by Cynthia Chow
In this our Earth Day issue we are featuring e-books and books that somehow tie in to Earth Day. Here we have reviews of the following e-book mysteries from Penguin & Kensington imprints-For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul, Murder at Morningside by Sandra Bretting, Murder on Wheels by Lynn Cahoon, and Raisin the Dead by Karoline Barrett. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win e-book copies of 3 of these mysteries, and signed print copies of 2 earlier books by Lynn Cahoon.
For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul
Review by Cynthia Chow
As a trained physician in Queen Victoria’s England, Alexandra Gladstone has faced more than her share of obstacles in her attempt to ensure the health of her patients. The correlation between hygiene, diet, and good health are not popularly accepted concepts, and a female doctor not at all. Having inherited her father’s practice in Essex’s Newton-upon-Sea, Alexandra nevertheless perseveres with the assistance of her nurse, Nancy, a woman whose practical common sense is shared through a friendship that began as children.
Alexandra has become accustomed to the barriers restricting her ability to practice medicine as a result of her gender, but that is nothing compared to the exclusivity of the Freemasons. The murder of the Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge of the Ninth Daughter has brought his fellow Freemason to Alexandra’s door insisting that she would have the knowledge to determine the true cause, but his inability to disclose any information to a non-Mason makes his efforts futile. His own death in the Masonic Temple, in the same location where the Grand Master died, would seem to bolster his assertions if not provide actual proof.
Constable Robert Snow declares the deaths to be natural, but a panicked Judith Payne disputes his findings. Considered to be as much a spinster at twenty-five years of age as Alexandra, Judith fears that her father had the two men murdered for being rivals to her arranged marriage. Efforts to pursue the matter are hampered by Constable Snow’s sudden disappearance to London, his replacement’s complete lack of initiative, and Judith’s paranoia and terror regarding anything associated with the Freemasons.
The Victorian setting is as fascinating for readers as it is frustrating for Alexandra. This is a time when women had little control over their lives, professions were restricted by class, and mysticism triumphed over medicine. Alexandra’s gender inhibits her investigations, as being a woman prevents her from conducting autopsies on men. Equally disheartening, but entertaining, is the obstinate townspeople’s attitude towards change and heathy lifestyle choices. The very forthright Nancy casts a stark light on their prejudices with her caustic sense of humor and the relationship with Alexandra that allows the nurse to cross class boundaries. These boundaries are never more apparent than in the romance between Alexandra and Nicholas Forsythe, the sixth Earl of Dunsford, who would rather practice law as a barrister than assume his position in the House of Lords.
This latest entry in the series featuring Alexandra Gladstone will be as compelling to general mystery fans as to those who adore historical mysteries. The constrictions of class and gender, as well as the clandestine nature of the Masons, are all explored in this easily accessible, swiftly paced, very clever novel.
Murder at Morningside by Sandra Bretting
Review by Cynthia Chow
It would be difficult to find a more Southern wedding than the one being held at the Morningside Plantation on the Mississippi River. Perhaps just as traditional as the antebellum estate is the shotgun wedding tradition that has wealthy expectant bride Trinity Soloman marching down the aisle with a much too handsome neglectful groom. Nevertheless, Crowning Glory owner Missy Dubois is thrilled to be on hand providing her custom veil and fascinators for the bridal party. Her best friend and store neighbor Ambrose Jackson of Ambrose’s Allure Couture is designing the bridal gown, and one would have thought that the pair would excel at appeasing demanding brides and bridesmaids. Nothing could have prepared them for the discovery of the bride’s body in the bathroom, though, with virtually no one other than her stepmother the least bit mournful.
It is in fact Ivy Solomon’s plea to Missy for help that has the milliner hurtling herself into the investigation. With a Vanderbilt criminal-defense course under her belt and more than her share of curiosity, Missy inserts herself into the case being led by her former Sunday school classmate, Louisiana State Police Detective Lance LaPorte. It seems that the destruction of an oil refinery owned by Ivy’s father devastated their entire town, and memories are long and resentment lasts even longer. Missy takes it upon herself to determine the truth from the many lies, even if that means illegally entering hotel rooms, opening other’s email accounts, and sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.
This mystery is never more fun than when it explores the fashion business and the meticulous details required in hosting fashion shows. The scenes of dressers pulling together a massive church fashion runway are a delight. The unique southern atmosphere further sets this debut novel apart and adds a layer of humor. This is a community where insults are hidden in compliments and the phrase “Bless her heart” has a multitude of meanings. Although Missy may prove a little too reckless by allowing her curiosity to override her own safety, she is always motivated by her huge heart.
Murder on Wheels by Lynn Cahoon
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the owner of South Cove, California’s Coffee, Books, and More, Jill Gardner had planned on expanding her bookstore/coffeeshop into the food truck craze. Jill’s first efforts to purchase an affordable vehicle were curtailed when bike shop owner Dustin Austin swooped in and snatched it before she could even make an offer. That’s the least of Austin’s shady acts. Not only did he break the heart of Jill’s friend Sadie Michaels, Austin did it by returning to the wife he neglected to mention even existed. Everyone is aware of her now, as Kacey Austin has arrived in town to sell healthy, gluten-free desserts out of the same food truck. Although Jill can’t help but like the genial president of Coastal Geocache Club, apparently everyone doesn’t agree. It is Kacey’s body who is found on the beach, murdered by someone who knew her allergies all too well.
Jill’s boyfriend, Detective Greg King, can’t help but have suspicions about Sadie’s role in the death despite their friendship. Austin doesn’t escape scrutiny either, but his less than admirable behavior doesn’t mean he’s a murderer. Having had more than a little experience with murder, Jill doesn’t shy away from looking into Kacey’s life, which includes her geocaching group, as well as her involvement in healthy cooking with recipes of dubious origin. As upsetting as the murder is the drought conditions that have Jill’s friend Amy taking an uncompromising stand and putting their friendship at odds. Who could have predicted that the refusal to narc on those watering their lawns could actually prove more detrimental than suspecting one of murder?
The combination of food, books, and a beach setting are irresistible, and this sixth in the series fully embraces delicious descriptions of decidedly fat-full treats. The friendships and relationships established from the first of this series continue to center the novels, and watching them develop and transform is a joy. Now that Jill and Greg have settled into a place where they accept one another’s follies, Aunt Jackie is venturing on a new romance of her own. The real surprise is that Jill is finding herself surprisingly sympathetic of Jackie’s disagreeable spurned suitor, who has proven more than once to be a thorn in their sides. Fans of cozy mysteries will continue to make this a repeat getaway destination.
Raisin the Dead by Karoline Barrett
Review by Cynthia Chow
While her Bread and Batter Bakery staff is all aflutter over the arrival of celebrity Serafina Perfumes’ owner Serafina Alessi, Molly Tyler is focused on why her mother is being featured on the front page of their local Destiny Trumpet newspaper. Molly has reason to be concerned when the man Library Director Anne Tyler was pictured dining with is murdered, and local gossip has either her or Serafina pinned as his killer. Despite the exploits that recently had Molly kidnapped and nearly killed, she is unable to refrain from getting involved in the death of Philip Baldelli. Apparently, his promised donation to help expand Destiny’s library had garnered him a surprising number of enemies who weren’t shy in their threats. It seems not everyone is in support of the literary project, and soon environmentalists and historical preservationists are on the warpath and doorstep of Destiny-Oleandra County Public Library.
One would think that dating the lead detective would give Molly a step-up in her efforts to clear her mom, but Detective Sean Corsino is proving to be frustratingly ethical and closed-lipped about the death. What he is open about are his feelings towards Molly, and these neighbors who share a love for their basset hounds are taking their relationship forward on a very slow pace. Neither is prepared for the unwelcome arrival of his late wife’s twin sister, who appears to be intent on replacing her sibling in Sean’s life.
Molly unfortunately has little time to spend in her beloved bakery, as she makes it her mission to ensure that her mother isn’t further implicated in murder. Molly finds an unlikely ally in the aggressively opinionated Serafina, but the most support stems from her Destiny Divas’ book club. The ladies have little in common and only occasionally actually read their assigned books, but they share their heartbreaks, romances, tragedies, and more than one murder investigation.
This is a fun romp of a novel that never takes itself too seriously and is led by an earnest, if young and naïve, lead character. Even though readers may early identify the culprit, the motivations behind the crime are far more complex. This light-hearted mystery entertains with a delightful cast who so naturally inhabit their beloved town of Destiny.
To enter to win a e-book copies of 3 of these books, and signed print versions of 2 earlier books by Lynn Cahoon (Mission to Murder and If the Shoe Kills) simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “earth day 4,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 23, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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