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And the Dying is Easy, edited by Joseph Pittman and Annette Riffle, Review

Updated on September 23, 2015
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I am a mom and granny, still hoping to finish my undergrad degree someday. I've been hoping to get to law school since I was eight.

Front cover

Note the wave washing up in the shape of a skull. Also, the knife stuck into the beach towel. I think the towel's wrinkles are in the shape of a spider.
Note the wave washing up in the shape of a skull. Also, the knife stuck into the beach towel. I think the towel's wrinkles are in the shape of a spider. | Source

George Gershwin

The title is a play on the DuBose Heyward - Ira Gershwin lyrics from Porgy and Bess: "Summertime, and the Living is Easy." (Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high")

Each of the twenty stories in this anthology features a detective who is on summer vacation. Most of the detectives are already in a series, but a few make their debuts in this book.

Stephen Sondheim's opinion of the lyrics.

That "and" is worth a great deal of attention. I would write "Summertime when" but that "and" sets up a tone, a whole poetic tone, not to mention a whole kind of diction that is going to be used in the play; an informal, uneducated diction and a stream of consciousness, as in many of the songs like "My Man's Gone Now." It's the exact right word, and that word is worth its weight in gold. "Summertime when the livin' is easy" is a boring line compared to "Summertime and." The choices of "ands" [and] "buts" become almost traumatic as you are writing a lyric--or should, anyway-- because each one weighs so much.

Source: Joanne Lesley Gordon, Art Isn't Easy: The Achievement of Stephen Sondheim, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, IL., 1990, p.13

From the Wikipedia page, "Summertime" (song).

Subtitle: All New Tales of Summertime Suspense

From the introduction:

They say that the living is easy, but in the world of detective fiction, life has a way of turning deadly. So we wondered, what happens when private eyes want to take a vacation? . . . Amateur sleuths are always stumbling upon dead bodies, but would they still search out a killer while sunning themselves on the beach? These questions . . . are answered, as twenty of Signet Mystery's favorite writers take their series sleuths on a holiday filled with mystery and mayhem. Each story was written specifically for this collection, so thanks to them all for rising to the challenge.

Dying for laughs?

Then, there is the quote: "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

But, that's not what the title of this book refers to, because the title starts with, ". . . and the . . . " like the DuBose - Gershwin lyric.

The famous quote just starts with, "Dying . . "

I always thought this quote was from Milton Berle, but apparently it has been attributed to many different actors through the centuries, even including Richard Burbage, friend and business associate of William Shakespeare.

First published in 2001 by Penguin Putnam. (Now Penguin Group USA)

Swanson is first, of course.

I first found out about "Not a Monster of a Chance" from Swanson's website.

I bought it in e-book form from Amazon. It was short, and very inexpensive. Also, a lot of fun to read. Many of the regular Scumble Riverites appear: Charlie ... Trixie ...May ... Officer Quirk ... Wally --- even Flip ... the husband of Skye's cousin Ginger.

I stored it on my e-reader, or whatever it's called, on Amazon's own website, because I have no portable gizmo.

That was fun, and interesting. Also, when you purchase it solo, there's a cute little graphic on the "cover." I liked that. It was like a little baby Loch Ness monster.

The tough part was that apparently e-books don't have pages, but "locations." That was strange for me to navigate.

I kind of missed those old things called "pages". They tend to keep things accessible and ordered.

I also became curious about the other stories in the anthology, even though not all are cozies or written by female authors. So, I ended up buying the entire book (used) from one of the Amazon vendors.

Swanson's story is not the first in the book, but I read it first.

Alas . .

I would really love to have a picture of one of the novels from each series, but rules prevent that.

Perhaps I will publish a post in another blog showing those.

Here is the Full List (including Swanson): . . .

. . . in the order of appearance.

Salt on the Rim

by Jeff Abbott

Salt on the Rim, by Jeff Abbott

A Whit Mosley Mystery

The sleuth is Whit Mosley, justice of the peace in fictional Port Leo, Texas, on the Gulf Coast. Whit has now been featured in three of Abbott's novels, but at the time of this anthology, the fist Whit Mosley mystery, A Kiss Gone Bad, had not yet been published.

This story seems to be deceptively simple at first.

It features a few characters in a small coastal beach town in Texas. A beautiful woman comes into the bar each night and orders a margarita with salt on the rim. Nobody seems to know who she is.

Whit chewed ice and watched the television mounted above the bar. The Astros were in a fourth-inning meltdown. He hadn't paid much attention to the game, lost in confessing the boring detritus of his personal life to Toni Packard; she was that old-style kind of bartender, a flesh-and-blood confessional. The woman's arrival threw him and Toni both into silence.

One evening, after finishing her Margarita, driving home alone, the woman dies in an apparent accident.

Whit is not so sure it really was an accident.

Whit has a strong sense of justice and integrity. The mystery and its solution are compelling. Whit's solution and revelation reminded me of the great Hercule Poirot.

It's not surprising that the author has won the Agatha Award.

A Case of Feline Psychopathology, by Lydia Adamson

Not worth the time or trouble. Skip this one.

The feline is not the psychopath. The only psychopath here is the author who would write such a thing.

I haven't even bothered to emphasize the title or the author's name.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

by Ann Campbell

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, by Ann Campbell

An Annie O'Hara and Claudius Mystery

" . . . unique sleuthing duo of Annie O'Hara and Claudius, a German shepherd."

Annie and Claudius have solved mysteries in two novels: Wolf at the Door, and Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.

In this story, George Vining finds underground water for Annie's bed and breakfast/antique shop. Finally,she has enough water to run the washing machine while taking a shower.

George tells Annie that Claudius needs a copper amulet to deflect bad energy.

Annie suspects that George's wife plans to murder him.

The Chocolate Kidnapping Clue

by Joanna Karl

The Chocolate Kidnapping Clue, by Joanna Karl

A Lee McKinney Mystery Story

The amateur sleuth in this one is a sixteen year-old girl, who apparently has some slight speech defect (although it's not totally clear). She is visiting her Aunt Nettie and Uncle Phil on Lake Michigan for the summer and working in the chocolate shop they own.

She befriends a lady in her sixties while walking on the beach. She also ends up helping another girl her own age, who is kidnapped. She used to think the girl had a really snooty, elitist attitude.

A very exciting adventure story.

And --- There is a lot of chocolate!

Never Neck at Niagara

by Edie Claire

Never Neck at Niagara, by Edie Claire

A Leigh Koslow Mystery

Edie Claire has written eight books featuring Leigh Koslow. She is working on a ninth.

She has written other books, as well, though. Check out her Facebook page. Her books are all either PG, or PG - 13. I love her for that. She is a fan of happy endings.

"Love triumphs and happy endings abound."

In "Never Neck at Niagara", Leigh is out biking by herself at Niagara Falls a few days after her honeymoon, when she hears what might be a plot to commit homicide. Her husband is attending a conference at the hotel.

Leigh begins to scramble to prevent what she thinks might turn out to be homicide, and protect the person she thinks might be the victim.

But, all is not as it seems. Leigh almost becomes a victim herself.

This story is quite the page-turner, with a lot of action.

Unreasonable Doubt

by Max Allan Collins

Unreasonable Doubt, by Max Allan Collins

A Nathan Heller Mystery Story

Max Allan Collins' Nathan Heller series started in 1983, with the novel, True Detective. It is set in 1930s Chicago. The second Nathan Heller novel, True Crime, came out in 1984.

The most recent Nathan Heller novel, Ask Not, was published in 2013.

Collins has been nominated for the Shamus Award, from the Private Eye Writers of America eight times. He has won it twice.

A-1 Detective Agency

"In March of 1947, I got caught up in the notorious Overell case, which made such headlines in Los Angeles, particularly during the trial that summer. The double murder . . . hit the front pages in Chicago, as well. But back home I never bragged about my little-publicized role . . .

"I was taking a deductible vacation, getting away from an Illinois spring that was stubbornly still winter, in trade for Southern California's constant summer. My wife, who was pregnant and grouchy, loved. L.A., and had a lot of friends out there . . . but I was also checking in with the L.A. branch office of the A-1 Detective Agency, of which I was the president."

Author's note about an author's note.

At the end of this story, the author writes, "Fact, speculation, and fiction are freely mixed within this story, which is based on an actual case . . . "

He cites four books as reference for the fact --- which probably offers some clues as to the speculation, as well.

We are reading the fiction.

Sounds fun, right?

Murder Can Hurt Your Ears

by Selma Eichler

Murder Can Hurt Your Ears, by Selma Eichler

A Desiree Shapiro Mystery Story

"Desiree Shapiro's most recent case [as of 2001, when this book was printed] is Murder can Upset Your Mother."

Desiree's friend Jackie talks her into going to Aruba for the vacation that Jackie and Derwin were supposed to have --- before they broke up.

Desiree is staying at the Blue Waters resort on Eagle Beach, napping on the patio.

Then, " . . I was jolted into consciousness by a piercing scream from the suite next door. . . . And then in a voice filled with such terror that at times I believe it will haunt me forever: 'No . . . Please!' "

When Desiree gets there, the woman is dead.

A lot of red herrings stink up the beach before the puzzle is resolved.

Isn't that what it's all about?

Journey's End

by Hazel Holt

Journey's End, by Hazel Holt

A Sheila Malory Mystery Story

Two sisters quarrel on a tour. One of them is a little domineering. She constantly complains, especially when passengers in the group have to eat their sandwiches on the bus.

The tour guide seems to have encyclopedic knowledge of the area and its history.

One sister is murdered --- or has an "accident?" Either way, she won't be going on any more tours.

A mom is reunited with her long-lost son.

The Body in the Bay

by Peter King

The Body in the Bay, by Peter King

A Jack London Mystery Story

Jack London does investigative work for Lily Langtry.

A rousing good tale with a slight tendency toward anachronism. Nothing serious enough to make me dislike the story, though.

The violence made me dislike it. Definitely not cozy.

Peter King

King is a trained chef, and the author of the Gourmet Detective series, as well as the Jack London series, which features a fictional version of Jack London as sleuth, allegedly before Jack became famous as an author.

King is a gourmet chef himself, trained at Cordon Bleu. He is also an aerospace engineer. He worked on the Apollo team.

Wow! Impressive.

The Jungle

by John Lantigua

The Jungle, by John Lantigua

A Willie Cuesta Mystery Story

"Edgar-nominated author John Lantigua introduced private eye Willie Cuesta in Player's Vendetta, set in Miami's Little Havana. He returned in The Ultimate Havana."

An old man who used to own a banana plantation in Guatemela dies in his sleep, while in his employ as domestic servants are several relatives of the folks who were oppressed by his company at the time.

The Loch Ness Mystery

by Sam McCarver

The Loch Ness Mystery, by Sam McCarver

A John Darnell Mystery Story

An elderly clergyman in Scotland is afraid stories of Nessie might bring too many tourists to his town.

Especially now that that pesky journalist has one of those newfangled gizmos that takes what the kids nowadays are calling, "photographs."

That journalist is a friend of Darnell, the supernatural detective.

Highly anachronistic. Still somewhat entertaining.

Porridge and Bess

by Tamar Myers

Porridge and Bess, by Tamar Myers

A Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery Story

Magdalena Portulacca Yoder is a Mennonite woman in her late forties, She owns a "full-board establishment," (bed and breakfast) in southeastern Pennsylvania.

She is taking the very first vacation of her life, in historic Charleston, South Carolina. She is having a difficult time selecting another tour after the guide from the Lunch & Learn midday excursion was murdered.

Missing, Presumed . . . by Dana Stabenow

Skip this one. Not worth it. It's pointless and silly. Also, blecccch!

I didn't even bother putting the title and author in a cool grey rectangle, like most of the other stories, with one exception.

Call it Dead Time

by Andy Straka

Call it Dead Time, by Andy Straka

A Frank Pavlicek Mystery Story

Private investigator Frank Pavlicek receives a fax from Jake Toronto, his former partner in the NYPD.

The next thing the reader knows, Jake and Frank are in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia looking for Jake's peregrine falcon.

Not a Monster of a Chance

by Denise Swanson

"Skye's mind flashed to a picture of a teenager being chased by the Munsters' pet dragon, Spot, and she fought the giggle that was trying to bubble to the surface." page 277
"Skye's mind flashed to a picture of a teenager being chased by the Munsters' pet dragon, Spot, and she fought the giggle that was trying to bubble to the surface." page 277 | Source

Not a Monster of a Chance, by Denise Swanson

A Scumble River Mystery Story

I first found out about "Not a Monster of a Chance" from Swanson's website.

I bought it in e-book form from Amazon. It was short, and very inexpensive. Also, a lot of fun to read. Many of the regular Scumble Riverites appear: Charlie; Trixie; May; Officer Quirk; Wally --- even Flip, the husband of Skye's cousin Ginger.

(Flip reminded her one more time of her embarrassing valedictorian speech, wherein she insulted Scumble River and everyone in it.)

Skye has a summer lifeguard job at the Scumble River Recreation Club, featuring a sandy beach; shady picnic spots; and a sparkling lake for fishing and water skiing.

This summer there also seemed to be a monster at the lake.

Officer Quirk tells Skye he was appointed to inform the lifeguards that a teenage boy had seen, "a spiked fin as long as a Chevy truck" in the lake.

Wally Boyd, the chief of police, is still angry with Skye regarding something she did in book 2, Murder of a Sweet Old Lady. Skye thinks the chief made up the "sea monster" story in order to get revenge on her.

Corpse on a Holy Day

by Peter Tremayne

Corpse on a Holy Day, by Peter Tremayne

A Sister Fidelma Mystery Story

From the Introduction: " . . . Peter Tremayne travels back to an Ireland of long ago, as Sister Fidelma takes the seventh century's version of a holiday."

This is the first I had ever heard of Sister Fidelma, OR Peter Berresford Ellis, OR Peter Tremayne (the pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis.)

Apparently Sister is quite an international sensation. There is a society named for her. I really have to read more before I can even begin to write intelligently about her. She seems to be a nun and a canon lawyer, in Seventh Century Ireland.

Maybe she's even a regular lawyer? There's plenty of material on the Net regarding Tremayne/Ellis and Sister.

This little story is interesting and kind of sad.

Does the saint have an incorrupt body? Or, did someone recently die?

If the latter, then: ~~ Who? How? and when?

Sr. says, "The law states that the rights of the mentally disturbed should take precedence over other rights. A lenient view is taken of all offenses committed by them. . . . The law also looks kindly on those whose concern it is to protect those unable to protect themselves."

Tremayne/Ellis/McAlan is an actual Celtic scholar.

This author is quite prolific. He almost reminds me of Charles Dickens ---- which is a compliment, when I say it, at least. (I know some folks dislike Dickens. I hope I never meet those folks?)

The Sister Fidelma author writes fiction as Peter Treymayne and as Peter McAlan. He also has thirty-five non-fiction titles.

Lightning Strikes Twice

by Judith Van Gieson

Lightning Strikes Twice, by Judith Van Gieson

A Claire Reynier Mystery Story

"Judith Ven Gieson's new series, featuring Claire Reynier, began with The Stolen Blue. Claire has since reappeared in Vanishing Point."

Two women in their fifties have been friends since they were in elementary school. One has lost her memory of her own childhood because of a traumatic experience.

The other does some research to help her find her past.

Under the Big Black Sun

by k.j.a. Wishnia

Under the Big Black Sun, by k.j.a. Wishnia

A Filomena Buscarsela Mystery Story

Officer Buscarsela, NYPD, and her pre-teen daughter, Antonia, are staying in a cheap hotel near Miami Beach when they notice a little disabled East Indian boy, on the beach by himself. When a man shows up frantically looking for someone, Filomena points him toward the little boy. After which:

I come upon the man resting on his heels in the sand with one arm around his son, speaking in a language whose words I do not know but whose pitches are unmistakable as the soothing, universal tones of parental nurturing, interspersed with the sharp, strict tones of a thousand years of parental warning, while Antonia looks on, invisible from four feet away.


All the stories in this anthology (except for the two I've noted) are nicely done. I would hate to have to name a favorite.

This one is poignant, sad, sweet and bitter, as well as suspenseful.


Serve and Volley

by Matt Witten

Serve and Volley, by Matt Witten

A Jacob Burns Mystery Story

Life, death, loved ones, beautiful day, history, socialism, coming of age (if you're lucky) in fictional Jones Lake, aka "Lake Chutzpah."

Lake Chutzpah

There's a lake in the Adirondacks we go to every summer. On the map it's called Jones Lake. But everyone who summers there calls it Lake Chutzpah.

The Lake Chutzpah story began over eighty years ago, when a hardy crew of Jewish schoolteachers and union activists from the Bronx pooled their meager resources, bought up the lake, and built cabins there. For two months every year, they escaped the capitalist rat race and rode the milk train up to the Adirondacks to live out their utopian socialist dreams. They sunned themselves on the beach, experimented with "free love," had lively all-night debates about how best to educate the workers, and held campaign rallies for Eugene V . Debs and Norman Thomas.

Now, at the dawn of a mew millennium, those socialist dreams are as faded as an old campaign poster. Nevertheless, the descendants of the old Jewish leftists --- sprinkled now with goyim and even, horror-of horrors, the occasional Republican --- keep on coming to Lake Chutzpah each year with their children and grandchildren.

Five years ago my family started coming, too. . . . We've rented the same place for five years, and we count our blessings.

Such a blessing can also be a curse --- for some Lake Chutzpah-niks.

Sweet Rewards

by Wayne Worcester

Sweet Rewards by Wayne Worcester

A Dr. Watson Mystery Story

Story Foreword: "Wayne Worcester's two mysteries featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson areThe Monster of St. Marylebone and The Jewel of Covent Garden. In this story he provides a fitting last line for the collection."

Holmes is Not the Holiday Type?

Or, perhaps he is ??

Holmes claims the criminals will have a field day if he leaves 221B Baker Street.

Yet, by the end of the story, Holmes wants another vacation, and Dr. Watson wants to stay in London. Holmes thought that vacation would be dull, but he soon found out otherwise.

The crime-fighting at Shoreham by Sea has invigorated Holmes.

Not for the True Canonicals

If you are a fan of the true Holmes canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (or his client, Dr. Watson), you may be disappointed with this story. You may be able to tell right away that it's not "real Holmes."

The very first sentence of this story reads, "Until Lady Pembroke suddenly keeled over in the lobby of our hotel, Sherlock Holmes had more or less resigned himself to having a bad vacation." (Watson would have called it, "holiday.")

But, if you don't normally read or like Doyle's Holmes stories, you may not notice.

Even if you ARE a "Canonical," though . . .

. . . you still have a chance.

Just don't compare it to the canon. Enjoy reading a fun, humorous little story in its own right.

Who doesn't love the old movies and radio programs with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce? Not canonical at all.

Holmes fights the Nazis?

They WERE Holmes and Watson

"Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon 2" by film screenshot (Universal Pictures) - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikime
"Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon 2" by film screenshot (Universal Pictures) - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikime | Source

The Beggars, by Bruegel

Professor Worcester

Worcester is retired from the University of Connecticut, where he taught journalism for thirty one years.

He has written two previous "Dr. Watson Mystery" novels.


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