Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Adelaide to Darwin through the Outback on a legendary train

 Benjamin Stevenson #2
 Mariner Books
 January 30, 2024

I have been eagerly awaiting Everyone on This Train is a Suspect since last year's Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone. It was, hands down, my favorite mystery novel of 2023. It was highly satisfactory, a clever and inventive take on the tropes inherent in "Golden Age" mystery fiction, with a fair amount of violence mixed in for a more modern audience. Thanks to NetGalley and Mariner Books for an advance reading copy.

This time, our "hero," Ernest Cunningham, has been invited aboard The Ghan, a legendary and lavish train traveling through the Australian Outback from Adelaide to Darwin. It's a very different setting from the previous book, the snowy mountains of New South Wales, but just as dangerous in an Australian high summer. The reason for the trip is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Australian Mystery Writers Society. Ern's actual crime book about his family has done very well, and Elizabeth (his girlfriend we met in the prior book) is along. Elizabeth, too, wrote a book about their experiences.

The train is full of mystery fiction luminaries, primarily the Scots writer Henry McTavish, whose next book is the end of a long-running and very lucrative series. The rest of the train comprises a motley crew of lesser writers, agents, rabid fans, warring publishers, and one very "literary" writer who is above it all. The connections between these disparate characters run deep and are only sometimes cordial. The first murder comes as no real surprise, but as others pile on, Ern sets out in his own fashion despite the danger.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and I found them easy to lose track of. They did not seem quite as well drawn as Ern's family. Still, I recommend this book highly because of Ern's distinctive and snarky voice. He needs to have more regard for his personal safety, or he will not be around for long. There is quite a twist at the end, related by Elizabeth, that I did not see coming!

RATING- 4 Stars


Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Age of Steam and Conspiracy

Wrexford and Sloan #7
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
September 26, 2023

Lord Wrexford sets out quickly to Oxford when he receives a message from an old friend, Greeley, a Librarian at Merton College Library. More important, he was the dearest friend of Wrexford's younger brother, Thomas. Thomas was killed in a French ambush in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars, and Wrexford has always felt guilty that he was not there to save him. Greeley was the only survivor, grievously wounded in both body and spirit. Wrexford would never ignore a request from Greeley. Upon his arrival, he finds that the librarian has been murdered and a valuable manuscript is missing.

Meanwhile, in London, Lady Charlotte is investigating a possible arson fire at a laboratory under her pen name, AJ Quill.
 This is the age of steam; Stephen Fulton has just introduced the steam paddleboat in America to great success and acclaim. The British are all in on developing an ocean-going steamboat. As was the custom, consortiums are being formed to reap the benefits. Some of the consortiums have dubious characters involved, and Charlotte wants to get to the bottom of them, especially since their friend, Kit Sheffield, is tempted to join one of the most dubious.

As always, the burgeoning world of science is at the heart of the Wrexford and Sloane mysteries. The Regency era brought many new scientific advances and new ways to cheat others out of their wealth. In this particular entry, I found myself lost in all the theories of propulsion from DaVinci to more modern theorists. However, the cast of characters redeems that. Time spent in the company of the Wrexfords, their formerly street urchin wards, Raven and Hawk, and Peregrine, the new addition, Peregrine, is well-spent. It is an unconventional family, but a family nonetheless. We even get answers about Charlotte's taciturn housekeeper, Mac, and a resolution to just who was responsible for the death of Thomas in the ambush that killed him.

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

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Intrigue and Adventure on the High Seas

 Captain Jim and Lady Diana Mysteries, # 3
 Nev March
 Minotaur Books
 September 12, 2023

 The third story in this award-winning series features Captain Jim Agnihotri and Lady Diana embarking on a journey from their home in America to England at the behest of Diana's brother, Adi. Adi is in England on business and wants Jim's help with a matter he only wants to discuss in person. It suits Captain Jim since he has sensed a growing distance between himself and Diana. At first glance, the couple seems ill-assorted. Jim is a half-caste orphan invalided out of the Indian Army, and Diana is from a noble, wealthy Indian family and was university educated in England. Jim's service to the family (Murder in Old Bombay) made him almost a family member. They welcomed him with open arms when Diana set her cap for him. Diana usually gets what she wants! Jim's investigative skills, army background, and Diana's social skills make them a formidable duo.

As much as Jim is happy to take the journey, an old problem arises. Jim is a very bad sailor who never seems to quite overcome it. After one of his bouts, he goes out on the deck, hoping for fresh air and relief. While there, he meets an old soldier, Don Juan Nepomuceno. The two feel a sense of kinship, and the old man is kind to Jim. However, Don Juan is not universally loved, as becomes apparent when he is murdered in a grisly and very personal manner only a few hours later. His past includes the execution of many US Navy prisoners in Cuba years before. Many hate him, and some onboard have reason to do so. The fact that Don Juan is highly placed in the Spanish nobility threatens to create an international incident. The ship's captain asks Jim to find the killer before docking at Liverpool.

Hundreds of passengers are on the ship, from first class to second, and steerage. Then there is the crew. The author does a fine job of keeping them separate and distinct from each other. Diana, as always, involves herself but is limited to the first-class areas. Jim spends every waking hour, while not seasick, all over the ship and learning much about the operations of an ocean liner. Action and life-threatening danger are never far from the duo as they race to solve the murder. 

I have enjoyed each of the books in this series and was not disappointed in The Spanish Diplomat's Secret. There is a foreshadowing of the next puzzle for Captain Jim and Lady Diana in the person of Adi. I will be looking forward to it.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

A Very Surprising Find


Rachel Savernake #3
Martin Edwards
Poison Pen Press
August 1, 2023

As a lifetime reader of murder mysteries, especially British crime, I know of Martin Edwards. Edwards is the foremost expert on British Golden-age mysteries with many books, stories, prefaces, and non-fiction to his credit. To my knowledge, I had never read one of his novels, so when The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge popped up on NetGalley, with this fabulous cover, I jumped on it. 

Disheveled, heavy drinker and smoker Nell Fagan is "on her uppers," having lost her last reporting job, and is looking for a big scoop. She thinks she has found it when Vernon Baker asks her to look into his mother's death. She had married a much younger man who drove a wedge between mother and son. Vernon next knew that she had gone to a sanitarium for some rest in Yorkshire and died there. Vernon asks her to investigate the place, Blackstone Lodge. Having burned her bridges with just about everyone, Nell heads up to Blackstone Fell. She finds an odd and dreary place with a dangerous landscape. People go missing, never to be seen again; one in 1606 and one in 1906, most famously. When Vernon Baker is killed in London due to an "accident,." Nell returns to London to consult with Rachel Savernake.

Rachel Savernake is a wealthy young woman, the daughter of a notorious "hanging judge" in London. Evidently, the judge went bonkers after his wife died, taking his young daughter to grow up on the isolated island of Gaunt. Not surprisingly, when the judge died, Rachel headed back to London with her small band of one housekeeper, one maid, and a man of all work. All three are devoted to her. She is a mystery to everyone except her staff. She does have a hobby, solving grisly murders, which has given her fame and the police fits. Even in 1932-ish, the police did not approve of women solving crimes. Especially Rachel, who is coldly analytical, giving nothing away. When Nell returns to Blackstone Fell and promptly goes missing herself from the exact location where others have gone before her, Rachel rents a cottage and follows behind. Blackstone Fell is a seething mass of gossip, bad blood, and extra-marital activity. The Vicar himself is a wife-abusing zealot. There are plenty of bad actors to go around.

Following Rachel and Nell is Jacob Flint, a fellow reporter with Nell who has been involved with earlier investigations. Jacob seems genuine enough, but who knows in this group of characters? Rachel herself and her loyal band of employees are the main attractions. Rachel is mysterious to the nth degree and not at all likable. No doubt, it would help to read the previous two books, which I plan to start right away.

The Puzzle of Blackwood Lodge is atmospheric, masterfully plotted, and totally fascinating. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for an advance digital copy.

5 Stars

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

A Trio of Senior Sleuths Catch a Serial Killer

Peter Boland
Joffee Books
December 22, 2022

I picked up The Charity Shop Detective Agency as part of my Kindle Unlimited membership because I wanted something light to read. It bore a similar description to that of The Thursday Murder Club and features a trio of senior sleuths. When 86-year-old Sarah Brown is found murdered, stabbed in the back, and with a domino clutched in her hand with her name scratched on it, the ladies running the "Dogs Need Good Homes" Charity Shop spring into action. Sarah Brown was one of their favorite customers, part of a group for whom they provided a place to meet, tea, and cakes every Tuesday morning. Fiona, Sue, and Daisy have a surprising set of skills for retired ladies, all of which they employ in their dogged pursuit of the killer as the bodies pile up. The pretty small town of Southbourne has a serial killer on its hands. Have no fear, though; with the help of Fiona's scruffy terrier, Simon Le Bon, and the reluctant cooperation of DI Fincher, all will be well.

The Charity Shop Detective Agency has all the ingredients of a classic cozy mystery set in an English village; likable, if somewhat bungling, main characters and quirky supporting characters. All three ladies have technology skills, skulking about and even lock picking. It was surprising, to say the least, but less dramatic was their commitment to each other. All for one and one for all would be a fitting motto. I was reasonably sure of the guilty party, but the author threw in enough red herrings to keep it interesting. There may have been too many twists and turns in the plot as it slowed the story's progress.

I am looking forward to a second book.

RATING-3.5 Stars

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Don't Judge This Book By Its Cover

 Alexandra Benedict
 Poisoned Pen Press
 October 5, 2023

One might expect a cozy mystery by looking at the cover, or at least I did. All the Poirot-esque elements are certainly here but in a much more modern, darker form. Just retired London Metropolitan detective Roz Parker took a first-class ticket to Scotland on the last overnight Express before Christmas. She must arrive on time as her daughter is in labor, and Roz has somehow managed to miss most of the significant events of her life. 

The train has a very motley crew of travelers on board. We first meet Meg, a social media influencer taking the train to post updates and sell some products. Meg is obviously in trouble with her boyfriend, Grant. Grant is a reality TV star who is handsome and can be charming but is also belittling, and there are more than hints of physical violence. Meg is terrified of him but also alarmingly co-dependent. We also have a put-upon husband with a herd of children and a drunken wife. A group of university students are on their way to Scotland to participate in a trivia contest on TV. An elderly woman and her son, and a mousy young woman who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Roz takes her under her wing but has her own problems because her daughter's labor has become life-threatening. When the train grinds to a halt in a blizzard, and bodies keep dropping, Roz must take things in hand to find the killer. 

Murder on the Christmas Express tackles issues never seen in the cozy genre; sexual violence, rape, and the lasting effects of trauma. It also has the most unattractive cast of characters, except Roz and a few others I have ever encountered. What did I like about Murder on the Christmas Express? The plotting was excellent, with one twist, turn, and misdirection after the other. It definitely kept me reading until the end to see who the killer might be. I'm giving it 3 Stars based on that page-turning quality and the somewhat hopeful turn of events at the novel's close.

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

3 Stars


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hidden Beneath Maine Waters

 A Maine Clambake Mystery #11
 Barbara Ross
 Kensington Books
 June 27, 2023

I'm always delighted when a new book is published from one of my favorite "set-in-Maine" series. As someone who visits Maine regularly, it is one of my preferred places on earth, winter or summer, following the stories of the Snowden Family Clambake. After living away from Maine for years, Julia, the eldest daughter, has returned after her father's death to help save the Clambake from bankruptcy. Julia has had many ups and downs, both business and personal, but now the Clambake is stable. As is Julia, even though she is still hurting from her decision to end the relationship with Chris, the man she thought was her life's love.

Hidden Beneath centers on her mother, Jacqueline, and her relationship with other teenage girls years before on Chipmunk Island, an island nearby. Chipmunk is home to a summer colony of wealthy families who only mix a little with Busman's Harbor residents. One of the girls, Ginny, now middle-aged women, had gone missing five years earlier and had been declared dead. Jacqueline asked Julia to accompany her to Ginny's memorial even though the summer season was just starting. There are unusual overtones at the event, and when Jacqueline visits Ginny's cottage, she finds that furniture has been moved and walls have been painted over. The women who were friends years ago are looking for Ginny's missing will. When it is found, Jacqueline learns that she has been named executor. She is astonished because she has only seen Ginny in passing for years. But, being Jacqueline, she is determined to get to the bottom of the riddle of Ginny's disappearance and needs Julia to help.

The mystery of Ginny's disappearance and all the events leading up to it is a twisty tale that kept me guessing. The main attraction of the series for me are the characters and settings, all familiar to me. Having a mystery to try to solve is a big plus. This time I failed and was also blindsided by a possible new romance for Julia from an unexpected quarter! Thanks to NetGalley.com and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 Stars