by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
What a great way to end September and start fall then with this awesome group of mysteries from Penguin and Kensington authors-Basket Case by Nancy Haddock, Murder She Wrote Death of a Blue Blood by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain, Swag Bags and Swindlers by Dorothy Howell, and The Marsh Madness: A Book Collector Mystery by Victoria Abbott. Details at the end of this post on how to win copies of all 4 books, and a link to purchase them.
Basket Case by Nancy Haddock
Review by Sandra Murphy
In Lilyvale, Arkansas, the police don’t usually have a lot to do. On the other hand, Sherry Mae Stanton is at the heart of most of their calls. There are explosions and black smoke pouring from the kitchen for one thing. The local detective, the delectable Eric Shoar, has to call Sherry’s niece, Nixy, to come from Houston to figure out what Sherry’s up to and put it to a stop.
Jill Elsman is another problem. She’s a real estate agent, bent on bullying, bribing and blackmailing folks into selling her options on their land. She’s not above lying about who sold and who didn’t either. Of course, she’s tight lipped about why she’s buying. Her poor assistant, Trudy, is about as much in the dark as the townspeople.
Nixy’s got her hands full. This is the first time she’s visited her aunt. Of course, they’ve kept in touch with phone calls, emails and all, but there just never seemed to be enough time to make the trip. Sherry rents out rooms in her farmhouse so there are five people (two men and three women) besides Sherry to deal with. Nixy has to worry—do they live together for the company or because they can’t afford not to?
Every time Nixy thinks it’s safe to go back to Houston, something else happens. The longer she stays, the less she misses her life in Houston, her job and especially her boss, Barbra (like Streisand). It seems her aunt has secrets to keep but are they something that could get her in more trouble or just Subjects We Do Not Discuss?
When Jill is found dead, the only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. The unfortunate part for Nixy is that she found the body in the family cemetery. Scattered around the body are items stolen from the barn just the week before. All clues point to Sherry. Really, though, who didn’t have a motive?
This is the first in a new series called the Silver Six Crafting mysteries. The characters are a delight as the Six are of Social Security age and still vibrant folks, going strong. Nixy may think she’s there to rescue them but she soon learns, things are not what they seem. There’s a nice inkling of romance for her too as well as time to really think about what she wants out of life.
The mystery is well plotted and a good read. I look forward to the next book, Goodbye, Gourdeous. In the meantime, read the crafting tip for fiber artists and try Maise’s recipe for fried okra and Sherry’s for chicken and artichoke casserole.
Murder She Wrote, Death of a Blue Blood by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
Review by Sandra Murphy
Jessica is off to England with her friend, Detective Inspector George Sutherland of Scotland Yard. They’ve been invited to stay at an English manor for the weekend. There will be a ball, fireworks and a taste of how the rich live.
Unfortunately, Jessica can’t seem to go anywhere without finding a dead body. They are no more than in their rooms when, from her window, she spots a bit of purple fabric in the courtyard. A gust of wind shows there’s a woman’s leg beneath the skirt.
The woman, Flavia Beckwith, acted as lady’s maid to their hostess. When the children were small, she was governess. George thinks she must have had a stroke or heart attack and then hypothermia set in. Jessica’s not so sure.
Considering the woman had been in the family’s employ for years, their reaction to her death is underwhelming—“Poor old thing” and “Don’t worry, I’ll send to the village and get a new maid.”
The police are ultra-sensitive to the family. After all, this is the weekend of the ball with almost 150 guests arriving. Surely murder can wait. Although a few of the servants are questioned, the inquiry is at a standstill until a second death occurs. This time it’s almost a sure thing that it was murder.
Jessica has no standing with the local police and can only help George from behind the scenes. She is forced to take a backseat but George tries to keep her informed. There are any number of suspects in the second death but seemingly none in the first and no one who would want both people dead. In her usual frank style, Jessica is able to find out more than the police.
This is book forty-two in the series. Readers can start anywhere and know what’s going on and then go back to read from the beginning. Next up, Murder She Wrote, The Ghost and Mrs. Fletcher, which has Jessica back home in Cabot Cove, Maine.
Swag Bags and Swindlers by Dorothy Howell
Review by Cynthia Chow
Haley Randolph is about to turn twenty-five, and she is starting to feel the responsibility of being an adult. For Haley, that means finally leaving the low-wage job at Holt’s Department Store that provides medical benefits, but also forces her to serve customers amidst polyester clothing. With her probation period at L.A. Affairs almost complete, Haley’s ticket to full-time employment at her dream job as an assistant event planner is within her grasp. All Haley has to do is pass her performance review.
That means that the pressure is on for Haley to plan the perfect 50th Anniversary celebration at Hollywood Haven, a retirement home for entertainers, agents, and production crews. Unfortunately, a snafu does occur when she discovers the body of Derrick Ellery, shot in his office. It seems Haley was one of the few who got along with Hollywood Haven’s assistant director, and to ensure that the anniversary party continues – and that she gets a favorable review – Haley must help the police quickly capture the murderer and close the case.
Haley is someone who tends to act impulsively without ever reading the fine print, which explains why she eagerly assumed ALL of the duties of an L.A. Affairs co-worker out on maternity leave. This barely leaves her time to cope with the news that her ex-boyfriend Ty Cameron, heir to Holt Department stores, is being eyed for a murder following a car accident he never explained.
Haley has always been a character who revels in designer labels and ceaselessly hunting for the latest “it” bag. That doesn’t mean that she herself is shallow, or that Haley doesn’t have her own vulnerability. The author deftly succeeds in making the easily distracted Haley likable and extraordinarily funny. Dealing with her narcissistic Beauty Queen mother has Haley relying on the coping mechanisms of Starbucks, chocolate, and therapy shopping. In this latest entry a far more mature Haley emerges, and readers see a side of her that is very focused and intelligent; when it’s towards a goal that interests her. Even more fun are plot elements that are slowly revealed to readers, but Haley misses due to her naiveté (and a few distractions caused by a murder or three). The Haley Randolph mystery series continues to be a reliable source of witty banter, sharp observations on society, and a heroine who is as loyal to her loved ones as she is devoted to designer handbags.
The Marsh Madness: A Book Collector Mystery by Victoria Abbott
Review by Cynthia Chow
After her boyfriend cleaned out her savings and shattered her heart, Jordan Bingham retreated back to Harrison Falls and the uncles who raised her. Loving, larcenous, and overprotective, the uncles’ somewhat suffocating attention had Jordan accepting the near-perfect job assisting dowager Vera Van Alst rebuild her valuable mystery book collection. The less-than-ideal status that comes with the position results from living in the home of “The Most Hated Woman in Harrison Fall.” Fortunately, that liability is offset by the indulgent meals prepared by Signora Fiammetta Panetone, who has never seen a problem that can’t be solved with food.
A lover of mystery novels and their impeccable detectives, none appeal to theater-loving Jordan more than those of Ngaio Marsh. Handsome, aristocratic, and never wrong, Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn shares Jordan’s experience of often intermingling between the worlds of criminals and high society. So when the heir of the Kauffman fortune offers to sell his collection of Ngaio Marsh first editions to Vera, Jordan is giddy with anticipation. She is far less enthusiastic about Vera’s insistence that Jordan’s Uncle Kevin accompany them, as there has never been a scheme, con, or unintentional disaster that somehow didn’t originate with Uncle Kev.
Their interaction with Chadwick Kauffman, his assistant, and his butler goes successfully until the police later show up at the Van Alst manor with news of Kauffman’s murder. Witnesses and evidence all point to Jordan and her uncle being involved, and Detective Drea Castellano is more than eager to believe it. The fact that no one at the Kauffman mansion actually exists does make Jordan’s credibility a little questionable. Just as shocking – and heartbreaking – is that Detective Tyler “Smiley” Dekker seems to share Castellano’s suspicion.
The mother and daughter writing team of “Victoria Abbot” never stumble in this lively, and often unexpectedly moving, mystery series. This fourth entry continues elements established in the first, proving just how smartly-plotted these novels have been crafted. Readers will be giggling (I tend to chortle) at the antics of Bad Cat and Good Cat, identical Siamese cats who unfortunately are indistinguishable until it’s too late. Jordan’s wit and wisecracks help her cope with the continually abrasive Vera, and Jordan will need all the patience she can find to deal the antics of the genial reprobate Uncle Kev. Jordan’s feisty veneer hides a vulnerability that will have readers rooting for her to find her happy ending. The reward for readers is that the mystery’s final twist proves to be a worthy tribute to Ngaio Marsh.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 of these books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “September End,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 3, 2015. 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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