Category Archives: Mystery

Annis Ward Jackson. Blue Ridge Parkway Plunge. United States: SunnyBrick Publishers, 2009.

blue ridgeRachel Myers, who readers first met in Blind Malice, has moved back to her Blue Ridge home in (fictitious) Sheppard County, North Carolina.  Rachel feels guilty moving back now, rather than a few years earlier when her elderly father could have used her help, but now she has a good job waiting for her at a high-end retirement community near her hometown.  Donna Matheson, Rachel’s longtime friend, alerted her to job.  Now that Rachel is back in the area, Donna thinks that she has also found the right man for Rachel–Detective Robby Barnett.  This kind of meddling is what old friends do, right?

But the plot in this book centers on a different friendship.  Isaac Starling has been the hired man on the Myers farm for decades.  He was more than a workman, he was a loyal friend to Rachel’s late father, and Rachel is so fond of him that she wants him to live in the family home with her now.  So Rachel can’t refuse Isaac when he asks her to investigate the death of his friend, Jack Whaley.  Mr. Whaley’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The authorities think that his death was suicide or an accident, but Isaac can’t accept that.  Isaac insists that Jack was an upright man, but under questioning by Rachel he remembers a few occasions when Jack bumped up against some trouble.  It’s not much to go on, but Rachel follows those leads–with help from that nice Detective Barnett.

This is the second book in the Rachel Myers Murder Mystery Series.  Readers will enjoy learning more about Rachel’s interests; gardeners will particularly appreciate the description of Rachel’s plans for the gardens around her family home.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Lights, Camera, Novel: Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan Series.

Kathy Reichs and Emily Deschanel

Kathy Reichs (left), author of Temperance Brennan series and Emily Deschanel (right) star of Bones, a TV show loosely adapted from Reichs’ series. Image courtesy of www.kathyreichs.com/bones.

From the outset it was important to me that the heroine of the series differ somewhat from that in my books. If the two were identical, how would that impact future novels? I often give nicknames to the victims I analyze at my lab. I guess I’ve done that with Bones, labeling the two manifestations of my character “TV Tempe” and “Book Tempe.”

-Kathy Reichs, from her sub-site on Bones

Bones is approaching the ten-year mark. Season nine is well underway and the popular crime drama has been renewed for another season. But before there was Bones, forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs penned the Temperance Brennan series. Reichs has mentioned during interviews that she began writing the series after she became a tenured professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After authoring journal articles and textbooks, Reichs was interested in trying something new. Fiction seemed like the best way to share science with a more generalized audience.

Reichs wrote Déjà Dead, the first book in the series in 1997. Now, in 2014, there are sixteen books in total, with number seventeen due out at some point in the next year. Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series and subsequent Bones TV adaptation, which debuted in 2005, have infiltrated pop culture. But the two formats, more aptly, the two Tempes, are quite different across several categories.

“Book Tempe” is a little older than “TV Tempe” and more situated in her career. She’s also a divorced mom whereas her TV counterpart is has never been married and is child-free. “TV Tempe” works at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and “Book Tempe” splits her time, much like Reichs, between teaching at UNC-Charlotte and assisting on crime scenes at the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale in Montreal. Both deal with personal problems. For instance “Book Tempe” negotiates her past alcoholism whereas “TV Tempe” struggles with her deficient social skills and lack of pop culture knowledge (an ongoing joke in the show); her behavior has been remarked on for its characteristics reminiscent of autism.

The Tempes have at least two things in common though – each series is long-running and each exists as a result of the support and input of Reichs. In the case of the novels, Reichs is the author, tapping into her life experience. On Bones, Reichs is a producer who balances the entertainment with scientific accuracy. Reichs has written one episode for Bones, “The Witch in the Wardrobe,” which aired in 2010 (Season 5, Episode 20). They might be markedly different, but the two incarnations of Tempe have Reich’s stamp of approval. Audiences can feel free to love two versions of the same woman.

While Bones is not available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog, all of the published books in the Temperance Brennan series are available. You can read a previous synopsis of the series here. This blog has individual entries on Death du Jour, Deadly Decisions, Fatal Voyage, Bare Bones, Devil Bones, Spider Bones, Flash and Bones and Bones of the Lost.

Sources consulted here: Bones Wiki (two different entries), E! Online, IGN, Kathy Reichs, NPR, Screen Rant, Wikipedia (two different entries)

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2005, Mystery, Reichs, Kathy, Suspense/Thriller

Annis Ward Jackson. Blind Malice. North Carolina: Annis Ward Jackson, 2009.

blindIt’s every adult child’s nightmare: an elderly parent, isolated and confused, mishandles his financial affairs and winds up deeply in debt.  Rachel Myers never expected that to happen to her father Paul.  Yes, Paul was blind, but with the help of a housekeeper and a longtime farm hand and friend, Isaac Starling, he managed his mountain farm.  Rachel, who lives in Arizona, felt some pull to come home, but she knew she would never find a job in the mountains as good as the managerial job that she has in Flagstaff.

Only when Paul dies and Rachel comes back to North Carolina to bury him does she find out how bad Paul’s situation had become.  Rachel learns from Isaac that her father fired his longtime housekeeper soon after a local banker, Ed McKinney, became a frequent visitor to the farm.  And the farm itself has changed–the cattle have been sold and the house and surrounding yard have had expensive improvements that surprise Rachel.  But the biggest surprise is that Paul Myers died in debt to the tune of $230,000.  How did this happen–and does it have anything to do with the surveyor’s stakes that dot the nearby hill?  As Rachel looks into her father’s financial affairs, time and again she is led back to Ed McKinney and his puzzling influence on her father.

This is the first book in a  series of ten novels by Ms. Jackson, all set along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Watch this site for summaries of later books in the series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Ernest Beasley. Cape Fear Murders. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2011.

capefearThe body count gets high in this novel of adultery, revenge, and abuse of power set in Lee County, North Carolina.  First one high school girl is raped and murdered, then another, and another, and another. When the father of the fourth victim becomes impatient with the pace of the investigation, he contacts retired United States Marshall, Kenneth Sadler.  Sadler, a widower, is happy for the work and grateful for an excuse to temporarily relocate away from the many widows in nearby Moore County who view him as a desirable catch.

Sadler does not get off on the right foot with Lee County Sheriff Joe Dorman.  While it’s natural that the local authorities do not welcome a private investigator from the outside, Sadler learns that Sheriff Dorman may have particular reasons for trying to keep a tight rein on this case.  Other discoveries raise questions about the behaviors and intentions of both high school students and the adults in their lives.  Whose behavior is more foolish? More dangerous?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Beasley, Ernest, Coastal Plain, Lee, Moore, Mystery, New Hanover

Phyllis Whitney. Star Flight. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993.

In the midst of Asheville’s heyday in the 1930s, silver screen idols Victoria Frazer and Roger Brandt signed on to co-star in what was sure to be a wildly successful film, Blue Ridge Cowboy. During production, an attraction developed between the two stars. Unfortunately Brandt was already married. The affair was kept hushed for appearances. Things got messier though, when Frazer became pregnant. Her illegitimate daughter was handed off quietly to another family in California. However, when it was clear that Brandt had no intention of divorcing his wife, Camilla, Victoria committed suicide, supposedly drowning herself in Lake Lure. Her body was never recovered and Roger Brandt’s career was ruined when fans learned of the tragedy. After Victoria’s death, Brandt moved to Lake Lure in semi-seclusion, and forced Camilla to come along with him.

Lauren Castle has lived in the shadow of these legends. Her mother was Frazer and Brandt’s illicit child. Although Lauren’s mother never displayed any interest in finding out more about her parents, Lauren collected old magazines and photos of her grandmother in secret. As a child, she was mesmerized by Victoria and Roger’s scandal. For the most part, Lauren has kept her true parentage under wraps. Her husband, Jim, a documentary filmmaker was one of the few to know her family history. He was enthused to discover Lauren’s background, so much that he was eventually inspired to make a documentary on Roger Brandt, an interest that ultimately led to his death. Lauren refused to go with him while he worked on the documentary, and she instead remained behind in California. Early into the project, Jim was killed accidentally when a large beam fell on him during filming.

Even after Jim’s death, Lauren has little interest in venturing to North Carolina until she receives a cryptic note claiming that Jim’s death was quite intentional. When she arrives in Lake Lure, Lauren hides behind her identity as Jim Castle’s wife. Victoria was born in Asheville and her remaining family live around Lake Lure. Lauren meets Victoria’s siblings, Gretchen, an innkeeper and healer, and Ty, a mountain man, as well as Roger and Camilla Brandt and their children and grandchildren. She also encounters Gordon Heath, an old friend of Jim’s, with whom she had a short-lived tryst eleven years ago. By hiding her identity, Lauren learns some surprising details from Brandt family members. Soon she is inadvertently investigating the unresolved mysteries behind Jim’s death and Victoria’s suicide. Many contradictory accounts of Victoria’s character surface, some highly unflattering. Although Lauren feels a greater connection and allegiance to her deceased grandmother than her living grandfather, she starts to wonder if her facts are wrong. Who was Victoria Frazer – innocent victim or vindictive siren?

There’s a lot going on in Star Flight. Novelist Phyllis Whitney packed in two intriguing mysteries at once, fictional Old Hollywood stars, tangled family relationships, romance, a bit of the supernatural, and some surprising facts about kudzu. A prolific author, Whitney wrote the novel in 1993, and it was one of her last books before her death in 2008 at the age of 104. Whitney’s research into the North Carolina mountains is evident, and Star Flight promises readers plenty of suspense.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1993, Mountains, Mystery, Romance/Relationship, Rutherford, Whitney, Phyllis A.

Judy Hogan. Farm Fresh and Fatal. Wethersfield, CT: Mainly Murder Press, 2013.

Farm Fresh and FatalRiverdell has a brand new farmers’ market, and Penny Weaver has jumped on board as a vendor. She and her neighbor Leroy Hassel are responsible for retailing the harvested crop at the market, but the actual farming is a neighborhood affair that involves several of Penny and her husband Kenneth’s friends and acquaintances. Penny, Leroy, and their crew might grow some beautiful produce and yield some lovely eggs, but they’re first-timers among all the veteran farmers with plenty to learn about market politics. Farming isn’t all sunshine and roses. Penny will be forced to get her hands soiled like the rest of the farmers, but she’ll be digging up more than dirt.

Penny’s decision to shoulder a substantial role with the market causes immediate tension with Kenneth, who is not happy to learn that the market will run until Thanksgiving, which will cut into their annual six-month sojourn to Wales (Kenneth’s homeland) by two months.  He’s also concerned that between her teaching and the market, Penny will overwork herself. Then there are the implications of racism. Penny learns from the market’s manager, Nora, that two of the board members voted against Sammie Hargrave joining the market on the grounds that Sammie is just a “backyard gardener” with her flower arrangements. But Penny suspects that the board members in question voted against Sammie out of uglier motivations.

The career farmers are off to a rocky start themselves. Many of the farmers dislike Giles Dunn’s genetically modified fruit and vegetables. Most of the male farmers can’t stop lusting after Abbie Kidd, daughter of Sibyl Kidd, the resident baker and jelly-maker. Sibyl refuses to compromise with the other farmers and throws tantrums when she does not get the front spot at the market. And nobody likes Kent Berryman, the meddlesome and leering poultry agent. Kent lingers around the market under the excuse that Andy Style, a local agricultural agent, hired him to take photos of the vendors. Kent takes pleasure in inserting himself into the farmers’ business and flirting with any and every woman around.

Just as it seems that the farmers might have come closer to resolving their differences, Kent winds up dead. Or, more specifically, murdered. The police believe that Kent was poisoned after drinking homemade punch at Nora’s stand, which makes Nora their prime suspect. Penny isn’t convinced that Nora was behind Kent’s murder. Sure Nora hated Kent, but so did most of the other farmers. Kent was a difficult man to like. Worse yet, the state of the market is in jeopardy. In light of Kent’s poisoning, the state agricultural department is already considering closing Riverdell’s farmers’ market. With Nora’s freedom and the market’s survival on the line, Penny and Sammie start sleuthing.

Farm Fresh and Fatal is novelist Judy Hogan’s second Penny Weaver mystery. Hogan writes a lively whodunit that will leave readers guessing the identity of the murderer to the very last chapter. The farmers’ market setting is particularly apt. Hogan is also a small farmer who resides in Moncure, North Carolina. She used to participate in the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. Here in the Triangle, farmers’ markets seem to be enjoying an uptick in popularity. There are markets in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, and Raleigh. Quite a few of the cities and towns, like Raleigh, have multiple markets. If you’re local to North Carolina, you can search the NC Farm Fresh website to find markets near your home town. So go buy some farm fresh produce and then hunker down and tuck into Hogan’s intriguing novel. Or read about Hogan’s first Penny Weaver mystery in this blog post and learn more about Hogan herself in this article from The Daily Tar Heel.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chatham, Hogan, Judy, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont

William Conescu. Kara Was Here. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press, 2013.

Kara Was HereLife after college doesn’t always go exactly as planned. Brad Mitchell had rainbow-hued hair and hoped to find serious employment as an actor. He was cast in a few area productions and commercials, but nothing that amounted to a real paycheck. So his part-time gig as a realtor went full-time. His wife’s pregnancy and recent vision problems make Brad feel well into his mid-thirties. Margot Cominsky has shed her racy image as “Cougar Cominsky,” seductress of the football team. Instead, she’s packed on some extra weight, probably a result of her booming muffin business. Her love life is unsteady and her current long-distance relationship is steering through choppy waters. Kara Tinsley, Brad’s college girlfriend and Margot’s college friend, moved to New York City to chase after her dreams of becoming an actress. She abandoned Brad back in North Carolina without much of a second look back. Unfortunately, Kara never managed to make a name for herself on Broadway. And now she’s dead.

Kara’s old college friends and family have gathered to mourn her sudden death. Reportedly, Kara died of an overdose. Not a complete shock since to the very end,  she refused to sacrifice her wild nature. Her friends remember Kara’s untamable, spitfire personality and irreverent sense of humor. At the funeral, Brad and Margot are surprised to see each other so different from their college years. They’re even more surprised to meet Steve, Kara’s secret fiancé. Steve (or “Mullet” as Kara called him) was Kara’s last roommate. Margot recalls that Kara didn’t have a single nice word for Mullet the entire time they lived together. So she doubts that Mullet, a hulky, forty-seven year-old loser, and Kara were ever in a serious relationship.

Brad reaches out to Kara’s younger sister, Gwen, who is eighteen and on the cusp of college, freedom, and young adulthood. He offers her a number to call for a little extra support or advice. Gwen ventures to New York for a special summer arts program. She had planned to spend the summer bonding with Kara. Despite Kara’s absence, Gwen decides to attend. During Kara’s funeral though, things turn slightly strange.  Both Brad and Gwen see an apparition of Kara, who lectures them and teases them with her usual spunk. Just as Gwen enters Kara’s old haunts and associates with her sister’s former paramours, Margot drags Brad into her suspicions that Kara was murdered.

A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and NC State graduate, William Conescu, writes a psychological portrait of three college friends and their relatives and significant others. Brad’s double vision seems to represent the central aspect of the novel: aging and its effects on identity. Conescu’s characters, Brad and Margot in particular, are split in their identities, stuck between their former teenage and twenty-something self and the passage into their new thirty-something self. Gwen endures a similar entrance into young adulthood. Kara’s death brings Brad and Margot, and even Gwen, into a state of unnerving self-evaluation. But they soon realize that not only was Kara not exactly the person they thought her to be, neither are they.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Conescu, William, Mystery, Orange, Piedmont, Suspense/Thriller

Ellery Adams. Poisoned Prose. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2013.

Poisoned ProseOlivia Limoges is stuck. Lately, progress on her novel has stalled and Olivia feels uninspired in her writing. At the latest meeting of the Bayside Book Writers, Olivia’s friends and closest critics complain that her protagonist, Kamila is limp and dull. The exact opposite of what you’d expect from an Egyptian courtesan wooing a pharaoh. Fellow member Laurel Hobbs suggests that the band of writers spend the upcoming Saturday together at the annual Oyster Bay Cardboard Regatta, grab some dinner, and then catch the main highlight of the day: performances by the Southern Storytellers Network at the town’s library. Famed storyteller Violetta Devereux has top-billing at the event. Violetta’s storytelling has reportedly inspired artists of all varieties, and the Bayside Book Writers are excited to experience her stories firsthand.

But Olivia doesn’t mention to her friends that she helped sponsor the event. As a wealthy restaurateur, Olivia juggles several irons in the fire around Oyster Bay. A few weeks earlier, Flynn McNulty, Olivia’s former boyfriend and proprietor of Through the Wardrobe, Oyster Bay’s independent bookshop, approached Olivia about the storytellers’ retreat. Flynn and the local paper, the Gazette, partnered to host the event. But when their grant funding fell through at the last second, Flynn appealed to Olivia for a little bit of last minute help. Olivia hesitated at first, but after she encountered a powerful instance of storytelling in a dive bar, she signed on as a sponsor. Just like Laurel predicts, the storytelling event turns out to be a quite memorable night.

Violetta Devereux was born to a poor Appalachian farmer. But her gift of captivating storytelling and her striking appearance helped her escape her roots and make a name for herself as a master storyteller. The night of the storytelling event, Violetta is characteristically hypnotic. She opens with the cryptic story of her own impending death. After the performance, Olivia goads Violetta’s manager, Lowell, for a private interview with Violetta to learn the secrets behind her storytelling skills. Apparently Violetta does not give interviews and she only performs in partial darkness. But, unexpectedly, Violetta consents to Olivia’s request. During their conversation, Violetta mentions a hidden treasure that will die with her. And, as it turns out, Violetta’s meeting with Olivia is her last.

Not long after their conversation, Lowell finds Violetta strangled in the library conference room. Olivia and her current beau, Oyster Bay Police Chief Sawyer Rawlings, begin investigating Violetta’s death immediately. Their primary suspect is Lowell because of his questionable past. But their initial suspicious subside when Lowell appears more spooked than anyone else. He is convinced that a ghost is behind Violetta’s murder, and he fears he might be next. As Olivia and Rawlings examine the case, they find a trickle of odd clues leading them to a surprising conclusion with unexpected interconnections. The secret to Violetta’s death, they learn, resides in her stories and her personal history.

Stories are at the heart of novelist Ellery Adams’ fifth volume in the Books by the Bay mystery series. Olivia recognizes the potential for stories to unite people. Adams also takes the time to develop the lives of the central characters further beyond the one-off murder-mystery plot. Relationships change over the course of Poisoned Prose, some for the better and some for the worse. Characters succeed – Bayside Book Writers member Millay finds literary representation – and other characters struggle – like Olivia who falters in developing her novel. Adams presents a number of intertwined stories, sure to interest many readers. But just as a local fisherman, Captain Fergusson, warns Olivia, “Sure, stories can be like a fire on a cold night. But they can burn too. There ain’t nothin’ can cut deeper or sting with more poison than words can…Words have power, and all things of power are dangerous.” Stories and words have the dangerous power of manipulation over collective memory and history.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Adams, Ellery, Coast, Mystery, Novels in Series

Jane Tesh. Now You See It. Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press, 2013.

now

Rabbits are the animals most often associated with magicians, but Wizards of Wonder, the magicians club in Now You See It, is more of a snake pit. The Finch brothers, Lucas and Taft, are the peacemakers in the group.  They get the idea to channel their colleagues’ energies in a positive direction by having a contest. Whoever can open the special box the brothers have–a box that once belonged to the great magician Harry Houdini–can help themselves to any of the the brothers’ magic props.  But before the contest gets going, someone steal the Houdini box.

Although this is clearly a crime, the Finch brothers do not want to involve the police.  Instead they contact David Randall, a private investigator who is the main character in this and the two earlier books in the Grace Street Mystery series. David’s business is just limping along, so he is happy for the case. But when Taft Finch is murdered and one of the other magicians attacked, David knows that this is about more than a simple theft. Professional jealousy, deception, thwarted romance all swirl together.

This is the third Grace Street Mystery, and characters and issues from the early novels are present in Now You See It.  David’s romance with Kary is progressing, and David’s dreams of his dead daughter are becoming more a source of comfort than pain. David’s housemate and friend, Cameron wants to propose to his lady love, Ellin, but she has been distracted by her job on the Psychic Service Network–and her work problems cleverly figure in the plot.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Tesh, Jane

David James. Harmes’ Way. United States: River Farm Books, 2012.

harmesBen Harmes is an Outer Banks native, but he spent most of his adult life working as a policeman in Boston.  After his wife’s death, an ill-advised second marriage, and over zealous interest in a politically sensitive case, Ben has washed back up on the North Carolina coast.  His daughter Kate, a state park ranger, provides good company, as do a number of easy-going, beer-drinking locals.

One of those locals is Charlie Evans, a good ol’ boy who matches Ben drink for drink.  Charlie can take it easy because his underwater filming company made good money from its part in the recovery of gold from a downed German U-boat just off the coast.  As Harmes’ Way opens Ben, hung over, is rushing to meet Charlie for some early morning surf casting.  When Ben finds Charlie’s SUV, rod, and waders, but no Charlie, his policeman’s instincts kick in.  Even though the sheriff’s deputy suspects nothing more sinister than an accidental drowning, Ben begins to nose around.  He learns from Charlie’s business partner, Sophie Carson, that two men associated with the U-boat film project died under suspicious circumstances just a few months back.  Then Sophie’s house is bombed.  Sophie survives, and she teams up with Ben in a adventures that moves across North Carolina from the Outer Banks, to Wilmington, to Grandfather Mountain, to 100 feet below the surface of the ocean off Hatteras Island.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Coast, Dare, James, David, Mystery