TWISTING THE ROPE by R. A. MacAvoy

Remember Tea with the Black Dragon?  I chatted about it here.   Well, this is the second in the series, but it has nothing to do with the first.  In Tea with the Black Dragon, Mayland Long, our dragon in human form, helps a musician find her missing daughter, and ends with the middle aged Martha and Mayland becoming an item.

Now in Twisting the Rope, Martha, the fiddler, is on tour with a Celtic music group, and Mayland is acting as their tour manager.  And we have another mystery.  I could really get into this series.  Dragons, music, mysteries.  What’s not to like, right?

The group includes a last-minute substitute pipes (bagpipes) player, grouchy, mean to everyone, and on everyone’s last nerve.  He especially enjoys picking on the young Irish guitar player.  The group also has a lovely lady harp player, and I forget the others, although I do remember that one of them is a California dude.  You know the kind – blonde hair, new age-y, on a non-mucus diet.

Well, the pain-in-the-patooty piper is found hanged and drowned at the end of the waterfront pier, and we do have a couple of possible suspects within the group, especially seeing that nobody liked him.  But was their distaste strong enough to make him pay the piper?

It is a great story, filled with lots of twists and turns, with the ‘normal’ turning ‘para’ only just a tetch, and it isn’t the dragon, either.  Well, I mean, other than his being a dragon.

The title comes from a skill the Irish lad showed the harpist, how to twist dried long grasses into a sturdy rope, used by farmers and husbandmen to make temporary halters and leads for their beasts.  Guess what the dead guy was hanging from.  Right.  Good guess.

Most say they didn’t like it as much as Tea with the Black Dragon,  I think more because it was much less fantasy.  I, being the contrarian that I am, actually enjoyed it more.  Well, that’s the reason the universe has chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio.

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Magic. Wizards. Spells.  Demons.  You know, everyday stuff like that. Ho-hum.  Yawn.  hahaha  This is the first of the Dresden Files series, of which there are about sebenty-lebenty books.  The genre is fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery.    Kind of noir wizard detective in the 40’s Raymond Chandler style.  You know, Sorceress in A Red Dress.  As written in 2000.

It was fun, but got a little too evil demon-ish for my taste, a whole lot of whirling and swirling and damage and black magic and stuff like that.  I like my fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery a bit more subtle, thanks.  Here’s the plot, such as it is:

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get interesting.

Dresden is a wizard working as a P.I., or a P.I. working as a wizard.  A woman calls his office, needing his services.  And that’s where it begins.  Then it continues when the police call him to view a double murder where the victims’ hearts have been …. well …. exploded.  Egad.  Obviously done by magic, and between the chick and the gruesome murder, Harry is suddenly busy.

Fun read, but I’ll take a pass on the remaining series.  I can only take so much summoning of demons before I get hungry and want to summon a pizza.

TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON by R. A. MacAvoy

“Martha Macnamara knows that her daughter Elizabeth is in trouble, she just doesn’t know what kind. Mysterious phone calls from San Francisco at odd hours of the night are the only contact she has had with Elizabeth for years. Now, Elizabeth has sent her a plane ticket and reserved a room for her at San Francisco’s most luxurious hotel. Yet she has not tried to contact Martha since she arrived, leaving her lonely, confused and a little bit worried. Into the story steps Mayland Long, a distinguished-looking and wealthy Chinese man who lives at the hotel and is drawn to Martha’s good nature and ability to pinpoint the truth of a matter. Mayland and Martha become close in a short period of time and he promises to help her find Elizabeth, making small inroads in the mystery before Martha herself disappears. Now Mayland is struck by the realization, too late, that he is in love with Martha, and now he fears for her life. Determined to find her, he sets his prodigious philosopher’s mind to work on the problem, embarking on a potentially dangerous adventure.”

The quotation marks will give you the first clue in this sci fi fantasy mystery that I did not write that plot description.  I am tired of writing plot descriptions so I have taken to stealing   appropriating  borrowing descriptions from other reviewers or the official blurb.

And yes.  There IS a dragon.  Deliciously, he is elderly, and in human form, out in the world searching for that elusive thing — the Truth.

Turns out, Martha’s daughter got herself involved in a scheme to embezzle from a bank, and things with her ‘partners’ are not going well.  So not well they want to kill her.

Some days are like that.  So Mayland gets his elderly self involved and what starts as a fantasy about a dragon slowly turns into a thriller.

Lovely writing, fun plot.  Great read.  There is a sequel.  I may read that.

MURDER IN THE MUSEUM OF MAN by Alfred Alcorn

BLURB: Dean Cranston Fessing, dispatched from Wainscott University to investigate finances of the neighboring Museum of Man, has been murdered. Not only that, but his grisly remains bear the unmistakable mark of haute cuisine. The police are baffled, and the media have a field day, dragging the name of the venerable museum through the mud. To get to the bottom of it all, and save his beloved museum from the University’s institutional embrace, comes recording secretary Norman de Ratour, the most reluctant of heroes, the unlikeliest of sleuths. Disappointed in love thirty years ago, Norman lives a reclusive bachelor’s existence, tormented by the memory of Elsbeth, and of his own timidity at a crucial amorous moment. Aided by the e-mail missives of an anonymous informant, and thwarted at every turn by his politically ambitious boss, Norman is thrust to center stage and begins to investigate a long list of suspects. Along the way he uncovers a cannibal cult in the anthropology department, creative writing in the primate pavilion, and Nietzschean ambitions in the genetics lab. It’s a race to find the culprit, save the museum and reclaim his lost love before he himself winds up gracing the table of some fiendish gourmand.

NOW ME:  Norman de Ratour is the Recording Secretary of the Museum of Man (MOM). He is fussy, prim, ,principled, guided by rules; a scholarly, formal, 19th century style raconteur. but he IS careful and deft and cagey when it comes to politics, and goodness knows there is (are?) plenty of politicking going on in academia and museumland.

So, what happened to the unfortunate dean?

It appears that the dean after having been murdered (presumably), was butchered and cooked quite expertly before being eaten (presumably).  The coroner, Dr. P. M. Cutler — a familiar figure here at the MOM, having used for forensic purposes specimens from out considerable collection of human remains — too unseemly relish, I thought, in relating to me some of the details of the autopsy.  Indeed, he sounded more like Rick Royick, the Bugle’s food critic, than a coroner.  The dean’s buttocks, it appears, were baked with a cinnamon honey glaze;  there was a veritable roast rack of dean, complete with those little paper caps, one of which the doctor kept twisting in his hand; there were (I am paraphrasing Dr.  Cutler) medallions of thigh dressed in a basil curry beurre blanc that had been served with a thyme-infused puree of white beans and black olives in a marinade of citrus and fennel; there was evidence of a bourguignonne; and the dean’s head, while intact, had been partially emptied, with gross violation to the foramen magnum, where traces of nutmeg were found.

You can see why I loved this book.

As Recording Secretary de Ratour says to Lieutenant Tracy of the police investigating unit,

“Do you really expect me, Lieutenant, to believe or even suspect that Corny Chard killed Dean Fessing, cooked him gourmet style, and fed him to the other club members [of a secret campus dining and adventure club]?  I simply cannot believe they would ever eat a sitting dean.  Certainly not a whole one.”

As if eating a sitting dean might be worse than eating any other non-academic.  hahahahaha

When informed by the Lieutenant that they had found the murderer of Dean Fessing, de Ratour confesses

Imagine! Malachy Morin!  I am flabbergasted.  Murder, perhaps, but I would never have suspected that the man was capable of haute cuisine!

So, what we have here is cannibalism, plus a chimp lab working on having the creatures furiously typing all day trying to produce the full cannon of English literature, internecine warfare between the museum admins and the university to which it is connected, and a nostalgically lovesick Recording Secretary.  And oh, yes.  The murder.

Loved it.  Absolutely loved it.  There’s more, too.  A couple more in the series.  Spoiler, he marries the former love.

BOOGIE HOUSE by T. Blake Braddy

OK, I really loved this book.  A nice mashup of mystery, thriller, paranormal lite, and small southern town politics.

Even though it stars  a tried-and-true trope of the alcoholic cop on suspension, or maybe he was fired? I forget.  He was drunk, ran a stop sign, ploughed into an older black woman, destroying her car, but fortunately she only suffered a leg injury.

In one of his evenings along with the bottle, he wanders into the surrounding woods and finds himself at the old boogie house, a negro juke from the sixties, now abandoned and decaying.  He hears music, blues and laughter and people having fun.  He goes gingerly to the building, steps in, the halluciation stops, and he sees the beaten and tortured body of a young black man, dead a few days, in a corner.

He of course calls the police and reports it, and it turns out to be the son of the woman he T-boned.  She visits him to tell him she will speak in his favor at the court hearing for his dui, and asks him to find the killer of her son.

We meet a mojo man, more spirit apparitions, more ethereal blues music, and a desperate wannabe senator who will do anything to keep his run for congress from collapsing.

Great mystery, just enough paranormal to be interesting without being too woo woo and not credible,  just enough sad history of his own, which all twines around this current situation, and just enough likability of our trope-bound protagonist to make it a really interesting and fun read.

There are two more volumes to this series.

WAIST DEEP by Frank Zafiro

“When disgraced former cop Stefan Kopriva is asked by an old high school classmate to find a runaway sixteen year old girl, he reluctantly accepts. Driven by guilt over a terrible mistake that drove him from the force more than ten years earlier, Kopriva battles old injuries, old demons and long ago memories as he unravels the mystery of the missing Kris Sinderling…and seeks his own redemption.”

So, yeah, it’s another drunk ex-cop trope.  You know, where he was just a smidge too late to save some little kid while on the force, and either quits in despair or is forced out in disgrace, and turns to alcoholism as a coping mechanism.

I keep waiting for the book about a well-adjusted ex-cop who quit the force because he either got bored, or had had enough of police politics and corruption, and went into some other satisfying business, has a normal love life, and only drinks a beer or two now and then socially.

Oh, well.

Our drunk alcohol-challenged protagonist gets himself into a fight at a ball game, is ejected, and one of the stadium security guys contacts him later to look for his teenage daughter who has disappeared.   The investigation brings to light a smarmy male high school teacher who preys on his female students, a slub making porn flicks in his basement, and a stupid high schooler who thinks making porn movies will bring her stardom.

Not a bad mystery, but I gotta tell ya, this alcoholic ex-cop trope is getting mighty old.

 

THE NUMBERS GAME by John Stanley

Billed as a gripping crime thriller, I found it neither gripping nor a thriller, but a standard British police procedural.  It was fine.  Basically standard fare with a rebel investigating officer, and a not too bad mystery.  I would have solved it had I been paying more attention.  I was, however, busy eating cookies and sharing with the canines to give it my full heedfulness.  You do believe me, right?

It started off well enough, with two dead bodies in succession.  OK, I can see how that sounds.  I am sorry for the deceased, that’s not what I meant.  I meant the mystery itself got off to a good start with the discovery of the dearly departed.  Then it dragged itself onward with a trope about the heartless demolishing of some old housing to make way for new stuff in the name of progress, then it kind of meandered around the topic of the homeless and the drugfull, with some smarmy  sentiments about the needless deaths of young drug takers, and finally wound its way back to the matter at hand, that of who dunnit.

It was OK, not ab fab, but not awful, either.  Kind of a cozy police procedural.  Is there such a thing?