Blog Posts by David

  • Odd Bird Livens Up North Carolina Mystery

    "The Buzzard Table" by Margaret Maron
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The appearance of a mysterious stranger in a remote area contributes elements of unease and foreboding to North Carolina author Margaret Maron's latest Deborah Knott novel.

    Add to that, that said stranger is also collecting roadkill to attract the local buzzardry, and the creepy factor ratchets up even higher.

    As the story progresses, this man turns out to be a relative of Sigrid Harald; her mother, Anne; and Anne's mother, who is dying from cancer.

    NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald has ventured down from New York City, as has Anne, to comfort their terminally ill matriarch and to assist in inventorying her valuable estate.

    Meanwhile, their connection to the stranger-- and his secret tie to Anne's professional past as a photojournalist-- is threaded into a story that features the murder of a local (fictitious Colleton County, N.C.) realtor.

    When her body is dumped not far from "the buzzard table," the spot where the

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  • Having it All: Two Men and Adrenaline

    "Notorious Nineteen" by Janet Evanovich
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Some day, somewhere, someone will construct a Ph.D. dissertation on the topic, "Stephanie Plum as Postmodern Woman."

    It's amazing how many readers criticize this entertaining series on the basis that "Jersey Girl" (and divorcee, lest we forget) Plum should settle on one of her two paramours, either Trenton, New Jersey, detective Joseph Morelli, or Trenton security specialist Ranger, aka Carlos Mancuso.

    Which begs the question, why? Why, if she can have some of both? Like cake and pie? With ice cream, at that.

    Besides, Ranger doesn't wish to wed.

    And, Morelli wants Stephanie to give up her job as a bond-enforcement agent for her cousin Vinnie Plum.

    Why should she? She enjoys the adrenaline rush. It's part of who she is, and why both men are attracted to her. If Morelli merely wanted a pot-roasting, apron-wearing beer fetcher, he could have settled on one years ago.

    But, he (and Ranger) both realize that

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  • For Whom the Bells of St. Edwold's Toll

    "A Fatal Winter" by G.M. Malliet
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The holidays can bring out the beast in people, particularly when those people are a beastly lot for starters-- in this case, a castle full of money-grubbing nobs clamoring for Dad/Granddad/Uncle's mega-millions jackpot of a fortune.

    How convenient, then, that he's been cut up like a bunch of potatoes to go round the (golden) Christmas goose.

    No tears shed either for his battle-axe of a sister, she who loved her hothouse flowers better than her kinfolk, much less the common folk.

    How inconvenient, then, for the detectives in Monkslip-super-Mare-- that usually picturesque town on the English Channel.

    If Monkslip-super-Mare were Gotham City, the detectives would head for the jolly-red Batphone. Instead, they ring up Fr. Max Tudor, the Wedgewood-dishy vicar of St. Edwold's parish in the nearby-- and always picturesque-- village of Nether-Monkslip, where the beer's warm, the tea's steaming, and Fr. Max is the hottie.

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  • Victorian-Era Mystery Another Good Show

    "A Death in the Small Hours" by Charles Finch
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The Lenoxes of London are bound for the countryside, to an estate in Somerset called Everley, near a village called Plumbley, in late September 1874.

    It's a place wrought up with nostalgia for Sir Charles Lenox-- accompanied by wife Jane, baby daughter Sophia, and her governess, along with some of the townhouse help from Hampden Lane, in London-- residence to a succession of squires, the latest of which, Frederick Ponsonby, being his "familiar" uncle.

    Actually, Uncle Freddie is first cousin to Charles's late mother, and her favorite relative among her extended family. Charles's fondest memories of his mother are invariably and inextricably entwined with Uncle Freddie.

    Ostensibly, Charles is seeking a venue apart from the hurly-burly of London, away from incessant visitors to Hampden Lane from the world of politics, tossing out entreaties and unsolicited advice on matters great and small.

    Nothing like a

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  • Lady Georgie Pulls Out a Christmas Pudding Plum

    "The Twelve Clues of Christmas" by Rhys Bowen
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The snow is covering the landscape like a great mass of Devonshire clotted cream, the dining-room table is groaning with mince pies and other festive sweets and savories, and loads of games and seasonal activities are in the offing for a Christmas house party.

    This sixth Royal Spyness mystery finds its heroine, Lady Georgiana Rannoch (thirty-fifth in line to the British throne), in the Devon village of Tiddleton-under-Lovey, having answered an advertisement to add glamour and fun to said house party, organized by the local lady of the manor to raise funds for the depleted estate coffers, this being 1933, and even lords and ladies being hard-put.

    Of course, Georgie is equally hard-pressed, being rather redundant in her own family, with their own budget-stretching mightily enforced by Fig, Georgie's prig of a sister-in-law. Why won't Bright Young Thing Georgie wed some rich someone and be forever off the

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  • Ace Jones Cuts an Art in Florida

    "Happily Ever Madder" by Stephanie McAfee
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    You'd think Graciela "Ace" Jones-- former high-school art teacher from Bugtussle, Mississippi-- has it all:

    (1) A sizable engagement rock from her on-again-off-again love since age 11, Mason McKenzie

    (2) Residency in his seaside condo at Pelican Grove, Florida

    (3) Did we mention that Mason comes from money, as they say down South, and that he's a successful attorney with his own practice?

    (4) And, that Mason has set up Ace in her own art gallery?

    Well, you can take the gal out of Bugtussle, but you can't take Bugtussle out of the gal. Or, at least, the tussle.

    She misses her old pals although she's making some new ones in Florida. Unfortunately, she's making more than a few enemies, too. Ace isn't the greatest hand at charming old bats, especially when they're the sort of poseurs whom she encounters in Pelican Grove.

    Naw, she'd sooner swat 'em than sweet-talk 'em.

    Ace is also realizing that, although

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  • Southern Thriller Goes Belu-gaga

    "Beluga" by Rick Gavin
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Taint often that a sequel overpowers its predecessor, yet that's the case with "Beluga," Rick Gavin's "part deux" take on his his first novel, "Ranchero."

    Think of the original as an appetizer-- Clams Casino, Oysters Rockefeller, or a Slap-Your-Tongue-Six-Ways-to-Sunday Jell-O salad.

    "Beluga," then, lays the feast: The fork-tender, chicken-fried cubed steak with rice & milk gravy and a mess o' collards with pot liquor so fine you'd swear it came from a distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

    "Beluga"-- not the caviar, not the whale, but a person-- brings back Nick and Desmond, repo men from Indianola, Mississippi, who hit the jackpot without purchasing a lottery ticket, or visiting one of the Delta's finer casinoes.

    No, when last we left them in "Ranchero," they had made off with a chunk of a meth lord's money. Desmond has since been able to purchase another Escalade, having forfeited his first one to his fearsome ex-wife,

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  • "Inventing Elsa Maxwell" by Sam Staggs
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Molly Brown, who survived the 1912 Titanic disaster, became known as "Unsinkable." Elsa Maxwell, who survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, should have been known as "Unshakable."

    One would be hard-pressed to name celebrities who were well-known before World War I, who were even bigger names by World War II, and who added to their international fame into the early 1960s.

    The public came to know her as the World's premier party giver. Perle Mesta, "Hostess with the Mostess," was immortalized by Irving Berlin in the Broadway show and movie, "Call Me Madam."

    Elsa met Cole Porter and Noel Coward when both were still up-and-comers. They became two of her closest friends, and Porter immortalized her in more than one-dozen of his songs. For that matter, even Berlin referenced her in "Call Me Madam."

    Mrs. Mesta was chiefly concerned with politicoes, though, while Elsa feted politicoes, artists of every stripe,

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  • Mystery Serves Up More Welsh Rarebit

    "A Small Hill to Die On" by Elizabeth J. Duncan
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Penny Brannigan's riverside spa in the idyllic Welsh village of Llanelen-- not far from the actual North Wales seaside city of Llandudno-- is humming along at a nice clip.

    Readers of this series, presently in its fourth volume, will recall that Canadian expat Penny, also a sketch artist and painter, started her professional life in Llanelen as a manicurist, residing above her small business.

    She later inherited a cottage in town from a dear friend and mentor and then partnered with another friend, Victoria Hopkirk, to repurpose an abandoned building, in which the ladies' evolving business now offers full beauty services.

    Not, however, "fake bakes," or salon tanning. In this story, Penny's up against a chain competitor out of Birmingham, England, a woman who has moved her prat of a husband and her surly teenaged children into the once-elegant manor house on the edge of town.

    The reader quickly

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  • The Ultimate Sides to Southern Cuisine

    "Fred Thompson's Southern Sides"
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Southerners often make meals off of side dishes, particularly if they contain cheese, but what could be better, come autumn, than a baked sweet potato with collard greens and a wedge of skillet cornbread?

    Or, as my Grandmother used to say, "Let's fry us up a hoecake of cornbread"?

    Heaps of family traditions abound in Fred Thompson's tribute to Southern side dishes, as he explains the origins, sources, and inspirations for each recipe (all 250) in this satisfyingly inclusive cookbook.

    Among the many fine points of this guide are the author's specifications of of which product brands to use, say of mayonnaise when preparing pimento cheese, deviled eggs, potato salad, or cole slaw. He offers multiple variations of such classic dishes as these, as well as of baked beans and barbecue sauces.

    For instance, one type of cole slaw pairs better with BBQ, while another is better suited to fried fish.

    Another reason to rave

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