Sunday, December 30, 2007

Knitting Bones - Monica Ferris

Knitting Bones
A Needlecraft Mystery
Monica Ferris
Berkley Prime Crime


Betsey Devonshire, owner of the needlecraft shop Crewel World, is gearing up for the annual convention of the Embroiderers Guild of America (EGA.) This year, the EGA has raised nearly $24,000 and will be presenting a check to a representative of the Heart Coalition at their banquet. But first, there’s time for a bit of play, when a friend invites her to go horseback riding. This decision turns out to be a disaster; and Betsey ends up with a shattered leg, surgery, some permanent hardware, and weeks of non-mobile convalescence. Fortunately, she’ll be recuperating at home, in her apartment above her shop.

Her first day home, brain partially muddled with much-needed painkillers, Betsey gets a visit from Godwin, her store manager. He’s brought news of a huge EGA scandal. It seems that the man sent to collect the check at the banquet has disappeared. And he’s taken the check with him. At that very moment, Allie Germaine, the president of the local EGA chapter, is there to beg for Betsey’s help in investigating the matter. The man who disappeared with the check? Also happens to be Allie’s husband. She swears he would never do such a thing, and Betsey is inclined to believe her.

The problem is, Betsey isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Something has to be done, so, with not a little trepidation, Betsey sends Godwin out to do the investigating. They’d better be quick; there’s someone else looking for that check, too.

Usually, by the time a series hits book #11, the premise is looking a bit threadbare. Not so with this series, as the author continually finds ways to add interesting twists, and put the characters fans love in unique situations. Keeping Betsey homebound and sending the more-excitable Godwin out to investigate is a great twist. I’ve always enjoyed Godwin, and his personality is so much different than Betsey’s, he gives the whole case a different feel. It’s interesting to watch them interact, a la Nero Wolfe and the redoubtable Archie.

As always, the book contains needlework tips and a pattern. This time, it’s for a knitted mitered square that can be used to use of leftovers; and sewed together to form an afghan. Knitters, embroiderers, needle workers of all kinds will love the sense of authenticity the author brings to their favorite pastimes. And if you’re not into needlework, there’s still a fun mystery, peopled by unique characters.

Rating: 7 ½
December 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21752-8 (hardcover)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Silken Shadows - Jennifer St. Giles

Silken Shadows
Jennifer St. Giles
Berkley Sensation

Paranormal/ Historical Romance

Note: If you haven’t read the first two novels in this series, MIDNIGHT SECRETS and DARKEST DREAMS, this review contains unavoidable plot spoilers.

In 1880, in the seaside town of Dartmoor’s End, Gemini Andrews and her family are still reeling from their too-close encounter with a fiendish killer, Constable Jack Poole. Poole is presumed dead, but recent events in a nearby village call that assumption into question. Two young women have been murdered, and while not exactly the same as Poole’s murders; the events are similar enough to raise alarms. Gemini’s brother-in-law, once under suspicion himself, vows to help in any way he can, but his first concern is to protect his family.

Family friend Captain Deverell Jansen volunteers to leave for the village right away. Knowing that her ability to communicate with spirits will be indispensable, Gemini offers to accompany him. Naturally, the entire family protests. But Gemini is still haunted by the ghosts of the previous murder victims and feels compelled to help the spirits of the murdered women. So compelled that she stows away aboard Dev’s ship when he leaves. Dev is horrified that Gemini would throw away her reputation in such a way, but soon comes to appreciate her unique talents with ghosts.

Gemini and Dev have been carrying on a strong flirtation for some time. The main obstacle seems to be Dev’s feeling that, at 19, Gemini is too young for him. That, and the fact that there are two ghosts who hang around Dev at all times. Gemini can see them, but Dev can’t, which makes for some interesting interactions. Gemini is no simpering miss who needs to be coddled. She feels a real sense of duty to the spirits of the dead, and manages to overcome her own fears in order to help them. And she’s more than a match for Dev.

Once again, the author manages to deftly blend historical romance, a murder mystery, paranormal, and gothic elements to fantastic effect. There are even some touches of light humor here and there. This novel, and the two that came before, will appeal to a wide variety of readers, and should gain Ms. St. Giles a well-deserved following.

Rating: 7 ½
December 2007ISBN# 978-0-425-21794-8 (paperback)

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Bucket of Ashes - P. B. Ryan

A Bucket Of Ashes
A Gilded Age Mystery
P. B. Ryan
Berkley Prime Crime


Governess Nell Sweeney (last seen in MURDER IN THE NORTH END) is spending August of 1870 with the Hewitt family, and in particular, her six-year-old charge, Grace, at their beach house in Cape Cod. While there, she’s surprised at a visit from Dr. Greaves, the man who took her into his home and taught her what she knows about nursing, and about how to comport herself with the upper strata of society. He knows about her past, unlike the Hewitts, and has kept her many secrets. He’s come to deliver crushing news to Nell. Her last remaining sibling, James (Jamie) died two nights ago in a fire. And when he died, he was wanted for murder.

Nell feels her life, so carefully separated from her secret past, coming undone. Her position as governess depends on her blameless reputation. All would be lost if it were revealed that her brother was a murderer. But Nell feels compelled to investigate the murder and, she hopes, clear her brother’s name no matter what the cost to her.

Her past is not the only secret Nell is hiding. She believes that she may be carrying the child of Will Hewitt, son of her employer. She is alone with this fear, since Will is currently stationed at the German border, serving as a field surgeon, at the request of President Grant. Her carefully woven cloth of obfuscation may be unraveling, but Nell is determined to do the right thing for all involved.

It pains me to know that, according to the author, this will be the last installment of this series. Readers who have not read past books may not feel the same affinity for the characters as do longtime readers. It’s not strictly necessary to have read prior books, as this works fine as a standalone, but newbie readers may feel they’re missing a lot of the nuances, especially in the relationship between Nell and Will.

As always, the author excels at setting the scene, evoking the time and place by use of the day-to-day details as well as historical events. The resolution of the central mystery is almost secondary to the revelations about Nell’s past and the way the author ties up all the loose ends of her present situation. Longtime readers will enjoy this aspect immensely; I know I did. This has been a gorgeously written series, populated with unique and unforgettable characters. I’m truly sorry to see it end, and will, no doubt, be re-reading these keepers.

Rating: 8
December 2007ISBN# 978-0-425-21873-0 (paperback)

Real Murders - Charlaine Harris

Real Murders
The First Aurora Teagarden Mystery
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime


At 28, Aurora (Roe) Teagarden has a nice life in her hometown of Lawrenceton, Georgia. Lawrenceton is a growing suburb of Atlanta, but it’s still small enough that everyone pretty much knows everyone else. Roe has turned her love for books into a career as a librarian; and her fascination with mysteries into a monthly get-together with other members of a club called Real Murders. The twelve members each take it in turn to give a talk about a specific historical murder. This month, it’s Roe’s turn, and she’s got the interesting case of William Herbert Wallace and his murdered wife, Julia.

The club meets at the local VFW, with vice president Mamie Wright arriving early to unlock the building and set up the room. The meeting is just about to start, but Mamie is nowhere to be found, despite the fact that her car is parked outside. Roe goes looking for her, and finds her, dead, in the small kitchen. The scene is horrific. And familiar. Someone clearly staged the scene to mimic the circumstances of the Wallace case. This naturally puts the members of the Real Murders under suspicion, especially given the fact that someone called the pay phone in the hallway, looking for Julia Wallace. As more bodies appear, all arranged to mimic a famous past murder, it’s clear that the club members are not only suspects, they’re also potential victims.

What a great set of circumstances for a mystery. A bunch of people who get together to discuss famous crimes begin to fall victim to similar situations. Each of the members is a viable suspect, including Roe’s friend and her date, the mystery writer, who just happened to show up for the meeting. And there’s Mamie’s husband. As the number of victims increases, the pool of suspects grows. Many mystery readers have anticipated the reprinting of this series for years. I can see why.

Rating: 7 ½
December 2007 (reprint)
ISBN# 978-0-425-21871-6 (paperback)

Skate Crime - Alina Adams

Skate Crime
A Figure Skating Mystery
Alina Adams
Berkley Prime Crime


At 25, Bex Levy, researcher for the 24/7 sports network, has high hopes of becoming a producer. So, when her boss calls her to ask her to take over for an absent segment producer, she jumps at the chance. She’ll be flying to Colorado to tape an interview of Lucien Pryce, a skating legend with fifty years of experience to his credit; first as a champion skater, now as a renowned coach. But first, there’s the little matter of the other proposal made to Bex on the same day. Her boyfriend, Craig, asked her to marry him. Bex decides to take the week in Colorado to mull over that little development.

Bex picks up Lucien at his home, and takes him to the Olympic Training Center to film some b-roll of the great skater on the ice, still graceful in spite of his advancing age. There, she meets his former pairs partner, Toni. As the two women chat, and the great man takes the ice, he appears to bobble, then falls. He remains on the ice, unmoving, as Toni races to him and Bex runs for a phone. But it’s too late. Lucien is dead long before the ambulance arrives. Bex is sure that foul play is involved, but everyone else wants to write it off as a freak accident. While researching her story on Lucien’s life, she finds that there are plenty of people in Lucien’s past – and present – who might have a motive for murder.

SKATE CRIME is written in chapters that alternate between Bex in the present, and Lucien and various others in the past. Each of the ‘past’ chapters introduces another in the cast of characters who might have had a motive to do in the great Lucien Pryce. In the skating world, emotions often run high, and there’s more than enough motive to cast a wide net of suspicion. The subplot involving Bex and Craig, for my money, simply takes time away from the skating world, which is far more interesting. The outcome of both the mystery and the marriage proposal are always in doubt, until the author resolves them on the final pages.

The unique way in which this novel is constructed, coupled with the obvious insider knowledge that author Alina Adams brings to the table, makes this one a standout in an always-entertaining series. Reading the previous novels (DEATH DROP, AXEL OF EVIL, ON THIN ICE, MURDER ON ICE) is not necessary before reading this one, but if you’re a fan of skating, mysteries, or both, you won’t want to miss them.

Rating: 8
December 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21803-7 (paperback)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hex Marks The Spot - Madelyn Alt

Hex Marks The Spot
A Bewitching Mystery
Madelyn Alt
Berkley Prime Crime


Six months ago, Maggie O’Neill lived in a world composed of only what she could see and touch. Then she went to work for Felicity (Liss) Dow at her shop, Enchantments, selling antiques and mystical items to those who understand what they’re buying, and all of that changed. Now Maggie is a fledgling empath. Although she’s feeling deeply ambivalent about her gift, she is uncomfortably aware that the spiritual energy surrounding the area is becoming increasingly chaotic. She constantly feels as if she’s waiting for something to happen.

The annual farmer’s market and craft bazaar signals the end of winter and the start of spring. This year, Maggie and Felicity attend together, in search of locally made items for Enchantments. They encounter Eli Yoder, a wood craftsman and part of the local Amish community. His pieces are expertly made, and plain in style, with one exception: an armoire with elaborate carvings that look almost Celtic, and brimming with color. Eli constructed the cabinet, but Luc Metzger, from the Pennsylvania Amish, created the carvings and painting.

Not long after seeing the gorgeous armoire, Maggie meets Luc’s wife, Hester, at a food stand. Hester’s eyes are dark as she warns Maggie of some vague danger to come, calling her ‘one who sees.’ Later in the day, Maggie and Liss see Luc riding his bicycle away from the market after telling his worried wife that he’s got a job to do. That night, Luc doesn’t return home, and the men go in search of him. Sadly, they find his body alongside the road, where he was apparently bludgeoned to death.

In this third installment of the series – following THE TROUBLE WITH MAGIC and A CHARMED DEATH – the murder mystery plays second fiddle to the development of Maggie’s character and her struggles with accepting her paranormal gift. While that might be a problem for a less talented author, it works beautifully here. It’s fascinating to accompany Maggie on her journey; even the bumps along the way serve to make her a more realistic character.

The supporting cast of characters is deep and widely varied, from Goth teenagers to stoic Amish farmers; each one is individual and unique. A secondary plot involving Boiler Room Bertie, the library’s resident ghost, who seems to be more restless than usual, adds an extra interest to the novel. Newcomers to the series will have no problems jumping in at this point, but I’d highly recommend reading the first two books for the sheer entertainment. This series is perfect for mystery buffs who like more than a bit of the paranormal, or for paranormal fans who enjoy mysteries.

Rating: 8
December 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21870-9 (paperback)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Rose From The Dead - Kate Collins

A Rose From The Dead
A Flower Shop Mystery
Kate Collins


In an effort to generate more income for her flower shop, Bloomers, Abby Knight (last seen in ACTS OF VIOLETS) agreed to attend a mortician’s convention. Actually, she’s going halves on a booth with local funeral directors Max and Delilah Dove. Abby assumes that a convention of morticians will be dull. She is so wrong. For a start, there are Jess and Ross, sons of a straitlaced scion of the business, who think that everyone needs to lighten up about death. To that end, they perpetrate endless pranks including locking Abby in a coffin-shaped phone booth and attaching signs to the skirt of Sylvia Blount, organizer of the event.

Sylvia doesn’t see the humor, either. She sells (and wears) funeral makeup. Her trademark is a red rose behind one ear. She’s known for being a man-eater, and makes a pass at anything in pants. Including Marco, Abby’s boyfriend. When Sylvia ends up dead in a coffin meant for the “theme coffin” contest, the suspects are myriad. Except for Angelique, a harpist who claims to capture the music of departing souls, Sylvia was roundly disliked. But when suspicion falls squarely on Delilah’s head, Abby knows she can’t trust the authorities to clear her friend.

Getting Abby out of her hometown and into a convention full of relative strangers makes this entry in the series quite interesting. Those who have been reading from the start may be surprised to find that a mere six months have elapsed since Abby went into the florist – and murder – business. There’s only so long a small town setting can credibly sustain that kind of pace. The nature of the convention guarantees that there will be a wide variety of characters, including some oddballs, and they work perfectly with the slightly tongue-in-cheek feeling of the narrative. This is an entertaining entry in a fun cozy series.

Rating: 7 ½
December 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22241-1 (paperback)

Laird of the Mist - Paula Quinn

Laird of the Mist
Paula Quinn
Grand Central Publishing

Historical Romance

In seventeenth century Scotland, the Campbells are all but extinct, by edict. Callum MacGregor and his sister grew up in a prison, simply for bearing the ‘wrong’ name. Callum spent his life nursing a hatred for the enemy and a burning need for vengeance. Now that he’s grown, and known as the Devil, he plans to carry out that vengeance on every Campbell he can find.

Kate Campbell may be of noble blood, but she’s grown up knowing that the enemy could attack at any moment. She’s trained with a sword every day of her life. That training becomes invaluable when she’s embroiled in a battle. Just when it seems that death is one sword stroke away, a rescuer sweeps Kate onto his horse. Both Kate and her rescuer are shocked to discover the identity of the other. This is no guardian angel, but Callum MacGregor. Getting over his initial surprise, Callum begins to see the value in having a kidnapped Campbell on his hands. Neither one could predict the relationship that begins in the most unlikely of circumstances.

This is no hackneyed ‘enemies become lovers’ plot. Both Callum and Kate have been taught to hate one another’s clan; and both do so, with righteous fury. Callum carries scars that are both physical and emotional. He honestly has no intention of using Kate as anything other than a bargaining chip to get at her uncle. Kate is no shrinking violet. She’s a woman of intelligence and competence who knows her own mind and isn’t afraid of much. The two make perfectly matched sparring partners, and as the relationship develops, it seems completely natural, even in seemingly impossible circumstances. Adding history, intrigue, and a solid cast of characters, makes this one a cut above the rest. This is the first of Ms. Quinn’s novels that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Rating: 8
December 2007
ISBN# 0-446-61912-4 (paperback)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lord Deverill's Secret - Amanda Grange

Lord Deverill’s Secret
Amanda Grange

Historical Romance/Regency

Miss Cassandra Paxton has come to Brighton for two reasons. The first is to tidy up the family’s house for sale. The second, overriding purpose is to unravel a mystery left in the wake of her brother’s death. Devastated by the loss of her brother, Cassandra has only recently been able to bring herself to go through his personal things. Among those things, she found a letter that alludes to misbehavior, at best, on the part of her brother. She intends to visit Lord Deverill, one of her brother’s friends, to discover the truth behind the letter.

But Lord Deverill, widely known as the most eligible bachelor in the area, has secrets of his own. He wants to help Cassandra, and even finds himself drawn to her. But he fears that, once she learns his secret, it will ruin any chance the two of them might have. In the meantime, the two most dodge a series of nearly fatal accidents (or are they?) that begin only when Cassandra delves deeper into the circumstances surrounding her brother’s fate.

The author excels at evoking the time and place using ‘day in the life’ details. Happily, these details never overshadow the story, they merely add to the overall feeling. The cast of characters is fun, especially Moll, the maid who has known Cassandra since birth. This is a lovely, sweet, engaging romance with a nice bit of intrigue added for spice.

Rating: 8
November 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21772-6 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Remains of the Dead - Wendy Roberts

The Remains of the Dead
A Ghost Dusters Mystery
Wendy Roberts


Sadie Novak used to be your average second-grade teacher. Five years ago, her beloved brother committed suicide and Sadie was left to clean up the scene, in order to spare her parents the horror of doing it. At that point, she decided to start her own cleaning service so that the other families would be spared the same experience. Her company, run with the aid of Zack Bowman, a former cop, cleans up scenes of crimes and other unattended deaths. And through this work, Sadie discovered that she has a unique talent. She can see and communicate with ghosts.

Often the ghosts are those of the recently deceased. Sometimes, they’re just confused about what’s happened and need a little encouragement to move on; sometimes they need a task completed for them. When Sadie enters the home of Grant and Trudy Toth, the site of a murder-suicide, she’s prepared for carnage and ghosts. She’s not prepared to encounter a live person. Kent Lasko had no business being in the house, but Sadie is momentarily sidetracked by the ghost of Trudy, who refuses to speak, but urgently indicates that the police’s theory of the case is wrong. She goes so far as to write “not Grant” on the wall. Obviously, Trudy needs Sadie’s help.

This is the first in a very promising series. Her strange talent aside, Sadie comes across as absolutely genuine. The cruel irony of her talent is that she cannot connect with suicides, and, thus, with her lost brother. Urged on by Trudy’s ghost, it makes sense that Sadie would want to discover the truth about what happened in the Toth house. Zack’s reactions to Sadie’s talent and her investigation, ring completely true. The author skillfully blends forensic details of a crime scene (and its aftermath) with mystery and the paranormal, making this a series that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Rating: 8
December 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22268-8 (paperback)

Preaching to the Corpse - Roberta Isleib

Preaching to the Corpse
An Advice Column Mystery
Roberta Isleib
Berkley Prime Crime


Clinical psychologist Rebecca Butterman knows that a phone call at midnight rarely signals a happy event. This time, it’s Detective Megis, calling to ask her to come to the hospital. Rev. Wesley Sandifer found church member Lacy Bailes unconscious and had her taken to the ER. Now Lacy is dead, the circumstances are suspicious, and Wesley won’t talk to anyone but Rebecca. But when Rebecca arrives, Wesley’s main concern seems to be that Rebecca takes Lacy’s place on the selection committee for a new assistant pastor. It could be the shock, or the sedatives, but it seems odd.

Days later, with Lacy’s death under investigation and Wesley still under the care of doctors, Yale Divinity School intern Paul Cashman is shouldering more responsibility. During a church supper, he takes a fall down a flight of stairs that were liberally and deliberately greased with shortening. It could be a coincidence, but Paul is Wesley’s choice for new assistant pastor. The other candidate, a female pastor from out of state, is strongly championed by other members of the committee. It’s clear that someone is deadly serious about who gets the job.

Last seen in DEADLY ADVICE, Rebecca Butterman retains her warmth and charm as a character. She understands what makes people tick, but wisely keeps her own counsel, more often than not. She realizes that she’s been thrown into a very contentious selection process, and attempts to calm the waters without taking sides. Unfortunately, unless you are an active member of a small New England church, the politics and minutiae of selecting a new assistant pastor is not inherently interesting. The story works best when Rebecca is using her skills to gather information and answering questions in her syndicated advice column.

Rating: 6 ½
November 2007ISBN# 978-0-425-21837-2 (paperback)

Double Cross - James Patterson

Double Cross
James Patterson
Little, Brown and Company


Life seems good for Alex Cross these days. He’s settling into a routine as a private psychologist, away from the dangers and unpredictability of police life. His kids are all thriving. And he’s seeing Bree Stone, a detective with the MPD in DC. For once, when a beeper goes off at an inopportune moment, it’s hers, not his. That beeper interrupts a camping trip and calls Bree back to the city to investigate the murder of a crime writer who was thrown off the terrace of her apartment. Alex goes along for the ride, and very quickly gets caught up in the investigation. It would have happened sooner or later; the killer left a tape for the police to find, specifically taunting Alex.

Nearly four years ago, Kyle Craig, an FBI agent and good friend of Alex, was convicted of several murders and sent to a super-maximum security prison. Kyle called himself the Mastermind, and has spent the past four years planning his revenge. As the killings in DC continue to escalate in brutality and publicity, Alex has no idea that the Audience Killer is connected to Kyle Craig. And it won’t be long until he has to confront two of the most remorseless and vicious killers he’s ever faced.

Some aspects of this novel require a bit of suspension of disbelief. And that’s ok with me. By the time the Mastermind’s plan goes into effect, I was fully invested in the story and character (last seen in MARY, MARY) and willing to go along for the ride. And what a ride this is. Fast-paced, full of action, and populated with fascinating characters, both new and old. Some chapters are written from Alex’s point of view, others are told from that of the killer. This technique gives the reader immediate access to the thought process of the killer, without giving away too much information. There are some neat twists before final scenes, and it ends in a way that makes me hope we’ll see more of Alex Cross in the not-too-distant future.

Rating: 8
November 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-01505-9 (hardcover)