Wednesday, July 29, 2020

IT CANNOLI BE MURDER, Second Italian Chef Mystery from Catherine Bruns

Author of several series of lively "amateur sleuth" mysteries, Catherine Bruns spins a quick story with ample clues, a few red herrings, plenty of disasters—and above all, friendship and affection.

For IT CANNOLI BE MURDER, Bruns takes the subgenres of cozy recipe mystery and bookstore mystery and cleverly melds them. Long-time devoted Italian chef Tessa Esposito is about to open her own Italian restaurant, close to the bookstore owned by her devoted cousin Gabby. Although Tess has her own challenges—she's newly widowed (see the preceding book Penne Dreadful) and isn't fully confident in her agreement with her landlord, let alone all the finances and staff management drowning her—her loyalty to Gabby is unquestioned. So much so that when Gabby drops in with a "thank you gift," Tess can't think why.
Mystified, I grabbed it from her outstretched hands. "Thank you for what?"

She shot me a look of disbelief. "Are you kidding me? You've been crazy busy but are still going out of your way to make goodies for my book signing tomorrow night. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."

...It was a beige straw mat for the restaurant's front porch with a border of tomatoes around the words, "Welcome to Anything's Pastable." That was the name I'd chose for my restaurant ... Everyone had thought it was cute and especially fitting, given the blows life had dealt me lately.
Tess is determined to help out her cousin. For Gabby, business survival depends on the book signing going well, including pandering to the prickly hotshot author arriving and to his even more difficult wife—and, it turns out, would-be girlfriend. When the signing event ends in murder and Tess's cannoli recipe is held suspect, both women are in so much trouble that taking risks and nosing into the killer's identity and motive seem to make perfect sense. As Tess puts it, "Gabby's situation was far worse than mine ... Unless the killer was found immediately, her business was sure to suffer."

Although it's too soon after her husband's death for Tess to consider romance seriously, Bruns gives enough of a taste to keep this book solidly in the romantic subgenre, too. She plays fair with the clues, and an astute reader has a chance to figure out the motive, means, opportunity, and murderer just before Tess does, despite the clever twists along the way.

With Italian recipes at the end, ranging from cannoli and biscotti to a Bolognese sauce, IT CANNOLI BE MURDER is both a light and enjoyable addition to the summer's reading stack, and an ideal gift for a kitchen-obsessed friend. New this week, from the Poisoned Pen Press imprint of Sourcebooks.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Brief Mention: Light Art-History Mysteries from Helen A. Harrison

Sag Harbor's noted art historian and museum director, Helen A. Harrison, has written a trio of artist mysteries that she called The Corpse Trilogy. Two of them, AN EXQUISITE CORPSE and AN ACCIDENTAL CORPSE, reach easy access this summer thanks to the Poisoned Pen Press imprint of Sourcebooks, which released the first book on July 7 and offers the second on August 4.

These are light, short-chapter mysteries, all plot with some wild characters (but no particular character growth). Imagine a Surrealist corpse, for instance, clearly intended to implicate the artists in the circle featuring André Breton and acclaimed Cuban painter Wilfredo Lam in Greenwich Village in the 1940s. If that's boggling your imagination and you'd love to follow dialogue among the surrealist artists, pick up a copy of the nicely packaged pocket-size AN EXQUISITE CORPSE.

Despite the startling habits of the artists (and yes, Peggy Guggenheim has a role!), it's the police detectives, Juanita Diaz and Brian Fitzgerald, who take over the story and become lead characters in the next book -- AN ACCIDENTAL CORPSE begins with Jackson Pollock driving erratically on Long Island (where the author is the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton) and races along with the detectives, now married with a son.

The design of these paperbacks is perfect for summer reading in a hammock or deck chair. Have fun—you may feel inspired to look up and refresh your memory of the artists, their art, and their very provocative stories. I did!

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

Friday, July 17, 2020

Who's Luring Forensic Archaeologist Ruth Galloway? THE LANTERN MEN, by Elly Griffiths

“Bringing the traditional British mystery up to date with this strong and driven sleuth—not a true amateur sleuth, but an active partner with the official investigation—is the best part of reading this ongoing series from Elly Griffiths.”

A forensic archaeologist with a rising career, Ruth Galloway’s made a major life change as The Lantern Men opens: Forsaking her beloved seamarsh home and the Norfolk university where she’s been mostly blocked from advancement, she’s taken a teaching slot in Cambridge. And with her daughter, she’s moved in at last with Frank, an American who loves her deeply and, she knows, wants to marry her if she’ll just consent.

But despite the rise in academic prestige, Ruth’s aware that she’s putting great strain on her heart: not just leaving the coast, but also walking away from Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, father of her nine-year-old daughter, but securely married and also a new father to a son with his wife. Though Ruth’s aware that she can’t win her daughter’s dad as her own partner under the circumstances, that doesn’t erase the powerful bond that Nelson and Ruth share.

But when Ivor March, a serial murderer that Nelson and Ruth have always felt was holding back on some of his kills, pulls them together, there are frightening red flags, as Nelson reveals the latest twist:

“‘He said that he was willing to tell me where the other two bodies are buried.’

‘My God. That’s amazing.’

‘Yes. I couldn’t believe it. But he had a proviso. He always does. He can’t resist playing games. … He wants you to excavate them. … He won’t tell us where to look unless you do the digging. You don’t have to agree though.’

Ruth stands frozen with her hand on the car door. Ivor March wants her to be involved in the case. A serial killer not only knows her name but is requesting her assistance. Should she refuse? This issn’t her case, after all. She thinks of Frank’s words last night. ‘You’ve got a new team now.’ But, of course, deep down, she wants to do it. She wants to be the one to find the bodies.”

Frighteningly, the killer demands to meet Ruth first, and she won’t refuse: First, she’s eager to get back to the kind of in-ground exploration that engages all her knowledge. And second, it will mean working with Nelson, much better than not seeing him at all.

Yet the proclaimed murderer, Ivor March, is a master psychological manipulator. It’s clear he, like the groupies who adore him, savors being able to tug Ruth’s strings. He even somehow knows about Nelson and their shared daughter—which immediately means Ruth needs to worry about her child’s safety.

The book’s title comes from a myth of mysterious figures of the past, or perhaps even of the spirit realm, who light lanterns at night along the paths through the fens, nearby quicksand and pools notwithstanding, and lure unwary travelers to gruesome death in the muck and mire. March’s own past, as Ruth and Nelson probe from opposite directions, links up with a manipulative group of mingled sociopaths and do-gooders—who can be sure which ones are which?—who’ve trolled the region for women in trouble.

Griffiths is a master storyteller, with two vivid mystery series underway. This is the more rapidly paced of the two (the other is set a half century earlier), and the unavoidable strands of Ruth’s passion—her work, her child, her lovers—act as potent forces while March’s apparently ongoing crime spree nets them all.

Series followers will want to know whether Cathbad, Ruth’s druidic ally, is involved again. Yes, but not deeply this time. Still, the investigative “team” may reunite as needed, as Ivor March’s own “helpers” multiply and risk rises. Suddenly, everything’s breakable, and lives, careers, and love are at stake.

Bringing the traditional British mystery up to date with this strong and driven sleuth—not a true amateur sleuth, but an active partner with the official investigation—is the best part of reading this ongoing series from Elly Griffiths. And it looks like there’s plenty of room for more.

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

Best Beach Read Nominee: RELATIVE SILENCE from Carrie Stuart Parks

Pursuit of the American Dream can create enormous wealth and privilege, and Piper Boone's family seems to have it all — including Curlew Island, off the South Carolina coast. The family's foundation holds its board meetings there; Piper's politician brother when in residence manipulates his media coverage; and Piper's mother wields power over Piper as well, although she's far from a child. Fifteen years earlier, her daughter died when the family's boat was stolen, and although her ex-husband still comes to family business meetings, there's no joy here for Piper, locked in nonstop mourning and guilt.

Until one day, a terrorist attack at the café where Piper's gone to meet a woman friend tears bloody gashes in the fabric of her family, her self-esteem and her life. Ironically, the only person she feels almost able to trust is the man who's just saved her from gunfire: a former alcoholic who's half-drowned in his own losses and guilt, but working his way upward as both a forensic artist and member of a brotherhood of men helping each other find a way back to the love of holiness and a caring God expressed in the support of the people around them.

For Carrie Stuart Parks, RELATIVE SILENCE is the latest of seven published books -- some of which have been linked as a short series. This one appears to be a stand-alone, and the pace and strands of pain and doubt are expertly spun. So are the strengths that lead both Piper Boone and forensic artist Tucker Landry forward, through attacks that multiply, and a finale that lets loose all the force of the sea—and promises astonishing rewards for the road forward.

Here's the turning point for Piper:
I wasn't reasonable and rational at the moment. Someone had tried to gun me down. Tucker uncovered evidence that my father might have been murdered. The video I found indicated [my sister] Sparrow's death might have been more than an accident. My daughter had somehow survived and another child had died.

All I had to do was prove it all was true.
Adding spice to this great summer read is knowing that the author herself is a forensic artist and a speaker much in demand. Her ability to mesh a striking work of crime fiction with the harsh lessons of love and faith, without a single "soppy" moment, makes the book un-put-downable. Stash in the beachbag or move it onto the home deck. Test yourself: Can you figure the responsible criminals before Piper gets it sorted out? She'll keep you running, and turning the pages.

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

THE GETAWAY LIVE AUTHOR SERIES: Approaching Great Mystery Authors, with Soho Crime

Today's Getaway Live Author "episode" featured Soho Crime editor Juliet Grames (who is herself an author) and Soho Crime authors Francine Mathews and Peter Lovesey.

Check Francine's website here; some reviews of her books under the Mathews name are here, and under her alter ego name of Stephanie Barron, here.

In today's wide-ranging and enthusiastic conversation (by the way, both of these authors are detailed plotters, who at some point also experience their protagonists refusing to go with the original plan!), Juliet Grames asked how they shape the puzzle component of their mysteries:

Peter Lovesey said: "What’s the obvious thing here, that is, what is likely to happen, and then how can I subvert that and turn it into a hook at the end of a chapter."


Francine Mathews said: "It was Jeremiah Healy, who is now the late Jeremiah Healy, who gave me, without knowing it, the key to mystery writing. He said, Always begin with the end, and work backward. … What would cause someone to kill someone? … That is revealed at the end, but once you know that, you can work backwards to decide, where to I want to begin the story? … I always start with who did what to whom and why, and work backward."

Good news: Soho Crime recorded the interview, and will soon make it available for online viewing!

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Sara Paretsky Shares Years of Stories in LOVE & OTHER CRIMES

“Issued as a paperback original, Love & Other Crimes is a perfect match for summer’s relaxing moments, whether they are long ones on vacation or short breathers between home-based never-ending gig economy labors.”

Just in time for slipping a paperback of short stories into a beach bag (or toting it to the back yard reading chair) comes the collection Love & Other Crimes from Sara Paretsky. This is more than a gathering of short fiction from an acknowledged Grand Master of Mystery—Paretsky delights fans of her V.I. Warshawski detective series by dipping back in time into Vic’s own past on the South Side of Chicago for three of the 14 stories.

In addition, the collection includes Paretsky’s personal homages to such Golden Age of Detective Fiction authors as Agatha Christie and Anna Katharine Green. And of course there’s a Sherlock Holmes pastiche to round out the fun.

As Paretsky writes in her introduction, “We kill out of passion, we kill out of love—love of money, but also love of family, a desire to protect our reputations, to protect property; we kill out of a narcissistic wound when we’ve been betrayed or abandoned. We kill for revenge.”

The title story, “Love & Other Crimes,” opens with a challenge to detective V.I. Warshawski:

"’They’re trying to frame Gregory,’ she announced baldly.

‘Who are ‘they,’ who is Gregory, and what are ‘they’ saying he did?’ I asked.

‘F***ing Warshawki snob,’ she said. ‘I might have known. Like your mother, too good to walk around the planet with the ordinary mortals.’”

Even V.I., confronted with this complicated and patently untrue assertion, has to take a moment to figure out who’s in her office and why. Turns out it’s Sonia Litvak, a neighbor from when Vic was a kid, one who’s still wearing the chip on her shoulder she had back then. And the crime(s) involved can’t be separated from Vic’s own past. Paretsky packs a novel’s worth of family friction and underworld finagling into 35 pages.

That’s long for a “short” story, and it’s part of what makes this collection such a good read: Paretsky takes the time to frame setting and character, even dividing many of the stories into mini chapters of their own. There’s a paragraph after each tale where Paretsky opens up its backstory, and these add tasty seasoning to the book. For example, “Is It Justice?” is a gift back to readers of her book Critical Mass (2013), as “a lot of readers” of that novel objected to character Cordell Breen’s escape. “Flash Point” was drafted to fit the Fifty Shades of Grey craze. “Trial by Fire” takes historical crime into noir terrain. And “Wildcat” turns out to lay “the groundwork” for Paretsky’s 2009 crime novel Hardball, which has a backstory in the riots of 1966.

Obviously, readers already somewhat familiar with Paretsky’s works will get extra pleasure from this gathering that stitches together so much of her previous writing, as well as revealing personal and professional motives to her storytelling. Those meeting V.I. Warshawski for the first time here, though, can enjoy knowing this author has a backlist of more than 20 other crime novels to dive into afterward.

Issued as a paperback original, Love & Other Crimes is a perfect match for summer’s relaxing moments, whether they are long ones on vacation or short breathers between home-based never-ending gig economy labors. Each story brings a change of pace, a clever crime, and a burning sense of what human justice demands. Which, of course, is exactly what one would expect from a Grand Master of Mystery.

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