Just in the nick of time, I've finished a mystery to post on Mystery Monday!
High Marks for Murder by Rebecca Kent: I read the WWII mysteries by this author (writing as Kate Kingsbury - she also writes romance novels under Doreen Roberts) and enjoyed them. I have her Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries in my TBR pile, but I thought I'd read this one first since it's the first in her new series. Meredith Llewellyn is the headmistress of Bellehaven House, a former manor house that serves as a finishing school for young ladies. It's 1905 in the English Cotswalds, and many of the teachers and students are suffragettes or at least opposed to conventional ideas about a woman's place. This sounded really promising to me, but as a start of a mystery series, it didn't live up to expectations. First, we don't get to know Meredith, Felicity, or Essie (her teacher friends) terribly well. Some hints about Essie's intriguing past are dropped in near the end with no further discussion, but that's about it. The maids have a bit more life, but they're not in it much. Second, the chauvinist policeman drops in to proclaim teacher Kathleen's death the work of a vagrant, then he disappears entirely, leaving the women to sort out who actually killed Kathleen. It was a bit too pat and convenient for me. Third, the supernatural element just didn't work for me. Kathleen's ghost appears to Meredith several times, but since all she does is gesture vaguely, it's pretty annoying. Much is made of Meredith's ability to read lips, so I assumed this would come into play with her communication attempts with Kathleen, which would have at least been interesting. The ghost dropping in to wave her arms was possibly the least exciting ghost story element I've read. Finally, I felt like there were way too many suspects, and I guessed who had killed her early on. The ending gives the set-up for the next book (Finished Off, out in April), promising more of the same. For a two-hundred page book, I feel there was too much going on. The Edwardian finishing school atmosphere felt glossed over, the characters didn't have time to come alive, and the supernatural element was underused. I'm not sure I'll pick up Finished Off. Maybe to see if the potential of the setting is realized and if we learn any more about the characters.
Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich: I wasn't going to review this one, but since I have another mystery for this Monday, I thought I'd write something up. The Stephanie Plum series has been going on for quite a while, and the short review is: if you're a longtime Plum fan who hasn't been turned off by recent entries in the series, this is a fun jaunt. This is the fourth "between the numbers" book (the regular entries in the series have a sequential number in the title), but the first that is full-length and plot-advancing. The first three were holiday-themed and stand-alone (Visions of Sugar Plums, Plum Lovin', and Plum Lucky). If I remember correctly, at least after Visions of Sugar Plums, the reader wasn't positive if Diesel (the supernatural guy who turns up in all of these) existed or if he was in Stephanie's dream. This book is much longer and has more Morelli and Ranger than the previous novellas, so Diesel is planted firmly in the Plum world. I'm not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. I think it would have been fun if the between-the-numbers jaunts were stand-alone and possibly dreams of Stephanie's. Have the most recent books been as good as the early Plums? No. Are they still fun? To me, they are. If you can relax into the book and enjoy it for what it is, you'll probably like this one. If you're going to be constantly comparing the quality to early entries in the series, skip it. There was more skip-tracing in this one than in Fearless Fourteen. There was a lot more slapstick, as in recent entries, but I found myself cracking up, even at Carl the Monkey (and as the wife of a primatologist, I am rarely amused by pet monkeys--MONKEYS ARE NOT PETS, PEOPLE!). Lula's hanging plotline from Fourteen is resolved, but I'm ambivalent about that. I like Lula. She's a tough gal who's been through a lot, doesn't take crap from anyone, and lives out loud. Her obsession about getting married in Fourteen came out of nowhere, and it made me annoyed that Evanovich was making Lula out to be desperate and pathetic. So the resolution is a good thing, but that it comes from Lula consulting a psychic, I'm not 100% satisfied with it. And Joe, who in the past has been hostile toward Stephanie's relationship with Ranger, is inexplicably okay with her sharing a bed with Diesel. As for the actual plot of the book (wow, I'm just getting to that, huh?), Diesel shows up looking for his cousin, the very dangerous Wulf, who is involved with a skip of Stephanie's. The search takes Diesel, Stephanie, and Lula to the Jersey Pine Barrens, home of any number of supernatural individuals). The Pine Barrens were spooky, the plot thin and implausible but sufficient for the purpose (moving Stephanie & Co. from one outrageous situation to another). Wow, for a book I wasn't going to review, I sure went on and on, didn't I? To sum up, if you like Stephanie Plum and you're not going to be angry that this isn't as good as, say, High Five, then pick it up, but not for full price (no exaggeration--list price is $28.95!). I'm happy with it as a $16 taste of Plum while waiting for Fifteen to come out.