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Posts Tagged ‘small southern town’

GONE GULL by Donna Andrews: Book Review

Full disclosure–this is the first Meg Langslow mystery I’ve read.  It’s important to state that because there’s obviously a lot of backstory; this is the twenty-first book in the series, so I feel as if there’s a great deal that I’m missing.  That being said, Gone Gull is a delightful read.

Meg is a blacksmith by profession, rather unusual in itself, as well as an artist creating wrought-iron sculptures.  In her latest adventure, Meg, her husband, and their twin sons are spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center in Virginia, a new venture started by her grandmother Cordelia.  Meg is heading a blacksmithing workshop, Michael is in charge of the children’s drama class, and various other artists/craftspeople are teaching painting, photography, and jewelry-making, to name just a few of the offerings available.

The novel opens at the beginning of the Center’s second week of classes.  The first week’s classes could be considered a success except for the fact of middle-of-the-night vandalism in several of the rooms:  prints destroyed in the photography studio, the potter’s kiln tampered with, windows left open during a rainstorm that destroyed students’ artwork.  Cordelia is worried that if this continues and the students become aware of the extent of the damage, a number of them will leave and demand their money back.

Meg has taken to making certain that the artists’ studios are secured when no one is using them.  She’s checking all the doors and windows one morning before classes begin when she gets to the room of the Center’s most difficult artist–Edward Prine.  Prine, a man who fancied himself a ladies’ man and made himself a nuisance to several women students, is lying on the floor with a knife in his back.  Students and staff agree that Prine was certainly an annoying man, but was that sufficient motive for murder?

Meg’s family is large and eccentric, several of them spending the summer at the Center.  At the head of the Center is her independent-minded grandmother Cordelia, never married to Meg’s grandfather; her grandfather, Dr. Blake, a world-famous biologist and ornithologist with a chronically bad temper; her father, a physician who views murder as a chance to do some amateur detecting; and various cousins with the expertise necessary to help Meg find the killer of Edward Prine.

The book’s title refers to a seabird named after the eighteenth-century ornithologist and naturalist George Ord.  The day before his death, Prine had shown Meg’s grandfather photos of a painting he had done of a seabird, allegedly having seen the bird on the Center’s patio.  The photos were at first glance scathingly dismissed, the scientist saying that there was no gull with those markings and accusing Prine of using his imagination to combine two or more species in his painting.  However, that night, after looking more closely at the photos, Blake recognized the bird as an Ord Gull, a species that experts believed to be extinct.  Wanting to contact Prine immediately to find out more, he’s persuaded by Meg to wait until the following morning, but by that time Prine has been murdered.

And then there’s a second murder.

Gone Gull is written in a light, fast-moving style, with a strong plot and interesting characters.  Donna Andrews is the recipient of a slew of awards, including an Agatha and an Anthony for her first novel Murder with Peacocks in 1999.  In Gone Gull, it appears she hasn’t lost a step since.

You can read more about Donna Andrews at this website.

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


DOING IT AT THE DIXIE DEW by Ruth Moose: Book Review

Have yourself a glass of iced tea, a sugar cookie or two, and you’ll be in the perfect frame of mind for this charming cozy.  Doing It at the Dixie Dew, the debut novel by Ruth Moose, won the 2013 Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Competition for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel.  It’s easy to see why.

Beth McKenzie grew up in the small town of Littleboro, North Carolina, then she went north for college and didn’t return until her beloved grandmother died fifteen years later.  Mama Alice had raised Beth after the death of Beth’s parents, and she left Beth the only thing she had of value, her home. 

But the house, once a spic-and-span showplace from which Mama Alice ran her catering business, is now in need of major repairs–new gutters, new roof, major paint job.  No one would buy it as is, so Beth’s only option is to turn it into something that will give her a living, hence its new life as a bed and breakfast establishment.

But in its first night as a B & B, disaster strikes.  Miss Lavina Lovingood, a former Littleboro resident who recently returned from Italy, went upstairs to sleep in the Azalea Room and didn’t come down for breakfast the next morning.  At first glance it seems that she died a natural death; after all, she was close to ninety years old.  But Police Chief Ossie DelGardo seems suspicious, both of the death and of Beth.  Does he really think she would have killed Miss Lovingood, or is he just looking for some publicity and glory?

Beth is sadden by the death but also concerned that prospective guests will be dissuaded from coming to the Dixie Dew.  “Bad news always wore winged shoes,” she thinks.  “And gossip danced with taps on its heels.”

Then there’s a second death, that of the town’s Roman Catholic priest, and Chief Ossie questions Beth again.  “You’re the only thing these two have in common,” he tells her.  And, he continues, Miss Lovingood’s death was not natural; she was poisoned. 

Upset by what she perceives as the police chief’s determination to see her as the guilty party, Beth decides to do a little investigating on her own.   And there are enough suspicious characters in town to keep her busy. 

One is Beth’s former piano teacher, Miss Temple, who seemed to delight in punishing all her young students with a ruler over their knuckles whenever they hit a wrong note; second is Mama Alice’s best friend Verna Crowell, perhaps a bit too fond of an afternoon tipple of sherry; third is Miss Lovingood’s out-of-town cousin, Lester Moore, who believes that Beth has stolen Miss Lovingood’s valuable jewelry.

Luckily, Beth also has people who support her and her investigation.  There’s her housekeeper Ida Plum Duckett, her handyman/contractor Scott Smith, and her best friend Malinda Jones.  Without them on her side, the Dixie Dew would never have gotten off the ground.

Ruth Moose has written a mystery filled with interesting characters and a great setting.  We’ll have to wait for a second novel to see if Beth McKenzie can make the Dixie Dew a permanent part of Littleboro, North Carolina.

You can read more about Ruth Moose at this web site.

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