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Friday, March 28, 2014

Deal Killer: A Darby Farr Mystery By Vicki Doudera

by Cynthia Chow

After a recent tumultuous events, Southern California real estate agent Darby Farr is thrilled to have the opportunity to spend time visiting her boyfriend in New York. Miles Porter is a British investigative journalist and visiting professor at Columbia University, and he is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to borrow an exclusive, and very expensive, apartment at Central Park Place. They will both be distracted by Miles' student Natalia Kazakova, who lives in the same building and is writing an investigative paper on Russian revolutionary war art theft and its ties to the Russia's Federal Security Service.

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When Natalia's fiancée is murdered soon after a confrontation with Miles, a jealous secretary he spurned puts Miles in the hot seat and Darby once again finds herself in the middle of a murder instigation. Central Park Place is a beacon for incendiary emotions. The purchase of Natalia's apartment robbed another agent out of a million dollar commission, another resident seems willing to kill for an extra one-thousand square footage, and a terrorized Russian resident holds decades-old secrets.

Image source: Midnight Ink

Doudera immerses readers in the competitive world of real estate while also sharing a considerable amount of fascinating historical lore of New York neighborhoods. Viewpoints change frequently as the author successfully introduces many characters without confusing the story or interrupting the pace of the novel. Darby is an extremely intelligent character, and with her Japanese mother and American father's mixed race marriage as an example, she is learning to risk more in her personal life even as her professional one continues to challenge her. Darby still has an unresolved situation to face back home, but now that she has decided on a promising personal path it looks as though she will have the support and strength to meet the needy demands of clients, her staff, and her friends.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Murder a la Christie By Marilyn Levinson

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Sandra Murphy

Lexie Driscoll is a college professor. You’d think she’d have her life together. Professionally, she does. Personally? She’s a mess.

She’s been married twice, once to a man not ready for fatherhood, or at least until their son was a grown man too, and once to a man who was, umm, temperamental. That’s not being judgmental—it’s just that in the midst of the divorce proceedings, he burned down Lexie’s house. He was not very good at it and died in the fire.

Lexie’s been living in an apartment, the kind with thin walls and the type of people who make you want a soundproof room. Her friend Sylvia asked her to house/cat sit for the summer while she’s at an artist’s colony. Another friend, Rosie, has formed a book club and asked Lexie to moderate. Sounds ideal, right? Write, relax, discuss books and enjoy the sun—a perfect summer.

Lexie’s two days from moving from the ratty apartment and into Sylvia’s luxury home, complete with pool, when the first book club event takes place. The discussion revolves around Agatha Christie’s books, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Everyone’s had plenty to eat and drink and a lively dissection of the stories follows until Sylvia takes sick. Before a doctor can be called, she’s dead.

Image source: Oak Tree

Lexie has a strong feeling that Sylvia’s death wasn’t an accident so she calls the local precinct and talks to Detective Donovan. At first, he’s pretty skeptical but when the autopsy proves Lexie right, he’s ready to hear any and all theories. Sylvia’s adult children ask Lexie to stay at the house until they can arrange to go through things before it’s sold, so she’s on the scene.

Unfortunately, there are more murders and one attempt. One looks like a home invasion but there was nothing to take. The other could be an accident but probably not. The attempt? Could have been meant for any of the three people standing together, one of them being Lexie. After all, she’s the one who’s been getting mysterious phone calls and whispered threats.

As if dealing with multiple murders, a perpetually hungry cat, a book that won’t write itself, worry about where to live next, and does an inheritance from Sylvia make Lexie look guilty, there’s progress on the romance front. Allistair, the architect who designed Sylvia’s house, is in pursuit of Lexie. And really, is Detective Donovan interested too? Lexie’s pretty confused—she isn’t one for “normal” relationships but would like to try.

The characters are good although there were a couple of times Lexie was over the top when dropping bombshells into conversations and reminding everyone that with three people dead in a short period of time, all book club members, the murderer is apt to be one of their own. Nobody wants to hear that kind of talk.

I have to say, I had no clue about who was bumping people off. I had suspects all along the way but gradually, they were eliminated. This is the kind of mystery I like best—not too easy to solve, not so difficult or convoluted that you think no one could figure it out, but the kind when you read who did it, you say, “Oh! Well, sure,” as the pieces fall into place.

Levinson writes a variety of books and each looks like a stand-alone. Personally, I hope Lexie’s story turns into a series because for Pete’s sake, I have to know how the romance angle turns out and if she chooses the architect, can I have Detective Donovan?

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra's short stories on UnTreed Reads including Bananas Foster.