Book Reviews For Mystery Lovers

Something was wrong. Maeve could feel it. She could see it in the secretary’s stolen glance as she bowed her head and turned away. She could tell by the way Arthur refused to look at her, pouring over the papers in his hand instead.


Title: Hemlock Needle
Author:  Keenan Powell
Publisher: Level Best Books, January 22, 2019
Format/Source: PDF, Publisher (I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review)
ISBN:  9781947915091    Series: Maeve Malloy


Attorney Maeve Malloy has just learned she is facing disbarment when an old friend shows up and pleads with Maeve to search for her missing daughter, Esther. Needing to fill the time until her hearing with the Bar, Maeve agrees and takes the request as a pro bono case. But Esther has been keeping secrets, and, when her beaten body is discovered in a snow berm, Maeve continues investigating. The closer Maeve gets, the more lies she uncovers; if she doesn’t find the truth fast, Maeve could end up too dead to be disbarred.

One of the things I enjoy most in Hemlock Needle is the relationship between Maeve and her investigator, Tom. Theirs is a connection strengthened by years of friendship, trust, and, refreshingly, not romance (although, the possibility of this changing in the future is deftly hinted at between the story’s lines).

Additionally, Powell’s writing provides a strong sense of place for her setting of Anchorage, Alaska, with references to Yup’ik culture and imagery such as the “sun cresting the snow-covered Chugach mountains” and “grey blocks of ice” shifting “across Cook Inlet.” Her characters are solidly built, from the stoic Cora to the jaded Big Red. And the mystery itself is evenly paced and engaging; the more I learned about the victim, Esther, the more I related to her on a personal level.

In so many mysteries, the victim’s death is merely a prop designed to set the plot in motion and keep it moving. Not a bad thing, of course. I’ve enjoyed many mysteries where the victim is either inconsequential to the mystery (the sleuth just needs a case to solve for the plot) or so hated I’m okay with not knowing his or her life details. If a book has a victim I can feel for, though, the story’s tone is changed and the mystery is deepened. Hemlock Needle, for me, was one of these mysteries.



Ella pulled her copy out of her bag and opened it at the first page, which to my relief showed only a couple of tiny edits. I’d half-expected to see it covered in red ink with “Must try harder” scrawled across the title page.


Title: Murder In The Manger
Author: Debbie Young
Publisher: Hawkesbury Press, November 06, 2017
Format/Source: Paperback, Bookstore
ISBN: 9781911223221    Series: Sophie Sayers Village


Murder In The Manger is the third book in Debbie Young’s Sophie Sayers Village series but is the first I have read. Sophie has written the Christmas nativity play for her village, Wendlebury Barrow, but the surprise appearance of an ex-boyfriend and a mysterious woman with a baby threaten to ruin the production. Based on the back cover copy—which included the sentence “Before long, the whole village stands accused of murder”—I expected a lot more mystery and mayhem in this novel. What I found instead was a delightful holiday story with moments of suspense tucked in its nooks and crannies. There isn’t much sleuthing or nefarious goings on here, and the murder accusation doesn’t arrive until very near the end of the novel. Admittedly, as someone who adores a good mystery, this is a bit of a letdown, but the story has enough suspense to pull the reader through to the end.

Beyond the lack of real mystery, though, this is a captivating novel with a lovely village setting full of homey little shops and a cozy plot with lots of dry humor. If you are looking for a warm and light holiday mystery to read this Christmas, pick up Murder In The Manger; a visit with Sophie in festive Wendlebury Barrow is just what you need.



One of my great-granddaughters—I couldn’t tell them  apart for love nor money; I called them both Sugar—pulled  her halo off her head and was trying to put it on Davis’s.  Davis peeked around it. “Granny, Bianca’s not here yet.” 


Title: Double Deck The Halls
Author:  Gretchen Archer
Publisher: Henery Press, November 02, 2017
Format/Source: ebook, Scribd
ISBN: 9781635113129    Series: Davis Way


Granny Dee provides the hilarious voice for this holiday short. She’s visiting Davis at the Bellissimo Casino for Christmas (and planning to win big at the casino’s Winter Wonderland Senior Slot Tournament). Instead, she finds herself in a “pickle” when she goes searching for an elf and finds Bianca, the wife of the casino owner, tied up in a chair with a bomb in her lap. Double Deck The Halls is a sweet and delightful mystery story full of humor and heart. It’s the small details that make Archer’s characters so vivid, such as the twins saying “ho ho ho” every time someone says the word Santa or Granny Dee’s touching memories of her first husband, Quinton. Archer’s writing is energetic and the story moves along swiftly. If you are looking for a quick burst of holiday cheer this season, you can’t go wrong with this one.



Seeing Poppa’s ghost was no big deal, I’d gotten used to it. The reason I was nervous about seeing his ghost was the fear. The only time the ghost of my Poppa came to see me was when there was a murder in Cottonwood.


Title: Tangled Up in Tinsel
Author:  Tonya Kappes
Publisher: Henery Press, September 25, 2018
Format/Source: ebook, Scribd
ISBN:  9781635113976  Series: Kenni Lowry


All Sheriff Kenni Lowry wants for Christmas this year is to make it out of Cottonwood. Her boyfriend/deputy, Finn, wants her to join his family in Chicago for the holidays and Kenni is determined to be there.  Unfortunately, her plans derail when a Christmas blizzard threatens to snow everyone in for a truly white Christmas and a young, troubled girl is murdered.



  • Poppa’s ghost is lively, and it’s adorable how doting and protective he still is of Kenni.

First, a lump or two of coal. The story’s flow is occasionally blocked by choppy dialogue and a plodding plot pace. And the ending is a bit exasperating (not to worry, everything is ultimately tied up neatly into a logical little bow). Tangled Up in Tinsel is still entertaining and a quick read (the book took me roughly the time of two or three Hallmark Christmas movies to finish it), it just felt a bit unpolished in places.

On to the good stuff. The mystery contained plenty of twists and red herrings to keep me guessing, but Kappes’s charming depictions of Cottonwood and its colorful townsfolk are why I kept reading. Kappes’s small-town touches to the story are spot-on. Another bright spot is the story’s humor. Kenni’s stubborn refusal to accept the possibility of a blizzard hitting the town before she can leave for Chicago and the antics of Kenni’s mother as she tries to become the town’s holiday Snow Queen (because, with Kenni out of town, “What else do I have to look forward to this Christmas?”) are priceless.

Tangled Up in Tinsel isn’t perfect, but it is fun. My suggestion? Fix up a hot mug of homemade hot chocolate, grab a handful of little candy canes to absentmindedly nom on, and cozy up under a warm afghan before you start reading. Not a shabby way to spend a December afternoon. Not at all.


Only silence came from the inside the sheet. Two eyes stared at Edna through the holes cut for them; below was another hole for the mouth. Red Ridinghood called from the living room, “That’s a mighty quiet ghost you’ve got there, Edna. Scares me stiff.”

Title:  Trick Or Treat
Author:  Doris Miles Disney
Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1955

An insurance investigator matches wits with a clever killer on a most unusual case. The victim, Edna Monroe, was killed by a ghost. She opened her door on Halloween night to hand out treats to a sheeted figure on her doorstep and was tricked in the worst way when the ghost pulled a gun from a paper bag and shot her dead, right there in her own hallway and right in the middle of the Halloween party she was hosting.

Her husband, Mike, has an airtight alibi; he was thousands of miles away in Texas. His secretary (and mistress), Linda Haines, can also account for her whereabouts at the time of poor Edna’s passing; she was out with some girls from work. But a $50,000 policy Mike had on Edna has the insurance company and their top claims adjuster, Jefferson DiMarco, asking questions. If neither the husband nor the mistress could have possibly done it, then who?

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“I think I have a stalker,” the message read. “If you’re reading this I’m either missing or dead. My life may depend on what you do. Please find out what happened to me. You’re the only one I can trust.”



Title: Designed For Haunting
Author: Sybil Johnson
Publisher: Henery Press, October 09, 2018
Format/Source: ebook, Scribd
ISBN:  9781635114034  Series: Aurora Anderson

It’s time to prepare for her painting chapter’s annual Halloween boutique house event, but Rory Anderson has other things on her mind. Her friend, Zelena, has sent her a cryptic email begging for help, and no one has seen Zelena since the painting group’s decoration meeting days earlier.

Despite the protests of her boyfriend, a detective with the Vista Beach police department, Rory pursues the few leads she has to find Zelena. But someone is watching Rory, and each new clue she uncovers leads her closer to danger. Is Zelena alive or dead? And if she’s already dead, will Rory be able to find out the truth behind Zelena’s disappearance without suffering the same fate?


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She was an old cat, coal black, lean and ugly. Her right ear had been chewed and her old hide showed scars, but she had a regal look when she sat under the rosebushes in the plaza and surveyed us with yellow-green eyes.

~ “The Black Cat” by Lee Somerville

Title:  Mystery For Halloween 
Author:  Cynthia Manson (Editor), Lawrence Treat, Terry Bacon, Alan Ryan, Pauline C. Smith, Janet O’Daniel, Andrew Klavan, Theodore H. Hoffman, George Sumner Albee, Richard F. McGonegal, Elliott Capon, Edward D. Hoch, David Braly, Richard Ciciarelli, Dashiell Hammett, Lee Somerville, Donald E. Westlake
Publisher: Signet, 1991

Mystery for Halloween is an anthology of sixteen short stories, all of which were published in either Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine

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