Death in Brittany (Brittany Mystery, #1)

Death in BrittanyDeath in Brittany
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250088437
Series: Brittany Mystery #1
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
Pages: 318
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Commissaire Georges Dupin, a cantankerous, Parisian-born caffeine junkie recently relocated from the glamour of Paris to the remote (if picturesque) Breton coast, is dragged from his morning croissant and coffee to the scene of a curious murder. The local village of Pont-Aven—a sleepy community by the sea where everyone knows one other and nothing much seems to happen—is in shock. The legendary ninety-one-year-old hotelier Pierre-Louis Pennec, owner of the Central Hotel, has been found dead.

A picture-perfect seaside village that played host to Gaugin in the nineteenth century, Pont-Aven is at the height of its tourist season and is immediately thrown into uproar. As Dupin delves into the lives of the victim and the suspects, he uncovers a web of secrecy and silence that belies the village's quaint image.


 

I’m pretty sure I have one of the books in this series floating around a TBR pile somewhere, but I couldn’t remember which one, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t the first one, so I checked it out from the library.  If I do have one of the series (and I didn’t give it away) it’s one that I’ve picked up and put right back down again for ages, but the titles always appeal to me, so I made myself read this one.

It was pretty good!  Not great, but entertaining, and a pretty solid mystery.  The writing style (3rd person) reminds me a little of the Provence mystery series written by M.L. Longworth, although I suspect that’s more just the power of suggestion (one series set in Provence, the other in Brittany) than any actual resemblance.  But I’d class these as traditional mysteries, not cozy; they’re all about the mystery plots and very little about the characters, although the descriptions of the countryside were a little eye glazing.

The main character of the book is an obvious tip of the hat to Poe, as his name is Dupin.  To my everlasting relief, however, he is as unlike his classic namesake as can be.  There’s no expounding, or soapbox monologues; the mystery plot spans 4 days and every one of them is non-stop showing and almost no telling.  A Gaugin masterpiece is at the centre of the murder plot, and mysteries about art are catnip for me, so when it felt slow going, the art kept me reading.  I say slow going, but that’s not really accurate; the book isn’t divided into chapters, but the 4 days of the investigation, and if you’re a stop-at-the-end-of-a-chapter reader like I am, discovering the first ‘chapter’ is 97 pages long makes it feel like it’s taking forever.  Once I figured that out, I adjusted my habits and the book and I got along much better.

I’m definitely interested in the rest of the series.  I need to figure out if I do, indeed, have a book and which one it is, and whether or not my library has the entire series or is going to torture me with random entries.  No matter though, I definitely have a new series to look forward to.

Recipes for Love and Murder (Tannie Maria Mystery, #1)

Recipes for Love and MurderRecipes for Love and Murder
by Sally Andrew
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781925240092
Series: Tannie Maria Mystery #1
Publication Date: September 23, 2015
Pages: 378
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Text Publishing

Tannie Maria used to write a recipe column for the Klein Karoo Gazette. Then Head Office decided they wanted an advice column instead, so now she gives advice. In the form of recipes. Because, as she says, she may not know much about love, but food—that’s her life.

Everything has been going well. A tongue-tied mechanic wins his girl with text messages and Welsh rarebit. A frightened teenager gets some much-needed sex ed with her chocolate-coated bananas.

But then there is a letter from Martine, whose husband beats her, and Tannie Maria feels a pang of recognition and dread. This may be a problem that cooking can’t solve…


 

I found this at my local library and the synopsis had me excited to read it.  About 25% of the way in, I wasn’t sure I was going to get through it; at the end, I’m eager to get to the library and check out the second book, and likely buy them for my personal library.

The biggest hurdle for me with this book is my almost total ignorance about South Africa.  I know it’s in Africa; I know it’s in the south; I know it was colonised by the Dutch, and I know about apartheid and Nelson Mandela.  Oh, and they (and the rest of Africa) are tied with Australia for coolest animals.  Beyond that, I got nuthin’.  That made a lot of the cultural references a mystery to me and there was a time or two where I struggled to understand.  The list of things I need to research to cure just a tiny fraction of my ignorance is long.  I was helped a bit by a familiarity with Dutch, which allowed me to decipher some of the Afrikaans vocabulary that is liberally sprinkled throughout the text.

The other hurdle I initially had with the book was understanding the MC, Tannie Maria.  I just couldn’t get a handle on what kind of character she was meant to be; a time or two she came across as slow of mind, but she’s not.  She’s got a tragic background she survived, but she has this kind of passive strength and spirit that frankly leaves me confused.  This could be fallout from my cultural ignorance in the same way that my BFF’s husband sometimes leaves me confused (he’s Dutch) and a few Aussies too.  Different environments influence different personalities.  I liked her; I just didn’t understand her.

I really waffled between 4 and 4.5 stars, but ultimately settled on 4 because of the above and because there was a bit too much sentiment about the power of love towards the end.  It’s beautifully written, but not the kind of thing that resonates with me.  The mystery itself was pretty good, though I’d argue it’s not strictly a fair-play plot.  The style is what I’d call a ‘gritty cozy’ if forced to describe it.  There’s a dark side to the crimes and spousal abuse is a strong theme, but the characters and mood are uplifting, with food playing a major role in the story.  There’s a side story that almost stole the show for me at the end, and there’s a low-key romance brewing between the mc and the detective that I have a hard time getting excited about because, frankly, he has a handlebar moustache and those things creep me out.

But what really makes the book is the atmosphere; the author brings the veldt to life on the pages in a way that kept me glued to the story when the language and cultural references left me floundering.  When I wasn’t sure I cared about the characters, the Klein Karoo kept me coming back for more.  By the end, it was the characters, the writing and the Karoo that makes me want to pick up the next book in the series, The Satanic Mechanic.

Locked Room Mysteries Omnibus

The Locked-Room MysteriesThe Locked-Room Mysteries
by Otto Penzler
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780307743961
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Pages: 941
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard

In this definitive collection, Edgar Award-winning editor Otto Penzler selects a multifarious mix from across the entire history of the locked room story, which should form the cornerstone of any crime reader's library.

Virtually all of the great writers of detective fiction have produced masterpieces in this genre, including Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy L. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, G.K. Chesterton, John Dickson Carr, Dashiell Hammett, Ngaio Marsh and Stephen King.

The purest kind of detective story involves a crime solved by observation and deduction, rather than luck, coincidence or confession. The supreme form of detection involves the explanation of an impossible crime, whether the sort of vanishing act that would make Houdini proud, a murder that leaves no visible trace, or the most unlikely villain imaginable.


 

My last square on my bingo card this year that needed to be read for was Locked Room Mystery.  I had several books that qualified, but none that appealed, so it was time to pull out my trusty omnibus, Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler.  I chose two previously unread stories: one I was sure to like, featuring The Saint, and one completely unknown to me but considered to be a locked room classic up there with The Hollow Man.


The Man Who Liked Toys by Leslie Charteris: four-stars

I liked this one about as much as I expected to – maybe a little less.  And I probably should have given it 3.5 stars instead of 4 because at its core it’s more a snapshot of a story than an actual story.  But the method of murder is ingenious.  I have to say though, The Saint isn’t nearly as dashing on paper as he is when he looks like Val Kilmer.


The Two Bottles of Relish by Lord Dunsany: five-stars

Well, I can see why this is one of the most re-printed locked room stories.  It has a Poe-esque quality to it, as it starts out a very normal, even vanilla, narration by someone who considers himself a Watson, and rapidly escalates towards the end into a mini-horror story.  I saw where it was going but now quite, and the ending … ends perfectly.  Any more would have diluted the effect completely, even with the superbly done writing.

 

I read these for 2021 Halloween Bingo, specifically for the Locked Room Mystery square.

The Big Over Easy Re-read (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over EasyThe Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: Nursery Crimes #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 398
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

 

My original review pretty much sums up my general feelings about this book.  I still think it’s the most highly quotable book I’ve read, I still think the satire is spot-on, both of the media and murder mysteries and I still think Prometheus adds just that little something of surprise depth to the narrative, if only briefly.

Re-reading it, it’s held up perfectly.  Fforde’s amazing at writing these intricate plots and clever dialog, but it’s all the small details that continue to leave me gobsmacked.  The excepts at the opening of each chapter, the small jokes and wordplays scattered in the text, and the “ads” at the back of the book all are unnecessary to the plot, but make the book all the richer for their inclusion.

Though I gave it, and stand by doing so, 5 stars, the heinous plot revealed in the mystery is gross in that way that British humor excels at.  Gross and sublimely silly.  Which makes the story better, in spite of the “UGH, yuck!” moments towards the end.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Noir square.  It’s not a traditional fit, but there’s a clear argument that along with satirising mysteries and the press, there’s a very noir-satire vibe in the story,

Agnes and the Hitman re-read

Agnes and the HitmanAgnes and the Hitman
by Jennifer Crusie
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780312363048
Publication Date: August 21, 2007
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

I recently read Wild Ride by the same two authors for a Halloween Bingo square, and it made me want to re-read my very favorite Crusie of all time.  I reviewed it back in 2014, which can be found here, but even then it was a re-read and I don’t have any notes from my original reading.

But it really doesn’t matter, because this book is just as good the 5 or 6th time as it was the first time.  Hilarious, not at all realistic, yet believable, and at its heart, endearingly sweet in a way that only a mafia related killing spree can be.

Agnes is engaged and they’ve bought the house of her dreams from her BFF’s mother, where she and her soon-to-be are going to write cookbooks and cater fabulous events.  The first event is part of the mortgage contract: throw a fabulous wedding at the house for Agnes’ goddaughter and the previous owner’s grand-daughter in exchange for the first 3 months of payments.

Easy, until someone comes in one night to steal her dog at gunpoint.  Agnes, who has a history of anger management issues, hits him with a frying pan, knocking him through the wall into an unknown (to her) basement.  She calls her old friend Joey (the Gent) who, hearing what happened and seeing the basement, calls in his nephew, Shane, a government black-op.  He comes to protect Agnes and find out who wants the dog, and why.

Meanwhile, the bride’s grand-mother seems determined to relocate the wedding to the country club, and everything that can go wrong with the wedding preparations does.   Through it all Agnes just keeps cooking and planning and fixing, refusing to allow anything to stand in her way of having this wedding, not even the dead bodies.

It’s a fast paced read, with no slow spots.  It’s a huge amount of fun, and as I said before it’s not at all realistic, but the relationships are feel believable.  Even the instant attraction between Shane and Agnes.  I continue to absolutely love this book as one of the ultimate comfort reads on my shelves.

 

I re-read this just because I wanted to, but it fits for Halloween Bingo’s Terror in a Small Town square, so I’m going with that.  It’s set in Keyes, South Carolina a tiny (fictional) town that’s home to half the Jersey mob’s family (the retired half) and is beset with a string of murders that leaves a body count somewhere around 7.

A Good Day for Chardonnay (Sunshine Vicram, #2)

A Good Day for ChardonnayA Good Day for Chardonnay
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781250233110
Series: Sunshine Vicram #2
Publication Date: July 27, 2021
Pages: 416
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I really vacillated between 4.5 and 5 stars with this one.  Overall, I loved the book from start to finish, and that last .5 of a star is really nit-picky personal tastes.

A Good Day for Chardonnay picks up where A Bad Day for Sunshine leaves off with a multi-story arc surrounding the mystery of Sunshine Vicram’s abduction when she was a teen-ager.  It also introduced too new parallel plots: Sunshine’s investigation of an apparent bar fight gone bad involving her romantic interest, Levi, and a cold case discovered by her daughter in the attic (in the form of newspaper clippings) surrounding the unsolved disappearances of several transients that took place decades previously.  There’s also a racoon wreaking havoc, a blind date gone bad, and another multi-story arc concerning Levi’s family.

There’s a lot going on, but this is Jones’ forte.  She excels at writing fast-paced, multi-plot stories told with a lot of humour and only slightly less heart.  After reading almost 20 of her titles, I can say while I didn’t love all of them, I was never, ever bored by any of them.

This particular book though, was amongst the best.  Good mysteries, yes.  Humor, yes.  But this book was also an emotional roller coaster at the end; between the events of Sunshine’s daughter Auri and her friends coming to a rather explosive climax, and Sunshine’s life-long mystery coming to a satisfying conclusion, a tissue (or three) were required during the reading of this book.

Why didn’t I end up going the full 5?  I was aggravated with the last page; the story ended WAY too abruptly.  And Auri’s storyline.  I really like Auri, and Cruz and love Auri and Cruz together as a team, but her story line was, perhaps, a tiny bit too precocious.  It was handled realistically, in the sense that, IF teenagers in real life were to decide to take it upon themselves to investigate a cold case involving a serial killer, it’s easy to imagine they’d go about the same way Auri did.  But as much as I like Auri, Jones walks a razor fine edge between Auri being likeable and Auri being cloyingly sweet and earnest.  Her selflessness is not entirely realistic, and I can’t say I wouldn’t skim her story where I to re-read this.

And re-read it I shall, because it’s going to be a long year, or however long it takes, before the next book.  And I already can’t wait.

The Vanishing Museum on the Rue Mistral (Provençal Mystery, #9)

The Vanishing Museum On The Rue MistralThe Vanishing Museum On The Rue Mistral
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143135296
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #9
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Pages: 323
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

I never know how to describe these mysteries; they’re written just a little bit differently than the standard traditional or cozy fare, and they’re one of the few written in third person.  They’re much closer to golden age in writing style than anything contemporary; no internal dialogs, no tedious descriptions of … well, almost no tedious descriptions of random things.  The Bonnets are gourmands, so there’s rather a lot of eating going on, and they’re in Aix-en-Provence, so it all sounds rather amazing.  But otherwise, sparse and efficient writing.

Someone has stolen an entire museum.  True, it’s a small museum, but nonetheless no small feat, with no witnesses and no clues.  Then a main suspect is murdered and another grievously injured and still the police are left frustrated.  It comes down, in true mystery style, to pieces put together not by the police themselves, but by their family members and friends, and the while the ending isn’t shocking, it’s clever and satisfying.  Enough clues are there for the reader to see the general direction things are going, but details are left for the big reveal.

These books are comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable reads.

Death in the Vines (Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, #3)

Death in the VinesDeath in the Vines
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143122449
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #3
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

Better than the last book; the multiple POVs here work better and Death in the Vines didn’t feel as slow to start as book 2.

Three brutal murders just 1 week apart, all women.  Two of them identical attacks of young women, but the third is an old woman showing signs of dementia.  Proximity and timing make all three related but no one can find the connection.  This series is, at its heart, a police procedural so the story moves along in stops and starts as new evidence is collected and more information is run-down.  The unmasking was a little bit abrupt, but perhaps that’s how some cases end up, who knows?

In the midst of this we have little vignettes of the supporting characters that are mostly charming; an odd twist with Marine Bonnet didn’t quite work for me, but I suppose it worked to move their relationship a bit.  But the biggest non-plot news is Verleque’s mysterious secret in his past is revealed – and it’s a doozy; in a completely unexpected way.  Very interesting ground the author is treading here; the big reveal doesn’t really happen until almost the end, and it’s not followed up on, so I don’t know where she’s going to go from here, if anywhere.

But I have book 4 ready to go, so I won’t have to wait long to find out.

Pocket Apocalypse (InCryptid, #4)

Pocket ApocalypsePocket Apocalypse
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 0756408121
Series: InCryptid #4
Publication Date: March 15, 2015
Pages: 368
Publisher: DAW Books

Australia is a cryptozoologist’s dream, filled with unique species and unique challenges. Unfortunately, it’s also filled with Shelby’s family, who aren’t delighted by the length of her stay in America. And then there are the werewolves to consider: infected killing machines who would like nothing more than to claim the continent as their own. The continent which currently includes Alex.

Survival is hard enough when you’re on familiar ground. Alex Price is very far from home, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: he’s not going down without a fight.


The second of Alex’s books, and the best of the two by a clear margin.  This one takes place in Australia, and the author nails the setting, while taking the mickey about (northern) Australia’s natural population’s inherent desire to kill everyone.  Half-off Ragnarok struggled to get this cultural uniqueness right, in my opinion, so it was a relief to see the improvement here.  Shelby still remained elusive as an individual, but her family members more than compensated.

Shelby’s family is why I didn’t like this book even more; they’re over-the-top asses to Alex and it teetered on caricature.

The plot was good; while I wasn’t shocked by the turn of events, I didn’t see them coming, either.  I love how the author and Alex brought in the wadjets, using this angle to work in the injustice of ‘otherness’, though the Yowie’s (who I loved) circumstances turned what was a subtle but effective highlight on that injustice into something more like a sledgehammer.

The Aeslin mice are here but I did not appreciate the turn of events the author took with them.  Maybe she’d argue it was necessary to the story line, but she’d never convince me.  Luckily it was a relatively short scene.

With every book of McGuire’s I’ve read, I have both enjoyed them and found them problematic.  That I mostly keep coming back (I’ve skipped a few) for more Price family antics suggests she gets it right more often than she doesn’t.

A Bad Day for Sunshine

A Bad Day for SunshineA Bad Day for Sunshine
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780349427171
Series: Sunshine Vicram #1
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Pages: 390
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group

Del Sol native Sunshine Vicram has returned to town as the elected sheriff, expecting nothing more than a quiet ride. But now a teenage girl is missing, a kidnapper is on the loose, and all of this is reminding Sunshine why she left Del Sol in the first place. Add to that the trouble at her daughter's new school, plus a kidnapped rooster named Puff Daddy, and, well, the forecast looks anything but sunny.

But even clouds have their silver linings. This one's got Levi, Sunshine's sexy, almost-old flame, and Quincy Cooper, a fiery-hot US Marshall. With temperatures rising everywhere she turns, Del Sol's normally cool-minded sheriff is finding herself knee-deep in drama and danger.


A long time fan of Jones’ writing, I was excited to hear about this new series after her Charlie Davidson series came to an end, but also hesitant, as the premise for this new series sounded like quite a departure in a lot of ways.

I needn’t have worried; A Bad Day for Sunshine has everything I loved in the Charlie Davidson series (save the outright paranormal plots), only slightly more polished.  Where the snark and jokes in the CD series could sometimes be a tad overdone (naming ever in animate object), here it was perfectly balanced.  The multiple plots were here too, without quite the manic pace, and the friendships and dialog were bang on perfect.  Levi too is the version of Reyes one could take home to their more liberal parents.  In many ways, as much as I loved the Charlie Davidson series, Sunshine Vicram feels more polished.

Plotwise, there are many different irons in the fire and all were good, though a few were telegraphed ahead of time to varying degrees.  I knocked half a star off because the multi-book plot feels transparent.  I still can’t say who did it, but I feel confident about who didn’t and what role the character played in the crime.  Whether I’m right or not, it left me feeling frustrated with the lack of resolution at the end, and doubly so when I found out the next book doesn’t come out until July 2021.  But A Good Day for Chardonnay will definitely be pre-ordered.