Thursday, May 18, 2017

British Mystery to Grab Right Away, ALL OF A WINTER'S NIGHT, Phil Rickman

If you already know the Merrily Watkins mysteries and enjoy them, don't hesitate -- go out and get a copy of ALL OF A WINTER'S NIGHT right away. And clear your schedule for page-turning reading from Wales-connected author Phil Rickman.

If, like me, you're new to this British series, let me fill you in. Merrily Watkins is the vicar of a community church in a mostly rural section of England, Hereford, on the border of Wales. She's also what in the States we would call an "exorcist" -- but in a very quiet way, with a group of others religious leaders who've found themselves called to relieve the troubles of those who experience paranormal events. They call their field of effort "deliverance" and it has a lot to do with letting people get things of their chests, and then following up with prayer and related church services.

But Merrily's position is under attack from the new bishop and it's not clear how far he'll go to restrict her out-of-pulpit activities. She's also concerned about her daughter Jane, taking a gap year before university and somehow unmoored from expectations.

Both Jane and Merrily find support from a neighboring musician -- who in turn collaborates with local Detective Inspector Frannie Bliss as a shooting and a vehicular death turn out to reveal the powerful strands of organized crime in the region, with international ties and a lot of money.

When the two plot lines cross, the action and risks multiply exponentially. So do the ties to a much earlier form of spirituality in the region, expressed in part through the concept and character of the ancient "Green Man," but also in the rituals of a very private, very disturbing group of folk dancers recreating "Border morris" dances with strange undertones.

I saw parallels in many of the characters to the landowners, farmers, and ambitious developers of my own northern Vermont region. And if we don't yet have a Merrily Watkins among us, I'm willing to believe there's an opening for her American counterpart (in fact, John Connolly's Maine paranormal series evokes the same sense of timeless power and faith).

Don't let the "haunting" aspect of ALL OF A WINTER'S NIGHT keep you away from this crime novel -- because it is in the long run all about human greed and passion, and following the benefits of the crime. But getting to the solution takes a long, lovely time, nearly 500 pages in which each chapter provides a powerful impulse forward, and the Big Questions get intelligent and passionate attention.

Here's the author's own take on what Merrily is up to:
It's a real job; there's at least one in every diocese in the UK. They work with psychiatrists, social workers ... and also the police. Inevitably, in this series, this is the aspect of the job that predominates.

And their own beliefs are often tested. There are few certainties. The borderline between psychology and the unexplained is often laid out in barbed wire.
A keeper. And I'm going to have to find the preceding 13 Merrily Watkins mysteries, ASAP. 

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Brief Mention, CRUEL IS THE NIGHT, Karo Hämäläinen

Did you enjoy the plot, characters, twists, and finale of Gone Girl? If so, race to your favorite book-buying route and get a copy of the CRUEL IS THE NIGHT. It's translated from the Finnish, and struck me as closer to Chicago crime than to the usual form of Scandinavian noir that I've read lately ... but the moment I compared it in to Gillian Flynn's runaway success, I knew why this new book from Soho Crime seemed hauntingly familiar in a sort of parallel-universe way. Here's the publisher's synopsis:
Prizewinning Finnish author Karo Hämäläinen’s English-language debut is a literary homage to Agatha Christie and a black comedy locked-room mystery about murder, mayhem, and morality in our cynical modern world.
Well, yes, now that you mention it, "black comedy" and "cynical modern world" effectively tag CRUEL IS THE NIGHT as noir. It's also highly entertaining, as the author's multiple points of view reveal the frictions, resentments, and "frissons" of attraction and repulsion among four people -- two couples reconnecting after years of estrangement, ostensibly to celebrate one couple's striking success.

Pick this one up for the challenge of a puzzle mystery. It's quite an effort to work out the ending before the author takes you there! Hats off to translator Owen Witesman, who propels plenty of page-turning dialogue and action onto the English-language pages.

From Soho Crime, where international crime fiction thrives.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Henry Chang's "Chinatown Trilogy" Concludes with Book 5, LUCKY

International mysteries pull me into new places, with intriguing histories and cultures, illuminated through the characters and their choices. I grew up reading "British" mysteries -- then was astonished when the French, German, and Spanish ones came my way. What a delight!

And then Soho Crime -- an imprint of Soho Press -- came into my bookshelves, and I delved into the lives and perils of characters in Scandianvia, Africa, Asia ...

But one of Soho Crime's intriguing "international crime" series turns out to be set almost entirely in New York City, in and around Chinatown, through the eyes of police detective Jack Yu. Because of the detailed cityscapes that author Henry Chang provides for Yu's investigations, I've come to see those red-bannered shops and streets full of Asian voices entirely differently -- perhaps most especially as far more diverse than just a crowd from one modern nation. Mandarin and Cantonese languages, Toishanese dialect, centuries-long family bonds and loyalties and conflicts, traditions and obligations that require fresh understanding and sometimes are far beyond everyday American experience -- all this is enfolded in Chang's mystery series.

With the publication of LUCKY this spring, the Jack Yu series appears to be wrapping up (although I never assume a detective's pages are done for good ...). It's been a series well worth anticipating, and in this fifth book (two more than the envisioned "Chinatown Trilogy" of the early ones), some important threads from the earlier books are pulled tight. The most important is that of Jack Yu's childhood friend and then criminal connection, "Lucky" Louie, who's been lying in a hospital apparently comatose, without a chance of recovery, through much of the series.

LUCKY opens with a few chapters from Jack's point of view, as he visits his father's grave in a regional cemetery, to observe the customs of Ch'ing Ming, a time of year when it's important to feed the connection to deceased family members. Of course that puts Jack in a reflective mood, but he doesn't have long to enjoy it, as his schedule pulls him into a mandated psych appointment, then a quick undercover visit to his sweetheart (big reasons why it can't be public). Meanwhile, surprising changes are happening in Lucky Louie's hospital room.

This crime novel swiftly transforms into a heist thriller, as a crime spree unfolds that involves Jack Yu on levels he'll never be able to admit to his superiors. Here's the author commenting on the tight, intense pace of LUCKY in an interview at the Mystery People blog:
"The tightness of the pace was an adjustment to the storytelling style. Lucky‘s written more like a thriller than a mystery, where you can’t wait to see what Lucky does next. Unlike Jack’s usual investigative mysteries, which can meander culturally as the clues arise, Lucky is an escalating conflict-driven crime world drive-by. Lucky’s actions drive the narrative."
It's easy to slip into spoilers, so I won't say more -- except that this is a really good read, worth adding to either the summer reading stack or this weekend's diversions. No problem stepping into this fifth and final book of the series without reading the other four, but it's definitely a richer work if you've followed Jack Yu's career and struggles with his mixed identities.

Wonder what Henry Chang is writing next? Because I'm sure he is. It's been too much fun! By the way, his author webpage is pretty much bare bones and often out of date -- for insight into Chang and his books and the causes he's championing, "Friend" him on Facebook. Worth the effort!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Diversion: Poetry to Stretch the Mind, with a Smile ... Adrienne Raphel, WHAT WAS IT FOR

One of the delights of living in a rural place for a long, long time is seeing people make themselves into their dreams. When Adrienne Raphel left St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for all kinds of education in the big, mostly urban world out there, I wondered which of her dreams she would pick for the long haul. "We" all knew she'd be writing fine material -- but in what genre?

The question's now happily answered, as Raphel's first published book is a collection of poems, WHAT WAS IT FOR, via Rescue Press and the Black Box Poetry Prize.

The cover art, suggestive of an old-fashioned book of natural science, speaks to the sense in her poems that life-as-we-know-it has long-lasting themes and puzzles. But in her voice, these take fresh new form. I particularly enjoyed a surprising take on "vacationing" in the poem "Agar Agar," where the second stanza offers, "The sky is pink gelatin / Welcome to Vacation Island / the doorbell rings and I go / Close and leave my body behind." By the end of the poem, the hot sunshine's effect on that gelatin -- oh yes, I recall gelled "agar agar" in a Petri dish, ready to be inoculated with germplasm of life -- has transformed it:
I've never been so translucent never so runny
The white-hot sand makes my feet pinker
What part of me will I tattoo
I can go so far and farther
Many of the poems hint at a story line, then back away from it, leaving the conclusion and its emotional freight wide open. Questions initiate inquiry, like "But What Will We Do," which begins by asking"But what will we do when the rain doesn't come" -- a poem that entwines the I, we, and you of the moment into longer term questions.

It's a joy to have a copy of the book (a big thank-you to Raphel and her parents for the gift!) because I can return to it day after day and discover that other surprise of strong poems -- that in each day there's a different poem that seems to speak most directly. Today I listen particularly to the hints in "On Monday the Moon Sank Into the Sea," which includes "quixotic geese" and "slack-jaw old clams" as well as a "phantom leg left at a ball." It's playtime on Raphel's pages, and I'm happy to be invited.

Available from Rescue Press online, and also from the usual online sources -- and of course by order at independent booksellers. Tell them to get it into their shelf list, in case you hunger to go pick up another copy for a good friend.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Pre-World War I Mystery, Spunky Heroine: MURDER BETWEEN THE LINES, Radha Vatsal

New this month is the second in Radha Vatsal's Kitty Weeks mystery series, MURDER BETWEEN THE LINES, a lively traditional mystery with an embraceable sleuth and much insight into U.S. politics just before World War I.

Kitty Weeks is a "ladies' page" reporter in Manhattan and the year 1915 is coming rapidly to a close. America hasn't yet entered the war in Europe, although mistrust for Germans runs rampant. Kitty's own newspaper, the New York Sentinel, has a German employee working in the morgue -- the research room where earlier issues of the paper are kept -- and Kitty's friendly with Mr. Musser, thanks to her European education and language skills. And that's a good thing, because even as the book opens, she's in over her head and it's going to take some deep information to put things into perspective.

Most endearing about Kitty is her desire to become a "real" reporter like the men who cover politics and other news stories, but in her time, that's not looking likely. Still, her supervisor, Miss Busby, is attempting to at least keep up with the times, by allowing Kitty to cover a drama staged by some suffragettes, and to examine the women's side of a visit by President Wilson to the city.

What Miss Busby doesn't realize is that Kitty is using even these daring adventures as cover for trying to solve the death of a schoolgirl who may have been inventing better batteries for wartime submarines. But that, of course, is totally not her beat!

The pre-World War I years are deftly handled in Ratsal's lively series, viewed by Kitty -- an upper class young lady causing her father some potential embarrassment by daring to take even a half-time job -- in the manner of a city woman with a busy social life. That differentiates the series strongly from police procedurals and very dark crime series that are now exploring World War I (say, works by Charles Todd or David Downing). MURDER BETWEEN THE LINES is a quick and relaxing read, and there's just a dash of flirtation inserted, no distraction into the perils of romance.

Most of all, it's intriguing to follow Kitty's thinking as she questions the words of even her own boss, who predicts that the Kaiser may bring Germany's rule to America:
"Do you really believe that, Miss Busby?" Kitty had heard reports that prominent citizens -- even Mr. Edison -- were calling for preparedness out of fear that the Germans might launch amphibious attacks on America's unprotected eastern seaboard. Mr. Weeks [Kitty's politically mysterious father] has said that such a scenario seemed highly unlikely; Germany had its hands full battling its immediate foes. It could hardly spare men and resources to wage war in New Jersey.
But as 1916 opens, unlike the young women in much of her circle, Kitty's scenting war's dreadful aroma in the winds of change. It will affect how she pursues the probable murderer of that clever schoolgirl -- and why.

No need to read the preceding book, A Front Page Affair, before this one -- but it will be fun to start filling a shelf with Vatsal's mysteries, for  enjoyable reading on rainy summer afternoons ahead. Both titles are paperback originals from Sourcebooks.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

All About the Plot -- New Thriller from Jassy Mackenzie, BAD SEEDS

South Africa's recent past, like Ireland's, sets it up as an ideal setting for intense conflict and heightened suspense. Jassy Mackenzie grabs it all and packs an impressively twisted plot with massive danger in her BAD SEEDS, her fifth thriller set in her homeland. I'm hooked on her Jade de Jong series, I confess. Jade is a private investigator with connections to the underworld of crime that she tries to ignore -- but when risks keep mounting, it's tempting to call on those old friends for help, right?

As Jade steps into what ought to be an ordinary investigation of a killing at a cheap motel, she finds herself drawn to a man she's supposed to be following and reporting on -- she's been hired by Ryan Gillespie, who works at a nuclear research station where there's been a sabotage attempt, with more to follow. In classic South African layering, Jade soon realizes there are at least two views of the research station: those of the powerful men who manipulate it, and those of the workers, some of whom are poisoned by their labors. Sbusiso and his cousin Shadrack are among the victims of the business, and Shadrack is dying -- but clinging to life through the virtue of a traditional remedy, a plant whose seeds he values highly.

So it is that we have both bad seeds -- those of crime and power -- and good ones. As Jade struggles to sort out which of the people in the case belong with which side, she's also grieving for a personal loss, that of her married boyfriend who had seemed about to bind himself to Jade instead:
One mistake on David's part was all it had taken.

He'd been planning to leave his wife, Naisha, but hadn't stopped sleeping with her. Now she was pregnant, and Jade was one of the few people who knew that the baby probably wasn't David's. ... Worst of all, despite the promises she'd made herself, she couldn't tell him.

Because -- and this hurt her the most -- he would be happier if he never knew.
Jade's interior struggles can't distract her from pursuing the tangled case in front of her, though. Who really benefits from sabotage when nuclear materials are involved? Who faces the worst risks?

I enjoyed every page of this tangled and twisting plot. No need to read the earlier books, although you may want to catch up -- this one stands well on its own. (This is Mackenzie's fifth, via Soho Crime; I especially liked The Fallen.) Good to explore South African life through Mackenzie's stories and insight, one of the big pluses of international crime fiction.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Japanese Noir, Painted in Precise Detail, from Fuminori Nakamura

The newest "Japanese noir" crime novel to arrive in the US from Fuminori Nakamura, THE BOY IN THE EARTH, begins as a slow, precise meditation by the protagonist (an unnamed Tokyo taxi driver who narrates all of the book), as he releases himself into being beaten and perhaps killed by a gang of motorcycle riders whose antagonism he has deliberately sought. Sentence by sentence, we sink with him into a crystalline awareness of the situation:
If they kept kicking me, if they beat me to a pulp, I might vanish into nothing, I might be absorbed by the earth, deep underground. It was terrifying. I felt robbed of my strength, and my heart raced painfully, although the twitching that ran up and down my spine was not unpleasant. Little by little, this fearful trembling was transforming into something else entirely, like a feeling of anticipation. Despite my terror, there was the definite sensation that I was patiently standing by. I experienced a moment of skepticism, but then it no longer mattered.
These precise details of sensation and taste-tested emotion make up an intricate portrait in motion, perhaps a dance -- each movement wrapped in hesitation and conflicted emotion and thought.

Our narrator, we soon realize, is an orphan -- or at least grew up in an orphanage, but also had devastating experiences in foster care. As if we were inside the core of a sociopath, a character on "Criminal Minds," an unfathomable criminal from yesterday's newspaper, we share the shiver of both disgust and realization.

So it is that this very short novel -- 147 pages as translated by Allison Markin Powell and published by Soho Crime -- blossoms in parallel to one of Nakamura's earlier meditations on crime, The Gun. Nakamura presents the small sharp fragments of injury that lead to a mind or soul ready to perform extreme acts. What THE BOY IN THE EARTH offers that differentiates it, though, is the delicate and repeated experience of holding back from action -- what the 12-stepper recognizes perhaps as "looking through the glass" to experience a moment of the future before taking a step in the present.

I found myself caught up in the dance of language and the intimate actions of the book. Dark, yes, and twisted, and deeply sad -- but it's also a book I'd recommend to adventurous readers who appreciate art and insight. There's nothing ordinary about it at all. And that, in the long run, becomes a remarkable experience in crime fiction.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Scottish Noir from T. Frank Muir, THE MEATING ROOM

I've enjoyed the very dark and well crafted St Andrews, Scotland, mysteries of T. Frank Muir; two of them came my way via Soho Crime (Hand for a Hand; Tooth for a Tooth). I've no idea why the latest to cross the Atlantic, THE MEATING ROOM, came out from Academy Chicago (Chicago Review Press) this month, but I grabbed the book and dove right in, checking out the investigation led by DCI Andy Gilchrist.

And it's a doozy. A wealthy property developer, Thomas Magner, loses his business partner to apparent suicide, at the same time that the partner's family is murdered. The connection looks obvious -- the suicide is remorse driven, right? But Gilchrist's partner DS Jessie Janes raises some initial doubts, and soon Gilchrist has his own. Still, it's hard to investigate Magner because any added attention to him looks like bias: He's already been charged with multiple sexual assaults. When the women who'd accused Magner begin either recanting or dying, Gilchrist and Janes race the clock to find both evidence and witnesses they can count on.
Back in the Office, Gilchrist's mobile rang -- a number he did not recognize.

He made the connection.

"DI Smith here, sir. Sorry to trouble you again, but I thought you should know that they're dropping like flies."

Gilchrist understood immediately. "Who is it this time?"

"Abbott, Warren, and Williamson. All by phone again."

"Reasons?"

"More or less the same. Jenna Abbott said she didn't want to go to court or even give her testimony. ... Change of heart."
Alert readers will know, early on, that the unfolding crimes are likely to increase in graphic gruesomeness. (The title also suggests this.) So, reader beware ... it's going to be tough. But Muir's deft exploration of how his investigators will react to the increasing pressure on them (including in Andy Gilchrist's private life) ramps the suspense up swiftly, and I didn't want to put the book down until the finale. Scottish aspects? Not many -- mostly a good modern British-style crime novel, well paced and well written.

Read one Muir, and you may well want to read some others -- but you don't need to cover these in sequence. Good stuff.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Exploring Immigration Through Crime Fiction, MIGUEL'S GIFT, Bruce Kading

Bruce Kader's first novel, MIGUEL'S GIFT, takes place mostly in the 1980s -- a good way to distance the issue of illegal immigration and enforced deportation from today's difficult political climate. At the same time, this crime novel, told mostly from the point of view of INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) agents, offers a fascinating view of the issues that have become today's fuel for flame.

Joining the INS in Chicago in the late 1980s without having taken the "old boys" route through Border Patrol first, Nick Hayden has the rookie cards stacked against him. Idealistic and "overeducated" for the job, Hayden really wants to fit in anyway. His enthusiasm and remain edgy and uncertain.

Still, he's almost managed to fit in with the investigative teams, when the recruitment of an inside agent among the "wets" (illegal Latin American immigrants) and his own commitment to the man at risk derail his confidence in the work. But he's been harboring some odd doubts anyway -- some from a secret past of his own. They show up in his subconscious, long before he meets Miguel Chavez:
Hayden usually didn't remember his dreams and made little effort to do so. To him they were mere flights of the imagination, not to be taken seriously. But there was one dream he'd begun to have almost every week, and it disturbed him. It would always begin in a desert, the sun blazing through a cloudless sky -- the peaks of dry, craggy mountains looming hazily in the distance. Several figures in brown robes, like those of Franciscan monks, shuffled slowly along a sandy path. ... Nick, from a distance, would call out to get their attention, but they couldn't hear him.
Kading's own pre-novelist career as a federal special agent took him into the INS, the EPA, and the FBI (what a combination!).  So I was fascinated by the emotions and choices he provided for his fictional agents. Knowing some people who work on this side of today's enforcement issues also kept me glued to the pages, even when the writing was a bit too much "telling" instead of showing, and conversations felt overly predictable. I found the mild suspense of the novel was heightened by my curiosity over how Kading would bring about the climax and where his protagonist would end up -- as well as Miguel and his family, of course!

So I recommend this book strongly as an emotionally honest way to look at both the human and the criminal sides of immigration crime. It's not always a strong book, but it's a much-needed one, and I'm glad it came my way -- from Academy Chicago, an imprint of the Chicago Review Press.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Maine Mystery, TIGHTENING THE THREADS, from Lea Wait

Lea Wait crafts two mystery series from her Maine home. The darker of the two is her Mainely Needlepoint series -- still an "amateur sleuth" type, as needlepointer Angie Curtis doesn't mean to become an investigator. But when her friend and fellow needlepointer Sarah Byrne suddenly discloses how she chose the seaside town for her new home, after leaving behind Australia, Angie can't help feeling intrigued. A mysterious family connection revealed? A possible fortune in artwork for her friend? TIGHTENING THE THREADS takes an ominous cast early on, and the complications multiply.

When Sarah is suddenly accused of murder, as well as fabricating her new family connection, Angie can't resist stepping into the scene of the crime. But who could plan a deliberate murder within an old-time lobster bake among family members? And among all the possible people who could profit from this death, how can Angie prove Sarah's not responsible?

Angie's also the perfect investigator for this crime because it involves rediscovering family. Readers of the series know that Angie's newly returned to her Maine roots, but even so, she still doesn't know enough about her mother, and nothing at all about her father. She's a witness to the moment that sets Sarah up, ironically, as the potential killer-for-profit when artist uncle Ted Lawrence announces the connection:
Ted wasn't finished. Ignoring Michael's outburst, he continued.

"As I said, we can get into the particulars of Sarah's story, and her journey to find us, later this week. But for now, just know that I believe with all my heart that Sarah is my niece. And that, because I knew questions would be asked about such an amazing story, I convinced her that we should have DNA tests. And, yes, they proved that, despite her name and accent, she is a Lawrence. I might add that during the few months I've known her she's more than proved herself worthy of our family. Sarah" -- he raised his glass -- "I drink to you, and officially in the presence of my children, welcome you to our family."
Wait's adroit twisting of the family reunion hides other complications, and her protagonist, with dogged Maine persistence, begins to uncover more motives, more opportunities, and more methods that could be involved in uncle Ted's sudden demise.

Although this is Wait's darker series, it's never gruesome ... even as I shuddered at moments as the seaside family home turned into the backdrop for old resentments and long-nurtured malice. Convincing and swiftly paced, TIGHTENING THE THREADS continues Wait's strong set of titles (this is the fifth in this series), and it's clear there are more surprises ahead in sleuth Angie Curtis's new life in her grandmother's home town.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Brief Mention, EXECUTIVE ORDER, Max Allan Collins with Matthew V. Clemens

The third in the "Reeder and Rogers" government espionage series is a winner! Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens have spun a page-turner that opens with the death of four US agents as Russia invades yet another small nation -- then security contractor Joe Reeder finds himself in direct contact with the US President, on a mission to figure out why the agents turned up there in the first place.

EXECUTIVE ORDER races the clock as Reeder and his FBI ally Patti Rogers struggle to sort this out, alongside an apparent murder of the Secretary of the Interior. Collins and Clemens set the adventure in the not too distant future, a clever way to allow a few extra scientific discoveries and a heap of intervening history. But the dark forces moving against the President -- and Reeder and Rogers -- are motivated by a familiar urge: "What [Lawrence Morris] and all of the loyalists enacted was part of their overall mission to restore the greatness that President Harrison had so recklessly squandered."

Half the time I thought I'd accidentally turned on some current news in this thriller; the other half, I reminded myself that it's the reader's job to let go of preconceptions and ride the flow of fictional events without too many questions. I had a really good time reading this -- I'd say it's pure escape fiction at its liveliest, except, of course, the themes of conflict within the federal government are serious and a real threat in our own time.

Hope we can create as good a resolution to today's stresses and chaos as Collins and Clemens do in EXECUTIVE ORDER.

You don't need to read the two earlier titles in the series first -- Supreme Justice  and Fate of the Union -- because the authors carry the plot just fine. But it's fun to recognize some side mentions and if you're enjoying the pace and action, the other two belong on your shelf, too.

No full review here because Clemens has become a friend. Also the book publisher is Thomas & Mercer, in paperback original form, which makes it tough to recommend for collecting. Pick up a copy for the fun of it, though!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Snappy Plotting, Smart Amateur Sleuth, in Sara Rosett's New MOTHER'S DAY, MUFFINS, AND MURDER

Texas mystery author Sara Rosett writes both "cozy" mysteries and a "heist" series -- and she's a tight, clever writer with a great eye for character and believable twists.

MOTHER'S DAY, MUFFINS, AND MURDER is way better than the slightly silly title suggests. Set at a Georgia elementary school where freelance home organizer Elly Avery often volunteers -- backing up the great teachers and staff who nurture her two kids -- the book opens with a hectic scene during one of the last weeks of the school year, when teachers, parents and enthusiastic students race around outside, enjoying special events and meals. Elly's one of the lead organizers for parent support (from gamekeeping to muffins to meeting the barbecued lunch caterers), so she's in and out of the office and classrooms, well, almost all day long.

Which makes her one of the first to know when another visitor spots a woman's body stuffed into a storage closet, followed immediately by a fire drill that keeps Elly from immediately reporting the discovery to the police. By the time things are running normally again for the kids, the body's gone.

But that's just the start of Elly's discovery of a series of uneasy and ultimately very dangerous interactions happening among the school's staff. Unlike many an "amateur sleuth," Elly Avery makes smart decisions and takes good care of herself and her kids (her husband's away on a military operation). And that makes it a pleasure to ride along with her as she unfolds the layers of deception at the school, mostly staying out of clear danger until the book's well-paced and intense finale.

Hard to believe this is the first I've read from this accomplished author. Trust me, I'll be looking for more! I've already checked out her website: http://www.sararosett.com. MOTHER'S DAY etc. (the only thing I wished changed was the book title) is published by Kensington and came out a couple of weeks ago. Worth grabbing a copy for the summer reading stack!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.