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Wednesday, 23 January 2019

‘The Vampire Knitting Club’ by Nancy Warren


Published by Ambleside Publishing,
3 September 2018.
ISBN: 978-19281-4547-9 (PB)

Lucy Swift decides that the best place to get over Todd the Toad is Oxford, where her grandmother has The Cardinal Woolsey knitting store and, up until now, a warm welcome from her granddaughter. This time, not so much. Agnes Bartlett isn’t at the store and the general news is very bad. Agnes died. Agnes is buried. As far as anyone knows, Lucy now owns Cardinal Woolsey; her mother is an archaeologist and Agnes knew better than to leave her a yarn store. The news gets worse, and it’s news that Lucy can’t really share with anyone, even if she had anyone in Oxford to share it with. Agnes isn’t really dead - well, she is, but she’s also undead and living under the store with a whole bunch of other vampires. The vampires knit in the store of an evening. And they can knit quickly, too. This handy bit of news actually helps Lucy keep the store going while she figures all kinds of things out.

Top on her list of questions to be answered: Who killed Agnes?  Did Agnes fire her assistant, Rosemary, and if so, why?  Should she believe the people who are persistent in their desire to buy her shop, which Agnes specifically said Lucy should keep exactly as she found it?  Who is lying to her, and why?  Where is her grandmother’s grimoire? What should she do about the emotions Rafe Crosyer (a very old vampire) and Detective Inspector Ian Chisholm (a reasonably young policeman) are arousing in her, and isn‘t it a bit soon after Todd the Toad?  All of this while she’s trying to run a yarn store, a job for which she has minimal experience and virtually no skills, at least not in terms of fibre arts. She can’t even knit, for pity’s sake.

I will say, right up front, this isn’t a mystery roiling with social issues and deep political overtones. It’s a fun way to spend a wintry afternoon, especially if hot chocolate is involved. The characters are believable and entertaining. Oxford - one can hardly go wrong with such a great setting. Fans of woo-woo mysteries can add this one to their shelf; it’s the first in a “paranormal cozy mystery series”, according to the front cover. Sit a spell and enjoy,
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Reviewer: P.J. Coldren
Nancy Warren is the USA Today Bestselling author of more than 70 novels. She’s originally from Vancouver, Canada, though she tends to wander and has lived in England, Italy and California at various times. Favourite moments include being the answer to a crossword puzzle clue in Canada’s National Post newspaper, being featured on the front page of the New York Times when her book Speed Dating launched Harlequin’s NASCAR series, and being nominated three times for Romance Writers of America’s RITA award. She’s an avid hiker, loves chocolate and most of all, loves to hear from readers! The best way to stay in touch is to sign up for Nancy’s newsletter at



 
P J Coldren has been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century. She reads broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. She was a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. She lives in Northern lower Michigan with one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.  She says, ‘I am totally chuffed to be the Fan Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic 2019.  

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

‘An Easy Death’ by Charlaine Harris


Published by Saga Press,
2 October 2018.
ISBN: 978-4-4814-9492-2  (HB)


I’m a sucker for a strong female protagonist. Always have been. So, I am predisposed to be happy about another Charlaine Harris novel with a kick-ass woman at the centre of it. An Easy Death is exactly that. Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose doesn’t mess around; her job is to protect the people who hire her and get them where they are going, no matter what the personal cost. Sometimes it’s pretty high. Her friends, who also happen to be her cohorts, tend to die.

Gunnie is hired by two grigoris, Russian witches, to track down a man, also a witch. They don’t know that Gunnie killed the grigori they originally set out to find, a secret she is not inclined to share for a number of reasons. The money they offer her to find his brother is enough to make her put aside her dislike for the magicians. In the process of tracking down this guy, Gunnie and her employers are attacked numerous times, by all kinds of people, for seemingly unrelated reasons. It can’t be that easy or that simple. Charlaine Harris doesn’t write simple or uncomplicated.

She does write interesting characters. Gunnie is a stand-up person, almost the epitome of the classic noir detective. She has a code by which she lives; her reputation depends on it. One expects that quality in a main character. What may be surprising is the secondary characters and their ability to be present when they are needed while continuing their lives all the while Gunnie is out living hers. It wouldn’t be difficult to see some of them as primary characters in another novel in this series (should it become a series).

The setting is part of the novel, of course. Gunnie spends a lot of time, not always voluntarily, in the desert of what, in her world, is Texoma.  It’s no country for sissies, or wimps. Gunnie is neither. Her skills have been learned, and earned, the hard way; they get her through places most people wouldn’t survive.

There are parts of An Easy Death that stretch one’s “willing suspension of belief”; they are few and far between. Harris’s skills as a story teller make it easy for a reader to let some low-grade questions of “is this really probable, much less possible?” slide. The story, as only Charlaine Harris can tell it, makes it possible. Hang on and ride this one out - it’s worth it.
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Reviewer:  P.J. Coldren
Charlaine Harris is a number 1 New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for over thirty years. Born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area, she is the author of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, which are the basis for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Aurora Teagarden original movies; the Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasy series, which was the basis for the HBO show True Blood; the Midnight, Texas series, which is the basis for the NBC show of the same name; the Shakespeare mysteries; the Harper Connelly mysteries; and the Cemetery Girl mysteries. Harris now lives in Texas with her husband.



P J Coldren has been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century. She reads broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. She was a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. She lives in Northern lower Michigan with one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.  She says, ‘I am totally chuffed to be the Fan Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic 2019.  



Tuesday, 15 January 2019

‘A Long Night in Paris’ by Dov Alfon


Published by Maclehose Press,
10 January 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-85705-880-5 (PB)

The author, a former Israeli Intelligence Officer turned journalist, pulls no punches with his insider knowledge when he  takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride into the shady goings-on, secrets, intrigues and lies within the murky intelligence community.  This spy thriller, ably translated into English from the Hebrew language by Daniella Zamir, is set in Paris and Israel.
 
As one can guess from the title, it comprises events in a single 24 hours, when elite Chinese and Israeli agents, plus rogue elements in both espionage camps, face off against each other in a tense battle of wits, knives and guns.

A junior Israeli IT specialist on a light-hearted jaunt to the City of Lights is lured by an attractive woman in red and   then vanishes without trace. When a second Israeli is abducted at gunpoint from his hotel room in Paris, Col. Zeev Abadi from a crack Israeli intelligence unit and his mismatched, attractive woman deputy, ambitious and independently minded Lt. Oriana Talmar,  (of whom I hope this is not the only appearance) know this to be much more than a coincidence.  Commissioner Leger of the Paris Police concurs with their suspicions and criminal  investigation is set in motion. The clock is ticking and the count down has begun to nail the perpetrators.

The story is perilous and fast paced, interlaced with wry humour, the characterisation is realistic, complemented by a sharp and natural dialogue that whisks up a storm and speeds along an exciting read that contains many gruesome and heart-stopping incidents.

The author is a master of the genre and clearly this novel is ripe for film adaptation.
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Reviewer: Serena Fairfax

Dov Alfon was born 1961 and brought up in France and in Israel. He is a former intelligence officer of Unit 8200, the most secretive arm of the Israel Defence Forces. He is a former editor in chief of Israel's most influential newspaper, Haaretz, and was awarded several prizes for his journalistic writings, including the 2011 Peace Through Media Award from the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, London. His first book, Unit 8200 A Long Night in Paris, was published in Israel to great acclaim and rights were sold in 12 territories. A TV series based on the book is in the works, to be produced by Keshet International, producers of "Homeland".  Dov Alfon currently lives in Paris and continues to work for Haaretz. He is also the CEO of Storyvid.io, a non-profit cultural venture he co-founded with writer Etgar Keret and aiming to bridge between literature and new media. He is married and is the father of three daughters.
 
Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practised in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals   then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.