by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have a fun group of 5 Penguin mysteries from February and March involving food, Ireland (perfect for St. Patrick’s Day), and politics: Scandal in Skibbereen By Sheila Connolly, Books, Cooks and Crooks By Lucy Arlington, Town in a Strawberry Swirl By B. B. Haywood, Iced to Death: A Gourmet De-Lite Mystery By Peg Cochran, and Pearls and Poison: A Consignment Shop Mystery By Duffy Brown. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of them all.
Scandal in Skibbereen By Sheila Connolly
Review by Sandra Murphy
Maura Donovan is starting to get the hang of running Sullivan’s Pub in County Cork, Ireland. Summer tourist season is about to start and she’s hoping travelers will drop in for an authentic pub experience. What she gets though, is Althea Mehlville.
Althea’s gotten wind of a Van Dyke painting, previously unknown. If she can get her hands on it, it could make her career. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one on the hunt for the treasure. Maura doesn’t mind helping out a fellow American but really, Althea could use a Miss Manners refresher course. She’s impatient, has few or no social skills, and well, demanding is a mild word for her attitude. Althea still doesn’t get that blustering has no place with the gentry, even after the door is slammed in her face at the manor house. When the gardener is found dead in the yard, she’s a suspect for his murder–maybe he saw her try to break in to steal the painting.
A nice bit of humor is added when Althea thinks she’s seduced Harry (of the manor) so she can snoop around the house to find the Van Dyke. Much to her embarrassment, she’s caught in the hallway, wearing only Harry’s dress shirt, by none other than the lady of the house herself. To say her second eviction from the house was both forceful and comical would be an understatement.
There are several suspects in the murder of the gardener–the caretakers at the manor, Harry, Althea, the American stranger or the basic unknown assailant, although strangers tend to stand out in this area of the country. Besides the murder, the story lines weave in and out the countryside as Maura visits her elderly friend Bridget Nolan, meets Gillian, Harry, Eveline and there’s a bit of romance in the air as well when Sean Murphy, the local garda, asks Maura out to dinner. In a village as small as this, everyone is bound to know about it and feel free to comment—a change from her anonymity in Boston.
Ireland itself becomes a character as Connolly adds description of the countryside and bits of history throughout the book, without ever doing the dreaded information dump. County Cork is surely a place you’d love to visit and Sullivan’s a great spot for a pint of Guinness and a bit of gossip.
This is the second in the series. The first book, Body in a Bog, was reviewed for KRL. Connelly also writes the Museum Mysteries (four books of which Monument to the Dead was reviewed for KRL) and the Orchard series (seven books).
Books, Cooks and Crooks By Lucy Arlington
Review by Sandra Murphy
Lila Wilkins is a literary agent for the Novel Idea Literary Agency. She’s in Inspiration Valley, North Carolina to set up a cookbook fair, complete with a heated cooking contest for the Taste of the Town festival. Each contestant is sure they’re destined to win. What could go wrong?
Just the introductions of the celebrity chefs is a stressful time as each one manages to direct a few biting comments at the others while extolling their own virtues and fame. It looks to be a challenging weekend for Lila and the other agents. Each chef is to prepare a meal representing lovers in literary history–Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, the Butterfly Lovers–and they have definite ideas as why theirs will work and the others will fail. Joel is particularly sensitive to Klara’s criticism of his spicy food, designed to showcase the passion of the lovers. When her remarks go too far, he leaves the room in a huff.
Lila’s wondering how they’ll all manage to get through the weekend if the welcoming dinner is going this badly already. She soon finds out, dinner was the easy part!
An explosion in the contest kitchen causes an evacuation of the building but once outside, some members of the group are missing. When Joel doesn’t show up, the worst is assumed. One can only hope that the explosion was caused by faulty set up of the gas stove Klara insisted on and not a deliberate act. There are other issues as well. What are the true relationships between the chefs? Are they rivals, lovers or partners in crime? And are they who they say they are?
On the home font, Makayla, barista/owner of the coffee shop downstairs from the agency, has a mystery admirer. He leaves origami notes, filled with poetry and loving comments in her tip jar. Although she’s been on the lookout, she can never catch him in the act. On the other hand, it’s a sweet idea and fun to wonder who it is, for a while anyway.
There’s nice plotting for the characters to work with, interesting sub-plots as well, and enough clues to make your head spin. Lucy Arlington is the pen name for the combined efforts of Ellery Adams and Sylvia May. Adams also writes the Charmed Pie Shoppe mysteries (Peach Pies and Alibis, Pecan Pies and Homicide, Pies and Prejudice reviewed for KRL), the Books by the Bay series and as J. B. Stanley, the Supper Club series. Now she has started the Book Lovers Resort Mysteries.
Although there are no recipes at the back of Books, Cooks and Crooks, readers will enjoy an excerpt from the first Resort book, Murder in the Mystery Suite. Adams’ books always entertain so keeping up with her is the challenge!
Town in a Strawberry Swirl By B. B. Haywood
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s time for the annual Strawberry Festival and everyone is looking forward to eating the ripe, red berries in every form possible. Candy Holliday helps her father run Blueberry Acres farm in Cape Willington, Maine. She also writes, well runs, the local newspaper since the former editor took off for greener pastures. She’s got competition from a local blogger and revenues are down but things are bound to look up, right?
Not after her father finds the body of Miles Crawford in one of the hoop-houses on the town’s largest berry farm. It’s a pick-your-own and wholesale operation so the suspects are many, including her dad. It was his shovel found next to the body, the one with the shovel size imprint on the back of the head.
Figuring out how the shovel got there is another puzzle. It’s like a game of gossip to follow the trail of when it was last seen, who had it and when, how it moved along to the next person and why would anybody want to frame her dad?
As important, why would anyone want to kill Miles? He lived alone, didn’t bother anyone and grew some of the best berries ever eaten. On the other hand, there were rumors that he wanted to sell the farm. What would that mean to the economy of the town? If it was sold as a farm, maybe not so much but if it was for fancy condos and subdivisions, increased taxes and traffic, less quaint and more commercial, well, no one wanted that.
Candy has her hands full with the festival, Mile’s son who hasn’t been in town in years, the ladies against the sale, the blogger, tracking down the shovel and of course, running the paper.
The characters are a lot of fun. Since this is the fifth book in the series, I hope it’s safe to say, there will be more to come. I know I’ll have to get the previous four.
Titles include: Town in a Blueberry Jam, Town in a Lobster Stew, Town in a Wild Moose Chase, and Town in a Pumpkin Bash.
Of course, you can’t have a strawberry themed book without recipes. They include: German strawberry torte, German strawberry apple pancakes, pasta with strawberry, leek and fennel, Key Lime strawberry whipped topping pie, and a gardening tip on raised beds. Also a treat, an excerpt from book six, Town in a Sweet Pickle.
Iced to Death: A Gourmet De-Lite Mystery By Peg Cochran
Review by Cynthia Chow
Benjamin Parker said that “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” If the guest is the self-involved younger sister who has been living at an artists’ commune for the last year, however, it apparently takes four days.
That is the time at which Gia Fitzgerald is told by Pia, slovenly aficionado of junk food, that she has fallen for and calling dibs on bar owner Declan McQuaid, a man who just happens to raise Gia’s own pulse rate despite the fact that she is currently dating the very handsome and very smitten Detective Bill Mertz. As the owner of Gigi’s Gourmet De-Lite, that delivers healthy and delicious meals to the door, perhaps it was the last straw after Pia’s devotion to Twinkies and her inability to pick up her clothes that has Gigi agreeing to help out at a party hosted at Declan’s bar without informing Pia first. That Gigi was also supposed to attend the part as Mertz’s guest does make it a little less easy to justify and a lot more uncomfortable.
Gigi’s assignment as sous chef and on-call waitress was supposed to have been at an engagement party for one of her clients, but Madeline Stone’s future father-in-law and boss at her law firm puts the kabosh on that after he publicly lambasts his son for being a “bloodletter” – surgeon – instead of an attorney. When Gigi discovers Bradley Simpson’s body late after the party, there is no shortage of suspects, but with the weapon identified as an ice pick belonging to Declan…well, Mertz already had a reason to be suspicious of Declan, so now he has evidence for his convictions. Gigi knows that Declan must be innocent, but she finds herself walking a delicate line between her feelings and those of the people she cares for, which include Declan, Mertz, her sorrowful but benefiting client Madeline, and her very resentful sister Pia. If that wasn’t enough, Gigi is also distracted with recording the first radio commercial for her line of frozen food products she recently sold and plans to debut to the world.
Aided by her trusty West Highland companion and food scrap vacuum Reg, Gigi ably navigates through the cutthroat world of law firms and the even more nefarious Simpson family. A drunk wife, a sister with outstanding loans, a resentful son, ambitious attorneys; it’s up in the air just who will prove to be more lethal. Luckily, Gigi will always have her love of healthy and good food to support and comfort her, and the reader is just as fortunate to be able to wallow in the luscious descriptions and recipes.
Gigi’s self-deprecating sense of humor and good nature always entertains, and the twisty plot will keep readers riveted until the end. Also the author of the Sweet Nothings Lingerie Mystery series under the name Meg London, Cochran continues this third in the series with a satisfying end sure to please romantics, foodies, and mystery lovers.
Pearls and Poison: A Consignment Shop Mystery By Duffy Brown
Review by Cynthia Chow
When the political race for alderman is between “Judge Guillotine Gloria” Summerside and Kip “Scumbucket” Seymour, you know that mud is going to get slung and that the campaigns are going to be dirty. However, even Gloria’s daughter Reagan didn’t expect the battle to get lethal. Seymour definitely started the fight, as his down-and-dirty tactics involved a string of attack ads that didn’t even pretend to contain a grain of truth. His accusation that Gloria was a “foodie foe” and proponent of calorie counts on menus and banning fats in restaurants is the final straw that finally pushes the judge over the edge and has her socking him in the jaw, right in front of his campaign headquarters for all of Savannah’s Twitterverse to see.
The timing could have been better, as Reagan’s attempt to smooth the waters and prevent a lawsuit has her discovering Seymour’s body slumped behind his desk. While her Aunt Kiki dances a jig, news spreads that it was most definitely not a natural death and a recovered bottle of poisoned honey bourbon with Mama’s fingerprints leads to the judge’s arrest.
The owner of the Prissy Fox consignment store, Reagan was already teetering on the financial edge and a sullied reputation and loss of business are just as terrifying as having Mama in jail. The latter Reagan attempts to remedy by enlisting the jailhouse protection of a Seventh Street gang leader as well as a madam-turned-funeral home cosmetician. Surprisingly, an assistant with the ability to beautify the formerly living proves helpful in Reagan’s less-than-fully-rational investigation to discover who wanted to either eliminate Seymour or frame the Judge, or both.
In the best of times Reagan has never been the most placid of individuals, so this latest crisis pushes her into over-the-edge recklessness, something not entirely helped out by former Cher roadie Aunt Kiki, golf club-wielding Uncle Putter, or gossip maven and former murder suspect herself Chantilly.
Barely reigning in Reagan’s more destructive impulses is Walker Boone, the conceited, imperious, and highly skilled attorney who cost Reagan most of her finances during her divorce due to an ironclad prenuptial agreement and his competence. The former bad boy and ex-gang member would seem to be an arrogantly officious character were it not for Reagan’s tendency towards irrationality and an overwhelming protectiveness over her family.
This is an insanely humorous world where a police detective is highly cranky due to a recent devotion to the preachings of Dr. Oz (when she isn’t stress-eating donuts), the heroine loses her eyebrows and much of her hair due to an exploding wall, and the third-party candidate for alderman was nominated by his inebriated bar patrons during St. Patrick’s Day. With one of the sanest characters being Reagan’s canine companion Bruce Willis (who is less in need of a leash than his master), readers are sure to be immersed in this outrageously entertaining and hilarious mystery. This third in the series continues to highlight sharp dialogue, eccentric characters, and expand on the mystery that is Walker Boone.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Ireland,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 22, 2014. U.S. residents only.
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