Saturday, July 31, 2010

The line-up of featured authors for Love Is Murder 2011 includes Michael Allen Dymmoch as Local Guest of Honor. Michael is well-known in the mystery writing community, especially that part of it that calls Chicago home. Not only is she a prolific writer, but she's also served as President and Secretary of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and as newsletter editor for the Chicagoland Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Minnesota author Carl Brookins reviewed one of Michael's books on his website, He's given permission for me to reprint that review here.

Death in West Wheeling
by Michael Dymmoch
Five Star Mysteries, Hardcover,
182 pages, Hardcover, $25.95

Who knew author Michael Dymmoch, who has written such solid noir mysteries
as "White Tiger," "The Fall" and "M.I.A.", could put together such a funny,
even hilarious novel as this one, set in a small town in West Virginia, or
somewhere close by? Homer Deter is currently acting sheriff and he has to
investigate the mysterious disappearance of a teacher at a local missionary school.

This case is just the start of something bigger. Before long, Acting Sheriff Deter is faced with three more disappearances, an odd-acting ATF agent in search of illicit stills, a few apparently random motor vehicle accidents, and including a twenty-three car pileup right in the middle of town. And the funny thing is, all these incidents eventually connect. That even includes the full-grown escaped tiger locked in the post office.

Author Dymmoch has some trenchant things to say about relationships between
men and women, and about the state of our society. It's all wrapped in fine writing, a really excellent if skewed sense of our society, and some dandy plotting. Pick up this good short novel. You'll be glad you did.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Grace Under Pressure: A Review

Julie Hyzy follows up on the success of her White House Chef Mysteries with another deliciously enticing entry in the amateur sleuth field. Grace Under Pressure is the first in Julie’s new Manor House series featuring Grace Wheaton, assistant curator of historical Marshfield Manor.

Marshfield Manor has long been a showpiece of the South Atlantic region with its gorgeous gardens, cozy tearoom, and endless exhibits of antiques. Lately, though, tourism has been down, and reclusive collector Bennett Marshfield’s lawyers feel an infusion of new blood is needed in the Manor’s administration in order to bring the place back to its former days of glory.

Enter Grace Wheaton, a native of the area who returned to Emberstowne to care for her ailing mother and now lives in her deceased parents’ home. Grace has family ties to the Manor and has always wanted to work there. As the newly hired assistant curator, she faces stubborn resistance from head curator Abe and his administrative assistant, Frances, while earning only grudging respect from Mr. Marshfield.

All that changes when Abe is murdered during a freak disturbance in the tearoom. Grace is temporarily thrust into the top position where she works closely with chief of security Terrence Carr to assure the safety of Bennett Marshfield, whom the police believe to be the killer’s actual intended victim.

Bennett’s testimony in T. Randall Taft’s Ponzi scheme trial may be behind the attempt on his life. A new motive comes to life, though, when Grace discovers Bennett has been receiving blackmail letters. Can Grace get beyond Bennett’s refusal to discuss the letters and somehow make sense of the tangled affairs at Marshfield Manor? It may seem an impossible task, but Grace is determined to save both her job and her employer, even if it means risking her own life.

In Emberstowne's Marshfield Manor, Hyzy has created an intriguing setting based on the work of foundations that save historical buildings and entire estates by turning them into self-supporting tourist attractions. The cast of characters who live or work in and around the Manor are equally distinctive; Hyzy has given them personalities that work well alone or in combination with their fellow characters. Grace is an especially appealing protagonist, determined but not pushy, curious but not nosy. Her quest to solve Abe’s murder is understandable given that her very livelihood depends on Bennett’s continued existence; no boss means no job, and no job means Grace could very well lose the home she grew up in.

The plot of Grace Under Pressure is somewhat convoluted, but honest clues exist, making the ending satisfyingly clear. The complications in Grace’s life as introduced by the author also work well as an introduction to the series. Fans of her previous series will both welcome and enjoy this latest effort by the very talented Julie Hyzy.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Battle Continues

So this morning I stepped outside to check my peach tree, and what should I find but two peaches lying on the ground, one eaten to the stone and one hardly touched at all.


This was definitely not the work of the bunnies, those lovers of clover and fine vegetables.

No, this was the work of...SQUIRRELS!!!!

I should have known better than to stake the tree yesterday. BUT, it was leaning to the west, the branches on that side so ladened with peaches that they were actually weighing the tree down. So I wrapped an old elastic bandage around the trunk (the worn out ones are perfect for use in supporting plants in the garden), tied a blue cord to the bandage, and tied that to a stake I then drove into the ground. The tree was again upright, the branches not waving dangerously close to the ground.

Of course I forgot that squirrels are notoriously good at tight-rope walking. Obviously, some furry friend simply scampered up the cord, bypassing the metal collar previously attached to the tree to ward off pesty critters, and jumped onto a branch where breakfast was conveniently waiting.

Grrrr again.

So okay, it was either come up with a plan to discourage the squirrels, or simply admit defeat and plan on eating far fewer peaches this year than originally expected.

Those who know me well know that I rarely admit defeat, and never to a squirrel. It didn't take me long to come up with an ingenious plan to discourage the little guys from feasting on my tree. After a quick trip to the garage, I was back at the tree holding a can of brake grease. I slathered the grease on the eleastic bandage and blue cord, then twisted four sharpened plant stakes into the bandage, making sure the pointed ends faced out and down towards the cord.

I stood back with a smile and admired my handiwork. Squirrels would have a hard time climbing that greased cord. Most likely they'd fall off, but just in case one did make it up to the trunk, he'd never get beyond the plant stakes with their sharp points.

It's now three hours later, and so far, no squirrels have approached the peach tree. I know it's too early to call this a complete victory on my part, but I'm crossing my fingers that I've won this most recent battle with nature.

I'm crossing them really hard!


Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Attack of the Baby Bunnies!

So I walked outside a couple of nights ago to check on the sky -- was it going to rain or not?? -- and low and behold, I inadvertently interrupted the dinner plans of two baby bunnies. Until I appeared, the pair was contentedly nibbling away at the clover on my front lawn. One look at me and they froze like a couple of fuzzy gray statues.

Reverting to my Doctor Dolittle personality, I began what turned out to be a totally one-sided conversation with my furry guests.

"Hey, guys, there's no reason to get nervous. I'm perfectly harmless, just one of the humans who happen to live here."

Total silence reigned as two pairs of beady brown eyes focused suspiciously on me.

"No, really, fellows. Just pretend I'm not here. Enjoy the grass, but do me a favor and leave the flowers alone, okay?"

More stony silence. The larger of the two bunnies flicked an ear in my direction, but that was the extent of his response. The smaller rabbit took a cue from his partner and also held his peace.

"An occasional dandelion is fine. Just no flowers. And no vegetables, either."

It might have been my imagination, but I could swear I saw the little guy frown when I said 'vegetables'. The bigger bunny definitely raised an eyebrow. It hit me that they hadn't yet visited the backyard and therefore didn't know about my garden. Big mistake on my part even mentioning what grew back there.

"Clover's ever so much sweeter than flowers or -- ha, ha -- vegies," I said as, trying to appear casual, I sidestepped to the right, effectively blocking my guests' view of the hardy cucumber plants enthusiastically giving birth to baby cukes in a large white flower pot on the back stairs.

My ploy didn't work. The rabbits abandoned their statue pose and slowly inched closer to me. Their tiny noses twitched in anticipation of a better meal.

While they smelled food, I smelled trouble.

I didn't want to do it, but seeing the sparkle in their beady little eyes, I suspected there was nothing for it but to bring out the big guns.

"One step closer and I'll call the CAT!!!"

That got their attention! Ears flicking madly now, the bunnies backed off a respectable distance. Their eyes were still glued on me, but I could tell they were thinking.

"Your relatives ate every one of my fall asters last year," I growled. "They nibbled the leaves down to the stalk on the lilies, and then they decimated my carnations. I WILL NOT STAND FOR IT this year!"

The bigger bunny scratched his ear with a back foot as if to say, "Your hard luck, lady. Rabbits gotta eat."

"Not in my yard you don't! You're welcome to the clover in front, but step into the backyard and you're dead meat! CAT will see to that!"

The second mention of CAT seemed to convince them I meant business. The littler guy slunk off to my neighbor's front yard to hide in the bushes. His big brother glared at me a moment longer before taking the same route south. No hiding for him, though. He made quite a show of investigating a bed of marigolds lining the sidewalk before finally settling down to snack on a patch of newly planted grass.

I stood my ground near the cucumbers until both bunnies tired of the game and hopped off to search for better pickings across the street. Satisfied they wouldn't return any time soon, I was about to go back inside when out of the corner of my eye I spied a squirrel gazing hungrily at my peach tree.

"Don't even think about it!" I hissed. I leveled a finger in his direction. "CAT climbs trees, you know. He'll catch you and feed you to his babies for dinner!"

The squirrel just grinned before scampering up the tree and grabbing a half-ripened peach. He peered down at me from his perch high on an upper branch and twitched his tail in that particularly frenetic way known to squirrels everywhere as "doing the Victory-Over-Humans dance". With the peach still clasped to his chest, he chattered away, the gist of his message being this: "Those guys were dumb bunnies, but I'm a smart squirrel! As I recall, CAT went to cat heaven last year, so this summer the peaches are mine, all mine!"

I swear I heard him laughing madly as he leaped from the peach tree and disappeared into the night. Well, he wouldn't be laughing tomorrow, not when he saw the little surprise I was planning for him.

A gift wrapped tree. Heh, heh, heh!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Remembering a Good Man

My cousin Paul died today.

He was 61-years-old and had been battling leukemia for a year and a half.

He was a good man.

Paul and I grew up in the same city, but as adults, we didn't get to see each other very often; Paul moved to Phoenix and I stayed put in Chicago. The last time we met was at his mother's funeral almost two years ago. But we kept in touch via emails that circulated among my many cousins, emails that spoke of births and deaths in the family, of children and grandchildren and mutual ancestors, and often, of memories of our childhoods. Then, during his illness, we communicated via CaringBridge, an on-line journaling site for patients and their families, with Paul's wife Nancy filling in when he was too ill to write.

The picture above was taken in June of this year and shows Paul with his youngest grandson, George Jacob. The other photo shows a much younger Paul, the Paul who was three years younger than I and always seemed to be involved in some kind of mischief -- or at least, that's how I remember him.

For example, see that white suit he's wearing in the picture? That's the suit in which he made his 1st Communion. He looked so good in it -- until the Sunday he wore it to a party at my parents' house. We kids were set free to play outside, and wouldn't you know it, Paul just had to check out the foundation of the new house being built two doors down from us. He never meant to fall into what was to become the basement of the house but at the time was only a muddy hole in the ground. But mud and little boys just seem to attract each other, and that hole really attracted Paul.

He was not a pretty sight when he climbed out of it.

I don't claim to have a lot of memories of my childhood. I had rheumatic fever twice as a kid, and back then the cure for that was bedrest, large doses of Penicillin, and aspirin for the joint pain associated with the disorder. A doctor once told me that all the medicine I'd been on affected my memory and caused the recurrent nightmares that plagued me back then. I don't know if that's true; I only know there are gaps in what I remember of my youth. Some events I can only partly recall, and even then the details are fuzzy, like I see them through a haze.

My childhood memories of Paul mainly fit into that fuzzy category. I wish I'd had a chance to know him better when we were older. He became a husband and a father and a grandfather, and from all I've heard about him from friends and family, he excelled in all those roles.

I do know Paul had a lot of guts. He faced his illness with courage and never complained in his posts on CaringBridge. He always seemed to be smiling in his pictures and looking forward to life improving for him. His attitude didn't appear to change even when he learned that an expected bone marrow transplant was being cancelled, meaning his chance of recovery was now practically nil.

Tonight Paul's pain is over. He is at peace, safe in the arms of his Creator.

Remembered and loved, this good man can rest now.