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"Death in a Wine Dark Sea" by Lisa King

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Welcome, Lisa King! Welcome, Jean Applequist! The shark-infested waters of mystery writing can never be too crowded, and certainly not for newcomers like you. New author Ms. King introduces us to new sleuth Ms. Applequist in this hectic, rewarding, and vivid mystery. Its excellences include a larger-than-usual pool of suspects, all men, by the way, in less or more minatory mien, the heroine-sleuth’s unabashed libido, her geeky partner in detection, called Zeppo, and the cadre of support and protection she attracts around her.

Right off the bat, I want to make clear what an appealing creature is this Jean Applequist. Part Nancy Drew (I bet Ms. King is going to get sick of hearing that!) and part Xena, warrior princess, she’s way too sexy to be plucky, and way too resourceful to be a taken lightly. Jean sticks with it, despite broken bones, being accosted at gunpoint, being run off the road while bicycling, and the opprobrium of dogged cops who hold a threat of their own. Her character is Ms. King’s top achievement here, but she also succeeds at what I consider the mystery writer’s tallest order: we’re surprised at the intrepid detective’s insight when she pulls the rabbit out of her hat.

This story of detection bubbles over with guilt and the guilty. A ruthless businessman and blackmailer is murdered – twice – because he holds secrets and acts cruelly towards – well, everyone. So many people stood to gain by his death that the suspects keep popping up, one after the other, for our consideration. And one by one the suspects try their best to silence the pesky Jean and Zeppo. One thing I observe and offer: the miscreants and men-with-pasts began to run together for me. I think Ms. King would do well to give the rogues in her gallery a little more distinction, other than describing how he looked in his brand-name slacks and silk crewneck. I was lucky in that I have seen San Francisco up close and personal, so that the descriptions of places and drives and weather conditions came through for me vividly.

If you like strong, character-driven, suspenseful mysteries, this book is for you. If you know (and possibly pine for) the San Francisco Bay Area, this book is for you. If you stand up and cheer when the courageous underdog on the side of right finds the gun just in time, this book is for you. The fairly vivid sexy parts are just a bonus.
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