Discovery at the Dragon’s Mouth (Judy Bolton # 31)

Great galloping goldfish! Wait until the chief hears that it was you who smelled out these–” “the word is birds,” Judy put in quickly.

-Peter to Judy after the bad guys have been captured-

Judy and Peter are going to Washington so Peter can take a required refresher course for his career with the FBI and they have rented out their farmhouse to a couple taking care of their nephew. We learn that little Kevin was abandoned by his parents and that his father is wanted for questioning about a bank robbery in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Peter and Judy’s plans fall through and since her house has been let out, Judy and Honey decide to take a vacation together. To make a long story short, they end up going to Yellowstone National Park to return a package to the “perfectly stunning young man” who gave it to Judy by mistake. We follow Judy across the United States in order to get to “The Dragon’s Mouth” an attraction in Yellowstone National Park where Mr. Nogard was headed. Despite Honey’s crush on him, the reader senses that not all is on the up and up with the “dreamy” Mr. Nogard especially when Judy realized that “Nogard” is “Dragon” spelled backward.

I enjoyed this one. I liked the trip to Niagra Falls, Canada, and across my old home state of Michigan to get to Muskegon to take a ferry across to Wisconsin and on to Yellowstone. Along the way, they get lost driving around Mount Rushmore and things get pretty tense. But not half as tense as things get once they get to Yellowstone. The mysterious package gets stolen by a bear and Honey disappears. Judy sticks her foot in a hot spring and sprains her ankle and gets burned. They both end up captured by part of a bank-robbing gang (the Dragons) and Judy’s car is stolen. Judy gets knocked out cold by a window shade breaking a window to escape. Meanwhile, Peter is alerted by something Judy said in a postcard that she is unknowingly on the trail of the same bank robbers the FBI is after, and he hotfoots it to the park to meet her.

The last chapter is very satisfying as every little loose end is tied up and explained credibly. Except for a bit about static electricity which I won’t go into but believe me is batshit crazy. A very sweet and clever touch was the explanation of why Kevin’s dad asked him to put a candy heart inside his toy stuffed bear. Kevin’s parents turn out to be victims of the gang and he was not abandoned but left in a cabin to keep him safe. It turns out Judy’s ankle was infected and she had a fever during the final chapters which is a bit of a relief to know because she was a bit slow on the uptake near the end of the adventure. Honey learns that “Handsome is as handsome does”, and is happily reunited with Horace. Honey showed a lot of gumption throughout this mystery and adventure. She was an equal partner to Judy and even took the lead at least once.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 16, 2022

The Phantom Friend (Judy Bolton #30)

By Margaret Sutton

“Oh dear! wailed Clarissa. “I look terrible. My hair is dull. My hair is drab….”

“Turn her off, somebody!” Pauline interrupted. “We’ve heard that record before.”

It kills me to give a Judy Bolton book less than 3 stars but this one was not only flawed but “dull and drab.” Sorry! Judy is still in New York with Irene after their last adventure sorting out the scary Lake family and they have been joined by their friend Pauline Faulkner and another girl at Radio City Music Hall. They are going to tour a TV studio and watch Irene’s local variety show which seems to owe a lot to the old Shirley Temple’s Storybook TV series. They meet the naive and tiresome Clarissa Valentine, an aspiring actress from West Virginia, who wants to return home after not making it in New York City. Her money for her ticket is stolen by a cashier and the girls give her money to go back home. When she disappears from the group during the show, it is suspected that it was all a big scam to get their money. During the tour of the TV studio, the girls are victimized by Subliminal Advertising, and the reader is victimized by a never-ending diatribe on its dangers. Judy and Clarissa constantly bewail their dull and drab hair and can’t stop thinking about Golden Hair Wash. Somehow, a con man who specializes in kidnapping people and scamming churches out of their money gets involved in the story. Clarissa gets kidnapped because she is mistaken for a famous guest actress on Irene’s show and the actress ends up in the hospital and Peter gets shot. It’s all a big muddle and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Especially when Clarissa with her kidnappers posing as her mother and father end up at a surprise party in Judy’s house in Dry Brook Hollow. I might have been generous and given it 3 stars but Judy’s out of character swanning around as if in a trance talking about her nightmares and her dull and drab hair just got on my last nerve. Pauline Faulkner with her cynical outlook and sarcastic remarks was my favorite character in this one.

According to her daughter, Lindsey Stroh, Margaret used Vance Packard’s milestone book, The Hidden Persuaders as research, and apparently it really got to her. She wasn’t alone as subliminal advertising and mind control concerned a lot of people in the 50s and 60s. But it is called “as dangerous as an atom bomb” several times which is way over the top. Judy and Clarissa’s overreaction to the commercial for Golden Hair Wash which contained subliminal tactics overshadowed the mystery and adventure and even Peter ending up in the hospital (again) and in trouble with his boss. Unlike much of her laudable social commentary, it is not subtle and not integrated smoothly into the plot. It’s as if Margaret felt compelled to warn her young readers about mind control, but by the time she got back to writing a Judy Bolton story, it was too late.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

February 27, 2022

Cut, Color, Murder

Dye, Die, Don’t Bother

I don’t have a bad word to say about the actors in this new Hallmark mystery series. Gonzalo and McPartlin were just fine, and they had a good rapport. But boy oh boy was it dumb. This is a new entry in Hallmark’s spunky female amateur detective line. They usually run their own “womanly” business so they can take off whenever one of their acquaintances or customers gets murdered in order to catch the killer. We have flower shops, bookstores, antique stores, and bakeries. We also have matchmakers(!?), wedding photographers, crossword puzzle editors, and podcast hosts. Strangely, in two of my favorites, Aurora Teagarden and Mystery 101, the spunky female amateur detectives actually have mainstream professions. With the arrival of Cut, Color, Murder, we now have beauty shop owner. What took them so long?

In this one, Julie is taking her talents to the world of beauty pageants in which her younger sister is a participant and she is doing hair. The bitchy showrunner gets murdered and there are plenty of suspects because she was evil to absolutely everyone. Julie is the widow of a policeman who was killed in the line of duty (or was it unsolved cold-blooded murder?). So she has ties to the police department primarily through the chief of police who she has wrapped around her little finger. Enter new guy, Ryan McPartlin, a handsome hotshot detective with whom she butts heads because he is a professional. After Julie meets an anonymous text-messager alone in a spooky abandoned house at night because he/she has info about her husband, it was remote throwing time. Except I had to find it first because I had already throw

n it after all the laws she broke and chain of evidence procedures ignored in the meantime.  She is rescued from certain death by Ryan and let’s just say this show leaves no cliche unincluded.

We know this is a series because after the mystery is solved we have a bit of a cliffhanger while Julie is having a pow-wow with her dead husband at the cemetery because she has decided to move on (is that something you just decide to do?) and wants to give him a heads up ( I guess?). We know that there is going to be an over-arching mystery of her trying to solve her husband’s murder and getting into all kinds of trouble. Not a spoiler, because I’m not psychic, but I predict that the murderer of her husband turns out to be the indulgent good-guy/father-figure/police chief in an unknown number of episodes hence.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 9, 2022

Mr. Mercedes

by Stephen King

“Everybody likes the ice cream man.”

“The woman says her name is Holly Gibney, but I think she’s really Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”

“It’s as if there’s a fumble-fingered but powerful universal force at work, always trying to put wrong things right.”

One of the reasons I wanted to read Mr. Mercedes was because I heard tell of Holly Gibney, who is introduced in this book and is a character in several others of King’s works.

“I just love Holly, and I wish she were a real person. […] She just walked on in the first book she was in, Mr. Mercedes, and she more or less stole the book, and she stole my heart.”

-Stephen King

I was further encouraged because it won the Edgar Award for best novel of 2015. Unfortunately, Holly doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through, and I liked her, but I was a little underwhelmed considering the hype, including the miniseries which features her character. Just a little. I don’t think SK knew what he had with Holly Gibney until the book was almost finished. I look forward to seeing more of Holly. This was a good introduction and there is a lot of promise there. (I’m sure the great Mr. King will be relieved I think so) But I also hope Jerome and his family are in other related books because I loved them right from the get-go.

Mr. Mercedes is about the cat and mouse game between a twisted evil young man and a broken-down retired detective. The young man is Brady Hartsfield who has already committed mass murder by mowing down a group of innocents with a borrowed Mercedes.

“Most people are fitted with Lead Boots when they are just little kids and have to wear them all their lives. These Lead Boots are called A CONSCIENCE. I have none, so I can soar high above the heads of the Normal Crowd.”

The old before his time “ret-det”, Bill Hodges, is so done with life that he is flirting with suicide.

“What he knows now is that guilt isn’t the only reason people commit suicide. Sometimes you can just get bored with afternoon TV.”

Brady has already driven one innocent woman connected with his heinous act to suicide and now he is targeting Bill Hodges, who was the head investigator in the murder and failed to catch him before his retirement. But Bill is wily.

Once Brady makes contact with Bill, it gives him the purpose he needed to keep living. He starts to re-investigate. Thanks to the puzzle, what he learns along the way, and a lovely woman he meets in the course of his search, he is rejuvenated. When he learns that Mr. Mercedes had a role in the death of the woman who owned the car, whom he and his partner had wrongly accused of negligence, it ups the ante. When Mr. Mercedes victimizes someone closely connected to Bill, it gets personal. Along with his young friend Jerome and the neurotic emotionally disturbed Holly, his junior detectives, he is hot on Mr. Mercedes’s trail. But will they catch him before he can commit an atrocity that will make his first mass murder look like just a prelude to the main event? I loved that the car comes full circle from a force for evil to a force for good. It just depends on who’s doing the driving.

Most of the book is told from Bill Hodges’s point of view. But it was necessary to tell some of it from Brady Hartsfield’s as well. What we learn about him and his thoughts are so gross and disgusting, it actually took away from my enjoyment of the book. Every time we had to go there, I had to force myself not to skip through those parts. But don’t worry, the dog is not harmed.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 9, 2022

The Haunted Fountain (Judy Bolton #28)

By Margaret Sutton

“This can’t be happening to me,” she thought. Never, in her whole life, had she felt so alone and helpless. She felt it was her own fault, too, for not calling Peter and telling him where she was going. But wouldn’t Honey tell him? She knew, and so did her father. Didn’t anyone care?…“They can’t let me just lie here and die,” thought Judy. She had never thought very much about dying. She had always felt so vibrantly alive. But now, suddenly, it seemed possible.

This book has it all! Judy, Lois, and Lorraine go to visit a fountain that Judy remembers from her childhood that seemed to talk to her. Lorraine reveals that she no longer trusts her husband, Arthur, and seems very upset. But she will not open up to Judy or Lois. Judy finds a diamond in the fountain and meets some intimidating shady characters. She enlists Horace to go back with her to the fountain to investigate and they end up getting trapped under it when someone turns the water on. Also under the fountain is a dying man, parolee Dick Hartwell, who discloses that he was coerced by a gang to forge important men’s signatures on incriminating documents for blackmail purposes. Because of leaky pipes, the room they are in starts to fill with water, and Judy and Horace realize that unless they escape, they will drown.

What follows is Judy’s very exciting and tense escape from the deadly fountain, her race to save Horace and Dick from drowning, a terrifying confrontation with hardened criminals (Judy gets slapped!), Judy’s despair when she thinks her brother is dead, a very romantic reunion with Peter, and ensuring the true criminals are brought to justice (remember the Vine gang from The Haunted Attic?. In addition to the action-packed adventure, we also have the marital drama of Lorraine and Arthur and their unhappiness with each other. Will they be reconciled?

By the end, Judy and Horace wind up in the hospital, and Blackberry, Judy’s cat, is awarded a medal for bravery. All the loose ends are tied up, including the mystery of why the fountain talked to her when she was a young teen. This mystery is many loyal Judy Bolton fans’ favorite book in the series. It is not hard to understand why. Her physical courage is at the forefront here as well as very tender scenes with Peter, Horace, and her father. Lorraine and Arthur’s problems lend complexity. It is exciting but it has emotional depth as well. Once again, Margaret Sutton ventures into territory seldom seen in juvenile series of this type.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 26, 2021

Suspense and Sensibility: Or, First Impressions Revisited (Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, #2)

by Carrie Bebris

I’m a sucker for anything based on Jane Austen if it is well done. And sometimes when it is not. This is evidenced by the fact that I’ve read all of these Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, though this is the only one I have actually written anything on. It starts off pretty well; the characters seemed pretty true to the originals, though Kitty is given a more positive spin. It is an improvement over Pride and Prescience. I actually chuckled a few times. Sadly, it degenerates pretty quickly once the mystery kicks in. Unfortunately, it is another paranormal mystery and it is positively outlandish. It was nice to see the Dashwood women again. Lucy Ferrars nee Steele starts out true to form, but her ultimate fate is positively ludicrous and cringe-worthy. The resolution has some tragic aspects considering the fluffy way it starts out. I was considerably less patient with the rest in the series, just skipping through the mystery part. I remember looking forward to more of Georgiana as she was pretty intriguing, and also an appearance of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Unfortunately, I do not remember anything about any of the other stories, which I guess is a review of the whole series in and of itself.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 15, 2014

The Trail of the Green Doll (Judy Bolton Mysteries #27)

By Margaret Sutton

“This must be the entrance to the cave…We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”
You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”
Apparently nobody was.

Judy’s adventure starts out with her putting a sign on the road advertising her home as a place for tourists to stay. Without consulting her husband who is a secret FBI agent with an office in his house. Not Good, Judy, Not Good. Of course, It quickly attracts some really sketchy men and Judy comes to her senses. Anyway, a young single mother with two children whose car had just been forced off the road and her purse stolen also saw it, and Judy is off to the races.

What follows is a mystery involving a valuable jade collection that is missing from a mansion that has just burned to the ground. The rather flaky and secretive widowed mother was traveling to see her Uncle Paul, the owner. Besides being the key to the missing jade, her history includes a soap opera-ish love triangle between her, her late husband, and his identical twin brother, three cousins who grew up there.

This effort by Margaret Sutton is notable for its exploration of the Hindu mythological tale, The Ramayana, which permeates the story and the mystery. It surely would have been very strange and very educational to her young readers.

This book is not a favorite despite its exotic and interesting aspects. The little family and their troubles did not appeal to me, and one of the mysteries (Talking Trees!) had a very far-fetched explanation. Almost as implausible as the secret tunnel in The Black Cat’s Clue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 8, 2021

Blindsighted

By Karin Slaughter

I thought this one was a good bet because of the fantastic reviews, and the backlist featuring the same lead characters with the promise of relationship development leading to a satisfying and happy partnership in crime-fighting. Unfortunately, I found this book to be way too gruesome and unnecessarily explicit in both the description of the gore and the torture both mental and physical.

I also could not understand and was very bothered by two other character’s unconscionable behaviors. 

**Spoiler**

How could Lena, as a supposedly good and tough-minded cop let a half-conscious pitiful victim steal her gun right off of her and ultimately blow her head off? When she took her gun, Lena had a chance to talk her down and change her mind. Instead, Lena pretty much did the opposite with her accusatory outburst. She as good as pulled the trigger herself. Other than her feeling bad, there were no consequences for her. After that, she was just dead to me. The other thing that really turned me off was Sara, our main girl, putting her own emotional preference of keeping the horrible details of her rape a secret from Jeffrey despite the jarring similarities and connections to what happened to Sibyl, the first victim, and then the second victim. I respect her right not to confide and I even understand it, but not when other women’s lives are at stake! Also she was really dense as to who the psycho was until it was too late. Speaking of which, the demented actions of the killer were so over the top, I didn’t think it credible that he could be such a normal nice guy with no hint of anything “wrong” there. Also, it is established the killer had knowledge and access to a certain drug. There was one pharmacist in town. Hello? 

**end spoiler**

I still give it 3 stars because it kept me reading and engaged. I’m not giving the aptly named author a second chance because I read enough about the series as a whole to know there is too much misery in store. I am a big fan of Midsomer County and the murders therein, but I will be stepping on the gas and leaving Grant County in my rearview mirror.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 20, 2019

A Share in Death

By Deborah Crombie

This was a good Agatha Christie/Golden age type mystery set in modern times. It could well have occurred in the 1930s but for Gemma, a single mother and Duncan Kincaid’s sergeant. And one of the character’s purple spiked hair. Most of the appeal for me lies in its being the first in an ongoing series where the continuing characters grow and develop. I don’t believe I will like it as well as Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, but it seems to have more promise than another partners-in-crime type series I started but quit after the second one.

The puzzle was pretty good as to the who and the why, although the solution came upon our hero like a bolt of lightning without a lot of build-up. It was kind of a relief to read a story that was just a straightforward mystery without a huge shocker of a twist that authors nowadays seem obligated to include. This requirement also obliges the reader to look for the “trick” around every corner and not take anything at face value. This can be entertaining, but it is also very wearing on the nerves.

I thought it was funny how desperate our hero is for a committed relationship. This was a nice quality, but it caused him to have harmless mini-crushes on two women simultaneously. One happily married with two children! I’m sure it won’t take long for him to notice the woman right in front of him! 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 24, 2019

The Girl Sleuth

by Bobbie Ann Mason

Bobbie Ann Mason’s book on Girl Sleuths crystallized for me why I loved Trixie Belden and why Nancy Drew left me kind of cold. Any girl (or boy) that grew up on these series books will find a lot to love and relate to in this volume. As well as very illuminating, it is, at times, laugh out loud funny. You will find yourself cringing and shaking your head in wonder at some of the excerpts from the unrevised versions of the stories from the ’30s and ’40s.

If only I had been introduced to Judy Bolton instead of Nancy Drew! Where was she? Did my library even have her? Did I just overlook her? It’s a mystery, but I am sad for my younger self for being deprived of her adventures when I really would have just gobbled them up and waited in suspense for the next one. Well, this book has made me think maybe it’s not too late…I’m bidding on a lot offered on eBay today!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

April 20, 2014