by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
Starting the year off right with another group of fun Penguin mysteries! And Then You Dye by Monica Ferris, Buttoned Up: A Button Box Mystery by Kylie Logan, Quilt Trip: A Southern Quilting Mystery By Elizabeth Craig, and The Sayers Swindle: A Book Collector Mystery By Victoria Abbott. Info on how to enter to win all of these books at the end of this post.
And Then You Dye By Monica Ferris
Review by Sandra Murphy
Betsy Devonshire is back in the sixteenth book in the Needlecraft Mystery series. This time she’s learning to dye yarns and fabrics with natural ingredients. Hailey Brent is a local dyer who teaches a class at Betsy’s shop, Crewel World. One of the participants is Marge, from the local nursery. It appears there’s no love lost between Hailey and Marge even though–or maybe because–they are neighbors.
It seems Hailey feels artistic license allows her to collect the flowers for her natural dyes wherever she finds them, and that includes stripping flowers from plants for sale in Marge’s nursery! To add insult to injury, Hailey scouts plants at the nursery but buys them online for a slightly cheaper price–nothing like supporting other local businesses!
Hailey’s got a bad habit of repeating gossip too, often to the gossipee (the one who was talked about). That can’t be a good habit to have. When Irene stops by Hailey’s to pick up a custom dyed blend of soy and bamboo yarns, she’s both appalled and a bit thrilled to find Hailey’s body on the workroom floor, shot in the head.
Marge is afraid Sgt. Malloy is looking at her a little too closely, so she asks Betsy to help prove her innocence. Motives (and suspects) abound but are they strong enough for murder? Clues are particularly scarce and the investigation drags on for both Betsy and Sgt. Malloy.
In the end, it’s the smallest things that make all the rest fall into place.
Betsy’s relationship with Connor progresses nicely in this episode. Goddy is back and Raphael has a bigger part than usual–a nice peek into Goddy’s life away from the needlework shop. Annie, the formerly homeless woman Betsy befriended in a previous book, drops by too. Jill and Lars have different opinions as to what should come next in their lives. Lars votes for another baby, a girl again, he thinks. Jill votes for getting her private investigator’s license so she can work part time when their youngest, Eric, goes off to school. Watching Betsy figure out clues has her missing police work, but not enough to take a desk job at the station or enough to go the more dangerous route of going back to patrol work.
The problem with writing sixteen murder mysteries is finding a reason for Betsy, an amateur, to be involved in the investigation and that gets harder and harder to do. I think the next book may show a shift in that area if Jill goes the PI route, so she and Betsy can work at solving cases together, each on a part time basis without killing off characters readers have come to know and love.
At the back of the book, there’s a pattern for Mary Monica’s Argyle Clock Towers and a short story with a twist.
Buttoned Up: A Button Box Mystery By Kylie Logan
Review by Cynthia Chow
One would think that an entirely button-themed art installation by artist Forbis Parmenter would thrill button store owner, Josie Giancola. After all, she left her job as an administrator in insurance to purchase the Button Box in Chicago and become the go-to expert in antique and one-of-a-kind valuable buttons. However, even Josie is disconcerted by Forbis’s obsessive use of buttons to cover items in his Vundon-themed collection, especially when one of the pieces is a huge and frightening statue of Congo Savanne, a petro loa angry spirit. That the gallery is being held in the Chicago Community Church as a benefit, only makes the presentation all the more disconcerting, never the more so when Forbis suddenly bolts from the church in the midst of a ceremony just as he’s adding the final button provided by Josie.
Unable to leave a mystery unsolved, Josie returns to the church the following day to instigate what so upset Forbis, only to discover his body strapped to Congo Savanne with Forbis’s eyes and mouth glued shut with buttons. Josie’s policeman boyfriend, Neville Riley, has no problem consulting with Josie for her button expertise, but she is definitely miffed that he seems to be avoiding the topic she really wants to discuss; the recent appearance of his archaeologist ex-fiancé, especially considering that up until Evangeline Simon’s announcement of her former status, Josie was completely unaware of the woman’s existence.
Normally, I’m not fond of the use of inconvenient exes as convenient plot devices, and in this series Josie’s narcissistic gambling ex-husband, Kaz, has previously been an ever-present complication. Here, though, Evangeline interacts more with Josie than with Nev, and in fact a very attractive British journalist provides his own distraction for Josie and alleviates the continual arguments arising between the couple. When Nev is off on his own, Gabriel Marsh laconically delivers information concerning Forbis, the financial details on the business of art, and the beliefs of the Haitian religion that tells of a cursed Button of Doom.
Despite Nev’s frustrations with Josie’s pursuit into Forbis’s activities and the many fabrications of alibis by the suspects, Josie never displays any lack of common sense or places herself in needless jeopardy. When Gabriel Marsh descends upon Josie’s apartment with the excuse of interviewing her for a story, she has no problem dragging him in from of her ex-cop neighbor, Stan, for a future possible identification and having his unspoken presence sitting, armed, outside her door. It is this sharp writing that displays witty banter between characters while avoiding clichés that allows this series to rise above other crafty, cozy mystery novels. The lore of the Vundon religion and its ties to voodoo make this a fascinating read as well as a fun one, and the ending paves a new path for Josie and her intriguing new adventures.
Quilt Trip: A Southern Quilting Mystery By Elizabeth Craig
Review by Cynthia Chow
Beatrice Coleman knew that crashing the Special Quilt Guild Meeting was a scenario doomed for failure, but even she could not have predicted the levels of disaster to which she would ascend. Dragged along by the relentless force that is quilter Meadow Downey, the pair is on a mission to convince Muriel Starnes that they are ideal candidates to chair her committee granting quilting scholarships. Of course, Beatrice didn’t expect to be joined by another of their quilting guild, especially one who would bring along the uncontrollable, slightly senile and excessively eccentric, Miss Sissy. The elegant Muriel seems surprisingly welcome in allowing them into her gothic mansion however, rather fortunate as South Carolina’s winter weather seemed to be getting more intense by the minute.
The quilting posse is allowed into the mansion not a minute too soon, as a sudden storm with gale-force winds causes trees to fall and barricade the driveway, blocking in their cars and trapping them all inside without cell phone coverage or operating phone lines. Muriel had planned to make a special announcement to her invited quilting guests, daughter, and attorney, but before she can do so she is unsurprisingly (for readers, anyway) discovered dead, and Beatrice can tell that it was not by natural means. Without any way to contact the outside authorities until the storm clears, it is up to the quilting guilt to find the killer before weapons, evidence or suspects go missing.
Craig crafts the perfect traditional locked-in mystery where the suspects, murderer and victims are all trapped together without police or outside communication. As is traditional, there is a plethora of hidden passageways, concealed rooms and even possible ghosts. This is a very character-driven mystery where their quirky flaws can become their greatest strengths. Meadow’s unstoppable optimism and relentless need to be friendly make her an outstanding interrogator, as she has no boundaries or polite inhibitions. Miss Sissy manages to distract the other guests with her rudeness, unapologetic narcissism, and obsession with obtaining her share of the limited food cache, allowing Beatrice the time to uncover Muriel’s and her guests’ secrets. Humorous dialogue and outrageous characters place a twist on the classic mystery scenario and result in a very enjoyable read.
The Sayers Swindle: A Book Collector Mystery By Victoria Abbott
Review by Cynthia Chow
With a Master’s degree in English and massive credit card debt due to her no-good ex-boyfriend, Jordan Bingham is considerably lucky to have embroidered her résumé into a dream job of a position as a researcher in her hometown of Harrison Falls, New York. It’s a job that not only has her living in the historical Van Alst home, but it also includes delectable meals prepared by the Signora Panetone (even if they may have been enhanced by the bounty of zucchini). It would be perfect were Jordan’s employer, Vera Van Alst, not the most hated dowager in town and who revels in attacking those she perceives as weak or beneath her, which happens to be pretty much everyone. After a thief smuggled out many valuable books from Vera’s mystery collection, Jordan’s latest assignment has been to recover missing Dorothy L. Sayers’s first editions.
Unfortunately, Jordan’s best lead on the collection is Karen Smith, owner of the Cozy Corpse bookstore in neighboring Grandville and who unfortunately is still suffering the effects of an attack. Plagued by bouts of amnesia, Karen cannot entirely remember to whom she sold the novels and even when not brain-damaged, her record keeping was relaxed at best. Luckily, a trip to the Antiquarian Book and Paper Fair awakens Karen’s memories and they discover a link to a Craftsman style house in the town of Burton.
With her Uncle Kevin on the run and hiding out with his brothers–who can tolerate him in very limited amounts of time–Jordan plays babysitter and takes him along as they interview the buyer of the Sayers editions and negotiate a trade. However, family members with suspicious motives not only delay the exchange, they disappear entirely.
Shielding her larcenous uncles has always been second nature to Jordan, so she only reluctantly engages the assistance of the infuriating Detective Ted “Smiley” Dekker and the helpful Officer Candy. Much more preferable to Jordan is the inordinately handsome and helpful librarian, Lance the Magnificent, who wields thorough research skills as well as a beautiful head of hair. It is he who most perfectly describes Jordan, whom Lance states embodies the characteristics of Sayers’ heroine Harriet Vine:
“She’s strong, self-made and lost both her parents early on. She falls into bizarre mysteries and gets herself quite the notorious reputation. Brilliant and dangerous all at once.”
While Jordan has no problem with white lies and the occasional fibbing when justified, she is the ostensible “straight” one in a family of con men and scammers. Raised by her beloved uncles, Jordan has been schooled in the arts of lock opening and other deceptive skills. Charmingly for mystery lovers, Jordan has developed a crush on Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’ blond aristocratic fictional detective hero. Just as readers were treated to much lore concerning Agatha Christie in the previous novel, here they will be educated about the long-running series written by one of the world’s greatest mystery writers.
In their follow-up to The Christie Curse, the mother and daughter writing team of Mary Jane and Victoria Maffini continue their series featuring highly sarcastic and acerbic characters. Their dialogue is appropriately hilarious and witty and the heroine never plays victim or behaves foolishly; in fact, when a little devious action is called for Jordan is quite at the ready. This is an extraordinarily unique, funny and sharply written mystery series.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Penguin,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 11, 2014. U.S. residents only.
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