Sunday, October 20, 2019

Lady Hardcastle and Flo at the Seaside

A Lady Hardcastle Mystery #6
T.E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
October 22, 2019

It's July of 1910, and Lady Hardcastle has finally given in to her "tiny servant" Flo Armstrong's request for a seaside holiday. Their destination is not far from home, the village of Weston-Super-Mare on the Bristol Channel. A last-minute recommendation from their friend, Lady Gertie, takes them to a relatively new small hotel with a reputation for being elegant and refined. Upon their arrival, they find a somewhat odd assortment of guests. Except for an American spinster and her niece, the guests are all single males; British, Austrian, French, Japanese, and Russian. The ladies befriend the British Dr. Goddard, who is vague about what he actually does, other than science. When he goes missing, with signs of a struggle, the hotel manager asks Lady Hardcastle to help. A heavy strongbox belonging to Dr. Goddard is also missing. The owners are panicked about bad publicity and aware of Lady Hardcastle's reputation for solving mysteries. Then the guests are murdered one by one. Lady Hardcastle sees national security issues in this baffling series of events and contacts her brother, Harry, a highly-placed British Government official. Harry orders her not to get involved, but there is no hope of her obeying.

The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries are a favorite, and I think Death Beside the Seaside may be the best one yet. The humorous banter between Lady Hardcastle and Flo shows that these women have an unbreakable bond and respect, forged in extreme adversity. The details of their adventures together as spies continue to be revealed in each new book. The supporting characters, a somewhat hysterical hotel manager, the waiters, and staff are all vivid and often humorous. Harry's government men are either arrogant and incompetent or stupid and incompetent. They have no idea that they are dealing with two consummate professionals with skills beyond their own. As Europe moves toward war, I wonder if these professionals will be able to stay retired.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an advance copy of Death Beside the Seaside. I highly recommend this series for its humor, complex puzzles, and historical detail.
The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

An Unethical Protocol

Adapted from the Journals of John H. Watson, M.D.
Nicholas Meyer
St. Martins Minotaur
October 15, 2019

I'm a died-in-the-wool Sherlock fan, but not a purist, so I am always on the lookout for a good Sherlock pastiche. Especially from the talented Nicholas Meyer, author of The Seven-Percent Solution. One of the many agents of Sherlock's brother Mycroft was murdered while delivering a copy of the anti-Semitic tract known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Mycroft is desperate to find the original and its author. Oddly, the murdered agent still had the document on her person, written in Russian. Mycroft fears the effects of its distribution in England. Sherlock enlists Dr. Watson's sister-in-law to translate the text. They also meet with an American couple, William English Walling, and his Russian Jewish wife, Anna Strunsky. The Wallings are on the way home from Russia. The 1905 Revolution has just been brutally suppressed, and the Wallings have a good idea where the document came from. It's a surprise that Anna Strunsky will accompany them posing as their translator, at least to Dr. Watson. They travel across Europe on The Orient Express, and into danger in the Ukraine, Budapest, and Russia, with unknown pursuers. 

The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is a rollicking adventure based on real historical events and persons. The Wallings were co-founders of the NAACP along with W.E.B. DuBois, and I had never heard of them. I had also heard of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion but never knew its long history. Based on lies and plagiarism, it is responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of Jews. It plays on the worst human prejudices and continues to rear its ugly head. For example, Henry Ford had 500,000 copies printed and distributed through his newspaper in America. There are colorful descriptions of the great cities of Europe through which they pass, as well as the general squalor of Eastern Europe. The funicular railway in Budapest makes an appearance, which I particularly enjoyed, having ridden it several years ago.

I highly recommend The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, both for Sherlock Holmes fans and those who enjoy historical fiction that can teach the reader a thing or two! Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Chilling look into the Mind of a Stalker

Teresa Driscoll
Thomas & Mercer
September 10, 2019

I read the first line of I Will Make You Pay and closed the book. Not because it's a bad opening line, because it is actually a perfect one. It pushed all my buttons at the time, and I was not sure I was able to go further. Alice Henderson is a journalist on a small Devon newspaper who received the threat that gave me such chills. When she calms down a bit, she realizes that it is not the first time she has been threatened, only not so graphically. The other calls have also come on Wednesdays. What could Alice have done to prompt someone to hate her so much? As the stalking increases in intensity on succeeding Wednesdays, and she is forced to retreat from her everyday life, we learn that Alice has many secrets. Amid this horror, Alice's much-loved mother is dying in a nursing home.

I Will Make You Pay tells the story from the point of view of Alice, a PI hired by her boyfriend, Tom, and the stalker himself. He relates the story of his childhood and what made him a monster (at least his reasons for it) and why he feels justified. We get to know the detective, Matthew, very well. The characterization of all the players is excellent. I was touched by Alice's love for and care of her dying mother. Alice herself is a little more challenging because of her bad decisions throughout. She admits to being stubborn, but that is an understatement. The revelation of the stalker's identity was very much a surprise to me, even though there were clues.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an advance digital copy. I recommend I Will Make You Pay for fans of psychological suspense.

RATING- 3.5 Stars Rounded up to 4

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Promising Series Set in Roaring 20's England

A Lady Adelaide Mystery
Maggie Robinson
Poisoned Pen Press
November 13, 2018

Lady Adelaide Compton buried her philandering cad of a husband six months earlier in the village churchyard. The husband, Rupert, crashed his car into a stone wall, losing his life and that of his French mistress as well. Luckily, the house and estate were not entailed, and Lady Adelaide inherited. It can't be said that Addie was mourning him, but she was observing the conventions. After six months in the country wearing black and making much-needed improvements to the property, she is ready to have a few friends down for the weekend. Little did she know that murder would be committed among her guests, and the ghost of Rupert would appear. It seems that Rupert can't go on to his eternal reward without some good deeds, namely protecting her. Adelaide reluctantly comes to realize that Rupert is real, and she is not losing her mind. The local constabulary makes a mess of questioning the guests leading to the arrival of Anglo-Indian Scotland Yard Inspector, Devenand Hunter. Since the year is 1924, an Anglo-Indian policeman, never mind one who has risen to the level of Inspector is highly unusual.

Lady Adelaide is a charming character if a little naive about the people she considers as friends. She also seems to be devoid of the built-in prejudices of her era and class and unfailingly kind.  The banter between Rupert and Addie is highly entertaining, especially before she accepts that his ghost is a reality. Before the murderer is cornered, an attraction develops between the handsome Inspector and Addie that I hope to see more of in the next book in the series. However, the murderer was more revealed than solved and found that a bit disappointing. 

I was looking for something purely entertaining; something to transport me to another era not so fraught with division and discord, and lacking civility. Nobody's Sweetheart Now fills the bill admirably, and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

3.5  Stars rounded up to 4

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Murder and Madness in the Name of Science

A Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #3
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
September 24, 2019

The third book in this mystery series set in the Regency Period finds widow Charlotte Sloane settled into better surroundings with her two wards, Raven and Hawk. Charlotte's secret career as the political cartoonist A.J. Quill is still a closely held secret, as is her status as Lady Charlotte. Only a few people know that she is an Earl's daughter who was disowned by her family when she eloped with her drawing master. Her investigative partner in the two previous books, Lord Wrexford, knows her real identity, but Charlotte is leery of letting anyone else know. That may have to change; however, when her childhood playmate and cousin is murdered in a grisly way, and it appears that his twin brother may be the murderer. The investigation leads them into the highest circles of the "men of science" of the day. Wrexford, of course, has complete access to those groups. It appears that the two brothers had gotten involved with another scientific group, the Eos Society. The Eos Society is secretive and up to no good. Could they hold the answer to saving her cousin from the gallows?

Once again, Penrose presents a well-researched look at the Regency Period. As the author points out, the era was the beginning of the modern world in its enthusiasm for science and exploration. Women also were just beginning to chafe at the restrictions placed on them by a patriarchal society. We meet several new characters that I hope to see more of in future books. Raven and Hawk are developing from the street urchins they were into distinct personalities. I am also enjoying the relationship between Wrexford and Sloane who are extremely well-matched. The growing romance is a nice addition but the intricately plotted mystery takes precedence. I highly recommend this series to fans of historical mysteries.

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

RATING-4.5 Stars

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Complete Turn in this Long-running Urban Fantasy Series

Alex Verus # 10
Benedict Jacka
Ace Books
September 24, 2019

Fallen starts out with Diviner Mage Alex Verus in a pretty good place. He is working for the Light Council, and his friends appear to be safe. His determined neutral stance in the conflict between the Light and Dark Mages seems to be working at last. The lull will not last, of course, because of his association with Richard Drakh as a young man. The Light Council will never trust him. Drakh continues to try to bring his girlfriend, Anne, and Alex back under his control and overthrow the Council with their talents. A raid on Alex's home by the Council sets up a series of event that force Alex to take steps to add to his power, measures that he has tried to avoid.

Fallen marks the beginning of an entirely new trajectory in the series. Lots of loose ends are tied up, and Alex will never be the same. I am not sure that I am comfortable with the alterations in him but see that it for Alex, it is change or die. I am also mourning the loss of a significant influence on Alex, perhaps forever. As always, despite a somewhat slow start, the action is nonstop. Fallen is definitely not a stand-alone as the novel builds on the preceding ones. I recommend the series for fans of urban fantasy with lots of action, excellent world-building, and characterization.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars rounded up to 5

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A Brand-New Series From a Gold Dagger Winner

Two Rivers #1
Ann Cleeves
St. Martin's Minotaur
September 3, 2019

The Long Call begins the first new series by the author of Vera and Shetland in twenty years. Set in North Devon, it introduces us to DI Matthew Venn, a very different sort of detective to the usual run. Matthew grew up in a strict evangelical cult and was expelled as a young man when he lost his faith. He is also gay, something frowned upon by the Barum Brethren. When we first meet, he is standing outside the funeral of his father. The funeral was by invitation and Matthew was not invited. Upon leaving, he received a call to a nearby beach and a body with a large albatross tattooed on his neck stabbed to death. His search for the killer will lead him into a web of secrets and lies involving the very people he grew up with. The community center run by Matthew's husband, Jonathan, appears to be closely linked.

Ann Cleeves writes intensely atmospheric, character-driven mysteries and The Long Call does not disappoint. This murder investigation is Matthew's first as lead, and he has many doubts, mostly driven by his past. Added to his worries is the apparent involvement of his husband's center. He worries that it's a conflict of interest. The supporting characters are well-drawn and memorable, especially his female investigating partner, Jen Rafferty. She is Matthew's opposite but serves as a perfect foil for his introspection. The supportive and loving relationship between Matthew and Jonathan helps him keep his balance in a case that destroys his previous beliefs about the Brethren.

Some might find that The Long Call moves a bit slowly, and I would agree. However, I like character-driven mysteries, rather than a fast-moving plot. There is plenty of action in the last third of the novel! Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars