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

Monday, April 20, 2020

Behind the Headlines

A Jimmy Vega Mystery # 5
Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
March 31, 2020

Tensions are on the rise in Lake Holly, NY, along with ICE raids and deportations and an anti-immigrant district attorney. Jimmy Vega, cleared of charges in the shooting of an unarmed man, but still on limited duty, responds to a call to that same DA's home. The new wife of the DA, Talia Crowley, has been found hanging in their flooded basement. The police are ready to call it a suicide but will go through the motions, especially in their search for Crowley's immigrant maid. The maid is the niece of Edgar Aviles, the long-time custodian at Beth Shalom Synagogue. When ICE shows up to deport Edgar, the synagogue somewhat reluctantly gives him sanctuary and calls in Adele Figueroa, Jimmy's girlfriend, and the force behind La Casa, the local immigrant advocacy group. Added to the mix is Michelle, the ICE agent sent to supervise the case; she is also Jimmy's estranged half-sister.

Voice With No Echo starts with a bang, and the action doesn't let up. The ugly underbelly of local ICE and police operations is exposed in this case. Jimmy has to confront some demons from his past. He also must deal with doing what is right as opposed to what is legal, and the fact that sometimes people are not at all what they appear to be. Once again, Suzanne Chazin is even-handed in her characterization of both the immigrant and legal community while spinning an intricate plot.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Monday, April 6, 2020

Turning Points

Charles Lenox # 13
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
February 18, 2020

It's 1855 London, and a young Charles Lenox is establishing his reputation as a private detective in London. From time to time, he gets a summons from Scotland Yard to consult on a case. This time he is called to Paddington Station to look at a crime scene. A passenger, a young man, has been found in a first-class carriage, brutally slain. The young man is well-dressed but has no identification, and the conductor claims no knowledge of the passenger. The first order of business is to find out who he is. When Lenox and his indispensable valet, Graham, learn who he is, they are plunged into the world of Abolitionists, white supremacists in England, and the ongoing slave trade to America. The US government is also very interested in this particular young man's fate. No one, however, is quite who he seems to be in this story, and many members of the aristocracy are involved.

I have much enjoyed the previous two books in the Charles Lenox series, The Woman in the Water and The Vanishing Man. They have examined the early life of Charles Lenox, his uncertainty about balancing his work and his place in society. Many people have "cut" him for engaging in "trade." Thankfully, none of those people are in Lenox's family. His mother, however, is concerned for him and wants him to find a wife who will support him and avert loneliness. She enlists Lady Jane, Lenox's neighbor and childhood friend in the effort. Charles thinks he has found her until his heart is broken. Charles also sees more of the duplicity and callousness of the upper classes than ever before. 

This is a solid entry in the long-running Charles Lenox series. As always, I particularly enjoy the little fascinating facts that Charles Finch drops, seemingly effortlessly, into the text. This time, he covers the state of politics in America, embroiled in the issue of slavery. My favorite this time is that Queen Victoria had a black African god-daughter. Who knew? Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, April 5, 2020

An Epic first day on the job

Sunshine Vicram # 1
Darynda Jones
St. Martin's Books
April 7, 2020

Sunshine Vicram never thought she would return to her hometown of Del Sol, New Mexico, after leaving with her infant daughter 14 years earlier. Sunshine was abducted at the age of 17 and barely survived. She had since built a stellar career in law enforcement in Albuquerque and was content with her life. However, after winning the election to be the new sheriff of Del Sol, one that she was not aware of entering and never campaigned for, she decided to return with her daughter, Aurora. No doubt, her loving parents engineered the election somehow. Sunshine wants to find out how they did it, and more importantly, find her abductor and bring him to justice.

Del Sol is usually a tranquil place, and Sunshine only expects to have to arrest the occasional flasher and manage an ongoing feud between two senior citizens over a rooster. She also anticipates having to deal with the Ravinder clan of transplanted Southern Mafia types. The head of the family, Levi Ravinder, has dragged them into respectability (somewhat) with his successful and legal moonshine distillery. Levi is also the only man that Sunshine has ever loved since they were children. Expectations change when a 14-year-old girl is abducted on Sunshine's first day, announced by the girl's distraught mother crashing her Mercedes through the front wall of the police station. This abduction has disturbing echoes of Sunshine's own experience.

A Bad Day for Sunshine is a mix of family drama, crime drama, a touch of paranormal, frequent laugh-out-loud moments, suspense and simmering romance. To say that the village of Del Sol is inhabited by quirky and eccentric characters is a gross understatement. But after all, New Mexico is the home of Roswell. There are more twists and turns in the story than one can count and I was sucked in from the first page. Told from the viewpoints of Sunshine and her scarily smart daughter, Auri, this novel is a true page-turner. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 rounded up to 5 stars

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pirates, Aargh!

A Death by Chocolate Mystery #3
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books
February 25, 2020

It's early September in Eastport ME, which means it's time for the Pirate Festival, a weekend full of fun, booze, and "Aargh." Partners in The Chocolate Moose bakery, Jake and Ellie, are hoping for a big weekend of sales at the end of the tourist season. Eastport is full of people, mostly those who are looking for fun in their pirate garb. Among those visitors are Harry Hadlyme, 'foodie' celebrity, and his camera crew. Harry is not out for fun, though. His purpose seems to be to trash all the food establishments in Eastport. A confrontation with Jake is soon big news all around the town, and when he is discovered dead in the basement of The Chocolate Moose, Jake becomes the prime and only suspect. 

I always enjoy my fictional visits to Eastport. We took a very long drive to Eastport from our usual Maine vacation spot a few years ago on the strength of Grave's previous series, Home Repair is Homicide. It's a lovely small town with gorgeous 19th-century houses and vivid history. Sarah Graves captures the look and feel of the place beautifully. Jake and Ellie are a bit of a "Lucy and Ethel" pair of sleuths. The difference is that they are capable women who manage to get themselves out of their sometimes hare-brained plans. This time they cut it very close. I always enjoy the supporting characters whom I have become to know so well. Ellie's ever-expanding family in the big old house on Key Street plays a part in this story as well.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Wrenching Story, Beutifully Told

Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin's Press
January 14, 2020

It's 2018, and 22-year-old Morgan Christopher is starting the second year of her sentence for a crime she did not commit. Her incarceration in the NC State Correctional Center has completely derailed her hopes for a career in art. When she is offered a chance to be released to restore a WPA Post Office mural, which was never hung in the Edenton NC post office. The offer comes from the daughter of Jesse Jameson Williams, a renowned African-American artist from Edenton. Jesse had a history of helping young artists, but Morgan has no idea how he learned of her work and can't ask since he is now deceased. She, of course, jumps at the offer, despite her lack of any experience with restoration. There are several other strings attached, chiefly a hard date for the completion of the repair. The mural must be hung in the gallery that Jesse wanted to be built in Edenton. Compounding the mystery is the question of why the mural was not hung in 1940, and the fate of the young NJ artist, Anna Dale. Anna disappeared, and nothing has been heard of her since. The story is told from the viewpoint of Morgan in 2018, alternating with Anna in 1940.

I found Big Lies in a Small Town a somewhat difficult read. It pushed a lot of buttons for me since I grew up in a small town not that far from Edenton, and not that many years after Anna's time. Growing up in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s made me aware of the dangers and prejudices that a forward-thinking young woman from NJ faced in Edenton. Added to those problems, Anna had won the contest for the mural over a local, "favorite son." Reading Anna's viewpoint filled me with foreboding as to what her fate might have been. However, I came away from the book with an appreciation for its sense of place and time, and indelible characters. It's a wrenching story, beautifully told. I had never read anything by Diane Chamberlain before Big Lies in a Small Town, but I hope to read more of her work in the future. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Fatal Trip Into Dixie

Gunnie Rose # 2
Charlaine Harris
Gallery/Saga Press
January 14, 2020

Lizbeth Rose, recovered from the events and injuries she sustained in An Easy Death, is hired by a new crew. Gunnie is a gunslinger in dangerous modern America, one in which the country split into independent nation-states. The split was precipitated by the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even the Holy Russian Empire has a foothold in what was formerly California and Oregon. The crew is protecting a crate being sent into Dixie, one in which there seems to be much interest. The long train ride has been mostly uneventful until the very end when a gunfight erupts, and the train is blown up. The crew leader is injured but alive and is left to guard the crate while Gunnie tries to help survivors. When she returns, the crew leader is dead, and the box has disappeared. Surprisingly, an old friend, Ilya (Eli) Savarov, a "Grigori" (magician) who has his own interest in the crate, one that he refuses to disclose. Gunnie and Eli join forces to search for the container. Gunnie never wanted to go to Dixie, and the reality is as awful as she imagined. Slavery no longer exists, but Jim Crow, racism, sexism, and religious fervor are the norm. An unaccompanied woman, wearing trousers at that, can't pass under the radar in Dixie. Posing as a married couple, the two hope to find the crate and fulfill their respective missions.

I have been a fan of Charlaine Harris' particular blend of genre-bending fiction for a while now. I enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse series (at least the majority of them) and particularly liked the Midnight, TX, and Harper Connolly series. The blend of alternate history, action, magic, romance, and an appealing lead in Gunnie kept me interested and involved throughout. I am already looking forward to the next in the series. I hope that Eli and Lizbeth can work out the differences in their relative "stations" in life and make a go of it. Since Eli is out of favor with the other Grigori so it might be possible. The differences are more in her head than in his, I think.

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

RATING-4.5 rounded up to 5

Monday, February 3, 2020

Old Secrets Always Surface

A Southern B&B Mystery # 2
Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
November 12, 2019

Sisters Quinn and Delilah Bellandini are happy to be back to normal and running the family B&B after solving a murder in a local restaurant in Savannah (Southern Discomfort). At least Quinn is happy, having nearly lost her life in the investigation. Delilah, on the other hand, misses the excitement and longs for more. There is plenty of excitement to come when Quinn and her new boyfriend, Tucker Heyward, are digging in his Aunt Lela's yard to build a firepit and discover a long-buried body. When the body turns out to be Esther Sinclair, who supposedly left town for good after her high school graduation, Aunt Lela is in big trouble. She and Esther had quite a history that hasn't been forgotten in the intervening thirty-three years. In fact, Esther had more secrets than any 18-year-old girl should have, along with the members of her high school clique, the "Magnolias." Tucker, who is very close to his Aunt, changes his tune against Quinn's sleuthing and even participates. When the sisters' aging hippie mom and absentee father get dragged in as suspects, the chase is on to find out just who, of the many who might have wanted to kill Esther actually did.

I found the byplay between the two very different sisters particularly amusing. Two more different sisters could not be imagined, but those differences complement each other. I was very much "in the dark" as to who exactly could have killed Esther, and why. Southern Harm is an entertaining and enjoyable read. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-3.5 Stars rounded up to 4 

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