Monday, February 16, 2009

Mystery Monday!

I reviewed previous books in the Haunted Bookshop mysteries and the Aurora Teagarden mysteries right here.

The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion by Alice Kimberley: This was a fun entry, the most recent in the Haunted Bookshop mysteries, which feature an unlikely pair of sleuths: mild-mannered bookseller Penelope McClure and the ghost of hardboiled private detective Jack Shepard (stranded since the 1950s in Pen's building). I noticed this one was a bit longer than previous books in the series, and there could have been a smidge more editing, but I thought the plot was good, the characters entertaining, and the intersection of Jack's old case with current events very well done. In this entry, an elderly customer dies in her home, possibly frightened to death, and leaves her gorgeous old home to mailman Seymour. The back of the book mentions a ghostbusting effort by a secondary character, but to my relief, that wasn't the focus of the book. When another character is introduced who can actually see Jack, I was surprised Pen wasn't more interested, and it drives me nuts that she keeps her link to jack (a Buffalo nickel) in her purse, where it could be lost, stolen, or spent, but this is one of my favorite cozy series nonetheless. The first in the series is The Ghost and Mrs. McClure.

The Aurora Teagarden mysteries by Charlaine Harris: I read #3-6 in this series, and was surprised to realize they are re-prints (the series was originally published in the 90s) and there are actually two more. The seventh is Last Scene Alive and the eighth is Poppy Done To Death, and both will be re-released this year. I had planned to pre-order both, but after finishing #6, I may not. This series is tough to pigeon-hole. Harris has always skirted the edge of cozy mysteries with this series, and in a genre that separates series into Culinary, Crafty, Paranormal, and other sub-subgenres, Aurora's stories defy description. When I read the first, Real Murders, I thought it was a "true crime enthusiast" series, but the true crime club disbands at the end. I had thought it might be a "librarian/bookseller" series, but Roe quits her job in the second book. Later on, she shows an interest in real estate, but that isn't the focus, either. The books have lots of Southern charm (I love when Roe discusses the "proper Southern" thing to do), but they're about a complex, interesting heroine, so I suppose they don't need a subcategory. Another interesting distinction is that Aurora's whole life isn't told in these books, which sometimes have years pass between them.

Three Bedrooms, One Corpse: While showing a house for her mother, Roe discovers the nude corpse of the town tramp. She also falls into love at first sight with the man looking at the house. The love-at-first-sight element was pretty out-there, but Harris actually handles it very well, and as usual, Roe investigates with no regard for her personal welfare.

The Julius House: Aurora's fiance gives her the perfect wedding gift: the Julius House, a lovely home with a strange history. Six years before, the Julius family disappeared without a trace. Aurora becomes a bit obsessed with solving the mystery, while sharing space with a mysterious couple hired by her husband, ostensibly to help her with renovations. A lesser author would have had Roe and her new employee becoming bosom buddies instantly, but Harris keeps them at a bit of a distance, citing their very different backgrounds. The whirlwind romance/marriage is a bit hard to take, but Harris more or less pulls it off. And the mystery of the Julius family is intriguing, if a bit convoluted.

Dead Over Heels: Roe's marriage is going well, she's back at the library, and her least favorite Lawrenceton law enforcement agent drops from a plane into her backyard. The solution to this mystery was a bit of a clunker, but Roe is always entertaining.

A Fool and his Honey: When her niece shows up out of the blue with a baby no one knew she was having, Aurora smells trouble. And when the niece disappears leaving behind a husband with a hatchet wound to the head and the baby tucked under the bed, she's sure of it. An ex-con friend of her niece tagging along, Aurora and her husband head to Ohio to figure out what's going on. It's all very interesting until what may be the most depressing ending to a cozy mystery EVER. Seriously, it's a big downer that left me unsure if I would read #7 and 8. Also--how many head injuries can Roe sustain before permanent brain damage ensues? I feel a little like I read every book in this series wondering at what point Roe will be conked on the head.

The Claire Malloy series by Joan Hess is one of my favorite all-time series. I love Claire, Farberville and its residents are a hoot, and the writing is funny and witty with interesting plotting. The first is Strangled Prose. Hess also writes the Maggody series.

The Goodbye Body (#15): In this installment, Claire needs a place to stay, and by coincidence (or is it?), her friend Dolly needs a housesitter. Claire and Caron move into the beautiful home, lounge by the pool, enjoy the gourmet kitchen, and find a dead body. Wait, what was that last part? The dead body disappears by the time the police arrive, only to turn up again. And disappear. Who is it? How did he die? And why is Dolly not where she says she'll be staying? This was a fun entry in the series, and finally advances Claire's relationship with Peter.

Damsels in Distress (#16): A Renaissance Fair is in town, and Claire has somehow managed to give permission for performances outside her store, snarling traffic and leaving litter everywhere. A Ren Fair participant confides that he believes his long-lost father to have moved to Farberville, making Claire wonder if Caron has a new half-brother. Meanwhile, a body turns up in a burned home, Claire is given a title and forced to prance around in period costume, Caron and Inez are barely clothed (but at least not dressed as fairies like their arch-nemesis Rhonda), and none of the Ren Fair court participants seem in touch with reality. Claire gets to the bottom of things, of course.

No comments: