Tag Archives: mystery

Book Review: Deep Freeze by John Sandford – Needs More Than 5 Stars!

Book Review: Deep Freeze

By John Sandford

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

BCA Agent Virgil Flowers is back in the tenth book in the #1 New York Times best-selling series. Flowers would rather be photographing wild life as a freelance photographer instead of solving a murder. But unfortunately his much needed vacation has been cut short by a call asking him to investigate a murder in the tiny town of Trippton, Minnesota.

Not only does this put an abrupt halt to his much needed rest and relaxation, it also pulls him away from his girlfriend and his dog. The prospect of going back to Trippton in the middle of winter isn’t very appealing, even though he has friends there since he previously solved a case there.

After a Class Reunion meeting held at the home of the richest woman in town, she turns up dead. The murder happened minutes after the meeting, so one would assume the killer is one of her classmates. Unfortunately, almost everyone in the small town disliked the victim and more than a few had a solid motive. Virgil knows how catting people can be; especially those with a history.

The townspeople mostly like Virgil, for an outsider that is. He has a few true friends in the snow covered town, Johnson Johnson being at the top of that list.  Johnson is happy to see him and more than willing to help him get information that Virgil may have trouble getting on his own.

Then, as if Virgil needed more irritation, enter Margaret Griffin. She has been sent by a major toy manufacturer to serve cease and desist orders to someone in Trippton because they are making “modified” dolls of an x-rated nature. Someone in high places within the state wants the little homegrown shop closed, so Virgil is also asked to give Griffin a hand. Unfortunately for him, that results in more problems than the murder investigation.

When an attempt is made on Virgil’s life, he isn’t sure if it is the people in the town that depend upon the illicit income from the modified dolls or the murderer feeling the heat.

I loved everything about this book. The humor, the twists and turns, the characters and interestingly entertaining plot add up to another best seller. As a longtime fan of Sandford’s writing, I was not disappointed.

The engaging plot had me reading “just one more chapter” late into the night. Sandford skillfully pulls the reader into the story and holds you there in the bitter cold of Minnesota right there with his characters.

Virgil is an interesting man. He seems laid back, but looks can be deceiving. His mind is always turning and moving towards the goal of finishing up the cases and getting back home. The reader can tell he is smart, savvy and more than a little compassionate for the plight of those who need help, even if they are on the wrong side of the law.

There is a reason Sandford is a best-selling author. His books are interesting, funny and easy to read. Don’t confuse “easy” with simple. Deep Freeze is a complex story told in a laid back manner that keeps readers turning the pages.

I am sorry to say I have not read one of Sandford’s books for several years. Conversely, I am excited to have rediscovered his masterful prose and will be catching up with some of the previous adventures of Virgil I have missed. I highly recommend this book to thriller fans as well as anyone who loves a well written book with a fabulously entertaining plot.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Brew or Die – A Java Jive Mystery – Caffeinated Cozy Fun

Brew or Die – A Java Jive Mystery

By Caroline Fardig

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Juliet Langley is pumped! She has been an amateur sleuth for a while, but now she has worked hard and earned her private investigator license. Pete, her best friend and owner of Java Jive Coffee Shop, is happy for her, but has serious reservations. She has been known to take risks that scare Pete and put her in more hot water than she would like to admit. Besides, they are attracted to each other, but are afraid to jeopardize their friendship by becoming a couple so he is afraid of losing her.

Juliet assures Pete that working for her friend, Maya Huxley, the owner of a private investigation agency, will keep her safe. In fact, she will start out doing the boring part of investigations, like surveillance. The other thing that makes Pete apprehensive is that Julie is the part time manager at Java Jive while he works as an audio engineer for a studio in Nashville. How will she do both jobs without one or the other getting short changed?

The first case seems simple enough. Photographing a cheating husband’s clandestine meeting with his paramour should be a snap. Juliet watches, waits, takes the pictures to prove his infidelity and then abruptly gets mixed up in an attempted murder. Much to her dismay, her boyfriend, cold case Detective John Stafford comes to her rescue. Even worse, her ex-boyfriend Detective Ryder Hamilton finds out about the incident. They had a bad breakup and she has been avoiding him ever since. Now Juliet is back on his radar, and it is making her crazy.

Then Java Jive’s cook has a personal tragedy. His girlfriend is found dead of a suspected overdose, but he is convinced it is murder. Pete begs Juliet to help investigate the case even though the police have ruled it an accidental death, not murder. Juliet agrees, and reluctantly allows Pete to help her. This pulls both of them into a crazy situation full of models, parties and recreational drugs.

Meanwhile, Juliet is assigned to a new case, involving possible money laundering and theft. Again she crosses paths with Hamilton. She is angry and hurt but since it is beneficial to the case, she agrees to work with him as long as he keeps it strictly business. Things are getting tricky in her personal life and new profession. She is on the wrong side of a millionaire and is having trouble keeping her personal feelings out of her investigations. Is she in more danger than she can handle? Which one of the men in her life will help her and which ones will hurt her? The bodies are starting to stack up!

The characters in this series are well developed and interesting. The fact that they have troubles in their personal lives but carry on their jobs makes them easy to relate to and identify with. The relationships between Juliet and the men in her life are amusing and heartbreaking at the same time. She is always getting in too deep, but seems to be able to swim her way out of the situation. Her spunky attitude makes her the perfect star of this cozy mystery series.  I really enjoy reading about Juliet and the men in her life, as well as life in the coffee shop with a side of murder served up sprinkled with a side of romance.

Brew or Die is the fourth book in Carolyn Fardig’s Java Jive Mystery Series. Previously I read and enjoyed the second book in the series, Mug Shot. Both of them are solid cozy mysteries with all the elements cozy readers enjoy. I highly recommend this series as well as the others written by Ms. Fardig.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Measure of Murder – Cute Culinary Cozy

A Measure of Murder

By Leslie Karst

Sally Solari has more on her plate than the delicious meals she is serving at Gauguin, the restaurant she recently inherited. Her schedule is full with the management of Gauguin. She is also helping her father at Solari’s, the restaurant her family has owned for years. Sally is slowly trying to find a replacement for herself so she can focus more on Gauguin, but her father is resisting her efforts. He is sure no one can take his daughter’s place in their family’s Italian restaurant.

Even though Sally loves the restaurant business, she decides to carve out a bit of her precious free time to do something for herself. Deciding she will spend some of the precious few hours of her free time by joining a local chorus that needs members.

Like any social group, the choir has personality conflicts, but overall they are a great bunch of dedicated vocalists that enjoy each other and their craft. The director has found fame with the discovery of some sheet music by a famous composer making the pull to be a part of the choir more desirable. Unfortunately their first rehearsal ends in tragedy. One of the tenors falls to his death. His girlfriend seeks out Sally and asks her to investigate the accident because she is sure it was murder.

The police have closed the case, but Sally agrees to switch her chef’s hat for a deerstalker a la Sherlock Holmes because she doesn’t think the evidence adds up to an accident. That means that one of the members of her choir could be a murderer. Let’s all hope Sally isn’t the next victim.

Karst writes a meaty cozy mystery. Her characters are strong, multi-faceted and interesting. Sally juggles her career and personal life just as most of us. She loves the restaurant business, her family and friends. It is refreshing to read a cozy mystery without the main character being a bit ditzy. Her father and grandmother enforce the family values she believes in as well as adding humor to the story.

The plot is interesting and solid. There are several suspects, all of them likely killers. As Sally quietly works the case in her spare time, the motives are varied and believable I was convinced I knew who the killer was until a new theory was introduced that was as likely as the previous one making me change my mind in an instant.

A Measure of Murder is the second Sally Solari Mystery by Leslie Karst. It is the first one I have read, but it worked well as a stand-alone novel. That being said, I enjoyed it so much I plan to read the first in this series, Dying for a Taste. It was really a sweet treat to get to the end of the book and see that some of the delicious recipes discussed in the novel were in the final pages. All of them look delectable. I can’t wait to try the Grilled Salmon with Papaya and Avocado Pico de Gallo.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Prom Dress Killer – The Latest Detective Al Warner Suspense


The Prom Dress Killer

By George A Bernstein

Miami is home to a lot of people. Most of them are good, hardworking people just trying to make their way through life. Unfortunately there are a few bad apples and these are the few that Homicide Detective Al Warner has to deal with on a daily basis. Keeping the people of Miami safe and the bad guys behind bars is his mission in life.

Unfortunately for Warner and his city, there is a new serial killer on the loose. He has been dubbed the Prom Dress Killer because after he murders the young women, he dresses them up in fancy vintage prom dresses and leaves them in a place where they will be found. Warner pulls the case because he has the reputation of finding this elusive breed of murderer, bringing them to justice and in the process bringing closure to the families of the victims.

Warner is hot on the trail of the maniac that seems to be targeting young, attractive redheads. He is pulling out all of the stops to catch him before another woman is murdered. Unfortunately for Warner, the Prom Dress Killer is always one step – and one body – ahead of the cop that desperately wants to stop the killings.

The reader is reminded several times in the book just how good Warner is at his job. Almost to the point of me wanting to say “I got it!”. I understood that Warner is a hard-boiled, old fashioned cop that has solved multiple serial killings and put the bad guys where they belong. I really didn’t need that many reminders. Warner’s dialog was great, in the moment and moved the story forward. But I got really tired of every word ending in “ing” was written as “in’ ”. A few would have been ok, but to me it got in the way of the story.

The serial killer himself is well written. Everything is not as it seems to be, so kudos to Bernstein for crafting the character and situations that are downright page turning. I held my breath a few times wanting to tell the red haired women that are in the story not to be so stupid, but just like good horror movies, they didn’t listen.

Bernstein’s plot was solid. There were a few red herrings, which were really great plot twists. But sometimes the way in which the story was told actually got in the way of the plot. Sometimes overuse of a word or two can put the reader off. When I read “akimbo” at least three times in the first 100 pages, I wanted to suggest a thesaurus.

If you are a fan of Philip Marlow, there are shadows of this kind of PI in The Prom Dress Killer, you might enjoy this series. This is the third book in the Detective Al Warner suspense novels and the first one I’ve read. Bernstein had a top 100 novel on Amazon with his first book Trapped (not part of the Warner series).

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Two Nights – Page Turning Gem


Two Nights

By Kathy Reichs

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Sunday Night just wants to be left alone. Recluse by choice, she prefers Bob the squirrel to most humans she encounters. So when she is asked to find a missing girl who is most likely dead, she is hesitant to say the least. It takes some convincing, but something about Stella, the missing teen seems to be calling her.

Night intuitively believes Stella is still alive. She worries that the kidnappers are going to kill her or do irreparable damage if someone doesn’t find her soon. Unfortunately, that would mean she would have to take the case. Stella’s grandmother is willing to pay her a boatload of cash to find the kidnappers. Grandma isn’t the snuggly type. She is the rich, entitled crusty old woman who wants revenge for her daughter and grandson’s murders that happened when Stella was abducted. It is assumed they are the same people holding the teen.

Against her better judgement, Night takes the case, in part due to a dark time in her past. Once she is on the hunt, she will stop at nothing until she finds the girl. The fact the abductors will pull out all stops to keep Night from stopping them doesn’t sway her from her mission. Working outside of the law she is in a race against time to find the group of people that have Stella and may be planning something much bigger. If they have their way hundreds, possibly thousands of people will die.

Reichs pulls the reader into the story immediately. Done in first person, the reader knows everything that Sunday Night is thinking. Her stream of thoughts gives you the feel of who she is immediately. Not always a likeable person, Night really tries to respond how she should when someone annoys her, not how she wants to. While this novel is not a comedy, I smiled and chuckled more than once over Night’s unfiltered thoughts.

In addition to unforgettable characters, the places they travel to and visit are described so vividly you are right there with the characters. I especially loved it when they were in Chicago. I recognized exactly where Night was because I have been there many times. Reichs paints the landscape with her words, such as “…hatted heads like dots in a Seurat landscape” and “…a barrier of scraggly crepe myrtles doing their best”. The reader immediately has the scene the characters moving through in their minds.

Kathy Reichs is an amazing story teller. It is no surprise that she has been winning awards for her books since the first one she penned in 1997.  Two Nights is a stand-alone novel but I selfishly want to read more books with Sunday Night as the main character. I hope Ms. Night is still whispering in Ms. Reichs’ ear so another novel featuring her will be coming soon.  I read this book in just over 24 hours because I could not put it down.

 

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review – Ten Dead Comedians – The Perfect Locked-Room Mystery


Ten Dead Comedians

By Fred Van Lente

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Van Lente has crafted the perfect locked-room mystery.  His stunning debut novel begins with nine comedians receiving invitations to come to an island retreat in the Caribbean. It is the home of renowned comedian Dustin Walker, who is beyond famous. Each guest hopes that Walker can do something to jump start their floundering careers. They were the next best thing at one time, but for most of them it was a flash in the pan. They plummeted from the spotlight as fast as they ascended, but with Walker’s help they all figure they will be back in demand again.

The only problem is, once they arrive on the island via boat with Walker’s assistant Meredith Ladipo, they find themselves stranded. Walker is nowhere to be found, the boat is gone, there is no WIFI and the caretaker is mysteriously absent. Ladipo assures them everything will be fine. They were uneasy, but were willing to wait it out due to the rewards Walker promised them. That was all good and well until the first murder occurred.

This brilliant mystery has the perfect setting for the crazy characters Van Lente created. Where else but a comedian’s island paradise house could hold such a cast? Each character has issues. One of them is an alcoholic; one is trying to be way younger than she really is with the use of cosmetic surgery and yet another did something in his career that will come back to haunt him.

Then there is the killer. Who is it? Since the island appears deserted, it must be one of the guests that came expecting to meet with Walker. Perhaps there is someone hiding on the property. Maybe it is an elaborate joke. How many will have to die before they are either rescued or find out who is behind all of this?

This book is the mystery lover’s dream come true. If you are a fan of stand-up comedians it is nirvana. I loved the plot, the surprises at the end as well as the characters in this book.

Between chapters, Van Lente has inserted stand-up bits from the characters. You can tell immediately which comic is performing before you see their name at the end of the bit because you will come to know each character intimately. Some of the bits are cutting, others bawdy and one is very sad. The author does a perfect job of pulling emotions out of the reader via his true-to-life characters and the perfect plot.

Ten Dead Comedians is a must read for mystery fans. I highly recommend it.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The 5 Manners of Death – Which One Will Be Next?

The 5 Manners of Death

By Darden North

There are said to be 5 manners of death. North’s characters explore each of them in his latest novel of the same name. They are as follows:

  1. Natural Death – due to disease or old age
  2. Accidental Death – most often by an accident or mishap, sometimes by overdoses or allergic reactions
  3. Suicide – intentionally taking one’s own life
  4. Homicide – murder
  5. Undetermined – could be any of the above, but the information isn’t clear enough to be definitive

As a surgeon, Dr. Diana Bratton often sees dead bodies. But when they start showing up in her personal life, she begins to get spooked. The victims are not especially close to Diana, but somehow she feels as though they are linked to her. She talks to her friend Key Martin, who happens to be the Chief of Police in their town. Diana helped him solve crimes before when he was a detective and she hopes to get his thoughts about the recent deaths she either witnessed or heard about after she crossed paths with the deceased.

Martin is more than willing to get any extra information from her, and will share a bit of his findings with her. As the story progresses, they find more pieces of the puzzle due to their collaboration. Unfortunately, the clues are leading them closer to people she cares about or cared about at one time.

Diana is determined to get to the bottom of the situation before it comes home to roost. After all, she has a teenage daughter to worry about as well as her Aunt Phoebe, the only two people she loves and cares about. There is a doctor that she fancies, but her involvement with the police does not sit well with him.

While the plot I just described may sound like a cozy mystery, rest assured The 5 Manners of Death is not. This fast paced crime novel alternates between 1965 and present day.  The events that occurred in 1965 come crashing to a halt on the doorstep of a present day murderer who will do anything to remain unidentified.

North expertly crafts the characters and settings to pull the reader into the story and holds you until the last pages bring the novel to a spectacular end. It is no surprise that Darden North is an award winning author. He paints landscapes and parlors with his words, filling every scene with lifelike characters that could be the people next door. Of course you might not want some of them as neighbors.

This is the first book by North that I have read, but I am looking forward to reading his previous books, House Call, Points of Origin, Fresh Frozen and Wiggle Room. I highly recommend The 5 Manners of Death to anyone that enjoys a great mystery with complex characters.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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