Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Timely and Chilling Novel of Nazi Sympathizers in Pre- World WarII Hollywood

     



 MOTHER DAUGHTER TRAITOR SPY
Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam Books
September 20, 2022



It's 1940 in New York, and everything seems to be coming up roses for Veronica Grace and her widowed mother, Violet. Ever since childhood, Veronica has wanted to be a journalist, modeling herself on Martha Gellhorn. She is graduating with honors from Hunter College and has a great job lined up. Her father, a Naval Commander, has been dead for six years, so her uncle Walter has come from Southern California to celebrate. Little do they know that everything is going to change. Veronica has a secret. She has been having an affair with an older reporter who was supposed to be mentoring her, and his wife has found out about it. Unluckily, the wife is part of a mighty publishing family who has reported it to Hunter and Veronica's prospective employer. Veronica's dreams are smashed, and even worse, she is just one of a string of girls who were fooled by him.

Uncle Walter has a plan for them, though. He has a small cottage in California to offer them so they can make a new start. Despite having lived their whole lives in Brooklyn, Violet and Veronica see no alternative. A scandal like this can't be hidden or glossed over, not in 1940. The little family heads off to sunny LA with heavy hearts and no idea how to start over. Veronica finds it challenging to find a job, especially without any experience or education she can mention. Violet is a typical housewife and mother of the time with no work experience. She is, however, a talented seamstress and specializes in custom embroidery on clothing. One day mother and daughter engaged in a casual conversation with a woman who told Veronica of a possible job with the woman's brother-in-law doing stenographic and general office work. Violet's beautiful embroidery is also noticed by rich, well-connected women, primarily women connected to right-wing causes. Veronica takes the job but soon discovers that her seemingly "nice," jovial employers are part of the America First Committee and are distributing poisonous propaganda for the Nazi Regime. She is sickened and horrified, and when she tells Violet, the two women go first to the police, then to the FBI. The police can do nothing and seem, if anything, sympathetic. And J. Edgar Hoover was only interested in chasing Communists. A call to a Naval colleague of Veronica's father brings results, however. He puts them in touch with two active agents trying to stop the Nazi influx. Since Violet and Veronica are of German heritage and look like perfect blonde examples of Aryan womanhood, they will have no problem infiltrating. The women agree since they both are patriots who hate the rise of the Nazis. It becomes clear to them that they will be in great danger. The Nazi sympathizers are planning something "big" if Roosevelt is re-elected. 

The plot of Mother Daughter Traitor Spy would be quite fantastical if one didn't know how dangerous Nazi sympathizers were all over America, especially on the coasts. Xenophobia ran rampant when it became clear that America was being inexorably drawn into another World War. However, the characters of the agents, Violet and Veronica, as well as the Nazis, are based on real people. The agents went on after the War to successful careers and prominence. The women who placed themselves in such peril have been largely forgotten, which seems to be how such things go. Veronica's real name was Sylvia Comfort. One can't read Mother Daughter Traitor Spy without seeing the parallels to today's political climate. This is a nail-biting thriller with characters to remember.

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






 













Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Not the Usual Longmire


 HELL AND BACK
 Walt Longmire #18
 Craig Johnson
 Viking
 September 6, 2022



It has been a while since I read the Walt Longmire series, but when I had a chance to read Hell and Back, I was pleasantly reminded just a few pages in. Johnson's prose is beautiful, and the character of Walt is one that you just want to spend some time with. This is not quite the Walt I remember since Johnson takes him into mystical territory. He has strayed there in previous novels, but not to this extent.

Hell and Back opens with Walt waking up snow-covered in a street. He is also covered in blood and doesn't know his name or where he is. He sets off for the nearest lights in a diner just beginning to close. Despite an advancing blizzard, the pretty waitress (who looks somewhat familiar) still makes a meal for him. She also helps him with his name on the hatband inside his cowboy hat. He is in Fort Pratt, Montana. Fort Pratt was the home of an Indian Training School that burned to the ground over a hundred years ago, killing thirty boys. The waitress tells him there haven't been any good stories in Fort Pratt since.

The fact that Walt is missing is not lost on Vic Moretti, his under-sheriff, and his longtime friend, Henry Standing Bear. Both, along with Walt's giant indeterminately bred hound "Dog,"  have set off to find him in the teeth of the blizzard, and the story switches between them and Walt. Walt's wanderings feature meetings with all sorts of characters in the snowy landscape, both natural and possibly imagined. The gates of the training school are still standing. When Walt crosses onto the grounds, he thinks he is back in time to when the school was still operating, to the very day it burned at 8:17pm.

This departure may throw longtime readers of the series, but Johnson gives us the twists in plotting and robust character building that we expect. I am decidedly not a fan of Westerns, probably because I watched too many bad ones on TV in my childhood. Johnson has taken a risk with Hell and Back but succeeds in all ways.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars






 

Monday, August 29, 2022

This Garden is Not Eden


 

BACK TO THE GARDEN
Laurie R. King
Bantam Books
September 6, 2022



Laurie R. King is best known for her long-running Mary.
Russell and Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, but she has also written several excellent stand-alone novels. Back to the Garden falls into that category. The Gardener Estate is steeped in California history and has seen many transformations. It is reminiscent of the Hearst San Simeon Estate, with baronial interiors, exteriors, and extensive gardens. The Estate has always remained in the Gardener family's hands.   In the 1970s, the Estate rested in the hands of the "Old Bastard," always referred to by his grandsons." Fort" and Rob Gardener are the heirs to the Estate. "Fort" has already taken off for an ashram in India and disinherited. The rebellious and volatile Rob refuses to be part of his grandfather's plans. He joins the Army and is promptly sent off to Viet Nam. Only a cousin stays involved with the running of the Estate, but since his last name is not Gardener, he can't inherit.

When Rob returns from Viet Nam and inherits, he is still rebellious and volatile. He is also deeply immersed in the 1970s "counterculture." He and his partner, Meadow,
remake the house and grounds into an experiment in communal living. All sorts of people come and go from 1970s cultural icons to petty criminals. "Fort" reappears, still with no designs on the Estate, rather than a seemingly small request. All seemed well until Rob and Meadow decided to have an art and music festival, mainly to showcase the success of their experiment. On that weekend, everything changes. Meadow and "Fort" disappear, and the commune breaks up quickly. Currently, the Estate is managed by a Trust, and Rob is a hermit living on the grounds. The Estate has been returned to its former glory, and big plans are afoot. An immense statue, The Three Eves, has to be moved and shored up. A human skull and remains are discovered beneath.

Anyone who lived through the 70s might remember that there was also a surfeit of serial killers operating in America. Young women on the roads were killed and disappeared all over, particularly in California. When a Cold Case investigator, Racquel Laing from the SFPD, gets wind of the find, she thinks it would fit her case, that of The Highwayman. The Highwayman is in custody, but he is dying. Racquel is on a mission to find out who, other than the nine women they know about, fell victim to him. He isn't talking unless forced to, and Raquel is determined to find out every victim before time runs out. The intersection of the history of the Gardener family and the Highwayman is bound together.

Back to the Garden is an intricate and compelling read with King's signature full-bodied characters and atmospheric writing. Thanks to NetGalley.com and Bantam Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

















Sunday, August 7, 2022

A "Witches Brew" of a Cozy Mystery

 

STEEPED TO DEATH
A Witches' Brew Mystery #1
Gretchen Rue
Crooked Lane Books
September 6, 2022



Sometimes a reader needs a break from the darker side of mayhem and murder and suspend disbelief for a few hours. The first in a new cozy series, Steeped to Death, fits the bill exactly. A picturesque small town, a gutsy heroine amid a life change, a companion cat, and a touch of magic are all present. 

Phoebe Winchester is coming out of a divorce from her philandering husband when her beloved Aunt Eudora dies, leaving her a large Victorian house in the tourist-based village of Ravens Creek, WA. Along with the house comes Aunt Eudora's used bookshop/tea shop, the Earl's Study, and a companion ginger cat named Bob. Eudora was known for her sense of adventure and ability to blend unique teas with possibly magical qualities. In fact, many residents of Ravens Creek think she was a witch. Phoebe doesn't believe that for a moment since she spent many childhood summers with Eudora and saw no evidence of magic. 

Everyone seems welcoming to Phoebe, except for Dierdre Miller, who accosts her at every turn. Dierdre wants to buy the house and business and doesn't accept "No" as an answer. Then there is Owen, owner of a shoe store nearby who doesn't miss an opportunity to insult her, and The Earl's Study. On the other hand, Phoebe meets a childhood friend, Rich Lofting (formerly Ricky), now a handsome P.I. living in an apartment over The Earl's Study. When Phoebe finds a dead body outside her store and she is being stalked, she doesn't know who to trust. Even stranger, it seems that Aunt Eudora might have been a witch after all, and Phoebe might have inherited her abilities and some of her own.

Steeped to Death is a promising beginning to a new series, one that is very enjoyable. Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars


Saturday, August 6, 2022

A Long Ago Retreat Haunts Its Particpants


 THE RISING TIDE
 Vera Stanhope #10
 Ann Cleeves
 Minotaur Books
 September 6, 2022



Ann Cleeves' newest Vera Stanhope mystery reaches back into the past for the motive behind a series of murders. Fifty years ago, a group of students at Kimmerston Grammar, brought together by their teacher, had a sort of retreat on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and formed strong bonds that have lasted a lifetime. Five have gathered on the island every five years for a reunion. Those meeting this October include Rick Kelsall, a celebrity journalist whose career has come to a screeching halt by accusations of sexual harassment from an intern. There is also Annie Laidler, co-owner of a successful bakery/deli in Kimmerston; Philip Robson, an Anglican priest; Ken Hampton, a successful head-teacher now suffering from Alzheimer's, and his wife, Louise. Holy Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway, inundated by the rising tide once a day. On the first reunion, Isobel Hall left the island in a temper when the tide rose and was swept away in her small car. She is much remembered by the remaining group.

Vera has had no cases for a while that challenged her, so when news of a possible suicide on Holy Island reaches her, she secretly hopes for a murder. Rick Kelsall is dead, found hanging in his room by Annie. Rick had been surprisingly upbeat with his career in shambles, talking about new projects, including a novel. It does look like a suicide, but the postmortem shows that Rick was smothered with a pillow and strung up. This investigation, with the wives, ex-wives, friends, and the now-retired teacher who brought them together, will prove to be the most dangerous and tragic of her career. All her team is involved, particularly Holly and Joe Ashworth. Even the upstanding police commissioner, Katherine Willmore, has a connection to the group, making the case more political than usual.

The Holy Island, with its dangerous tides, mists, and the sound of foghorns, is almost a character on its own. Who, among this group of seemingly respectable seniors, is a dangerous killer, willing to do anything to keep the secrets of the past? The Rising Tide is a masterpiece of plotting, keeping me guessing until the end. The end itself is shockingly unexpected and may portend some changes for the irascible Vera. Ann Cleeves continues to provide mysteries that are not only puzzles but investigations into the human heart.

Thanks to Netgalley.com and Minotaur for an advance digital copy, The opinions are my own.

RATING  4 Stars

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

And then the Pooch Showed up with a Human Leg!!!



FLIGHT RISK ( The Booking Agents #2)
Cherie Priest
Atria Books
November 1, 2022



Seattle's only psychic/travel agent, Leda Foley, has her hands full when she is hired to find Dan Matarese's sister, Robin Reddick, who has gone missing. Not only Robin is missing, but also her vintage orange Volvo and thirty thousand dollars in her employer's money. Robin has worked as a landscaping architect for a large construction company. Her specialty is lessening the environmental impact, and she is completely trusted. When Dan contacts Robin's husband, college professor Paul Reddick, Paul is supremely unconcerned, saying that she is probably just on a get-away. Brother Dan is not convinced. Neither he, his other sister, or Robin's son have heard anything from her in more than a month.

Meanwhile, Detective Grady Merritt  (Leda's sometime collaborator) has his own case to deal with. He and his teenage daughter, Molly, are on an outing with their dog at Mt. Ranier. Cairo, the dog, goes bounding off into the brush and disappears. Molly and Grady are passing out flyers at the visitor's center when Cairo comes back....with a human leg in his mouth. Immediately called "Mr. Leg," DNA testing shows it belongs to Paul Reddick, the missing Robin's philandering husband. So Leda's and Grady's cases intersect once again. Grady has become a true believer after Leda booked him on an ill-fated flight and then canceled the ticket because she had one of her "feelings." The plane crashed on take-off. Leda is not always consistent in her predictions but has honed her skills. She does an occasional karaoke show at a neighborhood bar, The Castaways. Billed as The Psychic Songstress, she has become quite a draw. Finding out what happened to Robin and the whys and hows of "Mr. Leg" landing in a tree is a tall order.

I have been a fan of Cherie Priest since reading her award-winning Steampunk fantasy, Boneshaker, several years ago. She writes in several genres, always with flair and humor. Likable, quirky characters and laugh-out-loud dialogue make Flight Risk and its predecessor, Grave Reservations, winning and most enjoyable reads.





 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Missing Persons, a Mystery Writer, and very Bad Men





AUGUSTA HAWKE
G.M. Malliet
Severn House
July 6, 2022


I've read quite a few of G.M.Malliet's books and always appreciated her ability to use humor to such good effect and her deft plotting. Most of her whodunnits are set in the UK, and she created the perfect English village in her Max Tudor mysteries. I've read quite a few of G.M.Malliet's books and always appreciated her ability to use humor to such good effect and her deft plotting. Most of her whodunnits are set in the UK, and she created the perfect English village in her Max Tudor mysteries. Augusta Hawke, however, is set in the Washington DC area in Georgetown. Augusta is a successful mystery writer, with 18 novels to her credit. She is widowed, living in an upscale townhouse community. She is intensely private and organized, knowing little about her neighbors. Like many such developments in America, people come and go, keeping themselves to themselves. She does take some interest in the young couple living directly across from her. Zora and Niko Norman are a handsome pair with an almost-year-old baby. It's not that she watches them purposely, but they have no curtains, and she is home almost all the time. Plus, she is stalled on novel #19. 


When the perfect couple goes missing, the dishy Detective Narducci asks what Augusta knows about them. She realizes that she is probably the only one who knows there is trouble in the Norman marriage. Augusta saw a heated argument through the window and heard a shriek from who she thought must be Zora. Augusta doesn't want to be stereotyped as nosy, so she doesn't tell Narducci at that time. Instead, she contacts Zora's mother at the downtown DC gallery she owns. The baby is safe, and Zora's parents never liked or trusted Niko. Augusta enlists Misaki Nelson, a retired lawyer, in her search for the Normans. The two are off to the races. A sleazy PI (and true crime writer) involves himself in their investigation as well. Detective Narducci is decidedly not happy. There are moments of wry humor, hilarity, and great danger before they find the missing Normans. The only negative is an overly quick wrap-up.


Some people don't enjoy the first-person narrative, but I enjoyed being in Augusta's head. She is unique and fearless. I hope there are more novels to come. I like Augusta, and new opportunities open up in her life, which has been stagnant. Thanks to NetGalley and Severn Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.


RATING- 4 Stars