I’ve read a dozen books so far & while I have my ups & downs about why any of these people might find a dead body, let alone decide to involve themselves in the investigation, I have found something new to fixate on.
Nearly every single mystery I have read this summer features a white female sleuth. If there is a man around he is a friend, lover, or potential lover and on most occasions, she does the sleuthing while he stands around hang wringing about the danger. This is all very well and good. Girl power and all that.
More often than not he steps in at the last minute to rescue her. Only one woman manages to get herself into & out of trouble without needing rescue, though one other fails to get herself into any trouble at all & therefor does not need a rescue.
So women are strong, clever, decisive and yet still need a big strong man to come along & save the day for them. If it were a romance novel I’d have no problem with that but this is mystery, with female leads. No rescuing needed.
Instead of wondering how the author will explain away finding another body I have taken to wondering which male character will ride to the rescue, or how they will when it is obvious the cop/PI will be the one to do it.
These are what I have read to date:
Sleuth – Em, the bartender/manager of a tiki bar on the island of Kauai, Hawaii
Helpers – her uncle, who owns the bar, some over the hill hula maidens and a fire dancing police detective
Plot – nasty neighbor of tiki bar ends up dead after arguing with the uncle, the uncle & another bartender (who has a police record on another island) become suspects and Em decides to find out the truth to save them from prison. There is of course a second murder and there is also a kidnapping.
Motivation for sleuthing – to save uncle & friend from arrest
Overall – 99 cent special and you get what you pay for. The mystery isn’t that mysterious. It’s fairly obvious who did it & why. It’s also badly edited, despite being from a publishing house where you would expect that sort of thing to be taken care of. It is well written from a general standpoint though. Great background descriptions & well developed characters. All the characters are quick witted & fun. It’s a light easy read with occasional subject/verb agreement issues
Low point – a fire dancing police detective? Seriously? maybe they really do have those in Hawaii but it seems a bit ridiculous to me
High point – great descriptions of the setting.
Series potential – There is a second book in this series but unless this tiki bar is also some sort of dive biker bar, explaining the bodies piling up will get tricky
Sleuth – Wendy Darlin, Miami real estate broker to millionaires
Helpers - Roger Jolley, an undercover SEC investigator, Croc, her ex husband, a decorator pal & a helicopter pilot
Plot – Wendy ends up trapped on the super yacht belonging to Charlie Hook, a runaway Ponzi scheme mastermind. Hook is trying to access his stolen money from a bank somewhere in the Caymans. He is also the widower of Wendy’s friend Marni, who died on the ship & is the reason Wendy in on it. Wendy made a deathbed promise to her friend to take care of Hook. Meanwhile Wendy keeps hearing rumors about her old flame Peter also being somewhere in Caymans as well. Is he associated with Hook, or Hook’s enemy? And what about that handsome SEC investigator?
Motivation – to find out what & who killed her friend
Overall – I enjoyed this one. It’s a grown up retelling of Peter Pan. It has laugh out loud funny moments. It’s got a decent mystery. It has some romance. It was an easy fast paced & fun read.
Low point – the mystery itself was only so so
High point – the humor
Series potential – Wendy’s story could possibly continue given the ending. There is some justification for her encountering another body.
This book has a sequel. It is also one of a series of retellings by the author, including Alice in Wonderland & Snow White
Sleuth – Penny Francisco, health food store owner
Helpers – a couple of friends & a PI
Plot – Penny is given a voodoo doll at her divorce party and hours later her ex is found stabbed through the heart with a lawn stake from Penny’s garden. She is the police’s only suspect, especially with the ex’s new girlfriend screaming Penny did it. But there is something more sinister going on in Mojo, LA. Does it tie in?
Motivation – To prove her innocence
Overall – It’s a fun story, decent mystery, likeable characters. There is a larger story arc that could carry over several books. Sadly there is only one more and it doesn’t resolve that arc.
Low point – A good many of Penny’s problems stem from her own stupid actions, making it hard to find any sympathy for her at times. And she trusts that PI far too easily
High point – The old voodoo woman
Series potential – Lots. The larger, more sinister story is only begun in this book. It gives potential for many more murders to occur. The second book, Voodoo or Die, adds to it but leaves you hanging. The second book features a different sleuth, a woman introduced at the end of the first one. Moving from character to character in pursuit of the larger story gives this series a great deal of potential. Unfortunately it’s been about 5 years since the second was published so I doubt there will be any more
Sleuth – Carlotta Wren, currently a sales associate at Neiman Marcus, though she had a privileged upbringing. 10 years ago her dad was suspected of embezzling from his firm and he & her mom went on the lam when Carlotta was 18, leaving her to raise her 11 year old brother
Helpers – assorted friends & acquaintances, including a cop
Plot – Her former fiancé’s wife is murdered shortly after he and Carlotta were seen talking cozily together (even though she hasn’t spoken to him in years). This makes her the main suspect, along with the ex fiancé. Plus the cops are still tracking her dad and are not convinced she doesn’t know where he is.
Motivation – Clearing herself and him of suspicion
Overall – Well done. Humorous, mostly believable, mostly well drawn characters, though the late wife & some of her friends are a bit too stereotypical in their behavior. I enjoyed it enough to read all 6 books currently in the series
Low point – Carlotta is a bit of a wimp; she lets her brother walk all over her.
High point – There is a lot of humor and the characters, for the most part, are engaging
Series potential – This is the first of 6 so far & the author is working on 7. Given that Carlotta’s brother works as a body mover for the morgue & they live in Atlanta, the potential to come across bodies is believably high
Sleuth – Madeline Bean, owner of an LA catering business
Helpers – none with the mystery part
Plot – Mad & her partner cater a mah jongg party. One of the guests ends up dead, in front of the house, hours later. She had earlier met Mad & her partner to collect an old mah jongg set they found, she asked to borrow money from Mad & said she frightened of some people. It all ties in with the old mah jongg set and a hidden diary. Who among the guests at the party came back later & finished her off? Or did she just slip in her heels and tragically fall to her death? Mad is determined to find out
Motivation for sleuthing – Overdeveloped sense of guilt for not loaning the victim money, even though she’d never met the woman before this meeting. Several bits of inner dialogue are made in the book showing Mad to want to ‘protect people from everything’, but it just wasn’t really believable to me. It almost seems as if the author realized she didn’t have much of a reason & tried to fill one in later. Possibly Mad stresses about this kind of thing in every book but it seemed a bit of a non sequiter to me
Overall – eh.
Low point – Mad’s mental anguish about having kids & how she worries about everything. It was badly developed, sporadically mentioned & just seemed fake.
High point – the random trivia & knowledge Mad’s partner Wes knows about things
Series potential – This is the 4th book in a series that has 8. If she behaves in them like she does in this one she ought to be arrested for interfering with the police at the very least. Also I would think constantly finding bodies before, during or after the event you are supposed to be catering would lead to a drop off in customers. But this is LA after all so maybe not.
Sleuth – Carolyn Blue, 40 something homemaker & recent food writer
Helpers – none with the mystery part
Plot – Carolyn’s friend Julienne gets into a fight with her husband during a group dinner & walks out. A little bit later Caro goes looking for her & can’t find her. She does not return to her hotel. The husband claims she has been cheating on him. No one else really thinks she is actually missing, just that she finally had enough and left town. They are all at a conference in New Orleans. Caro tries to get people to believe something has happened to Julienne but eventually decides she need to search for Julie on her own.
Motivation for sleuthing – Searching for a missing friend no one else actually believes is missing
Overall – I couldn’t finish it. 80 pages in I found the supporting cast of characters so unpleasant & the NO dialect used so challenging to read & the plot so bland, that I gave up. I have no idea what happened to Julie and I really don’t care
Low point – everything but Carolyn & her husband
High point – the food sounds delicious
Series potential – This is the first of a series that has 11 books in it. She apparently travels with her professor husband to conferences in major cites around the world & in the US to write about food in that area. Someone ends up dead near her everywhere. The travel makes it sustainable
Sleuth – Story Fischer, beekeeper & owner of the only grocery store in her small town
Helpers – assorted friends & her sister
Plot – A woman with a past returns town & then disappears, later she and another woman are found dead in the woods.
Motivation for sleuthing – Sheer nosiness it seems
Overall – I read 5 chapters & skipped to the end. None of the characters were particularly likeable, plus several were a little over the top stereotypically & the mystery was not that engaging.
Low point – the mother
High point – the recipes
Series potential – Believably? None. But fictionally it has as much as any other small town series I suppose. There are currently 3 in the series, this is the second.
Sleuth – Rita Lucero, pastry chef and not quite ex wife of the victim. She is also Hispanic, making her the first non-white female sleuth I have encountered so far this summer.
Helpers – none really but there is a police detective who keeps popping up
Plot – Rita comes to New Orleans to get her not yet ex to sign divorce papers, something she has been trying to do for months via email, fax & phone, but he’s been avoiding it. He’s found dead the day after she arrives & she becomes a suspect because he died without a will & she is technically still his wife & heir. In addition someone has been sabotaging her ex’s pasty business. Are the two things related? Her mother in law asks her to find out.
Motivation for sleuthing – While she is technically a suspect there does not seem to be much danger of imminent arrest. Her mother in law’s request is the driving force behind Rita’s nosing around
Overall – A decent story, well drawn characters. It did move a bit slow, some things were never explained and she didn’t actually solve the mystery, just literally came across the murderer coincidentally in the traditional second to last chapter. If he hadn’t been where he was she’d never have suspected him of anything.
Low point – The ending
High point – the food
Series potential – They are in a major metropolitan area, so bodies themselves are not hard to come by, what they might have to do with a pastry shop is open to question.