Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

That Old Black Magic

A little more than a year ago, I posted an Omnibus Mystery Review Post, featuring six mysteries, many entries in series and/or by prolific mystery authors. So I expected sometime around now to have a new crop of reviews of many of the same authors, but so far I’ve been striking out. Jacqueline Winspear is taking a break from Maisie Dobbs, with a non-mystery novel called The Care and Management of Lies–we may end up with a review of it on this blog, but it won’t be by me as it didn’t pique* my interest.

Meanwhile, we did read Alan Bradley’s newest Flavia de Luce novel, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, and the new Kate Shackleton novel from Frances Brody, Murder in the Afternoon, but we found that neither one quite lived up to their series forerunners, although fans should certainly be aware that they are out there. And Simone St. James and Thomas Perry haven’t written new novels yet.

So that leaves us with the newest entry in Mary Jane Clark’s Piper Donovan series, which, unlike the novels above, manages to up the ante on the previous books in its series.  It also revolves around the famous St. Patrick’s Day parade in New Orleans, which works out perfectly for today.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!–why not celebrate with a great mystery?

CLARK, Mary Jane. That Old Black Magic. 320p. (Piper Donovan Series). Morrow. Jan. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062135476.

Adult/High School–After her traumatic near-death experience in Footprints in the Sand (Morrow, 2013), Piper Donovan wants nothing more to do with amateur detective work. Instead, she’s in New Orleans, focusing on her more traditional careers of cake decorating and acting, landing a brief internship with a master baker and a small but prominent role in a film featuring the city’s famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But of course, this is a Piper Donovan mystery, and, before long, the bodies begin to pile up: three to be precise. They are all seemingly connected to various voodoo spirits, leading a local radio DJ to label the perpetrator the Hoodoo Killer. Piper does a surprisingly good job of staying out of the mystery, but she eventually stumbles on the solution nonetheless. Clark hews closely to the formula of the previous entries: fast paced, short chapters; brief glimpses of the killer’s viewpoint; a wedding cake; and strong, if not first-rate prose. The one innovation here is excellent and unexpected: after so many amateur detectives solving dozens of murders, it is refreshing to see a detective actually feel the emotional weight of the crimes she witnesses, even displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Teen fans of the series should find everything they love here, and the hints at PTSD may even stretch their thinking about the assumptions of the genre.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

* Edited 3/17/14. See comments.

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark


  1. Jean Stutzman says:

    *pique your interest*

  2. That Old Black Magic is indeed a great read. I was a teen mystery fan (many many years ago) who enjoyed Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Leslie Charteris among many others. The teen me would also love Piper Donovan about as much as the adult me does.