Thursday, September 27, 2018

Deft Skewering of the Post WWI Class Based Society

A Beryl and Edwina Mystery # 2
Jessica Ellicott
Kensington Books
September 25, 2018

Funds are tight again for old school friends and living companions, Edwina Davenport and Beryl Helliwell. On the surface, the two make a very odd couple: Beryl a brash, much-married and divorced American globe-trotter, and Edwina, a spinster who has lived in sleepy Walmsley Parva all her life. But the two formed a strong friendship at their shared boarding school, and they live comfortably together. Beryl, in particular, is enjoying being part of village life after never belonging anywhere. Edwina's shortness of funds is nothing new, but Beryl's ex-husbands are slow sending her alimony checks. On the strength of solving a murder in Murder In An English Village, the two decide to set up an investigation agency.

Their first client is the Vicar, who is president of the local pigeon-racing club. The club treasurer has gone missing, along with several prize pigeons and the club funds. The Vicar is hoping Beryl and Edwina can find him, discreetly, and get the funds and pigeons back. The two search for him at his workplace, boarding house and discover his body at his pigeon loft. It's clearly murder, and there is no shortage of suspects; extra-marital affairs, missing jewelry, coal miner unrest and changes in social mores all play a part in this fast-paced, clever mystery.

Jessica Ellicott has a deft hand with characters and a humorous way of skewering class distinctions. The notion that a tradesman is somehow socially superior to a coal miner may seem strange to us but not in an English village in the 1920's, despite all the changes brought by WWI. Walmsley Parva has more than the requisite number of eccentrics, all vividly portrayed.

I look forward to more adventures of these "ladies of a certain age." Thanks to Net Galley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Some Wars Continue to be Fought

Verity Kent # 2
Anna Lee Huber
Kensington Books
October 25, 2018

Several weeks after Verity Kent's husband, Sidney, returned from the dead, having allowed Verity to believe him dead in WWI, the relationship is tense and strained. Even though Verity sympathizes with Sidney's mission to uncover and bring to justice traitors in his regiment, the fact that he deceived her for so long rankles. Both Verity and Sidney have been irrevocably changed by the war, and neither is sure that the marriage can be salvaged.

Spiritualism is a craze in England, and while Verity understands hoping to reach lost loved ones, she is not a believer. A friend persuades her to attend a seance and to Verity's surprise, an agent she worked with during the war, Emilie, purports to contact her. Not only does Verity not believe in Spiritualism, but she is also reasonably sure that Emilie is still alive. And how does the medium know so much about Verity's work with the Secret Service? When Verity returns to the medium's house the day after, she finds the home engulfed in flames and the medium killed in the fire. Verity and Sidney set off to find Emilie in the ruins of Europe and find out the meaning of the cryptic message sent through the medium. The journey takes them through Belgium and France, and it becomes clear that they are being followed. Much more is at stake than they could ever imagine.

I liked the first in this series, This Side of Murder, but Huber has brought us a much more nuanced portrait of the dangers and horrors of WWI and its aftermath in Treacherous is the Night. Verity was much more involved in the Secret Service than we knew and was deeply embedded in espionage behind the lines, placing herself in danger with every step. Emilie was her guide and companion on many missions, and the two formed a deep bond. Sidney has his own horrific memories of trench warfare, but so does Verity. The two must navigate murky waters on this journey and learn to trust each other again.

I highly recommend Treacherous is the Night for anyone who has an interest in WWI and its aftermath. Huber has written an involving and emotionally wrenching story, and her extensive research adds to its effectiveness. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 Stars

Monday, September 17, 2018

Scots Whisky Can be Deadly

A Whisky Business Mystery # 3
Melinda Mullet
Random House Alibi
September 4, 2018

Abi Logan, co-owner of Abbey Glen Distillery, is still very new to the business after it was bequeathed to her by her uncle. She has not yet given up her career as a photojournalist and returns to Scotland to attend the prestigious Quaich competition. The competition is a four-day event at a 5-star hotel and promises to be more contentious than usual. Several non-Scots distilleries are competing, and one, in particular, seems very strong. Abi and her partner, Grant McEwan think that the foreign competitors will be a positive influence, but others are adamantly opposed. When two of the judges are poisoned the short-handed local police include Abi in the investigation, mostly to take pictures at the crime scenes. But her dear friend, Patrick, is a suspect and Abby jumps in with both feet. When Grant McEwan is targeted, she is even more determined to get to the bottom of the plot.

The Whisky Business mysteries are an excellent read, with vivid descriptions of the business and Scotland. The characters are well-drawn, and the mystery itself is intricately plotted. I certainly did not figure out "whodunnit" until the end, along with Abi herself. I also enjoy the developing romance between Abi and Grant. After some failed relationships Abi is skittish, but the return of Grant's former flame makes her rethink her position.

Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for a digital advance copy. The opinions are my own, and I look forward to the next in the series!

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Series that Continues to Improve

October Daye # 12
Seanan McGuire
September 4, 2018

Toby Daye's life is unsettled as usual, but more so after the events of The Brightest Fell. Toby's lover and fiance, Tybalt, King of Cats, and roommate, Jazz, were kidnapped and tortured by Toby's mother, Amandine the Liar. Jazz sleeps most of the time, and Tybalt has almost completely withdrawn from her life. Her problems explode when her mortal daughter, Gillian, is kidnapped by someone in Fairie-again. Toby must find who, and why to save Gillian, this time without the support of some of her most important allies. Along the way, there are significant surprises for Toby, old enemies,  and new beginnings.

I am continually surprised by the imagination and solid grounding in Celtic Mythology that Seanan McGuire employs in the October Daye Series, only one of the series she writes. She weaves Shakespeare references and mythology seamlessly into a fascinating whole. Toby's world is fantastic but believably built. Night and Silence is one of the better books in the series, and I am eagerly waiting for the next in the series. It is critical to begin at the beginning with October Daye and understand the changes she has gone through. 

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

RATING-4.5 rounded up to 5

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Not What I All

Hester Thursby # 1
Edwin Hill
Kensington Books
August 28, 2018

The first thing I want to say about the debut novel, Little Comfort, is that it was not what I expected. The description ticked specific boxes: librarian, amateur sleuth, missing person, New England setting. All those boxes indicated a straightforward, undemanding, somewhat escapist mystery, at least to me. How much trouble can a librarian get into? A tremendous amount evidently.

Hester Thursby is 36 years old, 4 foot.9 (and 3/4) inch librarian at Harvard University. She has a rather odd living arrangement in an old house with Hester's "non-husband" Morgan, her best friend from college, Daphne, and Daphne's three-year-old, Kate. Daphne disappeared months previously, leaving Kate and a note. Morgan is Daphne's brother, and the two decide to take on parenting responsibility until Daphne returns. Most of that responsibility has fallen to Hester, something about which she is very conflicted. She has even taken leave from her job to stay at home with Kate although she never felt any desire for a child. Hester has built a sideline using her research skills to help find people, mostly old schoolmates, prom dates, out of touch relatives and the like. Her interest is piqued when she is approached by Lila Blaine to find her brother, Sam, who disappeared from their lakeside home in New Hampshire. Apparently, his friend Gabe vanished with him. The two could not be more different. Sam was handsome, charismatic, and evidently willing to do whatever it would take to elevate himself into the life of the rich people who come to the lake in the summer. Gabe was "invisible", both to himself and others, and bounced from one foster home to another. Lila provides Hester with a stack of postcards sent from cities Sam has lived in over the years, complete with cryptic messages. It takes Hester precisely two days to find Sam and Gabe, right in Boston, and a trail of death and destruction in their wake.

I won't say any more about the plot, which has twists and turns that made my head spin. The characters in Little Comfort are the real stand-out, however. Sam and Gabe are chilling psychopaths, but somehow Edwin Hill makes one of them if not sympathetic, at least pitiable. Hester herself is a flawed character whose cavalier disregard for her own safety and Kate's made me want to shake her at times. Her job as an investigator is not a "take your kid to work" situation. Hester is the embodiment of "tiny but fierce." 

Many thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. Little Comfort won a coveted "Starred Review" by Publishers Weekly and deserves it. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars