by Cynthia Chow,
Sandra Murphy & Sharon Tucker
This week we have 4 mystery novels from Oak Tree Press for your summer reading fun! Pope’s Last Case…and other stories by Michael A. Black, The V V Agency by Mike Befeler, The Dead Don’t Forget by Robert Weibezahl, and Sooner Than Gold: The Perils of Beauty by J.R. Lindermuth. Details on how to win copies of all 4 at the end of this post.
Pope’s Last Case…and other stories by Michael A. Black
Review by Cynthia Chow
During the late 1940s, after World War II, Vince Pope retired from private investigation into a relatively luxurious life with his new wealthy socialite wife, Laura Thronson. He can’t escape his past or his reputation though and Pope continues to be consulted by potential clients pleading for him to return at least one more time to his occupation as a private eye.
In this collection of short stories, taking place during the years 1946 through 1948, Pope and his lovely wife investigate the death of the lead actor of a murder play on a train, retrieve a pendant given to a paramour by a philandering rich wife, and have the opportunity to triumphantly declare the most classic of mystery genre lines when identifying a culprit. One of the most delightful stories, “Lost Weekend,” features a Indian (they weren’t Native Americans yet) whose namesake may be quite familiar to mystery readers, but whose character in the novel proves to be one of Vince’s most deadpan and effective allies. The concluding novella of the title has Vince avenging a fellow veteran whose investigation into a serial killing proves to have powerful political ramifications.
According to the introduction by the author, Michael A. Black began writing his short stories featuring Vince and Laura Pope in homage to one of his favorite novels by Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man. While Hammett only authored one mystery featuring those characters, Black believed they were ideal for a series and so in the late 1990’s began to write and slowly publish short stories featuring the Popes. Now readers can delight in a time when the dialogue was witty, fast and barbed, smoking was as common as chewing gum and the drinks were dry and straight.
A prolific author of noir, private investigator and police procedural novels, Michael A. Black has over thirty years of experience in Chicago law enforcement and this is definitely reflected in his writing. Here Black is able to venture further into an age where civil liberties were a nice idea, but power and money rule the day. So it is all the more enjoyable to witness Vince, who has rather tentatively submitted to living a life of luxury, easily and skillfully slide back into private investigator mode to bring down the arrogant and privileged power brokers. Laura easily matches him in a battle of wits and often adds to his investigation with her intelligent insight. Here’s hoping that the title is a misnomer and that we will soon be entertained by additional stories featuring the lively and witty pair.
The V V Agency by Mike Befeler
Review by Sandra Murphy
Murders and motives by the bushel! What’s a detective to do to discover the truth? Tracking down a killer gets little easier and a lot more complicated when the detective has secrets to hide too.
Van and Vanna make up the V V Detective Agency. They don’t exactly work together; it’s more like working in sync. In fact, no one has ever seen both of them at the same time, although a few have come close during a close encounter. Van and Vanna are shape shifters. It’s not like science fiction movies where the character turns into a tree or a chair. Van is Van until, well frankly, until he has sex. Then he changes into Vanna; the same goes for her.
While you’d think one of the other of them would abstain for a while in order to stay in form longer, the problem is that Van is easily turned on by cigarette smoke–a smoke ring to the face and he’s putty in a girl’s hands. Smoke makes Vanna sick. Her downfall is Lance, a super-sexy boyfriend with great lips.
Van and Vanna each have a unique skill-set. He has excellent directional skills; Vanna gets lost going to the end of the block and relies on her GPS to find her way home again. Both make Detective Mulhaney crazy. And did I mention Van has a ring and Vanna a necklace, worn all the time? Except when they want to turn invisible of course. Since Mulhaney is not forthcoming with details of cases, being invisible comes in handy for sneaking into his office at police headquarters to read over his files and notes without getting caught.
The client is Gloria Blendheim, a blonde bombshell reminiscent of the old pulp fiction novels. Her husband has been murdered and she’s a suspect, unfairly so, she believes, just because she’s forty years younger than he, inherits everything and was having an affair. He also disinherited his son when he married her. She’s afraid Mulhaney might focus a little too much on her and not follow the leads to other suspects like her husband’s girlfriend, business partners and his son who was set to inherit a measly five million dollars rather than the hundred million she stands to get.
More murders and mayhem follow, with a subplot of Van and Vanna trying to discover the truth behind shape shifters without giving away their secret and becoming a lab experiment for a mad scientist. The twist at the end sets up a sequel that I hope isn’t long in coming to print.
While I usually read mysteries without the paranormal aspect, this was an entertaining book. Shape shifting wasn’t intrusive to the storyline, but added to it. Van and Vanna are both likable characters. The only gripe I can come up with is that there is too much emphasis on Vanna getting lost so easily and relying on her GPS. It’s not necessary to repeat it each time she hops into the car.
This is the first book in what I expect to be a long running series. Previous books by this author include: Cruising in Your Eighties is Murder, Senior Moments Are Murder, Retirement Homes Are Murder, and Living with Your Kids Is Murder.
The Dead Don’t Forget by Robert Weibezahl
Review by Sandy Murphy
Gwendolyn Barlow is one of the Golden Age movie stars, the kind when you hear about them, you say, “I loved her movies. What? I thought she was dead.”
She’s ninety years old now and someone in particular wants her to be dead and soon. The list is longer than it should be–the housekeeper who only speaks Spanish, the niece who believes one can never have too much money and a few close friends who have a key to the house–but then there’s the key that’s hidden outside under the potted plant. That’s an open secret and expands the suspect list from a few names to wide open.
The phone calls come first and Gwendolyn is the only one to hear the awful things the caller says. Grace, a long-time friend, is losing patience with what she thinks is Gwendolyn’s need for attention. Next, a script Gwendolyn wrote many years ago goes missing. Who would want it? After all, there are copies and really, the writing was pretty awful. A fall down the steps ups the ante though and Grace, with the help of screen writer Billy Winnetka, tries to figure out the “who and why” of it all.
On the first visit, Gwendolyn’s accountant seems on the up and up, but a second visit definitely has him nervous. Then there’s her lawyer, Skip. He’s pointing the finger at Billy, like he’d have a motive. Grace favors the niece, but knows Cecily would never dirty her hands. She’d delegate the job. No one knows if the maid, Yolanda, has a better understanding of English than she lets on.
Billy’s in the middle of a movie, but screenwriters aren’t required to be on set every minute of the day, not when the director spends more time throwing tantrums than asking for dialogue rewrites. The actors are in fine form, the crew outstanding–they might just be able to make a good movie in spite of the director and his enormous ego. Add in Billy’s growing attraction to Kate, a lawyer Gwendolyn works with on charitable foundation business and Billy’s still-there-maybe-for-always love for his ex-wife Rae, and Billy’s got his hands full to solve the mystery and avoid complications in his new-found love life.
This is the second Billy Winnetka mystery. The reader can learn quite a lot about the movie making process and screenwriting. The trivia scattered throughout the book is seamless instead of intrusive. The side characters are people you want to know more about. From hints dropped, some had bigger parts in the first book, The Wicked and the Dead. We can hope to see more of them in future works.
Sooner Than Gold: The Perils of Beauty by J.R. Lindermuth
Review by Sharon Tucker
Settle into a comfortable chair, put your feet up, and ease into the slow-paced world of Sylvester Tilghman, sheriff of Arapot, Pennsylvania. It is 1898 and Sheriff Tilghman likes his town quiet, his ladies feisty, and the town burgess off his back. Just as he is dozing on his front porch and leaving the heavy lifting to his new deputy, the town doctor arrives in his infernal machine–it seems Tilghman and Dr. Hiram Mariner have been summoned to the local colliery by that very same newly elected borough burgess and owner of the mine, Nathan Zimmerman. What follows is one week in the life of Tilghman and the citizens of Arapot which they will not soon forget. For a man who enjoys peace and quiet, Tilghman finds both in short supply in Sooner Than Gold.
This is J. R. Lindermuth’s second adventure featuring Sheriff Tilghman–Fallen From Grace, c. 2011 is his first–and I was under a misapprehension initially in regard to the books, thinking I would be reading a western.
Since I’m fond of mysteries set in the American West, imagine how pleased I was to discover that the issues here were merely those of semantics and geography. Arapot may be a small coal mining town in a rural area of Pennsylvania, but the late nineteenth century American sensibilities we are accustomed to in reading mysteries set in Amarillo, Tucson, or Taos are so similar that it’s merely a matter of enjoying the spice of an eastern regional flavor when reading these mysteries. Part of what gives Arapot its particular spice is lingering remnants of the area’s German and Dutch forbearers, particularly in what may be unfamiliar terminology for people, places, and things. Good examples of the former are the title “burgess” which I take for the equivalent of “mayor” and also the term “Chi-keners” whom we now know as Gypsies. (The latter term “Chi-keners” used in rural in Pennsylvania in the 19th century is from the High German “Zigeunerr”–information courtesy of Wikipedia.)
You will find the fine citizens of Arapot a pleasing cross-section of Americana, and will doubtless feel a kinship with Sheriff Tilghman as he imperfectly does his best to maintain law and order. Fortunately, he has an energetic deputy and his friend the progressive town doctor as allies to counteract the intrusion of violence in the world as they know it. Too, it would be less than just to forget another of Tilghman’s formidable allies: the earnest Lydia Longlow who manages the town’s general store. Lydia causes the sheriff some consternation in that she keeps dodging his marriage proposals, but to her credit she is energetic, progressive, and a tireless advocate of the Temperance movement which was gaining popularity at that time in America, particularly with the ladies and their societies.
Lindermuth’s Arapot and its environs are not unlike the world in which we find ourselves today. The powerful still take advantage of their status–in Arapot, the richest man in town is the highest elected official and the town dances to his tune. To no one’s surprise, the sex trade flourished then–it still does today. In the 21st century, the vulnerable still need protection, the greedy must be curtailed, and passion, rather than reason too often rules the day. However, in Arapot, Pennsylvania, an easy-going sheriff works harder than he would like to maintain order, but luckily he not only warms to the task, but might just be capable of it.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Oak Summer”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 29, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.