Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth

Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire BoothThe Branson Beauty (Sheriff Hank Worth, #1) by Claire Booth
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Sheriff Hank Worth #1
Pages: 310
Published by Minotaur Books on July 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He realizes that he’ll face anxiety, arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point.
But he is absolutely not expecting to discover high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room. Suddenly, Hank finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation, with the county commissioner breathing down his neck and the threat of an election year ahead of him. And as he wades deeper into the investigation, Hank starts to realize he’s up against a web of small town secrets much darker and more tangled than he could have ever imagined.
In her captivating debut novel, Claire Booth has created a broad cast of wonderfully compelling characters, and she perfectly blends humor with the emotional drama and heartache of a murder investigation.

My Review:

The Branson Beauty is an old paddle-wheel showboat, and the book about the events of her last cruise will stick the reader as fast between its pages as the poor old boat is stuck to the shoal its grounded on.

It really was supposed to be a “three-hour tour”, so when the Branson Beauty runs aground, and her passengers find themselves stranded aboard for much, much longer, the number of rescue workers who end up humming the Gilligan’s Island theme seem inevitable. Also hilarious.

But Sheriff Hank Worth stops finding any humor in the situation when he discovers the ship’s captain comatose and locked inside his piloting cabin. The situation turns downright grim when the Sheriff discovers the dead body of a local track star locked inside the captain’s private dining room.

Mandy Bryson was supposed to be away at college in Norman Oklahoma, running track and studying English at Oklahoma University, not dead on an aging cruise ship with finger-shaped bruises clearly circling her throat.

Worth is literally the new sheriff in town. When the previous sheriff moved up to the state legislature, his term as sheriff needed to be filled. Hank, an experienced officer from Kansas City, thought he was ready for a management role. He was certainly ready to move from KC to Branson, where his father-in-law was available to serve as a live-in babysitter for Hank and his wife Maggie’s children. Maggie is on constant call as a surgeon in the local hospital, and Hank’s hours as sheriff are far from predictable at the best of times. Her father needs a bit of their help, and they need heaping helpings of his.

Between the grounding of a local institution, and the murder of a home-town heroine, Hank has his hands overfull. This is his first homicide in Branson, and the first local homicide in a long time that wasn’t a screamingly easy case to solve of drug deals gone wrong or domestic battery gone deadly.

This case is a puzzle from beginning to end, not because the victim had no enemies, but because there are too many competing means, motives and even crimes for Hank to zero in on what parts thwarted young love, stalking, affluenza and insurance fraud played in Mandy’s death.

Or perhaps all of them did.

Escape Rating A-: This one grabbed me from the first undertone hum of “a three-hour tour” and didn’t let me go until I turned the final page. The mystery at the heart of this story kept me turning pages every spare minute all day long.

And that mystery is convoluted as it unfolds, but makes complete sense once it is all revealed. It kept me guessing from beginning to end. The red herrings are all delicious, and all the more convincing for often being partially correct while not necessarily contributing to the solution of the whole.

The author also does an excellent job of conveying the depths of the grief and sadness that consumes not just the family but the whole small community when a young and promising life is cut short so senselessly.

But The Branson Beauty, in addition to being a crackerjack mystery, is also the first book in a new series, and has to introduce its setting and its characters, preparing readers for the stories yet to come. We need to learn who these people are, and why we should care about what happens to them.

In that regard, The Branson Beauty is off to a good start, but there is plenty of work yet to do. This case is overwhelming, and Hank Worth is often overwhelmed by it as well as the responsibilities he has taken on as the sheriff of Branson. He’s still adjusting to his new job and to the small town politics he now must contend with. When his appointment is up in a few short months, Hank will need to run for re-election. To do that he not only has to please his constituents, but has to learn to play with the politicians who are both his peers and his rivals, and in some cases even his bosses. The county commissioners, after all, set his budget.

So while there’s a murder to be solved, that’s not the only crime that Hank uncovers, nor is it the only trail he has to follow. Some of those trails lead him into the murky undergrowth of political corruption and influence peddling, and the reality that the county’s biggest employer has too many ways of influencing people and institutions to look the other way as he bends and even breaks the law. Hank has a tough road ahead of him, and he’s only taken the first steps – possibly even the wrong ones.

The one place where The Branson Beauty needs a little work is in the development of the characters who inhabit Hank’s world. Only one member of his police force stands out, and only because she seems to be the lone female in the ranks, even if she is Hank’s second-in-command. Likewise, it took me quite a ways into the book to figure out whether the female at home Hank referred to was his wife or his daughter, and what she did and where she fit. (It’s his wife and she’s as overworked as he is) I left the story still not certain what the precipitating event was that sent Hank and Maggie to Branson, but I know there was one. I’m looking forward to discovering the answers to all these questions and more in future books. The next book in the series, Another Man’s Ground, is already on my reading schedule this month.

While the boat may have run aground, the story never does. It chugs along quickly and compellingly from its comic opera beginnings to its inevitably sad but ultimately satisfying resolution. I can’t wait to see what mystery Hank has to solve next.

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: Liar’s Key by Carla Neggers

Review: Liar’s Key by Carla NeggersLiar's Key (Sharpe & Donovan, #6) by Carla Neggers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Sharpe & Donovan #6
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An FBI legend, a mysterious antiquities specialist and a brazen art thief draw top FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan into a complex web of blackmail, greed and murder in the eagerly awaited new novel in the highly acclaimed Sharpe & Donovan series
Emma Sharpe is suspicious when retired Special Agent Gordon Wheelock, a legend in FBI art crimes, drops by her Boston office for a visit. Gordy says he's heard rumors about stolen ancient mosaics. Emma, an art crimes specialist herself, won't discuss the rumors. Especially since they involve Oliver York, an unrepentant English art thief. Gordy and Emma's grandfather, a renowned private art detective, chased Oliver for a decade. Gordy knows Wendell Sharpe didn't give him everything he had on the thief. Even now, Oliver will never be prosecuted.
When a shocking death occurs, Emma is drawn into the investigation. The evidence points to a deadly conspiracy between Wendell and Oliver, and Emma's fiancé, deep cover agent Colin Donovan, knows he can't stay out of this one. He also knows there will be questions about Emma's role and where her loyalties lie.
From Boston to Maine to Ireland, Emma and Colin track a dangerous killer as the lives of their family and friends are at stake. With the help of their friend, Irish priest Finian Bracken, and Emma's brother, Lucas, the Sharpes and Donovans must band together to stop a killer.

My Review:

I’ve read this series from the very beginning, all the way back to the prequel novella, Rock Point. (But don’t read Rock Point first. It makes more sense if you start with Saint’s Gate and meet ALL the characters. Not that you need to read ALL of the previous books to enjoy this one, but this entry in particular deals with so many previous threads (and people) that it helps a lot if you’ve read at least some of the earlier books.)

In this mystery series, the detectives are FBI Agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan, even though they find themselves working apart as often as they work together. Emma is an art specialist, and Colin, at least up until now, has usually worked alone on deep-cover assignments.

They are also originally from neighboring small towns on the Maine coast. But while they grew up a few short miles apart, they didn’t meet until an assignment threw them together. In the even smaller world of coastal Maine small towns, they knew of each other’s families, but just never met.

So as they count down the final days to their wedding in Emma’s home town of Heron’s Cove, there are plenty of intrusions from friends, family and old cases to keep everyone on their toes to the end.

Colin’s family are law enforcement in their little town, but Emma’s family are world-famous art detectives. And this time around it’s Emma’s family and their connections that cause all the trouble, as well as solve the mystery.

It all begins when a retired FBI Agent shows up in Emma’s Boston office. Gordy Wheelock is on a fishing expedition, looking for something to make him feel relevant a year after his sudden retirement. While Emma isn’t hooked enough to give Gordy any information, she is concerned enough to connect the dots and figure out that there is something going on that there shouldn’t be.

Whatever Gordy thinks he’s involved in, it ties into his last, unsolved case. And it also ties into the seemingly accidental death of an art expert and to Emma’s family’s business. There are too many loose threads. They all tie into something, but Emma isn’t quite sure what.

But as she investigates, and waits for Colin to make it back from his undercover assignment, she learns that at least some of her family are plotting more than just her wedding. And that someone is working, either for her or against her, to figure out not just whodunit but exactly what they done, before she does.

And Gordy Wheelock gets tripped up by his lies.

Escape Rating B+: I read this one on a plane, and completely lost track of where I was or just how much turbulence we hit. I got a copy of this last year when it came out, but for some reason lost track of it at the time. Now that the next book in the series, Thief’s Mark, is due out, it felt like time to pick this back up. And I’m glad I did.

Like so many mystery series, a big part of what makes Sharpe and Donovan isn’t due to Sharpe and Donovan, but rather to the group of people who surround them, and occasionally (or not so occasionally) help and/or hinder them in their investigations. They are smart and interesting people to follow, and they surround themselves with equally smart and interesting people. And as usual, while the wedding and the investigation are proceeding, some of those people have separate crises of their very own to add to the mix.

As families do. Because that’s what these people have become to each other, family.

The case is really all about Gordy Wheelock’s last hurrah. He made a hell of a mistake before he retired, and it’s cost him. Perhaps not enough.

But part of what Emma is investigating is cooked up by her grandfather and her frenemy Oliver York. Wendell Sharpe and Oliver are on the trail of someone who is stealing ancient mosaics and getting them onto the market with fake provenance. Basically, someone is money laundering, with mosaics substituting for money. The comparison is to “conflict diamonds” because these ancient artifacts are being expropriated from places where they shouldn’t and putting the money into the hands of people who underwrite terrorism.

But Wendell and Oliver are playing a dangerous game, particularly since they, as well as Gordy, leave Emma and the FBI out of their loop. It’s a misstep that will result in more bodies, more disruption, and less trust. Not a good combination. But it is a fascinating one.

In the end, the criminals do get unmasked, and Emma and Colin manage to get married. I am very happy to say, however, that this is not the end of their adventures. Thief’s Mark is coming in August. After all, Emma and Colin could not possibly have expected to have an uninterrupted honeymoon, could they?

Review: Take Out by Margaret Maron + Giveaway

Review: Take Out by Margaret Maron + GiveawayTake Out by Margaret Maron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Sigrid Harald #9
Pages: 304
Published by Grand Central Publishing on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sigrid is still reeling from the untimely death of her lover, acclaimed painter Oscar Nauman, when she is called to investigate the deaths of two homeless men in the West Village. The police at first assume an overdose, until they realize that one of the men shows no signs of drug use. Then when containers of poisoned takeout food are found nearby, Sigrid's case is suddenly much more complicated. As Sigrid investigates, she uncovers an intriguing neighborhood history: a haughty mafia widow and her disgraced godson, a retired opera star with dark secrets, an unsolved hit-and-run, and the possible discovery of a long-missing painting that will rock the art world. Soon the case is fraught with myriad suspects and motives. Who killed the two homeless men, and why? And which one was the intended victim? Or was the poisoned food meant for someone else entirely?
Throwing herself into the murder investigation to distract herself from her personal grief, Sigrid still can't stop wondering what led Nauman across the country to the winding mountain road that took his life. Until she meets a man who may hold the answers she seeks.
In her newest gripping mystery, Margaret Maron's beautifully drawn characters and unpredictable plot twists prove once again why she's one of today's most beloved writers.

My Review:

I think that NYPD Lieutenant Sigrid Harald would recognize Eve Dallas’ 21st century New York as still being her city, and vice versa. And that if the two women ever met, they would see each other as kin. There’s a similarity to the two no-nonsense New York homicide detectives that transcends time.

Also a distinct difference. I read all of the Sigrid Harald series, starting with One Coffee With, sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. But I never read the last one. Although there is a murder mystery in Fugitive Colors, that story also deals with the unexpected death of Sigrid’s lover, the artist Oscar Nauman. It was just too sad to contemplate, so I never picked it up. I have a copy, I just couldn’t bear to read it.

Take Out takes place in the aftermath of Nauman’s death. It’s been over a year since the tragedy, and Sigrid has learned to deal with her grief, even though it still sometimes strikes her down without warning. She has also resigned herself to being Oscar’s heir, and dealing with all the myriad details involved with protecting the legacy (and the fortune) of a famous artist.

But the mystery in Take Out turns out to be wrapped in the other loose ends of Sigrid’s life, as well as tying up the leftover bits of the mystery from Fugitive Colors. It all starts with a New York tradition – take out.

Two men are dead on a bench in an upscale NYC neighborhood. The remains of their last meal all around them – take out food from a neighborhood restaurant. Neither man is a resident. One is clearly a homeless drug addict, while the other is exceedingly down-at-the-heel. One death might have been accidental, but two is one too many for the long arm of coincidence, even in New York. When rat poison is found in both of the take out boxes they were noshing on, it’s clear that at least one of them was murdered, even if the other is merely collateral damage.

But which? And most importantly, why?

This is a case where the past threatens to overwhelm the present, from the recent death of an old mobster’s daughter to the long-ago murder of Sigrid’s own father – by a minion of that same mobster. And if the long-simmering rivalry between the two old women at opposite ends of the block has finally erupted into open warfare, why now?

Which of the many secrets has suddenly become too toxic to remain buried? And can Sigrid figure it out before the past dies with it?

Escape Rating B+: Take Out is closure. Not just for all the old secrets buried on that street, but for Sigrid as well. I loved this book, and I was very, very glad to see this old favorite get wrapped up.

At the same time, it’s been a LONG time since Fugitive Colors was published in 1995, the same year that Naked in Death (the first Eve Dallas book) was published. And as fascinating as the mystery in Take Out is, it also felt as if there was a definite strain in the story as the author needed to catch up new readers (and remind old ones) of just who all these characters were and why they mattered to Sigrid. Those explanations were both utterly necessary and took away from the rising tension of the mystery.

It’s that mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the end. There are two old women at the heart of this mystery. One is a mobster’s widow, and the other a famous opera singer. Both are in their 80s. It doesn’t seem possible that either is the murderer, and yet, they both had ties to the dead men. And potentially they both had reasons to want one of the men dead, but not both. And not the means to do the deed. And yet it was done.

This is a story that is all about the past. Not just the past of those two old women, but also Sigrid’s past, and Oscar Nauman’s past. And even the past wrapped up in an old museum, which desperately needs a new lease on life. It all ties neatly together at the end, and the case, and the series, close with satisfaction.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

After my review of Lockdown by Laurie R. King, I received an offer from the publisher to host a giveaway for 2 copies of Lockdown to lucky U.S. winners. As Laurie King is the author of one of my favorite mystery series, and Margaret Maron the author of two others, this seemed like a fitting post to which to attach the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. King

Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. KingLockdown: A Novel of Suspense by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 336
Published by Bantam on June 13th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A classroom is held hostage by someone with a thirst for revenge in this stunningly intricate, ripped-from-the-headlines novel of rich psychological suspense from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell mysteries.
Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School: a day given to innocent hopes and youthful dreams. A day no one in attendance will ever forget.
New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King is an award-winning master of combining rich atmospheric detail with riveting, keen-edged mystery. Now, in her newest standalone novel of psychological suspense, King turns her sharp eye to a moment torn from the headlines and a school under threat. A year ago, Principal Linda McDonald arrived at Guadalupe determined to overturn the school's reputation for truancy, gang violence, and neglect. One of her initiatives is Career Day--bringing together children, teachers, and community presenters in a celebration of the future. But there are some in attendance who reject McDonald's bright vision.
A principal with a secret. A husband with a murky past. A cop with too many questions. A kid under pressure to prove himself. A girl struggling to escape a mother's history. A young basketball player with an affection for guns.
Even the school janitor has a story he dare not reveal.
But no one at the gathering anticipates the shocking turn of events that will transform a day of possibilities into an expolsive confrontation.
Tense, poignant, and brilliantly paced, Laurie R. King's novel charts compelling characters on a collision course--a chain of interactions that locks together hidden lives, troubling secrets, and the bravest impulses of the human heart.

My Review:

Lockdown was a surprise. In the end, it was nothing like I expected. Also, in the end, absolutely fascinating. Just not in the way that I expected at the beginning.

I was not expecting Holmes and Russell. Not that I wouldn’t love another entry in that series, but I knew this wasn’t it.

Instead, Lockdown is a story that starts out slowly and picks up steam, much as Guadalupe Middle School Principal Linda McDonald starts her day out early but slowly and ends with an exhausted rush at the end of this long and very surprising day.

It’s Career Day at Guadalupe, and Linda expects something to go wrong. Because, well, middle school. Take a whole herd of sixth, seventh and eighth graders, all rushing headlong into puberty at varying rates, mix well and throw them all together into a single steaming pot. It’s a guaranteed recipe for trouble at the best of times and in the best of places. The San Felipe neighborhood that Guadalupe serves is neither. And the varying differences of circumstances and misery that surround the students reflects both on their hyper-hormonal age group and the mostly working class racial melting pot neighborhood that surrounds them.

And in the middle of it all are two long-simmering tragedies. At the beginning of the school year, sixth grader Bee Cuomo went missing, and has neither been found, seen or heard from in the months since. And last year gang-leader Taco Alvarez murdered Gloria Rivas in cold blood, witnessed by two of Guadalupe’s students – Gloria’s sister Sofia and her friend Danny Escobedo. As the school prepares for Career Day, Taco’s trial is also proceeding, while his young cousin, still a Guadalupe student, tries to figure out what he owes to a cousin he both fears and worships.

But as the day moves forward and winds up to its explosive conclusion, the story peeks into the lives of every standout character in the school. That exploration begins with the Principal and her husband, from their surprising meeting in the jungles of Papua New Guinea to his rather murky past as a gun-for-hire. But everyone involved has secrets of their own, from the janitor who keeps the school running in some mysterious ways to the Coach who tries his best to save young boys before their eyes go completely dead to the students themselves.

They say that all happy families are alike, but that unhappy families are each unhappy in their own ways. And we see that here as their worlds collide with explosive violence, and it all goes wrong. But some things, after all, go right.

Escape Rating A-: At first, I wasn’t sure where this story was going. Based on the blurbs, it was pretty obvious that it was going to end in a school shooting, but I’ll admit to being completely misled about the shooter and their motivation until the very end.

And it does go slowly at first. There are a lot of characters, and a lot of tiny, individual portraits to sort through. At the beginning it felt as if the only characters we lingered on long enough to get a clear picture were Linda McDonald and her very mysterious husband Gordon Kendrick. Through Linda’s memories, we see their first meeting, and it’s obvious from the very beginning that Gordon has a very big secret that is finally catching up with him. It takes a while before that secret finally bites him in the ass, and the way that it happens just adds to the drama.

There are a lot of threads to this story. As the focus shifts from person to person, we see the way the wind blows. But there is more than enough misdirection for the reader to think that the explosion is coming from a completely different direction than it actually is.

The school is faced with so many crises, and both the students and their guardians have so many violent secrets. It’s not surprising that something erupts, only the how and the when are mysterious. Even the why becomes a bit obvious early on, or at least the reader thinks it does.

I went down the wrong path for a long time, and at the end was forced to back up and see where I missed the fork in the road. The misdirection was very well done.

While in her Career Day speech McDonald focuses on all the threads that make up the school and its community, the story is about all the threads that make up the tragedy and its aftermath. Once Linda’s day, and the story, get going, it’s impossible to stop until the end.

So I didn’t.

Review: The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Review: The Night Ocean by Paul La FargeThe Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, mystery, thriller
Pages: 389
Published by Penguin Press on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the award-winning author and New Yorker contributor, a riveting novel about secrets and scandals, psychiatry and pulp fiction, inspired by the lives of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle.
Marina Willett, M.D., has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the legendary horror writer's life: In the summer of 1934, the "old gent" lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow's family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends--or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he's solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it's suicide. Marina is a psychiatrist, and she doesn't believe them.
A tour-de-force of storytelling, The Night Ocean follows the lives of some extraordinary people: Lovecraft, the most influential American horror writer of the 20th century, whose stories continue to win new acolytes, even as his racist views provoke new critics; Barlow, a seminal scholar of Mexican culture who killed himself after being blackmailed for his homosexuality (and who collaborated with Lovecraft on the beautiful story The Night Ocean); his student, future Beat writer William S. Burroughs; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman and science-fiction fan -- the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, purported to be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself.
As a heartbroken Marina follows her missing husband's trail in an attempt to learn the truth, the novel moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Florida to Mexico City.
The Night Ocean is about love and deception -- about the way that stories earn our trust, and betray it.

My Review:

Originally, The Night Ocean was a short story written by Robert H. Barlow and H.P. Lovecraft. Mostly by Barlow.

However, this version of The Night Ocean is ostensibly, although not actually ABOUT Barlow and Lovecraft. It’s a Russian nesting doll of a story, with story inside story inside story, all of them told by unreliable narrators, one more so than the others.

And yet, at the same time, much of the story is true – it just didn’t happen to the people who said it happened to them. Or did it?

Charlie Willett committed suicide. Or he didn’t. His journey parallels that of Robert H. Barlow, or it doesn’t. Or that of L.C. Spinks. Or maybe not. Or maybe Charlie just got lost along the way.

His wife (or possibly widow) Marina, finds that she can’t quite let Charlie go. There’s no body, so it is all too easy to imagine that Charlie is still alive. In order to find her closure, or expiate her grief, or both, Marina sets herself on the trail of Charlie’s last days and final quest, and that’s where Lovecraft (and Barlow and Spinks) come in.

Charlie was both a writer and a dream, and one of the things he dreams of writing is about H.P. Lovecraft, that famous, and infamous, writer of horror fiction and Weird Tales. Lovecraft was famous, among other things, for writing about mythical books, notably the Necronomicon, that bane of librarians everywhere. (It doesn’t exist, it never existed, but every generation of Lovecraftians persists in searching libraries for it)

Although the Necronomicon never existed, Charlie dreams of finding another one of Lovecraft’s mythical tomes. And falls into a wild goose chase for an entirely different apocryphal work, the Erotonomicon.

Charlie gets taken for a long, sad and ultimately costly if not tragic, ride. And Marina, whether out of love or guilt, follows along after him.

It’s a strange journey, as weird as any of Lovecraft’s tales, that winds from Arkham to Florida to Mexico City to Parry Sound on Lake Huron in Canada, with stops along the way in New York City, at the 1950s House Un-American Activities Committee, and the beginnings of science fiction fandom.

And it’s only when Marina exposes the spider at the heart of this web that she has even a chance at escaping from this very weird tale. Just when she does, it drags her back in. Or does it?

Escape Rating B: This story has so many aspects, that I think each reader is going to be reading a different book, depending on which parts grabbed them and stuck. Like a jellyfish.

A lot of people are going to pick this up because of the H.P. Lovecraft connection, which doesn’t feel quite as large as the blurb makes it out to be. Characters enter this story because of their connection to Lovecraft, but it isn’t really about him. If it’s about anything in reference to him, it’s about all of the friends, fans and controversy that swirls in the wake of his relatively short and continually controversial life.

The part of this story that grabbed me and hung on was the rather deep dive into the early years of science fiction fandom. And even though the narrator of those parts of the story is completely unreliable, the story itself matches historical fact. Those were the people at the center of those early days, and that was how they behaved and what happened to them.

For those of us who have been involved in fandom, even tangentially, it is fascinating to feel like a witness to those early days, and to see people that we knew at the end of their lives as young, ambitious and more than occasionally stupid. Certainly arrogant. But still visionary, even if we never did get our flying cars.

And it is part of the seduction of the book, and of Charlie and Marina Willett that these stories are true, it’s only their setting that’s false. The characters and personalities of those people feels a bit more real than either Charlie or Marina, who in the end become vehicles to tell someone else’s story.

A story that isn’t even really theirs.

I was grabbed and startled by this book early on, when Charlie discovers the surreptitious publication of the Erotonomicon and the absolutely scathing response to it by the scandalized science fiction community. One of those scathing responses is from well-known fan (and author) Wilson “Bob” Tucker in his fanzine Le Zombie. I knew Bob Tucker in the early 1990s, and the quote certainly sounds like him. It was also beyond weird to have someone I knew appear in a book.

Ironically, one of the things that Tucker was famous for was a practice that was named for him, Tuckerization. Tuckerization is the insertion of a real person’s name (and sometimes other characteristics) into an otherwise fictitious story. Today, this is often done for charity. But now that I’ve finished the book, I find it funny that Tucker was himself Tuckerized in The Night Ocean.

Tucker’s appearance in the story added to the verisimilitude so much that I went on my own wild goose chase, hunting for the cited issue of Le Zombie. But that issue is not preserved. So it all could have happened. Just like Marina and Charlie, I too got caught up in the desire to believe this was all real.

Reviewer’s Note: I listed to the audiobook of this one, and I think it made the story more compelling, as the structure of the book is that its variations are often being told by one person to another, rather than being read or happening in the present. However, I discovered when I looked at the print copy that the audiobook narrator left out the footnotes. For those familiar with the history, the footnotes are interesting but not necessary. But a reader who is not already familiar with the early history of science fiction fandom, and admittedly that’s most people, is going to lose some of the context and the verisimilitude by the omission of those notes.

Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Review: Song of the Lion by Anne HillermanSong of the Lion by Anne Hillerman
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn and Chee #21, Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito #3
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A deadly bombing takes Navajo Tribal cops Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, back into the past to find a vengeful killer in this riveting Southwestern mystery from the bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter and Rock with Wings
When a car bomb kills a young man in the Shiprock High School parking lot, Officer Bernadette Manuelito discovers that the intended victim was a mediator for a multi-million-dollar development planned at the Grand Canyon.
But what seems like an act of ecoterrorism turns out to be something far more nefarious and complex. Piecing together the clues, Bernadette and her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, uncover a scheme to disrupt the negotiations and inflame tensions between the Hopi and Dine tribes.
Retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn has seen just about everything in his long career. As the tribal police’s investigation unfolds, he begins to suspect that the bombing may be linked to a cold case he handled years ago. As he, Bernadette, and Chee carefully pull away the layers behind the crime, they make a disturbing discovery: a meticulous and very patient killer with a long-simmering plan of revenge.
Writing with a clarity and grace that is all her own, Anne Hillerman depicts the beauty and mystery of Navajo Country and the rituals, myths, and customs of its people in a mystery that builds on and complements the beloved, bestselling mysteries of her acclaimed father, Tony Hillerman.

My Review:

This case starts out with a very literal (and also very large) bang. Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito has a rare night off. Unfortunately it isn’t a night off that she can share with her husband Jim Chee, also an officer with the Tribal Police. Left to her own devices, Bernie does what a couple of thousand other people are doing that night, going to a basketball game.

Although basketball is a VERY big deal on the rez (Bernie herself played back in high school) this game draws an even bigger crowd than usual. The current high school team are playing against a team made up of veterans from some of Championship teams of the relatively recent past. Everybody wants to see the hometown heroes, and discover whether or not age and experience really can beat youth and skill.

Bernie never gets to see the end of the game, because a bomb goes off in the parking lot. Suddenly Bernie finds herself back on the clock, trying to keep the crowd away from the very big mess (cars explode! car lots full of cars explode LOTS!)

Bernie finds herself in the middle of all the chaos, trying to keep the crowd contained and the crime scene relatively uncontaminated, while searching for any possible victims or suspects (or both) and praying that more officers arrive to help manage the 3,000+ attendees along with all the cars showing up to pick up kids at the end of the game. And she needs the FBI, much as she hates even thinking that, because they are the ones with explosives expertise.

It’s a mess that only gets messier, and more confusing, over the days ahead.

Because there are no coincidences in Bernie’s world, as she was taught by the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn, the bombing ties into a much larger case. It seems like the intended victim was a hometown hero on that Championship team, but now he’s a big-shot lawyer from the big city. And he’s come back to the Rez not just for a basketball game, but to serve as mediator for all of the many, varied, contradictory and non-cooperative factions who are debating (loudly, heatedly and occasionally violently) about whether there should be any development at all at the base of the Grand Canyon.

A debate that feels like it is nearly as old as the Canyon itself. And equally immovable.

In the wake of the bombing, Jim Chee gets stuck body-guarding the mediator on his trip to Tuba City. Chee hates being a bodyguard, but not nearly as much as Aza Palmer hates having one.

Aza keeps giving Jim the slip. Eventually that is bound to catch up with him. With all of them. With catastrophic results. For multiple definitions of “catastrophe”.

Escape Rating A: I have to admit upfront that I love this series. I listened to the earlier books, written by the author’s father Tony Hillerman, back when I had a long commute. (If you have a long drive ahead of you, audiobooks are marvelous, and mysteries are particularly good. It’s nearly impossible to thumb to the end to find out “whodunnit”.)

When Tony Hillerman died in 2008, I assumed this series was over. So when his daughter Anne revived it in 2013 with the absolutely awesome Spider Woman’s Daughter, it felt like a miracle. Not just for the opportunity to catch up with “old friends” as the protagonists in long-running series often turn out to be, but also because Anne found a way to make the series her own, by shifting much of the perspective from the two male cops, Leaphorn and Chee, to Bernie Manuelito, giving readers a new perspective on the cases and a different perspective on Navajo life in the 21st century. Unlike both of the men, Bernie is often caught between two worlds and two sets of obligations. While she loves her job, and is every bit as good a cop as her husband or any other male officer, unlike them she still keeps up much of her more traditional role as her mother’s oldest daughter, and as her wayward younger sister’s protector. She often finds herself between the rock of her job and the hard place of her family in a way that neither Leaphorn nor Chee ever experienced.

(While the entire series is great, 21 books in may seem daunting to a new reader. And as much as I loved them at the time, I don’t think it is necessary to read the whole thing to get the background, especially since so much has changed. Starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter will bring any new reader up to speed with where the characters are now.)

The case in this story is fascinating, although not really about the bombing. One of the things about mysteries in general is that people are always people, both good and bad. In the end, the motives always turn out to be the familiar ones. And as so often happens, the past catches up with the present.

But in this series the surroundings and the background keep the reader enthralled every bit as much as whatever the mystery is. The background of this particular case is particularly intractable. There are multiple competing interests. Every single group involved is extremely passionate about their argument, whether they want to develop the Canyon, preserve it as it is, or something either in between or more extreme.

Even the groups that seem to be on the same side can’t agree with each other. And on top of that there’s a group that just wants to cause trouble and get media coverage, no matter what they have to do to get it. Everyone has a stake, and it seems like everyone wants to shove their stake into someone else’s heart. The FBI is up to their eyeballs in potential suspects for the bombing.

Watching the mediator attempt to herd all of the cats is both interesting and enlightening. In spite of the rumors that surround the event, his role is to referee, not to promote an agenda of his own. He’s very, very good at his job. And it turns out, very, very bad at family. Which is what the case comes back to in the end.

People are always people. But sometimes lions are more than they seem.

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: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay Faye

Review: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay FayeThe Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Pages: 388
Published by Mysterious Press on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.
Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In “The Lowther Park Mystery,” the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.

My Review:

I have an often-confessed penchant for Sherlock Holmes pastiches. As a consequence, I’ve read a lot of them. Some take the Holmes canon into entirely different directions, like Laurie R. King’s Holmes/Russell series, A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, or Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series. Others serve to either extend the existing canon or act as homages to it, attempting to recreate the style and the period of Conan Doyle’s original work, using his immortal characters and merely telling us new stories in the same spirit.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay FayeOne of the best of the latter type that I have read was Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow. In that story, she relates the investigation of the Jack the Ripper case as conducted by Sherlock Holmes and documented by his faithful friend, Dr. John Watson. If you have any interest either in Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, or late Victorian-set historical fiction, this book is a winner on all fronts.

I’ve been hoping for years that the author would return to Holmes, and she finally has in The Whole Art of Detection. Unlike the recent collaborative collections of Holmes pastiches edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, which do contain some marvelous stories each time, The Whole Art of Detection is the output of a single mind, just as the original Holmes canon was. And also like the canon, all of the stories in The Whole Art of Detection are set in Holmes’ native Victorian age, and for the most part purport to be written by Dr. John Watson in his inimitable style.

And it feels as if we are back there again. These stories feel like the familiar Holmes. They read as though they are part of the whole, merely a part that has been hidden until now. It is marvelous to immerse oneself back in that time and place, and with these two singular characters.

As much as I enjoyed the whole book, the stories that I loved the most were the two that were not told as stories, but as diary entries. It is clear within the stories that Watson is writing for his audience in The Strand Magazine, but in An Empty House we get to read a bit of Watson’s personal diary during March and April of 1894. At that time, Watson was recovering from the recent death of his wife Mary, and still dealing with the death of his friend Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls three years earlier. Watson’s method of dealing with Holmes’ death was to continue writing up their previous cases, as he is still doing within the pages of his diary. As a method for handling the stages of grief, neither the reader nor Watson himself is certain of its efficacy. And it is completely insufficient for helping him to handle his feelings about Mary’s recent passing. So we read Watson in his internal travails, his and his friends’ attempts to help him, and his resolution to finally quit England and his memories altogether. And then a miracle occurs.

In Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma, on the other hand, we have a rare case narrated by Holmes himself. Like all the cases in The Whole Art of Detection, this case is firmly set not just within the original canon, but at a specific point within that canon. In this case, we see what Holmes was doing in September of 1888 when he sent Watson to Baskerville Hall ahead of him. In addition to viewing Holmes’ rather non-traditional resolution of this case, we also have the opportunity to read Holmes’ own thoughts and feelings about this case, the Baskerville mess, and his thoughts about his friendship with Watson and the fame that has resulted from Watson’s publications. It is a fascinating peek into a mind that we normally only see from the outside.

Escape Rating A: As is clear, I loved this book and had an utterly marvelous time dipping back into the adventures of Holmes and Watson. While many of these stories have been published before, this is the first time that they have all been gathered together. And there are a lot of them, so hunting them all down would be a task almost worthy of Holmes himself.

Just like Dust and Shadow, this collection gives the reader the feeling that we are back there again at 221B, sitting invisibly by their fireplace and listening to them discuss their cases. Like the original canon, these are all cracking good stories, and they run the gamut of the strange, the unusual, the criminal and the bizarre that the originals did.

As a 21st century reader, I have a sense that there is a bit more acknowledgement of the true depths of their friendship than was true in the originals. But I might be mistaken about that. I guess I’ll have to go back and read them again. Something to anticipate with great pleasure.

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!