Last Update 4/24/10 

The Hangman's Row Enquiry by Ann Purser, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23473-0

French Polished Murder by Elise Hyatt, Berkley, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23346-7

More new cosies.  The first and slightly better of the two is by an author I've sampled once before and found entertaining but not outstanding.  This one is no exception. The protagonist has just moved into an assisted living facility where she gets involved with a handful of mildly interesting characters, but more importantly with a brutal murder. There's an obvious suspect, but naturally that doesn't mean anything, and the ensuing investigation uncovers a much larger cast of potential killers. Closer to detection than most similar books, this came across as a lighter version of the Miss Marple books and I liked it much better than the one I read in her previous, more popular Lois Meade series about a cleaning woman who solves crimes.  This was my first by Elise Wyatt and it has a reasonably interesting premise.  The protagonist runs a furniture sales and restoration service and she's working on an antique piano when she finds an old letter. She decides to ask questions and gets on the bad side of a very influential group of people.  And someone is even more determined to silence her.  This was okay, but less interesting as it progressed, and I'm really getting tired of women sleuths with boyfriends who are police detectives.  It's an uninventive authorial shortcut that has been done to death.  4/24/10

The Cat, the Professor, and the Poison by Leann Sweeney, Berkley, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22980-9

Even though I have cats, I found this cat related mystery novel just too cute for my tastes.  The protagonist is the inevitable cozy heroine, in this case living with three cats and making quilts for a living - animals and crafts in a single story!  The mystery starts with the disappearance of a cow from a farm, and Jillian Hart decides to investigate.  This leads to the discovery of a dead body - no surprise there - and more complicated matters than Hart ever expected.  Inevitably there's a quasi-boyfriend police officer and even more inevitably the cats are instrumental in solving the crime and still even yet more inevitably Hart finds herself in danger of becoming the next victim.  The cutesy cover should have warned me off this one.  The writing itself isn't bad and I actively liked the previous book I've read by Sweeney.  This one is definitely for those who like the cozy part of cozy mysteries more than the mystery part.  4/23/10

Half-Price Homicide by Elaine Viets, Obsidian, 2010, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22989-2

I've read and enjoyed three earlier mysteries by Viets so this one gravitated upward in the unread pile.  It was much as I had expected, a fairly standard modern cosy that stands out not because it does anything particularly new but because it does what it does in an outstanding fashion.  It's part of her dead-end job series. Helen has been taking a series of low paying jobs rather than reward her rapacious ex-husband and her latest is at a designer clothing shop where - surprise - one of the customers ends up dead. Our heroine finds herself cast in the role of chief suspect so she has to discover the truth in order to clear her name.  This is a very familiar ploy in mystery fiction obviously, but Viets breathes fresh life into it through the depth of her characters and the smooth flow of her prose.  Probably not the best of her books, but a solid effort.  4/19/10

Now You See Her by Merline Lovelace, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23476-1

This is the second Samantha Slade mystery novel.  Slade is a military officer whose assignment is to lead her team on tests of new technological devices.  As the novel opens, she is investigating a promising new technology that enhances night vision, but the test takes an unusual turn when she spots a hooded assassin about to fire on a crowd.  Her warning leads to action by a female MP who kills the assailant, only to discover that she served with him previously in Afghanistan - and had a brief love affair with him.  The dead man was diagnosed with a stress disorder and the case seems straightforward, but there are other investigators who have taken a deeper interest in matters, and Slade begins to wonder if all is not as it seems.  Some nice twists in this one and I was taken by surprise a couple of times.  Not quite up to the high standards of the first novel, All the Wrong Moves, but Lovelace doesn't miss by much and I'll be watching for number three in the series. 4/19/10

The Divine Sacrifice by Tony Hays, Forge, 2/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1946-3  

This is the second in a series of mystery novels that take place in Camelot, similar to another recent series by J.M.C. Blair.  The protagonist/detective is a young knight who lost an arm in battle and who was initially quite bitter about Arthurís efforts to save his life.  In this installment in the series, he and the king have traveled to an abbey where they meet St. Patrick, who is hot on the heels of some heretics.  While they are visiting, one of the monks is murdered.  It seems at first like a tragic but simple crime, but as our hero investigates further, he finds indications of a broader plot, one which has implications that could shake the entire kingdom.  Thereís no magic in this version of King Arthur, but thereís quite a bit of literary sleight of hand. I'm hard to please with historical mysteries for some reason but this worked pretty well for me. 4/14/10

Monster in Miniature by Margaret Grace, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23390-0  

This is one of the few contemporary cosy series that I actively like, even though it has all the trappings that I dislike, the cutesy craft connection, the distracting side stories.  Geraldine Porter is a miniaturist Ė she makes replicas of rooms and other objects on a very small scale, a hobby that would interest me if I had the talent for it, and the time, and the money, and so forth.  Her latest project is a haunted dollhouse, built in collaboration with her granddaughter who, predictably, prefers the ghastly to the mildly suggestive. The dead body turns up quickly enough in the form of what was supposed to be a scarecrow but wasnít. The murder was a long time ago but the dead man was acquainted with Geraldineís late husband, and there are suggestions that the relationship might not have been entirely casual. And, naturally, someone doesnít want the truth to come out and takes steps to hinder or eliminate anyone who looks too closely.  The side issues contribute to the main story, there is some genuine suspense, the plot holds together nicely, and the solution is entirely satisfactory.  A series I will continue to read. 4/8/10

Murder on the Eightfold Path by Diana Killian, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23391-7

The protagonist of this cosy mystery novel left Manhattan for a less stressful life after inheriting a yoga studio.  Turns out the suburbs arenít any more peaceful.  Out for a stroll one day, she stumbles over the body of her motherís boyfriend, obviously murdered by persons unknown. Not surprisingly, Mom becomes prime suspect and daughter has to find out the real killerís identity in order to clear her. Thereís another familiar element Ė her tentative romance with a police officer.  Like most recent cosies, there are side issues that donít contribute to the mystery directly.  I had a recurring feeling of dťjŗ vu while reading this one.  The writing is otherwise not bad although I found the dialogue a bit choppy. Lightweight reading for a lazy day but nothing that will strain your mental muscles or leave an indelible impression afterwards. 4/3/10

Nashville Noir by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain, Berkley, 2010, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22927-4

I occasionally wonder what Donald Bainís career would have been like if he hadnít become the voice of Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote. There have been over thirty novels in the series, some of them quite good although the formula gets a bit cloying at times.  Several of the recent novels have taken her out of Maine to various parts of the country, including this one.  As you might imagine from the title, this one involves a young country and western singer who gets into trouble, accused of murdering a music industry executive. Jessica is prevailed upon to look into matters, which she does, uncovering so many skeletons in the dead manís closet that the list of potential murderers with adequate motives would fill a music hall. The reason I genuinely enjoy this series is that the novels are almost always about the murders rather than the trials and tribulations of the characters or what their hobbies are.  There arenít even any recipes at the back!  Jessica uncovers clues and discrepancies and is able to figure out what really happened by using her brains rather than just falling into the solution.  3/30/10

Cut to the Corpse by Lucy Lawrence, Berkley, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23389-4

A Toast to Murder by Michele Scott, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23392-4  

These are both typical examples of the new cosy, murder mysteries whose protagonists are neither police officers nor detectives, but each of which has some significant trait usually involving some form of craft or job, in these cases decoupage and estate management respectively.  Typically the protagonist is female, gets herself into personal danger, and solves the crime Ė though more often through luck than through actual detection.  I didnít find the set up in the first of these convincing at all.  A bride to be wakes up in bed with the corpse of another man, and with no memory of how she got there or what happened or how she happened to have the murder weapon in her hand.  Sheís the obvious suspect as far as the police are concerned, but we know better.  Not badly written as such but I couldnít get into the story.  The second title is marginally a  better story but not as good a mystery. A series of mysterious messages disturbs our protagonist in the run up to a major wedding. There is a murder eventually, but most of the story involves things going wrong during the preparations.  Pleasant reading in this case but it didnít scratch my mystery itch. 3/25/10

Holly Blues by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23260-6 

The China Bayles series has changed significantly since it began and the latest continues the trend toward more story and less mystery.  Chinaís significant otherís ex-wife shows up unexpectedly, claiming to be broke and homeless, so of course she has to be asked to stay.  And things seem to be working out well as the newcomer bonds with the children and seems much nicer than China expected.  But something about her story doesnít add up and naturally thereís a murder involved, along with threatening phone calls and a mysterious new visitor in town.  Except for the details, I had pretty much figured out what was going on and who was responsible long before weíre officially told, but I donít think the author intended it to be much of a surprise.  The melodramatic conflict, when it comes, is quickly resolved and not entirely convincing, but again that seems almost incidental to the story.  Albert writes well enough that Iíll keep reading this series, but I no longer really think of them as mystery stories. 3/21/10

The Night Killer by Beverly Connor, Obsidian, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22960-1

The latest in the Diana Fallon forensic detective series, which has quickly moved up to my top ten of new mystery titles to watch for.  Fallon is a museum director/forensic specialist who gets involved, obviously, with murders.  This time it opens with her getting a bit too close.  While visiting a couple donating arrowheads to the museum, she has a tree fall on her car Ė revealing a skeleton hidden inside its trunk Ė but the skeleton disappears.  She is pursued on foot through the woods by a repulsive man with a set of dogs, finds her way back to her hostsí house, and discovers them dead, their throats cut.  Although she manages to get to the police and this isnít her territory, this isnít a crime that sheís going to forget, or that is going to forget her. She also has to deal with the local sheriff, an unpleasant man who would prefer that it was still the 19th Century.  Then another pair of murders occur in the same fashion and other mysterious events ensue including the sense that Diane is being followed, a suspicious automobile accident, and a new boyfriend for one of her staff members whose arrival seems a bit coincidental.  So is her second encounter with the mystery man who helped her earlier.  In fact, my one complaint about the book is that there are a few too many coincidences.  I also raised an eyebrow when the police dismiss an attempt to force her off the road as a coincidence, considering her recent involvement and the other ďaccidentĒ.  Itís a tribute to the writing that I was riveted even though I guessed the killer less than fifty pages into the book.  And I have to add a general grouse: the crime is solved by chance rather than detection, a common device in contemporary mystery fiction and one I detest. 3/13/10

Show No Fear by Perri O'Shaughnessy, Pocket Star, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-4867-6

This is the twelfth in the Nina Reilly series and I have never read any of the earlier ones.  Reilly is a paralegal who has a couple of running background stories, the first including a custody battle, the second a malpractice suit on behalf of her mother.  Sounds pretty litigious to me.  Anyway, there's a death - a woman whom the police say committed suicide - but the witnesses are oddly hard to find and she suspects there is more to the case than meets the eye, and of course there is or there wouldn't be much of a story.  With the assistance of a reasonably sexy and reasonably cooperative police inspector, she pursues her inquiries even though this really isn't her job, but then if she wasn't a nosey parker there wouldn't be much of a story either.  In due course she uncovers the truth, but not without putting her own life in jeopardy in process.  In a classic detective story, she wouldn't have to do that, but in modern mystery fiction - which is more about suspense than detection - it's a required plot element.  It appears that this is actually the prequel to some or all of the earlier books, since it's labeled her "first" murder investigation.  Reads smoothly and with some suspenseful moments.  I might try another if it comes my way.  3/8/10

Red Delicious Death by Sheila Connolly, Berkley, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23343-6

Pretty in Ink by Karen E. Olson, Obsidian, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22962-5  

Here are a couple of recent lightweight mysteries, both by authors whom Iíve sampled in the past and found enjoyable.  The first is in the same series, I believe, murders involving an apple orchard. Our amateur detective owns an orchard and sheís very interesting in selling her produce to a group of would be restaurateurs who are opening a place locally. Everything flies up in the air when one of the entrepreneurs is found dead, obviously having been murdered.  The frustrated farmer slips into investigative gear and uncovers secrets long buried but still festering before avoiding mayhem on a more personal level and uncovering the culprit.  This is quite good, fresh and lively and with a satisfying solution.  The Olson is the second in a series.  I havenít read the first but I did enjoy an unrelated book by her some time ago.  The gimmick this time is that the amateur sleuth runs a tattoo parlor, which did not strike me as a promising premise, but Iíve been surprised before.  This worked better than I expected, but I didnít like it as much as the other Iíd read by her.  Someone is murdering Las Vegas drag queens and the police are, as usual, at a loss to figure out whatís going on, or even how the murders are being committed.  Not bad but I was occasionally impatient to get to the end, never a good sign. 3/1/10

A Whisper to the Living by Stuart M. Kaminsky, Forge, 2010, $23.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1888-6

Kaminsky, a respected mystery writer whom Iíd never sampled, died last year so this might be his last published novel.  It features a one legged detective in contemporary Russia who has three problems to deal with this time.  The most pressing is a serial killer whose possible relationship to Vladimir Putin has clouded attempts to apprehend him.  Also competing for his attention are a foreign journalist who has dangerously opened an investigation into an organized prostitution ring and a famous boxer who may or may not have murdered his wife and her lover.  Although all three cases get solved, they do not intersect except very peripherally, so this reads like three interwoven short stories.  I was a bit disappointed at the ease with which our hero discerns the identity of the serial killer but the other two plot strands work out well.  Iíll have to find time to try some of Kaminskyís earlier books. 2/24/10

Murder Can Rain on Your Shower by Selma Eichler, Signet, 2003, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-20823-4  

This is the last unread Desiree Shapiro mystery I have, so I suppose Iíll have to start hunting for the others since I have less than half of the series.  Shapiro is an overweight but definitely sharp private eye who has  a variety of interesting cases.  This one feels more like a cosy at first.  Desiree is helping with her nieceís marriage arrangements when a shower guest is poisoned in the middle of the proceedings.  Itís obviously no accident and a quick investigation reveals that the dead woman had a full crop of enemies.  The story is entertaining but I thought it slipped a bit below the standards Eichler had set for herself in her previous books.  2/24/10

The Sculptor by Gregory Funaro, Pinnacle, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-2212-0

I'm a big fan of Thomas Harris and have read with various degrees of satisfaction serial killer novels by other writers.  This one is happily among those I actively enjoyed.  I was prejudiced in its favor because it is set in Rhode Island, but I was quickly drawn in by the elaborate and bizarre method the Sculptor uses to display his work.  Obsessed with Michelangelo and, to a lesser extent, a local scholar who published a book about the artist, he fashions his victims quite literally into elaborate replicas of Michelangelo's statues.  The researcher is called in by the FBI after the first two bodies are found in a tableau with her name engraved on the base of the "artwork."  Somewhat predictably, she and one of the agents become romantically involved, but only peripherally and late in the book and it is not a distracting subplot.  A lot of this is police procedural, but the scenes we see from the killer's point of view add a considerable element of suspense to the otherwise routine work.  The Sculptor is not Hannibal Lecter, but he's a pretty scary person in his own right and I enjoyed the book thoroughly.  One minor quibble.  When the first two bodies are found, the FBI already refers to the Sculptor as a serial killer.  One double killer does not make a serial killer and they particularly wouldn't be using that label if, as we are told, they suspect the murders were planned over a period of several years.  2/22/10

Boca Mournings by Steven M. Forman, Forge, 2010, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1988-3  

Since I really enjoyed the first in this series, Boca Knights, I was delighted to see a return of the sixty year old ex-Boston copy turned quasi-retiree private detective in Boca Raton, Florida.  This time he has multiple cases Ė not all of which are technically mysteries Ė including a malfunctioning elevator, a possible redeemable American Nazi, a likeable man who steals electronically, a woman who cannot remember her childhood, two different doctors who are not operating as they should Ė no pun intended, and a kidnapped gay couple, among others.  Not every story line has a happy ending, and some of those that do are pretty contrived, but for the most part I didnít care.  The snappy dialogue, including our heroís conversations with his penis, crisply drawn characters, and general good sense of humor even overcame my slight uneasiness about what is, after all, a vigilante novel.  My one complaint is that the author turns to lecture mode in the final few chapters when he turns to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the turnaround of the young Nazi just happened too quickly and too effectively for me to believe it.  Still one of the better books Iíve found so far in 2010. 2/18/10

Murder Can Cool Off Your Affair by Selma Eichler, Signet, 2002, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-20518-9  

Overweight but still delightful private eye Desiree Shapiro has another interesting case.  A wealthy man with only months to live is losing relatives fast.  One nephew has already been shot to death and another narrowly missed the same fate.  Obviously someone is knocking off potential heirs, but who, and why, and how can they expect to get away with it?  Following his near death experience, one nephew hires our hero to find out which of several other relatives is behind the crime. But things are not what they seem and sheís going to have to think outside the box Ė donít you hate that expression? Ė if sheís going to save the day, to say nothing of her client.  Fun, and a very well constructed mystery at the core of the story. 2/14/10

Wild Penance by Sandi Ault, Berkley, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23232-3  

Fourth in the Jamaica Wild series, which has been quite good so far.  Wild works for the Bureau of Land Management and her adventures sometimes remind me of Tony Hillerman. Her latest involves a secret society that apparently practices what amounts to human sacrifice. The existence of the cultists is not particularly secret but it seems that no one else is that motivated to do something about them.  Someone, however, is motivated to prevent Wild from looking too closely at what is going on, motivated enough to kill her if the opportunity arises. There are also some ancient artifacts whose existence and ownership leads to dangerous conflicts of interest.  This is easily the best of the three Iíve read in this series, tightly constructed, complex, intelligently plotted, and unraveled in a logical and believable fashion.  Ault is hovering near the threshold for my favorites list. 2/10/10

The Pendragon Murders by J.M.C. Blair, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23312-2  

Merlin returns to solve his third mystery at Camelot.  In the midst of a plague, two men are found murdered in what appears to have been a ritual sacrifice. King Arthur sets off on a quest he hopes will end the plague Ė this isnít a fantasy though and his mission is futile.  Futile or not, someone has found it useful because several of Arthurís bastard sons are competing along the way to prove themselves worthy successors, and someone is murdering them one by one, arranging things to make it appear that the deaths are plague related.  Merlin isnít fooled however and is sure that this is an elaborate ploy to narrow the line of succession.  Despite my aversion to Camelot as a setting for anything, fantasy or otherwise, this is a pretty good series overall and this is my favorite of the first three. 2/8/10

Murder Can Spoil Your Appetite by Selma Eichler, Signet, 2000, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-19958-8

Murder Can Upset Your Mother by Selma Eichler, Signet, 2001, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-20251-1  

Since I enjoyed the first book in this series that I tried, I picked up a couple more.  The protagonist, Desiree Shapiro, is a private detective, a distinct minority in contemporary detective fiction, an overweight woman who gets involved in unlikely situations, usually involving murder.  I donít care for the cutesy titles in this series, incidentally, but the books are quite good.  In the first of these she reluctantly accepts a commission from a local crimelord to find out who murdered one of his underlings.  Her investigation soon reveals that the dead man had an even less savory history than she had expected and she is also faced with a moral dilemma.  If she cracks the case and tells her client the results, will that lead to a retaliatory murder which is arguably at least partly her fault?  A nice bit of shuffling is necessary in this one.  I did, however, prefer the second.  This time she receives a message from a woman who believes she is the object of a murder plot, but Shapiro doesnít learn of it until after the woman is dead, proving that she was right. The dead woman, who appears to be a pillar of righteousness, has a mother who wants the mystery solved and since Desiree feels an obligation to help, the outcome is inevitable.  As with the first title, the investigation reveals that appearances are deceiving and that there were any  number of people with sufficient cause to want the victim dead.  Despite some superficial similarities, however, these are two quite different stories, and I liked them both.  More to come. 2/4/10

If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle, Obsidian, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22891-8  

I have a soft spot for book related murder mysteries and the previous one in this series, Homicide in Hardcover, was quite good. The protagonist is a book restorer who, in this case, is attending a book fair when her ex-husband announces that he has possession of the manuscript of a book which will reveal a long kept secret of the royal family and potentially affect the stability of the government. It doesnít take a genius to figure out that the ex-husband is going to be the next victim, and sure enough, his dead body turns up before much longer. As with the previous book, our heroine is the prime suspect and has to solve the crime to clear her own name.  But although we might naturally assume that the murder has something to do with the controversial manuscript, things are not quite as they seem.  But then, they rarely are.  Not quite as good as the first, but still an entertaining puzzle. 2/2/10

Sleeping with Anemone by Kate Collins, Obsidian, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22890-1  

Abby Knight, florist and impromptu detective, is back for another case.  Iíve read several in this series, which flirts with becoming very good but never quite rises to that level.  This time sheís involved in a campaign to alter the way dairy cows are treated and she has brought her protest to the enemyís heartland and apparently stirred up someone with violent impulses. A series of violent incidents Ė including three separate kidnapping attempts Ė lead her to ask some of her friends for help.  In the midst of her own troubles, thereís a murder, and her inability to move about freely inhibits Ė but doesnít stop Ė her efforts to solve the crime.  Although the story is okay, I was a bit disappointed with some of the implausibilities.  The succession of attacks didnít ring true, or the reactions by the protagonist or the authorities.  The tone also wavers at times and the romantic element was more distracting than entertaining.  Better luck next time. 1/31/10

Storm Peak by John A. Flanagan, Berkley, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-425-23525-6

Flanagan is the author of another series of mysteries, none of which Iíve ever read, and this is the opening of his Jesse Parker series.  Parker is a one-time police officer who has decided to change his life and take a job as a ski patroller in Colorado and forget about solving crimes.  Fat chance of that.  Thereís a dead body almost right away and the local sheriff asks Parker to help in the investigation, a request he finds it impossible to refuse. The sheriff Ė a woman Ė was once Parkerís romantic interest and the old flames begin to smolder anew as they try to figure out who is stalking skiers and murdering them. I really liked this one, which is very suspenseful and features two very well drawn protagonists, as well as a nicely nasty killer.  Iíll certainly be reading Parkerís further adventures, and will probably track down Flanaganís earlier books as well. 1/31/10

Cruel Intent by J.A. Jance, Pocket, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-6635-9 

Jance is another writer whose name Iíve seen a lot but whose work I had never read until now.  This is a thriller rather than a mystery because we know the killerís identity on the first page and the mystery is solved by luck as much as by deduction.  Heís a serial killer whose latest victim is the wife of the man Ali Reynolds Ė the protagonist Ė has hired to do some remodeling.  He has been very clever about concealing his tracks, but he gets over confident Ė and  Reynolds has a leap of intuition Ė and eventually the killer decides to eliminate her just to be even safer.  Little does he know that he has already been fatally exposed.  Quite suspenseful and I liked the characters pretty well, which include a gay butler, a domineering grandmother, and a physically disabled ex-soldier.  I wasn't convinced that it would be quite so easy to disable the bad guy's computers by remote control, which helped compress the action to just a few days, but it was a relatively minor point. Stylistically this reminded me of Kathy Reichs, and it was almost as compulsive a read. 1/24/10

A Stitch in Crime by Betty Hechtman, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23310-8

The Diva Paints the Town by Krista Davis, Berkley, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23344-3 

Iíve been struggling with explaining to myself, let alone anyone else, what it is that I find disappointing about most contemporary cosies.  Itís not that they are badly written, because to a large extent thatís not true.  In many cases theyíre better written than some of the classic detective stories, speaking just in literary terms.  I think part of it is that the mystery itself is not the exclusive center of the story.  Recent cosies blend that with the story of the protagonist and people around him or more commonly her. There is almost always an element of humor.  Classic detective stories were more oriented toward the crime itself, and more methodical in the revelation of clues.  To a great extent, I see a resemblance between modern cosies and television shows.  Each book is an episode, sometimes with a continuing back story.  Thatís not necessarily a bad thing, but itís not playing to my personal preferences.  Cases in point, these two competently written mysteries. Hechtman writes about a circle of knitters and the various crimes they solve, in this case the murder of an instructor at a seminar on knitting.  Our heroine calls upon her fellow knitters to help her solve the crime in true C.S.I. fashion.  No real surprises, no startling revelations, and luck as well as brains lead to the solution  The Davis title worked a little better for me.  An elderly man dies and a group of people are jointly redecorating his house.  The protagonist stumbles upon a body, which promptly disappears, and then has to figure out what happened.  Disappearing bodies always pull me into a story or movie for some reason, so I was quite taken with this one, and the working out of the solution was more sophisticated and rewarding.  Both books are good at what they do, but only the latter approaches what I really find most entertaining in a detective story. 1/18/10

Hands in the Dark by Maxwell Grant, 1932  

A man is strangled in a supposedly empty house.  A face appears at a window two days later. Creepy events open this Shadow mystery, although we know thereís not going to be anything supernatural involved. The opening chapters this time are surprisingly good, although still employing the succession of very short paragraphs that continued throughout the series. A young woman is in peril, believing her host to be someone other than who he really is, a ruthless murderer. One of the murder attracts the attention of the Shadow, who uses his agents to investigate.  In due course the masquerade is lifted and the girl taken captive, although we all know the Shadow will rescue her in the nick of time.  Thereís also a mysterious crime boss we donít see until quite late in the story, a crooked cop, and a Chinatown power broker. A duel evolves between the Shadow and the Chief, the outcome a foregone conclusion. Fewer gun fights and more actual plot development in this one than in most of those that preceded it.  1/15/10

Eggsecutive Orders by Julie Hyzy, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23203-3  

As a rule, I avoid celebrity mystery novels, particularly those involving politics. I almost passed by the first in this series, which features a White House chef as its protagonist, but came back to it at one point and find it enjoyable enough that I read the sequel, which was also quite good.  This is the third, set during the Easter season and featuring yet another murdered on her watch.  What makes this case even more pressing is that the dead NASA official collapsed after eating food prepared by protagonist Olivia Paras.  Predictably, the Secret Service pounces and begins to conduct a disruptive investigation which imperils Oliviaís plans for the White House Easter celebration, to say nothing of her personal plans with her visiting family.  So whatís a girl to do? Why solve the mystery herself, of course.  Best yet in this promising series. 1/10/10

Murder Can Singe Your Old Flame by Selma Eichler, Signet, 1999, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-19218-4  

I had avoided reading  this series because the cutesy titles didnít appeal to me, but someone mentioned enjoying them and to my delight the protagonist, Desiree Shapiro, is actually a private detective rather than a talented amateur. I read the latest and liked it, so it was back to the shelves to see what else I had. In this case Ė her sixth Ė she reluctantly agrees to look into the death of the wife of her obnoxious ex-boyfriend, who was pushed in front of a train.  The police suspect the husband, with some good reasons, but he insists that she had stumbled onto information involving drug smuggling.  Unfortunately, she didnít share the information with her husband.  Shapiro is a bit of a character and her subsequent investigation Ė though not particularly lively Ė was interesting enough to hold my attention.  I will certainly try another. 1/10/10

Methinks the Lady by Guy Endore, Avon (as The Furies in Her Body), originally published 1945

Detour at Night by Guy Endore, Award, 1959  

Guy Endore, author of the classic The Werewolf of Paris, was a screenwriter blacklisted because of his membership in the American Communist Party.  He wrote several novels, but his mysteries are not very well known today.  The first of these two is told from the point of view of a woman suffering from kleptomania and is more of a suspense thriller than a mystery, although there is a murder as well. The protagonist is obsessed with a particular trinket and since sheís married to a psychoanalyst, she tries to figure out her own hidden motives. The book is filled with psychological jargon Ė some accurate, some just silly Ė but the slowly evolving portrait of the woman is quite well done, although it goes on for too long before something actually happens.  Detour is more of a mystery, but a laconic one.  About halfof the text is the protagonist musing about the nature of words and the inconsistencies of the English language or reflecting about his childhood in an orphanage.  A drifter finds himself back in a town where he was once a respected figure, married to a wealthy woman, but accused of murder.  Thereís not much of a mystery in this one either, and while some of the musings are interesting, as a whole the novel is pretty dull. 1/1/10

 

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