by Cynthia Chow
This week we are featuring three mystery novels from Henery Press, a small press KRL recently discovered. Check out these reviews & maybe you will discover some great new mysteries to enjoy just like we did. Details on how to win a copy of all 3 books at the end of this post. Reviews are of Last Diner Standing: A Rose Strickland Mystery by Terri L. Austen, Still Life in Brunswick Stew: A Cherry Tucker Mystery By Larissa Reinhart, and Double Whammy: A Davis Way Mystery By Gretchen Archer.
Last Diner Standing: A Rose Strickland Mystery By Terri L. Austen
Roselyn “Rose” Strickland knows that no phone call at 3a.m. ever brings good news. However, even she was not prepared for the news that her study partner, Janelle Johnson, was in jail for attempting to kill her ex-husband and was calling to ask Rose to get a good lawyer–and cigarettes to trade with Janelle’s jail mates!
While Rosé is a former rich girl turned diner waitress and long-term college student, her previous experiences with the law put her in contact with her former schoolmate and current high-price attorney, Dane Harker. However, his high fees and firm’s pressure to make a deal force Rose to investigate on her own if she wants to free Janelle in time for her to spend Christmas with her two children, one of whom is a biter.
Luckily, Rose has the help of her best friend and fellow waitress Roxy Block, an anime fan with a hankering for Janelle’s brother and Axton Fuller Graystone, college IT specialist and roomie of a house of potheads. Rose soon learns that Janelle’s ex, AKA “Asshat,” was involved in off-the- books auto mechanic work, chop shops, and strippers–lots of strippers. So there’s no lack of suspects who include jealous dancers, enraged husbands, and IOU’d acquaintances.
As Rose attempts to fit in her investigation with her morning shifts at Ma’s Diner new breakfast service, competition from Rudy’s Roundup Restaurant threatens whatever sanity remains, as Ma Ferguson insists on adding a chicken lunch service that will either bankrupt them or drive them into the grave from exhaustion. The additional discovery of evidence that a hit was placed on Thomas Maxwell Sullivan, the sexy but extremely dangerous crime lord, tests Rose’s loyalties and her priorities.
What elevates this mystery from being just a comical caper novel is that the author creates well-rounded characters with backgrounds which explain their eccentricities, and prevents them from becoming over-the-top comic relief caricatures. Rose is still suffering from the trauma of having killed someone who was a psychotic stalker, and also must contend with her mother’s disapproval and continual disappointment in her daughter’s failure to live up to her potential.
At times it seems that Rose’s friends place an unfair amount of pressure upon her to investigate, yet Rose has made her friends her family and never asks for help for herself. Her stubborn independence, as she attempts to assume control over everything only makes her surprisingly vulnerable as she eventually finds a point where her facade must crack.
While this is an undeniably hilarious and entertaining novel, it always retains at its core an affection for its characters and a sentimental tone. Well-written with a complicated plot and very engaging characters, this second Rose Strickland proves to be entertaining and moving without ever becoming an absurd parody.
Still Life in Brunswick Stew: A Cherry Tucker Mystery By Larissa Reinhart
The Annual Sidewinder Brunswick Stew Cook-Off would not seem to be the most obvious place for struggling artist Cherry tucker to sell her oil paintings, but the encouragement and begging by her childhood friend, Eloise Parker, has the two sweltering in the Georgia heat in what officials hoped would be an expanded art festival. Tragically, after downing a few too many servings of the iconic stew, Eloise collapses and is hospitalized for what is believed to be an accidental poisoning, facilitated by her Crohn’s Disease. Insisting that Eloise had actually been recovering from her illness, Cherry demands that police investigate further, problematic as “police” just happens to be her boyfriend, Deputy Luke Harper, who most definitely does not want Cherry poking her nose into any police business. With an acknowledged protective streak and possible Napoleonic complex due to her tiny stature, Cherry insists on finding answers for the Parker family and if that means proving Eloise’s abusive steroid-freak boyfriend Griffin Ward guilty, all the better.
With a rash of poisonings resulting from the Cook-Off, investigating will not be easy and the rivalry between Sidewinder and Cherry’s hometown of Halo definitely does not help. Another roadblock happens to be that Cherry’s nemesis and artistic rival, Shawna Bronson, is officiating the event and doing whatever she can to hamper Cherry’s investigation out of sheer spite. Shawna’s incensed accusations and threats to Cherry to not reveal what she knows only confuses Cherry, but that’s only one distraction to the everyday insanity of Fork County, Georgia. The European mobster, Max Avtalkin, whom Cherry unfortunately previously and incorrectly accused of murder, now has become the darling of the senior citizen set by running a bingo ring, where he formerly hosted illegal poker games. Cherry’s former husband for about five minutes, Todd McIntosh, is also proving to be distractingly helpful and revealing unexpected intelligence which prevents her from writing him off as just another pretty face.
What is so enjoyable about this second in the Cherry Tucker mysteries, is that those who would seem to be stereotypical characters slowly reveal their complexities and never succumb to being just added in for humorous effect. Cherry and her siblings are all affected by their mother’s abandonment and her genetic weakness for the beautiful, and Cherry’s protectiveness for those she loves has her confronting her enemies head-on when she should probably have taken a little more time to think things through. Most surprising is that the romantic triangle truly is a complex dilemma for Cherry, as good-guy Luke Harper continually attempts to reign in Cherry and has kept their relationship a secret from his admittedly nightmare of a family, while Todd admires Cherry’s outrageous behavior and frequently acts as an enabler and co-investigator. The investigation to uncover the culprit responsible for the poisonings takes many twists and turns and while the eventual reveal is not entirely surprising, additional mysteries will keep readers clamoring for the next in this series to discover just what next step Cherry will take to resolve the complexities of her enjoyably crazy life.
Double Whammy: A Davis Way Mystery By Gretchen Archer
With college degrees in Criminal Justice and Computer and Information Sciences and being a former officer with the Pine Apple Police Department (population 447), one would not have thought that Davis Way would have been unemployed for over a year. Unfortunately, a rather acrimonious divorce which involved burning down her ex’s double-wide, a few missed shots, intentional salmonella poisoning, and a lot of identity thief and credit report damage has Davis placing all of her bets on a job with Biloxi’s Bellissimo Resort and Casino. While she’s initially told that her job is Discretion, Davis is not thrilled when she discovers that what it really entails is being the lowest of low, the in-house private investigator for the casino, tracking down whoever seems to be bilking the Double Whammy gambling machines.
Outfitted by the perfectly polished Natalie Middleton in designer clothes, expensive shoes, and oddly enough, a lot of wigs, Davis is initially thrilled by her new occupation, investigating all aspects of the casino. Her enthusiasm fades when she discovers the presence of her nemesis and ex-ex-husband Eddie Crawford, and realizes that her selection as an investigator at the Bellissimo was not based entirely on her qualifications. Lured in by the excellent pay, overwhelming debt to credit agencies and her relatives–and one heck of an early termination clause–Davis is committed to ninety days of employment to figure out who is stealing the jackpots without running into the man who ruined her life. Twice.
Luckily, Davis is not without her allies, mysterious as they may be. An ever-present cab driver with way too much knowledge about her activities and the procedures of the casinos provides wanted and unwanted insight. The absent attorney whose condo she leases unknowingly grants her his wardrobe and fantasies, and most importantly her doting father and Pine Apple police chief dispenses information, background checks and love. Davis will need all the help she can get when an identity mix-up has her looking guilty of too many crimes and she finds herself spending time in isolation.
With the endorsement of Janet Evanovich, readers can expect loads of humor and quirky characters, but they are also gifted with an extremely well-written novel and a heroine fully formed and quite complex. Davis’s over-the-top history with her twice an ex-husband has a dark and sad element which adds dimension to Davis, and her non-relationship with her mother as well, explains her close relationship with her father. Davis has formidable computer skills and flexible morals when pursuing her targets, but her ultimate goal is to merit out justice and make her father proud.
The humor is ever-present but never excessive, and an added element of romance provides a leavening to the tone when events seem to be going downhill. Expectations will be high with this debut mystery, but readers can be assured that they will be met with this very enjoyable, humorous, and exciting novel.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 of these books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Henery”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 8, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.