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Five mysteries for the beach or backyard

Curious women fond of cats, crafts and crime are not the mystery genre’s only inhabitants: Meet stay-at-home dad Deuce Winters of Rose Petal, Texas. In Father Knows Death, by Jeffrey Allen, Deuce is a master multitasker, hovering over his pregnant wife, Julianne, while juggling play dates, household chores and a part-time private-eye gig. During the annual county fair, Deuce comes face-to-face with a body sandwiched between bratwursts in the freezer. An event organizer reacts with genuine dismay: “This is really going to reflect poorly on the fair. Could drive down revenue.” With his wife due any moment, Deuce pursues the case, quickly realizing that not all is quite fair with the fair and that the victim harbored secrets aplenty. Now if Deuce can just corner the killer before Julianne hits the delivery room.

If you were accused of embezzling, then ostracized for blowing the whistle on your guilty boss, maybe you’d reinvent your life by opening a weaving studio in tranquil Briar Hollow, just as Della Wright does in Looming Murder, by Carol Ann Martin. Della thinks her troubles are all behind her, but then she stumbles on the body of a despised local businessman, and one of her weaving students tops the suspect list. Her longtime friend Matthew, a criminologist aiding the police investigation, wants Della weaving, not sleuthing. Yeah, right. “I had to do something, but what?” she wonders. “Point my shuttle from inside my pocket and pretend it was a gun?” For those intrigued by terms such as “warping board” and “heddle loom,” Martin offers hints for newbie weavers.

Baseball, homicide and superstition take center field in Hex on the Ex, by Rochelle Staab. Psychologist Liz Cooper’s ex-husband, Jarret, is a relief pitcher for the Dodgers. He’s wedded to game-day rituals, so the appearance of a white pigeon, known as a sign of death, rattles his composure. But the discovery of a dead woman in his home the next morning rattles much more. Both Jarret and Liz are suspects in the fatal stabbing of Laycee (her fling with Jarret had ended the Coopers’s marriage). A bloody witchcraft symbol on the victim’s body sends Liz into research mode, helped by her boyfriend, who’s a religion professor. Their quest uncovers a long-ago incident in Jarret’s Midwestern hometown, but for Liz there’s fresh danger, too close to home.

In Lethal Treasure, by Jane K. Cleland, antiques dealer Josie Prescott bids on abandoned storage spaces, scoring either vintage gold or dusty clutter. She and Frenchman Henri Dubois, a recent transplant to snowy New Hampshire, are pleased by their latest finds. Josie is planning to appraise his collection of silent-film posters until Henri is found murdered in his storage unit. Could anything from the auction be worth killing for? Even as Josie tracks the provenance of Henri’s items, she unearths a very uncollectible object in her car’s trunk: “Next to a tub of emergency supplies, next to the shovel, lay a tire iron I’d never seen before. . . . I saw dark crusty bits at one end. I was looking at the murder weapon. It had to be.”

Old Town Alexandria is the setting for The Diva Frosts a Cupcake, the seventh in Krista Davis’s series. Event planner/lifestyle columnist Sophie Winston and her best-friend-forever Nina hold a fundraiser benefitting area animal shelters. Bake sales, pet adoptions and an eight-course cupcake dinner cruise all draw satisfying attention. But then rival cupcakeries wage war, a popular baker is found dead, dinner guests are poisoned, a dog is kidnapped, and a bejeweled cupcake vanishes. Some locals are baffled by clumsy attempts on their lives, with methods straight from Agatha Christie. There’s also a handsome stranger appearing everywhere that Sophie goes. Reader alert: Tasty descriptions may spark intense cupcake cravings, so Davis includes recipes for such flavors as Coco Loco and Rosemary Bacon Corn, plus Liver Pupcakes for your dog.

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