Christine's Book List Reviews and News -Books for people who love the mystery of the past. Independent mystery reviews, news and interviews.
A book informed by the authors own genealogy
Reviewed by Lesa Holstine
Donis Casey’s first mystery is filled with the historic details of the day-to-day life on an Oklahoma farm in the winter of 1912. After Casey did genealogy research on her family, and her husband’s, she had enough stories to fill ten books. Along with the wonderful detail, the reader gets romance, mystery, and the likeable character of Alafair Tucker.
Alafair has plenty to do taking care of the house, her husband and nine children at a time when daily life was not easy. She doesn’t need to take on a murder case as well. But no one seems to care when Harley Day is found murdered. His family certainly doesn’t care. Over the years, they were threatened and abused by the moonshining drunk. Everyone in town seems happy he’s gone, but Harley’s oldest son, John Lee, is the primary suspect. Alafair's own family life is complicated further when she learns that her seventeen year old daughter, Phoebe, has been spending time with John Lee. If she has to track down the killer to keep her daughter happy, she’ll do it.
Casey used detailed stories from her own family to create the daily life of the Tucker family in Oklahoma. Farm life was not easy in Oklahoma in 1912, and Casey doesn’t pretend it was. Alafair Tucker has to work her murder investigation around her daily work schedule on the farm. Details of the preparation and food used in meals, careers of the children, and the life of a small community enhance the story. The two page description of Monday’s washday is fascinating.
Hopefully, there will be a number of Alafair Tucker stories in the future that tell the story of strong farm women in the early nineteenth century. Casey’s web site is www.doniscasey.com
by Lesa Holstine
Bouchercon 36, The World Mystery Convention was held
in Chicago Sept. 1-4. Bouchercon, and the Anthony
Awards, are both named for Anthony Boucher, a three
time Edgar winner for his body of criticism, and the
man recognized as the nation’s foremost authority of
crime fiction before his death. Each year there are a
number of awards presented at Bouchercon. Award
winners are listed here. If you would like the list
of nominees in each category, please check out
Bouchercon’s web site at www.bouchercon.net.
The Anthony Awards are suggested by fans, and winners
are chosen by vote at each Bouchercon convention.
This year’s winners are:
Best Novel – Blood Hollow by William Kent Krueger
Best First Novel – Dating Dead Men by Harley Jane
Best Paperback Original – Twisted City by Jason Starr
Best Short Story – “Wedding Knife” by Elaine Viets in
Best Cover Art – Brooklyn Noir by Sohrab Habibion,
editor Tim McLoughlin
Best Critical/Non-Fiction Work – Men’s Adventure
Magazines by Max Allan Collins (et al)
The Barry Awards are given each year by Deadly
Pleasures Magazine. The award is named for Barry
Gardner, who was considered the best fan/reviewer of
his time. This year’s winners are:
Best Novel – The Enemy by Lee Child
Best First Novel – The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos
Best British Crime Novel – Flesh & Blood by John
Best Paperback Original – Tagged for Murder by Elaine
Best Thriller – Rain Storm by Barry Eisler
Best Short Story – “The War in Wonderland” by Edward
D. Hoch in Green for Danger
The Shamus Awards are presented by The Private Eye
Writers of America to honor the best “P.I.” mysteries.
This year’s winners are:
Lifetime Achievement – Sara Paretsky
Best P.I. Novel – While I Disappear by Ed Wright
Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel – Fade to Blonde by
Best First P.I. Novel – The Dead by Ingrid Black
Best P.I. Short Story – “Hasidic Noir” by Pearl
Abraham in Brooklyn Noir
The Macavity Awards are given each year to the best
crime fiction as voted by the membership of Mystery
Readers, International. This year’s winners are:
Best Mystery Novel – The Killing of the Tinkers by Ken
Best First Mystery Novel – Dating Dead Men by Harley
Best Nonfiction – Forensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle,
Best Short Story – “The Widow of Slane” by Terence
Faherty in EQMM, March/April 2004
The Hammett Award is given out each year by the
International Association of Crime Writers for “a work
of literary excellence in the field of crime writing
by a US or Canadian author.” Prince of Thieves by
Chuck Hogan is this year’s winner.
For seven years, the American Crime Writers League has
presented the Ellen Nehr Award for excellence in
mystery reviewing. Hallie Ephron, Boston Globe, is
this year’s winner.
There’s probably something for everyone to try on this
year’s list of award winners. Enjoy!
Reviewer Lesa Holstine
Eye of the Wolf is Margaret Coel's eleventh mystery set on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Once again, it features Father John O'Malley, a Jesuit priest, and Vickie Holden, a lawyer and Arapaho Indian. Despite their attraction for each other, the two understand their need to deny that attraction. However, case after case draws them together because, as Father O'Malley realized, "people confided in them, and they kept confidences."
In 1874, at Bates Battlefield, Shoshones brought white troops into an Arapaho village, and almost wiped out the tribe. For 130 years, the two tribes have lived in uneasy peace on the same reservation. When Father O'Malley receives a mysterious phone call which leads to posed bodies on the battlefield, he realizes someone is trying to disturb the long-standing peace. When the bodies are discovered to be Shoshones, attention is focused on one of Vickie's clients. He is an Arapaho. Are the Arapahos out for revenge after all these years? Once again, Coel uses the history of the Wyoming tribes to bring present-day problems to light. The environment and current reservation conditions and life are always part of her stories. She shows respect for the Arapaho tribe, their legends and history. One of the elders referred to Father O'Malley's phone call as, "an untrue voice, an evil spirit wanting to stir up trouble and bring us more death." Whether it's a massacre in 1874, or murder in 2005, Margaret Coel's books reflect what Father O'Malley calls, "the endless changability of evil."
Reviewer Lesa Holstine
As an author, Lou Jane Temple has been known for her mysteries featuring Heaven Lee, a restaurant owner in Kansas City, Missouri. Since Temple herself was a restaurant owner, she is able to share her love of food in the recipes and stories that revolved around Lee. Stepping away from Heaven Lee, Temple continues to share wonderful recipes in her new mystery, The Spice Box, and the book has the added strength of great historical detail.
The Spice Box details the lives of Irish immigrants in New York during the mid-1800s, through the character of Bridget Heaney. At the age of ten, Bridget, her father, and sister fled the Irish potato famine for New York City. When their father disappeared, the two girls supported themselves as pickpockets until they were rounded up and sent to an orphanage. There, Bridget learned to cook. When she goes to work in a boardinghouse, her sister disappeared. Bridget's skills as a cook take her to a mansion owned by the Gold family, the Jewish family that owns Gold's Department Store.
Bridget may be prepared to cook, but she is not prepared to find the dead body of the son of the family on her first day of employment. She continues her cooking duties and earns the trust of her boss, who calls on her for assistance in the search for the truth behind his son's death. As they search for a murderer, they also search for Bridget's missing sister. The mismatched pair delve into the mystery while digging through the history of Jewish and Irish life in New York City, and the changing roles of the immigrants. Temple includes fascinating recipes from nineteenth-century New York in her latest mystery. But it is the details of Bridget's life in the mean streets of New York, and the behind the scenes kitchen life that bring this story to life.
The Spice Box by Lou Jane Temple 2005 ISBN 0425200434
Reviewer Christine McCreedy
Jane Langton's Homer Kelly mystery The Deserter is part mystery, part civil war novel, part lesson in the use of genealogical methods to search out your civil war ancestor and all in all truly a wonderful book. Langton gives Homer and his wife Mary, Harvard professors, an in to the civil war as they ponder the names of Harvard graduates in Memorial Hall who were killed during the conflict between the states. Their pondering becomes personal as Mary brings up the family story that her ancestor Seth Morgan. Morgan was involved in the civil war, but no one would talk plainly about the circumstances that cause Mary's family "shame." The curious professors begin to seek out the truth about Seth and become involved in the world of civil war collecting and research. The reader is treated to Seth's story through his Harvard classmates, fellow soldiers and his wife's story. Langton gives the story rich historical detail and highlights it with period pictures of unknown men and women. These men and women take on the characters of the story and speak for several generations of Americans so tragically effected by the civil war. Langton obviously researched her topic and it's effects on the nation's citizens. This makes her mystery a sobering, intriguing history lesson, bringing the real ugly history of the war to life.
The story is given levity by a crazy shirt tail cousin of Mary's named Ebenezer. Just a side note here--how perfect a name Langston chose as we all have at least one Ebenzer in our family trees. In The Deserter Ebenezer is a so called civil war collector/renactor who's obsession with the time period leads him to become a thief and eventually to march off in search of glory among the countless others who felt the cause was worthy, but who had no idea of the war's horror. Ebenezer serves to lighten the fictional account of the all to real hardships of the civil war.
Although I'm becoming weary of authors who use two narratives to tell a story set in the present effected by the past, Langton employs the technique effectively and ties two stand alone stories together. As the book closes she reiterates what the two stories reveal slowly to the reader. As Homer and Mary research and Seth's story is told the reader begins to realize that although we dig for the truth about our ancestors we may never truly know the fine details of their story. Additionally, we may be privy to details of their story that they never were. Seth's case leads Mary and Homer to the National Archives and to pursue newspaper research which revels the truth about Mary's family shame. In doing so they discover aspects of the story that Seth's wife Ida and his family never had knowledge of. In reading Seth and Ida's story we discover aspects of the story Mary and Homer never will discover.
Langton has gives her reader the ultimate power in discovering all the secrets to the mystery and it makes for a delightful read.
The Deserter by Jane Langton ISBN 0312301863 2003
Christine's Random Thoughts on Civil War Fiction. Fictional and non-fictional accounts of the civil war have been popular for years, primarily I believe because we are still so close to the original event. It still holds personal fascination for many people because we really still are only five generations from the men and women involved in the period. My great grandmother, who I remember fondly, was the daughter of a civil war veteran. The family still tells the stories she passed down of her father and her mother and their life during and after the civil war. I recently have been able to separate family fact from fiction and found out there was very little fiction and mostly fact to my families outrageous stories of great greandfather Will. I obtained papers from the National Archives that confirmed much of what I thought was speculation among my famiy members. As accurately described by Langton in The Deserter the National Archives are gold mines of personal information about our ancestors. Additionally, during my research I found out there was even more to the story, information my grandmother and perhaps great grandmother were never privy to. The new information has created even more questions than I had prior to obtaining the information, thus creating a new mystery. In a way the creation of the new mystery is a wonderful thing because I love a good mystery and I especially love ones involving history because I'm continuing to learn about the time periods of my ancestors. Time periods that have lead to my own personal history.
Reviewer Lesa Holstine
If you like small Southern communities where everyone is either related or knows each other, historic plantations, gossipy characters and mystery, Caroline Cousins is the author for you. Or I should say authors. Caroline Cousins is actually three women, Nancy Pate, and her "one-and-a-half times" cousins-sisters Meg Herndon and Gail Greer. (Their mothers are sisters, and their fathers are full cousins.) They use the same cousin-sisters situation for their book's main characters.
In Marsh Madness Lindsey, who is temporarily living on Indigo Island in the South Carolina Low Country, acts as manager of Pinckney Plantation. Lindsey's cousin, Margaret Ann, is coordinating a large wedding at Pinckney, with the help of her sister, Bonnie, and Lindsey. None of them need a murder before the wedding, a bridesmaid diva hiding from a stalker, and meth problems on the island.
Marsh Madness has two strengths. The setting is beautifully done. The reader can easily fit themselves into the southern atmosphere and lifestyle of Indigo Island. Plantations and weddings, storms and alligators bring the island to life.
Cousins also does a wonderful job with humor. Marsh Madness is a fast-paced funny story, which will keep the reader racing toward the end. The cousins continue to find themselves in situations which lend to the humor in the story. The wedding preparation itself adds to the humor. There's everything from "Pinckney purple" dresses to goldfish to be carried by the attendants. Cousins places the characters in situations which become funny. If you're looking for enjoyable characters, and a great deal of humor, try the mysteries by Caroline Cousins. Witty storytelling definitely fits with the southern atmosphere.
Marsh Madness can be a confusing story, if you have a hard time keeping all the characters straight. There are a large number of people to remember because the three cousins know everyone on the island, and there are multiple crimes. It's an inviting atmospheric mystery, though, so it's worth sticking with the characters. Marsh Madness is the second mystery by Cousins. It's as fun and frantic as three whirlwind cousins hurling towards a wedding and disaster.
Author's web site: www.carolinecousins.net
Previous book: Fiddle Dee Death
Christine's Note-The author's web site is worth checking out. Find out who the three Cousins of Caroline Cousins really are! Also check out Lesa Holestine's Blog www.nikkishome.blogspot.com
Lesa Holstine has just joined Christine’s Book List as a contributor. With the addition of her and several other new contributors you will find more reviews, reviews of historical mysteries and news on conferences and awards. Lesa is just back from the Poisoned Pen Bookstore’s mystery conference held at Caleo Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, AZ. On Saturday, June 18 nine mystery authors addressed the audience of about 200.
Poisoned Pen Mystery Conference June 18
John Maddox Roberts was the first speaker. He's probably better known in Europe than in the
Deciuis Caecilius Metellus are set in ancient
Quincy book pits Eleanor of Aquitaine's safety against the demands of her younger son, Prince John. As the Queen's Man, Justin de Quincy will have to do some fancy footwork.
Priscilla Royal is not as well known as Penman, but she also writes a series of medieval mysteries. Set in the 1270s, they feature a young prioress named Eleanor who juggles governance of the priory with detection. Royal's first book is in paperback, Wine of Violence. Her latest book is Tyrant of the Mind.
If you ever get a chance to hear Francine Mathews speak, grab it. She's smart and funny. As Mathews she writes contemporary espionage thrillers. Blown is her latest one. Mathews herself was an analyst with the CIA, and her experiences influence her books. But she fell in love with Jane Austen's books as an adolescent, so she writes the Jane Austen books under the name of Stephanie Barron. Jane and His Lordship's Legacy is the most recent in that series.
Our luncheon speaker was Laurie King, author of two mystery series, and some standalones. Locked Rooms is the latest in her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. Russell and Holmes head to
gets caught up in an investigation of the death of Mary's parents. King has four books in her series featuring a cop, Kate Martinelli.
Douglas Preston was a terrific speaker, with great stories and great humor. He writes most of his books with Lincoln Child (who doesn't fly). In many of them, Preston uses his knowledge from eight years working at the
returns to battle his lifelong enemy, his brother, Diogenes.
Bill Fitzhugh sets his mysteries in a world he knows, radio stations in
Setting is important in the stories of Julia Spencer-Fleming. She sets her mysteries featuring Episcopalian priest, the Rev. Clare Ferguson, and police Chief Russ Van Alstyne, in a small town in the
Will Thomas was a librarian discussing Victorian mysteries when he realized the majority were written by women, featuring women. He wanted to write Victorian mysteries that featured "buckets of blood" that men might read. Till Kingdom Come is the second book to feature private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and
his apprentice Thomas Llewellyn.
If you get the chance to hear an author at a conference or local bookstore, grab it. You might hear interesting stories, discover a new author, or get the chance to show your appreciation for an old favorite.
Lesa has even more on the confrence at her own blog check it out at:
Check out the books Lesa mentioned at
or find historical mysteries at
I recently finished up Larry Karp's SCAMMING THE BIRDMAN. I had more fun with this one than his first book THE MUSIC BOX MURDERS (which I liked)-see my review of MBM below. Scamming The Birdman is a caper book. You have no idea how they will pull off the scam until Karp unfolds every little detail in time---which is one of Karp's strength's. Karp in both books never leaves any detail unexplained and doesn't insult your intelligence. Besides being a very funny book with about seven unique characters that go about trying to scam the Birdman, the story has an unexpected twist. The twist gave me a jolt, but didn't detract from the fun of the story. The twist also gives you a taste of how Karp's more recent book a medical mystery titled FIRST DO NO HARM is written. I was not a big fan of First Do No Harm, but I was able to read the whole book because Karp is a very good story teller. His story telling ability caused me to read his music box mystery books and in them he does not disappoint. Larry Karp is an author worth reading.
SCAMMING THE BIRDMAN by Larry Karp. 2001. Worldwide Library.
Larry Karp spins a wonderful story in The Music Box Murders. In this the first of his Music Box Murder books Karp introduces Thomas Purdue. Purdue purchases a rare music box in which he later finds out was in a collection of a follow collector who is now dead. The box was in the collectors possession as early as the day before Purdue's purchase. Purdue and his good friend a collector and restorer of music boxes begin to become suspicious of the music box's recent history. Just as they begin to become suspicious his friend is murdered. The murderer seams to follow Purdue all over New York and then to England taking out collectors and dealers as he gets closer to the truth. As Purdue searches he manages to get himself and his friends involved in the seeder side of these fantastically valuable and technical antiques.
Karp creates an interesting cast of characters who provide humor and depth to the story. Purdue's relationship with his wife is perhaps the most interesting I've come upon in any mystery. His marital joys and problems are real and Karp gives the relationship a twist which makes you care about the relationship and makes for an interesting read. His first crack at solving a mystery and Purdue is quite good at it. He bumbles a bit, but begins to get the hang of it towards the end of the mystery. At one point he muses "Nothing about this entire situation seemed to make sense. But everything makes sense, everything in the world. If it seems not to, that's only because we're looking at it in the wrong way or from the wrong point of view." Once Purdue discovers this truth the mystery moves rapidly toward the end, he quickly sets a plan in motion to catch the killer. The book comes to a climax when Purdue devise a clever plan to reveal the killer's identity. Karp adds a bit of zip and solves some extra mysteries at the end as well. Karp skillfully lays out the motive, means and methods of the theft and killings in a chapter long wrap up. I was quite pleased to have this laid out for me in such a entertaining fashion. Other authors often assume you've picked up on all the clues and along with them share the secret to how the crime happened. True to his ability to tell a good story Karp laid it all out for me with out leaving anything hidden and with out insulting my intelligence. In the end he had me wishing for more stories about music boxes. I'll happily follow the adventures of Dr. Thomas Purdue in Karp's other music box books Scamming of the Bird Man and Midnight Special. I'm also looking forward to reading Karp's upcoming book based on a "puzzling real-life occurrence that took place in 1899." Visit Larry Karp's web site atwww.larrykarp.com.
Solving the case in Bob Avey's Twisted Perception depends on Police Detective Kenny Elliot paying attention to details. Elliot is on the case of present day murders in Porter Oklahoma, however the similarity to other killings cause Kenny to examine his own past. Eventually, he has to return to his home town after years of absence and confront emotions, memories and the people connected with them. He not only finds clues to the identity of the present day killer, but he discovers that both his and the town's residents perceptions of events in the past have been twisted by situation and time. Elliot becomes a suspect himself as he pursues a killer who appears to have taken a page right out of his own past.
Twisted Perception's plot begins as crime in the big city, but turns into a small town saga. The town's story of secrets and unrequited love would be typical if it were not the edgy quality Avey brings to the story. The plot is tangled and intricate. The pages are filled with detailed car chases and cloak and dagger meetings. To top off the excitement in the story Avey added enough red hearings that I was guessing at the identity of the killer until the very end.
Kenny Elliot is a complicated young investigator still dealing with his own past and his appearance in future mysteries would be welcomed. Perhaps, the most interesting character trait Elliot has is his ability to follow up on basic hunches and to posse possible scenarios. Avey provides details of how his hero tests possible scenarios, modifies them and tease out the facts of a case. I have never read a police procedural where the author communicated an investigator's ability to work a case with such detail. Important to the story are hunches about and investigation of some birth, death and marriage records. A nice detail that left me wondering how often police really do use genealogy to solve crimes. Bob Avey's Twisted perception is full of details. The kind of details that make mysteries fun and challenging to read.
TWISTED PERCEPTION by Bob Avey Due out in July 2005 ISBN 1589822714