Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ice Water Mansions by Doug Allyn

Michelle “Mitch” Mitchell has returned home to Huron Harbor, Michigan to deal with her late father’s estate. Never mind that she has been gone for years, leaving as a pregnant teenager, and that he was a drunk when he wrecked his truck and wandered off into the woods to die from exposure. Still, she can’t quite believe the story and begins to suspect he may have been murdered. As she begins remodeling her dad’s dive shop/bar called The Nest, she soon discovers that her father had plenty of secrets – like that he was coming into a major amount of money, was running away to Baja with a local married real estate agent and had made some kind of shady deal with her son’s father’s family.

This is a great story with plenty of red herrings to keep it interesting. More than that, the story revolves around Mitch’s skills as a deepwater diver. One scene really gives the reader a taste of what diving deep is, especially when there is a sunken vessel involved. If you want to get a taste of the deep without getting wet, this is a great book. And for more adventures in deepwater diving, try Robert Kurson’s Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Last Breath by Mariah Stewart

Review by Marilyn Woods:

A renowned archaeologist Dr, Daria McGowan is preparing to plan and implement an exhibit featuring artifacts discovered a century before by her grandfather on an archeological dig. During her inventory, she finds some pieces are missing. Daria and a recent acquaintance, FBI Agent Connor Shields, search for the missing artifacts. During their search they encounter mysterious characters, ritual murders based on the rituals of the ancient civilization, and romance.

I liked this book because the main characters were likeable, believable and I could emphasize with them. “Last Breath” was both a good romance and mystery-one I couldn’t solve until the end. This book is part of a series but can stand alone, and can be recommended to anyone who likes romantic suspense novels.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Winter Study, by Nevada Barr

National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon is back in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park, as part of a team studying wolves and moose (but especially wolves). The team consists of scientists from around the country as well as a thoroughly unlikeable Homeland Security Agent. Wolves, especially, appear to be acting strangely, and old legends about mythical creatures nudge into Anna's consciousness as she desperately seeks the answers to grisly deaths while facing death herself.

The wildlife and nature's beauty are characters in the mystery. And creation of complex, deep characters is one of Barr's talents. The plot is smart and complex enough to be interesting but not so much so that it completely takes over the setting and characters, and their integral part in the events and outcome. A few of the graphic descriptions are not for the faint of heart but there are not a great number of them.

If you like nature, or delving into the motivations of human beings and the intricacies of human nature, you'll like all the Anna Pigeon mysteries.

Zapped, by Carol HIggins Clark

If you're looking for a light, quick, easy read in a cozy mystery, give this one a try. Regan and Jack Reilly are caught up in murder and mayhem again. The scene is New York--in a blackout. The newlywed couple has purchased the loft apartment next to theirs and are combining the two into one. Burglary of the new loft, a madwoman who picks up blond young men only to give them knockout drops and brand "I am a snake" onto their arms is loose in the city, ...well, you get the idea. Clark's usual cast of wacky characters and impossible coincidences can be found in this book. If you can just let go of the improbabilities and have fun with it this is a quick, fun way to spend a few hours.

Book of Old Houses, by Sarah Graves

This latest in the "Home Repair is Homicide" series finds Jacobia wrapped up in mystery and murder surrounding an old book that "washes" out in her cellar. It isn't just an old book, it's a book with names of the owners of the house--and it includes her name! (And did I mention that the names appear to be written in blood?)

While dealing with a housekeeper who is upset over Jake's father proposing to her, a son who is just back from alcohol rehab, and an old Maine house that constantly needs repairs, Jake and her best friend Ellie search for answers.

Graves' mysteries are a comfortable mix of "cozy" charm, home repair hints, and suspense. They aren't too gruesome, but don't make light of murder and danger. The characters are likeable and it's easy to feel a kinship to them. You need not read the series in order, but you'll feel a little more "at home" with the background of previous books in the series.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye; by Vitorial Laurie

I went in search of a cozy mystery or series that featured a psychic and found the "Psychic Eye" series, and this is the first in the series. It's in the cozy style, with an amateur detective--in this case, a PI (Professional Intuitive). Abby is liikeable and believable. Having read books with psychic characters (they're of uneven quality, at best) I was pleasantly surprised by the author's handling and description of Abby's psychic abilities. Too often authors these days will write a book with psychic characters but apparently have not done any research or even talked at length with any psychics, and just throw in something pshych-ish periodically, as if following a formula for how often it needs to be introduced. Laurie is a psychic herself, so the descriptions are real and believable, and a part of who Abby is.

Others in the cast of characters are good foils for Abby: a gorgeous policeman, a handyman, and a sister who is a character--in many senses of the word--in and of herself.

Though a murder mystery the book is in the cozy style, and has a light touch--a bit of humor, very little in the way of blood and gore. If you like Joanne Fluke's or Carolyn G. Hart's "Death on Demand" series give this one a try.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hard Row, by Margaret Maron

Margaret Maron's Judge Knott series is like a homecoming--even though I'm a Midwest girl, born and raised, not a Southerner. Maron has a way of weaving family, folklore and Carolina mores and manners into her mysteries to create an intriguing--and somehow warm--blend of mystery and charm.

In this book Judge Deborah Knott and her new husband, Deputy Dwight Bryant, are involved in a ghastly murder of a local businessman. The characters that Deborah meets from her bench and Dwight from his patrol vehicle intersect and play off one another. Maron is adept at unwinding the clues bit by bit, revealing enough with each bit to keep you interested but not so much that you know the murderer long before the tale is told.

Family is important in these mysteries. Deborah is one of many children (the irony of a former bootlegger's daughter becoming a judge is not lost on Deborah or anyone else in Collaton County) and the lives of her many brothers and their families is woven through the stories. Dwight's son, Cal, is now living with them, following the death of his mother (see "Winter's Child," 2006) and he adds a new dimension to the family and to Deborah's relationship with Dwight and her own brothers.

Though the method of murder in this is pretty ghastly it isn't described in horrible, gruesome detail. The blood and guts isn't the focus of the story, rather the people involved and the circumstances of their lives within the context of the modern South drive the tenor of the tale. If you like an intelligent mystery, with character and family and setting as important components, you'll like Hard Row, and all of Maron's books.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Candy Cane Murder, by Joanne Fluke

It doesn't have to be holiday time for you to enjoy a light foray into holiday murder--or murders, in this case. Fluke's short mystery is one of three in this anthology volume; the others are "The Dangers of Candy Canes" by Laura Levine, and "Candy Canes of Christmas Past."

Fluke's contribution is her usual mix of fun characters, Minnesota winter and holiday, and plot twists with multiple suspects. A trail of candy canes on a cold winter's night lead to a body, and cookie maven Hannah Swensen is off and sleuthing again.

Laura Levine's short mystery is more on the madcap side, not quite slapstick, but trying for it. There are lots of suspects here, too--including the victim's rival in the Christmas decoration contest of the neighborhood.

Leslie Meier's recollection of her heroine's (Lucy Stone's) first Christmas in their new home in Maine, young child, old house, not a lot of money. When she meets Miss Tilly, the town librarian, she ends up solving an old mystery about the death of Miss Tilly's mother, who fell down the stairs. The only clue? A smashed glass candy cane. This is a charming, heartwarming holiday mystery--no new murders, just a likeable sleuth finding her way in a new home.

If you want easy, light reads with a holiday theme (even if it isn't the holiday season!) then start here. If you haven't read any mysteries by these authors, here's your chance to 'try them out" and see which suit you!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sweet Revenge, by Diane Mott Davidson

Goldy Bear Schulz is up to her ears in catering jobs before Christmas--that's the good news.  The bad news is that she, once again, stumbles on a body while she is setting up for a holiday breakfast for the staff of the library.   The deceased is a map collector and Goldy, er, I mean the Furman County Sheriff's Department--specifically, Goldy's husband--are not short of suspects.  An ex-wife, a fiancee, rival map collectors, parents of a couple teenage girls....well, it all adds to the holiday chaos.  If that wasn't enough, Goldy has seen a ghost from her past--or has she?

The latest in the Goldy series delivers a good cozy mystery once again, complete with catering crises, dozens of clues, red herrings, and a cast of characters that continues to raise readers' eyebrows or warm their hearts.    Libraries and librarians figure into the mix/mess and that's fun for librarians.  (I especially like Goldy's statement that she has learned not to argue with librarians, you just won't win. I think that's a compliment....)

If you like mysteries on the cozy side, but not silly, give this series a try.  They're intelligent without being overly complex, and the characters and relationships add warmth to the story of the puzzle and solution.  They have heart.  (And some good recipes!)