murder

“Custom Baked Murder” by Liz Mugavero

 

Book Cover - Custom Baked Murder

Kristan (Stan) Connor is back in “Custom Baked Murder,” this time with more furry friends in residence and a love life that is heating up. Kristan is busy getting ready to open her long-anticipated pet café, with specially designed display cases, and new ideas to make both human and furry customers happy. She has two new backers for the business – one she’s happy about; the other she puts up with in order to realize her dream.

 

Her mother, ever detail oriented and still driving Stan crazy, is getting engaged to the Mayor and the big announcement will be made at a blowout party at the groom-to-be’s house. But the Mayor doesn’t show, and Stan’s irritating former colleagues do – along with her former fiancée. Talk about cringe worthy events. Oh, and there’s the murder at the party. Certainly, a memorable evening. And not in a good way.

 

The murder victim isn’t well-liked, so the question the police must answer is not who killed her, but instead, which one on the long list of enemies got to her first? Rumors fly and suspicions drive wedges into the small community, with several misunderstandings and family surprises thrown into the mix. Kristan must shield her mother from the press, while trying to prove her own former fiancée innocent. The overlapping story-lines are intriguing and keep the pages turning in this well-plotted mystery.

 

Including old friends and enemies in “Custom Baked Murder” adds a delicious twist. Sometimes we hope that the oldies (but baddies) will fade away from our lives forever, or that they might have changed, but wham! There they are, creating havoc yet again when least convenient. Mugavero captures this dynamic perfectly as she delivers the multiple red herrings.

 

Mugavero has expanded the relationships among the ensemble characters throughout the Pawsitively Organic series, evolving them in a natural way as time has passed. One gem of a character is Cyril, the reporter. Anyone who has ever met a small-town journalist will recognize the dogged chase after any detail that will make headlines. His shifts between investigation and bargaining for information are spot-on. And, then we have Stan’s hunky love interest, Jake, who keeps proving why he’s one of the good guys. The sisters have a larger role this time and fans will love that the series has become an engaging family affair.

 

Never fear, dogs and cats play important roles, including when Kristan throws a fund-raiser for a K-9. Mugavero continues to show us ways we can help the real-life animals in our lives. Happily, “Custom Baked Murder” includes more healthy pet recipes. The blueberry biscuits look tasty enough to be people food.

 

Don’t miss “Custom Baked Murder,” the fifth in the highly entertaining series.

 

Read my review of the Agatha nominated, “Kneading to Die,” here.

 

Read my review of “A Biscuit, A Casket” here.

 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for more information about Liz and her future projects, as well as her continuing work in Animal Advocacy. :-)

 

 

“Dry Bones” by Craig Johnson

 

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Jen, a T-Rex and the center of the controversy in “Dry Bones,” is the largest specimen of its type ever found and it shows up in Sheriff Walt Longmire’s county. Longmire deals with all kinds of victims, but a dinosaur? That’s a new kind of cold case.

 

A skeleton of this importance would be a windfall for the local museum, but first Longmire must figure out if the High Plains Dinosaur Museum has the right to claim Jen as its own. When the Cheyenne owner of the ranch where Jen was found turns up dead, things get complicated. It’s possible that the T-Rex belongs to the Cheyenne Nation…or the federal government…or the family of the guy who died.

 

Tribal rights, family inheritance, federal property or just a really nice set of bones to display? An acting Deputy Attorney is out to make a name for himself and seems to feel that photo ops are more important than catching the bad guys or finding kidnap victims. But, he’s not the only one with priorities a tad off center in "Dry Bones." More people are interested in who gets the dinosaur than the circumstances behind the death of Danny Lone Elk. 

 

With Jen crowding Walt’s holding cells while ownership is being determined, and the interested parties holding Walt’s office hostage, the Sheriff realizes that the only way he can get back to the business for which he was elected is to solve the mystery of Danny Lone Elk’s death and find the gal (also Jen) who discovered the T-Rex to begin with.

 

It’s a circus.

 

There are helicopter forays into the back country, harrowing visits to an old mine, entertaining interactions with ever wise-cracking Lucien, Henry Standing Bear saving the day as only he can, and more near misses for Walt than our hearts can stand. Did I mention bullets flying? And the terrifying prospect of Walt taking care of his grand-daughter? He’s not afraid of many bad guys, but the little one? Waaay too funny.

 

We are treated to Craig Johnson’s dry wit, in several LOL scenes, with Walt’s delivery always perfectly timed. A man of few words, but good ones.

 

In real life, that entire region of the country is an active dinosaur bone recovery area with several universities and museums conducting legitimate digs. People love a cool dinosaur, so finding the big ones can cement the reputation – and therefore the funding – of an institution for many years.

 

In “Dry Bones,” Johnson explores the ethics of taking artifacts away from the people upon whose land they were found. It’s not just dino bones that are being removed from their place of origin. World-wide, governments are seeking to recover long lost treasures robbed from centuries old graves, temples, and ruins. Find the treasures? Great. Remove them from the place of origin without permission or proper compensation? These days, that’s a long jail term in the making.

 

Read Craig Allen Johnson’s Author Profile here.

 

Read the review of “The Cold Dish” here.

 

Read the review of “Kindness Goes Unpunished” here.

 

Please visit www.craigallenjohnson.com for lots of information about Mr. Johnson and his work, his future appearances, and his online store.

 

Author Profile: Craig Allen Johnson

 

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The Walt Longmire character that Craig Allen Johnson has brought to life both in award-winning books and on TV, has come to personify the modern Western law man – rough, tough, and ready for whatever the bad guys can throw at him.

 

Somehow, I had not realized that the show was based on Johnson’s books until the first season was half over. Books? Well, I ran right out – really – and bought the books that my local store had in stock. I started with Cold Dish and was forever hooked.

 

I watched the Longmire series on A&E until somebody in the network offices lost their collective minds and cancelled the show because the demographic didn’t fit their model of the future. Say what? A successful show that millions of people watch, that is making your corporation money and you don’t like the people who are doing the watching? Hmph.

 

Well, we fans are not a dumb bunch and we mounted a social media campaign for another network to pick up the show. Netflix and the Johnson people were able to come to an agreement and the fans collectively smiled. It has been reported that the Netflix association may come to an end after Season 6, but we still have the fabulous bestselling books – with more to come.

 

Craig Johnson was born in West Virginia, but wound up in Wyoming some years after a visit while delivering horses. He built the 2,000+ square foot log cabin in which he and his wife, Judy, now live. Ucross, Wyoming is sparsely populated – a mere 25 inhabitants – and is the source for Johnson’s twitter handle: @ucrosspop25.    

 

What makes Sheriff Walt Longmire so immediately likable? Middle-aged, experienced at his job, widower of a woman he loved more than life itself, an attorney daughter of whom he is so very proud, and a Cheyenne best friend/sidekick whom he has known since childhood. Longmire mostly follows the rules, but when justice is in question, the rules are sometimes open to interpretation.

 

The stories are full of wonderful dialogue, intriguing mysteries, life and death situations, and a core set of characters with whom you’d like to spend as much time as possible. Johnson’s obvious love of the wide-open spaces of Wyoming spills onto the pages when the landscape becomes a character, as suddenly dangerous as any killer could be or as mesmerizing as a beautiful painting.

 

The books have been credited as having one of the best depictions of Native American/White Man interactions in the world of fiction – they certainly ring true in the reading. Johnson’s ranch is right next to a Cheyenne reservation, and through the years he has come to respect the challenges that Native Americans have faced and continue to face. His books explore the cultural differences and celebrate the traditions in thoughtful and meaningful ways, often including those themes in the mysteries.

 

When not writing the Longmire series, consulting on the TV show, or working his ranch, Johnson travels around the country (and to France) with Judy, doing book tours. I met him in Raleigh, NC at Quail Ridge Books. He’s charming and as funny in person as you would hope him to be after having read the books.

 

A great showman who delivers a great read.  :-)

 

Take a look at the reviews of:

 

"The Cold Dish"
Book Cover - Cold Dish

 

 

  here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                 "Kindness Goes Unpunished"

Book Cover - Kindness Goes Unpunished

                                                here

 

                                                                             "Dry Bones"

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                                                           here

 

 

 

 

Check out www.craigallenjohnson.com, where you will find details about his upcoming tours, the online fan store with lots of Longmire goodies, and photos of the cast of Longmire.

 

 

*Photo of Craig Allen Johnson taken by Patti Phillips at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC.

 

 

“Echoes of Edisto” by C. Hope Clark

 

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Callie Jean Morgan is now the Police Chief in “Echoes of Edisto,” the third book in C. Hope Clark’s Edisto Island series. The former Boston police detective, haunted by the tragic death of her husband, is living in South Carolina on the coastal island of Edisto with her teenaged son. She has come to Edisto to get as far away from the memories as possible, but it seems that law enforcement is in her blood and those memories have a way of following her trail to the beach.

 

A horrifying traffic accident tests Callie’s mettle as a new Police Chief, pushes the limits of her sobriety, and raises more than one question about the people in her life. “Echoes of Edisto” delves into Callie’s actions, both past and present, and we get to see more of what makes this complex flesh and blood woman tick. Clark delivers an astonishing revelation:   just when Callie has come to terms with her deceased father’s behavior, a new bombshell turns her life upside down.

 

In a perceptive nod to real-life alcoholics, Clark has Callie switch parental roles with her son at her lowest points – he watches out for her when she places herself in danger or drinks too much. Clark explores the nuances of their evolving relationship in occasionally tender, sometimes painful ways as they navigate the minefield of terrifying experiences that have accidentally shaped this young man’s world.

 

Kudos to Clark for creating very real teenagers in her books. The Slade Mysteries has a teenaged daughter and the Edisto series has the teenaged son and both are spot-on in their love for their moms without being sappy, with nothing out of character for the modern teenaged voice. They are not perfect children by any means, but are occupied with normal (sometimes secret) activities and the average rebellious moments of trouble and subterfuge. Ah, the times that try moms’ souls.

 

The recurring characters – friends, family, neighbors, supporting officers and personnel – along with the new people essential to the plot, are nicely written with changing attitudes toward Callie as they get to know her through the three books. Mike Seabrook, doctor turned police officer, is her sometime romantic interest, but in self-preservation mode, Callie has placed boundaries on the relationship because of work. It turns out that Seabrook has secrets/challenges of his own that place them all at risk.

 

Some of the quirky tourists made me LOL. Life as a beach cop must have plenty of “are you kidding me?” moments mixed in with the more serious policing of vacationers who leave their common sense at home. The subplots are complex, with murders and nasty bad guys, along with twists that will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens to these likable people.

 

More books are planned in the series and I look forward to discovering the stories that develop on Edisto Island, especially the ones with a newcomer from Callie’s past. Delicious possibilities were set up in “Echoes of Edisto” for the future.

 

Please visit www.chopeclark.com for information about her appearances and her other works of fiction and non-fiction. C. Hope Clark’s profile can be read here.

 

*Some adult topics and occasional adult language.

 

“Just Killing Time” by Julianne Holmes

 

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Ruth Clagan’s grandfather, a clockmaker, dies during a robbery in “Just Killing Time” and leaves his Massachusetts clock shop, the Cog & Sprocket, to her. A rift between them caused by her ex has kept her away from the Berkshires for five years and now she has been robbed of a chance to reconnect. Why would anyone do this to a lifelong member of the community?

 

To complicate matters, the business is a puzzle, the shop is a mess and Ruth must deal with the oddly massive inventory as well as her grandfather’s widow. It makes sense to sell the Cog & Sprocket and get on with her life, but does Ruth really want to? Why did her grandfather have so much inventory? Could it be the reason he was killed?

 

“Just Killing Time” is complete with small town politics, reunions with old friends, and beautifully written dialogue that makes you feel as if you could join the conversation and fit right in. The wonderfully diverse cast of characters made me yearn for the days of small towns and friendly neighborhoods, where everybody knows your name. There is a real connection to the past with Orchard’s grandfather clocks and clock towers and small businesses on Main Street. Ahhh… life as it used to be outside the metropolitan areas of the country, before big box stores and fast food joints.

 

I connected immediately with Ruth, a fellow coffee addict. 😉 Julianne Holmes’ richly drawn Clagan clicks as a character trying to begin again, sorting through her life’s complications, but adapting as she sees alternate paths to follow. How many of us are given the opportunity to go back home to something familiar when life has taken an unexpected turn? And this clockmaker is always late? A giggle of a quirk.

 

We learn a great deal about the fascinating world of clocks – how they function and what makes the business model succeed in a time where digital seems to rule our lives. Grandfather’s repair specialty was clock towers, which require a tremendous amount of skill to maintain. Coincidentally, I saw a TV show about Big Ben (the clock tower in London) at the time I had started reading “Just Killing Time.” There’s more to its operation than climbing the steps to wind the clock or replace the parts. Wind can catch at the hands, pulling at them and slowing down the time. Minute changes in the atmosphere can affect the clock time. When I picked up “Just Killing Time” again, I found that it wove technical information in with the clever plot, giving us a clear understanding of why the Clagans love the business they’re in.

 

The layered storyline in this Agatha nominated debut novel involves possible fraud, people with hidden agendas, a tug-of-war between those that want a more modern town and those who wish to create an historic district. Happily, there is the potential for a little romance with a suitably hunky barber. “Just Killing Time” also includes some deviously nasty characters who will do anything to get what they want, including murder.

 

The second book in the series, “Clock and Dagger,” has recently been released and you should make time to read both.

 

Please visit www.jahennrikus.com for more information about Julianne Holmes and her alter ego, J.A. Hennrikus.

 

 

“In the Clearing” by Robert Dugoni

 

Book Cover - In the Clearing

“In the Clearing” brings us the fourth installment in Robert Dugoni’s series featuring Tracy Crosswaite, former high school teacher, now detective for the Seattle, Washington, Police Department.

 

A Seattle murder case is not what it seems at first, but just when the players trip over themselves to change stories and point fingers, Tracy is approached by a former colleague to help solve a cold case elsewhere that the woman’s father had worked on as a rookie cop. A young Native American girl disappeared on the walk home from work, then was found dead in a nearby stream. The case was considered solved and closed at the time, but when the father died, his case notes were found by the daughter. She is sure that he kept the case notes for a reason. Was justice done? Was there a cover up? Why did her dad care?

 

Tracy is skeptical that anything new can be found after forty years, but agrees to take a quick look and report back, no matter what the outcome. The closer she gets to the answers, the more her own life is placed in danger.

 

The cold case is a fascinating one, involving tension between Native Americans and local townspeople, the importance of that in small town culture, and the way in which modern forensic techniques can uncover old truths. This is a Dugoni novel, after all, and “In the Clearing” studies changing values and the way in which certain crimes are viewed and handled differently today.

 

The problem with 40-year-old cases is the lack of fresh physical evidence remaining, particularly when the crime occurs outside, and is affected by the elements. Crosswaite must rely on old photos and the testimony of any still living eyewitnesses. Forensic experts are called in to take a fresh look at the existing information – what remains or can be reconstructed. A character from an earlier book visits to give her astute opinions – an appealing fit as a recurring character. Dugoni’s descriptions of the re-enacted crime are chilling and WOW, do we want to get the guy that did the deed.

 

We can always count on Dugoni to create interesting characters, and “In the Clearing” includes familiar, fully fleshed out cops from the Seattle PD for the present day case, as well as multi-layered local people for the cold case. Crosswaite, is herself a complex law enforcement character and her romantic interest, Dan, introduced in “My Sister’s Grave,” is intelligent, likable, suitably matched and we root for this couple to continue.

 

Dugoni gives us a look at the challenges women continue to face when becoming part of any law enforcement agency. It isn’t enough for a woman to be average. One has to be better in shooting scores and in cases solved, tougher with no emotion shown in front of co-workers. Otherwise the men seem to discount the contribution. It is not an easy life, when starting as a patrol officer, working all shifts, paired with men who have suspicious  wives, spending 8-12 hours a day with a partner.

 

The cold case reveals that brutality and motivation behind the search for power and greed has never changed – just the players in the unfolding pain. “In the Clearing” contains several scenes and troubled characters that demonstrate how crippling that single-mindedness can be.

 

Read my review of “My Sister’s Grave,” the first full novel in the series, here.

Take a look at Dugoni’s David Sloane series with this review of “The Conviction,” here.

 

Please visit www.robertdugoni.com for information about Mr. Dugoni’s other work, future appearances, and the excellent classes he conducts.

 

 

“Prime Target” by Ellis Vidler

Book Cover - Prime Targetnew

 

“Prime Target” is Ellis Vidler’s intriguing look at what the average person might do to escape the mob. Madeleine Schier receives a phone call from her husband in the middle of the work day, asking her to come home quickly. When she does, he tells her that they have to get out of town right away. She protests, not understanding, and before they can leave, he is killed in their apartment while she hides under the bed.

 

Her husband’s accounting firm unintentionally worked for a criminal specializing in human trafficking and the only way to bring the guy down may be for her to testify about her husband’s murder. Hiding out with the FBI at hotels until the court date doesn’t work – there is a leak in the department. Madeleine intends to testify, but can’t rely on the feds to keep her safe in the city. She must ‘disappear or die.’

 

What happens next is a fascinating series of moves that Madeline makes to keep herself one step ahead of the FBI and those that want her dead. Vidler provides the reader with plenty of action, but what Madeleine does to hide her identity, while protecting those she meets, is what drives much of the story. Madeleine (who becomes Grace) is intelligent and able to think on her feet, but she also has to sort out which of the supposedly ‘good guys’ she can really trust.

 

“Prime Target” caused me to wonder what I would do if placed in that same situation. I consider myself fairly resourceful, but would I have enough grit to stay quiet under the bed while watching my husband be executed? How would I establish that new identity? Is it easier to get lost in a big city or in the countryside, off in the woods? Technology might defeat me, since we can be tied geographically to the source of our internet connection. In order to maintain her anonymity, Grace has no phone and no contact with anyone for a while except at the grocery store and gas station. I would probably go through withdrawal after a day or so and bring the villains right to my door.

 

Not to give away the plot and how she does it all, but I don't have as much money as Grace, so I’d have to consider what things I would of necessity, have to do differently. Always using cash means that you have to carry around quite a bit or else have easy access to a stash.

 

Grace is completely capable of the tasks Vidler gives her, until the apple farm purchase. I wondered why a city gal would think, “How hard could it be to run an apple farm?” and it made for an even more believable character. Her time on the apple farm may have been Grace’s most challenging, as her naïveté comes into play and her wish to help could get her killed.

 

“Prime Target” has overlapping storylines, with interesting, sympathetic characters and even a tentative love interest, that lend depth to Grace’s plight. The situation of the wounded, scarred warrior, so badly disfigured that people react with horror to his scars, is handled with respect and tenderness. Bravo to Vidler’s method of dealing with his surgeries and voluntary isolation from the world, yet who still functions in a meaningful, logical way.

 

There is little new to be learned about human trafficking in “Prime Target,” but the fact that the players are ruthless, nasty people willing to protect their way of life at all costs is underscored whenever the villains are at the center of the action. Grace is appropriately alarmed about that cold-bloodedness and behaves accordingly. She doesn’t have super powers or unusual gifts, so instead uses her mind and the tools available to see her through. Vidler makes us believe that Grace’s survival is possible despite the odds to the contrary.

 

Please visit www.ellisvidler.com for information about Ms. Vidler’s books – audio, print, and ebook versions – as well as her blog.