Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Death By Devil's Breath - Kylie Logan

Death By Devil’s Breath
A Chili Cook-Off Mystery
Kylie Logan
Berkley Prime Crime
Maxie Pierce, her half-sister Sylvia, and the whole Chili Showdown are in Las Vegas for a cook-off.  On the line is a national title.  That may seem small, but to the savvy cook, a national win like this can be publicized and spun into a cookbook deal, or a signature chili mix, or even a stint as a TV cooking star.  The contest will be held in a hotel/casino.  The judges will be celebrities.  Well, fairly minor celebrities, really.  There’s Hermosa, the single-named lounge singer; Osborne a magician; Yancy, the blind pianist; the Reverend Love, who runs a large wedding chapel;  and Dickie Dunkin, a comic who performs insult comedy.  He insults everyone.  He insults the heads of the Chili Showdown, he insults various audience members; even his fellow performers don’t escape his taunts.
The first cook-off event is for Devil’s Breath chili.  The hottest of the hot.  The kind of chili that burns your nasal passages if you get a whiff of it from the next room.  The kind that Maxie loves best.  During the tasting, a judge keels over, dead.  It’s Dickie.  Obviously the Showdown crew is tops on the list of suspects, because they had access to the scene and the ingredients.  It soon becomes clear that Dickie had a very long list of potential enemies, up to and including anyone he randomly insulted during his act.  Despite several warnings to stay out of it, Maxie’s fired up, and decides that she’s going to get to the bottom of this.
Maxie is a bit of a different kind of amateur sleuth.  She’s no pro, so she makes mistakes, but it doesn’t slow her down at all.  Her personality allows her to be comfortable barging into conversations or situations, and asking pointed questions of anyone and everyone.  She’s completely unafraid of confrontation, verbal or physical.  It makes her an acquired taste, and it also makes her deliciously different than the normal run of fictional investigators. 
In this second installment of the series (CHILI CON CARNAGE) the main mystery is an interesting idea, peopled with the sort of odd and eccentric characters you’d probably only find in Vegas.  It feels like the author could have made so much more of this.  As it is, the story is a bit thin, and turns on a series of coincidences.  There are subplot involving a couple of the cook-off contestants, and, of course, Maxie is still looking to find out anything she can about Jack, her still-missing father.  I like Maxie, and I’ll be following her and the Chili Showdown to the next stop on their tour.

Rating: 6
August 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26242-9 (paperback)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Death Under Glass - Jennifer McAndrews

Death Under Glass
A Stained-Glass Mystery
Jennifer McAndrews
Berkley Prime Crime
Georgia Kelly is starting to settle in to life in tiny Wenwood, NY.  She’s re-connected with some people she knew there during her childhood; she’s met and made some new friends, too.  One of these is Carrie, who runs an antique shop.  Georgia used her skills in creating stained glass designs to repair a Tiffany-style lamp for Carrie, and has a few pieces in the shop on consignment.  The next step, professionally and financially, is commissioned work.  Carrie is helping a local woman refurbish a new B&B; Georgia will be creating a stained glass piece for the front room.
The visit comes to an end when Carrie gets a phone call.  Her ex-husband, Russ, has a law office in the next town.  It’s on fire and likely a total loss.  Since no one can find Russ, and Carrie owns half the building, she needs to get there.  The place is likely a total loss.  Once she learns no one was inside, Carrie is mostly irritated at Russ for leaving her holding the bag.  The fire is quickly declared arson and the police begin working through a fairly extensive list of people who might wish ill on Russ.  The situation really heats up when Carrie and Georgia arrive at Carrie’s shop to find that it’s been broken into and ransacked.  The discovery of a body makes it clear: Someone is looking for something, and that person will stop at nothing to get it.
For my personal taste, there are too many instances here of Georgia simply being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time, or overhearing exactly the conversation she needs to hear to advance the plot.  Likewise, having the local police detective repeatedly warn her away from the case wears thing very quickly.  She’s not a reluctant sleuth at all; I guess I’d just like to see her be more proactive.  I can forgive the quibbles, though, because Georgia (and Ms. McAndrews) finally posed the question I have pondered for years.  In a reflective moment, Georgia wonders if the recent murder victims would still be alive had she not returned to Wenwood.  She asks, as I have often done:  “How does Jessica Fletcher live with herself?” 
This is the second installment in the series, following ILL-GOTTEN PANES.  New readers will have no problem beginning the series here, as the author fills in the required background.  This time around, the mystery seems fairly straightforward.  The emphasis is on further developing the characters.  In the first book, Georgia was a new transplant, and quite sure that her stay would be temporary.  Now, though, she’s starting to create a whole new life, making connections, and even attending town meetings.  If the talked-about development along the riverfront goes forward, it would bring in tourists and maybe make her stained glass work a viable livelihood.  It’s interesting
to see someone move to a small town that isn’t perfectly nice and bucolic.  It seems more real. 
Rating: 6
July 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-26796-7 (paperback)