Tag Archives: Mystery

Not Hooked On This Crochet Mystery

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was stuck on a book. Despite all the reasons I thought I would like that mystery set in Georgian England, it just wasn’t grabbing me and it seemed like the best way to restart my reading was to switch books. Normally, to get on-track with my reading again, I like turn to a book by a favorite author, a known quantity. But, much to my folly, I went with an author I hadn’t read before.

The premise of Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman appealed to me for a couple reasons. It was set in a bookstore and it involved a crochet group–two things I love. Not only that, but because this author was published by Berkley Prime Crime, I had a feeling I knew what to expect from the book in terms style and the quality of writing.

Berkley Prime Crime tends to specialize in “cozies”, mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie where things happen in a set location with an established cast of characters. These books focus more on the mystery of figuring out “who-done-it” than on vividly gruesome crime description, overt violence, or action. And the Prime Crime books seem to be aimed at women because so many of the authors and protagonists are female.  But while Hooked on Murder was generally true to what I have come to expect from Berkley Prime Crime, it just didn’t do it for me.

The story. Molly Pink, a recent widow in her late 40s, has fought to get her life back to a new normal after the early death of her husband Charlie, a partner in a small public relations firm. But Molly’s plans for her new normal are thrown when she discovers the dead body of Ellen, her husband’s business partner. Now Molly is scrambling to figure out who would kill Ellen because a jealous female police detective seems convinced Molly is guilty, a development that would free up Molly’s boyfriend for this detective. In her efforts to learn more about the deceased and find an outlet for the nervous energy being the prime suspect of a murder investigation can cause, Molly joins the crochet group that Ellen ran and learns that there were a variety of people who benefited from Ellen’s death far more than Molly did. In order to prove her innocence, Molly is going to have to find out who really killed Ellen–all while learning to crochet the perfect granny square.

What I liked. As a protagonist, Molly is likeable. She’s been through tough times with the early death of her husband, but she’s rebuilding her life on her own and struggles to maintain the independence she’s discovered in the wake of tragedy. Not only is Molly herself likeable, but so is her best friend Dinah, a community college English teacher who refuses to disclose her age. I enjoyed this story the most when it stayed with Molly and Dinah.

The other characters. Other than Molly and Dinah, almost none of the characters were likeable. Molly had two grown sons, Peter and Samuel, and neither of them seemed worthy of her. Peter came across as coldly self-centered that even as his mother worried about being arrested. Samuel fares no better, coming across as a complete wuss. Molly’s boyfriend Barry was remarkably obtuse for a police detective, never realizing that “Detective Heather” was crushing on him and trying to get Molly out of the way, even if that meant charging Molly with a murder she didn’t commit. Adele, a fellow bookstore employee, is so over-the-top rude to Molly that I cringed each time she appeared in the story. An aging star, CeeCee, attempting to become the crochet group’s new leader is entertaining in her vain way, but the other group members are kind of flat. The owners of the bookstore where Molly works are only present to heap pressure on Molly for things she can’t control, and it felt odd that small business owners would be in their shop so seldom. Perhaps the only other likeable character was Jeffrey, Barry’s son. Thirteen-year-old Jeffrey, despite his father’s consternation, wants to be an actor and wants to know all about Molly’s experience finding a dead body. I can go along with a lot in a story so long as I like the characters in it, but with Hooked on Murder I mostly felt sorry for Molly, Dinah, and Jeffrey that they were surrounded by so many jerks.

The writing. Despite the drought of likeable characters, Betty Hechtman writes a clear, understandable story. Through the action and the revelation of the mystery, there weren’t any times in the story when it was unclear who had done what. I appreciate that because it gives me the feeling that I’m getting the information I need to figure out the mystery. However, that wasn’t quite the case with this book. Not unlike Agatha Christie, there was a whole lot of red herring and very little that would allow the reader to figure out the mystery.

I really wanted to like this mystery, but I don’t think I will read anymore books in this series. My affection for crocheting isn’t enough to overcome my dislike for so many of the characters. However, the good thing this book this did was it compelled me to start a new crochet project. If I like how it turns out, I’ll share it here.

Until then, I wish you better reads than I’ve been reading. A book that you think is going to be good and doesn’t deliver, well, that feels like a broken promise.

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Books, Lifestyle, Uncategorized


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Comfort Food for the Bibliophile

I’m staring down a perfect storm of blah this February. Not only did my football team have a lousy season, but their divisional rival is in the Super Bowl. It’s one of the snowiest winters I have ever seen, with drifts that just keep growing—so I promise myself that I won’t leave the house until May. I can’t keep that promise, but the fact that I make it at all is a sign of how fed up I’m getting with winter. Oh, and, not to be left out of the gloom storm, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. That holiday stung me badly two years ago when I was dumped a mere 12 days before Valentine’s Day and left with nothing but my broken heart and the non-refundable ticket that I had purchased so I could see the guy who had dumped me…for Valentine’s Day.

So, with all the doldrums and blah-ness going on, I have decided this is an excellent time to ignore reality and read a good book.

For me, a good mystery is like comfort food, it hits the spot and satisfies my craving. Sometimes I want to branch out and read mysteries by authors I haven’t read before, but when I want a book that won’t disappoint, I turn to books by my tried and true authors. And, I can guarantee myself books by my favorite authors because I stockpile them for just such an occasion. For authors I really like, I try to avoid being completely caught up on their series so that when I need a good mystery by a particular author I don’t have to wait a couple months for his or her next book to come out.

In honor of my comfort food theme, I’ll list books with a food selection. Seems to me that if you need some deep winter comfort, then you might as well go all out.

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander. This fourth book (five in the series) in Alexander’s series of mysteries featuring Lady Emily, takes place in Constantinople during the Victorian age of the British Empire. In the three books prior to this one, Lady Emily has had to content herself to solve murders as a meddling amateur, but now, accompanied by her new husband, she’s an official agent of the British Empire. Her investigations promise to lead her into the lavish world of the Sultan’s harem and extreme danger. Who says the Victorian’s didn’t know how to have a good time? Alexander has become one of my favorites because she manages to make me feel like I learned something new and interesting about Victorian culture without it feeling like a lecture and without sacrificing good storytelling to do so. Snacking suggestion: I think this jaunt to the Orient calls for tea, Turkish delight, and baklava.

Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill. Dr. Siri Paiboun is once again raising some geriatric hell in Cotterill’s fifth book (seven books in the series) about Laos’ National Coroner. It’s the 1970s, disco is taking the rest of the world by storm, while in Laos the new communist government is trying to keep things under control—but they probably don’t know that their National Coroner, Siri, is conducting an exorcism on a possessed pogo stick and preparing for his wedding. It would likely only embarrass the young communist government to find out that their National Coroner is the reincarnation of a powerful Hmong shaman. What I like about this series is that, for as hokey as the idea might seem that this coroner, a man of science, becomes the reincarnation of a powerful shaman and talks to the dead to help solve their mysteries, Cotterill somehow makes it work. He writes about the country of Laos and its people with humor and compassion as they adjust to changes in their government and world. Snacking suggestion: Although not a Laotian dish, Laos is just across the river from Thailand, so I’m craving pad Thai and spring rolls—maybe some iced coffee too.

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall. India’s portly sleuth, Vish Puri returns in Hall’s second book (two in the series). Vish Puri (“Chubby” to his friends and family), is India’s Most Private Investigator, a man who spends most of his days vetting potential spouses for wealthy Indian families, but every so often a unique case comes along that taxes Puri and his team of peculiarly-named professionals. I like how Hall’s protagonist bemoans the erosion of traditional India and Indian values at the hands of modern society and technology, all while he uses modern society and technology to solve his cases and try to uphold traditional Indian values. And, Hall writes as if he genuinely loves India, you can feel the heavy, humid air of the monsoon, smell the saffron, and see the vivid colors of the countryside in his writing. Snacking suggestion: In honor of Chubby, I think samosas and a mango lassi are in order.

Well, you know how I’m going to ride out the winter doldrums and why I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on the treadmill and doing Pilates, samosas will sneak up on you. If you have a favorite author and food pairing to share, I’d love to hear it. One can never have too many good books. Happy hibernating!


Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Books


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The Bibliophile Presents: Reading New (To Me) Authors Part 6

Today’s selection is a cautionary tale for writers and readers alike. A quasi-plausible conclusion to a mystery is not necessarily enough to save a book with weak characters. Readers will tolerate a lot when they are reading about characters that they like, but if the characters don’t hook a reader, well, it doesn’t bode well for the series’ future.

Reservations for Murder by Tim Myers. I wanted to like this book. I really did. It seemed like a cute, cozy premise for a nice, traditional cozy-style mystery. Myers protagonist, Alex Winston, runs a bed-and-breakfast place in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As far as I can tell from the story, he has two outstanding traits: 1) he works very hard to keep his inn going, 2) he’s dated just about every woman in town. In Reservations for Murder, a murder is committed at a craft fair and the sheriff cannot be trusted to follow the evidence to find the killer—clearly he needs the help of a local innkeeper to get the job done. When I finished this book I just felt kind of cold about it because the characters were just kind of rough sketches rather than people you hated or liked. And the setting, this small town that has such a pull on our sleuth that he stays there, merits almost no description from Myers. So at the end of the book, the protagonist caught a killer who honestly didn’t seem capable of killing a guy in the way she did, in a supposedly lovely town that is barely described. I just don’t see myself reading anymore books in this series.

*My next post will be the last one in this series, Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson.

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Posted by on June 18, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series


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The Bibliophile Presents: Reading New (To Me) Authors Part 5

Until now there has been a fair dollop of estrogen in the books I’ve reviewed, but this book is one the guys out there can appreciate.

The Alexander Cipher by Will Adams. Sometimes I want an intricate mystery with interesting, complex characters. Other times, I just want an adventure. The Alexander Cipher is a mystery adventure and, even when the characters aren’t complex, they are interesting—I like to think of it as win-win reading. I suppose the easiest description of the story’s style is to say that it is what you might expect from Dan Brown if he wrote about archeology rather than symbology, however, unlike Dan Brown this story produces female characters who have more to offer the story than just a bod that won’t quit. Our hero and protagonist, Daniel Knox is a slightly disgraced Egyptologist who has a knack for pissing people off. Most recently, he has seriously annoyed a very successful thug who has connections all over Egypt. Knox also has a knack for Egyptology and for surviving situations that probably would have killed a lesser protagonist, which is handy when there are so many people who want to kill him that they have to take turns. The story has several interweaving plotlines that buzz through the search, and possible discovery, of the legendary final resting place of Alexander the Great. The first book in the Daniel Knox series, The Alexander Cipher is a fun, modern-day Indiana Jones story complete with true-believer bad guys, and roguish good guys. It is the kind of book you want to read while you’re on the beach sipping lemonade.

*Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Reservations for Murder by Tim Myers, a tale of murder at an inn that has a lighthouse and is nowhere near a body of water.

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Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle


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The Bibliophile Presents: Reading New (To Me) Authors Part 3

Out my window there is something that I haven’t seen in an age, sunshine. So it is strange timing that today’s book review takes us to rainy, cloudy, smoggy Victorian England. That’s right, we have a Sherlockian take on the Jack the Ripper killings.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye. I have deep affection for Sherlock Holmes that compelled me to take a chance on this debut novel from Lyndsay Faye. That said, I kept my expectations low. There have been so many reimaginings of Holmes that try to delve into his psyche (I’m sorry Caleb Carr, The Italian Secretary was okay but sometimes I just want the bad guy caught and not to delve into his relationship with his father) or put a new author’s spin on the character, that I cringe a little just at the idea of a NEW! Sherlockian adventure. But with Lyndsay Faye, I’m really glad I took a chance on it. Her account of Sherlock Holmes on the trail of Jack the Ripper was so good that it could have brought a tear of pride to Conan Doyle’s eye and it did earn an endorsement from his estate. Yep, it’s just that good. What I liked about this book is that Faye allows Holmes to simply be the Holmes that Doyle created and for the struggle to catch and stop Jack the Ripper to move the story along. Also, Faye adds period details that enhance the story rather than just show off her historical research, an artistic restraint that makes her writing seem more like a well-established novelist rather than a debutante to the genre. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and it irks me that this was Faye’s debut novel—when I finished Dust and Shadow I wanted to dash out and read more stuff by Faye. I can only cross my fingers and hope that she hurries up and cranks out many more books just as good as this one.

*Tomorrow I’ll share a review on a Gaslight Mystery by Victoria Thompson, Murder on Astor Place.


Posted by on June 15, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle


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The Bibliophile Presents: Reading New (To Me) Authors Part 1

Sometimes it isn’t easy to buckle down and read a book by an author I haven’t read before. A lot of times I want to read something by an author I know and like, something that has a better than 50% chance of not being a dud. However, that method has not helped me clear through my bookshelf very well—reading more books by authors I haven’t read before is my New Year’s resolution.

As of now, this year I have read 8 books by authors I had not previously read. It would have been more, but I bailed on a couple books. Life is too short to spend your recreational reading with an author who irritates you. I can go a long way with a boring or predictable plot so long as I have likable, interesting cast of characters along for the ride. But when I find myself wanting to throw things at the protagonist and boot him/her from a moving car, it doesn’t matter how original or skilled the writing may be, I won’t read it.

Every day for the next several days, I’ll share a quick review on books I’ve read this year by authors who are new to me. I’m starting with a double-shot because I’ve previously reviewed the first book.

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss. I wrote a much longer review on this book back in January or February that you can look up if you really want to, but if you don’t, then suffice it to say the book was okay. Occasionally the period details and the explanations about the rise of securities trading bogged down the story and felt indulgent, but the time period was interesting, as were the characters and I would read David Liss again.

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler. I hate it when publishers don’t make it readily apparent on a book where it appears in the series. That’s how I ended up reading The Water Room, the second book in the Bryant and May mystery series, first. Detectives Bryant and May head up the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a department devoted to crimes that are odd and unusual and defy solving via ordinary police methods. Cranky, old police legends, Bryant and May seem like polar opposites who somehow manage to work together in a way that is part intuitive genius and part monkey with a dart board. The Water Room opens with a victim, dressed and dry, who has somehow managed to drown in her basement. As intriguing as the detectives and their team were, I had my doubts that the mystery would come to a plausible conclusion considering the far-flung investigation. But Fowler managed to pull all the threads of this peculiar crime together for a conclusion that actually made sense. Now I have to go back and read the first book in the Bryant and May series, Full Dark House. The only drawback to reading this series, for me, is that Bryant and May, as grumpy old men, can get a little depressing so I didn’t feel like diving straight into another of their mysteries after finishing The Water Room.

*The next Bibliophile installment will be on a book by Charlaine Harris.

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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle


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Bibliophile New (To Me) Author Review: David Liss

This year my New Year’s resolution was to buckle down and read more of the books I have piling up by authors I haven’t read before. My first book in this year’s resolution mission was A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss.

A Conspiracy of Paper (winner of an Edgar Award) actually should have been included in the list of books read in 2009, but December was kind of a busy month for me and I never quite got around to finishing the book before New Year’s. Oh, who am I kidding, I wasn’t even half-way done with the book at New Year’s. But I did, finally, finish the book.

In A Conspiracy of Paper, our protagonist Benjamin Weaver is a thief-taker and former pugilist living in London in 1719. He’s busy building his business when he’s drawn into a murder investigation. This wouldn’t be so odd, but it isn’t every day that Weaver is hired to look into his own father’s death. At first Weaver doesn’t think there’s anything to look into because his father’s death (run down by a cab) was ruled an accident, but the more time he spends looking into the matter, the more his own life is put at risk. As he continues his investigation Benjamin Weaver finds his father’s death is connected to shady dealings in Exchange Alley and stock fraud, hence the conspiracy of paper. And it’s a conspiracy that Weaver is going to have to blow wide open if he hopes to survive his investigation.

In the notes at the back of the book, David Liss explains that he got the idea for this book when he was doing research at Columbia University for his doctoral thesis, and that explained a lot to me. I sometimes cringe when I find out that a book was written by a person who was inspired to write a novel while working on graduate and doctoral research in some incredibly dry topic because there’s this tendency to include every dry historical tidbit in the book, whether or not it moves the story forward. That said, I thought that Liss showed some admirable restraint. Even when he did succumb to sharing more of his research than was necessary or interesting, I could, eventually, see how it related to the story’s plot. Most of the time.

Overall, I liked A Conspiracy of Paper. For a book of some length, Liss managed to keep things moving steadily. His descriptions of 18th century London are interesting and grimy, you really get a feel for why the average life expectancy was so short when people spent their days trudging through feces, whoring, and swilling gin. The sheer lawlessness of London was something of a surprise too.

As for the plot of the book, it was reasonably complicated and intricate but, and this was a nice surprise, in the end it seemed plausible. Weaver hardly knows if he is coming or going through most of his investigation because there are so many people involved and he doesn’t know whether or not he can trust the information he’s given. Fortunately, Liss gives his protagonist a good friend to help him weed through the information. As a plus, Weaver’s friend Elias is also great for some much needed comic relief, constantly offering him the sound medical advice that he needs to be bled.

A Conspiracy of Paper is a good book for people who like historical mysteries and can appreciate the research that goes into them. The action is good but slightly more graphic than those who favor a nice, clean cozy-style mystery will probably like. Oh, and it is a bit on the bawdy side too with more whoring than even Tiger Woods could manage. But its a pretty good mystery and worth a read. I’m looking forward to reading more about the adventures of Benjamin Weaver.

Books by David Liss:

  • A Conspiracy of Paper (2001)
  • The Coffee Trader (2003)
  • A Spectacle of Corruption (2004)
  • The Ethical Assassin (2006)
  • The Whiskey Rebels (2008)
  • The Devil’s Company (2009)
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Posted by on February 4, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Uncategorized


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