Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Regency England in the Dawn of a New Age

Wrexford and Sloane Mystery # 2
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
March 27, 2018

England in the Regency Period was on the cusp of tremendous change with advances and interest in science and technology. Just as in our own time, technology brought with it social change and uncertainty. Charlotte Sloane is feeling the stress of changes in her own life with a move to a more prosperous (and proper) neighborhood. Can her two street urchin charges, Raven and Hawk, make the adjustment, and can she continue to conceal her identity; that of A.J. Quill, the most successful satirical cartoonist in London? And can she keep her other, even more, secret self hidden? The other change in her life includes her friendship with the mercurial Lord Wrexford. The two worked successfully to clear his name in Murder on Black Swan Lane and formed an undeniable connection.

Murder at Half Moon Gate begins with a night out in the insalubrious gaming and drinking haunts of London for Wrexford and his friend, Sheffield. The two literally stumble upon the body of a murdered man in a stinking alley. Wrexford merely reports the death to the Runners but is drawn in when he discovers that he knew of the dead man. Elihu Ashton was a well-known inventor and was rumored to be working on a revolutionary new invention that would change the steam power industry forever. Ashton's widow asks Wrexford, a known man of science to investigate her husband's death. Rather than an ordinary robbery ending in murder, the widow thinks it was murder connected to her husband's work. Once again, Wrexford needs Charlotte's extensive network of "street spies" to help him investigate.

Murder at Half Moon Gate both satisfies and entertains, with its well-researched history, colorful characters, twisty mystery and burgeoning romance. I am looking forward to the next in the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Murder and Apple Strudel in Vienna

Oxford Tearoom Mysteries # 8
H.Y. Hanna
Wisheart Press
March 13, 2018

Gemma Rose is happily packed for a long-awaited and much-postponed holiday in Malta with her policeman boyfriend, Devlin O'Connell. So she is not at all pleased that the holiday must be postponed...again. Luckily, the Old Biddies have a surprise for her. The Old Biddies are a quartet of pensioners who not only help out at The Little Stables Tearoom but get Gemma embroiled in their sleuthing adventures. They have entered Gemma's scones in the Euro-Tearoom Baking Contest, and the scones were selected to represent England at the event being held in Vienna. Since a friend of Gemma's mum is opening a hotel in Vienna, one friendly to animals, why not go, along with Gemma's mischievous cat, Muesli? Gemma and the Old Biddies arrive in Vienna and check in to Sofia Fritzl's hotel. The hotel is just opening and has a number of dignitaries checked in. One of the guests is Moritz Wagner, a well-known critic. Herr Wagner appears to be charming but is really a brutal critic who delights in destroying businesses. The discovery of his body at the hotel is ruled suicide, but the Old Biddies are sure it is murder. What can Gemma do but get involved again? If it is murder, then the old ladies could be in danger. Suspects abound, and the investigation leads Gemma (and Muesli) into hilarious misadventures.

The Oxford Tearoom Mysteries is a favorite series with great characters and atmosphere. Oxford is one of my favorite places and Vienna is a wonderful destination as well. I have spent only a few days there and hope to return one day. In the meantime, I can content myself with the vivid descriptions of the architecture, history, and wonderful food to be found there. I highly recommend Apple Strudel Alibi for readers of light-hearted cozy mysteries.

I received an advance digital copy from the author. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The are many "Hauntings" at Idlewild School

Simone St. James
Berkley Books
March 20, 2018

Fiona Sheridan is a freelance journalist living in small-town Vermont. Despite being the daughter of a famous journalist, Fiona's career and life have very much been on hold since the murder of her older sister 20 years before. Her sister's body was found on the grounds of a defunct girl's boarding school, Idlewild. A man is in prison for the murder, but Fiona still has questions and can't let it go. Even her relationship with Jamie Creel, the police chief, and son of the chief who investigated her sister's murder is hampered by her questions and emotional distance.

Idlewild itself was a second, maybe third-rate school where families placed girls who were considered to be unmanageable. The girls were disciplinary problems; broken in some way by trauma, a little too smart for their own good, or just illegitimate. The Broken Girls switches between the story of four friends in 1950 and Fiona in 2014. One of the four friends went missing, and it was assumed she ran away with "some boy." Never mind that the girls had absolutely no unsupervised contact with the outside world.  The records from Idlewild have gone missing, no one associated with the school wants to talk about it, and the school itself is rumored to be haunted. When a body is discovered in a well during a renovation of the property, the missing girl case opens up again. Fiona is determined to get answers this time.

Those of us who have waited a long time for The Broken Girls will not be disappointed. It is intricate, suspenseful, and above all, emotionally involving.  I was utterly caught up in the stories of the four friends; Katie, Roberta, CeCe, and Sonia. I wanted to know what had happened to all of them, and if Fiona's quest would be successful. This blend of Gothic, mystery, suspense and ghost story is not to be missed! Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reluctant Amateur Sleuthing

A Southern B&B Mystery # 1
Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
March 6, 2018

Quinn Bellandini and her sister, Delilah run their family B&B in Savannah, GA, with the help of their semi-retired grandfather. Both in their thirties, they are happily living in the charming Southern city of their birth. Quinn's world is turned upside down, however, when an old neighbor and classmate moves back to town. Quinn has held on to a grudge against Tucker since their high school days and is not happy to see him return. Sister Delilah thinks they are a perfect match and wants to play matchmaker. Another friend of Quinn's, Drew, owns a neighboring restaurant with his brother, Jason. When Quinn stops by the restaurant late one evening to clear up a misunderstanding, she finds Jason dead on the kitchen floor with a knife in his back, life gets complicated. The restaurant is in trouble and has been a bone of contention between the brothers. Drew is the logical suspect, and as the person who found the body, Quinn is a person of interest, too. Quinn is a loyal friend but a reluctant sleuth, and she springs into action.

Southern Discomfort is a promising beginning to a new cozy series for Caroline Fardig. I would have liked more background to Quinn's friendship with Drew. Even though she was a person of interest and was warned off by the police, she was willing to put herself in danger for him. There wasn't much mystery as to the killer even for a sleuth as inept as Quinn, even with a little help from the family ghost and Delilah. I enjoyed the characters and setting and look forward to the next in the series. I hope that we see more of Delilah in future books.

Thanks to Net Galley and Alibi for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Playing with Dynamite

Flaxborough Chronicles # 2
Colin Watson
March 8, 2018

Things are generally peaceful in the country town of Chelmsford until one Tuesday night when a municipal drinking fountain is blown up. On succeeding Tuesday nights, a statue of a local worthy loses its head in an explosion, and a local oculist loses his treasured premises sign which features a giant glass eye. Oddly enough the chief of police in Chelmsford is always away on Tuesday nights at the civil defense center. The town has its prime suspect, prankster and almost universally disliked Stan Biggadyke, a longtime friend of the police chief. When a life is lost in the next explosion and explosives are discovered missing at the civil defense center, the Chief Constable calls in DI Purbright of Flaxborough.

Filled with sly humor and well-drawn portraits of the various eccentric inhabitants of Chelmsford, Bump in the Night is a delightful classic mystery. Knowing that Colin Watson was a career journalist makes the character of the eager cub reporter, Len Leaper, even more enjoyable. Len's idea of midnight sleuthing makes for some hilarious scenes.

The Chelmsford Chronicles are perfect, quick reads for fans of classic mysteries. Thanks to Farrago Books, both for bringing them back and for providing me with an advance copy; also thanks to NetGalley. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4 Stars

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Murder-Suicide and Space Aliens in Small Town Wisconsin?

Mattie Winston Mysteries # 9
Kensington Books
February 27,2018

Mattie Winston and her new husband, Steve Hurley, are settled into his home, along with Steve's 15-year old daughter, Emily, and their 2-year old son, Matthew.Things are cramped in Steve's small house, so they are planning to build a new home.  Besides the stresses of a new marriage and a blended family, Mattie is working insane hours at the Medical Examiner's office because of the death of her work sharing counterpart and the recent heart attack of her boss, Izzy. Mattie is a death investigator, assisting Izzy at autopsies and working on cases. It's a good fit because of her nursing background and her general nosiness. The plus is that she works with Steve often in his capacity as a police detective; sometimes it seems that that work is their only time together. The two are called out to a local motel where there appears to be a murder-suicide but seems wrong to Mattie. Then, the construction crew excavating their building site discovers skeletal remains. The skeleton appears to be a space alien, and a media frenzy ensues. Tying up the ends of the two cases are much more than a full-time job for both, especially since the murder-suicide has ties to an earlier investigation; one that the solution arrived at dissatisfies both Steve and Mattie.

I have enjoyed all the Mattie Winston novels because of the characterization and the humor. The humor in Dead Calm is not as broad as in some of the others, but there are plenty of chuckles. The search for a working counterpart for Mattie brings some of the oddest applicants ever. Then there is Mattie's continuing battle with food and klutziness. I did spot the murderer early on, but the appearances of Mattie's group of friends and family made up for that.

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

RATING- 4 Stars