Oust's Debut of the Month, Barker, Kerr, Kingsbury, Lawrence, plus New Series Lineup | Mystery Reviews, December 2016

Just the right ingredients of humor, mystery, and action; a ripped-from-the-headlines plot with a twist that adds a real kick; MacRae's series debut will charm everyone who loves Scotland; Coleman is totally fun reading

This month, I bid a fond farewell to all of you. This will be my last column for ­Library Journal after two years of reading some terrific mysteries. I hope these reviews have assisted your collection development process.

Humor runs throughout the selections this month, from the small-town cozy shenanigans of Gail Oust’s Curried Away to the Highland-flavored funny moments in Molly MacRae’s Plaid and Plagiarism. On the serious side, Eleanor Gray’s Don’t Tell Anyone, Hugh Dutton’s Bad Blood, Lucy Kerr’s Time of Death, and Carrie Smith’s Forgotten City shine a light on police investigative techniques and the corrosive effects of corruption. The meticulous research in Mary Lawrence’s Death at St. Vedast: A Bianca Goddard ­Mystery gives every historical mystery fan an education.

Debut of the Month

Oust, Gail. Curried Away: A Spice Shop Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781250081254. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466893122. M

curriedaway-jpg111816A transplanted Yankee in Brandywine Creek, GA, Piper Prescott has forged a new life after her divorce. She’s running her store, Spice It Up, and dating a new boyfriend, veterinarian Doug Winters, whom she has persuaded to demonstrate how to make chicken curry at her shop. But before Doug can finish preparing the meal, local handyman Ned Feeney bursts in with shocking news: the strangled body of Sandy Granger had been found in the Brandywine Creek Opera House. While directing a local production of Steel Magnolias, Sally had managed to infuriate the entire cast and crew. Yet when Piper’s best friend Ruby Mae Johnson becomes the prime suspect, Piper has to investigate to clear Ruby’s name, much to the dismay of the dashing sheriff, Wyatt McBride. An intrepid amateur sleuth, Piper is determined to help her friends and family. ­VERDICT Blending just the right ingredients of humor, mystery, and action, Oust bakes up a delightful and tasty Southern cozy in her fourth series outing (after Cinnamon Toasted). Paige Shelton and G.A. McKevett fans will eat this one up.

Check These Out

Barker, Trey R. East of the Sun. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Dec. 2016. 360p. ISBN 9781432832322. $25.95. M

Jace Salome works for the Zachary County sheriff’s office as a correctional officer. Having brought down a group of crooked cops, she is suffering from nightmares and backlash from other deputies who resented her whistle-blowing. When a doctor is killed in the jail just before Christmas, rumors concerning drug running in the county start flying. Is the late physician’s employer, Cruz Medical, involved? Jace’s jail house partner, Rory Bogan, is working a second job, and when she takes Jace along on patrol, they bust a truck full of drugs, reinforcing Jace’s suspicion that Cruz Medical has plenty to lose if certain facts come to light. Introduced in Slow Bleed, Jace is a fascinating protagonist, flawed and broken but determined to rebuild her life. VERDICT With a ripped-from-the-headlines plot and a twist that adds a real kick, this gritty mystery brings to mind the crime fiction of Kathryn Casey and Alanna Martin.

Dutton, Hugh. Bad Blood. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Dec. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781432832551. $25.99. M

Leaving North Carolina for Florida, Brady Spain has found the good life—a terrific job working in IT and a house in the desirable beach community of Heron Point. But things go from great to monumentally bad in the blink of an eye. In the wake of the rape and murder of two women, Brady refuses to corroborate the alibi of the chief suspect, who happens to be the son of local tycoon and Heron Point developer Leo Burgess. Not surprisingly, Leo comes down on Brady like a ton of bricks. How will Brady survive the venal Burgess family? VERDICT A fast-moving plot set in a Floridian Garden of Eden, Dutton’s second novel (after Supposed To Die) is an exposé of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Brady is an ordinary Joe caught up in the vicissitudes of unbridled dishonesty. James Hall fans will relish this title.

Gray, Eleanor. Don’t Tell Anyone. Midnight Ink. Dec. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780738750224. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780738750996. M

The murder of Grace Neville’s daughter, Tara, and the conviction of Tara’s boyfriend Jordan Dukes, has left the art historian paralyzed with grief and at a loss. When Jordan’s father, Alan, shows up and pleads the case that Jordan is innocent, and that Tara’s killer is still out there, Grace slowly comes to believe Alan might be right, and her life unravels even more. English author Gray, who has written nine novels under several pseudonyms, has created a sympathetic character in Grace, who gradually learns to live again while simultaneously pursuing the secrets that might lead to answers in Tara’s murder. VERDICT The disparate pieces of this intricately plotted mystery come together in a satisfying manner that will please readers of Ann Granger and Antonia Fraser.

Kerr, Lucy. Time of Death: A Stillwater General Mystery. Crooked Lane. Dec. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781629539911. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629539928. M

Twelve years ago, Francesca Stapleton fled Stillwater, IL, to keep from dying of boredom. Now an emergency room nurse in Chicago, she has returned home to help her pregnant sister, Charlene, who is facing an emergency C-section. Frankie arrives at Stillwater General just as the emergency room is inundated with victims from a bus crash. No one is paying attention to the old man suffering cardiac arrest outside the building, so Frankie jumps into action and saves Clem Jensen’s life, only to wind up squarely in the crosshairs of the hospital administration when Clem suddenly dies. Perplexed, Frankie knows Clem should not have expired. What is happening at Stillwater General? VERDICT Eileen Dreyer fans will enjoy this appealing debut mystery that mixes family drama, medicine, and a soupçon of romance.

Lawrence, Mary. Death at St. Vedast: A Bianca Goddard Mystery. Kensington. Dec. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781617737145. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617737152. M

deathatstvedast-jpg121216The year is 1543, and herbalist Bianca Goddard and her husband, John, are moving into central London from Southwark. Bianca is unhappy to be leaving behind her beloved study of chemistries and medicinals, but John believes he can become a member of the silver guild more quickly if they live closer to the guild hall. On the day of their arrival, a pregnant young woman is found dead in the courtyard of St. Vedast, the very same church where John’s friend, Boisvert, is to marry Odile, the wealthy widow of a goldsmith. At the wedding reception, the bride suddenly drops dead. Did Boisvert poison his beloved Odile or was it something more sinister? VERDICT Full of period details, Lawrence’s latest series outing (after Death of an Alchemist) captures Tudor London in all its colorful, if noisome, splendor. A solid choice for devotees of Kathy Lynn Emerson’s “Lady Appleton” series or Karen Harper’s ­Elizabethan mysteries.

Smith, Carrie. Forgotten City: A Claire Codella Mystery. Crooked Lane. Dec. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781629537672. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629537863. M

In this follow-up to Silent City, NYPD detective Claire Codella is back on the job after cancer treatment, but her supervisor at the 171st Precinct has kept her off any major cases. When Julie Merchant asks Claire to investigate her mother’s death, no one at the 171st wants an inquiry. Broadway star Lucy Merchant had suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s and died at the age of 56 in a private Manhattan hospital. Claire will have to put aside her own feelings of inadequacy and dark memories of childhood abuse to ferret out the clues. By presenting a cancer survivor as a heroine, Smith offers a positive message of empowerment. Claire is not a victim of a deadly disease but a strong survivor. Smith also handles the challenges faced by a transgender character very adroitly, allowing for a sympathetic relationship to build between reader and character. VERDICT This well-crafted police procedural is recommended for admirers of Robin Burcell or Alafair Burke.

Cozy Corner

Kingsbury, Kate. Dead and Breakfast: A Merry Ghost Inn Mystery. Crooked Lane. Jan. 2017. 274p. ISBN 9781683310099. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683310105. M

deadandbreakfast-jpg121216Freeing herself of her old life and her ex-husband, Melanie West moves to beautiful Sully’s Landing on the Oregon coast to open a B&B with her grandmother Liza Harris. Neither of them is prepared when they find a corpse in a hidden closet as they are renovating a bedroom. The skeleton is identified as Angela Morelli, wife of the house’s former owner. With their renovations on hold, Mel and Liza launch their own probe into the case to expedite the opening of the inn. Helped along by the presence of a laughing ghost, Mel and Liza question various suspects, but their amateur sleuthing may turn deadly. VERDICT The author of the ­“PennyFoot Hotel” mysteries begins a promising cozy series with this lighthearted and charming title. Who wouldn’t want to open a B&B on the Oregon coast after reading Kingsbury’s delightful mystery?

MacRae, Molly. Plaid and Plagiarism. Pegasus Crime. (Highland Bookshop, Bk. 1). Dec. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781681772561. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681772967. M

Janet Marsh has been visiting the Scottish town of Inversgail for years, having owned a vacation home there. When her husband decamped with a female graduate student, Janet got the house. Now, with daughter Tallie, best friend ­Christine Robertson, and Tallie’s friend Summer, Janet has bought the local bookstore with plans to open a cafe next door and bed-and-breakfast upstairs. But murder rears its ugly head when Una Graham, a disagreeable newspaper columnist, is found dead in Janet’s back shed. The investigation by the intrepid foursome uncovers a vast array of suspects, including the reclusive author who lives next door to Janet and the local real-estate broker. ­VERDICT Full of fascinating local characters and Highland color, this series debut will charm everyone who loves Scotland. MacRae also writes the “Haunted Yarn Shop” series and brings the same cozy sensibilities here. Recommend for ­enthusiasts of Ann Ripley or Dicey Deere.

Series lineup

Buckley, Fiona. The Heretic’s Creed: A Tudor Mystery Featuring Ursula Blanchard. Severn House. Jan. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781780290911. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781780108230. M In her 14th series outing (after A Perilous Alliance), Ursula Blanchard is sent to Yorkshire to acquire a medieval manuscript currently in the possession of a group of recusant nuns. Previous attempts to secure the book ended in the disappearance of the messengers.

Hall, Parnell. A Puzzle To Be Named Later: A Puzzle Lady Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250061249. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466866881. M

Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady and a die-hard Yankees fan, must save rookie pitcher Matt Greystone’s career when people around him begin dying. Cora again dispenses her signature wit and humor along with solving the crime in the 18th entry in the series, following Presumed Puzzled.

feverinthedark-jpg121216Hart, Ellen. Fever in the Dark: A Jane Lawless Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250088635. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250088642. M

A YouTube video of Fiona and Annie’s marriage proposal is about to go viral, but Annie is terrified that her hidden past will surface. When Fiona starts receiving threatening letters, she hires Jane Lawless to investigate. Soon someone is murdered and Annie disappears. Well-developed characters retain their allure in Hart’s 24th series outing (after The Grave Soul).

Lister, Michael. Blood Oath: A John Jordan Mystery. Pulpwood. Dec. 2016. 300p. ISBN 9781888146684. pap. $17.99. M

John Jordan, now a deputy with the county sheriff’s department and a prison chaplain in Wewahitchka, FL, probes the disappearance of his friend Shane McMillan. Is it connected to a rash of missing young girls in the area? The 11th John Jordan adventure (after Blood Cries) focuses on the character’s growth as a husband and father but also offers plenty of police action.

QUOTABLE “The breeze from the harbor carried the tang of salt and only a hint of fish. Water lapping the sand below the seawall matched the clear May sky with no threat of rain. A swath of bluebells disappeared into the oaks fringing the banks of the River Sgail, and the river, more than a wide stream, splashed under the arched stone bridge she [Janet] and Christine crossed. The hills rising behind the shops and houses and wrapping around the farthest ends of Inversgail appeared to embrace the village this morning, looking benevolent rather than brooding.”—Molly MacRae, Plaid and Plagiarism

Additional Mystery

Coleman, Reed Farrel. What You Break. Putnam. Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780399173042. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698184121. M

After his son’s sudden death, Gus ­Murphy was a tortured soul. He credits his recovery to his friendship with ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, so when Kilkenny asks Murphy to meet a friend, he agrees. The friend is Micah Spears, whose granddaughter was brutally murdered. Spears wants answers, but the apprehended killer is silent. Gus, a cop–turned–van driver for a Long Island hotel, gets caught up in a second case when one of his passengers is murdered gangland style. It turns out Gus’s coworker and friend Slava, who has a secretive past, had known the stranger previously. Murphy is your average caring guy, who is good at his job and full of faults, whose philosophy is evident and commentary on point. Murphy is not slick, but he is effective. VERDICT ­Coleman’s second series outing (after Where It Hurts) is part police procedural, part human interest story, part philosophical monolog, and totally fun reading. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]— Edward ­Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY

Call for Reviewers

If you love mystery fiction and write well, we want you as reviewer. Please email wwilliams@mediasourceinc.com for more details, or go to ow.ly/ndpb306cvpr for an application.

Viccy Kemp is the Technical Services Manager for the Flower Mound Public Library, TX, where she buys the books and deals with library technology. Reading mysteries is her passion because it’s only between the pages of a book that justice can really be done

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