Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Secret to Seduction - Julie Anne Long

The Secret To Seduction
Julie Anne Long

Historical Romance/Regency England

As daughter to a vicar of a small village, Sabrina Farleigh’s days are largely spent collecting clothing for the poor and managing the vicarage for her father. She dreams of one day being able to do missionary work in some far-off place like Africa or India. To her delight, Geoffrey Gillray, her father’s curate for the past year, shares her dream. On one of their many afternoon walks, he tells Sabrina that he plans to ask his cousin, the wealthy Earl of Rawden, for enough money to finance a mission during a weekend house party.

Sabrina is more than slightly scandalized to learn that Geoffrey’s cousin is the notorious poet, known throughout London as The Libertine. His poetry, it is said, causes women to swoon. Grateful that she possesses the requisite self-control to avoid such inconvenient passions, Sabrina makes plans to attend the same house party. Lady Mary, wife of the local squire, invites her along as a traveling companion and tells her that many a house party ends with an engagement.

Meeting The Libertine is not quite as fearsome as Sabrina expected. In fact, he largely ignores her for most of her first day there. Things soon change, however, when the Earl, in an attempt to combat his overwhelming sense of boredom, manages to compromise her. After they marry, he fully intends to leave his new wife behind in the country while he resumes his usual activities around town. He’s soon called back to his country house, however, and the two are forced to confront a secret from the past that could destroy their fragile bond.

While at first glance, this might appear to be the timeworn tale of the country miss and the dashing rogue; there is a bit more substance to it. This is the last in a trilogy, following BEAUTY AND THE SPY and WAYS TO BE WICKED, and I’m happy to report that the author avoids dumping huge amounts of exposition into the story, yet still manages to bring new readers (like me) up to speed. I admit, I wish I’d read the first two installments before reading this one, since it’s very clear that there’s a lot of background untouched, but it still works well enough as a stand-alone novel.

There’s an overarching storyline in the trilogy that concerns the past; and the issue that divides husband and wife is a serious one. This is no silly misunderstanding that could be cleared up by a few straight questions; it’s enough to destroy a relationship. The two main characters are refreshingly straightforward in their dealings with each other. Despite the circumstances that began the marriage, and the huge obstacle that faces them later, both partners are fairly blunt with each other about their feelings and expectations, making this a cut above the average Regency romance.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2007
ISBN# 0-446-61688-5 (paperback)

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Killing in Comics - Max Allan Collins

A Killing in Comics
Max Allan Collins
Illustrations by Terry Beatty
Berkley Prime Crime


In 1948 Manhattan, Wonder Guy is the world’s greatest superhero; star of funny papers, comic books, and radio show. For Jack Starr, VP and resident troubleshooter of Starr Syndicate, this poses something of a visual disconnect. Because the man in the Wonder Guy costume at this party in a Waldorf suite is fifty, portly, balding, and sweating right through his wonder-suit. The guy in the suit is Donny Harrison, the birthday boy, and the suite belongs to his longtime mistress, Honey Dailey. Pretty nervy of him to throw the party in Honey’s suite and invite his wife, too. But that’s the kind of jerk Donny is. Or, was, once he topples over and impales himself on the knife before he can cut his cake.

Everyone assumes it was a heart attack, since he hadn’t looked well at all before his final nosedive. But his wife requests an autopsy and routine tests indicate that, while the knife might have hastened his death, it was poison that caused him to pass out in the first place. Who would have wanted to poison Donny? That would be pretty much anyone who ever knew him or did business with him. Donny ran Americana Comics, publisher of Wonder Guy. The creators of the comic, Harry Spiegel and Moe Shulman, naïve kids from someplace in Iowa, sold their rights to Wonder Guy for $138. That’s split between the two of them. They get nothing from merchandising, radio shows, or anything else. Just a salary for continuing the strip. But their ten-year contract term is up very soon, and they’re looking to make a much better deal. Maybe with Starr Syndicate.

And that’s where Jack comes in, again. His stepmother, Maggie Starr runs Starr Syndicate now that Jack’s father is gone. She was a burlesque dancer before she married Jack’s father, and she’s heard all the ‘stripper-turned-stripper’ jokes there are. A shrewd businesswoman, Maggie realizes that the creators of the strip are the most likely suspects, and wants Jack to look into the matter. Jack knows who to talk to, and how to talk to them; from the mistress, to the artists and writers, to the mob guys who belong to a whole different kind of syndicate.

No matter what time period Max Allan Collins writes about, he always manages to capture the essence of the era. The slang, the clothes, the social conventions, all combine to immerse the reader in late-40s New York. There are vintage-looking illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, and these add to the overall feel. I admit that I know next to nothing about comics, but that didn’t diminish my reading experience at all. While the author’s note tells me that many characters are based on, or are amalgams of, real people, no prior knowledge is required to enjoy this mystery, written in the style of the hard-boiled detective novel. I hope this is the first of many.

Rating: 8
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21365-0 (trade paperback)

Friday, May 25, 2007

The First Stone - Judith Kelman

The First Stone
Judith Kelman


Emma Colten is eight months pregnant with her second child. Her days are filled with teaching art classes and trying to keep up with 3-year-old Tyler. Her husband, Sam, is a resident at New York General. His hours are long and demanding; even more so now that Dr. Malik has taken over as head of cardiac surgery. Sam wants to specialize in cardiac surgery, and a fellowship with world-renowned surgeon Malik would allow him to write his own ticket wherever he chooses. To that end, Sam plays the game of hospital politics in order to be noticed by the surgeon.

On the home front, Emma is playing the dutiful doctor’s wife by bringing a ‘welcome’ gift to Mrs. Malik, who has moved her family into the apartment above the Coltens. Her reception is chilly, to say the least. And Emma is disturbed that, late at night, she can hear arguments from the upstairs apartment. She hears an angry male voice, then the pleading voice of the Malik’s daughter, Adriana. She confides to the teacher at Tyler’s preschool. The teacher, a licensed social worker, takes it seriously enough to feel that she must file a complaint. When the Maliks trace the source back to Emma, Sam is summarily fired from the hospital. Fighting back seems like the only option to salvage his career, but it proves a good deal more dangerous than anyone expected.

Without making a value judgment, I’d describe this novel as suspense for an Oprah audience: Lots and lots of mommy-and-me scenes, absolutely no overt violence of any kind, and a nice, neat resolution. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this novel a great deal. I found the pace to be extremely slow, with the first plot point showing up around a third of the way through the story. The report to CPS and its repercussions arrives considerably later than that. The narrative until then is largely concerned with how Emma and Tyler spend their days, unrelated issues at Tyler’s preschool, and visits with an entertaining octogenarian neighbor who dispenses sound advice.

It was just too convenient that, for every problem that arose, one of the main characters knew someone who could come up with information, or help in some other way. I found the resolution of each plot thread to be entirely too neat; too pat and simplistic, to be believable. The final denouement would have been far more effective had the readers been allowed to get to know various characters better. That’s the problem with novels written in the first person. You get to know the narrator (Emma) well, but other characters remain two-dimensional and remote. This author has written some very fine books; this was an unusual disappointment.

Rating: 5
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21367-4 (hardcover)

Monday, May 21, 2007

The 6th Target - James Patterson, Maxine Paetro

The 6th Target
James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Little, Brown and Company


The latest installment of the Women’s Murder Club series begins on a ferry ride across the San Francisco Bay. It’s a picture-postcard day until a gunman opens fire without warning or reason. Several of his victims are killed instantly; some are seriously wounded. Among the victims is a member of the Women’s Murder Club. Even if that weren’t the case, Inspector Lindsay Boxer would be in a rush to find the guy before something sets him off again.

In another part of the city, at least two people in a minivan abduct a five-year-old girl and her nanny off the street in broad daylight. No ransom note is forthcoming; and police and parents fear the worst when the body of the nanny, is found. And a certain apartment building experiences an escalating set of problems. It begins with anonymous threatening notes placed under doors, and then continues with the death of small pets. Boxer and her partner get involved when the violence includes trashed apartments and the deaths of tenants.

Written in the typical staccato-style chapters, the narrative moves along at the expected quick pace. The problem is that the story as a whole is fairly disjointed. The three cases never come together in any way, except that they involve members of the Club. This might have worked a little better had the book been structured as three novellas. As it stands, although the ferry shooting is given the most attention, each plotline seems to get short shrift. Not the best in the series, but an entertaining read for fans of the series.

Rating: 6
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-01479-3 (hardcover)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Would I Lie To You - Cecily von Ziegesar

Would I Lie To You
Gossip Girl #10
Cecily von Ziegesar
Little, Brown and Company

Young Adult (ages 15 and up)

Note: If you haven’t read the previous books in the series, this review contains plot spoilers.

It’s July; the last summer before everyone goes off to college. No one wants to spend the hot, sticky summer in Manhattan, so everyone who’s anyone makes the trip to the Hamptons. Boys on the beach in board shorts; girls on the sand in bikinis, what could be better? But, somehow, things don’t quite work out the way everyone expects. Nate, for example, is supposedly stuck working for Coach all summer to earn his diploma. If you have to ask why, you haven’t been keeping up with current events.

Blair and Serena start July as the guests of the fabulous designer Bailey Winter. He’s planning an entire collection inspired by the two of them. But, when they get there, they see double. Two models who, from a distance, look like Blair and Serena, who will be the “faces” of the collection. Up close, of course, the differences are obvious; the skanky clothes, the not-right teeth, the wonky eye. Not exactly flattering. And you know that Blair and Serena aren’t going to stand for that for very long. Serena’s birthday falls in the middle of the summer. Will she celebrate at Bailey’s? Will her parents tear themselves away from Wimbledon long enough to throw her a party? Or will she just have to get creative?

Filmmaker Vanessa starts her summer suffocating in the city. And, somehow, she’s become nanny to twin four-year-old terrors. She’s clearly not thinking straight when she agrees to accompany the family on a trip to the Hamptons. Those creative types always seem to land on their feet. And they tend to gather together. Which, not so incidentally, brings us to Dan, still working his summer job at the Strand bookstore. New employee, Greg, who is also a fan of Dan’s poetry, suggests starting a literary salon. Dan enthusiastically agrees. Does he have a surprise in store!

I won’t spoil anything (how would that be fun?) but at the very end, Gossip Girl does drop a hint or two about her identity. Nothing concrete, of course, so we’ll just have to wait until the next installment. In the meantime, there are plenty of questions still to be answered, and plenty of summer left. You know you love her.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2006
ISBN# 978-0-316-01183-9 (trade paperback)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Good Ghoul's Guide to Getting Even - Julie Kenner

The Good Ghoul’s Guide to Getting Even
Julie Kenner
Berkley Jam

Young Adult / Vampire

So you think working on your college applications sucks? Try doing it when you’re dead. Colleges, especially competitive film schools, like the one Beth Frasier dreams of attending, don’t make a habit of letting the dead matriculate. Not even when they call themselves life-challenged. Did I mention that Beth is now a vampire? Not her choice, trust me. Being a vampire makes attending high school classes during the day a bit of a problem, too, since one ray of sunlight will literally burn her to a crisp. And here’s something I bet you didn’t know: if you’re having a bad hair day when you get turned into a vampire? You’re stuck with it. Forever. Not to mention the fact that you’ll never be able to eat chocolate again. Or the disgusting and compulsive craving for human blood.

Just a few days ago, Beth was your average junior in high school. A girl with the highest GPA in her class, and early acceptance to a couple of in-state schools (fallbacks, but she hasn’t let the parents in on that little fact yet.) A few short days ago, Beth thought her biggest problem was adding another “team player” extra-curricular activity to her applications. If she wants to get into that film school, or any school at all, she needs to figure out how to get un-undead, fast. Since she has not fed from a human, she can regain her mortality. Of course, there are several hurdles to jump before that can happen, but Beth is nothing if not determined. And if, in the process, she can have her revenge on Stephen Wills, the guy she was crushing on, and trusted, and who turned her into a creature of the night? Well, so much the better.

This is the first in a promising new series. Yes, it does sound a bit like a Buffy riff, and the author acknowledges that by referencing the show a few times. Beth’s reactions to various situations, including her new vampy nature, seem quite realistic. She’s angry, she’s scared, and she spends time trying to figure out how to cope with the change while still trying to appear to lead her normal life. She’s helped by her best friend, Jenny, who is understandably freaked out at first, but rises to the occasion as only your best friend would. And she gets help from an unexpected source, too. Best of all, instead of falling apart and hiding, she decides to take action, and uses her smarts to try and fix the situation.

While the book deals with vampires, it’s not graphic or terribly scary. If you think Buffy, you’ll have the right tone. There are some interesting plot developments, a couple of good twists I didn’t see coming, and while this isn’t a cliffhanger ending, it’s clearly left open for the next book, coming out later this year. This novel was fun, entertaining, and a very fast read. I’ll be happy to follow Beth through future installments.

Rating: 8
April 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21391-9 (paperback)

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Killer Stitch - Maggie Sefton

A Killer Stitch
A Knitting Mystery
Maggie Sefton
Berkley Prime Crime


In Fort Collins, CO, House of Lambspun, a yarn shop, is always busy. These days, there are spinning classes; the seemingly magical process of taking wool roving and turning it into yarn. Lucy Adair, a sweet and reserved woman, is the instructor for the classes, and she calmly leads her students through the tricky process. Meanwhile, Kelly Flynn, Lisa, Jennifer, and the other members of the “shop family,” come and go throughout the day, often stopping to do a bit of knitting on their latest projects.

This calm routine continues until the day Ellen Hunter rushes in, breathless, and frantically searching for Lucy. There’s been a murder. Then Ellen drops the bomb: the victim is Derek, Lucy’s boyfriend. According to Ellen, Lucy and Derek were quite the romantic pair. According to Jennifer, however, Derek was a manipulative loser who had no trouble charming women into his bed. She knows this from painful experience with one of her friends, Diane. For over four years, Diane and Derek carried on a very volatile affair, complete with fights, breakups, cheating, and makeups.

Diane looks like the perfect suspect. She tells the police that she was home sleeping at the time of the murder. But, as Jennifer tells Kelly, that’s not entirely true. On the night of his death, Derek called Diane and asked her to come to his place. He said he wanted to get back together with her. Diane went, but they started fighting almost immediately. Diane went home and got drunk. Even worse, there were plenty of witnesses to the phone call and to Diane’s plans to meet with Derek. Since Kelly has had some success in recent months solving crimes, Jennifer appeals to her to help prove that, although she’s no angel, Diane is no murderer.

This is the fourth installment in this very entertaining cozy series, but new readers will have no trouble getting up to speed on the characters and their backgrounds. Much of the action takes place in the yarn shop, House of Lambspun, around the knitting table. Having once been fortunate enough to live close to a shop that sounds very similar, I can say that these scenes are absolutely realistic. One of the best things about this particular investigation is that it happens very naturally. Kelly, last seen in A DEADLY YARN, simply asks casual questions of various individuals, mostly in the shop, until the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. There are enough viable suspects to make for an interesting whodunit, and the eventual solution makes a good deal of sense. As a knitter, I enjoy the authentic atmosphere the author invokes almost as much as the underlying mystery.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21520-3 (hardcover)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Organize Your Corpses - Mary Jane Maffini

Organize Your Corpses
Mary Jane Maffini
Berkley Prime Crime


Whoever said that high school is the template for the rest of your life must have known Charlotte Adams and the residents of tiny Woodbridge, New York. Many of them left after high school, but have now returned for various reasons. For Charlotte, it’s a broken engagement and a desire to start her own business as a professional organizer. One of her first clients turns out to be Helen Henley, known to students at St. Jude’s high school as “Hellfire Henley.” Miss Henley, now seventy and retired, hires Charlotte to help her clean out and organize Henley House, a local historical landmark. The previous owner, her late cousin, was a packrat, and as a result the beautiful home is crammed with towers of newspapers and various debris. In addition to the organization, Miss Henley needs to find certain documents that her cousin may have hidden; documents that she will not explain. Undeterred, Charlotte draws up a plan of attack, pockets a retainer fee, and parts ways with Miss Henley.

That evening, Miss Henley calls Charlotte at home, demanding that Charlotte meet her at Henley House immediately. Realizing the wisdom of setting boundaries, Charlotte declines. The next morning, Charlotte arrives at Henley House to find the front door standing open. She finds Miss Henley inside, under a fallen stack of newspapers and an oak beam. Miss Henley has been dead for some time. The local detectives, led by a former friend-turned-enemy, seem to think that Charlotte must have had a hand in the murder. But, at the memorial service, it’s more than clear that there are plenty of people, many of them former students, who are not at all unhappy to see the woman dead. In order to take herself off the most-wanted list, and because she feels guilty for not meeting the woman on the night of her death, Charlotte begins her own investigation.

This is the first book in a new series. The plotting is sound, there are several interesting twists, and plenty of suspects. My problem is mainly with the secondary characters. As written, they’re virtually unlikable. They make loud, crass comments at the dead woman’s memorial service. They treat the reception as a party and act as if the murderer did the world a favor by removing someone that, to them, was simply a mean high school teacher. I’d have a lot more respect for Charlotte’s character if she had the backbone to shut them down, but she doesn’t. What she does do is travel to a mental facility to grill the elderly and addled relative of the deceased; a trip that ends about as well as you might expect. Since the family has lived in town for generations, she might have done better to access the Internet or visit a library. Not as exciting, perhaps, but more humane.

It’s quite possible that the author was attempting to draw a line of demarcation between the organization that runs Charlotte’s business and personal life, and the inevitable chaos that happens in life every day. Many readers may come away from the story with much different feelings about the secondary characters. For me, they made for difficult reading. Charlotte’s feeling that she owed something to Miss Henley, when everyone else was ready to bury her and forget her, is admirable. And despite the problems mentioned above, the mystery itself is solid. Here’s hoping that, in the future, some of the shrillness will be toned down and Charlotte can shine.

Rating: 5
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21580-7 (paperback)

Bank - David Bledin

David Bledin
Back Bay Books

Novel/Satire (or truth, if you’ve lived it)

Meet the new crop of analysts who work at the Bank in Mergers & Acquisitions. There’s the Prodigal Son, who very clearly got the job by virtue of being spawned by one of the Bank’s executives. There’s Mumbles, our narrator, who is starry-eyed and hopeful until too many all-nighters leave him bleary-eyed and stressed. There’s Clyde, who, rumor has it, doesn’t really need the job because his father is some construction magnate. There’s the Star, who was clearly born with an innate understanding of the complexities of a 200-spreadsheet Excel document and apparently doesn’t need sleep. Postal Boy is developing an eye tick and looks minutes away from achieving his nickname. And, the Defeated One, in his second year of servitude to the Bank, kept lashed to his desk by a high-maintenance girlfriend and a burgeoning coke habit.

Sound like any office you know? Then let me add in the Sycophant (VP of climbing up everyone’s arse,) the Utterly Incompetent Assistant who keeps her job by keeping the Philandering Managing Director happy. All of these people and hundreds more toil for the Bank. The analysts, fresh out of college, simply hope to survive their two years before ascending the corporate ladder or heading back to school for their MBA. For people outside the pressure cooker of the Bank, their complaints sound like whining and their cancelled weekend and evening plans like excuses. For those inside, though, the pressure is spiking.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office or cubicle farm will find characters and situations here that resonate. The growing dissatisfaction; wondering if this is as good as it gets; the hope for advancement into a slightly nicer cubicle; all should be familiar to anyone in business. This novel is like the movie “Office Space,” just a bit smarter, and with humor that’s more dry and dark. That the author references the movie is no coincidence. Following the exploits of Mumbles, Clyde, Postal Boy, and the Defeated One will bring with it either a wave of nostalgia, a feeling of relief that it’s all behind you now, or, if you’re a business student, quite possibly a dawning sense of terror.

Rating: 8
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-01673-5

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Brothers of Junior Doyle - E.K. Recknor

The Brothers of Junior Doyle
E.K. Recknor


Junior Doyle was raised by his father after his mother died in childbirth. How Sr. Doyle managed an infant while moving from mining town to mining town and working nonstop is a mystery. At the age of 15, Junior went to work at the mine in Tombstone, AZ. He was 16 when his father was gunned down in the street. No one saw who did it, and the law didn’t seem too anxious to find out, either. A chance acquaintance with Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp taught Junior that he’d prefer to be on the right side of the law.

With nothing left to keep him in Tombstone, and wishing to avoid being called as a witness to that business at the OK Corral, Junior decides to head back to the place of his birth and see if he can find out anything about his mother. He finds out that she’s still alive and well, and living with his full brother, Patrick, who, despite being a year older, could be his twin. Together, the two decide to backtrack their father’s life and see if there are other siblings out there. Junior didn’t expect that any of his siblings would be inclined to live on the wrong side of the law, and it’s not long before he has to decide where his loyalties lie.

I have to admit, right up front, that I almost never read westerns. I started this one as a lark, figuring I’d get bored a few pages in and move on to something else. Then I realized I’d hit page 50 without stopping. The book is written in first-person as a sort of memoir by Junior, so it’s in his vernacular. The style of the writing and flow of the story pulled me in immediately. I was engaged by the characters, and came to really care about what happened to them all. I don’t know how this one stacks up against other westerns, given my very limited experience with them, but I can tell you that I read the whole thing in one sitting and enjoyed it. And that’s saying quite a bit.

Rating: 7
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22016-5

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Poisoned Petals - Joyce and Jim Lavene

Poisoned Petals
A Peggy Lee Garden Mystery
Joyce and Jim Lavene
Berkley Prime Crime


As part of her work as a botanist, Dr. Peggy Lee (yes, she knows) helps out longtime friend, Darmus Appleby with the Community Garden, part of his larger Feed America charity. Darmus had some very rough spots in his life, but the charity is his dream and his reason for living. Arriving at Darmus’ place to deliver some flowers one morning, Peggy smells a gas leak. After calling the authorities, she knocks at doors and windows, trying to find her friend. To her shock, an explosion rocks the little house, sending glass shards flying and starting a fire. Without thought, Peggy risks her life to enter the burning house and drag out the body of her friend. Paramedics tell her that Darmus was apparently trying to light the stove when it exploded, and agree that, with the terrible burns he suffered, death might be a blessing.

Now leadership of the charity goes to Darmus’ only living relative, his younger brother Luther. Luther, who has his own health problems, is a minister. Despite his spiritual calling, he’s always felt that Darmus got the respect and adulation that he deserved. But he’s ready to step up and take over for his brother. Mere days later, visitors discover Luther lying unconscious in the Community Garden. By the time Peggy gets to the hospital, Luther is gone, too. Clutched in his hand, for reasons Peggy can’t understand, was Darmus’ wedding band. And in his pocket, a hyacinth, which, in the language of flowers, stands for sorrow. Both brothers’ dying in questionable circumstances within days seems too coincidental to Peggy. And, late one evening, Nightflyer, an enigmatic computer user who was friends with her late husband, tells her she’s right to be suspicious. He tells her to follow the money; the huge grant given to the charity just before Darmus died. Before signing off, he has one more bombshell to drop on Peggy. But that would be a spoiler.

This entertaining series blends the best aspects of cozies with more intricate plots to produce mysteries a cut above average. Each chapter is preceded by the name of a plant, and an explanation of its properties and significance. These items are fascinating on their own, and they do lend some deeper understanding to the ongoing story. The mystery here is quite intricate and there are several twists. Some aspects of the story have their roots in the past, when Peggy, Darmus, and Luther were all at college. This installment, quite possibly the best of the series so far, works quite well as a stand-alone novel, although many readers may want to read PRETTY POISON and FRUIT OF THE POISON TREE for the fun of it. After reading one of these books, I always feel the urge to go outside and plant something. I think Peggy would approve.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21581-4 (paperback)

On the Slam - Honor Hartman

On The Slam
A Bridge Club Mystery
Honor Hartman


Six months after her husband died in a car accident, Emma Diamond moved into a new house, next door to her lifelong friend, Sophie Parker. On the other side of Emma’s house is Marylou, a sixty-something widow. The only real problem with the new place is one Janet McGreevey, the homeowner’s association president. She takes her job extremely seriously, and has a well-deserved reputation for being both intrusive and insensitive. No one has anything good to say about her, and the neighbors are resigned to dealing with her in order to keep peace in the neighborhood.

Emma is reluctant to attend the latest bridge party. First, because it will be organized and hosted by Janet, second, because her bridge skills are beginner level. During the party, Janet digs into Marylou’s famous spinach dip and immediately begins choking. Her death, attributed to a severe peanut allergy, is a shock to everyone. Marylou maintains that nothing even resembling a peanut came near the dip. And there’s no shortage of suspects. Everyone at the party had some kind of reason to wish Janet harm. Emma wants to say out of it, but Sophie and Marylou convince her to join their investigation.

Readers who don’t play bridge at all may be a bit confused or put off by the details of the games. Don’t let it bother you; understanding the actual game play is not necessary to enjoying the mystery. If you’re interested in learning the game, the author includes some good resources and tips at the end of the book to get you started. The mystery is quite interesting, and the author manages to throw in a few good twists towards the end. The number of viable suspects and the ladies’ joint sleuthing efforts keep the story involving. ON THE SLAM is a good start to what promises to be an entertaining series.

Rating: 7
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22140-7 (paperback)