Sunday, October 31, 2021

Invaluable Resource for Historical Mystery Readers


Otto Penzler, Editor
Vintage Crime, Black Lizard
October 19, 2021

The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries is a comprehensive reference to the detective short stories published during the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. While some of these stories were published earlier, the massive success of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes' adventures kicked off a bumper crop of authors trying to match his success. In the Big Book, we see such literary luminaries as Charles Dickens, WilkieCollins, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and Guy de Maupassant trying their hands at the detective short story, to greater or lesser success. Most of the other authors were not so familiar, at least to me. Many are unknown to today's reader.  

Otto Penzler has written a brief introduction to each story with helpful background on the story and author. I was delighted to find the first mystery stories featuring the female detective, much different from today's market! It's impossible to pinpoint a favorite story in such a massive collection, but these display the panoply of British society from high to low and a considerable degree of inventiveness. It struck me that the authors and the British reading public must have had a fascination with all things "exotic," from fine jewels (usually from foreign lands) and unusual detectives with unusual methods. One even used an Indian snake-charmer to aid him in his investigations. I expect this fascination can be attributed to the immense expansion of the British Empire in the era.

The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries is an invaluable addition to the shelf of the scholar, collector, and readers of detective stories. I highly recommend it as a "bedtime" book as well. Thanks to NetGalley and Black Lizard for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4-Stars

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Murder and Kakaoke


Cherie Priest
Atria Books
October 26, 2021

I first read Steampunk when I was introduced to Cherie Priest's Century Trilogy, which is still far and away my favorite in the genre. Her other work is mainly in the Horror field, not my cup of tea. I have also been in a bit of a reading "slump" and thought that a new mystery by Cherie Priest would be just what I needed to blast me out. I was right!

Leda Foley is a thirty-something who is trying to start up a travel agency in her hometown Seattle. She is also a psychic with a highly spotty and untrustworthy ability. Her ability has never done anyone any good, least of all her. She has been trying to hone her abilities by performing at her favorite local bar. One might think that nobody uses a travel agency anymore. Still, it turns out a few clients are willing to pay an agency just to avoid the aggravation of searching for flights and accommodations online. When she got a strong feeling that a client wouldn't get off his booked flight alive, she promptly changed it to a later flight. Her client, Grady Merritt, was irate until he watched the plane he was booked on exploding on take-off. Grady, a Seattle Police detective, is intrigued enough to approach Leda about helping him solve a cold case that is driving him crazy. She explains to him that her abilities are far from consistent but has a case of her own. Her fiance, Tod, was murdered 3 years earlier, and there has been no resolution. The two form a partnership, aided (?) by her bartender bestie, Niki.

Grave Reservations has a likable heroine and a wealth of sidekick characters, all of whom are quirky and devoted to her. The mystery is fast-moving and kept me reading. Grady and Leda make a good team, and I only hope that this is the beginning of a new series. Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Multiple Murders, Mutiltiple Characters and a Big Surprise

Two Rivers  # 2
Ann Cleeves
Minotaur Books
September 7, 2021

Ever since The Long Call, the first in the Two Rivers series, I have been looking forward to the second book featuring DCI Matthew Venn and his team. Venn grew up in a fundamentalist Christian group in Devon. He was a rising "star" in the Barum Brethren until a sudden loss of faith resulted in his expulsion from the group and his family, not to mention his homosexuality. Now, he and his husband, Jonathan, are back in Devon. These are treacherous waters for Matthew and Jonathan, as the Brethren are involved to one degree or another. Thankfully, Matthew has a good team in DS Jenn Rafferty and DC Ross May. Jenn is a single mom with two teenagers, and May is dedicated, at least as far as building his career goes. The Heron's Cry begins with Jenn at a party at her friend Cynthia's home. Jenn is a bit tipsy, not an unusual occurrence in social situations when she meets Nigel Yeo. It's a pleasant meeting, but Jenn senses he has something on his mind. Imagine her surprise when Nigel is found dead at his artist daughter's studio. This event sets off even more murders. All the deaths occur among the people living at an artist's colony on the property of millionaire financier Frances Ley.

Very few authors have the characterization skills that Ann Cleeves possesses. She is juggling multiple characters, who all have a part to play in the plot. All are so finely drawn they are indelible, and their varying situations intersect to bring it to its end. I'm particularly fond of Jonathan, who has an endless well of support and sympathy for Matthew, even though their marriage does have its stresses. I am getting fonder of his mother, who seems to be trying in her own way to, if not mend fences, make a halting new beginning. A plus for me is that I didn't have a clue who the perpetrator was and why.

I highly recommend The Heron's Call. Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. 

5 Stars

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A Below Stairs Mystery
Jennifer Ashley
Berkley Books
July 6, 2021

The fifth of the Kat Holloway Mysteries takes the intrepid cook into the highest levels of society and government affairs. A child of the London streets, born within the sound of Bow Bells, Kat has raised herself at a very young age to the highest levels, working in aristocratic Victorian households. Her success is thanks to her hard work and skill at cooking and a mother who worked day and night cleaning. Kat was apprenticed and learned how to read. Life has not always been rosy, however. At a young age, Kat married a sailor and had a daughter. When he died at sea, Kat found out he already married, making the child illegitimate. That could have been the end of everything, but Kat asked friends to raise her.  Kat demands not one but two half-days a week so that she can be with the youngster. Her skill is such that she gets the days. So far, the daughter is a secret to her employers.

A chance encounter with the charming Daniel McAdam changes Kat's life. She met him as a deliveryman who kept coming around to see her. It soon is apparent that Daniel is not just a delivery man but a chameleon who can move from the highest to the lowest levels of society with ease. He works for a shadowy figure in the British Government, one who has something to hold over Daniel's head. Reluctantly, he has needed to involve her in his doings from time to time, and she has proved an asset. In Death at the Crystal Palace, Kat is approached by Lady Covington on an excursion to the Palace. Lady Covington thinks someone is trying to poison her. Kat has gained somewhat of a reputation for truth-finding. Meanwhile, Daniel is investigating a British nobleman who may be funding Irish terrorists. When the two investigations intersect, Kat is thrown into mortal danger.

The Kat Holloway Mysteries are extraordinarily well-written and enjoyable visits to Victorian England, full of detail of lives both "Upstairs" and "Down." The characters are vivid with all the virtues and defects of human beings in any age. I highly recommend the series and am looking forward to the next one. I fear that Kat will finally come to the notice of Daniel's employer, whom even he fears.

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


Monday, June 21, 2021

Start The Day with a Raccoon on the Loose...


Sunshine Vicram #2
Darynda Jones
MacMillan Audio 
Narr: Lorelei King
July 27, 2021

It's a normal day in the mountainous tourist town of Del Sol, NM. Sadly, four months into the tenure of Sheriff Sunshine Vicram, she knows that "normal" means anything can happen and usually does. How on earth her parents managed to put her name in for the election without her knowledge and win is beyond her understanding. But it brought her and her teenage daughter, Aurora, back to her hometown. For good, at least until the next election, unless the Mayor decides to fire her. Sunshine's day starts with a raccoon on the loose in town, wreaking havoc. No sooner than he is captured, the day escalates into a bar fight with one seriously injured fighter and two others on the lam with another soon-to-be-dead fighter, based on the volume of blood left behind. Successful moonshine distiller and ex-bad-boy Levi Ravinder was also in the fight and seriously injured but refused to go to the hospital. Sunshine knows he isn't guilty of anything, but as usual, he isn't talking. Add to that the ongoing mystery of Sunshine's abduction fifteen years earlier, Aurora's pursuit of a serial killer responsible for several missing persons over the years, and the fact that someone in the Ravinder family is trying to kill Levi makes for an action-packed story. Not to mention the raccoon who managed to escape his cage.

I enjoyed Darynda Jones' first series, One Foot in the Grave, but I like this one even better. All the supporting characters are quirky and entirely believable: Sunshine's parents, her hunky deputy, and life-long best friend, and the other staffers at the station. Even the old lady who confesses to every crime in town is not beyond belief. Best of all is the loving relationship between mother and daughter. There are plenty of laughs in A Good Day for Chardonnay and a puzzling mystery to boot.

Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Audio for an advance digital copy. Lorelei King is one of my favorite narrators, so it was great to hear her telling the story. I am looking forward to the next one.

RATING-4.5  rounded up to 5 Stars.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Turmoil in 1940s Hollywood


Maggie Hope # 10
Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam Books
July 6, 2021

The tenth book in the Maggie Hope series takes Maggie back to the United States, her native land. Not the Massachusetts of her youth, but sunny Hollywood, CA. She has come at the behest of Flight Commander John Sterling, her former fiancé. John can no longer fly, but the British Government has sent him to work at the Disney Studios in the propaganda film wing. While in Hollywood, he met a young woman named Gloria Hutton, fell in love, and broke the engagement. The young woman drowned in a swimming pool at the famous Garden of Allah Hotel. The death was declared an accident, but John is confident that it was murder. Who better to investigate than Maggie? Maggie is understandably somewhat reluctant, but when her ballerina friend, Sarah Sanderson, gets a job making a film with the famous George Balanchine, she decides to go.

Maggie arrives in Hollywood and sees an America that she never expected. Far from the united front she expected, Los Angeles is a hotbed of racism and segregation like in the Jim Crow South: if not in law but fact. Organizations like the German-American Bund and the KKK have gone underground after Pearl Harbor, but they are still active and plotting. The American Nazi Party is alive and well. Maggie's first day in 1943 Hollywood sees the first of the Zoot-Suit Riots; when American service members face off with Hispanic Angelinos. As Maggie and John investigate Gloria's death, it appears that she might be involved in all the seething politics. The notoriously corrupt LAPD has no interest in what they find, except for one honest cop. 

The Hollywood Spy is intensely atmospheric, hot and sultry, and full of secrets. I learned so many things that I had not known or of which I was only dimly aware. MacNeal does meticulous research, as witnessed by her sources at the end of the book. For example, she used the word "surreal" to describe the similarities between the societal problems of 1943 and what we are facing today. I can't agree more with that assessment. I highly recommend The Hollywood Spy, both as crime fiction and a fast-paced mystery.

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

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Race to Find a Murderer in Ancient Rome

Leonidas the Gladiator # 2
Ashley Gardner
JA/AG Publishing
May 10, 2021

Freedman Leonidas is finding his way in what is a new world for him. As a youngster, he came to the games, convicted but innocent, in the death of his former master in the building trades. Since then, he became the fiercest and most skilled gladiator in Nero's Rome. When he earned his freedom, an anonymous benefactor came forward and gifted him a slave; Cassia is a skilled scribe. Leonidas and Cassia have managed to eke out a reasonable life with his work as a bodyguard and Cassia's household management. The two have gained a reputation for crime-solving as well. His former trainer, Aemil, summons Leonidas to his Ludus, and Aemil is not one to be refused. Three of his gladiators are AWOL, and Aemil wants them found. It turns out that Nero wants them found as well, and Nero cannot be refused; Leonidas finds the gruesomely murdered bodies of two, and the race is on to find the last. The search takes them into the highest and lowest places in Rome.

I happened upon this series by chance, and since I enjoy Ashley Gardner/Jennifer Ashley's other historical mysteries, I gave it a spin. It quickly became another favorite, even though Ancient Rome is not a period I have ever been particularly interested in. What does attract me are the vivid characters and descriptions. Leonidas is an open book, but Cassia is more than a little mysterious. These two are forming a relationship deeper than Master and slave, and it's fun to watch. As Cassia says, "You are a good man, Leonidas." He is a thoroughly good and decent man, despite his history.

I'm looking forward to the next in this series, and I highly recommend it.

5 Stars