Tag Archives: mysteries

Review: Reign of Error, by Christy Barritt

Reign of Error, by Christy BarrittReign of Error, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2017)

Reign of Error is book 2 in the Worst Detective Ever series, and while readers would have a better overall grasp of the series by starting with book 1, Ready to Fumble, they could begin here without feeling lost.

Joey Darling’s acting career is on hiatus while she looks for her missing father and tries to recover from some personal disasters. The problem is, she has one or more over-the-top fans who want her to play detective in real life, the way she did on TV.

The death of a stranger shortly after she’d spoken with him is all it takes for her invisible “fans” to start pushing her to solve the mystery. Unfortunately, the killer wants her to stop.

This is a light-hearted mystery series, complete with two appealing guys competing for Joey’s attention. Each novel is a complete story, with the over-arcing mystery of Joey’s missing father.

Joey is a bit of a drama queen, as one might expect of an actress, so she can be a bit tiring at times, but she’s a likeable character. The obstacles she faces make it easy to root for her to succeed.

Christy Barritt is a prolific author whose Christian fiction includes mysteries and suspense for adults and tweens. For more about the author, visit christybarritt.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Go, Ivy, Go! by Lorena McCourtney

Go, Ivy, Go! by Lorena McCourtneyGo, Ivy, Go!, by Lorena McCourtney (Rogue Ridge Press, 2015)

Ivy Malone has been on the run from the Braxton family for years, but they haven’t tried to kill her recently. Maybe it’s safe to go home. Her boyfriend disagrees, but once Ivy gets an idea in her head, there’s no stopping her.

If you’re not familiar with Ivy, she’s a self-described “LOL” (little old lady). In the first book in the series, aptly titled Invisible, Ivy discovered that most people don’t notice elderly people – which came in very handy when she decided to solve a murder.

Ivy is down-to-earth, brave, and funny. She’s not terribly tech-savvy, but she has friends who can help when needed. She has a kind heart, and her faith is a quiet but important part of who she is.

I’ve enjoyed this series, and am glad this book came along to wrap it up. There was a long gap after the previous instalment. And now readers can look forward to a new series, The Mac ‘n Ivy Mysteries.

If you’ve loved the series, grab this final book. If it’s new to you, start with Invisible. Or jump in here, and catch up on the previous stories later.

Lorena McCourtney has also written the Cate Kincaid Files, Andi McConnell Mysteries, and the Julesburg Mysteries, all mystery-suspense stories.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Secrets of Sloane House, by Shelley Gray

Secrets of Sloane House, by Shelley GraySecrets of Sloane House, by Shelley Gray (Zondervan, 2014)

The year 1893 finds Rosalind Perry in the bustling city of Chicago, far from her rural home, working as a maid. Yes, her family needs the money, but Rosalind is there to discover what happened to her sister, Miranda, who disappeared without a trace from the family’s employ. In a time when young women might willingly disappear, many more are going missing.

Rosalind has stepped far outside her comfort zone, and she develops a confidence and perseverance she otherwise wouldn’t have found. Her eureka moment may be that relying on trusted friends brings a stronger result than trying to do everything herself.

One of the friends she’s surprised to make is Reid Armstrong, the son of a wealthy family and a welcome visitor at Sloane House. Reid’s struggle is with honouring his father’s dreams when it begins to feel like he’s losing himself in the process. For both characters, it’s a discovery of identity and about what matters most in life—and about love.

Favourite lines:

She ached to give them hope, but at the same time, she knew better than to give them such a gift. Hope was one of the Lord’s blessings, that was true. But in other ways, hope could be the very work of the Devil. It permitted a person to believe that their imaginations or dreams could actually be true. [p. 94]

Fans of deep point of view may be frustrated by the more “telling” style of narrative (like “He realized…” “She thought…”). However, this slightly distant point of view allows a gentle read even in the most disturbing scenes.

Secrets of Sloane House is book 1 in the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, and as such I expected the Fair to be a significant element in the setting, almost a character in its own right. While a few scenes took place there and others mentioned it, the central setting focuses on the rich society and the servants they consider second-class but necessary.

Shelley Shepard Gray is a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author perhaps best known for her Sugarcreek Amish novels. For more about the author, including a list of her novels, visit her website: shelleyshepardgray.com.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]

Review: Strange Faces, by Linda Hall

Strange Faces, by Linda HallStrange Faces, by Linda Hall (Linda Hall, 2014)

It’s been too long since we’ve had fresh fiction from Linda Hall. Strange Faces is a collection of six short stories and a novella. Most are new, with a few reprints from other anthologies. I had read one story before, but happily read it again.

Linda Hall has a gift for evoking memorable characters and situations. Most of these stories are suspense or mystery, with the occasional strand of magic or the unexplained. Because the author weaves a form of magic of her own in these tales, pulling us into the fictional world, it’s a believable experience. Sometimes too believable, in the stories with narrators we discover to be less than trustworthy—I was reading in a public place and found myself studying the strangers around me and wondering…

In these stories we meet young and old, damaged and whole, down-and-out and starting over. Linda Hall never shies away from social issues in her mysteries, and readers will met lonely souls, caregivers, victims of bullying and of dementia. Many stories deal with family ties and loyalty.

As well as strongly-drawn characters, the author gives us vivid descriptions. Here are two of my favourites:

From “Pickers and Choosers” the narrator describes a television “muted but with the captioning picking its way across the bottom of the screen like little white crabs.” [Kindle location 30]

From “A Small Season of Magic” the narrator describes an old man: “his white head looked like a patch of dandelions gone to seed.” [Kindle location 1309]

The characters and their situations feel real. Each story contains a depth and richness, as if we’re joining fully-developed individuals in a slice of their lives. Back story is always introduced in an organic way in just the right amount to let readers discover what we need to know.

Well worth a read!

Award-winning author Linda Hall’s novels include the Terri Blake-Addison series, Canadian Mountie series, Coast of Maine series and others. For a full list, see her website: writerhall.com. [Note that her previous novels have been Christian fiction. The stories in Strange Faces are clean mainstream.]

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2013

Author Louise Penny has woven a masterpiece of characters, plot and evocative description in her latest mystery. How the Light Gets In traces the investigation of an elderly woman’s murder while at the same time continuing a plot thread that’s been building from the series beginning.

You could jump into the series here and understand this book, but you’d miss so much of the larger story that’s been building around Inspector Gamache after his long-ago case that exposed a scandal high in the ranks of the Quebec Sȗreté force. And you wouldn’t know and love the characters enough to be emotionally affected by their turmoil.

This is a series well worth starting at the beginning, with Still Life. If you’ve seen the CBC television special, that was a teaser. The novel is richer, deeper and more satisfying and couldn’t be contained in such a short film. Louise Penny’s prose is beautiful.

Those who’ve read the previous books will be glad to be back in the idyllic fictional village of Three Pines, located somewhere outside of Montreal. It’s good to see the eclectic and unusual inhabitants of the village again, and the village itself feels like a character in the novels.

Inspector Armand Gamache is one of my fictional heroes, largely because of his practice of taking cast-off members of the police force and investing enough leadership in them to help them find their places as effective and motivated officers. Those he’s helped are (mostly) intensely loyal, while those he’s crossed are formidable.

I’ve enjoyed each book in the series, but this one (number nine) is the best yet. The tension is high, three significant plot threads interweave seamlessly, the characters shine, and the ending surprises. A most satisfying read.

Because most of what I review are Christian books, I’ll add a disclaimer for this series. The profanity count is high and there is a homosexual couple, complete with innuendoes. Institutional church is not well-thought-of by many characters, but the idea of God is present (both Christian and generic).

I will also say I’ve found truth in these books. Louise Penny understands humans in our glory and in our shame, and she crafts exceptional characters and intriguing mysteries. She also understands qualities like love and loyalty, hope and perseverance, and redemption.

Louise Penny has given readers a gift, and I’m glad to see her novels getting the attention and awards they deserve. If you’ve missed these books so far, do yourself a favour and begin with Still Life. For your own peace of mind, when you get to The Beautiful Mystery be sure to pick up How the Light Gets In at the same time. Those of us who’ve had to wait a year between them can tell you it hasn’t been easy.

To learn more about the author, you can visit louisepenny.com. You’ll find a list of the books, in order (note that some have different titles depending on which country you’re in) as well as background information, discussion questions and events.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dirty Deeds, by Christy Barritt

Dirty Deeds, by Christy BarrittDirty Deeds, by Christy Barritt (Princeton Halls Press, 2013)

Dirty Deeds finds Gabby St. Claire on a week’s holiday with her fiancé, Riley Thomas, at an exclusive resort. Riley’s there for a conference, and to reconnect with some lawyer buddies that he hasn’t seen since college. Gabby … well, the opulent setting and posh lawyers make her nervous.

Riley has a low-paying practice that’s more about helping others than getting rich, and Gabby is used to struggling for every cent. Still, relationships involve sacrifices, so she’s determined to fit in for Riley’s sake. She even promises not to snoop into any mysteries for the week.

Asking questions about a kidnapping isn’t snooping, is it? She’s just being … helpful, right?

Suddenly she’s not just a fish out of water, believing that her upbringing cuts her off from the rich and powerful, she’s keeping secrets from Riley and wondering what secrets he’s keeping from her about his past.

And now it’s not just about kidnapping. It’s murder.

Dirty Deeds is book 4 in the Squeaky Clean Mysteries series. Gabby is a fun character and the situations she gets into always provide a laugh. I’m glad to see her developing more faith in her worth—and in God. Book 1 in the series, Hazardous Duty, is a good place to meet her in her crime-scene-cleaning role, but if you want to jump in here with book 4 you won’t feel lost. (There are spoilers for the earlier books, though.) Book 5, The Scum of All Fears, has also released.

Christy Barritt is a multi-published author of mystery, suspense and romantic suspense. For more about the author and her books, you can visit her website.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dolled Up to Die, by Lorena McCourtney

Dolled Up to Die, by Lorena McCourtneyDolled Up to Die, by Lorena McCourtney (Revell, 2013)

Cate Kinkaid is a private investigator—assistant PI, she’s quick to point out, which means she’s not allowed to carry a gun. Not that she should need one, since Belmont Investigations doesn’t take cases involving violence. Somebody should tell the criminals that last bit, because Dolled Up to Die is Cate’s second encounter with murder.

Cate wants to find out who killed her client JoJo’s ex-husband before the police decide it was JoJo herself. JoJo designs custom-made, child-sized dolls. She may talk about them as if they’re real, and she may have a donkey for a watchdog, but she’s not a killer… is she?

The Cate Kincaid Files books are cozy mysteries, with interesting characters and more focus on solving the crime than on frightening the reader. Even when Cate’s in danger, the suspense isn’t over-the-top. Cate is lovably impulsive, a bit too sympathetic for her own good, and not so sure of herself, but she’s enjoying this PI gig and she’s still alive to tell about it.

This story has a bit more Christian content than the previous one, because one of the characters professes to be able to discover facts about people’s “past lives” and when she encourages Cate’s boyfriend, Mitch, to try it out, he’s uncomfortable enough that he blurts out his Christian view of the subject in self-defense.

Octavia the deaf cat is back in this book, occasionally trying her paw at assisting the assistant PI. Octavia isn’t as adept as the cats in Lilian Jackson Braun‘s The Cat Who… series, but she occasionally points Cate in a useful direction.

You don’t have to have read the first book, Dying to Read, to enjoy this one, but if you plan to read them both, do it in order to avoid spoilers. New York Times best-selling author Lorena McCourtney is perhaps most widely known for her Ivy Malone series, where “LOL” means “Little Old Lady.” If you like Ivy, or you like mysteries with a bit of humour, check out Cate Kincaid. You can read an excerpt of Dolled up to Die, or view the readers group guide if you’ve already read it, by clicking the links.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Deadly Devotion, by Sandra Orchard

Deadly Devotion, by Sandra OrchardDeadly Devotion, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2013)

Research scientist Kate Adams’ mentor died from toxic herbal tea, and the police rule it self-inflicted if possibly accidental. Since they won’t investigate it as murder, Kate vows to find the killer herself.

Detective Tom Parker, the newest member of Port Aster’s small force, warns her that nobody is who they seem to be. Although the case is closed, Tom starts some quiet checking, more to keep Kate from endangering herself than out of agreement with her theories. Attraction grows between them, but this case is only one of the issues likely to keep them apart.

Deadly Devotion is a murder mystery plot delivered as romantic suspense. There are at least three very plausible suspects, and they kept me guessing until very near the end. Even then, I guessed right but for the wrong reason.

Sandra Orchard creates complex characters whose personalities shape how they react to the story unfolding around them. In Deadly Devotion, Kate sees the best in people—well, everyone other than the police—and she has no idea how to recognize a villain. Tom, on the other hand, deals with flashbacks and what looks like post-traumatic stress syndrome from his FBI work. It’s hard for him not to see threats and deception all around.

We also meet Tom’s father, Keith, an ex-cop who’s withdrawn into grief after losing his wife. And with Kate’s background in herbal research, we glimpse the world of herbal tea and natural remedies… and poison.

I appreciate how Kate and Tom integrate their Christianity into the grief and suspense they encounter in the novel. Sometimes it comes up in their conversation, but usually it’s just the force shaping how they view their world and how they act within that world.

Deadly Devotion is one of those novels where each chapter hooks you into the next one without stopping. Suspense balances with quieter scenes for an intriguing read without the high intensity of a thriller. It’s well-crafted, with some fresh descriptions. I’ll share my two favourites:

Setting the scene and introducing Kate and Tom (Parker) in the police station: “Parker glanced tiredly into each of the three coffee cups sitting on his desk, stacked them, and chucked them into a wastebasket.” (p.13) It’s just a day-in-the-life moment, but I can feel the atmosphere and I sense a bit about Tom.

Kate, feeling a bit uneasy: “A creepy bugs-under-the-collar sensation pitter-pattered across her neck as she stepped past him.” (p. 33) We’ve all felt it, but I’ve never thought of it that way before.

Deadly Devotion marks Canadian author Sandra Orchard’s first step into longer-length novels (she also writes the shorter Love Inspired Suspense novels). She handles the longer format well, and I prefer them. I’m looking forward to book two in the Port Aster Secrets series. The murder mystery was solved, but there are questions from Kate’s past, among other things.

You can find a sample chapter, deleted scenes, interviews with Kate and Tom, and more on the Book Bonus Feature of Sandra Orchard’s website. You can also interact with Sandra on Facebook.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Shaded Light, by J.A. Menzies

Shaded Light, by JA MenziesShaded Light, by J.A. Menzies (MurderWillOut Mysteries, ebook version 2013)

It’s the July long weekend, and there’s a house party at George and Ellen Brodie’s new mansion in an exclusive Toronto community. Expected guests: their son, his close friend, Ellen’s country cousin, both of George’s lawyer business partners and their wives.

But there are also unexpected guests, three to be exact: a black sheep nephew, an ex-wife, and a wallflower sister.

Add in two household staff to complete the picture.

At least one of the fourteen will die before the party’s over. Because at least one other among them a murderer.

Shaded Light reads like a contemporary Agatha Christie novel. Instead of Hercule Poirot, readers meet Detective-Inspector Paul Manziuk (man’s-hook) and rookie detective Jacqueline Ryan. He’s experienced, old-school and white, she’s young, female and black.

Manziuk’s under pressure to catch a serial killer who leaves no clues, and now he’s handed the Brodie case too. He doesn’t have time to find out if Ryan can do the job… or if she’s just a political appointment.

To solve the case, Manziuk and Ryan must pierce the suspects’ outer facades and untangle the secrets within. It’s fun to watch them learn to work together along the way.

Shaded Light is book one in the Manziuk and Ryan mystery series, originally published by St. Kitts Press in 2000. The newly-issued ebook includes the author’s original prologue, omitted from the print book. The prologue works well to set the tone, and I think it’s an improvement.

I read the print version years ago and was curious to read it again. The story holds up well to a second reading. As it happens, I only remembered a few details and none of them spoiled the ending. Even if I’d remembered whodunnit, it would have still been a good read to watch the case set up and the unfold.

J.A. Menzies is the pen name of N.J. Lindquist, a Canadian author, speaker and teacher who writes fiction and non-fiction for adults and young adults. She’s a founding director of The Word Guild, co-editor of the Hot Apple Cider anthologies, and she’s usually juggling two or three projects at a time. With such a diverse list of activities, you can see why she chose to use a pen name to minimize reader confusion. To learn more about the author, visit Canadian Mystery Author J.A. Menzies.

Shaded Light and its sequel, Glitter of Diamonds, are both available as ebooks, and J.A. Menzies is working on a third in the series. I look forward to spending more time with these two detectives.

Purchase links for Shaded Light: Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Kobo, Ganxy.

[Review copy provided by the author. Amazon links are affiliate links for The Word Guild.]

Review: Speaking From Among the Bones, by Alan Bradley

Speaking From Among the Bones cover artSpeaking From Among the Bones, by Alan Bradley (Doubleday, 2012)

Flavia de Luce lives with her father and two older sisters in a decaying English country manor in 1951. She’s almost 12 and has already solved four murders, to the chagrin of the local constabulary (who are beginning to show her some grudging respect).

In this mystery, she discovers another body—this time in conjunction with the excavation of the village church’s patron saint’s tomb, honouring the 500th anniversary of his death. Why do the Bishop and the Magistrate want to block the project? What’s the secret hidden in the Magistrate’s creepy manor? And, of course, who killed the dead man?

Flavia’s family fortunes are slowly succumbing to what her father calls “His Majesty’s leeches” and in this novel the dreaded day comes when Buckshaw Manor must be put up for sale. The crisis, plus perhaps a bit of maturing among the sisters, gives them a common focus. I appreciate Alan Bradley’s deftly understated portrayal of the family dynamics, and I’ve come to care for the somewhat dysfunctional de Luces and their staff.

Although Flavia is a “child sleuth” there’s a rich depth to the stories that make them satisfying to (and designed for) adults. I like the humour and the word choices, and Flavia’s fixation with chemicals and poisons. She’s one of those delightful characters that you might not want to live with but who’s awfully fun to read about.

Alan Bradley’s mysteries are gentle reads in the “Golden Age” style, and this one ends with a surprising turn that has me a little perturbed about having to wait a whole year to find out what will happen next (in The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches). This is a series that builds on itself, so for maximum enjoyment a reader would begin with book 1, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. But you can start with any one of them and not feel out of place.

To learn more about Alan Bradley and the Flavia de Luce mysteries, visit Flavia de Luce or pop over to Canadian Living‘s Saturday Afternoon Book Club to read an interview with the author about this newest book in the series.

[Review copy from my local public library. Amazon link is an affiliate link for The Word Guild.]