Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Malled To Death - Laura DiSilverio

Malled To Death
A Mall Cop Mystery
Laura DiSilverio
Berkley Prime Crime

When last we left mall cop EJ Ferris (ALL SALES FATAL, DIE BUYING) she was in the running for the job of head of security at the Fernglen Galleria.  She’s more than qualified.  She spent almost ten years in the Air Force police overseas before an IED shredded her knee and sent her back home to rehab.  And she’d much prefer a job in any police department that will have her.  That same knee injury is keeping her out of the running for every job she’s applied for so far.  So, all in all, head of security is at least a step up at the moment.  That she didn’t get the job is frustrating enough.  That the job went to a fashion student named Coco who got the job through good old nepotism and whose sole interest is designing new uniforms just makes it worse.  (None of this counts as a spoiler – it’s all in the first few pages.)

Since there’s a film crew using the mall for a location shoot, competent security would be nice.  Since the film star’s EJ’s action-star dad, she feels that security is non-negotiable.  So far, she’s managed to keep her relationship with the movie star a secret.  Dad would like EJ to come to L.A. and be a producer, but EJ won’t give up policing in any form.  This all works out pretty well, since someone is leaving threatening notes in the star’s trailer.  He brushes it off as normal but EJ isn’t sure.  It all seems unimportant when EJ finds the prop coordinator bleeding to death in the men’s room in a little-used utility corridor during an early-morning shoot.  She’s forced to tell the police that she saw a man running from the scene; a man who’s a fellow veteran, who suffered a brain injury from an IED in the line of duty.  He’s never been physically violent and EJ feels certain that there’s something else going on in ‘her’ mall.
She gets an assist, of course, from Grandpa Atherton, the former CIA operative.  He’s always where the action is, willing to help in any way.  He’s thrilled that this time, ‘helping’ involves being cast as an extra (and made up to look roughly twenty years younger than his actual age.)  Watching EJ deal with her famous family is fascinating and helps deepen all the characters involved.  The film crew brings in a whole new group of motives and suspects, and the ‘crazed fan’ angle just makes the mystery that much more twisty.  EJ’s dealings with Jay continue to unfold and we find out a lot more about what he’s really doing when he’s not pretending to be a humble baker of cookies.  Once again, the story ends with a professional and personal crossroads for EJ, as she’s offered a job in keeping with her skills and experience, but a job that would take her away from the friends and family she’s built at Fernglen.  The world of a mall cop is so much more compelling and readable that I ever thought it would be.

Rating: 7
April 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25191-1 (paperback)

Monday, April 29, 2013

End Me A Tenor - Joelle Charbonneau

End Me A Tenor
A Glee Club Mystery
Joelle Charbonneau
Berkley Prime Crime
Paige Marshall’s singing career is looking up lately.  She’s been making ends meet by coaching a high school show choir in the Chicago area while waiting for auditions to turn up a better job.  That job has arrived, thanks to a production of the Messiah, starring David Richard, arguably the most famous tenor in the world.  Paige will be the soprano soloist and is excited and nervous to be sharing the stage with such a talent.  Her illusions take a beating on the first night of rehearsals when David turns out to be a self-centered jerk.  Things really get bad when he takes a swig from his water bottle, convulses, and dies on the spot.  The police quickly determine that the man was poisoned.
Paige is no stranger to murder investigations (see: MURDER FOR CHOIR) but she’d prefer to leave this one in the hands of the police.  One of her high school students reminds her that the police don’t always get it right, but Paige still plans to opt out as sleuth.  That is, until she comes across information that would be quite useful to the police, and, in the process, finds another dead body.  Now that it looks like she could be next, it seems like simple self-preservation to make sure the killer is caught quickly.
Unlike the first installment of this series, the action here takes place mainly in the world of professional musicians, moving the high school show choir action to the background.  This is a wise choice on the part of the author, since a professional group (of adults) contains more suspects with more life experience and thus, more possible motives for their (re)actions.  Paige reacts pretty normally to the crimes, being freaked out by the deaths, scared that she might be next, wanting the killer arrested.  Her most sympathetic moment, though, is when she experiences very guilty relief that the production – her big break – will not be derailed by the deaths.  The pacing is a bit awkward in spots, but overall, this is a solid and entertaining mystery. 

Rating: 6 ½
April 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25216-1 (paperback)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Homicide Hustle - Ella Barrick

The Homicide Hustle
A Ballroom Dance Mystery
Ella Barrick
In the third installment of this entertaining series (QUICKSTEP TO MURDER, DEAD MAN WALTZING) professional ballroom dancer Stacy Graysin is preparing to star in the latest season of Ballroom With The B-Listers.  Her partner will be Zane Savage, a one-time child star and Stacy’s former teenage crush.  Zane is obviously looking to jump-start a second phase in his career with the show.  Stacy knows that, as one of the professionals, the show will bring attention and (she hopes) business to her dance studio. 
It doesn’t take long for Stacy to realize that ‘reality’ TV is largely producer-driven, as producers Nigel and Tessa look to manufacture drama among the cast.  The drama becomes all too real when Tessa goes missing.  Then the police arrive to announce that Tessa’s body was fished out of the river that morning.  The obvious suspects are the people who worked with Tessa, but the suspect pool widens exponentially when police find that Tessa spent the last night of her life at a crowded night club.
As always, Stacy proves that being a professional ballroom dancer is an athletic and demanding endeavor.  While the audience sees mainly sequins and makeup, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into the rehearsals for a single dance number.  Vitaly, Stacy’s professional dance partner seems like a realistic and nuanced character, providing much of the heart and soul of the dance studio.  His English misstatements continue to amuse me more than they probably should.  I’d love to have lunch with him.

The backdrop of a reality TV show filled with various “B-lister” celebrities makes for a fun and interesting group of suspects.  Stacy starts off investigating because it’s what she does, but continues because she has no interest in forever linking her dance studio and murder in the mind of the TV-watching public.  It makes sense.  As does her reluctance to continue playing Nancy Drew when producer Nigel decides it’s a great ‘story’ to film for the show.  There’s a lot going on in this one, but the author manages to keep all the plates spinning quite nicely until we reach the not-so-obvious conclusion.  If you’re looking for a fun and involving mystery populated with interesting characters, this is the book – and series – for you.  The final pages feel like an ending, but I hold out hope that Stacy, Vitaly, and the rest will return. 
Rating: 7 ½
April 2013
ISBN# 978-0-451-23974-7 (paperback)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Going, Going, Ganache - Jenn McKinlay

Going, Going, Ganache
A Cupcake Bakery Mystery
Jenn McKinlay
Berkley Prime Crime

The day started out so well for Mel and Angie, co-owners of Fairy Tale Cupcakes.  A local style magazine, Southwest Style, discovered their bakery and decided to do a story and a photo shoot.  To almost no one’s surprise, Olivia, their baking arch-rival, appears during the shoot and tries to force her way into a photo.  The whole scene degenerates into a food fight.  Not terribly professional.  The owner of the magazine agrees, and in order to foster a spirit of cooperation among his team – and they need it, badly – he declares that the next week will be spend in an improvised corporate boot camp, making enough cupcakes for a charity gala to be held on the weekend.

Naturally, this news does not go over well with anyone, with the possible exception of the food editor.  The editor, Brigit essentially takes over Mel’s office for the duration.  Sam Kelleher, who won a Pulitzer for hard news during his days at the L.A. Times, opines that perhaps a quick death would be better than this humiliation.  Sadly, he appears to get his wish.  Unlocking the bakery early the next morning, Mel discovers Sam’s body in the alley behind the building.  The magazine staff members react with varying degrees of horror and black humor, prompting Mel to view them all as suspects. 

The most welcome news of this installment (following SPRINKLE WITH MURDER, BUTTERCREAM BUMP OFF, DEATH BY THE DOZEN, and RED VELVET REVENGE) is that Angie and Tate finally resolve the too-long ‘will they or won’t they’ dance.  This would be fantastic news if Mel didn’t suddenly get a case of cold feet and begin waffling between her D.A. almost-finance and a handsome detective investigating the case.  I’m hoping that this will be resolved quickly, as this kind of love triangle stuff doesn’t interest me overmuch, and tends to force the mystery into the background for too much of the time.  Although, another member of the bakery team has very surprising romantic tryst that makes me want to forgive all of the above.
The mystery here is a good one.  The author makes great use of the various members of the magazine team, from their media titan owner to the career-driven editor to the reporter who fears his best reporting days are behind him.  Each character is a real individual, with quirks and opinions that make them unique.  It’s clear early on that the killer is one of the staffers, but the narrative evolves in such a way that it could be almost any of them.  As always, there are some great recipes offered at the end (I plan to try the pumpkin cupcakes asap) and a preview of the next novel.  I’m always happy to see a new installment in this entertaining series.
Rating: 7 ½
April 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25207-9 (paperback)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Children Of The Underground - Trevor Shane

Children Of The Underground
The Children Of Paranoia Series #2
Trevor Shane
New American Library (NAL)
Note:  If you haven’t read the first book, CHILDREN OF PARANOIA, this review is a near-complete spoiler.  Proceed at your own risk.  Better yet, read the first book.

A little over a year ago, a girl named Maria met a boy named Joseph.  The two fell in love and had a baby.  It should have been so simple, but nothing was simple at all.  Joseph was a solider in the War.  Maria knew nothing about the War.  There are strict rules.  One of the rules is that someone inside the War does not marry or have children with a civilian.  Joseph and Maria thought they could violate the rules and run and make a life.  They were wrong.
As this book opens, Maria is alone, having lost both Joseph and her infant son, Christopher.  In an act of true cruelty, meant to punish those who break the rules, Christopher was taken from Maria and give to the other side of the War.  Maria is desperate to find him.  The problems with that are infinite.  Maria has no training, no idea how to fight, how to find the people who took her son.  In fact, she has no idea who they are.  Her only hope is Michael, a friend of Joseph.  Her first task is to try and find Michael without anyone from either side knowing.  She documents her activities in a journal that she hopes her son will someday read.
A second storyline concerns Addy and Evan, who awake in Los Angeles in a house fire.  They’re both soldiers in the War, and the other side set fire to their ‘safe’ house.  Escaping the flames only puts them in the sights of snipers stationed outside.  After that, there’s no one to trust, unless Addy’s contact in Florida is still alive.  Phones and emails are too dangerous, so the two have to make their way across the country, dodging soldiers from the other side.
The second plot (contained in separate chapters) is far more interesting than Maria’s story.  Her story is that of a mother who will stop at nothing to be reunited with her son.  Her transformation from college student to fearless fighter takes place a bit too quickly and seamlessly to be believable.  In a very poignant touch, though, she carries a baby development book, so she knows exactly what she’s missing in her son’s life: his first smile, the first time he rolls over, crawling.  The story of Addy and Evan is far more compelling, both in terms of narrative and pacing.  The big point of this installment is to introduce the concepts of an Underground and a rebellion against this War that no one really understands.  That’s a fascinating concept, and I’m really looking forward to the next book (due out this fall) set within the Underground. 
Rating: 7 ½
April 2013
ISBN# 978-0-451-23929-7 (trade paperback)