by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
We end this April with 4 more April Penguin mysteries. Once again we have fun food ones, sewing and a retirement home – A Killing Notion by Melissa Bourbon, A Roux of Revenge by Connie Archer, The Blackwoods Farm Enquiry by Ann Purser, and A Second Helping of Murder: A Comfort Food Mystery by Christine Wenger. We also have a fun video interview with Connie Archer at the end of our review of her book. At the end of this post are details on how to win copies of all 4 books!
A Killing Notion By Melissa Bourbon
Review by Sandra Murphy
Apparently, everything is bigger in Texas. Remember wearing a giant mum corsage for Homecoming? One with the school colors of course and maybe an initial in the middle for the school’s name? At Buttons and Bows, the local sew-everything, be-creative, gathering place, think of homecoming corsages on steroids and you still won’t have a clue how big these high schoolers are going.
The mums are made of ribbon, trimmed with ribbon that varies in length from knee to floor. There are charms and other attachments, tons of stuff really, and the result is heavy enough to warrant not a pearl ended straight pin or two to hold it on the dress but a full-fledged harness to keep the girls upright. I only regret there were no pictures in the book because those corsages would be something to see!
Harlow Jane Cassidy is the proprietor of Buttons and Bows. She’s formed a rapport with the high school girls while they create their mums. Some of the girls are making their own dresses, Harley is making some and some are wearing donated dresses—everybody gets to go. Gracie is making her own dress, a simple dress but covered in hand made flowers so very time consuming and delicate work. Her boyfriend, Shane, is one of the nicest guys Harley’s met. Of course, Harley might be a bit prejudiced since she’s dating Gracie’s father, Will, and Gracie is crazy about Shane.
When Shane receives a phone call while at the shop with Gracie and finds out his dad has been killed in a car accident, things fall apart quickly. Shane himself becomes a suspect in his dad’s death since the car was tampered with and Shane knows cars. His dad owned the local car repair shop plus another in a neighboring town. He split his time between the two stores and was killed while enroute from one to the other.
There are other suspects of course—the second in command at the out of town shop—he expects to inherit all, secrets from the past that threaten the whole family, and more. Harley knows Gracie is heartbroken. Her only focus is on going to the homecoming dance with Shane. It may sound shallow but to think of Shane as a murderer, especially of his own dad, is intolerable to consider.
The plotting is good with enough clues to let the reader guess some things and be surprised but not shocked at others. Keep close track of the list of characters because in dealing with a school full of girls and their boyfriends, the adults in their lives, businesses and customers, the character list can get long.
This is the fifth in the series with Pleating for Mercy, Deadly Patterns, A Fitting End, and A Custom Fit Crime coming before. A Seamless Murder will appear on bookshelves in January 2015. In the back of this book, you’ll find an excerpt for it and Pleating, as well as sewing tips and a recipe. After all, “stitchers” love to eat too. The Mahi-Mahi Tacos with Strawberry Mango Salsa to be served with Cilantro-Lime Rice sounds easy enough (salsa is chop up and mix) and yummy.
A Roux of Revenge By Connie Archer
Review by Sandra Murphy
In Snowflake, Vermont, things are getting a little weird. There’s the guy who stands across the street to watch Janie, the young server at Lucky Jamieson’s By the Spoonful restaurant where they specialize in soups like pumpkin rice that’s a must have during the Harvest Festival. There are “travelers” in the area too—formerly known as gypsies. Add a dead guy in a wrecked van—an accident?—his identity is false too, well, things just get more complicated. And then, they find out he was shot!
It’s apparent that Janie’s mom, Miriam, has secrets. Janie wants to know but is equally afraid to discover what they are. Rather than have a heart to heart with Mom, Janie runs away and hides in the most obvious place—the restaurant. Of course, she can’t stay there so where else can she go but to Lucky’s house?
They say any story can start with someone comes to town or someone leaves. In this case, there are a lot of someones who come to town. First there are the travelers who provide the music for the festival as well as pony rides and other entertainment. No one seems to know where they’re staying. Joe Conrad is another stranger. He’s a retired insurance investigator, still on the trail of the one case that he just can’t forget—and he’s attracted to Cecily. Her sister Marjorie thinks he’s after Cecily’s money and that at her age, Cecily should know better.
The case was almost seven years ago, an armed robbery, thought to be an inside job but there was no proof. A guard was killed and the money went missing. In another month, the statute of limitations will run out and the thieves can start spending without worry.
There’s an obnoxious guy who runs the festival, a missing traveler, Janie’s second disappearance, secrets to come out and a pumpkin carving contest to top it all off.
The characters are growing as seen in the possible triangle between Lucky, Elias her doctor boyfriend and the new doctor he hired—his ex-girlfriend. Oops, forgot to mention that to Lucky. Jack, Lucky’s grandfather gets to be more involved as do some of the other older men in town. We don’t see as much of Lucky’s BFF but she’s otherwise occupied this time around.
The plot hangs together without distractions and leads to a satisfying ending. Lucky is a much more likable character in this book than the previous and seems to have learned not to put herself or friends and family in harm’s way for little or no reason.
I’m surprised that since Lucky has been in charge of the restaurant for several months now, she’s not more involved with the soup preparation and menu planning. I’d like to see more discussion between her and Sage, the chef, about how the soup is prepared, what ingredients are used and why that combination works together.
Previous books include A Spoonful of Murder and A Broth of Betrayal.
Video interview with Connie Archer:
The Blackwoods Farm Enquiry By Ann Purser
Review by Sandra Murphy
Ivy Beasley, you remember her from The Sleeping Salesman Enquiry, (reviewed at KRL), and her sidekicks, elderly boyfriend, Roy, friends Deirdre and Gus, from the Enquire Within Agency? They’re back and in rare form. The agency operates out of the retirement home, much to the dismay of its manager who believes her oldsters should stay put and take a lot of naps, not be running about the countryside.
This time a reclusive woman, Mrs. Winchen-Blatch has asked for help. She thinks her late husband comes to her in her sleep and begs her to go with him—by committing suicide! Ivy is determined to find out the truth of the matter although she has her doubts about Mrs. Winchen-Blatch!
In her spare time, like she has much, Ivy signs up for a course in creative writing. She’ll write her memoirs and does so, with humor. Although she’s the oldest in the class by far, she soon has the other students as well as the instructor whipped into shape and behaving to her liking.
When poor Mrs. Winchen-Blatch is discovered dead, Ivy insists the investigation go on. The death is suspicious and the woman had depended on them to help. The reason behind her death could be from a long standing feud with her sister, greed and hopes of an inheritance from her nephew, or maybe it had something to do with the mysterious stranger who boarded with her years before—and became a lot more than someone who just rented a room.
I enjoy reading this series with Whippy the dog, the antics of the staff at the retirement home, and Ivy herself. She’s rather sharp tongued at times but genuine kindness lurks not far beneath the surface. Humor is there too as Ivy and Roy sneak into each other’s rooms for a bit of a cuddle while evading the Evil Eye of Mrs. Spurling.
This is the fifth book in the series. There are thirteen books in the Lois Meade series—Found Guilty at Five and Scandal at Six were both reviewed at KRL.
A Second Helping of Murder: A Comfort Food Mystery By Christine Wenger
Review by Cynthia Chow
Trixie–do not call her Beatrix–Matowski should have known better than to declare that this would be the best summer ever. After a devastating divorce had returning to Sandy Harbor in upstate New York to purchase the Silver Bullet Diner and its neighboring cottages from her retiring Aunt Stella, Trixie planned to make the most of her first May tourist season with a reliable staff and delicious food. Before the first guest can even arrive though, news spreads that a body has just been discovered by hikers in a nearby cave. Claire Jacobson went missing twenty-five years ago, an event Trixie still remembers as she was traumatized by the loss of the teenager she idolized. Feeling indebted to the seventeen year-old Claire who was kind to a lonely ten year-old, Trixie vows to find the murderer; and this was even before the murder of another very odd guest who descended on the cottages with eccentric demands and a decisively suspicious interest in Claire.
With very little actual legal justification Trixie hurtles herself into investigating the two deaths despite – or perhaps because of – the presence of a very competent deputy Ty Brisco. When Trixie isn’t crossing crime scene tape, eavesdropping on law enforcement conversations, or hey, actually stealing evidence, she is making a somewhat futile mental list on why she should not be attracted to the undeniably attractive Ty. Number one on the list would be Trixie’s ex-husband, the philandering deputy who left her when he knocked up a twenty-one year-old trust fund baby. One can sympathize a bit with Trixie, though, as her previous adventures in the debut of this series, Do or Diner, Ty was charged with investigating a murder where the diner was the scene of the murder and Trixie a suspect. The same cast of waitresses, staff, and friends are around to aid and abet Trixie here, along with the unique help of a mostly reformed juvenile delinquent teenaged computer hacker.
You also have to give credit to Trixie for her unapologetic – and pretty upfront – vow to solve the murders by declaring that the official investigation is moving too slowly. Once one accepts Trixie’s bulldozer policy of investigation that doesn’t even make a pretense at legal justification, a reader can sit back and enjoy her relentless dedication to providing good food for customers, support for her loyal staff, and a seeming disregard for law when it comes to meriting out justice. Ty has a very southern and laid-back policy in accepting her efforts that keeps pace with his own investigation as they track down the wealthier high school graduates and the “townies” that were last seen partying with Claire back in 1989. Events culminate in Trixie’s Saturday Dance Fest, an event formerly hosted by the Diner and the same event Claire had last attended. Good humor, down-home food, and fun diner dialect all make this a very light-hearted mystery with a feisty heroine, steadfast deputy, and even more adorable rescue dog companion.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “More April,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 3, 2014. U.S. residents only.
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