REVIEW: BACK STABBERS (#8), BY JULIE MULHERN

 

All Ellison Russell wanted was an update on her stock portfolio. Instead, she found her broker dead.

With an unexpected out-of-town guest at her house, Ellison is too busy for a murder investigation. Only this time, Detective Anarchy Jones wants her help, and she can’t deny the handsome detective. Can Mr. Coffee supply her with enough caffeine to keep her brain sharp and everyone else happy?

Juggling bodies (one, two, three, four), two-faced friends, her social calendar, and a cat (yes, a cat) is taxing but Mother might be the biggest challenge of all.

With a killer drawing closer, can Ellison put together the pieces or will she be the one getting stabbed in the back?

 

My Thoughts: A busy schedule has Ellison juggling activities and appointments, so when we first meet her in Back Stabbers, she is trying to jump ahead in line (and away from a coughing woman) to get to her appointment with her stock broker. But in his office, she finds a disconcerting sight.

For anyone acquainted with Ellison, she is known for her penchant of finding dead bodies, and everyone alternates between teasing her about this tendency or scolding her (her mother).

Anarchy Jones has finally accepted the fact that she can be helpful in his investigations, so he no longer tries to shut her out.

Mixed in with the usual murders and the mysteries surrounding them is a sister reunion. An unexpected connection between her new half sister and someone near and dear to Ellison draws some new feelings of jealousy. Or mistrust.

What I enjoy most about Ellison and her activities: her fondness for her Mr. Coffee machine and all that it brings to her; her internal monologues that are as funny as any banter one might find among friends; and her willingness to jump into the line of fire to rescue friends and find the killer. Another 5 star read.***

REVIEW: THE CHILD, BY FIONA BARTON

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

My Thoughts: Slowly the three women who are central to the story in The Child are revealed to us in bits and pieces. We do not know what, if anything, connects them. But they are all struck by the news of the infant. A baby that has been buried on the site for a number of years. The story takes us from the present to the past through alternating narrators, who show us moments in their lives and offer up thoughts, feelings, and clues to their histories.

Emma Massingham Simmonds is struggling every day, her mind a mess of anxieties, dark thoughts, and nightmares. Her husband Paul takes care of her, and she works at home as a book editor. But her conflicted relationship with her mother Jude seems to be at the heart of her emotional angst, and she has dark secrets that come to her in nightmares.

Angela Irving is still heartbroken over her lost infant Alice. Her husband and other children have given up on her constant grief. But she hangs onto her hope. Something about the buried baby calls to her.

Jude, Emma’s mother, seems worried about what might be discovered about that baby, and her mind flits to memories of her great love for a man named Charlie…and then her relationship with a professor named Will Burnside, whom she cannot forget. She seems to blame Emma for losing these “loves of her life.”

Kate Waters, the reporter, is such an interesting character who searches for answers, interviews people who lived in the neighborhood where the baby was found, and gradually finds herself drawn more and more to the women who all seem to have a personal interest in the story. Her ferocious pursuit despite discouraging moments kept me intrigued, as she met with numerous characters, many of whom were troubling and sometimes unreliable.

I loved watching how she pushed ahead to find the answers…and then, just when I thought she had it all figured out, a startling twist turned everything upside down. Suddenly, out of the confusion, the clarity came. An unputdownable novel that earned 5 stars.

***

SEND IN THE CLOWNS, BY JULIE MULHERN

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If only Grace hadn’t missed curfew that night. Then her mother, Ellison Russell, wouldn’t have gone to the Halloween haunted house to find her.

Stumbling into the creepy interior, Ellison is stunned when a clown, who seems to be bleeding, calls out her name…and falls into her. Dead.

Standing behind him is another clown, who quickly disappears.

Thus begins another tale that seemingly places Ellison in the recurring position of finding dead bodies. She calls Detective Anarchy Jones, who by now is a good friend and possibly a potential lover who believes her story…and even when the body is no longer there, he sets off to find it.

Send in the Clowns was another delightful story in the Country Club Murder series, and, as always, I found Ellison funny and engaging. As the mother of a teenager, she has her quips down pat. She can ground her daughter without losing a beat…or her sense of humor. She regularly converses with her Mr. Coffee, which she believes is the only reliable “male” in her life. She is annoyed that her father, as well as another potential suitor, Hunter Tafft, and the ubiquitous Anarchy Jones, all seem to want someone to manage her. She would prefer to manage her own life.

In her country club set, she has friends…while others are judgmental gossips. Her best friend Libba is dating a man, Jay Fitzhugh, whom Ellison has decided is too boring for words, and not good enough for her. Could the feeling she has about him signify something else?

Solving the mystery of who killed the “clown,” who turns out to be a young man named Brooks Harney— a disappointment to his wealthy family, but who seemed to be turning his life around, and just in time for his inheritance—kept me turning pages, even after I started to suspect a number of possible individuals. Could one of Brooks’ siblings have killed him? Or could someone from the drug world he was leaving behind have targeted him? The eventual reveal surprised me, but then again, not entirely. 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

CHASING AWAY THE BLUES WITH “CLOUDS IN MY COFFEE”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Books & a Beat.

Today’s feature is a book I hope to start reading soon: Clouds in My Coffee, by Julie Mulhern, the third book in the Country Club Murders trilogy.

 

 

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Intro:  (October, 1974, Kansas City, Missouri)

Max, his short grey tail wagging impossibly fast, met me at the door with a did-you-ask-the-butcher-for-a-bone expression on his expressive doggy face.  Of course, I had.

“Let me put the groceries away first.”

He sighed as if I had my priorities backward.

I unpacked the bags, putting the cucumber in the sink to be rinsed, the potatoes in a basket on the counter, and the Tab in the fridge.  Max whined softly, reminding me that he was waiting.

I scratched behind his silken gray ears and gave him his bone.

Brrnng, brrnng.

I answered the phone, stretching the cord toward the sink and the waiting cucumber. “Hello.”

“Ellie.  We have a problem.”  No greeting, no endearment, no inquiry as to my day.  Daddy’s words chilled me.

***

Teaser:  The men who’d abandoned their football game watched us as if we were tennis players volleying for the championship.  Their heads swiveled with each question and answer.  Four lawyers, two accountants, one insurance man, six business owners, two trust fund cases, and three ad men.  Not a doctor among them. (46%).

***

Synopsis:  When Ellison Russell is nearly killed at a benefactors’ party, she brushes the incident aside as an unhappy accident. But when her house is fire-bombed, she’s shot at, and the person sitting next to her at a gala is poisoned, she must face facts. Someone wants her dead. But why? And can Ellison find the killer before he strikes again?

Add in an estranged sister, a visiting aunt with a shocking secret, and a handsome detective staying in her guesthouse, and Ellison might need more than cream in her coffee.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?  Have you read the first two books in the series?

***

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: GUARANTEED TO BLEED, BY JULIE MULHERN

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Ellison Russell has just returned from a trip to Europe with her daughter Grace, and is hoping for a little normalcy in her life. Her husband’s murder and a few other disastrous events have left her a bit stressed.

So she is attending a football game to root for her daughter and friends. Suddenly, she drops her lipstick under the bleachers. She starts digging around for it…after all, it was an expensive brand she bought in Paris. Imagine her surprise to discover a boy, who turns out to be Bobby Lowell, one of Grace’s friends, bleeding to death. He whispers to her: “Tell her I love her.”

Who did he mean? And who would have shot Bobby? These and other questions drive Ellison to do what she seems compelled to do: find answers.

But more bodies turn up before the end of Guaranteed to Bleed, along with a few disastrous secrets that could have motivated any number of people to kill Bobby and others. Why is Jonathan Hess, India’s new husband, and daughter Donna’s stepfather, such a bully, pushing his way into her home after a sleepover? What led Grace and Donna to run away, hiding out as if they have secrets they couldn’t tell?

The returning characters from Book One included Anarchy Jones, the homicide detective; Hunter Taftt, the attorney who has his eye on Ellison; her mother Frances, whose glares could wither anyone who crossed her; and Ellison’s best friend Libba.

Set in the 1970s, I enjoyed the reminders of that era like landlines and payphones, as well as mentions of Watergate and Nixon. The humorous and somewhat snarky voice of our first person narrator, Ellison, kept me turning pages, trying to guess what might happen next. Another delightful read from the author. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: COP TOWN, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

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In mid-seventies Atlanta, the police force is warring within its ranks: blacks against whites, male against female. And somewhere in the city, a Shooter is picking off cops, one after the other.

Maggie Lawson comes from a family of cops, beginning with her Uncle Terry, her brother Jimmy, and then she herself is trying to make her mark, but finds herself up against the men in the family who treat her like a rookie.

Kate Murphy is a new recruit and has a lot to prove. Growing up in Buckhead, she faced high expectations. But after her husband Patrick died in Viet Nam, everything changed for her.

Hovering around the edges of the city, watching, is someone named Fox. He is trained on Kate, then the Lawsons. Could he be the Shooter? And what would Kate discover from a doctor friend after Jimmy Lawson is shot, and when his partner Don is killed?

Secrets, lies, power struggles…all the issues of the world outside beset the inside world of Cop Town.

The story evoked emotions that reminded me of that time in my own life and how the power struggles would change everyone. But the changes would not come easily, and some would fight to the bitter end.

I enjoyed the characters, especially the females, even though some of them were almost as difficult to deal with as the men. Could any of them find their way in this world of power struggles? I couldn’t stop turning pages wondering who was hiding behind the “Fox” nomenclature, since obviously he is someone disguised, possibly someone we least suspect. 5 stars.

REVIEW: THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS, BY RANDY SUSAN MEYERS

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In the summer of 1971, in Brooklyn, the Zachariah family went through a horrible upheaval. When Celeste threw out her husband, Joe, she could not have foreseen what would happen next.

Daughters Louise (Lulu) and Meredith (Merry) have been fending for themselves for a while, so when, in July, there is a knock on the door, Lulu tries to keep her father from entering. But he convinces her that all will be fine.

But it is not. Soon their lives are in crisis mode: their mother is dead, they are living with their maternal grandmother, Mimi Rubee, and their father is in prison.

The Murderer’s Daughters is alternately narrated by Lulu and Merry, in the first person voice of each, and it carries us along through the years, revealing what happens to them. Cast aside by their maternal relatives, they find themselves in the Duffy-Parkman home for girls, since their paternal grandmother, Zelda, is in ill health.

At the time of the disaster, Merry was five and Lulu ten. They each have very different attitudes toward their father. Lulu refuses to visit, but Merry comes to count on Grandma Zelda taking her to see their father.

Even though Merry was also stabbed in the altercation, she seems to need her father. Perhaps because she was the light of his life…before.

Through the years, we follow each of them and see how the events of that summer have informed their lives. Is Lulu unable to forgive her father because she can’t forgive herself? What if she hadn’t opened the door? A question she asks herself. Why is Merry able to forgive her father? How does going into an upper middle class foster home, after the girls’ home, affect their lives? Will they continue to feel “not good enough”?

Their relationships, or lack thereof, can be attributed to the domestic violence of their early lives, and the secrets they keep will define them in the future. In adulthood, Lulu becomes a doctor and finds a man named Drew who is understanding, supportive, and truly good, while Merry continually makes wrong choices and drinks too much.

As a probation officer, she seemingly clings to the dark side. When Merry moved into an adjacent apartment in Drew and Lulu’s home in Cambridge, she seemingly inserted herself into their lives. Much of what she did seemed to suggest the symbiosis of their relationship; a symbiosis that Lulu has railed against.

In this excerpt, I find the hidden truths:

“The past trapped us. Even now, at forty-one and thirty-six, we remained prisoners of our parents’ long-ended war, still ensnared in a prison of bad memories, exchanging furtive glances, secrets known and secrets buried flashing between us.”

And then, finally, a frightening hostage situation at Merry’s work brings everything to a head. Then, when a letter from prison informs them of the unexpected, something is altered. The chains of the past may finally slip away. Although this dark and emotionally combustible story kept me engaged, I felt that the more than thirty year span of the book did not allow for a deeply insightful look into the lives of the characters, and the narratives of the girls were limited by their unreliable perspectives. 4.0 stars.