Alison is game enough, and her amatory life absorbing enough, to make you almost forgive the absence of authentic mystery.

MURDER 101

An English professor finds herself both the target of a murder investigation and the object of the investigator’s affections in Barbieri’s mystery debut.

Puking on a police detective’s shoes isn’t the smoothest move, but that’s exactly how English professor Alison Bergeron greets the news that freshman Kathy Miceli’s body has been found in the trunk of her car. And Bobby Crawford, owner of the shoes, is the good cop. The bad cop, a cranky guy named Wyatt in a bad suit, just wants to slap the cuffs on Alison. But Crawford prevails: He tails Alison patiently as her best friend, Max Rayfield, persuades her to break into LaSalle Hall and toss the room of Kathy’s boyfriend Vince; he shows up at her house to ask just a few more questions; and finally he takes her down to his family’s Seaside Heights beach house for a much-needed break. But even when Wyatt turns his attention toward others—including Alison’s ex-husband, Ray, whose affair with the dead girl makes him an especially promising suspect—Crawford remains focused on Alison, whose experience with an unfaithful ex makes her wary of any blossoming romance. It’s not until someone breaks into her office and stuffs her into the back seat of a Jeep that Alison realizes the police aren’t the only ones to treat with caution.

Alison is game enough, and her amatory life absorbing enough, to make you almost forgive the absence of authentic mystery.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-35537-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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An engaging, well-researched, and sometimes thought-provoking art mystery.

BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN

A tale of two artists, living 78 years apart in a small Southern town, and the third artist who links them.

The fates of two white painters in Edenton, North Carolina, intertwine with the legacy of a third, that of Jesse Jameson Williams, a prominent African American artist with Edenton roots. In 2018, the recently deceased Jesse has left a very unusual will. In life, Jesse paid his success forward by helping underdog artists. Morgan Christopher, the last, posthumous recipient of Jesse’s largesse, can’t imagine why he chose her, a complete stranger who is doing time for an alcohol-related crash that left another driver paralyzed. Released on an early parole engineered by Jesse’s daughter, Lisa, Morgan will receive $50,000 to restore a mural painted by one Anna Dale in 1940 in time for a gallery opening on Aug. 5, 2018. If Morgan misses this deadline, not only is her deal off, but Lisa will, due to a puzzling, thinly motivated condition of Jesse’s will, lose her childhood home. In an alternating narrative, Anna, winner of a U.S. Treasury Department competition, has been sent from her native New Jersey to paint a mural for the Edenton post office. Anna has zero familiarity with the South, particularly with Jim Crow. She recognizes Jesse’s exceptional talent and mentors him, to the ire of Edenton’s white establishment. Martin Drapple, a local portraitist rejected in the competition, is at first a good sport, when he’s sober, until, somewhat too suddenly, he’s neither. Issues of addiction and mental illness are foremost in both past and present. Anna’s late mother had manic episodes. Morgan’s estranged parents are unrepentant boozers. And Anna’s mural of civic pride is decidedly strange. One of the strengths here is the creditable depiction of the painter’s process, in Anna’s case, and the restorer’s art, in Morgan’s. Despite the fraught circumstances challenging all three painters, conflict is lacking. The 1940 racial tensions are unrealistically mild, and Jesse’s testamentary testiness is not mined for its full stakes-raising potential.

An engaging, well-researched, and sometimes thought-provoking art mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-08733-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Nearly as many recipes as Joy of Cooking, and about as much narrative.

COCONUT LAYER CAKE MURDER

A baker helps solve her sister’s boyfriend’s classmate’s murder.

Hannah Swensen is suffering from stress due to a trauma incurred in her last adventure (Chocolate Cream Pie Murder, 2019) but alluded to only in the most elliptical terms in her current entry. Hannah’s stepfather, Doc Knight, is adamant: She must leave at once for vacation. He sends Hannah and her mom off to California for a stress-free holiday helping Hannah’s college friend Lynne Larchmont pack up her palatial home and move back to Lake Eden, Minnesota, where Hannah’s shop, The Cookie Jar, provides sweet treats for all. A New York minute after she arrives in Los Angeles, Hannah receives a hysterical call from her sister, Michelle. Michelle’s boyfriend, Lonnie, is the main suspect in the murder of Darcy Hicks, an old friend from high school. Since Lonnie is one of Lake Eden’s handful of police detectives, everyone else on the force is deemed ineligible to conduct the investigation, leaving only amateur sleuth Hannah to crack the case. Hannah moves back in, platonically of course, with her old flame Norman Rhodes, since her Lake Eden condo was the scene of that unspecified trauma and her husband, Ross Barton, has disappeared, or died, or maybe killed somebody—it’s not quite clear which. Hannah begins her investigation by checking out Brian and Cassie Polinski, who were with Darcy and Lonnie at the Double Eagle, a dive bar, the night of her death. But it’s hard for her inquiry to build up any steam because almost every chapter ends with copious directions for making another nifty treat, complete with tips on which brands to use, advice about where to buy the ingredients, and little anecdotes about the people who feast on the finished products.

Nearly as many recipes as Joy of Cooking, and about as much narrative.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4967-1889-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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