A series opener that’s a bouncy romp, albeit one with a corpse.

Blood Red

In this Hollywood Hills mystery, a struggling interior designer investigates who turned her deadbeat client into a dead one.

Surveying the spectacular progress interior designer Cissy Huntington and the construction crew had made on his Beverly Hills mansion, Dr. Robert Martin thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Soon, he was at least half right. After a brief argument, an unnamed associate shoots the wildly successful Hollywood plastic surgeon dead in his blood-red-painted library. Cissy, who discovers her only client with a fatal head wound, later learns from his lawyer that in addition to being behind on paying her, his “estate was not what one would have assumed.” The designer’s husband recently walked out on her after declaring bankruptcy so Cissy desperately needs the money due her. She and her 22-year-old daughter, Emma, befriend Martin’s niece and sole heir, Susan Wallerski, who arrives in Los Angeles from her home in Wichita, Kansas, for the funeral. Cissy tells Susan she needs the payment. But Susan says she needs closure with finding out who murdered her uncle. The two investigate Martin’s neighbors and celebrity clients for clues. Along with Emma, they also search the doctor’s home and find a secret sealed room containing what may have led to his murder. Profanity is commonplace in this series opener, and some non-swear phrases will give readers pause, such as the description of the plastic surgeon redoing a starlet’s bumpy proboscis with “the standard JAP nose.” Although James, an LA interior designer, nails descriptions of amber-toned, pear-wood paneling and Murano chandeliers, the speed at which the estate is handled is unrealistic. Using the names of actual Hollywood players as characters getting plastic surgery likely won’t sit well with readers. But the camaraderie of a multigenerational group of women, the frequent mention of luxe clothing brands and establishments, and the presence of “thirty-something, dark-eyed hottie” homicide detective Manny Rodriquez moves the enjoyable story along merrily and at a brisk pace. A plus for readers to reference are the blueprints provided for each floor of the doctor’s home.

A series opener that’s a bouncy romp, albeit one with a corpse.

Pub Date: March 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9998582-5-7

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Black Hawk Press

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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