Friday, November 28, 2014

Space Captain Smith - Toby Frost


    2008; 320 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book #1 (out of 5) in the Chronicles of Isambard Smith series.  Genre : Sci-Fi Spoof; Space Opera.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    The Ghasts are coming!  They’re big, mean, ugly, and antlike; and they’re out to conquer the universe.  You could call them ghastly, but that would be too obvious.

    Set in the 25th-century British Empire, Isambard Smith is itching to do his part in thwarting the Ghasts’ plans.  And he’s about to get his chance in the form of captaining a spaceship named the John Pym, and transporting a woman to one of the Empire's star bases.  Smith hasn’t been given any reason for this mission, but surely it must be so important to the cause that it rates a need-to-know status.

    But be careful, newly-promoted Space Captain Isambard Smith.  In the past, your superiors haven’t shown much confidence in you.  They may have ulterior motives for sending you out in the rattletrap John Pym, into a sector where space monsters prowl, and Ghast warships patrol.

What’s To Like...
    Space Captain Smith is essentially a spoof of your typical Sci-Fi adventure.  It’s kind of a combination of Starship Troopers and Spaceballs, but nevertheless is original in its wit and world-building. 

    Smith’s crew on the John Pym are both sparse and fascinating.  Suruk The Slayer makes a wookie look like a wussie.  Polly Carveth is a pilot, a simulant, and a sex toy combined.  Gerald the Hamster doesn’t do much outside of sitting in a cage and being a hamster.  I have a feeling his role will expand somewhere down the line.

    There are some great critters to meet, greet, and avoid being eaten by.  Plus several worlds to try not to die on.  The story is fast-paced with our heroes getting into and out of scrape after scrape.  This is a standalone novel, although it does have a ‘hook’ at the end that sets up the next book in the series.

    There’s plenty of blood and gore, of both insect and human ilk.  There’s no lurid sex, but there are adult situations and toy.  Little Suzie probably shouldn’t read this book.  Oh, and if you’re a religious fundamentalist, it’s likely you’d get irritated as well.  For me, that’s a plus.

Kewlest New Word . . .
Faffing (v.) : Making a fuss over nothing(a Britishism)
Others : Cosh (v.); Parped (v.); Naff (v.); Wallies (n.); Tiffin (n.).

Excerpts...
    “By the way, you haven’t seen an alien around here, have you?  About six foot eight with a face like a cross between a boar and an upturned crab.  Probably carrying a spear and a bag full of severed heads.”
    Parker shrugged.  “I dunno.  It gets busy here.”
    “He’s got an unusual laugh.”
    “Oh, that bloke?  He’s down the bottom of the ramp.  You know him, then?”  (loc. 97)

    The atmosphere seemed heavy suddenly, charged.  He decided to lighten it.  “Besides, it’s not the strangest name I’ve heard for a ship, by a long way.  I used to know a Yorkshireman who named his ship the Norfolk and Chance.  I used to say, ‘Why did you call your ship Norfolk and Chance?’ and he’d reply, ‘Because there’s Norfolk and Chance she’ll get off the ground!’  Haha!  Ha!  Ha.  Ha?  Oh.”  (loc. 2123)

Kindle Details...
    Space Captain Smith sells for $4.99 at Amazon.  The other four books in the series range from $4.39 to $7.99.

“The positronic versifier won’t transfibulate itself, after all.”  (loc. 2631)
    The key part of any spoof is its wit and humor.  Can it remain funny, fresh, and non-repetitive throughout the story?  I am happy to say that, for me and my sense of humor (and your funny bone may or may not agree), Space Captain Smith was superb in this regard.

    Add to this the action, the satire, and the excellent Space Opera motif, and I found it to be a delightful book.  My local (digital) library has at least two more of the series, and I intend to read them all.

    8½ Stars.  Highly recommended.  Subtract 1 star if you think Monty Python’s movie, The Holy Grail, was boring or stupid.  The humor here will probably not appeal to you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Midget's House - Anita Bartholomew


    2011; 288 pages.  Full Title : The Midget’s House (A Circus Story … A Love Story … A Ghost Story)  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Contemporary Fiction; Cozy Paranormal.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    Old Aunt Enid has died.  She’s left her home to her niece Marisa.  It’s an old, somewhat rundown house, but it has its charm.  And its gopher tortoises.  And, rumor has it, its ghost.  Despite this, when Marisa arrives, she finds that several people want the place.

    There’s Enid’s cousin Otto, who lives on the grounds of the estate and who was Enid’s caretaker in her final years.  And Nicholas Young, an investor who owns the tax lien on the place.  If Marisa doesn’t come up with a bunch of $$ quickly to pay off those taxes, the estate will be his.  Then there’s the land developer John Guinness, who’s interested in both the land and Marisa.  Finally, the Sarasota Green Coalition who, on behalf of the endangered gopher tortoises, will sue the pants off of Marisa if she turns one shovelful of dirt on the grounds to disturb their habitat.

    But Marisa feels curiously drawn to her newly-acquired house.  She’s going to keep it (if she possibly can), and learn its history (if she possibly can).   After all, there must be some reason for a ghost to be hanging around.

What’s To Like...
    The book’s subtitle says it all: The Midget’s House is an ambitious blend of a circus story, a love story, and a ghost story.  While there is a paranormal element, the story isn’t particularly scary, and I don’t think Anita Bartholomew intended it to be.  The book is a lot closer to Marley And Me (if we ‘borrow’ The Christmas Carol’s Marley) than to Poltergeist.

    The storyline alternates between the present (told in the 3rd person and from Marisa’s POV), and the 1920’s (told in the 1st person and from Lucinda’s POV).  Lucinda is now a ghost - that’s not really a spoiler – but back then she was alive, vertically-challenged, and eking out a living in the circuses and freak shows.

    Plotwise, not much happens in the Lucinda chapters until the second half of the book, but the early 1920’s were the glory days for the traveling shows, and you get a very nice ‘feel’ for the life of a carney back then.  I found Lucinda’s story to hold my interest more than Marisa’s, even though the latter had a storyline from the start.

    You will meet a slew of interesting characters in both timelines, and it was difficult to guess which ones were the good guys, and which ones were the baddies.  I liked that.  Also, Marisa’s New Age friends were a hoot to get to know.  This is a standalone novel and the odds of there being a sequel seem small.

Kewlest New Word...
Chumming (v.) : the practice of luring animals, usually fish such as sharks, by throwing “chum” into the water.  “Chum” is fish parts and blood, which attract fish due to their keen sense of smell.
  
Excerpts...
    Louder now, she chanted:
    “Gatta, gatta, peragatta, perasatgatta, bodiswava.”
    Rena repeated it several times then held her hand up for silence.
    “Follow me, repeat what I say and do as I do.”  The nun-turned-psychic grabbed a handful of seed from the bowl.  Marisa and Kelly each did the same.  Scattering a few seeds in front of her, Rena intoned, “Feed the hungry ghosts … feed the hungry ghosts.”  (loc. 2552)

    “Gib’town may not look like much to you now, but we used to have us a tight-knit little community here, the freak capital of the world.  Did you know that?  I mean, we had a giant for our fire chief, a constable who was a dwarf, and the Monkey Girl called out the Bingo numbers on Tuesday nights.  That girl, I tell you, fur all up and down her face and body but, damn, she had the prettiest voice.  I’d go to Bingo just for the pleasure of hearing her call out ‘B5’.”  (loc. 4800)

Kindle Details...
    The Midget’s House sells for $3.99 at Amazon.  At present, it is the only full-length novel that Anita Bartholomew has available for the Kindle.

Like my brother Albert would say, I was plum goshbustified.  (loc. 1907)
    The two storylines converge slowly but steadily, and the action picks up in the latter stages of the book, building towards a tension-filled climax.  Unfortunately, the ending is somewhat of a letdown.  Marisa’s financial crisis is solved by the late introduction of a deus ex machina,  and when the paths of Lucinda and Marisa finally cross, it is disappointingly brief.

    Still, it says something about Anita Bartholomew’s writing skills that I was left hungering for more Marisa-&-Lucinda.  So who knows, maybe our two protagonists can be brought back for a Book 2 via some convoluted plot-writing.  Hey, they brought Bobby back from the dead in the old TV series Dallas.  So anything’s possible.

    The Midget’s House is a satisfying read as long as you recognize that it’s not going to be a Stephen King thriller.  Pick it up when you’re in the mood for something warm, fuzzy, and pleasantly paranormal.

    7½ Stars.  Add ½ star if you were (or are) always thrilled to find out the circus was in town and you’d get to go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Caveat Emptor - Ruth Downie


    2011; 336 pages.  Book #4 (out of 6) of the Medicus series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Historical Fiction; Murder-Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    The Roman tax collector assigned to the city of Verulamium has gone missing.  Well, that’s nothing to get excited about, since Roman tax collectors aren’t very popular, even amongst the Romans.

    But the yearly tax revenues from Verulamium disappeared with the collector, and that does make the case important.  The Romans in Londinium need to find someone to conduct an investigation.  But who?

    Well, Gaius Petreius Ruso has just returned to Londinium from Gaul.  He’d like to find a job as a medicus (doctor).  But he has a history as a reluctant (and politically na├»ve) investigator.

    Let’s send him!  Just so long as he keeps the priorities in order.  It’s the money that matters.  Not the tax collector.

What’s To Like...
    Caveat Emptor is the third book I’ve read in this series (the others are reviewed here and here), and is frankly my favorite one so far.  The Historical Fiction aspect seemed to be more deeply researched, especially the particulars about Verulamium.  And the Mystery aspect felt more satisfying as well: it was less arbitrary and more logical. 

    Valens is back, a bit more wise to the world, but with a serious personal issue.  Tilla is sometimes a real help in investigating the case, and sometimes quite the hindrance.  And Ruso is, well, still Ruso.  His doggedness at solving the case is inversely proportional to his slowness at grasping the political nuances of the Roman army  and government.  And he and Valens seem to be equally clueless when it comes to women. 

    There is a Cast of Characters at the beginning which once again came in quite handy.  The chapters are short, which made finding a place to stop for the night a breeze.  And the mystery itself starts up almost immediately.

    This time around, telling the good guys from the bad guys was quite the challenge, and I really liked that.  Ruso's investigation has its fair share of unexpected turns, and everything builds to a nice, twisty ending.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Dinning (v.)  :  making someone learn or remember something by constant repetition.

Excerpts...
    The books said that the Iceni had been crushed years ago, but this one did not look crushed.  This one looked tall and fierce and none too clean: exactly how he imagined the raging queen Boudica at the head of her savage hordes.
    When future histories were written about Britannia, Firmus did not want to appear in them as the man who had been fool enough to upset the Iceni again.  (pg. 3)

    “What are you doing in her house?”
    “Princess of the Iceni, eh?”
    Tilla raised her knife to suggest a little more respect.
    The man lifted his hands into the air and backed away in mock alarm.  “It’s all right,” he assured her.  “There’s no need for that.”
    “You can explain to her.  And to the guards.”
    The man lowered his hands.  His grin revealed dimples and even white teeth.  “I’m the captain of the guards, miss.  Put that knife away, or I’ll have to report us both to myself.”  (pg. 122)

 “We caught a sheep stealer last night, so there’s a flogging to organize.”  (pg.  206)
    Once again, there are some anachronistic candles, and the dialogue still grates on my literary nerve, what with modern-day Englishisms such as “ain’t” and “boss”.  But I have to admit that one “mistake” I thought I caught – the use of an abacus – turned out to be correct. The Romans really did have such a device in use by the time of Caveat Emptor.

    I’ve made my peace with this series.  It seems to me that Ruth Downie doesn’t intend it to be as serious as, say, the HF-MM works of Ellis Peters or Steven Saylor.  Instead, she instills a deliberate “lightness” to the story, evidenced by a subtle drizzling of humor throughout the book.  It kind of reminds me of an old TV series, Columbo.  Not particularly believable, but extremely entertaining.

    8½ StarsCaveat Emptor, and the Medicus series as a whole, may not be 100% historically accurate, but they are colorfully delightful to read.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Waiting For Godalming - Robert Rankin


   2000; 264 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Fiction; Humor.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Icarus Smith calls himself a “relocator”.  He keeps the cosmos balanced by relocating various objects.  He’s just relocated a man’s briefcase.  To his own place.  Cormerant, the erstwhile owner of said briefcase, has a different word for Icarus.  He calls him a thief.

    Lazlo Woodbine calls himself the greatest Private Investigator ever.  Cormerant wants him to find the briefcase, and will pay him handsomely to do so.  Which is great until another client preempts Cormerant.  It seems that God Himself has gone missing, and Mrs. God wants Lazlo to find him.  Post haste.

    And although Cormerant is not the sort to be trifled with, you really, really don’t want to piss off Mrs. God.

What’s To Like...
    The title is a take-off of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, but the link between the two books is rather tenuous.  This can be either a plus or a minus depending on your opinion of Beckett’s masterpiece.  I hated it in college; loved it after rereading it 30 years later.

    If you’ve already read a couple Robert Rankin books, you’ll love Waiting For Godalming.  To me, it felt somewhat more coherent than usual, and that’s a plus.  Rankin’s recurring devices are in full force here – Fangio and his various bars, talking toot, Barry the Holy Guardian Sprout; and a million different variations on Lazlo’s last name and his Smith and Wesson.  In addition, there are some crazy kewl footnotes sprinkled throughout the tale.

    As usual, the various storylines are both hilarious and over-the-top.  Cormerant is chasing Icarus; Lazlo is chasing God; and Icarus is chasing a magic drug that lets anyone see the world as it really is.  The Wrong’uns will stop at nothing to prevent that last one from taking place.

    The main storyline – Lazlo chasing God – doesn’t show up until about a quarter of the way through the book.  Since it is touted in the bookcover blurb, for a while I thought I was reading the wrong book.  As usual, Rankin gradually and deftly pulls the far-flung plot threads together, and this all leads to a satisfying ending that somehow manages to adhere to the Lazlo Woodbine criterion for a climactic location.  Like all of Rankin’s works, this is a standalone novel.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Theophany (n.) : a visible manifestation to humankind of God or a god.
Others : Periwig (n.); Pouffe (n.); Oik (n.)

Excerpts...
    “OK.  Fair enough, we’ll just have to do it the hard way.  If you had a thing about Jewish virgins, where would you go to meet some?”
    “Israel, chief?”
    “Would you care to narrow that down a little?”
    “Isl?”  (pg. 92)

    “We’re in some  underground labyrinth here.  The noise of an explosion will have those creatures coming running from miles.”
    “No problem,” said the captain.  “I’ll use a silent explosive.”
    “A silent explosive?”  Icarus made the face of grave doubt.
    “Latest thing ,” said the captain, drawing out a stick of something dangerous-looking from his pocket.  “The SAS use it all the time.  It goes off without a sound.  You’ve heard of gelignite and dynamite?  Well, this stuff’s called-“
    “Don’t tell me,” said Johnny Boy.  “Silent nite.”  (pg. 163)

 “Living la vida loca in a gagga da vida.”  (pg. 19)
    If you’re new to Robert Rankin, you may find his books to feel somewhat disjointedly repetitive (is that an oxymoron?).  His storytelling takes some getting used to, but all of his tales end coherently.  I find his wit to be LOL funny, and once you get to know his recurring characters, reading his books is a lot less confusing.

    Waiting For Godalming will not be to everyone’s taste.  Then again, neither is Waiting For Godot.  I happen to think they’re both fantastic.

    9 Stars.  This was my eighth Robert Rankin book, and I’ve enjoyed them all.  If you’re in the mood for something wacky and witty, confusingly logical, and which doesn’t take itself serious, give him a taste.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson


   2007; 763 freakin’ pages.  Book 2 of the Mistborn trilogy.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Epic Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.  Elend Venture may be king of the Central Dominance, but there is one, then two, then three hostile armies laying siege to his capital city of Luthadel.  Everyone agrees that any one of those armies can take the city whenever they want.

    But it will cost the attacking army a significant portion of its fighting men, and in turn it will be vulnerable to either – or both – of the other two besieging forces.

    Of course, this matters little to Elend and his Mistborn, Vin; they'll have perished defending Luthadel.  But perhaps there is room to negotiate.  The three invading armies are of roughly equal strengths, which makes Elend’s weaker army a potential tie-breaker.  And negotiations can buy the Luthadel defenders some time.

    It would be even better if one or more of the invading armies could be inveigled to attack the other(s).  Alas, that would take some shrewd politicking, and Elend is a novice in the art.

What’s To Like...
    It’s  been two years since I read the first book in the series, Mistborn, but Brandon Sanderson made it easy to pick the threads back up, especially which Allomancers have what ability.  For those readers who are new to the series there is a brief backstory, but it’s tacked on in the Appendices at the end of the book.  The Well of Ascension is not a standalone novel, so it is advisable to either read the first book or the backstory.

    I am in awe of Brandon Sanderson’s ability to pen Epic Fantasy.  There are lots of plot twists, and the bad guys in particular seem to stay one step ahead of the good guys.  Some of the white-hats die in the story; some of the black-hats live to fight another day.  That's kewl.

    There are some new characters to get to know – most notably Tindwyl and Zane.  And some new beasties as well, most notably the Koloss and the Mistwraiths.  Plus a new alloy, Duralumin.  The Feruchemists play a larger role this time around, as do the Keepers.  I really enjoyed getting to know OreSeur the Kandra.

    The book is mainly focused on the siege of Luthadel, and this inherently means less action than in Mistborn.  But that consequently allows for greater character development, and Sanderson still manages to work enough action into the narrative to keep things hopping. 

    Since this is the middle book in a trilogy, the storyline suffers a bit from being neither the beginning nor the end of tale.  There is little progress on the overarching thread, which involves healing the land from the encroachment of the Mists.   The embodiment of this Evil, called The Deepness, is growing stronger and more deadly as time passes. Still, the immediate plotline thread – the siege of Luthadel – is fully resolved, so this is an entertaining read that presumably sets up the dramatic climax in Book 3

Kewlest New Word. . .
Mulled Wine (n.; phrase) : a hot alcoholic drink made of red wine mixed with sugar and spices and served hot or warm.  Traditionally drunk during winter.

Excerpts...
    “You know,” OreSeur muttered quietly, obviously counting on her tin to let Vin hear him, “it seems that these meetings would be more productive if someone forgot to invite those two.”
    Vin smiled.  “They’re not that bad,” she whispered.
    OreSeur raised an eyebrow.
    “Okay,” Vin said.  “They do distract us a little bit.”
    “I could always eat one of them, if you wish,” OreSeur said.  That might speed things up.
    Vin paused.  (pg. 334)

    “Nothing to worry about,” Spook said.  “Just a mistwraith.”
    “What?” Elend asked.
    “Mistwraith,” Spook said.  “You know.  Big goopy things?  Related to Kandra?  Don’t tell me you haven’t read about them?”
    “I have,” Elend said, nervously scanning the darkness.  “But, I never thought I’d be out in the mists with one.”
    Spook shrugged.  “It’s probably just following our scent, hoping that we’ll leave some trash for it to eat.  The things are harmless, mostly.”
    “Mostly?” Elend asked.  (pg. 716)


“I’m not a good person or a bad person.  I’m just here to kill things.”  (pg. 255)
    Religion has a larger role in The Well of Ascension than in most Epic Fantasies, and I’ve seen some reviewers knock Brandon Sanderson because of his religious upbringing.  Personally, I haven’t seen any “preachiness” in either of the first two books in this series.

    If there is a theological message here, it is “There are many religions in the world.  They are all of equal value.  Pick whichever one seems best suited for you.”  I have read other books that have been little more than a sham veneer for the author’s self-driven proselytizing.  This book, and this series for that matter, do not fall in that category.

    9 Stars.  Thus far, this is just about a perfect Epic Fantasy series.  Excellent world-building; a complex saga; installments published in a timely manner; and over and done with after only three books.  The closing volume, The Hero of Ages, sits upon my TBR shelf.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Hot Rock - Donald E. Westlake



    1970; 287 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #1 (out of 14) of the Dortmunder series.  Genre : Crime Humor.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The Balabomo Emerald is a golf ball-size precious jewel that the African nations of Akinzi and Talabwo both consider to be a national treasure.  Of course, only one can possess it, and right now, that happens to be Akinzi.  But the gem is presently in New York City, as part of a US tour of African artifacts.  And Major Iko, the UN Ambassador from Talabwo, would like someone to “acquire” it for him.

    John Dortmunder is an ex-convict who specializes in the planning and implementing “difficult” burglaries.  He’s just been released from prison (not all of his heists go as planned), and could use some working capital.  He’s got a team of fellow criminal specialists to draw upon as partners, and Major Iko is willing to pay for a worthy team.

    What could possibly go wrong?

What’s To Like...
    I’ve read four other books in this series, so it was a treat to read the book that started it all.  The book opens with Dortmunder being released from prison, and that’s about all the backstory Donald Westlake gives for him.  Some of the series’ “regulars” – Andy Kelp, Stan Murch, and Rollo the bartender – are here, but Tiny and Arnie the Fence aren’t, and neither is John’s girlfriend, May.  Two team members in this book – Alan Greenwood and Roger Chefwick – were new to me.

    The Hot Rock is really a series of five capers, all involving the stealing of the Balabomo Emerald.  Every time Dortmunder thinks he’s got it, it somehow slips away and each subsequent heist requires increasingly outrageous equipment.  This confounds Major Iko, who is bankrolling the project, but leads to some hilarious escapades.

    The book, like the series, is essentially a “cozy”.  No one gets killed, and the violence is minimal.  There is some cussing here, but hey, wouldn’t you expect that in a gang of thieves?  As with any Dortmunder book, the good guys prevail (even if their financial gain is minimal), the bad guys get their comeuppance, and karmic balance is maintained.

Excerpts...
    He’d preferred to drive up here today rather than take the train, so he’d gone shopping for a car last night, and he’d found this one on East 67th Street.  It had MD plates and he always automatically checked those, because doctors tend to leave the keys in the car, and once again the medical profession had not disappointed him.
    It didn’t have MD plates now, of course.  The state hadn’t spent four years teaching him how to make license plates for nothing.  (loc. 74)

    In his office on the opposite side of the building, Chief Administrator Doctor Panchard L. Whiskum sat at his desk rereading the piece he’d just written for the American Journal of Applied Pan-Psychotherapy, entitled “Instances of Induced Hallucination among Staff Members of Mental Hospitals,” when a white-jacketed male nurse ran in shouting, “Doctor!  There’s a locomotive in the garden!”
    Doctor Whiskum looked at the male nurse.  He looked at his manuscript.  He looked at the male nurse.  He looked at his manuscript.  He looked at the male nurse.  He said, “Sit down, Foster.  Let’s talk about it.”   (loc. 2367)

Kindle Details...
    The Hot Rock sells for $7.69 at Amazon.  The other books in the Dortmunder series are in the $6.99-$12.99 price range.  Donald Westlake also wrote many “more serious” crime novels, and these range in price from $4.89 to $9.99.

”A racing driver going into the far turn at one hundred twenty mile per hour shouldn’t have to answer the telephone.”  (loc. 450)
    The exciting climax takes place in an airport, and involved gunplay and dodging taxiing airplanes.  If your own airport experience is all post-9/11, these actions will seem hard to believe.

    But back when the book was written (1970), there were no such things as metal detectors or security checkpoints, and doors leading to the tarmac were quite accessible.  I know, because at that time I was a college student flying back and forth across the country to and from school.  It was a different, simpler world for travelers back then, and sadly, it is gone forever.  Still, this scene brought back fond memories for me.

    My only quibble about The Hot Rock is that it seemed to have a lot of typos for a mainstream Publishing House-issued offering.  Other than that, it is a worthy opening novel in the Dortmunder saga.  If you like lovable crooks, you’ll like this book.

    8 Stars.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Hardboiled Murder - Michelle Ann Hollstein



    2009; 208 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book #4 in the Aggie Underhill Mysteries series.  Genre : Murder-Mystery; Cozy.  Overall Rating : 5½*/10.

    Palm Springs, California is usually a quiet place, full of retirees playing golf, shopping, and going to book clubs.  So it was rather unusual to have two bizarre deaths – one in a hot tub and one on a tram car (literally) – within 24 hours.

    Fortunately, the police have determined that both deaths were accidental.  A coincidence.  But Aggie Underhill is not so sure.  So she plans to do a little investigating on her own.

    Another word for it might be “snooping”.  But Aggie’s instincts have been reliable in the past.

What’s To Like...
    There’s a cast of characters at the beginning, which came in handy for squaring away the various relationships of the recurring characters from the get-go.  This is a standalone novel, as well as Book 4 in the series, and I didn’t feel I was missing much by not having read any of the earlier books.  It is also a “cozy”, and I quite enjoy that sub-genre in Murder-Mysteries.  As such, there’s very little blood, no sex scenes, and only a smattering of mild cussing.

    A Hardboiled Murder is short, light read.  There’s a nice twist early on to get your attention.  Stylistically, it reminds me of the old Angela Lansbury television series, Murder, She Wrote.  The main character is a 53-year-old, widowed, well-off spinster, with the hots for one of the local police officers.  There’s no depth to any of the characters, but they’re all pleasant enough and quirky enough to be interesting.

    This isn’t really a whodunit.  Aggie pokes and prods, but frankly doesn’t discover much.  So if you try to solve the case alongside her, you will be frustrated by the lack of progress.  At the end, the revealing of the baddie seemed arbitrary to me, although in retrospect, there was one clue earlier that I should’ve picked up on.  In this regard, it reminded me of Silence of the Hams (reviewed here), which I read a long time ago, and was very unimpressed with.

Excerpts...
    “I was stood up for an appointment,” Roger reminded her.  “That stung a bit.”
    “That’s hardly her fault.  She was dead.  Remember?” Betty reminded him while having an early dinner, late lunch, at a restaurant in the mall.
    “Oh, yeah.  I guess that’s excusable.  Still hurts though.  Rejection always does.  It’s not easy to get over being stood up.”
    “It’s not easy getting over being dead.”  (loc. 1788)

    “What’s wrong?  Is the garage a mess, too?”
    “That’s a ZR1!”
    “What are you talking about?”  Betty stuffed her hands on her hips.  “You’re not making sense.  ZR1?”
    “A Corvette,” Roger said, letting out a long breath before continuing.  “Aggie has a brand-spanking new Corvette in her garage.”
    “What?”  Betty turned and looked at Aggie.  “They ransacked your home and put a Corvette in the garage?”  (loc. 1969)

Kindle Details...
    A Hardboiled Murder sells for $3.99 at Amazon.  There are 7 more books in the Aggie Underhill series, if I counted correctly, and all of them are also $3.99.  Michelle Ann Holstein has books in two other series, as well as several “teach yourself to paint” books, and for the most part, they too are $3.99.

Why would God make snails that could live underwater, but not slugs?  (loc. 1348)
    If you’re happy just to plod along with Aggie, enjoying her quaint life and quirky friends, and slightly strange in-laws, you will probably enjoy A Hardboiled Murder.

    But as a Murder-Mystery, it has some serious weaknesses, especially with plotline inconsistencies.  The most egregious of these, noted even by the author herself, involves Aggie’s now-deceased husband somehow leaving a key clue in Palm Springs long before he died and she even contemplated relocating there from Florida.  Unless the author plans to introduce time-travel into the series (which seems unlikely) this is a glaring hole in the storyline which should’ve been resolved during the “polishing” stage.

    One of the murders seems pointlessly self-defeating for the baddie; while later, the “telling all” to Aggie seems needlessly self-incriminating.  Finally, the killer’s presence in Palm Springs prior to the arrival of victim Number Two again screams of either time-travel or sloppy storytelling.

    5½ Stars.  The pleasant hominess of Aggie’s life plus the occasional wit and humor balance out the plotline issues and the repetitive parts of the text.  But just barely.  Add 1 star if you think Murder, She Wrote was a fantastic series.