Resorting to Murder is an anthology of holiday mysteries edited by Martin Edwards, who provides not only a general introduction to the book but insightful and informative introductions to the 14 individual stories, which are presented in roughly chronological order. Most of the writers’ names, maybe all of them, will be familiar to readers of classic mysteries, and they include Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, R. Austin Freeman, Anthony Berkeley, and Michael Gilbert. All the stories collected here provide just what editor Edwards hopes they will, “the best kind of holiday—enjoyable and relaxing, with nice touches of the unexpected, and [offer] memories to look back on with a great deal of pleasure.”
Modern-day London is the setting for this frothy mystery that combines museums, magazines, and murder. When American art museum director Dinah Greene is offered a fellowship at the Art Museum of Great Britain, she jumps at the opportunity. Before long, however, she finds herself and her only London friend, Rachel, involved in a blackmailing scheme that includes stolen art, anti-monarchists, and murder—and Rachel is considered a potential suspect in the crimes.
Unable to cope with her unfamiliar surroundings as well as the added crime-related difficulties, Dinah is relieved when her cousin and close confidante, Coleman, arrives in London with plans to help broaden the scope of her new magazine. Unlike Dinah, Coleman is a no-nonsense problem solver who, with the help of her very wealthy and well-connected half-brother, Heyward, is instrumental in uncovering the layers of criminal activity and deceit that Dinah and Rachel have become buried in.
Although there are a number of grisly murders here, there is much more emphasis on relationships, particularly involving Dinah, Rachel, and Coleman, than there is on investigations. There’s even a romantic interlude towards the denouement between Coleman and a wealthy, good-looking suitor.
If you like romance interspersed with your murders, you’ll likely enjoy this novel, the fourth in the Coleman and Dinah Greene mysteries.
Redheaded Will Rees, a traveling weaver and sometime detective in 1796, makes his fourth appearance in Death in Salem. Will is wandering the countryside, selling his tapestries, when he stops in Salem, Massachusetts, to buy a gift of fabric from the traders for his six-months-pregnant wife. While there, he witnesses the funeral of Anstiss, the wife of wealthy shipping merchant Jacob Boothe. Anstiss has been ill for many years, so her death is no surprise, but it is shocking when her husband also dies the following day, a victim of foul play.
The lady love of Will’s old war buddy Twig has been arrested for the crime. Twig begs Will to find the real murderer. After Jacob’s son and heir, William, agrees to pay Will the outlandish sum of $15, he agrees. Family secrets stymie his progress: Boothe’s daughter Peggy is upset that her father did not leave her the family business, her sister Betsy’s only concern is making a good marriage, and their wastrel brother Mattie overspends and hangs out with actors or at the Black Cat, the local bordello. And then there’s Anstiss’ family, who are certain Jacob killed her so he could wed another.
When a sailor is killed in the same manner as Jacob, Will realizes he will more than earn his $15 as he attempts to unravel all the knots holding this mystery together.
Eleanor Kuhns has an interesting protagonist in Will, and she effortlessly blends the 1796 history and lifestyle of Salem into the plot. The story begs a “hold it,” though, when Will sends Twig to fetch the pregnant Lydia in all haste from Maine. Granted, Lydia is a big part of Will’s adventures, but in her condition, it’s unlikely she would travel for many miles in a bumpy cart at fast speeds over rutted roads. Other than this glitch, Kuhns has written a book that holds the reader’s attention until its Sherlock Holmes-ish reveal.
Desserts abound in Ellie Alexander (aka Kate Dyer-Seeley)'s A Batter of Life and Death, second in her Bakeshop Mysteries. Featuring Juliet (Jules) Montague Capshaw, lovelorn former cruise-line pastry chef, this delectable series transports readers to Ashland, Oregon, Jules’ Shakespeare-obsessed hometown. Ashland is the site of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a summerlong event that draws hordes of tourists to town, and to Torte, the Capshaw family bakeshop. Jules brings her baking talent to the shop while she decides how to spend the remainder of her life since her marriage dissolved. Certainly, there is a place for her in the bakery, and her expertise adds to the menu. In the meantime, though, the Pastry Channel decides to bring Take the Cake, its reality road-show competition, to Ashland. While the $25,000 prize is enticing, ultimately, the price is too high. When Juliet discovers the body of one of the competition’s celebrity chefs, the battle becomes ugly, and the contestants struggle to bury their secrets. A vegan chef cheats by adding butter to her desserts in an effort to make them more flavorful. Another contestant is having an affair that she wants to conceal. And the French chef isn’t French at all. Fortunately, Jules is able to enlist Thomas, her old high-school boyfriend, who is now training to become a detective, to help solve the crime. I highly recommend this series to readers who enjoy clever plots, likable characters, and good food. Knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays is purely optional.
The 11th novel in Max Allan Collins’ series about a Vietnam vet turned hit man, Quarry’s Choice is set in the early days of his illicit career as Quarry travels to Biloxi, Mississippi, to investigate an attempted hit on his employer, the man known only as “The Broker.” To do so, Quarry needs to infiltrate the local crime syndicate, an organization where the chief way to get ahead is to ruthlessly eliminate your competition. Fortunately, Quarry’s quarry happens to be in someone else’s gun sights also, providing the killer with ample cover. Collins is in fine form here, exploring his protagonist’s early days with panache and aplomb, placing Quarry in one tight situation after another, with only his wits and his reflexes standing between him and sudden death. The humor is black, the tone is dark, and the outlook is bleak, but the novel is ultimately uplifting, as you quickly find yourself rooting for this very bad, very violent man. Although Quarry’s Choice demonstrates that there’s truly very little honor among thieves, Quarry does seem to have some, relying on his own code to guide him through the numerous professional and moral dilemmas he faces.