Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Scandal and Murder in the "Four Hundred"

Gilded Newport Mystery #5
Alyssa Maxwell
Kensington Books
May 25, 2017

What begins as a routine task for reporter Emma Cross, covering the polo match at the legendary Westchester Polo Club in Providence, RI quickly turns into a story that threatens the elite summer residents. Emma herself is far from routine in the town of 1897 Providence. She is a less well-off cousin of the Vanderbilts who runs her own household, works for a living, and has decided ideas about women's equality. Her relations give her entree into most of the social events that she covers for the local paper, but Emma really wants to be an investigative reporter. When a shabbily dressed woman approaches the wife of RI Senator George Peabody Wetmore and asks to speak with her, it causes quite a stir and arouses Emma's curiosity. Emma becomes involved when that same shabby woman is discovered dead at the foot of a staircase in Chateau sur Mer, the Wetmore "cottage". Mrs. Wetmore denies any relationship with the woman. Neither she or her distinguished husband have ever seen the woman before, and she asks Emma to investigate. The investigation leads Emma into the seamier side of Newport, threatening her livelihood and ultimately her life. She is aided and sometimes hindered by Derrick Andrews, a former romantic interest who reappears in her life, and her friend, Jesse Whyte. Jesse is a detective on the town police force, who also has more than a friendly interest in her.

Murder at Chateau sur Mer is another well-researched and plotted book in Alyssa Maxwell's Gilded Newport series. She takes historical figures and builds mysteries around them without sacrificing accuracy in either history or the manners and mores of the day. This time Emma may have gone a little too far with her disregard for proprieties and may have to pay the price. It's an excellent build-up to the next novel in the series, which I will be looking forward to.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

BLOOD DEBTS (Leonidas the Gladiator Mystery # 1)
Jennifer Ashley
JA/AG Publishing
July 9, 2017

Leonidas, the most feared and successful gladiator of   Rome in the first century AD, has finally received his freedom. But what is a retired fighter to do with no money and no skills that easily translate into life in Rome? An unknown benefactor steps in and provides him with an apartment (one room) and a slave.  The slave, Cassia, is the daughter of a scribe who was sold when the master of the house took an undue interest in her. Cassia can't cook, sew or do laundry, but she has the literacy that Leonidas lacks. She is also grateful that Leonidas does not abuse her as she feared might happen. The two are surviving on jobs that Leonidas picks up, such as a guard for incoming merchandise shipments. One such job, for a baker, has not been paid for, is overdue, and the coffers are low.  When Leonidas goes to the baker, Quintus, he is sent to a money-changer to collect. The money-changer, Silenius, owes Quintus and Leonidas must get the money from him.  But when Leonidas arrives, the money-changer is dead in a pool of blood. Leonidas leaves immediately but knows that the guard will be looking for him. After all, everyone in Rome knows him, and he was seen entering. 

Cassia and Leonidas make a good team, each having what the other lacks. Having been taken off the streets as a child and enduring years of training and brutal fighting, it's clear that Leonidas suffers both PTSD and depression. It's a miracle that he has retained a core of inner goodness and a desire to protect others. Cassia's literacy and mathematical knowledge help them to solve the murder and pick up some new friends in the process. Ashley Gardner paints a vivid picture of the streets of ancient Rome; its heat, smells, and general injustice. I am expecting great things from this new series as we learn more about Leonidas and Cassia, and their mysterious benefactor.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

ROOM FOR DOUBT (Carol Childs Mystery #4)
Nancy Cole Silverman
Henery Press
July 18, 2017

Carol Childs is a 40ish single mom with a daughter in college and a 16-year-old son still at home. She is also a radio reporter who doesn't appreciate being called away from her son's birthday party to report on a scene at the famous Hollywood Sign. It's a grisly scene too... a naked man hanging from the sign wearing a red clown nose. The cop on site, Detective Riley, seems very eager to declare it a suicide, without even getting out of his car to walk up the hill and take a look. Carol doesn't think so, as she had had a brief interaction with the man on the sign the day before, and he in no way seemed suicidal. Another person at the scene, PI Gerhardt Chasen (Chase), doesn't think so either and spins her a tale of other recent deaths that have been called suicides, but he thinks are actually murder. Carol thinks that is crazy, and besides, what can she do about it? 

Carol has been given a shot at a late-night talk show and in the era of cutbacks in radio, she is eager to make a success of it. The first night is not going well. The program director suggests talking about City Council matters and there has been not a single call-in. Until Chase calls in and starts talking about his theory of the murders and a woman calling herself "Mustang Sally" calls in suggesting that the dead men were abusers and got what they deserved from the "Tribunal". The switchboard lights up! Can there be a group of women who help other women on the run, and have gone off the rails? Carol and Chase need to find Sally before another death occurs. Carol is not eager to get involved, especially with Chase. She is attracted to him and does not want to be.

Nancy Silverman has taken a realistic look at the problems faced by abused women. It's a serious issue but she manages to inject some humor while coping with job and personal pressures. I was particularly interested in her take on commercial radio. My husband was a radio DJ (a long, long time ago) and we still have friends in the business. The program director and other people at the station ring true to me. She also brings in well-developed secondary characters: her friend, Sheri, and washed-up Hollywood psychic, Misty Dawn. Room for Doubt is the first of this series that I have read but I'm sure I will be catching up.

Thanks to Henery Press and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, July 10, 2017

Truth or Perception?

A TOAST TO MURDER (Mack's Bar Mystery #5)
Allyson K. Abbott
Kensington Books
July 25, 2017

A Toast to Murder brings to a close an ongoing story arc about Mack Dalton's bar and the people who frequent it. Mac mostly grew up in the bar, as she was the only child of a widowed father and inherited it after he was murdered. Mack is grieving her father but wondering what she can do to solve the crime and enlists some of the long-time customers of the bar to help her. Mack has some unusual abilities that she thinks can help her. She has a neurological condition called synesthesia; one which gives her a heightened perception of stimuli. Synesthesia is described as a phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an involuntary experience in a second pathway. For instance, she often sees colors and has tastes associated with certain people's voices. It also makes her an excellent lie detector. After a lifetime of coping with often conflicting sensory input, Mack sees a way to put her condition to good use. The detective investigating her father's murder, Duncan Albright, thinks so too.

With the help of the Capone Club, a group of old and new friends who meet in the bar, Mac has solved several cases, including that of her father, but there is a new problem. Two old friends have been murdered and Mac is receiving threating letters containing taunts about her abilities and newfound unwanted celebrity. Unless Mack solves the cryptic clues in the letters more friends will die and she will be the last victim. She must also do this without any help from the police or the Capone Club. The pressure is mounting and Mack decides that she must move to end it and forms a plan to bring all the suspects together at the Bar on New Year's Eve.

The Mack's Bar Mysteries have an interesting concept. Synesthesia is a real condition and Mack's version is an extreme one, as least from what I have read on the subject. My problem with the books is the number of suspects and characters, some of whom are not particularly memorable. Compounding the problem was the fact I missed reading one of the books and felt at sea until I realized it. There is a massive info dump at the beginning of A Toast to Murder but it didn't help so I went back to read the book I had missed. I don't recommend trying to read it out of series order. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for a digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 2.5 Stars

Monday, July 3, 2017

Missing Girls in Melbourne....Miss Fisher to the Rescue

UNNATURAL HABITS (Miss Fisher #19)
Kerry Greenwood
The Poisoned Pen Press
July 4, 2017

It's 1929 in Melbourne, and Miss Fisher is on her way to her club, accompanied by her friend Dr. MacMillan when she comes across a young woman being menaced by thugs. With the help of the bodyguards provided by her Chinese lover, Lin Chung, Miss Fisher rescues her. Miss Fisher is not happy about the bodyguards but even she admits that they come in handy sometimes. The young woman is Polly Kettle, an aspiring investigative reporter with an overblown sense of self-importance and a limited sense of self-preservation. Polly is looking into the disappearance of three pregnant, unmarried girls sent to give birth at the home of a "pious" widow. Polly goes on her way but is reported kidnapped the next day. Phryne's Police Inspector friend, Jack Robinson, asks for her help in the investigation. Not only are the three pregnant girls and Polly Kettle missing, but several others as well, all young and blonde. Phryne's search takes her into a seamy underworld of brothels, piracy, white slavery and the infamous Magdalene Laundries.

I am a big fan of the Australian television version of the Miss Fisher Mysteries, starring the fabulous Essie Davis. I confess that I have read only a few of the books though they are perennially on my "TBR" list. With the background of the series, I was able to jump right into Unnatural Habits, even though there are differences. The books and series have a masterful blend of historical detail, action, highly individual characters, and social commentary presented with a light touch. I also enjoy Greenwoods' Corinna Chapman Series, set in modern-day Melbourne. I recommend Unnatural Habits with no reservations to fans of historical mysteries.

Thanks to NetGalley and The Poisoned Pen Press for a digital copy of Unnatural Habits. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars