Drive-Through Review of Three Mysteries

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

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For Better or Hearse by Laura Durham

It’s not every day you find a mystery with a wedding planner as the protagonist. Laura Durham’s Annabelle Archer series is fun-filled—as long as you aren’t the bride and groom who have their special day disrupted by murder and mayhem. Humor begins in the title (For Better or Hearse, Broadmoor Books, 2017), continues with catchy opening dialogue (“I barely escaped being sliced up like a sushi roll”), and delivers the first dead body in an original way at the end of the first chapter (Chef Henri is impaled on the outstretched claw of an enormous ice tiger sculpture). The novel keeps you amused all the way to Annabelle’s discovery of the murderer, with the obligatory dash of romance and warnings for her to stop interfering in police business. If you’re looking for a fun escape from real-life stress, you can’t do better than this series. Once a wedding planner herself, Durham now lives in North Carolina. Her latest Annabelle Archer mystery is Death on the Aisle.

All My Sins by Ron Cooper

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You’ll find plenty of humor in Ron Cooper’s All My Sins (Goliad Press, 2018), too, but this story has a decidedly darker tone. The novel opens with a grim image: “The barrel of the .45 felt good in Blevin’s mouth.” His teetering on the dark edge is interrupted by a dispatcher’s message that a body has been found in the Ocala National Forest. We soon learn the deputy habitually contemplates suicide. Cooper is known for populating his stories with wacky characters and this one is no exception. One of the Starlight people (suspiciously similar to the Rainbow people who actually gather in the forest annually) has found the body of a sasquatch hunter. Blevins is told the one with the funny hat found the body, but “All the hats looked funny to Blevins. Some were the loose, tam-like woven hats worn by Rastafarians . . . and others looked like they were pulled from the pages of Dr. Seuss.” As Cooper tosses in a runaway daughter, a bunch of dead bears, and a Category Five hurricane—all enlivened by the protagonist’s wry observations—you know you’re in for a wild ride, one you’ll savor. Born and raised in the South Carolina Low Country, Cooper has taught at the College of Central Florida in Ocala since 1995.

Code For Murder by Eliot Parker

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Edgy suspense, tightly braided plot threads, and a handicapped police lieutenant are hallmarks of Eliot Parker’s Code For Murder (Black Rose Writing, 2017), featuring Stacy Tavitt. The lieutenant was dumped into frigid water and left for dead after a botched undercover operation, but she has returned to work a case involving a dead football player. The title refers to the number 1185, police code for murder. Stacy’s determination to bring down a dangerous drug operation is complicated by her struggle to recover fully from her near-death experience and her efforts to help a weak, dependent brother. Her efforts are also hampered because someone is betraying them, someone who anticipates every move the police make—but who? This gripping mystery makes for an engaging read, despite a few lapses in proofreading. Parker is a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. He currently teaches writing and literature at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington, West Virginia, and hosts the television show “Chapters” across the Armstrong Television Network, which profiles authors, editors, and publishers in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.

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