“Dance on His Grave” Review & Audiobook Giveaway!

14538706Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit! Oh how I love Southern mysteries set deep in the heart of the hauntingly beautiful East Texas-Louisiana borderlands.  Sylvia Dickey Smith has mastered the art of evoking a sense of dread in her lyrical atmospheric descriptions of the mysterious bayou country.  Moody atmosphere, colorful characters, good food and one heck of a strong-willed protagonist are all key ingredients for a quality Southern fiction novel. This author delivers all of these things in spades in her Sidra Smart mysteries. That’s why I put Sidra Smart on the top of my list of favorite Southern detectives—right next to David Robichauex, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. If you haven’t heard of those other guys, I advise you to Google James Lee Burke and Joe Lansdale immediately!

In this first installment of the Sidra Smart Mystery Series, Sid has emancipated herself from a loveless, sheltered marriage. No longer an obedient preacher’s wife, she’s thrust into a whole new world of independence and opportunity.

She reaches a crossroads when she inherits her dead brother’s PI business. With zero knowledge of how to run a business—let alone solve mysteries—she’s ready to sell it off to the lowest bidder. Yet when her controlling ex-husband tries to push her into doing just that, she decides to slap on her gumshoes out of sheer defiance! And really, that’s what I love about Sidra Smart. She’s bold, brave and ready to take on new adventures, despite the legions of naysayers who will stop at nothing to watch her fail.

Before she’s ready to pick up a  copy of “How to Run a PI Business for Dummies,”  her first client walks in with a cold case that would stump even Sherlock Holmes. Despite her best interest, Sidra agrees to look into the 30-year-old mystery revolving around two innocent girls caught up in an unimaginable world of horrors.  The horror show intensifies as she looks deeper into the case and discovers a tangled web of town secrets, torture and arson. Trust me, once you get to know the villain, you’ll understand the meaning of the book’s title, “Dance on His Grave.”

The plot thickens when Sid finds a connection between the bizarre cold case and her brother’s mysterious car accident. And just with any good thriller, the danger heats up as our heroine gets closer to the truth. Who is sneaking into her home and leaving ominous threats? Is it her ex-husband’s God-fearing disciples, or could it be a demented child-abusing killer? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

With some help from her newfound friend and fellow PI, George Leger, she carries on with the case—even when all hope seems to be lost.  She also gets a little help from her meddlesome Aunt Annie, who is always there to help Sid pick up the pieces when the chips are down. I’m especially fond of the Cajun-speaking George, who’s interesting enough to have his own spinoff story.

This is not your typical amateur sleuth mystery, mainly because there are some really weighty issues at the core of the story. Some of the descriptions of are rather dark and disturbing, so this book is not for the squeamish. Filled with punchy dialogue, cliffhanger chapter endings and unspeakable crimes, this book is somewhat of a mash-up of Karin Slaughter meets Gillian Flynn with a Cajun twist. Hard-boiled mystery fans are sure to enjoy this puzzling whodunit.

Enter to Win a Free Audiobook!

imagesU9JY9PEDI should also mention that the author gave me this book via Audible.  The narrator did a fantastic job unfolding the story in a somber tone. Unlike other narrators who drive me bonkers with their rapid-speed chipmunk-on-crack storytelling, she did a stellar job keeping the pace and capturing Sid’s voice.  I highly recommend listening to this on audio. In fact, the author has offered to give away a free audiobook. All you have to do is post a comment answering the following question and the winner will be picked at random. Don’t fret if you’re not an Audible member.  You can still receive the audiobook without an account.

Who is your favorite thriller author?

The Swamp Whisperer by Sylvia Dickey Smith

I need another book like a hole in the head, but sometimes I can’t resist a good story in a spooky rural setting with ghosts, feisty female characters and a good old-fashioned whodunit. That’s why I love Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Sidra Smart mysteries. She may not be a household name like Heather Graham or Nora Roberts, but this talented Texan writes like a pro – and I’m just so glad I stumbled upon her books that fateful day at the Texas Book Festival!

I have a theory for why the big publishing houses haven’t signed her on. You see, just like show biz, publishers have to appeal to the masses, and that means gorgeous long-legged protagonists, formulaic plotlines and contrived love triangles. Sure these bestselling authors occasionally include a senior citizen, but the old folks are typically the token “zany granny.”

Never one to follow the lead, Dickey Smith’s books are a welcome departure from the norm.   Boo Murphy, the leading lady in “Swamp Whisperer,” is by far one of the most unique protagonists I’ve come across in crime fiction. She’s cranky, obstinate, and full of piss and vinegar! She’s completely insufferable, but when you peel back the layers, it’s hard not to find a soft spot in your heart for this overgrown tomboy.

The mystery begins when Boo paddles out into the alligator-infested bayou and finds an Atakapa-Ishak brushwood hut. Considering that the Native American tribe of alleged cannibals disappeared from the Texas and Louisiana coastal regions centuries ago, it’s downright impossible for a hut to still remain standing.

All is not well, the cold rain whispered. Boo looked around, expecting to see a ghostly figure floating across the swamp, but no one was there.  This time she knew she hadn’t been imagining things – of that she was most convinced.

To prove she’s not going senile, she grabs her prissy cousin Sasha and heads back out into the murky water in search of the hut. After a boating mishap, they seek refuge in a spooky cabin, where they stumble upon a ghostly apparition and find a frightened woman trapped underneath a dead body.

After a thorough interrogation, the woman reveals that she’s a part of a covert anthropological project. Under the guise of research, an egotistical professor and a group of scholars are recreating the site of an Atakapa-Ishak village. Is this legitimate scientific research, or a self-serving treasure hunt? Good thing Boo was able to pocket that mysterious map from the dead man’s cabin.

Things get complicated when Boo’s beloved hound and cousin go missing. Someone knows she has the map – and Boo needs to piece together the clues to rescue her loved ones and save the sacred silver mine from desecration. With some help from an ethereal spirit within the swamp, she finds the strength and courage to track down the killer…and learns a bit about herself in the process.

The wind’s embrace seeped into her pores and stirred her insides. She sucked in a deep breath, allowing the dampness to fill her lungs with every particle of oxygen available to her. She held that breath as long as she could, hating to let it go, for never before had she felt so strongly that she and the swamp were one entity with one purpose – but what that purpose was, she hadn’t a clue.

Listen, the wind warned. The swamp is at risk, can’t you tell?

I’ll stop right here before I give too much away. If you’re into atmospheric whodunits, I implore you to read this book! What I really love about this author is her knack for character development. Through Boo’s grumbling self-dialogue, readers can feel her strong bond with nature and emphasize with her resistance to love and be loved. Oh how I love Boo! We don’t get many heroines like this one in crime fiction – or any other genre for that matter – but we should. Though this is a Sidra Smart mystery, this is really Boo’s time to shine. But don’t fret; the book sporadically touches on Sidra’s misadventures as she road trips with her eccentric aunt to Santa Fe for a wedding. I won’t give too much away, but I will tell you there’s ghosts involved!

If you’ve never read a Sylvia Dickey Smith book, this one will draw you into the fold. Her love of Southeast Texas comes through in her luscious descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of the swamp. At times I began to wonder if perhaps she might be a swamp whisperer herself!

If you’d like to meet this fabulous author, she’ll be at the Texas Book Festival, which is happening this month. I can’t wait!!!

Trashy Chic by Cathy Lubenski

There’s no doubt investigative reporters make the best detectives. They’re nosey, they’re ballsy, and they’ll stop at nothing to chase down a lead. But sadly, in this digital age, the Woodwards and Bernsteins are falling to the wayside as more and more readers are turning to short online blurbs for their daily news.

Cathy Lubenski, a veteran reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, is all too familiar with the sad state of journalism. Her main character, Bertie Mallowan also happens to be a journalist for a Southern California daily, and is struggling to stay afloat in a rapidly shrinking industry.

Much like Lacey Smithsonian (the crackerjack fashion reporter in the Crimes of Fashions mysteries), Bertie has a passion for hard news, but she’s stuck writing fluff. But just when she couldn’t bear to write one more piece about overpriced home décor, she stumbles upon a mystery that could put her back on the front page.

It all begins when Bertie interviews Robert Bellingham, the CEO of a multimillion-dollar luxury items empire,  just days before his murder.  With inside information about Bellingham’s twisted family, she’s thrust into the middle of a big story.

Things get complicated when Bertie encounters a slew suspects with ample motives to knock off the king of unnecessary high-end crap. Who stood the most to gain from Bellingham’s death? Let’s take a look at some of our suspects:

Robert “R2” Bellingham II: A pudgy little man with serious anxiety and resentment issues. Did he knock off his own father to take control of the empire? Why was he hauling a big bag filled with hair into his father’s corporate office?

Gardener: Living up to his name, this suspicious character tends the Bellingham mansion’s gardens. With his smoldering good looks, he can have any woman he wants, even Bellingham Jr.’s trophy wife. What’s the story behind his anger management problem? And why were his shoes splattered with blood at the scene of the crime?

Lester Lomax: Gardener’s lawyer. After a scary encounter at a bar, Bertie finds out the hard way that this sleazeball is more than capable of cold-blooded murder. Did he help his client orchestrate the perfect crime? And is he the dark shadow lurking outside Bertie’s window at night?

Delia Bellingham: R2’s philandering trophy wife. This little tart has a twisted agenda for sleeping around with the mansion’s gardener. Did she railroad her boy-toy to get her hands on the family fortune?

Bella Bellingham: The black sheep of the Bellingham family. Shunned from the family mansion, she spends her days locked up in her shabby apartment cooking weird luxury-item concoctions. She seems obsessed with her inventions…perhaps a little too obsessed.  

Gigi Bellingham: Bellingham’s wife. Obsessed with money, Botox and social status, she’s used to living the good life. It’s no secret her husband would rather hop into bed with a bimbo du jour than have sex with his own wife.  But did his womanizing ways finally set her off on a murderous rampage?

The tightly-plotted mystery is great, but what I really love most about this book is the humor. There were some scenes that had me laughing out loud, like when Bertie hid a cricket in her editor’s office just to mess with her. I also enjoyed the part when her boss reprimanded her for making rude faces. To make him go away, she told him that the grimacing was a result of a chronic flatulence disorder – LOL! 

Overall, this is one fine mystery laced with humor, romance and fabulous characters. I instantly liked Bertie, probably because she’s obsessed with chocolate moon pies, hates her alarm clock, and makes terrible mistakes in the love department. I’m also a big fan of Bertie’s best friend, a former zookeeper who runs a high-class dog obedience school and kennel. Much like my own best friend, she won’t hesitate to come to Bertie’s rescue – even if it means putting herself in mortal danger.

This talented new author can really tell a story that gets you to know and love the characters. I will be watching and waiting for the next installment in this fabulous new series! Keep ‘em coming Cathy!