Like the Styrofoam cups banned by Amy, the murder in Balzo’s sixth is strictly disposable, its flimsiness in no way...

A CUP OF JO

Greater Milwaukee’s preeminent coffee-shop owner faces heartbreak when an event planner steals her thunder and her boyfriend.

Everything is ready for the grand reopening of Uncommon Grounds. Forced out of its Benson Plaza location when a snowstorm caved in the roof (Brewed, Crude and Tattooed, 2009), co-owners Maggy Thorsen and Sarah Kingston have been rebuilding at the Brookhills commuter train station, despite a series of construction mishaps. Now barista Amy Caprese has ordered biodegradable takeout cups, and Maggy’s asked prop man Kevin Williams to loft a five-foot inflatable coffee cup above her new digs. But the celebration, timed to coincide with the inauguration of a rail line connecting suburban Brookhills to Milwaukee, falls flatter than an oversteamed latte when party planner JoLynne Penn-Williams is found curled up in the giant mug, dead as vaudeville. Brookhills County Executive Brewster Hampton, on hand for the celebration, is shocked. So are his Milwaukee counterpart Wynona Counsel and his wife, rising entrepreneur Anita. But Jo’s sister Rebecca, glad the bitch is dead, accuses her of sleeping with both Rebecca’s boyfriend, Michael Inkel, and Maggy’s main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik. Looks like those cozy nights on the sofa sipping Shiraz and feeding indigestible pizza toppings to Maggy’s sheepdog Frank may be over—especially if Jake gets arrested for murder.

Like the Styrofoam cups banned by Amy, the murder in Balzo’s sixth is strictly disposable, its flimsiness in no way strengthened by her sexual innuendos and quips about canine flatulence.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7278-6912-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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