Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J.A. Lang is a very entertaining cozy mystery featuring Chef Maurice, whose large and very French moustache deserves its own postcode, and his friend and restaurant critic, Arthur Wordington-Smythe. It makes for a very appetising start to a series.
The scene is a small Cotswolds town of Beakley, which is lucky enough to have Maurice’s restaurant, Le Cochon Rouge, in it. I say ‘lucky’ because all the food he prepares sounds wonderful! Maurice is clearly extremely dedicated to his craft. So when Ollie, his fresh mushroom supplier, winds up dead this is not something our headstrong French chef will stand for. He immediately starts to investigate in his own somewhat eccentric way and makes miserable the lives of many of the locals, and especially that of PC Lucy. It’s not long before it seems that valuable and unusual English truffle are involved somewhere and so Maurice acquires Hamilton, a little pig with a lot of personality, from the local animal rescue centre. Hamilton’s sharp sense of smell in tracking down truffles comes in handy, but also gets him and his owner into trouble.
This is a quirky mystery with a clever plot and a host of larger-than-life characters. There’s a lot of very witty writing and it’s the sort of book that constantly has you chuckling as you read. It’s delightful and absorbing, and I for one will definitely be following the rest of Chef Maurice’s adventures.

This is short , lively cozy mystery, despite the fact that our two protagonists are retirees. Connie and Sable, who are sisters-in-law, join forces as private investigators to keep themselves busy. Sable is dragged rather unwillingly into it to start with, but she soon begins to enjoy herself and provides the tough edge and technological savvy that Connie lacks.

Their first case is looking into the disappearance of child-minder Rachel. She’s the sort of person who would never leave her clients in the lurch so there’s definitely something fishy going on. Connie and Sable relish the challenge and prove to be rather good at what they do, which includes irritating the local police force. Fortunately  DI Saffron McCue was a good childhood friend of one of Connie’s daughters, so she can’t get too cross with the well-meaning amateur detectives.

Lots happens in the story to keep both the dynamic duo and the reader on their respective toes. There’s humour, grit, confidence, doubt, triumph and terror. The plot is clever and keeps us guessing. The author’s writing style is clear and enjoyable, and she creates beautifully rounded characters for us to encounter.

An excellent start to a series which I shall be following.

My only quibble – well, I’m an editor so there has to be at least one! – is the title. I can see where it’s coming from since a child’s play area is involved in the story, and it also reflects the fact that the two ladies may be seen to be ‘playing’ at what they’re doing. But to me it doesn’t quite make sense. However, it’s catchy and concise.

I received a free copy of this book and have written this review voluntarily.

This is a murder mystery that involves a busy but secluded religious commune, New Life, headed by Father Ambrose. A trash bag containing the mutilated remains of a young girl is thrown onto their property, thus forcing the community to be dragged into the real world it tries hard to avoid as the murder is investigated.

The book begins very well and this author’s forte is in narrative writing. However, it rapidly gets bogged down with a lot of tedious and repetitive dialogue. Too often characters are telling, and retelling, each other things where it would be far more efficient if the author just told us, the readers, once. There are too many phone calls – two long ones in one chapter alone. Phone calls are notoriously difficult to portray in any novel – should we hear one side only, both sides, how much small talk need there be, and so on – and it’s best to avoid them if possible. Luckily these days we can have brief texts or emails to do their job, because as in this book, they do jar and slow the pace.

The plot is interesting and the descriptive writing generally excellent, but elsewhere the quality is much lower. The book is written in the third person but the author also uses, rather inconsistently, first person techniques such as direct thoughts. These rapidly become intrusive since you start to wonder why particular paragraphs are presented as his thoughts whereas others aren’t. There’s too much inconsistency. The majority of the characters aren’t well developed and remain shadowy.

There’s much to admire but generally I found this book disappointing after such a good start.

 

This is an office-based cozy mystery, which, it has to be said, makes a welcome change from the plethora of bakery-based ones! It’s set in Bostoff Securities where Janet Maple, our heroine, has just been given a job by long-time but rather controlling friend Lisa. Having worked in the DA’s office, Janet has a nose for intrigue and cover-ups. So she quickly becomes alarmed when she notices that things, such as the complicated company structures,  don’t seem to add up and starts to do a bit of digging. Janet finds herself in the awkward situation of suspecting her friend and boss guilty of wrong-doing. She’s not the only one. Her apparently nerdy work colleague Dean (the alias for Dennis Walker, an undercover agent) is on the case too and the pair find themselves working together, as well as becoming increasingly attracted to each other.

The author has a very clear, concise, polished style that makes for enjoyable reading. The characters are nicely rounded  and I suspect the major ones will develop further as the series progresses. The plot is clever and it’s interesting to get an insight into how a securities firm works. All in all, a different and enjoyable cozy, although it has to be said that Baxter the dog could do with being let out a lot more often!

I received a free copy of this book from the author, but this is a voluntary review.

Help yourselves to a festive feel-good freebie from me!

Anna is house-sitting for family friends in a very cold cottage in the middle of snowy France. She’ll be there for a fortnight over Christmas. It’s all rather quiet and unexciting until, on Boxing Day, a pheasant gets tangled in the pear tree in the garden. Anna can’t possibly leave it there but her rescue attempt goes wrong, leaving her the stuck one. All she can do is wait for a knight in shining armour, or at least a passing Frenchman…

Anna Partridge in a Pear Tree is available in a variety of ebook formats for free from Smashwords here. And please spread the word!

This is a very polished cozy with lots of personality.

Our heroine Cassie, months away from becoming a fully qualified surgeon, is knocked down in a car park and the injuries she receives put paid to her career. She sinks into depression, so decides moving to London might be just the tonic she needs. In fact, she knows this must be the case when her mother, completely out of character, actively encourages her to spread her wings.

And so Cassie arrives in London. Despite having a generous compensation package to live off, she starts off in a hostel, into which she sneaks first a bike and later a cat! The bike is soon stolen and that sends Cassie to the police station where she bumps into DCI Tony Williams and his determined, straight-talking French colleague Violet Despuis, who quickly susses out Cassie’s medical past. And so when four people are poisoned at a soup stall, she tracks down Cassie to help her. Violet is someone you don’t dare say ‘non’ too (especially when Violet finds Cassie’s missing bike) and suddenly Cassie finds herself part of a crime-busting duo, and new owner one of the ginger cat of one of the murder victims.

Love interest arrives in the gorgeous form of ME Jake Edmonds, and this gives Cassie a boost, as does discovering that she’s not half bad at this detecting lark. True, she and Violet resort to breaking and entering, lying and deception to achieve results, but it works!

The author has given us a very interesting and unusual set of characters in this sparkling, clever cozy. It’s utterly absorbing and huge enjoyable. And it’s only the first in a series, so plenty more treats to come.

Daniel Beazley is a favourite author of mine. He’s so versatile, you never know what he will come up with next! He’s written science fiction fantasy very successfully (Goblins Know Best and Sepherene: The Complete Chronicles), and in this book, Ragg, he turns his hand to a period thriller.
The scene is mid-nineteenth-century London. Samuel Finch is a down-at-heel journalist with too great a liking for whiskey to ever be really successful. However, he stumbles across a truly sensational story within the walls of St Luke’s hospital for lunatics. One of the inmates, accused of several murders, has more secrets to share. These are passed on to Samuel by the enigmatic Tobias Ragg, an orderly at the hospital, who gradually becomes a friend. But as Samuel soon discovers, there is more to Tobias than meets the eye, and this will leave a lasting legacy.
The author portrays Victorian London in wonderful, atmospheric detail, and presents us with some superb characters. All are rounded and charismatic, and make for interesting company in this punchy, original novella. There is menace and intrigue, also touches of wit and humour, and you don’t see the ending coming at all. ‘Ragg’ is entertaining and well written, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Available as a Kindle ebook at all the Amazon stores for 90p (99 cents).

You know, this book really works! I was a little worried to start with that it wouldn’t, since it quickly emerges that there’s a magical paranormal element, and yet the book has such down-to-earth characters and a plot that has financial concerns at its core. Can such prosaic realism and such imaginative make-believe act in harmony? With this author, most definitely.

Frank, the heir to the Jamieson ice cream fortune, disappears together with his trust fund leaving his wife, Christy, and his daughter, Noelle, at the mercy of Frank’s trustees. Their marriage wasn’t successful but Christy is genuinely worried about her husband and knows this behaviour is out of character. However, everyone else seems to accept it all at face value. She is desperate to find him.

Christy and Noelle have to make big economies and so move to a smaller house, next door to the Armstrongs. Quinn Armstrong, a journalist, at first pursues Christy for a story since there are suspicions she’s involved in the money’s disappearance. To begin with she refuses to have anything to do with him, but soon she needs his help. In return for a scoop on Frank, he agrees to help her. More assistance comes from Stormy, Christy’s cat, who ends up on Quinn’s doorstep.

There is a lot for Christy and Quinn to deal with, not least the growing attraction between them. It all makes for a very enjoyable and innovative mystery.

My only quibble is with the title. There are an awful lot of books with the same title. I’ve mentioned this before in reviews, but it is vital for a book to be instantly findable. A distinctive, unique title is a must!

I am a great fan of cozy mysteries, as you’ve probably guessed by now. What you may not know is that I’m also equally addicted to scones. So how could I possibly resist a cozy involving scones and that’s also set in Oxford, where I spent three wonderful years as an undergraduate rather longer ago than I care to remember!

I was hooked by this book from the very start. It has a very dramatic opening: “I never thought I’d end the week facing an American with a sharp knife.” Gemma is our narrator. She owns the Little Stable Tearooms in Meadowford-on-Smythe. She’s turned her back on corporate life to follow her dream, much to her parents’ despair. But she’s sure she’s made the right choice for her. However, when the unpleasant American turns up dead outside her tearooms the next day with one of her scones stuck in his throat, then even she begins to wonder if she shouldn’t have stayed in Sydney.

She decides to investigate, helped by a group of very nosey old ladies and her own inside knowledge of Oxford, where, like me, she was a student. The police are busy hunting down the killer too, led by Devlin O’Connor, Gemma’s ex-boyfriend who was at Oxford with her. His reappearance results in a lot of mixed feelings for Gemma and definitely causes complications.

There’s a great deal of fun and clever writing in this book. It’s delightful – sweet but never cloying, and tongue-in-cheek at times but never slapstick. Extremely entertaining, it’s cozy at its most delicious. It comes with an explanation of very British terms for readers from different backgrounds, and has a glossary of those strange terms that Oxford University positively revels in. And there’s a recipe for scones too. What more could you ask for! More books in this series? Then don’t worry, there are currently four more books to enjoy, and there’s even a prequel too.

 

This is a really enjoyable, compact little cozy mystery. It has all the main ingredients we like to see. First up we have a smart, very likeable heroine, Alyssa Sanders, who has her own bakery business, a hunky cop boyfriend, a slightly ditzy assistant and a pair of Yorkies called Buttercream and Cinnamon. Then we have the offstage murder of a nice old lady, Violet, which Alyssa decides to investigate since Violet was a good customer. Alyssa always listens to local gossip so she knows a lot about what’s going on and knows this could come in useful. Cameron, the boyfriend, obviously enough doesn’t want her getting involved. However, when Alyssa suddenly becomes the chief suspect then not even he can keep her out of things.
And then of course we have more going on than just a bit of sleuthing. Added to the clever mystery, with its twists and turns, Alyssa and Cameron are having a bit of a bumpy ride. They’ve been together two years but Cameron doesn’t want to commit himself to anything permanent, and what’s more, he’s looking at moving to the city. He’s sure Alyssa will enjoy life there. Alyssa feels like he hardly knows her. So she has a lot of other things on her plate besides being suspected of being a murderer.
The author’s style is delightful and sure, and this is a very poised and perky novella. It has a super cover and is generally very professionally presented. A little iced-gem of book!