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.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Home-Grown Espionage in WWII England


Electra McDonnell #2
Ashley Weaver
St. Martins Minotaur
May 10, 2022

The McDonnell family lives in London’s East End and is well known for locksmithing. They also do a little safe-cracking on the side when economic circumstances require it. The only girl in the family, Electra, grew up learning locksmithing at her Uncle Mick’s knee and is an expert.

But as a woman in the WWII era,  Electra is usually laughed at by prospective customers until she proves what she can do. Uncle Mick and her cousins, Colm and Toby, have no such reservations, and Electra is a welcome part of the safe-cracking side of the business. In the previous book, His Majesty’s Government, in the form of the upright and reserved Major Ramsey, offers the McDonnell family an offer they can’t refuse; forgiveness for previous crimes in exchange for help with the War effort. Part of the deal is the cessation of all illegal activities. The McDonnells agree as they are patriots; besides, England is in the “phony war,” waiting for Germany’s inevitable attack.

Electra proved her mettle in her first case, A Peculiar Combination, so it is no surprise when Major Ramsey has a new investigation for her. A girl has turned up drowned in the Thames wearing a bracelet adorned with a unique locket. When Electra opens the locket, it has microfilm inside. The young woman was involved with espionage, but why and who would kill her? She appeared a regular country girl who was looking for a new life in London in all respects. This investigation will take Electra and Major Ramsey into perilous territory as the Blitz finally arrives. The descriptions of those first nights of the bombing are riveting.

The Key to Deceit is another enjoyable entry in the series, combining a puzzle to solve, adventure, suspense, with a light touch of romance. Will she or won’t she, and if so, with whom? A secondary, important mystery is Electra’s quest to find out more about her mother, who died in prison after giving birth to her. She supposedly killed Electra’s father but always denied it and was believed by many. Electra’s Uncle Mick was her father’s brother and took her in, raising her as one of his own. Not surprisingly, it was never discussed in his household. Readers of cozy historical mysteries should enjoy the Electra McDonnell series immensely.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. See also at

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, March 18, 2022

Twists and Turns Make a Can't-Put-It-Down Thriller

Edwin Hill
Kensington Books
March 29, 2022

Sisters Natalie Cavanaugh and Glenn Abbott could not be more different. Natalie is a 40-something Boston detective, and Glenn is a food blogger who is on the cusp of significant success with a book coming out in a few days. Loner Natalie passes out every night from drinking too much and seems to have no one who cares about her other than her mentee on the force, Zane Perez, and her sister. Glenn appears to have everything in control, with her husband Jake and 12-year-old daughter, Mavis. There is a lot of trouble in Glenn's paradise, however.

The secrets that the two sisters share go back to the murder of their father years earlier. Alan Cavanaugh was murdered in the woods behind their house in suburban Boston. It appears that he was murdered by their next-door neighbor, who had an affair with him. She even confessed to it before killing herself. As a result, her two children were broken up and sent into the foster system. Natalie and Glenn were never separated, but many townspeople still believed that their mother, Ruth, was actually guilty. All the disparate threads of the murder of Alan come back to haunt them. 

Hester Thursby, librarian and researcher extraordinaire, and her veterinarian husband, Morgan make a brief appearance (along with their daughter, Kate, and various assorted canines). Their friend, Detective Angela White, is prominently present, who takes the investigation away from Natalie when Glenn's daughter Mavis discovers a grotesquely murdered body in an abandoned warehouse. All the clues seem to point back to that earlier murder of Alan Cavanaugh. The Secrets We Share is Hill's best work, full of head-spinning twists and turns that kept me up late. When the final solution to the puzzle was revealed, I was astonished. Hill's portrayal of Mavis, intelligent, focused, and fierce, placed in considerable danger, is also a stand-out.

I highly recommend The Secrets We Share. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

5 Stars

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

More fun with Veronica and Stoker

 Veronica Speedwell #7
 Deanna Raybourn
 Berkley Books
 February 15, 2022

Veronica and Stoker have just returned from their adventures in the tiny principality of Alpenwold and are hoping to resume their work on Lord Rosmorran’s ever-growing collection.
Soon after their arrival, they have a visit from Sir Hugh Montgomerie, head of the Special Branch of Scotland Yard and sometimes right-hand man to the Queen. Sir Hugh has a favor to ask, that Stoker and Veronica visit a family of his long acquaintance. The Hathaway family has thought for years that the heir, Jonathan Hathaway, was killed in the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa, but a man purporting to be him has returned. Veronica was with Hathaway and another man on the ill-fated expedition. Veronica has always believed that both were killed. Sir Hugh also wants them to check on the well-being of Euphemia “Effie” Hathaway, his god-daughter. He sweetens the deal for Stoker with a promise that there might be a specimen of a “Tasmanian Tiger” at Hathaway Hall and butterflies for Veronica.

Upon arrival, they find a household in turmoil, a miserable Effie, a managing and social-climbing wife to Charles Hathaway, the younger brother to Jonathan, and the estate’s present owner. There is also a dragon of a mother-in-law. Upon introduction to “Jonathan,” Veronica gets the surprise of her life, and so does the reader! The secret of his identity is one she can’t reveal, especially to Stoker. It’s hard to believe that Veronica was ever a romantic fool, but everyone is young once.

An Impossible Impostor is full of chases, kidnappings, escapes, stolen Indian jewels, supernatural happenings, and threats to life and limb. Of course, one has come to expect all that from a Veronica Speedwell novel. The Impossible Impostor himself is just that, impossible indeed. There is the introduction of a new villainess, one I would expect to see again. Isabel MacGregor is not the type to be forgiving when thwarted. The novel ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger, but it only whets the appetite for the next book in the series.
Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars