by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have another fun catch up group of mysteries published over the last few months-Absence of Alice: A Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery by Sherry Harris, Murder Comes to Call: A Beryl & Edwina Mystery by Jessica Ellicott, Murder is in the Air by Frances Brody, and Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door by Barbara Ross (Barnes and Noble exclusive). Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books and links to purchase them at the end of each review–you may not be able to see the Amazon links if you have ad blocker on.
Absence of Alice: A Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery by Sherry Harris
Review by Sandra Murphy
Want to have a garage sale but don’t want to do all the work of researching items, tagging, setting up, negotiating, and dealing with the leftovers? Then hire Sarah Winston. It’s a job she’s good at, and she’ll take care of all the details.
Sarah’s landlady, neighbor, and good friend, Stella, is off to California to do a play. Stella is an opera singer who’s been off the stage for a while. On the day Stella was supposed to have left town, Sarah gets a phone call that says Stella has been kidnapped. Sarah will be given clues to find her, be penalized for any mistakes, or rewarded for successful answers. Sarah is not to go to the police, her DA boyfriend, or sometimes neighbor, Mike, who may or may not be connected to the mob.
Sarah’s first clue leads her to a vacant store—vacant except for the body of a woman who is dressed as Alice in Wonderland. Sarah has to report finding the body which costs her twelve hours of time shaved off the kidnapper’s deadline.
Phone calls and short notice tasks by the kidnapper keep Sarah hopping, in addition to her garage sale work. After all, s/he wants Sarah to keep up appearances. To complicate matters, Mike is staying in the apartment across the hall and suspects something’s up. Sarah’s boyfriend Seth has bodyguards. Sarah’s faking text message to Awesome, Stella’s cop boyfriend, to keep the kidnapping quiet, while trying to solve the puzzle.
Harriet, who sometimes works with Sarah, is a former FBI hostage negotiator. She’s not on the list of people Sarah’s not to talk to and is willing to help. The question remains, will they be able to find Stella in time?
This is book nine in the popular series. Harris edges toward thriller status but achieves a delicate balance with suspense rather than a thriller’s often high body count. Readers will keep turning the pages to see how Sarah handles this latest challenge. She’s been in business for two years now. It’s refreshing to follow a woman who is emerging from a life she thought she’d always have and is now discovering the life she wants. This series always lands on my Best Of list.
Harris also writes the Sea Glass Saloon mysteries where Chloe is transplanted from Chicago’s winters to the Florida Panhandle’s heat. From Beer to Eternity (excerpted at the back of the book) was reviewed for KRL Look for A Time to Swill, coming in July.
Murder Comes to Call: A Beryl & Edwina Mystery by Jessica Ellicott
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s time for the census to be taken, but the Walmsley Parva villagers aren’t sure what the government intends to do with the information. The man who delivers the forms to each house is willing to explain, but distrust is still evident.
A series of burglaries has the villagers on edge, too. Most never lock their doors, and now, looking for someone to blame, they are focused on Declan O’Shea, new to town and Irish to boot. Beryl believes he’s innocent; Edwina is willing to be convinced.
Then the worst happens—the completed census forms are stolen. Beryl and Edwina’s firm, Private Enquiry Agents, is hired to find the forms, without letting anyone know they’ve gone missing. While they’re investigating, another burglary occurs, but this time, the owner was home and is found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Was it murder or an accident? Beryl and Edwina feel the theft of the census forms, the burglaries, and the unexplained death are all connected. Now to prove it—to do so, they are forced to work with Constable Doris Gibbs who is none too pleased about it either.
This is the fourth book in the series (previous three were reviewed for KRL). Beryl and Edwina have taken the former gardener as a silent partner in their detection agency after he inherited money and business of his own. Thanks to him, they also have a maid to care for household chores. Edwina has been forced to face established behaviors and realize they no longer have any meaning. Beryl, used to fame and constant excitement, has found she quite enjoys life in a small town, at least as long as they are paid to snoop and solve crimes. Life after WW1 may be slower than we experience now, but there’s no end of excitement when Beryl and Edwina are involved. Beryl and Edwina never fail to deliver a rollicking good read.
Murder is in the Air by Frances Brody
Review by Sandra Murphy
Kate Shackleton is a private detective at a time when most women don’t work outside the home. Jim Sykes is her investigator/partner. Set in 1930, North Yorkshire, England, their newest case involves a brewery in trouble and an owner who doesn’t want to admit it. Old accounts have switched to new vendors, the heir apparent hasn’t returned from an extended tour of foreign breweries, and there are discrepancies in funds.
Sykes is more suited to the work of following the money since the brewery’s owner is rather old-fashioned. Kate focuses on other aspects, such as the contest for Queen of the Breweries. Ruth, who works in the payroll department, has done well so far and hopes to win. If so, she’ll be able to travel throughout England, win prize money, and be away from her father for at least six months. Ruth’s mother had run away years before because she was beaten and sure she’d be killed if she stayed.
When a beloved employee is killed in a seeming hit and run, it’s soon determined to be murder or at least manslaughter. Kate can investigate the murder as Sykes follows the money. While there are obvious suspects, they have alibis, so Kate must dig deeper. With the added help of Mrs. Sugden, her housekeeper, and Harriet, her niece, along with Sergeant Dog, their bloodhound, the case is bound to be solved.
This is book twelve of the popular series. Kate is a shrewd investigator, a perfect match for Sykes’ style of fact-finding, and she knows when to be subtle and slightly manipulative to get male clients to see what is needed. I thoroughly enjoy learning more about her with each book. She sets a good example for Harriet, a smart girl who picks up on clues no one else may notice. Mrs. Sugden is more than a housekeeper, often helping by talking to others household staff to find out what goes on behind closed doors.
At a time when the war is finally over, horse drawn deliveries are converting to delivery vans, and women are beginning to be seen as more than decorative wives or servants, Kate’s ability to move among the gentry or lower classes, businesses and homes, is a valuable trait indeed. I look forward to their next adventure, especially if Sergeant Dog plays as important a role as this time out.
Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door by Barbara Ross
Review by Cynthia Chow
Jane Darrowfield found that taking early retirement and moving to West Cambridge, Massachusetts, left her with too much time on her hands and bored out of her mind. It didn’t take long before her inherent ability to solve other people’s problems led her to create her own paid business as Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody. What is a surprise is that her first meeting with new neighbor Megan Larson is as a possible client. Megan fears that like her own mother, she is slowly going crazy with lights going on and off around her house and inexplicable temperature changes. Megan wants to keep any investigation on the down-low, as she is up for partnership at her law firm and any whisper of psychiatric problems would jeopardize her chances. Even Megan’s smart-home, elaborate new security system can’t protect the beautiful young woman though, as she suddenly vanishes without sign of violence.
Megan recently ended a long-term relationship with an ex-boyfriend, and her experiences with online dating has been less than successful. While Jane’s personal delving into the latter yielded far happier results, Megan’s run of losers only resulted in disappointment and possible stalkers. A less-dire but equally important case for Jane comes in a dispute over the ownership of a roaming house cat, whom everyone but the purported owners know cannot truly be owned. As the case of Megan Larson’s disappearance becomes a media event, Jane inches closer to discovering if Megan ran off on her own, suffered a breakdown, or was the victim of an devious gaslighter.
Jane Darrowfield is not your typical retiree, choosing instead to go full-throttle into another career as an unofficial private investigator. Being a busybody means that she doesn’t have to get an actual investigator’s license, and it also means that she can very stealthily sneak past those who are lulled in by her unassuming appearance. As she builds this new life, she learns not only to let herself love again, but to accept that she’s worthy of it despite a previous bad marriage and estrangement from her son. Seeing her resolve that relationship give readers something to look forward to as they anticipate the next of this engaging, unique, very empathetic mystery series. The weighty emotional beats are as genuine as the low-key humor and observations, making this a smart and cleverly crafted mystery.
This is a Barnes and Noble exclusive and can be purchased here.
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 “garage sale” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 23, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT MAY TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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