Murder by Fireworks (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #3) by Susan Bernhardt

Murder by Fireworks (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #3) by Susan Bernhardt

It’s summertime in Sudbury Falls but the living is far from easy for Kay Driscoll. Her son, Andy, is getting married in under a week and the reception is being held at Kay’s home. Her husband, Phil, isn’t doing all that much to help with all the chores that need to be done. If anything, he’s adding on to Kay’s work load.

Phil’s cousin, Loren, is in the hospital and someone has to take care of his 12 year-old daughter, Janey, until Janey’s mother arrives in town to pick her up. Of course Phil agrees to take the girl into their home but Kay knows she will be the one watching her for the time she’ll be with them.

Janey is not the easiest of kids to like but then again most 12 year-old children are hard to deal with. But Kay is expecting two hundred people for the wedding reception and has to make sure the house is in good order, decorations are in place, and the catering will be perfection. All Phil has to deal with is rehearsals for his band because they will be entertaining.

A few days after the wedding Kay, Phil, Janey, and her friends are at the July 4th fireworks display when they they think they hear gunshots. A book club member, James, is found dead in the sand. The police think he killed himself but Kay believes otherwise.

No one loved James as much as James loved himself. He was having affairs with numerous women who adored him and he also just started a new job that he loved. Life seemed to be going his way. Kay felt that James had absolutely no reason to commit suicide no matter what the police thought.

But James was not well liked. He was rude to people, made crude comments, basically stole his new job from another man, and many of his love interests were married women and their husbands probably didn’t appreciate James showing that kind of attention to their wives. In other words, there’s a huge list of people who would love to see James dead.

Kay didn’t like James either but she did want justice to be served so she started investigating his death along with her friends Deidre and Elizabeth. Investigating came easy to Kay and she helped solve other murders in her town but asking questions made her a target to the murderer and put her life in danger.  

Between weddings, taking care of 12 year-old Janey, being a loving wife and mother, and watching out for her life Kay has her hands full this summer. It was summertime but the living was far from easy.

“Murder by Fireworks” is the third Kay Driscoll novel is this excellent series by Susan Bernhardt. I’ve read them all and each book is better than the previous one. This is my favorite of the three.

Ms. Bernhardt is becoming a wonderful mystery writer. Through reading all her books, not only the Kay Driscoll series, I’ve seen how the author honed in on her craft. It’s obvious that she takes her time thinking about story lines and how the plot leads to the bad guy. The stories are well-thought out and complicated. The murderer is not someone you would suspect by page 50 and her explanations for why the murder was done forms a near perfect murder/mystery.

Do not expect a simple cozy while reading this. “Murder by Fireworks” is up there with most any other good mystery novel. The book isn’t just for women and I’m sure it would appeal to any mystery lover.

The characters are wonderful and that includes the character of the Town of Sudbury Falls. It makes city dwellers, like myself, wish they lived in a small town where everyone knows your name, people you can share the joy of holidays with and are willing to help out with a crises at a moment’s notice.

While Reading any of Susan Bernhardt’s books you’ll find yourself engrossed in a good mystery and you won’t want to stop it reading until the mystery solved.

Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of any book in the Kay Driscoll Series and discover what a good writer this author is.

For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.

murder fireworks

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #2) by Susan Bernhardt

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #2)  by Susan Bernhardt

Kay Driscoll and her husband Phil are about to celebrate their first Christmas at Sudbury Falls. They have parties to attend, a party of their own to host, their sons are coming in for a holiday visit, and one of their sons will be celebrating a birthday just after Christmas. Needless to say Kay has a lot to do. Christmas presents have to be bought, birthday gifts have to be found, decorations have to go up,  and Kay is loving every moment of these hectic days especially since hubby, Phil, will be home with her for the entire week. Kay is in bliss until … yes, there’s always an “until.”

While attending a holiday party at the Hawthorne Hills Retirement Home Kay and the rest of the guests watch as Les Hollings, a caretaker, eats some food, starts to choke, falls to the ground, and dies. Les was allergic to peanuts and somehow peanut butter got into this food thus killing him.

The retirement home swears that they don’t use any peanut butter since some other guests have the same allergy. Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie had catered some of the food and Marissa said she didn’t use any sort of peanut product in the dishes that went to the retirement home. So how did the peanut butter get into Les’ food and no one else with a peanut allergy had problems? Well, that was obvious to Kay. Les was murdered for some reason.

With a little persuasion Kay agrees to investigate the murder not that she’s a detective but she did help solve a previous murder during Halloween. Husband Phil begs her not to get involved and the Sudbury Falls police chief especially doesn’t want her involved but what they don’t know can’t hurt them even though she herself just might be hurt in the process. But Kay starts her own investigation anyway with a little help from her best buds Elizabeth and Deidre.

“Murder Under the Tree” by Susan Bernhardt is the second book in the  Kay Driscoll Mystery Series. “The Ginseng Conspiracy” is not only the first in the series but also Ms. Bernhardt’s first novel. It was terrific but “Murder Under the Tree” far surpasses it. It’s almost like the author got into her natural writing groove. Her skills are sharper and seems to lack the fear that she might have had about pleasing her publishers and readers with her first novel. Here she’s obviously writing from her heart. The party scenes and Kay’s home life descriptions are just about perfect and far from boring. I especially enjoyed the way she spoke about Sudbury Falls and how the community was gearing up for the Christmas Season. It made this Jewish New Yorker wish she lived in a small town and participated in all the Christmas activities and decorations. Big kudos to Susan Bernhardt for coming so far in her skills to write what she obviously felt and throwing her fears to the wind.

Now for the mystery portion. It was good. There were lots of suspects and you never really knew who the killer was until close to the end. Although I did start to suspect before Ms. Bernhardt gave the murderer’s name. The characters are enjoyable and well thought out. There’s a nice twist at the end when one of the character’s made a surprise discovery. That part was kind of nice and heat breaking too.

One thing was left up in the air and I read the last few pages a few times to make sure I didn’t miss it. The characters did talk about this missing aspect so I’m wondering if that will be answered when I read the third book which I have in my Kindle.

Will cozy lovers like the Kay Driscoll series? Sure, although it isn’t really a cozy even though some of the basics for a cozy are here. Mystery lovers will take to it because Ms. Bernhardt’s books are wonderful thrillers too.

And while I’m at it, I want to suggest that Susan add some recipes to her books. She talks a lot about food and I’d like to see a recipe or two. What can I say? I like food.

Do yourself a favor and start the Kay Driscoll mysteries. You’ll then see for yourself how a writer progresses from being good to incredible.

For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.

 

 

A Manhattan Murder Mystery: An Irina Curtius Mystery by Susan Bernhardt

A Manhattan Murder Mystery: An Irina Curtius Mystery by Susan Bernhardt

Former ballerina, Irina Curtius, lives on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, New York. Everything that the great city has to offer is at Irina’s fingertips; museums, restaurants, galleries, not to mention the beautiful Central Park. There’s no reason for Irina not to be ecstatic about her home and she isn’t. New York City is the perfect place to live.

For the past 20 years Irina has been teaching ballet to little girls in her studio, Little Cygnet’s Ballet Academy, with her college friend, Jerome, playing the piano for the school. Irina loved her professional career but she loves teaching the little ballerinas and watching them progress.

Her condominium is an ivy covered brownstone on West 87th street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenue built during the late 19th century. The rooms have beautiful crown moldings, the windows are large, and yes you can hear the traffic on the streets but so what? The city itself never sleeps and its inhabitants like to be as active as the city.

Irina has some nice neighbors too. Her best friend, high school English teacher, Margarite, lives in an apartment right down the hall with her cat Gypsy; Celeste who lives on the floor above; and Stephen Kramer, his wife Tricia and Tricia’s sister mystery writer, Alice, live on Irina’s floor. But something has changed with the Kramers.

Irina, Stephen, and Tricia always got along well but since Tricia’s sister Alice moved in the dynamics kind of changed. First of all Stephen started to look ill. He still manages to go to work where he’s up for a promotion and to play racquetball with his business associate, Alex Rankin, but Stephen looks very bad and Irina is quite concerned about his health. The strange thing is that whenever Stephen leaves town for business he returns looking fit and healthy but as he stays home he gets sick again. Tricia, his wife, says he has the flu and her sister, Alice, gets very annoyed at Irina whenever she inquires about Stephen’s health.

But life goes on and Irina, with the sneaky ways of friends Margarite and Jerome, is soon reunited with her college boyfriend, Robert. Forty years earlier Irina and Robert were living together and just before they graduated college he broke her heart and ran off to marry one of Irina’s friends. Irina was a little annoyed with her friends for interfering and isn’t sure if she wants to take up with Robert again.

So there’s a lot going on in Irina’s life but things get more hectic when a rash of burglaries breaks out in her neighborhood and then neighbor, Stephen Kramer, is found dead in his apartment by wife, Tricia.

This is all way too much for Irina and she feels guilty that she didn’t press Stephen to see a doctor. But she also feels that his death is very suspicious. Stephen was a young man and healthy, as long as he wasn’t living at home, and excited about his potential promotion at work. So when irina’s Police Lieutenant friend, Charles Whitney, tells her that Stephen’s death is being ruled as a suicide she decides she has has to find out the truth because she suspects that Stephen was murdered.

“A Manhattan Murder Mystery” is yet another great novel by Susan Bernhardt. Susan lives in Wisconsin so I wondered just what she knew about New York City. Since I’m a native New Yorker which means I’m always ready to fight any outsiders who think they know enough to write about the New York I read this book with my boxing gloves on ready for a good brawl with Ms. Bernhardt. It never happened.

Everyone writes about the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, the Empire State building, that’s easy, just Google those popular sites and you have all the information you need just by sitting in bed in your pajamas but Susan’s description of Manhattan was different.

She not only described the Upper West Side to perfection with its neighborhood stores and the pre war apartment buildings but she somehow got the feel of what living in New York is all about. Every neighborhood is its own country and every apartment building is its own city. Apartment buildings actually do have “mayors” who people go to when they need someone to talk to and I’m not talking about a condo board. And walking from one neighborhood to another you kind of need a passport to pass through with people watching any strangers who pass by their buildings.

Most writers who don’t live in New York don’t get that but somehow Ms. Bernhardt did. “A Manhattan Murder Mystery” is like a love letter to this great city and it’s obvious that the author respects New Yorkers and how we live here.

But I’m here to talk a little about the book and not New York, even though New York City is a huge part of this novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed “A Manhattan Murder Mystery.” You think you know what’s going on with the murdered Stephen, most avid mystery readers would catch on fast and Ms. Bernhardt doesn’t try to hide it from her readers but how he was killed is not the reason to continue reading the story. It’s not the how but the “why” and the “who” about his death that forces you to read to the last page.

Then there’s Irina’s personal life. There were times I felt like screaming into  my Kindle telling Irina to stop being such a nice person and get rid of someone in her life and to look to another instead. You will also get really angry at some of the characters and want to slap them around. Sorry about my violence towards a book character but I am a New Yorker and we all have a teeny bit of violence in our genes.

The author talks a lot about food here as she does in all her books and fans of Ms. Bernhardt will get a good insider laugh or two as they read “A Manhattan Murder Mystery.”

I’d love this to be turned into a series and I have a feeling that Susan Bernhardt just might do that. But Irina has to go over the bridge and visit Brooklyn for her next adventure. Come to Brooklyn, have someone poisoned at Nathan’s Famous, then have the suspect chased to Coney Island where they try to lose Irina on the Wonder Wheel, and then on to the Aquarium to swim with the sharks, and finally to The Brooklyn Cyclones Baseball team to get lost in the crowd. All these sites are within walking distance of each other so a good chase scene would be realistic and doable in a few hours. Maybe I should write a book.

You’ll have a great time reading “A Manhattan Murder Mystery” and will not be disappointed in this excellent story.

For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.

The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #1) by Susan Bernhardt

The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #1) by Susan Bernhardt

 

The other day me and my best friends, Kay, Elizabeth, and Deirdre were on our way to Marissa’s Patisserie to partake in some of her delicious baked goods. Who’s afraid of calories? Not us. We walk everyday but go to Marissa’s only two or three times a week. Hey, a girl’s gotta eat. As we were walking Kay was telling us about what happened to her just before the big Halloween party in our town, Sudbury Falls. Her adventure had Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I speechless which is saying a lot.

Here’s what happened – Kay was on her way to the Halloween party that night when she happened to see someone dressed in a costume but not going in the direction of the party. So naturally Kay was wondering if there was a pre-party festivity going on so she followed that person to find out. Then she saw another person dressed in the same costume going in the same direction, away from the party location and sneaking into the back of an abandoned store.

Kay tiptoed in and saw six people, all in the same costume, standing in a circle around a man lying on the floor. Was that college professor Sherman Walters the group was surrounding? Was he sick? And did Kay recognize some of the voices of the people in the costumes? Al Stewart who worked at the post office? And was that Bill Murphy, Deputy Chief of Police of Sudbury Falls standing there looking at Sherman and not trying to help?

Well, our Kay is no dummy and thought she walked into some kind of strange movie starring Tom Cruise so she ran out of the store post haste. But the group heard her leave and gave chase after her. Good thing it was dark and she was faster than she thought she was and weaved in and out like a football player until she got back home hoping no one saw her. Now what was she going to do? She had to meet her husband, Phil, at the party and Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I would be wondering where she was. Plus it would look strange to the rest of Sudbury Falls if she didn’t show up especially if one of the people who hurt Sherman ended up at the party.

Kay knew she had to go if for anything else to see if she could figure out why Al and the Deputy Chief of Police were in the back of that store with the professor on the floor. Maybe she’d be able to figure out who the other costumed people were.

Well, Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I were fascinated by what Kay was telling us. We were also very afraid because the day after the Halloween party, as the three of us were taking out daily walk, we found the body of Sherman Walters, last seen by Kay lying on the floor surrounded by some suspicious people, lying by the edge of the river. He was dead and Dr. Anders, the county coroner, determined that Sherman died from accidental drowning. Drowning! Accidental! No way! He might have been drowned but the four of us were sure that it was not an accident. The professor was unconscious but alive when Kay saw him with the group the previous night. Something strange was going on in Sudbury Falls. We were all positive that the professor was murdered and no one was getting away with murder in our town. With Kay at the helm of the investigation, we were going to figure it all out even if it killed us. Which just might happen.

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t really there, I was reading the book, “The Ginseng Conspiracy” by Susan Bernhardt but I kind of wished I was with Kay, Elizabeth, and Deirdre which means that Susan Bernhardt is one good writer. Talk about drawing the readers into a story. The mystery is solid and even though Ms. Bernhardt intentionally lets the readers know who some of the bad guys are we don’t know who all of them are and that’s where the surprise factor comes in.

The storyline is nicely woven with nary a stitch out of place and there are quite a few tense moments where you can’t read fast enough to see what’s going to happen next.

There are some wonderful characters in the book which you easily become attached to. You know their strong points and their quirks which makes you almost want to scream at them for telling the wrong person some information. Elizabeth has such a big mouth sometimes but we all love her nonetheless.

Sudbury Falls is one of the main characters too. Did you know that it’s the ginseng capital of the world? I bet you didn’t but author Susan Bernhardt says it is so I believe it. It’s also a nice small town to live in. The people are friendly if you don’t count the Deputy Chief of Police, or the postal worker, and maybe a few others but most of the inhabitants are nice people. They’re all willing to help a friend out even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way.

There are lots of bad guys in “The Ginseng Conspiracy” and thankfully for Kay and her friends there are lots of good guys too. Take a trip to Sudbury Falls, hang out with the group, eat at Marissa’s Patisserie and save me some of her cranberry streusel tarts. They go so well with a good murder mystery.

For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.