HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: Great reads for your gift list Thursday, Dec 1 2016 

At this time of year, Auntie M likes to give readers a compendium, if you will, of stacks of books to choose from for gifts for the readers on your list. Don’t forget her axiom that it’s perfectly reasonable to buy a few for yourself!

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Let’s start off with a little goodie that should soon appear in stockings all over the world: Short stories from the Queen of British Mystery, P D James, gathered into a slim volume perfect for stockings. The Mistletoe Murder and other Stories contains four classic short stories, two featuring her detective, poet Adam Dalgliesh. For a brief moment in time, readers can hear James’ voice in their reader ear once again. A delightful foreword by Val McDermid and a preface by James herself frame the perfect holiday treat. These are delicious: a snapshot of a setting, a crime to be solved, and you’re off! That’s the US cover on the left and the UK cover on the right. Enjoy!

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Keeping with the holiday theme is Ann Myers’ third Santa Fe Cafe` Mystery, Feliz Navidead
. Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Cafe has her mom visiting from Minnesota to entertain, while keeping track of her teenage daughter performing in the outdoor Christmas play. When Rita discovers a dead actor during the first performance, she swears off investigating, but soon finds herself involved in a very dangerous situation. The Knit and Snitchers, her elderly group of knitting ladies, are back, giving information and clues to Rita even as they sneak their knitting onto statues and stop signs. There are a host of other entertaining characters, and don’t forget Rita’s mom. Who can resist Santa Fe at Christmas? Watch Rita solve a murder and drool over Myers’ recipes, too.

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The Twelve Dogs of Christmas
is David Rosenfelt’s newest Andy Carpenter mystery in the long-running series. This time he and his trusty golden retriever are helping his friend “Pups” Boyer, accused of murder when said neighbor is found dead–by Pups. It doesn’t help that the neighbor had filed a complaint against Pups and the noise of her local dog rescue. While Andy doesn’t believe Pups is guilty, his digging will bring him closer than he’d like to the real murderer. Rosenfelt’s real Tara Foundation, which finds home for injured or sick dogs, is the basis for Andy’s foundation.


Maggie Patterson is helping out her sick sister, covering for her at The Wine and Bark, the dog-friendly bar Rachel runs in a usually-quiet seaside town in California in Trigger Yappy. It’s Maggie who hears the argument between her friend Yolanda and Bonnie, the gal who runs the Chic Chickie shop. When Bonnie is murdered, the Roundup Crew and the very cute Officer Brad Brooks are on hand to help Maggie investigate to clear Yolanda, even if means putting her purser job on hold to do so. Filled with good humor, charm and a bit of romance.

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We’ll stick with humor in Agatha Raisin’s latest adventure, Pushing Up Daisies. M. C. Beaton’s beloved character is the kind of sleuth Miss Marple wouldn’t recognize, with her hard-drinking man lust. A land developer is murdered and there are far too many suspects. Lord Bellington wanted to turn the community garden into a housing development, so there are few tears shed at his death. The villagers seem happy enough that his heir and son, Damian, doesn’t intend to follow his father’s plans, but he does want to find his father’s killer, and hires Agatha to investigate. This time a retired detective is on hand to assist Agatha, and it helps that he’s handsome. Agatha doesn’t let a second murder of a woman seen kissing the new detective deter her from her case–or him. Vintage Beaton.

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A switch to historicals, and we start of with the continuing Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch with The Inheritance. With fine attention to Victorian detail, Lenox is thrust into his most personal case yet. His friend from Harrow, Gerald Leigh, asks for help from Lenox, only to disappear. Knowing that in the past Leigh has been the recipient of a bequest from an anonymous benefactor, he finds Leigh has received a second bequest. Could they be from the same person? And what does either had to do with his friend’s disappearance? His investigation will take him from the highs of society to the lows of the gangs of the east end of London before it’s over. An intricate plot with realistic and finely-drawn period details.

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Ian Sansome’s new County Guides novel, Westmoreland Alone
, with Stephen Sefton as narrator, Professor Morley (the People’s Professor) and his daughter Miriam, newly engaged, set out to conquer the Lake District. Owing to the the rather unusual end to Sefton’s night at the pub and cards before leaving, he persuades Morley he should take the train, with disastrous effect. A horrid crash reminds Sefton of his time in Spain and there is a tragic death. It’s the juxtaposition of the three personalities that provides a lot of the humor in the strained setting. Stranded after the fatal train crash, the three become involved in a suspicious death when the body of a woman is found at an archeological dig. It’s 1930’s England with all of the mores of the time. We see more of Sefton’s PTSD as the trio investigate gypsies, wrestling habits, country fairs and more.

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Wilbur Smith has been called “the best historical novelist” by Stephen King, and he brings that talent to ancient Egypt in Pharaoh
. This action-packed epic follows the Pharaoh’s advisor, Taita, where Egypt is under a brutal attack and Pharaoh Tamose is gravely injured. Despite leading the army to victory, Taita is branded a traitor after Tamose dies by the new Pharaoh. With his first person narrative bringing Taita and Egypt to life, sometimes in a boastful way, history feels present under Smith’s skilled hands when a kidnaping leads to preparation for another war.
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1967 Florence and Italian culture come alive under Mario Vichi’s hands in the fifth Inspector Bordelli mystery, Death in the Tuscan Hills. Florence is getting over the tragic floods of the previous winter but Bordelli has resigned after failing to solve the investigation into a young boy’s murder at that time. He leaves the city, determined to find peace in his new home in the Tuscan hills, despite the nagging thorn in his side by leaving the boy’s killers free. While he learns a new way of life, tending to an olive grove, gardening, cooking, and worries about his confused love life, he still obsesses about the men at large. Retribution is at hand when he discovers all the cohorts’ identities. But now what will he do about it? An absorbing tale with Vichi’s usual footnotes for clarification in several places.

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Will Thomas’ latest Barker and Llewellyn novel put their detecting skills to the test in Hell Bay, an impossible crime set in 1889 Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall. Barker has been tasked with providing security for a secret meeting with the French government at the estate there of Lord Hargrave. The security team fails miserably, with two deaths on the island and no means of leaving or signaling for help. It’s a classic locked-area mystery, as Barker and Llewelyn race to uncover the killer among them before he strikes again and dashes all hope of negotiating a new treaty with France. Chock full of historical details and rising tension.

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Andrew Hunt’s Desolation Flats captures 1930s Salt Lake City in his Art Oveson series. The famed Bonneville Salt Flats are the site of international racers, there to break the land speed record. Then Nigel Underhill, a wealthy English participant, is murdered, and his brother disappears. It’s a case for Art in the Missing Person’s Bureau, and he’s been handed a helper: a former Scotland Yard detective the Underhill family has hired to assist Art. The trail will lead them between Utah and London and end in a most unlikely manner. A gritty and engrossing read.

For readers who enjoy books set in different countries, check out these:

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Adam LeBor’s Yael Azoulay series have been praised for the geopolitical thrillers’ realistic and intelligent plotting and savvy yet human protagonist. Yael has managed to stop the plans of the powerful Prometheus Group and its leader is out for revenge. This third installment, The Reykjavik Assignment, takes the covert UN negotiator to Iceland for a secret meeting she’s arranged during a UN conference between three key players: the US Secretary of State, The UN Secretary General, and the President of Iran. She soon discovers a plan to disrupt it as an act of revenge against Yael herself. As the tension rises, and with the US President on hand, Yael races to stop the murder of the UN Secretary by unmasking the killer, who has his own motives for wanting the man dead. A chilling climax with a surprising twist at the end will answer some of Yael’s long-held questions. A stunning end to the trilogy.

realtigers It’s off to England and London’s Slough House in Mick Herron’s Real Tigers, a Jackson Lamb spy thriller that’s been called some of the finest spy fiction of the last 20 years. Slough House is where a disgraced spy is sent to push paper. But when one is the victim of a revenge kidnapping, it leads to a group of private mercenaries within the Security Service. Enter Jackson Lamb to sort it all out in a manner that will convince readers the spy novel with sharp dialogue and filled with sly wit is still around.

thepatriarch
The Patriarch brings Bruno, Chief of Police, to the French countryside for the birthday celebration of the man who is Bruno’s childhood hero: Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix, a WWII flying ace. He knows many of the attendees, and is enjoying himself immensely, far away from his daily grind, when a longtime friend of the family is found dead. What started as a pleasant day turns into the kind of investigation he’d hoped to avoid, as what at first appears to be a tragedy may just be a murder. With his hero’s family all coming under suspicion, he must tread lightly in the Dordogne, from the river chateaus to the prehistoric cave paintings to find a killer.

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To North Korea and the enigmatic Inspector O, in James Church’s sixth in the series, The Gentleman from Japan
. Living with his nephew, Bing, the director of state security in northeast China near the border of North Korea, Inspt. O becomes involved when Bing needs his help after there are seven deaths in one night, apparent poisonings in noodle shops. Despite not wanting to investigate them, Bing needs O’s help more than ever. Their investigation will take them to Spain and Portugal before it’s straightened out as a world-wide plot develops. Satisfying and complex.

storm-rising
Back to the US for some great mysteries. Douglas Schofield’s Storm Rising fits that bill, with cop’s widow Lucy Hendricks leading the charge. After leaving for Florida, Lucy decides its time to move home to New Jersey and lay her old ghosts to rest. Yet the mystery surrounding her husband’s death becomes even stronger when her young son, Kevin, experiences a change in his behavior. With Hurricane Sandy quickly approaching, the elements conspire to destroy more than Lucy’s home as she tries to unpick the mystery surrounding her husband’s death. A true mystery laden with supernatural elements.

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Not supernatural, but with a substance not known in earth: that’s the crux of the case before Kay Scarpitta in Patricia Cornwell’s new CHAOS
. A bicyclist has been killed with superhuman force and Kay and her investigating partner, Peter Marino, are on the case in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the body has been found near the Kennedy School of Government. What doesn’t add up are the calls Kay’s husband, FBI agent Benton Wesley, have received before the incident from Interpol. Or were they? And when her tech-savvy niece Lucy fails to be able to trace the sender, all bets are off with a cyberbully involved. High tension, detailed forensics, and a whopping good story.

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Ellen Crosby brings back her Virginia Wine Country Mysteries under the Minotaur umbrella in The Champagne Conspiracy. Vintner-sleuth Lucie Montgomery investigates an older mystery with her partner, Quinn Santori, when his uncle Gino enlists their help solving the 1920s death of Zara Tomasi, the first wife of his grandfather, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1923. Is there a connection to her death the day after President Warren Harding died at the same San Francisco hotel? With a blackmailer breathing down their necks, Gino and Lucie search for the truth before a family secret is revealed. Everything they hold dear will come under threat as a murderer tries to keep the truth about Zara’s death buried in time.

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Gritty crime fiction takes to the streets of the Bronx in John Clarkson’s
Bronx Requiem
. James Beck is back, and he takes it hard when an ex-con, determined to change his ways, is murdered just hours after his release before he can change his life. Enter James Beck, whose ring of ex-cons in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn try to find justice for the murdered man. But a deeper look into a street killing turns into something more complicated, and soon Beck and his ring need to watch their own backs to uncover the truth. Fast-paced and action filled.

And for those who want a paperback for stocking stuffers or maybe that grab bag gift, look no further than these:

herlastbreath
Her Last Breath is Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder entry new in paperback, and she’s a favorite of readers with good reason. Investigating the world of the Amish isn’t easy, but it’s a world Kate knows, and as Chief of Police, she’s called in to a hit-and-run that leaves an Amish deacon and of two of his children dead, with a third clinging to life. The Amish lifestyle is accurately portrayed, its simplicity a stark contrast to the rapid pace and high tension. The widow was Kate’s friend as youths, and while she’s determined to find the killer, she starts to suspect it’s much more than a simple case in Painters Mill.

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Sophie Hannah’s The Narrow Bed
is part of her Culver Valley crime series with the highly interesting married detective duo, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. A serial killer is murdering pairs of best friends after giving the victim a hand-made white book containing a line of poetry before their death. Their search centers around stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck, who was a recipient of one of the white books, but is still alive a year later. How they solve this crime and it all comes together shows the hallmark of Hannah’s complex plotting for a read that’s filled with pathos and psychological ambiguity.

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Carla Norton’s What Doesn’t Kill Her is the second Reeve Le Clair thriller. Now a college student after surviving being the captive of killer Daryl Wayne Flint, she’s getting her life back on track. Then the unthinkable happens: Flint manages to escape from the psychiatric hospital where he’s been held, and starts killing people from his past, settling old scores. And that included Reeve, and she knows she’s on his list. Not only that: she realizes she’s the one who knows him best and is the only one who can stop him. Chilling and tautly plotted.

And one for your true crime aficionado: possessed
True crime writer Kathryn Casey earned Ann Rule’s two thumbs up as one of the best in the business. Now Casey explores the “Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder” in Possessed
, taking readers to Houston and what at first glance is a domestic murder. The details include the magnetic and erratic Ana Trujillo, who had a reputation in Houston for her supposed occult powers. Stefan Andersson is the gentle, Swedish man who falls for Ana and comes under her spell. A fascinating look at the forensic evidence and witness testimony comes under the microscope as Ana tries to claim she killed Stefan in self defense. Meticulously presented.

Ausma Jehanat Khan: The Unquiet Dead Sunday, May 24 2015 

Unquiet Dead
Rarely is Auntie M affected by a book so much that she has to let time go by to give it a fair review.
But that’s what happened after closing the last page of this disturbingly powerful novel, The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan.

When the Bosnian War was ongoing, Auntie M was aware of the situation, but for a mother, nurse and new wife without relatives there that were directly affected, it became something noted on the nightly news. Khan removes that distance by bringing war atrocities and their aftermath directly to the reader in the form of lasting affects on several characters who managed to escape.

At the same time, it’s also a police procedural of the strongest kind, set in Toronto with a Muslim veteran police detective, Esa Khattak, and his partner, Detective Rachel Getty. As head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, Khattack’s team handles sensitive minority cases all the time. They are tasked with investigating the death of Christopher Drayton, a successful businessman who has fallen off a cliff near his home.

What first appears to be a straightforward accident of a fall from the cliffs overlooking Lake Ontario in the dark turns out to be so much more. Khattak soon comes to believe that Drayton was really Drazen Krstic, a war criminal responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Muslims during what has come to be known as the Srebrenica Massacre. Then it comes to light that Drayton has been receiving letters that contain quotations from war survivor’s testimony. Could his death be a revenge killing by relatives of survivors who’ve settled in Canada?

The case has personal ramifications for Khattak, and with Getty carrying her own secrets, the duo are learning to trust each other. Yet even as they build respect and trust in each other, they are learning from each other about the different cultures they represent. As their investigation continues, it will bring them more questions than answers that center on the conclave where Drayton lived and the small neighborhood there. Drayton was due to be married shortly, and his fiancee and her two daughters are several of the interesting characters Khan has created. There is also the question of a large donation he was to give to a museum in the same area and his participation in it.

Khan alternates the investigation against the background of the war, with several survivors stories representative of the horrific experiences of many. Without harping on political issues but with the travesty of war atrocities the focus, the novel stays firmly in the realm of a police investigation, with well-drawn characters, as the threads of the past and the present become woven into a chilling climax.

It is revealed after reading the novel, and there is not really a spoiler alert needed here, that the letters Drayton received contain lines from actual testimony from war crimes trials. In a lengthy and well-documented addendum, the author explains the origins of the quotes, showing the horror of ethnic cleansing that occurred at the time when a culture and its followers were attempted to be rubbed off the face of the earth.

This is an outstanding debut, meticulous in its research, compelling in its characters, and Auntie M can only hope this is not the last we’ve seen of this detective duo. Highly recommended.

James R. Callan: On sidekicks and Over My Dead Body, a Father Frank Mystery Sunday, May 10 2015 

Happy Mother’s Day! While Auntie M is visiting her Minnesota Grands, please welcome author James Callan, talking about sidekicks with a brief excerpt of his new release, OVER MY DEAD BODY:

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The Sidekick Is Not an Afterthought

All writers know the importance of a good sidekick to the protagonist. The protagonist is the leading character, the one on a mission, the person charged with the task of changing the course of things. As such, the main character is somewhat limited.

The sidekick, on the other hand, is not encumbered by such. Oh, yes, she (or he) is going to help the protagonist. But she is not the main driving force. As a result, she has a much wider range of what she can do. She can be funnier, crazier, can engage in things far afield from the main quest the protagonist must follow. The sidekick has a great opportunity to be more interesting.

In Over My Dead Body, a Father Frank Mystery released the first week of May, the sidekick is Georgia Peitz. Here’s an example of her free spirit: (Mike is the detective delivering the information that Syd committed suicide.)

Georgia jerked her hand up and stabbed a finger toward the detective. “Right. Angry. Not depressed. Not suicidal. Angry. He was planning to fight it.” She tilted her head and gave Mike an angelic smile. “He did not commit suicide.”

“Maybe he finally saw he couldn’t win.”

“I suppose some people might end it all if they couldn’t win something that was important to them,” Georgia said. The frown lines on Mike’s forehead began to disappear. “But,” she continued, “that was not Syd. Did you know him, Mike?”

“No.”

“Then, you’re not qualified to say what he would do in such a circumstance.” Again, the angelic smile. “I am.”

Don’t overlook the power of the sidekick to enliven your book and keep your reader engaged.

James R. Callan

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—-writing. He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years. He has had four non-fiction books published. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book releasing in 2015.

http://www.jamesrcallan.com
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Click http://amzn.to/1BmYQ0Q to see Over My Dead Body.

Cleansed by Fire (paperback & e-pub) NOW in audio, narrated by five-time Emmy winner Jonathan Mumm.

Over My Dead Body at: http://amzn.to/1BmYQ0Q
Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel – Second Edition at: http://amzn.to/19l69jd
How to Write Great Dialog Second Edition at: http://amzn.to/1yHx0uK
Cleansed by Fire at: http://amzn.to/1fqgWee

Frankie Y. Bailey: What The Fly Saw Sunday, Apr 26 2015 

Wht Fly Saw
Frankie Bailey introduced Albany detective Hannah McCabe in last year’s The Queen Dies, set in the near future. Bailey’s sequel,What The Fly Saw, proves to be another strong entry in what promises to be a series with just enough quirkiness to attract a huge readership. And well it should.

It’s 2020 in a very cold Albany that has almost been ground to a halt by a blizzard. That white snow blanketing everything covers more than McCabe might have thought when she’s handed her newest case: investigating the murder of a funeral home owner, found dead in home’s basement with an arrow protruding from his chest. Kevin Novak might have been depressed over the death only months before of his best friend, who succumbed to a sudden heart attack, but Novak surely didn’t shoot himself in the chest with his own compound bow.

Assisting McCabe is her partner, Mike Baxter, whom McCabe has yet to fully trust. On the surface, Novak was a family man with a loving wife and two decent kids, and also an active member of a local megachurch. The suspects are easy for the detectives to spot: the church’s minister; a psychiatrist who counsels church members; even a Southern medium who’s transplanted herself to New York.

What’s less easy to define is a motive for any of these people to want to kill Novak. Complicating things for McCabe are political machinations that involve her family, and the fallout two previous cases, one which seems to impinge on this murder–or does it?

The near-future aspect is compelling enough to be of interest but not a distraction from what is, at its heart, a good old-fashioned detective story. The kind of policing McCabe and Baxter carry out includes devices we can only imagine, but here, too, Bailey is astute and makes these implements an adjunct to policing in a totally believable manner. Bailey’s background includes teaching at the School of Criminal Justice in the U of Albany, where her interests explore the connections between crime, history and popular culture, and aspects of these are evident in the books and add a pleasing dimension, much as the futuristic aspects do.

The heart of the matter still revolves around very human relationships, from the victim and his family, to McCabe’s own, and form the strength of what is a compelling story and an addictive read.

Three to Die For: Hutton, Cha and Haines Sunday, Jun 16 2013 

Ewart Hutton’s debut Good People features a most unusual detective: DS Glyn Capaldi, half-Welsh but also half-Italian, and it’s those dark good looks that set him as an outsider.

images_030A case with an less-than-happy ending has sent Capaldi on exile from Cardiff to the rolling Welsh countryside where he’s learning the back roads and mores of the locals.

A call for a minibus hijacking looks like a routine call, especially when the missing van is found the next morning, an apparent prank.

But all is not well: six young men and one young woman appear to be missing, and when not all of them are found, Capaldi smells a case with his detective’s instinct.

Despite the villager’s assurances of the men’s goodness, Capaldi investigates and runs into opposition from the townspeople, who staunchly defend the mens pranking. These rural landowners command a high influence in the area; their word is taken as gospel.

It will be left to Capaldi to unravel what really happened that night, with consequence reaching into the past he could never foresee. Betrayals leading to depravity only scratch the surface when the truth is known, and not before a suicide occurs–or is it murder?

Hutton brings the reader into Capaldi’s world of dark woodlands and small towns that survive by their own code of justice. This is a crime thriller with an edge, and readers will hope the cynical voice of Capaldi returns, and soon.

Steph Cha is a fresh new voice in the noir thriller Follow Her Home, one that will smack you over the head with its heroine, Juniper Song, a devotee of Philip Chandler and LA Noir. images_022

Juniper has a cadre of friends and a troubled past that her favorite noir fiction keeps at bay. Known as “Song” by her friends, she responds to her good friend Luke’s request to find out if the new paralegal at his father’s firm is also his newest mistress.

Song as no real idea how to proceed, but armed with her pack of Lucky Strikes, in best Chandler fashion she tails various suspects and the young woman herself–and finds herself up against more than she’d bargained for when she agreed to help Luke.

At one point she is knocked unconscious and wakes up as the body in the trunk of her own car. This is carrying things to far for Song, and she steels her determination to conquer her past and plunges into LA’s underground, determined to find out whose buttons her minor investigation have pushed.

Cha gives readers a fascinating and yet disturbing lesson as she examines young Asian woman as fetish objects, which will come as a surprise to many readers. This adds a depth to this already compelling story while keeping the twists and turns flwoing as the story plays out.

What starts out in an almost playful mood turns serious, yet Cha keeps Song’s voice smart and crisp in an almost heartbreaking worldy manner, in this striking debut with a modern twist on old town noir.

 

images_003Taking a leap across the nation and a huge change in tone, Carolyn Haines returns with the twelfth Sarah Booth Delany Mystery in Smarty Bones.

Enjoying time with her hunky fiance Graf before his next Hollywood shoot, Sarah Booth’s usual friends surround her: her partner in their PI firm, Tinkie; her long-time friend CeCe; and even Jitty, the Civil War ghost who inhabits Dahlia House and drives Sarah Booth to distraction when she appears in various guises.

This time around Jitty is hooked on cartoon characters, but her words of wisdom are destined to revive Sarah Booth’s spirits when she reluctantly agrees to look into the claims of a professor who has arrived in her hometown of Zinnia, Mississippi.

Prof. Olive Twist is indeed the product of Dickens scholar parents, but she resemble Olive Oyl more accurately, with her thin frame and huge feet. But those big feet hide an even bigger brain, and Twist has arrived to prove that the mysterious Lady in Red, found in an anonymous grave and lovingly preserved, was involved in the plot to kill Lincoln–and she plans to implicate the families of Sarah Booth’s best friends.

Then Twist’s  young assistant is murdered at a nearby Bed & Breakfast where they were staying and things take a dramatic turn despite the large amount of humor that fills the pages.

Complicating matters are the family secrets and devious plots of some of these very families, and Sarah Booth soon finds herself and Graf involved on a level that turns deadly and will have far-reaching consequences for several of those Sarah Booth has come to love.

 

Nicola Upson: Fear in the Sunlight Sunday, May 19 2013 

Nicola Upson’s fourth mystery featuring real-life Golden Age mystery writer Josephine Tey proves once again that Upson is a master at plotting, and at figuring out the complexities of personality and psychology.

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An intriguing setting is provided by Portmeirion, Wales, the imaginative architectural transformation of Clough Williams-Ellis, who created an Italianate village out of a section of northwest Wales’ coastal wilderness.

Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit at the resort, and it was frequented by actors and writers, including Tey and her circle, as a place of undeniable beauty and peace, a refuge from the hectic reality of their celebrity lives. It is to Upson’s credit that Portmeirion springs to life in the reader’s mind.

Into this tranquil setting of medieval buildings and fragrant gardens, Josephine has arrived to celebrate her fortieth birthday with the circle of friends readers will recognize, including detective Archie Penrose. Also present are celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville and a few of their company.

Hitchcock wants to convince Tey she should allow him to adapt her mystery, A Shilling for Candles, for the screen. (The film was made as Young and Innocent, released in 1937 and was Hitchcock’s favorite British film.) But Tey needs to meet the Hitchcock’s first before granting her approval.

It is the eve of World War II, and the Hitchcock’s are being wooed to come to America, a move that will certainly change their lives. This decision weighs heavily on the director’s mind, as he listens to the wise counsel of his wife, the woman who served as his editor, writer and confidante.

But Hitchcock was known for elaborate and sometimes perverse pranks, a master manipulator of people and their reactions, fodder for his superb psychological thrillers. As Josephine and Archie each struggle with their own private demons, the group at Portmeirion will fall prey to one of the filmmaker’s most unusual and absurd tricks.

Then a grande dame of cinema is found horrifically murdered in a nearby cemetery, and each person at Portmeirion will have their past explored.

The bodies continue to pile up until a resolution is reached that leaves more questions than answers.

For Archie, the case had a very unsatisfying conclusion. It is only in the opening and closing chapters, set in 1954, that readers will learn the truth behind the string of killings that had deep-seated roots.

For readers not familiar with the series, Upson does exhaustive research into the 1930’s in the entire series, so readers are transported to the spell of that era. She has immersed herself in the life of Elizabeth Mackintosh, the Scottish author who wrote her mysteries as Tey and historical plays under the name of Gordon Daviot.

In Fear in the Sunlight, the resort village will spring to life. Portmeirion in all its glory becomes a character in itself, in this compelling mystery that hints at the future of several of its major characters. Each character is finely drawn, visually imagined, with distinct voices and sometimes surprising viewpoints.

Don’t miss this newest blend of fact and fiction from an author whose stories leap off the page. Highly recommended.

Charles Todd: Proof of Guilt Sunday, Feb 10 2013 

000290326In their fifteenth outing together, mother-and-son team Caroline and Charles Todd follow Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge into the countryside in search of a murderer in Proof of Guilt.

Those new to the series learn enough of his back-story and WWI experience to understand his personal demons and the reason for the ever-present Hamish, the voice who alternately guides and chides the detective, just over his shoulder and always out of sight.

Readers familiar with the series will enjoy Rutledge’s careful but frustrating investigation. His sister Frances, whom Rutledge has come to depend upon for companionship in his darker days, has her own surprising news.

This time Rutledge is dealing with getting to know his new Acting Chief Superintendent, a man who decides on a course based on reading reports and refuses to listen to Rutledge’s instinctual alternate theories. At times it seems the Super is deliberately thwarting Rutledge in his investigation.

When a car runs over the body of young man, the heirloom pocket watch found on him is the only clue to his identity. It soon becomes apparent the man did not die on the quiet but dignified street where he was found, but was dumped there.

Is this a clue to who he is, or a warning to someone living on that street?

The search for the man’s identity leads Rutledge to the co-owner of a Madeira wine company. Lewis French has gone missing, but it’s not his body on the slab in the morgue. Then how did the dead man end up with French’s watch?

And where is Lewis French?

Rutledge finds French’s sister to be an angry and jealous person who had quarreled with her brother just before his disappearance; his fiancee` seems less concerned than she might be. He also finds himself drawn to the man’s former jilted fiancee`. There seem to be plenty of people who might want French dead.

But if French is dead, where is his body? And how does a second disappearance of a war veteran tie in?

The time period necessitates a slower pace, as Rutledge must navigate by his own motor car to the various country villages outside London that eat into his precious time to follow the slender threads he uncovers.

This is not a fast-paced thriller but more the deliberate and tenacious unraveling of a plot with fingers lasting decades. Rutledge must find evidence to trap the killer before he becomes the latest victim.

 

Tana French: Broken Harbor Sunday, Oct 14 2012 

Auntie M is huge fan of Tana French’s novels set in Ireland, starting with Into the Woods, followed by The Likeness and the stunning Faithful Place. Now she’s back with Broken Harbor, and her novels get stronger and more compelling with each offering. In a recent essay on craft, French described her husband not allowing her to use dream sequences in her novels too much. She doesn’t need dreams; the world she creates is startling enough.

Mick Kennedy is a a top Murder Squad detective who’s earned the nickname “Scorcher” for his devotion to the job and its victims. He lands a tragic but high profile murder case on the half-deserted development now called Brianstown, one of the many high-end neighborhoods that have fallen with the down-turned economy, leaving their few owners to cope with shoddy construction and broken promises.

Mick brings along his new partner, Richie, a rookie detective on his first case, thrilled to learn from the master. But before it was Brianstown, the area was known as Broken Harbor, and Mick has his own disturbing and poignant memories of the area that will haunt him almost as much as the scene they find.

Patrick Spain is dead; his wife, Jenny, lies in intensive care. Their blood splatters the downstairs kitchen area. Upstairs, the Spain’s young son and daughter are found dead in their beds. The scene is shocking and disturbing.

What appears to be an easy case to solve quickly proves to be one of the most tangled and difficult of Mick’s career. There are unexplained things in the house: smashed holes in walls, with baby monitor cameras pointing at them; files have been erased from the Spain’s computer. And then Jenny’s sister Fiona tells the detectives her sister has been afraid of an intruder who slipped past their locks and alarms and helped himself to food from their refrigerator.

As he juggles teaching Richie about true detecting and not jumping to conclusions, Mick’s life is complicated by his younger sister, Dina. Her mental illness escalates and barges into his life and his thoughts, bringing back the memories of his family’s last summer at Broken Harbor. Adding to the layers are Mick’s new relationship with Richie. Partnerships are built on trust. But he doesn’t know Richie well enough to trust him–yet.

French’s sense of setting is acute; she brings all the senses to her descriptions and adds nuances that fill the atmosphere of the book with power and emotion. This is as gripping a novel as Auntie M has read this year, a mix of French’s usual police procedural and psychological thriller, created with realistic characters and situations, plot lines that weave and warp, and with a sense of setting so powerful you will feel as if you’ve been to Broken Harbor.

 

Mary Daheim: All the Pretty Hearses Sunday, Jun 24 2012 

Seattle-native Mary Richardson Daheim writes the Alpine mystery series, but this new-to-paperback offering is in her Bed-And-Breakfast Mysteries, featuring Judith McGonigle Flynn.

Judith’s assorted friends and relatives feature in the series, and with the huge roster of players in this installment,newcomers to the series may feel overwhelmed and wish for a Cast of Characters to keep them straight. But long time readers of the series will figure out who’s who in this quick and snappy summer cozy.

January is a slow time for Judith at the B&B, so she’s grateful her former-detective-turned-PI husband, Joe, has a new assignment. Unfortunately, his surveillance job ends almost as quickly as it started, with the death of an insurance fraud suspect he was supposed to be shadowing. The negatives pile up when it turns out the victim has been shot with Joe’s gun–or has he?

With Joe sequestered away at the police station, Judith faces the prospect of a houseful of laborious guests, the winners of an overnight stay she donated to her parish school auction earlier in the year. It’s pay-up time, and while Judith copes with the Paine family’s various allergies and special diets, other guests come and go in seemingly unrelated one night stays.

Adding to the tension is Judith’s mother, Gertrude, a persnickety gal who lives behind the B&B in a converted tool shed and manages to show up in her motorized wheelchair just in time to stamp on Judith’s last nerve.

Judith’s cousin Renie is also on hand to be a hot-wire foil to Judith’s more laid back personality, and Renie’s calmer husband Bill manages to get involved as the plot thickens with overlapping and numerous threads. There are sick parish schoolkids, a horse lodging in her garage, and a missing house guest. In the middle of the chaos, Judith is conned into housing two villagers without heat in their own home who turn up to stay the night with their Irish Wolfhound in tow.

The plot is convoluted with tons of mayhem causing distractions that may or may not be involved with the main plot. It is to Daheim’s credit that she manages to pull these threads together and keep Judith whole, although she does allow her  protaginist the occasional sorely needed medicinal drink.

New this month in hardcover is the next in the series, The Wurst is Yet to Come; readers of the paperback of All the Pretty Hearses will be treated to an excerpt of the new hardcover at the books’ end.

 

Two New in Paperback Sunday, Apr 29 2012 

Avon is reprinting two great mysteries in paperback for readers to gobble up.

J. A. Jance’s twentieth novel featuring J.P. Beaumont is titled Betrayal of Trust, and after reading this Seattle-based detective novel, you’ll understand the title refers to the many layers of trust that have been violated.

Telling the story from Beaumont’s first person point of view allows for the narrator’s dry wit and digressions to provide relief from the grim crime scenes he will face. Beaumont and his wife, fellow detective Mel Soames, work for the Attorney General’s Special Homicide Investigation Team on Squad B. It’s a recurring point of humor that the acronym for their team gets bandied about, but there’s nothing humorous about the case they find themselves seconded to, in Olympia’s Squad A, at the direct request of the Attorney General.

They meet with the AG at the hotel they’ll be living out of for the duration of the case, and the snuff film he shows them on a cell phone will lead them to unravel a twisted tale that revolves around murder, bullying, and blended families, thrusting them at the door of the governor’s mansion.

The cell phone belongs to the governor’s step-grandson, a troubled boy who denies knowledge of the apparent juvenile prank gone wrong. At least that’s what Beaumont and Soams are led to believe–until there’s a second death, and as the bodies pile up, it’s obvious there are deeper implications and layers of corruption with multiple perpetrators, who just might be minors.

The horrific case changes from being a part of Beaumont’s job to a more personal quest when he identifies with one of the dead young men. An interesting subplot concerning Beaumont’s own family roots is handled well, never detracting from the forward thrust of the investigation.

Jance’s characters feel authentic and her plot twists will grab your attention as she illustrates how dogged police work puts the pieces of a puzzle together and lead to a satisfying conclusion. The next in this series is titled Judgement Call. Jance is also the author of the Joanna Brady series, the Ali Reynolds series, and four Walker family thrillers.

 

Next up is Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild mystery, The Body in the Gazebo, the Agatha Award winner’s nineteenth in the series. Having a caterer and ‘foodie’ as a protagonist leads to the hallmark of the series: the inclusion at the end of the book of many of the recipes caterer Faith Fairchild mentions or uses during the course of the story. She also has a gift for weaving in historical details of the northeast.

Faith’s best friend, Pix Miller, is out of town at pre-wedding festivities, meeting her son’s soon-to-be in-laws. When Faith agrees to keep an eye on Pix’s mother, Ursula Rowe, it’s a gesture of born of friendship and genuine liking for the older woman, home recovering from a bout of pneumonia.

But Ursula’s recuperation is hampered by a story she feels she must confide to Faith: a secret tale of long-ago intrigue and murder that dates back to the Great Depression. It will take her days to tell Faith the story due to her weakened condition and the emotions attached to it. Faith hadn’t known until this time that Ursula once had an older brother; a brother who was brutally murdered, with an innocent man accused of his death.

As Faith becomes embroiled in the story, told often with flashbacks to the period from Ursula’s memory, she’s also trying to keep her children cared for competently and her business going, even as she worries about her assistant, newly-pregnant Niki Theodopolous.

Then Faith’s husband, Reverend Thomas Fairchild, is accused of embezzling from his church’s discretionary fund, and Faith swings into action to unravel all the mysteries affecting those she loves, putting herself squarely in danger in the process.

Page writes a lively mystery with a fast pace. Her gift for story-telling leads her readers down many avenues as her novels combine a balance between lightness and the deeper personal dramas that envelop her characters. Love, faith and redemption reside alongside murder, theft and intrigue, all wrapped up tighter than a good egg roll.

The next in this series is The Body in the Boudoir.

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