by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have another batch of great Penguin mystery novels to review & giveaway! Many of these books involve food and pets. We have The Christie Curse: A Book Collector Mystery By Victoria Abbott, Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death: A Devereaux’s Dime Store Mystery By Denise Swanson, Peach Pies and Alibis by Ellery Adams, Trouble in the Tarot by Kari Lee Townsend, and Wave Good-Bye: A Southern Beauty Shop Mystery By Lila Dare. Details on how to enter to win at the end of this post.
The Christie Curse: A Book Collector Mystery By Victoria Abbott
Review by Cynthia Chow
With a brand new, but rather limiting master’s degree in English, and a looming credit card bill due to her larcenous ex-boyfriend, Jordan Bingham’s options for employment are somewhat limited. As a result, the retro want ad calling for a researcher back in her hometown of Harrison Falls, New York is perfect and almost too good to be true. Her employer is much less appealing though. The wheel-chaired dowager Vera Van Alst is absolutely loathed by the entire town for her family’s closure of the shoe factory that cost most of the residents of Harrison Falls their jobs. However, beggars can’t be choosers, and with grad school and impending credit card bills looming on the horizon Jordan manages to fake enough knowledge to overcome Vera’s reservations, and gets hired for what seems to be an insurmountable task.
Everyone in the mystery world knows that Agatha Christie mysteriously disappeared for 11 days in 1926. Vera claims that Christie may have written several unpublished plays that have just now surfaced. Jordan’s employment depends on her finding these plays for Vera, a bibliophile obsessed with her collection.
The enticing room and board employment at the Van Alst mansion comes with a cook whose English is limited to “Yes, yes, yes, eat, eat, eat, no, no, no,” but whose skills in the kitchen more than make up for what she lacks in conversation. Less attractive is the bipolar Siamese cat who seems to enter Jordan’s room through closed doors and has the ankle biting skills of a ninja. Vera herself is deceptive, secretive, and completely unwilling to share any knowledge about where to begin to search or even how. Then there is the post man’s alarming off-hand mention that Jordan’s predecessor met a tragic death by a train.
This is an absolutely delightful mystery, full of lore concerning mysteries, book collecting, and of course, Agatha Christie. The recent English graduate has some extraordinary skills taught to her by her shady but charming uncles who run an “antique” store. They have educated her in the art of working “marks,” pulling a con, and identifying others who are attempting to pull a fast one. Jordan proves to be one of the most street wise, morally flexible, and savvy of amateur detectives with the lock-picking, manipulative, and lie detection skills to back her up. There is also an uncomfortably cheerful and smiling police officer that seems to be dogging Jordan’s steps and who appears at the most awkward of times. This makes going to the doubting police even more unappealing.
This debut mystery series is written by the unique team of prolific mystery author Mary Jane Maffini and her daughter Victoria Maffini, an artist, photographer, and short story author. It’s a collaboration that seamlessly brings in the former’s stellar mystery writing experience together with the latter’s creativity. Mary Jane Maffini’s former profession as a librarian is brilliantly highlighted in a description of Vera and a rundown of how mold, light, food, and climate change can be downright deadly to a library’s collection. The quirky and completely believable characters who collect and deal with valuable books are hilariously exposed to readers who may find that they are uncomfortably close to sharing the same obsessions. This is a fun new series for book and mystery fans, by a charming duo that brings a lightness and appealing spark to murder and the fanaticism of the mystery world.
Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death: A Devereaux’s Dime Store Mystery By Denise Swanson
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the owner of Devereaux’s Dime Store and Gift Baskets, Dev Sinclair loves to admire and acquire bargain vintage and antique collectibles. As a result, even the last-minute-before-closing arrival of Elise Whitmore can’t dissuade Dev from deciding to purchase the woman’s adorable pair of antique bunny chocolate molds. Dev becomes slightly alarmed when Elise demands secrecy about the transaction, but when the woman is murdered Dev truly panics. Not only may Dev now have possible evidence tied to a crime, but the suspect arrested is Boone St. Onge, her best friend from childhood.
Dev and her other BFF Poppy Kincaid, owner of the Gossip Central bar, storm the police station, but due to Poppy’s childish tantrum against her father, Chief Kincaid, it is Dev who is sent in to pump Boone for information–he was found standing over Elise Whitmore as she bled to death from a bullet wound. Having solved one murder before, Dev is pressured by Boone and his attorney into investigating the murder. Dev soon learns that Elise was afraid of her own husband, and he is the true owner of the chocolate molds.
Dev is still recovering from being the town pariah after her boss at her investment company headed a Ponzi scheme and her own father was accused of embezzling funds from their bank and then imprisoned for a fatal drunk driving accident. Recently she has tentatively mended fences with Noah Underwood, the first love of her life, whom she felt abandoned her when her life fell apart. This relationship seems to have some promise especially considering that Deputy U.S. Marshall Jake Del Vecchio was cleared for duty and is now off on assignment with his ex-wife. Teamed with Poppy, Noah, and his attorney Tryg, Dev risks her safety and personal future in an investigation that may have implications on her family in ways that she could never have imagined.
As the second of the Devereaux’s Dime Store mysteries and a departure from the author’s very popular Skye Dennison mysteries, the author continues to write novels that emphasize family complications, humor, and romantic triangles. While there is underlying tension behind Dev’s indecision about her relationships, and some chapters narrated from Noah’s viewpoint, still, her eventual choice seems to be inevitable. I do wish that the author would have clarified Noah’s and Dev’s completely opposing memories of their past breakup since this never seems to be addressed. However, once against the humor, eccentric but loving characters, and the class differences of the small Missouri town are engagingly explored in another fun and enjoyable read.
Peach Pies and Alibis by Ellery Adams
Review by Sandra Murphy
Ella Mae LeFaye’s Charmed Pie Shoppe is doing great business. Business is so good, in fact, that Ella Mae has to hire extra help. That done, she can cater a wedding and expand the menu to include more lunch items.
Charleston Chew aka Chewy, her Jack Russell terrier, is there to help any way he can, as are her mother and aunts. Each one of the woman has a special gift, best not discussed. They are magical. In the first book, Pies and Prejudice, Ella Mae found out she has a gift too—whatever her feelings are when she’s baking, come out in her pies and her customers feel it too.
In this second book, the reader finds out more about Ella Mae’s gift as she finds out more about herself. Knowing there are others like her, she also becomes more aware of people around her. Enter Sloan, her soon-to-be-ex-husband, add Hugh, the hunky firefighter, her nemesis Loralyn, a couple of murders (pretty sure they’re murders anyway) and an overflowing shop, Ella Mae’s plate is full, so to speak.
The thing is, it’s getting close to harvest time and that’s when the magical people renew their powers. A new Lady of the Ash is selected to guide them through the coming year. It’s all new to Ella Mae but she’s trying to keep up and learn as she goes along.
The Woo-Woo factor is high in this series but it’s more than a cozy, it’s fantasy so believability is not a problem. Just go with the program! The ending is not quite a cliff-hanger but it’s close, close enough to make you want the next book already on your nightstand. Since it won’t be out until January 2014, use your spare time to whip up a few pies. The recipes are in the back of the book—Charmed Pie Crust, Charmed Egg Wash, Charmed Georgia Peach Pie, Charmed Apple Ginger Maple Crumble Pie, Charmed Peanut Butter Cup Pie, Mrs. Drever’s Charmed Customer of the Week Banoffee Pie, and Charmed Lamb Pie.
Other books by Ellery Adams include the Bay Mysteries: A Killer Plot, A Deadly Cliché, The Last Word, Written in Stone.
Trouble in the Tarot by Kari Lee Townsend
Review by Sandra Murphy
Sunny Meadows has her hands full in the third episode of the Fortune Teller mysteries. Granny and her lifelong, well almost lifelong, enemy, Fiona have met again. The resulting I-can-do-anything-better-than-you competition between them almost drives Sunny to drink. It seems Granny and Fiona both wanted Frank—and Granny got him. Even though it was many years ago and Frank is now gone, Fiona married someone else, the rivalry goes on like no time has passed.
To add to the mayhem, the Sewing Sisters and the Knitting Nanas are in competition as well at the Summer Solstice Carnival. The baking division gets a lot of entries—not only do some of the contestants want to win but also impress Captain Walker of the police department. He’s pretty oblivious to just how far the women are willing to go to get his attention.
Morty, Sunny’s cat is back and falls prey to Granny and Fiona’s contest of wills. He’s not happy about it, to say the least. Granny putting bow ties on him is one thing—a fortune teller’s turban or an ankle monitor bracelet is beyond the pale.
Mitch has recovered from his broken leg and is home from his two month out of town job. He and Sunny missed each other and vow to have an official first date. With Granny and Fiona under house arrest, time alone is problematic. Add in Sunny’s mom and dad in town to make sure Granny is vindicated and that first date might never happen.
A baker is found dead—accident, manslaughter or murder? Why did she fire all her employees the day she died? Her business had a sudden upswing so what’s the problem? Her idea was to donate money from the Carnival to a new homeless animal shelter but then she did an about face and wanted the money to go to the parks and recreation program. Why do the dogs only get adopted to out of towners while the locals help foot the bills? Mysterious notes suggest blackmail, strangers loiter around town and the momentum builds as Granny and Fiona go stir crazy from being in the same house with no escape.
Morty’s antics are somewhat paranormal but this is a fortune telling mystery. If the reader has no problems with a psychic, Morty shouldn’t be a problem either.
Previous books in the series include: Tempest in the Tea Leaves and Corpse in the Crystal Ball. To best understand the relationships and the town, read the books in order.
Wave Good-Bye: A Southern Beauty Shop Mystery By Lila Dare
Review by Cynthia Chow
Business has never looked bleaker for Violetta’s, and Grace Ann Terhune is devastated that she was partially responsible for their loss of clients. In an attempt to promote her mother’s St. Elizabeth, Georgia hair salon, Grace encouraged Violetta to hire Lisa Butterworth as a social media consultant only to discover that Lisa stole their client list for Snippets, their biggest competitor and Lisa’s actual employer. Never one to back down from a confrontation, Grace Ann corners Lisa at the local Walk-In Foods where things go less-than-well and Grace Ann learns that not only did Lisa purposely undercut Violetta’s prices, but that she is also seeing Wynn Goodman, Snippets co-owner and the man who stole Grace Ann’s work and broke her heart. Some further poor judgment on Grace Ann’s part has her spying on the salon, making her a leading suspect when Lisa is later found murdered in the Snippets salon.
The murder isn’t the only thing that instigates the possible downfall of Violetta’s: a possible historical site designation, a mold infestation, and Violetta’s new marriage opportunity all mean that the salon’s future is in question. When it closes for what could be several month (or permanently), Grace Ann is given a surprising opportunity to work at Snippets as the manager by, shockingly enough, Wynn’s wife and the owner of the salon. Even though Grace Ann jumps at the manager’s position for its professional and economic benefits, there is also the additional opportunity to look into Lisa’s murder that can’t be ignored. Romantic complications confuse Grace Ann as well, causing her to demonstrate the perfected Southern flounce and a Stephanie Plum-inspired pet purchase of a one-eyed, featherless, pet store reject budgie.
Perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of this novel is that Grace Ann never intentionally investigates the murder or makes it a priority–she might have experience in detecting, but she has neither the qualifications nor justification to do so. Instead, the novel follows the personal development of her life as it suddenly changes and the path Grace thought she was following may no longer be available. As Grace Ann makes personal and professional choices that will affect the rest of her life, she is naturally introduced to characters who may have had a reason for wanting Lisa dead, and it is in this manner that the reader becomes familiar with the players in the investigation.
Although her inept ex-husband, and cop, Hank attempts to involve Grace Ann in the murder, the attractive Georgia Bureau of Investigations Special Agent in Charge John Dillon maintains a much more rational position that she is innocent but in danger if she gets too enmeshed with the salon.
This fourth Southern Beauty Shop mystery, written under pseudonyms by several authors–the latest being Joanna Campbell Slan–emphasizes the personal growth of Grace Ann while keeping the mystery on the back burner until the last half of the novel. Grace Ann’s humor, strength, and affection for her friends and family shine and make this a very enjoyable and light-hearted cozy read.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 Penguin mysteries, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Penguin,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 20, 2013. U.S. residents only.
More mystery reviews, short stories, articles and giveaways can be found in this issue, and those and others can be found in our mystery section.
Use this link to purchase the above books & a portion goes to help support KRL: