by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we are playing catch-up once again with reviews of mysteries from the last few months, including the paperback release of one book. We have cats, wine, historical mysteries, games and weddings-A Devious Death: A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell, No Escape Claws: A Second Chance Cat Mystery by Sofie Ryan, Seven Deadly Zins: A Wine Country Mystery by Nancy J. Parra, Grand Slam Murders: A Bridge to Death Mystery by R. J. Lee, and Gown With the Wind: A Wedding Planner Mystery by Stephanie Blackmoore. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 books, along with links you can use to purchase them. If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon links at the end of each review.
A Devious Death: A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell
Review by Sandra Murphy
Following the First World War, change is in the air. Some embrace it, some resist, whether gentry or servant. Lady Phoebe is an unconventional woman, enjoying more freedom than many young women but still expected to make a good match by marrying a wealthy man. It’s important to not only maintain the family fortune but to add to it.
Her lady’s maid, Eva, also has more freedom than most. Servants are generally treated as invisible. They keep the house clean, put food on the table, and keep the Lady’s clothing in perfect condition. Eva and Phoebe go beyond that relationship and are friends.
Even though Cousin Regina’s new home isn’t that far away, an extended visit requires trunks of clothing, a lady’s maid, and two cars (one for the Ladies, one for the maids). Upon arrival, they are astonished to see there’s only a cook and a maid in service. Regina doesn’t even have a maid! Her friend Olive is also a guest and a great influence on Regina.
Regina inherited her father’s estate, must to the dismay of the rest of the family. When they appear at Regina’s door, lawyer in tow, she’s tempted to send them packing. Convinced to let them stay, the evening is filled with arguments. Before Phoebe and Julia can tastefully return to their home, Regina is found dead. It’s apparent that the killer is someone who was in the house. In other words, family, servant, Olive, or the lawyer.
Phoebe and Eva have been involved in a murder investigation before. Since the police say they can’t leave, they look for motives and opportunity. A second death rules out a suspect but ramps up the tension.
This is the third book in the series. Phoebe has definite opinions but is aware of what’s expected of her. Eva is devoted, the feeling mutual. A budding romance between Miles, the police constable, and Eva is a nice contrast to the murders. The gentry often forget—servants know all their secrets. And secrets will come out.
Maxwell also writes the Gilded Newport mysteries (4), reviewed at KRL. Her research into language, setting, relationships between servants and those who employ them must be extensive but never detracts from the story. The killer’s identity left me guessing although I did spot one significant clue. Although the setting is many years ago, readers will find people aren’t all that different, then or now.
No Escape Claws: A Second Chance Cat Mystery by Sofie Ryan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Sarah Grayson runs Second Chance, a shop that refurbishes, recycles, and repurposes old furniture, glassware, and oddities. Teacups become a home for tiny plants and small buckets are wrapped in old maps to become eye-catching catchalls. Mac, Sarah’s right-hand man, is out of town and sorely missed. In the meantime, Rose, Mr. P, Charlotte, Liz, Avery, Nick and Liam are keeping everything running, although it may be a bit of an exaggeration to say running smoothly.
Rose, Charlotte, Liz, and Mr. P are seniors. Mr. P got his private investigators license and is mentoring Rose so she can get hers. They call themselves Angels, a play on Charlie’s Angels. Sarah, her brother Liam, and their friend Nick, cringe every time the Angels take on a case.
This time, a former student asks for help to prove her father didn’t kill her stepmother. He put up no defense and is now in prison. The girl is sure he’s innocent. Taking on what looked to be an open and shut case is more of a challenge than usual.
Additionally, Liz and Sarah are investigating possible fraud. Liz’s family set up a charitable foundation years ago, and there are financial discrepancies. A man was jailed for it, but they believe he was innocent. Several of the people involved have died (natural causes), making it that much harder to solve.
In the case of the murder, there are a few suspects, but the husband is always the most likely. The more the Angels snoop, the weaker his motive becomes, but who else would want her dead?
Sarah has a wonderful relationship with friends who are much older. Often, she is the one who advises caution as they interview witnesses, confront suspects, and follow clues. Avery, Liz’s creative teenage granddaughter, works in the shop.
Scattered throughout the story are ideas for displaying collectibles, freshening old items, and sharing what you don’t need with those who do. The mysteries are good, and in this one, two in one with both the fraud and the murder to solve. Of course, readers always look forward to scenes with Elvis the cat. He tags along to the shop or on buying missions, often expressing his own opinions, and he’s always right. After all, he’s a cat.
This is a favorite series for me. I love the mix of characters, from seniors to teens. Their camaraderie brings me back time and again.
This is the sixth book in the series. Once you’ve read one, you’ll want to read them all. Ryan, writing as Sofie Kelly, also writes the Magical Cats mysteries (9), featuring Hercules and Owen.
Seven Deadly Zins: A Wine Country Mystery by Nancy J. Parra
Reviewed by Sandra Murphy
In Sonoma wine country, Taylor O’Brien runs a tour company. Combining a taste for wines, with a sense of adventure, she leads groups on hikes, serves a picnic, and fills in at her aunt’s seances at their winery. A rival tour company seems to be everywhere. Taylor will have to ramp up her business to stay in business.
When she brings a group of investors to her friend Tim Slade’s winery, Tim shows the visitors how the grape-y mix is stirred twice a day. No one expected to see a dead man float to the top of the vat. Tim is an obvious suspect since it’s his winery. Taylor feels compelled to help find out what really happened.
Tim’s girlfriend, Mandy, is pretty much an airhead so she’s no help. Mandy is a wannabe famous actress and totally into following a guru named Dr. Brinkman. Oddly, no one can find information on him dating farther back than two years.
When the doctor is found dead, Tim standing over the body, things go from bad to really bad. Jail is especially hard on Tim, a germaphobe. Taylor’s aunt is kidnapped, forcing Taylor to step up the investigation in order to free them both.
Full of twists and turns, red herrings, and less than truthful witnesses, readers will be kept guessing until the end. I enjoy Taylor’s aunt, a woman who seldom shows her age. Cammie, Taylor’s puppy, is a treat. The seances might be hokey, but they’re entertaining to both the guests and the reader. This is a series that will delight for years to come.
This is the second in the series. Parra also writes the Perfect Proposal mysteries (3) and Baker’s Treat books (3). Find recipes for Tandoori Chicken and Fun and Easy Homemade Fudge, plus a listing of cheeses and desserts that pair well with zinfandels at the back of the book.
Grand Slam Murders: A Bridge to Death Mystery by R. J. Lee
Review by Sandra Murphy
In a small town in southern Mississippi, four ladies make up the Rosalie Bridge Club and the infamous Gin Girls. There’s a saying in Rosalie, if your parents haven’t introduced you to liquor by age fifteen, they’re not good parents. As teens, the Gin Girls raided the liquor cabinet, got sick on gin, and decided to conquer it. Their motto is to raise hell.
The four remained friends through marriages, children, widowhood, and advancing age, playing bridge the entire time. Their games at Liddy’s house are always served by Merleece. Liddy is bossy, overrides the decisions of others, and never hesitates to let her opinion be known. Still, the Gin Girls are legendary in Rosalie and that gives them a lot of leeway.
The day they met to learn a new approach, in hopes of winning a bridge tournament, the plan was to have a nice lunch, toast the club for luck, then play practice hands. That didn’t happen, Instead, the four toasted, took big sips of their perfect temperature coffees, and died at the luncheon table.
Cyanide was found in the sugar bowl. Merleece and Arden the gardener were on hand at the time of death. Although the ladies had enemies, none had been in Liddy’s house.
Wendy is a writer for the local paper, specializing in announcements about engagements and baby showers. Her dream is to become an investigative journalist. It’s possible she inherited her knack for solving puzzles from her dad, the police chief. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also dating the lead detective on the case. Although she isn’t on the crime beat, she has a unique approach for articles, in hopes of solving the case.
So, who killed the Gin Girls?
This is the first in a new series. Lee has a deft touch with details, sharing just enough to bring the characters to life, without distracting from the story. Subplots are invisibly woven into the tale. Wendy and her boss, her dad, the detective, Merleece, and Arden, are all distinct characters, people you’d like to know.
Except Arden. He’s weird.
Although I did pick up on one important clue, I was way off in determining the killer and the motive. I like Wendy in particular for her skill at planning ahead, knowing what she wants, and how to get it. I know nothing about bridge but that wasn’t a problem. Readers are told just as much as they need to know without cluttering the book with unnecessary explanations.
I look forward to the next book and can only hope Merleece will share her recipe for Applesauce Pie.
Gown With the Wind: A Wedding Planner Mystery by Stephanie Blackmoore
Review by Cynthia Chow
Wedding planner Mallory Shepard really has no one to blame but herself. If she wasn’t so nice and wasn’t such a good person, not only would Mallory not be planning and hosting the wedding for her ex-fiancé, she wouldn’t be forced into dealing with the obnoxious demands of her near-mother-in-law. Helene Pierce’s obnoxious meddling in Mallory’s failed wedding still gives her nightmares, and it was an experience she generously hoped to spare the new fiancée Becca.
Unfortunately a blizzard foiled their secretive plans, and as a result Becca’s Japanese cherry-blossom-themed wedding is now becoming an over-the-top extravaganza. With Becca being the reason that Mallory never walked down the aisle in the first place, she is genuinely surprised to find that she actually like’s the bride’s family. So when Becca’s grandmother is attacked and her valuable Gone with the Wind memorabilia collection believed to be the cause behind it, Mallory finds herself pressured into mounting in less than two weeks a now Southern-themed wedding in honor of Alma Cunningham. Third times the charm and getting paid triple her normal fees certainly helps, but Mallory also has her hands full with a baby shower and Mother’s Day tea.
Like Mallory, readers will alternatively feel resentment, frustration, sympathy, and pity for the tempestuous Becca. While it’s impossible not to empathize with the bride as her wedding plans are completely upended by her mother-in-law, it’s not like Becca’s a sweetheart herself. Yet Mallory somehow finds herself determined to deliver the wedding of Becca’s dreams, protect the Cunningham family, and solve the murder that seems motivated by a missing bell-skirted wedding gown. The last-minute complication further throws everything off the rails, and Mallory’s not sure whether to be relieved that she’s off the hook or even more resolved to see her clients’ in wedding bliss.
The real fun of the novel comes with shenanigans of the wedding party members who seemed determined to upend Mallory’s meticulously organized plans. Revolving wedding themes, ordered and just as quickly discarded menus, and even venues are shuffled in and out much to Mallory’s despair. What is impressive is how quickly Mallory rolls with the punches and finds creative solutions, especially considering how irritating and annoying the bride and groom may be. Perhaps that is why Mallory finds herself questioning the entire institution of marriage, or at least how it pertains to her own relationship with boyfriend Garrett. Malloy’s business partner sister seems the most determined to have Garrett “put a ring on it,” a thought that only inspires panic and fear in Mallory. Readers will be genuinely invested in finding out whether Mallory regains her faith in her own future as a bride, succeeds in giving Becca the wedding she wants but doesn’t deserve, and of course catches a killer.
Also readers are treated to easy-to-follow recipes for Cherry Almond Cake with Cherry Icing and Pecan Cookies.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “end of february,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 2, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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