Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sisters Doing It For Themselves | The Female Mystery Lead Haul

Remember that Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin song “Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves”?  Good if you do.  Because I believe it's a suitable theme song for my recent book haul.  A haul where I unintentionally visited three different bookstores in an afternoon, led mostly by divine inspiration.  I know how "divine inspiration" sounds.  But what else describes visiting one bookstore and–in passing–somehow three-point turn your way to stop by another?  Just because it was there to catch your eye.  In lunch hour traffic.  Imagine.  So while everyone else was lined up at Chick-Fil-A's drive-thru, some of us were chewing on organic brownie bars and throwing down at the local bookstores.  It had to be done. 
So I attribute the song to this collection of recent purchases–because they’re mysteries carried by women leads.  You know, just about the only gender class in mysteries I raise up to read about.  I mean, a time or two I’ll give the guys a chance.  It’s just male characters in this genre seem so outmoded.  Or, for the sake of sounding redundant, passé.  In the future I may have to eat my words.  Still, unless the male character is gay, I’m less likely to find genuine interest in his story.  And, subsequently, the investigation.  And true there are self-published Kindle books nowadays with a gay male solving crime.  I just need to do a little more research to find good ones.  You know, because the book still has to tell a great story at the end of the day.  But on the general tip: I need a good, kick-ass female to pull me through a mystery.
So with the chatter bucket out of the way, I’m here to share four new crime novels centered on the female sleuth.  As well as a lot of deserts in Arizona...
First there's Firestorm, book #4 in Nevada Barr's park ranger extraordinaire Anna Pigeon series.  This is one of those books–after reading book three–I legworked used bookstores for months to find.  Not until I went over the mountains to a Barnes & Noble did a copy surface (I finally found a used copy later the same day.  The irony.).  

Nevertheless, my experience with Anna Pigeon’s debut, Track of the Cat, was everything.  Here was this flawed, borderline alcoholic who remade her life after losing her husband in a freak accident.  So in a stretch of parallels, she took herself out of the concrete jungles of New York and into Texas back country as a park ranger.  However, the Texas back country is only her first locale.  In proceeding books, Anna's new career takes her to a variety of other National Parks.  So her surroundings are always fresh to her and the reader.  As well as the murders she finds herself wrapped up in.  After the first book, Barr's blend of National Park studies and murder ticketed me for Anna's line of adventures without further convincing.
Unfortunately, the following two books, Superior Death and Ill Wind, sold me lukewarm feelings.  I was still grinding on the Anna train; I just wasn’t there completely after those reads.  Regardless, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to this series, and have since kept an eye out for Firestorm.
In Firestorm, Anna's stationed at the California Lassen Volcanic National Park.  Sounds pretty cool, right?  Until a forest fire erupts, leaving Anna to confront it.  

Within the blazing chaos, two men are found dead.  One a victim of the fire.  The other stabbed in the back.  The kicker: a winter storm is descending on the park, leaving the remaining ten forest fire survivors stranded.  That’s Anna, eight other people, and one killer in the mix.  Anna’ll have his (or her) ass for sure.  And I must say, I feel like Firestorm will breath another life into the series.  One in which I have no intentions of giving up until I see Anna through to the end, anyway.  Her story and adventures are too unique to pass up.

I can’t recall when author J. A. Jance hit my radar.  I almost want to bet it happened somewhere along my discovery of Barr.  Maybe a "recommended reads" featuring her grazed my peripheral at some point.  Nevertheless, my wishlist and research began; what did she write and who ran her shows?  I found Jance wrote two series–with a handful of stand-alones.  Yet, one of her series contained a female protagonist named Joanna Brady.  The cherry: Brady becomes the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona.  So yeah.  A woman sheriff running the bad guys out of her desert town; I picked my cherry and ate it.
But Joanna's career doesn’t spike until after the events of the first book, Desert Heat.  You see, Cochise County’s current prospective sheriff turns up dead underneath the Arizona sun.  Unfortunate for Joanna, said potential sheriff is also her husband.  His death leaves her widowed, with their nine-year-old daughter.  Yet, Joanna knows a cover-up with she smells one.  She spends Desert Heat uncovering the truth behind her husband’s murder–his assassination.  Of course, her husband’s murderer will come after Joanna along her investigation.
Always interested in trying new series, I kept Desert Heat in mind.  Until I finally came across a copy for myself.  I’m interested in witnessing how Joanna juggles her duties as sheriff, alongside her single-motherhood.  Time to put her to the test!
With all the late night keyboard thumping I’ve done researching black women crime writers, I’ve yet come across Chassie West.  At least I don't recall.  But I think I’ve become keen when it comes to spotting a woman of color's crime writing efforts, face-to-face.  In West's case, I was browsing the used bookstore when I stopped.  Spotting the spine of West’s Sunrise, I knew right away what it was and who was writing it.  All before I slid it out of the stacks for confirmation.  Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I saw the cover–a drawing of a woman of color glancing back at an open grave.  Then, with the author photo registered, I grabbed the book without a glance at the synopsis.  Didn't need to even bother with it.  It was giving me all that I wanted, based off the author and cover.  A rare treasure in its own right.  But for the necessary soul, I’ll share Sunrise's synopsis.  

Sunrise is the first book in Chassie West’s Leigh Ann Warren mystery series.  Much like black crime writers Eleanor Taylor Bland and Judith-Smith Levin, West’s lead is a woman cop.  A big-city cop, to be exact.  
So in Sunrise, Warren leaves the big-city behind for her hometown of Sunrise, North Carolina.  And for a good reason.  Her visit is spurred by nearly getting her partner, Duck, killed in a previous case.  Therefore, Warren needs a break from the police force.  So what better place to go than back home?
I’m going to quote the rest of the synopsis...
“…But things have changed here [Sunrise, South Caorlina] since she was a girl.  Tensions over plans to develop hallowed ground for commercial purposes are tearing a once close-knit community to pieces.  Leigh Ann hoped to stay neutral, but a decades-old murder, newly unearthed, is dragging her down into a whirlpool of fear and small-town secrets.  And a killer still lurking in the shadows of Sunrise is about to strike again–this time, too close to home.”
I’m excited.  Excited.  Excited!  Four books make up this series, and I already want them all.
One thing I can’t stand is reading a series out of order.  Call it OCD.  Call it whatever.  I just refuse to do it.  My attachment to characters are why I read series.  Therefore, I want to read through their journey in proper order.  One after the other after the other.  I fuss because the next book, Detachment Fault, is second in Susan Cummins Miller Frankie MacFarlane geologist series.  And, finding myself new to the author and her work, I have yet to read the first book.  Hell, I thought Detachment Fault was the first book when I spotted it a month ago at a used bookstore. 
I came across Miller while browsing through some Marcia Muller crime novels.  Needless to say, Miller’s geologist character was giving me all kinds of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon instead.  Which, ever so sweet, piqued my interest without argument.  A geologist solving mysteries sounded like gold.  Only the tough part was making sure which book opened the series.  I couldn’t find an answer with this copy of Detachment Fault–it having no series listings in the front pages.  (Sometimes I whip out my phone and Google such concerns.  In this case I passed out of impatience with the store's lack of wi-fi).
Long story short, Detachment Fault isn’t the first book in Frankie MacFarlane’s series.  The first book is Death Assemblage.  Ugh.  There wasn’t a copy there to pick up another time.  So I’ll have to order it.  I know.  I know.  Too much whining.  I guess that's part of passion blogging; relating stories and complaining your way through.
Anyway, here’s the paraphrasing of Detachment Fault’s synopsis.  After completing her field research for her Ph. D., geologist Frankie MacFarlene takes a relaxing fishing trip with her brother and his girlfriend, Carla.  But what they pull out of the lake isn’t a fish.  Instead, it's the body of a man with his face removed.  When the fishing trip couldn't get any worse, Carla goes missing.
Vacation destoryed, MacFarlene returns to her teaching job in Tucson, Arizona.  However, more bodies begin surfacing.  It starts with one of MacFarlene's students turning up dead wearing the ring Carla wore when she disappeared.  Next one of MacFarlene’s colleagues turn up dead.  One too many bodies with unanswered questions launch the geologist into investigating the deaths.
I have no idea where this is going to go, but I’m ready to go with it.
Anyway, that’s all.  So long as I stay at home, I don’t run the chance of buying more books.  If you’ve read any of these books, or are familiar with these authors, please share your thoughts in the comments section below! 

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