by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
We are starting the new year with some great mysteries from Penguin & Kensington authors-Death by Tea by Alex Erickson, Thread and Gone by Lea Wait, Pouncing on Murder by Laurie Cass, and Ghost in the Wind: A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery by E.J. Copperman. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of all 4 books & a link to purchase them.
Death by Tea by Alex Erickson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Death by Coffee, the bookstore/coffee shop in Pine Hills, is host to the annual mystery competition between Pine Hills readers and the nearby Cherry Valley contingent. The whole thing seems a bit silly to Krissy; but if it brings in more business, why not?
Rita, the over-the-top fan of Krissy’s mystery-writer father, is in charge this year for Pine Hills. She’s got a cardboard cutout of Krissy’s dad—it usually stays in her bedroom, eww—that she’s willing to loan to the bookstore for the duration of the contest, since it’s one of his books they’re reading. Krissy meets all the members of the book clubs, including dreamy-voiced David with the Brit accent. He seems to be a couple with Sara, though, but at least it’s nice to listen to him. The prize is a silver teapot and Rita wants it back in Pine Hill.
That evening, Krissy gets the brilliant idea to go back to the store and “borrow” the Cardboard Dad. Every time she looked up to hand off a cup of coffee or a cookie to a customer, it seemed like he/it was watching her. When it “reappears” in a couple of days, Rita will be more than happy to take it home for safety’s sake. At least it sounded like a good idea at the time.
Krissy dresses all in black, makes a late-night run to the store, grabs up Cardboard Dad and is back before anyone’s the wiser—except her nosy next door neighbor (does the woman ever sleep?).
The next morning, before Krissy’s even halfway presentable, Officer Paul is knocking at her door. They’ve had one date that ended badly—if you can call being arrested by a fellow officer badly—and this is not a social call. There’s been a murder and it happened in Death by Coffee. To make matters worse, he’s not talking to her because it’s half her store—but because the neighbor reported her sneaky behavior in the Cardboard Dad kidnapping.
Since Krissy is the compulsive/obsessive/paranoid type, she immediately thinks she’ll be arrested for the murder in spite of the fact she’d only just met the victim. Instead of confessing to her trick about the cutout, she just says she forgot something and went back for it—never explaining the sneakiness of her mission. Of course, she’ll have to investigate to clear her name.
Krissy’s partner Vicki has a love interest now, which adds a nice touch. They’ve hired two part-time employees and are busy, but the register tapes don’t seem to show that. Krissy doesn’t question this but assumes Vicki will tell her if something’s wrong. Although she’s half owner in the business, Krissy seems more like a barista than someone with a vested interest.
She also has a tendency to rush headlong into situations that could be dangerous, and to say whatever enters her head as well. While this sometimes has humorous results, often she’s totally off track and takes risks she shouldn’t even consider.
Vicki, her new boyfriend, Krissy’s dad, Officer Paul, Rita, Misfit the Cat, Chief Dalton and even the Evil Officer Buchanan, all have interesting stories to tell. Krissy just needs to show more common sense and less shoot-first/ask later attitude.
This is the second in the series, Death by Coffee, the first. Look for Death by Pumpkin Spice, coming in October 2016.
Thread and Gone by Lea Wait
Review by Sandra Murphy
Angie Curtis and the Mainely Needlepointers have their hands full. It’s the Fourth of July celebration, Angie’s grandmother just got married to Reverend Tom and is on her honeymoon, and the stitchers also have a mystery to solve. Mary Clough and her fiancé, Rob, stopped by to show them a very old piece of needlepoint. The needlepoint was found in the attic.
Rob’s all for tossing everything into a dumpster, selling the house, and buying a lobster boat so he can be his own boss. Never mind that the house has been in Mary’s family since the 1700s. He thinks old means valuable, so Angie should appraise the piece so it can be sold, too.
Rob’s a little overbearing and suspicious to boot. When he makes a comment that Angie could “lose” the needlepoint piece and then sell it herself, she offers to ask the local attorney to hold it for safekeeping. They make a formal document, all sign, and it goes to the lawyer’s office and is put into her safe. Angie warns Mary and Rob not to say anything until they know more about the piece.
Unfortunately, Rob’s so eager to sell everything and get his boat that he brags about the piece, the sale of the house and how rich he’ll be—right on the pier where tourists gather, local lobstermen come to sell their catch, and pretty much everyone in town shows up at the end of the day. He and his friends, noticeably minus Mary, are drinking way too much beer and talking loud enough for everyone to hear.
Angie’s startled to see Everett, a state police officer, and Pete, a local cop, at her doorstep. The bad news is Lenore, the lawyer who has the needlepoint, has been murdered. The safe was open, her jewelry, jewelry that belonged to clients, and the needlepoint are all gone.
Research showed the piece to be very old indeed and had several telling clues that might mean it was stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots. Of course, to prove that, they must find out how it ended up in Maine. If true, it is invaluable—and now missing.
Rob is the one to find the lawyer’s body. He was in the company of an intern from a museum in Boston. It seems he was lining up buyers before the piece was even identified, even though Mary’s not sure she wants to sell. There are so many suspects! Add her soon-to-be ex-husband to the list as well, since he was seen storming out of her house the morning of the murder.
This is a complicated murder, history-based with the addition of Mary, Queen of Scots into the mix. In the end, it all comes together like a great stitchery project always does.
Angie has a great group of friends in town, a fun grandmother, and now Tom as step-granddad. There will be changes in her life too, since Gran is moving to the rectory to live and taking Juno the cat with her. That makes the big old house a bit lonely for Angie, so it will be interesting to see what happens next for her.
Twisted Threads and Threads of Evidence were the first two books in this series. Readers will have to wait until November 2016 for Dangling by a Thread. In the meantime, the author’s notes give some background to the books and Angie’s included her recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, a June/July Maine dessert.
Pouncing on Murder by Laurie Cass
Review by Sandra Murphy
Librarian and bookmobile maven Minnie Hamilton, and her sidekick Eddie the Cat, are out delivering books to readers in Chilson, Michigan. Henry Gill is a favorite, although most people think he’s an old grouch. Rumor has it that he was a much nicer man before his wife died. Henry does things his own way and it’s either go along or move along as far as he’s concerned.
When the news comes that Henry’s dead, squashed by a tree while out sugar mapling, Minnie is shocked and saddened. Her friend Irene’s husband, Adam, was with him at the time. As he tried to pull the tree off Henry, Adam had a heart attack. In spite of the pain he was in, he thinks he saw someone leave the scene—not only without helping but maybe because Henry’s death wasn’t an accident.
The police tend to think Adam was seeing things due to the pain but they’ll check into it anyway—just not fast enough to suit Minnie. Rumors are flying that a developer is going to buy Henry’s place and put up condos. Could be a motive there.
While Minnie would much rather investigate, her boss Stephen has dumped a new project on her desk. His author friend will be in town, so why not have a book fair before all the tourists hit town? Oh, by the way, it’s in a few weeks. Flyers, tents, books to gather, vendors to set up, food to arrange, publicity, and more have Minnie on the run. Days in the bookmobile are relaxing by comparison.
When Minnie drops books off at Adam’s house, she finds him at the mailbox. He sensibly drove there from the house since he’s still pretty weak. To their surprise, a car tries to hit him while he’s standing there. A couple of other incidents make Minnie sure Adam is a target. Whether Henry was mistaken for Adam, bundled up as they were for the cold, or if Adam is a second victim-to-be remains to be seen.
If all that’s not enough, there’s a crisis on the personal level too. Tucker, her doctor boyfriend, is away on a two-year fellowship. Every time he’s supposed to come home, there’s an interesting surgery to observe or perform. Of course, Minnie could go there—and do what? Visit with his parents who don’t even read? Not going to happen.
Then there’s Ash, a deputy who’s asked Minnie out twice now. He is awfully cute, but there’s Tucker to consider. Minnie lives on a houseboat and the next slip has a new tenant—very cute but a doctor! Things are going to change, whether Minnie wants them to or not.
The library is a place you could spend any afternoon, using the computers, reading, or getting a recommendation from one of the librarians. If you didn’t feel like going out, Minnie would bring books (and Eddie) to you. Her friend Kristen runs the restaurant and would serve you the best bowl of clam chowder ever, with crème brûlée for dessert. For a small town that supposedly lies dormant until the tourists return, there’s a lot going on.
This is the third book in the series, a true delight, with Cat with a Clue due out next summer. As Eddie would say, until then, mrrr.
Ghost in the Wind: A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery by E.J. Copperman
Review by Cynthia Chow
Alison Kerby would be the first to admit that screening the movie Ghost in her guesthouse’s new movie room was just a little too much on the nose. Ever since receiving a blow to the head, Alison has discovered her family’s inherent talent for both seeing and communicating with spirits from the other side.
It only made sense that she would market her new renovation as a Haunted Guesthouse, with scheduled hauntings and appearances by the willing—if not entirely agreeable—ghosts. Alison’s choice of film was overruled by her two residing haunters, the former (when alive) private investigator Paul Harrison, and his last client, Maxie Malone.
The inaugural viewing of the romantic classic gets preempted by the surprise appearance of Vance McTiernan, lead singer of the 1960s British rock band Jingles… and Alison is his number-one fan. Once Alison’s brain restarts, she learns that Vance has been hanging around the earthly plane determined to prove that the death of his daughter was not due to an allergic reaction but in fact an intentional murder.
In previous cases, it was Maxie who proved to be the self-absorbed irritant frustrating Alison with the ghost’s know-it-all attitude and stubbornness. This time it is Paul who drags his feet, accusing Alison of being blinded by her adoration for the past-his-prime musical god. Not surprisingly, Vance has an ego to match his talent, and his fluctuating disclosures and attitude is frustrating for all. Alison may be new to the private investigation business but she is no pushover, especially with the assistance of her very wise eleven-year-old daughter Melissa, her extraordinarily supportive and adoring mother, and her handy-even-while-a-ghost father.
By this seventh of the series, the author (who also writes under his own name, Jeffrey Cohen), has mastered the art of incorporating paranormal elements into a solidly plotted, completely engrossing practical private investigation mystery. Not to be overlooked is the emotional impact the ghosts have upon the living, especially in Alison’s own family.
The relationships between her family’s three generations are a highlight of the series, as Alison has a refreshingly functional family in the most dysfunctional of situations. Maxie’s sarcasm and the Kerby women’s dry wit supply sharp humor that matches warm and very real sentiments. As Alison more than earns her newly minted private investigator’s license, readers will be rewarded with a novel that delightfully entertains with its depiction of celebrities and fans, the music industry, and businesses where the customer is definitely not always right. An added treat for music aficionados is a music session performed by a fantastic set of artists whose roster must have kept the author up nights imagining the most perfect performance ever.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “mew year,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 9, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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