Tag Archives: mystery

Review: Ready to Fumble, by Christy Barritt

Ready to Fumble, by Christy BarrittReady to Fumble, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2017)

She’s a TV star who played a detective, but Joey Darling thinks of herself as the character’s klutzy opposite. Now her career is in ruins, and she’s fled Hollywood for the Outer Banks of North Carolina to search for her father.

Joey’s afraid to trust the local police, who may have been involved in his disappearance, but she doesn’t have many clues to follow. As if that weren’t enough challenge for this non-detective, a strange woman asks her to find her missing fiancé.

On the plus side, she’s a method actor who took some self-defense and investigative training. She actually has a PI license, just not for this state.

On the minus side, someone is recreating one of her TV episodes, and Joey doesn’t remember the ending but it might involve death: even her own, if she can’t pull off an escape like her alter ego.

The story is told in first person, and after Joey introduces herself, she asks:

Confused? Just keep reading. Please. Because maybe you can make sense of this mess I’ve made.

With an invitation like that, who won’t read on?

Christy Barritt kicks off her Worst Detective Ever mystery series with her signature snappy humour and upbeat delivery. This isn’t all a surface read, though. Joey has a lot of hurt and self-doubt from her abusive ex, and the two men who attract her more than she’ll admit each have layers of complexity that leave us wondering who they really are.

Plot, characters, and setting all work for me, and I’ll happily continue reading when the next book comes out. Here’s hoping I can keep up: she’s releasing “episodes” monthly. Just like Joey’s TV show. What I like about this is that each one is a full novel. Although the overall mystery of the missing dad spans individual books, Ready to Fumble is a complete story in its own right.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Vain Empires, by Brandilyn Collins

Vain Empires, by Brandilyn CollinsVain Empires, by Brandilyn Collins (Challow Press, 2016)

Seven deadly sins. Six people in a remote island mansion. One reality show.

One of the six contestants will win their dream prize, valued at up to $10 million. All they have to do is discover which sin each of their competitors represents – and decide if they themselves represent one too. To help in the discovery? Clues are revealed – and broadcast worldwide. Clues that may destroy each one on the island.

It’s interesting to watch the civilized facades crack as the pressure mounts – and to watch most contestants labelling the others while excusing their own failures and counting themselves as sinless. Most don’t seem to have a faith connection, although one of them, Gina, does.

Chapters alternate among the six contestants, who are different enough that I didn’t have trouble keeping track. This is a book that entices you to keep turning pages, so prepare to lose some sleep.

I enjoyed it, although the ending didn’t work for me. There’s a nice twist, and everything makes sense, but the characters leave the island and that’s it. They’ve been through this great upheaval, but what difference, if any, will it make in their lives? For some characters that’s clear, but not for all. To me it felt incomplete.

Vain Empires comes from a best-selling author of Christian suspense, but it should appeal to most mainstream readers. And if you’ve always wanted to try one of Brandilyn Collins’ suspense novels but were too timid, this is a good one for you. The ticking clock and relentless clues make it tense, but it’s puzzle-tense, not traumatic-tense.

Brandilyn Collins is known for her Seatbelt Suspense® novels, and she also writes contemporary fiction. RT BookReviews calls her “a master storyteller,” and I agree. For more about the author and her work, visit brandilyncollins.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: A Fool and His Monet, by Sandra Orchard

A Fool and His Monet, by Sandra OrchardA Fool and His Monet, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2016)

Serena Jones has a cat, and she’s single, but she’s not a spinster cat lady. She’s just too focused on her new career with the FBI’s art crimes division to have time for a love life. Serena’s passionate about art, and about the job, and she harbours a lingering hope that somewhere in her investigations she’ll find the painting stolen from her grandfather years before.

Her mother wants her to quit investigating and take a safe, factory job – until she can get married and start producing grandchildren. Her father’s quietly proud of her. And her aunt… well, Aunt Martha may truly be a crazy, cat-loving spinster, although now she lives with Serena’s parents and her cat lives with Serena.

Here’s how Serena describes her aunt:

Aunt Martha was like one of those extreme sports nuts who didn’t realize “safety harness” was a pseudonym for “hang on for dear life or you’ll die harness.” [Kindle page 235]

In the midst of this fast-paced whodunit, there’s still time for family complications, personal danger for Serena, and the beginnings of a rivalry for her attention between her trainer and her apartment superintendant. Tanner and Nate are both such nice men, I feel bad for whichever one of them loses out. Interestingly enough, at the end of the book there’s a way for readers to vote on which one she should end up with. I wonder if the vote will carry it, or if the author already knows…

I’ve read most of Sandra Orchard’s books and always enjoyed them. A Fool and His Monet is the best one yet. With a snappy delivery, characters to care about, action, and a strong thread of humour, this one may show up as one of my books of the year. Someone called it “laugh-out-loud” funny, but to me it’s the kind that gives me a satisfied grin – and endears a story to my heart.

Sandra Orchard is an award-winning Canadian author of Christian romantic suspense. A Fool and His Monet is the first in her Serena Jones Mystery series, and as mentioned, there’s a romantic thread but it’s just beginning in book 1. This is also more of a “clean read,” without an overtly Christian thread. Serena is a church-goer, but the story isn’t about a spiritual lesson so much as about a crime and about her family and relationships. Book 2 comes out in the fall: Another Day, Another Dali. For more about the author, and to find some bonus book features, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Bitter End, by Linda Hall

The Bitter End, by Linda HallThe Bitter End, by Linda Hall (2015)

Most contracts see Captain Em Ridge delivering sailboats to wealthy owners who don’t like to do their own long-haul trips. This time, though, she’s ferrying an over-the-top TV host around the Bermuda Triangle looking for evidence of the bizarre.

It’s an uneventful assignment, until they discover an abandoned sailboat whose occupants seem to have vanished over dinner. Unlike the crew of the Mary Celeste, though, someone put out extra food and water for the ship’s cat before disappearing.

Em knows this boat – and the cat. They belong to her beloved Uncle Ferd, the family black sheep – and the one who taught her to sail.

At first she fears he’s been taken by pirates, but the truth may be worse: he’s wanted by the authorities in connection with a murder. In setting out to clear her childhood hero’s name, Em may discover Uncle Ferd isn’t the man she thought he was.

The Bitter End is the second Em Ridge mystery, and I’m looking forward to more in this series. You could start with this one, but book 1, Night Watch, is also a good read and it lets you meet Em at the start of her adventures.

As well as being satisfying mysteries, the books give readers a taste of the sailing life. Author Linda Hall does a stellar job of sharing the experience with readers in a way that feels natural and without confusing us with jargon. Having logged many hours on her own sailboat, she knows the best details to include.

She also knows how to write memorable, flawed characters, and vivid descriptions. My favourite in this book:

“Where the doorbell should have been, a few threads of twisted wire stuck out like the veins of a robot.” [Kindle location 1159]

In the past, Linda Hall has written for the Christian market, but her Em Ridge novels are mainstream. As such, she allows her characters the occasional mild profanity, and there isn’t an overtly Christian thread through the stories. Em’s mother has a rigid faith, which sounds like it has a lot to do with Em’s lack of relationship with her family as well as with God. While I don’t think we’ll see Em experience a dramatic conversion in the series, I do hope we’ll see some resolution in these areas. She’s not happy this way, and her mother’s not healthy her way either.

Em is a widow, and there’s a handsome detective who keeps crossing her path, however he has baggage of his own – including an estranged wife.

These ongoing threads tie the novels together and keep me looking forward to the next one even after the current mystery has been satisfactorily resolved.

Linda Hall is an award-winning writer of mystery and suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit writerhall.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Burning Justice, by Helena Smrcek

Burning Justice, by Helena SmrcekBurning Justice, by Helena Smrcek (EverWind Press, 2015)

Nora Martin’s dream is to establish the Beacon of Hope residence as an alternative to prison or forced military service for young men who’ve been arrested. She has the government approval and the funding, but suddenly she may not have the farmhouse she leased from a church in rural Indiana.

The church assumed care of the property when its owner died. How could they have forgotten to notify the man’s heir? What else have the locals “forgotten” to mention? One thing’s sure, they know how to hold grudges.

Most of those grudges are aimed at Jake Schwartz, the farm’s heir, who arrives unexpectedly on leave from the military. Jake tells Nora and her FBI friend Alicia to stay out of his troubles, even when things escalate to violence.

How can Nora do that, when she’s in danger of losing her ministry? And how can she admit her attraction to Jake, when she takes her Mennonite pacifist beliefs seriously? For that matter, how did Jake, another Mennonite, end up in the Navy?

Burning Justice is set in the real town of French Lick, Indiana, and many of the settings sound like real places. Nora and Jake are both what I’d call expatriate Mennonites, keeping their faith but cut off from traditional communities. Jake, who looks to have compromised his beliefs, is more connected to God than Nora, who’s crushed by guilt over advice she gave in her previous career as a social worker.

Favourite lines:

Sometimes we are our own biggest obstacles in our walk toward God’s will. (Miriam, a young Mennonite mother, to Nora, Kindle location 2436)

For some reason, you seem to think that by clutching the steering wheel, you can change the direction of the road. (Jake to Nora, Kindle location 3100)

My only issue with this novel is the ending. It provides a satisfying fictional wrap-up, but in the real world I think the characters would be setting themselves up for trouble. I can’t give more details without giving spoilers, but I wouldn’t want an impressionable reader to follow this example.

Burning Justice is the first book in the Alicia Yu series. This is Nora’s story, but Alicia is an intriguing support character. I look forward to seeing what action she gets into in the next books: Glitter of Sorrow and Color of Money.

Helena Smrcek’s debut novel is a fast read laced with danger and romance and steeped in small-town secrets. For more about the author, visit her Goodreads page, and to read a sample chapter, visit her website. Burning Justice is currently free for Kobo. Amazon and the other online retailers will follow shortly.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Trial by Twelve, by Heather Day Gilbert

Trial by Twelve, by Heather Day Gilbert | A Murder in the Mountains #2Trial by Twelve, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2015)

Despite her troubled past, Tess is thriving in the close-knit Spencer family. She’s a feisty, straight-talking (and straight-shooting) wife and mother, trying to supplement the family income. She’s not looking for trouble, but trouble finds her – this time in the form of skeletons found buried at the spa where she works. Newer deaths suggest the killer isn’t finished yet.

Tess nearly lost her life the last time she investigated a mystery, and with a young daughter, she’d rather stifle her curiosity and stay safe. Unfortunately, her boss needs her on-site, and the investigating detective asks her to be his eyes on the scene. He promises to do all he can to keep her safe – and then advises her to conceal carry a gun just in case.

This is a satisfying novel, where plot, characters and setting blend into a compelling read. Heather Day Gilbert knows how to keep readers turning pages. Tess is one of those rare-to-me characters I’d like to have as a real-life friend.

Most chapters open with a letter from a disturbing man to the child he left behind, who he’d trained in bow-hunting. If the man was the original killer, are the new deaths a second-generation event? His letters refer to Buddhism and various philosophers, but don’t let that put you off.

Set in the mountains of West Virginia, Trial by Twelve is a clean read, featuring Tess and her family as Christian characters but without the strong spiritual theme that is sometimes expected in Christian fiction. Here is Tess’ most overt thought on faith, comparing herself to her mentor, Miranda:

“I feel so inadequate in the face of her faith, but I know she’d tell me we each grow at our own speed and the point is to be growing.” [Kindle location 3072]

And an example of her sense of humour, which means no disrespect to the church prayer chain:

“Quite a few people have police scanners in these parts, to keep up with the local news. It’s a lot faster than the newspaper, but maybe not quite as lickety-split as the prayer chain.” [Kindle location 3001]

Trial by Twelve is book two in the A Murder in the Mountains series. I’m not sure if it’s stronger than book one, Miranda Warning (which I very much enjoyed) or if I feel that way because I’m getting know the characters better. Either way, bring on book three!

Heather Day Gilbert is also the author of the acclaimed Viking historical novel, God’s Daughter. A sequel, Forest Child, is in the works. For more about the author and her books, visit heatherdaygilbert.com. To read sample chapters from Trial by Twelve, click here.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Night Watch, by Linda Hall

Night Watch, by Linda Hall (Linda Hall, 2014)Night Watch, by Linda Hall

Captain Emmeline Ridge’s stint delivering a luxury sailboat from Canada to Bermuda is rudely interrupted when the owner’s daughter vanishes over the side in the middle of the night. The ship and crew are brought to Portland, Maine, for an investigation, but the complications have only begun.

Detective Ben Dunlinson, new to the Portland City Police and very new to all things nautical, seems competent despite rumours of past disgrace. The local sailing community, including highly-respected Captain Tom Mallen, offers support.

Compounding Em’s stress, the state medical examiner discovers irregularities in the records of Em’s husband Jesse’s death. Jesse died nearly two years ago in what was called a freak accident, but Em has wondered. And continued to grieve.

Em is a resourceful and intelligent woman, trying desperately to figure out what’s going on. Who’s behind this current murder? And how could it possibly be tied to Jesse? Em’s emotional state causes some questionable choices about who to trust, until I wanted to crawl into the book and yell at her. (I’m not saying if those choices turned out to be right or wrong, just that at the time they looked wrong. No spoilers here.)

Linda Hall is one of those gifted authors who can weave memorable characters, lifelike settings and intriguing plots into novels that are too easy to keep reading when we should stop to sleep. I always enjoy her minor characters, the ones with not a lot of page time but who deepen the story. In this case, I liked Em’s neighbours in the small point of land on which she lives.

One of the fun things about this mystery is the authentic sailing setting. The author knows her sailing, and her descriptions include details that draw readers into the experience. This is woven organically into the story, and never presented as an info-dump or lecture.

Favourite lines:

His fingers kept crawling up the sides of his squall jacket like crabs. [Kindle location 90]

Thinking about my current bank account made me want to crawl into a corner and chew on the ends of my sweater sleeves. [Kindle location 1455]

Night Watch is book one in the Em Ridge Mystery series. It’s a mainstream novel and does contain occasional mild profanity. That didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story, but if it’s an issue for you, be warned.

Award-winning author Linda Hall has written many novels for the Christian market, and this is her first mainstream mystery. Her most recent publication was the short story anthology, Strange Faces, also mainstream. You can read my review here.) You can find Linda Hall online at writerhall.com or on Facebook.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Goodbye Noel, by Nike Chillemi

Goodbye Noel, by Nike ChillemiGoodbye Noel, by Nike Chillemi (Desert Breeze Publishing, 2011)

The year is 1946. In the fictional town of Sanctuary Point, on the south shore of Long Island, New York, life is getting back on track after the war. It’s Christmas time, and spirits are high – until Katrina Lenart finds one of her neighbours dead.

Who would murder this young woman while her baby slept in the next room? With the father nowhere to be found, Katrina gets permission to care for the infant. She is, after all, a pediatric nurse. And she lives with her parents, who will babysit while she’s at work.

Katrina and the detective assigned to the case, Ian Daltry, get off to a bad start but quickly fall for one another. Ian can’t forget losing his wife in a drive-by shooting, and he’ll do anything to keep Katrina, his daughter Amy, and baby Leslie safe.

But can he do enough? Why is the baby a target? And for whom?

Katrina is equally determined to protect the baby, and she quickly becomes Ian’s unofficial helper to solve the mystery.

Goodbye Noel is a fun mystery with plenty of clues and red herrings. It gives an interesting picture of this era, where children of immigrant parents still face discrimination (Katrina’s parents are Czech) and where there aren’t enough eligible bachelors to go around. It’s an elegant time, even for middle-class people like Katrina and her family, and we get to observe a high-society soiree as well.

Nike Chillemi has written four mysteries so far in the Sanctuary Point series. Goodbye Noel is the second. For more about the author and her books, visit her Crime Fictionista website.

[Review copy from my personal library.]