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Cozy Reads for January

Hidden Treasures by Jane Cleland

The Crystal Cave Trilogy by Susan Albert Wittig

Game of Dog Bones by Laurien Berenson

Yesterday’s Echo by Matt Coyle

Over the past few weeks I’ve been catching up with some of my cozy mystery series as well as checking out a new to me author.

Jane Cleland’s Hidden Treasure is number 13 in the Josie Prescott series. Newlywed Josie and husband Ty just bought their dream home. While prepping for a remodel, Josie finds a hidden trunk the previous owner left behind. She returns the trunk and its contents, potentially rare relics, to the owner and an instant friendship forms.  Maudie, encouraged by her nieces, may be interested in selling the trunk’s contents and enlists Josie’s aid. Soon, however, one niece is dead and Maudie and the trunk’s contents are missing. Josie is determined to find a killer and discover what happened to Maudie. Is she dead? Kidnapped? And who has the relics?

The Crystal Cave Trilogy is an adjunct to the long running China Bayles series by Susan Wittig Albert. Ruby Wilcox is China’s best friend and business partner.  The three novellas in this collection are all centered on Ruby and her psychic abilities. Each story from a dream that turns out to be a real kidnapping to the stopping of a serial killer before he can claim another victim highlights her expanding abilities. There is also the thread of possible romance with detective Ethan Connors. The skeptical detective slowly begins to accept Ruby’s gift and wants to know more about her. But is he interested in her as a person and just her abilities? For China Bayles’ fans this may tide you over until number 28 comes out later this year.

My last cozy is Laurien Berenson’s Game of Dog Bones. Number 25 in this canine mysteries series has Melanie Travis, her husband Sam, and Aunt Peg all headed to New York City for the Westminster Dog Show. Aunt Peg has been chosen to judge in the prestigious event. Scheduled to give a seminar on judging the day before the show, Peg is disgruntled that a dog show is being held in the same venue. Victor Durbin and Peg have a history and his location seems to have been chosen to detract from Peg’s seminar. When Victor’s body is found the day after the show, Aunt Peg becomes the number one suspect. Victor was pretty unscrupulous and had plenty of enemies. With so many suspects can Melanie find the killer before Peg is arrested for murder?

In reading book reviews, I ran across a review for Matt Coyle’s Rick Cahill series. Ready for a mystery that is a little edgier I started with the first in the series, Yesterday’s Echo. Manager of a restaurant in La Jolla, California, Cahill likes to keep a low profile. He is an ex-cop who was accused of his wife’s murder eight years ago. He returned to his hometown but it comes with its own bad memories. His dad was kicked off the police force for being a dirty cop.

Into his less than idyllic existence drops Melody Malana. When Melody’s dinner companion becomes less than cordial, Cahill steps in. When he rescues her a second time that evening he takes her home for safety but she leaves before morning. He assumes the interlude is over but soon finds that Melody has not disappeared from his life. When two thugs do not believe his denial and try to beat her location out of him, Rick decides he needs to find her. Tracking her to a hotel he finds a crime scene. A dead man occupies Melody’s room.

Melody pops back into his life only to be followed by the police. First she is taken in for questioning soon followed by Cahill. After Melody is arrested it becomes apparent that Rick may be next. It is now a race to see if he can uncover the truth before he is either in jail or the next victim.

This series has the feel of classic detective fiction but Cahill is a complex character and he doesn’t always get it right. He carries a load of guilt over his wife’s death and seems to always be under the shadow of his father’s sins. He still has his cop’s gut but sometimes follows the wrong instinct.

I’ve read the first two in the series – working my way to Blind Vigil, which published in December. Fast-paced with unexpected twists, these are hard to put down.  If you enjoy Lawrence Sanders and/or Andrew Vachss novels this is a series I think you’ll like.

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The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams

I enjoy mysteries with well-developed characters and if it is part of a series, all the better. Ellery Adams’ Secret, Book and Scone Society series has everything I like.

The series gets its title from the first book, The Secret, Book & Scone Society. The setting is the small town of Miracle Springs, North Carolina. The town is situated on the Appalachian Trail and is known for its thermal pools and spa. The afternoon train brings not only tourists but those seeking the comfort and relief the thermal pools provide.

Nora Pennington, the owner of Miracle Books, looks forward to the shoppers and to those seeking change and healing. She is a former librarian and a bibliotherapist. After talking to and listening to her readers she selects titles that help them achieve change and peace.

Nora was the recipient of bibliotherapy after an accident left her with burn scars on her right side. A nurse at the hospital knew Nora’s love of books would help her. The carefully chosen titles took her from despair and remorse to hope.

Sitting in the park before opening the bookstore, Nora meets a man in need of her talents. He works for the company bringing a new housing development to Miracle Springs. Something about the project has him deeply troubled and an employee at the thermal pools told him about Nora.

Before he comes to the bookstore, Nora sends him to the Gingerbread House for a scone. Hester Winthrop, the owner, will bake him a customized scone. She draws people out then adds ingredients to their scone that will invoke a special memory.

However, somewhere between receiving his scone and his session with Nora the stranger meets the train and not in a good way. Estella Sadler, owner of Magnolia Salon and Spa, is the first to tell Nora about the death. She is followed by Hester who at least knows the man’s name is Neil.

Soon a deputy arrives requesting the presence of Nora and Hester at the sheriff’s office. June Dixon, the employee at the thermal pools who sent Neil to Nora, has also been brought in to be interviewed. After the interviews the ladies are convinced that Sheriff Hendricks will not investigate Neil’s death. The easy thing for him to do is rule it a suicide.

Feeling that the troubled man who sought them out deserved better, the ladies decide to find out for themselves if it was suicide or murder. They want to keep their investigation a secret so to explain their meetings the four (Estella has already been asking questions) form a book club – the Secret, Book, and Scone Society.

It soon becomes apparent that things are not what they seem with the new housing development. Then another partner in the development is found dead and Estella is charged with his murder. Can Nora and her new partners find the murderer and free Estella before someone else dies?

Each of these ladies is a loner because of past traumas. To trust each other and become friends, they realize they must share their most painful secrets. As they meet to share information and theories, we hear the stories and the traumas that have brought them all to Miracle Springs.

This series is a winner if the rest of the books are as good as the first. Nora is the lead but each of the four women are strong, sympathetic characters. The setting is charming as is the bookstore in an old train depot. The mystery keeps you turning the pages with some twists you might not see coming.

I’m looking forward to “The Whispered Word”, “The Book of Candlelight” and what other titles may follow. Recommended read-alikes are Jenn McKinlay and Eva Gates. I will add Susan Albert Wittig as I think if you like the China Bayles series you’ll like this one too.

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Vanishing in the Haight by Max Tomlinson

The Summer of Love occurred in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco in 1967. Tens of thousands of young people converged on the neighborhood for music, drugs, and free love. Max Tomlinson chose this setting to begin his novel, Vanishing in the Haight.

Margaret Copeland, problem child in her wealthy family, left home to join the thousands gathering in Haight-Ashbury. However, sharing a mattress with strangers in a noisy, smoke-filled room has lost its appeal. High and clutching a dime Margaret is on her way to a pay phone. She wants to go home but a stranger who knows her name is waiting. Her body is found in a nearby park beaten, raped and suffocated with a dry cleaning bag.

The San Francisco police attributed her death, despite inconsistencies, to the Zodiac killer. Her family was not convinced and now 11 years later her dying father wants the truth. His hope is that Colleen Hayes can find the man responsible for Margaret’s death.

At first glance Colleen is not an obvious choice. She’s on parole after serving 9 years for manslaughter. She killed her husband when she discovered he molested their 8 year-old daughter, Pamela. She does have a business, Hayes Confidential, but is awaiting her PI license.
Colleen came to San Francisco a year earlier to reconnect with her daughter. In her search for Pamela she found the body of a young woman and helped Dan Moran of Santa Cruz Homicide find the killers. Impressed by her tenacity, Moran is the reason Edward Copeland wants to hire her.

The only job Hayes Confidential has is guarding an abandoned paint factory where Colleen is also living. This is where Edward Copeland’s lawyer finds her. Unsure about taking on the case Colleen doesn’t say yes or no. The decision is made for her by an early visit the next day from her parole officer. After Colleen declines his advances, he deems her living situation is a parole violation. She agrees to look into Margaret’s murder for much needed money and legal help with her parole officer.

Colleen starts digging and one of the first things she wants is a look at the police file. Futile requests have been made by the family before but she goes ahead with the paperwork. As she works her way from one desk/department to another at SFPD, calls are made alerting someone to her request.

She doesn’t get the file but she has the name of the investigating officer and tracks him down. Forced into retirement soon after Margaret’s death, Jim Davis agrees to meet and bring his copy of the murder file. But someone doesn’t want Margaret’s killer found and Davis is killed before he can talk.

The tension builds as Colleen follows clues and evidence that was ignored in the initial investigation. We know the police were protecting someone in the summer of 1967. How far will they go to shield a killer? A killer who is back and stalking his next victim. Colleen wants justice for both Margaret and Jim but can she find the truth before there is another death?

Tomlinson has penned a tough, tenacious heroine in Colleen. She’s smart, has a strong desire for justice, and can be gently compassionate. It is interesting to have a novel set in a time when you had to have dimes for the pay phone, the library was the place to go for research and finding addresses, and you put on bell bottoms and platform shoes for a night out.

This was billed as a book one in the Colleen Hayes mystery series. The second book, “Tie Die”, is out and I’m looking forward to Colleen’s next case.

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The Sum of the People: How the Census has Shaped Nations, from the Ancient World to the Modern Age by Andrew Whitby

Even before the events that have changed our lives over the last few months, 2020 was going to be an eventful year. It is a presidential election year and a census year.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that every 10 years the population be counted. The count is very important as it determines electoral districts and how many representatives each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is also used to allocate federal funding for fire departments, Medicaid, Head Start, and lots of other programs. Businesses use these population totals to help with decisions such as where to expand or the best place to recruit employees. Also 72 years after the census is completed all that information is released to the delight of genealogists everywhere.
If you haven’t filled out the census form this year, please do so. If you want to do it online, go to https://2020census.gov/en.html or come to the library. We have the page bookmarked on computers with no sign in necessary.
Of course the census is not just a U.S. endeavor. Countries all over the world have been counting people for centuries. Andrew Whitby has chronicled the history of census taking and how it has been used for good and evil in The Sum of the People: How the Census has Shaped Nations, from the Ancient World to the Modern Age.
Whitby begins his history of the census in the West Bank on the Nativity Trail. He is walking the same route Mary and Joseph travelled as they went to Bethlehem to be counted for the census decreed by Caesar Augustus. As he navigates the trail in this volatile region, the author explores the way the census is used to define countries and build nations.
From there, how the census was taken throughout history offers some interesting discoveries. Not all censuses were written down and not all counted people. England’s Doomsday book, the census of 1086, counted not just people but churches, mills, plough teams, livestock, and much more. Also using census data to make political decisions (political arithmetic) was not introduced until the 1620’s. The idea spread across Europe and across the Atlantic to be embedded in the constitution of the newly formed United States.
Tabulating a census is a daunting task and the list of things being tracked had grown so big that by 1880, the U.S. ran out of time and money for the census. A contest was held to find a faster and cheaper way to tabulate the forms and the numbers. The story of the contest is in the chapter, A Punch Photograph.
Gathering so much information not only made tabulating it hard but made it possible for governments to use that information to target certain groups. The United States used it to force sterilization of mental patients. Nazi Germany used it to annihilate Jewish populations in their own country and the countries they invaded.
Whitby’s passion and research (his resource list for this book is 60 pages long) shows in the depth and detail he provides. He explains how some social and political constructs evolved and how the census was conducted and used to further those ideas. For example, the author talks about the concept of eugenics before he details the use of the census to persecute the Jewish population.
A history of getting a world population count, over-population and the uncounted receive the same detailed treatment. Not counting certain people was practiced in the U.S., Australia, and South Africa among other countries. The U.S. used to exclude Native Americans, Australia didn’t count Aboriginals, and as late as 1998 South Africa failed to count 3 million rural black citizens.
Whitby also addresses the mistrust that some feel toward the gathering of information by a government and the cost involved in conducting a census. The challenges of taking a modern-day census are many. Mobile societies, modern communication, and ensuring the privacy of citizens are discussed. Other ways countries are using to get population counts and estimates may lead to a change in how the census is done.
The future of the traditional census is uncertain but as Whitby concludes “we will not stop counting people. With each new birth, the human journey continues”.

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The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey

Eighty-eight-year old Duffy Sinclair is a little bit of a crank, a flirt, a prankster, and scared of losing his home. He and Carl share a room at the Centennial Assisted Living Facility in Brooke Fossey’s novel, The Big Finish.

Sharon, the new owner of Centennial, has plans to remodel and double the fees but can only do it as current residents depart. Departure could mean having to move to the dreaded roach-infested nursing home down the road. Duffy is determined that will not be his and Carl’s fate then Josie literally falls into their lives.

Carl is the best friend Duffy never had and Duffy thought he knew everything about him. But both men have secrets and Carl’s just opened the window and crawled/fell into their room. Barefoot and sporting a shiner Josie has come to visit her grandfather, Carl Thomas Upton.
Duffy is ready to call the staff as he knows Carl and his late wife did not have children. But Carl acknowledges Josie’s claim and the first order of business is to hide her as Nurse Nora is at the door. Then the debate begins.

Josie wants to stay a week but Duffy is not ready to risk his spot at Centennial hosting an unauthorized guest. Carl reveals the circumstances of Josie’s mother birth and mourns that her recent death means he’ll never get the redemption he sought. Josie is his second chance.

Disappointed in Carl and scared of what eviction would mean Duffy is adamant that Josie leave. But then Josie enters the facility in a more conventional manner. The other residents and staff are charmed by Carl’s granddaughter. With Josie invited to join them on a planned trip to Walmart Duffy is determined to keep an eye on her.

What he sees is that Josie may have a more serious problem than needing a place to stay. Duffy is 13 years sober and in Josie he recognizes the same physical symptoms he suffered when alcohol ruled his life. His big secret – alcoholism and the life he wasted.

Despite his misgivings Duffy decides that Josie needs an intervention. But first he has to convince her she needs help and to complicate things further Bates shows up looking for Josie. Bates claims to be her boyfriend but he appears none to friendly and probably the cause of her black eye. He brings a whole new set of problems for the octogenarian determined to get Josie’s life back on track.

Each day Centennial has a schedule of the events for the day. The story starts with Saturday August 26 and the last day is Wednesday August 30. In those 5 short days can Duffy turn Josie’s life around? Will he find that Josie can be his redemption?

This novel is at times funny, touching, harrowing, and sad. The challenges of aging and what it means to be family are explored in this entertaining first novel by Fossey. The author has a knack for good dialogue and characters and I had no trouble picturing Duffy, Carl and Josie in my mind as I read.

Read-alikes for this title are The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. If you enjoyed those novels, you’ll find Duffy’s tale to your liking.

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The Moon: A History for the Future by Oliver Morton

On March 9th I was headed east around 9:00pm and saw a spectacular sight – a supermoon.  It appeared huge on the horizon with an orange hue and wisps of clouds. Beautiful.

2020 will have three supermoons occurring in 3 consecutive months, March, April and May. I did catch the April event but it was a different sight. The moon was not as big, bright white, and not a wisp of cloud was in sight. With these back to back occurrences on my mind I checked out The Moon to learn more about what I saw.

Oliver Morton’s The Moon: A History for the Future is much more than just a book to answer my simple questions about full moon events. He does explain about all phases of the moon and the orbit of the moon. So periodically some of the full moons that occur every 29 days happen when the moon’s orbit is closer to the earth (perigee) and we get to experience supermoons.

From the content of the book I surmise that Morton has read almost everything there is to read on the moon. He employs both fact and fiction in this study of Earth’s natural satellite. He intersperses chapters of factual information on the moon with chapters exploring the perception of the moon in history, literature, and art.

The author reflects on the moon as seen through artists, such as Van Eyck and Leonardo, and through history starting with Galileo. This is not a chronological history but a contemplation of the people and ideas that advanced our understanding.

Of course, there cannot be a book about the moon without something about Apollo. This section starts long before the actual missions with the technological advances that occurred to make space travel possible. Morton goes from gunpowder to World War II rockets to Saturn V. He also relates how science fiction authors influenced the interest in space travel.

From the engines to the space suits Morton details the work that went into sending men to the moon, not once but several times. He includes the transcripts of the communications between people on earth and the astronauts on the moon for Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 – from “That’s one small step for man” to “as I take man’s last step from the surface”.

From the great achievement of the Apollo missions he moves on to how the race to the moon lost momentum. Even though the focus moved to other areas of space the significance of the Apollo mission cannot be discounted. Morton explains the different thoughts on the earth’s geologic age and one of those is that when Armstrong stepped on the moon it began a new age. The technology that made that step possible is significant on a planetary scale.

The remainder of the book speculates on why the promise of Apollo came to nothing and the reason why we will and should go back. He explores mining, tourism, and colonies on the moon. He also touches on ongoing programs in China, India, and other countries including the U.S.

He devotes some pages to Elon Musk and Space X and to Jeff Bezos’ (Amazon) commitment to Blue Origin. Morton also touches on the issues that need to be resolved especially for plans to stay on the moon. Where do you land and how will space on the moon be allocated?

My initial interest in this book was for a simple question and I got so much more. It did answer my question but also provided a great philosophical look at an object that we take for granted.

The library only has this title in paper form. My wish is that by the time you read this review the library will have reopened. If not and you want to read about the moon, try the Ebsco Ebook collection. You can find the link on the library website at www.joplinpubliclibrary.org.

You’ll find titles for both adults and juveniles and access is unlimited so you never have to wait to read the title you choose. You might try The Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor by Maggie Aderin or Moon by Lynn Stone.

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Deep State by Chris Hauty and Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

March is Women’s History Month and I’d like to be able to tell you my review choice reflects that but it doesn’t. Both of these titles have strong female leads but they are entirely fictional and contemporary.

The premise of Chris Hauty’s debut novel, Deep State, seems to have been pulled from current headlines, a populist president without previous experience and divisive politics. Hayley Chill, a new White House intern, steps into this situation seemingly immune to the tensions.

Hayley is an ex-military boxing champion. She is first introduced ready to defend her winning streak against a ringer. Her discipline, determination and intelligence result in victory and sure advancement. But she abruptly resigns her commission and has now turned up in DC assigned to Chief of Staff Peter Hall’s office.

Hayley is low man on the totem pole but her willingness to work and attention to detail soon find favor with Hall. Each morning she delivers a briefing book to his home at 5:00am. Then one morning he doesn’t answer the door and when she looks in the window he has collapsed in the kitchen. It appears he died of a heart attack but Hayley find a fresh errant footprint in the rapidly melting snow.

The suspicious intern starts digging for information and soon finds herself a target in a conspiracy to assassinate the president that reaches into the upper echelon of the government and the DC powerful. Even though after Hall’s death Hayley is moved to the president’s staff, she doesn’t know whom she can trust and is in a race against a powerful foe to thwart the assassination.

This novel requires you to accept some things with little or no explanation but the pace and action don’t give you much time to wonder.  The tension filled climax will entertain then shock you. My reaction was ‘No!’ then ‘What!!’ and ‘How did I miss that?’. But keep reading because the author has some explaining to do.

I like novels with good characters and Hayley Chill is unique. She’s self-possessed, skilled, analytical, detached and gritty. I hope she makes another appearance soon.

My second strong female is Eve Ronin in Lee Goldberg’s novel, Lost Hills. Eve doesn’t have Hayley’s skill set. She’s a recently promoted detective in the Robbery Homicide Division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department with the nickname Deathfist.

Eve is recorded taking down and arresting the star of the Deathfist movie franchise. The sheriff and the department is weathering a scandal and bad press for abusing prisoners at the jail. When Eve’s takedown goes viral the sheriff latches onto that good press and puts Eve front and center with a promotion she coveted. Her fellow officers are not happy with her stardom nor her promotion hence the nickname and a less than cordial welcome.

Eve’s partner, Duncan Pavone, is counting down the days, 163, until his retirement so he isn’t concerned with how Eve got her job. He is willing to impart some of his hard-earned wisdom if Eve takes the lead and he can stay safe until his 4 months are up.

Their first call is to the spot where 3 jurisdictions come together. A dead man in a truck is a possible suicide and the truck is in LA County Sheriff’s jurisdiction. But Eve soon realizes the truck was moved across the jurisdictional line courtesy of two LA city detectives. Their next call makes Duncan wish Eve wasn’t so observant.

Tanya Kenworth and her two children, Caitlin and Troy, are missing from the house she shares with her soon to be ex-boyfriend. No bodies are found but the blood in the kitchen, at the door, in all 3 bedrooms and especially the bathroom tell Eve and Duncan they are searching for bodies and a killer.

Eve has good instincts and follows the few clues there are to a suspect within a day. The challenge then becomes finding the bodies and proving guilt. Eve is sure she has the right man but his smug self-assurance has her searching for what she missed.

Eve is relentless and when she realizes where she went wrong it’s a race against time and an out of control wildfire to prove a killer’s guilt and to save more than her case.

Goldberg builds this novel to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Eve is a likeable heroine and has a good supporting cast. This is the debut of what I hope is a long-running series.

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An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten Review by Patty Crane

Helen Tursten is a Swedish mystery writer with two very successful series featuring detectives. However, when asked to write a story for a Christmas anthology she decided to explore the other side of the law and Maud was born.

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is a collection of five short stories featuring Maud, a wily, self-contained octogenarian. Maud leads a quiet solitary life in Gothenburg and that is just the way she likes it. Her large apartment is rent free and with shrewdly amassed savings she is able to live comfortably and travel when and where she wants.

The stories revolve around her determination to keep her life just as she wants it. In the first Maud finds herself the focus of a new neighbor, Jasmin Schimmerhof. Jasmin is the daughter of Swedish celebrities and has turned much of the space in her new apartment into an art studio. Her 450 square foot apartment doesn’t allow much room for the large sculptures she creates. After breezing her way in, it appears she thinks Maud’s spacious 1000 square feet is more suitable for her masterpieces.

When Maud’s father suffered a fatal heart attack the only thing he left of value was the apartment building they lived in. When it was sold the lawyer added a clause that allowed the widow and her two daughters, Maud and Charlotte, to keep their apartment and live rent-free for the duration of their lives. Maud is the only one left and has been triumphant in any challenges to her rent-free status. Jasmin seems to believe that the elderly Maud can be manipulated. To her peril she doesn’t realize what Maud is capable of in defense of her coveted thousand square feet.

Maud is not only protective of her space but also the people she loved. Before her father’s death, she was engaged to Gustaf and very happy. When her father died and was not the rich man he appeared to be, Gustaf’s family ended the engagement. He eventually married and was widowed.

In the second story, ‘An Elderly Lady on Her Travels’, Maud (who has always kept track of Gustaf) learns that he, now 90, is about to marry a woman 35 years his junior. Zazza, the bride-to-be, was once a student of Maud’s and she suspects that love is not the reason Zazza is marrying Gustaf. The wedding will take place at the Selma Spa. Maud has never been to a spa but immediately books a visit. The spa’s amenities are much to Maud’s liking and as it turns out provides her opportunity to ensure Zazza won’t be taking advantage of Maud’s former fiancé.

Maud is very resourceful in how she deals with problems. In story three the problem is her upstairs neighbors. The husband is abusive and all that yelling, crying and thumping is very disturbing. After the wife needs to be hospitalized for ‘falling down the stairs’ things are quiet for a few months. When the abuse begins again, Maud devises a simple but appropriate plan to make sure the abuse stops and quiet is restored.

The last two stories are connected.  The first, ‘The Antique Dealer’s Death’, begins with Maud’s discovery of a dead man in her father’s study. It unlike the other stories is not told by Maud but by the neighbor who identified the body and by the police. It appears the deceased may have been in the act of stealing the silver when he was attacked. He is identified as the local antique dealer. How did he know about Maud’s collection and if he had an accomplice, who is it?

The final story, ‘An Elderly Lady Is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma’, is back in Maud’s voice. We find out just how and why Frazzen, expert in gold and silver, came to be in Maud’s home. We also witness more of Maud’s cunning, ruthless style.

This a small book and a very quick enjoyable read, especially if you like unusual characters. As the author says of Maud, “I enjoyed every minute of her company. But let’s just say I would not like to have her for a neighbor or a relative!”

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Men of Valor by Irene Hannon; Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center; Something Read, Something Dead by Eva Gates; Bloody Genius by John Sandford

My book choices lately include a police procedural, Christian romantic suspense, cozy mysteries, and a book on women’s lives and relationships. Instead of choosing just one I thought I’d give you a sampling of what I’ve been reading.

Irene Hannon writes, among other things, Christian romantic suspense. Her Men of Valor series is a trilogy centered on the 3 McGregor brothers. The first book, Buried Secrets, introduces the oldest brother Mac. A former Navy Seal, Mac is now a detective. When a construction crew uncovers an unmarked grave Mac is called in to assist small town police chief Lisa Grant. The harder they work to discover the identity of the victim the more desperate someone is to make sure the name and the story stay buried.

The middle brother, Lance, is a new FBI agent and his first case is a possible kidnapping. The twist here is the victim, Christy Reed’s sister, was declared dead in a house fire months ago. Thin Ice brings together Lance and Christy in a race to find the kidnapper before he claims his next victim. Tangled Webs is baby brother Finn’s story. Still recovering from injuries received in the Middle East, the Army Ranger is vacationing in an isolated cabin. Screams in the middle of the night have him racing to the rescue of his neighbor. Neighbor Dana is recovering from trauma herself and now Finn has to rely on his skills to keep her safe and find who wants her gone. These are well-written quick reads.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center is classified as women’s lives and relationships. Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter and very good at what she does. What she is not so good at is trusting and letting people close to her. On her 16th birthday her mother, Diana, left Cassie and her father. Later that same day Cassie attends a party. What happened is only hinted at but it changed her forever. Now she’s a rising star with the Austin Texas fire department – that is, until aggressively and physically objecting to being groped by the man who is presenting her with an award. Refusing to apologize, Cassie loses the job she loves.

Diana asks her to come to Massachusetts to help her deal with some health issues. To save her career and do her reluctant familial duty, Cassie moves and starts over with the Lillian Fire Department. The Lillian crew are not as forward thinking as the crew in Austin. Working to prove herself and deal with her mother Cassie begins on a path of discovering forgiveness and the true meaning of love.

I like cozy mysteries and I’ve been reading Eva Gates’ Lighthouse Library series. The setting is the Outer Banks in North Carolina and the protagonist is librarian Lucy Richardson. Employed by the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library Lucy also lives in an apartment on one of the upper floors of the lighthouse.

In Something Read, Something Dead Lucy is hosting a shower for her soon to be wed cousin, Josie. Josie runs a local bakery and is planning a small wedding but her visiting relatives are pushing for an expensive, elaborate affair. Cousin Mirabelle sees the wedding as a boost to her own fledgling business and is especially forceful. When Mirabelle collapses and dies at the shower, it is determined she was poisoned. Josie becomes the number one suspect. She provided the treats for the shower including gluten-free food just for Mirabelle. With her bakery shut down, Josie may have to postpone marrying her beloved Jake. Determined to rescue Josie, Lucy begins her own investigation. She has plenty of suspects including Josie’s relatives and Jake’s old girlfriend who has recently relocated to the Outer Banks. This series is a winner with good characters, a unique setting, and plenty of mystery.

My police procedural is John Sandford’s latest in the Virgil Flowers series, Bloody Genius. Virgil is one of my favorite characters and Sandford can always be counted on to tell a good story. Virgil, an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, goes wherever he is sent in the state. A prominent professor at the University of Minnesota, Bart Quill, was bludgeoned to death in the library. After 2 weeks with no progress and despite his grumblings, Virgil is sent to help the Minneapolis PD.

There’s no clear lead but plenty of loose threads to pull and Virgil is pretty good at unraveling thread. Why did Quill have a reserved study room in the library when he had his own lab? Why was he there after hours? Was his research important enough to kill for and what about his feud with his academic rival? As usual with Sandford this is fast-paced, compelling and a little humorous. It’s hard to put down.

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The Consultant by Tj O’Connor

Tj O’Connor is a former government anti-terrorism agent. He has investigated terrorist activity around the world and draws on that wealth of knowledge and experience in his latest novel, The Consultant. It is billed as the first in the Jonathan Hunter series and is the Military Writers Society of America 2018 Gold Medal Winner.

Hunter is an international security consultant in the Middle East and other places where his special talents are needed. He describes himself as “sort of a handyman for special clients”. But he works for only one special client, Oscar LaRue. LaRue is CIA and Hunter’s friend, mentor and master.

Bullets are flying from the first sentence in this thriller.  Having tracked his estranged brother’s cellphone to a riverbank, Hunter drives into a hail of bullets. He survives but Kevin, the elder of the two brothers, is wounded. There is no time for Kevin to tell why he sent for Hunter.  With his dying breath Kevin leaves few clues – Khalifah, find G, not them, Maya in Baltimore, and a partial address.

Hunter’s full name is Jonathan Hunter Mallory. His parents died when he was a teen and Kevin sacrificed to provide for his younger brother. They became estranged when Kevin objected to Hunter’s career choice, the CIA. Now years later the letter from Kevin asking for help has drawn Hunter back to Virginia only to arrive too late.

His mission to aid Kevin now turns into the search for his killer. He also learns he has a sister-in-law, Noor, and nephew, Sameh, that need his help. To further complicate things he left Qatar without notifying LaRue. He knows LaRue is aware because his bank account has been emptied of the $879,928.66 it once contained.

Kevin was part of a joint terrorist task force involving the FBI, the Virginia BCI, and others. The crime scene has plenty to keep the task force busy and the leader, Agent Bacarro, isn’t keen on his help. On his own, Hunter takes his first step to find his brother’s killer, the partial address. There are 4 possibilities and Hunter arrives at the first just as a large man is escorting a young man of Middle Eastern heritage into a van.

Deciding to follow, Hunter and the van eventually reach a mall. Only the young man enters carrying a backpack. Hunter follows him in only to lose him. Heading back to the entrance Hunter is almost blown up by a bomb. Scanning the devastation and seeing no one he can help, Hunter runs out to find the van. It’s gone and he races back to the house at the partial address.

The van is not there and Hunter finds three dead inside the house, an older couple and a young girl. A picture suggests they are the family of the young man that entered the mall with the backpack. Hunter has seen this tactic used by ISIS, the Taliban and others. But that was in the Middle East not in America.  What was Kevin involved in and where does Hunter go from here?

Another attack sends the country spiraling toward war. Hunter must pull together Kevin’s cryptic clues to find not only his brother’s killer but who is behind the terrorist attacks. LaRue is doing his own investigating and is using Hunter to flush out the conspirators.

As he searches for Khalifah, the assassin Caine, and the elusive G, Hunter finds not everyone is as they seem.  Also how are the Russians involved? Can Hunter figure out who are the bad guys and foil a plot that threatens to pull the country apart and draw it into another Middle Eastern war? Will he get his $879,928.66 back?

The Consultant is action-packed and Hunter is a likeable character. Our hero is the narrator of the story and pokes a little fun at himself, i.e. ’I ambled in – tough guys amble’. I was puzzled that some of the other characters were not better developed until I remembered Hunter is telling the story. He’s really good at finding bad guys but not so great with relationships and feelings.

I look forward to the next installment of this series. Recommended read-a-likes include Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series and (my recommendation) the Gray Man series by Mark Greaney.

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