by Sandra Murphy
There are so many wonderful mystery novels out there we constantly find ourselves playing catch-up with our reviews, so here we are again with a great group of mysteries to end out out the year! We have City of Secrets: Counterfeit Lady series by Victoria Thompson, Cut to the Chaise: Caprice De Luca Home Staging Mystery by Karen Rose Smith, Harvest of Secrets: Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby, Just Plain Murder: An Amish Mystery by Laura Bradford, Murder, She Wrote: Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land, and Death and Daisies: A Magic Garden Mystery by Amanda Flower. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 6 books, along with links you can use to purchase them. If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon links at the end of each review.
City of Secrets: Counterfeit Lady series by Victoria Thompson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Although suffragists are fighting for the right to vote, women are still in a difficult position. Untrained to work, the choice is either a suitable marriage or a life of drudgery or worse. Elizabeth Miles is a grifter. She begged her father to teach her his vocation and knowing no man of quality would marry a con man’s daughter, he obliged. In the course of a con, Elizabeth met the suffragists and her life changed.
Now she’s engaged to Gideon, a lawyer. It’s hard for them to reconcile his love for the law and her disregard of it, but she’s trying. Not raised as a lady, she studies The Etiquette of Today written by Mrs. Edith B. Ordway so she’ll behave properly when mingling with Gideon’s family and society friends.
Elizabeth became friends with Priscilla whose husband died a tragic death. Months later, Priscilla remarried. After her second husband also dies, she asks Elizabeth for help. Her bank accounts are nearly empty. Gone is her inheritance and money from her second husband. Knowing nothing of Elizabeth’s past, she knows her friend is a strong woman who might know who to ask about what led to the situation.
Consulting Gideon, Elizabeth realizes that the good intentions of the law will not provide justice. The police department is corrupt, there will be no repayment of the funds, and Priscilla and her daughters will lose their home and reputations.
In Elizabeth’s mind, the only thing to do is to give the wrong-doers a dose of their own medicine. What follows is a series of twists, misdirection, double-crosses, and deceit that forces Gideon and Elizabeth to reconsider their relationship.
This is the second book in the series, called the Counterfeit Lady mysteries. Elizabeth is a delightful if unconventional woman, someone who will keep Gideon on his toes and intrigued for a lifetime. He’s more than a bit worried that his mother and Elizabeth get along so well. In a time when women are severely restricted by what’s proper, Elizabeth finds her way.
Thompson also writes the Gaslight mysteries (twenty-one) featuring Frank, a former police officer, and Sarah, a former society woman, now a midwife. Murder on Union Square is the latest. I’ve written good reviews for a number of them in KRL, but have to say, the Counterfeit Lady books are equally good, if not better.
Thompson writes strong women who know what they want and are able to find a way to get it, while teaching the men they love to see the resulting benefits.
Elizabeth, The Counterfeit Lady, will find her way onto my Best Reads of 2018 list for sure.
Cut to the Chaise: Caprice De Luca Home Staging Mystery by Karen Rose Smith
Review by Sandra Murphy
Caprice DeLuca and Grant Weatherford are getting married. The reception will be in the events room at the local winery. Caprice is a decorator and home stager for realtors. Having redone the tasting room and other projects at the winery she knows the venue. Michelle is in charge of events while her husband Travis does promotion. He’s not a people person but more of a guy who looks at the big picture.
Things are progressing smoothly with wedding plans. Caprice’s dress is just what she wanted, flowers are ordered, food arranged, and then there’s family. She has no problems with her boisterous relatives, but Grant’s parents are another story. They’re opinionated, stand offish, and clearly don’t understand her love for retro 70s clothing. Grant’s brother is a wanderer, never holding a job for long, and crisscrossing the country just for a change of scenery.
When Travis’s body is found stabbed in the tasting room at the winery, it throws a shadow over the wedding plans, especially with Michelle as the prime suspect. She asks Vincent, Caprice’s brother, to be her lawyer. That causes a lot of problems with his live-in girlfriend Roz because Vince used to date Michelle.
There are a number of suspects besides Michelle—a couple of winery employees, a saboteur who tried to ruin a batch of wine, for starters. There was a lot going on that Travis didn’t tell.
With her wedding reception in jeopardy and the wedding only weeks away, Caprice has a vested interest in finding the killer before it’s time to say their vows.
This is the eighth book in the series. Caprice and Grant have a long history and it’s nice to see that culminate in their wedding. Her family is a close one, so be sure to keep track of all the names on the family tree. Just when you think you know who is the killer, another clue pops up that points to someone else—and that will keep readers guessing right until the end. If you like romance mixed with murder, this is the right mix.
There are original Recipes included, too: Three Cheese Rotelle and Pepperoni Casserole, Gourmet Chicken Salad, and Caprice’s White Cake with Mascarpone and Strawberry Topping.
Harvest of Secrets: Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby
Review by Sandra Murphy
At the peak of harvest season in Virginia wine country, everything has to do with timing. Pick the grapes too early, and they’re not sweet enough. Too late, and they’re overripe. A Category 5 storm on the way means the grapes have to be picked as soon as possible. With the threat of deportation, even workers with green cards are nervous. Vineyards that usually work together aren’t as anxious to cooperate this year, due to a shortage of help.
Lucie is having a run of bad luck. First an uprooted tree exposes an old burial plot, just outside the family cemetery. If it’s a crime scene, it’s one that’s over a hundred years old. Then the new winemaker at the neighboring vineyard turns out to be Jean-Claude, a Frenchman whose family has known Lucie’s for many years. He’s handsome, charming, and a complete cad, leaving broken hearts behind like litter along a busy road. When his body is found, the suspects are many, including one of the vineyard workers. With the threat of a boycott by the workers, Lucie agrees to ask questions to try to find out who is responsible for Jean-Claude’s death.
If that isn’t enough, Lucie’s researching her DNA and finds more than she bargained for. Secrets don’t stay secrets forever.
Lucie’s relationship with Quinn, her now fiancé, and her family is an enviable one. She’s sensible, doesn’t take needless risks, and cares deeply for the land and the life she’s built. There’s a map of the estate at the front of the book which gives readers a feel for the grounds. Once reading though, it’s almost unnecessary because Crosby’s descriptions are so vivid. Midway into the book, readers will feel like they could arrive at the vineyard and find their way to the tasting room, just from reading about it. Lucie has a feel for history, learning more about the skeleton than she thought possible.
This is the ninth book in the truly enjoyable series. Crosby also writes the Sophie Medina mysteries.
Just Plain Murder: An Amish Mystery by Laura Bradford
Review by Sandra Murphy
When Jakob Fisher was a young boy, he saw a local police officer catch a criminal and return stolen goods to their rightful owner. It left a lasting impression on him. Whenever he had a chance, he hung around the police station. That was during his Rumspringa, the time when young Amish get a chance to live as the English (non-Amish). Then they are able to choose baptism and the Amish life, or to live as the English do.
When someone is baptized and then leaves Amish life, he is shunned, a fate that Jakob now deals with for life. Family and friends no longer speak to him, he’s not welcome to visit or attend social events. They will literally turn their backs. Jakob left Amish life to become a police officer, now detective, to solve the case of a murdered Amish man. Although there is some softening among his relatives, he has Claire as his liaison, both for person contact as well as when on duty.
Jakob’s mentor, the police officer he first saw as a child, has come out of retirement to visit his daughter, grandkids, and Jakob. Before they even have a chance for more than a phone call, Russ’s body is found, a devastating blow to Jakob and all who knew Russ.
With Claire’s help, Jakob is able to focus on the case and eliminate suspects from Russ’s past. Russ had a memory for detail, not only for his own cases but for cases he read about from other areas of the country. It’s a lot of ground to cover to find his killer.
This is the sixth book in the series. Claire and Jakob are closer than ever, obviously in love. Her Aunt Diane has a romantic interest, too. Readers who know the characters will look forward to visits with Esther, Eli, and their new baby. Annie still works in Claire’s shop, and it’s clear she not only loves it but has a knack for business.
There’s plenty of information about Amish life, but it doesn’t intrude on the story. Claire moves easily between the two communities, comfortable in both. This is one of those books—the kind where readers come back to see what’s new with favorite characters as much as they read for the mystery. It’s a visit home.
Bradford also writes the Emergency Dessert Squad series (3, reviewed here) and writing as Elizabeth Lynn Casey, pens the Southern Sewing Circle mysteries (12, several reviewed here).
Murder, She Wrote: Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land
Review by Sandra Murphy
During a trip to New York for a book signing, Jessica meets an old acquaintance, Thomas Rudd, a noir writer of past fame. Now his books aren’t selling and his newest was turned down by their mutual publisher. Thomas swears Lane Barfield, publisher at their imprint, has been stealing from his writers for the past several years.
Jessica is reluctant to believe Thomas. After all, Lane discovered both of them and has been a good friend and publisher for Jessica for over thirty years. Thomas claims to have proof and agrees to meet with Jessica the next morning to show her. She can only hope he’s sober when they meet.
Thomas doesn’t show so Jessica walks to his nearby apartment in case he’s ill or hungover, only to find firetrucks on his street. His apartment building is the site of an explosion, thought to be suicide by Thomas. It would make sense, a down and out author, barely getting by, and an alcoholic besides, but Jessica still finds it hard to believe. Being Jessica, she can’t leave it alone.
That’s the beginning of the latest Murder She Wrote. Since the death of Donald Bain, Jon Land is writing the books (co-authored by Jessica, of course!). While staying true to the characters and settings of the previous books, Land has taken a decided turn into thriller territory. This tale has Jessica traveling from Cabot Cove to New York to Washington. Instead of the usual body or two, readers should expect more bodies than usual, killed in a variety of ways, with more details given. This takes the book out of the cozy category readers are used to. Jessica is followed and becomes a target herself.
The story is fast-paced, full of tension, intriguing plots and subplots. I was able to spot a few clues, missed some, solved a few puzzlers before Jessica and lagged behind her on others.
I had one problem with the book and unless you are an avid dog lover, it would seem to be minor. The dog’s not a character but mentioned in an aside almost. For my part, it could have easily been left out not only because the dog was killed but because it is prejudicial of the breed.
With that exception, I enjoyed the book so much I read it in one sitting. As I predicted in my last review, Murder She WroteL a Date with Danger, the last book written by Bain (with the addition of Land), there are changes coming in Jessica’s life. This book remains true to the brand. Readers will look forward to a fresh approach to a well-loved series.
Death and Daisies: A Magic Garden Mystery by Amanda Flower
Review by Sandra Murphy
A while back, Fiona Knox inherited her uncle’s house and property in Duncreeigan, Scotland. She went there to sell the house, but fell in love with it and has stayed. The attached gardens are magical—literally. As long as the caretaker (now Fiona) is there or visits often, the gardens thrive. Without a caretaker nearby or in residence, the gardens suffer and nearly die.
She’s ready to open the Climbing Rose Flower Shop and is nervous about possible failure. One problem is the parish minister, Quaid MacCullen, who thinks she doesn’t belong in town and should never open a shop of her own. He makes sure his opinion is known to not only Fiona, but to anyone who will listen.
A huge thunderstorm hits town causing damage, but Fiona’s cottage comes through safely. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the man found dead on the beach. Who would be out in such bad weather? Identification is difficult, but Fiona is sure it’s the parish minister who hasn’t been around to harass her in several days. Since she was the focus of his most recent rants, she’s high on the suspect list. Not only to clear her name but to prevent her flower shop from dying on the vine before it barely gets a chance to open, Fiona vows to solve the mystery and discover the killer herself.
Of course, there are other complications like her sister visiting from Tennessee. She’s supposed to help Fiona but is not the most reliable worker. She’s also got a few secrets. Romance is on the horizon which should be a good thing, but it’s not assured.
Although the garden is a magical place, the fantasy doesn’t intrude on the mystery. Fiona is a good character and readers learn about Scotland as she does. Her sister’s visit may last longer than either of them thought and that’s a good thing.
The first in the series, Flowers and Foul Play, introduced Fiona to readers. Amanda Flowers also writes the Living History Museum series (3), the Amish Candy Shop mysteries (2, both reviewed here), the Magical Bookshop books (2), Andi Boggs series (3) and the Appleseed Creek books (4). For cozy lovers, this is a bonanza and a chance to add to the To Be Read stack.
To enter to win a copy of all 6 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “end of year,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 5, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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