A Christmas Cozy Review

by Jackie Houchin

Here’s a new cozy mystery, just in time for Christmas. Have you ever been to a “Santa’s Village” complete with a Misses and Mister Claus?  T. C. Wescott’s new book takes you there and makes you want to stay for the festivities, food and fun.

Slay Bells 7

“Slay Bells is a cozy mystery that is indeed “cozy.” Imagine the aromas of cinnamon cookies, tarts, cakes and puddings baking, fireplaces glowing, villagers bundled in furs and mukluks, while powdery snow gently covers the famous hamlet.

Imagine mistletoe (a curious part of the mystery) and holly,  twinkling lanterns (a beautiful ancient tradition there) and carols at the annual Christmas Festival.  This is the setting for T.C. Wescott’s first Christmas Village mystery.

Two ladies feature in this tale. Super sleuth and much beloved is Maribel Claus, wife of the famous mister Claus who is conspicuous by his absence, being busy with his shop workers preparing for the “big night.” Meanwhile Maribel aids the fumbling Sheriff Fell in solving crimes in Christmas Village.

Rose Willoughby is her elderly friend, fellow goody-baker, and sometimes assistant in crime solving (when she can be trusted to keep secrets.)  Rose owns Plum Cottage, a quaint Bed & Breakfast where at present; a traveling troupe of circus performers – magician, juggler, acrobat, fortuneteller, strong man, grumpy manager and assistant – is lodging.

When one of them is murdered in a most peculiar way – with a small silver bell left on his chest – the list of capable suspects is long. Each performer has a special ability that could almost have accomplished the “impossible” act.  But which one? And mostly, how?

Wescott keeps the reader in suspense as first one then another is considered by Maribel and Sheriff Fell. When a second more curious murder occurs (again a bell is left on the body), there are even rumors of a legendary flying monster doing the killing.

While the village struggles to carry on with the festivities, and the performers huddle in fear wondering who will be the next to die, Maribel works to pry out and then trap the killer.

Slay Bells is a delightfully perplexing mystery. It will take a most astute armchair detective to discover HOW the murders are done before the author reveals the very believable solution!

Readers will love the atmosphere and the characters Wescott has created. The humorous superstitions, lovely holiday traditions, and the vague allusions to the famous mister all add to the fun of the story. And so is trying to beat Maribel in finding the “who” and “how.”  Betcha you can’t!

Full Disclosure – I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher for review

 

“OUTSIDE THE LINES” Book Review by Jackie Houchin

 

“OUTSIDE THE LINES”

  Book Review by Jackie Houchin

Sad young woman and a rain drops

Sheila Lowe’s newest Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting mystery delivers just what you are looking for; murder and mayhem,  crime scene investigation, clues and mis-clues, secret assignations, lovers’ spats, blurred lines between right and wrong, escalating suspense, and unique to Lowe’s books, a protagonist who can read a killer’s thoughts and intents from a mere sampling of his handwriting.

OUTSIDE THE LINES begins with a bang, literally. A maid attempts to gather her vacationing employer’s mail one morning and dies after a mailbox bomb explodes in her face. LAPD Homicide Detective Joel Jovanic catches the case and quickly discerns the incident to be more than a prank.

Across town in the Los Angeles Criminal Courts building, Claudia Rose testifies as an expert witness in a murder trial involving gang member, Danny Ortiz.  Having given her condemning statement, she exits the stand, only to be ferociously attacked and nearly murdered by the unrestrained gangbanger.  Worse yet, clips of the incident replay endlessly on the local news channels, exposing not only Ortiz’s rage, but a good deal of Claudia’s brief undergarments.

Traumatized and nursing her wounds, Claudia hides at home, jumping at every noise, seeing shadows where none exist; the classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Det. Jovanic is both enraged by the attack on his fiancé and anxious about her emotional state. To relieve the tension at home, he submerges himself in the mailbox bombing investigation.

Relief from her growing paranoia comes in the form of an invitation to speak at the prestigious British Institute of Graphologists Conference in the UK. Claudia gratefully accepts, but before leaving, she helps Jovanic identify the author of the bomb threat from a writing specimen found inside a nearby geo-cache container. Under the “People for Safe Food” moniker, she detects an erased signature, that of a known eco-terrorist.

In London, a surprise interview by a TV journalist puts Claudia in the limelight, and on the spot. Asked her opinion on a handwritten note found in a similar geo-cache container in London after a local bombing, Claudia is reluctant to speak. The two samples were not written by the same person, but this contradicts the resident expert’s opinion, a man Claudia knows to be untrained and biased.

Across the Pond, Jovanic’s investigation leads him to the CEO of Agrichem, a company that produces toxic pesticides. Lab reports from the mailbox bomb confirm the lethal chemical is used in Agrichem’s pesticides. The detective senses something is off, especially after interviewing the company’s reclusive “mad” research scientist.

Meanwhile Claudia meets with members of the People for Safe Food activist group and responds to their grief with compassion, earning her the ire of New Scotland Yard.  Jovanic’s interviews produce testimony just as compelling about the need for pesticides in feeding a hungry world.  Two sides of the world and two sides of a controversial issue. Which side is responsible for murder?

More cruel attacks and homicides keep Jovanic working at a manic pace, while Claudia is politely asked to leave the UK. At home, she and Jovanic face another more personal issue, which could determine the future of their life together. Finally a truce is called and the pair work together using their specialties to identify a very cold and ruthless murderer.  The detective determines to take him down, and now Claudia is the one fearing for her lover’s life.

Part fast-paced police procedural and part Sherlockian puzzle mystery, Lowe’s OUTSIDE THE LINES, delivers food for the intellectual as well as the suspense addict. And for readers like me who are fascinated with the Forensic Handwriting Analysis profession, it’s a treat indeed.  The police have sketch artists, Crime Scene Investigators, and DNA testing. Handwriting examiners testify in court, bringing evidence that often brings a guilty verdict.  But Sheila Lowe has an unstoppable crime investigating team in Claudia Rose and Detective Joel Jovanic.

OUTSIDE THE LINES Amazon link: https://amzn.com/B01IPKPRNG

sheila-uscOUTSIDE THE LINES is sixth in the popular mystery series. Sheila Lowe has also written a stand-alone thriller in which her Handwriting Specialist appears in a minor role (What She Saw). Like her fictional character Claudia Rose, Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in court cases.  She has begun work on the 7th book in the series, UNHOLY WRIT.

As the current president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (a 50 yr old non-profit), Lowe is working with their Campaign for Cursive committee to bring attention to the importance of maintaining cursive training in the public school curriculum. A recently published white paper on the topic is available for free download: http://www.ahafhandwriting.org/sites/default/pdf/white-paper.pdf

For a live podcast (and transcript) interview of Sheila Lowe by Laura Brennan of Destination Mystery visit: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-17-sheila-lowe/  In it Lowe reveals more about the two major areas of handwriting analysis, as well as a formerly unrecognized “theme” to her writing that Brennan identifies.  As to her writing fiction, Lowe discloses the title of the book that got her started on her mystery writing career… at the young age of 8.  

Can you guess what it was?   Nope, not Nancy Drew.

 

WinR profile pic Jackie Houchin is a Christian writer, book reviewer, and retired photojournalist. She writes articles and reviews on a variety of topics, and occasionally edits manuscripts. She also dabbles in short fiction.  She enjoys creating Bible craft projects for kids; growing fruits, flowers, and veggies; and traveling to other countries. She also loves cats and kittens and mysteries.”
 

"Veil of Lies" Review by GB Pool

Noblesse Oblige

Veil of Lies is a fourteenth Century tale told with Chandleresque pacing. Author Jeri Westerson centered her intriguing tale about former knight, Crispin Guest, who earns a meager living as a tracker (think private detective with a dagger). The story is replete with damsels in distress, court intrigue, holy relics, and a man’s honor.

The period detail is neither boring nor scholastic, with just enough pictures painted to set the stage for sword fights and dungeons and scurvy knaves. The dialogue is just contemporary enough to give you an occasional laugh, right before you hastily turn the page, because this is a page-turner.

Crispin Guest is hired by a merchant to follow his beautiful, young wife. The wife seems up to no good, then the husband is found murdered in a locked room in the fortress like home of the rich merchant. And the wife isn’t a highborn lady. She had been in service in the home before marrying the man.

Then the mystery of the veil comes to light. It’s a holy relic that seems to cast a spell over anyone in its presence, forcing them to tell the truth. But sometimes the truth can be a problem. Secrets abound. Truths are revealed. And Crispin Guest confronts his own prejudices.

A great tale, well told. The plot could have taken place in a 1930s Noir movie or in an episode of Magnum P.I. A good story is still a good story. This one just happens to have wonderful atmosphere and situations that only a former knight could experience.

Loved every page.