Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From the stench of St. Giles to the highest Society Drawing Rooms

The Detective Lavender Mysteries #4
Karen Charlton
Thomas & Mercer
January 11, 2018

It's 1812 and Principal Officer of the Bow Street Station, Stephen Lavender, and his fiery Spanish wife, Magdalena, are two years married and happily living in London. They would be happier, however, if Stephen were not called away on cases so often. Government funding is always scarce for Bow Street, so they supplement their income by sending Runners out on private investigations. As a Principal Officer, Lavender is much in demand.

Upon returning to London, Lavender is back to work immediately. Highwaymen are roaming the nearby countryside, vicious gangs are on the prowl in the city, and there are not enough Runners to cope. Added to the general disarray is the construction of a new cell block at Bow Street, built over medieval plague pits. The construction is further delayed by the discovery of many bones of the plague victims, and the addition of the freshly dead body of a peer in the pit.What really interests Stephen is a boot found in the Thames with a severed human foot. Forbidden by Magistrate Reed to further investigate the boot, he and his favorite Horse Patrol officer look into the matter anyway.  Assigned to the surveillance of a discontented man who has been pestering Members of Parliament, Lavender wonders what can happen next when rumors reach his ear of a new criminal "mastermind" in the city. Can all these events be connected somehow?

The Detective Lavender Mysteries are favorites, and I always look forward to them. Loosely based on a real historical figure, Stephen Lavender was somewhat of a celebrity in his day. Stephen is not at all what one expects from a Bow Street Runner. Meticulous, educated, bookish and a bit introverted, he is an officer in a new mold. The supporting characters are extraordinarily well-drawn, especially Horse Patrol Officer, Ned Woods, his wife, Betsy, and their large family; and Magdalena's maid, Teresa. Plague Pits and River Bones is somewhat darker than preceding stories, with a "Moriarty" like character who is obsessed with Lavender and his wife. The slave trade (outlawed at the time) and assassination at the highest levels of government play a part in this story. Of course, there is Magdalena, a woman in a million! The environs of 1812 London are vividly described from the stench of St.Giles and the Thames, to the peaceful calm of Greenwich and the drawing rooms of the highest society.

I highly recommend Plague Pits and River Bones for those who enjoy historical mysteries. It is not necessary to read the series in order, but I do recommend starting with the first, The Heiress of Linn Hagh.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Mortal Likeness

A Mortal Likeness
Victorian Mystery #2
Laura Joh Rowland
Crooked Lane Books
January 19, 2018

The second book in the Victorian Mystery series featuring photographer Sarah Bain and her titled friend, Lord Hugh Staunton. The two have formed a detective agency after their success in The Shadow of the Ripper. Sarah was evicted from the premises of her studio as a direct result of that first case; Hugh was disowned by his family after they discovered his homosexuality. Sarah and Hugh not only work but also live together, along with Hugh's manservant and a street urchin, Mick, who assisted them on the Ripper case. Business is slow, and their resources are low when they are hired to investigate the kidnapping of Robin Mariner, the young son of Sir Gerald Mariner. Sir Gerald is an immensely wealthy and powerful London banker. He suspects a family member and insists that Hugh and Sarah move into his home to investigate. He also requires them to sign a non-disclosure agreement, causing problems with Sarah's lover, Constable Barrett. The Mariner family is a motley crew, all of whom may have reason to be jealous of Robin. There is also a secondary mystery, that of Sarah's father who disappeared years ago.  

A Mortal Likeness has all the elements of historical mysteries that I look for and usually like. It has a female amateur sleuth, excellent historical detail, a well-plotted story, and lots of action. However, I found that I could not connect with either Sarah or Hugh. Both are driven by their emotions and those same emotions do little but hamper the investigation. It becomes a sort of "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" exercise. Plus, both Hugh and Sarah indulge in dangerous and ill-considered behavior throughout the book. I waffled about what rating to give A Mortal Likeness and settled on 2.5 stars rounded up to 3. I am interested enough in the secondary mystery to read the next book to find out what happened to Sarah's father, and what an ongoing relationship with Sir Gerald might bring.

Thanks to Crooked Lane and NetGalley for an advanced digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Who is Annabelle?

Lauren Willig
St. Martin's Press
January 9, 2018

Lauren Willig's latest historical mystery, set in the Gilded Age, The English Wife, tells the story of Bayard Van Duyvil and his English wife, Annabelle. The story begins when the body of Bayard, with a jeweled dagger in his heart, is discovered at a ball given to celebrate their new mansion on the Hudson, Illyria. Bayard is a golden figure in Knickerbocker society; handsome, educated at Harvard Law School, immensely wealthy and well-connected. His bringing home an English wife from a trip abroad no doubt destroyed the plans of many hopeful mamas. Even worse, Annabelle and Bayard have retired from the New York and Newport social whirl and are seemingly content to live with their twins in a family farmhouse. The seeming contentment ends with Bayard's plan to replicate Annabelle's family home, Lacey Abbey,  bringing a young architect into their orbit. Bayard's sister, Janie, discovers the body just before he dies with the name "Georgie" on his lips. Who is Georgie and where is Annabelle? Janie thinks she may have seen her floating in the freezing waters of the Hudson but can that be true? The tabloid press of the day rise in force, scenting juicy scandal and brings Janie an ally in her search for the truth, James Burke, a reporter for one of the most prominent tabloid newspapers. James himself has secrets to keep.

The English Wife spans the period from 1894 England to New York in 1899. We learn that no one is who he or she appears to be and the secrets of the Van Duyvil family are poisonous. The novel puts me in mind of Daphne DuMaurier, but more My Cousin Rachel than Rebecca. I enjoy books that skip back and forth in time, revealing the truth and the characters slowly, but that may not be everyone's taste. The English Wife kept me guessing throughout; not only about the deaths but the characters themselves. After the somewhat slow beginning, I became enthralled. My understanding of both Bayard and Annabelle changed drastically several times. 

I highly recommend The English Wife. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Edwardian Christmas Cheer

A Lady Hardcastle Mystery # 3.5
T.E. Kinsey
Amazon Publishing
December 12, 2017

This short story from the Lady Hardcastle series joins my list of favorite "Christmas reads." The delightful Lady Hardcastle and her "tiny, but fierce" servant, Flo Armstrong, are invited to The Grange, where a mystery awaits them. Both ladies have led eventful lives all over the world, and they are hardly the typical Edwardian women. Since they moved to the village, they have often been called upon to solve several mysteries. This time, a valuable pendant has disappeared from a guest's room, and it is apparently an inside job. The owners of The Grange, the Farley-Strouds, are anxious that no police be called in. They have no doubt that Lady Hardcastle and Flo are up to the task.

I always enjoy this charming series with its gentle portrayal of a bygone era. An Edwardian Christmas may have been fraught with the sometimes negative emotions that characterize the modern holiday, but never in Lady Hardcastle's world. All is joy and plenty, despite a crime that may have occurred. The mystery may not have been challenging to solve, but the pleasure of getting to the answer is the point. 

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Murder in a Mayfair Kitchen

A Kat Holloway Mystery # 1
Jennifer Ashley
Berkley Books
Jan. 2, 2018

Kat Holloway is a young cook in 1880's London who, through hard work and in much adversity, has built a reputation and is in demand. She has specific requirements about time off, and since her new employer, Lord Rankin, agrees with them, she is starting a new job in his household. Her reason for the time off is unknown to him, and Kat wants to keep it that way. She has a daughter who lives with friends.  Kat is a no-nonsense young woman who takes control of her kitchen on her first day. But when she arises the next morning she discovers one of the kitchen maids bludgeoned to death. Who could have gained access to the house and killed the girl, who seemed flighty, but otherwise inoffensive? Kat needs to find out and enlists the aid of the capable, mysterious, and charming delivery man Daniel McAdam. Daniel is apparently much more than he seems, but he always is on the spot to help Kat, and he has business with Lord Rankin himself. Kat and Daniel must make their way through a stew of blackmail, financial misdeeds, and Irish terrorism to get the answers.

I had read a short story centering on Kat and Daniel, A Soupcon of Poison, quite a while ago and was looking forward to a full-length novel. The characters are fascinating and the period detail excellent, as in Ashley's other historical series, The Captain Lacey Mysteries, written under her pen name, Ashley Gardner. However, the freedom that Kat has to leave work, even to travel overnight on unspecified errands, seemed unbelievable. And I doubt that any cook, no matter how good, could get away with Kat's outspoken ways. I do enjoy the characters and have formed a connection with them. Daniel is a mystery that needs to be solved in future books. I recommend reading A Soupcon of Poison before Death Below Stairs since it lays the ground work for the series and gives insight into the characters.

Thanks to First to Read for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Land tells the Story

FLAME IN THE DARK (Soulwood #3)
Faith Hunter
Ace Books
December 5, 2017

The Soulwood series is an offshoot of Faith Hunter's urban fantasy Jane Yellowrock series, set in the same world and featuring some of the same characters. The difference between the two heroines is profound, however. Soulwood's Nell Ingram is a hill woman raised in a polygamous fundamentalist cult, God's Cloud of Glory Church. Women of the church are second class citizens, no strangers to terror and abuse. Nell is a young widow who has left the church,  starting over away from her family who remains there. She lives close by on the property that her late husband willed to her. The church does not like that, and previous books have covered the conflict. Nell has an unusual ability; a marked affinity with the land and the plants and animals who live on it. PsyLED, the division of Homeland Security that deals with paranormal crimes got wind of her through Jane Yellowrock and recruited her into their ranks, made up of were-creatures, witches, empaths, and other paranormal creatures. 

Nell is now fully integrated into PsyLED Unit 18 after months of intensive training. The unit is assigned to investigate the attempted murder of a Senator, resulting in multiple deaths and a devastating fire. Since the shooter literally disappeared, it is deemed a paranormal crime. As the bodies pile up and fires continue, Unit 18 can't decide whether it is a turf war between paranormals or something even more nefarious. Nell's ability to "read" the land around the Senator's mansion helps them to discover what they are up against. It is frightening and dangerous to all.

Nell Ingram is a unique character, smart, strong, compassionate, determined and possessed of a power of which even she doesn't know the limits. She has come such a long way from the first Soulwood novel, Blood in the Earth. She will never go back to the church but loves her family and has gained acceptance in their ranks. There is even a romance for her among her colleagues that I was afraid ended in tragedy, but Hunter didn't leave us hanging on that!

I highly recommend both Jane Yellowrock and the Soulwood series. I know that I will be re-reading (or listening to the audiobook) before the next is out. Many thanks to NetGalley and Ace Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Of Homicide, Pancakes and Crepes

Pancake House Mystery #3
Sarah Fox
Random House Alibi
November 7, 2017

Wildwood Cove is looking forward to a visit from Hollywood. A film crew, with several well-known stars, is filming the remake of a cult horror film. Even Marley McKinney, owner of the Flip Side Pancake House is mildly interested, although she is no horror fan. All the crew loves eating at the pancake house so the lead makeup artist, Christine, invites Marly for an exclusive tour. Upon arriving, Marley finds Christine dead and her trailer in flames. The police rule her death a homicide, and Alyssa Jayde, the lead actress in the film, becomes the prime suspect. Further complications arise when Marley discovers that Alyssa is an old flame of her boyfriend, Brett. Marley sets out to find out who the murderer is but there are many people with motives on the film crew. As she learns more about them, it seems that Marley might be the next victim.

I have enjoyed the two previous books in this cozy series. The small town coastal village atmosphere is evocative, and Marley is a likable character. She has a lot of insecurities stemming from the loss of most of her family in an accident that play into her life, and her attempts to overcome them are brave and believable. Of Spice and Men is an excellent addition to the series.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars