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Poisoned Pen Press  January, 2008

Death Before WicketPhryne (Fry-nee) Fisher, Melbourne native, is, in 1928, visiting Sydney for a fast cricket match, “dinner with the Vice Chancellor, a little sightseeing, a trip on the ferry, and the Artist’s Ball…”  She tells this to her maid, Dot, to whom Sydney is, “too big, too loud, too noisy and too thickly inhabited to be really respectable or safe.”  While Phryne, in her late twenties, small and highly intelligent, flings herself into all of her anticipated activities, she also faces two major problems.  First, Dot’s sister, married to a boor and the mother of two young children, has disappeared.  It is rumored that she has become a prostitute.

Second, Phryne learns that the safe in the office of the Dean of Arts has been broken into and a number of items are missing:  the Dean’s wife’s jewelry, some money, certain exam papers, a valuable illustrated book, a bit of Arabian papyrus, and an important hand axe.  Which are the most important thefts?  Who broke into the safe – and how?  And where are these items, on which the careers of a number of the faculty men’s careers depend?  The two young men who initially escort Phryne to the university both have unforeseen experiences.

Greenwood tells her protagonist’s tale with elements of sex, magic, and interesting faculty members – all of whom are distinguishable from one another – good descriptions of Sydney , and Phyryne’s bravery, with an edgy, unpredictable, plot.  For American readers, Australian slang and elements of the game of cricket will doubtless be unclear.  But, when Greenwood can hold one’s interest and propel the reader through a ripping plot, why bother about details?  RECOMMENDED.

 - Janet Overmyer

Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur  January, 2008

Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues…Except that this time Floridian Dixie Hemingway (no relation) is hired for an iguana named Ziggy.  Still mourning the deaths of her husband and daughter, Dixie goes to people’s houses and feeds, waters, walks, and cleans up after others’ animals.  After she answers a telephone call from a Ken Kurtz asking her to care for the iguana and is on the way to the house she runs into a woman leading a small English bulldog whose name, she says, is Ziggy.  Coincidence?  Hardly.

Dixie runs into a host of problems.  At the home of Ken Kurtz his guard is shot dead in front of his guardhouse.  Ken Kurtz has an odd blue-gray color to his skin.  His nurse immediately disappears.  The iguana has to be rescued from a cold wine cellar and there are a number of odd-smelling packages in the refrigerator.  Later, when Dixie stops to check on Kurtz, she is knocked unconscious and has to be taken to a hospital.  She becomes involved with two men – one a detective, the other an attorney.  And then the plot becomes complex like you would not believe.

This third in the Dixie Hemingway series is intelligent, at times humorous, believable, and sound in both animal and human psychology.  A small calico kitten shows promise of becoming a permanent resident in Dixie ’s home.  Dixie is a delightful person, as is her job.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for animal people.

 - Janet Overmyer

Kensington Books  February, 2008

“I’m just a Broadway Baby,” Polly Pepper sings.  The sixty-ish TV star is to play the lead in “Mame” in a Glendale theatre.  And, she hopes, she and the cast will all go on to Broadway.  Her gay adult son, Tim, and her maid and best friend, Placenta, are happy for her.  Until, that is, the three of them turn up early for the second day of rehearsal and find Karen Richards, the play’s director, on the floor of the stage – murdered.  A young female member of the cast is arrested and jailed.

While Polly is snooping around, her own life is several times threatened.  Her friend, Detective Randal Archer, is concerned for her.  Meanwhile, several company members come under suspicion:  The bossy artistic director; A woman who can imitate anyone’s voice – male or female; The artistic director’s squeeze; A Japanese actor who was recently fired;  The murdered director’s male friend; and so on.

An oddity in a show business tale, both Tim, who gives Polly an elaborate house party at Pepper Plantation with its Scarlett O’Hara Memorial Staircase, and Placenta, (plainly her name shows she is necessary to Polly) are crazy about Polly and concerned over her safety.  (The house party, by the way, includes spiders and a panther.)

Jordan, a senior publicist with the Walt Disney Studios, cleverly propels the hilarious plot briskly, pointing out that one can seldom, if ever, believe what show business people say.  “And there’s a chance that Harry Connick, Jr. will let me iron his underpants.”  Actual Hollywood performers, living and dead, turn up, along with the obvious source of much of Polly Pepper’s initiative – champagne.  If one were suspicious of the personal lives of show business folks, this novel will enhance one’s delighted dubiousness.  And entertain bouncily as well.

- Janet Overmyer

Bantam Books   February, 2008

When Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen and her three important family members, two cats and a Corgi, plan to attend a local Virginia fund raiser, she, of course, has no idea that she and her veterinarian husband, “Fair” Haristeen, are in for a real shocker.  Not too long before this event, a local Ob/Gyn doctor has been found shot to death and a man confesses to the crime.  But the night of the affair, a local well-to-do woman is found knifed to death on a front lawn.  And standing over her with the murder weapon in her hand is Tazio Chappars, a young architect – and a good friend of Harry’s.  Tazio cannot seem to tell exactly what happened.  Harry knows that her friend is not guilty.  But who is?  After all, when the doctor was killed and a man confessed, Harry’s three animals felt the obvious solution was too easy.

Sneaky Pie, Brown’s feline co-writer, sees to it that the animals are a delight.  Along with the Hairsteen’s owl, snake, possum and another Corgi, there are the “First Rats of Virginia,” small creatures who live in Thomas Jefferson’s former home.  One of them gives an important clue to the cats.  And, near the end, Harry’s animals literally save her life.  No wonder they have their own Cast of Really Important Characters list.

Brown, as in her many other books, has some difficulty deepening characterization of her people, and the political views of many tend to predominate.  Abortion is the major issue here.  But the plot moves easily and those non-humans who speak to each other, if not to their people, are a real pleasure and well worth one’s time.

 - Janet Overmyer

 Janet's reviews of Georges Simenon 
MAN ON THE BOULEVARD, with mentions of two other Simenon classics,

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Poisoned Pen Press  December, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59058-464-4

Theda Krakow of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has a fun job.  She is a free-lance critic of rock and roll gigs for the local newspaper.  Her private life is even better.  She lives with her loving tuxedo cat Musetta (named for Simon’s own cat) and has a homicide detective boy friend Bill (no last name).  But since he is on crutches because of one leg in a cast, Bill can help her very little when her life becomes complicated.

A woman, Gail, a feral cat rescuer, dies after being hit by a car down by the old bottling plant where she was hunting missing felines.  Theda and her friend Violet search the area where Gail was killed, hunting futilely for the cats she had been trying to rescue.  Theda is introduced to Animal Rights, the organization to which Gail belonged, whose leader, Ruth, believes that rescuing feral cats is “one of humanity’s mistakes.”  A friend of Theda’s, Tess, who had been acting strangely for a time is involved in a serious accident and must be rushed to the hospital.  Developers want to place condos where there is now an industrial building – and an area where feral cats are found.  Some groups are opposed to them.  Several folk are unwittingly fed drugs at clubs and become very sick.  Theda is asked to write about a new group, Swann’s Way (no, not Marcel Proust) that seems quite young and inexperienced.  And the Musetta is kidnapped.  (She survives.)  Not to mention that a dramatic conclusion makes Theda’s important newspaper article late.

For this, her third novel, Simon raises several serious, intelligent problems facing many cities today.  The characters are well-drawn and believable, even Musetta, who is a believably real, live character.  The story is convincing and keeps the reader reading – and hoping for the best, which may not necessarily arrive.  A well-told mystery which provokes thinking.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 - Janet Overmyer

William Morrow & Company  November, 2007

Kit sees the remains of a murder.  The tortoiseshell cat, on the roof of the late-night Molena Point , California , plaza sees blood and races to her home to phone the police.  (Thank heavens for touch-tone phones.)  She and her friends, Joe Grey, the gray tomcat, and Dulcie, the tabby, all speak English, but only to certain people.  Kit telephones in an anonymous tip.  “…(E)very investigation in which the cats took part was, unknown to the officers, a cooperative effort between felines and cop…” Although, “…no cop would ever believe such a wild phenomenon as talking cats!”  Sure.

The three felines find a six-year-old girl, who had originally been in the victim’s arms, in a small plaza pump house, and turn her over to the cops.  The child is silent – out of fear or inability to speak?  The police take her under their protection.  The tale also follows the murderer as he hauls the dead man away and tries to cover his tracks.

Meanwhile, Kit, Dulcie and Joe face other situations.  They check on why a couple in their eighties keep hearing running water in their house when there is none.  An elderly woman sees her long-lost male cousin return and immediately ingratiate himself into the neighborhood.  There are three break-ins in various studios.  The cats see the cops find a clue when a perpetrator’s fingerprints are found on a piece of broken crockery.  The cats enjoy watching two young girls making a child’s playhouse to enter in a contest.

The three major residents of Molena Point lead a very, very active life as they race around town and help the police.  In this, her latest Joe Grey mystery, Murphy adroitly sends these lovable, clue-finding felines into their usual suspenseful, exciting adventure.  A must-read for ailurophiles.  Read this while your own purrers meow at you.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 - Janet Overmyer

Dell PBO 12/07

Gladdy Gold is back!  In this, her fourth tale, the seventy-five-year-old Floridian private eye is coping with several problems.  Her seventy-three-year-old sister, Evvie, is depressed over the end of her love affair.  Gladdy is upset with her close friend, Jack, who will not get in contact with her.  A couple in their nineties ask Gladdy and her detectives to discover why their daughter will not agree to come to their anniversary party.

Gladdy is, herself, in New York City visiting her family.  She does not know that Jack, a retired cop, is in New York City trying to investigate the murder of Gladdy’s husband, also named Jack, in 1961.  He went to the aid of a young girl being attacked in an alley and was shot.  The murderer was never found.  Will Jack be able to find a solution?  Are you kidding?  Then Gladdy’s three women friends, helpers in her P.I. business, also go to New York City for a visit.  While there the three solve a minor crime for the New York Police.  Gladdy has trained them well.

This clearly written novel, written from several points of view, is, in some ways, even better than Lakin’s others, if such a thing is possible.  There are amusing bits – such as the three friends adventures in New York – and also serious undertones, even a hint of other-worldly visions.  Lakin brings these Better-Than-Evers and Gen-Actives, as several people have called them, to vivid life.  We care about them, we cheer them on, we appreciate their intelligence and their desires.  Another outstanding novel from a wonderful author.

 - Janet Overmyer

Pocket Books PBO 11/07

Emily Andrews is the “official” escort for twelve Iowa seniors in this, her fifth, adventure.  They, along with several Floridians, are traveling to Scandinavia .  Among the Iowans is Jackie Thun, once Jack, Emily’s former husband and now a female author who is only interested in having people listen to the details of his/her first novel.  The book contains “old-fashioned romance…suspense, humor, fantasy, horror, paranormal…facets.  Why does it not seem to be selling well, Jackie wonders, making every effort to check with the publisher over the Internet.  Emily is now engaged to Etienne Miceli, a Frenchman, and is corresponding with her mother over the planned wedding.  But there is a problem back in Iowa – a twister that “rearranged” all the commercial buildings.

Not to mention the problems on the trip, both on land and at sea.  First, the body of a murdered woman turns up on Finnish soil.  Then that of a Pulitzer Prize winner following a ship excursion.  Emily must sort through her long list of suspects.  Among them:  The married couple who keep predicting the imminent end of the world; A difficult woman whom everyone hates; Two sisters, April and June, whose sister May is missing, presumably with a dark secret.  Of course, Emily’s grandmother Nana and the latter’s one-legged boyfriend, George, are innocent.

The first-person narrative takes off fast and trots along the same, like the herd of reindeer the troupe spots at one point.  The dialogue is rife with interruptions, as in real life.  The reader, even with the author’s attempt to keep the characters all straight, might lose track of some.  Who is that person?  And is the conclusion truly believable?  Still, this is a speedily-moving, amusing vacation most of us have never experienced.

 - Janet Overmyer

On the PAPERBACK PAGE you will find Janet's review of
look for Janet's review of THE BLACK CURL by 
Constance and Gwenyth Little.

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