‘C’ is for Corpse by Sue Grafton

‘C’ is for Corpse by Sue Grafton 1986

Bobby Callahan asks private investigator Kinsey Millhone to IMG_1850look into an accident a year ago where he was run off the road and his friend Rick died in a car crash. He is brain injured and doesn’t remember much but believes someone wanted him dead. She is introduced to his shrink Dr. Kleinert, his wife Nola, Bobby’s mother Glen who is rich, his stepfather Derek and stepsister Kitty, who is anorexic and drug addicted. She’s rushed to the ER.

Grafton takes each possible suspect and has Kinsey grill them, sometimes in a friendly way and sometimes in her sarcastic hardliner way. Grafton throws in a few more suspects, including Rick’s angry parents. The characters are hiding something and Kinsey begins the task of finding out the truth, explaining her own method — she noses around, does background checks, uncovers a threat, and follows where it leads.

Kinsey and Bobby visit the crash site, and he remembers a notebook he gave to a friend. Kinsey recalls the accident in which a boulder hit her family’s car and killed her parents. She was in the back seat and pinned to the floor, listening to her mother dying. Kinsey is her mother’s maiden name. If that doesn’t make the reader sympathetic to Kinsey, nothing will.

Her landlord Henry has a girlfriend, Lila, who Rosa thinks is a snake. She doesn’t like Kinsey and brings up her low rent. Kinsey checks into her and discovers Lila is a con artist. It’s a subplot that explores Kinsey’s personal life and how much her neighbors mean to her. When she searches Lola’s room, she is almost caught hiding in the shower. Some tense moments of hiding foreshadow the ending when she runs and hides from the killer. Grafton likes Kinsey to face the bad guy on her own. She doesn’t have her gun, but she finds a handy weapon to save her own life and capture the bad guy.

A few things were hard to accept like operating an x-ray machine although Grafton talks us into buying it. I kept getting the two doctors mixed up and the roles they played. This is where reading the book a second time helps. I didn’t like Kinsey going to an abandoned building alone without a gun. I thought she was smarter than that.

 

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‘B’ is for Burglar

B is for Burlgar by Sue Grafton 1985

It’s been three years since Sue wrote ‘A’ is for Alibi and it shows in her writing. Where ‘A’ started a bit slow, ‘B’ moves the story at a faster pace from the very beginning. It starts at a simple missing person job. Kinsey Millhone needs to find Elaine Boldt because her sister Beverly needs her signature on a legal document.B is for Burglar

The story becomes more interesting when Elaine’s departure for Florida coincides with a burglary in which the neighbor, Marty, was bludgeoned to death and the house set on fire. Her husband Leonard is staying with his sister Lily and nephew Mike is growing pot in the shed behind the charred ruins of his former home. Kinsey has to travel to Florida to see if Elaine ever made it. Pat claims to be subletting her apartment but she claims Elaine picked her up at the airport and drove her here. Grafton drops a big clue. Elaine doesn’t drive. Pat is lying but why? When Beverly wants to drop the case, Julia in Florida pays for the investigation. Kinsey travels between California and Florida to piece together the facts. She also enlist the help of a cop to bypass Dolan’s stuck investigation. When she checks into the insurance angle, the policy on Marty and their home insurance was small and provides no motive. She can’t find a motive for anyone to get rid of Elaine so where is she?

Small things add up to the big picture. I liked how Kinsey uses a clipboard and claims to be from the insurance company so she can interview Leonard. She makes friends with old ladies and Mohawk-haired teenage boys with ease. Jonah is introduced as a possible love interest but timing is wrong for both of them. Kinsey’s tenacity is shown as well as some background information into her personal life. An aunt raised her after her parents died – the cause wasn’t revealed. It was the same aunt who took her to a gun range at a young age and set her on the path to law enforcement and future private investigator. I suspect more of her personal life will be revealed through the remaining books. At least I hope so. I won’t tell you more of the plot and ruin it, but the pieces begin to add up and the book’s ending is a nail biter because Kinsey left her gun locked in her office.

 

‘A’ is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

‘A’ is for Alibi by Sue GraftonA Crafton

My mom loved murder mysteries, and Sue Grafton was one of her favorites. I gathered some of the alphabet murder books and plan to read through them from A to Y. Grafton died before finishing Z.

I finished ‘A’ is for Alibi today, and since I would like to write a mystery, I’m going to note the things I learned from her writing.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments about Grafton and her writing.

The book was published in 1982 and although some things in the book are dated, it doesn’t matter. What is unusual for 1982 is the private investigator Kinsey Millhone. She’s a woman, but not a grandmotherly type or amateur sleuth. She’s a hard-nose, twice divorced, 32-year-old professional. The story begins with her admitting to killing someone in the fourth sentence. Grafton got right to the point quickly—name, occupation, age and POW—killing someone. I’ve been told to introduce the murder in the first page. Grafton does it in the first paragraph, but it’s not the real murder.

The real murder occurred 8 years ago and Nikki Fife served eight years in jail for murdering her cheating husband. She wants Kinsey to find out who the real murderer was. That’s the story. Grafton introduces us to Kinsey’s bare-bones life, her hangout, her neighbor, and a cop who helps with the case. She introduces suspects one at a time, dropping clues along the way. The interviews provide information and secrets that the reader inhales along with Kinsey. I was kept guessing until the end, well, maybe not the very end. But knowing made the ending more exciting because of the danger.

Grafton uses description to set up each chapter, which is a compact scene, a part of the puzzle she’s assembling for the reader. Each witness provides a clue, lead, or lie to keep the reader moving along to solve the mystery. I kept a list of the characters, but they were distinct enough to keep separate if you don’t put the book down for too long.

Grafton adds a fresh murder with an unknown motive Kinsey and the reader need to discover. She also throws in dinner and sex for Kinsey. A red herring is planted and Kinsey uses a tough interview technique (pointing a gun at him) to eliminate the suspect.

The clues come rapid fire in the second half of the book with twist and turns that change the motive from cheating spouse to something more. When another witness is run down in a hit skip, Kinsey is in danger and she defends herself the only way she knows how. No one comes to her rescue. No one needs to.

Grafton makes Kinsey a well-rounded character, not the typical stereotype detective that too many writers fall back on. She’s gritty and straightforward but knows when to listen. She makes mistakes, but doesn’t lose her way. Many of the characters are women in the book (good and bad) and that may seem normal in 2018 but it had to be groundbreaking in 1982.  Now, only 24 more books to go.

Sue Grafton (April 24, 1940 – Dec. 28, 2017) didn’t write ‘Z’ is for Zero. She left that to our imaginations. Thank you.

Cozy Mystery writing

I received “Maid of Murder” and “Murder in a Basket” by Amanda Flowers as prizes during a Sisters in Crime anniversary party.Amanda Flowers

I enjoyed the first two books in an India Hayes Murder series and instead of a review (she is a friend after all) I will share some of the things I learned about writing a cozy mystery from reading her books.

The first obvious one is write what you know. Amanda and I are both from the Akron or the Northeast Ohio area. Her books are set in this area in a fictional town but nearby real references. I set my historical romances also in this area in the fictional town of Darrow Falls but with references to real places.

She introduces the main character, India, and creates sympathy for her by placing her in one of those awkward moments we have all experienced. In book 1, she is a bridesmaid for her best friend (who unfortunately is the murder victim) and has to wear an ugly dress. We’ve all been there and feel a bond toward her. In the second book she has to wear a historical dress, which most of us would also balk at, especially in public.

Other characters are introduced one at a time or in small groups and some are mean toward her. We don’t know if they’re suspects yet, but we’d like them to be.

Secrets and rumors are introduced in the second book to pique our interest while in the first, India is treated badly but not as badly as her love-struck brother, who has always had a crush on the bride-to-be.

Because it’s a cozy, there are dogs and cats and eccentric old ladies and nosy neighbors sprinkled among the small town setting.

The cop is an old boyfriend of India’s sister but the reader knows, even though India seems to be oblivious to the fact, that he’s interested in her. In any mystery, the love story is minor but can enhance the story. She can solve a mystery, but she doesn’t have a clue about love.

The main character discovers the dead body. In the first book, the suspect is her brother and their close bond makes it necessary for her to prove his innocence. In the second book, she befriends the son of the first victim and wants to find out the truth.

In this book there is a sidekick, like Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes, who offers some comic relief and helps with the investigation.

Suspects are eliminated one at a time and a motive is revealed, usually money.

She also adds a family crisis, which helps take the focus off the murder and expand what we know about the main character. Unlike traditional hard detective mysteries, the reader learns about the main character’s family, work, and dreams.

More suspects are added as the amateur sleuth interviews witnesses. Some pan out while others are dead ends.

A minor incident in the beginning often proves to be more important in the end.

By accident the heroine ends up finding herself alone with the killer who reveals his motive and threatens her. She fights back, rescues herself, and calls the cops who arrest the bad guy.

The story wraps up quickly at the end, but an epilogue gives us a glimpse into what happened to the main characters.

 

 

Review of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

Dec. 29, 2017 Outlander by Diana GabaldonOutlander-TV-cover

I read the 550 ebook pages of Outlander this past week. If you do the same, allow plenty of time. I also have watched the television series based on the book. Sometimes a book is better. Sometimes the movie or television series is better. This was a close one to call. Because the television series is filmed in Scotland, it brings the descriptions in the book to life, and the characters are more alive by actors portraying them with the mud, rain, and pain part of the reality. The book filled in some of the missing information about the characters’ backgrounds and family scheming and betrayals that aren’t as evident in the series. Black Jack is definitely scarier in the series. Although the descriptions are graphic in the novel, the impact is stronger, if not horrific, when viewing them. The series also allows more than Claire’s point of view and the sound of Gaelic as the actors speak it. Which is better than me trying to pronounce it. I think the book and series are an excellent example of marrying the two and both being equally enjoyable.

What do you think?

 

Book review for “The Cavalry Wife”

The Cavalry Wife

Book review for “The Cavalry Wife” by Donna Dalton

Dalton has a gift for poetic phrasing that captures the historic setting and transports the reader to President Grant’s time period. When his timid cousin Cassie Grant accidentally shares her bed with cavalry Captain Chase Brooks, they are forced to marry to avoid a scandal. A common ploy in romance novels, Dalton deepens the challenge of keeping the perfect couple apart with the backstories of Cassie and Chase. They wrestle with their own demons and struggle to resist the growing need to unite as husband and wife physically and emotionally in a natural progression. Dalton provides plenty of action, and she passes the test of historic romance by creating a story that could only take place in this time period. I only wish she had written a longer story.

Book review for “The Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie”

“The Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie” by Penny Burwell Ewing is the second book in The Haunted Salon series and combines ghostly helpers with a cozy mystery to keep the reader turning the pages.utterly-deadly-southern-pecan-pie-1

Written in first person, Jolene Claiborne is the hair stylist who sees ghost and solves mysteries. She has two younger sisters who help her and parents with a history that makes Daddy the prime suspect. Detective Samuel Bradford is the love interest but at odds with her special powers and knack for finding trouble.

It has a strong Southern voice and the setting backs it up with a beauty pageant, baking contest, Southern mansion, and Civil War reenactment. The modern day mystery is solved with clues from the Civil War and unfolds in a well-paced series of events that reveal just enough to keep the reader waiting for the next hint to drop. Jolene is the type of character that keeps readers coming back to find out what she’ll do next.

Book reviews

I’m catching up on my reading now that the weather has turned cold. I hope to have something posted every week but bear with me if I miss a week. I post books I enjoyed and want to share. If I didn’t like a book, I won’t post a review. We all have different taste, and someone may love a book I didn’t like. If I see a major flaw or room for improvement, I will try to offer some helpful advice. I appreciate feedback from my books as well. Join me in reading a few good books this winter.

Laura Freeman

 

Review of “For Better or Hearse”

Book review for “For Better or Hearse” by Ann Yost.17339235

Nick Bowman is the proverbial bad boy who returns home to save the family fortune and reputation. Daisy Budd, is the plain sister who falls for him. The romance story is combined with a cozy mystery as Nick and Daisy search for a “blue diamond” and bodies appear in the mortuary turned wedding boutique. Family members with marital problems and crazy citizens who have unique wedding plans add to the zany list of characters that interfere with their love life. I personally thought the older sister’s behavior was forced and not logical and could have been handled differently, but overall, the story worked. Four out of five stars.

HUDSON – Writers have created mystical and magical worlds like Wonderland, Neverland and Camelot to comfort adults and children in times of grief and worry, said Gregory Maguire, the best selling author of “Wicked.” Hiddensee

More than 150 people met the author Nov. 8 at the Hudson Library and Historical Society where Maguire shared his writing experience, and fans could purchase copies of his latest book, “Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker” which imagines the backstory to the classic tale of “The Nutcracker.”

Hiddensee” is a story of hope and intertwines the famous nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker, Drosselmeier, who carves him. 

Written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffmann as a story for children, the tale of “The Nutcracker and Mouse King” makes little sense, Maguire said. There’s a lot of digression, and it’s never explained. It’s a “schizophrenic story.”

Then Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote the musical score and made it a seasonal favorite, he said. Most of the crowd admitted to seeing the annual Christmas ballet.

Maguire said Act 1 was a pretty good story with Clara and The Prince battling the evil Mouse King, but Act 2 was as if a relative “brought out a slide show story from their eight-month vacation trip.”

The dances have nothing to do with Clara or the Mouse King, Maguire said.

Hiddensee” creates a backstory for “The Nutcracker,” much like “Wicked” created the backstory for the wicked witch of the west in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Raised in a strict household, “The Wizard of Oz” was the one movie Maguire and his six siblings were allowed to watch.

I would organize a play around it and cast parts,” Maguire said. “If you take all the music out of it, it runs 12 minutes.”

Then Maguire would mix up the story and add characters such as Captain Hook and Tinkerbell.

If you add something, the story can’t end the same,” Maguire said.

One version of the story had Captain Hook marrying the wicked witch and having “Little Hookin’s and Snookin’s.”

His father was a journalist and his stepmother a poet, and Maguire said he began writing “Wicked” in the second grade.

The story belonged to us, and I played it over and over again,” he said.

Maguire shared early handwritten stories and drawings, which included fires and people falling out of windows.

They were always filled with adventure,” he said. “I liked to save them in the end.”

Maguire was 24 when his first book, “The Lightning Time” was published. He has written 25 children’s books and 10 adult books.

While living in London, he read about a brutal murder, which made him think about the antagonist in a story, he said.

How do people go from healthy to being guilty of murder? Or a monster?” he said.

He thought about the witch in the “Wizard of Oz” who was bad, Maguire said. That meant she was unredeemable, and it was all right to vanquish her.

There was no backstory for the witch,” Maguire said.

He decided to create one and wrote “Wicked” in five months.

It was my first royalty check with more money than enough for two hamburgers,” Maguire said. “I thought they made a mistake.”

His fortune changed at the age of 39 when “Wicked” sold a million copies, he said. Broadway turned it into a musical, which has been performed more than 4,000 times in its decade run and has won 35 major awards, including a Grammy and multiple Tony Awards.