Skull Duggery (Gideon Oliver, #16)

Skull DuggerySkull Duggery
by Aaron Elkins
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780425227978
Series: Gideon Oliver #16
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Pages: 281
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Gideon is happy to be in Mexico with his wife-until he’s asked to examine the mummified corpse of a drifter thought to be shot to death. Gideon’s findings reveal that the cause of death is far more bizarre. Then he’s asked to examine the skeleton of a murder victim found a year earlier-only to discover another coroner error. The Skeleton Detective knows that two “mistakenly” identified bodies are never a coincidence. But if he isn’t careful, unearthing the connection between them could make him another murder statistic in Mexico.

Years ago – years and years ago now – this series was recommended to me by someone on BookLikes.  I never got around to hunting down the first book, but ran across this one at a used book sale a year or two later and bought it intending to hang onto it until I’d read the first 15 books.

Fast forward to last week, when I accepted that wasn’t going to happen and decided to just dive right in.

Turned out that was totally fine, I don’t feel like I missed anything at all, and best of all I was presented with a really good, solid mystery.  The pacing was leisurely, which frustrated me a bit at first, making me realising that even in books our attention spans have shrunk, but I found the characters and the writing interesting enough to dig out my store of patience.  I also put it down to read The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir when I was about 25% through, so obviously my store of patience could use some building up.

Once I picked it up again, though, it just all started working for me.  I like Gideon Oliver, a forensic anthropologist, and I loved the plot structure.  I knew from the start what the first plot twist would be, but that reveal was made so early it was clear there was far more coming.  It was all so laid back I kept wondering how the author was going to manage the moment in any mystery where the MC is in peril.  When it did happen it was so fast and furious and wtf? that it seemed anti-climatic, but from there the story just got more and more nicely twisty until the ending was just clever and satisfying.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have found a new series to seek out and enjoy – and it’s one that I’ll be happy to acquire at the same leisurely pace as the writing, with a sense of anticipation but not urgency.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs (Royal Spyness, #13)

Love and Death Among the CheetahsLove and Death Among the Cheetahs
by Rhys Bowen
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Royal Spyness #13
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Pages: 304
Publisher: Berkley

The author starts this instalment with an apology in advance; the book is set in Africa – Kenya – during the late 20’s/early 30’s, a time when race relations and the views of the British Empire (as were the rest of the world) were shameful.

This had me braced for difficult reading, but I have to say, that was not the disclaimer I needed.  In true cozy style, Bowen acknowledged the dichotomy and inequality between white and black without really verbalising it.  What caught me unawares (and shouldn’t have; I can only wonder if the pre-apology diverted me), was the casual references to hunting big game.  Of course it was a thing back then, and of course I should have seen it coming.

The other unexpected part of the story was the behaviour of the upper class in Kenya; a risqué path for a cozy, but done well by the author, and based on actual events and a real person: Lady Idina Sackville.  Bowen closes with a short bibliography of texts she used in an effort to write about the times accurately.

All in all, another enjoyable instalment in a long-running series that has remained fairly strong throughout, balancing cheeky naiveté and interesting murder plots.

What Lola Wants (Lola Cruz, #4)

What Lola WantsWhat Lola Wants
by Melissa Bourbon
Rating: ★★★
Series: Lola Cruz #
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Pages: 244
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

The first three books in this series were published years ago, and, I’m guessing, got dropped from the publisher.  I was disappointed at the time because I enjoyed the series, and I generally enjoyed the author’s mystery writing.  Fast forward several years later, and Henery Press published this fourth instalment.

Meh.  Either my tastes changed, or the author lost her groove during the hiatus.  It was still an interesting plot, and I still enjoyed the characters, but a lot of her romance writing history bled through into the story and the chapters’ angst.  And seriously, the editor or author need to repeat things over and over is grating on my nerves.  Lola’s always wanted to be a detective; she knows jujitsu; I get it and I got it the first time it was mentioned.  I’m smart that way.

Not sure this series is for me anymore.

The Glass Thief (Jaya Jones Treasure Mystery, #6)

The Glass ThiefThe Glass Thief
by Gigi Pandian
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781635115550
Series: Jaya Jones Mystery #
Publication Date: November 1, 2019
Pages: 256
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

I never know what to say about these books.  They’re cozy, but with an Indiana Jones/Where in the World is Carmen Santiago mash up vibe.  All the mysteries in this series are rooted in off the beaten path historical fact, usually, but not always, India’s past, and always center on some type of treasure that’s been looted, or being searched for in order to be looted.  It’s this that keeps me coming back to these books if I’m honest.  I like the characters well enough, but I’m not as invested in them as I could be.

The Glass Thief is supposed to be an homage to Elizabeth Peters’ character Vicky Bliss, but – and admittedly it’s been over a decade since I’ve read them – I didn’t see it.  The romantic relationship here is similar, but otherwise I’d have to re-read the Vicky Bliss books to see more.  The plot twist was obvious from the beginning, so the ‘gasp!’ moment mid-way was less gasp! and more eye-roll.  But overall it was a good story that kept me entertained, which is something of an accomplishment lately, so it deserves merit for that.

Lowcountry Boomerang (Liz Talbot Mystery, #8)

Lowcountry BoomerangLowcountry Boomerang
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 1635115434
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #8
Publication Date: September 1, 2019
Pages: 256
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

I continue to really enjoy this series; Boyer doesn’t overplay the ghost, and keeps the mysteries solvable by strictly corporeal measures.

The plots are always well done, though this one’s solution sort of felt like it came out of left field.  Looking back at the end, I can see where the author placed the ‘clues’ (though they wren’t really clues) but I’m not sure really works, and it left questions for me.  Still, I really enjoyed watching Liz and Nate go about solving the crime, absolving their client of a false accusation.  And the Talbot family had a few moments in the spotlight to let their crazy flag fly, which I always enjoy.

The inside flap of my book says there’s already a ninth book out, so maybe I won’t have to wait longer than the slower than usual post before I can jump back in.

Owl be Home for Christmas (Meg Langslow, #26)

Owl be Home for ChristmasOwl be Home for Christmas
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250305312
Series: Meg Langslow #26
Publication Date: October 19, 2019
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

This was the only Christmas story I read this year, and I started it just as everything started going pear shaped in RL, so it took me forever to read it.  I know this is a ‘me’ problem, but the longer it takes me to finish a book, the more scattered the story feels to me, so this entry by one of my favorite current authors got short shrift from me this year.  Still, it was good; the mystery was well constructed and the holiday spirit was high.  The Christmas dinner almost made me misty eyed and made me love Donna Andrews as an author just a little bit more than I already did.

Death Comes to the School (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #4)

Death Comes To The SchoolDeath Comes To The School
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781496702081
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #5
Publication Date: November 28, 2017
Pages: 273
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

I caught a cold a few weeks ago that I thought I’d kicked to the curb after only 4 days, only to have it come raging back a week later in the form of a cough that will. not. die.  I’ve sounded like a barking seal for the last 8 days and yesterday, to add insult to injury, I got a skull cracking headache, too, leaving me feeling like every time I coughed I was going to end up like those people in the X-files, whose brains exploded out their ears.

So even though I have 3 other books currently going, I needed something very easy on both my brain and my eyes.  Death Comes to the School was a perfect fit with it’s on-the-large-side-of-average typeface and it’s very familiar backdrop and characters.  It allowed me to forget for a time about the icepack wrapped around my head and the cough lozenges that have stained my tongue purple (black elderberry).

The story starts off 3 years after the last book;  why don’t authors of series do this more often?  It makes everything that happens so much more believable; rather than have a village of death, you’re backdrop is just a village where normal stuff happens.  Anyway, the murder happens fairly quickly, to a school teacher nobody liked, and it happens rather oddly, with a hat pin in her neck and a pen in her eye.  From this point, the author has a bit of fun twisting the character stereotypes of the time around and using them to her advantage.  The mystery plotting of the book is really very good, although the motivation tie-in at the end was a tad weak.

The character angst though, I could have done without.  I really like Robert and Lucy, both individually and together but this book … this book turn them into cardboard cliches, all because Lucy has yet to produce an heir.  This is an historically accurate issue; childbirth was a treacherous business and entailments created situations where entire villages depended on one poor woman to produce a son.  I get that.  But the whole emotional miscommunication thing that bogged down this story was stupid; for two characters that talked and argued about everything incessantly in the first three books, the whole “doesn’t she want me?” “he doesn’t desire me anymore, I’m a failure” let’s-not-talk thing was just annoying.

There was more to like than not, though, and as a nice bonus, the book takes place during Christmas, so it was seasonal too!  This has been a solid series so far and I’m already looking forward to the next one, which will undoubtably continue to revolve around heirs and spares, but hopefully without all the silly angst.

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set  before the age of electricity.



Foreign Éclairs (White House Chef Mysteries, #9)

Foreign ÉclairsForeign Éclairs
by Julie Hyzy
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780425262405
Series: White House Chef Mystery #9
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Pages: 295
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Things are about to really heat up for Ollie. News of a bombing and attempted breakout at a federal prison reveals that the brother of a terrorist she helped defeat is back with a vengeance. And after she gets mugged on her way home from work, the Secret Service won’t leave her side, fearing she is now a target.

When a White House staff member is murdered, officials rush to action over a possible security breach. It may be time for Ollie to trade in her apron for a bullet-proof vest as she becomes part of a bold strategy to make sure this terrorist gets his just desserts…

The bad news is that this is the last book in what is a very, very well written cozy series.  There aren’t enough good cozy series left out there and the loss of one is disappointing.

The good news is that this was the author’s decision and as such, this book is written with no loose ends, and for that I am thankful.  It’s bad enough to lose a good series, but for it to end abruptly, with stories half-told, is an insult on top of injury.

Hyzy doesn’t own the copyright on this series or the characters, so while the story brings us to a good place for a series end, it’s also left in an interesting place that allows for someone (Hyzy, one hopes, after obtaining copyright on what is arguably her own work) to someday bring Ollie and Gav back into the thick of things where they belong.

The plot is action packed, fast paced – almost a cozy thriller.  It’s got a bit of an out-there plot like a thriller too, but it works within the confines of the world Hyzy has created from the first.  This isn’t really a mystery at all; we always know who the perpetrators are and what they want; it’s just a matter of what the solution will ultimately cost our MC.  The final part of the roller coaster plot was gripping and left me with a bit of an adrenaline rush.

Thank you, Julie Hyzy, for 9 wonderful adventures with Ollie. I’m gonna miss her and Gav, although I’ll revisit them often in my re-reads.

Death Comes To Kurland Hall

Death Comes to Kurland HallDeath Comes to Kurland Hall
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780758287373
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #3
Publication Date: November 24, 2015
Pages: 281
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

I really enjoy this historical cozy mystery series.  Ms. Lloyd writes such great characters and settings.  I suspect some anachronisms (did people go on honeymoons, or call them that, in 1817?) but my grasp of the details of history is weak at best so most will fly right over my head.

The plotting of this one was almost superb, but it sort of fell apart in the last third of the book.  Or maybe it didn’t; perhaps the author intended to lead the reader to the conclusion, but the effect felt a bit convoluted and the twist at the end suffered for it.  Still I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope there are more to come.

All the President’s Menus (White House Chef Mysteries, #8)

All the President's MenusAll the President's Menus
by Julie Hyzy
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780425262399
Series: White House Chef Mystery #8
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Pages: 294
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Due to a government sequester, entertaining at the White House has been severely curtailed. So executive chef Olivia Paras is delighted to hear that plans are still on to welcome a presidential candidate from the country of Saardisca—the first woman to run for office—and four of that nation’s top chefs.

But while leading the chefs on a kitchen tour, pastry chef Marcel passes out suddenly—and later claims he was drugged. When one of the visiting chefs collapses and dies, it’s clear someone has infiltrated the White House with ill intent. Could it be an anti-Saardiscan zealot? Is the candidate a target? Are the foreign chefs keeping more than their recipes a secret? Once again, Olivia must make sleuthing the special of the day…

A good read, though not as good as the previous four books.  This time Olivia is dealing with a conspiracy tied to a foreign delegation of chefs as well as a government sequester that has left her short a couple of chefs.

I really enjoy Ms. Hyzy’s writing; she doesn’t write to formula and she has interesting ways of changing up her characters’ lives.  She’s dropped a bomb into Olivia and Gav’s marriage that I can see massive possibilities for taking the series in a whole new direction at some point in the future.  I liked that a lot.  I can see Cyan’s future dovetailing nicely with this change as well.  Nothing might come of any of it but at least she has a veteran cozy reader speculating about the “what if?”’s instead of yawning and thinking “yeah, yeah, cozy plot #4”.

I suspect I didn’t love this one as much as previous books because a lot of it centered around a country that the author necessarily had to fabricate and she did such a good job of creating it without aping any existing countries that it made it rather hard for me to invest myself in it.  But the ending was great – I loved that final scene at Blair House (although Olivia’s final scene with the President wasn’t much of a surprise to me; it seemed the only plausible scenario).

The series started off slow for me, but exploded onto my top 10 list at book four, and this book only solidifies my attachment to Olivia, Gav and the rest of the crew.  I’m looking forward to the next book.