Catriona McPherson: Scot Free

Scot FreeThis light, funny, delightful novel from Catriona McPherson introduces readers to native Scot Lexy Campbell. She’d fallen for a hunky American and ended up moving to California where they married and lived in what she describes as a “beige barn,” the type of house familiar to many Americans as a McMansion. Objections to her husband’s lifestyle choices aside, he’s also a cheater, and Lexy walks out on him on the 4th of July, moving in to the Last Ditch Motel. She’s sure this is temporary. read more

Denise Swanson: Tart of Darkness

Tart of DarknessDenise Swanson is a wonderful storyteller and one of the things she’s exceptionally good at is creating a “mean girl” character. Herself a high school social worker for many years, I’m sure Ms. Swanson knows the type, but in this outing, the first in a new series, she creates a doozy.

The set-up: central character Dani Sloan has left her HR job and has unexpectedly inherited a Victorian mansion. The mansion has not been totally rehabbed but it does contain a new chef’s kitchen, and Dani, in the middle of reinventing herself as a personal chef and caterer, takes it as a sign that she’s on the right path. When one of her former neighbors, college student Ivy, gets kicked out of her former apartment building, Dani takes Ivy and her friends in as boarders. A perfect setting for a new series. read more

E.J. Copperman: Dog Dish of Doom

E.J. Copperman – I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – is one of the best cozy writers working at the moment. This is the introduction of yet another series from this talented writer, this one about an “Agent to the Paws,” i.e. a showbiz agent who works with animals. Kay Powell lives in New Jersey, sometimes with her aging vaudevillian parents (who are, happily for this reader, en residence in this novel). As the book opens she’s trying to snare a gig for agreeable shaggy dog Bruno to play Sandy in an Annie revival on Broadway. She thinks the audition might be a disaster, thanks to loud remarks made by Bruno’s owner about the ineptness of the director casting the part. read more

Tracy Kiely: The Nic & Nigel Books

Murder with a Twist; Killer Cocktail; and A Perfect Manhattan Murder.

Guest reviewer Angel Connors is a teacher in Grass Lake, a book club member, Nancy Drew lover, and avid mystery reader and lover of old movies.

“Only lanky redheads with wicked jaws,” quips Nigel Martini to his bemused wife, Nic. If one wants a delightful summer read and has a fondness for old movies, look no further than Tracy Kiely’s charming homage to The Thin Man. To be honest, Kiely’s books owe more to the screenplays of the classic movie series than Dashiell Hammett’s iconic crime novel that introduces us to Nick and Nora Charles. Instead of a beautiful heiress meeting and falling for a sexy and wisecracking private eye, Kiely presents an attractive NYPD detective at physical rehab falling for a charming albeit quirky wealthy playboy. read more

E.J. Copperman: Written Off

E.J. Copperman, Jeffrey Cohen’s alter ego, has written, as either Copperman or Cohen (or both) now five series (with a sixth to debut in August of this year), all of them well crafted and enjoyable, and two of them, his Asperger’s detective series and this one, ranking among the very best cozy series ever, in this humble reviewer’s opinion. For me the apex of cozy begins with Charlotte MacLeod, spreads quickly to Sharyn McCrumb’s peerless Elizabeth McPherson series, and trickles down to include writers like Dorothy Cannell and Donna Andrews and continues onward from there. There are many contemporary cozy series I both admire and enjoy, but Cohen/Copperman is top of the pile. read more

Vicki Delany: Elementary, She Read

This is a charming book, and Vicki Delany is a total pro at telling a story. Brisk, entertaining, and memorable – the whole package. As far as cozies go, she’s top of the line. The set-up is great. Main character Gemma Doyle lives on Cape Cod and owns a Sherlock Holmes themed bookshop and teashop along with her uncle, who is the real Holmes buff but more of a silent partner as he’s off on collecting trips. I’ve read books about bookstores before that I found pretty unrealistic, but Cape Cod is a tourist area and because Gemma’s shop sells more than books, I could believe that she was briskly selling lots of decks of Sherlock playing cards, figurines and other tchotchkes. read more

Con Lehane: Murder at the 42nd Street Library

Murder at the 42nd Street LibraryThis is a noir novel coiled inside the confines of a cozy one, as Lehane explicates layers of family ties and splits. He opens the book with a gruesome shooting inside the actual library. Libraries are one of the last remaining sacred spaces in American culture, and it was with a real sense of outrage that I read this passage. Of course, my eagerness to discover whodunnit was all the greater, which is the mark of a clever writer.

Lehane’s main character, Ray Ambler, works at the enormous New York library as the curator of the crime fiction collection. The man who was killed, James Donnelly, was a writer, stopping by the library to talk to Harry, the director of special collections. read more

Libby Fischer Hellmann: Jump Cut

JumpCutThis book marks the welcome return of Hellman’s original series character, filmmaker Ellie Foreman. While it’s been a good long while since Ellie’s debut, there haven’t been enough books about her as the prolific Hellman has chosen to explore other characters and other times and places along with writing about her signature character. I was more than glad to rejoin Ellie in suburban Chicago, as she’s hard at work on a project for a company that makes all kinds of aircraft. They are trying to appeal to the wider public and Ellie’s videos, meant to be posted on social media, are supposed to be a kind of a friendly gateway for their customers. read more

Loren D. Estleman: Shoot

ShootWhen you think about Loren D. Estleman, you probably associate him with the Amos Walker novels. He is, after all, the premier living exponent of the traditional P.I. novel in all its hardboiled glory. But more than that, he’s simply a very, very good writer, and like one of the progenitors of the genre, Dashiell Hammett, who wrote both The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, Loren is quite capable of distinct variations in tone.

It would be a little facile to say that Estleman’s Valentino series is his take on the “cozy” novel, but in the beginning of the fourth installment, Shoot, Valentino is looking at rug samples. Similarly, the alcohol and violence levels are low, the sunshine and frivolity are high, and the one night stands with endangered Femme Fatales are replaced by long term committed relationships and wedding planning. Valentino even has a smart phone. The detectives are alike in some ways, though, because as Walker is often a seeker after missing persons, film detective Valentino goes down the mean boulevards of Los Angeles in search of the movies of the past that are considered lost and gone forever. And I’m sure it will surprise no one that the sharks of Hollywood are just as rapacious and morally compromised as those of Detroit. read more

Ellen Hart: The Grave Soul

TheGraveSoulEllen Hart is simply one of the very best traditional mystery writers in the business, and if you like a well crafted, thoughtful, traditional mystery and you don’t read Ellen Hart’s Jane Lawless series, you are really missing a bet. Jane, a Minneapolis restauranteur who also holds a P.I. license, is always the calm center of the storm. Except when she’s not.

One of Hart’s gifts is to slightly change things up with each book (and as this is her 23rd Jane Lawless outing, I imagine that’s not such an easy task) and in this one the opening sequence is nothing short of spectacular. We are introduced to a woman who has been beaten, finds brief sanctuary, and is thrust back into the snow. We’re given a Wisconsin setting, so we know it’s cold. read more