When Sydney Bonner overhears a fellow mah jongg player arguing on the phone with her husband, she realizes the couple’s “perfect marriage” isn’t all it appears to be. A few days later, the husband is found dead, his head bashed in. Fearing she’ll be considered the most likely suspect, the widow prevails upon Sydney and her three friends—Marianne, Kat and Micki—to find out who really killed him.
Though none of these four fun-loving, take-charge retirees has any training as detectives, the women agree to launch a secret investigation. As they dig under the happy veneer of their community’s social life, they find more than enough suspects, from shady ladies to resentful golf buddies, to keep them looking over their shoulders.
Could the murderer be lurking among the talent in a chaotic production put on by Sydney’s husband, who will do anything to keep busy in retirement? Could the sheriff, who may have more than a professional interest in chanteuse Kat, end up pinning the crime on the women instead? Each discovery during their investigations and their weekly mah jongg game keeps them running as they close in on the killer—but the killer may also be closing in on them.
Review – 4.0 out of 5 stars
I very much enjoyed this first book in the Mah Jongg series!
The characters are great, quirky and likeable. They’re well-developed and complex. I really enjoyed them.
The setting descriptions were mostly good. I’m a little tired of reading that someplace is “the jewel of…” but other than that, they were well done and not too wordy.
I enjoyed the plot quite a bit and did NOT know who the villain was this time before it was revealed.
All in all, I will definitely be reading more in this series!
About the Author
Barbara Barrett started reading mysteries when she was pregnant with her first child to keep her mind off things like her changing body and food cravings. When she’d devoured as many Agatha Christies as she could find, she branched out to English village cozies and Ellery Queen.
Later, to avoid a midlife crisis, she began writing fiction at night when she wasn’t at her day job as a human resources analyst for Iowa State Government. After releasing eleven full-length romance novels and one novella, she has returned to the cozy mystery genre, using one of her retirement pastimes, the game of mah jongg, as her inspiration. Not only has it been a great social outlet, it has also helped keep her mind active when not writing.
Craks in a Marriage, the first book in her “Mah Jongg Mystery” series, features four friends who seek the murderer of another mah jongg player’s husband before she is charged. None of the four is based on an actual person. Each is an amalgamation of several mah jongg friends with a lot of Barbara’s imagination thrown in for good measure. The four will continue to appear in future books in the series.
Anticipating the day when she would write her first mystery, she has been a member of the Mystery/Romantic Suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America for over a decade. She credits them with helping her hone her craft.
Barbara is married to a man she met her senior year of college. They have two grown children and eight grandchildren.
Now retired, she is a resident of Florida, although she spends her summers in Iowa, her home state. She earned her B.A. degree in History from the University of Iowa and her Master’s Degree in History from Drake University.
When not in front of her laptop creating her next story, she plays Mah Jongg, knits, and enjoys lunches with friends.
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Today, I’m excited to be hosting a blog tour for Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Chilled, and Killed, the first two books in the Big Lake Murder Mysteries series by Lesley A. Diehl! I’ll be reviewing both books and then underneath that there’s an interview with Ms. Diehl.
Emily Rhodes came to rural Florida for the cowboys, the cattle, and to do a little country two-step, not to fall head first onto a dead body in a dumpster. Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state. They’re more like pot metal to Emily Rhodes, who discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster. With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer. She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires — hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer.
I had a little trouble getting into this book, but once I did, I enjoyed it. At first, I felt a little confused about what was going on and why. I think I got one of the subplots mixed up with the main plot. I believe part of that were my own issues and mindset at the time and not the actual writing.
The characters in the book are well-rounded, complex, and interesting. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve started liking them. Our heroines take some chances, but they’re not the “too stupid to live” heroines who thrust themselves into danger all the time. Even though our main character, Emily, annoys our illustrious Detective Lewis with her snooping, for the most part, she doesn’t deliberately go looking for trouble. I appreciate that in a heroine.
The story line moves along at a decent pace. There was an area in the middle where it felt like it was dragging a little bit, but it soon picked back up again. Setting descriptions are adequate. They’re perhaps slightly less than I would prefer, but I’d rather authors err on the side of not enough description rather than too much description.
I enjoyed the personal relationships that developed during this book and I’m looking forward to how they continue to develop in the second book. I’m interested to see if Emily makes a choice on a new male companion or if she decides on being single for a while.
All in all it’s a good start to the series and I look forward to reading the second book.
It seems as if Emily is destined to discover dead bodies. This time she finds one of the contestants at the local barbeque cook-off dead and covered in barbeque sauce in a beer cooler. She should be used to stumbling onto corpses by now and the question of who killed the guy should pique her curiosity, but Emily decides to let Detective Lewis handle this one, at least until she figures his theory of who did the deed is wrong, wrong, wrong. Lewis’ denigration of Emily’s speculations is condescending enough to stimulate her dormant snooping skills. As the two of them go on their separate paths to find the killer, Lewis’ old partner, Toby the dirty, tobacco-spitting cop interferes in the investigation leaving Lewis with the wrong man in jail. Killers, bootleggers, barbeque and feral pigs—it’s a lethal game of hide and seek in the Florida swamp.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the 2nd book finished before today, but what I have read, I’ve really enjoyed! When I do finish it, I’ll do a separate review post for it.
Interview with Lesley A. Diehl
Today, my blog stop also consists of an interview with Ms. Diehl. I’m thankful that she took the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions!
Question #1: Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day? Do you enjoy your day job?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: My “day” job is helping my husband renovate our 1974 cottage. We bought it almost ten years ago when we were younger (and apparently thought we’d live forever!) and continue to work on it every summer. To say it is a work of love is to look into past attitudes toward the project. Now it is simply a lot of work for two old codgers.
Question #2: Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: I write something every day. It may be a short story, a blog, or a book length manuscript. If I’m working on a short story, I set the goal of completing a section each day. With a manuscript, I aim for 3000-5000 words. I like to write to the sound of the trout stream burbling over the rocks. I do not write to music, and I prefer the sounds of nature to accompany my work. We live in a very tiny house down south and it is within yards of our neighbors on either side of us. Sometime it is difficult to work with all the noise from the street and from a neighbor’s television. I usually turn on the AC (it’s the equivalent of white noise) to deaden the sound. Particularly annoying is the sounds of things being blown up. I may be a mystery writer, but I don’t blow up buildings or people in my work!
Question #3: When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reigns” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: I have a few characters written with such dominating personalities that they sometimes do hijack the story, but I think they are meant to. I don’t allow them to take over the plot (they may think they do, but it’s always my plot, but they can get out of hand if I don’t give them the reins sometimes). Emily’s lawyer is a good example of this; he lives in a retirement home, loves to play poker and usually has some senior lady in his room (and his bed!). He’s fond of telling stories, most of which are outright lies.
Question #4: How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: After many rejections—I won’t reveal how many—from agents, I went with a small publisher, then found yet another small publisher for another manuscript. That was almost a decade ago. Since then with the changes in the publishing industry, I have gotten the rights back to these books and have reissued them under my own imprint. I found an agent and now publish a series with Camel Press (the Eve Apple mysteries set in rural Florida) and also publish short stories and novellas with other small publishers. I am truly a hybrid author!
Question #5: In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: My books go through many revisions because I revise a chapter as I finish it, then revise the entire manuscript several times before it goes to my publisher for concept editing and line editing. I set my books aside for at least a month after a final revision, then go back and look at them again. I always use an editor for my self-published work. I do not use beta readers. There is nothing as crucial as a professional eye (editor) other than the author’s own.
Question #6: A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: The villains in Dumpster Dying and in Grilled, Chilled and Killed are not based on real people, but I certainly have met my quota of vile people whose evil natures provide the inspiration for my villains. Often I create the physical make-up of villains from people I have seen or met (not necessarily bad people), but the character of the villain is not based upon an actual person. Some of my villains do bad things, like my bad cop Toby Sands, but with his bumbling ways, outrageous arrogance, love of chewing tobacco and inflated view of his competence, he’s more pathetic than evil.
Question #7: Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: Most of my characters are fictional with the exception of family members who have wandered into my short stories about my grandmothers and my aunt, yet I have so fictionalized these relatives that were they alive today, they would have difficulty recognizing themselves. Grandma Papa and Grandma Mama, Aunt Nozzie and Darcie’s mother have appeared in Thanksgiving anthologies published by Untreed Reads (The Killer Wore Cranberry: Vols. 1-4) and in a collection of novellas and short stories (Happy Homicides: Fall into Crime from Just in Time publishing).
Question #8: If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: I am so fond of my Aunt Nozzie character that I intend to continue writing short stories about her and may consider putting her in a novel length work. Who wouldn’t want to write about someone who is six feet tall with flaming red hair, a propensity for getting into trouble and a desire to match make for her niece as well as find someone lusty for herself?
Question #9: What are some great books you’ve read recently?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: I love English mysteries for both their location—I especially love the English countryside and small villages—and because most English authors know how to develop nuanced and multifaceted characters and fascinating relationships. I will certainly miss P. D. James and think that, although American, Elizabeth George knows her way around issues of class and psychology.
Question #10: What books have influenced your life the most?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: I know I should say one of the classics, but I’m a mystery writer, so those who write this genre have influenced my life by impacting what I love to do—write. I count Agatha Christie as an early and continuing influence. I read her when I was in high school and continue to do so.
Question #11: If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: I’d spend the day with Emily Rhodes lawyer, Hap, that old curmudgeon, and buy him his favorite treat, a hot fudge sundae while I picked his brain about what rural Florida was like when he was a kid.
Question #12: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?
Ms. Diehl’s Reply: I sometimes read them, but not on a regular basis. I never write anything in response to either a good or a bad review. A bad review can get me down for a short time, but I like to keep negative comments about my work in perspective: balance the good with the bad. I’ve been fortunate that good seems to be predominant. I don’t think any negative review has influenced my writing, but it may lead me to understand better the impact of my writing upon readers. It’s always good to take a step back and ask “what’s happening here?” And “was it what I intended”.
Once again, sincere thanks to Ms. Diehl for being willing to answer my questions!
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