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5.0 out of 5 stars Fairly Tricky
It's nice to see Annie have some relatives of her own to contend with, though I would hardly expect Ms. Hart to top Max's mother, Laurel. The descriptions of the excesses of the crime scene mansion are a hoot. (My favorite is the dragon.) There's some good, old-fashioned examples of the follies of youth hitting one hard in later life. Although some of our usual cast...
Published on Dec 9 2000 by Ann E. Nichols

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3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good entry in this series
After having read -- and been annoyed by -- three previous entries in this series, I had sworn I'd never read another Death On Demand mystery. But I was intrigued enough by some of the reviews of this book to give it a whirl. And it is in many ways much, much better than some of the other Carolyn Hart books I've tried.
I have never felt like I was being given a...
Published on Jan. 27 2002 by Shelley Mckibbon


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3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good entry in this series, Jan. 27 2002
By 
Shelley Mckibbon (Halifax, NS) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
After having read -- and been annoyed by -- three previous entries in this series, I had sworn I'd never read another Death On Demand mystery. But I was intrigued enough by some of the reviews of this book to give it a whirl. And it is in many ways much, much better than some of the other Carolyn Hart books I've tried.
I have never felt like I was being given a chance to really KNOW the sleuths, Annie and Max. In previous books, the author kept stepping between me and them and insisting on how I should think -- "Annie is like THIS. Max is like THAT." In the end, I was told so much that I should have been shown, that I felt nothing for the sleuths at all. Hart still interferes, insisting on character traits she should be demonstrating, and there is far too much about what Max and Annie look like, as opposed to what they are like. But Annie's concern for a teenage girl comes through pretty well, and I found myself believing it. Likewise, her reluctant feelings for her estranged father eventually became believable when Hart stopped insisting.
I didn't buy the estranged father's excuses for why he'd been gone so long any more than some other reviewers have. If you really, really want to know where your child is, and only one person on earth can help you, you go to that person and make a nuisance of yourself. You don't phone and write a few times and then give up. This element of the plot was thin. Max's behaviour ("You think YOUR dad was bad? Let me tell you about MINE!") is insensitive, and I would have been more convinced if the lovebirds had had a knock-down fight over it, with a suitable reconciliation later. Hart, however, does not seem interested in delving very deeply into this relationship, and to that extent she leaves her sleuths as two pretty, but rather empty, shells.
Max's mother, on the other hand, is a hoot in this novel. And I usually agree with readers who find her irritating and unbelievable beyond words. I don't quite see why Annie, who knows Laurel is nuts, is suddenly so worried about her. And when a minor character frets that seances and such "aren't God's will," I wasn't convinced by Hart's pious disclaimer that this minor character represented "true goodness," and would be ignored at peril. I don't like people telling me what is and isn't "God's will." It too often leads to boycotts of libraries that carry books about little English wizards, and protesters explaining why God hates various sexual orientations. Hart's tendency to sermonize isn't pronounced in this novel, but that one jarred.
There are fewer extraneous references to every mystery ever written in this than in most of the "Death On Demand" novels, which is a relief. Annie's first scene features lists of other books and authors, but then Hart gets this urge under control for most of the story and mainly sticks to the point.
The real problem with this mystery is, unfortunately, the mystery itself. Hart introduces the potential victims and suspects in the first chapter, then ignores most of them in favour of Annie and her personal life for the next hundred or so pages. Which means that by the time someone is finally offed (about halfway through the book) I had forgotten who these people were -- and the explanation of their relationships was confusing. At one point, it sounds as if everyone is siblings. Then we see that some are one character's stepchildren. Then the stepmother's sister sounds as if she's actually a sibling of the stepchildren... It was confusing. And since she doesn't spend any time developing these characters, it was hard to care who did it or why. There is an obvious, overly-clever solution to the mystery, and that turns out to be it.
Hart also needs to learn a little more about what personal information is and isn't freely available on the Internet, because she has a public librarian performing feats of spying the CIA might envy. As a librarian, I am dubious. And doing things the easy way like this doesn't help the book -- the sleuths don't need to be clever or to interview the suspects, they only need a magical computer. At one point, Annie muses that conversation is a better way of gatherin information than clicking a mouse. If only Hart really believed that, it would have improved her subplot. (Hart has a habit in this book of writing in unexplained technical miracles -- at one point, someone "rigged the lights' so they'd go out at a crucial juncture. As far as I can find, we are never told HOW.)
Overall, better-written than most of this series, and with more humanity. A middling, but reasonably enjoyable, read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Not Great, Dec 14 2001
By 
Erika Sorocco (Southern California, USA) - See all my reviews
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First off, this book was definitely interesting, and could hold my attention, but it wasn't great.
It took over 160 pages for anyone to get murdered, so you had to read about relationships and romance. Relationships between the main-character (Annie Darling) and her estranged father, Annie and her estranged step-sister, etc. Once someone does get killed it becomes somewhat boring. I knew who the killer was from the beginning. Also, the whole mystery is somewhat cliched. I do think the author is a good writer, and has potential to succeed, just not with this book.
As for the plot, Annie Darling runs Death On Demand, a mystery bookstore. Annie's father (Pudge) and step-sister (Rachel) find her and soon Annie is swept into a spooky mansion filled with murder, hatred and deceit. Once Happy (Rachel's mother) gets murdered, Annie is determined to get her father off the hook, and solve the case.
Overall, this wasn't a horrible book, but if you're looking for a great holiday mystery try some by Valerie Wolzien.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Light Mystery. Not one of her best, but good., Dec 1 2001
By 
apoem "apoem" (Bosque Farms, NM USA) - See all my reviews
I usually enjoy Carolyn Hart mysteries. They are easy to read and enjoyable. There is not a lot of angst or great horror. This one lived up to my expectations in some regards, yet was a disspointment in others.
First the positive: I like the mystery itself. I thought the ending was different than many authors would have used. I liked that. The characters are continuations of ones in her previous books and yet this book can stand on it's own. As always her mother in law is funny and offers a sence of the ridiculous for a reason. I appreciate that. I also appreciated that Annie did forgive her dad to a degree and try to get to know him now. At some point we all have to make that decision to move on or to dwell on the past. I think this was handled well. It wasn't the main story and therefore not a lot of time was devoted to this theme, which I think might dissapoint some readers.
The negative: The only unrealistic thing about this book was all of a sudden seeing your dad and finding out you had a step sister on this small island where everyone knows everyone. If the island had been bigger it might have worked. However, it just seems inconceivable to me that not once would Annie have seen this girl or known the connection she had to this girl. However, as I stated, this is not the main part of the story and is easily overlooked.
I enjoyed this book. It was not my most favorite Carolyn Hart book, but it was good. I'm not sorry I read it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I know this series is popular, but..., Oct. 28 2001
By 
K. L Sadler "Dr. Karen L. Sadler" (Freedom, Pa. USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sugar Plum Dead (Hardcover)
I've picked up Hart's mysteries before and enjoyed them for what they are worth...very light mysteries, with unsubstantial plots and not very 'deeply-drawn' characters. This one was probably the least enjoyable I've read, and since I like my books a little more realistic and with more substance and good writing, I doubt I will be back to this particular author.
Hart means well, and I know she has a big following. But as another reviewer has mentioned, Hart really expects the reader to swallow a very poorly written and poorly plotted reason for the female protagonist's father for being missing in her life, and then gives an improbable reason for him showing up again, along with a step-sister she didn't know existed? Not only that but she had this sister apparently living on the island too? And when she sees the girl, she recognizes familial facial features?
This island is a place where most people know each other except during tourist season, yet there seems to be a young doppelganger on the island with features similar to Annie's?
Sorry, doesn't make sense to me...
I had no problems figuring out who the probable suspect was, since there were too many obvious suspects, and I took a violent dislike to the character immediately. A mystery is a good one for me that retains a little of the 'mystery' until the very end! Once again, I felt that this was a case of an author getting too familiar with her characters, too comfortable with her audience, and she just rattled off the book as fast as possible.
I am sure my review won't discourage those who are enamored of this type of light reading. Not enough literary skill or 'meat' for my taste.
Karen Sadler,
University of Pittsburgh
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2.0 out of 5 stars Definetely not her best, March 24 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Sugar Plum Dead (Hardcover)
Well, this book was a bit of a disappointment. The mystery was good, but Annie was a bit of a wimp.
Let's see. Your father dumps you for over twenty years. Your mother takes care of you alone. Then, after you are an adult, dear old dad comes back, you accept his ridiculous excuse that he didn't know where you were all those years.
Excuse me? Her uncle lived on that island for all those years! Dear old dad had relatives there! It never once occured to him, while he was desperately searching for his "lost child", to go to the island to look for her? Heck, Annie lived there for several years? What was dear old dad doing all this time?
Nothing. Like so many deadbeat dads, he dumped his family, then came back after the hard work was done, expecting love and acceptance. If a mother dumps her child, she is a villain and a monster. A father does the same, and is promptly welcomed back into the family. Sorry. It is wrong, and distracting. This kind of series is supposed to have the good guys win.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This mystery a tough nut to crack, March 18 2001
By 
This review is from: Sugar Plum Dead (Hardcover)
Christmas takes a backseat to a house full of new and strange relatives. When Ann Darling meets the father that abandoned her and her mother, she refuses to have anything to do with him. But once he is accused of murder she must decide if she can leave the past behind and help him. Meanwhile Max's mother has finally gone around the bend. She is having conversations with the dead in an effort to reach one of her dead husbands. Add to this confusion, a house designed by a mad movie director,a family right out of central casting, and a murder or two and you have a perfect holiday treat. Max as always does the research and sets the trap.
The book is filled with wonderful references to Christmas mysteries as always I have added more titles to my reading list, a bonus that Carolyn Hart provides in each book.
As a cat owner I loved the trials and tribulations of hanging Christmas decoration with feline help.
I recommend this addition to the series to all Death on Demand fans and new comers as well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Light, enjoyable mystery, Jan. 13 2001
This review is from: Sugar Plum Dead (Hardcover)
Just when you thought mysteries were becoming dark novels filled with anti-heros comes a book like SUGARPLUM DEAD. Annie Darling discovers a long-lost father and step-sister just as her mother-in-law has wigged out on trying to contact the dead. Annie, along with her husband Max, has got to find a way to bring things together. Max faces the added challenge of getting Annie to even talk to her father (after all, he did abandon her years before).
Annie's new family includes a famous ex-movie star who is also talking to the dead and threatening to give away the family fortune to a spiritual medium. If looks could kill, Marguueritte Dumaney would lie dead and before long, murder strikes. Both Annie's father and sister are suspects and Annie has to spring into action to solve the crime and protect her new family.
Although the mystery itself is not especially complex or difficult to guess, Carolyn Hart has created a finely crafted story. Max, Annie, and Laurel (Max's mother) are fully developed characters that you'll end up rooting for. Definitely an enjoyable read...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fairly Tricky, Dec 9 2000
By 
Ann E. Nichols (Sierra Vista, AZ United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sugar Plum Dead (Hardcover)
It's nice to see Annie have some relatives of her own to contend with, though I would hardly expect Ms. Hart to top Max's mother, Laurel. The descriptions of the excesses of the crime scene mansion are a hoot. (My favorite is the dragon.) There's some good, old-fashioned examples of the follies of youth hitting one hard in later life. Although some of our usual cast are relegated to mere cameo appearances, at least they haven't been forgotten. The dominant emotion Annie and Max have to worry about facing is that well-known member of the seven deadly sins, GREED. Greed proves quite deadly, too. What an appropriate choice for a murder set in today's Christmas season. Don't miss the spiritualist's rationalization about his career -- it's a quite interesting, though not exactly convincing, whitewash job. Cat lovers will no doubt enjoy the antics of Agatha and Dorothy L. and cat haters will find more reason to confirm their sad choice to remain catless. Clues and red herrings are sprinkled throughout like nuts in fudge. I'm a bit ticked that the author successfully conned me into thinking that my first choice for the killer was wrong. However, I feel no shame in getting only the last of the contest pictures on target because I hadn't read three of the others. (Number three I recognized as belonging to the series for whom my own feline menace is named, but not which one.) Consider this a Christmas treat that you may enjoy without calories (unless you like to nibble while you read) and sink your teeth in. The dustjacket isn't ugly and Agatha clawing the "G" in "Sugarplum" keeps it from being too dull. However, with that delightfully overblown mansion and some intriguing visual opportunities, such as the Murder in the Maze, it's a shame that the designer and illustrators chose not to take advantage of them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A darling mystery, Nov. 12 2000
By 
This review is from: Sugar Plum Dead (Hardcover)
Margaret Ladson looks forward to the upcoming Christmas holidays inviting all her relatives to spend the Yuletide with her at her mansion on a South Carolina barrier island. On Broward's Rock, Margaret lives with her assistant who was once her double when the former was a movie star, her sister Happy, and her teenage niece Rachel as well as assorted other step-relatives and servants. All the Ladson extended family members are coming to Broward's Rock in hope of finagling some cash out of Margaret.

During her birthday party, Margaret announces that she will leave her fortune to con artist Emory Swanson of the Evermore Foundation for enabling her to talk with her deceased husband. This angers and shocks her relatives. The next day, someone murders Happy with the evidence pointing towards Pudge Lawrance. He is Annie Darling's estranged father who left his daughter and wife years ago. Annie and her spouse Max begin sleuthing, as they believe Pudge and the alternate suspect Rachel are innocent.

A DEATH ON DEMAND mystery is always a treat because the plots tend to show the forgiving side of humanity as well as the deadlier perspective. This time the heroine and her father reconcile enabling Annie to find some inner peace. Annie also embraces her stepsister for the first time. However, do not think this is a relationship drama only. The entertaining who-done-it is loaded with suspects on an exotic locale as the amateur detective duo searches for the truth. With a well designed mystery augmented by a family drama and a great teen character, SUGAR PLUM DEAD highlights Carolyn Hart at her delightful best.

Harriet Klausner
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3.0 out of 5 stars Sugarplum Dead, Nov. 2 2000
By 
tregatt (Portland, Oregon) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sugar Plum Dead (Hardcover)
It's the Christmas season, and Annie Darling should be knee deep in getting her store, Death On Demand, ready for the store's annual Christmas party, and for all those lovely Christmas shoppers. Instead of which she find's herself caught up in a murder investigation that involves her estranged father (whom she's sworn never to speak to again) and his stepdaughter. And to top all that, her mother-in-law seems to have finally turned the corner into full flown dementia and is now hanging out at graveyards, talking to dead husbands! It certainly doesn't feel like Christmas. Perhaps Halloween has come around again to Broward's Rock?
It all starts off when ex-movie queen, Marguerite Dumaney Ladson, decides to invite all her remaining family over for a Christmas celebration. She then plans to inform them that she is donating all her money to Dr. Emory Swanson for psychic research. Marguerite's sister, Happy, is not too pleased about this. And has come up with a plan to stop her sister. However Happy also has a problem of her own: her daughter, Rachel, is dating a young man Happy is not too keen on. So Happy invites her ex-husband, Pudge Laurance, over to help her make Rachel see sense. And that's how Annie gets involved in the goings-on at the Ladosn mansion. At first, Annie is reluctant to have anything to do with the father who deserted her mother and her. But she allows herself to be persuaded to give Pudge another chance. And in the process, Annie becomes quite close with Rachel.
Things are not quite working out to Happy's satisfaction. Neither Pudge nor Annie support her in her effort to keep Rachel and her young man apart. Also the atmosphere at the mansion is poisonous with everyone up at arms over Marguerite's decision to give all her money to Dr. Swanson. However everyone is shocked when Happy of all people is found murdered. The police close in on Pudge as the most likely suspect; but the evidence seems to point to Rachel. Annie is sure that neither of them committed the murder. However it is not until another murder is committed that Annie begins to understand what going on at the Ladson mansion, and why someone would committ murder in order to keep things as they are.
This is a nice cosy murder -- not quite as engrossing as the first few Annie Darling mysteries which were, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. With this novel, I felt that a couple of the side plots got in the way at times; and I'd have liked it better if a couple of characters -- the Ladson siblings in particular -- were developed a bit more. Other than that, I enjoyed reading this novel.
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Sugarplum Dead by Carolyn G. Hart (Audio Cassette - Aug. 2001)
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