Sunday, March 24, 2013

An Inquiry into Love and Death

Simone St. James
NAL Trade
March 2013

I have awaited the publication of Simone St. James' new book An Inquiry into Love and Death ever since reading last year's The Haunting of Maddy Clare, set in the years after WWI. Maddy Clare is a chilling combination of ghost story, mystery and historical fiction that captures the social upheaval and the effect of the devastating war on the young men who fought it. 

In An Inquiry into Love and Death, Jillian Leigh is a young student at Oxford University's Somerville College, in 1924 the only Oxford College to admit women. The daughter of a world-famous chemist and his glamorous wife, Jillian is completely focused on achieving academic excellence. So it is with great dismay that Jillian learns that her Uncle Toby has fallen off a cliff and been killed near the seaside village of Rothewell. She had very little contact with Toby as a child and none since she was fourteen, when her father and his brother became completely estranged. As Toby was the family eccentric- a ghost hunter- Jillian has always thought that to be the cause of the estrangement.She must go to Rothewell and identify the body and pack up Toby's effects. Her parents are out of the country and say that they can't return. 

Upon her arrival in Rothewell and occupation of Toby's rented cottage, unsettling and frightening events occur and Jillian not only begins to believe that Toby was murdered, but that the village ghost is all too real. The spirit of a long-dead smuggler, Walking John has menaced the village since the 1700s. Close behind her is the arrival of Inspector Drew Merriken of Scotland Yard who also claims to think that Toby was murdered. Jillian and Drew feel an instant attraction but he definitely has secrets of his own. By the books end, Jillian's life is endangered and her very identity is in question.

An Inquiry into Love and Death is an intriguing look at an unsettled time and a cracking good ghost story. The mysteries of Rothewell are many, and I had no clue who was at the bottom of what is going on. I wish that this was not a stand-alone story as I would love to see these characters again. However, I think I must just wait for the next novel, Silence for the Dead in 2014.

See my review of The Haunting of Maddy Clare at

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Not a stellar Inspector Banks, but still welcome

WATCHING THE DARK ( Inspector Banks #20)
Peter Robinson
William Morrow
January 2012

I have always thought that Peter Robinson is very much overlooked in the field of British Mystery, especially here in the the US. The twentieth book in the Inspector Banks series, while not my favorite, is still a solid read.

Inspector Alan Banks is called to the scene of a murder at a police rehabilitation center; in fact the center where his colleague, Annie Cabot, recently recovered from a gunshot wound. This time it is Inspector Bill Quinn who is dead from a crossbow shot to the heart. When compromising photos are discovered in his room, it necessitates the involvement of Professional Standards in the the person of Inspector Joanna Passero. Banks, like most cops, hates the interference of the "rat squad", and places every obstacle he can in her path. Quinn was obsessed by the disappearance of young British girl in Estonia six years previously and that disappearance appears to be linked to his death. By the time the case is solved some very ugly facts about human trafficking and worker exploitation are uncovered.

I haven't read all the series and those I have read have been out of order. It doesn't pose a problem as Robinson can bring us up to date without using a massive info dump. My favorite of the series is # 10, In a Dry Season, where we first meet Annie Cabot. In Watching the Dark, both Annie and Banks seem to be behaving somewhat out of character. Annie is prickly and uncertain, and the barriers Banks throws in Joanna Passero's path seem juvenile. Annie is behaving more normally by the end of the book and Banks admits that he is over-reacting to her presence. 

One of the things I enjoy about the Alan Banks series is the very "britishness" of the series. The are always terms I don't know so I keep google handy! Alan Banks is also an avid fan of music and it's always interesting to find out what he is listening to. I know some people find the liberally sprinkled musical allusions distracting but to me they add to the reading experience. Watching the Dark tends to drag somewhat but is still a welcome addition for series fans.

RATING- 3 Stars

Monday, March 18, 2013

Out of Africa meets White Mischief

A Spear of Summer Grass
Deanna Raybourn
MIRA Books
April 30, 2013

It is Paris in 1923 and Delilah Drummond is in hot water- again. Twice widowed and once divorced before the age of 30, the circumstances of her latest husband's death have even Delilah's own scandalous mother horrified. Delilah's behavior is beyond the pale even for the wide-open flapper era. As a result Delilah is to be exiled to Kenya until the furor dies down. Since she is in imminent danger of losing her allowance from her wealthy American grandfather, she agrees and sets off to Kenya with only her mousy cousin Dora as a companion.

When Delilah and Dora arrive at Fairlight, her stepfather's Kenyan farm, she finds a house in decay, a farm lying fallow and an absent farm manager. Dora and Delilah immediately begin making Fairlight livable again. There is plenty of British ex-pat society as well, most of it decadent. Delilah falls right in with the group, as she knows most of them from her past. There is also Ryder White, a Canadian hunter and guide who is accepted into that ex-pat society, but somehow stands apart from it's worst excesses. Delilah quickly falls in love with Africa; it's heat, light, odors and especially it's people. When a murder occurs among the British group Delilah must choose what is really important to her.

Deanna Raybourn is one of my favorite authors. Her Lady Jane and Brisbane series is a must read for me and I also enjoyed The Dead Travel Fast. Raybourn has a wonderful ability to evoke places and times with her descriptions and A Spear of Summer Grass is no exception. The Africa of the early 1920's comes alive. Reminiscent of both Out of Africa and the notorious White Mischief murder case of 1940, A Spear of Summer Grass is a portrait of the Kenyan Colonial era and a splendid page turner.

Delilah herself is not- at least in the beginning- a likable character. She is spoiled, selfish and somewhat amoral. As the book progressed I came to understand why she is so hard-shelled. Her upbringing and the losses she has suffered have made her retreat behind a brittle shell. Africa, however, slowly breaks down her barriers. 

Thanks to Mira Books and for a digital review copy.

RATING- 4.5 stars

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fun and Chills in Deadwood

Better Off Dead in Deadwood #4
Ann Charles
Corvallis Press

The Deadwood Mystery Series by Ann Charles is a favorite of mine and becoming more and more popular with each new book. It is a mixture of mystery, paranormal fantasy, romance and laugh-out-loud humor. Our heroine is Violet Parker, single mom of twins and not so successful realtor in Deadwood, SD. Historic Deadwood is filled with legends of prospectors, gold mining, famous outlaws and more than a few ghost stories. All of the attributes of Deadwood and a quirky cast of characters combine to make the series a hit. 

We first meet Violet in Nearly Departed in Deadwood. For 10 years Violet has toiled away at a dead end job to support herself and her twins, Addie and Layne. Violet discovered the father of her twins in bed with her evil sister Susan, before they were born and kicked him out. He signed away all rights to the twins so Violet has always been their sole support. In hopes of building a better life for the three of them Violet has moved in with her Aunt Zoe, a glass artist living in Deadwood. She has lots of support from Aunt Zoe and her lifelong friend, Natalie Beals, but itches to stand on her own two feet again. Too bad that the realty career is stalled and she really needs to sell a house. Right away. The book introduces us to a whole lot of colorful characters; Ray, sleazy rival at Calamity Jane Realty; Old Man Harvey, her self-appointed side-kick; Mona, her mentor at the realty; Cooper, an irascible detective and Daniel Craig look alike; and Doc, a sexy and mysterious new client.  When Violet discovers that girls Addie's age have been disappearing in the Deadwood area she begins investigating and gets in a whole lot of trouble, some of it paranormal in nature.

The second book in the series, Optical Delusions in Deadwood continues Violet's career as a trouble magnet/part-time sleuth. Still struggling at the real estate game, she takes a listing for the notorious Carhart House, a place rumored to be haunted and the site of multiple murders. Things are heating up with Doc and that's a problem too. Violet's friend, Natalie, thinks Doc is the "one" for her, and Violet can't bring herself to tell her that Doc is taken. More paranormal high jinks ensue and even more off-color commentary from Old Man Harvey.

Dead Case in Deadwood finds Violet with a couple of sales under her belt and a bad case of nightmares left over from her previous adventures. A new client comes along, an Abe Lincoln look alike and self proclaimed "ghost whisperer" who wants to buy a reputedly haunted hotel. There are some funny happenings at the Mudder Brothers Funeral Home and since Ray Underhill, sleazy rival at the realty, seems to be involved Violet and Natalie become fixtures at all funerals in town trying to find out what is going on. Detective Cooper is madder at Violet than ever, as she seems to be at the center of all the unsolved and weird crimes in Deadwood. Besides that, Doc is pressuring her to tell Natalie about their relationship.

I was delighted to be a beta reader for the 4th book in the Deadwood series and Better Off Dead in Deadwood did not disappoint. Still suffering from nightmares, Violet is stressed out over the rift in her friendship with Natalie and a haunted hotel sale that appears to be falling through. Some new characters are introduced, none of them what they appear to be. The weird supernatural events keep on coming. Thank goodness Violet has the support of a lot of people, despite her new nickname of "Spooky Parker". Add on a Zombie Wedding musical put on by the local little theater group and you have a recipe for hilarious chills.

The Deadwood Mystery Series is pure entertainment; smart, funny and complex. With illustrations from C.S. Kunkle, they are available in both eBook and print form. Ann Charles has a delightful sense of the absurd that never fails to entertain. The books must be read in order, as each builds on the last. I predict more explosive events in the next book and am betting Violet's evil sister Susan, will be at the bottom of them. Highly recommended!

RATING-4.5 Purple Boots