Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Christie Caper by Carolyn G. Hart

Amateur Sleuth

Reviewed by Brenda Muhlbaier

A group of Christie buffs. . .In honor of Agatha Christie's one hundredth birthday, mystery bookstore owner Annie Laurance Darling plans a week-long celebration of mystery, treasure hunts, title clues, and Christie trivia. Yet even as the champagne is chilling and the happy guests begin arriving on Broward's Rock Island, Annie feels a niggling sense of doom. But the last thing she or her guests expect is that the scheduled fun and mayhem will include a real-life murder. The unexpected arrival of Neil Bledsoe, the most despised book critic in America, was sure to raise a few hackles. An advocate of hard-boiled detection and gory true crime, Bledsoe drops a bombshell on the devoted Christie assemblage: He's penning a scurrilous biography of the grand dame of suspense herself. Before the first title clue is solved, no less than two attempts are made on Bledsoe's life. Now Annie and her unflappable husband, Max Darling, find themselves trying to stop a murder in the making-only the first corpse isn't the one they're expecting. . .and it isn't the last.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon

Foreign Authors

Review by Joanne Cronin

Main Character: Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice Questura (police force.)

Setting: Contemporary Venice

Point of view: Third person

Style/Pacing: Leisurely pace, but with foreboding overtones.

Plot: Brunetti is called to investigate the death of a widow in her apartment. There are signs of a struggle, but the medical examiner rules Signora Altavilla died of a heart attack. The Questura has no jurisdiction without a crime to solve, but Brunetti can’t help feeling that something is wrong. He combs the Signora’s life for clues and finds surprising connections to domestic violence

Humor:  Frequent byplay with his subordinate, Inspector Vianello, the technology wizard Signorina Elletra, and his wife, Paola lighten the mood of the story.

Emotional Impact/Degree of Violence: A sense of unease pervades the story; some violence, but not gratuitous. The reader comes to empathize with the characters involved in the investigation. Brunetti is a compassionate cop, and this shows in his actions throughout.

Sex/Vulgarity: Very little of either.

Language/Writing: Character-driven mystery with frequent tours of Venice the beautiful and Venice the squalid. Brunetti ruminates on human nature and his beloved city frequently, and the reader is fascinated.

Issues: Domestic violence, relationship complications.

Other notes: Leon is an expatriate American who has lived in Venice for decades. Her books are extremely popular in Europe as well as here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Looking for Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker

Private Investigator

Review by Joanne Cronin

Main Characters: Spenser, private investigator; Susan Silverman, his counselor girlfriend; Rachel Wallace, lesbian feminist author

Series: Spenser

Publication date: 1980

Setting: Boston

Point of View: First person, Spenser.

Style/Pacing:  Starts slowly but hooks the reader quickly.

Plot: Spenser is a wisecracking knight-errant hired to guard Rachel Wallace, a radical lesbian feminist author who has been receiving death threats. They are polar opposites in every way, and when Spenser’s politically incorrect job performance angers Rachel, she fires him.  Then she is kidnapped. Spenser to the rescue…

Humor: Wisecracks aplenty.

Emotional impact/ Degree of violence: Spenser is not afraid to use the tools available to fight for justice and support his moral code. Fists and bullets fly, but the villains get their just desserts. The pull of opposite worldviews exemplified by Spenser and Rachel – and how one depends on the other- gives this title a special emotional kick.

Sex/Vulgarity:  Sex implied but not described. Some swearing.

Issue Driven: Sex/gender roles, homophobia.

Other notes: A fairly early title in the Spenser series.  Spenser is a detective in the Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe mold, but, unlike those archetypes, he has a life; a permanent girlfriend, a fondness for gourmet cooking and a more intellectual mindset that the standard PI.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Murder on the Cliffs: A Daphne Du Maurier Mystery by Joanna Challis

Amateur Sleuth

Review by Yvonne Selander

Main Character: Daphne Du Maurier

Setting: 1928 in Cornwall, England

Point of view: First person

Taste of the Plot:  Where did Daphne Du Maurier get her inspiration for the classic tale Rebecca?  From becoming involved in a murder investigation!  When Daphne comes across the body of a woman at the bottom of a cliff she finds herself in the center of a scandal.  Did the bride-to-be commit suicide?  Or was she pushed?  There are a number of people who would want the young woman dead, but did any of them commit murder?

Style/Pacing: Methodical with a building sense of unease because you just know that one of the people our heroine is sitting next to is a murderer!

Main Character: Daphne Du Maurier.  While it can sometimes be annoying to have a real person solving unreal crimes it worked here.

Language/ writing: Flowery yet clear. The author imitates the writing style of the period.

Emotional impact/ Degree of Violence:  More uneasiness than terror.  A woman’s body is found by our heroine at the bottom of a cliff, but the scene is not graphic. 

Humor: Once the undercover Scotland Yard agent comes clean the witty banter between him and Daphne threatens to steal the show.

Sex/vulgarity: You didn’t talk of such things.  But you alluded to them over tea with great alacrity…

Issue Driven: It’s the ages old story.  Money and poverty don’t mix.

Other notes: You will want to re-read Rebecca, or at least see the movie, after reading this book. 

Murder at the Academy Awards by Joan Rivers with Jerrilyn Farmer

Amateur Sleuth

Reviewed by Yvonne Selander

Main Character: Maxine Taylor (basically a younger Joan Rivers)

Setting: Hollywood

Point of view: First person

Taste of the Plot: Halsey Hamilton is the second youngest starlet ever nominated for Best Actress.  She is also a train wreck.  She’s been in rehab for the past three months and wasn’t supposed to come to the ceremony, but Max has just learned that not only is the troubled starlet coming, she’s giving Max an exclusive interview!  All seems wonderful until Halsey arrives sans dress and incoherent, eventually lying down on the red carpet, and as far as Max can tell, dying.  Who could possibly want to extinguish such a rising star?  Max and her entourage are on the case.

Style/Pacing: Very quickly paced from one madcap event to the next. 

Main Character: If you don’t like Joan Rivers even a little you won’t like Maxine.  She’s a brash tell-it-like-it is commentator on fashion and all things of the rich and famous.  As she says if you’ve discovered the cure for cancer and show up to claim your Nobel in a sack she’s not going to say a bad word about you.  Anyone else is fair game.  And she isn’t above poking fun at herself.

Language/ writing: Biting humor and one liners.  Unlike other celebrities who have tried to write mysteries Joan understand that stand up routines don’t make a book.  There is a pretty good mystery here.  Having an experienced co-writer I’m sure helped.

Emotional impact/ Degree of Violence:  Sex, drugs and major egos.  Aside from the death of the starlet on the red carpet the violence is minimal.

Humor: Got to like your humor sharp

Sex/vulgarity: Yep.  It’s Joan Rivers!

Issue Driven: While it’s comedic, including the heroine’s brief stint in rehab to nose around, there are some real issues like drug abuse and infidelity which are addressed

Other notes: I can not believe I enjoyed this book.  But I did.

R is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton

Subgenre: Private Investigator

Review by Joanne Cronin

Main Character: Kinsey Millhone

Setting: Santa Teresa, California, 1980s (fictionalized Santa Barbara)

Point of view: First person

Style/Pacing: Deliberate pace; the routine tasks of a PI are part of the storyline. The reader learns things as Kinsey describes them. Action occurs in fits and starts, but accelerates toward the end..

Main Character: Kinsey Millhone, private detective, thirty-seven, does claims investigations, missing persons cases, etc.  Married and divorced twice, doesn’t like to mix work and love.

Language/ writing: Clear, laconic prose; twisty plot reads quickly.

Emotional impact/ Degree of Violence:  This particular title revolves around relationships in Kinsey’s current case and in her personal life.  Sometimes the two areas collide.  Violence and the threat of violence increases...

Humor: Kinsey has a wry sense of humor expressed in her descriptions of events and characters, as well as the occasional wisecrack

Sex/vulgarity: Not explicit. Sexual situations described in the buildup but not in the act.  Occasional mild vulgarity.

Issue Driven: Financial chicanery, emotional relationships, vengeance.

Other notes: Grafton’s long-running alphabet series is considered a benchmark of the genre.  The author has kept the action in the 1980s to keep the focus on detection and not on the more current technological devices more contemporary PIs use.  No cell phone or Internet for Kinsey.

Christmas Mourning by Margaret Maron

Amateur Sleuth

Review Courtesy of Megan Ingegno

Main Character:  Deborah Knott

Series/Title:  A Deborah Knot Mystery

Setting: The story is set in present day, fictional Colleton County North Carolina.  Events occur over Christmas week, hence the “clever” title.  

Point of View: The author primarily tells the story from Deborah’s point of view.  As the mystery comes close to being solved, a few chapters are told from the perspective of Sheriff Deputy Dwight Bryant, Deborah’s husband. 

Style/Pacing: The story develops slowly, but is a quick read. 

Main Character Traits: Deborah Knot is a district court judge.  More importantly, she is recently married with a large extended family.  It can be confusing to keep all of the family members straight, but the author includes a Family Tree to at the beginning of the book.  Deborah’s family relationships are more important in the story than the mystery, which no one works very hard to solve. 

Language/Writing:  The mystery is loosely plotted, but characters and setting are well detailed.  A gentle read that centers on family and community relationships.

Emotional Impact/Degree of Violence:  Any less violence and there would not have been a murder to solve.

Humor?:  Some light humor.

Vulgarity/Sex?:  Characters do not swear, and sex is only implied.  

Issue Driven?:  The dangers of using cellphones while driving; jack-lighting deer.

Special Points: This is the 16th book in the Deborah Knott series.  However, the author fills in enough detail that you do not need to start at the beginning to follow along.