Murder mysteries for May

Article By Tyler Tichelaar

Mayhem on the Dead River

By Bill Blewett

Mayhem on the Dead River is retired Westwood High School teacher Bill Blewett’s first book. It’s a collection of five mysteries (novellas really) about small-town retired sheriff Bill Bennett and his three best friends who can’t resist staying involved in law enforcement, helping out the current sheriff, and sometimes frustrating him, but always getting to the bottom of the latest crime that needs solving. The setting is Mesabi County in the Superior Peninsula with other thinly disguised local places around the Dead River being referenced—readers should be able to guess the majority of them.

The stories take readers through the course of a little more than a year with murders happening during deer season, the Fourth of July, and the dead of winter. There’s plenty of action in the stories with young women being kidnapped to be sold in Mexico as slaves, bodies found in rivers, people found murdered in their homes, car chases, a helicopter crash, a prison escape and jealous lovers.

There are quite a lot of characters to keep track of, but Blewett provides a character list for each story at the front of the book and the main characters eventually become very well-known as they continue from one story to the next.

One of the most memorable characters is Caroline Raft, the medical examiner, who is new in town after leaving a bad marriage downstate. She does things by the book and doesn’t want amateur detectives disturbing her work. However, Tyler Baldwin, a cop and son to one of the amateur detectives, begins dating Caroline. After that, he often provides a way to distract Caroline so the other detectives can snoop for information in her morgue or office.

Another favorite character of mine was John Crane; he is not one of the main detectives, but he appears in several stories. He is basically a hired gun who only communicates via cell phone, always wants $200,000 for a job to be wired to his secret bank account, and who always gets the job done. The narrator, Bill Bennett, refers to him as Man-Mountain because he’s very tall and strong. In one scene, six criminals each take a turn at attacking him and being easily flung aside or killed, yet each successive one is dumb enough to attack him, even when he snaps a few of their necks with ease. Man-Mountain’s methods may not be orthodox, but they are certainly effective.

There’s plenty of action, some humor and a lot of reasons to keep turning the page in these stories. Blewett has also just released a sequel titled Mayhem on the Michigamme.

It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To

By Vickie Fee

It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To is the second installment in Vickie Fee’s Liv and Di in Dixie Mystery series, an obvious reference to a lyric from the song “Dixie” but cleverly using the two female sleuths’ names, Liv and Di. The first book in the series, Death Crashes the Party, has previously been reviewed in this column.

Although Fee now lives in Upper Michigan, she used to live in the South and her novels take place in a fictional town called Dixie, located in Mississippi.

Liv McKay is an event planner who is very involved in her community. One group she belongs to is the Professional Women’s Alliance of Dixie (PWAD). Also on the group’s planning committee is Morgan, vice president of the local bank (her father is the president). Morgan is spoiled, thinks she’s better than everyone else, and more or less runs PWAD. The group is busy planning a retreat at a lodge which has a nearby cemetery. Morgan has picked this location because her longtime friend, Lucinda Grable, is going to be their guest speaker. Lucinda claims to be a medium and has her own ghost hunters show. The night of the event, numerous women show up, including two sisters, one of whom, Annabelle, is starting to suffer from dementia.

When it is discovered that Annabelle has wandered off from the group and into the surrounding woods, the women begin to search for her. Eventually, Annabelle is found, but only after she has encountered another group on the property, the Sisters of the Full Moon, who are performing a naked dance in the moonlight. Fortunately, Annabelle has not been hurt. The other women are escorting her back to the lodge and safety when they find Morgan lying dead on the ground.

And so the mystery begins. It turns out that Morgan was poisoned, and the poison was in the glass of fruit-flavored tea she drank. Immediately, Jasmine, who had made the tea, is arrested for murder, but Jasmine has several friends who are determined to prove she’s innocent and who believe the celebrity medium Lucinda is the murderer. Consequently, three of the women start spying on Lucinda at her hotel. Liv and her best friend Di also get involved, although in a less obvious way. Neither of them liked Morgan, but they also want to see her killer brought to justice.

Before long, it is clear that nearly every woman who was at the PWAD gathering had some sort of motive. Morgan was rumored to have had numerous affairs—some with the husbands of the other women at the event. Even one of the naked Sisters of the Full Moon had a reason to wish Morgan dead. And perhaps so do the men Morgan was involved with.

Liv and Di search for clues, and while they don’t get in trouble for stalking like some of their friends, Di’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Dave, who happens to be the sheriff, warns them to stay out of trouble. That doesn’t stop them from snooping in one woman’s house when she’s not home or having a stakeout at a restaurant to spy on Lucinda when she’s meeting one of Morgan’s ex-lovers.

Of course, the mysterious killer doesn’t want his or her identity known. An SUV tries to run down one character, and Liv and Di nearly have an accident when something dangerous is planted in Di’s car.

All this is happening while Liv is busy planning parties for people, including a murder mystery dinner as a fundraiser for Residential Rehab. After Morgan’s murder, the mayor thinks it will be in poor taste to have the murder mystery party continue, but it is scheduled for Halloween so it’s hard to reschedule. As Liv and Di string clues together, they decide the mystery dinner will be the perfect venue for getting the killer to confess.

I enjoyed It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To even more than Fee’s first novel in the series—especially the murder mystery dinner based on the popular game Clue. The book also features information on how to throw your own murder mystery dinner, riverboat gambler/casino themed party or engagement party. I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

For more information about Vickie Fee and her mystery novels, visit www.vickiefee.com.

Editor’s note: Tichelaar is the author of My Marquette and Willpower. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit www.marquettemonthly.org.

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