Thursday, April 8, 2010

APRIL 2010

1. LYE IN WAIT by Cricket McRae. #1 Sophie Mae Reynolds "Home Crafting" mystery, this one featuring soapmaking, which is what attracted me to the book, given that I'm a soapmaker myself. Sophie Mae enters her soapmaking workshop--in the basement of the home she shares with her housemate and friend Meghan and Meghan's daughter Erin--one morning to discover the body of the neighborhood handyman on the floor--and it's apparent that he died by drinking a lye solution. She knows that all her lye was locked up, and she hadn't made cold process soap (the type you need lye to make) for over a week, so where did the lye come from? Walter was going to be doing some work for her, so he had reason to be there, but none whatsoever to be in her soapmaking supplies. It's first thought that Walter committed suicide, but further investigation, mostly by Sophie Mae, make it obvious that he didn't. A whole parcel of suspects get entwined in her investigations, and while the plot does take an unexpected twist, I felt that whole coincidence was just too improbable to be really believable. I liked Sophie Mae, although her character wasn't really developed very well and I can't say I felt any special connection to her. There were no out and out errors in the soapmaking information and procedures discussed (which was a relief...I hate inaccuracies!) but I really found it hard to believe that with the amount of work Sophie Mae actually did with her business and the amount of product she produced, that she was able to make a living solely from her soap and bath and body products AND have money to pay a teenage assistant part time plus actually live and eat. Sophie Mae also had a bad case of "amateur sleuth syndrome" in which she kept a lot of information from the police and continually put herself in danger to do her investigating. Considering that she didn't know the murdered man very well, I just can't imagine her putting that much time and effort into attempting to prove that he didn't commit suicide, even if he did die in her workshop. In short, this was an okay book, above average even--as evidenced by the fact that I didn't throw it across the room as I have been tempted to do with many cozy series lately. I probably will read the next one, but I'm admittedly not in a huge hurry to do so. A quick, light, interesting read even though it wasn't altogether satisfying. B-

2. LITTLE HEATHENS: HARD TIMES AND HIGH SPIRITS ON AN IOWA FARM DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. A meandering tale told by a woman who grew up on a farm in Iowa in the 1930's. She tells stories about her childhood, the hard work done on the farm, with neatly divided chapters that address various aspects of life including the chores and farmwork, schooling, church life, various farm animals and gardening, holidays, etc. The entire book is suffused with the common way of thought during the Depression--doing without, substituting other things where possible, recycling and using things for many purposes. Sounds bleak, but it comes across as a mostly happy and hopeful story, with the author being grateful for her childhood rather than feeling deprived. The basic story sounded quite familiar, with many common elements from stories my own parents told about their childhoods, which took place mostly in Minnesota. A lot of the quaint sayings, the plants and animals mentioned, etc. were very familiar to me. Having grown up on a farm myself, some of the things described from her childhood was still valid for me decades later. The story was good, but a bit disjointed and scattered at times. There wasn't a whole lot of "point" to the story, just a pleasant ramble through the past that was enjoyable to read. B

3. THE SWEET GOLDEN PARACHUTE by David Handler. #5 in the Mitry and Berger series, featuring Desiree Mitry, the local Trooper for Dorset, Connecticut and Mitch Berger, film critic for a New York newspaper who now lives in Dorset. Rumor has it that Berger and Mitry have split up after she said "No" when he asked her to marry him, but that's not true. They're still very much together, although Des did put off Mitch's proposal for the time being. When the local "Can Man," a strange hobo-like character named Pete who rides around on a bike collecting recyclables is found dead just off the road near the stately home of blue blood Poochie Vickers not long after a pricey classic car is stolen from her garage, it's first believed that Pete witnessed the robbery and was permanently silenced. It's also believed that a pair of brothers just released from prison are the culprits, but when Des and Mitch combine the information they gather, it's obvious that there is more motives that may be at play rather than just that quick, easy answer. So dig they do--although Mitch does so often unwittingly--and come up with the answer answer that was painfully obvious to me almost from the beginning, but there you go. LOL I do enjoy this series, more for the characters and the visit to Dorset than the mysteries themselves, although I've found as the series has gone on, it seems to be getting a bit frayed around the edges and the characters and situations a bit cliched. I only see one more book in the series listed, published in 2008, which I have, and which I'll definitely read, but to be honest, it might be good if the author retired these folks after that while the books are still commendable reads rather than run a series into the ground as some authors have done. B

4. CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins. (AUDIO) #2 in the Hunger Games YA fantasy trilogy. Katniss Everdeen, co-victor of the Hunger Games, must now prepare for her victory tour with Peta, the other District 12 tribute who won with her. They travel by train around the whole country, stopping in the major city of each District. Before they can leave, Katniss receives a covert visit from President Snow himself, who basically tells her she (with her rocking the boat and defying the usual order of things by having two Victors in the last games) is causing uprisings in the Districts and she will heretofore toe the line or her family and everyone she loves will be in dire straits. She is to accomplish this by going through with her wedding plans to marry Peta, and she will be happy about it, even though she's come to realize she loves her "boy" friend Gale, who has been her hunting partner for many years. As they travel the Districts, Katniss and Peta do notice signs of rebellion--the mockingjay, the bird featured on Katniss' pin, has become a symbol of dissent against the Capitol's vicious practices, and she can but hope that they can find some way to actually help the rebels. President Snow quickly squelches that plan by invoking rule changes in the Quarter Quell, basically turning it into another Hunger Games that will feature all living Victors from past games--including Peta, their trainer Hamish, and Katniss herself. What kind of strategy can they possibly come up with that will keep all of them alive this time? I really am enjoying this series, especially this audio version read by Carolyn McCormick. This one wasn't quite as compelling as the last book, perhaps suffering a bit of that 'middle-of-trilogy' lethargy due to significant amount of verbiage spent setting things up for the last book in the series, but this was a good story in and of itself too. I am greatly looking forward to Mockingjay, and in addition to listening in audio, have also purchased these in hardcover for my Keeper shelf to read again later. Excellent! A.

5. A HARD TICKET HOME by David Housewright. #1 Rushmore "Mac" McKenzie mystery set in St. Paul, MN. Mac is an ex-cop who quit to take a huge reward from an embezzler he caught, so now is technically unemployed. While not a licensed investigator, he helps people who need helping, sometimes taking a small fee, sometimes accepting trade for his services. When Richard Carlson, a man who did some renovations on his lake cabin, contacts him asking him to find his daughter Jamie, Mac might've turned down the job but for one thing: Richard's other daughter Stacy is dying of leukemia and they need a match for a bone marrow transplant to save her life. Jamie disappeared several years previously after graduating from high school, and Richard and Molly don't even know if she's alive or dead. Mac agrees to help and soon is caught up in a complicated web of Twin Cities gangs, an ambitious businessman's club with some interesting secrets, and an ongoing serial killer investigation. Leaving a mess of dead bodies in his wake (some of them not even his own doing) Mac eventually works out the several mysteries that are entwined together in this interesting tale. I have to admit, this author and I didn't get off on the right foot when I found a misspelled brand name item right on the first few pages. (The boots are spelled Sorels (tm) NOT Sorrels! LOL) Nothing bugs me more than misspellings in final copies of published works so I feared that that faux pas would color my whole impression of the book. But the story soon sucked me in and we were off on a merry ride which I did mostly enjoy. I live in a Minneapolis suburb, and while I don't know St. Paul that well, I did recognize many of the places and the local flavor was accurately depicted. (I especially got a kick out of his descriptions of the traffic flow around here.) That said, I picked up on the so-called plot twist when the first clue for it was laid down right at the beginning of the book, and also figured out several of the other mysteries too. I thought that the amount of violence and killing associated with this one case was a little excessive and improbable, but I did like Mac and his circle of friends and plan on seeing what he gets up to in the next installment of the series. B.

6. A KILLER IN WINTER by Susanna Gregory. #9 Matthew Bartholomew medieval mystery set in 1354 during Christmas, which was a twelve-day event back then. When one of the Ovyng College students, Norbert, is found murdered in a snowdrift after a storm, Brother Michael, the senior proctor, asks Matthew, who is a physician and college professor of medicine, to help him investigate. Over the course of the Christmas holidays, several dead bodies turn up, including the husband and a servant of the former Philippa Abigny, whom Matthew was at one time betrothed to. While a series of severe blizzards and cold weather make life miserable for the city of Cambridge, one of Matt's students, Deynman, is elected Lord of Misrule for the duration of the Twelve Days of Christmas and seems determined to make everyone's life even worse by turning the tables on the scholars and priests who usually dictate policy and practice to them. Matt is disturbed by the change in Philippa's personality and character, and her brother Giles who was once a friend also seems different. Matt struggles with those changes while trying to help Michael uncover the truth about what happened to Norbert as well as the others who have died, and tries to balance Michael's stubborn insistence (despite a lack of evidence) that a visitor to Cambridge by the name of Harysone is behind the whole mess. Enjoyable visit to Cambridge as always, although I have admit that even spacing these books out quite a lot, I find much of a pattern with the series. There are an awful lot of characters to try to keep straight, and many of the clues are dropped very late in the story such that it's difficult to bring together all the little bits and pieces of the various mysteries until the end. I love this time period and the characters now seem like old friends, but sometimes these mysteries get just a little too complicated and involved and I find myself rather looking forward to the end and the resolution, too. B+.

7. FINDING NOUF by Zoe Ferraris (AUDIO) Mystery set in modern-day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, featuring two unlikely sleuths in Nayir al-Sharqi, a desert guide for the wealthy Shrawi family, and Katya Hijazi, fiancee to Nayir's friend Othman abu-Shrawi, who works in the medical examiner's office as a forensic technician. They end up working together to solve the murder of Nouf ash-Shrawi, sixteen-year-old sister to Othman. Nayir is a conservative Muslim, somewhat out of place in Jeddah, being a native Palestinian. Othman asks him to look into first, Nouf's disappearance, and then her death after her body is found. There are many secrets and layers of polite Saudi Muslim society to cut through to get to the truth, the heart of the matter. All I can say is, WOW! I loved this book, steeped richly in the culture of the area and telling the story partly from Nayir's point of view and partly from Katya's--the difference in the men's and women's perspectives being rather profound. Nayir and Katya are both very human, with foibles and flaws and yet both being very likable, too. The author also put you right into the city of Jeddah, with rich descriptions of the sights, smells, the color and the mood of the city being pervasive throughout the whole book. I figured out part of the mystery, one of the major plot twists, but hadn't figured out the murderer until the end. The reader for this book (Pete Bradbury) was excellent and easy to listen to, and seemed to capture the soul of the story very well. Sometimes it was a bit difficult listening to the narration about the attitudes towards women and those attitudes being matter-of-factly accepted, but once you acknowledge that this is the environment Nouf and Katya live in, then you can get on with soaking up the story. Excellent! Looking forward to the next one. A+

8. PLOTS AND ERRORS by Jill McGown. #10 Lloyd & Hill British police procedural mystery, and CRAP! I just realized I've read this out of order! LOL In a complicated, multi-faceted plot, some member or members of the wealthy Esterbrook family have killed off the matriarch, the principle heir, a "rent boy" that one of them was seeing, and the private investigators hired by one of them to catch out the heir in an adulterous tryst. But who? Those with apparent motive don't seem to have had the opportunity, and vice versa. Following trails of false clues carefully laid down, Chief Inspector Lloyd, DI Hill and Sgt. Finch must figure out which clues are real and what errors the killers made in their planning. Not an easy task, with several red herrings and stinky sardines along the way. LOL I enjoyed this book a lot. McGown has an interesting way of laying things out by first going through the discovery of the various murders, then back-pedaling to a month before with tales told from the POV of the principals in the crimes, and then back to the investigation. Sometimes that ploy works and other times not, but in this case it was a gripping thriller that I was never sure about the solution to right til the very end. However, since I read this out of order (damn!) I am going to have to dig out the previous one and get it read fairly soon, too...which means only two left to finish the series after that. I am often amazed that this wonderful author has not received more attention and accolades. A

9. CONCOURSE by S.J. Rozan. #2 Bill Smith and Lydia Chin "private eye" mystery set in the Bronx. The author changes which PI tells the story from one book to another, and this is a "Bill" book. We met him rather briefly in the first book and I liked him well enough, but now we finally get to really know Bill. He is hired by Bobby, an old friend who runs a security business to investigate the killing of his nephew (one of his guards) which occurred at a high-end nursing home in a secluded compound right in the middle of the worst gang-land territory in the Bronx. The Cobras reign supreme here, and everyone thinks their leader Snake is the one who killed Mike. But Bill's friend is suspicious and gets Bill an inside job taking Mike's place as a guard so he can nose around. Bill gets the same hinky feeling and soon is discovering quite a few things that don't seem to add up. He also meets some lovely senior citizens at the Home, and the author's portrayal of them is just wonderful! Bill hires Lydia Chin to do some investigating as well, but she remains very much in the background in this book, except with regards to Bill's unrequited love for her--which always seems to hang in the air. I really enjoyed this book and think that this series is destined to become another of my favorites. The story is interesting, the characters are well-fleshed, the dialogue is believable and the easy-reading style of the book makes it a delight to read. Very much looking forward to the next in series. A.

10. THE REMAINS OF THE DAY by Kazuo Ishiguro. Set in post-war Britain, this is the story of Mr. Stevens, butler at Darlington Hall for some three decades, now serving the American businessman who bought the manor. When his boss suggests that he might want to take a little motoring trip away from the manor while he himself is away, Stevens at first dismisses the idea and then decides to kill two birds with one stone in his characteristically efficient way. He plans to motor off to Cornwall to visit Miss Kenton (he still thinks of her that way despite her being married for twenty years), former housekeeper at Darlington, to see if she would be interested in resuming her position there now that her marriage has failed and they are in need of 'good help.' Along the way he stops at various towns for the evening and ruminates on the past and his life-long endeavor to do nothing more than to serve the Lord of the manor with competence and dignity and abject loyalty in all things. As he ponders his life of service, cracks begin to appear in his extreme correctness and emotion begins to seep in and out. I found this book to be totally depressing, but on the other hand, it does come with a good message for all of us: Don't spend your life as Mr. Stevens did! I wanted to slap him upside the head SO many times during the course of the book! And just because it was depressing, doesn't mean it's not a great book! It's well-written although slow-moving, but with the author's adept descriptions, I found myself driving through the English countryside on a warm summer day and could almost smell the earth and the flowers, hear the birds and feel the sun on my face. Excellent book! This is my first Ishiguro, though I do have several others of his on my TBR--now I won't be afraid to pluck them from the shelves and dive in. A.

11. THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN'S BAG by Alan Bradley (audio) #2 Flavia de Luce mystery, featuring 11-year-old Flavia, who lives in 1950 England in Bishop's Lacey. Flavia comes upon a weeping young woman in the church graveyard and discovers that she's the assistant to puppeteer Rupert Porson, who is apparently quite famous because of a BBC TV show he does. Flavia, of course, has never heard of him as her father, an eccentric stamp collector, doesn't go in for the telly so they don't have one at Buckshore, the crumbling family estate where they live. The puppeteer's van has broken down and when the Vicar happens along, he suggests a barter--a puppet show in the parish hall in exchange for the services of the local mechanic to fix the van. Flavia gets enlisted to help set up, and to get Rupert and Nialla to the nearby farm where they are to set up camp. On the way, they pass by Gibbet Wood, where Flavia tells them the story of little 6-year-old Robin, son of the farmers who run the farm where they'll be staying, who was found hanged on the gallows there about five years ago. Much speculation still surrounds his death, and Flavia takes it into her head to try to solve it by sneaking around in her usual curious way. Before she gets too far, Rupert himself ends up dead--which isn't totally surprising, as he seemed to be an utterly despicable man, his talent with marionettes and the ability to delight children everywhere aside. Lots of suspects and red herrings are thrown in the mix, but as the pieces begin to fall into place in Flavia's mind, she tries to impart information to Inspector Hewitt, who isn't always disposed to listen to an 11-year-old. Of course, when that 11-year-old is Flavia, he's learning he really ought to pay attention. Absolutely brilliant second entry in the series. Flavia is a precocious dear, a chemistry genius (she likes mixing poisons in her laboratory in her spare time) whose "voice" is so well depicted by the reader, Jayne Entwistle that it's almost uncanny. Entwistle (who seems to be relatively new on the audio reader scene) does a variety of other voices and accents very well and very distinctly so that even if the dialogue doesn't say "Dogger said," or "...the Vicar remarked," you know who's talking. I very much look forward to listening to the next in series, and am only sorry it's probably at least a year away. A+

12. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stieg Larsson. #2 Millenium trilogy featuring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Salander returns home from her year-long sabbatical away from Sweden, settles into a new home and tries to figure out what to do with her life. She hasn't seen or spoken to any of her acquaintances since returning, but when she hacks into Blomkvist's computer to see what he's up to, she's stunned to see that he and his colleagues are working on an exposé of the sex trade in Sweden, specifically in importing penniless young girls in from foreign countries to essentially become slaves. She gathers some information and goes to see the young couple who are working specifically on the issue and the couple ends up brutally murdered just after she's there. Blomkvist, who had called them to say he'd drop by some paperwork that was needed, discovers the bodies. When Salander's fingerprints are discovered on the weapon and her guardian is also found dead, she becomes the victim of a frantic witch hunt with painful details of her past splashed all over the papers--but for some reason, no one including the police, the prosecutor, or the newspapers has any information about the most important incident of all, the thing she calls "All The Evil" which occurred around her thirteenth birthday. Blomkvist and his team try to solve the murders of their co-workers independently of the police, as he does not believe Lisbeth is guilty. Ok. I'm going to say right now that it took me weeks to read this book. I give the author an A for the storyline and plot, but the execution of the idea was, in my opinion, rather poorly done. The book seriously needed editing--it was way too long with way too many insignificant tangents and details about minor characters that were totally unnecessary and irrelevant. The writing style itself was very uneven--sometimes I was captivated and sucked into the story, but then a few pages later I had trouble concentrating because the writing had changed to superficial claptrap--for example, when Salander was furnishing her new home, there were three pages of prose listing the furniture (including brand names from Ikea) and the decor, yet when I was done reading that passage, I had no sense at all of what the place really looked like. It was almost like there were two people writing. There was also the dichotomy with the characters--Salander was fascinating to me, but Blomkvist was dead boring. I also had to wonder why, with the supposedly wonderful medical care Sweden has, no one even whispered the term "Aspberger's Syndrome" in connection with Salander. I'm not a professional, and yet it was fairly clear to me (even in the last book!) that she likely had some form of that malady. I've decided I'm not going to torture myself and read the third one. I know a lot of people loved this book, and when I had such an opposing reaction, I really did take some time to figure out if this is just me being contrary (as I have been known to be on occasion!) or if I had some valid criticism. I think my criticism is valid. The whole premise of the book and the story was a superb idea, but in my mind it was just poorly brought to life. This was not a book I couldn't put down, this was a book I HAD to put down and read in small bits in order to finish it. I can't help but wonder if the author had lived if the editing done would have been better. I guess we'll never know. C-.

13. WHY MERMAIDS SING by C.S. Harris. #3 Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery set in 1811 London. Sebastian, aka Viscount Devlin, is asked by his constable friend to help him investigate what may be a serial killer, since he has assisted in such enquiries in the past. There have been two bodies of young men found with certain mutilations and items stuffed into their mouths that leads Henry Lovejoy to believe they were done by the same person. When news comes to light of a third death with similar attributes that occurred a few months earlier in a village miles from London, Sebastian believes the killer is following the prose of a poem by John Donne, Go And Catch a Falling Star. The question is, why? What do the victims have in common? Once he sorts that out, the mystery of who committed the crimes isn't made clearer, but instead becomes more complicated as several suspects come to light and Sebastian must figure out the mystery before more deaths occur. On a personal note, Kat Boleyn, Sebastian's lover, is being blackmailed by the powerful Lord Jarvis into telling him information about who the new French spymaster in London is. Torn between love of country and love of Devlin, she is about to give up this information when Devlin himself learns of Jarvis's blackmail and tells Kat he is going to marry her and that's that--something he's been trying to persuade her to do for years and which she's been resisting because she knows it will ruin him. A peer of the realm marrying an actress and ex-whore just isn't done. The wedding ends up not taking place but for a very bizarre reason, and of course the author leaves the book with a nasty cliffhanger in place. Okay, this series has a very romancey tang to it, which is something that normally would make me chuck it down in about thirty seconds. But for whatever reason, that aspect doesn't bother me in this series, and I've thoroughly enjoyed each of these books so far. They are real page-turners for me, and I really enjoy the whole cast of characters, the setting and the mysteries. Very much looking forward to the next one in the series. A.

14. STALKING SUSAN by Julie Kramer. #1 Riley Spartz mystery. Riley is a television reporter in the Twin Cities, MN area--until recently, a top-notch investigative reporter. Her star has fallen considerably over the past year, however, as she struggled to put her life back together after the very public death of her husband Hugh Boyer, a former cop who had been working as chief security for the Governor of Minnesota when a firebomb intended for the Governor killed him while cameras were rolling. So Riley is intrigued when a long-time police source (now retired) throws her a lead about a couple of murders that happened exactly one year apart, both featuring women named Susan. There were other similarities that weren't revealed to the public, but no other connection besides the name could be found. Upon investigation, Riley finds several other Susans who died on November 19, some more than a decade ago and not in the Twin Cities area, and not all were classified as murder. Between that case--which was a hard sell to her manager--and the pet cremation fraud that her boss has her working on, Riley doesn't have much time to be mooning around any longer. The pet scandal actually turns into a real ratings booster, and when someone begins following her around and leaving dead flowers for her, Riley's not sure if it's someone associated with the vet's office or from her Susan investigation. As Nov. 19 approaches, Riley's anticipation rises, but her world collapses when her friend who was the source is arrested for the murder of another Susan on that night. I really enjoyed this book--I actually picked it up randomly from the community bookshelf in the break room at work when I finished my regular book and hadn't brought a backup with me. The bright yellow cover drew me to it and when I read the flyleaf and realized it was set locally and written by a local author I opened it up...and had a hard time putting it down. Although I've never been a fan of "the news" (which, IMO, is mostly NOT news and a load of horse puckey! LOL) the story was intriguing from the beginning and I learned a few things along the way. It's well-written with an easy-to-read style, the main character was interesting and appealing, the local flavor is excellent, and there's a good balance of action and introspection. Although I had one of those 'gut feelings' about the bad guy fairly early on, I wasn't sure of the motive or how the crimes were actually committed. It's been awhile since I read a real page-turner, but this was definitely one of those. Won't be long til I read the next in series. A.

15. KITTY'S HOUSE OF HORRORS by Carrie Vaughn (AUDIO) #7 Kitty Norville series, featuring werewolf Kitty who hosts a late-night talk show called The Midnight Hour. Kitty is approached by the producers of a bunch of cheesy reality shows who invite her to join the cast of a new reality show featuring all "Supernatural" guests--lycanthropes, vampires, psychics, magicians and other odd types. Kitty balks until they mention some folks she's met previously and liked who are already on board. The cast of the show will be whisked away to an isolated lodge in the mountains of Montana, alone but for the production crew who will be filming almost all of their interactions. Of course Kitty realizes they're hoping for something juicy, like an on-camera shapeshift to boost their ratings, so does whatever she can to keep the participants--some of whom aren't all that fond of one another--on an even keel. That is until all hell breaks loose one morning when Kitty finds one of the vampire Anastasia's human minions dead--an apparent accident involving a faulty deck railing until further investigation shows it was tampered with. The power is out, and there is no cell phone reception, so Kitty and Odysseus Grant head to the small plane that brought them in, only to find the radio smashed with three of the production crew brutally murdered and stuffed inside. Soon it's evident that someone is hunting them, but who? Does the powerful vampire Roman have his finger on the control button, or is it a band of paranormal bounty hunters determined to wipe the supernatural creatures off the face of the earth? I really enjoy this series, but this is my least favorite so far, for a couple of reasons. First, I like Kitty and the whole idea that she would have anything at all to do with a reality show really ticks me off. I guess I just can't quite imagine her doing such a thing. The story itself wasn't bad once it got going. But secondly, this is the first audio book I've listened to of this series and I really did not care for the reader. The whole tone of the storytelling just didn't seem "right" to me, and her voices were terrible--all the men sounded alike and all the women sounded alike, with minor variations. Just really, not very good at all--I will definitely stick to reading the print versions from here on out, and most of the lowered grade comes from the poor audio performance. C+

16. UNIFORM JUSTICE by Donna Leon. #12 Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery set in Venice, Italy. When a teenage boy at a military academy is found hanging in his bathroom at the school, it's first presumed a suicide. Brunetti, Vianello and the others investigate, but it's believed by everyone--including Brunetti's politically saavy boss, Vice-Questore Patta, that it will be a cursory investigation and everyone will go on their merry way. Brunetti smells a rat, however, and begins digging deeper into the boy's life and that of his family--his father being a retired member of Parliament, which means things have to be done discreetly. What he finds leads him to believe that most certainly Ernesto Moro's death was not a suicide but murder, and with his usual dogged determination and the help of Signora Elettra's computer skills, he finds the answers he needs. But then, things are never simple and there is the dilemma of what to do with the knowledge. I absolutely love Guido, his family, his co-workers and the author's portrayal of the city of Venice with the sights, smells, sounds, the food....but I have to admit I grow a little weary of this same plot replayed many times--always the murders in the these books seem to involve a person or persons in power or some powerful group or sub-group--either the government, the Mafia, or (in this case) the Military. Conspiracy theories abound! And often times even though we know who the killer is or what happened, there's no real resolution to the story. I will continue to read these because I love everything else about them aside from the predictable plots. Hopefully we'll have a straightforward case of jealousy here one of these times. :) B.

17. TROUBLE IN THE TOWN HALL by Jeanne M. Dams. #2 Dorothy Martin mystery, Dorothy being a retired American widow living in the cathedral town of Sherebury, England (which I believe is fictional.) Still trying to settle in to her life in a new country, and as a widow, Dorothy works part time at the Cathedral bookshop and has been contemplating whether to buy her rented home--which is listed on the historical register which means the much-needed renovations will be rather pricey. When visiting the old Town Hall, which is closed until a determination for its use can be made, she and the cleaning woman there discover the dead body of a young man in a closet, who was later determined to be murdered. They encounter Mr. Pettifer, the builder who hopes to develop the property into a mall shortly after the discovery and before they've even contacted the police. He went to look at the body and closed the victim's eyes, and that plus his supercilious attitude and a wife that seems totally cowed by him puts him at the top of Dorothy's suspect list--although he's by no means the only person there. Several people stand to benefit by any scandal affecting the Town Hall, some of them the city's most prominent citizens. Dorothy's sort-of beau, Chief Constable Alan Nesbitt is tied up preparing security for a royal visit from the Prince of Wales and is somewhat distant and unavailable when she wants to discuss the case--which, of course, she really has no business investigating anyway! Another dead body complicates things closer to the end of the book. Dorothy, who's a bit stuffy and old-fashioned and too worried about 'what people will think' for my taste--plus is given to wearing outlandish hats--isn't the most appealing sleuth out there, but these books tend to be rather calming and relaxing, quick and easy reads and once in awhile are just what's needed for a change of pace. I love the whole "English village" setting and I mostly liked this one, although I can't fathom why the police put up with Dorothy's constant interference and snooping in active investigations. I did figure out the plot twist, but not the actual mystery of whodunit til closer to the end of the book. B.

18. DANCE HALL OF THE DEAD by Tony Hillerman. (AUDIO) #2 in the Joe Leaphorn mystery series, this one was written back in the '70's and I've read it and most of these early ones years ago. I want to finish the series by reading the last half-dozen or so that I hadn't gotten to, but to refresh my memory, I'm going to listen to a few of these earlier ones first. They're narrated by George Guidall, my favorite reader, so that makes the listening that much more enjoyable. Lt. Joe Leaphorn, a Navajo tribal policeman in New Mexico, is asked to locate George Bowlegs, a fourteen-year-old Navajo boy who was a friend of a younger Zuni boy who has disappeared. When a pool of blood is discovered where the younger boy was seen, and then his body is discovered, the higher-ups suspect George, but Leaphorn believes there's something else going on, something fueled by an upcoming Zuni religious festival involving masked figures called cachinas. Thrown into the mix are a few characters at a hippy commune nearby and on an archaeological dig, and the presence of the FBI and drug enforcement who are watching the commune. I loved this series when I first started reading it back in the '70's and still enjoy it now. Hillerman is a master at setting the scene and at drawing realistic, interesting characters as well as mysteries with a twist. Very enjoyable listen! A.

19. THE CRACK IN THE LENS by Steve Hockensmith. #4 "Holmes on the Range" mystery set in the 1890's American West and featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers Gustav ("Old Red") and Otto ("Big Red.") Otto's publishing deal has come through so the boys take the advance and head to San Marcos, Texas where Gustav had lived and worked five years previously, and where the love of his life, a whore called Gertie, was brutally butchered. He finally feels that he's got his hero Sherlock Holmes' deducifyin' methods down pat so he can go back and find who killed her. But upon arrival, they discover that a lot of things have changed since Old Red used to stomp those parts and they immediately set to ticking off a whole boatload of people with their nosy questions, from the sheriff to the marshal to the owners of the whorehouse where the girl worked--and just about everyone in between. True to form, no one seems to want to tell them the truth either, and Old Red's faith in the logical detection methods of Holmes begins to waver as his emotions take over--'the crack in the lens' that Holmes talks about, love clouding ones vision of the truth. They get there eventually, but they've had a few scrapes with death and are rather bruised and bloodied by the time they figure things out. Enjoyable read, one of the very few "western" type series I do enjoy. Humorous and yet poignant in places, with well-fleshed and likable characters--even "Gloomy Gus" as the folks in San Marcos called Old Red, grows on you after awhile. I don't see another book in this series listed on the docket yet, but the author's been busy writing about zombies (of all things!)--hopefully the Amlingmeyer boys will be back before too long. A.

20. SNAPSHOT by Linda Barnes. #5 Carlotta Carlyle PI mystery set in Boston, MA. Each Friday for several weeks, Carlotta receives a photo of a young girl from birth upwards, and then the girl's mother arrives with her psychiatrist to bring her the last one--a photo of young Rebecca Woodrow just before she died. Her grief-stricken mother believes there was some error made in the treatment she was receiving for leukemia that caused Becca's death rather than the disease itself and asks Carlotta to look into it, with a handsome retainer check as an incentive. Meanwhile, Carlotta tries again to see her Little Sister (as in the Big Sister/Little Sister program) Paolina and finds the girl's mother and siblings in a terrible state due to her rheumatoid arthritis and lack of funds. Carlotta hasn't been allowed to see Paolina for nearly four months and Marta tells her she's been hanging out with some guy who's in his 20's. Since the girl is only 11, this gets Carlotta's hackles up and she begins to investigate that too. As she attempts to get inside the specialty hospital where young Becca Woodrow was treated and to keep tabs on Paolina and her 'friend,' Carlotta begins running into opposition on both fronts--and when a young nurse who worked with Rebecca and quit working for the hospital shortly after her death ends up dead herself (suicide? or perhaps not) Carlotta knows she's on to something, but doesn't even have enough information to pass along to her cop friend Mooney. Very interesting book with a rather strange premise, although I figured out the bad guy well in advance and some of the whys and hows--one of the times when it helped to be a nurse. Plenty of fast-paced, seat-of-your-pants action, just enough humor and a good dose of Carlotta's circle of most interesting supporting cast. A.

Current Reads: PLAGUE YEAR by Jeff Carlson in audio, and THE AMAZING MAURICE AND HIS EDUCATED RODENTS by Terry Pratchett.