Under My Kindle’s Cover

Books are cheap these day, if they are made of ether. The E-letter Omnimystery News has daily offers of free and cheap titles, and some of them are really good. I can’t resist trying two or three a week. Here are my latest selections:

SMOKING RUIN

D.R. Martin

Conger Road Press, 2012

This is very smart writing.

I was E-trolling for bargain books when it caught my eye for the locale, the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The private eye is tough-but-not-too-tough, a tall, blondish woman with a good appetite and dirty hair, who drives her father’s old Mercury Marquis, and has two men in love with her. Marta Helm has that Minnesota can-do spirit and the keenest wit I have come across. You have to love a female who says: “He…stared at me like I might’ve stared at my plumber” and “I hated to think of how many black cows died to furnish this place,” “I was surprised he didn’t stick his fingers in his ears and start loudly singing, ‘LA-LA-LA-LA’,” and “nasty stuff, social responsibility.”  It is, of course, winter, and she describes the weather well: [The cops] “looked like cartoon dragons, with gushers of steam coming out of their mouths.”

The plot revolves around the murder of a successful entrepreneur whose ad agency may get a lucrative but controversial account, to push a cigarette toward minors. The agency employs a number of people with even deeper motives. There’s a lot of nasty business to feed a reader’s suspicions, but it is still impossible to guess. For me, the plot would not be enough, but D.R. Martin’s settings and characters are vivid, and the familiar landmarks are reassuring. I wish this were not Marta Helm’s only case. Her creator usually writes sci-fi and kids’ fantasy adventures.

 

THE DANTE CONSPIRACY

Tom Kasey

Endeavor Press, 2013

 A professor is murdered but had no enemies at all. What was his secret?

Italian detectives Silvio Perini and Cesare Lombardi investigate. It seems to have something to do with Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” While they try to puzzle it out, two more teams of investigators — on the wrong side of the law — are moving toward the answer and the prize.  This is a clever plot, a race, with just the right amount of humor and intrigue. Good and efficient dialogue helps to keep up the pace. Architecture matters.

I have long enjoyed mystery series featuring Italians, as the culture is so — well, colorful. Michael Dibden introduced Aurelio Zen who knows his country’s darkest corners, but is made more human by his devotion to his elderly mother, and consternation in a long-distance romance. My husband and I are reading Donna Leon’s latest, The Golden Egg, a slow-paced unraveling of a mute man’s murder, interrupted by Brunetti’s three-course meals at home, prepared by the wise Paola, and livened by two teenagers.  Then there is Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano, a sensation in Italy, but not so interesting to me. I think Tom Kasey stands out because he is less meandering than some of the better known. Apparently the author himself is better known writing thrillers under another name.

 

TWO WIDOWS AND THE REST HOME MENACE

Ruth Ross

2012

These women deserve another chance.

Millie Mahoney, a middle-aged widow who doesn’t miss her husband, has a lively mother (age 72) who misses hers – but nonetheless has attracted a rich boyfriend, who has set the two up in business as investigators.  The mom, Margaret Cisneros, is invited to join The Grey Ladies, an elite cadre of volunteers who visit elderly residents of nursing homes. It comes to the attention of Millie and Margaret that late-life marriages are taking place in the homes at a frequency not known to the world outside. This raises questions: Who are The Grey Ladies, and what is their real purpose in life?

I found the novel fun but predictable. It is the second book in this apparently self-published series that I have read, and I think the other one, Two Widows and the Misdirected Message, was more interesting, as it involved racial prejudice and white supremacists. In both, Millie shows her compassion and determination to do the right thing. The author, in my opinion, needs a bit more spit and polish, but the idea is a good one for a time in which we are living usefully to be 100.

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