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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rochelle Staab: MIND FOR MURDER MYSTERIES


Author:  Rochelle Staab
Series:  MIND FOR MURDER MYSTERIES
Plot Type:  Paranormal Cozy Mystery
Ratings:  V3; S2; H3
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
        Who Do, Voodoo? (2011)
        Bruja Brouhaha (8/2012

     This blog post was revised and updated on 10/12/12 to include a review of the second book in the series, Bruja Brouhaha. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1.

          BOOK 2:  Bruja Brouhaha          
    
     The plot of this book centers around Santería, a religion that mixes Roman Catholicism with West African beliefs. As the story opens, Liz and Nick are attending a 60th anniversary celebration at the home of their friends, Paco and Lucia Rojas, practitioners of Santería who own the Botanica Rojas across from MacArthur Park in the largely Latino Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. During the course of the evening, Paco goes downstairs to unlock the door for a neighbor and is murdered in a drive-by shooting. The plot follows Liz and Nick as they unravel the clues and try to find the killer. As they investigate, they discover that several developers have been trying to force Paco to sell his property to them and that their neighbor has close connections to local gangs. When Lucia puts a hex on everyone attending her husband's wake, people call her a bruja (witch). Soon, bad things begin to happen to the attendees, and everyone in the neighborhood turns against Luciasome with accusations, but others with violence.

     Once again, Liz and Nick bicker a lot about the reality of magic—especially Lucia's hex, although Liz does wear the protective bracelet that Lucia makes for her. Another source of contention between the two is the fact that Liz refuses to move in with Nick when her landlord doesn't renew the lease on her townhouse.

     I was disappointed in this book, which is much less successful than book 1. The plot is unoriginal and predictable, with its familiar story of the evil land developer who will stop at nothing to gain possession of the property he desires. The Santería elements read like excerpts from a Wikipedia article, and all of the supporting characters are one-dimensional. The author pads the pages with detailed lists of what the lead characters eat and the clothes that the heroine wears—always a bad sign. I had high hopes for this series after reading book 1, but with the drop in quality in this book, I have revised my opinion downward. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

          WORLD-BUILDING         
     The paranormal elements in this new series are based mostly on the occult (e.g., spirits of the dead, voodoo, seances, hexes). The heroine is the pragmatic Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Cooper, a psychologist who is pretty sure that she doesn't believe in the supernatural. Her new boyfriend, Nicholas (Nick) Garfield is a religious philosophy professor and an expert in the occult. Much of their dialogue is devoted to sparring about their wildly diverse views about magic.

     Supporting characters include Robin Bloom, who is Liz's BFF; Dave Gordon, Liz's brother (and Nick's BFF), who is a police detective; and Liz's mother, who loves to read tarot cards and spends much of her time interfering in all aspects of her daughter's life. Liz has recently divorced her cheating husband, Jarret, a heavy-drinking major-league baseball player, and as the series begins, she hasn't had a date since the divorce. The series is set in Los Angeles, and the author does a nice job establishing a sense of place, with lots of references to well-known streets and neighborhoods.

          BOOK 1:  Who Do, Voodoo?         
     As the first book opens, someone is leaving unusual tarot cards and threatening messages on Robin's front doorthe exact same cards that Robin's late husband, Josh, drew in a reading done the night before he was killed in an automobile accident. As more cards show up, Robin asks Liz for help, and Liz, in turn, seeks assistance from Nick. (At the beginning of book 1, Nick is just her brother's friend; he has not yet become Liz's boyfriend.) The plot follows Liz and Nick as they research the tarot cards and begin to realize that some sinister voodoo spells are involved. Then people start dying, and Robin becomes a suspect in one of the murders. Liz and Nick have to unravel the mystery before the police actually arrest Robin and officially charge her with murder. Of course, the romantic relationship builds between Liz and Nick as they work closely together on the case. Their clues include a phony medium, a series of cursed spells, and an old voodoo spell book with links to the murder victims.

     This is a well-written mystery that does a good job at keeping the identity of the murderer a secret until the very end. Liz and Nick are entertaining opposites, and they're obviously going to make a great crime-solving team in the next books in the series. Although the paranormal aspect is relatively lightweight, it's a cute series that will keep you guessing. The characters are likable, and their developing romance should be fun to watch. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

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