by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we are reviewing four more Penguin mysteries, some with a touch of the supernatural, & giving away copies of all of them-details at the end of the post! First we have a review of Chance of A Ghost: A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery by E.J. Copperman, Knot What It Seams by Elizabeth Craig, One Hot Murder by Lorraine Bartlett and Veiled Revenge: A Crime of Fashion Mystery By Ellen Byerrum.
Chance Of A Ghost: A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery By E.J. Copperman
Review by Cynthia Chow
Even while busy running a New Jersey guesthouse that features regular haunted appearances for guests, Alison Kerby can’t help but notice that her mother has been hiding secrets. When pressed, Loretta Kerby makes a shocking disclosure; first, she has been seeing a man every Tuesday for the past several years, and second, that man is Alison’s father. This shocks Alison to the core for many reasons, but mostly because Jack Kerby has tragically been dead for five years. All of the Kerby women have the abilities of seeing and communicating with ghosts to varying degrees, but the most hurtful limitation for Alison has been her inability to see her father. Unfortunately she now is not the only one, as her mother confesses that Alison’s father has missed their scheduled meeting and seems to be missing. Another ghost living in Loretta’s home, the dubiously named Lawrence Laurentz, claims to have knowledge of Jack’s location but demands a price for his aid. Namely, that Alison must use her newly gained private investigator’s license to investigate his death by toaster.
While Alison has doubts about the overly dramatic ghost’s proclamations, her two ghostly roommates are more than willing to dive into the investigation. Paul Harrison, deceased private investigator, and his last living client, the now similarly deceased budding interior decorator Maxie Malone, reside in Alison’s guesthouse under the agreement to make periodic hauntings for guests who specifically signed on for the special amenities. However, being unable to leave the guesthouse has Paul bored and always eager to play Nero Wolfe to Alison’s Archie Goodwin.
Alison, along with her best friend and new overprotective helicopter mother to baby Oliver, soon discover that Laurence is a less than forthright client, as he seems to have no shortage of acquaintances who are shedding no tears over his death. He snitched on a coworker at the theater ticket counter where he last was employed, and the New Old Thespians acting troupe of seniors all considered Laurence to be disagreeable, demanding, and untalented. Only his continual declaration and possible proof of a connection to Jack spur Alison and her gang to continue investigating what the police do not even consider to be an unnatural death.
With a sarcastic tongue, a tendency to roll eyeballs at the over-the-top antics of her friends, and an always realistic assessment of her qualifications as a private investigator, Alison proves to be a highly relatable and completely enjoyable heroine. Her ten year old daughter Melissa behaves like a tween and manages to balance out the extremely immature and highly hormonal ghost Maxie who revels in any opportunity to annoy or embarrass Alison. Fans of this fourth Haunted Guesthouse Mystery will also appreciate the appearance of a suitor for Alison who hopefully is neither a murderer nor dead.
Copperman, who also authors the Double Feature movie theater mysteries under his real name Jeffrey Cohen, continues to share his extensive knowledge of show business and the eccentric characters who populate it. This is a completely entertaining mystery full of humor with absolutely charming and likable characters and a plot that flies at full speed. Copperman writes dialogue that bites with sharp wit but never sacrifices its heart through Alison’s loving family and friends. Even with loads of sarcasm and cutting humor, at the center is a tale that always highlights the love and affection of the characters.
Knot What It Seams by Elizabeth Craig
Review by Sandra Murphy
Beatrice Coleman retired from her hectic job as curator for a folk art museum. Life in Dappled Hills, North Carolina sounded relaxing. It’s anything but. Her next door neighbor, Meadow is married to the police chief, Ramsey, who’d rather read Thoreau and write poetry than investigate crimes. Meadow is head of the Village Quilters, a group that first formed in the 1800s. She’s afraid that membership is down and the group will fade away. In an attempt to gain new members (that is, poach them from the other quilting group, the Cut-Ups), Meadow offers membership to Jo, an avid quilter and often a judge at quilt shows. Jo is happy to accept and everyone looks forward to the upcoming show.
Instead murder ruins the day. Tragic as it seems, no one will really miss the victim. When a second murder takes place, the victim is sincerely mourned. Beatrice worries that the murderer won’t be caught at all. Meadow worries that the guild members are being picked off one at a time.
Beatrice is a good main character. She’s thoughtful and sensible, a good foil for Meadow who is funny but rather scattered and certainly single-minded where quilting and romantic fix-ups are concerned. Posy is a great side character as owner of the fabric shop in town. Miss Sissy is Southern Crazy at its best, driving on the sidewalks and across lawns, fading in and out of reality and dropping by to eat neighbors out of house and home.
The identity of the murderer didn’t surprise me but there are enough good suspects that it wasn’t obvious either. Could it be the hen-pecked husband, the mayor with a secret, jealous quilters, or the volunteer coordinator who works a little too closely with a victim’s husband?
There are gardening tips and quilting tips. And there are two dogs—Beatrice’s Corgi, Noo-Noo and Boris, the Great Dane/Newfoundland/Corgi? who lives with Ramsey and Meadow but eats and naps at Beatrice’s, much like Miss Sissy.
And since Meadow is a great cook, there are recipes. This is the second book in the series (first is Quilt or Innocence). I’m looking forward to the third installment, coming in late 2013. Elizabeth Craig also writes the Memphis BBQ series as Riley Adams.
Recipes include: Southern Spoon Bread, Cucumber Dip, Apple Torte, Olive Hors D’oeuvres, and King Midas Chicken. Learn more on her website.
One Hot Murder by Lorraine Bartlett
Review by Sandra Murphy
Katie Bonner is the owner and manager of Artisans Alley in Victoria Square. She’s also president of the merchant’s association. If she’d realized how much of her time would be spent in settling minor disagreements, listening to vendors gripe and worrying about money, she’d have rethought the whole thing. Come to think of it, it wasn’t her idea to start with. Her late husband, Chad, used their savings to buy the Alley without telling her. Now she’s apparently stuck with it when her heart and passion is across the street in the form of a broken down old home that would make a perfect B&B.
Since the merchants are all busy in December, they have their annual holiday party in July—in spite of the 90+ degree days that never seem to end. Add in a poor air conditioning system in the Alley that leaves some vendors freezing while others nearly pass out from the heat and Katie’s own sweltering apartment above the pizza parlor her boyfriend Andy owns, and it’s a wonder there’s only one murder.
First, Wood U, the woodworking store in the Square, caught fire. Was it an accident or arson? When the flames die down, a body is discovered, too badly damaged to identify. It’s not from the fire though but the gunshot…
Katie has helped the police whether they wanted her to or not in a couple of previous cases, including the death of her husband. Detective Ray Davenport was none too happy about it but for this case he’s actually seeking her help? And smiling? This is a definite turn of events for Katie. Andy has a vested interest in this case too. All this encouragement to snoop is a little unsettling.
The merchants of Victoria Square are good side characters, people you’d like to know and shops you’d love to visit. The squabbles stay small and probably wouldn’t be enough to argue about except for the unrelenting high temperatures.
Katie is a likeable person, in a relationship that works for her, and learning who she is in her current circumstances. It’s dream vs. reality and how to compromise—a hard lesson to come to terms with but she does manage.
Detective Davenport is also an interesting guy—retiring from the police department and not exactly sure of what comes next, although he does have plans in place. I foresee a learning curve in his future too.
Delightful neighbors across the street, a great diner to go to and cool off while eating good food— add couple of goofy characters, just to round out this good read.
Previous books in this series are:
A Crafty Killing
The Walled Flower
Veiled Revenge: A Crime of Fashion Mystery By Ellen Byerrum
Review by Cythnia Chow
With her always dramatic best friend and hair stylist Stella Lake as the soon-to-be bride, maid of honor Lacey Smithsonian planned a preemptive strike to do all she could to tone down the upcoming Cherry Blossom-themed wedding with a bachelorette party sans strippers, tissue paper veils, or embarrassing games. Instead, Lacey chose to have their psychic friend Marie Largesse tell good fortunes for the guests and keep the theme classy and light. What Lacey couldn’t predict was for Marie to bring along a magic and possibly haunted shawl, one that would bring good fortune to lovers but curse anyone who insulted it. Lacey’s good intentions further spiral downward when the groom and “best” man secretly try to spy on the party while Stella’s nemesis and former employee, the flamboyant hair stylist Leonardo, crashes the event and insults the shawl. When Lacey learns the following day that Leonardo was just discovered dead from a probable poisoning, the next item on her agenda is to prevent the hysterical bride from canceling her wedding while fending off Stella’s passive-aggressive and doomsaying family. What Lacey definitely does not plan on doing is investigating the death or reporting on it for her Fashion Crimes column of the Washington D.C. newspaper, “The Eye Street Observer.”
Unfortunately, with Stella refusing to go through with the wedding unless Lacey can prove that the shawl has not cursed the upcoming marriage, Lacey is forced to accept that her maid of honor duties include tracing the history of the “killer” shawl as well as figuring out a way to transform the bride’s now-hated gown into less of a Say Yes To The Dress and more of a work of art worthy of the leather and miniskirt wearing bride.
Love is in the air, as not only are the annoying newspaper food editor Felicity Pickles and death-and-dismemberment reporter Harlan Wiedemeyer wallowing in engagement bliss, but Lacey and her hunky detective Vic Donovan are keeping their own engagement a secret from everyone. While attempting to shield herself from the overwhelming bridezilla duties that involve candy boxes, a castle cake, and pink dresses, Lacey researches the history of charmed fashion through the Smithsonian (no relation) Museum Nation’s Attic and other institutions unique to the Capitol. Always aiding and distracting Lacey are her best friend attorney Brooke Barton and her paramour, conspiracy theorist and founder of Deadfed website Damon Newhouse. An all too real near miss on the group of friends has Vic assigning Lacey a personal protection agent, and soon Lacey is in the midst of bridal wear, Russian spies, and unstable bridesmaids.
True to Lacey’s declarations to mostly stay out of the investigation, much of the plot focuses on her attempts to mediate between the bride and her family while doing all she can to keep Stella from canceling the wedding altogether. Lacey’s search for the elusive shawl has her discovering a truly fascinating history of Russian espionage and intrigue in America, all the while exploring and highlighting the truly unique aspects of Washington D.C. The Fashion Bites articles Lacey scribes are always a delight (never wear white even if the bride herself is not) and the humor of Lacey’s eccentric friends ensure for a fun and always enjoyable read. Even non-fashionistas will find much to love about this series, although Lacey and her aunt’s vintage collection of patterns and unfinished pieces allow for vivid and detailed descriptions of classic clothing. In the ninth Crime of Fashion Mystery the former D.C. reporter Byerrum continues to highlight the city she obviously loves and reveals the true power of good fashion. An intriguing plot, fun but never too insane characters, and a likable and admirable heroine all combine to create a charming and well-crafted mystery.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 of these Penguin mysteries, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Penguin 4”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 9, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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