Monday, November 9, 2015

Oldies But Goodies: Malmont & Marshall

Reviews by Jeanne

Every time I open a journal or visit a bookstore, there are many new mystery paperbacks vying for attention.  There are some really wonderful ones, but there are plenty of older books worthy of attention, too.  Here are a couple of series I've enjoyed lately:

In Death Pays the Rose Rent, newly published New York novelist Tori Miracle is happy to have been invited to visit her old school friend Alice-Ann in the wilds of Lickin Creek, PA.  Actually, “happy” doesn’t quite cover it: Tori’s way behind on her rent, broke, and needs a change of scene.  She’s desperate enough that she’s even willing to face Alice-Ann’s husband, Richard, whom Tori considers to be an arrogant jerk.  It turns out that Alice Ann has come to the same conclusion and is about to ask Richard for a divorce.  She’s hoping Tori will provide moral support. 
Meanwhile, Lickin Creek is gearing up for the Rose Festival which celebrates the founding of the town by one of Richard’s ancestors.  As a direct descendant, Richard will be accepting three roses as a token rent.  He does end up with one of the roses, at least:  on his dead body.  And of course, Alice-Ann is the main suspect.

Tori is determined to clear her friend’s name so she uses the skills she learned as a journalist and researcher to start digging.  She feels sure that the solution has to do with something in the town’s past, and maybe even with a mysterious visit from an elderly Thomas Edison not long before his death.  Or maybe it has to do with a missing gemstone that was stolen during the Civil War.  There are many questions, but the answers seem in short supply.

Valerie Malmont is one of those authors who delights me.  Tori is a fish out of water in the Appalachian town where baked pig’s stomach is a local delicacy, but her sarcastic observations never turn into meanness.  She’s bright with a strong sense of humor that helps her cope with the darkness of her past and also serves to keep people at arm’s length.  On the one hand, she’s a sophisticated New Yorker but she’s also a devoted fan of the movie The Wizard of Oz.  She’s a romantic afraid of romance.

And of course there are the cats, Fred and Noel.

Death Pays the Rose Rent is the first in the series and a wonderful start it is.  You don’t have to read in order—I actually started with the third book—but now I know why Tori is known as “the woman who burned down the Historical Society.” I spend a lot of time smiling when I read these books.  They’re just plain fun. Sadly, there were only five books in the series. 

Toasting Tina by Evan Marshall is one of the Jane Stuart and Winky Mystery Series.  Jane is a widowed mother of a young son who makes her living as a literary agent.  Sleuthing is just a sideline.  In this entry, Jane is attending a Romance Authors Together convention which is being held in the same hotel as a feline fanciers’ show.  Yes, that means there are RATs and cats in the same space.  Also attending the former is Tina Vine, a newly appointed VP for a major publisher and an old rival of Jane’s who is using her position to pursue a vendetta against Jane. Tina is also “cleaning house” by dropping some long-time writers for her new prospects, which doesn’t do anything to endear her to some of the attendees.  When Tina is found dead in her bathtub, electrocuted by one of the toasters she collects, there’s no shortage of suspects. . . including Jane.

This was my first Evan Marshall book and I found it to be a charming cozy, even if I hadn’t read the preceding four books.  I particularly enjoyed the peek behind the scenes in publishing.  Marshall was a book editor before becoming a literary agent and mystery author, so he knows his subject well—and from several points of view, not just author.  Winky the cat graces the covers and plays with toys but doesn’t take an active role in any investigations.  There were some personal revelations in this book which I think would have had a lot more impact had I read others first, but I didn’t have any trouble following characters or plot so I’d say this series doesn’t have to be read in order.  I was a bit disappointed to discover that there’s only been one more book in the series and that one came out in 2004.  Marshall wrote four books in another series after that, but seems to be concentrating on his work with authors and would be authors. (Note:  Laura Levine, author of the Jaine Austen mystery series thanks him for his help as her agent in her latest book, Death by Tiara.  It made perfect sense to me, because the two series share certain sensibilities.)

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