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Posts Tagged ‘Colorado’

WHITE ELEPHANT by Trish Harnetiaux: Book Review

Combine a classic mystery with a contemporary recording star and what do you get?  An engaging, clever mystery called White Elephant.

In the ultra-chic Colorado ski town of Aspen, Claudine and Henry Calhoun had been a star couple.  Henry is a renowned architect, Claudine is a realtor who sells multi-million dollar homes, and together they have made Calhoun + Calhoun the go-to company when buying or selling mega-mansions.  But recently their star has been dimming, with the newcomers to the area more interested in houses with bling than in the unique homes that Henry has created over the years.

Claudine, however, has a plan to reverse the downward slide that begins with an unexpected phone call from Zara, a singer/songwriter whose records sell in the millions; she is so famous, in fact, that she doesn’t need a last name.  Zara tells Claudine that she saw a photo of the Montague House online, with Calhoun + Calhoun as its agent, and she wants to fly to Aspen to see it.

In one sense Claudine is thrilled, as a sale to the diva would put the firm back on top where she knows they belong.  In another sense, the house has a history that the couple has kept under wraps ever since Henry designed and built it years ago.

Every year since the start of their company, Claudine and Henry have hosted a holiday party featuring the White Elephant game.  In less stratified circles, this is also known as the Yankee Swap or Secret Santa game, but Claudine has upped the stakes and made it extra-competitive rather than fun.

And now that Zara is coming to Aspen, Claudine decides to hold the party at the Montague House for the first time as a way to give their visitor a chance to see it as the party showplace it is.  With its price tag of eighteen million dollars and its fifteen thousand square footage, it certainly should be.  With all that’s at stake, Claudine’s decided to ignore Henry’s vow never to enter the house again.

Although they never discuss it, the history of the house and the owner of the land before the Calhouns bought it and built on it won’t go away.  This becomes especially clear on the night of the party.  The uninvited Steve Gilman, Claudine’s former lover/boss, arrives at the house mere seconds before Zara, forcing Claudine to invite him inside to forestall a front-step argument.

And when the group begins the White Elephant game, one of the gifts causes the always-unflappable hostess to drop her wine glass; it falls to the floor and smashes to pieces.  What is the secret about the Montague House that Claudine and Henry have vowed never to discuss?  What is the significance of the present that causes Claudine such anguish?  And who is the author of the notes that we read in between the chapters of the novel?

Trish Harnetiaux has updated the prototypical mystery novel with a bang.  The mysterious house, the short list of suspects, and a long-held secret combine with the addition of a People magazine cover girl, Twitter, and references to the decades-old Aspen murder case involving actress Claudine Longet, her ex-husband singer Andy Williams, and Olympic skier Spider Sabich.  It’s all here in White Elephant, and it’s perfect.

You can read more about Trish Harnetiaux at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


THE HOMEPLACE by Kevin Wolf: Book Review

Chase Ford was a hero in Brandon, Comanche County, Colorado.  Or rather, he was the hero.  He was the town’s great basketball star who went to Hollywood, married a famous country singer…and then messed up, big time.  Now he’s returned home, but it’s not the same place it was when he left.

On Chase’s first full day back, he meets his former teammate Marty Storm.  Marty’s a deputy sheriff on the county’s force, and while they’re talking on the side of the road a call comes in from another old friend.  It’s Birdie Hawkins, now with the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and she relays a message through the dispatcher that someone has killed four buffalo on a nearby ranch.

That’s bad enough, but when Birdie gets closer to the animals to investigate, she finds the body of Jimmy Riley, star of the town’s basketball team and its brightest prospect since Chase.

The center of life in Brandon is Saylor’s Café, now run by Mercy Saylor.  Like Chase, Mercy had left town years ago determined not to return, but here she is after her messy divorce.

She’d been the most popular girl in high school, the most beautiful, the smartest.  She thought her life would be something special, but today she’s reduced to looking forward to Brandon’s big event, the Pancake Supper, and to continuing to ratchet up the tension between her two former boyfriends, Chase and Sheriff Lincoln Kendall, just as she had done during high school.  It’s not the way she’d envisioned her life turning out.

Now, in addition to the murder of Jimmy Riley, the town is looking for two missing people.  The first is Coach Porter, beloved head of the basketball team and the only man Chase has been in contact with since he left home sixteen years earlier.  The second is Dolly Benavidez, the high school girl who works part time at the café and is Chase’s unacknowledged half-sister.

The homeplace is Chase’s name for his family home, the one he ran away from as soon as he was able.  He couldn’t get it out of his mind, however, even as he couldn’t forget the people in Brandon.  Still wealthy, although his playing days are behind him, he’s the anonymous donor, through the bank, who has been paying taxes and making loans to townspeople who are in dire straits.  He’s never been able to forget Comanche County, although he’s certainly tried.  And then he returns for what he tells himself, and anyone who asks, is his last visit.  But Chase can’t shake himself loose from the crimes that begin the day he comes back.

The Homeplace is the 2015 winner of the Hillerman Prize, named after the late Tony Hillerman and given to a first-time author who writes a mystery set in the southwestern United States.  I went to the Hillerman Prize website to find out what the judges were looking for in awarding the prize.  The guidelines emphasize, among other points, character, setting, and dialogue.  That being said, it’s easy to see why The Homeplace was the winning entry.  Kevin Wolf nailed all three in his novel.

You can read more about Kevin Wolf at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.