PUSHING UP DAISIES by Rosemary Harris

A fun little mystery starring garden designer Paula Halladay, who left a media career to start a gardening business.  When she takes on the job of restoring the local rundown manion’s garden , which has been left by the last owner to the town’s Historical Society, she discovers a mummified body of a baby in the back garden.

Turns out there are lots of secrets in this little town, and some fun characters to go along with it.   And another body.  Well, heck, we can always do with another body, right?

Low key, well-written cozy mystery, no competition for Agatha, so she need not turn over in her grave (see what I did there?).  One of those sweet books to read in between War and Peace and  À la recherche du temps perdu.

Well, crumb.  That was a short review.  OK, how about a quote or two:

If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

And a little piece of trivia for you,

Did you know that Good and Plenty candy is the oldest branded candy in the United States?   1893.

And one more:

Bach Original Flower Remedies.  Dr. Edward Bach had been a general practitioner in London in the 1920s.

Hahaha.  Well, turns out that Bach Original Flower Remedies are solutions of brandy and water—the water containing extreme dilutions of flower material developed by Edward Bach, an English homeopath, in the 1930s. Bach claimed that dew found on flower petals retain imagined healing properties of that plant.  Systematic reviews of clinical trials of Bach flower solutions have found no efficacy beyond a placebo effect.

See ya later.  Going to go weed my planters.  Hope my cat didn’t poop in them.

A WITNESS ABOVE by Andy Straka

A nifty detective  story featuring  falconry!   Yeah, really.   The protagonist is a former New Rochelle, NY, police officer who, along with his partner and a third officer, get booted from the force for shooting an unarmed kid as part of a robbery call.  They swear the kid had a gun — it was a dark place between cars, but when they investigated, there was no gun, only a lead pipe.  Another officer was shot and killed before they arrived as backup on the scene.

Fast forward twenty years to Charlottesville, Virginia, where Frank is training as a falconer under the mentorship of his former partner.  He works as a P.I. when he is not flying his red-tail hawk.   He is in a remote mountainous area and when his bird loses the rabbit she was after, he follows the rabbit in case it is injured and he would need to put it out of its misery.  He stumbles over a dead body — that of a teenage boy.  He sees a wallet partially hidden in the brush and picks it up with a couple of sticks, because I guess he didn’t learn squat working crime scenes in New York, sees a dollar bill partially sticking out with a series of numbers written on it…. numbers that coincidently, are the phone number of his daughter.   He takes the bill, puts the wallet back, collects his bird, and returns to where there is cell phone service and calls it in.

So, what are you guessing?  Drug dealer?  You get a smiley sticker if you guessed drug dealer.  And what has this kid got to do with Frank’s daughter?   And her exotic dancer bff?  And that shooting back in New Rochelle? And the nice lady prosecutor?

Some pretty good twists and turns here, and as I recall, this is the first of a series, so more falconry stuff to follow.  Although, really, sad to say, the falconry has much less to do with it all than  we might have wished, since the only thing we …. and I am using the Royal We here …. know about falconry is what we read in historical novels set in England back in medieval times.

Good mystery, good charactersd, all in all, happy me.

A DREAM OF DEATH by Harrison Drake

Police procedural, but comes burdened with two plot lines that don’t seem to go together very well.  Ontario Provincial Police Detective Lincoln Munroe is heading an investigation into a serial killer who targets women whose husbands work nights. He leaves no trace whatsoever, until he kills a woman who is pregnant, and writes I’m sorry on the wall in lipstick.

It is the usual thing and the police finally catch him.

However, it is intertwined with a side story or substory or  secondary plot or whatever you want to call it, where the detective has a series of nightmares that come to a head when he is invited to help a fellow cop investigate the removal of the remains of a decades old murder in the Allegheny Forest. a place where his father took him camping as a child. These nightmares culminate in the appearance of repressed memories of that camping trip, resulting in solving the murder of the person comprising the mostly skeletal remains.

Oh yeah, and then there is the third strand which is about his partner, an attractive young single woman, the deteriorating marriage of the detective because he is married to his cases instead of to his family,  his infidelity with the partner, and his claims of wanting to make it work with the little wifey.

I admit to becoming just a bit tired of the flawed detective trope, and have absolutely NO compassion for anyone who commits adultery, believing that a person should finish one relationship before embarking on another.

So three books in one.  I would have preferred them to be three separate books, because it was all just a bit too much for one.   I like my mysteries, neat, not on the rocks.

 

ICE ON THE GRAPEVINE by R. E. Donald

This is the second in the Hunter Rayne Highway mystery series.  I read the 4th one first, and talked about it here, Sundown on Top of the World.   I may actually get to read the other two in the series as well.

In Sundown,  I felt the mystery was secondary to the characters and their stories.   In Ice on the Grapevine,  the mystery took center stage, and it was a good one!

A couple, newly married, in their late thirties or so, are a husband and wife truck driving team.  She is Canadian, working on getting her green card, and the hubs is an American.  The rules are they can each drive in the other country if it is a leg of their destination for the load.  But they cannot drive point to point within the other country.  Doesn’t really have much to do with the story, but I found it an interesting tidbit.

Along a deserted stretch of the highway in California, a local police officer with great ambitions, is called to the scene of a dead body.  But not just your average, run-of-the-mill dead body.  This one is curled up in a fetal position …. and frozen solid.  On the sole of his shoe is one of those bar code stickers.  The cop traces it to the border customs, and from there to the shipper, and from there to the truckers doing the hauling.  Guess who had the load?  Yep, you got it.   They are hauling a reefer … refrigerator trailer …  that has a load of meat destined for a wholesaler in L.A.   They get tracked down, and pulled over, and taken into custody for the death of the as yet unidentified ice cube.

Back in Canada, a young woman is missing her live-in boyfriend.  Because he is missing.  For 6 days now, so she goes to the RCMP, (the cops) and reports him missing.  The ice cube’s photo has been faxed around, especially to this office, because it covers the area from which the shipment originated.  The intake officer says, wait a minute, comes back with a photo, and OMG it’s the missing boyfriend, a musician.

What was a musician doing in a refrigerator truck?  If he was trying to sneak into the US, he had to know that he would last in that truck only about 3 to 5 hours, no guaranteeing someone would open the doors before he froze to death.   But he had damage to the neck, so looked like someone choked him into unconsciousness before shoving him in.

So are the happy honeymooners responsible?  And why?  The wife has a past, but how would that connect in any way to this?

Hunter Rayne, the former Mountie turned over the road driver does his best to try to find the truth and see that justice is done…. not just for the accused but for the victim as well.

Yep.  Thumbs up.  Really liked it.

A JOURNAL OF SIN by Darryl Donaghue

A pretty good police procedural.  The twist with this one is that it is like one of those Agatha Christie trapped in an isolated house themes, but here the inhabitants of a small English village are trapped due to a vicious storm that produced terrible flooding, cutting off all the roads out of the village, cutting off the cell phone, the telephone and the electricity.

Constable Sarah Gladstone, only on the police force — oh, pardon me, the police service, she is at pains to point out, — for two years,  had been visiting with her mother when the storm hit, and now is stuck in the village until the flooding goes down.

The elderly priest of the village goes missing.  The townspeople knowing she is with the police, come to her to help find him.  They want to report him as a missing person. As she reluctantly does what she can, looks in his rooms, the church, with the help of a geeky (or is it nerdy) alcoholic young divorced man.  She finds, buried deep in the flower pots of some plants, a number of small journals, dating back decades.  She takes them home to her mother’s house to read later, hoping for some clue in them.

When she holds a town meeting to advise of her findings, she is undermined by the elderly self-appointed town manager, who is there with his mousy quiet wife.  Sarah organizes a search of the woods, and the priest is found  partially buried deep in the woods.  The torrential rains have washed away part of the earth and leaf debris that had covered him.  An examination reveals terrible wounds, evidence of torture.

Now she has a homicide on her hands, no communication with her superiors, no help, and no clear idea of how she should handle this.  No forensics team, no one to officially examine the body, and in fact, nowhere to put the body.  Since the electricity has been off for a number of days, there is no refrigeration or freezers.  She talks the helpful young man into storing the body in his shed, where the odor is definitely off-putting and wafting into the house itself.

The young man turns out to have an injunction against him forbidding him to see his ex wife or child, but he is seriously stalking her through the computer.  That doesn’t look good, since the ex-wife had had a number of counseling sessions with the priest.  Did he write about it in the journal?

It also turns out the that priest had been keeping a journal of the sins of the parishioners who came to him for confession or counseling.  This news quickly gets around and a number of folks become quite anxious to possess those journals and destroy them.

She makes some bad judgment calls, but does the best she can, being just out of probationary status, and all alone, all the while being hampered by the old hotshot.

I enjoyed it, because it seemed to hit the right note as far as her competence and her frustration at the lack of machinery and help.  She was limited as to what she could do.

It rather telegraphed who the perp was, but that’s OK.  I guess right on so few of these,  that when I am actually on the correct scent, I feel like a big shot myself.

Nice mystery.  Hey, they all can’t be P. D. James.

 

WHEN THE DEAD SPEAK by S. D. Tooley

A typical, predictable police procedural mystery with less police procedure and lots more woo woo Native American spiritual hocus pocus.   Why is it we invest Native Americans with higher spiritual attributes than European descendents?   Why do we like to believe that they all have special spiritual powers?  I think if they had special spiritual powers they could have woo-woo’ed away that pipeline.  But that is just me being a cynic.

This book stars Sam(Samantha) Casey, a police sergeant, has a special talent of being able to lay her hands on a dead person and have instant knowledge about them.  Wow.  Turns out she is part Native American, and lives with her mother, who is full blooded something, and has a lot of woo woo powers, and can predict the future and even possibly change the future. That whole Native American thing was clumsily treated, awkward and really unbelievable.

OK, sorry.  This just didn’t work for me.  The basic plot is that a big rig collision into a pillar of a highway damages it so badly, that when the repair crew came to inspect it, they discovered it contained a body of a Black male, conveniently clutching a clue!  A clue!  (Remember Blue’s Clues?)  He is holding a pin.

When our gal lays hands on him in the morgue, she gets all kinds of visions.

What also was really just too much was that she disguises herself and thereby enters houses and snoops around and plants bugs in phones and gets into safes with surprising ease, taking out the contents and photographing them, yada yada yada.

She is assigned to a different district where she is partnered with a (gasp. surprise!) good looking single guy.  Due to some plot machinations, he meets her mother and the mother decides they belong together romantically.

Crummy mystery, with the bad guy over the top and over drawn, so no mystery as it is practically revealed to us long before the end, a typical romantic angle, and the awful hook of the gal who reads corpses.

Meh.

 

SMOKED by Elaine Macko

Alex Harris, partner with her sister in an employment agency business, and wife to a homicide detective, sees out of her window her neighbor caught in a big cloud of smoke from the leaves she was (illegally) burning.  She stumbles away from the fire, grasping at her throat, and collapses.  Alex rushes over simultaneously calling 911, but the neighbor has died.

This cozy mystery, cozy that is if you don’t mind your neighbors dropping dead in front of your eyes,  has the death ruled natural causes, because she died of anaphylactic shock.  Apparently, there was poison ivy in the pile of leaves, to which she was terribly allergic, and when she inhaled the smoke, it affected whatever poison ivy smoke affects.

But wait!  Not so fast.  She would never have put poison ivy in her leaf pile to burn.  She would have known better than that.  And an examination of the epi pens in her kitchen drawer found them to be empty!  It was then ruled murder, and the husband was hauled in, because the spouse is always the first to be suspected.

The adult daughter of the dead woman asks Alex to investigate to clear her father.   Huh?  Oh, right.  This is a series, and Smoked is in the middle of the series, and she has a history of finding dead bodies and solving cases, in spite of the police being active in the matter.  [Rolling eyes,  forgetting this is Cozy Mystery Land, where plausibility gives way to fantasy day dreams where we ordinary folk go around doing heroic deeds.]  So Alex spends half her time working in her business and the other half running around interviewing suspects, all of whom, nicely enough, are very happy to talk to her, and none of them say “WTH, go away.  I already talked to the police and you have no business nosing around in this affair and bothering me!”   Yeah.  Just like real life.

Alex’s investigations reveal that the dead woman was a real biotch, and the hubby was a serial cheater,  who at that moment had two women thinking they were engaged to him.  The dead woman had about four people whom she wronged, so there are lots of nifty suspects.

One thing I liked about the book was Alex’s family are all kind, sweet, loving people, which makes a nice change from the frequent tropes of clingy dependent ex-husbands, nasty mothers, horrible adult children, or vindictive neighbors.

A pleasant read, likeable characters and no, I did not figure out who dunnit.  I am so lame at this, even with a cozy.  I really have to step up my game.