Friday, August 14, 2020

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

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Crime Novel that Transcends the Genre

Dave Robicheaux #23
James Lee Burke
Simon and Schuster 
August 11, 2020

Dave Robicheaux and his best friend and sidekick, Clete Purcel, find themselves in the middle of a war between two vicious crime families, the Balangies and Shondells. Teenager Isolde Balangie approaches Dave, telling him that she is being sold as a sex slave to Mark Shondell, and she needs rescuing. She is in love with Johnny Shondell, the youngest of the Shondell clan. Dave, knight-errant that he is, takes up the cause of this mobbed-up Romeo and Juliet. 
Dave's penchant for getting involved with the wrong woman, in this case, women, results in making deadly enemies of both crime bosses. Enter a time-traveling assassin with the ability to induce terrifying hallucinations and other enemies bringing more mundane threats. 

Only a writer of James Lee Burke's power and craftsmanship could make the plot of A Private Cathedral work. I have had a long off and on relationship with Dave Robicheaux and Clete; one that I had stepped away from because of the extreme violence of the series. As soon as I started reading I knew I was in for the long haul. Burke can bring the unknown territory of South Louisiana to steamy life. I know Dave and Clete's demons well. There is an entire gallery of secondary characters who are brought to vivid life, in all their frailty and in some cases, evil. The book is set not in the present day, but several years in the past, foreshadowing the times we live in today. Burke's prose is something to be savored and I highlighted many passages to revisit.

Many, many thanks to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 stars

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Wedding in the country turns Lethal

A Countess Harleigh Mystery #3
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books
August 5, 2020

Frances, Lady Harleigh is planning a wedding, for her sister Lily and her affianced, Leo, when she finds out that the wedding must happen much quicker than expected. The two are discussing elopement, but Frances fears scandal. Not only that, but Frances and Lilys' social-climbing mother is also expected any day from America. George Hazelton comes to the rescue by offering his family estate, Risings, for the wedding. While there, George hopes that Frances will announce their own engagement, something she has been somewhat reluctant to do.

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder has all the usual ingredients of the Engish Country House murder. There are all sorts of undercurrents among the multiplicity of guests and a series of accidents that escalate into death. But who is responsible and who is the target? I enjoyed this third book in the series but got a bit bogged down in the middle. The ending, also, while exciting is somewhat predictable. It's an enjoyable read and I look forward to the next in the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Roaring Twenties on the Riviera

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes # 16
Laurie R. King
Bantam Books
June 9, 2020

After Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes' adventures in Venice, Sherlock is off somewhere (probably for brother Mycroft). It's only eleven weeks after Clara Hudson, Holmes' longtime housekeeper, left their employ inThe Murder of Mary Russell. A seemingly offhand remark from Mrs. Hudson saying that she always liked Monte Carlo leads Mary to believe that she may be there. Mary still has plenty of questions to ask Mrs. Hudson. Mary takes the opportunity to sail up to Monaco with friends where she finds Mrs. Hudson on the beach at Cap d' Antibes with Gerald and Sara Murphy, American expatriates with an extensive circle of friends among The Lost Generation of writers and artists who wandered Europe in the 1920s. Mrs. Hudson is not eager to talk to Mary and disappears from the group quickly. However, when a young man is found murdered in Mrs. Hudson's lodgings, Sherlock and Mary become involved, Sherlock having been in Monaco already.

The Russell/Holmes series has been a favorite from its beginning, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Ms. King can take this reader to places and times unknown. The descriptions are so vivid, and she can drop historical figures into the narrative effortlessly. The Murphys themselves were real people, and they include such people as Picasso, John Dos Passos, and Scott and Zelda Fitgerald in their entourage. Monaco at the time was a gathering place for such as Sir Basil Zararoff, the sinister international arms dealer, and smugglers, along with all sorts of conmen and women. Mrs. Hudson's old friend in Monaco is the legendary Lille Langtry, who is still a beauty and plays a major part in the story. 

I highly recommend Riviera Gold to fans of historical mystery and thank NetGalley and Bantam for an advance digital copy. I am particularly looking forward to the next in the series which evidently will take Mary and Holmes to Romania in pursuit of "vampires". The opinions are my own.

RATING 4.5 Stars

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Great (New-to-Me) Find

Ruth Galloway # 1
Elly Griffiths
Mariner Books
February 5, 2009

Ruth Galloway is a Forensic Archaeologist on the faculty of the fictional University of Northern Norfolk. Bones are her specialty, and she is an acknowledged expert Verging on forty, somewhat overweight, and a loner, Ruth lives on the edge of the Saltmarsh, where the ocean meets the earth. It's a desolate place with dangerous tides and traps ready to spring for the unwary walker. The bleak beauty of the area, however, suits Ruth perfectly, and she finds peace in living there. That peace frays when she is called to the site of the discovery of bones by the local constabulary. Inspector Harry Nelson thinks that they may be the bones of Lucy Downey. Lucy was abducted from her bed 10 years earlier, and Harry has been searching ever since with no success. This particular discovery turns out to be approximately 2000 years old, an Iron Age relic, definitely not Lucy. Nelson has been receiving periodic cryptic letters from the killer, letters steeped in literary allusion, and Pagan references. When another child disappears, Ruth is drawn into that investigation as well.

It is always a treat to stumble across a series that is well established, especially one that drew me in as completely as The Crossing Places. I started the book with somewhat high expectations, and those were easily surpassed. The characters are all distinct and well-rounded. Most of them are not at all who Ruth thought they were. The descriptions of the Saltmarsh are so vivid that the area becomes a character in itself.  The suspense is extraordinarily well sustained and builds to a thrilling conclusion. As there is a substantial cliff-hanger, I am delighted that I was able to begin the next in the series, The Janus Stone, immediately.

I am looking forward to reading more and highly recommend the series, based on The Crossing Places.

RATING- 4.5 Rounded up to 5 Stars

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Modern Day Country House Murder

Oxford Tearoom Mystery # 10
H.Y. Hanna
Wisheart Press
December 1, 2019

I don't know how one of my favorite complete escape reads fell through the cracks, but I think it was partially a bit of a reading slump I have been in. It can also be attributed to the pandemic that we all have been dealing with. I've been glued to the news and lacking in concentration for anything else. When I was paging through the back-up of unread books on my kindle, I was excited to find it.

Any Agatha Christie (or Golden Age mystery) fan is aware of the country house mystery, the one where a motley group of people is marooned in the house by some natural disaster. This time it's an unusual Christmas snow in Oxford. Gemma Rose has agreed to cater a Christmas party for local children in a stately home. The prodigal son, who has been missing for years and thought to be dead, is murdered. The Mousse Wonderful Time of The Year has all the stock characters of the genre; the overbearing peer, the downtrodden daughter of the house, her disagreeable husband, and the obnoxious murder victim himself. Added to the mix are intrepid sleuth, Gemma, her mischievous cat, Muesli, the incompetent policeman, and the four "Old Biddies" from the tearoom. All the family has more than sufficient reason to wish the prodigal dead.

This is an excellent entry in the long-running Oxford Tearoom Mysteries, and I look forward to the next one.

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Crime Which Keeps Repeating Itself

Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery # 9
Julia Spencer-Fleming
St. Martins Minotaur
April 7, 2020

The small town of Millers Kill in the Adirondacks is suffering budget woes, and a vocal minority thinks the solution is dissolving the police force and handing policing to the NY State Patrol. That minority has added the plan to a referendum in November. It's August, and Chief Russ Van Alstyne knows he has a lot to do to gain support and head off disaster for him, his staff, and the community. Politics have never been Russ's strong suit. Added to that stress is a new baby in the house, Ethan. Both he and Clare are having difficulty balancing work and home life, even though they are delighted to have a son that neither thought they would have. Life only gets more complicated when Russ is called to a scene on the highway. A young woman is lying in the middle of the road, deceased, in a party dress with no shoes, hosiery, or identification. There is no indication of what might be the cause of death, and that exactly duplicates two previous unsolved crimes; one in 1952 and one in 1972. A very young Russ Van Alstyne was a suspect in the 1972 crime. Small towns being what they are he knows that people will remember.

There has been a six-year gap since the previous book in the series, Through the Evil Days, due to many personal losses suffered by Ms. Spencer-Fleming. I was delighted to know that another book was coming and to get my hands on an advance copy. I also was concerned that I might have forgotten some facts and characters, but everything came back to me as I read. All the characters from Russ and Clare to Russ's mother, Margy, and the members of the force are so well-written that they have become old friends. I also like the plot device of crimes from the past haunting the present. Not only these three crimes but others play into the unfolding story. However, I did find the jumping back and forth a bit hard to follow, at least in the beginning. I also thought the solution to all the crimes was somewhat rushed and unbelievable. That being said, it was a very good read, and I am looking forward to the next in the series. A number of questions still remain.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars