Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dead Things - Stephen Blackmoore

Dead Things
Stephen Blackmoore
DAW Books
Paranormal Noir Thriller

Fifteen years ago, Eric Carter left Los Angeles following the grisly deaths of his parents.  They were both magic users, and that gave them power, and people with power inevitably make enemies.  Eric knows who killed his parents.  The last thing he did before he left was to take care of that person.  He left his kid sister, Lucy, behind in the care of family friend Alex Kim.  Alex has a bit of magic; Lucy has virtually none.  Since she has no magic, Eric figured she’d be safe.  He figured wrong. 

Each person manifests a different aspect of magic, with a different degree of skill and power.  Eric is a necromancer.  He works with the dead and death magic and he’s good at it.  He’s made a decent living travelling to whatever place/person needs his particular skills.  Until Alex calls with the news. Lucy is dead; brutally murdered. You might think Eric would just know, but it doesn’t work that way.  He has to go back now.  He has to see the death scene, see what’s left of his sister.  Because she can certainly tell him who killed her.  And Eric will take out that person without mercy.  That is, if he can stay alive long enough to do the job.
Eric is a tough guy who makes hard choices and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.  A lot of his magic needs human blood to work.  A lot of spells separate body parts from bodies.  Eric works both sides of the veil.  Turns out, most of the dead are not happy about it.  He uses what (and sometimes who) he needs to get results.  In all of the darkness, he’s trying to toe the line.  He’s not looking to damn himself, but that might have happened last week or last year, or it might happen with the next spell.  Liquor helps sometimes, but not often enough.
Eric tells the story in first person, and he doesn’t mince words.  Even he seems surprised by the events in the final pages of the book.  The cast of characters is surprisingly large and consists of everything from humans to gods.  This is a gritty, bloody, violent, fast story.  It gets ugly and it gets unhappy.  And if you’re up for it, it’s quite a ride.  The follow-up novel is due in August and is already on my must-read list.
Rating: 9
February 2013
ISBN# 978-0-4561-0774-2   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Cakes Of Wrath - Jacklyn Brady

The Cakes Of Wrath
A Piece Of Cake Mystery
Jacklyn Brady
Berkley Prime Crime
Part of running a business is networking with the businesses around yours.  So says Miss Frankie, who is Rita Lucero’s former mother-in-law and silent partner at Zydeco Cakes.  Rita isn’t really excited about joining the Magnolia Square Business Alliance, but Miss Frankie won’t be denied.  And that’s how Rita ended up spending hours in a meeting after a full day at the bakery.  Not that the entire meeting was a bore.  The first order of business concerns Destiny.  Moose and Destiny own the Chopper Shop.  Destiny says she has a deep desire to be involved in the alliance but has so far missed every meeting.  Given the stories she’s heard about Destiny (drugs, rehab, and romantic indiscretions) missing meetings seems like small potatoes.  Destiny finally arrives and demands to be put on the ballot for president, causing upset, arguing, motioning and voting.  Once the meeting is finally over, Rita and Moose are chatting on the street when a van speeds toward them, clearly intending to hit them.  The van misses Rita, but Moose doesn’t.  In his zeal to protect Rita, he tackles her pretty hard, sending her to the ER.
Returning to work the next day, bruised and sore but determined to carry on, Rita stashes her prescribed pain medication in her private office.  Later that afternoon, somewhat to her surprise, Destiny arrives, as promised, to help organize a weekend cleanup effort.  Showing up at all is a positive.  Unfortunately, Destiny is clearly high on something and Rita tells her to go home.  Destiny says she’ll soon be making a lot of people sorry; the implication being that Rita just made that list.  After she leaves, Rita discovers that her pills are missing from her office.  It doesn’t take Poirot to solve this crime.  The following morning, Rita walks to the Chopper Shop, hoping to have a serious talk.  What she finds instead is Destiny, dead, clutching Rita’s prescription bottle in one cold hand.  The resulting investigation puts Rita squarely in the crosshairs of a narcotics detective.

It would have been easy for the author to make Destiny a cartoon floozy who does drugs, but she wisely avoids that.  Instead, as the story unfolds and the reader finds out more about Destiny, it becomes easier to sympathize with her, even while disagreeing with her life decisions.  And her husband, Moose, a large man with many tattoos who owns the Chopper Shop, becomes a realistic person instead of a stock character.  This installment, the fourth in the series (A SHEETCAKE NAMED DESIRE, CAKE ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and ARSENIC AND OLD CAKE) introduces many of the surrounding business owners, providing a much better picture of the neighborhood.  This opens up many more avenues for interactions and mystery plots.
If you haven’t read previous books, this is a fine place to start.  There are many returning characters, and each is introduced succinctly, with just enough background for context.  This is one of the strongest stories of the series thus far. A very suspicious detective, sure that Rita is the culprit, provides a very realistic reason for Rita to continue her investigation despite several injuries that could have put her out of commission.  I’ll admit, I had the real baddie pegged before Rita, but I wasn’t concussed at least once!  This is a great cozy series.  And, if you’re so inclined, there are several great recipes provided, too.

Rating: 7 ½
September 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25826-2 (paperback)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tempest In A Teapot - Amanda Cooper

Tempest In A Teapot
A Teapot Collection Mystery
Amanda Cooper
Berkley Prime Crime
Once upon a time, Sophie Taylor had a restaurant in Manhattan.  Unfortunately, like so many other restaurants every year, hers did not have a happy ending.  The failure stings, but she knows what her next move will be.  She’ll return to Gracious Grove, the lovely small town in New York that was the site of all her best summer memories.  Her grandmother is there, running Auntie Rose’s Victorian Teahouse, just as she has done for the past forty years, with great success. 
In fact, the town boasts two tearooms.  The second, located just next door, is The Belle Epoch.  It was once an inn as well, but as she’s aged, owner Thelma Mae Earnshaw has mostly stopped renting to guests, concentrating on her tearoom, with mixed success.  Thelma Mae and Rose share a history that goes back over sixty years; a friendship fractured when a boy chose Rose over Thelma.  Thelma never really got over it. 
When Sophie arrives, she finds, like most adults, that much has changed and much has stayed the same.  Her best friend, Cissy, is engaged to Francis Whittaker, son and heir to the wealthy doyenne Vivienne Whittaker.  Their engagement party is taking place at The Belle Epoch (Thelma Mae is Cissy’s grandmother) and attended by the highest of Gracious Grove society. But the party is interrupted by a scream.  Sophie races over to help, only to discover Vivienne, on the floor, clearly in her death throes.  The cause of death is quickly established: poison.  Someone at the tea party must be a murderer.
Sophie is an interesting character; she’s someone who tried for her big dream and failed, but is more than willing to get back up and try something else.  True, she’s lucky to have her Nana and the tearoom to fall back on, but it’s clear that her grandmother is equally happy to have her there.  The two women (and assistant, Laverne) relate to each other as only real friends can.  The reader meets the various residents through Sophie’s adult eyes, comparing them to her memories.  It makes sense that Sophie would want to help her friend, Cissy, who is trying to console her fiancé after the death of his mother.  And Sophie manages to do a lot of nosing around without looking too suspicious by using social gatherings and casual run-ins to ask questions.
The story is told in third person, and it involves some changes in point-of-view.  This device can be confusing, but here, it’s used to great effect.  There’s no better way to know what Thelma Mae is really thinking, for instance, than to switch pov and listen in on her thoughts.  This device fills in a lot of gaps, and also creates great depth in what might otherwise come across as a ‘cranky old lady’ stock character.  The plot here is has layers that sometimes go missing in cozy mysteries.  And it contains a scene that may have whiskers, but is one of my favorites: the scene that gathers together all the suspects to get at the truth.  (Blame Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, et al, for my love of those scenes.) Full of interesting, realistic characters, this is a very strong start to a new series.
Rating: 8
June 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26523-9  (paperback)