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: 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: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew ShafferHope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 304
Published by Quirk Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

My Review:

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

While I will not judge this book by its cover, I will say that I absolutely did pick this book up for its cover. Which I absolutely could not believe when I saw it, and couldn’t resist once I read the blurb.

Which is completely insane – but all too hilarious – both at the same time.

There is no doubt that this is a terrific piece of what is called “real person fanfic”, which is a thing in fanfiction circles. While fanfiction is usually written about fictional characters, no matter the source, just as there is fanfiction about movie and TV characters there is also fanfiction about the actors who play those characters. When it’s romance fanfic, that can seem a bit creepy and/or stalkerish and is frowned upon in some circles.

One thing that is common in fanfiction in general is the way that the stories often go places that the creator of the original work never intended, and generally the further afield those places are the more it adds to the fun.

This is the kind of story where you don’t so much willingly suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window of a speeding muscle car, like oh, say, the Trans Am that Joe and Barack end up powering through the streets of Wilmington Delaware in the course of this case.

Because this piece of real person fanfiction is a noir-ish murder mystery. And a fairly complicated one – with comic relief provided by this extremely amateur pair of occasionally bumbling wannabe detectives.

Admittedly “Amtrak Joe” Biden does most of the bumbling, while Barack Obama provides even more “cool” than he displays in real life.

The scene of Obama rescuing Biden from a motorcycle gang by casually firing a sawed-off shotgun while lying about Seal Team 6 waiting in the wings was absolutely priceless.

There is a mystery at the heart of this wild and crazy road novel, and it’s all about a good man gone wrong and a bad man hiding in plain sight finally brought low by a couple of past and possibly future politicians who are searching for a third act in their lives.

And who discover that their enduring friendship is the greatest gift of all.

Escape Rating B-: As mysteries go, this is no Murder on the Orient Express or even The Word is Murder. The red herrings are plenty tasty, but our amateur detectives do fumble and bumble a lot, even more than Inspector Clouseau.

And I can’t deny that the whole effort has a very strong whiff of the bear dancing, in that you are not surprised that it is done well, you are surprised that it is done AT ALL.

But it is done considerably better than the outrageous premise might lead one to believe.

What makes the mystery part of this work is that we see this fictional version of Joe Biden as an essentially honest man who wants to see justice done for a good friend – and who admittedly is uncertain where he goes next in his life.

His dilemma about what happens after you’ve been to the top, or at least to your own personal top, is pretty easy to identify with. We all get there sooner or later.

What makes the story work, and makes the reader willing to go along for the ride, is the combination of the sometimes over-the-top but occasionally spot on banter between Obama and Biden, and the first-person perspective of the story through fictional Joe Biden’s eyes.

If you are looking for an antidote to the political insanity in every newspaper and on every newscast, Hope Never Dies is a somewhat rueful, slightly nostalgic, always engaging treat.

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. GreenThe Dark Side of the Road (Ishmael Jones, #1) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook
Genres: mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #1
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House Publishers on May 1, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Country House Murder Mystery with a Supernatural Twist

Ishmael Jones is someone who can't afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He's employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself - is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.

My Review:

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do this all week. But Night Fall left me with an epic book hangover and absolutely no taste for the romance I was planning to review today. And then I remembered that I had the first book in this series, that I’d never read it, and that there was a chance that it was not part of any of the author’s many series that were rather conclusively concluded in Night Fall.

I decided not to resist. Sometimes it really is futile.

Instead of anything that I was expecting, the Ishmael Jones series in general, and The Dark Side of the Road in particular, has the feel of a classic murder mystery, in this very particular case a classic, British country house murder mystery. What makes it different is that the series is set in a Men in Black kind of world, where there really are aliens among us – who sometimes behave just as badly as we do.

And the detective, Ishmael Jones, reminds me an awful, awful, wonderfully awful lot of Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, in that he seems to be immortal, at least as far as he knows, and not exactly from around here. But where Captain Jack is a human from the future, Ishmael Jones is an alien turned into a human – or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof – most of the time.

To further the resemblance, both Captain Jack and Ishmael Jones have a few holes in their memories. But Jack only lost two years. Ishmael, at least so far, seems to have lost everything prior to his ship’s crash landing on Earth in 1963. He has hazy dream-fugue quasi-memories, and nothing else.

Oh, and his blood runs golden, not red. Pretty conclusive evidence that whatever he is, he isn’t garden variety human.

The Dark Side of the Road exists somewhere at the intersection of urban fantasy, science fiction and horror. Let’s say it’s horror-adjacent, which is about as close as I like to go.

Ishmael Jones works for a secret organization that’s just called “The Organization”. It’s the latest in a long line of secret quasi-governmental agencies that Ishmael has worked for since he crashed on Earth. The more interconnected the world gets, the harder it is to change identities and hide his lack of aging – among other things.

So the Organization protects him, and he does work for them. He’s a bit of a clean-up man. When aliens, or other weird people, or things, break the law, Ishmael is one of the people who cleans up after. In a way, Ishmael is one of the Men in Black.

When his boss invites him to a country house party for Christmas, way, way out in Cornwall during the snowstorm not merely of the century, but possibly of the millenium, Ishmael battles heaven, hell, an intermittent GPS and an overtaxed steering wheel to reach the place – only to discover that by the time he gets there, his boss has gone missing.

Ishmael finds a whole lot of weird family drama, an ex-lover, an ex-colleague, and finally his boss’s body, decapitated and hidden in a snowman. Or as a snowman. Blizzard of the millennium, after all.

The remaining inhabitants are all quick to point the finger, first at a random stranger, and then at each other. But once the bodies start piling up, it becomes obvious to everyone that the killer is in the house with them.

And that the killer is not entirely human. But then again, neither is Ishmael Jones.

Escape Rating B+: This did turn out to be exactly what I was looking for to get out of that book hangover. I needed a book where I would be compelled to keep turning pages – just to see what happened next. And The Dark Side of the Road certainly had that kind of compulsion.

Along with a high creep factor – but one that is totally appropriate to its horror-adjacency.

The setting does a great job of invoking those classic country house murder mysteries. If you’re not thinking of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None before the end of the book, you’re not creeped out nearly enough.

The story is science fiction, and it’s horror, and it’s urban fantasy. And it’s a mystery. That’s a lot of fictional plates to keep spinning. The only real SFnal element is Ishmael’s origin. He’s definitely an alien, but over the 50 plus years he’s been mostly human, this has become his planet and we have become his people. Wherever he came from, he can’t go back. And whatever made him human, it gave him human emotions and reactions, but a whole lot of better-than-human capabilities. He can’t actually do anything we can’t, but he does them all better and faster and more efficiently.

The mystery of who killed his boss, and continues killing his boss’ remaining family, moved from mystery to horror. At first it’s a question of whodunnit. But as the corpses and evidence mount, the question moves from whodunnit to what done it, and then to who is masquerading as the what.

The answer to that question tips the story from mystery into horror. Or at least adjacent enough to creep me out a bit – but not too much.

As things go from bad to worse to desperate, we follow along from Ishmael’s head. The story is told in the first-person singular, so we know what he knows, think what he thinks, and feel what he feels. Including the grief, the desperation, the fear, the confusion, and the hope that someone will get out of this alive. Somehow.

I liked being inside his head. Ishmael is an interesting and still somewhat enigmatic character. I’m looking forward to reading more of his adventures – the next time I need another compelling book and/or cure for a book hangover!

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony HorowitzThe Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Pages: 400
Published by Harper on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She planned her own funeral--but did she arrange her murder?

A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own.A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control.

What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz's page-turning new thriller.

My Review:

This is a weird book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good and that I didn’t enjoy it – because it is and I did. But it was not what I expected.

Not exactly what I expected, anyway. I was, after all, expecting a murder mystery. What I was not expecting was for the book the break the fourth wall as much as it does, or for the author to be a fictional character in his own book.

I’ll confess that I began looking up some of the people in the story, to see if they really were real. The degree to which the author inserts himself and his own history makes everyone in the story seem like they must be equally real.

Or if not real, then at least recognizable stand-ins for some true-life counterpart. But they are not. At least I don’t think they are. Or if they were I couldn’t figure out who they were standing in for.

What adds to the verisimilitude is the way that author Anthony Horowitz seems to include so many easily verifiable details of his own work, if not his own life. He is the creator of two of my favorite TV series, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. He is also the author of two excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiches, The House of Silk and Moriarty.

But in The Word is Murder he seems to find himself playing Watson, both as a sidekick and as a recorder of events, to an even more misanthropic Holmes than the original.

Daniel Hawthorne is not a likeable protagonist. As a detective he is every bit as brilliant as the ‘Great Detective’ he is so obviously modeled after, while at the same time so focused on whatever case he is following that he does not care who he pisses off or how much he ignores all of the social niceties that keep the wheels of society grinding.

He’s a man with zero friends, lots of enemies, and a nose for figuring out “whodunit”.

And even though Horowitz-the-author seems to draw the man in all of his misanthropic ‘glory’, we are drawn into the cases every bit as much as the author seems to be, and we understand why he follows along – because we are every bit as compelled as he is.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I loved both The House of Silk and Magpie Murders, although I admit that I enjoyed the historical portions of Magpie Murders more than the contemporary framing story.

I didn’t know what to expect with The Word is Murder, just that I was interested enough to give it a try. I had not read any of the reviews beforehand, so I was at a bit of a loss when the author himself appeared as a character in the book.

I knew the book was supposed to be fiction, but so many well-known details of the author’s career were introduced into the narrative that I’ll admit I started to wonder.

While the way that this book is written is meta (actually very, very meta), the story itself is a classic. A woman goes to a funeral home to plan her entire funeral. When she is murdered a few short hours later, it seems obvious that the long arm of coincidence just doesn’t stretch that long.

The police want the murder to be a burglary gone wrong. That’s a simple crime with a simple solution. But ex-cop Daniel Hawthorne is certain that it’s not that easy. He knows that when the Met calls him in as a consultant, it’s because someone at the top is certain it isn’t that easy – even if they can’t articulate exactly why.

Figuring it out is Hawthorne’s job. Annoying all of the investigating officers involved in the case seems to be part of the fun of it – at least for him. Dragging his narrator out of an important meeting with OMG Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson shows just how little Hawthorne can be bothered with anything outside his laser focus on the case.

In the end, the case is both simple and complex. The reasons for the murder are classic. The misdirection is epic. And even though I figured out who didn’t do it before the narrator, the reveal of just who did was as much of a surprise to me as it was to him. Just like the narrator, I was too caught up in the story to follow the clues to their final destination.

There’s going to be a sequel. I’m more than curious enough to see what Daniel Hawthorne investigates next – as long as Anthony Horowitz is at his side.

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: 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: 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: Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman

Review: Cave of Bones by Anne HillermanCave of Bones by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito #22
Pages: 320
Published by Harper on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman brings together modern mystery, Navajo traditions, and the evocative landscape of the desert Southwest in this intriguing entry in the Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series.

When Tribal Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito arrives to speak at an outdoor character-building program for at-risk teens, she discovers chaos. Annie, a young participant on a solo experience due back hours before, has just returned and is traumatized. Gently questioning the girl, Bernie learns that Annie stumbled upon a human skeleton on her trek. While everyone is relieved that Annie is back, they’re concerned about a beloved instructor who went out into the wilds of the rugged lava wilderness bordering Ramah Navajo Reservation to find the missing girl. The instructor vanished somewhere in the volcanic landscape known as El Malpais. In Navajo lore, the lava caves and tubes are believed to be the solidified blood of a terrible monster killed by superhuman twin warriors.

Solving the twin mysteries will expose Bernie to the chilling face of human evil. The instructor’s disappearance mirrors a long-ago search that may be connected to a case in which the legendary Joe Leaphorn played a crucial role. But before Bernie can find the truth, an unexpected blizzard, a suspicious accidental drowning, and the arrival of a new FBI agent complicate the investigation.

While Bernie searches for answers in her case, her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee juggles trouble closer to home. A vengeful man he sent to prison for domestic violence is back—and involved with Bernie’s sister Darleen. Their relationship creates a dilemma that puts Chee in uncomfortable emotional territory that challenges him as family man, a police officer, and as a one-time medicine man in training.

Anne Hillerman takes us deep into the heart of the deserts, mountains, and forests of New Mexico and once again explores the lore and rituals of Navajo culture in this gripping entry in her atmospheric crime series.

My Review:

Once upon a time, a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away, I used to have a very long commute to work. I listened to a LOT of audiobooks, and one of the series I discovered was the Leaphorn & Chee series by Tony Hillerman. Mysteries are perfect in audio because you can’t thumb to the end to find out whodunit. And the series was particularly good because it is read by the inestimable George Guidall. If you like audio and have not listened to a book read by him you’ve missed a real treat.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the series ended when the author died. That ending turned out to be more of a pause, as several years later his daughter revived the series by switching the focus. In Spider Woman’s Daughter, the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn is struck down in the opening scene, and Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito, with the assistance of her husband Sergeant Jim Chee, takes over the investigation while Leaphorn begins the long, slow road to recovery.

The torch passes with the perspective, and the series has continued with Bernie becoming the principal character, while Chee appears nearly as frequently, but ironically still kind of the second-banana that he was to Leaphorn. Leaphorn provides consultation and occasional welcome, if sometimes cryptic, clues.

As has turned out to be the case with this continuation of the series, Bernie and Chee are stuck in different places, handling different situations when Bernie finds herself in the middle of an investigation that keeps her hopping all over the Four Corners Reservation and the surrounding area while Chee is in Santa Fe for a training class while keeping an eye on Bernie’s sister Darleen’s latest attempt to stay on the straight and narrow.

And, as usual, just when it seems that their cases can’t connect, the long arm of coincidence reaches out and links the case that Bernie is in the middle of with a few little errands that the Captain asked Chee to take care of while he was in Santa Fe.

It’s a mess that just keeps getting messier and messier, at least until Bernie and Chee, but mostly Bernie, with a few hints from Leaphorn, finally manage to get the disparate problems all wrapped up in one neat package.

Just in time for the crises in Bernie’s personal life to boil over.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this series back when I was listening to it, and I still do. But if this combination of mystery with exploration of the problems that plague the Navajo Tribal Police (as well as the issues that plague the tribe itself) sound like your cup of tea, and you don’t want to go all the way back to the very beginning, starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter will provide plenty of background to the characters, the situation, and the place.

Something that will fascinate long-time readers of the series is the way that the series is set in what is sometimes referred to as the “Perpetual Now”. If Leaphorn had aged chronologically from his first introduction, he would be over 100. Instead, he seems to be in his 60s, while Chee is still in his 30s. And all the updates to police methods of the 21st century, markedly absent in the early books set in the 1970s, are both a help and hindrance to everything in 2018.

There is a bit of a contrivance in the way that the author keeps Bernie and Chee apart during their cases, forcing them to rely on their own resources and not able to lean on each other. The coincidences that bring their cases back together at the end sometimes have a very long arm.

At the same time, this allows us to see one side, and the bigger part at that, from Bernie’s solo perspective. She is always caught between a rock and a hard place, between her duty as a police officer and her duty to her mother and sister. That conflict is a perspective we never saw when it was just Leaphorn and Chee, and it helps ground the series and keep the characters feeling human and real.

The case in Cave of Bones starts out a bit convoluted and keeps adding more and more parts and conundrums as it goes. While it is not difficult for the reader to keep straight, it does feel like the mountain of both Bernie’s and Chee’s tasks and duties keeps growing and growing.

It all starts with a missing person. And it ends with one, too. But it middles in helicopter parenting, scared teenagers, embezzlement, illegal antiquities, family squabbling and grand theft auto. And it’s a marvelous ride all along the way.

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty Wingate

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty WingateFarewell, My Cuckoo (Birds of a Feather Mystery #4) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #4
Pages: 268
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on April 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Julia Lanchester must defend her love nest from an invasive species: her boyfriend’s sister. And then there’s the little matter of murder . . .


“The cuckoo comes in April and sings its song in May. In June it changes tune and July it flies away.”

Wedding bells are ringing in the small British village of Smeaton-under-Lyme. Julia Lanchester’s second-in-command at the local tourist center is finally getting married, and the lovebirds are giving Julia and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, ideas about their own future. But before anyone can say “Will you,” Michael’s flighty older sister, Pammy, crashes the party, fresh off a breakup and lugging all her worldly possessions around with her in a tangle of plastic bags.

Before long, Julia’s cozy cottage starts feeling more like Pammy’s bachelorette pad. To keep herself from going cuckoo, Julia throws herself into her pet projects at work—until death disrupts her plans. First a body is found on the estate. Then the police discover that Pammy was the last one to see the man alive. And soon Julia gets the feeling that if she ever wants her home—or her boyfriend—back, she’ll have to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means breaking a few eggs.

My Review:

For every single relationship that has hit the rocks over a cheating spouse, an economic pitfall or irreconcilable differences, there are probably at least two that have come to a sad end because of a relative, on one side or the other, who is incapable of properly parsing the sentence, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” and just won’t leave – along with the person in the relationship who seems to be incapable of making them leave long after they’ve worn out whatever reluctant welcome they had in the first place.

In the case of Farewell My Cuckoo, it’s Michael’s irresponsible sister Pammy who has become the cuckoo in Julia and Michael’s rather tiny little cottage nest in Smeaton-under-Lyme. To the point where I half-expected Pammy to become the corpse in this entry in the series, with Julia as the prime suspect. (For more background on Julia, Michael and Smeaton-under-Lyme, start with the first book in the series, The Rhyme of the Magpie)

Instead, the mystery takes a different path, as an unidentified man is found dead near a local pond. While no one knows exactly who he is, it turns out that there are plenty of people in the village who had at least a nodding acquaintance with “Bob”, even though no one seems to know any of the truly pertinent facts about the man, like his full name, or even where he was staying. If he was staying.

Julia, along with her friend Willow and more than a bit of help from a tourist visitor as well as the seemingly immovable Pammy, can’t resist looking into Bob’s identity and what brought him to live “rough” somewhere in the neighborhood.

Nor can she resist poking her nose into other local mysteries, especially the fervent pursuit of her friend Nuala by a rude and unwelcome stranger who seems to be able to turn on the charm when he needs to get his way. A stranger who seems perfectly willing to mislead Nuala about his own marital status in order to worm his way into her bakery and teashop business. And who has a surprising connection to the late, lamented Bob.

Possibly even a connection worth killing for.

Escape Rating B: For a series that centers around birds, the mysteries are salted with a surprising number of tasty red herrings. It is all too easy to understand why Julia’s amateur sleuthing so often leads her astray – because the reader is right there with her.

Not that some of those false leads don’t uncover important little mysteries of their own, even if their pursuit takes Julia away from the central problem.

As a cozy mystery, Julia’s amateur investigations often take her deep into the heart of village life, and Farewell My Cuckoo is no exception. Poor dead Bob leads not only to his killer, but also to the breakup of a marriage and a dubious business proposition, as well as to a villager who has gone off the rails and to the final, sad end of a long-lost love.

A lot happens, and it is all, in its way, fascinating. But the central problem remains throughout the story, and it isn’t poor Bob’s corpse and how it got there, although it should be. A lot of time is taken up with Pammy and her interloping. The reader will gnash their teeth at the way that both Julia and Michael switch from enabling Pammy’s behavior to her face while vocally resenting it behind her back. And this reader at least was gnashing right beside them.

Julia’s solutions to the mysteries that she comes across are generally interesting and her investigations are often quite a lot of fun. She does, unfortunately, have a penchant both for finding herself in uncomfortable personal situations and getting herself and her helpers into deadly danger, and Farewell My Cuckoo was no exception on either front.

As much as they sometimes drive me a bit crazy, I really like both of this author’s heroines, and find them easy to identify with and fun to follow. But I’ll confess that Pru Parke of the Potting Shed series is my favorite, so I’m really looking forward to the next book that series, Midsummer Mayhem, coming in November.

Tour Participants

April 9 – Babs Book Bistro – GUEST POST

April 9 – View from the Birdhouse – SPOTLIGHT

April 10 – Blogger Nicole Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

April 11 – Reading Reality – REVIEW

April 12 – Readeropolis – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 13 – Teresa Trent Author Blog – SPOTLIGHT

April 14 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT

April 15 – Varietats – REVIEW

April 16 – Back Porchervations – REVIEW

April 17 – Mysteries with Character – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 18 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW

April 19 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT

April 20 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW

April 21- Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW

April 22 – Cozy Up With Kathy – GUEST POST

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda James

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda JamesClaws for Concern (Cat in the Stacks, #9) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #9
Pages: 277
Published by Berkley Books on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are embroiled in a new mystery when a cold case suddenly heats up in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has been enjoying some peace and quiet with his new grandson when a mysterious man with a connection to an unsolved murder starts visiting the library...

My Review:

April 8-14 is National Library Week. In honor of this week, one that celebrations Libraries and Librarians, I searched the virtually towering TBR pile for a book that related to libraries. Instead of choosing something serious, I went for the lighthearted approach, and snagged Claws for Concern, a cozy mystery by a librarian that features a librarian-cum-amateur sleuth.

While the book managed to be mostly light-hearted, in spite of the surprising number of murders that librarian Charlie Harris seems to trip over in his small Mississippi town, there was also a bit of real librarian seriousness in the background, which makes this the perfect book for this week after all.

The Cat in the Stacks series, which began with Murder Past Due, features the extremely large Maine Coon cat Diesel and his human, librarian Charlie Harris. Diesel does not solve crimes, and he never does anything that is not within the bounds of normal feline behavior, but he is probably the reason a lot of people read the series. We all want a cat just like him because he’s not merely large and intelligent (on the scale of cat intelligence – not human) but he is also incredibly well-behaved.

But of course it’s the human’s point of view that we follow. Librarian Charlie Harris, in spite of his penchant for involving himself in murder investigations, is very much “one of us”. The series is written by a librarian, and Charlie, at least at his actual work, is quite true to life. He does the things that many of us do, puts up with many of the things we have to put up with, and has many of the same gripes and complaints that real-life practicing librarians do, as well as many of the joys and intellectual challenges that make up library-life.

The murder in this particular entry is a cold case. It was refreshing not to have Charlie trip over yet another dead body, as the population of tiny Athena Mississippi and its surrounds would be decimated if he kept up at the rate he was going. But this cold case turns out to be tied to his family, albeit tangentially.

Long before the aunt from whom Charlie inherited his lovely house married the man that Charlie knew as his uncle, said uncle was previously married and divorced. And had a child he never knew about. That child is now in his 60s, seems a bit down on his luck, and is haunting Athena looking for information about the father he never knew.

But the poor man was also the suspect in a long-ago multiple murder, and it seems as if there is someone in town who either wants to settle the old score – or who wants to keep old Bill Delaney from revealing what he knows about that bloody, long ago, night.

Charlie isn’t sure whether his recently discovered cousin is a murderer who got off scot-free, or about to be the victim of a murder in the here and now. But he and his new associate are determined to find out – one way or another.

Escape Rating B: This is a cozy series, so it’s always a light read – no matter how many dead bodies Charlie stumbles over. This particular entry feels unique in that there are no new murders. And that’s probably good for the population of Athena.

Instead, Charlie finds himself investigating a cold case with the help of a new friend who has a history of conducting his own amateur investigations in a nearby town. Jack Pemberton writes true-crime books, investigates cold cases, and wants to feature Charlie and other amateur sleuths in his next book. Together they bring new light to a case that everyone believed was cut and dried if not open and shut.

The process for opening the investigation reads very much like an oral history project, something conducted by many librarians and archivists (Charlie is both) over the years. There is no new forensic evidence – only evidence that may have been overlooked or just needs to be looked at in a new light.

But with a 20-year-old case Charlie and Jack have to find people who were around at the time, and interview them. Not that they don’t think everyone was interviewed at the time, but they need to form their own impressions. And it is always possible that someone remembers something they didn’t back then, or that someone was covering for someone who is now beyond earthly justice.

It is always fun to follow Charlie as he works, whether it’s his work at the library or his work as an amateur detective. Especially when he brings Diesel along with him. Athena is a nice place to visit, Charlie is a terrific person to visit it with, and I always enjoy my time with Diesel. This series is a comfort read for me, and I know I’ll be back for more when the mood arises.

One serious library issue gets raised early in the book, and it’s one that I want to talk about before I close. As a volunteer staff member at the Athena Public Library, Charlie has access to the library circulation system. He can look up people’s library cards, see where they live and what they’ve checked out. In libraries, this is a huge privacy issue, and there have been plenty of court cases about what staff can reveal to anyone other than the cardholder, including law enforcement. But when Charlie discovers that the old man who keeps coming into the library is looking up Charlie’s own address in the old City Directories, Charlie can’t resist the temptation to look up the man’s library card and see who he is and where he lives. Charlie knows he’s not supposed to do this, he has resisted the temptation on previous cases, but can’t resist temptation when he knows that this person is looking for him or his family and casing his house. Charlie feels guilty about it immediately afterwards, and so he should. Protecting patron privacy is one of the cornerstones of library service. He does not let himself off easily for his transgression, nor should he.

In celebration of National Library Week, please visit your local library and/or (preferably AND) tell your local powers that be that you value your library and want to see it continue to be funded and to serve your community.

Review: The Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff

Review: The Awkward Squad by Sophie HenaffThe Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Anne Capestan #1
Pages: 272
Published by Maclehose Press Quercus on April 3rd 2018
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A new crime series starring Anne Capestan a brilliant but disgraced police officer placed in charge of a team of department misfits to investigate decades old unsolved crimes...Suspended from her job as a promising police officer for firing "one bullet too many," Anne Capestan is expecting the worst when she is summoned to H.Q. to learn her fate. Instead, she is surprised to be told that she is to head up a new police squad, working on solving old cold cases. Though relived to still have a job, Capestan is not overjoyed by the prospect of her new role. Even less so when she meets her new team: a crowd of misfits, troublemakers and problem cases, none of whom are fit for purpose and yet none of whom can be fired. But from this inauspicious start, investigating the cold cases throws up a number a number of strange mysteries for Capestan and her team: was the old lady murdered seven years ago really just the victim of a botched robbery? Who was behind the dead sailor discovered in the Seine with three gunshot wounds? And why does there seem to be a curious link with a ferry that was shipwrecked off the Florida coast many years previously?"--

My Review:

I picked up The Awkward Squad because the description sounded an awful lot like one of my favorite British TV series, New Tricks.

It turns out that it sounds a lot like it because it is a lot like it, and that’s a good thing. There are certainly differences, and the cases they actually end up solving are nothing alike, but the premise is the same, at least in the important bits.

The Awkward Squad is the last hope for a group of police officers in Paris who have screwed up irredeemably in one way or another, but who also can’t be fired for one reason or another. The divisionaire (think Superintendant) has created this squad of misfits, stuck them in a run down apartment far from police headquarters, given them the worst of the cast-off furniture and equipment, taken away their guns, and dumped every box of cold cases that HQ can find on their doorstep.

They are all supposed to take their relegation as a sign that it’s time to quit, or retire, or possibly even die.

Instead, their Commissaire (think commanding officer) takes the relegation as a sign of hope. She believes that if they manage to do good police work and show up whoever originally handled some of those old, cold cases, they’ll all have a chance at returning to HQ where they belong.

Anne Capestan, every bit as disgraced as the unit she finds herself commanding, is both half right and half wrong. She’s right in her idea that if they take their no-hope unit and do some real policing with it, they can all earn back the respect they’ve lost.

But she’s wrong in thinking that they all belong back at HQ, or as part of the regular police force that has marginalized them. As her “awkward squad” of misfit cops bands together, they discover that they do their best work outside of the bounds of the regular force – and with each other.

It’s supposed to have been a dead-end job for dead-end cops. It turns out to be a home, and a family and a damn good unit.

And a setup from the word go.

Escape Rating B+: It’s hard for me to lose the resemblance to New Tricks. In the show, the misfits are all retired cops, admittedly sometimes forcibly retired for the same types of infractions and troubles that plague this squad. The new commander in both cases has been sidelined after a well-publicized action that should have ended their career. And in both cases, they investigate cases that the original officers either half-assed or willfully neglected.

But unlike New Tricks, all of Anne’s squad are still serving officers, albeit barely in some cases. They all still have a chance to resurrect their careers if they can face their demons.

And Anne’s squad was set up for a special purpose, in addition to the stated purpose of driving them all to leave. There’s someone at HQ who hopes that Anne will dive into the two murders that were hidden among all the boxes of old casework, and that she’ll figure out what all the investigators before her have missed.

Not because she’s good, although she is, but because she’s dogged, particularly in the face of officialdom saying “NO”. Which it does. Repeatedly and often. Which only makes Anne more determined to get a “YES” – or make one.

But what makes this book is not just the case, although it is fascinating and convoluted and keeps the reader guessing until the end.

What makes this book are the members of that awkward squad and the way that they coalesce from a bunch of misfits into a family of choice. The way that they work their way around the roadblocks in their path as well as the way that they work their way towards each other, is often lighthearted and frequently hilarious.

In the end, their family is centered around a dog, and the case is solved because of a cat. With a lot of sometimes rueful laughter along the way – and often at their own expense.

I had a great time getting to know Anne and band of misfit cops, and I sincerely hope that further books in this series are translated and make their way to this side of the “pond”.