Sunday, September 15, 2019

Guest Reviews by MADonnelly: MYSTERIES by Isabella Maldonado, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Becky Clark. A. J. Mackenzie, Kirsten Weiss, Antti Tuomainen

MADonnelly is a published poet, a Vermonter, a good friend. As guest reviewer on this blog, she brings a hint of Irish delight to the space. And you know what the Irish say: May your home always be too small to hold all your friends. The same applies to a good review blog. Thanks for these pithy takes on six mysteries, Friend!

DEATH BLOW by Isabella Maldonado (A Veranda Cruz mystery, Midnight Ink)

If you like tough cop heroines and  chilling, gruesome hit jobs, this one’s for you.  Add a savagely cruel Mexican drug smuggling cartel, a violent family history, and fast paced, tense police work and you’re in for a wild ride.  The author, with over 20 years in law enforcement, joins intimate knowledge of criminality and  police procedures with considerable writing skills and  a gift for  creating some psychologically complex characters.   Occasionally some tender heartedness, devotion  or cop loyalty shine through rough exteriors to relieve the horrors and appear at the right time.

TRAP by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, trans. Quentin Bates (Orenda Books)

As if trying to get custody of her son away from an abusive and criminal husband weren’t enough, Sonja herself is part of an international drug smuggling operation and in an on-again off-again lesbian relationship with a money laundering cocaine addict.  As she realizes the connections between the  banking and  drug plots, she finds herself being drawn in deeper and deeper. The more she desperately wants to get out and live a normal life with her son, the more she finds herself with a target on her back and unable to extricate herself from the increasing corruption, danger and threats. (Note the translator, who's an Icelandic noir author himself.)

FOUL PLAY ON WORDS by Becky Clark (Midnight Ink)
Witty, self deprecating  and somewhat neurotic mystery writer Charlemagne Russo arrives in Portland  for a mystery writer’s conference thinking all she has to do is give a keynote speech, catch up with her best friend and fly home to her boyfriend.  Instead  she immediately discovers that she is in charge of the conference with no help, her friend’s daughter has been kidnapped and the conference hotel has  been double booked with a dog show. Her friend has told her to focus on the conference  but Charlee can’t let the kidnapping go.  She must find the daughter. Motive? Financial insolvency? drug addiction? family secrets? illicit romance?  Everything’s possible  with lots of barking dogs,  rendezvous in dark passageways under the hotel, suspicious looks and cryptic remarks by staff and attendees.  The  ransom, possible multiple murders and conference deadlines  are all looming.  A  frantic, comic tale.

THE BODY IN THE BOAT by A. J. Mackenzie (Hardcastle & Chaytor Mystery, Zaffre)

There are a number and variety of strong female characters in this mystery. Particularly astute and principled is Mrs. Chaytor, who with her close friend Reverend Hardcastle  have  not only multiple murders to solve  but  troubled parishioners and refugees to tend to.  They do so with fierce intelligence and relentlessness, while struggling with their own personal sorrows and demons..     
    Romney Marsh in Georgian England during a war with the French,  is the rough, gloomy setting for this story and   its smuggling and banking worlds — and the sinister ways they are connected. Mrs. Chaytor and the Reverend, with the help of a couple of the smugglers (there are both”good” and “ very bad” smugglers) keep going over  every angle and all take pretty daring risks to uncover the chain of complicated events, the slippery perpetrators, the mysterious contrabands.

CHOCOLATE À LA MURDER by Kirsten Weiss (Midnight Ink)

  A Ghost Detecting resident cat  (named G.D.) and  a haunted Mexican molilnolo ( a stick for stirring chocolate) are just what you might expect in a “Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum”.  But a  dead chocolatier, found covered in chocolate,  is probably not your  typical murder victim.  Museum owner Maddie Kosloski, a self appointed amateur detective wants desperately to solve the crime. She goes about it steadfastly and with wacky humor, much to the annoyance of friends, family, and the local police. There’s not as much assistance or interference from the paranormal as the name of the museum suggests, but Maddie does well without it.
  And maybe the chocolate shop, billing itself as  producing the most high end best chocolate ever, (“ hand crafted, ethically sourced, organically grown ingredients”) is not all it’s cracked up to be.

PALM BEACH FINLAND by Antti Tuomainen (Orenda Books)

Here’s a mystery that starts with a murder and the reader knows right away who did it, how and why. The real entertainment , sustained, deepened and embellished beautifully and sometimes hysterically, is in how the assortment of characters figure it out, react, compromise, diabolically pursue, bungle, cover up. There are big themes too: Life’s dreams and plans, failure, greed, friendship, revenge, brutality, love - and the ridiculous.  The author focuses masterfully on the characters’ eccentricities and inner lives.  Psychological complexity, wild humor, romance-  it’s a rich mix in the new, garish, plastic-palm-trees-and -all   Palm Beach Finland resort, “the hottest beach in Finland.”

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

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