Blog Posts by David

  • "Stripping Gypsy" by Noralee Frankel: Book Review



    "Stripping Gypsy" by Noralee Frankel Oxford University Press, 300 pp., $27.95 Reviewed by David Marshall James The demise of Vaudeville and the advent of the Great Depression set the stage for the rise of Gypsy Rose Lee (nee Rose Louise Hovick, in Seattle) to international acclaim as a striptease (accent on the "tease") artist in burlesque. The enterprising Minsky brothers bought up a half-dozen, gone-broke, "legitimate" Broadway theaters along 42nd Street, including the 2,000-seat Republic, bringing big-time burlesque right to the heart of the Great White Way. With one-dollar top seats, racy comedians and comely showgirls offered bawdy sketches interspersed with the pieces de resistance: the gals who shed down to G-strings and pasties. Each stripper developed a signature style, or gimmick, and Gypsy's intellectual patter provided an amusing contrast to her onstage exposure under the blue lights, as she followed the beat of the orchestra, removing strategically placed straight pins,

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  • "The Cold Light of Mourning" by Elizabeth J. Duncan

    Minotaur, 277 pp., $24.95

    Reviewed by David Marshall James


    It could be called "A Wedding and Two Funerals," but that's not quite right, and people who supply spoilers to mystery novels are like unto motorists who intentionally drive through mud puddles, the better to sully pedestrians' clothing.

    A thumbnail sketch of "The Cold Light of Mourning"-- featuring a Nova Scotian who has settled in a town in North Wales, opened a manicurist's salon, and who paints plein-air watercolor landscapes on the side-- may cause the casual reader of dust-jacket blurbs and condensed reviews to mutter, "Huh?"

    However, Toronto author Elizabeth J. Duncan has composed a thoroughly organic mystery, one that springs-- like a lamb in a rolling Welsh meadow, no less-- effortlessly from the circumstances at hand: the (natural) death of a retired schoolteacher, Emma Teasdale, and the marriage of Emyr Gruffydd (son of a wealthy landowner) to

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  • "The Baker Street Letters" by Michael Robertson: Book Review

    "The Baker Street Letters" by Michael Robertson Minotaur, 277 pp., $24.95 Reviewed by David Marshall James Many children (and some adults) correspond with Santa Claus, so it comes as no stretch that quite a few young epistolarians-- well-read, but with perhaps even grander wishes-- would beseech Sherlock Holmes for assistance. Such is the premise of Michael Robertson's debut mystery novel, an engrossing romp that could stand on its own without such a device, as appealing as it is. That's because Robertson has crafted a top-notch trio of characters-- a true triangle, as it turns ot-- who could handily headline in a "regular" novel with an interesting case tossed into the mix. Leading the pack is London barrister Reggie Heath, an overachiever from way back who's also, unsurprisingly, more than a bit of a tight azz. He's mid thirties, handsome, and overthinks most things to what he deems a reasonable conclusion. He's too logical for his own good. His two-years-younger brother, Nigel--

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  • "Secret Keepers" by Mindy Friddle: Book Review

    "Secret Keepers" by Mindy Friddle St. Martin's, 293 pp., $24.95 Reviewed by David Marshall James Greenville, South Carolina author Mindy Friddle would be the first to second the notion that people are like plants-- they need just the right conditions to grow, to blossom, to bear fruit. In her second novel, the author of 2004's "The Garden Angel" examines a family that has been attempting to bloom for the longest time. The seeds for their reversal of fortune were planted, ironically, by an ardent amateur botanist, William McCann, whose inherited wealth sifted through his fingers while he was traversing the globe, collecting exotic botanical specimens in the hope of establishing a grand arboretum in his hometown, Palmetto, S.C. His passionate obsession drove him to suicide in 1908. Friddle's novel brings the reader into 1987 Palmetto, where multitudinous layers of dust have settled on the remnants of the McCann legacy, literally and figuratively. William's granddaughter, retired teacher

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  • "The Diva Takes the Cake" by Krista Davis: Book Review

    "The Diva Takes the Cake" by Krista Davis Berkley Prime Crime, 309 pp., $6.99 (paperback only) Reviewed by David Marshall James Krista Davis's fledgling mystery series (this is the second volume) doesn't have a moniker, although it could be dubbed "Leave it to Diva," with visions of a perfectly pressed and preened Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver) in mind. Flash-forward forty-- no, fifty (yikes!)-- years to historic Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, where a TV "domestic diva," Natasha Smith, resides down the block from an event planner and newspaper advice columnist, Sophie Winston. Who knew two divas could dwell in such close proximity without murdering one another with pinking shears, or at least blistering one another with hot-glue guns? Not that Sophie wouldn't mind stuffing a topiary up the imperious, officious, and buttinskified Natasha's ice sculptures, but Sophie's a tolerant, tongue-holding, good sport (she'd have to be, given that Natasha has taken up with Sophie's former

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  • "Finger Lickin' Fifteen" by Janet Evanovich: Book Review

    "Finger Lickin' Fifteen" by Janet Evanovich St. Martin's, 308 pp., $27.95 Reviewed by David Marshall James The laughs keep coming, like PBJs at a kindergarten field day, in Janet Evanovich's most recent Stephanie Plum opus. For the uninitiated, Steph works as a bond-enforcement agent (bad-azzedly also known as a "bounty hunter") for her uncle's bail bonds office in downtown Trenton, N.J. Her beleaguered mother wishes she would settle down in a nice office, or at least at the button factory. Or, just settle down-- period. However, Steph was burned by a short-lived early marriage and thus remains leery of retying the matrimonial knot. Besides, she's on the outs with her steady, Trenton cop Joe Morelli, because of an argument that began over a peanut-butter jar and then escalated out of control. Steph loves her PBJs, as well as her PBs w/ olives and PBs w/ crumbled potato chips, and she's forever leaving the dregs of her sammie accouterments in the jar. Hence, the brouhaha. When she's not

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  • "The Fixer Upper" by Mary Kay Andrews: Book Review

    The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews Harper, 422 pp., $25.99 Reviewed by David Marshall James Mary Kay Andrews (aka Kathy Trocheck) is back in top form, rippin' it up and haulin' it out in a novel of a young woman's forced journey toward self-discovery. Dempsey Killebrew, 27, has been living a platinum Amex-card lifestyle Inside-the-Beltway as a D.C. lobbyist's assistant, having gone from boarding school in Richmond through Georgetown Law. However, her boss is called out for attempting to buy a congressman's vote (imagine that), and the naive-to-the-ways-of-the-Washington-World Dempsey-- who has been admittedly blinded by a crush on her older, handsome (and much-married) boss-- discovers that she's been set up to take all the blame and the resulting fall. With her capital career tanked, she flies to her father's digs in Miami, but he's too wound up with a younger, second wife and twin preschool boys to devote much attention to putting his daughter back on track. Meanwhile, Dempsey's

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  • Your summertime treat is almost here, and it's a blast! Was laughing so hard, had to put the book down, more than once. Lula being chased by decapitators and entering a BBQ contest with Grandma Mazur-- grab your Depends! Full review forthcoming in a week or so, closer to the publication date.

  • "The Fixer Upper" by Mary Kay Andrews: Review Forthcoming

    Atlanta author Andrews' latest novel, set in fictitious Guthrie, Georgia (about sixty miles south of the gold-domed capitol) proves considerably better than last year's "Deep Dish." So, go ahead and order. It's an ideal "summer read" with lots of likable characters and a crisp plot.
    A fuller review is forthcoming in a week or so, closer to the publication date. For now, head's up on
    an ideal divertissement for your "staycation."

  • "Angel's Advocate" by Mary Stanton: Book Review


    "Angel's Advocate" by Mary Stanton
    Berkley Prime Crime, 292 pp., $7.99 (paperback only)
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    When 28-year-old attorney Brianna "Bree" Winston-Beaufort inherited her Great-Uncle Franklin's law practice in Savannah, she got worlds more than she first realized.
    For, in addition to a "temporal," or earthly, practice, she must defend the deceased in their appeals for lighter eternal sentences.
    Not that Bree can overturn a tormented soul's case unto the Pearly Gates, but she can knock a few millenia off a client's sentence and perhaps effect a transfer up a few Dantean circles of hell, or even into Purgatory.
    Nevertheless, in this second Beaufort & Company mystery by seasoned writer Mary Stanton (aka Claudia Bishop), Bree remains fairly down-to-earth, although with friends in High Places, and some fairly grisly (and odoriferous) enemies in low ones.
    The author does a laudable job of depicting Savannah and its environs, and she creates a commendable cast of

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