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Posts Tagged ‘M.C. Beaton’

watersEven though I haven’t been to Venice in years, it takes only a few pages of one of Donna Leon’s police procedurals featuring Guido Brunetti to transport me back to that singular city of water and stone. The 25th book in the series, The Waters of Eternal Youth (Grove/Atlantic, digital galley), strikes me as especially atmospheric and poignant. Reminders are everywhere that Venice is sinking into the sea, and historic preservation is much on the mind of several characters, including an influential contessa who asks Brunetti a favor. Fifteen years ago, her then-teenage granddaughter Manuela suffered brain damage after almost drowning in a canal. A drunken bystander who rescued the girl said a man had pushed her, but he forgot even saying that by the next day. Manuela, now locked in eternal childhood, apparently remembers nothing. Brunetti does not expect to find anything so many years later, but a murder lends urgency to the leisurely investigation. Brunetti’s literature professor wife Paola looks up from Henry James to offer her opinions; fellow detective Claudia Griffonio befriends Manuela and reveals something of her own past; and internet expert Signorina Elletra runs interference when Brunetti’s boss becomes too interested in the case. Venice, of course, enchants.

devonshireLaura Childs’ cozy Tea Shop mysteries have such evocative, tea-flavored titles — Death by Darjeeling, Chamomile Mourning, Scones and Bones. But her new one may be my favorite: Devonshire Scream (Berkley/Penguin, digital galley). Theodosia Browning’s Indigo Tea Shop in downtown Charleston, S.C. also caters special events, such as a trunk show at her friend Brooke’s jewelry store. But a smash-and-grab heist interrupts the event and Brooke’s niece is killed by flying glass. The police suspect an international gang of thieves who have pulled similar jobs in other cities and worry that the display of a real Romanov egg at an upcoming charity event may be the real target. In between serving delicious meals at the tea shop — cranberry scones, anyone? — Theo snoops among old Charlestonians and social-climbing arrivistes, picking up gossip and trailing possible suspects. She even dons a valuable gem for the gala, hoping the thieves will find it irresistible. They do. Irresistible recipes at book’s end are the icing on the tea cake.

nurseThe title of M.C. Beaton’s latest Hamish Macbeth tale — Death of a Nurse (Grand Central Publishing, review copy) — tells us the victim, but I knew from first sighting that Gloria Dainty was doomed. That’s because the flirty nurse to elderly James Harrison has agreed to a dinner date with Hamish, and Lochdubh’s red-headed police officer has notorious bad luck with women. Sure enough, Gloria fails to appear at the appointed hour, and the irascible Harrison says she’s done a flit. Four days later, Hamish finds her body at the bottom of a beachside cliff. His investigation is hindered by interference from higher-ups and from locals who fancy themselves detectives. Meanwhile, Hamish’s current assistant, clumsy Charlie, is winning hearts right and left, to Hamish’s dismay. Fans of the witty series will be amused by the return of familiar characters and local  color, but newcomers may have trouble keeping up with characters and clues.

skeletonMystery writer Marty Wingate transplants Texas gardener Pru Parke to an English country estate in The Skeleton Plot (Alibi, digital galley), where she digs up old bones and the remains of a Nazi fighter plane left over from World War II. Surprisingly, the bones are not those of the pilot, and Pru and her police officer husband’s quest to find out the identity of the skeleton is complicated by the new murder of a villager. The plot, though, isn’t as engaging as the quirky characters — especially Pru’s hacker nephew and her standoffish cook — and the details of the gorgeous gardens and village life. Excerpts from old letters between a WWII land girl and her soldier sweetheart add atmosphere and a sense of history. A green thumbs-up.

bunniesClea Simon has two new mysteries this month. When Bunnies Go Bad (Poisoned Pen Press, digital galley) is the sixth Pet Noir tale featuring animal behaviorist and pet psychic Pru Marlowe. As for the bunnies, there’s a visiting ski bunny whose gangster boyfriend may have stolen the valuable “Bunny in the Sun” painting, and a wild rabbit named Henry who is illegally residing with an 84-year-old woman. After the gangster is murdered, Pru becomes involved in the investigation despite her cop boyfriend’s disapproval as she works with ski bunny Ginger’s pampered spaniel and tries to communicate with wild Henry. The Ninth Life (Severn House, digital galley) is another color cat altogether, and not the cozy I was expecting. It’s narrated by Blackie, who wakes up from a near-drowning to discover he’s a cat rescued by a homeless teen known as Care. I’m not much on animal narrators, but Blackie’s voice offers a unique perspective on dark street life, where throwaway kids are at the mercy of drug dealers and worse.

promurderFlorida actor and playwright Ned Averill-Snell puts his experience with small professional theaters to good use in his first self-published mystery, Small Professional Murder (paperback review copy). Tall, gangly Suzanne answers to “Spriz” (rhymes with showbiz) as head of props for a small repertory theater in the Florida town of Galilee. She’s one of the few people who can tolerate leading man Brandon Wishart, and when the actor is killed by a falling flat, she takes it upon herself to find the friendless man’s heirs. She and her costumer pal Tommy road-trip the backroads of Florida, stopping at the little theaters and playhouses where Brandon once worked. Sadly, several have fallen victim to the recent recession, and that fact, coupled with the realization that Brandon was murdered, means Spriz and Tommy need to look closer to home. Averill-Snell’s backstage tale reminded me of Simon Brett’s witty Charles Paris mysteries, and theater fans will be entertained by the antics of cast and crew. But too many props — or descriptions thereof — tend to clutter the narrative.

 

 

 

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leonDonna Leon set her first book in the stellar Guido Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice, at Venice’s famed opera house, and she returns there in her 24th, Falling in Love (Grove Atlantic, digital galley). Returning, too, is soprano Flavia Petrelli, whose performance in Tosca leads to wild applause and a rain of roses. But it’s the extravagant bouquets of yellow roses left in her dressing room and at the doorway to her apartment that frighten her and concern Brunetti, who ties the mysterious stalker to two knife attacks in the city. Leon deftly explores the psychology and escalating obsession of the stalker, then ups the suspense at the penultimate performance of Tosca, with the violent emotions of the opera mirroring the climactic events backstage. One of Leon’s best, inseparable from the magic of the real Venice. Brava!

foundlingsThe Silence of the Lambs meets an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent in Kate Rhodes’ suspenseful The Winter Foundlings (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). After a missing girl’s body is left on the steps of London’s Foundling Museum, psychologist Alice Quentin, liaising with the police, meets with convicted child killer Louis Kinsella at Northwoods prison hospital. Three other girls are missing, and the kidnapper appears to be following in Kinsella’s footsteps — or following his orders. Is it a former pupil, or perhaps a member of the hospital staff? As the cunning Kinsella toys with Alice, time is running out to find the missing girls. Chapters told from one abducted girl’s perspective are interspersed with the main narrative, adding to the chilling atmosphere.

liarAn eccentric woman cries wolf in M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Liar (Grand Central, digital galley), the latest in her long-running and highly entertaining series featuring Scottish police sergeant Hamish Macbeth. After falsely claiming she was attacked, chronic liar Liz Bentley turns up dead in her Cromish vegetable patch, and Hamish suspects her murder is tied to the torture killings of a couple new to Lochdubh. But Chief Inspector Blair wants the Lochdubh murders for his own, so Hamish circumvents the official investigation, all the while dealing with his complicated love life. (He can’t believe a beautiful baker prefers the company of his rotund sidekick to his own). Still, the criminals command most of his attention  — and almost prove his undoing when he winds up in a coffin destined for burial at sea.

tombinturkeyFree-spirited Jude and worrywart Carole are longtime friends and amateur sleuths in the English village of Fetherings, but they’re on holiday in Simon Brett’s cheery The Tomb in Turkey (Severn House, digital galley). Intrigued by the offer of a free villa from Jude’s property developer pal and ex-lover Barney, the mismatched travel buddies find intrigue of a more menacing kind upon their arrival. Travel guide Nita glosses over the unwelcoming graffiti on the villa walls that suggests that Barney’s first wife died in suspicious circumstances. But then on a visit to the nearby Lycian tombs, Carole discovers Nita’s strangled corpse, which promptly disappears when she goes to get Jude. Still, Carole knows what she saw, and even Jude agrees that there’s something’s fishy in Turkey.

magpiesA book to die for. Or in this case, a manuscript. In Judith Flanders’  snappy A Murder of Magpies (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair is looking forward to reading author Kit Lovell’s new expose. But others are also after the manuscript about a recent fashion house scandal. There are several break-ins, a courier is killed and Lovell goes missing. Sam teams with her solicitor mother and a police detective to investigate, even while she ponders how to tell her best-selling novelist her new book’s a bomb and deal with back-stabbing colleagues. Flanders takes a page from Lovell, and dishes the dirt on the insular world of publishing. First in a series, we hope.

kings“The past is a different country.” No kidding. William Shaw calls up the exotic land of the Swinging Sixties in The Kings of London (Little, Brown, digital galley), the second in a trilogy that began with the very good She’s Leaving Home. DS Paddy Breen and his younger colleague Helen Tozer encounter the counterculture of drug dealers and art dealers, hippies and squatters while investigating several nasty fires. One charred corpse is eventually identified as a politician’s wayward son. Heroin is the real villain here, along with the gangs controlling its trade and the dirty cops looking the other way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My recent appetite for books is bordering on the insatiable. No sooner do I check out a new book from the library or receive an ARC in the mail than I read about another title I that sounds great or someone mentions a book not yet on my radar. It reminds me of when I was a kid and would go to the library and check out a stack of books and read them one after another. The only problem with reading as fast as I can is that the blogging goes a bit by the wayside. But here goes:

Ashley Judd has a new TV series about an ex-CIA agent who is also a mom, so I can totally see Judd playing Kate Moore, the winning protagonist of Chris Pavone’s clever first thriller, The Expats (Crown; library hardcover). When Kate’s husband gets a high-tech job in banking security in Luxembourg, she happily ditches her CIA job — which hubby Dexter never knew about — and moves overseas to be a full-time mom to two young sons. But she soon tires of domestic chores, and begins eyeing another American expat couple with suspicion. Something about Bill and Julia doesn’t ring true. Are they assassins targeting a government official from their neatly situated apartment, or is Kate just paranoid? Maybe they’re after her and her old secrets. Surely they’re not trailing geeky Dexter. What could he be hiding?

Pavone shifts back and forth from present-day Paris to Luxembourg two years ago, sometimes flashing back to Kate’s career as a spy. Pay attention. Things start slowly, but before long, Pavone hits the black-diamond trail with all its risky twsts and heart-stopping turns. Both he and Kate are real pros at the espionage game. I hope there’s a sequel.

Peter Robinson, author of the excellent and long-running Inspector Alan Banks series, goes the stand-alone route in the absorbing Before the Poison (Morrow; review copy), which favorably reminds me of both Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s novel A Dark-Adapted Eye and the Kenneth Branagh film Dead Again. Chris Lowndes, a 60sh Hollywood film composer still grieving for his late wife, returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his youth, buying a big old country house. Even before he learns its peculiar history, he finds Kilnsgate curiously atmospheric, as if past events have left trace memories, which Chris is now reading.

Or is he just suggestible by nature, especially after learning that Kilnsgate was once home to Grace Fox, who was hanged for poisoning her doctor husband in the early 1950s? The more Chris learns about lovely Grace, the more convinced he becomes that perhaps she didn’t commit the crime for which she was executed.

Robinson neatly juxtaposes Chris’ first-person narrative with a rather dry account of Grace’s trial and the events leading up it, and then with Grace’s surprising journal entries chronicling her experiences as a World War II nurse in Singapore and the South Pacific. No wonder she haunts Chris’ imagination if not the halls of Kilnsgate itself. As for Chris, he’s an intelligent observer who likes classical music, fine art, good food, old movies and Alan Furst’s espionage novels. Mmm, I’d hit him up on Match.com, not that I’ve ever been there.

I’ve always been quite fond of Hamish Macbeth, the red-headed Scottish constable featured in more than two dozen nimble mysteries by M.C. Beaton. Hamish has a checkered romantic history, but he’s between lady friends in Death of a Kingfisher (Grand Central Publishing; digital galley from NetGalley). Not surprisingly, he’s attracted to pretty albeit married Mary Leinster, a newcomer to Lochdubh who has turned beautiful Buchan’s Woods into a tourist attraction, Fairy Glen.

But someone is up to mischief and then murder at Fairy Glen, heralded by the hanging of the gorgeous kingfisher who nests there. Then a bridge collapses, and the body count mounts as various characters meet their maker in extraordinary fashion. Death by rocket-propelled riding stairlift through the roof may seem a wee bit over the top, but the conclusion, involving international spies, is even more far-fetched. But still good fun.

Joshilyn Jackson’s A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley from NetGalley) is one of those good Southern novels with many funny characters and funny stuff going on, only “funny” is more “funny peculiar” than “funny ha-ha.”

Ginny Slocumb is nervous. She was 15 and unwed when she had her daughter Liza, who in turn, was 15 and unmarried when she gave birth to Mosey. Now Mosey is 15, and Ginny, known as Big, is wondering when Mosey might be expecting, except that her awkward, endearing granddaughter doesn’t have a beau, just a friend who is a dorky boy. And it may be that fate has already dealt the Slocumb women their 15-year-blow. Liza, a former drug addict, has been crippled by a stroke, and when Big decides to dig up the backyard willow tree for a swimming pool, the bones of a baby are unearthed. Where did they come from? Big has her suspicions, but Liza remains locked in her secret world, and the truth may destroy the family.

The three main characters take turns with the narrative, and Jackson creates three distinctive voices. She also is very good at evoking the sultry Mississippi heat and the class suffocation that stifles the town. A snobby matriarch borders on the cliche, and some secrets fail to surprise, but a lonely girl from the wrong side of town tugs on Big’s heartstrings.

Open Book: I’m nowhere near finished, so look for Part II in a couple of days.

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