15 May 2022

Review: THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK, Cathy Ace

  • This edition published in The WISE Enquiries Agency Murder Mysteries Box Set: Books 1-4

  • Made available on Kindle (Amazon)
  • BOOK 3: THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09SZLBH5T
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Joffe crime thriller and cozy mystery (February 20, 2022)

Synopsis (Amazon)

TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE BROTH, BUT DO TOO MANY DETECTIVES?

Henry Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, is terribly worried about some water damage to the priceless books in his library and hires a local book restorer to tackle the repairs.

The antiquarian also runs the Crooks and Cooks bookshop with his daughter — local TV celebrity chef, The Curious Cook.

When the book restorer mentions some strange shenanigans going on at the book shop, Dowager Duchess Althea brings the case to the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency.

Just as they are trying to solve one case, they get embroiled in another. They come across a valuable book of miniatures which seems to be the work of a famous local artist, who was murdered by her own brother.

Are the cases linked and why do both mysteries lead to a nearby old folks’ home?

The WISE women are on the case — and nothing will get in their way . . .

My Take

Many threads come together in this book and a relatively plausible main plot. The Dowager Duchess Althea, coming up to her 80th birthday, decides she is capable of undertaking a little bit of undercover work. Unfortunately there is very real danger.

I am thoroughly enjoying this series- but do read them in order, to get the best out of the development of characters and the relationships between them.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read

14 May 2022

Review: A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, Connie Archer

  • This edition from Amazon on Kindle
  • A Soup Lover's Mystery Book 1
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0072O0020
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (August 7, 2012)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 303 pages  

Synopsis (Amazon)

Winter is big business in small-town Snowflake, Vermont. Tourists arrive to hit the ski slopes—and what could be more satisfying after a chilly day of carving powder than a steaming bowl of soup?

When Lucky Jamieson inherits her parents' soup shop, By the Spoonful, she realizes it's time to take stock of her life. Should she sell her parents' house or move in herself? Does she really want to run a restaurant business? And what about her grandfather Jack, who seems to be showing signs of Alzheimer's?

But her life decisions are moved to the back burner after an icy blonde tourist is found frozen to death behind the soup shop. and Lucky is bowled over when her soup chef, Sage DuBois, is led out of the kitchen by the police. As suspicion and speculations snowball, Lucky decides that the only way to save her employee and her business is to find out herself who iced the tourist--and landed her chef in the soup...

Recipes included!  

My  Take

This is a fairly predictable but readable cozy murder mystery with an abundance of red herrings and a heap of amateur sleuthing. The local sheriff arrests the chef of the soup shop By the Spoonful for murder on the very thinnest of evidence. Owner of the shop Lucky Jamieson is determined to prove his innocence.

Of the 3 books titled A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, Robin Stevens, and A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, JM Hall, this is probably the one with best claim to the title, as the name of the soup shop where most of the action takes place is By the Spoonful. Even though I have given each a review rating of 4.4, based on their readability, the one by JM Hall wins my vote by the narrowest of margins, as the book with most appeal to my "age group".

My Rating :4.4

About the Author
Connie Archer is the bestselling author of the Soup Lover's Mysteries from Penguin Random House (Berkley Prime Crime) set inVermont:  A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal, A Roux of Revenge, Ladle to the Grave and A Clue in the Stew.  Her excerpts and recipes can be found in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.  Connie was born and raised in New England and now lives on the other coast.  You can visit her at ConnieArcherMysteries.com, Facebook.com/ConnieArcherMysteries and Twitter @SnowflakeVT.
Writing as Connie di Marco, she is also the author of the Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink.  (conniedimarco.com)  Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

8 May 2022

Review: A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, Robin Stevens

  • this edition made available on Libby by my local library
  • Published: 2 April 2018
  • ISBN: 9780141373782
  • #6 Murder Most Unladylike series.
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • Pages: 384

Synopsis (Penguin)

The gripping new mystery in the award-winning, bestselling Murder Most Unladylike series.

When Hazel Wong's beloved grandfather passes away, Daisy Wells is all too happy to accompany her friend (and Detective Society Vice President) to Hazel's family estate in beautiful, bustling Hong Kong.

But when they arrive they discover something they didn't expect: there's a new member of the Wong family. Daisy and Hazel think baby Teddy is enough to deal with, but as always the girls are never far from a mystery. Tragedy strikes very close to home, and this time Hazel isn't just the detective. She's been framed for murder!

The girls must work together like never before, confronting dangerous gangs, mysterious suspects and sinister private detectives to solve the murder and clear Hazel's name - before it's too late . . . 

My Take

As I said in my earlier post, the "chooser" in our monthly book group has set a challenge. We are reading 3 cozies that all share the same title. I reviewed the first here, here is the second, and the last  will shortly follow.

The year is 1936 (we know because as Hazel and Daisy are sailing to Hong Kong via the Suez Canal the news comes that King George V has died), and so the time frame is almost 80 years ago. It is therefore before World War II and Hong Kong then is very different to the Hong Kong of today.

The voyage from England to Hong Kong takes 30 days, and when Hazel arrives she finds it isn't just the absence of her grandfather that is different. She now has a little brother whom nobody has told her about, and the maid who used to look after her is now her brother's nursemaid. In addition, her baby brother now has her old room.

A few days after her arrival, Hazel's baby brother is kidnapped and held for ransom, and Hazel and Daisy begin trying to work out who has taken him. 

This is essentially a book for a young adolescent reader, part of a series that presumably he/she is already hooked on. The author tries valiantly to introduce the reader to the culture of Hong Kong. We are also told the back story of the Detective Society which Hazel and Daisy have founded, and which has already successfully pursued five investigations.

It occurs to me that one of the questions I should have posed in my review of the previous book was the significance of the title. To be quite honest, I can't see any relevance in the case of this book, and only remotely in the case of the previous one. There are two murders in this one, one by stabbing, and one by gunshot, so I think the title is a bit random.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Here are ten absolutely true things about me:

  1. I am a woman. I really am! I do get a lot of letters addressed to ‘Mr Stevens’, though.
  2. I have a pet bearded dragon named Watson, and she is a girl too.
  3. I was born in California, and I moved to England when I was three. This means that I have two passports (like a spy), and that I could be the President of the USA and the Prime Minister at the same time if I wanted to be. If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I might consider it.
  4. I grew up in Oxford, across the road from Alice in Wonderland. If she hadn’t been Victorian and fictional, I think we could have been friends.
  5. When I was little, I wanted to own a zoo and write books about it. I also wanted to be married to Gerald Durrell. I dreamed big.
  6. Colin Dexter once sent me a fan letter. I met him when I was twelve and told him that when I grew up I was going to write murder mysteries. I must have been really insistent, because he believed me.
  7. I really did go to an English boarding school, Cheltenham Ladies College. And I really did sleep in a dorm, and learn Latin, and have school on Saturday mornings. I never detected a murder, though, which was a bit of a disappointment.
  8. I’ve been on University Challenge! I was the Captain of the Warwick University team. We didn’t win, unfortunately, but I did get to meet Jeremy Paxman.
  9. When I was at university, I did my MA on crime fiction. So I really do have a degree in murder.
  10. I used to work as an editor, helping other authors get their books published, but today I’m lucky enough to be a full-time author!

7 May 2022

Review: A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, JM Hall

  • this edition available on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09F5N8FR8
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Avon (March 17, 2022)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 331 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 0008530084

Synopsis (Amazon)

Introducing the three unlikeliest sleuths you'll ever meet…

Every Thursday, three retired school teachers have their ‘coffee o’clock’ sessions at the Thirsk Garden Centre cafĂ©.

But one fateful week, as they are catching up with a slice of cake, they bump into their ex-colleague, Topsy.

By the next Thursday, Topsy’s dead.
 
The last thing Liz, Thelma and Pat imagined was that they would become involved in a murder.
 
But they know there’s more to Topsy’s death than meets the eye – and it’s down to them to prove it…

Sit down with a cup of tea and this perfectly witty, page-turning cosy crime novel. Fans of Agatha Christie, Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders will be hooked from the very first page.

My Take

The "chooser" in our monthly book group has set a challenge. We are reading 3 cozies that all share the same title. So here is the first, and the other two will shortly follow.

Thelma, Pat and Liz have all retired after successful careers in primary school classrooms at the St. Barnabus' Primary school. Their coffee session on a Thursday at the Thirsk Garden Centre Cafe is an extension of the sharing that they used to do when they were working. They have all maintained "outside" interests at charity shops, Keep Fit, and book groups. At coffee o'clock on Thursdays they catch up with their various news: what their families are doing. 

On this particular Thursday who should walk in but another ex-colleague whom they haven't seen for a while: Topsy Joy. She is on the arm of her daughter Kelly-Anne whom the group all remember. But they are taken aback at the change in Topsy: "stooped, bewildered, slightly shaking...wondering where she was". Kelly-Anne spots the little group and brings her mother over to sit with them. 18 months before Topsy's husband Gordon had died unexpectedly, and it is obvious to the group that Topsy has "gone downhill" since then. 

In the following minutes it is obvious to the group that Topsy has dementia and that Kelly-Anne is "doing it tough". Topsy refers to her husband in the present tense, as if he is not dead. 

I enjoyed the way the book went on to explore what was happening in each of the lives of the main characters, and then to reveal what happens to Topsy. Each of the three sleuths feels that what has happened to Topsy is "not right", but is unsure what to do about it. They feel their way to working it out.

Very readable.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

J.M. Hall is an author, playwright and deputy head of a primary school. His plays have been produced in theatres across the UK as well as for radio, the most recent being Trust, starring Julie Hesmondhalgh on BBC Radio 4. His first novel, A Spoonful of Murder, is about retired primary school teachers who turn to sleuthing 

1 May 2022

Review: THE PIRATE CLUB, G. R. Jordan

  • This edition an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • Highlands & Islands Detective Book 6
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08BS369DY
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Carpetless Publishing (September 22, 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 242 pages 

Synopsis  (Amazon)

A body holding a spade in the sand amidst tales of a missing gem. An old boy’s network whose members are rapidly becoming extinct. Can Macleod solve the gamester’s clues before the club players are liquidated and the prize is gone forever?

In the sixth major case of Macleod and McGrath’s partnership, a deadly game is being played in the search for a long-stolen jewel of fantastic wealth. Whilst former friends dispatch their new enemies, DI Macleod hunts the pieces of parchment that will lead him to the resting place of a Sultan’s pride and joy, and the killers who cannot live without it. Will the pirate king emerge triumphant, or can the Inspector run their plans asunder?

When precious things seem out of reach, death may be the only compromise.

My Take

Bodies turn up on two separate islands, one male, one female: one killed where he lies and the other perhaps has floated in off a ferry. But Mcleod is convinced that they are somehow connected.  A scrap of a map with locations marked. A man digging up a gold cross on a beach, the item identified as something taken from a Spanish museum, 25 years earlier.

And now a trail of bodies, more murders, more throats slashed, and some young murderers, not above killing police pursuers if they get in the way.

I nearly drowned in the complexity of this plot and I'm still not sure that I got it all worked out. The "treasure hunt" turns into a fast paced thriller, challenging all the resources that Macleod and McGrath can muster. Macleod is forced to re-define and expand his team, firstly as his usual pathologist is incapacitated by ill health and needs to be replaced, and then he needs to add new investigators to his team, resulting in a redefinition of McGrath's role, with her being promoted to DS. McGrath becomes angry as choice bits of the investigation appear to be being handed over to the DC Stewart, and Macleod struggles to maintain control.

I've been thinking about why I am enjoying this series so much. I think it has something to do with the episodic nature of it. The investigative team of Macleod and McGrath is being expanded and redefined as both characters are developed from episode to episode.  I think Macleod is creating a crack investigative team which can be thrown into whatever mystery the Highlands and Islands can throw up. Macleod's superior officer is playing a very small role in this scenario. I'd almost compare this structure to something like a television series where in each episode we tackle a new mystery. Each of the episodes is sited on a different island and comes with its own locational challenges.

Running behind all this though are some personal scenarios for the main characters. Macleod has certainly developed since Book 1. He has now got a female live-in partner who needs to be very accommodating to the demands of his job. They have moved out of Glasgow back to the Isle of Lewis. MacGrath has changed too. She is still looking for a live-in partner, but she too intends to move out of Glasgow. She has risen from DC to DS and has become very attached to working with Macleod at the same time as getting very angry with him at times.

The episodes of the series do not move directly from one to another. In some cases a short period of time has elapsed and we are told of significant developments in the following pages.

I am looking forward to seeing how the series develops next.

My rating : 4.4 

30 April 2022

Review: DEAD AT THIRD MAN, G. R. Jordan

  • This edition an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0886541LS
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Carpetless Publishing (July 3, 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 237 pages
  • Highlands & Islands Detective Book 5

Synopsis (Amazon)

A landmark cricket club is formed in the heart of the Western Isles. A gala opening leaves a battered body in the changing room when stumps is called. Can Macleod and McGrath find the killer before the rest of the team are bowled out?

In the fifth outing of this tenacious pair, Macleod and McGrath return to the Isle of Lewis when the first match of the newly formed cricket club ends in murder. Uncovering the tensions in the fledgling organisation, they must sort sporting angst from deadly intent if they are to uncover the true reason for the formation of this strange enterprise. Can they discover what bloody crimes sully the perfect whites of the starting XI?

Don't step beyond your crease or you might just be stumped! 

My Take

I'm sure you can tell that I am thoroughly enjoying this series.

In particular I am enjoying the development of the main characters alongside interesting murder plots. I don't think the plots are always credible but they do hold the attention. They often involve more than one murder.

In this title an American incomer who has been a famous baseballer has poured money into a small community on the island of Lewis, helping create a local cricket club, building club rooms, but at the same time crossing some locals by holding practices on Sundays. Bubba Carson has built his own house very near the cricket club, and has brought with him a woman whom some love and others regard as little more than a harlot. The cricket club's first match has been a resounding victory, demonstrating in particular the talents of the team's only female member.

Community relationships surrounding the cricket club are very complex, exacerbated by the opposition to the club's activities by one of the local ministers.

Macleod and McGrath discover that the reasons for the murders actually go well beyond the present.

On the more personal side, McGrath has come back from a holiday with her new lover that has not gone well, and Mcleod is considering how to develop their investigative team, to add new talents, and to make it more flexible.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read

28 April 2022

Review: THE SMALL FERRY, G.R. Jordan

  • this edition an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0867J8PFP
  • Highlands & Islands Detective Book 4
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Carpetless Publishing (11 May 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 224 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

A dreich day for a crossing and a small ferry packed to the gills. A fracas when off loading leads to blood and tears. And one man sits dead at the wheel of the last remaining car.

Macleod and McGrath return to Cromarty when a man is found dead at the wheel of his car on the small, local ferry. As the passengers are identified, the trail extends across the highlands and islands as past deeds are paid back in full. Can the now seasoned pair hunt down a killer before their butchery spreads across the land?

"The Small Ferry" is the fourth Highlands and Islands Detective thriller and brings the odd pair back to the Black Isle when the quiet routine of the Firth is broken apart by a strange death. If you like murder mysteries set amongst the beautiful north of Scotland and its wild coastline and islands, then you'll love the adventures of Macleod and McGrath.

When there's so much going on, it can be hard to see what's happening!

My Take

Another outing in the Highlands and Islands with Macleod and McGrath.  Both detectives have grown so much since their first outing in WATER'S EDGE

Three cars on a small ferry. A girl in the second car gives the "glad eye" to the young attendant, distracting him from realising that the final car hasn't yet started its engine. The second car, a mini, stalls and takes just that bit longer to leave. And still no activity in the third and final car. And then the realisation that the driver is dead, sitting in his car in a bath of blood.

From the moment that the driver is identified, the race is on to find one of the women who was in the mini. Behind her she leaves a trail of violent deaths. Macleod works out that she won't stop until she catches up with her final target. 

There is considerable development in both of the detectives' personal lives. Macleod is house hunting with his new partner Jane, and McGrath is looking for someone to give new meaning to her life.

I am enjoying the individual plots of each in this series so far. I have also enjoyed the developing threads that go from one novel to the next. It will be interesting to see if the author can sustain these threads, and to see what parts these additional characters play in the stories to come.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read

From Fantastic Fiction:Highlands & Islands

1. Water's Edge (2019)
2. The Bothy (2020)
3. The Horror Weekend (2020)
4. The Small Ferry (2020)
5. Dead at Third Man (2020)
6. The Pirate Club (2020)
7. A Personal Agenda (2020)
8. A Just Punishment (2020)
9. The Numerous Deaths of Santa Claus (2020)
10. Our Gated Community (2021)
11. The Satchel (2021)
12. Culhwch Alpha (2021)
13. Fair Market Value (2021)
14. The Coach Bomber (2021)
15. The Culling at Singing Sands (2021)
16. Where Justice Fails (2021)
17. The Cortado Club (2022)
18. Cleared to Die (2022)
19. Man Overboard! (2022)

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