Category Archives: Amateur Investigator

Shadow of Murder

Shadow of MurderWhen and where does it take a village to solve a murder? In Lauren Carr‘s Shadow of Murder. That’s where. What happened to Konnor Langston? Why did she suddenly disappear while helping Larry Donahue clean out his deceased father’s house?

Beware. There are lots and lots of characters in this lengthy tome. This is really an affair involving a good chunk of the village of Spencer, including the mayor, Gnarly (a German shepherd). And the villagers all know one another, and most are somehow related to each other.

I enjoyed the characterization. Although there was a multitude of characters, many “on stage” together, most of the characters had their own personality. But I chafed when I had to keep referring to the Cast of Characters list at the beginning of the novel to keep everyone straight and remind myself of who was who, as most are related to each other in some way, as previously mentioned. This slowed down my reading of the novel to a large extent and took away from the enjoyment of the story. In fact, the interactions between certain groups of characters detracted from the sense of mystery. At times, this seems like a novel about the village characters, especially during the first 25 percent of the novel.

Another minor irritation was the food fight scene at the Spencer Inn. It reminded me too much of Keystone Kops slapstick-style comedy. But once the story got rolling it became more engrossing.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Shadow of Murder. I look forward to reading more from Lauren Carr.

Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper

Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper and Other StoriesIn Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper and Other Stories, Brenda Seabrooke does an excellent job of recreating Arthur Conan Doyle’s brisk, steady pacing. Seabrooke shows all sides of the famous duo. From Sherwin Soames, a tall lad interested in chemistry interacting with a Scottish lad, Ian Dotson, to John Watson helping solve one of the first cases he encounters early in his friendship with Holmes. Although uneven, these stories entertain.

Even as a young lad, Sherwin Soames, Seabrook’s protagonist in “The Marzando Matter,” has the markings of the adult we know from Conan Doyle. In this story, Soames admits he has already studied thieves, pickpockets, cut-purses and the like. Soames concludes: “The human mind is capable of almost anything and once set on a path is unlikely to change it unless or until it is expedient to do so.” “The Persian Slipper” lacks strength. Why would Holmes just insert himself into a case without being asked? The client had sought out Dr. Watson. Why would Holmes suggest that he and Watson use aliases while they were at the home of the fiancé of the client’s sister? And before he knew much of the facts in the case. Why would George Spencer-Hytton (the fiancé) suddenly show marked improvement when Dr. Watson had barely begun treatment?

Somewhat better is “The Curse of Barcombe Keep.” Sherlock Holmes lets on that he believes in curses to route out the murderer. Although why the staff were so shaken by an apparent curse that affected only the members of the Northington family, owners of the house, one can only guess.

Believable Protagonists

Seabrooke creates a believable pair in her rendition of Holmes and Watson. As usual, Holmes is a step or two ahead of Watson in interpreting clues and witnesses. Seabrooke’s Watson demonstrates a sense of humor. At the beginning of “The Persian Slipper,” Watson grumbles about the heat while observing Holmes watching ice slivers in separate teacups. Smoke is rising from one of the cups. After a moment, Watson says, “I say – your ice is afire. It’s so hot even the ice is burning up.” Turns out, the cup contains a sliver of dry ice. Holmes is comparing the melting of that versus real ice.

I received a free copy of Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper and Other Stories by Brenda Seabrooke from reedsy.com/discovery in exchange for an honest review.

Sherlock Homes: The Persian Slipper and Other Stories
by Brenda Seabrooke
edited by David Marcum, Derrick Belanger and Brian Belanger
© 2022
MX Publishing

Grace Among Thieves

Grace Among ThievesIn Kari Bovée’s Grace Among the Thieves, Grace finally gets to meet her father. Why had her father waited so long to contact her? She thought he was dead. Many years dead. When had he remarried? When had he become a heroin addict, and why?

Who would beat Anna Ivanova almost to death for a mysterious package? Valentina Baklanova, Ivanova’s niece, draws Grace into the investigation. Baklanova works at the same Hollywood studio as Grace.

The pressure on Grace and her friends ramps up when Madeleine, her father’s second wife, is kidnapped, and a note left about the same mysterious package.

Grace and Chet, her husband, are faced with keeping their circle of family and friends safe as murders and break-ins abound. Will they be successful and find the package? And learn what it contains? Will they succeed and beat the clock?

Why does Grace remain fixated on her sister four years after her death? Including still wearing Sophia’s dressing gown in the evenings and mornings. Grace now has a loving husband, a promising job as a clothes designer and as a costume designer for Ambassador Studio. As well, she and her husband care for a few teenage orphans.

Likeable Characters

In this third entry in the Grace Michelle Mystery series, Kari Bovée succeeds in growing Grace in confidence and likeability. The plot moves along at a fair pace. However, the supernatural aspect, in the form of Grace’s dreams and voices initiated by Sophia, her deceased sister, leaves a lot to be desired. Those aspects slow the plot and are not really believable. Sophia’s ghost does a lot of the heavy lifting in the hunt for the package and the crime’s solution. She provides connections and hints that could have been better provided through other, natural, means.

I have read the first and third installments in Grace Michelle Mystery series. I’m not sure I will read other books in this particular series. Although I like the characters more in this book than in Grace in the Wings, the plot in Grace Among Thieves had aspects that were less than credible.

See my review of Grace in the Wings, here.

I received a free copy of Grace Among Thieves from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Grace in the Wings

Grace in the WingsFlorenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr., Fanny Brice, Mary Pickford, Hedda Hopper. These are a few of the famous Broadway and Hollywood names from the early 20th century mentioned in Kari Bovée’s Grace in the Wings. But this name dropping gets the story off to a very sluggish start.

Grace Michelle, the smart, beautiful, younger sister of Sophia, one of Ziegfeld’s stars in the eponymous Follies, works as an assistant costumier there. After Sophia’s death, Grace is thrown into a number of unusual circumstances, including trying to determine if, and how, Sophia was murdered.

Flo Ziegfield masterminds making Grace the star of his Follies to replace Sophia. He also masterminds sending her on a whistle-stop, cross-country train trip to drum up business for his show. The publicist, Donovan Green, sent along to assist, nearly gets Grace killed during this trip. “How did I get into this mess? All I want to do is design and sew costumes.”  Thus muses Grace to Chet Riker, her bodyguard and new love interest. Did Sophia commit suicide or was it murder? And why would Chet mislead Grace when she asked questions about her sister’s death and the police report?

Change in the Wings

Also, Grace is innocent and naïve at the beginning of Grace in the Wings. For someone orphaned and homeless at a young age, and who then led a life in the theater, she’s too innocent and naïve. Did Grace never wonder what Sophia did to keep them alive while they lived on the street and after Flo Ziegfeld took them under his wing. However, Grace does change and mature as the novel progresses.

I was gradually drawn into Grace in the Wings, even though the plot was sluggish in spots. But tension and suspense did ramp up. Bovée provides great characterization of Grace, Flo Ziegfeld, Fanny Brice and some of the minor characters. Grace, especially, comes into her own.

I look forward to reading other installments of the Grace Michelle Mystery Series.
I received a free e-book copy of Grace in the Wings from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Giveaway:

Enter to win a $35 PayPal gift card, autographed copy of GRACE AMONG THIEVES, and gift basket containing mouse pad, mug, and tote bag courtesy of the author of the Grace Michelle Mysteries! (one winner/USA only) (ends April 4)

https://gleam.io/0V9S1/grace-among-thieves-grace-michelle-mysteries-tour-giveaway

 

Last Call by Cathi Stoler

Last Call by Cathi StolerWho can you trust, if not your friends, drinking buddies, and regular customers? That’s the question stumping Jude Dillane and Thomas “Sully” Sullivan, her landlord and friend. The dumpster behind The Corner Lounge, Jude’s bar/restaurant hides a body. Turns out, it’s the recently arrived brother of one of Jude’s regular customers, Art Bevins. Who would want him dead, and why? Who among the “10th Street Irregulars,” Sully among them, would have the guts to do such a thing? Last Call by Cathi Stoler keeps the reader guessing.

When Elaine Garlinger, an FBI agent, takes charge of the case, she starts talking about a serial killer. Because of the murder weapon and the physical appearance of the victim, Garlinger connects the current crime to the New Year’s Eve Killer.  And things really heat up for Jude. The killer begins leaving her threatening notes, both at The Corner Lounge and slid under her apartment door. How does he know where she lives? And how does he get into the building, anyway? Why is he so interested in Jude? Does the killer think she’s seen him or knows his identity in some way?

Believable Characters Attract

Believable, likeable characters entice the reader in Last Call by Cathi Stoler. The reader meets characters first seen in Bar None, such as Dean Mason, Jude’s hunky bartender; Sully Sullivan; Tony Napoli (who is this guy anyway?!); and Pete, Jude’s chef and co-owner of The Corner Lounge. Eric, Jude’s new boyfriend, earns a larger part in this second book of Stoler’s Murder on the Rocks series.

I’ve read three of the four books in the Murder on the Rocks series. All of them held my interest based on characterization and, to a lesser extent, plot. I want to read further in this series and look forward to the next installments. See my reviews of Bar None and Straight Up.

I received a free copy of this book from booksirens.com in exchange for an honest review.

Last Call
By Cathi Stoler
© 2020
Level Best Books

Bar None

Bar NoneWe meet Jude Dillane in Bar None, the first installment in Cathie Stoler‘s Murder on the Rocks series. Jude is co-owner of The Corner Lounge, She’s the smart and savvy narrator of this cozy mystery.

Stoler creates likeable characters who have all-too-human flaws and blind spots. Jude is a bright 34-year-old up-and-coming entrepreneur who can’t see that Roger, her current boyfriend is a predator. Sully, an ex-marine is tough and smart except for his choice of the women for whom he falls. Dean, The Corner Lounge’s premier bartender, is handsome and good at his job, but wants to be an actor. So, who knows how long he’ll work at The Corner Lounge. And Peter, the chef/co-owner of The Corner Lounge, creates all kinds of off-beat entrees for the restaurant. All of these characters are memorable and work well together.

When Ed, who works at the Big City Coop with Sully, indicates to him that things aren’t financially correct at the co-op, Sully and Jude begin to nose around. Especially when Ed was killed in Sully’s apartment. When George, another worker at the co-op, has a fatal car crash, things really heat up for Sully and Jude. Who shot Ed? Who pushed George’s car off the road? In fact, who smashed the front window of The Corner Lounge?

Stoler’s meticulous prose keeps the action going at a steady pace and the tension high. But there are three places where the prose is not at its best. For example, when Jude finds Ed-dead in Sully’s apartment, Stoler described the scene as: “Ed was there all right, and he was as dead as the empties from the bar at last call.” Really?

Another miss is when Jade depicts the view from a window in her apartment: “…gazing at the midnight blue sky dotted with stars. They were as bright and unfathomable as the ones that often filled my head.” How many stars can you see from the middle of a large city? Not that many, I think. Too much ambient light.

A third instance was Jude’s description of the traffic sounds she could hear from her apartment. “Like a long and lonely spiral of some long forgotten soulful jazz melody that no longer existed, it wafted up and into my mind.” This is a bit clichéd.

As a whole, I was pleased with, and entertained by, this initial offering in Stoler’s Murder on the Rocks series. Characters are believable and the plot moves along at an even pace.

I look forward to reading the second book in this series. For my review of Straight Up by Cathi Stoler, click here.

I received a free copy of Bar None from booksirens.com in exchange for an honest review.

Straight Up

Straight UpMoney helps. “It makes everything better.” That’s how Cathi Stoler begins Straight Up. This third novel in Stoler’s On the Rocks series continues the story of Jude Dillane co-owner of The Corner Lounge. Narration switches between Jude and Dolores Castel, a shady female on the prowl for a rich third husband.

Tension arises when Dolores sets her sights on Thomas “Sully” Sullivan as her next catch. But she has to deal with Jude, who’s Sully’s best friend as well as his tenant. Tension also heats up Jude’s world when Art Bevins, a serial killer previously known to Jude, comes hunting for her again. Not to mention that Jude’s boyfriend, Eric, has left her. So, Jude and her crew have to stick together. Not to mention help from some FBI agents assigned to protect Jude until the killer is found. Stoler maintains and heightens the edginess and suspense by alternating narrators at key, strategic points in the plot. Stolen successfully keeps the reader on edge until the end.

Stoler’s well-defined prose helps keep Straight Up moving at a quick, even, pace. well-rounded characters with human quirks and failings as well as likeable qualities populate this novel. Dillane and Sully, Peter and Dean, Ari Maguire and Elaine Garlinger, even Dolores Castel and Art Bevins, are people you’d love or love to hate.

This is the first work by Cathi Stoler that I’ve read. Straight Up can be read as a stand-alone work but does make references to plot points from the previous two works in this series. Those references did not hinder my enjoyment of the book or understanding the plot. My enjoyment of this work will lead me to read other books by Stoler. I’ll especially read the first two installments in the On the Rocks series, Bar None and Last Call.

I received a free copy of this work from booksirens.com in exchange for my voluntary, honest review.

Straight Up
by Cathi Stoler
© 2021
Level Best Books