Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Summer Mystery, Clever and Cute Debut, LIVE AND LET CHAI by Bree Baker

Two cover images for this new mystery.

Debut author Bree Baker set up her dandy summer mystery, LIVE AND LET CHAI, with plenty of secrets to explore! Everly Swan's return to her seaside hometown of Charm (off the North Carolina coast, but way more rustic than Hilton Head) looks like a new chapter in her life, which just had a rough patch with a collapsed relationship. Here she is, though, in her own home at the beach, with enough room to open up the sweet tea and lunch shop she's dreamed of, and her doting aunts (who raised her) close enough to give her a hand; oh, but what's the story on her own parents, and the Swan family curse? Hold that thought.

Before she's even reached her grand opening, she's got trouble -- an elderly town council member who's tried to block her business is murdered and there's no doubt the poison reached him via a take-out glass of Everly's own peach tea. Rumors run rampant, and customers not only won't come indulge, they're downright hostile. So, initially, is the town's new police officer, whose hunky body and wounded heart appeal to Everly -- but not so much, while he's questioning her:
"I'd like a list of anyone else who you believe might have a reason to harm Mr. Paine."

"Anyone else? Like, besides me?" I scoffed. "I just told you I couldn't have killed Mr. Paine. It's illogical and mean."

"And you're always what?" he asked. "Reasonable and kind?"

"I try to be," I admitted. Though buying a fixer-upper home on a whim and arguing with an old man didn't support either notion. ....

Eventually, I turned to the notepad and began to recount the events of my evening, logging them as neatly as I could with shaking hands, the memories as vivid and visceral as if I were reliving each awful one.
It's soon clear that the only way Everly can retrieve her business, her role in the community, and even her own safety will be to speed up the discovery of the real criminal. Of course, that means interfering in police business a bit. And rubbing some people the wrong way. Sigh. Thank goodness, she'd got supportive friends and family, because things will be tough until the murderer comes to justice.

No signs here that Baker, who lives in the Midwest, is a novice -- this is a tightly paced, well put together mystery with just the right balance of suspense and sweet tea. Although it's a an amateur sleuth mystery in the cozy area, the possibility of romance never distracts from the clues and their pursuit, and Everly is a plucky and smart young woman determined to do whatever it takes to put her life back together. Even if that means she'll have to reveal a little of her own past disappointments, not to mention her family's so-called curse -- all of which looks full of material for future books in this "Seaside Café Mystery" series.

From Sourcebooks, new for July and perfect for the summer reading stack. By the way, the author's already a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Romance Writers of America, good confirmation for her own determination and her mystery skills!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Betrayal and Pain (and Crime) Between Friends, HER PRETTY FACE by Robyn Harding

Sharp, insightful, and edgy, HER PRETTY FACE from Robyn Harding takes this author, already known for her women's fiction, into crime from a new angle: What happens to the people who survive a terrible assault and who've had a role in it -- but aren't kept in prison forever? Could one of them turn up in your life, like the dark side of a WITSEC twist?

It's easy to sympathize with Frances Metcalfe. Other than her rock-solid marriage, her life is loaded with problems: a son with emotional issues who's having trouble surfing the nasty currents of an upscale private school, her own inability to look like a mom at that kind of school should, and feeling the sting of cliques -- not just for herself but for her much-loved and rather naive son.

So it looks like an amazing gift in Frances's life when gorgeous, wealthy, and, let's face it, sexy Kate Randolph steps forward to defend her, and her son. Not only is Kate willing to stand up for them, she's happy to be a real friend for Frances, the kind who wants to go out for lunch, have a couples night with a kids' sleepover, and more.

But as Harding unfolds the story of the two women and their families, she also provides peeks into a long-ago crime, one that featured abuse and murder, and we're reading the words of someone not quite identified, who's linked to that crime. What's the connection to Kate and Frances? As it all unfolds, the tension ramps high, providing an intense page-turner.

My lone quibble with HER PRETTY FACE is the person who pays the highest price as the plot spirals -- Harding's choice detracts from the painful darkness that a book like this one usually evokes. Then again, for many readers, that will be a plus: not having to cover your eyes or double check that the door is locked, or weep for someone's irreversible damage. But it comes close ... and it's not until the final twists that any assurance can come from this tangle of secrets and suspense.

From Scout Press, a Simon & Schuster imprint. Release date July 10.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

New in John Straley's Great Alaskan Crime Fiction Series, BABY'S FIRST FELONY -- and More

It's always great when a new Cecil Younger investigation comes out from Alaskan author John Straley -- the series has been one of the slower type, without the annual push to publish that many others have. No problem: Each one's been worth the wait, and BABY'S FIRST FELONY is a great summer read. Plus, there's more exciting news -- see the end paragraphs for details.

First, what's Cecil Younger up to? He's a criminal defense investigator, and a big part of his job is coaching clueless felons on how to behave in and around court (like, Don't come to court in shoes you stole ... really ... see a lively Straley interview here). Let's quickly add that not all the criminals are totally stupid; plenty are smart enough to make a profit somehow from their crimes. But as Straley advises, "Reality is always, always more complicated than our ability to plan for it."

And that's the situation for Cecil Younger as this book opens -- a habitual offender already known to him turns up as a client again, and when Sherrie asks him to track down the evidence she's sure will get her through court and out of jail, Cecil of course agrees. The complication is, once he starts poking into the drug and prostitution stuff where Sherrie's been hanging, he finds his own teenage daughter, naive and rebellious, showing up in the same house. Getting her home again takes all he's got (although he picks up the evidence along the way). But his daughter's now a known lever to use against him, and when she gets kidnapped, he's facing major pressure to commit crimes himself -- not just the kind on paper that most anyone might -- and even so, his daughter's life and his marriage are majorly at risk. Here's his wife confronting him:
"Our daughter is missing. You disappear and give me no information where you f*ing disapper to, and then you turn up drunk? Unbelievable. ... The police won't answer my calls. Her friends are frantically trying to find her. Todd is walking around town and just calling her name as if she were a lost dog ... and where the hell are you?" Jane Marie's voice was leaden and accusatory.

"I'm going to a card game to get her back," I said ... or at least I think I said. What was certain was Jane Marie threw a dry shirt at me and held out a clean denim jacket. She jammed some loose bills into the jacket pocket and started punching me.

"Get out of my house." She was shrill now. "Get out and don't come back. Go."

I may have fallen down the staircase because I was bleeding when I veered out into Katlian Street in the rain.
Cecil's got a lot more pain in front of him, and more disastrous choices -- all of which he's pretty much forced into. (See whether you can figure any way he could have avoided them.)

Straley admits he pushed the plot to display a wide range of disasters that come from breaking your own hard-learned rules for life. He should know -- he's now retired from nearly 30 years as a criminal defense investigator himself. I sure do hope that means there will be more books from him, a tad more often. But I'll wait as long as necessary.

Now, the big good news as a plus to all this: Soho Crime (imprint of Soho Press) just brought out softcover versions of four earlier Cecil Younger investigations! Pester your local bookseller to stock them all (tell them to go directly to Paul Oliver, a VP at the press, e-mail poliver@sohopress.com). Summer reading stack? If you can stretch them out some, you might get all the way into autumn.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.