Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Today from Taylor Stevens: THE CATCH

About twice a year I wish I lived near Texas ... and now is one of those times. Not for the climate, or the urban traffic, but for the presence of Taylor Stevens, talking with readers at her release events this week for THE CATCH, the fourth in the grimly satisfying suspense series that features Vanessa Michael Munroe -- better known simply as Munroe, for good reasons.

Lacking the Texas journey, I'll settle for re-reading THE CATCH. An advance copy arrived here a couple of months ago, and it was really hard to wait until the release month, so I gave in and devoured the book early ... and it's stayed with me ever since.

Munroe became an iconic character as of book 1 in the series, The Informationist. A multilingual expert in digesting information at a level that's of value to big corporations and syndicates, Munroe is also the product of an extremely abusive childhood, one that's given her good reason to prefer the anonymity of dressing like a slender young man, and made her -- for survival's sake -- highly proficient in martial arts and out-thinking very smart criminals and syndicates.

But books 2 and 3, The Innocent and The Doll, have further wounded, even crippled, Munroe emotionally, and at the opening of THE CATCH she's hiding in male guise, working for a small maritime security company in Djibouti, Africa, with a relatively simple commercial job to do. If she'd applied her brilliance to her own life -- granted, hard for any of us to do -- she might have realized the respite would be temporary. Events quickly overwhelm her best intentions, as her boss forces her into armed guard work on a ship bound for Kenya ... via the Somalian coast.

Following Taylor Stevens into the dark and violent menace of Somalian high-seas piracy is an exhilarating journey into today's "darkest Africa," where poverty and greed and vast chasms of opportunity create the ultimate criminal wonderland. Munroe's quick conclusion that a highjacking of the ship she's guarding isn't what it seems leads her to escape with a hostage, the ship's putative captain. But she's seriously wounded, unable to defend herself and her hostage with her usual skills, and even her quick linguistic gifts send her into increasing danger.

When Munroe finds an information broker who may be able to help her crack the multiple shells of criminal plans surrounding her ship's highjacking, she's inwardly elated but must stay in grim persona, driving a bargain for what she needs with this Somali hawaladar, broker of information and money:
"Not CIA?" he said.

She shook her head.

"What agency then?"

"None," she said. "Just an individual."

"With money to spare, and you speak my language."

She nodded.

"There's no way to guarantee you're telling the truth?"

"None," she said. "But I don't want anything from you that might incriminate you."

He shifted forward again, deeper against the desk than he had before, so that his face was closer to hers, his expression clouded with mistrust and accusation. "If there are no demands for ransom and the ship disappeared, where does your information come from? How do you know a ship was hijacked?"

"I was on it," she said. ... "If the hijacking was paid for by Somali money, then tell me nothing, return me half the money, and I'll be on my way. If it was foreign investment, then I only ask that you give me whatever rumors are passing through on the wind, and the payment is yours."
It's not that simple, of course, and Munroe's adaptations to being wounded and ill make her in some ways more like "the rest of us" for this adventure -- more vulnerable, more at risk, more dependent on friendship. Except ... her emotional wounds have cut her off from the very people she most trusts and needs, the ones who've worked with her and care about her, even if they don't always understand her. And in the midst of trying to stay alive and resolve the crimes and free up the people for whom she has taken responsibility, Munroe also needs to resolve her relationship with her past -- and future.

I'm grateful that I could stay in the cool green safety of the Vermont hills to read this one, even though I'd love to hear Stevens talk about her research in person (she often does so online; best bet is her Facebook feed, where she shares links to some of her appearances). Today's Somalian piracy and the intricacies of Muslim life in Africa also intrigue me, so I like finding them in THE CATCH. Most of all, though, it's Munroe I enjoy and want more of: a wounded superhero of a woman, caught up in international intrigue, struggling for breathing space and for the capacity to trust.

Australian Noir Gets Complicated: HELL TO PAY, Garry Disher

Garry Disher's mysteries have come in two basic flavors: crime with a dash of satisfaction in the investigation (try his Hall Challis/Ellen Destry series), and crime from the point of view of sociopaths who make it their lifestyle -- and then find themselves puzzling out some humanity around the edges (that's the Wyatt series). I'd be willing to call them bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened dark.

But with HELL TO PAY, Disher begins what looks like a new series from Soho Crime, featuring Constable Paul Hirschhausen, known to himself and others as Hirsch. The stakes are far different, and the emotions more complex, as Hirsch buckles down to his new assignment as a local constable in a stretch of barren back-country, on the Barrier Highway, under the thumb of the malevolent Sergeant Kropp, his superior officer. Everything appears bitter and painful as the book opens (especially the situation with Kropp and his associated bullies). And it gets worse, as Hirsch's own past becomes clear: He's in disgrace, assumed to have been the whistle-blower who informed on his own "boys in blue" allies in the metropolis of Adelaide, Australia.

That's the reason Hirsch is isolated, despised, tormented by the local police and by Sergeant Kropp: no loyalty to his own kind.

So when Kropp sends Hirsch to respond to a report of "shots fired," Kropp's tone is nasty from the start, even though the call is probably related to some sheep farmers taking pot shots at rabbits or something similar: "No dropkicks on my watch, and no smartarses," Kropp warns Hirsch. An air of unease out at "the scene" turns dangerous as shots fly at Hirsch himself, nearly killing him. But nothing's as it seems -- not the shooters, or their reasoning. And almost before this opening foray into back-country life has resolved, Hirsh is on call again from Kropp, for a body next to the road, possibly from a hit-and-run. When he finds the body, all his instincts and experience go on alert.
So he ran crime scene tape around the area and sat down to wait.

Late afternoon before the accident investigators arrived. Hirsch wanted to hang around, he wanted to propose his theories, but they ignored him, two men and one woman conscious of the dwindling light, the sun smearing itself across the horizon, long shadows playing visual tricks. They took their phtos measured distances, crouched and poked and grid-searched and marked up their diagrams.

"You're blocking the light," the female offices said, her tone indicating she knew exactly who Hirsch was.
His reputation means his efforts are consistently misread, but Hirsch soon has reason to probe this death of a 16-year-old girl more deeply.  Like everything else Hirsch connects with, this isn't what is seems, and his efforts to uncover the truth put him repeatedly into danger, both physical and at the level of soul and self-esteem, as word spreads of who Hirsch is and what he's done in the past.

All of that spells darkness, "Australian noir," and Disher makes us work for insights into Hirsch's character: not a man defend himself fruitlessly, or to lay his grief and fears out in public. But unlike Disher's iconic character Wyatt, Hirsch is readily touched by the pathos and stress of the communities and families around him -- their confusion and sorrow and anger harmonize with his own -- and small details in the way he treats people and the way, despite himself, he falls under the back-country spell of sere beauty win us to his side.

Disher makes a feast out of this layered complexity where personal reserve and the careful distance of career policing mean that the heart is often silenced. There's no gratuitous gore here, no horror show -- but plenty of insight into simple and more intentional evils, and into what it takes to bring goodness back into the light, among those long twisted shadows.

I'm already hungry for the next "Hirsch" book from Disher. I can even let go of the other two series for a while, to fall in with the power and potential redemption ahead in this (presumed) series.

If you're collecting Disher already, buying HELL TO PAY is an easy decision; if you're new to this author, HELL TO PAY is probably his most accessible and rewarding book yet, and a great place to start getting to know his work.

PS: Disher's author site often isn't up to date, but it's still of interest, with extra tidbits giving insight into this well-established author: http://www.garrydisher.com.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Worth the Wait: MURDERED SLEEP, A Dade Wyatt Mystery, R. A. Harold

R. A. (Roberta, a.k.a. Robbie) Harold's first Dade Wyatt mystery, set on Vermont's Lake Champlain, came out to great reviews in 2010 -- and it's been a long wait for the second book (life can get in the way of writing). But I settled in with her new release, MURDERED SLEEP, over the past week, and found a lot to enjoy in this 1906 political and historical mystery in the days of the "first" President Roosevelt ... Teddy Roosevelt, a heroic figure for his leadership in the decisive Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, when Dade Wyatt followed him.

Now Wyatt's living a quieter life, but performing with a Shakespearean troupe brings him to President Roosevelt's own city, Washington, DC. Harold has deliberately positioned the story in what she says is the decade that best fits the Rayford W. Logan label "the nadir of American race relations." She uses the plight of Black Americans -- their vote taken away from them, lynchings routine, and even unable even to go to the theater in DC where Wyatt performs -- as a backdrop to ramp up the tension among her potential villains. And in true Shakespearean fashion, there are plenty of choices.

Wyatt's past experience in keeping a political disaster from exploding is why his old friend Congressman Dodge summons him to investigate the death of a legislator who's been trying -- without much diplomacy -- to improve living conditions for African Americans in the District. Is it Congressman Nielsen's verbal assault on a colleague that's brought his murder? What other stakes are there? Money? Power? Women??
Judas. Wyatt was struck by the comparison. Usually you thought of him as the betrayer, the false friend, but in that gospel passage Judas was the purist, the zealot offended by money spent on luxury instead of ministry. That sounded like Robert Nielsen. Or was there someone, some cause, that Nielsen had betrayed -- or threatened to betray? His wounds -- some had not bled, made after he was already dead -- suggested some extraordinary eruption of emotion.
Wyatt's in no position to be critical of any peccadilloes he may find as he investigates. He's having a back-stage affair with a married actress. Nor is he immune to American racism, as he discovers to him shame.

Harold's portrait of this little-discussed segment of American history is a pleasure to read, smooth and well paced. Readers won't spend many pages in fear or suspense -- the tale is more mellow, and the stakes for Wyatt are personal and mostly private, not life-and-death. But the clever insertions of bits Shakespearean metaphors, clever details of stage life (Harold has been both performer and playwright), and tidbits from Alice in Wonderland add to the enjoyment of a class historical mystery that provokes fresh insight about American heritage, as well as human honor.

Worth the wait! Thanks, Robbie Harold, for taking another book to press. Catch up with Harold's career through assorted online tracks, but not an author website at this point ... still, there's a hint of book 3 in the wings, with a Civil War widow at center stage. I'll let  you know when the author shares more details. Meanwhile, to check out the first Wyatt book, click here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Speaking of Independence ... Hattie Davish Turns Sleuth in Victorian Newport, Rhode Island

Anna Loan-Wilsey's third Hattie Davish mystery is in print! A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT follows A Lack of Temperance and Anything But Civil, and we connect with Hattie in her role as a "social secretary" in the town where so many wealthy American families established "cottages" the size of mansions, and mansions the size of housing developments. Hattie wears her role in town with independence yet some unease: She's accustomed to being treated with appreciation and dignity by her employer, but when Sir Arthur abruptly must leave the summer resort, trusting Hattie to complete typing his manuscript and then take some well-deserved vacation (for her first time ever), Sir Arthur's less kindly wife turns the tables on Hattie, shopping her out as an upper-level servant to the extremely wealthy Mrs. Charlotte Mayhew. Scratch the vacation. Forget being held in esteem. Suddenly Hattie's hard-won independent lifestyle is gone, and Lady Phillippa has the power to enforce the change.

"Yes, spoiled," Lady Phillippa asserts of how Hattie has treated Sir Arthur's writing career. She continues, "Why else do you think he hired you back after that fiasco in Arkansas? ... And you're lucky he did too or your reputation would've been sullied by the scandal. And then again in Galena? What kind of ill luck do you have, girl? Obviously, Mrs. Mayhew knows nothing about your dealings with the murders and we're going to keep it that way, right?"

And that's the stick: Lady Phillippa can ruin Hattie's reputation and toss her out if she so chooses, so Hattie takes the new (if demeaning) assignment. But it's not ill luck that brings Hattie into murder investigations: It's her capable intelligence and calm trustworthiness, and soon she's applying her investigative skills on behalf of her new employer, Mrs. Mayhew, with another murder investigation underway.

Loan-Wilsey is a gifted storyteller and careful historian (her background before writing involved being a librarian and information specialist), and in A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT she provides a rattling good traditional "amateur detective" mystery with a wonderfully authentic set of "women's issues" from the years not so long ago when women couldn't even cast their votes. Softer in tone than the war-era mysteries of Jacqueline Winspear, Loan-Wilsey's series shows the same adept ear for dialogue and dilemma, with a plenty of adventure and an American sense of justice. A very good series to collect and enjoy, especially for summer reading!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Brief Mentions: Alan Furst, Åsa Larsson, Joelle Charbonneau

Summer schedules can be downright challenging, but the graduations, birthday, and family weddings are over for now, and I have a great stack of mysteries that kept me calm on the inside while dancing through June's gentle chaos. Reviews will roll ...

But here are three titles I won't be reviewing at length this time:

1. Alan Furst, MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE. Furst's pre-World-War-II noir brings Europe in its potent darkness alive, and although technically his books are mysteries (thrillers), they separate from the crowd in two ways: First, we know the upcoming world events that will  follow the action of each book (war will break out, yeah), so the suspense resides in the smaller, personal details of lives and goodness at risk. This time the protagonist is Christián Ferrar, whose efforts in the Spanish Civil War threaten to give him the ultimate reward, as in, "No good deed goes unpunished." (I was eager to get more details of the Spanish Civil War myself ... I'd always been a bit fuzzy about it.) Second, Furst writes with the lush deliberation of a deep literary novel. The drawback for MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE is that this leads to an ending that's hesitant, sweet, but also distant from the press of the plot. Consider it a tease, perhaps, for the sequels we know are en route. Note: Furst's "sequels" are not a series in the traditional sense -- some characters occur in multiple books, but there is no need to read his others before opening up MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE. And yet ... I want each of them on my shelf.

2. Reading Scandinavian noir? You may still not know the name Åsa Larsson; she isn't at the top of the PR lists. But oh my, her books have gripped me this summer. I'm catching up -- I read Sun Storm and The Blood Spilt, and devoured The Black Path, then cruised into the most recent, Until Thy Wrath Be Past. I'm fully committed to the protagonist, lawyer and crime victim and now dogged sleuth Rebecka Martinsson. The fifth book comes to the United States in August, and I've pre-ordered my copy of The Second Deadly Sin. Most intriguing aspect (besides the character of Martinsson): discovering Swedish prejudices and ethnic groups. Mmm.

3. Joelle Charbonneau's widely awaited final book in her YA dystopian series "The Testing" is here -- GRADUATION DAY. It's a fitting finale to Malecia "Cia" Vale's investigation of the powers running her post-apocalyptic world, and distinguishes the series emphatically from its "older sister" in "The Hunger Games." I wasn't entirely happy with the percent of the book that takes place through Cia's thoughts, present tense, but I think that's more a personal taste -- and I suspect the frame is on target for many "young adult" readers who live in the intense present themselves. No major issues of sex or religion in this series -- it's all about power, personal and governmental. Cia is a reluctant leader, but once she accepts the role, the action is nonstop. More about the books at the author website: http://www.joellecharbonneau.com

Henry Chang, DEATH MONEY: NYC Chinatown Series, Jack Yu

Henry Chang's Chinatown series, set mostly in New York City's Chinatown, is maturing and becoming very strong indeed. In the fourth Detective Jack Yu investigation, DEATH MONEY, Chang keeps the action focused in New York's five boroughs -- and if that seems larger than you're picturing the Chinatown influence, think again. Chang paints vividly the action of the 1990s, with its self-help and legal defense movements on one side, the dark criminality of gambling and prostitution and bribery on the other, and Jack Yu as token Chinese police detective, sent to deal with any Asian deaths that look suspicious. (The book's time period gives Chang space from his own life and from his sources, who sometimes were on the "dark side" thirty years ago but are aging retirees now.)

This time, Yu pairs the evidence, including a corpse in the river -- neatly executed with a precise cut to the heart -- with his own understanding of how the Chinese groups rub against each other and raise big money from people's urges to play, whether with numbers or games or sex. I especially appreciate the way Yu's perceptions highlight the separate factions among "the Chinese": immigrants from parts of "one country" that might as well be multiple nations, with different dialects, habits, expectations. I'm starting to tune in to my own time and place, asking, "Chinese from where?" when I meet someone new.

Chang takes a classic noir approach to his form, posing short, tight chapters that follow through on one of Jack Yu's actions or guesses. Action, threat, and the wages of curiosity push the pace. And then there's a breath, a pause, and Chang deepens the background detail, the way Yu sees the crowd at the notorious nightclub Fay Lo's:
The betting was moderate, mostly Chinese men chain-smoking around the tables. They looked like the workers he'd seen in the Golden City and China Village and in Chinatown, throwing down their tip money, the hustle pay of sweaty dollar bills, looking for the long odds -- twenty, thirty, a hundred to one.

The gang boys stood out from the civilian players. ... Swagger. Willing to fight and die for the gang family. Though it all aided law enforcement in identifying members by their gang tats and nicknames.
Yu's usual Chinese companion (on the other side, but able to keep their friendship) is still in a coma, so DEATH MONEY sees Yu tackle his assignment alone, barely accepted among the police, and taking a stand against people who connections make them powerful and strong. His only chance is to cut one out of the crowd at a time, and force the play.

Chang is clearly set for a long series at this point, well beyond the Chinatown trilogy he started with. That's good news for mystery readers, collectors, and armchair explorers alike. Oh yes, it's from Soho Crime -- thanks again, S.C. team!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Reading: Intense Mysteries from Established Authors

Here are some terrific releases for this summer, to put into the beach bag or suitcase.

David Downing, JACK OF SPIES. First in a new series, espionage and an unforgettable protagonist, Jack McColl, in the threatening season as the Great War becomes inevitable. Reviewed already: http://kingdombks.blogspot.com/2014/05/world-war-i-espionage-from-david.html ... Full set of Downing reviews, here.http://kingdombks.blogspot.com/search?q=David+downing

Henry Chang, DEATH MONEY. Fourth in the Jack Yu series, set in Chinatown, best yet. Review over the weekend, if I can make time. Missed out on the earlier ones? Reviews here.

Garry Disher, HELL TO PAY. Let's hope this is the start of a new series .... yes, it's that good. Review to follow soon. If you haven't yet read Disher's Australian police procedurals and very dark crime fiction, here's a great place to start. We keep mentioning Disher and Dave and I fight (gently) over who gets which ones first; see why, here.

Anna Loan-Wilsey, A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT. Third in the Hattie Davish historical mysteries, well plotted and paced, again showing that this author can take her material outside the soft "historical" stereotype with her assertive and intriguing sleuth. June 24 pub date, review soon. Loan-Wilsey's first book was amazing: review for that one, here.

Taylor Stevens, THE CATCH. Exceeds even the high bar already set by Stevens for the androgenous and tough Vanessa Munroe, in another global thriller. July 15 pub date; review in early July. I wait all year for the next one, on edge (really). See why, here.

Julia Keller SUMMER OF THE DEAD. West Virginia, third to feature prosecutor Bell Elkins, full of action, suspense, and bitter questions. Pub date is August, and review will run sooner, as it's worth pre-ordering (and lucky you, if you can attend an author event). Get ready with a look at her earlier work here.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Murder and Adventure in the Northwest: SCENE OF THE CLIMB, Kate Dyer-Seeley

Here's a chance to jump into a well-written and adventurous mystery series right at the start, with the first book in Kate Dyer-Seeley's Pacific Northwest Mysteries. SCENE OF THE CLIMB offers an amateur sleuth in the great tradition of nosy journalists -- and protagonist Meg Reed not only has a nose for the wicked and dangerous, but also has the skills to write good copy for the outdoor magazine that's just hired her, in part on the basis of her late father's reputation as an amazing reporter (if also a weirdo near the end of his life). Too bad Meg doesn't have the rugged outdoor skills to go with her adrenaline-drenched assignments -- especially when she's climbing her first rugged mountain and a man's body drops past her, crashing with definite killing effect onto the rocks below.

Dyer-Seeley's website, http://www.katedyerseeley.com, describes her as a writer of "cozy mysteries." This book gives a prime example of why the label doesn't work well: True, there are few descriptions of gore, Meg's not mired in alcoholism or despair, and she's as clueless about the terrain of murder as she is about breaking in a pair of climbing boots before putting miles onto them in tender feet. But this is far from a tea-and-cats mystery; it's action and investigation and well-written dialogue. Of course, there has to be an explanation for each amateur sleuth's decision to leap past her or his normal sensible boundaries, and here is Meg's:
Matt maneuvered the truck in the direction of Angel's Rest. I filled him in on the events of last night.

When I finished, he shifted around a corner and gave me a wary look. "Jesus, Megs, this is getting serious. But why go back? I don't get it."

"I want to see if there's anything on the trails. It's not raining. Maybe we can make our way to the deer trail? Maybe I can figure out what the missing photo is. Andrew had to have left a clue somewhere." ...

Matt said, shifting once again, slowing, "You're playing with fire here. I think it's time to call the sheriff."

"I did. I left him a message this morning. You don't understand." I hated the pleading tone in my voice. "I have to find real evidence. I know it's Andrew. I have to prove it."
Meg's cute and smart, and flirtation definitely raises its head -- but that doesn't distract from the pace or Meg's independence and sharp learning curve. And that's another reason the label "cozy" doesn't quite match here -- this is not a mystery twining around a romance, but rather a plucky chase after clues, motives, and risk.

One more reason I'm suggesting picking up this book now, while the series is new and people don't know about it too much (outside of Vancouver, Washington, where Kate Dyer-Seeley lives): Although the book isn't digging into life's deep issues as Louise Penny's very different (and also NOT cozy) series does, there's an aspect of Dyer-Seeley's plotting that pushes SCENE OF THE CLIMB toward what Penny does: Underneath the quick and well-paced action is a dark secret of Meg's past that's hinted at, but not actually confirmed until the finale of the book -- so it's clear the series has a double arc of plot that's going to take us to an even riskier, more wicked flow of events.

I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Community Mystery, Amateur Sleuth: 'TIL DIRT DO US PART, Edith Maxwell

Summer reading -- what a great season to indulge in mysteries that balance plot and character and an intense sense of location ... in this case, Massachusetts, not far from the coast. Hmm, that puts me in a summer vacation mood, just thinking about it! Skip the traffic jams by heading out early with your own selection of books for the beach or the mountain cabin. Here's another good one:

In the second of her "Local Foods Mystery" series, Edith Maxwell proves she's on for the long haul -- writing mysteries that tap into her own New England vegetable gardening "roots," and her tech systems know-how. But most of all, Maxwell works from on two well-polished strengths: a fine sense of how to pace the plot of a traditional mystery, and an Agatha Christie-like understanding of how people come to threaten and sometimes actually do bad things.

Market gardener Cam Flaherty kept her mostly organic farm on target through Maxwell's first in the series, A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. At the opening of 'TIL DIRT DO US PART, she's hosting a dinner to celebrate the achievements of her first farm season. A pair of long tables with white cloths on them, a menu of local tasty offerings,  a professional chef preparing the dishes -- even this is one of Cam's great results, as Jake, the chef, is her current flame and clearly appreciates her.

But there's trouble afoot on the first page, as wealthy and irritable customer Irene Burr challenges Cam and then proves she can get into an argument with almost anyone at the dinner, from her own son to a local hog farmer. By the end of the first chapter, Irene's clearly in hot water of her own making. Even the energetic young woman mechanic attending the dinner on the arm of carpenter Bobby Burr -- Irene's son, and another of Cam's flirtable interests -- seems caught up in the whirlwind of nastiness that Irene creates. Cam witnsesses this final flurry:
"Listen, Mrs. Burr." Sim's voice boiled. ... "Your Jaguar runs like a real wildcat, and it's all my doing."

"You're not a Jaguar-trained technician is my only point." Irene raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms. ...

"It's an engine. A foreign engine. I speak its language. That's all I need to know. Oh, and by the way? Ever hear of computers? Anything I don't know, I have at my fingertips." Sim planted her feet in a wide stance and folded her arms. "If you don't like my work, feel free to drive twenty miles down to the dealership and let them take your money."

Bobby pulled at Sim's sleeve. "We gotta run. Good night, everybody."

Irene nodded and turned away. Sim stared after Irene. Her face was so red, Cam thought she could see flames coming from her ears.

"I'm going to get her, one way or the other," Sim muttered.

As Wes walked by, he snorted. "Take a number, honey."
So it's not really a surprise when the next chapter reveals Irene's been killed. (I won't say how; it could put you off your breakfast.) As police attention veers from one of Cam's customers to the next and the next, Cam can't help trying to find out the truth: If everyone had a reason to dislike Irene Burr, was there one person with "means, opportunity, and motive" to invoke the worst reaction?

Of course, trying to solve a crime while keeping a fragile community-centered business going and while trying to sort out one's love life gets complicated quickly. Especially when the police interest in Cam appears to turn personal (triple complicated!). And threats multiply. Cam's got to solve the case or risk everything.

Maxwell's clever blend of farm and garden knowledge with crisp scene-after-scene pacing makes a great update to the classic village mystery style. Her deft portraits of community members like Irene and Alexandra, Cam's most particular customer, remind me of the reason village mysteries have always appealed: We love the insight and the revelation that a thoughtful person, well motivated, can bring to her community. Count on Maxwell to continue the series, too; even if Cam solves this murder, she's sure to have threads still dangling from her life as a single woman with her own creative labor and the energy of her relationships.

Speaking of Cam's relationships -- Maxwell adds at the end of the book a pair of recipes from Chef Jake's exquisite preparation of Cam's veggies. What else is heating up besides dinner? Cam needs to make some decisions!

Check in with Edith Maxwell at her author website, http://www.edithmaxwell.com, where the events schedule shows she won't be tied down to her own garden too much this summer -- hope you can make it to one of these, to ask her how she balances writing with all the rest!