Saturday, June 4, 2022

Assassins to Remember

Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books
September 6,2022

Deanna Raybourn takes a leap into the present day
with this intelligent and action-packed new book, and may I say, she hits it out of the park. Anyone who has read her successful Lady Julia and Veronica Speedwell Series knows that her heroines are sophisticated and competent yet rooted in the Victorian Era. The ladies are anything but shrinking violets. But they would have never imagined a foursome like this!

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie first met when recruited by a shadowy, non-governmental agency called The Museum. The Museum was started by US and British former agents, disgruntled by so many Nazis who were allowed to escape justice after World War II. They had managed to clean up many of them before the seventies when they moved their efforts to more familiar, garden-variety tinpot dictators, drug dealers, murderers, and the like. The women became assassins, often working as a team, the first female team in Museum history. They each had their own specialty; Billie, for instance, is accomplished in hand-to-hand combat. Billie also tells the story in Killers of a Certain Age. They came from widely divergent backgrounds but naturally developed a close relationship, having kept themselves alive in dangerous circumstances. Now, they have all entered their sixties, and retirement beckons. The Museum wants to send them on a luxury cruise together as a thank-you with a retirement package meant to keep them in comfort for the rest of their lives. However, much to their surprise, they are the targets of a young assassin, one from their own former employer. The chase to find out why they have been targeted and how to get the mark removed makes up the rest of this bang-up thriller. It's not easy, but none of these women have lost their skills. Or their desire to settle some old scores.

Killers of a Certain Age jumps back and forth in time, revisiting their training days and various missions they have done together and separately. I especially enjoyed their defeats of younger agents, often dependent on technology, using more "old-fashioned" methods. It's tremendous fun, and I couldn't put it down. The Museum should have known better. 

RATING- 5 Stars

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Mayhem, Murder and Apple Cider

Lady Hardcastle Mystery # 8
T. E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
June 7, 2022

It's 1911 in the English countryside and the hottest one 
anyone can remember. The people of the small market town of Littleton Cotterell are planning for an early harvest and the obligatory Harvest Festival. As usual, Lady Hardcastle and her maid/sidekick/friend Flo Armstrong are knee-deep in the planning, whether they want to be or not. They stroll down to the local pub one hot evening and find everyone at tables outside. When they go inside to order, they find a group of men gathered. These are the " Weryers of The Pomary" or the Cider Wardens. The organization has been around for hundreds of years, doing "good works" and holding much sway in the area. Lady Hardcastle and Flo think it to be just another eccentric feature of rural life. Until the next day, they learn that one of the Wardens has been murdered. When Wardens are murdered, one by one, their friend, Inspector Sunderland, asks them to become involved. They soon find that much more is going on than is ever mentioned in "polite" conversation. Those unmentioned things nearly get them killed.

Rotten To The Core is delightful, full of humor, and clever repartee. I always know I will be immersed in a few hours of pure enjoyment. A quote from Agatha Christie, "In an English village, you turn over a stone and have no idea what will crawl out," always comes to mind when reading this series. T.E. Kinsey owes much to Miss Marple, but Lady Hardcastle and Flo are much more fun. The characters, like their friend, Daisy the barmaid, Inspector Sunderland, and the Farley-Strouds add an extra bit of laughter to the mix. I highly recommend starting with the first in the series, A Quiet Life in the Country, to discover more about Lady Hardcastle and Flo's adventures in the years before the country life.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Beginning of a Delightful New Series Set in India


Vaseem Kahn
Mulholland Books, Hachette Audio
August 15, 2015

Nothing makes a voracious reader happier than discovering a new binge-worthy series. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra fits the bill exactly. Inspector Ashwin Chopra has been forced to retire after nearly 30 years from the Mumbai Police due to a heart condition. On the day of his retirement, Chopra is surprised by an unexpected delivery, a baby elephant, accompanied by a note from an uncle he has not seen or heard from for years. The message says the elephant is not a "usual" elephant. Chopra, who lives with his wife, Poppy, in a Mumbai high-rise apartment, sees no alternative to accepting the delivery. The elephant looks morose, even depressed, and Chopra decides to find some kind of refuge for the little elephant. Hopefully, he can keep him on the apartment grounds for a few days after finishing his final day of work. Baby Ganesh has other plans resulting in much hilarity and horror from Poppy and her dragon of a mother who resides with them. While he is at the station, he is visited by a distraught mother whose son has drowned, and the police declared it a suicide. She is one of the millions of impoverished Indians and thinks she will never see justice for what she knows was murder. Chopra feels he must investigate it himself, retired or not. The little elephant is not a "usual" elephant, and he and the upright Chopra make a highly unusual investigative team.

The author, Vaseem Kahn, is English of Indian heritage who lived and worked all over India for a decade. Despite his knowledge of its problems and shortcomings, his love for the country shines. Millions live in grinding poverty, with no hope of advancement. Like our own country, the "Haves" live in obscene excess, and corruption is a way of life. Bureaucracy stifles everything. Set against that backdrop are the sights, colors, and sounds of an extraordinarily vibrant culture, where anything can happen. All the characters are beautifully drawn, memorable, and very human. I listened to The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra on audio, and the narration is stellar. I can't recommend it highly enough.

RATING-5 Stars

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Things That Go Wrong At A Country House Party


Claudia Gray
May 3, 2022

Approximately 22 years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, the Darcys are invited to the home of Emma and George Knightley, Donville Abbey. The other guests include the Brandons, the Bertrams, and the Wentworths, all characters made immortal in the novels of Jane Austen. Also included are 17-year-olds Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcey. The guests expect all the things that happen during a house party, several weeks of hunting and shooting, delectable food, visiting the countryside, and good conversation. A massive storm blows up on the first evening, and an unexpected guest arrives. The villain of Pride and Prejudice, George Wickham, strides into the gathering as if he were a guest. He makes it plain that he has business with all of them and no plans to leave. Propriety demands that George Ridgeway not throw him out into a massive storm. They don't make him at all welcome, and as the rain and wind wear on, Wickham is the cat among the pigeons. Juliet Tilney discovers Wickham, bludgeoned to death, in the Gallery. 

Wickham's murder sets the stage for a very clever whodunnit. All the men have reason to see Wickam dead and some of the women. But who could have done it? The youngest guests, Juliet and Jonathan, form a pact to find out who the culprit is. Juliet is afraid that the Magistrate might blame a servant. Jonathan is worried that Wickham might have pushed one of his parents over the edge at last. All the married couples have cracks and secrets in their marriages, so Wickham is a plague even when dead. Juliet is a delightful addition, and Jonathan is fascinating. He is extremely socially awkward, always wondering how to behave, and finds being in company a trial. The two make a good pair of investigators, if not always impartial.

If it had been me, I would have buried Wickham in the garden and gone on about enjoying the house party after the storm stopped. But, one has to do the right thing, and the reader wouldn't have a  puzzle to solve. I admit I didn't solve it, but I did have questions! I highly recommend The Murder of Mr. Wickham. Thanks to NetGalley and Vintage for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Dangerous Introduction to America


Captain Jim Agnihotri #2
Nev March
St. Martins Minotaur
July 12, 2022

The second book in the Captain Jim Agnihotri series opens in Boston, where Jim and his new wife have moved, leaving India and their former lives behind. Jim has taken a position as a detective with the Dupree Detective Agency. Diana has found the changes in her life challenging, moving from a life of luxury and servants to one of doing her cooking,
laundry, and baking. She is also missing her family and drawing on her memories of them to help her cope. Diana is more than equal to the challenge; however, making friends and allies both high and low. Understanding of American ways is coming slowly and surely. 

When Jim goes to Chicago on a mission, one that he is very closed-mouthed about, Diana is all alone in Boston. Jim warned that he would not be able to communicate with her often or regularly. Still, after five weeks of no messages at all, she is frantic. Adding to her worries, a man arrives at her home carrying a letter for Jim. The man exudes fright, and the letter is in German. Rather than sitting and stewing, she decides to go to the Dupree Agency. Both father, Alfred, and son, Peter Dupree, have also not heard from Jim since his departure. But they tell her Jim is investigating a case at the soon to open Centennial Exposition, which led to an earlier investigator's death. This situation will not do. Through force of will and a little judicious blackmail, Diana gains a helper, a black man named Tobias, to aid her on the trip and the search for  Jim.

The trip to Chicago is a revelation to Diana. She never knew the depth of the racism and poverty that afflicted the still-new nation. The after-effects of the Civil War hung over everyone a decade later. Chicago is in a state of turmoil in 1876 with the opening of the Centennial Exposition. It is the first World's Fair held in America, and the movers and shakers are determined to show the world that Chicago is stepping back to the stage after the Great Fire. There is also grinding poverty, worker unrest, violence, and a possible anarchistic threat. That is the Chicago Jim has infiltrated. When Diana finds him, she is also exposed to that world. But she also moves into the world of the powerful, presenting herself as an Indian Princess. There appear to be many possible bad actors among the rich and powerful.

Peril at the Exposition is an action-packed, well-plotted, thrilling adventure with dizzying twists and turns. The many characters are fleshed out and memorable. It is a worthy addition to the series, one that I enjoyed immensely. Thanks to and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Murder in a Divided Maine Town


Maine Clambake Mystery #10
Barbara Ross
Kensington Books
June 28, 2022

I discovered the Maine Clambake Mysteries while in Maine for vacation a couple of years ago and have been reading them steadily since. This tenth installment takes place in Mud Season, that season between winter and summer when the snowmelt is gone, and the most plentiful things in Maine are mud and blackflies. Busman's Harbor is gearing up for the tourist season, not least Julia Snowden, who manages the Snowden Family Clambake. Julia feels at loose ends after ending a long-term relationship and is back in her family home. Even the apartment she lived in is unavailable for a few months.

A divided Busman's Harbor is on the verge of deciding whether to install a proposed pedestrian mall during the summer months. Some are bitterly opposed, including "antique" dealer Phinney Hardison, but others, including some wealthy pillars of the community, think it might be a good idea for the town. Zoey Butterfield is at the center of the controversy. She owns a thriving pottery business and employs Livvie, Julia's sister, in the off-season. The pedestrian mall was her idea. Phinney and Zoey share a retail space, so tensions are exceptionally high. When Julia sees police cars in the early morning, she races over to find Zoey's side of the building has been vandalized. Thousands of dollars worth of pottery were destroyed, ready for the season and shipping worldwide. Phinney, of course, denies any responsibility. However, when Phinney is discovered dead in the building's shared basement, Zoey is squarely in the sight of the police.

Julia needs to find out who is responsible for both crimes before the town tears apart. What follows is an intricately plotted chase with all the familiar characters and a very welcome new one in the person of Zoey. Muddled Through is a most enjoyable addition to the series. Thanks to and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

4 Stars

Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Spooky Old House and a Devastating Storm


Death by Chocolate Series # 5
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books
March 29, 2022

I am always happy to revisit historic Eastport, Maine, where a lot happens in such a small town. When things happen (usually homicide), best friends and partners Jake Tiptree and Ellie White are always mixed up in it. We first met Jake and Ellie in Sarah Graves' first long-running series, Home Repair is Homicide. Jake is a transplant from NY who arrived in Eastport running away from an abusive ex-husband. Her young son, Sam, has drug problems and a penchant for getting into trouble, sometimes life-threatening. Jake also has a somewhat shady past as a money advisor for the NY mob. Ellie is a life-long Eastporter, down to earth with the Maine knowledge that Jake lacks. The first series is set against the background of Jake's endless rehabbing of her early 1800s house. In the second series, Jake and Ellie have opened a bakery called The Chocolate Moose. 

When Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake opens, Jake and Ellie are wondering how to keep the bakery open during the off-season for the locals. When a limo arrives carrying a somewhat faded Hollywood icon, Ingrid Merryfield, they think their prayers are answered. Ingrid claims that she was born in Eastport and has purchased Cliff House, a mansion that has been uninhabited for years. Cliff House has quite the reputation since multiple murders happened there, and the locals think it is haunted. Ingrid wants to hire The Chocolate Moose to cater a party she is throwing for a small group of friends. Jake and Ellie have plenty of questions, but the money is too good to turn down, enough to keep the bakery open through the winter. They can't find any evidence of Ingrid's Eastport birth, and why is she having a party before any renovations to Cliff House? And why does Ingrid need a very imposing bodyguard? There are plenty of spooky events at Cliff House, but neither Jake nor Ellie believe in ghosts. What worries them is the motley crew of guests Ingrid has gathered there. Some of them appear to be enemies rather than friends. A devastating storm sweeps in, stranding them all at Cliff House. Murders begin, and they have to get out somehow. The storm was so violent that no help was coming from Eastport or the Coast Guard.

All the Eastport characters have come to feel like friends over the years I have been reading both series. There are no lengths they will not go to for each other. This book is another action-packed entry for Jake, Ellie, Sam, and especially Jake's aging and ailing father. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.