by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we are celebrating Christmas with Penguin mystery authors and three Penguin Christmas mystery novels-Merry Market Murder by Paige Shelton, Mulled Murder By Kate Kingsbury, and Home for the Homicide: A Do-It Yourself Mystery By Jennie Bentley. Details at the end of this post on how to win copies of all three.
Merry Market Murder By Paige Shelton
Review by Sandra Murphy
This is the fifth Farmer’s Market Mystery in the series and the characters are more entertaining with each read. This time Becca is selling Jalapeno Mint Jelly in addition to her regular jams and jellies. There’s not a recipe in the book for that, but Becca gives the directions as she makes a batch (it sells out faster than she can make it) so for those familiar with jelly/jam making, it’s doable.
On to the murder! The Ridgeway family has the best known Christmas tree farm around and because they donated the trees to be used in a tree decorating contest for charity, Alison (Becca’s fraternal twin) has given them an exclusive spot at the market to sell their trees. Everybody’s confused when rival tree farmer, Reggie Stuckey, shows up with a trailer full of trees too–and a contract that says he has the exclusive.
While Alison, the market’s manager checks with the owners, the Ridgeways continue to set up their trees and Reggie makes phone calls of his own. When Alison tries to find Reggie to straighten the whole mess out, he’s nowhere to be found.
The next morning, his truck is still where he left it, so Alison and Becca open the trailer to give the trees some fresh air, only to find Reggie’s body inside the trailer, stabbed with a Christmas tree stake.
One would think the Ridgeways might have killed off the competition, but then Reggie wasn’t really in business for the money–he had millions. Brenton, the guy who sells homemade dog treats, is acting very strangely. He’s usually the mildest mannered man around, but he causes enough ruckus that Sam, Becca’s boyfriend/police officer, has to get involved. Brenton’s anger seemed directed at the Ridgeways though. There’s Reggie’s ex-wife to consider, the people who work for him and whoever is leaving Christmas ornament clues for Becca to follow, if only people would say what they mean and not just hint. If only the clues were a bit clearer–Christmas ornaments are not the easiest to decipher!
Sam and Becca’s relationship is developing nicely; Ian is still around and selling a lot of lawn art for the holidays. The farmer’s market is a busy place and one you’d want to visit for both the people and the goods they sell. Alison and Becca’s parents are in town and it looks like they might finally settle down after a couple of years on the road in the RV. Two characters you don’t’ want to miss are Batman, a pet goose and of course, Becca’s dog, Hobbit, always a star.
Recipes include: Holiday Cut-Out Cookies, Strawberry Jam-filled Cookies, Orange Meltaways, Gingerbread Biscuits, Brandy Snaps and Pastry Cream, Pumpkin Cream Pie, Cranberry Cream Pie, Whipped Shortbread Cookies, and Cranberry White Chocolate Muffins.
Previous books are Farm Fresh Murder, Fruit of All Evil, Crops and Robbers, A Killer Maize
Paige Shelton also writes the Country Cooking School Mysteries: If Fried Chicken Could Fly, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance, If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion.
And a special: Red Hot Deadly Peppers
Mulled Murder By Kate Kingsbury
Review by Sandra Murphy
This is the ninth holiday Pennyfoot Hotel mystery. The Christmas Curse, no matter how much everyone hopes it’s gone, is still around. One of the hotel’s guests is found dead on the beach, an obvious murder. If that’s not enough to deal with, Pansy’s getting married, the new maid is a pain in the neck, a woman with no memory is found in the courtyard, half frozen, Charlotte trips and falls down a flight of steps and a broken arm puts her out of commission and the worse, there’s no water to be had. The plumber is summoned, and sends a substitute, but he’s not nearly as good or fast as the regular man. Water is restored to the lower floor, but not the guest rooms. Really, chamber pots in a classy hotel for those celebrating the season?
The local police are less than efficient, so Cecily feels she’s forced to figure out who Mr. Evans really was, why he was killed and who did it. Surprisingly, her husband Baxter, who usually frowns on her involvement, wants to partner with her this time.
Phoebe is in the midst of a creative meltdown, but that’s her usual mood around the holidays. She’s scheduled another program that includes elaborate sets, singers, dancers and music. They almost never turn out well but then, half the entertainment is seeing how they go wrong.
Madeline is decorating the hotel. She’s psychic although it’s not generally talked about. She has a real talent for decoration and equally, for knowing there is real evil around and the murders are not over.
Clive, who used to be the janitor, now runs a toy store and the new janitor leaves a lot to be desired. Samuel, Cecily’s driver, has his own repair shop–it’s doing so well, he feels he and Pansy can now be married–and that means she’ll have to quit her job at the Pennyfoot. The new groomsman/driver seems almost afraid of horses, but is a whiz at fixing anything motorized. Gertie is going through some surprising changes herself.
Although British period mysteries are not the first thing I reach for, this is a series I’ve enjoyed. The characters are fun to get to know and it’s a complete change from those who reach for a cell phone or use Google maps. The hierarchy of servants, the upper class and the tradesmen is a learning experience, as the servants are more likely to be aware of class and strict about it than anyone else.
Sadly, Kingsbury says this is the last Pennyfoot Hotel mystery. Each of the characters has grown, and like Clive, Samuel, and Pansy, they are moving on. It’s a bittersweet read. However, readers can console themselves with the previous eight holiday-themed books (Herald of Death was reviewed for KRL), plus the twelve Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries. Kingsbury also writes the Manor House mysteries and as Rebecca Kent, has published three other books. Never fear, she will keep writing!
Home for the Homicide: A Do-It Yourself Mystery By Jennie Bentley
Review by Cynthia Chow
One would think that at Christmastime the news that the Christ Child was missing would be somewhat alarming to the residents of Waterfield, Maine. As recent New York City transplant and newlywed, Avery Baker Ellis, is informed though, the disappearance of the Baby Jesus doll at the church manger is an annual tradition along with its mysterious reappearance days later. Anyway, Avery and her new husband Derek Ellis have their hands busy with their business renovating a Craftsman bungalow they recently purchased after the owners, Ruth and Mamie Green, moved into an assisted living facility. When combined with Derek’s sister signing them up for the Waterfield Village Christmas Tour of Homes and the pressure of baking cookies and decorating it entails, Avery and Derek find themselves with their hands full during the holidays.
Their renovation plans are disrupted by Mamie’s befuddled appearance at the house when she wanders away from the facility. Mentally still a child, Mamie has become prone to returning back to her former home, an occurrence that ends in tragedy when she again “escapes” and is found frozen to death in hidden playhouse. The unwelcome discoveries never seem to end, as when exploring the trapdoor leading to the attic Avery discovers of the lovingly bundled skeleton of a very real infant. A little research on Avery’s part discovers that Ruth and Mamie’s baby brother Artie went missing in 1949 and was never found, leaving Avery with the most probable conclusions that the infant never left the home.
Although Avery has enough Christmas obligations on her plate to keep her busy she is unable to leave the mystery alone. After sixty years memories and records are ephemeral at their best though, and even with CSI technology, Avery is left with the difficult task of uncovering family secrets hidden away for generations.
The seventh in this series explores the dynamics of families and their complexities, where tales become facts and myths are passed on without question. Tragedies go unspoken of for generations, and perhaps that is the worst crime within these families. The tone of the novel never becomes too dark however, and Avery’s holiday-induced stress as she struggles to find the perfect gloss of paint for a Christmas decoration is all too relatable. Skillful plotting and characters familiar to readers ensure that this will be a very enjoyable treat for the holidays.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 Christmas mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Christmas,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 14, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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