Blog Posts by David

  • "Chelsea Mansions" by Barry Maitland: Book Review

    "Chelsea Mansions" by Barry Maitland
    Minotaur, 375 pp., $25.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Some places never give up their deep, dark secrets.

    Sometimes, however, a seemingly inconsequential incident-- perhaps the visitation of a seemingly innocuous person-- may tip a row of dominoes, as it were, resulting in a chain reaction that brings a house of secrets tumbling.

    Such is the case with Chelsea Mansions, a row of imposing brick townhouses lining one side of a fashionable square at the intersection of some posh London postal codes.

    The visitor in question-- a septugenarian Bostonian ostensibly in residence at a gone-to-seed hotel in Chelsea Mansions because of its proximity to the Chelsea Flower Show-- comes to a gruesome end, garnering the attention of a special crimes unit in New Scotland Yard headed by Chief Detective Inspector David Brock.

    Devotees of Australian (by way of the U.K.) author Barry Maitland's Brock & Kolla series know that the CDI's protegee-- attractive,

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  • "A Killer's Christmas in Wales"
    by Elizabeth J. Duncan
    Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 274 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    This mystery series, set in the fictitious town of Llanelen, Wales (placed near Llandudno and Conwy), is so thoroughly defined by its location that it could not transpire anywhere else.

    Indeed, the beauty of the town and its surrounding hillsides, with their fair share of grazing sheep, made up the main character's mind to settle there.

    Ex-pat (from Nova Scotia) artist Penny Brannigan would naturally be attracted to such an aesthetically pleasing setting.

    Since landing in Llanelen with nothing more than a suitcase in each hand, she has had some success with her paintings, although her bread-and-butter has been a slowly evolving manicurist's trade.

    In a one-vicar village such as Llanelen, Penny's manicure shop has been just the sort of give-and-gather-news destination to attract a steady clientele.

    Penny and business partner Victoria Hopkirk are taking

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  • "The Blood Red Indian Summer" by David Handler: Book Review

    "The Blood Red Indian Summer" by David Handler
    Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 246 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Here's another fine mystery series that you're probably missing out on, one in which the latest entry gets down-and-dirty, yet still drips drollery as only one of its two main characters, film critic Mitch Berger, can.

    Do not try to stump him-- he could have gone head-to-head with Pauline Kael on an all-movie-category edition of "Jeopardy," and she would have landed tails.

    Mitch has ditched his TV and newspaper gigs in New York City and settled in a quaint, old, and verily rustic lightkeeper's cottage on Big Sister island in Long Island Sound, just offshore from Dorset, Connecticut.

    Having lost his wife, Maisie, two years back, he has regrouped and reclaimed his life on Big Sister, where he still writes, filing pieces to an e-zine begun by one of his former editors.

    A major factor in the ongoing construction of Mitch's new life is his paramour, Trooper Desiree

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  • "As the Pig Turns" by M.C. Beaton: Book Review

    "As the Pig Turns" by M.C. Beaton
    Minotaur, 292 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Give Agatha Raisin a coffee (or a brandy) and a cigarette, and she's ready to rule the World.

    Or, at least to tell it where to get off, and how.

    Nevertheless, the fiftysomething British (multiple) divorcee is as job-qualified to run for U.S. president as some of the current candidates.

    Mrs. Raisin-- please, keep the "Aggie" to yourself-- worked her way up from sparse beginnings to found a successful London P.R. firm. Following an early retirement to a picturesque (is there any other kind?) Cotswold village cottage complete with thatched roof, the ever-restless Agatha was soon nosing into nearby mysteries.

    From that, she segued from P.R. to P.I., opening an agency in the closest city, Mircester.

    Well, lucky in business, not-so-lucky in love. The men in her life realize she's far too driven to settle down into any sort of relationship in which compromise is involved. Domesticity just

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  • "Wicked Autumn" by G.M. Malliet: Book Review

    "Wicked Autumn" by G.M. Malliet
    Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 297 pp., $23.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Max Tudor isn't the first or last literary cleric to cross over into a murder investigation, but he's probably the most qualified of the lot preceding him, having been an MI5 (British Intelligence) agent.

    An epiphany-- literal and figurative-- has led him to the Church of England; more specifically, to St. Edwold's Church in Nether Monkslip, near the English Channel in the southwest of England.

    The fictitious Nether Monkslip is one of those picture-book/storybook villages that has attracted plenty of transplants from all over the Kingdom, but particularly from London. These talented, creative newcomers have chosen the hills and dales, the peace and quiet, for their respective reasons, as has the Reverend Tudor.

    As there isn't much local entertainment-- aside from gossip, and great dollops of it, at the pub and tea shop-- most of the town's women belong to the local chapter of

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  • "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"
    by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Penguin, 259 pp., $14 (trade paperback)
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    "I don't know how you manage this, Mr. Holmes, but it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and of fancy would be children in your hands."

    Thus spake the father of one of Sherlock Holmes's school chums in Holmes's first case, "The 'Gloria Scott'."

    Ten other stories are included in this sampling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short fiction, tied to coincide with the recent film and its upcoming sequel, starring Robert Downey, Jr., as history's most famous detective, either "of fact" or "of fancy."

    All Holmesian accounts are presented as the memoirs of Dr. John Watson (portrayed on film most recently by Jude Law), Holmes's closest friend and his frequent assistant in detection.

    Watson-- in later years married, and in private medical practice in London at a time when physicians' offices were located in their residences-- served as an army doctor

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  • "The Lost Women of Lost Lake" by Ellen Hart: Book Review

    "The Lost Women of Lost Lake" by Ellen Hart
    Minotaur, 320 pp., $25.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Minneapolis restaurateur Jane Lawless is escaping her 24/7 business world with some R&R at her parents' cabin on one of the hundreds of lakes in northern Minnesota.

    She's brought along her beloved dog, Mouse, as well as the man who took a bullet for her, private investigator A.J. Nolan.

    While Nolan convalesces (read: fishes) and Mouse adores them both, Jane mulls Nolan's offer to bail on her two restaurants and join his P.I. firm, as partner with an eye toward taking over someday soon. He's even had business cards printed (she can work under his license), so she can get a literal handle on the job.

    Then-- and far from the first time-- "Cordelia Interruptus" occurs.

    Jane's best bud back in The Cities has been hastily summoned upstate to sub for the ailing director of a community theater production at a resort town on another lake.

    Won't Jane

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  • "Tag Man" by Archer Mayor: Book Review

    "Tag Man" by Archer Mayor
    Minotaur, 290 pp., $25.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    As if everyone weren't already all up in your business in this golden age of electronic snooping and tracking, detective novel writer (some would term the novel a "police procedural") Archer Mayor presents a voyeur who can circumvent alarms and check out your fridge in the dead of night.

    (All the more reason why a dog can be your best friend.)

    Indeed, that is this uninvited guest's calling card, as it were-- raiding fridges, preferably for champagne and caviar, as he tends to target high-end abodes. All the more to prowl around in, in a large house.

    Plus, he likes to leave a Post-It note as a "you've been tagged" notice, preferably on some embarassing item on a bedside nightstand.

    This game of nocturnal peekaboo proves delicious fun for this intruder, until he goes beyond his apres-midnight snacking and begins lifting incriminating items during his crash

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  • "Naughty in Nice" by Rhys Bowen: Book Review

    "Naughty in Nice" by Rhys Bowen
    Berkley Prime Crime, 328 pp., $24.95
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Lady Georgie Rannoch may be thirty-fourth in line to the British throne (this being 1933), but her prospects of escaping a chilling January in London look bleak.

    Georgie's late Daddy, the Duke of Rannoch, partied and gambled away much of the family fortune, although the present Duke, Georgie's (half) brother, Binky, continues to maintain the family castle in the Scottish Highlands, along with a townhouse in London.

    Still and all, the Rannochs are "land poor," and the jam's rather thin on the toast, especially for Georgie, who-- at 22-- is past expected to marry well into the nobility, preferably someone with oodles of moolah.

    Georgie has found a titled gentleman. Her beloved, Darcy O'Mara, belongs to the Irish peerage. Intense blue eyes, dark curly locks, and all.

    However, his family is also cash-strapped-- what with the Great Depression-- although Darcy travels about and

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  • "Shake, Murder, and Roll" by Gail Oust: Book Review

    "Shake, Murder, and Roll" by Gail Oust
    Obsidian, 294 pp., $7.99 (paperback original; also available in large-print edition)
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The dice are flying, the tuna casseroles are bubbling, and the pink and blue hydrangeas are blooming in Serenity Cove Estates (for active seniors) near Brookdale, South Carolina.

    Moreover, the resident Garden Club is pleased to present Sheila Rappaport (make that Dr. Sheila), botanist extraordinaire and host of cable TV's "How Does Your Garden Grow?".

    Then Dr. Sheila and her partner-in-plants (as well as other endeavors), Vaughn Bascomb, keel over at the program following the banquet in their honor.

    How dare Dr. Sheila later attempt to lay the blame for their layovers on good ol' Southern Fried cuisine?

    Poor Vaughn: He's about to be planted five feet deeper than his beloved bushes and shrubs.

    Not really. Skip the dust; he's headed straight for the ash heap. Cremated, that is.

    What, exactly, attacked the botanical duo?

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