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Murder by Design by Jon P. Bloch

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312313128

Reviewed by Ellen Brodsky

Rick Domino is a gay Hollywood gossip columnist who, against his better judgment, becomes a guest on a home makeover “reality” TV show.  With comic effect, Domino’s instincts are borne out.  The new designs are not exactly what he (or anyone else with a drop of good taste) would consider “upgrades.”  The murder of one of the designers worsens the tableau.

As Mr. Bloch’s alter ego, Rick Domino’s cat-claw wit is often as funny as it is sharp.  But at times the bitchery drifts into snide, mean spiritedness.  Perhaps the author merely wanted to convey a lack of humanism in his narrator’s personality but less would have been more – for me, anyway.

The plot was engaging enough to keep me turning the pages despite the fact that I guessed right away who the murderer was.  There were a few too many contrivances and co-incidences that put characters in just the right place at the right time.  And it seemed unlikely that someone as savvy as Domino would not have picked up on some of the obvious set-ups.  The designers and their designs were both funny and macabre but also a bit too over the top for me to find believable.

Apparently, this is the second Rick Domino book written by Bloch.  Despite the flaws, I found Domino an interesting and usually enjoyable character.  I’m not aware of many gay sleuths.  Domino fills that void rather nicely.

 

 

Desert Spring by Michael Craft

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312320809

Reviewed by C.J. Curry

It is the end of Claire’s first academic year at the prestigious and well-funded Desert Arts College in Palm Springs. After a long and illustrious career as a Broadway theater director in Manhattan, Claire has embarked upon a new stage of her life. (no pun intended) When a woman turns fifty it is time to try something new and the lucrative offer from the school’s founder D. Glenn Yeats was very hard to turn away from. Moving to Palm Springs and buying a beautiful home and then having a very successful first year was very heady stuff. It would have been the pinnacle of her new life if not for the fact that her not-so-secret lover and student star, Tanner Griffin, was leaving Palm Springs for Hollywood. Claire had seen his potential the first time she had laid eyes on him. She was so sure of his talent, in fact, that she had invited several Hollywood moguls to see her first production with Tanner in the leading role. Now with the year winding down, everyone was there to see the final performance. The buzz was out about Tanner.

After a successful year and the final play, Traders, was such a hit, Claire had planned a cast/farewell party at her home in Desert Mirage. It was a perfect evening and a fitting tribute to the cast and crew. Claire felt that Tanner had more insight into the character of Jerome than had Arnold Manning, who had starred in the Broadway premiere of Traders’ several years ago. Manning had gone on to become one of Hollywood’s most respected actors. And now it was Tanner’s turn.

Spencer Wallace, producer of many award winning pictures, had already signed Tanner to star in his next project, a screenplay, Photo Flash, which had been written by Spencer himself ( also know as Megahit Wallace or Mr. Blockbuster). The director and crew had been hired , most of the parts had been cast and pre-productions meetings were scheduled. Spencer and Claire had become friends when Spencer had introduced Claire to the art of black and white photography. Many companionable hours were spent together in Spencer’s darkroom. In spite of Spencer’s interest, Claire refused to date him because she knew he was married. But, he was a fun and knowledgeable friend and Claire liked him.

The party was in full swing, everyone was having a good time and Claire was anticipating the ‘real’ farewell for Tanner after everyone went home. What a great life! The guests were full of praise for Claire and Tanner. And finally it was time for the party goers to leave. The farewells went on until there were only the catering crew and Claire, Tanner and her best friend, Grant Knoll left to rehash the party. Erin, the waitress with the caterers, was cleaning up the debris in the house and on the poolside terrace when a horrible scream rent the air. Someone was face down in the pool! Spencer Wallace was dead! Was it an accident or was it something more sinister? Claire was to learn that not everyone liked Spencer as she did.

It is very difficult for a male author to create a female protagonist but Michael Craft almost carries it off, but just not quite enough.  However, the tale is so much fun and well written that one hardly notices. Claire Gray is very witty and fast on her feet and has a host of witty friends. I enjoyed the Claire Gray story and have vowed to find the first two mysteries and read them as well. I hope there are lots more stories to come.   And are we going to see a movie version ? With one of the Steel Magnolia gals in the leading role, perhaps?

 

When the Last Magnolia Weeps by Mary Saums

Publisher: The Overmountain Press ISBN: 1570722625

Reviewed by C.J. Curry

Willi Taft is a breath of fresh air. In spite of the fact that she is a music snob. But since she is a musician/singer she has developed her tastes to a fine point. Yes, Willi sings backup for lead singers in the Nashville scene and she also has a prejudice against musicians in general. NEVER date one. Willi is also a budding Private Investigator. Aah, a woman of many talents. But at forty, Willi finds herself all alone with just her dog Buddy for company. Willi has lost the two men who meant the most to her. Her husband Pete had died ten years ago and Sam Robbins, from whom she had inherited the business and the building which housed it, had been brutally shot to death three years previously. Willi is still trying to piece her life back together.

Her friend Luanne had talked her into going to a Celtic concert and Good Heavens, going out on a blind date! Something Willi had sworn to never do. And with a musician! But Willi decided she needed something to get her in the Christmas spirit and Luanne’s boyfriend, Ian Ryan, was the guitar player with the group. His friend was also a member of the group and since he was from England he knew no one in Nashville. So a concert and dinner. She could stand that for just one evening. The friend , David Llewellyn, turned out to be quite handsome and a very accomplished violinist. This may not be too bad after all!

After the rousing Celtic music and meeting several people connected with the charity, Children First, Willi felt that she was indeed in the holiday spirit. Father Mike McDennehy was all charm in a cute cherubic sort of way and didn’t mind hitting up the ‘Fat Cats’ for donations to his charity. It was all in all a good evening. Until a horrible scream rent the night air. A body had been discovered out on the patio! Now who would want to stab a kindly old priest? Ian Ryan had been seen talking to the priest just minutes before the discovery of the grisly scene. Willi didn’t like Ian but she couldn’t make herself believe that he would kill someone, especially a priest. So Willi finds herself involved in a murder investigation and up to her eyeballs in jeopardy…………..

Mary Saums has a charming character in Willi Taft. She does stumble around a lot looking for clues but we have to remember that she is just an apprentice PI.  She is witty, warm, intelligent and caring, and  I especially enjoyed hearing some of my grandmothers old ‘Southern ‘ words and expressions coming from Willi, along with her sense of what is polite . My goodness, you can’t beat those southerners for ‘Polite’.  I enjoyed the book tremendously but found the end to be a bit of a disappointment, not because of the writing, but, well you'll just have to see for yourself.