Showing posts with label murder mysteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label murder mysteries. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review

Las Vegas (Sin City) Is a Great Setting for Murder Mysteries


Anything can happen in Las Vegas and often does. The Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas has been one of my favorites for years. Just this week I discovered another mystery series set on the Las Vegas Strip - The Lucky O'Toole mysteries by Deborah Coonts.

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


Why Las Vegas? Where else does one find such a diversity of characters in one place? Where are there so many themed hotels for the rich and famous within only four miles of each other? Where else is there so much temptation for people to act on their baser impulses? Greed abounds in the casinos, criminals come to look for easy victims, and thousands flock to the hotels every day to attend large conventions for organizations catering to groups ranging from booksellers and beekeepers to Elvis impersonators and swingers. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip attract all types.

Such throngs of people from so many backgrounds with such diverse motivations and objectives can lead to all kinds of problems. That's why the hotels and casinos need their public relations experts to keep the lid on anything that can produce bad publicity or legal problems. The PR people do everything from soothing the ruffled feathers of celebrities to dealing with naked men asleep in the stairwells. Occasionally they discover dead bodies as they go about their work.

Meet Temple Barr and Midnight Louie


Temple Barr, the protagonist of the Midnight Louie Series, and Lucky O'Toole, who stars in her own series, are almost complete opposites in looks and personality. Although each is a public relations expert working on the Las Vegas Strip, in most other ways they are completely different.

Temple is a short redhead and loves her spike heels. She is a public relations freelancer for hotels on the Strip. She lives in a condo at the Circle Ritz with Midnight Louie -- a large black tomcat who moved in with her. He comes and goes as he pleases through her bathroom window, and when Temple starts discovering bodies as she goes about her public relations work, Louie helps her finds the murderers. Carmen Molina, head of homicide for the Las Vegas Police, does not appreciate their help and seems to consider Temple a suspect much of the time. Yet there's also a soft side to Carmen as she seeks to raise her tween daughter.

As the series begins, Temple has two men in her life -- the Mysterious Max, a magician who is her current love interest and lives with her when he's around, and Matt Devine, a neighbor at the Circle Ritz, an ex-Catholic priest. They share a zany landlady who adds humor to the series. As the first book in the series, Cat in an Alphabet Soup opens, Max is missing. Throughout the series he appears and disappears. This allows Matt to begin to step into his place. Temple has a bit of trouble deciding which one to choose.

Temple and Midnight Louie obviously have a relationship that is mutually satisfying. On more than one occasion he saves her skin. He often gets his feline family to help him investigate. He also tells many parts of the stories, alternating with the narrator. He is all tomcat! He considers Temple his roommate -- not his owner. Cat lovers will especially love Midnight Louie. Learn more about this series in Why I Love the Midnight Louie Series.

Lucky O'Toole


Although I've read all the Midnight Louie books but the last five, I have just begin to read the Lucky O'Toole series, which is written in the first person. I started with Lucky Double: A Two-Book Lucky Bundle which includes the first two books in the Las Vegas Adventure Series: Wanna Get Lucky? and Lucky Stiff. As I write this, you can get this 718-page duo as a free download to introduce you to the series. The link below should reflect any change in this price. I have now finished four books in the series (two novellas were offered free as a download at the end of Lucky Stiff.)




Whereas Temple was easy to like and seemed somewhat vulnerable from the start, Lucky comes across as continually harried, brittle, and somewhat snarky. She seems to hold herself together with alcohol and caffeine. Although she has office help in the form of the already trained and efficient Miss Patterson and the newly hired young Brandy Alexander, she is constantly on the run, dealing with one crisis after another.

Whereas Temple is short and hardly ever goes anywhere without her spike heels, Lucky is six feet tall  and can barely walk in hers. She is not afraid to use her height to intimidate people who are causing problems and she can be one tough cookie!

Lucky reigns over the public relations department of the Babylon, a mega casino resort. She lives nearby in a multi story premier residence called the Presidio. Her friend Teddie, a female impersonator and musician, lives in the penthouse above her. He's in love with Lucky, but she doesn't seem to know it, is afraid to have a serious relationship, and doesn't want a casual one. Her roommate is a foul-mouthed macaw who constantly cusses at her. Lucky's language is not pristine either.

Lucky's mother Mona is the madam of an upper scale house of ill repute in the town of Pahrump, sixty miles down the road. Lucky is not sure who her father is. Mona gives the girls who come to her a safe place to ply their trade and helps those who want to leave prepare for different jobs in the world outside. She believes she is running a halfway house for ladies of the night.  Temple, on the other hand comes from a traditional family.

Although  both women live life at a frantic pace, Temple spends more time away from work than Lucky and has deeper relationships. In comparison, Lucky's relationships (except with Teddie) seem more superficial. It's fairly easy to get to know Temple, but Lucky keeps a lot inside. She is hard to get to know.

It seems Deborah Coonts is more interested in creating an exciting plot than in developing complex characters. I care more about Temple, Max, and Matt than I do about Lucky, Teddie, and the other characters in the Lucky series. It's possible I will care more as the series develops if each book continues to build on the ones before it.

The individual books in the Midnight Louie Series work together to build one grand plot that will not be resolved until the end. Yet each book can also stand alone even as it leaves you wondering at the end about what's next in the romantic triangle.

Although there are quirky characters in both books, the minor characters in the Lucky series seem more bizarre to me. Those who hold traditional moral values will be more comfortable with the Midnight Louie books than the Lucky series, although there are diverse sexual orientations and unmarried sexual partners in both. Lucky gets disgusted with some of these people when they create problems she has to solve,  but she seems to accept their lifestyles and antics with an "it takes all types" attitude. When she finds a naked man sleeping in a stairwell because he's had too much to drink, or half a couple in the wrong room, it just adds to another day's workload to get people back where they belong.

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review
Photo is from Pixabay with my Edits

Plots and Settings


Though both of the series are set primarily on the Las Vegas Strip, Temple Barr gets away from the Strip more often than Lucky, who is fortunate if she can get away from the Babylon to eat, sleep, and get Mona out of  jams. Much of the action in the Midnight Louie series takes place at the Circle Ritz as Temple relates to the two men in her life and their eccentric landlady. The cats roam, too, as they attempt to keep Temple safe and help her solve murders. I enjoyed the many changes of setting Douglas utilizes -- some even outside the United States. The European settings shed light on Max's mysterious past fighting the IRA.

The Midnight Louie characters (with the exception of the villains) have a warmth that I don't see much in the Lucky series. The relationships are deeper and the conversations more personal. Temple's concern for people is more than casual. She really cares about the people she encounters -- even her antagonist Lieutenant Molina.

Lucky, on the other hand, has many acquaintances and colleagues, but very few real friends. Almost any attractive man sets her hormones raging but she doesn't follow through with one-night stands, at least not as far as I've read. Whereas Temple comes across as nurturing and friendly, Lucky seems edgy and defensive. After all, she was raised in a whore house until she was in her early teens, and that's hardly a supportive and wholesome environment.

Sex is also treated differently in the two series. In the Midnight Louie books, we know it happens, but we don't have many details. We don't see sex used for its own sake or for shock value.  It's always in the context of a committed relationship and only when it is integral to the plot.

Deborah Coonts, on the other hand, almost uses sex as a filler, and as many different kinds as she can work into the plot. The accounts of Lucky's amorous activities give readers just enough detail to stimulate their imaginations and then the readers' imaginations take it from there. There few details on the activity of the swingers and gay couples except to let you know it's happening. In the Lucky books it's hard to go six pages without reading about lustful thoughts, compromising situations, or sexual encounters. It seems almost everyone is obsessed with sex, jealousy, or revenge.

All the main characters in the Midnight Louie series have a life apart from work -- even Carmen the homicide detective. They are multifaceted. Although the murder mysteries capture reader interest, the plots are character driven. Readers will care as much about what happens to the characters as they do about how the mystery is solved.

The Lucky O'Toole mysteries are more plots decorated with the characters who are the tools for solving them. By the third and fourth books I was starting to see more of Lucky's personality and heart, but even then I didn't know her as well as I did Temple after the first book. Here are the beginnings of the plots in the books I've read in this series, to give you an idea.

Wanna Get Lucky opens with a woman falling from a helicopter into the lagoon in front of one of the hotels. In Lucky Stiff a tractor trailer full of honeybees overturns right in front of the Babylon. Not long after that someone feeds a young woman to the tiger shark in a tank at another resort. In Lucky in Love Lucky has to oversee four couples who are competing in a reality show to win a wedding extravaganza. For several days she has to keep them from killing each other until the final filming night when the winner is chosen. Lucky barely escapes being killed herself in Lucky Bang when she discovers a bomb in the restroom of a friend's restaurant.

My Recommendation


You may want to read Midnight Louie books if

  • You prefer complex characters to shallow ones
  • You want to follow the main characters through an entire series
  • What happens to the main characters is just as important to you as how the mystery is solved.
  • You enjoy complex plots with lots of action
  • You like to see books in a series build on each other.
  • You like to see a variety of settings in a book and in a series
  • You prefer to avoid offensive language and gory murder scenes
  • You like cats
  • You want some warm humor mixed with the mystery 
  • You have traditional moral values but don't expect all characters who share them to always live up to them
  • You want to read about characters you'd invite home for a family dinner



Lucky O'Toole books may appeal to you if
  • A fast action plot pace is more important than complex characters
  • You like to follow the same main characters through an entire series 
  • You like to see books in a series build on each other.
  • You like quirky characters
  • You're okay with lots of four-letter words and snarky comments
  • You like to see characters with a lot of sex appeal and who think about sex a lot, even though the sex scenes leave a lot to the imagination
  • You prefer not to see a lot of blood and gore in your mysteries
  • You are comfortable with cynical or sarcastic humor
  • You are comfortable with characters whose lifestyles are far from the norm such as swingers and those who like threesomes 

I prefer the Midnight Louie books because I love getting to know both the feline and human characters. Although the Lucky O'Toole books kept me entertained, the language and attitudes of many of the characters distracted and annoyed me. 

What do you like best about your favorite mystery writers? Are there particular kinds of characters that attract or repel you?  



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Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Coffeehouse Mysteries - A Series Review

The Coffeehouse Mysteries - a cozy book series review
Buy the Coffeehouse Mysteries by clicking here!
If you love reading murder mysteries in coffee shops then Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse books are ideal for you. Well maybe not the one where the caramel chocolate latte is poisoned, but.....

I do like murder mysteries - both the easy to read cozy mysteries (which Cleo Coyle's ones are) and the grittier ones by the likes of Ruth Rendell or Kathy Reichs.

The Coffeehouse books are a little different in that they involve coffee - yes a whole series of books that unite both coffee and murder, want to know more?

Let's review the series of The Coffeehouse Mysteries, be warned this could become almost as addictive as your morning cup of Joe!

Clare Cosi is the Star of the Coffeehouse Mysteries

A Coffee Lover & Sleuth Too!

Clare Cosi is the heroine of these murder mysteries and she works as manager (soon to be partner) of The Village Blend a coffee shop that has been in Greenwich Village, New York for decades as it was started by her ex-mother-in-law, referred to simply as Madame!

As well as being the manager Clare seems to somehow have a connection to murder on a regular basis and then wants to solve the case - her ex-husband (and soon to be partner in The Village Blend) claims she has a Nancy Drew fixation ........and he might not be wrong.

Throughout the book Clare shares little tidbits about coffee - making it, the differences between beans, coffee folklore and more. To give you some background Clare moved away from New York with her daughter Joy when her marriage ended and only recently returned to New York for the first book in the series - On What Grounds. During the time she was away she worked as a food and coffee writer so has all of this knowledge which gets sprinkled through the books.

Clare has a good relationship with her ex, but the man she'd like in her life is a Police Detective called Mike Quinn which is pretty handy when you're after details of a case as well. Clare also has a good relationship with her ex-mother-in-law who is also a little nosy and loves to help Clare out when she's trying to solve a case.

Reviewing the Coffeehouse Mysteries
Image from Pixabay, adapted by Lou of Lou's Designs

Why I Like The Coffeehouse Mysteries Book Series

The murder mysteries always seem to have a connection to The Village Blend Coffeehouse which could give you pause before drinking there ....... unless you like puffer fish that is. For those of you who don't 'get' that sentance then you need to read book #3 - Latte Trouble!

What sets these books apart from other whodunnits is the coffee. As I mentioned before sprinkled throughout the books are little bits of coffee trivia which I found really interesting. The trivia didn't detract from the story line, but it did add another layer to the story which I enjoyed.

To further seal the coffee influence with these books you'll find recipes from the stories at the end of the book. If you're in a book club you could recreate a Caramel Chocolate Latte to drink while you discuss the ins and outs of Latte Trouble to really get in the mood.

Who is Cleo Coyle?

The Author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries

Cleo Coyle is actually two people, husband and wife writing team - Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini. They released the first book - On What Grounds - in September 2003 and now they even have their own website with recipes and a forum for fans - The Virtual Village Blend.

Cleo Coyle Books in Order

I'm linking to books here for you, but I should mention that I've been reading the kindle editions of these books and am thoroughly enjoying reading them that way.

On What Grounds (Coffeehouse Mysteries, No. 1) is the first of these books and it's where Clare Cosi returns to take over as the manager of The Village Blend.

I actually haven't read this book yet as I started off reading book 2, then book 3 and I haven't looked back! I will read it once I've finished the rest of the series though.


 Through the Grinder (Coffeehouse Mysteries, No. 2)
Through The Grinder is cool because you get to see inside the murderer's mind without it revealing who the person is.

In this book we also see Mike Quinn's jealous side as Clare gets herself a love interest who (rather predictably) turns out to be a main suspect in a rash of murders made to look like suicides and all customers of the Village Blend.


 Latte Trouble (Coffeehouse Mysteries, No. 3)
Latte Trouble is the third book in the coffeehouse mysteries and this time the murder hits even closer to home with the murder weapon being a poisoned latte poured by the lovable Tucker - can Clare's chief barista be a murderer?

This book could be the end for Clare as she's taken into the seedy underworld of the fashion industry and drugged, but wait I know I have more of these books so it'll turn out okay!


 Murder Most Frothy (Coffeehouse Mysteries, No. 4)
Murder Most Frothy doesn't actually take place in Greenwich, but at the Hamptons.

In Latte Trouble we were introduced to David Mintzer, celebrity restaurant owner, who was impressed by Clare's coffee knowledge.

In this the fourth book in the series, David has brought Clare, Joy and Madame to stay at his Hamptons' home to help train his staff up as baristas and of course this means that someone is going to be murdered while they're partying their way through a Hamptons' summer.


 Decaffeinated Corpse (A Coffeehouse Mystery Book 5)
Decaffeinated Corpse is the fifth book in this series and is the one I'm currently reading.

One of the interesting things I've found with this book is about how decaffeinated coffee is made because this book is all about a new coffee bean that is grown as a decaffeinated bean.

I was surprised by the first body that we 'meet' in this book (although it's the second murder in chronological order and the first wasn't a surprise to me), when the body fell onto the sidewalk I thought I knew who it was going to be and I was wrong which is always a good start to solving a whodunnit!


The following books are the rest of the series in order. I haven't read these yet, but will add a short description to them as I do.


  • French Pressed 
  • Espresso Shot 
  • Holiday Grind 
  • Roast Mortem 
  • Murder by Mocha 
  • A Brew to a Kill 
  • Holiday Buzz 
  • Billionaire Blend 
  • Once Upon a Grind 
  • Dead to the Last Drop 
  • Dead Cold Brew 
 Due to be released in April 2018 - Shot in the Dark

Do You Love Cozy Mysteries? We Do!

The contributors here at Review This often review books for you and I've found that a lot of us really enjoy a cozy mystery or two, in fact one of our contributors, Bev Owens, has actually published a couple of her own cozy mysteries which are awesome. 

So, if you want a break from the fast pace of New York (where the Coffeehouse Mysteries are set) then why not take a trip to Beaver Falls with Beverly Owen's Up cycling mysteries.

Here are a few of the other cozy mysteries we've reviewed for you..


Cozy Mystery Series ReviewMystery Series Review: Cats, Cupcakes and Killers
Author Sylvia Selfman has done just that with her Izzy Greene series in Cats, Cupcakes and Killers. All seven mysteries are published together ...

Cozy Mysteries and women sleuthsReviewing Cozy Mysteries and Favorite Women Sleuths
Like cozy mysteries starring smart, female sleuths? ... My favorite genre is mystery and right now I'm particularly attracted to easy-to-read cozy mystery stories

Mrs fix it mystery seriesMrs Fix-it Mystery Series Reviewed
A very enjoyable series of mystery books with Mrs Fix It as the female sleuth. ... I was a little sad when I came to the last page of the 15th book.

Reviewing The Mystic Notch Cozy Mystery SeriesReviewing The Mystic Notch Cozy Mystery Series
I recently read the Mystic Notch Cozy Mystery Series by Leighan Dobbs and enjoyed it immensely. It was pretty easy to get attached to the ...

Chef at the Water's Edge by Kee Patterbee - A Mystery ReviewChef at the Water's Edge by Kee Patterbee - A Mystery Review
A celebrity chef is found dead in a lake. Was it an accident as the police reported? Or was it suicide or murder? Can you solve the mystery ...


We're not all a 'murderous bunch' and we review plenty of other books too, but at the moment I just can't get enough of the cozy mysteries that are out there and I'm sure that you'll love them too.

 If you're not into the more grisly murder mysteries then the cozy mysteries are for you. I once heard them described as the Mills and Boon of mystery books and that made me smile because they are light reading and in general they don't contain descriptive violence (although obviously there is murder involved). I think of them as 'genteel murder mysteries' similar to Agatha Christie's books, but without the nostalgic feel of a different era.

Grab a coffee and let me know what you think of this series of books and don't forget to check out some of the other cozy mysteries too.


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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Chef at the Water's Edge by Kee Patterbee - A Mystery Review

Chef at the Water's Edge, Where Mystery and Romance Meet



Mix a celebrity lady chef, an assistant who looks almost like her, an obsessed fan, a controlling husband, a greedy agent, a gorgeous niece, a jealous ex-boyfriend, and you may have a recipe for murder. Although the police ruled chef Julia Karas' death as an accident, many who knew Julia well had their doubts. Too many facts didn't fit. Too many people had motives to kill Julia. And someone bribed the medical examiner to hide facts in the toxicology report that suggested suicide. Was Julia's death an accident, a suicide, or murder?

Chef at the Water's Edge by Kee Patterbee -  A Mystery Review



The Obsessed Fan, His Friends, and Ex-FBI Agent Hannah


The obsessed fan would be Louie Woolridge, a food critic, who lived and worked in the small town of Zebulon where Julia and Asa Karas lived and worked. He was never able to accept the fact that Julia's death was an accident. The official story was that Julia had gone out to the gazebo next to the lake on a dark rainy night and died around 11:30 PM. 

The groundskeeper found her body the next morning when he was cleaning trash from the ground around the lake. The coroner called the death an accident. Evidently, as Julia stumbled in the dark, she bumped into a beam of the gazebo and it sent her into the water. 

Louie could not accept this story because Julia had been deathly afraid of open water and also had night blindness. He could think of no reason she should have gone to the water's edge on a moonless night, unable to see. 

Louie's friends were Buster and Cate Jordan, cousins who had been raised together in the small town of Twilight. Cate was a librarian who was also a computer whiz.  

Hannah Starvling the ex-FBI agent, age 31, was their friend.  She had spent her summers with her grandparents in Twilight while growing up. After she had been wounded in a shoot-out while working for the FBI and could no longer use a weapon, she came back to Twilight to recover and decide what to do with the rest of her life. 

Her grandparents had owned a restaurant in Twilight, and her grandfather sent her for culinary training in Paris when she had to quit the FBI. She then became a restaurant consultant who worked with some of the most famous chefs in the world. 

Hannah also had a pilot's license and a reputation as an amateur sleuth. She had flown her friends to Zebulon for a food festival to commemorate the anniversary of Julia's death. Louie had invited all the friends to stay with him. After they became acquainted, Hannah agreed to look into the real cause of Julia's death. 




What Really Happened to Julia?


Hannah is determined to find out! She knew Louie and Julia had been close friends when they had both trained as chefs at the Goddard Institut Gastronomique in Paris. They had remained friends until Julia had married Asa. Asa then kept Julia from him. They occasionally met in public at culinary events Louie covered. 

Hannah could tell Louie had never stopped loving Julia. He kept a collection of memorabilia associated with her, along with a file of news clippings. Hannah thinks if she can prove Julia died in an accident as the police reported or find the murderer if there had been foul play, Louie might finally get closure. 

Many people had motives for killing Julia. She had argued loudly with her husband Asa the afternoon of her death because she'd heard rumors Asa was having an affair with their niece, Jazlyn Karas. Before her marriage to Asa, Julia's agent, Jack Miller, had tied her into a bad contract that gave him half of all she earned, and she wanted out of it. Xabierre Dauphin and Timothy Holloway were Julia's sous chefs, but Asa had fired them both and they had vowed to get even. Julia had chosen her assistant Vera to eventually replace her on her cooking show so Vera might have had a motive. And, of course, the husband is always a suspect, especially one rumored to be having affairs. 

Other Questions Readers Will Have 


As Hannah worked with Officer Miles, nicknamed Hymn, to reopen the case and investigate, it becomes evident to the reader that they are fast becoming friends, and maybe even more. Will it develop into love? How would they handle a long-distance relationship?

Vera looks a lot like Julia. In fact, Louie did a double-take the first time he saw her. She was very close to Julia. Vera explained to Louie, Cate, Buster and Hannah that she'd never known her birth parents. As she tells it, 'Someone left me with a family, Lenora and Jacque Bessinger. They were to care for me for a few days...but it turned into a lifetime.'

Jacque was a baker and the couple owned a little shop in Arzon. One day Julia had come in looking for rolls when Vera was very small. She learned Vera's story and kept up with her whenever she was in Arzon. As Julia became richer, she never forgot Vera, and she saw that the Bessinger family always had enough money to meet their needs. Later, she paid for Vera's education and even set up a trust for her. Hannah isn't sure she buys Vera's story. Readers will also wonder. Who is Vera really?

My Review and Recommendation


The three main characters in Chef at the Water's Edge - Louie, Vera, and Hannah, were credible. By the end of the book, readers will know them fairly well. I personally liked all of them, even though Louie was a bit obsessed with Julia. In the end, it is more evident why. My favorite character was Hannah. She was compassionate, thoughtful, analytical and smart. She also tried to stay objective. The minor characters added interest and widened the circle of suspects, but they weren't as well-developed as the main characters. 

I enjoyed looking over Hannah's shoulder as she investigated. There were many twists and turns in the plot and I kept changing my mind about the murderer as I read.  In spite of this, I was not totally caught off-guard at the end. It was a satisfying conclusion that made sense in light of what came before it. 

I highly recommend the book to those who like police procedural mysteries. Hannah adds the amateur sleuth dimension. The setting in a culinary town devoted to a celebrity chef will add interest for those interested in the culinary arts. Lastly, dog lovers will enjoy the important role Louie's large Mastiff, Critic, played near the end.  If you love mysteries, don't miss Chef at the Water's Edge.

Chef at the Water's Edge by Kee Patterbee -  A mystery review, with a touch of romance.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Aurora Teagarden Mystery Series Reviewed

Interesting Mystery Series With A Female Sleuth

mystery woman
Mystery Woman image courtesy of Pixabay.com
Let me introduce you to a new mystery series that I started reading last week. The Aurora Teagarden mystery series is a fun little series written by Charlaine Harris that I am finding enjoyable to curl up and read.

The female sleuth in the books is, as you might guess, Aurora Teagarden. I'm not sure if her mother was a fan of Sleeping Beauty or felt that she had a real princess in the mist when she decided to give her that moniker just after birth, but it is the name she gave her daughter.

Roe, as her friends call her, is a young 30 something librarian living in the southern region of the United States near Atlanta, Georgia. She is single and hasn't had much success in the dating game in the past and that bothers her just a little. She is also a fan of reading about the real mysteries of life, the murders of the past have always captured her interest. So much so that she belongs to a group called "Real Murders". The group meets once a month and discusses a crime from the past, as the first book in the series opens, Roe will be the presenter for the evening. 

As Roe arrives early to prepare for the evening's discussion she finds one of the members of the club dead in the kitchen of the facility where they meet, the local VFW. If that isn't bad enough, she realizes that the scene is staged to resemble the very murder she planned to discuss that evening. What sick person would do such a thing?

As the investigation unfolds other members of the club seem to be targeted. Some, will be found dead and staged as a famous murder case while others seem to be implicated in the murders. Someone seems to be playing a really grotesque game!

Ms. Harris has created an interesting cast of characters and a different story line for murder mysteries. Roe, Aurora, is a believable character who is smart, funny and a tad insecure. She isn't the beauty that her mother is, although she is much more attractive than she believes herself to be.

Do not be turned off by the murder part of this mystery series. So far, in the two books that I have read there is not a lot of gruesome details but instead an interesting journey to find out the culprit of the crimes. The ending of the first book was a surprise, as the solution was not what I expected.

The books are well written and have been well received. Hallmark actually made a movie out of book 1 so that says something! I think if you are a fan of the mystery genre and you enjoy a female sleuth, this is a series that you will enjoy a great deal. I know I am enjoying them.






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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review of Selected Books Dealing with Murder, True and Fictional

Murder: True or Fictional?

I have been an avid reader of murder mysteries for many years. In 2013, I started to read true crime books because I thought maybe it would be better to see what really happened rather than reading what only occurred in an author’s imagination. Either way one gets to follow a detective's thinking, but the novelist can make the book turn out any way he or she wants. The detectives can’t do that with the real cases they try to solve.


My exposure to true crime began with several true crime stories by Ann Rule, including “A Rose for Her Grave,” “Campbell’s Revenge,” and “The Hit Person: Equal Opportunity Murder.“ Fictional murder mysteries I've enjoyed include many James Patterson novels and several J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) books from the “In Death” series. One of the most recent crime thrillers I've read is Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross. (Keep reading for more on this book)


So what’s scariest? For me it’s realizing how wicked people are, without anyone needing to embellish the facts. Men do really kill do woo and then kill wives who live trustingly with them just for the insurance money. (Randy Roth, Washington State.) Rape victims are brutally slaughtered, along with children and neighbors who happen to be present, by their paroled rapists. (Charles Campbell, Seattle area.)

These are things we pass quickly over in the news. The killers whose crimes I am most familiar with from the news are the California Zodiac Killer who was never caught, Richard Ramirez, (the Night Stalker) and Charles Manson and his “family.” I followed those cases in the papers and heaved a sigh of relief when Ramirez and Manson were finally behind bars. 

Gary L. Stewart claims that he discovered the identity of the Zodiac killer when he tried to find out who his father was. He believes his father, Earl Van Best, Jr. committed the Zodiac murders. His book explaining what led him to this conclusion, The Most Dangerous Animal of All, was published in 2014.  A related book, The End of the Zodiac Mystery: HowForensic Science Helped Solve One of the Most Infamous Serial KillerCases of the Century, was published at about the same time. I hope to read one of both of them soon. I once thought I had a clue, myself, thinking it might be someone I had known in college, but, fortunately, I was wrong. 

I pay attention to parole hearings. A Manson Family member is currently up for parole, and that gives me the shivers because I just read Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross. I'm sure it's a novel based on the Sharon Tate and other murders committed by the Manson Family, changing the names and moving the setting of the murders to Santa Barbara. (The author, Andrew Gross, even states in an interview that he once met Manson in his father's home before he became a murderous cult leader and that part of the idea for this book came from that incident. )

In Eyes Wide Open, Charlie, is told his son Evan has commit suicide. His brother Jay, a successful surgeon in New York, comes to visit him in California to try and help him through his grief. Both suspect foul play rather than suicide, even though Evan was bipolar. Jay decides to see if he can find out the truth about whether Evan had jumped from high on Morro Rock into the Bay, as the police believe, or whether he had been pushed.

Charlie has always been unsuccessful and disturbed. He and his wife have lived dependent on the state for support for years. As the book unfolds, Jay learns Charlie had decades ago lived as “Chase' on the Riordon Ranch with Russell Houvanian (The Charlie Manson figure) and his followers, and had helped the police investigators find the evidence they needed to convict Russell and the others.

 Charlie and another woman at the ranch who were not in the inner circle and not participated in the murders both cooperated with police. At the very beginning of Eyes Wide Open, readers witness the brutal murder of Sherry, that other woman, who had put that past long behind her to move on to live a productive and normal life. The reader doesn't understand that murder until the book is over half over. As we get into the book, we discover that one of Houvanian's accomplices, Maggs, had been released from prison after serving a thirty-year sentence. Dead bodies continue to pile up until the climax of the book is reached. I highly recommend this book to those who love thrillers, but I won't spoil it for you by telling you more. Even with what I've said, you won't be able to put the book down until you finish it. You can get Eyes Wide Open as an audio CD, but I suggest you keep the lights on while listening. 

Back to true crime. Like many living in Southern California in the 1980's, I was nervous about leaving my windows open in the summer until Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker, was apprehended and locked up. He used to kill his victims by entering houses through unlocked doors and windows. I wouldn't have what it takes emotinally to read the account of his evil deeds and twisted mind, but a highly reviewed and well researched book on Richard Ramirez by Philip Carlo is available. I also lived in the Seattle area for a time when the Green River Killer, later found to be Gary Ridgway, was still on the loose. Several true crime books about the Green River Killer are also available.

The true crime books lay all the events and facts and trials out factually. Those happenings as they played out in people’s real lives seem more terrifying than any made-up crime that never happened. We all know these crimes happen and to stay sane we have to not actively think about having them happen to us, even though we know anyone can be a victim.

Naturally, we all need to take reasonable precautions not to be a target of violent crimes, but we also know that a good percentage of victims have taken those precautions to no avail. I deal with these facts by realizing that God will not let anything happen outside his control and that He will give the grace to deal with any situation when it’s needed. We need to live our lives wisely and leave the rest to God.

To get back to the books, I think the main difference between true crime and detective novels is that the novels allow one to escape reality for a bit, whereas the true crime books bring you face to face with reality. Bad things do happen to good people because sin is in the world and God has allowed men to choose to do evil rather than good. People make that choice to do evil every day. All of us do evil occasionally, but most of us just make less violent choices than the criminals do. Our weapons of choice are often just words that hurt or thoughts that aren’t fair to someone.

Some evil exists in every human heart. Sometimes it just takes the right situation for us to be able to see it in ourselves, or worse yet, to turn evil thoughts to evil actions. All evil actions began as wicked thoughts. Most of us deal with them before they become actions that will hurt someone else. Some of us take those things to God when we examine our hearts and find them, and we ask him to deal with our sin in those areas of our lives. We know he will forgive us for our sins against him and others. We trust him to cure our problem at the heart level.

Some people, though, the ones that become violent criminals, either have no sense of right and wrong or their emotions or peer pressure overrule conscience. Others give up control of their minds and bodies to substances that alter their thinking and judgment, leaving their natural impulses in charge of their actions. People such as these are loose on our streets. We see them in the news every day. We want to avoid having our names in the news with them, so we are as careful to avoid them as we know how to be.


It's No Mystery Baby Doll Fitted T-ShirtTrue crime books help us to know the kinds of things that can happen and the minds of the criminals. The novelists offer us some escape from that reality by giving us a situation that is controlled and where justice is usually done for the victims. Which do you prefer to read? 









This It's No Mystery Baby Doll Fitted T-Shirt is available in many other styles for men, women, and even children. 






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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Murder in Wine Country: A Review of Deadly Vintage by William Relling Jr.


I live in wine country and I love to read mysteries. This mystery takes place in the Santa Ynez wine country that I often drive through on the way to Santa Barbara. So, of course, I had to read it.


Why I Chose to Read This Book


Vineyards, ©B. Radisavljevic
I love reading mysteries, and I love living in wine country, surrounded by vineyards. I even had the opportunity to observe my neighbor's wine making process after harvest. So when I was searching the mystery section at the library for a new book to read, Deadly Vintage by William Relling Jr. immediately caught my eye. As I scanned the dust jacket, I became even more interested. When I actually read the book, all I had learned about the wine industry brought the book to life for me. I'd seen the machines that process the grapes in action (as you will if you follow the link above.) I am personally acquainted with the owners of many local vineyards.



Los Angeles Freeway Traffic, © B. Radisavljevic

Before reading Deadly Vintage, I had just returned from a trip through the Santa Ynez valley, so I was able to visualize all the places mentioned, including those in Southern California, where I was raised and spent a good part of my life. I have driven the same Los Angeles and Orange County freeways and experienced the traffic exactly as Relling, who lived in Los Angeles when writing the book, described it.

A Review of Deadly Vintage



This book is set in the Santa Ynez Valley in the fictional town of San Tomas. If you click that link, it will bring up a map that will show you  the scenery Jack saw during his investigation. The protagonist, Jack Donne, a former Treasury agent, is now a vintner. He works with his father, Raymond Donne, referred to as Dad in this first person narrative, who had been an architect in nearby Santa Barbara, before retiring to make wine. They have one full-time employee, Jesus Fonseca, who was born in Mexico. The other important family member is Uncle Gerry Donne, Dad's brother, a financial lawyer in Santa Barbara who handles the Donne Vineyards account, besides being a partner in the business.

The action begins when Ozzie Cole the son of another wealthy winery owner, Perry Cole, now retired, barges in on Jack unexpectedly and implores him to investigate the possibility that someone is counterfeiting his expensive wine and selling it in Southern California. Jack does not want to get involved. He has never liked Ozzie, though he respects him as a wine maker. Ozzie's two brothers, June (short for Junior) and Grant, are working together and competing with Ozzie, who has his own operation and produces expensive boutique wines. June and Grant make cheaper wines.

Uncle Gerry finally convinces Jack to work for Ozzie by sharing with Jack a possible connection between the person selling the counterfeit wine and a mobster who is well-known to all of them. A couple of days later, Perry Cole, who is living in a nursing home and is assisted by his long-time servant, Zeke Carlin, an ex-boxer, is murdered on Carlin's day off.

Ozzie is arrested for the murder, since Brad Fitch, the Lieutenant investigating the case, thought Ozzie had the knowledge, opportunity, and motive to kill his father, the motive being money. The Perry family lawyer, Daniel Wikert had let it slip to police that Ozzie stood to inherit almost all of Perry's sizable estate. Ozzie had also been trained as a medic in the National Guard, giving him the knowledge it took to kill Perry in the way he had died. Jack had also witnessed Perry leaving his father, still arguing loudly, the night before Perry was murdered.

Jack doesn't like Ozzie much, but he doesn't believe he killed his father. Jack smells a rat in Wikert, and also learns that the sleazy lawyer has connections with the underworld. Jack continues his investigation to not only uncover the counterfeiting operation, but also to find the real murderer.

The characters in this book are developed just enough to make me care about them. The plot moves in such a way that I'm not really surprised by the outcome, since the author dropped just enough clues to enable me to think with him. In fact, I was pretty sure who had killed Perry before Jack seemed to catch on. I don't like it when I've been trying to think with a detective or investigator and then at the end all kinds of new elements appear that change everything that seemed to follow logically before. I'm looking forward to reading the next and only other book in this series. There won't be any more, because the author committed suicide in 2004 when he was only 49.

I have linked to both formats of the book below, should you want to read it.



Understanding How Wine Is Processed


Croad Vineyard owner Martin Croad invited me to tour his winery during harvest day in 2011. He showed me all the machines used to process the wine, and I have included them, along with his explanation of what they do and a demonstration of each. Watching this video will help you to understand the plot of Deadly Vintage better, since the process of wine making, and the machines used, are important in the plot.



Recommendation 

I recommend this book to mystery loving wine aficionados or anyone who enjoys thinking along with investigators to solve murder mysteries. The book is even more fun if you are familiar with the Southern California area and can visualize where the action is happening.


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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review of Detective by Arthur Hailey

Review of Detective by Arthur Hailey

Politics for Police Detectives

I have never read a book by Arthur Hailey that I could put down for long to do something else. This one was no different. As usual, Hailey is using a book to expose what goes on behind the scenes in different professions and occupations. In this book he tackles police and homicide detectives and the politics at work in police departments.

Police Work VS Family: Why Malcolm Must Go to Florida


As the book opens,  Detective Malcolm Ainslie is called to work at a crucial time in their family life because of a call from the Miami Police Department. He is supposed to be leaving the next morning to fly with his family to Toronto to visit his wife’s parents to celebrate her father’s 75th birthday and their son Jason’s eighth  birthday.  His family has been looking forward to the vacation for weeks.


Review of Detective by Arthur Hailey



Yet late on the night before Malcolm is to leave for Toronto he gets a call  from the prison chaplain at the Florida State Prison in Raiford saying that the serial killer Malcolm helped arrest, “Animal” Doil is scheduled to be executed in the morning and that he wants to confess. Doil and the prison chaplain both know that Malcolm had once been a Catholic priest and that he had left the priesthood before going into law enforcement.

The prison was located eight hours away from Miami and there was barely time to make it before the execution. The only reason Malcolm wants to go is because some of the murders were not tried, since only the one that could be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt was taken to court. Malcolm is hoping to find out about the rest of them. One of them had not fit the pattern of the rest. Malcolm was afraid that killer still might be at large.

The department furnishes a driver to leave with Malcolm immediately. His boss promises to try to get him a flight to Toronto from Jacksonville  so that he can still make the family party, although a bit late. Malcolm’s wife Karen had been more than a little upset about the change in plans. He was seriously afraid missing this trip might be the last straw in their marriage.

Prison Priest VS Former Priest


Another conflict rears its head between the prison chaplain, who is jealous of his territory and wants to be sure Doil doesn’t think Malcolm is still a priest who can do anything for him spiritually. Malcolm has no intention of acting as a priest. He only wants the kind of confession that will let him know what really happened.

Malcolm arrives in the nick of time to see Doil before the execution. The priest was wasting time interfering religiously until they were able to get him to leave the meeting. Doil confesses to every one of the murders except the very one Malcolm himself has doubts about – the murder of a former colleague Cynthia’s parents.

 Doil gives Malcolm some information about a murder they didn’t know he committed so they could verify it. Doil wants Malcolm to witness his execution, and when he does, he notices Cynthia is also there to witness, along with her new boyfriend, a novelist, Patrick Jensen. Malcolm had had an affair with Cynthia earlier, but had broken it off when Malcolm would not leave Karen for her. Cynthia had found subtle ways to get her revenge since then.

The rest of the book deals with the confession of Doil, the execution, the party, which Malcolm does get to, the history and details of the serial killings and Malcolm’s quiet investigation into the murder of Cynthia’s parents. Readers will need a strong stomach as they view the crime scenes with the detectives.  I could have done without that part, since they were grizzly. What is most interesting are the undercurrents in relationships and politics on the police force and the influence they have on the cases and how they are handled.


My Analysis


As a thriller this did not disappoint me. Although I thought I’d solved the case, there were still some twists and turns toward the end I did not expect. What most disappointed me was the human weakness Malcolm displayed at the end. I was very disappointed that he seemed to have learned little from his past experiences in human relationships.



 Detective
This is a first-class thriller with complex well-developed characters. It also offers insight into how police departments operate in large cities. If that's the sort of book you appreciate, you should definitely read Detective.



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