Sunday, June 21, 2020

Murder in the Hamptons: Carrie Doyle's Series Goes Mass Market This Summer

Good news: Carrie Doyle's mystery series set in the Hamptons (at the far end of New York's Long Island) has hit the reprint jackpot and is being reissued this summer by Poisoned Pen Press, now a mystery imprint of Sourcebooks. Bad news: Someone put a really silly cover onto the reprint of DEATH ON WINDMILL WAY (the first of the series). Good news: We all know how to ignore a cover -- and in this case, there's a good mystery inside the book. Bad news: The title sounds like this is set in either a Dutch holiday resort, or a suburb that's named the roads in its developments using too large a committee. Good news: This is actually an innkeeper mystery with a lot of pizzazz.

DEATH ON WINDMILL WAY opens with a sneaky prologue that ensures reader awareness of a malicious murderer causing a death at the inn. Then it leaps to the point of view, maintained for the rest of the books, of innkeeper Antonia Bingham. New to inn ownership and to the conundrum of Hamptons life -- the feel of a village among the year-rounders, but also acute dependence on the multimillionaires owning property in the beach-based Nirvana, and on heedless tourists -- Antonia has a lot to master: meal and snack prep that lives up to the high-end expectations of the resort area (she's a "foodie" so that's natural to her), flawless management of staff and premises (she has high expectations of herself), and of course a personal life that's sure to flip back and forth from romantic hope to business despair.

So the last thing she needs is to learn a rumor that owners of her newly purchased premises, the Windmill Inn, are fated to die under suspicious circumstances. Sharpening the discomfort is the news that her predecessor may indeed (as readers of course already know) have been murdered. "Before she had heard the suspicious deaths rumor, she had been fine. In fact, she had been sleeping in this inn for six months and never felt frightened. She wasn't a scaredy-cat ... She was the boss! ... She would not succumb to hysteria."

Doyle's writing is generally plot related, with plenty of Antonia's inner view of events and stresses. But this description she provides of the village around the inn sets the outdoor scene nicely:
East Hampton, renowned for its award-winning beaches, picturesque villages, and the ethereal light that had inspired some of the greatest American painters, is nestled on the top of Long Island's south shore, bordered by the Atlantic on one side and various bays on the other. Everything about the town is profoundly quaint: from the acres of farmland bursting with abundant crops to the shaded streets lined with windmills, shingled houses, and churches.
Then there are the characters from whom Antonia tries to pull details, including Naomi, who sold the inn to her:
"The official cause of death [for Gordon, the previous owner] was ... a heart attack," she said at last, glaring at Barbie, who still wouldn't meet her eye.

Antonia felt her heart race. "What was the unofficial cause of death?"

Naomi finally glanced in Antonia's direction. She gave a small smile, her lips curling enough so that her thin top lip disappeared into the bottom. The look reminded Antonia of a defiant child forced to lie to a teacher.

"Heart attack," Naomi repeated before adding, "but I'd bet my bottom dollar that this tramp here figured out a way to cause it."...

Antonia kept her eyes on Naomi. "Why didn't you tell the police if you suspected it?" asked Antonia.

Naomi rolled her eyes. "I wanted to make sure I could sell the inn. No one would have bought this place if they thought Gordon was murdered."
Antonia's friend Genevieve, who'd invited her East to buy the place, thinks the amateur detective role suits this new innkeeper to the max: "You're kind of nosy," she points out. "I mean, didn't your parents nickname you Snoopy because you were always snooping around?"

But the motive for the killings — yes, they multiply — begins to also threaten Antonia as she gets closer to understanding what's taken place. There's an inheritance at stake, for instance, as well as bad blood among previous employees of her inn.

Gutsy in a determined fashion, and creative in staging a situation to unravel the crimes, Antonia is a nice addition to modern amateur sleuths. And in spite of her relief at the end of the book ("glad to be officially out of the crime-solving business"), Poisoned Pen Press has two more in the series ready for this summer (amazing! three books in one summer! a treat for this who get frustrated with the slow pace of a series), and Carrie Doyle's fourth in her Hamptons murder mysteries will publish in 2021.

Just remember: Ignore the cover. Ignore the title. Go for the fun of an easy-read mystery in a charming setting. That's what summer (in the Hamptons or anyplace else) is meant for.

Note for mystery collectors: You could set up a nifty shelf of Hamptons mysteries, now that Doyle is adding so many. For instance, there James Patterson's The Beach House, Twanged from Carol Higgins Clark, even an R. L. Stine trio called The Sitter.
PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.   

Monday, June 01, 2020

Space Force Military Thriller from Dale Brown, EAGLE STATION

“The suspense of Eagle Station lies in how each detailed flight maneuver in air or space will turn out, and who’ll walk away with few enough injuries to survive—and return to Earth with enough air and fuel to complete the trip.”

Dale Brown’s Patrick McLanahan series of military thrillers developed a second generation a few years ago, and Eagle Station is the sixth book featuring Patrick’s son Brad McLanahan. It’s good to know that these protagonists will survive for more books in the series, if possible, as military expeditions and necessary sacrifices multiply.

In Eagle Station, the United States is engaged in an undeclared but very real war with Russia and China, for dominance of the air globally and of the nearer regions of space. The author is a former U.S. Air Force captain, and the first few chapters are nonstop equipment narratives. (There’s even a a glossary of weapons and acronyms at the back of the book, for readers who love the Air Force and Space Force related details.)

Although the U.S. military, including Brad McLanahan and his about-to-be wife Nadia Rozek, has a lot to celebrate as the book opens, having captured and turned around to its own use an armed Russian satelite (“weapons platform”), renaming it Eagle Station, there’s still an ongoing struggle for world dominance among the great forces, and the American team’s showing off new tech marvels in a face-off for control with the Chinese in the South China Sea. No sooner do Brad and Nadia finish this perilous exercise than their planning skills are in demand back at home for an international rescue mission that will depend on their extraordinary flight skills under fire.

Chapters from the points of view of Russian and Chinese military leaders let readers know, well before Brad does, that the superpowers on the other side of the globe have a new target to dominate: the Moon. Chinese president Li Jun and Russia’s de facto leader Marshal Leonov pool their resources to place a military base on the “dark side” of Earth’s moon. Their successful feint toward a different project manages to leave the Americans behind.

But the U.S. military with the McLanahans involved is more than an armed service: It’s linked intimately with military-led private enterprise, big investments, and teamwork with an American President who trusts this team.

And Brad McLanahan points out that the enemy collaborators are far from stupid: “He shook his head. ‘Okay, look, I get the drift. A surprise return to the lunar surface would be a huge propaganda win for Russia and China. But the risks involved in using a wholly untested spacecraft for a stunt like that are huge. One serious hardware malfunction or one software glitch at just the wrong time and five gets you ten, you end up with a bunch of dead guys drifting in orbit or smashed to pieces in some crater.’ Nadia frowned at him. ‘You should not assume that Marshal Leonov and President Li Jun share our views on the value of human life.’”

Brown’s writing offers no hidden motives or turncoats—everything is right out front, including enemy maneuvers. And enemy aliens have no redeeming features. The suspense of Eagle Station lies in how each detailed flight maneuver in air or space will turn out, and who’ll walk away with few enough injuries to survive—and return to Earth with enough air and fuel to complete the trip.

Although character development is not part of this book’s structure, the use of technology foreshadowed by today’s collaborations of government, the Space Force, and private enterprise is outlined in striking detail. In fact, some of the gear described has already been asssembled by corporate groups like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance, as Brown notes at the start of the book. Brown’s fast-paced and risky portrayal of what the globe could see in terms of conflict is set in the very near future: labeled with the year 2022, with recent SpaceX news already meeting this tech fiction halfway.

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