Monday, March 25, 2013

Review Roundup: Murder and Magical Mayhem

Double Crossing
By Meg Mims
Astrea Press, August 2011
$9.99 paperback, ISBN 1466223200
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN B005GWEMCO
309 pages

The authorities are convinced Lily Granville’s wealthy father committed suicide; she’s equally convinced he was murdered as part of a scheme to obtain control of a California gold mine. Accompanied by a missionary who intends to overcome her misgivings and marry her, the strong-willed socialite embarks on a cross-country quest to find her uncle and the mine’s missing deed. Deceitful relatives, the late tycoon’s attorney, and a rowdy Texan drifter—along with nearly everyone else Lily meets as she wends her way westward on the new transcontinental railroad—could be friend or foe. Dare she trust anyone?

Double Crossing won the 2012 Spur Award for best first novel, and with good reason. The level of historical detail is astonishing, but author Meg Mims establishes such a seamless atmosphere that the tale never bogs down under the weight of what must have been mountains of research. If for no other reason, the story is entrancing for the virtual experience of riding the rails in 1869.

But there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy Double Crossing. With very few stumbles, Mims creates believable suspense by constantly shifting suspicion from one character to another, until everyone in sight looks guilty. In fact, almost everyone is guilty of something, though perhaps not what readers might suspect at first glance. Agatha Christie, eat your heart out: Double Crossing is Murder on the Orient Express with western-genre sensibilities and without Hercule Poirot’s pompous interference.

Read this book. The history lesson is enjoyable, the characters are mesmerizing, and the twists and turns in the plot are more than worth the price of a Pullman ticket. The sequel, Double or Nothing, bowed March 13 promising to plant Lily in the middle of another life-or-death caper.

Willow, Wish for Me
By Jacquie Rogers
CampRogers Press, April 2012
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B007VA4FTO
48 pages

To escape the Boston society rigmarole she despises, debutante Willow runs away to the middle of nowhere on the western frontier and settles into a solitary life as an herb farmer. With her faithful guard-chicken (yes, you read that right: guard-chicken) as company, she’s mostly content, until her wish for a fairy-tale romance is granted by King Arthur’s Merlin, reincarnated as a professional gambler’s mule.

The premise for this short, quick read is so wacky, readers will have to leave any preconceived notions about genres at the door. Actually, that’s not hard to do. As one might imagine, Merlin’s magic—not quite as accurate as it once was—complicates almost everything it touches. Author Jacquie Rogers imbues Willow, Wish for Me with both subtle and slapstick humor, develops the characters well, and sets the scene beautifully. The result is a delightful romp that twists both standard western tropes and Arthurian legend into one heckuva train wreck—in a good way.

As with most shorts, readers shouldn't expect intricate plot twists or a slow build to a happily-ever-after ending. What they should expect is plenty of typically western action (including a climactic gunfight); a determined princess; a slightly befuddled, tarnished knight, and a black-hearted pretender to the throne complete with oily henchmen and a no-holds-barred plan for securing the heroine’s castle.

The humans in the story are fun to watch, but the animals steal the show. Merlin the mule narrates the first and last chapters with aplomb, but the chicken emerges as the star.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She purchased both books reviewed in this post. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.


  1. Kathleen, these both look like wonderful reads. Jacquie's story sounds like something I would absolutely love--I'm crazy about anything that has to do with Arthurian legend--it's fun to imagine Arthur as a gambler's mule. LOL

    And of course, Meg's Double Crossing sounds like something that would keep me on the edge of my seat (love those kinds of stories!)

    Thanks for once again bringing some excellent reads to our attention!


  2. Thanks for the info, and as Cheryl says, for bringing these books to my attention! These stories sound absolutely fantastic. Best wishes for tons of success!

  3. My bad...I should have said MERLIN being a gambler's mule, not Arthur. DUH, blond moment.

  4. Kathleen, you chose a couple of my favorite authors to highlight. I love Jacquie Rogers' wit, but Much Ado About Marshals remains my favorite of hers. Double Crossing is a work of art, and I look forward to reading the sequel. You did a terrific job of reviewing them without spoilers.

  5. Thanks, Kathleen! I thoroughly enjoyed Double Crossing, and I'm glad you appreciated Willow, Wish for Me. I always hold my breath when a review comes in because some people just don't get this genre-blending business. :) BTW, Cheryl Pierson has an Arthurian western of a whole different type in Six-guns and Slay Bells.

  6. Another excellent review posting, Kathleen. I am going to have to order both!

    Meg's shifting of suspicion from character to character appeals to me as a crime writer (sorry, we Brits call mysteries, crime novels!)

    And as an Arthurian buff I naturally have to read everything to do with King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. So I am looking forward to reading Jacquie's quirky tale.


  7. I have Meg's book, Double Crossing and I'm looking forward to reading it.
    Jacquie's Willow Wish sounds like such a wonderful, wacky read. What a wild and crazy ride that story must be.
    I wish you both the very best.

  8. GAH! Somebody please cancel Mondays for the rest of eternity, m'kay? There. Now that we've got that settled....

    Thanks to all of ya'll for chiming in! I'm having way too much fun reading and reviewing all these books and short stories.

    Cheryl, I didn't notice your slip until you mentioned it -- and I'm not blonde! :-D (You don't suppose blonde is catching, do you?)

    Keith, I have one of your stories on deck for next time. Tried to squeeze the review in this time, and ran out of time to write, dangit.

    Tanya, it's nice to see you! Both of these stories are really good. I seldom laugh out loud when reading, but Willow snuck right on up on me. And if you like misdirection and mystery in your westerns, Meg's book is perfect.

    Caroline, "a work of art" is a great way to describe Double Crossing. Such an intricate plot, and just thinking about all the research Meg must have done makes me tired. As for Jacquie.... Maybe we need to lock her in a room and refuse to let her out until she writes something serious. **evil grin**

    Jacquie, the genre-blending is part of what makes Willow so much fun. Get busy on the sequel, woman!

    Sarah, nice to see you, too! Willow is a great "unwind" story -- perfect for reading in one sitting at the end of a frazzled day. And Meg's book is another one of those that leads to bloodshot, baggy eyes: "I'll stop reading as soon as I figure out what's going on here...dang! Now what's this new wrinkle all about?" :-)

  9. "Work of art" ??? Whoa! I had a blast writing it, and like Keith, the crime (mystery element) really does matter more to me in my writing. But the characters kept me hopping. Thanks, all! As for Willow -- I too laughed out loud reading it, and I know Jacquie has a thing for mules. I wonder if she ever watched Hee Haw? hmmm. LOL ;-D