey’s future adventures, hopefully sometime next year.

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda James

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda JamesFile M for Murder (Cat in the Stacks, #3) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #3
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on January 31st 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Athena College's new writer in residence is native son and playwright Connor Lawton, known for his sharp writing- and sharper tongue. After an unpleasant encounter, librarian Charlie Harris heads home to a nice surprise: his daughter Laura is subbing for another Athena professor this fall semester. It's great news until he hears who got her the job: her old flame, Connor Lawton...
Fearing competition for Connor's affections, one of his admirers tries to drive Laura out of town. And then, before Connor finishes the play he is writing, he is murdered- and Laura is the prime suspect. Knowing she's innocent, Charlie and his faithful sidekick, Diesel, follow Connor's cluttered trail of angry lovers, bitter enemies, and intriguing research to find the true killer before his daughter is forever cataloged under "M"- for murderer.

My Review:

I am predisposed to like this series. The amateur sleuth is a 50-something librarian named Harris who loves his enormous cat. Said cat is excellent at providing aid and comfort (but mostly comfort) to anyone in his orbit who needs it, and sometimes serves as a great sounding board for his human.

We all talk to our cats, and we all believe that they understand at least some of what we say, and vice versa. Diesel, while rather large for a cat, because Maine Coons are very large cats, acts like a cat a bit on the high end of feline intelligence. But no more than that. One of the things I love about Diesel is that he never does anything that cats don’t do – albeit writ somewhat large. It’s not uncommon for Maine Coon cats to be three feet long from nose to tail, and for the males to top out at over 20 pounds. Diesel is a big, handsome boy with a purr that sounds like, you guessed it, a diesel engine.

And Charlie Harris is very much a librarian. I can easily identify with what he does at work, and why he does it. And also why he loves the parts of this job that he loves, and dislikes the parts he doesn’t love. He rings true as “one of us”. Except for that fascinating habit he has of getting involved in murder. Like so many fictional small town amateur detectives, he does have a gift for tripping over dead bodies and inserting himself into police investigations. It’s a knack that the local police detective finds more annoying than endearing, to say the least.

This particular case hits rather close to home. On the plus side, Charlie’s daughter Laura is home in Athena for the summer, teaching a drama class at the local college where Charlie works. On the minus side, she got the temporary gig through the influence of this year’s resident playwright at the university. And Connor Lawton is a major pain in the ass. Not just to Charlie, but to every single person he comes in contact with. He’s rude, arrogant and downright nasty to all, and no one likes him one bit.

He’s one of those people who is just such a big arsehole that no one seems to mourn him when he’s found dead in his apartment. Rather, the long line of people who might want to do him in stretches rather far.

But once Connor is out of the way, whoever is behind his death turns their gaze upon Laura Harris, and her family finds itself under threat from all sides. Charlie, as usual, feels like it’s all up to him to figure out whodunit – before the killer manages to either kill his daughter or burn down his house with everyone inside.

Escape Rating B: This series is always a good time. I got hooked when I picked up Twelve Angry Librarians, and so far I have yet to be disappointed by a single trip to Athena, Mississippi. I grabbed this one because I bounced hard off of two books, and needed something that I knew would draw me right in, and File M for Murder certainly delivered.

The mysteries in this series are definitely cozy. And not just because Diesel, like all Maine Coons, is a very furry cat. Athena, Mississippi is a small college town, and everyone pretty much does know everyone. When Charlie needs to find the dirt on someone living in town, he knows just who to ask. And when he has to do research on someone’s past doings, he knows just which library has all the resources he needs, as well as the skill to use them.

There are plenty of cat mysteries, but one of the things that I like best about this series is that Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, but just a cat. He doesn’t do anything that cats don’t do. Even in this particular story, where there is one point where Diesel really does save the day, he does it by smelling something off and meowing about it until he gets his human’s attention. Not all of us receive letter bombs (thank goodness) but that a cat would sniff out that the thing just smells “wrong” in a big way is quite possible.

It’s not that I don’t love Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey series, because I do, but one talking cat mystery series is probably enough. Or at least it is for this reader.

Another thing that I enjoy about this series is that Charlie is not always the first person to solve the mystery, the best person to solve the mystery, or even the person who saves the day by solving the mystery. In Charlie’s cases, he does get in the way of the police as often as he helps them. He doesn’t always do the cliche thing of getting all the suspects together for the big reveal. Sometimes the solution is anti-climactic, and Charlie is a step behind the police. It feels more human, and more likely, that an amateur sleuth would be as much of a hindrance as a help, while it still gives the reader a chance to put the pieces together along with Charlie, mistakes and all.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy and fun mystery series, with lovely people in an interesting setting, check out Charlie and Diesel. You don’t have to start with Murder Past Due (I didn’t) – this series is just good cozy fun wherever you jump in.

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: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

Review: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda JamesTwelve Angry Librarians (Cat in the Stacks, #8) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #8
Pages: 288
Published by Berkley Books on February 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The "New York Times" bestselling author of "No Cats Allowed "and "Arsenic and Old Books" is back with more Southern charm and beguiling mystery as Charlie and Diesel must find a killer in a room full of librarians... Light-hearted librarian Charlie Harris is known around his hometown of Athena, Mississippi, for walking his cat, a rescued Maine Coon named Diesel. But he may soon be taken for a walk himself in handcuffs... Charlie is stressed out. The Southern Academic Libraries Association is holding this year s annual meeting at Athena College. Since Charlie is the interim library director, he must deliver the welcome speech to all the visiting librarians. And as if that weren t bad enough, the keynote address will be delivered by Charlie s old nemesis from library school. It s been thirty years since Charlie has seen Gavin Fong, and he s still an insufferable know-it-all capable of getting under everyone s skin. In his keynote, Gavin puts forth a most unpopular opinion: that degreed librarians will be obsolete in the academic libraries of the future. So, when Gavin is found dead, no one seems too upset... But Charlie, who was seen having a heated argument with Gavin after the speech, has jumped to the top of the suspect list. Now Charlie and Diesel must check out every clue to refine their search for the real killer among them before the next book Charlie reads comes from a prison library..."

My Review:

This series has been on my TBR pile for quite a while, but a couple of relatively recent events got me to finally pick it up. Last year I updated an “Author Read Alike” article for Novelist about the late Lilian Jackson Braun and her Cat Who mysteries. Miranda James’ Cat in the Stacks series came up as a strong read alike. A couple of months ago this particular title came up as I was interviewed for NetGalley’s Reader Spotlight feature. I was asked about book covers I was particularly looking forward to, and this was the book I chose. Why? Not that the handsome cat on the cover isn’t a draw all by himself, but it’s the title that really got me. Twelve Angry Librarians begs a question from most of us. What, ONLY twelve?

But about the book and the series. The series focuses on librarian Charlie Harris and his large and intelligent cat Diesel. Charlie lies in the small town of Athena Mississippi, where he is currently the interim director of the college library at the college he attended way back. Even though he left tiny Athena for library school in Houston and a long career there, he went back to Athena when his aunt left him her rambling house, and he’s made it his home.

Charlie has a penchant for getting involved in murder investigations, strictly on an amateur basis. He seems to have acquired that temporary director job after his predecessor was murdered, and of course Charlie figured out who the culprit was. (I haven’t read the whole series, YET, and it did not in any way spoil my enjoyment of this book. But I did enjoy it a lot, and plan to pick up the rest!)

Whether the job is reward or punishment depends on just how many fires he has to put out that day.

But part of the job is playing genial host to the regional library association when they hold their annual conference in Athena. While Charlie has plenty of friends, the social whirl of the conference isn’t all that appealing. And that’s before he discovers that his library school nemesis is not only the keynote speaker, but has also applied for the permanent job that Charlie is temporarily holding.

Gavin Fong is slime. And saying that is an insult to slime. He has accumulated so many enemies that it’s amazing that he’s lived as long as he has. It is not a surprise that someone murders him at the conference, although spiking his water bottle with cyanide might seem a bit extreme. But no one misses the bastard.

Charlie’s lucky he has an alibi for the crime, after half the conference witnessed him punching the jerk’s lights out the day before, followed by applause from the approving crowd. But with the conference and the murder, Charlie is in the thick of the investigation, whether he wants to be, or not.

When a second dead body turns up, it seems like everyone is a possible suspect. And a possible next victim. But which is which?

Escape Rating A-: This was an excellent cozy mystery, but I have some personal mixed feelings. The description of the crowd of the librarians and the details of the job of librarian were very true to life. To the point where I’m surprised this series is as popular as it is with general readers. The situations described, unfortunately including the nastiness of the victim, were so true-to-life that they almost gave me flashbacks. That the author is a practicing librarian was no surprise to this reader.

Originally I picked this as a read alike for the Cat Who mysteries. But in spite of a few surface details, the series aren’t really alike, although I think that readers of one will like the other. The similarity is that both Charlie Harris and Jim Qwilleran inherited rambling houses in small towns from late aunts and retired from the big city to the small town to live in those lovely homes. And, of course, they have cats. And poke their noses into local crimes.

But Q believes that his Siamese cat Koko helps him solve those mysteries. Diesel, on the other hand, is just a cat. He’s huge, but then, Maine Coon cats are really that big. He walks on a lead, but it is possible to train a cat to do that. Diesel is also very cuddly, and very responsive to the moods of the people around him. Cats that have their own staff, in the dogs have owners, cats have staff sense, can be quite affectionate and responsive. Diesel is a smart cat, but on a scale compared to other cats. He’s not human intelligent or psychic or whatever Q thinks Koko is.

Not that I wouldn’t love to have a Maine Coon. They are absolutely gorgeous cats, and very even tempered. They can afford to be – at 25 pounds (average cats weigh around ten pounds!) they are bigger than most things that might unnerve or threaten them, including small dogs.

More than anything else, the book that Twelve Angry Librarians reminds me of is Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb. The situations are surprisingly similar. Bimbos also takes place at a small convention, in this case a science fiction convention. So it has the same relatively enclosed setting of a bunch of people who know each other casually but see each other regularly and who have something in common. Everyone is away from home, and what happens at the convention, either kind, generally stays at the convention. Both Jay Omega and Charlie Harris are very amateur detectives. And both victims were such disgusting examples of human beings that the reader is almost grateful when they get killed, as are most of the conference attendees. So both are cases where the list of people who did not have a motive is much, much shorter than the list of people who did.

For a cozy series, it is necessary that the protagonist and his family of ‘irregulars’ be both interesting and likable. Charlie and Diesel certainly fit that bill. Charlie is someone I would love to have coffee with and share stories, especially if I could pet Diesel while doing it. The people who populate Charlie’s life and his world all seem to have their own interesting tales to tell. I also like that a part of the story is Charlie’s warm relationship both with his now adult children and with the woman in his life. Long-running mystery series often include a will they/won’t they romance, but having that romance feature 50-somethings is rare and wonderful. (It this factor appeals to you, dig into Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed Mysteries for a similar romantic sub-sub-plot)

I’m glad I finally clawed my way into the Cat in the Stacks series, and I’m looking forward to going back to pick up the beginning in Murder Past Due as soon as I get a copy. From the library, of course.

Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie

Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha ChristieClosed Casket (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #2) by Sophie Hannah, Agatha Christie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: New Hercule Poirot #2
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The world's most famous detective returns in this ingenious, stylish, and altogether delicious mystery from the author of the instant bestseller The Monogram Murders ("I was thrilled" -- Gillian Flynn).
"What I intend to say to you will come as a shock..."
With these words, Lady Athelinda Playford -- one of the world's most beloved children's authors -- springs a surprise on the lawyer entrusted with her will. As guests arrive for a party at her Irish mansion, Lady Playford has decided to cut off her two children without a penny . . . and leave her vast fortune to someone else: an invalid who has only weeks to live.
Among Lady Playford's visitors are two strangers: the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited -- until Poirot begins to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murder. But why does she seem so determined to provoke a killer? And why -- when the crime is committed despite Poirot's best efforts to stop it -- does the identity of the victim make no sense at all?
Addictive, ferociously clever, and packed with clues, wit, and murder, Closed Casket is a triumph from the author whose work is "as tricky as anything written by Agatha Christie" (Alexander McCall Smith, The New York Times Book Review).

My Review:

monogram murders by sophie hannah and agatha christieJust as in last year’s Poirot, The Monogram Murders, Closed Casket provides an extremely convoluted but incredibly fun trip back to the world of Agatha Christie’s most famous detective, the eccentric Belgian Hercule Poirot.

This case is somewhat of a direct followup to the one in The Monogram Murders. While none of the victims or suspects in that case reappear, Poirot’s young police friend and official cover, Edward Catchpool, is an integral part of this case as well.

And poor Catchpool, every time someone meets him, they refer back to that dreadful case. The solution was not dreadful at all, but Catchpool is all too aware that he did not exactly cover himself in glory, and all of the reporting on that case made his situation even worse. It was Poirot’s case, and the entire world knows it, much to Catchpool’s chagrin.

Which makes his discovery that Poirot has also been invited to Lady Athelinda Playford’s house party in Ireland both welcome and galling at the same time. Catchpool wants to solve whatever is about to happen all on his own, but he is aware that he still needs Poirot’s help. And he’s also just plain glad to see the irascible little fellow, especially as the other occupants of the household are less than agreeable. To say the least. Catchpool and Poirot have been dropped into the middle of a family melodrama, where everyone seems to be showing their worst side to everyone else.

Of course somebody ends up dead. And of course it is up to Poirot and Catchpool to figure out whodunnit.

Escape Rating B: This one is every bit as much fun as The Monogram Murders, and feels very much in the style of the later seasons of the Poirot series. Not only because Inspector Japp, Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon no longer seem to be members of Poirot’s inner circle, but also because the original mover of events, Lady Athelinda Playford, bears a sharp resemblance to Lady Ariadne Oliver of those later stories.

Lady Playford is the author of a series of children’s mystery books featuring her precocious ten-year-old heroine Shrimp Seddon. As Catchpool puts in, Shrimp is left to solve so many convoluted mysteries because the police assigned to the case are Inspector Imbecile and Sergeant Halfwit.

It’s a bit of irony that the pair of Irish gardai who come to investigate the real-life murder might double for the coppers in Shrimp Seddon’s adventures. Of course it is up to Poirot and Catchpool to handle the real investigation, over the stringent objections of their avatar of Inspector Imbecile.

Parts of this case are obvious from the beginning. Not so much the whodunnit as the why somebody dunnit. This is a case with motives aplenty. Nearly everyone wanted the dead man to be dead, albeit for different reasons. And the initial investigation rules out very few of the possibilities.

There are oodles of tempting red herrings, and all of them prove tasty to the investigation, at least for a time.

Much of this case revolves around psychology. The psychology of the killer, but mostly the psychology of the victim. The motives in the end would work as well in a 21st century thriller as they do this early-20th century murder mystery. But the melodrama is pure Poirot.

closet casket uk coverAnd just as with The Monogram Murders, the UK cover of Closed Casket does a much better job of capturing the Art Deco style that I associate with Poirot than the US cover. C’est la vie.

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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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