Monday, January 20, 2020

The Cost of Duplicity

Lady Emily Mysteries # 14
Tasha Alexander
St. Martins Minotaur
January 7, 2020

It's 1902 and Lady Emily with her husband Colin Hargreaves are on holiday in Italy with their friends Ivy and Jeremy, the Duke of Bainbridge. The plan is to explore the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mt.Vesuvius in AD 79. While exploring, Ivy comments on the sideburns showing on one of the plaster casts, not exactly a feature of a first-century body! Upon chipping away at the plaster, Colin finds a much more recent corpse, no more than a month or two old. The police call it a local mafia crime, but when another death occurs on an archaeological dig, Colin and Emily spring into action. In the midst of their investigation, an unheralded visitor brings marital strife. Colin's previously unknown daughter, the product of an affair with his partner in espionage, now deceased, arrives in Italy. Not unexpectedly the daughter, "Kat", and Emily get off to a very rocky start, even though Emily tries her best. There is a secondary story being told as well and the narrative switches from 1902 to AD 79 and tells the story of a sixteen-year-old slave girl in Pompeii, who is also a gifted poet.

I have enjoyed all of the Lady Emily mysteries to a greater or lesser degree, and I think In the Shadow of Vesuvius is one of the best of the series. I was much more invested in the slave girl's story that I had initially expected to be. The two storylines tied together very satisfactorily in the end. It's difficult to maintain the momentum in such a long-running series, but Alexander has pulled it off again. Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Murder at the 1939 World.s Fair

Murder, She Reported # 3
Peg Cochran
Random House Alibi
December 3, 2019

It's the height of summer in 1939, New York City, but everyone is excited by the World's Fair. Rising star photographer Elizabeth "Biz" Adams and her partner, Kaminsky, are sent out to cover a murder at the Fair of one of the girls who demonstrate the new nylon stockings on display. Touted as being stronger, cheaper, and more long-lasting, a stocking was used to strangle her. The police quickly seize on an obvious suspect, the young hot dog vendor named Joey, who everyone says was obsessed with her. Elizabeth, however, doubts that he is the guilty party. She and Kaminsky set out to do some investigating on their own. When Kaminsky's notoriously unhealthy lifestyle lands him in the hospital, Elizabeth proceeds on her own. There is plenty of nefarious activity at the Fair to go around, and "Biz" finds herself in more danger than she bargained for.

The Murder, She Reported series is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine. Peg Cochran obviously does her research, and the reader is presented with a vivid picture of New York City before the days of air-conditioning; its heat, odor, and slow recovery from the Great Depression. Elizabeth is a very modern woman for her time and social standing, one who wants to be her own person. Her relationship with Sal Marino, Police Detective, takes a back-burner in Murder, She Encountered but Elizabeth takes steps that may change everything. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

A Double LIfe

A 42nd Street Library Mystery # 3
Con Lehane
Minotaur Books
November 19,2019

The appearance of a beautiful young woman at Raymond Ambler's Crime Reading Room raises questions in the minds of both Raymond and his colleague, Adele. Her name is Shannon Darling, and she is researching the recently donated papers of a once-popular mystery writer. It's clear that this young woman has never done any research before and is entirely ignorant of the usual procedures. Their questions only increase when they encounter her in their local watering-hole. Shannon Darling is acting flirty with every man in the place, and as she continues to drink, she becomes more inappropriate in her behavior. Their friend, bartender, and confidant, Brian McNulty hands off the bar and escorts her to her hotel room. It's clear to all that McNulty has a prior connection to Shannon. Two murders later, Brian is on the run and a suspect in both killings. It turns out that Shannon Darling is actually Dr. Sandra Dean, a dermatologist living in Connecticut, and Dr.Dean has been leading a double life. Raymond's sleuthing skills will all be needed if McNulty is to be cleared.

The 42nd Street Library Series is a good example of a character-driven mystery, which is my preferred type. In the case of this book, I found all the character extras a little tedious and that they detracted somewhat from the narrative flow. For all his skills, Raymond is a bit slow in catching on to relationship dynamics, especially with Adele. He does try though with his grandson Johnny, who we met in the first book of the series. Murder Off the Page. I enjoyed this third book but thought it fell short of the first two in the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Magic and Mayhem in an Alternate Victorian World

The Case Files of Henri Davenforth #1
Honor Raconteur
Raconteur House, LLC
April 17, 2018

I've been reading Magic and the Shinigami Detective as a bedtime book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Imagine being a 21st-century police detective, kidnapped and magically abused for months by a mad witch. And upon managing to kill the witch, finding yourself in an entirely different world with no chance of returning to your own. That's what happens to Jamie Edwards. The new world she finds herself in has parallels to Victorian England in the social mores and dress, but with the addition of magic, plus such creatures as werehorses, werefoxes, weremules, brownies, and dwarves at which no one even raises an eyebrow. Jamie is fortunate in her friends, though, Royal Mage Sherard Seaton and especially her new police partner, Henri Davenforth. Henri is a gentlemanly, slightly portly, solitary Magical Examiner (akin to a Medical Examiner) who doesn't know what hit him upon meeting Jamie. The first case that they work together is a break-in of the evidence room at the Fourth Precinct. Everyone knows who did the crime, but how did they break the magical wards on the building? Henri is a little wary of Jamie in the beginning. But he soon makes it his mission to help the lonely refugee feel at home in his world. The two quickly form a meaningful friendship, and maybe more. There is a lot of humor in the two trying to make sense of their two cultures.

Despite finding the magical systems a little confusing, and a couple of editing errors, I give this one an enthusiastic thumbs-up. The characters are charming and even loveable in their humanity. I'm looking forward to the next one, Charms and Deaths and Explosions. Fans of imaginative fantasy will love this one.

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Long Road Back From War

Verity Kent # 3
Anna Lee Huber
Kensington Books
October 29, 2019

The Great War may be over but not for everyone. For Verity Kent and husband, Sidney, it has been difficult to repair their marriage after Sidney allowed her to think that he had been killed in the war. His reason was noble, that of exposing a nest of traitors, but Verity is still struggling with the after-effects. Verity, of course, had her own secrets. She had worked with the Secret Service as an agent, sending her behind enemy lines. Verity's troubles make her sympathetic to those of a friend, Ada, who has recently married into the highest levels of society. An extremely unpleasant dinner party makes it clear that Ada's marriage is not going well. When Lord Rockham is murdered, Ada is the obvious suspect. Verity and Sidney set out to find the murderer but a colleague from Verity's past needs her help as well. The colleague's sister was murdered in what appeared to be an interrupted burglary. Verity thinks it had something to do with their shared wartime work.

Penny For Your Secrets is a complex and involving mystery that sets up events to come in the series with a new shady enemy for Verity and Sidney, one who is both powerful and highly placed. What I found most interesting is the long-lasting effects of war on those who fought it. Not only was almost an entire generation wiped out, but those who returned came home with wounds both physical and spiritual. Sidney suffers from PTSD and survivor's guilt. It will be a long road back for them. 

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

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Time Travel with a Touch of Romance

Found Things # 2
Paula Brackston
St. Martin's Press
October 22, 2019

When Xanthe Westlake moved to Marlborough in Wiltshire with her mother, Flora, to begin a new life and open an antique shop, she never expected just how drastic the change might be. Xanthe discovered as a child that particular objects "sang" to her, and she was compelled to find out their stories. A silver chatelaine from the seventeenth century sent her back in time to save a serving girl from the hangman. The vengeful ghost of the girl's mother demands it and threatens Xanthe's mother. The events of The Little Shop of Found Things shows her hurtling back and forth in time to accomplish her mission, with very little knowledge to back her up. She finds an ally in Samuel Abbleby, a closeted Catholic and socially conscious thinker. They are undeniably attracted, but Xanthe must return to her own time. Flora is struggling with crippling arthritis, and Xanthe is her only support.

 Assured of her success but dealing with heartache, she is once again thrown into the dangerous realm of time-travel by a battered copper chocolate pot. She is shown a vision of Samuel imprisoned in one of the blind houses of the era, windowless lock-ups for accused felons. Fully knowing how fraught the reign of King James I was politically, especially so for Catholics, Xanthe must try to save him. In Secrets of the Chocolate House, she learns more about what she is, a "Spinner," and what that means. She is intended to stop certain events that would disrupt the proper flow of time. However, another Spinner wants to use his abilities for his own ends and attempts to thwart her. Xanthe has to enlist the help of a friend from her own time and risk exposure. 

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance copy of Secrets of the Chocolate House. I read both books in quick succession since The Little Shop of Found Things had been on my to be read list for quite a while. While I don't think it's strictly necessary to read the series in order, there is progression both in Xanthe's knowledge and character development. She is building a group of supporters who are willing to help her even though only one knows what she really is. Fans of magical realism, historical fiction, and fantasy (with a bit of romance) should love this series. The cliff-hanger at the end of this second book ensures that I will be eagerly waiting for the next! The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

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