Tour’s Books Blog

October 22, 2014

October Reviews – Mystery Week!

I love fall, but it came much to early thanks to a drought.  After several years of wicked fall storms and epic floods, this year we haven’t had anywhere near enough rain.  The trees behind my place turned in September and peaked just as October arrived.  Usually it’s the 3rd week of October before peak color on those trees. Now it’s not even mid-month and they’re nearly bare.  Too many months with nothing green except the pines now lay ahead.  God, I hate winter!  I hate the cold, the snow, the cold, the ice, the cold, the short days, the cold………  I HATE COLD!  I’m not sure how my parents managed it, but they had a son who is apparently part polar bear and a daughter who is part hot house plant.  My poor brother sweats (Really, like beads running down his face when he does any work at all.) when I’m up at Christmas and keep the thermostat up even while bundled in layers of sweaters and fleece.  That’s the price of being family.  He’s learned to live with it a few days a year.

It’s already dark so early, the nights seem endless.  The light was noticeably  different in July and now, the sun is in a very different part of the sky, light slanting and a different color.  It is nice to live in the country with hills.  Nice color, and very scenic drives everywhere.  Unfortunately, that means folks taking day trips in the area to ‘see the color’.  It’s much worse up by my brother in the Berkshires.  This weekend the roads will be packed with ‘leaf peepers’.  The historic main street of Deerfield with it’s beautiful houses dating back to early 1700’s is over run with tour buses.  He’ll drive down on a beautiful day during the week, often taking his 1912 Buick roadster, and should be park, even for a few minutes, crowds will gather around his brass age car as it it were another museum attraction.  Soon, he’ll be draining the radiator and crankcase and putting the car up for the winter.  He’s already been bringing in wood for the stove.

October new releases have mostly arrived and still nothing amazing.  SIGH!  Where is that gem of book by a new author?  Apparently very well hidden.  But, let’s see what’s been passing through my hot little hands.

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The Impersonator

New author with a new series and award winner from the Mystery Writers of America, The Impersonator by Mary Miley made it’s debut last year in hardcover and I got it this year in trade paperback shortly after its release.  I bought the next book in the series, Silent Murder.  The Impersonator has a fascinating historical setting in the 1920’s with its lead character part of a vaudeville act.  Throughout the book, the author slips in tidbits about many acts that later became famous on the screen and much later on TV.

She calls herself Leah Randell, but for this act she is known as Carrie Darling.  She was raised in vaudeville and made her own since her mother died years ago when she was 12.  Small and youthful looking, she can still pass as a teen despite her 24 years.  She sees a fat man in her show several nites running. Luckily, the other older members of the ‘Seven Little Darlings’ stick together, even though they’re not related, so when the fat, old man calls her Jessie, she isn’t alone.  But ‘Uncle Oliver’ is insistent she and her two friends dine with him at the best hotel in town.  That’s where he makes his pitch.

Jessie Carr was his niece and would now be 20 years old.  She ran away from the family estate in Oregon after her parents died and her aunt came to live there with her 4 children to raise her.  Her own family had been disinherited because of the wayward nature of her husband, so despite the fact her sons were Carr’s, they stood to inherit nothing if she appeared by the age of 21.  That birthday is fast approaching and her ‘Uncle Oliver’ needs to gain access to the Carr fortune – or at least some of it  Then along came Leah, a dead ringer for her cousin.  So he’ll train her to be Jessie and she can get rich, then he can get a small share of the family fortune his sister married into.

Initially, Leah refuses.  The act breaks up and finding work is hard.  Eventually, she agrees to impersonate Jessie Carr.  Oliver trains her in everything from correct fork and spoon to who is who in the family, where she lived as a child, the lawyers managing the estate, etc.  Then the accidents start.  The boarding house she lived in burns down.  She feels like she’s being watched and switches trains and hotels – and the hotel she was booked in has another ‘accident’.  Oliver feels she’s being sensitive.   Then she passes the first test, Oliver’s mother, Jessie’s grandmother, and the family lawyers.  Arriving at the ‘cottage’ in Oregon, the real fear starts.  Her two male cousins had spent the last nearly 7 years expecting to inherit, now Jessie is back and they want her gone.  As in dead and gone.

And suddenly, the book stalls.  It loops between a small town and the isolated ‘cottage’ with her creepy cousins and their sweet mother.  A ‘cowboy’ shows up and becomes part of the gang, but he’s not creepy, he’s cute.  Unfortunately, I knew what happened by page 120.

The Impersonator has very strong beginning, a stalled middle that was meant to build tension, but basically just looped because physically, it could go nowhere, and then it had a good ending that seemed a bit rushed with revelations about family all coming at once.  It was a good read, but not great.  Had the middle of the book paced as well as the first 100 pages, it would have been great, but the isolation, though authentic, had limited opportunities for characters and plot twists.  You can only do so much with running a car into and out of a small coastal town.

The Impersonator gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me mostly due to middle of the book and the rushed pacing at the end with one surprise after another.  The killer is anticlimactic, but the rest is good.  As an historical, Mary Miley does a great job of capturing the period and the character of Leah/Jessie.  The book is certainly well above the usual crop of new authors.  Ms Miley is a former history professor at the U of V, and worked at Williamsburg, so she has a sound background for the kind of research into vaudeville and period settings here and it shows to great advantage.  Enjoyable and you can speed read the middle.  I bought the second book in the series set in early Hollywood.  Looking forward to it.

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One Potion in the grave

Heather Blake writes two paranormal cozy series, the Wishcraft series that I’m not fond of and Magic Potion series that I like.   One Potion in the Grave is book two of the Potion series and as enjoyable as book 1.  Hitching Post, Alabama is one busy small town with Senator Calhoun’s son getting married this weekend at Carly Hartwell’s mother’s chapel.   But there’s another surprise for Carly, her old friend, Katie Sue Perriwinkle has come back to town after leaving to get away from her greedy relatives.  Katie Sue cared for grandfather and younger sister when her Momma moved out and her sister married and left.  Turns out, granddad was a shrewd investor and his estate was several million dollars.  After fighting her mother in court and winning, Katie Sue took off and got her MD, living in the big city in a gated community.  She was known as Kathryn Perry now and at a B&B operated by one of Carly’s aunts.  She’s here for the wedding ……………. and to make trouble for the Calhoun’s, a dangerous family to cross.  Carly’s ‘spidey sense’ is screaming danger all around her old friend.

As if that wasn’t surprise enough, the bride to be, beauty queen Gabi Greenleigh, comes in looking for a love potion for her groom.  And her cousin, with whom she has the beginnings of a relationship, Delia, stops in.  Just a day for surprises – including her cranky aunt having coffee with her mom’s arch competitor and looking mighty friendly ………. and conniving.  Kathryn has her room ransacked at the B&B, then she’s found dead and the groom is a prime suspect.

With verve and lively characters, Ms Blake keeps the story rolling and Carly involved in investigating her death.  When the younger sister she tried to gain custody of lands in the hospital on life support, she starts to look at who benefits ……….. and finds two different answers.  The answers were given away to any mystery fan in a scene well before the big denouement.

One Potion in the Grave is a good paranormal cozy read.  Ms Blake writes well, but I like this setting and group of characters more than her Wishcraft books set in Massachusetts.  I give One Potion a B- (3.8*) and suggested read for any cozy lover.  The series deserves more fans than it has garnered so far.  I got it for just over $7 at Amazon and I’m passing it along to a PBS cozy fan.  Like most cozies, an easy, fast read, but with much better than average plot and characters.

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the skeleton takes a bow

The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry, book two in the Family Skeleton series, is another amusing story featuring Sid the skeleton, one of the livelier skeletons out there, and often a hoot.  Playing Yorick in Madison’s high school production of Hamlet (which, according to Richard Armour is Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, means ‘little ham’), and Sid is ready and willing to play his part.  Sitting in Madison’s locker during the day is like Nirvana for the busybody skeleton.  Dr. Georgia Thackery, adjunct professor at the local college reluctantly agrees.  Then Madison does what too many teens do.  She got busy, left school and forgot Sid’s skull in the prop room.  Mother and daughter go back, but no answers their banging and they leave Sid for the night.  And what a night it was.  Sid overheard a murder.

The fun begins when Georgia gives in and allows Sid to investigate.  Then it seems an unrelated natural death from pancreatic cancer of fellow college adjunct seems to somehow be related.  Despite two anonymous calls to the cops, there’s no evidence of a crime or a body.  At least only her very practical sister thinks she’s nuts.  Soon, strange letters from a foundation that has to internet presence or apparent records starts cropping up all over.  Then the two start tying back to a powerful local politician.

The book moves along quickly and Sid is by turns funny and occasionally a drama queen.  He certainly has a personality.  It will be interesting to see where the author goes with this when Georgia’s parents, both tenured faculty at the college, come home from their sabbatical.  I give The Skeleton Takes a Bow a B- (3.7*) for a good cozy read.  Funny and a bit fluffy, but kind of what a cozy should be.  I bought this from Amazon for $7.19, which to be honest is a bit high.  Try and get it cheaper.  Cozies don’t exactly make the keeper shelf.  And for true laughs, try Richard Armour’s Twisted Tales from Shakespeare.  It remains one of my favorite humor books and the more you know his works, the funnier it is.  Available used, but not as an ebook.

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Children of war

In book 7 of the Bruno Chief of Police series, Children of War, Martin Walker once again takes readers on a sad journey into France’s past, this time to Algeria.  Published in the UK, it is not due out in the US till 2015 under the title The Children Return.  I purchased this from The Book Depository in the UK, a company started by a former Amazon employee and now owned by them.  They have free worldwide shipping via media mail, but waiting 10 to 2 weeks beats waiting 10 months for the US publisher.

The book opens with the brutal torture killing of an undercover policeman that Bruno knew well.  The manner of his death takes him back to years he served in the French military in Algeria and later in Sarajevo.  Such brutality seems so out of place in the bucolic French countryside where the grape harvest is starting and people still largely in the old way.  But the world stops for no one, as Bruno well knows, and all he can do for his colleague now is find the killer.

This book introduces a new love interest for Bruno, an American, and like all his love interests, she is badly injured.  As usual, he’s cooking, watching out for his investment in a winery, and training his new hound.  But the mystery is darker and more gruesome than the early books and it deals with a less than stellar bit of French history in North Africa.  Even worse, the bad guy is smart and lives.

This little patch of bucolic French countryside does seem to have the highest violent crime rate outside St Mary Mead where Miss Marple lived.  Unfortunately, this entry in the really good series was a little too dark to be enjoyable.  That level of gruesome torture/murder, while accurate for what it portrayed, is not an easy or entertaining read.  When juxtapositioned with the country village life in St Denis, well, it was hard to understand how anyone could compartmentalize to the extent that Bruno did.  Still, the nature of the crime is what drives everything that comes after, so it was essential to the plot.

By now, Walker has established a pattern to his Bruno books and it’s a formula he follows here.  Mixing ordinary village life with the plague of fighting off the encroachment of the larger world, the simple pleasures of living against the greater backdrop of violence and dark deeds.  As usual, an ongoing character has a secret in her past that gets revealed and dealt with by the truly evil man at the center of all this, as does another issue, again tied to this man, tying up the seeming disparate sub-plots.

Children of War gets a B- (3.8*) because the darkness of the crimes seemed to overwhelm the rest of the story and frankly, I wanted the bad guy D-E-A-D, preferably in some horrible way.  A good mystery, but far more in the noir genre than traditional mystery.  Will I buy his next book?  Yes, but if he continues down this grim path, I might hesitate on future ones.  My copy has moved on to someone in PBS through a swap.  Mostly, Bruno fans are women and this book was not aimed to please those readers.  As a devout action thriller/spy- assassin book reader, I found myself a bit put off.

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