The Fleur de Sel Murders (Brittany Mystery, #3)

The Fleur de Sel MurdersThe Fleur de Sel Murders
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250308375
Series: Brittany Mystery #3
Publication Date: March 26, 2019
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

The old salt farmers have always said that the violet scent of the Fleur de Sel at harvest time on the salt marshes of the Guérande Peninsula has been known to cause hallucinations. Commissaire Dupin also starts to believe this when he’s attacked out of the blue in the salt works.

He had actually been looking forward to escaping his endless paperwork and taking a trip to the “white country” between the raging Atlantic Ocean and idyllic rivers. But when he starts snooping around mysterious barrels on behalf of Lilou Breval, a journalist friend, he finds himself unexpectedly under attack. The offender remains a mystery, and a short time later, Breval disappears without a trace. It is thanks to his secretary Nolwenn and the ambition of the prefect that Dupin is assigned to the case. But he won’t be working alone because Sylvaine Rose is the investigator responsible for the department—and she lives up to her name….

What’s going on in the salt works? Dupin and Rose search feverishly for clues and stumble upon false alibis, massive conflicts of interest, personal feuds—and ancient Breton legends.


If Bannalec hadn’t been able to hack it as a mystery author, he’d have had a great career in tourism; he sells me on Brittany every time I read one of his books.  Brittany springs to life off the page.

This can also be a hinderance; too much of it bogs the story down and there are spots of too much in this book.  The start, where he’s setting the scene in the salt gardens, almost killed the story’s momentum before it could ever get started.  I mean, yeah, it was beautiful and descriptive, but it dragged.  I deducted 1/2 star for the moments like this that happened throughout the book.

Once the story got going though, and the bodies started dropping, the pace picked up dramatically, so that by the end it was as edge-of-your-seat as traditional mysteries get.  I like Dupin, too, although he comes across a bit off-foot in this one, as I think he’s meant to, as he has to work with a female detective that’s as take charge as he is.

There are at least 5 more books in this series to look forward to, and it’s a series I think I’d eventually like to own.  They’re not the binging kind, but quite enjoyable once or twice a year – especially if you’re in the mood for a mental holiday-on-the-page.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022’s Death in Translation square.  Originally written in German and translated into English.  It could also work for Terror in a Small Town, and, of course, Genre: Mystery.

In the Middle of Hickory Lane

In the Middle of Hickory LaneIn the Middle of Hickory Lane
by Heather Webber
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250774651
Publication Date: July 26, 2022
Pages: 308
Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
Publisher: Forge

Emme Wynn has wanted nothing more her whole life than to feel like part of a family. Having grown up on the run with her con artist mother, she’s been shuffled from town to town, drawn into bad situations, and has learned some unsavory habits that she’s tried hard to overcome. When her estranged grandmother tracks her down out of the blue and extends a job offer—helping to run her booth at an open-air marketplace in small-town Sweetgrass, Alabama—Emme is hopeful that she’ll finally be able to plant the roots she’s always dreamed of. But some habits are hard to break, and she risks her newfound happiness by keeping one big truth to herself.

Cora Bee Hazelton has her hands full with volunteering, gardening, her job as a color consultant and designer, and just about anything she can do to keep her mind off her painful past, a past that has resulted in her holding most everyone at arm’s length. The last thing she wants is to form close relationships only to have her heart broken yet again. But when she’s injured, she has no choice other than to let people into her life and soon realizes it’s going to be impossible to keep her heart safe—or her secrets hidden.

In the magical neighborhood garden in the middle of Hickory Lane, Emme and Cora Bee learn some hard truths about the past and themselves, the value of friends, family, and community, and most importantly, that true growth starts from within.


This one was not my favourite Heather Webber magical realism story, but that’s purely a matter of subjective taste for the theme.  I’m not interested in reading about con men (women), even unwilling ones seeking redemption.  But it had a garden with a dead body in it, and magical realism, so I was willing.

Putting aside the bits about living the life of a con, and keeping secrets, etc. there was a lot to like in this story.  Once I wrapped my head around just how huge the cul-de-sac had to have been to accommodate the garden described, it sounded magical, and all the characters, as usual with Webber’s writing, come to life on the page.  There is, as usual, the theme of ‘love conquers most everything’ but until the end it wasn’t dominant.

The dead body is discovered on page 1, but then just sort of lurks there in the background, while the police work at identifying the remains (they’re old).  But things come together at the end and I have to say I wasn’t really expecting them to come together in quite that shape.  I love when an author is able to surprise and blindside me.  It bumped the story up .5 a star.

I didn’t read this for Halloween Bingo, but looking at my card, I have Country House Mystery unread, and curiously, no desire to read anything for it, and my Lottery wild card still un-used, so I think I’ll use it and swap out Country House Mystery for the Home is Where the Hurt Is square, since this story definitely involves crimes that occur in nice, normal families.

 

Round Up the Usual Peacocks (Meg Langslow, #31)

Round Up the Usual PeacocksRound Up the Usual Peacocks
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250760203
Series: Meg Langslow #31
Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Pages: 300
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Kevin, Meg's cyber-savvy nephew who lives in the basement, comes to her with a problem. He's become involved as the techie for a true-crime podcast, one that focuses on Virginia cold cases and unsolved crimes. And he thinks their podcast has hit a nerve with someone . . . one of the podcast team has had a brush with death that Kevin thinks was an attempted murder, not an accident.

Kevin rather sheepishly asks for Meg's help in checking out the people involved in a couple of the cases. "Given your ability to find out stuff online, why do you need MY help?" she asks. "Um . . . because I've already done everything I can online. This'll take going around and TALKING to people," he exclaims, with visible horror. "In person!" Not his thing. And no, it can't wait until after the wedding, because he's afraid whoever's after them might take advantage of the chaos of the wedding at Trinity or the reception at Meg and Michael's house to strike again.

So on top of everything she's doing to round up vendors and supplies and take care of demanding out-of-town guests, Meg must hunt down the surviving suspects from three relatively local cold cases so she can figure out if they have it in for the podcasters. Could there be a connection to a musician on the brink of stardom who disappeared two decades ago and hasn't been seen since?


I’m giving this one the benefit of doubt at 4 stars because I went into it with reservations.  As the title implies, this mystery is sort of an homage to the first in the series, Murder with Peacocks, which I loved – and I rarely enjoy attempts at revisiting the well.

Fortunately the homage is more like just a light breeze of familiarity that wafts through the story, as Meg helps her nephew Kevin with his true crime podcast, reviewing several old cold cases in an attempt to figure out who has it in for Kevin and his co-host.  This structure works well, as it keeps Meg busy and the reader from getting bored.  In the background is the preparation for the wedding to end all weddings, with the running gag that everyone is trying to avoid Meg’s mom so they aren’t put to work.

Of course Meg solves the cold cases, and here’s the one area that stretches believability because she solves all of them.  I sort of feel like the story would have worked better had one of the cases been left unanswered; as it stands, everything is wrapped up too neatly at the end, even for a cozy.  Although it was somehow satisfying to see everything tied up neatly, even if it felt over the top.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022 for the Cozy Mystery square.  When Carlito was a young teen kitten, I caught a picture of him I can’t resist including here, because it’s his version of the Cozy Mystery Square cover:

 

The Baker Street Letters (Baker Street Mystery, #1)

The Baker Street LettersThe Baker Street Letters
by Michael Robertson
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780312538125
Series: Baker Street Mystery #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

First in a spectacular new series about two brother lawyers who lease offices on London's Baker Street--and begin receiving mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes

In Los Angeles, a geological surveyor maps out a proposed subway route—and then goes missing. His eight-year-old daughter in her desperation turns to the one person she thinks might help—she writes a letter to Sherlock Holmes.

That letter creates an uproar at 221b Baker Street, which now houses the law offices of attorney and man about town Reggie Heath and his hapless brother Nigel. Instead of filing the letter like he's supposed to, Nigel decides to investigate. Soon he's flying off to L.A., inconsiderately leaving a very dead body on the floor in his office. Big brother Reggie follows Nigel to California, as does Reggie's sometime lover, Laura – a quick-witted stage actress who's captured the hearts of both brothers.

When Nigel is arrested, Reggie must use all his wits to solve a case that Sherlock Holmes would have savored, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans will adore.


An impulse grab at my library, I had no idea what to suspect from this book – I was unfamiliar with the author and series, but the premise sounded like potential fun: legal chambers at 221B Baker street are obliged, by the terms of their lease, to open, read and answer letters written to Sherlock Holmes.

The book turned out to be well-written and fast-paced, though it lagged a bit in the middle for me.  The plot was interesting and well-constructed, although grand in a way that, at the risk of generalising, seems to be SOP for male authors.  It was good, and I enjoyed it, but this is not the kind of mystery where the reader really gets to participate; this is a traditional mystery with pretensions of thriller-ism.

In the Real World, I tend to find men more relatable then women, so I suppose in the karmic balance of things, it’s natural that I’m the exact opposite in the Book World.  In Book World, I prefer my authors to be female, as – again, at the risk of generalisation – they have voices that I find most relatable, as well as an ability to write characters and their relationships in a way that hooks me.  There are exceptions on both sides, of course, but this isn’t one of them: while it’s a good story with a great setup and a lively style, the characters failed to click with me.  I liked them, but they didn’t feel natural, and I’m completely dismissing the “romantic” element.  Laura is great, but her connections to the main character and his brother feels wooden, at best.  Luckily, that chemistry, or the lack of it, is irrelevant to the story and easy to ignore.

There are at least 4-5 more books in this series, and I have the 3rd one checked out – my library didn’t have the second one.  I may read it before the due date, but I’m going to put it aside for now; this feels like a series I could enjoy periodically but never binge on.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022, for the Amateur Sleuth square.  It takes place mostly in Los Angeles, so it would also work for the Golden State Nightmares square.

A Spear Of Summer Grass

A Spear Of Summer GrassA Spear Of Summer Grass
by Deanna Raybourn
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780778314394
Publication Date: May 1, 2013
Pages: 373
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Harlequin

Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming—yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders—and dangers—of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for—and what she can no longer live without.

Don’t believe the stories you have heard about me.

I have never killed anyone, and I have never stolen another woman’s husband. Oh, if I find one lying around unattended, I might climb on, but I never took one that didn’t want taking.

And I never meant to go to Africa.


So many random thoughts; I picked this up at the library purely on the strength of Deanna Raybourn and my enjoyment of her other novels.  I knew it wasn’t a mystery, but I grabbed it anyway because it was set in Africa, and I really enjoy Raybourn’s writing; the dry wit, the sass.

The only thing this novel had in common with her Julia Grey / Veronica Speedwell novels is the male love interest; it’s safe to say Raybourn has a type, and she sticks with it.  Brisbane, Stoker and Ryder could all be the same character with different hair styles.  As for the rest of the story, it’s utterly different from anything else of hers I’ve read.

A Spear Of Summer Grass starts off slowly – so very slowly – and its plot is tenuous, at best, for the first … 70% of the book?  For that first 2/3, it was a 3 star read and that was because Raybourn captured the romance of interwar Africa (Kenya, specifically) perfectly for a reader whose chance at experiencing it herself has been postponed.  The main character, Delilah, is not a typical Raybourn heroine.  She looks like it on the outside, as she does what she pleases and apologises to no one, but it’s not coming from a core of strength; Delilah’s core is pretty amoral when it comes to sex.  She’s Phryne Fisher without a purpose.  Eventually, the reader learns where this comes from, but Raybourn makes the reader work for it.

Round about that 70% mark it’s clear that this story comes closest to a coming of age story mixed with a romance, whose chemistry is also every bit like the chemistry between the characters in her other books.  There are also some developments that really work towards ratcheting up the pace – and the reader’s interest.  Some of the secondary bits and characters were clunky, but for that last third of the book, I was hooked; I was invested, and I was sorry to see it come to an end.

Would I recommend it?  I don’t know.  I’m glad I read it – it was beautifully written, well researched (even if some of her research came from funny sources), and ultimately it was a good story – but I think it’s one the reader has to be in the mood for more so than for most books.

 

I did NOT read this for Halloween Bingo, and it doesn’t fit any of the squares.

Blood and Moonlight

Blood and MoonlightBlood and Moonlight
by Erin Beaty
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: June 28, 2022
Pages: 442
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux

Rising above the city of Collis is the holy Sanctum. And watching over its spires is Catrin, an orphan girl with unique skills―for she alone can spot the building’s flaws in construction before they turn deadly.

But when Catrin witnesses a murderer escaping the scene of his crime, she’s pulled into a dangerous chain of events where the only certainty is that the killer will strike again. Assigned to investigate is the mysterious and brilliant Simon, whose insights into the mind of a predator are frighteningly accurate.

As the grisly crimes continue, Catrin finds herself caught between killer and detective while hiding her own secret―a supernatural sight granted by the moon, destined to make her an outcast, and the only thing that might save her and those she loves from becoming the next victims...


Thanks to Whisky in the Jar for putting this book on my radar.  I finished it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The characters make this a YA murder mystery with a side of romance, but the plot has some dark and disturbing elements that are touched upon (sexual violence/incest) that put it at the older end of YA.  The setting is supposed to be, I think, medieval, but it worked better for me to imagine it as an alternate reality, thereby making anachronisms less anachronistic.  This was easy to do as the city/country names have little to no similarity to real ones, and the religious system is based entirely on the sun and moon.

Mental illness is a very prominent theme in the story and though I have no first, or even second-hand experience with it myself, the inclusion in the story didn’t feel disrespectful or heavy-handed.  The moon magic was interesting and felt like a fresh take on magic systems; the mystery plotting was a little clunky, possibly over-complicated, but overall it kept the story moving along.

In general, I thought it was a good read and if the author were to make a series out of it (could easily go either way) I’d read the next one happily.

The Study of Secrets (Lila Maclean Academic Mystery, #5)

The Study of SecretsThe Study of Secrets
by Cynthia Kuhn
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781635116151
Series: Lila Maclean Academic Mystery #5
Publication Date: May 1, 2020
Pages: 225
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

There could be nowhere more fitting for English professor Lila Maclean to spend her sabbatical than the whimsical Callahan House with its enchanting towers, cozy nooks, and charming library. Unfortunately, it also features a body in the study. The murder on the estate sets the town buzzing. Wild rumors are fueled by a gossipy blogger who delights in speculation, and further crimes only intensify the whispers and suspicions. A newly discovered manuscript, however, appears to expose startling facts beneath the fictions. When Lila steps in to sort the truth from the lies, it may cost her everything, as someone wants to make dead certain that their secrets stay hidden.


This series started out strong, as a great cozy without the cutesy vibe, with strong writing and clever mysteries.  I think, though, with number 5, I’m done. The author broke one of my personal cardinal rules by creating character relationships and dynamics that I like, and then breaking them up and shuffling them about, and then doing it in a manner that was clumsy and awkward.

The mystery plotting was complex enough, but tried to be too clever, so that by the end it felt like a Ginsu knife commercial: But wait! There’s More!.   Had the author – or the editor – pared it down just a bit, it might have offered a more suspenseful ending.

It wasn’t a bad mystery, or story; it just wasn’t great and certainly didn’t match the caliber of the earlier books.  While it might be a blip, the relationship shuffle has left me uninterested in finding out.

I read this because it showed up in my mail but it fits Amateur Sleuth, Cozy Mystery and Home for the Horrordays as it takes place in the days preceding, and including Christmas.  So I’m using it for Home for the Horrordays.

The Dark Place (Gideon Oliver Mystery, #2)

The Dark PlaceThe Dark Place
by Aaron Elkins
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 0802755658
Series: Gideon Oliver #2
Publication Date: January 1, 1983
Pages: 200
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Walker Publications

Deep in the primeval rainforest of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, the skeletal remains of a murdered man are discovered. And a strange, unsettling tale begins to unfold, for forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver determines that the murder weapon was a primitive bone spear of a type not seen for the last ten thousand years. And whoever—or whatever—hurled it did so with seemingly superhuman force. Bigfoot “sightings” immediately crop up, but Gideon is not buying them.

But something is continuing to kill people, and Gideon, helped by forest ranger Julie Tendler and FBI special agent John Lau, plunges into the dark heart of an unexplored wilderness to uncover the bizarre, astonishing explanation.


I’ve only read one other Gideon Oliver book, and it’s a much later entry in the series (Skullduggery), which I enjoyed.  I wanted to start at the beginning but after a lot of research, everyone who has ever read the first book says it’s not worth reading it, so I’m jumping in at #2.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I didn’t really read it with any particular HB square in mind.  This was a really good story, and not at all the kind of story I expected.  What starts off with 3 disappearances in the rainforest of Washington State leads to dead bodies, an unknown Amerind burial ground, and, for the first 60 pages, Bigfoot is a contender!  So much fun!

The reality, as the story progresses, is much, much more interesting than Bigfoot (no offence meant), and this mystery becomes the most anthropological anthropology-mystery I’ve ever read.  It’s short – 200 pages – but concise and fast paced.  Little is wasted on descriptive filler, although I’d have liked for the sex scenes not to have made the final edits.  I’m fine with sex scenes in general, but in a cozy, written by a man, well, for some reason it just sort of squicked me out.  But they really were the only unnecessary scenes and were pretty PG, for all I’m complaining about them.

Without giving anything away, it was just a really solid, well-written, mystery, with great characters and an even better setting.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022 and beyond the obvious Genre: Mystery square it also fits Amateur Sleuth, Cozy Mystery, Dem Bones, In the Dark, Dark Woods, Monsters, and The Barrens.

I’m going to use it for Monsters because, Bigfoot!  🙂

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

Tuesday Mooney Talks to GhostsTuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
by Kate Racculia
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Pages: 359
Genre: Fiction

A handsome stranger. A dead billionaire. A citywide treasure hunt. Tuesday Mooney’s life is about to change…forevermore.

Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.

Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can't be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.


How much fun was this book?  I had a blast reading it; there are very pale shades of Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookshop to it, although it’s an entirely different beast.  Scavenger hunts! Unsolved mysteries! Lost fortunes! Secret codes!

Enough exclamation points – it was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure with an engaging cast of characters and the closest to unreliable narrators (not really) that I can come without hating a book.  The narrator is reliable, but so much of the information she gets is not.  There are stories within stories and games within games and the author does a phenomenal job putting it all together in a way that doesn’t leave the reader behind.  Racculia also scores points for combining brutal violence, a happy ending, and poetic justice in a way that I was willing to buy without a blink.

There was only 1 thing that left me hanging – a very minor plot point that was never addressed:

View Spoiler »

This is the kind of book you pick up when you just want to surrender a few hours to having an adventurous good time.

A Cup of Silver Linings

A Cup of Silver LiningsA Cup of Silver Linings
by Karen Hawkins
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781982105563
Publication Date: August 1, 2021
Pages: 354
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books

Ava Dove—the sixth of the seven famed Dove sisters and owner of Ava Dove’s Landscaping and Specialty Teas—is frantic.

Just as her new tearoom is about to open, her herbal teas have gone haywire. Suddenly, her sleep-inducing tea is startling her clients awake with vivid dreams, her romance-kindling tea is causing people to blurt out their darkest secrets, and her anti-anxiety tea is making them spend hours staring into mirrors. Ava is desperate for a remedy, but her search leads her into dangerous territory, as she is forced to face a dark secret she’s been hiding for over a decade.

Meanwhile, successful architect Ellen Foster has arrived in Dove Pond to attend the funeral of her estranged daughter, Julie. Grieving deeply, Ellen is determined to fix up her daughter’s ramshackle house, sell it, and then sweep her sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Kristen, off to a saner, calmer life. But Kristen has other plans. Desperate to stay with her friends in Dove Pond, she sets off on a quest she’s avoided her whole life—to find her absent father in the hopes of winning her freedom from the grandmother she barely knows.


The follow up to The Book Charmer, and the book that arrived yesterday.  I figured I should dive right into a book that inspired me to take my first solo walk in over 6 months.

Is there a fairy tale involving an evil grandmother?  If so, this is a take on that, sort of.  Kristen’s mom dies, she has no idea who her father is, and so her estranged grandmother comes riding in on her metaphorical bulldozer to rescue her grand-daughter, who, by-the-by, doesn’t need rescuing.  Grandma is a selfish, stubborn, wealthy cow, but Kristen is stubborn and as it turns out, rather wealthy too, so there.

In a parallel and connected story line, Ava Dove, one of the ‘gifted’ Dove sisters, is stressing about having kept a secret for a couple of decades, and the secret is fighting back.  Remember, this is magical realism, so the secret is literally fighting back, trying to escape its box and throw Ava under the bus for a stupid mistake she made when she was a kid.  Ava is also trying to get a tearoom reading for opening and the special bespoke teas she makes to help people are starting to cause some strange behaviours in those that drink them, leaving Ava scrambling to figure out why.

On the fringes of this is an unresolved plot point from the first book involving Ava’s sister, Sarah.  It all comes together into a fairly coherent story line, and if you suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy magical realism, the redemption of Grandma ice queen is believable.  Still, the secrets (Ava’s and who is Kristen’s dad) are both pretty transparent to the reader, the former especially if one remembers events from the first book.

Overall, it’s a charming read, with strong individuals and friendships that make the story work better than it might have otherwise.