Okay, happy campers, it's time again for the monthly book round-up. This was a pretty slow month for me, as I was distracted by updating lectures for my fall class and now the Olympics. This month I dedicated myself to reading and reviewing some upcoming mysteries for NetGalley, all of which are due to be published this fall.
To Hell in a Handbasket by Beth Groundwater I confess to turning to mysteries set in very cold places when the temperature here is in the three digits, so I had high hopes for this mystery set in Breckenridge, Colorado. The cover is attractive. The book, well, less so. I think the hobby-driven mystery subgenre has pretty much run its course, as our amateur detective is a part-time gift basket maker. Okay, I can see a spin-off from a professional shopper, but really? And she travels on vacation with supplies? She did--she made 'unexpected' baskets for the family of the murder victim and the detective from supplies she had in her luggage, including baskets. I'm shaking my head here in disbelief, maybe because I've been known to forget my toothbrush when I've packed for vacation. This story tries to transcend the cozy genre mystery to one with more grit by having the Russian mob at the center of the mystery, but it just doesn't work for me. I really don't think the Russian mob in the US is going to be undone by one gift basket maker, as the police suggest at the end of the story. But, the depiction of the skiing and the tourist village is nice, the pace of the story is nice (especially the snow mobile chase at the end), and hobby mystery lovers might like this one more than me. Claire's husband Roger was the only character I liked; her daughter is very annoying; and her daughter's boyfriend, while sympathetic, was a bit of a muttonhead. I doubt I'll seek out the first in this series given my reservations about Claire Hanover, but I can see potential within this series with some hard work and tweaking.
A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn The latest Bernie and Chet mystery. Bernie is the human, Chet is the dog, and it's Chet who narrates this series. A cute idea that can get a little irritating after a while, especially when Chet is distracted for the umpteenth time by a scent in the middle of a crucial scene. And frankly, I don't think my dogs are laying around rhapsodizing about my eyebrows, the way Chet does about Bernie ("Bernie has great eyebrows, if I haven't mentioned that already--and eyebrows like his, beautifully thick and heavy, are worth mentioning again--with a language all their own." Location 928, Kindle version). They may think that some days I smell better than others, but that's about it. Nice depiction of a not-so-hard boiled Southern California detective (although there is the requisite fistfight and some car scenes, so the book maintains its hard-boiled detective street cred) and an adult romance that's realistic. I'm mildly intrigued and might read earlier entries in the series if they come my way.
Scone Island by Frederick Ramsey I love a mystery that includes a map or a house plan. Scone Island opens with a map of the island, so it gets props for that in my book (and a great cover). The latest in the Ike Schwartz mystery series, Ike is a retired CIA operative, and in this entry, he's targeted for elimination--only he doesn't know it. Ike and Ruth, his fiancee, have decamped to Scone Island for a completely unplugged weekend where they are completely unreachable by his sheriff's deputies or her university. Unfortunately, that means when Ike's friend Charlie Garland, still with the CIA, discovers that agents linked by one particular operation are all being killed, he can't reach Ike to warn him. Interesting idea--what happens when CIA agents retire, and what happens if someone from their past reappears. A little unbelievable in the end, where two people face off against hired soldiers-of-fortune. This is more a thriller-type mystery, with lots of 'collateral damage' and some violence, but not gore. My major pet peeve--pages of dialogue without any reference to who is saying what. Given the poor formatting (see below), even if only two people were involved in a conversation, it was often difficult to keep track of which character was speaking. I'm not a fan of this style, or some of the wording (thesaurus- and dictionary-loving me got to learn some new words like gelid, which mystery-loving me is not sure is appropriate for the style of the book). Again, I'm mildly intrigued and might read earlier entries in the series if they come my way.
A general critique for all of these, though--the Kindle formatting is terrible. It's often impossible to tell when paragraphs end and new ones begin, there are lots of inserted spaces, typos, missing words--it's all very shoddy. I don't remember paper galleys (from my many happy years at the bookstore) ever having this many grammatical mistakes and typos. Editors are badly needed for this new format. I missed having my red pencil to whip out to make corrections--it's just not as satisfying highlighting and making a notation. You can't type a flourish with the same kind of aplomb as you can when writing with a red pencil.
Yup, I'm ready for school to start.