Tag Archives: mysteries

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We also meet Tom’s father, Keith, an ex-cop who’s withdrawn into grief after losing his wife.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.]

Review: Whirlpool, by Lorena McCourtney

Whirlpool, by Lorena McCourtneyWhirlpool, by Lorena McCourtney (Kindle version, 2011)

Would you stay in a town where your ex-husband flaunted his lavish lifestyle and new fiancée while he stalls on dividing ownership of your former family business? Well, maybe you would, since there’s evidence he’s been less than honest with the company finances.

Stefanie Canfield chose to stay.

Arson investigator Ryan Harrison spent a miserable portion of his childhood in the town of Julesburg and can’t believe his company’s sending him back there. Surprise number 1 is the discovery that Stephanie’s still in town. After their shared underdog status in school, he figured she’d have distanced herself as much as he had. Surprise number 2: She’s turned into an attractive woman, and they seem to have some chemistry. Number 3? She’s one of the suspects in his case.

Stephanie knows she didn’t start the fire. Her ex, Hunter, is calculating enough to have done it, but she has no proof.

What she does have are odd “blurry” episodes, brought on by stress, when she can’t remember what she’s done. Under the circumstances, these happen more frequently. So when there’s a murder, can she really be sure she didn’t do it? Even if she didn’t, can Hunter successfully frame her?

I really enjoyed this novel, the first in the Julesburg Mysteries series. It has a more serious feel than Lorena McCourtney’s Ivy Malone series or her new mystery, Dying to Read, but there are still light-hearted turns of phrase to bring a smile.

Whirlpool is a good mystery, set in coastal Oregon. I like Stefanie, although her impulsive actions often had me wanting to shake her and say “don’t do that!” Not only has she lost her husband to another woman, she lost her mother to cancer the year before. And she may have lost her faith. After all, where was God in all this hurt?

While the specific mysteries of arson and murder are wrapped up for the authorities by the novel’s end, some of my questions aren’t resolved (will Stefanie’s blurry spells go away, and was the accident that caused them really an accident?). I thought that might happen as the series progressed, but the next two novels, Riptide and Undertow, focus on new characters and new romances. Stefanie and Ryan do appear, and all three books are worth a read.

You can learn more about author Lorena McCourtney at her website, or find her on Facebook. Whirlpool previously appeared in print through Fleming H. Revel, a division of Baker Books, 2002. The Julesburg novels are all available on Kindle, and since they’re re-issues of older novels, the prices are very inviting (under $3 each). See Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

[Review copy from my personal library. Amazon links are affiliate links for The Word Guild.]

Review: Worth its Weight in Old, by K.D. Hays

Worth its Weight in Old cover artWorth its Weight in Old, by K.D. Hays (Spyglass Lane Mysteries, 2011)

Karen Maxwell’s career as a private investigator is just starting to take off. She hopes. Working for her brother’s investigative firm, she’s finally getting out of a clerical role and into the field. Her assignment: take an undercover job in an antique store and find out who’s been damaging the merchandise.

Her challenge: to do this while single-parenting a 9-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, and while securing her boyfriend’s attention when he only seems to want to see her at play rehearsals for his church’s youth group. Oh, and she has to not kill the new guy her brother hired to help in the office.

I really enjoyed K.D. Hays’ writing style in this cozy mystery. The novel is funny and a fast read. It’s as much about the characters as about the mystery, which makes sense in a series book. Karen has still got some things in life to learn, and she’s gained a bit of perspective by the story’s end. I hope there’ll be a third book in the series, because I’d like to spend more time with these characters.

Worth its Weight in Old is book 2 in the Karen Maxwell Mystery series, and readers new to the series will have no trouble starting here. But you might want to start with book 1, George Washington Stepped Here. Otherwise, there will be spoilers.

K.D. Hays is a pen name used for contemporary mysteries and children’s stories. The author also publishes historical romances under her own name, Kate Dolan. Click to learn more about the Karen Maxwell books  or to read sample chapters.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: When Will the Dead Lady Sing? by Patricia Sprinkle

When Will the Dead Lady Sing cover artWhen Will the Dead Lady Sing? by Patricia Sprinkle (Signet, 2004)

MacLaren and Joe Riddley Yarbrough live in the small town of Hopemore, Georgia. She’s a county magistrate, and he had the job before her. They have married children and school-age grandchildren, so these aren’t your traditional 20-somethings.

They were childhood sweethearts, and the long relationship has developed some delightful banter between them. There’s also a secret between them, one MacLaren hoped would never surface: in university, she briefly dated someone else behind Joe Riddley’s back.

That man is now somewhat of a hero to Joe Riddley. What’s she to do when he turns up in town, complete with a political entourage and a live buffalo?

And when she finds a dead body who’s linked to the man, things get even worse. Mac has promised her husband she’ll stay out of investigating, but the local sheriff is short on sense. I assume that’s how she’s gotten involved in previous mysteries, too.

When Will the Dead Lady Sing? is book 7 in the Thoroughly Southern Mystery series, and the first one I’ve read. I plan to go back and start at the beginning. The author thoughtfully provides an opening list of the characters to help keep them straight.

This is a mainstream mystery with some Christian characters. In the story, MacLaren and Joe Riddley attend church, send a homeless man to a church-funded soup kitchen (and then regret that they didn’t help him more), and pray for their grandson when he gets in trouble. Nothing preachy or flashy, and everything serves a purpose in the plot.

The characters, Christian and non, are real, feeling people. Some are a bit eccentric, as you’d expect in a humour-tinged southern mystery. They fit with Patricia Sprinkle’s delightful voice (as spoken through first person narrator, Mac).

Patricia Sprinkle has published many mysteries, including the Thoroughly Southern Mysteries and the Family Tree Series, but somehow I hadn’t read any of her novels. When another mystery author, Jayne E. Self, interviewed her I enjoyed the interview and liked the humour in some of her titles. Her name sounded familiar, and a search turned up When Will the Dead Lady Sing, deep in my to-read stash. [Read the interview: Part 1 and Part 2]

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Murder a Cappella, by James R. Callan and Diane Bailey

Murder a Cappella cover artMurder a Cappella, by James R. Callan and Diane Bailey (Wayside Press, 2012)

The stereotypical image of barbershop music is a quartet of older men in straw hats, singing four-part harmony. What most people outside barbershop circles don’t know is that A) men’s quartets and choruses have young and middle-aged guys too, and B) there are ladies’ quartets and choruses. And both groups have regional, district and international competitions.

So… the scene is San Antonio, Texas. The Alamo plaza, to be precise, where an identically-dressed quartet of female barbershoppers is part of an open-air concert. It’s part of the Sweet Adelines’ international competition, and women have travelled from all over the US and beyond to participate.

When a sniper kills two members of the quartet, is it random violence? Or is someone after the singers?

Barbershopper Tina Overton is in town for the competition, but she’s a cop in her other life. The victims were her friends, and she wants to help find their killer. She works herself into the investigation as a liaison between the San Antonio police and the Sweet Adelines.

This is a mainstream novel and there’s some minor profanity. Because a lot of my readers are Christian, I’ll warn you there’s one instance of Jesus’ name used as a curse. The sad thing is, another word would have done as well and been less offensive. Otherwise, the novel’s a good read.

By definition, a competition for barbershop choruses involves a lot of characters. While only a few are central to the story, like Tina, Angela and the detective, there are a number of interactions with what I’ll call “mid-level” characters. At times I got their names jumbled. If you’re prone to that sort of thing, I’d suggest taking a blank paper for a bookmark and jotting down each person as s/he appears. First and last name (the detective uses surnames) and a cue, like “director.” It’s times like this I wish for the Agatha Christie-style cast list.

Murder a Cappella is the first barbershop-themed mystery I’ve read, and the authors do a fine job of balancing the intricate behind-the-scenes world of the women’s international competition with the unfolding mystery and clues. The solution took me by surprise.

If you’re a barbershopper, you’ll nod and smile at some of the details and situations. If you’re not, you’ll learn a bit about something new. You won’t feel lost in jargon or technicalities. This is Tina’s first time at International, and she’s new enough to her chorus that if there’s anything you need to know, she’ll need to know too. Her friend and mentor Angela will explain it in a non-disruptive way.

You can learn about co-authors James R. Callan and Diane Bailey at their respective websites. For more about Murder a Cappella, to read chapter 1 or to view the book trailer, visit the Sweet Adelines Mystery site. Yes, there will be more Sweet Adeline Mysteries. And that’s a good thing.

[review copy from my personal library]

The LaTisha Barnhart Mystery Series, by S. Dionne Moore

The LaTisha Barnhart Mysteries Series, by S. Dionne Moore (Spyglass Lane Mysteries)

Murder on the Ol Bunions cover artLaTisha Barnhart and her husband, Hardy, are a middle-aged black couple living in the fictional town of Maple Gap, Colorado. They’re still very much in love after almost 40 years, and the amount of sass they fling at one another to cover it up is funny.

Hardy has retired from the workforce, but as the series opens, LaTisha is fighting empty-nest syndrome by taking an online degree in police science. She quit her last job—or was she fired?—and when she finds her ex-boss murdered, she’s afraid she’ll be suspect number one. That’s book 1, Murder on the Ol’ Bunions.

Book 2, Polly Dent Loses Grip, takes Polly Dent Loses Grip cover art place in a nearby town as the Barnharts try to get Hardy’s elderly mother settled into a retirement residence. Management dismisses an on-site death as accidental, but LaTisha sees murder in the mix. As well as Polly Dent (whose hands may have slipped on some powder), there are other amusing names in this book: Sue Mie is an angry young woman with attitude, and Thomas Philcher is rumoured to be a bank robber.

Your Goose is Cooked cover artYour Goose is Cooked is book 3. LaTisha and Hardy are back in Maple Gap and they’re the new owners of a restaurant called “Your Goose is Cooked.” Their cook overhears a threat on the mayor’s life but is afraid to go to the police, leaving LaTisha to investigate. Add a murder and an attempted hit-and-run on LaTisha herself, throw in small-town rumours and an election campaign, and things get a bit wild.

This is a fun, light-hearted mystery series, and I recommend starting with book 1. The stories build on one another, from Murder on the Ol’ Bunions to Polly Dent Loses Grip to Your Goose is Cooked. They’re 99¢ each for Kindle and at Smashwords, so why not collect all three?

I won an e-copy of Your Goose is Cooked at Lena Nelson Dooley’s blog, A Christian Writer’s World, and liked it so much I bought books 1 and 2.  The draw is over, but if you click here you can read an interview with S. Dionne Moore and an excerpt from book 1, Murder on the Ol’ Bunions.

S. Dionne Moore writes historical romance and cozy mysteries. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website.  Your Goose is Cooked is only available in electronic format, but her previous books are in print as well as ebooks.

[Book 3 provided by S. Dionne Moore and Lena Nelson Dooley, with no strings attached. Books 1 and 2 purchased from Smashwords. The choice to write a review was mine.]

Review: Dying to Read, by Lorena McCourtney

Dying to ReadDying to Read, by Lorena McCourtney (Revell, 2012)

Cate Kinkaid is working for her Uncle Joe, “dipping her toe into the world of private investigation” until she can find a real job. Her past work experience, and her ex-fiancé, have left her feeling like a failure.

Her first investigative assignment seems to be more of the same: all she has to do is verify the address of a young woman named Willow, but Willow’s gone. Instead, Cate finds a dead body and ends up saddled with the deceased’s cat.

But Cate has spunk and some good instincts, and the official verdict of accidental death doesn’t feel right. Plus, she’s determined to find Willow before her uncle discovers the assignment’s still unfinished.

Suspects abound: Willow, the dead woman’s book club, her niece, her boyfriend. It’s not all bad, though. Cate meets a handsome handyman, Mitch, who appoints himself her bodyguard. Even that’s troublesome, because she still wonders if God will bring her ex-fiancé to his senses.

Dying to Read is book one in Lorena McCourtney’s new series, The Cate Kinkaid Files. After enjoying her Ivy Malone books, I was eager to give this one a try, and I look forward to reading more of Cate’s adventures.

Lorena McCourtney’s characters are always a treat, blending humour and eccentricities with hearts that are surprisingly real. Cate doesn’t trust her intuition, but she’s wiser than she knows, and she’s too stubborn to quit.

To learn more about the author and her books, visit Lorena McCourtney’s website. At the publisher’s website, you can read an excerpt of Dying to Read, or if you’ve already read the novel, check out the discussion questions.

[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: Cooking the Books, by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Cooking the Books cover artCooking the Books, by Bonnie S. Calhoun (Abingdon Press, 2012)

When Sloane Templeton fled her abusive husband, she moved into an apartment above her mother’s bookstore in Brooklyn, NYC. Her mom’s sudden death left her co-owner of the store, and business partner with store manager Felicia Tyler.

Sloane’s not the bookstore type. She’s a computer forensics pro. But she’s not ready to let go of the connection to her mother and move on with life. Especially not now, when community business owners are under pressure to sell out to a big developer and she can still hear her mother’s thoughts on the subject.

Sloane is a vibrant, sassy character with a penchant for strays (of the human variety). Her self-appointed mother-hens, Felicia and Aunt Verlene, are as supportive as they can be. Sadly for Sloane, that support comes in the form of shooting lessons, fear-inspiring home cuisine, and a concerted attempt to set her up with nice young men despite her current relationship.

Then the email threats start. Her former boyfriend (not the ex-husband, he’s trouble of a different sort) wants her back. Rude but wealthy men compete for a valuable book. And the developer piles on the pressure to sell. What’s a girl to do?

The characters make the novel. Felicia and Verlene are larger-than-life comedic individuals like you’d find in Janice Hanna Thompson’s Weddings by Bella series. Between the fast-paced banter and all that’s going on in Sloane’s life, it’s a fun read. And a good mystery: who’s behind all this?

When the immediate mystery is solved, there are enough threads left to warrant a sequel. Always a good thing… I hope we’ll see more Sloane Templeton Mysteries. For a bit of fun, click this link to meet Sloane Templeton.

Bonnie S. Calhoun is director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and owner/publisher of the popular Christian Fiction Online magazine. Cooking the Books is her first novel, and it fits her tag line: snark & suspense. For more about the author, visit bonniescalhoun.com. And check out Vonda Skelton’s interview with Bonnie.  You can also read the first chapter of Cooking the Books.

[Review copy from my personal library.]