End of Year Mystery Catch Up!

Dec 31, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Cynthia Chow & Sandra Murphy

This week we have reviews and giveaways of some more mysteries for the new year-Murder on the Class Trip: A Maya and Sandra Mystery by Lee Hollis, On Spine of Death: A By the Book Mystery by Tamara Berry, and The Secret of the Lost Pearls: A Useful Woman Mystery by Darcie Wilde. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 3 books and links to purchase them at the end of each review–you may not be able to see the Amazon links if you have ad blocker on.

Murder on the Class Trip: A Maya and Sandra Mystery by Lee Hollis
Review by Cynthia Chow

When private detective partners Sandra Wallage and Maya Kendrick are called into the principal’s office, they’re not in trouble but neither are they being hired for their professional services. Principal Caroline Williams is begging/guilting the women into being chaperones for their teens’ four-day class field trip to Washington D.C., as the previous Portland High School enlistees dropped out and the excursion is on the verge of being cancelled. While former police officer Maya has no trouble saying no to an offer that also has their respective teens horrified, Sandra being the ex-wife of a Senator has her far more reluctant to reject the duty. As it turns out, the recent release of her own husband from prison has Maya awkwardly trying to adjust to their living situation, conveniently making this the ideal time for her to take a break and get out of town.

The trip from Maine to Sandra’s former stomping ground is familiar, but uncomfortable, although it also has her taking advantage of her connections to take the class to meet an actual sitting Senator. The visit to her husband’s office has Sandra once again feeling the sleights of being a former wife who was cheated upon by her husband, even though Senator Stephen Wallage seems to have no hesitation reuniting with his spouse. What does become a problem is when his intern Tess goes missing, especially when Maya and Sandra later find her fatally overdosed in Stephen’s bed. It barely takes a minute for the press to link the Senator and Intern together in a scandal of a broken affair, especially when texts appear as evidence of their torrid relationship. Stephen denies any improprieties and claims that he’s been hacked, but Sandra was burned one time too many to fully believe him. The involvement of a senator means that the FBI are investigating, and the agents being women themselves doesn’t mean that they aren’t dismissive of the two “soccer moms.” Sandra’s son and Maya’s daughter are faster on the draw in looking up security footage to prove Stephen’s innocence, but with Sandra’s ability to maneuver through DC’s social stratosphere and Maya’s police experience, they aren’t far behind. Soon they are tracking down a lovelorn exchange student, questioning Stephen’s girlfriend, and attempting to wrangle together a busload of teens and their geriatric bus driver.

This third in the series is a true delight as it merrily takes Sandra and Maya through the murky swampland of D.C. political society. An equally fascinating plot line is the struggle for Maya and her husband to mend their relationships, as she has learned to be independent while Max is challenged to find purpose as an unemployable felon. The relationship between Sandra and Maya continues to entertain as they have become equals in their private detective partnership, respecting the other’s skills and becoming true friends. As one would expect from a novel by Lee Hollis, the humor is sharp, biting, and cleverly observational of Washington politics. By the conclusion, multiple accusations are thrown and evidence discovered that makes predicting the solution nearly impossible. This is a fun romp of a mystery series that has developed Maya and Sandra into fully formed characters with whom readers will adore and want to see succeed in their personal and professional lives. A new path opening up for Sandra looks to be equally compelling and enjoyable, and hopefully readers will be able to again see where the future takes Sandra, Maya, and their compelling family members.

On Spine of Death: A By the Book Mystery by Tamara Berry
Review by Cynthia Chow

It wasn’t unusual for Tess Harlow to be zip-tied and duct taped in the cellar of her grandfather’s hardware store. As a bestselling mystery author, Tess prided herself on researching the practicality of her characters’ actions, even if it means being trapped in a rundown cabin possibly filled with rats while her very embarrassed teenage daughter tries to ignore her. Less usual was for the continuing renovation of the store to result in Tess being covered in human bones, placing her once again in an active crime scene. As much as Tess might love to stuff a femur in her pocket (purely for research purposes), it’s her precocious daughter Gertrude who ends up with a job shadowing the coroner at their local morgue. Both disturbed and impressed by Gertie’s ingenuity, Tess’s inside source quickly gives her the information that these thirty-year-old bones may be linked to additional women’s disappearances.

Already miffed by his undeniable resemblance to the hero detective of Tess’s novels, Sheriff Victor Boyd again warns Tess to keep her pockets empty and her nose out of his investigation. Of course, Tess has no intention of doing so, not with her grandfather’s reputation on the line and an undercover FBI agent on-call and willing to assist. Nicki Nickerson has been working as Winthrop, Washington’s librarian while investigating logging company owner Mason Peabody and his brothers, and for Tess she has become both a source of background information and genuine friendship. And while Tess should be offended on Nicki’s behalf when another FBI agent arrives to assist on the case, Tess admittedly finds the handsome puppy-dog eyes of Jared Wright appealing. That he’s also playing the role as her contractor doesn’t hurt, especially since word of the bones in the cabin spreads fast enough to make hiring a new contractor impossible. Manipulating the man’s crush on the talented writer feels a bit unethical and morally shady, but Tess is determined to prove her family’s innocence, keep her daughter from committing any additional crimes, and stop procrastinating enough to finally finish writing her next book.

This second in the series is truly hilarious and sharply written, with Tess’s relationship with daughter the highlight of this novel. It’s so refreshing to see them work together as a team delving into admittedly morbid situations, and Tess’s protectiveness over and love for Gertrude is never in doubt. Jared is the surprise new character who proves to be far more complicated than he first appears to be, and as much as Tess would like to reject his attentions she can’t help but be flattered. An alarming discovery has Sheriff Boyd torn and facing his own family’s traumas, leaving it up to Tess to forge through and follow the clues that she may or may not have reported to the police. At least she does have the uber-competent Nicki assisting as she continues to find enough evidence to incriminate the Peabodys, and despite Jared’s complete lack of undercover skills he proves helpful as they uncover a multitude of deceptions. The repeated references of Tess using research to put off writing and investigating in order to inspire her next book feels meta and are sure to entertain fans and writers of mysteries. This series started out of the gate strong and continues to be a laugh-out-loud ingeniously plotted novel.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

The Secret of the Lost Pearls: A Rosalind Thorne Mystery by Darcie Wilde
Review by Sandra Murphy

Rosalind Thorne is in a class of her own. While her family was wealthy enough to be regarded as gentry, her father disgraced them and left Rosalind penniless. She knows how society works and how to help the women who have gotten themselves into a compromising position. For a fee, she’s available to help. Of her problem-solving abilities and her discretion, it’s hard to know which is more important.

In her current case, a string of distinctive pearls has gone missing. Usually the blame would fall on a servant who would be promptly sacked and unable to get another job. Bethany’s pearls have disappeared. Her husband firmly believes Nora, Bethany’s disgraced sister, stole them which would create a bigger scandal than Nora’s previous indiscretion at age sixteen, of eloping with a man who previously showed attention to another woman.

Now, Nora says they married, and he’s since died. Bethany’s younger sisters are ready for their debut. Such a scandal as Nora’s would prevent the sisters from marrying well. Rosalind must find the pearls, the real thief, and smooth the way for the girls’ first season.

A complication is the pearls were left out overnight instead of being locked away which means anyone in the household could have taken them. One maid goes missing, Nora’s husband returns from the ‘dead’ and stalks her, and everyone has secrets. Rosalind will have a difficult time with this case since no one is telling the whole truth or sometimes any of the truth.

This is the sixth book in the series. I like Rosalind. She’s in a difficult position, gentry but not exactly, working but dependent on the money the women are able to give her without their husbands finding out. Luckily, Rosalind has friends in both the gentry and the working class who can be relied upon to help.

It’s refreshing to read about a time when there were no cell phones, no casual dress, and strict rules for behavior no one now would believe was a way of life. The women were strictly controlled by their husbands who controlled the money, yet some wives found a way to circumvent the rules. Not all of them got away with it.

Take a trip back in time and watch as Rosalind works miracles to save a family torn apart by lies, secrets, and even murder.

To enter to win a copy of all 3 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “new year” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 7, 2023. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

You can use this link to purchase any of these books from indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, and KRL gets a portion of the sale:

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She’s editor for Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s, with twenty-two cozy stories. She also edited A Murder of Crows, twenty-one stories featuring animals and crime (no animals were harmed). She also writes for magazines, newsletters, and the occasional guest blog. Both anthologies are available at the usual outlets, print or ebook.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Another great bunch of books! Count me in!

    • You always have good books and new authors to read. These sound really good, and I would like to win these and read them because you have turned me on to many new offers. Thanks.

  2. Sounds like a great selection of reading
    coming up. Can’t wait. thanks

  3. Murder on the Class Trip by Lee Hollis, On Spine of Death by Tamara Berry, and The Secret of the Lost Pearls by Darcie Wilde all sounds like fabulous mystery reads to start off the New Year!

  4. What a great giveaway! Thank you for the chance to win.

  5. I have not read any of these series, but I did watch an interview with Darcie Wilde.
    Guess I have some catching up to do.
    Happy New Year!
    Karen94066 at aol. com

    • Would love to read all three. Thanks for the chance.

  6. We have a winner!


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