Saturday, April 26, 2014

Atmospheric Romp through Victorian London with Barker and Llewellyn


FATAL ENQUIRY (Barker and Llewellyn #6)
Will Thomas
St. Martins Minotaur
May 13, 2014

Some years ago I read the first Barker and Llewellyn mystery, Some Danger Involved, and had every intention of following the series but somehow lost track of it. I guess that is the result of having a TBR pile of monumental proportions! When Fatal Enquiry popped up on netgalley I remembered how much I enjoyed it and jumped right in. 

Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewellyn, are descendants of the the original sleuthing duo, Holmes and Watson. It is the difference between the pairs that make Barker and Llewellyn so interesting. Cyrus Barker is very much a self-made man and world traveler. Raised in China, Barker is very large, scarred and spends hours in physical training and martial arts. He knows everyone in London from the lowest to the highest, is immensely rich, secretive about how he gained his riches, and religious in a very muscular way. Thomas is  young still, about 20 years old at the time of this book, scholarly and clever, with a murky past. The two are Private Enquiry Agents.

In Fatal Enquiry, the villain of Some Danger Involved, Sebastian Nightwine, has returned to England with a plan to invade Tibet and the mythical Shambala and extend the British Empire. Somehow he has gained the protection of both the Foreign Office and Scotland Yard, despite his criminal past. Cyrus Barker is having none of that however. The two immediately cross swords and it appears that Nightwine has the upper hand. Cyrus and Thomas have to go on the run, accused of murder with a price on their heads. What follows is a fast paced adventure through London, one in which we learn much more about the shared history of Barker and Nightwine.

While I didn't remember many of the particulars of Some Danger Involved, I did recall the richness of both characters and atmosphere. Thomas has grown up quite a lot, is much more confident and a worthy assistant to Cyrus Barker who remains larger than life. The tone is dark at times but is as witty as I remember. This time I will be catching up on Barker and Llewellyn but I think Fatal Enquiry can be read as a stand-alone. I highly recommend the Barker and Llewellyn mysteries for historical mystery and adventure fans. Thanks to St. Martins and netgalley for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Visit to the 16th Century French Court

M. J. Rose
Atria Books
April 8, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths is book #6 in M.J. Roses's bestselling Reincarnationist series, of which I have read the last three. The Collector appears to bring to a close this particular story arc. Jac L'Etoile is the heir of a famous French perfume house, along with her brother, Robbie. Jac however has not become a perfumer, but a mythologist with a successful television show. She has suffered "memory lurches" all her life-lurches into other lives and eras. Robbie and her mentor, Malachai Samuels, believe that she is remembering past lives. But Jac refuses to believe in reincarnation.

Jac suffers a great personal loss at the beginning of the book, one that forces her to reassess her attitudes. Her "memory lurches" bring her into the life of Rene le Florentine, perfumer to Catherine de Medici in 16th century France. Rene is not only Catherine's perfumer, but also supplies her with poisons for her enemies. Rene and Catherine believe that by collecting the last breaths of the dying, their souls can be reanimated. Jac and her estranged lover, Griffin Bell, become embroiled with an incredibly rich collector, Melinoe, and her step-brother, Serge. Both Melinoe and Serge will do anything to find the formula to reanimate the "breaths".

Told in alternating voices, those of Jac and Rene, The Collector of Dying Breaths is a fascinating look at the intrigue and politics of the French Court and the religious strife of the age. I found Rene an interesting, if not entirely sympathetic character and Queen Catherine even more so. Jac, however, is a character I never really connected with, and Griffin, even less so. The ending is a satisfactory one with Jac finally seizing control of her own life and breaking the cycle that has governed it. Rose's writing is lush and descriptive and the books are a leap of imagination, one well-grounded in history.

Thanks to netgalley and Atria Books for an advance digital copy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Delightful New Cozy

Marty Wingate
Random House LLC/Alibi
May 6, 2014

Pru Parke grew up in Dallas, Texas, only child of an English mother and American father. Pru is a professional gardener and landscape designer with a perfectly good career. But when her mother dies Pru decides to follow her dream and move to England. She gives herself one year to get a position at one of the many historical English gardens. So far, she has had no luck but has gotten several jobs in private homes. When Pru stumbles over a dead body at one of those homes she finds herself drawn into the investigation.

We first meet  Pru in the last month of her self-imposed year limit. She is just about out of funds and coming to the end of her lease on her house. She has made friends in England but her old Dallas friends and an old flame are pressuring her to come home. She can even get her former position back but England has become more of a home to her than Dallas could ever be. There are so many things I loved about The Garden Plot.  Pru herself is a mature woman; over fifty and extremely self-reliant. Some might even call her stubborn. Yet she is also vulnerable, feeling that she has always been somewhat of a fish out of water. She wants more than anything to stay in England but things just haven't worked out. Every chapter of The Garden Plot begins with an extremely polite and very English rejection letter from an interview she has had for a position. Those letters get more and more painful as time grows short.

Pru is a delightful and sympathetic character with a small support network of other well developed and slightly eccentric characters. When a dishy Chief Inspector joins that network, things really get interesting. There are also a couple of sleazy bad guys to contend with but Pru is up to the challenge. The Garden Plot is an almost perfect cozy, a great antidote for the snowy day in February when I read it.  I look forward to more of what I hope will be a series. Thanks to netgalley and Random House/Alibri for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4.5 Heirloom Roses

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thrills and Chills in the best Gothic Style

Simone St. James
April 1, 2014

Silence for the Dead opens in 1919 England and Kitty Weekes is headed to Portis House, a remote mansion in which men shell-shocked by their wartime experiences are treated, hopefully to recover and be able to resume a normal life. Kitty has been hired as a nurse, which she is not, and under an assumed name. She is on the run from an unknown menace and Portis House seems her best chance of refuge. When Kitty arrives at Portis House she finds that nothing is quite as it seems. There doesn't appear to be much real therapy for the men, the work is grueling and what about the mysterious "Patient Sixteen"; an inmate who is not seen by the other residents and only by staff with "clearance". And how about the things that go bump in the night and the nightmares that plague the men?

Simone St. James breathed new life into the Gothic genre with her first book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, and An Inquiry into Love and Death, her second. Silence for the Dead is a worthy third novel exploring the period following WWI and I enjoy the historical accuracy of the books. Shell-shocked veterans suffered greatly from their malady and were also burdened by social stigma. Kitty is a brave and resourceful heroine and she is surrounded by a well-rounded cast of characters. Besides the chills, a very satisfactory romance develops.

I did not find Silence for the Dead quite as frightening as her two previous novels and the end seemed somewhat rushed to me. Therefore I am giving the book a 4.5 rather than 5 stars. I would recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction especially those who enjoy gothic thrills along with the history. This edition includes an excerpt from her next book, The Other Side of Midnight. I am counting the days already!

RATING- 4.5 Stars