by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have reviews of some fun new mystery novels from Kensington and Minotaur authors–perfect to add to your summer reading list–Antiques Fate: A Trash ‘n’ Treasures Mystery by Barbara Allan, Bossa Novas, Bikinis, and Bad Ends: A Happy Hoofers Mystery by Mary McHugh, and An Old-Fashioned Murder: A Moonshine Mystery by Carol Miller. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of all 3, and a link to purchase them.
Antiques Fate: A Trash ‘n’ Treasures Mystery by Barbara Allan
Review by Cynthia Chow
Perhaps selecting “the Scottish play” was not the best choice for exuberant Vivian Borne’s one-woman presentation in Old York, New Jersey. Already abundant in ominous superstitions, Vivian’s literal hat-changing performance of “Macbeth” was doomed to culminate in yet another chaotic mix of murder and crimes. Once again, Vivian drags along her reluctant minder/keeper/daughter Brandy Borne, who, despite her best efforts, will be drawn into her mother’s exploits. This time, Vivian and Brandy find themselves in the midst of a battle over the New Vic Theater, whose governing board members are stalemated over its future.
When the dowager and lead board member inconveniently drops dead, Vivian barely hesitates before declaring it a murder and announcing her intention to investigate. Considering how medicated their little group of visiting trio must remain in order to function—Vivian’s bi-polar lithium treatments, Brandy’s anti-depressants, and little shih tzu Sushi’s diabetes medication—there’s little doubt that it won’t take much to push them over the edge and into a delightfully uncontrollable state of comic antics and not-entirely-thought-through activities.
Readers who enjoyed Vivian’s occasional fourth wall-breaking interludes will be pleased to see an additional chapter or two of her narration. The majority of the exasperated relating still stems from the beleaguered Brandy, who struggles to reign in her mother while attempting to maintain a romantic relationship. New Jersey police detective Tony Cassato comes along with his own baggage, but he himself seems to have rather complacently settled into the Borne lifestyle. They may be out of their element and away from their hometown of Serenity, but even Old York has its own share of eccentrics. Serenity may have the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out), but they are matched by the brunching JULIETs (Just Us Ladies Into Eating Together). Over the top humor, outrageous characters, and continually borderline criminal investigative activities highlight this fun series by the writing duo of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins.
Bossa Novas, Bikinis, and Bad Ends: A Happy Hoofers Mystery by Mary McHugh
Review by Cynthia Chow
Brought together by their love of dancing, the five dancers from New Jersey embark on another adventure involving fast footwork, delicious local cuisine, and murder. This time the Happy Hoofers have been hired to perform at Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana Palace. The women barely have time to meet their guide and translator before she is given an ominous psychic reading that unfortunately comes all too real.
Gini, Janice, Mary Louise, Tina, and Pat all continue to perform their dance routines while enjoying the gorgeous sights and Portuguese delicacies, but the death of young Maria Oliveira casts a dark shadow over their visit. It’s not long before they discover the abundance of infidelities the hotel staff engages in with very little secrecy involved. The death of a jealous wife only reinforces their suspicion that, although simmering passion is a characteristic of the South American personality, perhaps someone was not as accepting of their culture.
This fourth in the series continues the tradition of being narrated by one of the Happy Hoofers, here family therapist Pat Keeler. While Pat is intrigued by the passionate nature of Rio de Janeiro’s populace, she is contentedly secure in her relationship with her partner Denise back home. As Pat is given a tour of the city by the hotel accountant Yasmin and singer Natalia, it is the gorgeous scenery that truly appeals to her. Eventually though, the thrill of exploration turns to something far darker as Pat’s adventures spiral into an absurdist nightmare of continual kidnapping and hostage-taking. Until that exhausting conclusion, readers will vicariously revel in the abundance of good food, recipes, and exotic locale.
Helpful travel tips begin each chapter, and the darker side of exotic locale is never shied away from. The protective veil of security so many vacationers foolishly don is an illusion that cannot shield them from those that would prey upon them. Fortunately, the Happy Hoofers may have initially bonded over their enjoyment of dancing, but it is their affection for one another that continues to keep them together. Whether faced by personal challenges or physical threats, the women always have one another’s back and stand ready to support with love, humor, and a freeing dance routine.
An Old-Fashioned Murder: A Moonshine Mystery by Carol Miller
Review by Sandra Murphy
A few months ago, the well at the old inn went a little crazy and unleashed fountains of water that ruined antique furniture, focusing mainly on the wraparound porch and parlor. At last, things are fixed up again and furniture is being delivered just ahead of guests.
Aunt Emily runs the inn. Daisy is her niece who moved in with her invalid mother. Between Daisy and Emily, they keep the old place running.
After the furniture and guests arrive, things are going well until the snow starts. It doesn’t seem to end, with drifts building up to prevent guests from leaving. In fact, a man shows up at the door, begging for a place to sleep, rather than in his car which slid off the road. His story is fishy but to turn him out would likely kill him.
Henry, one of the guests, had a surprise for Emily. Before the snow, another piece of furniture was delivered, and it’s a magnificent piece, a tiger maple Chippendale secretary with a slant front desk, four drawers, and carved bookcases. The sisters who’d had it in their shop were at the party, too. The secretary is forced to sit a few inches from the wall and looks to be a bit shaky, but since all the guests know about it, there’s no problem.
Unfortunately, the desk tips over, and Henry is crushed beneath it. Now, the snow is so deep police can’t come, and no one can leave.
Drew, Daisy’s boyfriend, is one of the guests. Her in-laws are there, too. Daisy is still technically a married woman. Her husband’s whereabouts are unknown and she will get divorced, but why rush? There’s no call for the dirty looks Drew’s getting.
There’s also a couple who want to buy the inn—not that it’s for sale—but they are determined and obnoxious. The new maid is acting weird, worse than usual. A second death makes Daisy sure Henry’s was murder. Now, how can they all survive until help can arrive?
Daisy’s only lifeline is to her friend Beulah who stayed in town because of the weather. She’s with Rick Balsam, a handsome and charming man who flirts with Daisy, who’s pretty sure he’s not to be trusted. After all, the man’s a moonshiner.
This is the third book in the series. Although it’s set in modern day, it has the feel of an old-fashioned locked room mystery. The characters are believable, the setting a Victorian house, and the mystery is a good one. The inn is a place you’d like to visit for a weekend or longer stay. Just don’t go when snow storms are predicted!
To enter to win a copy of all 3 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “summer reading,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 11, 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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