Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ray's Reviews: Murder in the Merlot by Aaron Stander, and Clea Simon's Kittens Can Kill

Two recent crime novels set in picturesque areas have differing degrees
of success. There’s a dead body discovered in the first chapter of each
book, but the enjoyment level varies significantly.

        “Murder in the Merlot” by Aaron Stander (Writers and Editors, $15.95) is
the eighth paperback book in his popular series set in northern Michigan
starring Sheriff Ray Elkins.

        He’s called to a crime scene when a woman’s body is found along a road
near the terraces of a vineyard of Merlot grapes.

        International wine expert Gillian Mouton had scheduled an event at a
local winery and was doing research on a story. Elkins and his crew face
a real challenge as they try to track down her murderer.

        There are numerous suspects, including an estranged brother, a former
lover and other associates. Various clues point in different directions,
but there are many hidden secrets and a devious killer.

        The author has created a strong cast of characters and uses an intriguing
secondary plot to make them even more believable.

        This is a fast-paced, entertaining, well-researched police procedural
that should be a strong candidate for the Michigan Notable Book Awards.

        Stander, who lives near Traverse City, is the host of the “Michigan
Writers on the Air” radio program on Interlochen Public Radio.

        He’s also directing “Write a Mystery”, an intensive four-day writer’s
retreat in July at the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

        “Kittens Can Kill” by Clea Simon (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95 hb, $14.95
pb) is set in the beautiful Berkshires. It’s the fifth in her series
showcasing Pru Marlowe, who has animal sensitivity and can pick up their

        Marlowe discovers the dead body of prominent attorney David Canaday in
his kitchen; nearby is a young white kitten who just wants to play.

        Did Canaday die of a heart attack, bad drug interactions or feline

        As Marlowe investigates, the three Canaday daughters, Jill, Judith and
Jackie are all suspects. They squabble endlessly with each other and an
attorney about the estate.

        Few of the characters are really likeable; having alliterative names
makes it confusing at times to keep them all straight.

        The most enjoyable parts of the book focus on brief human/animal
interaction scenes; this is a satisfactory but not spectacular crime

        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.