Musical Mysteries at Left Coast Crime

Mar 26, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Pat Browning, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy
& Pat Browning

At this year’s Left Coast Crime I (Lorie Ham) will be part of a panel about Musical Mysteries–all of our mystery novels have a music connection. To help promote our panel here at KRL we have reviews of all of our latest books! Enjoy and come see us at LCC in Sacramento this Friday at 11:30 in the Campagno Room, with a signing immediately afterwards. The panel is made up of myself, Peggy Ehrhart, Bill Moody & Ken Kuhlken.

Got No Friend Anyhow—A Maxx Maxwell Mystery by Peggy Ehrhart
Review by Sandra Murphy

Blues singer Maxx Maxwell is back in the second book of this series. Maxximum Blues has hired Rick Schneider of Prowling Rooster Records to produce their first CD just in time for the music festival tours. When Rick doesn’t show up with the demo, Maxx tries to find him—and does—but in the morgue. The police have somehow decided he’s been pirating CDs and is mixed up with the Russian mob. Maxx knows better. Rick loved music, musicians and was pretty fond of Maxx herself. Working from the premise that Rick wouldn’t cheat musicians, Maxx sets out to find the missing CD and clear Rick’s name.

There’s a nice bit of humor as Maxx takes in the now homeless, Red, Prowling Rooster’s mascot. It’s hard to keep a rooster in a one room apartment.

To further complicate things, Sandy shows up again—he’s Maxx’s former boyfriend who cheated on her (hence the “former”). He wants her back but has to compete with dead Rick to get it. Add in Michael who holds Maxx responsible for the money spent on the missing CD, a rock through the window, a few bullets fired, Rick’s odd business partners and Maxx has her hands full.

Got No Friend Anyhow gives the reader a nice glimpse into the borderline life of musicians—booking gigs, getting shorted on the pay, promoting the band takes as much time as playing and rehearsing. Good characterization brings Maxx and the band, the neighbors, and the neighborhoods to life.

Peggy Ehrhart lives in New Jersey where she plays blues guitar and writes mysteries. Crank up your own blues CD while reading this book—and waiting for the next episode in Maxx’s life and check out the first book in the series, Sweet Man is Gone (2008)

Fade to Blue—An Evan Horne Mystery by Bill Moody
Review by Sandra Murphy

Evan Horne is a really good jazz pianist and a not too shabby detective too—just when he gets pulled into a case, of course. In this seventh book, Evan has been hired to teach actor Ryan Stiles to look like he’s really playing the piano. Evan’s also asked to score the music for the film, a tempting offer. But why aren’t they showing him the script so he can start thinking about the music? One of the most clichéd scripts is presented and Evan wonders why he ever signed on.

After the contracts are signed and money paid, Evan sees the revised script and realizes he’s been had. The real script is the story of the worst time in Evan’s life and now he’s forced to relive it.

Ryan has his own problems. The photographers won’t leave him alone, one in particular. After a very public scene in which Ryan breaks the man’s camera, Ryan goes off on his own—no girlfriend, no driver, no witnesses. A few days later, the photographer’s body is found at the bottom of a canyon. Was it an accident or foul play? Evan is pulled further into Ryan’s life as he tries to figure out what really happened that night.

Another dead body looks like a murder but could have been an accident—who would try to make an accident look like a murder and why? Is Ryan responsible? Can being a person of interest really be good publicity?

Evan is a likable and believable character as is Coop, his policeman friend and his girlfriend Andie (FBI agent). By the time an author gets to book seven, it’s hard to combine backstory enough to bring a new reader up to speed without dumping information by the truckload and boring fans who read books one through six. Moody drops information by the spoonful so the reader has needed information that doesn’t slow the story.

There’s enough information about music and film to give the reader an insider’s look at the business without overloading on details. The background characters of other musicians and film production folks adds to the overall tone the book gives readers.

Fade to Blue shows a nice contrast between Evan, well known within jazz circles but not out of them and Ryan, who is about one layer less famous than Brad, George and Matt. All in all, the book shows it just might be better to be Evan.

Previous Evan Horne books

Solo Hand (1994)
Death of a Tenor Man (1995)
The Sound of the Trumpet (1997)
Bird Lives (1999)
Looking for Chet Baker (2002)
Shades of Blue (2008)

Check out Bill’s website for his bio and where you can hear Moody play

The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles by Ken Kuhlken
Review by Sandra Murphy

Tom Hickey has a lot of responsibilities for a young man. He’s the leader of a small orchestra called Ernestine’s Boys, has a full time job delivering meat to restaurants and stores, and is in charge of his seventeen-year-old wild child sister, Florence.

It’s the 20s and Florence would rather wear a flapper dress and dance than anything else. It’s a worry for Tom—she’s got a stubborn streak he’s afraid she’s inherited from their crazy mother, Milly. Milly’s not ordinary crazy, wear the wrong thing and embarrass your kid crazy. She’s full-blown, lock the kid in the closet naked, or tie him to a post in the yard crazy.

If that’s not enough, Tom finds out a black man who befriended him as a child has been lynched. The newspapers, the police, the black community, all remain quiet except for one man, known only as Socrates. He publishes an underground newspaper. Tom wants to find out who’s responsible, no matter the personal cost.

He’s followed, shot at, beaten, loses his job, and has to face his greatest fear—seeing his mother again. Milly is as crazy as ever. She’s even been kicked out of Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Church.

The background cast of characters shouldn’t work in this story but they do. The reader meets William Randolph Hearst and his movie star girlfriend, Marion Davies, Aimee Semple McPherson during her trial and a variety of politicians and crooked policemen.

One of the things that will catch the reader’s attention is how little money anyone has during the 20s. Tom pays fifty cents for a fine meal, tips a dime, and when he has a dollar, is flush. It’s nice to visit a time when not only are there no cell phones but not every home has a phone, TV, or even a car. In contrast, William Randolph Hearst is building his big mansion by the sea and Milly is sewing red carpet dresses for Marion Davies.

This is the sixth book in the Tom Hickey series, well worth the read. Other titles include The Loud Adios, The Venus Deal, The Angel Gang, The Do-Re-Mi, and The Vagabond Virgins. While you don’t have to start with book one and read them in order, why not? Maybe book seven will be done by the time you are.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra’s short stories on UnTreed Reads including her new one Bananas Foster.

The Final Note, A mystery featuring gospel singing amateur sleuth, Alexandra Walters by Lorie Ham

Review by Pat Browning

From the Prologue: “A maid watched a tall, darkly handsome man crouch down and push something under a room door. He stood up and tipped his hat at her like someone in an old movie; the light bouncing off his ornate ruby ring and bracelet made them sparkle. His smile sent a chill down her spine as he turned around and headed back to the elevator, leaving behind him a faint citrus smell that wafted down the hallway at the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Holiday Inn Express.”

Opening paragraph of Chapter 1:
“Life on the road stinks, I thought as I hit my head against the wall of the bus while trying to sleep in a tiny bunk that forced you to feel every bump in the road. I had been on the road for twenty days. Somehow it just wasn’t what I remembered from when I’d traveled as a kid with my family singing gospel music.”

Alexandra Walters, the gospel singer/amateur sleuth, and her daughter Jessica bounce along in the family tour bus, going from one singing engagement to another. Part of her decision to go on the tour comes from a desire just to get away from her problems back home in Donlyn, California.

Among other things she must decide between two men who love her: Detective Will Knight and Private Eye Stephen Carlucci, son of a retired Mafia don. Adding to her discomfort, she has a stalker. He keeps leaving her notes, apparently knowing as much about her schedule as she does.

But life as a touring gospel singer has lost its charm for her. She muses:
“As a teenager I’d come face to face with the side of gospel music most people never saw. Just like any other profession, it had its share of hypocrites and liars. And there were also older married men being way too friendly with innocent young groupies and other young female singers. … It was hard to be away from one’s family most of the year and fight the loneliness without giving in to temptation.”

In those early years she had fallen in love with Jerry Web but had run for her life. Now they meet again, in Woodland, near Sacramento. Her family group will be singing with his family group at the Woodland Community Church. One more problem she doesn’t need.

Things reach a boiling point in Ayr, a small town near Santa Cruz. Alex meets her stalker – Nicholas Patrese, a Mafia don. Shortly after she storms out of their meeting Patrese is murdered, making Alex the logical suspect, at least in the mind of the local detective, a thoroughly disagreeable man named Marcos. He’s determined to hang the murder on Alex.

Two other characters step to the front: Stephen’s cousin Roxi, who lives in Ayr and has a good handle on events there, and Alex’s brother Tommy, a musician who gets himself appointed as Stephen’s intern. Tommy goes undercover to shadow Patrese’s son Francis, a member of a local band. Muddying the waters further are Patrese’s ex-wife and her current husband, a professional blogger who has gone missing.

Adding to the mix is an apparent “ghost” stalker. Patrese is dead but Alex still has a stalker. Determined to solve the threat once and for all, she recalls the old Sherlock Holmes’s method of detection: Eliminate the possible and no matter how improbable, what’s left is most likely the answer. The ending is surprising and poignant – and inevitable.

I hate to see this series end. I love the characters and hope that author Lorie Ham will bring them back at some later date. Jessica, Alexandra’s small daughter, is enchanting and could star in her own series of children’s books if Ham decided to write such a series.

So come see us at our panel at Left Coast & pick up a copy of our books in the book room!

Pat Browning spent many years in the Valley working at various newspapers. Also a mystery writer, and contributor to our Mysteryrat’s Maze mystery section, and on the editorial staff, you can visit her blog.


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