Tuesday, March 28, 2023

1926, Instanbul-Anything can happen

Erica Ruth Neubauer
A Jane Wunderly Mystery #4
Kensington Books
March 28, 2023

I discovered the Jane Wunderley series about a month ago and binged through the first three (Murder at Mena House, Murder at Wedgefield Manor, and Danger on the Atlantic). I have always been fascinated by the period between WWI and WWII when the world went through one cataclysmic event after another. First, the Great War was meant to be the "war to end all wars." Following that, the Great Depression an economic disaster that took away the livelihoods of millions worldwide. Finally, the rise of fascism in Europe and the advent of WWII. For Jane Wunderly, the Great War ended a personal nightmare and set her on a path toward independence. Her sadistic first husband went off the war and never came back. Jane took back her maiden name and swore never to marry again. She has an opportunity to travel first to Egypt, then to England, and then a voyage back to America. Accompanying her is her annoying, alcoholic Aunt Millie. Millie has the money to travel, and Jane has always wanted to understand her aunt better. On that first trip to Egypt, she meets Redvers, a handsome and somewhat secretive English Englishman with a shadowy job with the British Government. Adventures with spies, assassins, and thieves ensue, and Redvers is always at her side. Jane is rethinking the single life.

Intrigue in Istanbul takes Jane and Redvers to Jane's childhood home in Boston. Redvers wants to present himself to her widower father, Henry, a historian. They discover an empty house, and nobody knows when or where he may have gone. While going through her father's mail, she finds that he has mortgaged their home for a large sum and is in arrears. The loan is due in just three weeks. Jane has an idea where he might be, however. He specializes in the history of Suleiman the Magnificent and has been obsessed with a storied object called the "Sultan's Heart." He has to be in Istanbul; she has a good idea of where he has lodged and some of his associates. As they reach Instanbul, she finds she has no idea what danger he has gotten himself into or of Redver's associates from his past there.

I am a fan of '30s and '40s movies that portray Americans abroad in a lighthearted and somewhat glamorous manner. Intrigue in Istanbul fits the bill very well. There are spies, assassins, and all sorts of colorful characters in an exotic and mysterious setting. It's a lot of fun and a perfect escape read. The author has visited the city and takes pains to be accurate. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy in return for an honest opinion.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The First Book in an Explosive Trilogy from Spain

Juan Gomez-Jurado
MacMillan Audio
February 14, 2023

 So far, 2023 has been a good year for thrillers, and Red Queen is outstanding. Originally published in Spain in 2018, it has gained a worldwide following and is now available in English. Juan Gomez-Jurado has introduced a detecting duo and a cast of characters as fascinating as any I have ever read. Inspector Jon Gutierrez of the Madrid Police is in hot water, not for the first time. He is a clothes-horse, despite being barrel-chested and overweight. Gutierrez also still lives with his mother and is gay, neither of which makes him popular on the force. This time he may have finally ruined his career by planting evidence on a pimp and drug dealer. Gutierrez did it to help one of the pimp's girls get loose from his influence. The girl, however, filmed it and put it on social media. Suspended without pay and with Internal Affairs on his heels, he has no idea what to do. Then he receives a phone call from someone only known as the "Mentor," who offers him an opportunity to resurrect his career.

The "Mentor" is part of a shadowy organization that pursues the worst of criminals, serial killers, killers-for-hire, and terrorists. "Mentor" wants him to meet with a former operative, half-English, half-Spanish Antonia Scott. She is a genius forensic expert with a mind like a high-functioning computer. They need her to solve several high-profile kidnappings of influential and wealthy people and the death of one of the children of the families involved. Antonia, however, has refused since her husband was shot and has been in a coma for three years. Her father has taken her young son away and assumed custody of him. She only leaves her apartment to go and sit with her husband in the hospital every night. Her life has collapsed, and she blames herself. The killer was after her, not her husband. Gutierrez has a tall order to get her out of her apartment, but the situation escalates when Carla Ortiz, the daughter of one of the world's wealthiest men, is kidnapped. There is no ransom demand, at least financially, but the families involved are not forthcoming about the orders made. Carla has only 40 hours left to live. 

There is non-stop action in Red Queen, kidnappings, car chases, subterranean pursuits, bombings, and encounters with some of the worst people one could imagine. If you aren't afraid of shadowy international organizations who think they have the right to decide the fate of everyone, you will be after reading this novel. Through skillful character-building, Juan Gomez-Jurado has written a story of love, friendship, and healing. I can't wait for the next book in this trilogy.

I received the audiobook of Red Queen from McMillan Audio and NetGalley. It was superbly narrated by Scott Brick, who I was aware of, but this is the first time I heard him. I will be on the lookout for his work in the future. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Friday, March 10, 2023

Bluestockings and Blackguards

 A Dear Miss Hermione Murder # 1
 Anastasia Hastings
 Minotaur Books
 February 7, 2023

Of Manners and Murders is the first book in a new series set in the late 1800s in England. Violet has returned with her half-sister, Sephora, from many years in India upon the death of her diplomat father. Having lived in India for years, encouraged by her father to see and learn everything, Violet has managed to avoid the prejudices of the English abroad. She would be called a "bluestocking" in every sense. Sixteen-year-old Sephora, however, is as empty-headed as a young lady was expected to be in Victorian England. The sisters are living with their flamboyant Aunt Adelia, who has suddenly taken off to the Continent with her "gentleman friend." Imagine Violet's surprise when Aunt Adelia discloses that she is Miss Hermione, author of England's most popular advice column. Not only that, she expects Violet to take over the column. Violet is in her twenties, firmly considered "on the shelf," and has no romantic experience other than one unhappy love affair. She feels obliged to act as her Aunt's proxy due to her fondness for Adelia.

Opening the first letter, she finds something far removed from a plea for romantic advice. Ivy Armstong, from a village close to London, is a newly married woman convinced that someone is trying to kill her. She even encloses newspaper clippings with pictures of her suspects circled. Violet feels that the matter is pressing enough to travel to the village of Willingdale to speak with her. Upon her arrival, however, she finds that Ivy's burial service is taking place. Violet presents herself as a friend of Ivy's from boarding school and sets out to find the culprit. Is it the handsome new husband, a jealous curate in love with Ivy, or a woman from the village angling for the new husband herself? What part did the village doctor play? While traveling back and forth from the village, she needs to pay attention to Sephora, who gets herself in massive trouble.

I found Manners and Murder enjoyable, with a couple of exceptions. I don't usually object to multiple POVs, but the breakaways to Sephora were annoying in this case. The reader already knows Sephora is an empty-headed, selfish, and self-involved twit. Her secondary drama was not particularly interesting, at least to me. One of the villains, and there were several, was almost cartoonishly evil. I do, however, like Violet very much and am interested in what may happen between her and the dashing American gentleman. He might be Violet's perfect match.

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

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Hilarious, Horrifying, and Engaging New Novel From Australia

Benjamin Stevenson
Harper Collins
January 17, 2023

Meet Ernest Cunningham, "Ern," the narrator of Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. Ern is the self-published author of numerous books telling others how to write crime fiction. He begins with Ronald Knox's 1929 Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction. Knox was a Catholic Priest and member of the legendary Detection Club. Other members included Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton. You should take a look at them, as they are essential. 


Ern is attending a family reunion at a ski lodge in the mountains of New South Wales, AU. He never looks forward to reunions because he has always felt like an outsider. This reunion promises to be particularly fraught as Ern's brother, Michael, is getting out of prison after a stretch for murder. Ern happens to be the person who testified and put Michael there. The Cunninghams are unhappy with Ern, not his mother, Audrey, and her husband, Marcello, not Michael's ex-wife, Lucy, not Ern's soon-to-be ex-wife, Erin, or his managing Aunt Katherine. The only one who seems happy to see him is his half-sister, Sofia. That may be because she needs money and somehow knows about the bag containing 267 thousand dollars Ern has been holding onto for Michael. Soon after their arrival, a body is found, the victim of a particularly horrible death. Very quickly, the lodge is snowed in, and the temperatures drop precipitously. Not only is the snow falling, but so are the Cunninghams. Is there a serial killer loose known as The Black Tongue? Can one of the Cunninghams be the killer, or is someone seeking revenge for Ern's father, Robert, and his notorious criminal past? People don't often forget about cop-killers, even if they are long dead.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is one of the most original pieces of crime fiction I have ever read; horrifying and hilarious at once. Anyone who has read Golden Age mysteries will recognize all the tropes of the snowed-in scenario but with a new spin. Stevenson's Ern has a terrific "voice," sly, ironic, and likable. I was suspicious of his claim to be a reliable narrator, but that is what he proved to be. I don't expect to read another book this year that will engage me as much as Everyone in my Family has engaged me.

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

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Accident or Cold Blooded Murder?

 Veronica Speedwell #8
 Deanna Raybourne
 Berkley Books
 March 7, 2023

Veronica Speedwell has been not precisely pining but concerned by the absence of Stoker for several months. The two parted at an impasse due to events in An Impossible Imposter, previous in the series. She has an idea where he might be but has decided to take him at his word and give him space. However, when his older brother, Tiberius, Viscount Templeton-Vane, visits her and asks her to help him find Stoker, she drops everything. Tibirious has a problem that requires Stoker's talents. Twenty years previously, Tiberius made his "Grand Tour" in the company of several young men, self-named "The Seven Sinners." When the seven finished their tour and were dispersing from the Devon Templeton-Vane estate, one of their number met his end on the crumbling Devon cliffs. Lorenzo d'Ambrogio was a fossil enthusiast and had just made the discovery of a lifetime, a megalosaurus buried in the cliff. When the cliff crumbled during a storm, it took both the megalosaurus and Lorenzo. Long thought to be an accident, Tiberious was none the wiser until he received news cuttings about the deaths of two of the "Sinners" enclosed in a threatening note, proclaiming "Revenge for Lorenzo" and a threat to Tiberius. His response is to set up a reunion of sorts with the remaining survivors. 

When Veronica and Tiberius find Stoker wandering in the forests of Bavaria and present the plan to him, Stoker thinks it a hare-brained and dangerous scheme. But Tibirious knows his brother well and baits the trap with a commission to build a life-sized model of a megalosaurus. As a natural historian and taxidermist, Stoker cannot resist the challenge. He is also troubled about his brother's safety but downplays it. The people who gather at the Estate are not seemingly murderous, but there are undercurrents. At least some of them are hiding secrets regarding the death of Lorenzo and are willing to do anything to keep those secrets.

Veronica Speedwell, modeled on various "Lady Travelers" from the Victorian Era, is completely emancipated, a lepidopterist by trade. She has traveled the world bringing back rare butterfly specimens to earn her living. She is also stubborn as a mule and perfectly matched to Stoker. The verbal by-play between the two is always entertaining, and the scrapes they get into are often hair-raising. I enjoy this series tremendously and look forward to each one eagerly. Thanks to NetGalley.com and Berkley Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, February 19, 2023

A Hotbed of Murder and Criminal Activity in a Sleepy Market Town

Pignon Scorbion and the Barbershop Detectives #2
Rick Bleiweiss
Blackstone Publishing
February 21, 2023

Murder in Haxford is the second entry in Rick Bleiweiss's Pignon Scorbion cozy mystery series set in 1910 in the small market town of Haxford. Haxford may be a sleepy town, but it is a hotbed of murder and criminal activity for the dapper and erudite new Chief Inspector. Being new to the area, Scorbion quickly enlists the aid of an old friend, Calvin Brown, who owns the local barbershop. He also assembles a band of quirky characters who assist in his investigations. They include Thomas, Barnabus, and Yves, all barbershop employees. An ambitious reporter, Billy, at one of the local newspapers also wants to be in on the investigations. Last but definitely not least is Thelma Smith, the beautiful and brilliant proprietor of the local bookstore. The "deputies" make Calvin's barbershop the center of their activities.

Our first murder takes place at the Haxford Market Fair, at a hot air balloon demonstration. One of the balloons plummets to the earth carrying one dead occupant. However, the dead man was not killed by the fall but by an arrow to the heart. The cast of possible suspects includes an assortment of village drunks and "ne'er do-wells," their wives, and relations. But who and, as importantly, why? There are many more bodies to account for before the end of this complex case, and justice is done. Next comes the poisoning death of a moneylender/artist, which has to be the oddest juxtaposition of occupations ever. Several individuals are in deep arrears on their debts, but what of the people involved in his side business of forging the works of well-known painters? 

Murder in Haxford is a fun, quirky cozy, as was its predecessor, Pignon Scorbion and the Barbershop Detectives. Pignon Scorbion is a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot with none of their more annoying "tics." The descriptions of his sartorial splendor and two-toned shoes are always amusing. Haxford in 1910s England might never have existed, but it is a charming fantasy.

Thanks to Netgalley and Blackstone Publishing for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Secrets Surface in a Small Australian Town

Aaron Falk #3
Jane Harper
Flatiron Books
January 31, 2023

I've been waiting patiently (somewhat) for the final entry in Jane Harper's splendid Aaron Falk Trilogy. The trilogy introduced me to Australian crime fiction and was highly atmospheric, packing an emotional punch, and perfectly plotted. From THE DRY, through FORCE OF NATURE, and now EXILES, Jane Harper's books have shown me a new world. Aaron Falk is a detective in the financial crimes division of the Australian Federal Police based in Melbourne. But he comes from the outback town of Kiewarra, as seen in THE DRY. On his consequential visit to his hometown, he formed a friendship with the new Chief of Police, Greg Raco, and his wife, Rita. The Racos have asked him to be their new child's Godfather. The christening will take place in Greg's hometown, Merrilee. The previous year, Falk visited them for the Merrilee Food and Wine Festival, and the christening is taking place the very same weekend. 

The previous year's Festival dealt the Raco extended family a considerable blow. His older brother Charlie's ex-wife, Kim, disappeared from the Festival, leaving her new daughter, Zoe, in a pram, never to be seen again. Her new spouse, Rohan, was having dinner with his parents and was cleared as a suspect. The Racos and their Merrilee friends and family are completely "at sea," saying that Kim would have never left Zoe alone. Charlie and Kim's daughter, Zara, now living with Charlie, and her friend, Joel, are insistent on this. The memories of Kim are close to the surface, especially since her friends had almost lost contact with Kim in the year previous to her disappearance. She had been living in Adelaide, not far away. Tragedy has been no stranger to Merrilee in the past few years. The daughter of the police chief died as a result of an alcohol overdose, and a respected member of the community was killed in a hit-and-run. 

As memories surface, it becomes clear that the secrets of all these events are in the close-knit community. The solution to Kim's disappearance will upend their little paradise. But new connections and a new relationship convince Falk that there are more things in life than policing, and after years of being solitary, he can find a new home. 

Thanks to Net Galley and Flatiron Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars