Sunday, December 03, 2006

Mystery Book Review: A Fatal Appraisal by J. B. Stanley

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of A Fatal Appraisal by J. B. Stanley. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.A Fatal Appraisal by J. B. Stanley

A Fatal Appraisal by J. B. Stanley
A Collectible Mystery with Molly Appleby

Berkeley Prime Crime (Mass Market Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-425-21264-5 (0425212645)
ISBN-13: 978-0-425-21264-6 (9780425212646)
Publication Date: October 2006
List Price: $6.99

Synopsis (from the publisher): Amateur sleuth Molly Appleby has a keen knowledge of antiques, a special fondness for collectibles, and a canny acquaintance with the criminal mind ...Molly Appleby is in Richmond Virginia, to cover a taping of the hit antiques show Hidden Treasures. But after the show's main appraiser inspects an 18th-century desk with hidden compartments, she finds him dead. Molly thinks that the antique desk holds the key to this 21st-century crime. It's up to her to collect the clues before more new blood is shed over old rarities.

Review: A Fatal Appraisal is the second mystery in this series to feature Molly Appleby, a reporter for Collector's Weekly. The series also features collecting and appraisal tips.

Molly is in Richmond (VA) to cover a television show patterned after the real TV series, Antiques Roadshow. There are the alliterative experts (Frank for furniture, Alicia for art, Clarke for china, Tony for toys, and so on), a host, a producer, and others that are part of the drama. Inevitably, one is found dead (was it murder?), and it's up to Molly to determine who was responsible.

A Fatal Appraisal starts off strong. Molly Appleby is a very appealing, energetic character. She is not only good at her job, she seems to enjoy it despite a less than desirable boss. She probably eats a bit too much and her figure shows, but life is full of compromises. She's trying to find time to develop a relationship with that special someone and is convinced he's worth the effort. In short, a very strong, well developed, lead character for the series.

The other characters associated with the show are varied and serve the plot adequately as suspects when Frank the furniture expert is found dead under mysterious circumstances.

It is at this point in the book that the story starts to meander, never quite finding its way back to its promising premise. Contributing factors include the general lack of motivation for anyone to kill Frank, the murder "weapon" (as it were) that is hardly a guarantee for success, and, in an odd way, the appearance of Molly's mother, who seems to dominate the latter half of the book.

Scattered between chapters is a side story that takes place in 1776 involving one of the pieces of furniture currently being displayed on the fictional Hidden Treasures show. It's actually rather interesting and does provide a unifying thread tying the past to the present.

Finally, the examples of hidden compartments in furniture provided at the end are marred by the small size and poor quality of photos. A link to a website with larger photos, in color, would have been a nice touch.

Special thanks to Breakthrough Promotions for providing a copy of A Fatal Appraisal for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

News: Clooney to Star In and Produce White Jazz

About a month ago we reported that a sequel to L. A. Confidential was in the works. Titled White Jazz, the fourth and final book in James Ellroy's L. A. Quartet series, Melbourne native Guy Pearce was in talks to play Ed Exley, a character common to both books.

The Hollywood Reporter (and others) are now reporting that George Clooney has signed on to star in and produce White Jazz for Warner Independent. Clooney will play a corrupt police lieutenant assigned to a potentially explosive case for the Los Angeles Police Department during a time when the department is under investigation for corruption. Production is set for 2008.

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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News: Bob Morris on His New Book, Bermuda Schwartz

Bermuda Schwartz by Bob MorrisEx-NFL player-turned-PI Zack Chasteen returns in February 2007 in Bermuda Schwartz, the 3rd mystery in the "island" series that began with Behamarama. The Royal Gazette (Bermuda) provides an update on the author's activities, quoting from a recent interview with Morris on the plot of Bermuda Schwartz, "Oh, it's just your typical tale of shipwrecks and lost treasure and money laundering and palm trees and love and a teeny bit of sex and death by icepick and, oh yeah, the search for the True Cross of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

He adds, "I went to Bermuda a couple of years ago to write a magazine story, then decided it had all the makings of a good place to commit murder and started cobbling together the pieces. I'm off next to Trinidad to research the fourth book in the series – Trinidday-O."

Morris is a contributor to National Geographic Traveler, Bon Appetit, Islands, Robb Report, Latitudes and other publications. Bahamarama was a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Mystery Novel and chosen by the Library Journal as one the year's Top Five Mysteries. The second mystery in the series, Jamaica Me Dead, was released in October 2005 and was a BookSense Pick by the American Booksellers Association (ABA).

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Mystery Bestsellers for December 01, 2006

Mystery BestsellersA list of the top ten mystery hardcover bestsellers for the week ending December 01, 2006 has been posted on the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books website.

No new mysteries this week on the bestseller lists. Just a bit a reshuffling of last week's books. Cross by James Patterson retains the top spot at both Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com with Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen in second place.

Be sure to check out our new, updated Mystery Bestsellers aStore to purchase any of the bestselling mysteries featured on our website!

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Press Release: MWA Holds Second Annual Short Story Contest

NEW YORK, Nov. 29 /PRNewswire/ -- MWA:Reads, a Mystery Writers of America literacy program that encourages children and teens to read mysteries by joining authors with students, parents, teachers, and librarians, will hold its second annual Joan Lowery Nixon Award mystery writing contest in 2007. The announcement was made today by MWA:Reads National Chairperson Daniel J. Hale. Since its inception eight years ago, MWA:Reads (formerly Kids Love a Mystery) has involved thousands of students and scores of authors all across the United States.

The Joan Lowery Nixon Award mystery writing contest allows students to use their language arts skills along with their imagination to create their own unique mystery story. The contest is named after the prolific American writer of historical fiction and mysteries for children and young adults, Joan Lowery Nixon. She is the founder of MWA:Reads, as well as the only person ever to win the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar® Award for Best Juvenile Mystery four times. Lowery passed away in 2003.

Contest details:

The Joan Lowery Nixon Award mystery writing contest is open to students from the second through the tenth grades. There are two age categories: Grades 2-5 and Grades 6-10. Only one story per student may be submitted, as specified in the contest rules. The entries will be judged in the area of creativity and proper use of the English language. The winner of each category will receive a $250 cash prize.

Submissions for the contest will be accepted beginning February 3, 2007 (Joan Lowery Nixon's birthday) but no later than February 28, 2007. Students in public and private schools, as well as home-schooled students, are encouraged to participate. Visit MWA:Reads for complete contest rules.

Winners will be announced at Mystery Writers of America's 2007 Edgar® Awards on April 26, 2007. All decisions are final.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mystery Book Review: Caribbean Calling by J. D. Gordon

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of Caribbean Calling by J. D. Gordon. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.Caribbean Calling by J. D. Gordon

Caribbean Calling by J. D. Gordon
An Eddie Gilbert Mystery

Red Engine Press (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-9745652-8-8 (0974565288)
ISBN-13: 978-0-9745652-8-6 (9780974565286)
Publication Date: October 2006
List Price: $15.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Chicago-area firefighter Eddie Gilbert is headed back to the Florida Keys and the open seas of the Caribbean. A beautiful woman and an interesting job offer are waiting.

Caribbean Calling plays out amid lush tropical settings and authentic slices of life in the Florida Keys and other areas in the Caribbean. It’s adventure, action and romance unfolding in an area of the world that is a natural breeding ground for dark characters who deal in everything from gun-running to drugs and white slavery. It’s the resurfacing of old enemies who still carry a grudge. It’s hot nights in the South. It’s the Caribbean calling.

Review: Caribbean Calling is the second mystery in this series to feature Eddie Gilbert, a firefighter from the Chicago suburbs, who travels to Tampa on a month-long “interview” for a job with a company whose business is never quite clearly identified.

One of his early assignments is to locate the daughter of a wealthy client. A doctor, she was working with a relief organization on a tiny third-world island nation in the Caribbean when her regular phone calls home suddenly ceased. Eddie hooks up with a partner in Key West and the two of them are off to uncover what happened to the young doctor.

Caribbean Calling is an ambitious effort that fails to deliver on its promise. Gordon has for the most part developed genuinely interesting characters and locales, drafted an intriguing adventure in which they can participate, but then misses the mark entirely when tying it all together. It’s almost as if the author created an intricate outline of a story with detailed descriptions of people, places, and events, and then converted the whole thing into paragraph form and called it a book.

One of the problems for the reader is that there is too much reliance on knowing what happened in the first book of the series, Island Bound, to understanding some of the character motivation in this second book. The pointless preface suggests there may be some interpersonal conflict to be resolved, yet when it happens it’s a disappointment.

Finally, Eddie himself is a bit of a contradiction. Portrayed as a hero and James Bond-type of character, he keeps his ego in check, has a softer and arguably weaker side, and follows far more often than he leads. As the principal character of an action, adventure, mystery series, he comes off as something of a wimp who doesn’t engender the respect of the reader.

Special thanks to Breakthrough Promotions for providing a copy of Caribbean Calling for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

News: Cowboys and Turkeys

The Shape Shifter by Tony HillermanThis amusing anecdote of Tony Hillerman has been around since 2001, but it bears repeating every so often.

As reported by Larry Thornberry in The American Spectator, Hillerman describes an evening when he found himself at a large intertribal meeting shortly after it was decided that, to be politically correct, American Indians should henceforth be called Native Americans. He was curious about what his friends, regular walking around Indians who'd never been to Washington and had never felt compelled to join an indignation group, thought of this label.

Most in the room said they preferred to be called by their tribal affiliation, i.e., they thought of themselves as Navahos, Apaches, Kiowas, Arapahos, Zunis, etc. One guy succinctly summed it up by saying, " I don't mind being called an Indian because Christopher Columbus went looking for India and got lost. I'm just glad he wasn't looking for Turkey."

Hillerman's most recent book, The Shape Shifter, is on bookshelves this month.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Mystery Book Review: McMansion by Justin Scott

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of McMansion by Justin Scott. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.McMansion by Justin Scott

McMansion by Justin Scott
A Ben Abbott Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-063-X (159058063X)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-063-9 (9781590580639)
Publication Date: January 2007
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Even the cozy New England town of Newbury, Connecticut, is not immune to the relentless spread of McMansions carpeting the countryside. Ben Abbott, realtor and private detective, is so incensed that he refuses to sell them. That Ben is not the only citizen of Newbury who is provoked by over-sized, ugly, wasteful houses becomes apparent when the corpse of Billy Tiller, Newbury's greediest developer, is discovered underneath his bulldozer.

The young and troubled eco-activist Jeff Kimball, who is arrested while sitting at the controls of the bulldozer, protests his innocence. Connecticut's state's attorney sees the opportunity to prosecute an open-and-shut TV murder trial that will vault him into the U.S. Senate. While Ira Levy, the small-town criminal defense lawyer hired by Jeff's hip-hop mogul father, longs to impress movers and shakers in New York City.

Ben Abbott, deep in debt to Attorney Levy for an expensive horse he gave to 12-year-old Alison, is forced to pay off the debt by trying to prove Jeff Kimball innocent of a crime that State Police Major Crime Squad Lieutenant Marian Boyce styles "perpetrator on bulldozer on victim."

It looks that way, says Ben Abbott. But in what order did they really stack up?

Review: Justin Scott's 4th book featuring realtor and private investigator Ben Abbott, McMansion, is a rather loosely constructed mystery populated with characters that seem more contrived than real.

Ben has been hired to look into an environmentalist's background by the attorney defending him, accused of the murder of a local real estate developer. The young man was arrested atop a bulldozer under which lay the crushed corpse. Ben quickly discovers that many of the developer's detractors had the means and a motive to kill the man, but which of them also had the opportunity to do so?

McMansion doesn't break any new ground here and contains a fairly routine outline of a murder mystery. For all practical purposes, Ben identifies the culprit early on when he ponders the crime scene. That leaves a lot of pages to fill. What could have made the book more interesting would have been development of good, complex characters and incorporating them and said outline into a new environment to make it more of a puzzle. McMansion tends to fail in both regards.

With only one or two exceptions, the characters here lack the multi-dimensionality that provides depth to a story. Even Ben seems a bit flat here. He doesn't want the case he's working on and resents the obligation to continue. Whining about the assignment in particular, and the title structures in general, doesn't endear him to the reader.

The setting also presents something of a problem. The fact that large homes on large lots are being purchased by people with more money than taste isn't a criminal act and by itself simply doesn't provide a strong foundation upon which to build this story. And the implication that the reason these houses exist is primarily due to the greed of developers and the corruption of zoning officials is absurd, even in a work of fiction.

There is a decent, credible murder plot buried here somewhere, but it seems Scott would rather bemoan what he perceives to be the sorry state of housing in Connecticut than craft an interesting mystery around the death of one of its developers.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of McMansion for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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Mystery Godoku: Weekly Puzzle for November 27, 2006

Mystery GodokuMystery Godoku Puzzle for November 27, 2006A new Mystery Godoku Puzzle has been created by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books and is available on our website.

Godoku is similar to Sudoku, but uses letters instead of numbers. To give you a headstart, we provide you a mystery clue to fill in a complete row or column (if you choose to use it!).

This week's letters and mystery clue: C E H M N O P R S. Set in 1920s Scotland, mysteries featuring Dandy Gilver are written by Catriona _____ (last name only, 9 letters).

Previous puzzles are stored in the Mystery Godoku Archives.

Enjoy the weekly Mystery Godoku Puzzle from the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, and Thanks for visiting our website!

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Mystery Bestsellers for November 24, 2006

Mystery BestsellersA list of the top ten mystery hardcover bestsellers for the week ending November 24, 2006 has been posted on the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books website.

The 18th Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mystery from Tony Hillerman debuts in the third position at both Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com this week. The Shape Shifter by Tony HillermanIn The Shape Shifter, Joe's "last case", unsolved, continues to haunt him. It involved a priceless, one-of-a-kind Navajo rug supposedly destroyed in a fire. Suddenly, what looks like the same rug turns up in a magazine spread. And the man who brings the photo to Leaphorn's attention has gone missing. Leaphorn must pick up the threads of a crime he'd thought impossible to untangle. Not only has the passage of time obscured the details, but it also appears that there's a murderer still on the loose. Publisher's Weekly calls The Shape Shifters "masterful" and states, "The conclusion is sure to startle longtime fans of this acclaimed mystery series."

Also new this week is the second joint effort by married bestsellers Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, Capital Crimes by Jonathan and Faye KellermanCapital Crimes. Two novellas are presented: Thy Sister's Keeper and Music City Breakdown. Making background appearances in these whodunits are reader favorites Alex Delaware, Peter Decker, and Rina Lazarus.

Be sure to check out our new HSMB Mystery Bestsellers AStore to purchase any of the bestselling mysteries featured on our website!

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

News: Burke Robicheaux Mystery to Start Filming

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee BurkeProduction Weekly is reporting that an adaptation of James Lee Burke’s In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, the 6th mystery in the outstanding Dave Robicheaux series, is set to begin pre-production next month in Louisiana. No mention yet in IMDB.

The only other Burke book featuring Robicheaux to be filmed was the second in the series, Heaven's Prisoners, starring Alec Baldwin as the Cajun detective.

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

News: Movie Based on The Three Investigators in Post-Production

The Secret of Skeleton Island by Robert ArthurIt frequently happens that while searching for something, one ends up in quite a different place and what was originally searched for is long forgotten. It happened (again!) today. We stumbled upon a reference to "The Three Investigators" and immediately were transported back 40 years to when we collected these books as children. (Of course, a thorough search of the the closet shelves produced no books, no doubt donated to charity many, many years ago.)

Who are the three investigators? This website does a terrific job providing a history of the series. The books were created in the early 1960's by Robert Arthur and featured three boys: Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews. In order to promote the series and provide some name recognition, an Alfred Hitchcock character (based on the director of the same name) provided opening and closing remarks in many of the early books. In fact, the series was originally titled "Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in ...".

And what prompted all this attention? Disney is reportedly in post-production on a movie based on The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island, the 6th title in the original series. According to IMDB, filming took place in South Africa and the movie is scheduled for release sometime in 2007.

We'll try to keep a closer eye on what's happening with the franchise, and report back with more information when available.

Now if we can only remember what we were originally searching for ...

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Profile: How to Write in High Heels with Elaine Viets

See Jane Write: A Girl's Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin JacobsSherri Winston, writing for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, recently spoke with mystery author Elaine Viets who writes the Dead End Job series featuring Helen Hawthorne and a new series featuring mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Her motivation to contact Viets: one of several new books on writing "Chick Lit", See Jane Write by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs.

What is chick lit? "I think chick lit is really a marketing tool. It's a label publishers put on women's fiction. I think any woman's book that's smart and funny and a little cheeky gets labeled chick lit," Viets says.

See Jane Write: A Girl's Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin JacobsWinston writes that Viets' view of chick lit mirrors the advice in See Jane Write. Viets says, "I think there are certain things that do define chick lit books. One is the friendships. The thing about real friends is they will tell you when you're going wrong. I think chick lit reflects women and how they see the world."

Because chick lit is often light and breezy, a lot of novices might think it's easier to write or is a lesser form of literature, Winston adds. Before you go thinking being funny is a piece of cake, Viets has this to say: "I think the hardest thing in the world is to be funny and get away with it. To be funny, you have to be honest, and people don't like honesty. And to be funny you have to have an edge. There are a hundred ways to offend people when you're being funny -- I've done 'em all. With humor, you're always walking an edge. You have to be very, very careful."

According to Viets, chick lit shares with all other forms of fiction four common important elements: Character, Plot, Setting, Motivation.

Read the rest of the Elaine Viets interview on Sun-Sentinal.com here.

Other recently published books on the subject of chick lit include: Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley, This Is Chick-Lit edited by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, and Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young.

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Mystery Godoku: Weekly Puzzle for November 20, 2006

Mystery GodokuMystery Godoku Puzzle for November 20, 2006A new Mystery Godoku Puzzle has been created by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books and is available on our website.

Godoku is similar to Sudoku, but uses letters instead of numbers. To give you a headstart, we provide you a mystery clue to fill in a complete row or column (if you choose to use it!).

This week's letters and mystery clue: D E H I K M O S T. The Beth Austin mysteries, based on literary classics, were written by this author (9 letters).

Previous puzzles are stored in the Mystery Godoku Archives.

Enjoy the weekly Mystery Godoku Puzzle from the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, and Thanks for visiting our website!

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

News: New Self-Published Golf Mystery Available

Snowman by Dave SaariThere seems to be an increasing trend for authors to try to self-publish their mysteries, promoting and selling their work directly to their readers. We're partial to golf mysteries, and we came across a new self-published book that fits the category: Snowman by Dave Saari. We haven't read this book, nor have we been offered a copy for review, so we don't know if it's worth buying or not. But if you don't mind eBooks, it's available for $4.50 from Lulu.com. Paperback and hardcover versions are also available.

A synopsis (from the author/publisher): Matt Davidson, an underachieving golf bum and a somewhat nerdy engineer, inadvertently witnesses a shocking scene while playing golf, which launches him on an adventure that proves to be an emotional roller coaster ride. Though unsure what to do or how to do it, he drops everything to help a stunningly beautiful woman he’s never even met. His clumsy efforts soon entangle him in a web of sex, fraud, and abuse that could end up costing him his life.

We've reviewed several self-published mysteries in the past, and for the most part, they are reasonably good and often better than the run-of-the-mill bestsellers that some mystery authors produce these days. To help you decide in this case, however, the first few pages of Snowman are available online to read. The narrative isn't as polished as it could be, but as a golf mystery, it certainly has potential.

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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