by Sandra Murphy
As summer comes to a close we have another fun group of mysteries from Penguin and Kensington authors-Murder on the Horizon by M. L. Rowland, Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge, In the Drink by Allyson K. Abbott, and Loom and Doom by Carol Ann Martin. Details on how to win copies of all 4 books, and a link to purchase them, at the end of this post.
Murder on the Horizon by M. L. Rowland
Review by Sandra Murphy
Gracie Kinkaid’s paid job is manager of Camp Ponderosa, a church-run retreat for both kids and adults. She’s also part of a search-and-rescue team that often seems to take up more time than her real job. The police ask for assistance to find a discarded weapon in the Mojave Desert—over 100 degrees during a mid-day search and no weapon in sight. They do find a trash bag and it has four hands inside—two male, two female, no sign of the rest of the victims. On the next callout, the search is to find a missing boy. It’s also the beginning of a chain of events that just don’t stop.
The boy is Baxter, a kid who loves books. His relatives are all former Marines, now militia-minded. They live in a compound, homeschool the children, and are self-sufficient and bigoted. Baxter is a habitual runaway, usually ending up at Grandma Sharon’s house. Gracie gets to see firsthand how his father treats the kid—it’s something she can’t forget.
The Santa Ana winds are blowing and that means forest fires. Search-and-rescue assists with mandatory evacuations. The camp doesn’t have a formal evacuation plan, so it’s up to Gracie to make one. Besides that, she helps Allen in the camp’s kitchen and worries about her best friend, Ralphie. He used to be at every search but hasn’t been seen in weeks, not since Gracie hurt his feelings.
As if all that’s not enough, Gracie’s mom calls. Stepdad Morris is dying and wants to see Gracie (who has no desire to see him ever again). He was abusive and cruel to her and his own kids and Gracie’s mom always defended him, making the betrayal worse.
Allen, the camp’s new cook, is a wonderful character and a good friend to have. Ralphie’s continued absence adds another level of mystery. Timber Creek is vivid in the reader’s mind through Gracie’s description and love for the place. Minnie, her rescue dog, is Gracie’s family. Gracie’s worry about the fires comes right off the page: you can smell the smoke.
Rowland’s books are layered with plot and subplots. Gracie’s relatives, her love life, friends both old and new all come into play as she realizes hate is not something to act on but to get past. Although the manager’s job and her little cabin seemed like answers at the time, they were a chance to pause and take inventory of her life and her future.
In the end, all the threads are woven together to create an excellent mystery. Make sure you have time to read start to finish. This is not a book to put down.
Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge
Review by Sandra Murphy
Once Meg Barrett found out her fiancé wasn’t over his ex-wife, well, she had no choice but to quit her job and get outta town. After all, breaking up is one thing, but working in the same office as your ex? Not going to happen. She heads for Montauk, the workingman’s version of the Hamptons, home to the rich and famous and the wannabes. No interior designer, she knows shabby chic when she sees it—or invents it. Her little business, Cottages by the Sea, does the search and rescues items from yard sales, antique shops, and trash piles to create a homey atmosphere, casual but comfy.
She runs into old college roommate, Jillian, a beige wallflower—but one of the rich if not famous. Caroline, Jillian’s mom, is just the opposite. When she enters a room everyone knows it. Meg is stunned when Jillian says Caroline wants her to separate the good from the ugly attic treasures. On arrival, though, things go from promising to deadly. Jillian is sitting in the hallway, cradling her mother’s dead and bloody body. She mumbles something but Meg, who wears hearing aids, doesn’t quite catch what was said.
Caroline’s insurance company calls for an immediate inventory of all of Caroline’s collectibles. Robbery was surely the motive. Elle is hired and asks Meg to assist. Suspects include brother Cole, who hasn’t been around since his father’s death seventeen years ago; Adam, son of an old family friend; Doctor Greene, who seems to always be on hand; Salvatore and Van, father and son duo who live on the property; and Mr. and Mrs. Arnold, handyman and housekeeper.
Jillian has no memory of her mother’s death, although she must have seen something. The killer seems to think so, as attempts are made on Jillian’s life. Meg feels like she’s getting in deeper and deeper. Meg is meanwhile enjoying the attention of three young men—Cole, Adam, and Van. Is the attraction real or a front to learn details about the inventory?
There are current secrets and old secrets, the question being, did one of them get Caroline killed?
This is the first in a new series and one I’m looking forward to reading for a long time. Montauk and the Hamptons are characters as much as the people, quirky and full of charm. Elle spouts information on collectibles so readers can learn along with Meg.
Meg’s dad is a gourmet-level cook and he lends a little of his expertise (and a recipe for chicken cutlets in sherry wine sauce). One character who remained squarely in the background this time was Patrick Seaton, a writer whose family died in an accident. Late at night he writes lines of poetry in the sand, only to have them washed away with the tide. I certainly hope we see more of him coming up.
Meg is someone you’d love to hang out with as she gives tips on how to refinish discarded furniture to add a homey touch to a guest room or find a killer. Let’s go to the Hamptons!
In the Drink by Allyson K. Abbott
Review by Sandra Murphy
Mackenzie Dalton inherited Mack’s Bar when her father was murdered. She grew up in the place and called its regular patrons family. She’s just expanded and hoped to bring in more customers and did—it just wasn’t according to plan.
She’s got a strange neurological disorder called synesthesia. Her brain is cross-wired, so when she hears a voice, there’s a taste in her mouth. Certain smells bring sound. A touch is color. Her senses are acute, so in a crowded situation like the bar, she can be on overload. In the course of an investigation, she met detective Duncan Albright, who thought he could use her special talents to help solve a case. That part worked—but the publicity that followed brought gawkers and skeptics to the bar. Now there’s a challenge from a nut case who doesn’t believe she can do those things. The challenge is to solve a series of clues. If she succeeds, the game moves on. If not, someone she knows gets killed.
Part of the expanded bar is where the Capone Club meets to discuss mysteries, real or as puzzles. Tiny, one of the members, has a cold case to solve. Years ago, his sister and her best friend were killed. There were several suspects—the plumber who liked child porn, the strange neighbor, and a boy who liked Tiny’s sister.
Mack doesn’t want to panic the group with the letter from the nut case, so she’s working on that as well as Tiny’s case. Duncan caught a lot of flak at the department for using Mack’s help, so he’s been ordered to follow procedure only from now on. Mack’s letter specifically barred her from asking for his help. Sneaky measures are called for!
Duncan asks Malachai, an undercover cop, to spend time with Mack. It helps his undercover persona too, so that’s fine. The only problem is, he’s a cutie and Mack’s attracted. Is it possible to love two men at once? And if yes, what do you do about it?
This is the third book in the series, the first one I’ve read by this author. The dual love interest added sparks. I guessed right about the murderer in one situation but was totally in the dark for the other. You can start in the middle of the series as I did, but be warned, you’ll want to get the first two as well. It was a great read that left me wanting more.
Mack’s synesthesia is a condition I’d never heard of. Its symptoms are woven into the story without a hitch. I can’t wait to see how the love triangle plays out—not all the mysteries are wrapped up in this book. You’ll have to wait for the next one to find out more.
In the meantime, practice making drinks! Recipes for Irish coffee, chocolate-covered cherry martinis, Mal’s version of a mimosa, French toast (Bailey’s Irish Cream in this one), and Frustration (as in, it will melt all your frustration away) … they all sound perfect to sip while reading.
Loom and Doom by Carol Ann Martin
Review by Sandra Murphy
Della and her friend Jenny have renovated their business spaces. Instead of Jenny’s coffee/pastry shop being in the rear, now they’re side by side. This way, Della can open her weaving shop at the decent hour of ten o’clock instead of the too-early coffee house hour of eight.
Putting up a wall and installing a separate door for Jenny seemed a simple enough job. Instead, the shops have been closed for twice as long as—and at a greater expense than—they were promised. The contractor, Syd, blames the building inspector, Howard. Now Syd says Della’s permit went through but Jenny needs to redo the electrical panel completely.
Luckily, Della finds out she only ever needed one permit, since she owns the building. When Della goes to city hall to pick up the permit, she finds Howard’s body on the floor—bashed in the head with a bookend. Since she was the one who found him, Della comes under suspicion. Boyfriend Matthew is not too pleased, but as long as Della stays safe, he’ll go along. Too bad she doesn’t always follow that directive.
Things go from bad to worse when Della snoops on Syd and sees him fight with a mysterious blonde. When she drives by his house, just to see what it looks like of course, she finds his body in his truck. Finding two bodies within a few days raises red flags with the police.
Jenny’s customers are back in droves, both for the good food and the gossip about the murders. Della’s got a new line of Navajo patterned rugs, pillows, and accessories that’s bringing a lot of interest—and sales. A little publicity in a newspaper article and she’s got to get the weavers busy to keep up with the demand.
On the love front, Matthew finally realized he had feelings for Della that go beyond friendship. His mother and Della’s mother (and everybody in the shop) have been plotting for them to get together—now the plan is to get them married.
Winston, Matthew’s French bulldog, is more laid back about the whole thing. He loves Della. She gives him liver treats. He spends his days guarding the shop (with both eyes shut, and snoring). Marnie has been baking up a storm and, while her treats are in the oven, weaving place mats like crazy. Sadly, Marnie did not share any recipes—not even for the crème brulée muffins! Officer Lombard is in charge of the case, much to Della’s dismay.
The characters are developing well with friendships growing, an improved relationship between Della and her mother, and information about weaving provided throughout the book without disrupting the mystery—which is a good one. This is the fourth book in the series, following Looming Murder, Tapestry of Lies and Weave of Absence. They could be read in any order, but to track Della and Matthew’s love story, start at the beginning.
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 “end of Summer,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 5, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Click on this link to purchase any of these books: