Monday, September 28, 2020

Winter Comes to Northumberland

THE DARKEST EVENING
Vera Stanhope #9
Ann Cleeves
Minotaur Books
September 8, 2020

It's the first snowstorm of winter in Northumberland, and DCI Vera Stanhope is headed home. Despite having driven the lonely road thousands of times, she misses a turning and becomes disoriented. Suddenly she sees a car on the side of the road, door open, and she stops to investigate. No driver is to be found, but there is a toddler strapped into a car seat. Vera knows nothing about children, but she realizes she needs to get the child to warmth and safety. Soon she realizes precisely where she is, the local "big house", Brockburn, where her father, Hector, grew up. The Stanhopes of Brockburn have had very little to do with Vera, but the daughter of the house, Juliet, recognizes her and welcomes her in. Juliet and her husband, theater director Mark Bolitho, are having a party, but Juliet and her housekeeper soon get the child warm, fed, and changed. No one knows who the child might be. That changes soon when the tenant farmer arrives with news of a young woman with a massive head injury found in the snow. She is Lorna Falstone, a local with a history of eating disorders and mental health issues. Nobody knows who the father is. The Darkest Evening is a crime novel, with a feeling of a throwback to classic Agatha Christie "country house" mysteries. It is also a story about families and how they intertwine in small, still somewhat feudal communities. Lorna's family, the Stanhopes, the tenants, and even the Brockburn housekeeper have secrets and stories to tell. Even if they really don't want to let go of their secrets.

I have been catching up on the Vera TV series, but have never gotten around to reading the books. I was delighted to get an advance copy from Minotaur and add the rest of the books to my list. Vera is a fascinating character, gruff, dumpy, and poorly dressed. It's clear from Brenda Blethyn's portrayal that Vera has a soft center hidden away, and that center is on display in The Darkest Evening. It's a tragic story that has a little hope and reconciliation for many of the characters. It also kept me guessing until nearly the end.

Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur. The opinions are my own.


RATING- 5 Stars







Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Perfect Antidote to Pandemic (and other assorted) Blues


 

THREE CHARMS FOR MURDER
The Case Files of Henri Davenforth #5
Honor Raconteur
Raconteur House
September 17, 2020


The crime-solving team of Henri Davenforth, Royal Mage Seaton, and Detective Jamie Edwards are faced this time with murders among the upper crust. The bodies of the Atwoods, a wealthy couple are found in their country house, posed in an odd manner. The pose duplicates a statue in another part of the house.and magic was clearly employed. The Atwoods were friends of Henri's parents and their grieving children approach him to investigate. The local police have declared the deaths murder-suicide with no real investigation. There is a lot going on that has been hidden, and some of it about the Atwoods themselves.

I have enjoyed this series since discovering it. The characters are, including the secondary cast, all vividly described and develop in every book. I love the world-building with its magic, were people, and vaguely Victorian/Edwardian setting. We get new adorable characters, crime-solving magically constructed kittens. Three Charms, simply put, is a delightful escape from everyday reality, with more than a touch of romance this time.

I highly recommend the series as a perfect escape read.


RATING- 4.5 Stars rounded up to 5




Monday, August 31, 2020

A Well-Executed Departure in this Long-Running Series

cooperate


ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE
Inspector Gamache #16
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, MacMillan Audio
September 1, 2020



All the Devils are Here is a departure in this long-running series, taking place in Paris, rather than Quebec or the much-loved village of Three Pines. Armand Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, are in Paris for the birth of their granddaughter. The parents are their daughter, Annie, and son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Jean-Guy was Gamache's second-in-command at the Surete de Quebec. They have recently moved to Paris because Jean-Guy had taken a job in private industry. The person responsible for the job change, billionaire and Gamache's godfather, Stephen Horowitz, is also awaiting the birth of the baby. Gamache's son, Daniel, a banker, and his family have lived in Paris for years. The family is leaving a favorite bistro and crossing a busy street when the 93-year-old Stephen is struck down by a van and left grievously injured. It was clearly no accident. Gamache calls in his old friend, Prefect of the Paris Police, Claude Dussault, to investigate. Still, Dussault seems strangely uneager and even reminds Gamache that he has no standing in Paris.

What follows is a breakneck thriller, centered around immense corporate malfeasance by the very firm where Jean-Guy works and a sinister security firm staffed by former commandos. Stephen Horowitz has plunged them all into a situation that will be deadly unless the family can cooperate using their various abilities. The clock is ticking, both for the baby's birth and their only chance to thwart the corporate plot, thereby saving countless lives. Family, as always, plays an integral part in All the Devils are Here. Daniel Gamache has only been mentioned previously, so it comes as a surprise that he and Armand have had a stressful relationship for years. Daniel's long-held resentments might keep him from playing a part and are fully exposed in the course of the story. Success comes with a high price tag but many benefits.

The City of Paris is vividly described and almost a character itself. I did miss Twin Pines, but the quirky, much-loved inhabitants are there in spirit. Everything comes full circle with a satisfactory ending for all. The audiobook form for this series has always been my preferred format, so I was delighted to get an advance copy via NetGalley. Robert Bathurst does his usual stellar narration. Thanks so much! The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

From Mayfair To The Slums





MURDER IN THE EAST END
Kat Holloway Mystery  #4
Jennifer Ashley
Berkley Books
August 4, 2020


Kat Holloway is a cook in a Victorian upper-class household, a cook so good at her job that she commands a good salary and a full day and a half off, rather than the half-day usually granted to domestic servants.The reason for this demand is a secret, though, as Kat has a young daughter living with friends. The usual assumption is that a servant in the era had no personal life and no right to one. Kat must tread lightly to maintain secrecy. She also has a man in her life, Daniel McAdam. Daniel is a mystery'" who comes and goes and has connections to the government and police.

Daniel has involved Kat in several of his investigations because she can ingratiate herself with servants in other households. The servants always know what is going on upstairs. She is also brave, trustworthy, and a bit reckless. This time, Daniel asks for her help to find out what has happened to several missing children from a foundling home. Kat is particularly upset by this since, at one point, she was close to leaving her own daughter at a foundling home. The investigation turns up some unsavory activities associated with the charity and takes them into danger in the infamous slums of the London East End. Kat also meets a mysterious "brother" to Daniel, one he has never mentioned.

Murder in the East End is a solid entry in the series, with strong plotting, a cast of interesting side characters, and lots of action. The relationship between Kat and Daniel is progressing nicely, with more of his past revealing itself. I'm rooting for Kat to open the tea shop she dreams of and Daniel to extricate himself from his government duties. 

RATING-4 Stars





Sunday, August 23, 2020

Nefarious Small Town Shenanigans




NIGHT SHIFT
A Helping Hands Mystery #2
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
July 28, 2020



Social Worker Hildy Schneider has picked up a part-time job after her hours are cut at the hospital. She is riding with the small-town Sorenson WI police department. The department is trying out a new program using Hildy's skills to deal with possibly mentally disturbed people on calls. On her first night, she encounters a person she knows very well. Danny Hillebrand is a schizophrenic who has been doing well on a new course of meds, but tonight he is in bad shape. He says he has seen a murder and a pink and purple dinosaur saw it too. Danny says the ghost of the victim is haunting him. After getting Danny, his sister Allie and live-in boyfriend, Joel, to the hospital to be sorted out. Hildy and her police partner go out on a wellness check. The scene is very much what Danny described. There are nefarious forces in Sorensen, involving both Danny and another of Hildy's patients.

Hildy is sympathetic, a person who cares deeply for her patients and those who she meets on her night shift. She is aided and sometimes impeded by a cast of quirky characters and her trusted therapy dog, Roscoe. She may have bitten off more than she can chew with the two jobs, but there may be a welcome resolution coming, both in her work and personal life.
This series is a spin-off of Ryan's earlier Mattie Winston series, but it could work as a standalone. The first book in the Helping Hands series is Needled to Death if you like to read in order.

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

RATING- 4 Stars




Monday, August 17, 2020

Someone is Always Lying




HIS AND HERS
Alice Feeney
Flatiron Books, MacMillan Audio
Narrated by Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine
July 28, 2020


There are two sides to every story: yours and mine, ours and theirs, His & Hers. Which means someone is always lying.


I borrowed the above description from the publisher because it is the perfect encapsulation of this fantastic read. Anna Andrews has worked her way up the BBC hierarchy and has occupied the noon newsreader desk for two years. The previous newsreader has been on maternity leave for two years, and Anna has put her possible return out of her mind. All that changes when she does return, and Anna is relegated to lowly correspondent again. Anna jumps at a news story, because she needs to get her career on track, and she doesn't want to face the humiliation. A woman has been killed in the small village of Blackdown, but no one at the BBC knows that it is Anna's home village, a place that she fled at 16-years-old. DCI Jack Harper left London a year earlier to work in Blackdown, a place where nothing ever happens. Both Jack and Anna have connections to the victim that run deep and are longstanding.

The whole notion of the unreliable narrator is one that I enjoy but has been somewhat overdone in recent years. Not so in His and Hers, as told in Anna's and Jack's voices, with the killer's voice as well. It is brilliantly plotted and kept me guessing at every turn. I was always wrong when I narrowed down who I thought the killer was. I don't usually care for multiple narrators on audiobooks, but I don't see how it could be done as well without three voices. I am a big fan of Richard Armitage's narrations, and Stephanie Racine equals him.

I mentally subtracted 1/2 star for an incident of animal cruelty that I thought was not necessary, but that is something I can't tolerate. So I added the 1/2 star back, but I believe a sensitive reader should be aware of it. Also, if it's bedtime and you are nearly at the end of the novel, you might as well keep on reading! I couldn't get it out of my head.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for a free audiobook copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars

Friday, August 14, 2020




DEATH AT HIGH TIDE
Island Sisters #1
Hannah Dennison
St. Martins Press
August 18, 2020


Death at High Tide opens with Evie Mead speaking with her recently deceased, much-older husband's accountant. Evie had believed that she would be well provided for, as she and Robert lived well, and he always had lots of deals happening. On the contrary, the accountant informs her that Robert is nearly bankrupt. Evie's sister, Margot, has flown in from Hollywood to be with her, and the two discover a letter from Robert detailing a 100,000£ loan that Robert had made to a Jago Ferris. The loan collateral is a hotel on Tregarrick Rock, on one of the Scilly Islands off the coast of Cornwall. There is no sign of the loan ever having been repaid. The two sisters rush off with no notice to the owner that they are coming and why. Upon arrival, they find a very oddly decorated hotel, a mixture of beautiful Art Deco and 1970s kitsch, and a decided lack of welcome. Two murders ensue, and as outsiders, Evie and Margot are the prime suspects.

I wanted to like Death at High Tide much more than I did. The assorted characters at Tregarrick Rock are almost all unlikable, except the cat, and most of them are up to no good. The only surprise I felt about the victims was that they had managed not to be murdered before. Evie herself is the most naive 36-year-old-woman imaginable, oblivious to the fact that her sister Margot has problems of her own. The person at the bottom of it all was obvious to me at the outset. I did enjoy the setting, knowing nothing at all about the Scilly Islands. 

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

RATING- 2 Stars