by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have 4 more fun March Penguin mysteries-Suspendered Sentence by Laura Bradford, Ladle to the Grave by Connie Archer, Murder She Wrote: Aloha Betrayed by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain, and Assault and Pepper: A Spice Shop Mystery by Leslie Budewitz. Details on how to win a copy of all 4 at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase the books.
Suspendered Sentence By Laura Bradford
Review by Sandra Murphy
Claire Weatherly is working herself to a frazzle. Her shop sells Amish wares and is doing well. That’s not the problem. Esther, who worked for her, has married. Amish women do not work outside the home once they marry, and Claire can’t bear to replace her. On the other hand, working too many hours is taking all the fun out of running the shop. On top of that, she helps her Aunt Diane at her bed and breakfast. The other complication is: Claire worries. A lot. About things she can’t change and about those she can.
Jakob is her romantic interest. Benjamin, too, but he’s been reduced to friend status since an Amish cannot marry an English (non-Amish) without being shunned by the community. Claire has seen the effect of shunning on Jakob, who left the Amish to become a police officer. It’s awkward when he has to investigate problems with the Amish. As relatives and former friends, they cannot speak to him or acknowledge his existence. As a police officer, they cannot ignore him. Claire often helps smooth the way for both parties.
When the Stoltzfus barn burns to the ground, Claire is amazed to see the Amish come together to build a new one in less than a week. It would have been only a few days but for the bones uncovered during the build.
Rumspringa is a time in an Amish teen’s life when he or she can go to live among the English and experience an English lifestyle. If the teen chooses to remain, it is accepted as God’s will. Most return, but Sadie Lehman was one who didn’t. Actually, it’s not that she didn’t return, but rather that she never left—the bones are hers, buried just inside the family’s property line.
Jakob must solve the cold case in spite of the fact that two of Sadie’s friends won’t talk to him. A third, Jakob’s former love, died in an accident. They’d all made friends with a boy from town, who is next in line to be mayor. Questions could get tricky.
As Jakob sifts through the facts, Claire searches her own feelings in regard to their relationship. She now has help at the store, thanks to Esther’s intervention. The new girl is on her own Rumspringa, and Claire worries about her, too.
My only complaint about the book is that Claire worries about anything and everything, enough to keep her awake at night. Sometimes it’s a stretch to see why she’s so concerned. When she worries and tries to talk about it, she whispers. I’m hoping she’ll continue to relax as she comes to terms with her life.
There are three previous books in the series: Hearse and Buggy, Assaulted Pretzel, and Shunned and Dangerous. I’ve enjoyed all three as much as I did this one. I’m looking forward to reading more about Claire and Jakob as their relationship grows. I recommend reading them in order. All were reviewed for KRL.
Ladle to the Grave by Connie Archer
Review by Sandra Murphy
When a women’s group started to meet at the local library, it seemed like a good idea. Of course, nothing remains that simple. Cordelia Rank is someone who has to be in charge so when she says it would be fun to celebrate Beltane Eve, a pagan festival, with a celebration in the woods, everyone goes along.
It is kinda fun too—until Agnes drinks the herbed wine and falls dead. The question is—could anybody have tampered with the wine or herbs? The answer seems to be no. That puts the blame squarely on Jack. He’s foraged for years and is sure, almost certain, that he couldn’t have made a mistake. His eyesight isn’t what it used to be but water hemlock has a distinctive color and he sure couldn’t have made a mistake like that. Or could he?
Lucky is his granddaughter. She owns the local restaurant where they both work. Although the food is good, soup is the specialty. When Jack’s unable to face people at the restaurant, Lucky steps up to investigate on her own.
The dead woman’s husband shows up wherever Jack is—at the restaurant, his home, in town—just to intimidate. In spite of warnings to stay away, it seems his anger over losing his wife just won’t let him. Agnes was a bland sort of woman. It’s hard to imagine she had any enemies. It’s possible that she wasn’t the intended victim.
Sophie and Sage are getting married though and that will take everyone’s mind off the death, if just for a little while. They have in mind a small ceremony, just a couple of close friends. The town has other ideas. Everyone thinks they’re invited. The wedding is growing like crazy and Sophie’s on the edge.
Sophie wants her brother to respond to the email she sent about the wedding. She and Sage want to buy out Rick’s share in the family home so they can renovate it and live there. Sophie loves the fireplace her grandfather made from river rocks. Showing it to Lucky, she gets her hands all sooty. Since services are cut off in the house, she goes to the creek behind the house to wash her hands. Her screams are enough to bring Lucky running.
The body of a dead guy is in the creek, caught on a branch. He’s battered beyond recognition and has no ID. When there’s only one person missing from the Lodge, it’s assumed they’re one and the same. His name? Rick.
Sophie is sorry of course but since she hadn’t seen her brother in years, not especially grief-stricken. The mystery is, why didn’t he contact her? As only family problems can, it just gets worse and worse.
Lucky finds photos her mother took in the restaurant, years ago. They are not posed shots so why save or enlarge them? The photos are of Agnes, her husband and grandson although they seem to turn away from the camera and block any view of the child in every picture.
This is the fourth book in the series. A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal, and A Roux of Revenge are the first three. Roux was reviewed for KRL. Enough information is given that the books can be read out of order.
Although I had some ideas early on about who the murderer was, there were still enough surprises to keep me reading to the end. The focus is on families so there’s plenty of drama.
I do wish Lucky would spend some time in the kitchen! Recipes are included, for the wine (minus the hemlock), chicken pot pie with dumplings soup, sausage vegetable stew, pear and watercress soup, and avocado and roasted red pepper sandwiches.
Murder She Wrote: Aloha Betrayed by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
Review by Sandra Murhpy
Jessica is in Hawaii to co-present a seminar on Community Involvement During An Investigation to a Police Academy class. Her teaching partner, Mike Kane, is legendary on the island. Although he says he’s retired, and is working security at a hotel, he’s often consulted on difficult cases.
Upon arrival, Jessica meets Mala. She’s beautiful, really nice, and an activist in addition to teaching botany at the college. They make tentative plans to meet at the luau that night, but it’s not to be.
Mala’s body is found the next morning at the base of a cliff, oceanside. The theory is she was out for a walk, saw a plant to collect and the soil gave way beneath her. The fact that the same plant is growing right where she fell seems to disprove that idea.
Mike is not satisfied and snoops around a bit with Jessica’s help. Mala was passed over as department chair at the college, although the announcement hasn’t been made yet. A graduate student says, in her disappointment, that Mala might have committed suicide. Not likely, says Jessica. The professor who was promoted is a pompous man with a nasty wife. There are suspects to choose from: the older student who fell in love with Mala, the people behind the massive telescope build that Mala blocked at every turn, an ex-boyfriend who wanted to get back together, to name just a few.
Jessica runs into some danger herself because of the investigation. On a bike ride down a steep mountain, she’s run off the road and narrowly escapes a fall over the side.
Throughout the book, the Hawaiian scenery and culture is as much a character as Mala or Mike. Details of life among the people who live there, as opposed to the people who visit, are woven into the storyline. My favorite character is a little boy, Koko. There are tales of Hawaiian gods, beautiful leis, great food and most of all, the aloha life.
Assault and Pepper: A Spice Shop Mystery by Leslie Budewitz
Review by Cynthia Chow
Less than a year after her HR job at a law firm imploded, and two years after catching her (ex) husband cheating on her with a meter maid, Pepper Reece found happiness owning the Seattle Spice Shop in Pike Place Market. What she lacks in experience she makes up for in enthusiasm, and she has an expert spice mixer and artistic young staffers ready to provide assistance.
When a newly arrived panhandler is found dead on the Spice Shop’s doorstep, Pepper is shocked to learn that her assistant Tory Finch is the main suspect. Tory is a promising young artist, but she inexplicably refuses to either explain or defend herself. Further exasperating Pepper is that Bike Boy, her ex-husband Thomas Allen “Tag” Buhner, is the Seattle Bicycle Patrol Officer wheeling around her shop protectively. Pepper may not know her assistant well, but she does know that despite Tory’s silence she is incapable of committing murder.
Budewitz delightfully succeeds in making these two characters stunningly real. Pepper is determined to see that justice is found for both the dead man and Tory. She has found the resilience to rebuild her life, starting over at the age of forty with an entertainingly dry sense of humor and a determination to carve her own path, beginning with the Spice Shop. For investigative inspiration, Pepper looks for guidance from her mother’s collection of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries.
Seattle’s Pike Place Market emerges as the other vivid and very real character, full of diverse flavors, sights, and history. While Pepper may be considering a relationship with an attractive local chef, she has far more success developing spice mixes to be sold to hungry and adventurous cooks.
Also the author of the Food Lovers’ Village mystery series, Budewitz continues to whet the appetites of her readers while also highlighting the many unique characteristics of Seattle. It’s definitely more than rainy weather, coffee, and grunge music. Pepper may not have taken her name from the most popular spice, but she is the perfect heroine to helm this spicy novel. Full of humor and delicious descriptions of local cuisine, Assault and Pepper isn’t afraid to tackle timely social topics and the complexities of family, responsibilities, and learning to let go.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 Penguins, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “March,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 4, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
If you enjoy food mysteries, why not check out KRL’s food column How I Met My Dinner where you will find out about some great food & get recipes!
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