Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Yukon Wilderness Guessing Game

Rockton Novel #3
Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur Books
February 6, 2018

The third novel in Kelley Armstrong's Rockton series, after City of the Lost and A Darkness Absolute, begins with an unexpected arrival on the landing strip that services an isolated settlement. Rockton, in the Canadian Yukon, is inhabited by people who are running away from their pasts. There is no internet, no electricity, no cell phones, no mail, and no way of getting out. Rockton is surrounded by wilderness, and the only people living outside the town are even further off the grid. The mysterious town council, who operates outside the settlement itself, makes all decisions regarding who is admitted. This time, the council has dropped a significant problem for Town Sheriff Eric Dalton and Detective Casey Duncan. The new arrival is Oliver Brady, and they are told he is a serial killer. The town is supposed to keep him secure for several months, after which his wealthy stepfather will make other arrangements. That's a tall order for Eric and Casey, with a one cell jail, one other deputy, and townsfolk who are supposed to be kept in the dark about their prisoner. News travels, though. Very quickly, factions form; those who believe Brady should be disposed of and those who think he is being deprived of his fundamental civil rights. When he escapes, with what could only be assistance from the inside, and people start dying, Eric and Casey must find him. The fact that the council stands to be paid a considerable sum for a successful resolution (whatever that might be) is not the primary consideration, but the safety of Rockton.

I am a fan of all of Kelley Armstrong's series, from Otherworld, Nadia Stafford, and Cainsville to Rockton. She writes characters that stick with me and has a gift for original settings and stories. I liked This Fallen Prey, but not as much as the first two. The action was well-written but Eric and Casey seem to bounce from one crisis to the next. The question of Brady's innocence or guilt was ongoing and kept me guessing. This Fallen Prey is a transitional book, setting up for new developments and ending with a bit of a cliff-hanger.

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

RATING- 3 Stars

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Flavia is Back in England and Brilliant as Ever

Flavia de Luce # 9
Alan Bradley
Bantam Books
February 6, 2018

Flavia is home in 1952 England after her time in Canada in school. The unexpected death of her father has everyone plunged into grief, and the strife between Flavia and her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne (Feely and Daffy) has only escalated. To make things worse, her father's sister, Aunt Felicity, is down from London and making decrees about the future of the girls. Among the decrees is that the beloved family home, Buckshaw, must be sold. Never mind that Flavia is now the sole owner of Buckshaw, thanks to her mother's will. Flavia is "only" twelve, so possibly she will have little input. Flavia de Luce is a twelve-year-old like no other, however. In an attempt to "smooth the waters" long time servant, Dogger, suggests a trip down the river; days of paddling followed by nights at country inns. Upon approaching St. Mildred's-in-the-Marsh the trip takes an unexpected turn. Flavia is trailing her hand through the water and snags a corpse floating just under the surface. St.Mildred's is notorious because it's vicar, Canon Whitbred, was hanged for the poisoning of three parish women, at the Communion rail. The body in the river turns out to be the son of the "Poisoning Parson." What is an intrepid adolescent chemist/ sleuth to do but ferret out the solution to this mystery?

Describing the plot of a Flavia de Luce novel is always tricky, because of their sheer inventiveness and one might even say unbelievability. How does a twelve-year-old get involved in all these odd situations? The answer is that Flavia has one of the most original voices in fiction; brilliant, funny, and ultimately, touching. I sometimes forget between books how much I enjoy her until I am in the midst of the story again. Flavia's "cases" are often ghoulish but always offset the ghoulishness with humor. The loyal Dogger takes center stage along with Flavia in The Grave's a Fine and Private Place. Dogger is still suffering from the effects of his captivity in a WWII POW camp in Burma. Flavia's father and Dogger were captives together and formed an unbreakable bond. That bond is now transferred to Flavia and her sisters. Dogger shows signs of coming to terms with his hideous memories and the two make a formidable team. Flavia is growing up and the relationships among the sisters settling down at least somewhat. A slightly rushed ending is my only caveat but it didn't detract from my enjoyment.

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

RATING-5 Stars

The West End Comes to West London

A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery # 3
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books
February 13, 2018

It's summer on Cape Cod, and everyone in West London is excited about the opening production of The West London Theater Festival. The play will be The Hound of the Baskervilles and a famous star, Sir Nigel Bellingham, has been hired to play the lead. Gemma Doyle, the proprietor of The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop, is looking forward to all the new business that will be brought into the shop. Gemma's business partner, Jayne Wilson, is excited by the chance to cater the tea given for the stars, volunteers, and ticket-buying public. Jayne's mother, Leslie, was a minor actress on Broadway in her youth, so she is a volunteer for the event. Sir Nigel, however, turns out to be over the hill as far as acting is concerned. Not only that, he is a nasty, abusive drunk, who goes out of his way to offend everyone. When Gemma discovers Sir Nigel's body after the tea, and a clue which might implicate Leslie, she once again starts to investigate on her own. Detective Ryan Ashburton, a former flame of Gemma's, and his partner, Louise Estrada warn her off. Gemma, of course, pays no attention. There are plenty of suspects;  the ambitious understudy, a fading actress, and Bellingham's downtrodden personal assistant. But the police are homing in on Jayne's mom.

The Cat of the Baskervilles is another enjoyable installment in prolific Vicki Delaney's series. Gemma is a likable character, despite her bluntness and stubborn determination to go her own way no matter what. The mystery is well-crafted and kept me guessing with plot twists.
The Cape Cod setting in summer, the characters, and the romance between Ryan and Gemma, which seems to be heating up again, make for an enjoyable read.

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

RATING- 3.5 Stars rounded up to 4

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Cursed Expedition, a Missing Diadem and Mayhem

Veronica Speedwell # 3
Deanna Raybourn
Berkeley Books
January 16, 1918

It's 1888 London, and Veronica Speedwell and her piratical-looking colleague, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane (Stoker) are still working on cataloging the vast collection of Lord Rosemorran. All London is talking about the upcoming exhibition of Lord Tiverton's latest Egyptological dig. After years of fruitless expeditions, Lord Tiverton has finally struck gold with the discovery of the tomb of an obscure Princess. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a diadem of precious metals. However, the dig's photographer, John de Morgan, and the diadem have gone missing under strange circumstances. De Morgan's wife is prostrate and in seclusion. Veronica and Stoker become involved because the photographer was the "friend" who left Stoker for dead in the Brazilian jungle, and his wife, Stoker's ex-wife. The ex-wife who returned to England and destroyed Stoker's reputation with lurid tales of his cruelty to get a divorce. Stoker will be the logical suspect if John de Morgan is not just missing but dead. After years of rebuilding his reputation, Stoker and Veronica are not about to let that happen.

I have been a fan of Deanna Raybourn's work since the first lines of her first novel, Silent in the Grave:" To say that I first met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." Now, that is an attention-grabbing beginning. When the adventures of Lady Julia Gray came to an end, I was eager to see what would happen next. She has followed it up with the adventurous, unconventional, intrepid lady lepidopterist, Veronica Speedwell, who also has a fascinating family history; and the irascible, mysterious natural scientist, Stoker. Their two previous adventures, A Curious Beginning, and A Perilous Undertaking introduced two even more fabulous characters. A Treacherous Curse is a delight from beginning to end and moves the somewhat glacial progress of the romance between this perfectly matched pair satisfactorily. Who knew that Stoker was a closet romantic?

Many thanks to Berkely Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From the stench of St. Giles to the highest Society Drawing Rooms

The Detective Lavender Mysteries #4
Karen Charlton
Thomas & Mercer
January 11, 2018

It's 1812 and Principal Officer of the Bow Street Station, Stephen Lavender, and his fiery Spanish wife, Magdalena, are two years married and happily living in London. They would be happier, however, if Stephen were not called away on cases so often. Government funding is always scarce for Bow Street, so they supplement their income by sending Runners out on private investigations. As a Principal Officer, Lavender is much in demand.

Upon returning to London, Lavender is back to work immediately. Highwaymen are roaming the nearby countryside, vicious gangs are on the prowl in the city, and there are not enough Runners to cope. Added to the general disarray is the construction of a new cell block at Bow Street, built over medieval plague pits. The construction is further delayed by the discovery of many bones of the plague victims, and the addition of the freshly dead body of a peer in the pit.What really interests Stephen is a boot found in the Thames with a severed human foot. Forbidden by Magistrate Reed to further investigate the boot, he and his favorite Horse Patrol officer look into the matter anyway.  Assigned to the surveillance of a discontented man who has been pestering Members of Parliament, Lavender wonders what can happen next when rumors reach his ear of a new criminal "mastermind" in the city. Can all these events be connected somehow?

The Detective Lavender Mysteries are favorites, and I always look forward to them. Loosely based on a real historical figure, Stephen Lavender was somewhat of a celebrity in his day. Stephen is not at all what one expects from a Bow Street Runner. Meticulous, educated, bookish and a bit introverted, he is an officer in a new mold. The supporting characters are extraordinarily well-drawn, especially Horse Patrol Officer, Ned Woods, his wife, Betsy, and their large family; and Magdalena's maid, Teresa. Plague Pits and River Bones is somewhat darker than preceding stories, with a "Moriarty" like character who is obsessed with Lavender and his wife. The slave trade (outlawed at the time) and assassination at the highest levels of government play a part in this story. Of course, there is Magdalena, a woman in a million! The environs of 1812 London are vividly described from the stench of St.Giles and the Thames, to the peaceful calm of Greenwich and the drawing rooms of the highest society.

I highly recommend Plague Pits and River Bones for those who enjoy historical mysteries. It is not necessary to read the series in order, but I do recommend starting with the first, The Heiress of Linn Hagh.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Mortal Likeness

A Mortal Likeness
Victorian Mystery #2
Laura Joh Rowland
Crooked Lane Books
January 19, 2018

The second book in the Victorian Mystery series featuring photographer Sarah Bain and her titled friend, Lord Hugh Staunton. The two have formed a detective agency after their success in The Shadow of the Ripper. Sarah was evicted from the premises of her studio as a direct result of that first case; Hugh was disowned by his family after they discovered his homosexuality. Sarah and Hugh not only work but also live together, along with Hugh's manservant and a street urchin, Mick, who assisted them on the Ripper case. Business is slow, and their resources are low when they are hired to investigate the kidnapping of Robin Mariner, the young son of Sir Gerald Mariner. Sir Gerald is an immensely wealthy and powerful London banker. He suspects a family member and insists that Hugh and Sarah move into his home to investigate. He also requires them to sign a non-disclosure agreement, causing problems with Sarah's lover, Constable Barrett. The Mariner family is a motley crew, all of whom may have reason to be jealous of Robin. There is also a secondary mystery, that of Sarah's father who disappeared years ago.  

A Mortal Likeness has all the elements of historical mysteries that I look for and usually like. It has a female amateur sleuth, excellent historical detail, a well-plotted story, and lots of action. However, I found that I could not connect with either Sarah or Hugh. Both are driven by their emotions and those same emotions do little but hamper the investigation. It becomes a sort of "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" exercise. Plus, both Hugh and Sarah indulge in dangerous and ill-considered behavior throughout the book. I waffled about what rating to give A Mortal Likeness and settled on 2.5 stars rounded up to 3. I am interested enough in the secondary mystery to read the next book to find out what happened to Sarah's father, and what an ongoing relationship with Sir Gerald might bring.

Thanks to Crooked Lane and NetGalley for an advanced digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Who is Annabelle?

Lauren Willig
St. Martin's Press
January 9, 2018

Lauren Willig's latest historical mystery, set in the Gilded Age, The English Wife, tells the story of Bayard Van Duyvil and his English wife, Annabelle. The story begins when the body of Bayard, with a jeweled dagger in his heart, is discovered at a ball given to celebrate their new mansion on the Hudson, Illyria. Bayard is a golden figure in Knickerbocker society; handsome, educated at Harvard Law School, immensely wealthy and well-connected. His bringing home an English wife from a trip abroad no doubt destroyed the plans of many hopeful mamas. Even worse, Annabelle and Bayard have retired from the New York and Newport social whirl and are seemingly content to live with their twins in a family farmhouse. The seeming contentment ends with Bayard's plan to replicate Annabelle's family home, Lacey Abbey,  bringing a young architect into their orbit. Bayard's sister, Janie, discovers the body just before he dies with the name "Georgie" on his lips. Who is Georgie and where is Annabelle? Janie thinks she may have seen her floating in the freezing waters of the Hudson but can that be true? The tabloid press of the day rise in force, scenting juicy scandal and brings Janie an ally in her search for the truth, James Burke, a reporter for one of the most prominent tabloid newspapers. James himself has secrets to keep.

The English Wife spans the period from 1894 England to New York in 1899. We learn that no one is who he or she appears to be and the secrets of the Van Duyvil family are poisonous. The novel puts me in mind of Daphne DuMaurier, but more My Cousin Rachel than Rebecca. I enjoy books that skip back and forth in time, revealing the truth and the characters slowly, but that may not be everyone's taste. The English Wife kept me guessing throughout; not only about the deaths but the characters themselves. After the somewhat slow beginning, I became enthralled. My understanding of both Bayard and Annabelle changed drastically several times. 

I highly recommend The English Wife. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Edwardian Christmas Cheer

A Lady Hardcastle Mystery # 3.5
T.E. Kinsey
Amazon Publishing
December 12, 2017

This short story from the Lady Hardcastle series joins my list of favorite "Christmas reads." The delightful Lady Hardcastle and her "tiny, but fierce" servant, Flo Armstrong, are invited to The Grange, where a mystery awaits them. Both ladies have led eventful lives all over the world, and they are hardly the typical Edwardian women. Since they moved to the village, they have often been called upon to solve several mysteries. This time, a valuable pendant has disappeared from a guest's room, and it is apparently an inside job. The owners of The Grange, the Farley-Strouds, are anxious that no police be called in. They have no doubt that Lady Hardcastle and Flo are up to the task.

I always enjoy this charming series with its gentle portrayal of a bygone era. An Edwardian Christmas may have been fraught with the sometimes negative emotions that characterize the modern holiday, but never in Lady Hardcastle's world. All is joy and plenty, despite a crime that may have occurred. The mystery may not have been challenging to solve, but the pleasure of getting to the answer is the point. 

RATING- 4 Stars