Wednesday, August 05, 2020

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

In preparation for the September 8 release of Ann Cleeves' new Vera Stanhope mystery, The Darkest Evening, I went back to the beginning of the series. While Vera was formally introduced in part 2 of The Crow Trap, she makes a typical Vera Stanhope appearance earlier in the book. Cleeves sets the stage beautifully in the first part of the novel, introducing characters, deaths, and the setting.

Rachael Lambert is counting birds for an environmental impact assessment. She'll be joined by Anne Preece, a botanist and Grace Fulwell who will count mammals as they determine whether a quarry will impact the wildlife and environment in a park in England. But, before Rachael's team even shows up, she finds the body of the neighbor, Bella Furness, hanging in the barn.

Rachael can't accept that her friend committed suicide, although Bella even left a note for Rachael. Despite Rachael's feelings, she knows she has a job to do, and a team to organize, although she doesn't really get along with either of the other women. Anne seems too strong and determined to go her own way. Grace's mind seems to be elsewhere, but her records indicate she's doing her job, finding a large number of otters in the area.

When a woman goes missing, and the police find her body, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope shows up to take over the case. She brushes aside Rachael's suggestion that Bella's suicide may be connected to the murder. But, as the police ask questions, and Vera listens to everyone's talk, it becomes clear that the quarry and the environmental impact assessment might be a link. And, the small group of people involved with the study, the quarry, and the local land sold for the project may hold the key to the answer.

If you haven't met Vera Stanhope, she's not what you would expect of a Detective Inspector. She's a force of nature, a shrewd, overblown woman who demands a lot of her team, especially her young sergeant Joe Ashworth. She drinks too much, sleeps too little, lives in her father's old crowded place near a railroad. But, she's quiet when she sneaks up to listen, and she does do that to overhear conversations. Vera gets so much information when people don't know she's listening.

There's so much to discuss in this meaty book, from the title to the people to Vera Stanhope and her own intriguing background. But, the details are all essential in this mystery. Ann Cleeves doesn't include unnecessary pieces in her puzzle. Every piece comes together perfectly, in a book with a surprising solution. But, the clues are there. A reader cleverer than I am might figure it out. But, I never saw the solution. I'm no match for Cleeves' writing or her detective.

Ann Cleeves' website is

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves. Minotaur Books, 2017. ISBN 9781250122742 (paperback), 535p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Ghost Ups Her Game by Carolyn Hart

The Bailey Ruth books may seem to be charming traditional mysteries featuring a ghost who loves fashion, but, as readers know, Carolyn Hart's books have a little romance and a great deal of clever twists in them. Ghost Ups Her Game is the ninth in the series featuring the quirky heavenly emissary.

Once again, when Bailey Ruth Raeburn wants to return to her hometown of Adelaide, Oklahoma, she steamrolls right over her boss. Paul Wiggins might be the stationmaster who sends emissaries to assist people in trouble on earth, via the Rescue Express, but even he has a hard time with Bailey Ruth. When a message comes in that two people are in trouble in Adelaide, she grabs the ticket and jumps on the train.

She's just in time to find Robert Blair and Professor Iris Gallagher standing over a body. Iris orders Robert to get rid of a black sock filled with sand, used as a sap to kill Goddard College's vice-president of outreach, Matt Lambert. Bailey Ruth is shocked when the professor talks to her because people usually can't see her until she materializes. Bailey Ruth doesn't know which of the two she is there to help, so she just assumes they are both innocent. And, when Bailey Ruth saves Iris' daughter, Gage, when an arsonist sets fire to the victim's office, she's sure neither Iris nor Robert are involved. Iris wouldn't kill her daughter, and Robert is in love with Gage. And, Bailey Ruth is a sucker for a romance.

When Bailey Ruth's old friend, Police Chief Sam Cobb, refuses to accept that Iris is innocent, she believes she's on her own in her murder investigation. She knows someone had a reason to kill Lambert. If Gage is right, and the man was blackmailing someone, a well-to-do resident of Adelaide might be a killer. When everything seems to go wrong, Wiggins reminds Bailey Ruth that she could ask for help.

With her quirky delight in fashion and her love of Adelaide, Bailey Ruth Raeburn is a charming ghost with a serious devotion to justice and romance. Once again, readers can ride the Rescue Express to Adelaide, where killers are revealed by a ghost and the police, and romance is rewarded.

Carolyn Hart's website is

Ghost Ups Her Game by Carolyn Hart. Severn House, 2020. ISBN 9780727890474 (hardcover), 224p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy to review for a journal.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Lucky Bones by Michael Wiley

I wasn't sure what to make of Michael Wiley's second book featuring ex-cop turned PI, Sam Kelson. While the first book was gritty, the second in the series has many more comic elements, although it is still violent. I finally decided  Lucky Bones is for readers who appreciated the quirky cast and fast pace of Donald Westlake's novels. How about a PI who gets arrested for a striptease in a pizza joint? That's the hero of the story.

PI Sam Kelson suffers from disinhibition. The former Chicago cop was shot in the head in the line of duty, and now, when asked, he can’t lie or keep quiet. Even when he tells his new client, Genevieve Bower, that he doesn’t want her case, she still hires him to find her one hundred pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes that her boyfriend stole. Sam knows there’s more to the story than a collection of fake shoes and a missing DJ. 

Sam needs a little help from unusual friends after he’s arrested, and turns to an accountant, Marty Le Couer and DeMarcus Rodman, a 6'8", 275 friend who dropped out of the police academy.  Sam finds his missing DJ, but he's now a murder victim. And, then, he's a missing body.

But, Marty’s interests are elsewhere. He gave a dirty job to his nephew Nate, who can hack anything. Nate is using a computer at a public library to transfer money illegally for G & G Private Equity, when there’s an explosion and seven people are critically injured or killed. Kelson’s small team doesn’t accept that Nate was behind the explosion, but, their investigation takes a different direction that the FBI's. And, the sister of a dead suspect disappears while Kelson is at her house to question her.

Even Sam's client disappears on him. When he finds evidence of the Jimmy Choos, he knows they were as fake as Genevieve's story. Every time he finds her, or she shows up in his locked office, she has a different story. When Kelson and Rodman learn Marty once dated Genevieve,  the threads to both cases link back to Marty. As Rodman says, “Hanging with him’s like climbing into a bag of spiders.”

Marty may be one common element in both cases, but the mysterious G & G Private Equity firm is the other. And, as much as they would like to scare Kelson and Marty into compliance, intimidation doesn't work with Sam's small team. And, in the long run, nothing is scarier than Rodman's girlfriend when faced with a confrontation.

Looking for a darkly humorous PI novel with a quirky cast and non-stop, violent action? Check out Wiley's second Sam Kelson book, Lucky Bones.

Michael Wiley's website is

Lucky Bones by Michael Wiley. Severn House, 2020. ISBN 9780727889829 (hardcover), 224p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy to review for a journal.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Shadows in Time by Julie McElwain

Once again, I read the fifth in a series, and wish I had started from the beginning. So, instead of starting with Shadows in Time by Julie McElwain, I'm suggesting you start from the beginning of the series with A Murder in Time. An FBI agent, time travel, Regency England, and, now, an FBI agent with only the tools available in the 19th century. Fascinating concept.

Kendra Donovan was an FBI agent until she somehow ended up in the Duke of Aldridge's castle in 1815. The Duke claimed Kendra as his ward, and, together, the two of them, along with several others, have solved crimes, while frustrating Kendra that she lacks DNA and other tools that were available to her in the twenty-first century. But, Kendra has proven to have the intelligence and skills to survive.

She's also made a slight name for herself as she discovers when Mrs. Horatia Gavenston asks her to look for a missing person. Mrs. Gavenston owns and operates a brewery, passed down from mother to daughter, and her business manager, Jeremy Pascoe, is missing. Kendra knows Mrs. Gavenston is keeping something from her, so when Jeremy's body is discovered, the woman can't be eliminated as a suspect. Kendra sends for Sam Kelly, a Bow Street Runner, to assist her in finding a killer.

But, Kendra has another case that requires Kelly's help. As close as she has become to the Duke of Aldridge, she's suspicious when a woman shows up, claiming to be his missing daughter, Charlotte. Charlotte was lost at sea twenty years earlier, when she was just six, and her body was never found. This woman resembles the Duke's lost wife, and has a few traits that may be remembered, or learned. Kendra has sketches drawn to send with Sam Kelly's men as they search for the truth behind the claimant.

Anyone who enjoys novels set in Regency England will appreciate this atmospheric mystery. It is a character-rich story that shows the changes in Kendra since she's arrived back two hundred years before her birth. Kendra and her circle of friends will bring many of us back to this intriguing series of books. And, it's fascinating to watch a sleuth with all the knowledge of 21st century tools as she copes with only the tools available to her in 1816. It's her own intelligence, wit and physical skills, along with her friends, that will help her survive in Shadows in Time.

Julie McElwain's website is

Shadows in Time by Julie McElwain. Pegasus Books, 2020. ISBN 9781643134741 (hardcover), 384p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a pdf to review for a journal.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

September Treasures in My Closet

Each Treasures in My Closet post means we're one month closer to the end of 2020. It can't come soon enough. I hope you find some September books you want to read. How can you not with this list? Some of my favorite authors have books out in September.

For the last five months, most of us have been able to identify with the title of Fredrik Backman's forthcoming book, Anxious People. It's another one of his comedic novels, this one about "a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight cantankerous hostages, strangers, who discover they have more in common than they thought." (Release date is Sept. 8.)

For Whom the Book Tolls is the first Antique Bookshop Mystery by Laura Gail Black. The cozy series debut features Jenna Quinn who flees some unsavory doings in her hometown of Charlotte, and goes to stay with her uncle in Hokes Folly, NC. But, when she finds her uncle murdered in his antique bookstore, Jenna, his primary beneficiary, becomes the prime suspect. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

Allison Brook's latest Haunted Library Mystery is Checked Out for Murder. When Daphne Marriott strolls into Clover Ridge and informs librarian Carrie Singleton that she's a psychic, she must not have foretold her own death. Daphne's a welcome distraction when Carrie's overbearing mother hits town with her much younger husband who is filming a movie locally. Carrie's mother want to keep an eye on him. His sultry ex-fiancee is his costar. But, no one was watching when Daphne mingles with the moviemakers and ends up dead. Carrie and Evelyn, the library ghost, investigate, assisted by library cat Smoky Joe. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

Halloween is approaching in Ellen Byron's Murder in the Bayou Boneyard, Maggie Crozat's least favorite holiday. She's drawn up a plan so tourists will stay at local inns, instead of just renting rooms on an app. She even invited a cousin she doesn't know to come from Canada and give massages. But, that cousin claims to be psychic and wants family property. It isn't Maggie's biggest concern at the moment. Tourists have been terrified by appearances by a rougarou, a legendary cross between a werewolf and a vampire. When the rougarou stumbles on stage at a play, and collapses, Maggie's on the case. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

Susanna Clarke, the author of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell now brings us Piranesi. I'm going to admit right off the bat, I've read the description multiple times, and I have no idea what this book is about. It's a novel set in Piranesi's house, a place with infinite rooms, endless corridors, and thousands of statues. There's a man called The Other who lives there and asks Piranesi for help with research into A Great And Secret Knowledge. If you can figure out what all that's about, good for you. (Release date is Sept. 15.)

Rejoice! It's a new Vera Stanhope by Ann Cleeves, The Darkest Evening. Driving home on a snowy night, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope sees and car that has skilled off the road and stops to see if she can help. The driver isn't there, but there is a toddler strapped into the backseat. Vera takes the child, but becomes disoriented in the blizzard, and ends up at Brockburn, the grand house where her father grew up. Inside, there's a party. But, outside, unbeknownst to the revelers, a woman lies dead in the snow. As the snow traps the group, Vera begins her murder investigation with the suspicion that someone in this close community is a killer. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

I'm a sucker for true stories and essays. When I hit the sentence, "Much as John Berendt did for Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil..., so Richard Grant does for Natchez in The Deepest South of All, I was hooked. A bestselling travel writer, Grant digs into Natchez, Mississippi, a city of unexpected contradictions. With the greatest concentration of antebellum mansions in the South and prominent white families who dress up for ritual celebrations of the Old South, it's progressive enough to elect a gay black man for mayor with 91 percent of the vote. (Release date is Sept. 1.)

Every time I discuss Craig Johnson's new Longmire mystery, Next to Last Stand, I say I don't know when I enjoyed a chase scene as much as one in this book. When a veteran dies at the Wyoming Home for Soldiers and Sailors, Walt is called to examine a piece of a painting and a shoebox stuffed with money. What's the connection to a painting called "Custer's Last Fight" and the story of the Little Big Horn? (Release date is Sept. 22.)

Audrey Keown's first Ivy Nichols mystery, Murder at Hotel 1911, introduces a hotel clerk prone to panic attacks who turns amateur detective. If you want to spend a night amid the luxury and charm of the early twentieth century, book a room at Hotel 1911. Ivy Nichols is behind the reception desk. The hotel is Ivy's only link to the family that abandoned her when she was a child. When wealthy, imperious Ms. Swain arrives at the hotel and belittles Ivy, she seeks consolation in the the kitchen of George, the hotel's chef. She does inform George that Ms. Swain has a deadly allergy to shellfish, but the police suspect the chef when Ms. Swain collapses at dinner and dies. Despite her panic attacks, Ivy is determined to save her friend's career. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

Taken Too Soon is the latest Quaker Midwife mystery by Edith Maxwell. Rose Carroll, a Quaker midwife, and her beloved fiance, David, are finally celebrating their marriage with family and friends. But, a disturbing telegram disrupts the festivities. The young ward of Rose's aunt has suffered a mysterious death, and Rose's help is needed urgently on Cape Cod. The newlyweds reluctantly agree to mix honeymoon plans with a murder investigation. The case exposes family secrets and a community's bigotry. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

It's finally time for the wedding in Jenn McKinlay's latest Library Lover's Mystery, One for the Books. Library director Lindsey Norris and boat captain Mike (Sully) Sullivan are shocked to realize their small wedding is growing as everyone in town wants to attend. But, when Lindsey and her friends head to Bell Island to make sure they can accommodate everyone, they find a body, the justice of the peace who was supposed to marry them. Both Lindsey and Sully hope to find the killer before their wedding day, so there isn't a shadow over the nuptials. (Release date is Sept. 1.)

Hanging Falls is the latest Timber Creek K-9 Mystery by Margaret Mizushima. Just before her planned vacation, officer Mattie Cole and her K-9 partner Robo find a body in a river. Although Robo tracks a man who becomes suspect number one, the attempt to identify the victim leads to a religious cult that is new to the community. Mattie's latest case takes priority over her own attempts to find the story of her missing family. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

Richard Osman's debut mystery, The Thursday Murder Club, is worth talking about. There's a great cast of seniors in their seventies and eighties. A small group gets together to study and try to solve cold cases. When a local developer ends up dead, they find a way to become part of the police investigation. I don't know when I've enjoyed a group of investigators so much. (Release date is Sept. 22.)

Laura Pederson leaves physics to those who can explain "A Theory of Everything", such as Stephen Hawking and Einstein. Instead, she tackles A Theory of Everything Else in her collection of essays. Here's one topic. "She ponders why thousands are perishing as a result of assault weapons, carbon emissions, forest fires, pesticides, and processed foods, yet lawn darts were banned in the 1980s after two people died." Who else examines the question of why there are no seeing-eye cats? (Release date is Sept. 1.)

I haven't read Louise Penny's All the Devils Are Here yet, but I'm sure I'll sneak it in before release date. On the first night in Paris, the Gamaches gather as a family for a bistro dinner with Armand's godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. W.alking home together after the meal, they watch in horror as Stephen is knocked down and critically injured in what Gamache knows is no accident. When a strange key is found in Stephen's possession it sends Armand, his wife, Reine-Marie, and his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, from the top of the Tour Eiffel to the bowels of the Paris Archives, deep into the secrets Armand's godfather has kept for decades. And, because I don't want to know any more, I'm not reading on to tell you more. (Release date is Sept. 1.)

Tod Goldberg called Brett Riley's Comanche, "the best western-horror-thriller-ghost story-PI novel ever written". Two hundred years ago in a tiny Texas town, a notorious desperado, the Piney Woods Kid, died in a hail of bullets, and the town rejoiced. In 2016, when there's a double murder at the train depot, the police are stymied. Witnesses swear the killer was dressed as an old-time gunfighter, and rumors fly that the Piney Woods Kid is back for revenge against the descendants of the men who slayed him. A team of investigators arrives from New Orleans. Shunned by the locals and haunted by their own pasts, they're determined to solve the mystery. They follow the evidence, and soon find themselves targeted by a killer. (Release date is Sept. 1.)

The first Bookish Baker Mystery is Murder Most Sweet by Laura Jensen Walker. Teddie St. John lives in Lake Potawatomi, Wisconsin, where she's a superb baker, a bohemian bon vivant, and a mystery writer, known by everyone in town. So when her dog finds Teddie's missing silk scarf, tied around the next of Kristi, the dead fiancee of a touring British author, Teddie become a murder suspect. And, when a second murder shocks the community, Teddie stands accused of two murders. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

Don't Look for Me is Wendy Walker's latest novel of psychological suspense. "The greatest risk isn't running away. It's running out of time. One night, Molly Clarke walked away from her life. She doesn't want to be found. Or at least, that's the story. The car abandoned miles from home. The note found at a nearby hotel. The shattered family that couldn't be put back together. They called it a 'walk away.' It happens all the time. Women disappear, desperate to leave their lives behind and start over. But is that what really happened to Molly Clarke?" (Release date is Sept. 15.)

Amory and Milo Ames return in Ashley Weaver's A Deception at Thornecrest. Their marriage has had its up and downs in the past, but Amory's faith in her husband has been restored, and Milo has been nothing but thrilled about becoming a father. So when a woman appears on the doorstep of Amory's country house Thornecrest, claiming to be Milo's wife, Amory is convinced the woman is mistaken. Then, another unexpected visitor shows up, and secret identities and whirlwind romances seem to be par for the course. (Release date is Sept. 8.)

Andy Weinberger brings back somewhat-retired L.A. private eye Amos Parisman in Reason to Kill. Lonely booking agent Pinky Bleistiff hires Amos to find Risa Barsky, a singer who's gone missing. But what starts as a simple investigation turns into a complex puzzle when Pinky is murdered and Risa remains nowhere to be found. With suspects dropping dead at every turn, Parisman must act quickly to discover the truth before an innocent person gets sent to prison. (Release date is Sept. 22.)

You might find some books you want to read on this list as well.

Akhtar, Ayad - Homeland Elegies (9/15)
Anderson, Scott - The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War - A Tragedy in 
     Three Acts (9/1)
Buelens, Stephanie - An Inconvenient Woman (9/1)
Bynum, Sarah Shun-Lien - Likes (9/1)
Colin, Beatrice - The Glass House (9/15)
Flanagan, Bill - Fifty in Reverse (9/1)
Gyasi, Yaa - Transcendent Kingdom (9/1)
Hannah, Sophie - The Killings at Kingfisher Hill (9/15)
Jenkins, Jedidiah - Like Streams to the Ocean (9/15)
Kaplan, Jo - It Will Just Be Us (9/8)
Lepore, Jill - If Then (9/15)
Loskutoff, Maxim - Ruthie Fear (9/1)
Novik, Naomi - A Deadly Education (9/29)
Robinson, Marilynne - Jack (9/29)
Warburton, Sarah - Once Two Sisters (9/8)