Readers should hope that this winning mystery series starring a gardener/detective will be fruitful and multiply.

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MALICE AT THE MANOR

A murder in the precisely manicured gardens of a North Carolina estate leads to an investigation involving fake Civil War relics.  

In this second volume of his Penny Summers mystery series, Gordon (Katelyn’s Killer, 2017) transports his heroine to the lush landscapes of Brantleigh Manor. Penny, a former Navy public affairs officer and master gardener, is there as a member of Madison Lerrimore’s residential-design class, savoring the creations of the famed Frederick Law Olmsted. But after they find Madison’s estranged stepfather, Wayland, dead in the bushes, Penny and her friends are soon learning lessons of a deadly kind. They get entangled in a conspiracy that has blossomed around counterfeit Confederate memorabilia. Wayland and some of his fellow Civil War re-enactors sold a bogus battle flag to a wealthy collector. But Wayland cheated his fellow criminals. Then someone shoots Madison in the leg at a re-enactment of the Battle of Asheville. Aided by Kalea, Madison’s daughter, a junior crime scene detective wannabe, Penny investigates the murder, shooting, and fraud. With Wayland’s checkered past, there is no shortage of suspects, including Madison, whom he had abused. Penny even finds time for romance with Aaron Hunt. Previously, Penny and the Navy senior petty officer had solved the murder of his fiancee, Katelyn, although they hadn’t acted on the spark between them then. Will the sleuthing trio, helped somewhat by Penny’s psychic Aunt Zelma, uncover the culprit? Outdoor design wouldn’t seem like a natural jumping-off point for murder, but garden aficionado Gordon makes it feel organic. This well-researched book brings the Asheville region alive, turning it into a character of sorts. As for the protagonist, she is a reluctant detective with a fraught history: She has returned to the area where her childhood ended when her younger brother, Josh, drowned on her watch. Penny, whose mother left after that tragedy, feels a bond with Kalea, who is afraid of losing Madison. So Penny doggedly seeks the truth, in large part to protect her family and friends. For a fledgling garden architect, she proves an engaging and skillful sleuth. Gordon has artfully nurtured a charming whodunit.

Readers should hope that this winning mystery series starring a gardener/detective will be fruitful and multiply.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2018

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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