It’s been hot, well, not dreadfully hot, but hot enough to be uncomfortable and make us remember its summer. And living where I do, we get a lot of weekend traffic as folks come into their lake houses or just up for the day to use the largest lake in the area. We are home to many lakes, a state park or two, vast acres of watershed, a reservoir, and hiking trails all over. That means every Friday the supermarkets are full of folks buying stuff for the weekend and all weekend the roads are full of SUV’s and trucks hauling campers, boats, and jet skis. Oh, and motorcycles. They like riding the winding country roads. Mostly middle age guys with touring bikes or rebuilt classic motorcycles. And bikes with all the Lance Armstrong wannabe’s peddling away. This potent combination of country roads, no shoulders, narrow lanes, virtually no sidewalks, heavy trees, and the weird idea that you can take your half of the road in the middle – or worse, drink and drive – and BOOM!
We have a much larger than normal police force and much of what they do beyond routine stuff is traffic accidents. And every year, some are fatal. It’s the ‘country effect’ on people used to stop signs and traffic lights and wall to wall cars. They forget, a car is still our deadly weapon of choice. We just kind of not notice because mostly we kill just a few at a time, so it’s barely newsworthy. So when you’re vacationing and still behind the wheel of a car, please remember to fasten your seat belts, don’t drink and drive, and WATCH THE ROAD. Vacation is not a good time for an accident on the water or on the road. And all of you who live year round at the Jersey shore and other vacation venues, yes, you have it worse than me, but there are those who would say you also have it better, because you get to live by the sea, or up in the Rockies, or on that lake all year.
So now we do book reviews, where killing people is no ‘accident’. Ah, the joy of a good mystery. Would you like some cream sauce with that red herring?
The first book in a new series by a new writer – well new to mysteries anyway. Say HI! to Kate Dyer-Seeley and her faking it extreme outdoors sports writer Meg Reed in Scene of the Climb. Meg is a recent journalism grad with no job and a formerly famous now infamous investigative reporter dad who died, or committed suicide, when he became addicted to the very drugs whose trade he’d been exposing. Meg is crashing on the couch of her best friend and trying to come to terms with her dad’s death, a college degree in journalism – a dying profession, and no job in sight when she gets a break. A break she lies her couch potato ass off to get at Northwest Extreme, a magazine that specializes in covering extreme outdoors sports.
Everything starts off fine ………… until she gets asked to cover the last leg of Race the States, a TV ‘reality’ show where contestants participate in various extreme sports races in different states, culminating in a race to the finish in Oregon’s mountains just outside Portland. Not only is Northwest Extreme the sole sponsor on the race, this final leg will be in their backyard, so Meg gets the call to cover it. …………… ummmmmm …………… oh yeah, in addition to NOT being any kind of a jock, she has an irrational fear of heights. It’s her faked stumble below a peak that sends her skidding far too close to the edge just as the most obnoxious contestant goes screaming off the top edge to his death. Only Meg saw it and it took a bit and the sight of Lance’s vivid top just visible between boulders to get everyone to realize someone died. Or as Meg was convinced, was murdered – pushed off the cliff.
As Meg investigates the contestants, things start happening to her and pretty soon even her too handsome boss Greg agrees something is fishy. But Northwest Extreme has a lot riding on this, so Meg needs to be careful she doesn’t end up like Lance. Her friend Matt, Jill, and Jill’s stuffy and condescending ‘boyfriend’ Will, are the core ‘Scooby’ gang and handsome Greg, the boss on whom Meg is crushing, all start believing Meg is right. This was no accident, and neither is what’s happening to Meg.
I have give Kate Dyer-Seeley credit, she did something original by way of ‘not really cozy’, developed good supporting roles, though best friend Jill needed more ‘screen time’, has a believably flawed lead with Meg Reed. Yes, there were sections that could have used some fleshing out, and yeah, the ending was a bit glib, but the overall book worked. I give Scene of the Climb a B- (3.7*) and a recommended read for cozy, light mystery readers. The book was purchased from Amazon. I give Ms Dyer-Seeley a thumbs up for her description of the fear of heights. Having passed out twice in high places, yes, it really is that bad.
Another ho-hum cozy from the pen of Tim Myers this time writing as Jessica Beck, the name he uses for his uneven Donut Shop mysteries as well. A Chili Death is book 1 in his Classic Diner series. You won’t be finding reviews for book 2 or 3 here because one was enough, it was that boring. Husband and wife are running a dinner.
An obnoxious man enters demanding to talk to Moose. The woman points to the carved moose by the register. Man gets mad and eventually serves the ‘moose’ papers claiming the land the diner is built on is his. Hysterical phone calls to mom and gran. Cue the rain. It was a dark and stormy night ……………….. ummmmmmm ………… do nights come in any color but dark? I’d like light blue, please. With a touch of pink.
Evil, obnoxious man has served papers all over town, but Grandpa Moose is the prime suspect when he’s murdered. Must prove beloved Grandpa Moose innocent by meddling in police investigation.
Oh, sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yeah, diner owner has delusions about being a better investigator than a trained cop. OK, the logic there is a bit tricky. Does it have to do with the meatloaf recipe or because of the chili that she knows how to investigate? I think it was the chili. It’s known for leading to delusions of adequacy. Especially in writers.
Before I fall over in a fit of catatonia, let me just say you can MISS THIS BOOK! Yes, it’s boring and dull and pointless and a retread and just plain dumb. A Chili Death gets a D (2.0*) and a strong suggestion you give it a miss. I am delighted to say I got this in a book swap and I will pass it along to the poor, dumb, soul foolish enough to wish for it.
I’m at kind of a loss here. Top Secret Twenty-One is not the nonsensical, pointless farce of Takedown Twenty, but neither is a good book. Thing is, I think Evanovich actually TRIED here, but the plot had zero credibility and almost no tension. Now usually, I find the mystery nonexistent in her last 12 books, she hasn’t written a really good one since Hard Eight, yet I still find the books modestly amusing. Somehow, sleeping with Ranger wrecked everything else and Evanovich lost her mojo, but she did manage to stay funny for awhile. The thing is, despite her trying for a better book, she kept going back to her stock phrases and characters – even her description of Lulu and her outfit was a retread from an earlier book. I’d say 30%, possibly more, was all lines for earlier books. Sad. Very sad.
Something happens at Ranger’s HQ, possibly the most secure building in Trenton. It brings down not just all the local cops, but DHS, and a NEST team. Hazmat suits are the uniform of the day. Something really bad went down. You want to know how credibility can be lost in seconds? Polonium. Yup. She really did go there. Janet Evanovich did a Russian terrorist for hire who hates Ranger. And more shoulder launched rockets, which apparently are a common commodity in Trenton given one was also used to blow up one of her cars many books back.
As you might imagine, Russian terrorist for hire did not work out well. The most unbelievable part, Steph sneaks into the hospital where the FTA who set of the aerosolized polonium in Ranger’s HQ proceeds to tell her everything she asks. OK, first of all, it’s LULU she sneaks in with and leaves in the hall as she ostensibly gathers soiled linens for destruction, then she WILLINGLY GOES INTO A HOT ZONE. Yeah, she suits up, but come on, does she even know what a dosimeter is? And why do the guards not check the ID’s? And why the hell does this guy tell everything to a complete stranger for no good reason?
And Randy Briggs, the obnoxious dwarf from earlier books is back because his former employer is trying to kill him and someone shot a rocket into his apartment and he has no where to live and no income. Why doe she let him in? How can Rex the hamster still be alive after all these years? Does Morelli EVER get a haircut? Does Ranger ever say much beyond, “Babe”? Is Lulu favorite color ‘poison green spandex’? Does Bob the dog ever not throw up what he eats?
Thank heavens I once again stuck to my vow and did NOT buy this book. I got it from a friend in an online book swapping site. Top Secret Twenty-One is drivel and gets a D+ (2.6*) rating because it did feel like she at least put a LITTLE effort into creating a plot, but apparently she could only fall back on her shlock ‘been there, done that’ routines we all know by rote. Janet Evanovich has been coasting on her reputation for more than half of this series. What a shame when you think of how clever she was with her early books. If you MUST read it, save your money and get it free at the library.
OK, I read both these books in print, but could only find A Dangerous Talent image for the kindle version. Aaron Elkins is famous for his Gideon Oliver series about a forensic anthropologist based in Washington. He and his wife Charlotte teamed up for a good golf mystery series that I enjoyed. I’d waited on A Dangerous Talent on PBS, but when it went one sale for $5 on Amazon, I grabbed it. Half way through, I went back and bought a copy for my artist sister-in-law -it would cost close to that to mail it to her! The price is now back up to $11.66, so I caught a great, but short lived bargain. I bought A Cruise to Die For for $7.48 and that price is still in effect for now.
A Dangerous Talent introduces Alix London the only child of an old New England family and a man who was a highly respected art expert and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Revered that is until his secret life as a brilliant forger caught up with him. Alix has, at best, a complicated relationship with her now free father who has moved to Seattle to be near her and opened a kind of repro business that sells in bulk to hotels and other chains for lost cost decorative objects. His arrest and trial blew her world apart and a bit to much of the book focuses on that rather than the story.
Now a struggling art restorer, Alix has a gift – a dangerous talent. She has an eye for impressionist and modern art, the kind of eye that senses forgeries. She doesn’t always know WHY, but she always knows a fake. (Reminds me of Jonathon Gash’s Lovejoy series, where shameless scoundrel and con man Lovejoy is a ‘divvie’ – a person who can feel the real from the fake antique.)
As she’s working on a Utrillio in a fancy condo in Belltown – hers to use for the year she’s resorting the art, she gets a call from tech millionaire turned wine bar owner, Christine Lemay. A three million dollar Georgia O’Keefe. In a day she’s in a private jet heading to New Mexico to she vet the painting and act as a consultant for Chris.
After an uncomfortable meeting between the charter jet captain and Christine, they get to the hotel and Chris is shocked to find they placed Alix in a casita rather than the adjoining suite she requested. The hotel insisted she changed her instructions and wanting to just lay down a bit, Alix took the casita. Luckily her intuition isn’t limited to paintings. She stops the bellman from entering and …….. BOOM, it blows up. Was it an accident? Didn’t seem like it to her. And once she meets Chris’s ‘friend’, Liz, and realizes she’s pushing a fake O’Keefe – and pushing it hard – that exploding room seems less an accident by the minute. Then Liz is murdered and Chris and Alix feel like suspects. They start investigating the painting – and get a LOT more than they bargained for, including a smarmy art ‘collector’ who turns out to be Ted Ellesworth, part of the FBI’s Art Crime unit.
Played out largely in O’Keefe country in Northern New Mexico, the book is an interesting blend of mystery and an introduction to the art world, one most of us never see. My SIL loved it. I’d been to many of the places mentioned in the book and they did a good job capturing the atmosphere – and the often silly arsty-fartsy crap you hear in galleries. The ending, with Alix sort of reconciling with Geoff, was also well handled, but the whole ting with her dad is distracting at times.
A Dangerous Talent got a B- (3.8*) from me. I’d say my SIL ranked it a shade higher, but then, it rang all her art bells. A decent mystery wrapped up in a short education on the art trade, with good pacing, but could have done with a lot less angsty crap about dear old dad. AT $5 I got my money’s worth and my SIL was really happy! Suggested read, especially for any art fans out there.
Unfortunately A Cruise to Die For was not a worthy follow up. The premise was good, get Alix to act as a consultant to the FBI while on the private yacht of billionaire investor Panos Papadakis, where she was act as an independent consultant and give lectures on Impressionists to the handful of cherry picked potential bidders on the art collection on display on his yacht. She barely has time to unpack and walk into the salon where the collection prize, a Monet, hangs, a Monet she instantly thinks is a fake, when someone hits her over the head and the Monet is slashed.
You have smarmy crew members, a calm security chief who knows his stuff and does not back down from the raving Panos, a apparently neglected wife, former opera star, Gabriela (Gaby) Candelas, heading to middle age spread and doing the inevitable ‘young lover’ routine while said lover is playing her. A dirty art dealer playing both sides, Albanian thugs threatening Alix, a fake Manet that could blow the whole scheme apart, and who lot of people with money and few scruples. The Greek islands are lovely and yes, they really do look like that. But other than the head of security for the yacht, I found few characters likable. Even worse, I found the final solution slightly unsatisfying, though probably realistic. Still, it lacked the camaraderie of A Dangerous Talent and much of the spark that it gave the story.
A Cruise to Die For gets a C+ (3.5*) from me. The third book in the series will be the ‘make of break’ for me. The authors needs to get some kind of collaborative chemistry going with another character or this series could all fall flat for everyone except art fans. Missing it will not be a great loss unless you have an interest in the art and art investment world.