Monday, October 21, 2019

Dead Weight by Steven F. Havill

First Lines: The air conditioning in car 310 worked so well that my knees ached from the arctic blast out of the vents. The rest of me simmered.

Acting Sheriff Bill Gastner is a well-seasoned sixty-nine and working through the end of the previous sheriff's term. He knows every inch of Posadas County, and he knows the people who live there. That's why, when a backhoe crushes a man to death, he has a pretty good idea that there's more to this "accident" than meets the eye. 

While Gastner is investigating this case, he begins receiving anonymous letters accusing one of his deputies of extortion. This one Gastner takes personally and he's determined to get at the truth. Could this have anything to do with this being an election year?

When a second dead body turns up, it makes the insomniac sheriff make a promise to himself: When he retires, it's not going to be by way of a well-aimed bullet.

I love this series for its southern New Mexico setting, its well-crafted mysteries, and its ensemble cast. (Character-driven readers, take note!) There's something about mystery series involving small-town sheriffs in the western United States that seems to highlight how these people become a family, and Havill certainly knows how to use this to strengthen his story.

In Dead Weight, there's also one-book wonder Carla Champlin, the landlady from hell. Whenever she makes an appearance, I was equal parts amused and appalled-- and I did like how her storyline ended.

If there was an off note in this book, it was the fact that Havill spent a bit too long on trying to explain how someone could kill himself with a backhoe. I don't mind some technical stuff in order to solve a mystery, but when my eyes started to roll, I knew that part of the story had gone a bit overboard.

Even if I do know more about backhoe-as-murder-weapon than I want, I still enjoyed this book. Any visit with Bill Gastner and his law enforcement family is to be looked forward to and savored. And I do!

Dead Weight by Steven F. Havill
ISBN: 9781590586624
Poisoned Pen Press © 2011
Originally published in 2000.
Paperback, 285 pages

Police Procedural, #8 Posadas County mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

On My Radar: Betty Webb's The Panda of Death

One of my favorite authors is Betty Webb. She writes the dark and serious Lena Jones mysteries set here in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and she admits that those take a lot out of her. Betty isn't naturally dark and serious; she has a great sense of humor. To satisfy her inner comedian, she writes the Gunn Zoo mysteries set in a fictional zoo on the central California coast. Zookeeper Theodora "Teddy" Bentley is the main character, and she's found many, many ways to get into messes and solve crimes. Yes, Betty gives some free rein to her sense of humor, but never at the expense of a solid, interesting plot. Besides, you get to learn about animals along the way, and I definitely consider that to be one of the perks of the series.

Imagine my delight when wandering the Amazonian labyrinth to discover that the next Gunn Zoo mystery, The Panda of Death, will be available in March. Let's find out more about it!

Available March 3, 2020!

"California zookeeper Theodora Bentley is now happily married to Sheriff Joe Rejas. The Gunn Zoo is celebrating the arrival of Poonya, an adorable red panda, who forms a strong bond with Teddy. All appears fairytale blissful in the small Monterey Bay village of Gunn Landing until Teddy's mother-in-law, mystery writer Colleen Rejas, has discovered through DNA testing that Joe has sired a son he knew nothing about. Dylan Coyle, 18, arrives to meet his biological family... and then is arrested for murder.

By the end of the book, besides solving the crime, Teddy and Colleen have learned that the term "family" does not always mean blood kin. It often includes those who―although no blood relationshipare still held close in our hearts."

It certainly sounds as though Teddy's life will be taking an interesting turn, doesn't it?

And as you can see, this Gunn Zoo series has come fantastic covers. (I think my favorite so far has to be The Otter of Death.)

Are you already a fan of Betty's Gunn Zoo mysteries? If you are, I know you'll be adding The Panda of Death to your wishlist. If you're not, I certainly hope you'll give it a try!


Friday, October 18, 2019

A Queen Cathy Weekly Link Round-Up

Last week, I told you in Miz Kittling Knits that my grandmother had made my prom dress. I was tempted then to show you old photographs of the dress but didn't. Since nothing much has been going on lately, I thought I could show you now and then cut straight to the links. Let's go for it!

My grandmother let me choose the pattern, fabrics, and trim.

Was I prom queen?

Heavens, no! But as you can see by the sash, flowers, and tiara, I was Queen of my hometown's big Fourth of July celebration. Never thought anything like that would ever happen to me in a billion years!

Now, let's get to those links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • There is a flower with petals that look like hummingbirds.
  • A parasite that's spread by house cats is killing California's sea otters.
  • The wildlife trade conference imposes a near-total ban on sending wild African elephants to zoos. 
  • The world's only pure blue lizard, the blue anole, lives exclusively on Gorgona Island.
  • A wildlife summit has voted down a plan to allow the sale of a huge ivory stockpile.
  • The last fourteen loa water frogs had to be rescued from their natural habitat. 
  • Half a billion bees have died as Brazil approves hundreds more pesticides. (I am convinced the world has gone crazy.)
  • A $58,000 reward was offered after more than forty wild burros were found shot dead in the Mojave Desert.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Remembering the Gilded Age's long-lost, real-life lady detectives.
  • Althea Gibson, who smashed through racial barriers in tennis, has been honored with a statue at the U.S. Open. 
  • Author Ann Cleeves on a sense of place, character development, and success after fifty.
  • Some of the deadliest samurai were women, but history forgot.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Mechanical Devil by Kate Ellis

First Line: The car was red, the colour of fresh blood.

In the process of digging in a Dartmoor field, archaeologist Neil Watson's team finds a long-buried mechanical figure in an iron box. He's determined to learn the truth about the figure, but when he tries to share his discovery with his friend Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson, he finds Wesley up to his eyes in a double homicide case. A man and a woman were killed execution-style in the same field, and as far as Wesley's team can find out, the two victims have no connection to each other.

This case is difficult enough, but the daughter of a local bigwig has gone missing, and his superiors are insisting that the girl comes first-- which isn't difficult to agree with when they learn that the girl has a connection to one of the murder victims.

And when it rains, it pours. Wesley's personal life is thrown upside-down when a woman he helped on a previous investigation finds herself the victim of a vicious campaign of terror. Is there a link between the double murder and the accidental death of a young history student twenty years ago? And what, exactly, is the mechanical devil?

This is a long-running series that I have loved since the first book. Granted, a few books aren't as strong as the rest, but that's to be expected. I always learn something when I read a Wesley Peterson mystery. This time it was Neil Watson's search for medieval graffiti and early automatons. Scattered throughout the book are excerpts from the unfinished doctoral thesis of a history student who died twenty years ago. As always, these excerpts shed light on one of the mysteries. And while I'm thinking about it, make sure you read the Author's Note in the back of the book, especially if you're the type of reader who likes to know how writers come up with the ideas for their books.

There is some excellent misdirection in the main mystery, but I felt that there might have been too many subplots, in particular, the one involving Belinda Crillow, the woman Wesley helped in a previous investigation. It was all too easy to deduce what was going on, and the only thing it seemed to be good for was to show how overloaded Wesley was and how many demands there were on his time.

I'm almost caught up with this series, which makes me happy. I'm not sure how I got behind! There's been a long-running subplot about one of Wesley's team and her wedding that feels as if the planning and preparation have been ongoing for at least a decade. But on the whole, I love the cast of characters in this series. Otherwise, why would I have lasted through twenty-two books?

If you're thinking about trying this series but are daunted by its length, I think you can jump in with this book (or the previous two which are excellent) without feeling lost. But if you're a character-driven series reader who loves a bit of history thrown in with your mysteries, this is a wonderful series to read. Go for it!

The Mechanical Devil by Kate Ellis
eISBN: 9780349413143
Piatkus © 2018
eBook, 384 pages

Police Procedural, #22 Wesley Peterson mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

We Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman

First Lines from Preface: I cannot say where or when, exactly, this story really began. Sometimes I think it started with my mother.

In the fall of 1941, the Philippines was a paradise for the American Army and Navy nurses stationed there. War was only a distant rumor. The shifts were easy, walks on the beach were there for the taking, and dinner and dancing under the stars commonplace. On December 8, all that changed as the Japanese bombed the American bases on Luzon. Now, this paradise was hell. Caught in the battle, the nurses set up field hospitals in the jungles of Bataan and the tunnels of Corregidor where they tended to an endless stream of horribly wounded men while enduring the nonstop attempts of the Japanese to overrun them.

But it got even worse when Bataan and Corregidor fell. The nurses were herded into internment camps where they spent the next three years doing everything they could to help themselves and the other internees to survive fear, brutality, and starvation. Once liberated, they returned to an America that declared them heroes yet later refused to honor their leaders with the medals they deserved.

Author Elizabeth M. Norman did her research, poring through letters and diaries in addition to tracking down survivors to interview them. In reading We Band of Angels, I learned a lot. The Army and Navy nurses in the Philippines were the first American women in combat. They were also the first American women prisoners of war.

Norman takes readers through the nurses' lives before, during, and after World War II. Many of them told her that the key to their survival was to keep busy. It didn't matter what they did as long as they did something. This book is packed with information, but ultimately, I was never fully engaged in Norman's story. I think it can be chalked up to the fact that I've been spoiled with the non-fiction that I prefer to read: detailed histories that still manage to read like the best fiction. So... consider my very subjective opinion when you decide whether or not to read We Band of Angels. It not only covers an important part of history (and covers it well), but it also covers a very important part of women's history. I'm very glad I read it.

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan
by Elizabeth M. Norman
eISBN: 9780307799579
Random House © 1999
eBook, 384 pages

Rating: B
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


While Miz Kittling Knits: My Life Is Murder

I probably threw you for a loop last week when I shared photos of needlepoint I'd done instead of knitting. I couldn't do that to you again, so we're back to knitting in a very big way.

I don't like to sew, so that's why you haven't seen photographs of sweaters I've made or anything that requires stitching various pieces together permanently. I've been knitting little things and testing my skills as a seamstress in case I want to branch out into sweaters and the like, but there's no great urgency. There might be if knitting were the only pastime I had, but--hey-- this is a book blog, so you all know I have more to do in my spare time than knit!

I'm also the type of knitter who does this to relax. I have two friends who are so skilled! They churn out a ceaseless line of socks, sweaters, baby outfits, and the like. It's relaxing for them to work on something that's a challenge. I think I could only be like that if I didn't have another portion of my brain watching television and trying to identify a killer. It's nothing I'm going to worry about because our brains are all wired differently, and I'm going to concentrate on what makes mine happy.

For Daisy
This summer saw me complete two big projects. One was an afghan for my niece, Daisy. It's done in a simple garter stitch. It's the yarn that's special. It's Lion Brand Homespun Thick & Quick super bulky acrylic in a colorway called "Purple Haze." (Purple is her favorite color.) The photo doesn't do the color justice. It changes hue according to the light, and that yarn is so soft and thick and snuggly and warm! Yes, I took it for a test snuggle and couldn't stay under it for long. This is going to be perfect for colder weather, and I really need to find a box that's the right size so I can get it mailed to her. The only problem with something like this is the cost of postage to the UK. I might have to float a loan!

The other really big project I completed this summer was an afghan for a very dear friend who lives in Seattle. Now... I do something my mother did when she knitted afghans: I make them sized according to the person who's receiving them, not according to what the pattern says. For the best snuggling experience, you should be able to fold the bottom of the afghan underneath your feet and ankles and still cover yourself right up to the top of your head. Daisy's afghan was a breeze because she's five feet nothing. Mike, on the other hand, is six feet four, so I made his afghan eight feet long.

This is also the first project I'm showing you that used a pattern that I bought instead of a freebie. The Big Book of Quick Knit Afghans contains twenty-four patterns that use double strands of yarn and big needles which means the projects will work faster.

The pattern I used is called "Tea Time," and called for two strands of worsted weight yarn and size seventeen circular needles. (Circular needles because the afghan was made all in one piece instead of strips that would need to be sewn together.) I kept the size of the needles, but I used two strands of bulky (one size thicker than worsted weight) Lion Brand Homespun acrylic yarn in a discontinued colorway called "Meadow."

I also conducted a test snuggle with Mike's afghan, and I don't think he's going to have any problem staying warm under his either! I happen to be a diehard fan of Lion Brand Homespun yarn for projects like these. It can't be beaten for warmth, softness, and washability.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Mike's afghan wound up being eight-and-a-half feet long. I wish I'd taken the extra time to drape it more artistically in the photo so the pattern would show up better, but I didn't, and I don't feel like wrassling it back out of the zipper case that it's in. Ready to take a look?

For Mike

Almost ready to be mailed

Mike chose the pattern and chose the yarn as well, so I certainly hope he likes it!

Now it's time to show you one of the programs I watched while I was knitting like a fiend on these afghans.

Set in Melbourne, Australia, here's a summary of My Life Is Murder:

"Fearless and playful, she acts on instinct; both avenging angel and a bit of a shit-stirrer; deeply empathetic and blunt to the point of rudeness. And with a deeply irreverent sense of humor to boot. Other than the fact her husband died a few years ago, very few people know much about Alexa or why she left the force, rendering this woman a mystery in and of herself. And Alexa can't resist a mystery, so when former colleague and long-time friend Detective Inspector Kieran Hussey asks her to 'consult' on his trickier cases, she seems reluctant. But in truth, she can't resist. Joining Alexa to solve the unsolvable is the bubbly, sarcastic, ambitious and grounded, Madison. A true extrovert, Madison works as a Data Analyst for the Police and is on hand at Alexa's call to do what she does best."

First off, this series is the straw that broke the camel's back. Lucy Lawless's character is named Alexa Crowe-- ALEXA-- and the other characters couldn't seem to talk to her without constantly calling her by name. Denis's poor little Amazon gizmo was having a nervous breakdown every night I watched so her name was changed.

I have really enjoyed this series and not just because I get to listen to Aussie accents and soak up Aussie scenery. My Life Is Murder is light and not really difficult for the little grey cells, but it certainly is fun. I hope there will be a second season so I can watch more.

Now I'm off to see how quickly I can finish knitting a Dia de los Muertos project. Hmmm... perhaps I should watch Coco?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Death on the High Lonesome by Frank Hayes

First Line: Jimmy Tillman hardly ever went on the interstate.

Sheriff Virgil Dalton knows that his sleepy hometown is beginning to reflect the times, and that's not always a good thing. But being aware of the changes doesn't take the shock or sting out of one of his deputies almost being killed by a woman's body falling from the highway overpass-- a woman the medical examiner believes had been running for her life.

Longtime resident Velma Thompson reports her husband Charlie missing, and no one thinks much of it. A tough old rancher, Charlie was known to saddle up a horse and ride over his land for several days at a time. But when Velma's body is found sitting on her front porch, Virgil knows something is seriously wrong and that Charlie must be found. Virgil saddles up and heads to the High Lonesome, the rugged mountains above the Thompsons' ranch house. On a windswept mesa, he's going to find the first clues that point to a murderer who's determined to get his way, no matter how many people he has to kill.

After the first book in this series (Death at the Black Bull) compared so favorably to both Walt Longmire and Harry Bosch, I was really looking forward to Death on the High Lonesome. What I read makes me look forward now to the third book.

If there's any weakness to be found here, it's in the mystery. For one thing, it's very slow to get moving, but that may be due to the second thing: it's easy to guess the identity of the killer. Those two things may be dealbreakers for some, but not for me because there's a lot more to Death on the High Lonesome than the mystery.

The dry landscape and mountains of the desert Southwest shine here and draw me right into the story. Frank Hayes has a sparse, matter of fact prose that can still lend itself easily to poetry especially when Virgil saddles up and heads into the arroyos and mesas of the high lonesome. (I don't know about you, but I've always found the phrase "high lonesome" to be incredibly evocative.) Death on the High Lonesome can also be called an elegy to the life of a rancher, a life that's fast disappearing.

The strong backbone of this series is its ensemble cast that is reminiscent of the cast of Craig Johnson's Longmire books. Virginia, a young woman who's having a profound impact on Virgil's personal life. The old Mexican, Cesar, who's Virgil's ranch foreman and second father. Virgil's Apache grandfather. Then there are the people Virgil works with: Rosie the dispatcher, Dif the old part-timer, young Jimmy, and Ark the medical examiner. Every member of this cast cares about the others, and they're pretty good about adding some comic relief from time to time.

If you like reading mysteries with strong characters and evocative settings, I urge you to try Frank Hayes' Virgil Dalton books. There is character development, so I recommend beginning with Death at the Black Bull. And now I'm looking forward to book three, Shattered Dreams.

Death on the High Lonesome by Frank Hayes
ISBN: 9780425274309
Berkley Prime Crime © 2015
Paperback, 304 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Sheriff Virgil Dalton mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

On My Radar: Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile

You all are used to this blog primarily talking about crime fiction, but-- believe it or not-- I'm not All Crime Fiction All the Time. I occasionally sneak something else into the mix, and today that "something else" is going to be a book that isn't a mystery.

*GASP* It's shocking, I know!

There are some non-fiction writers who've spoiled me because they have the knack of writing about their subjects in such a way that you'd swear you were reading the best fiction. I've always been interested in history, but I've lost count of the number of books that were an absolute chore to slog through because the author's writing style was so dull and dusty. Well, you can't accuse Erik Larson of that. With books like Isaac's Storm about the hurricane that almost wiped out Galveston, Texas in 1900 and The Devil in the White City about a serial killer on the loose at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, I've learned that he can tell you exactly what happened in such a way that you can't turn the pages fast enough.

When I learned that Larson had a new book coming out, it was cause for celebration-- especially since he'd chosen to write about one of my favorite historical figures, Winston Churchill. Let's find out more about The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz...

Available March 3, 2020!

"On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons (30,000 of them Londoners) and destroying two million homes. It was up to Churchill to hold the country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally–that she was willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinksmanship but also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country house, Chequers, and his wartime residence, Ditchley, where Churchill and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest. Drawing on a wealth of untapped sources, including recently declassified files, intelligence reports, and personal diaries only now available, Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their daughters, Sarah, Diana, and the youngest, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; her illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the cadre of close advisors who comprised Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” including his dangerously observant private secretary, John Colville; newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook; and the Rasputin-like Federick Lindemann.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when–in the face of unrelenting horror–Churchill’s eloquence, strategic brilliance, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together."

For those of you who don't care for non-fiction or Winston Churchill, I know you probably didn't even bother reading this entire post (but I thought I'd mention you anyway). And that's perfectly all right. However, if you love mysteries, rest assured, that I'll be back to anticipating new crime fiction releases in the very near future!