Monday, January 28, 2019

A Somewhat Flat Ending (?) To a Long-running Series

Flavia de Luce #10
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press
January 22, 2019

It's autumn in Bishop's Lacey, and Flavia's older sister Ophelia (Feely) is finally wedding her suitor, Dieter, at Buckshaw. Mrs. Mullet, the housekeeper, and the ladies of the parish have gone all out to ensure that the wedding goes well. The event is a great success until Feely cuts into the cake and discovers a severed human finger. What could be a better first investigation for the firm of Arthur W. Dogger and Associates Investigations? The associate, of course, is 12-year-old Flavia. Their quest takes them into murky waters indeed; bogus missionaries, quack cures, and exotic poisons. 

I have been a fan of Flavia de Luce since the beginning, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is one of the most original and beguiling characters I have ever read, with her chemistry fascination, humor, and adult intellect in a child's body. Arthur Dogger is one of my favorites and much more of a father to Flavia than her own father ever was. It's a pleasure to see Dogger coming out of his shell and becoming a much more central part of Flavia's life. Dogger came home from World War II severely psychologically damaged due to his captivity in Burma and finally appears to be recovering. Therefore, I found The Golden Tresses of the Dead extremely hard to rate and review. If the book is the last of the series then I was left with a lot of questions, primarily who put the finger in the cake, and why? I may have missed that, but I don't think so. Her other sister, Daphne (Daffy) barely makes an appearance, and cousin Undine just whets the appetite for more. Undine is as unique in her own way as Flavia. I have seen conflicting accounts as to whether this is the last book so I can only hope. I will miss the voice of Flavia and the many laughs she has given me over the years.

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

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Murder by Milkshake

A Death by Chocolate Mystery #2
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books
January 29, 2019

It's no surprise when Toby Moran turns up dead In an Eastport alley. What is surprising however is that he made it to the age of thirty, with a string of crimes and abusive relationships which morphed into stalking and blackmail. The problem is that the murder "weapon" appears to be one of The Chocolate Moose's signature chocolate milkshakes, laced with bug killer. More than that, Jacobia and Ellie, the Moose's owners are struggling. They are even considering closing the bakery after the winter's slump in sales. If so, Ellie and her husband, George, will have to sell up and move so that George can find steady work to provide for Ellie and their daughter. Ellie and George have been fixtures in Eastport for their entire lives, and the move will be a blow to the town and Jacobia in particular. Their one hope is catering a large wedding between Sharon Sweetwater, kindergarten teacher, and Andy Devine, Coast Guard officer. If the police look at them since Sharon is Toby's latest victim, the wedding will be off. Their last hope of staying afloat will disappear. Naturally, Jacobia and Ellie need to investigate. Even Bob Arnold, Eastport's Police Chief, doesn't seem to be averse to their activities this one time. And once again, Ellie and Jacobia find themselves in life-threatening situations.

I am always glad for another visit to Eastport and its citizens. Though the many books of the previous series, Home Repair is Homicide, all the main characters have become like old friends. Having visited Eastport, I can recognize many of the places described in the books. I also appreciate that Graves gives an accurate representation of just how hard it is for the people who welcome us summer visitors, to survive when the economy winds down for the winter. Work has always been hard to find in Maine: something that never seems to change, especially in the state's furthest reaches. Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake doesn't shy away from the hard facts of Maine life.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, January 21, 2019

Book Publishing Can be Murder

A High Society Lady Mystery #2
Sara Rosett
January 15, 2019

Olive Belgrave had high hopes after the close of her first investigation leading to a successful launch of her detective agency. However, no new clients have appeared, funds are dwindling, and no one seems to have need of a lady detective with access to the highest levels of society, but no cash to support her. Olive has nearly given up and taken a job a hat model in a shop, when her friend, Jasper Rimmington gives her a lead. Hightower Books has a best-selling author, R. W. May, who is very late with the manuscript of this new novel, and appears to be missing. Since May is notoriously reclusive; Hightower has never even seen him in the flesh, they want a careful investigation. To that end, they send Olive to Blackburn Hall ostensibly to consult with Lady Holt, the prospective author of an etiquette guide. Hightower Books is not at all interested but sees this as a way to get Olive into the neighboring social circles. Nothing is as it seems though, especially May himself. When two murders occur, Olive becomes the chief suspect.

The period after WWI is one of my favorite eras, roiling with social change and new roles for women. Rosett paints a vivid picture of the age, along with a thoroughly likable heroine in Olive. Bright, stubborn, and insightful she finds herself leading a life she never expected but is determined to stand on her own two feet. She is often reckless, but it only adds to her charm. I didn't see the solution coming, but Olive always sees clues where others don't. I could have wished for a little movement on the relationship with Jasper, who isn't what he seems, either. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Murder at Blackburn Hall, and it's predecessor, Murder at Archly Manor. I am particularly looking forward to the next book which will land Olive squarely in the middle of the Egyptology "craze," mummies' curses and all. I received an advance digital copy courtesy of the author. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, January 18, 2019

Charley Saves the World for a Little While........

Charley Davidson # 13
Darynda Jones
St. Martins Press
January 15, 2019

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave brings to an end the long-running series of the adventures of Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper and so much more. I started with the beginning book, First Grave on the Right, which captivated me with its humor and sheer imaginative power. To all appearances, Charley is an ordinary twenty-something who is trying to start a private investigation business. She lives upstairs over her retired cop father's restaurant in Albuquerque. Her main sidekick is Cookie Kowalksi, researcher extraordinaire, and Charley's secretary. Only those recently deceased and those who can see into the supernatural realm can also see Charley's light, a beacon summoning them to "pass-through" her into the next world. Enter Reyes Farrow, the devastatingly handsome, compelling new neighbor at the end of Charley's hall. Reyes is Charley's lifelong Guardian and the Son of Satan. The arc of the series follows Charley and Reyes through to the culmination of Charley's mission to save the world. Along the way, Charley and Reyes acquire more companions who help or hinder her mission. Some are family, others are friends and neighbors. All are quirky and believable, whether dead or alive, human or non-human. Most important is their baby daughter, nicknamed "Beep," whose mission in her turn is to again save the world from Satan's machinations.

I got a bit bogged down in the most recent books, to be truthful. It often seemed to me that the story just added more twists and turns and did not progress much. However, the final book ties together all the loose ends into a very satisfactory resolution. It's not quite the happy ending I was looking for but a good one, paving the way for the future of "Beep."

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Hangman Comes to a Very Bad End

A Victorian Mystery # 3
Laura Joh Rowland
Crooked Lane Books
January 8, 2019

An early morning knock on the door summons photographer Sarah Bain and her associates, Lord Hugh Staunton and former street urchin, Mick O'Reilly to yet another crime scene. The three had formed a detective agency based on the success of their first two investigations. However, their employment by Sir Gerald Mariner at the London Daily World has kept them busy. This crime scene is particularly gruesome. The most well-known hangman in England, Harry Warbrick, has been hanged in his pub and in the process, decapitated. The police are ready to declare it a suicide, but our detectives think it has to be murder, and Sir Gerald agrees. Always on the lookout to increase the circulation of his tabloid, Sir Gerald kicks off a contest between the Daily World and the police. The competition can only cause conflict with Sarah's love interest, PC Barrett...again. It appears that the murder is connected to the recent hanging of a notorious criminal; Amelia Carlisle, who murdered many infants placed in her care. No one who witnessed the hanging will talk about it, pleading the Official Secrets Act.

Once again, Laura Joh Rowland takes us into the seamier side of Victorian London, among the highest and lowest members of society. There are a plethora of characters, both old and new, but Rowland characterizes them all so well, I was able to keep them all sorted. Underpinning the main storyline is Sarah's search for her missing father, who may have murdered a child, and her fraught relationship with PC Barrett. In my opinion, the romantic link takes up too much time in The Hangman's Secret and detracts somewhat. The secrets she is forever keeping from Barrett don't augur well for the future, even with a possible resolution in the book. I also found the vocabulary used not in keeping with the time and place and the general tone a little too modern. For example, I have never heard the word "candy" used by my British friends and relations. They all use "sweet." Those problems do not detract from the excellence of the plotting and characterization, however.

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

RATING-3.5 Stars

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Dazzling Historical Novel Set in 1920's Oregon

Lyndsay Faye
G.P. Putnam's Sons
January 8, 2019

We first meet Alice James, AKA "Nobody" in 1921 on a cross-country train from Harlem in Nw York City to Portland, Oregon. Alice is suffering from a gunshot wound sustained six days previously and is running for her life. She is losing the battle with the injury and is taken in charge by an African-American Porter named Max Burton. Max is a veteran of WWI and knows the effects of a neglected gunshot wound when he sees them. He takes her to The Paragon Hotel, the only hotel in Portland that welcomes African-Americans. The other denizens of The Paragon are not at all pleased. A white woman staying there can bring only trouble, but the fact is that a crisis is coming, whether Alice is there or not. This dazzling historical novel tells the tale of Alice's life on the streets of Harlem and her new life among the people of the hotel, jumping from one place and time to the other.

Alice had spent several years in the employ of Mr. Salvatici, a crime figure who is waging war on the Corleonisi, the premier Mafia family. Alice's ability, to disappear into disguises suitable for any situation and not be noticed has proved invaluable to Mr. Salvatici. On the surface, he is kindly and treats her like a daughter. She also mourns the loss of her closest childhood friend, Nicolo Benetati. Nicolo is not dead but has been transformed into a monster by tragedy and gang violence. All the events of her childhood and choices end in her running for her life. The people of The Paragon have their own problems and secrets, and the KKK is rising in Oregon. A missing child and an assassination end in more changes for not only Alice but all the people she has come in contact with through the hotel.

I find myself thinking about the characters of The Paragon Hotel, even after closing the book. The characters are so vividly drawn and fleshed out that they became almost real to me. I was dimly aware of the racism built into the fabric and even the constitution of the state of Oregon, but I admit I was shocked by its virulence. Things have changed, but I wonder just how much, given our present environment. Can America ever get past its prejudices? One can only hope. The Paragon Hotel is a fabulous read, taking the reader back to a long-gone time and place that somehow still exists.

Thanks to Putnam and NetGalley for a digital advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sherlock Spans All Times and Genders in This New Anthology

Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon
Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger, Editors
Pegasus Books
December 4, 2018

Following two earlier anthologies, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes and In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, this new anthology features stories inspired by the Holmes Canon. It features stories by some of the best-known authors of today. Peter S. Beagle, Reed Farrell Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni L.P. Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, D.P. Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoe Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson all put their own stamp on the Sherlock Holmes character. This is not an anthology for Holmes purists, placing Holmes not only in multiple times and genres, as well as genders. I am not one of the purists as far as Holmes is concerned.

I enjoyed some of the stories more than others so I will concentrate on three that I found particularly delightful. The Case of the Missing Case by Alan Gordon places a young Sherlock and brother Mycroft in London before their respective careers really took off. Sherlock is trying to justify his choice of career to disapproving parents and barely getting by, but actually finds himself taken in by the theatrical wiles of a young woman. Hounded, by Zoe Sharp is inspired by my favorite of all Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Set in the modern day, it has all the spooky atmosphere of the original with several new twists. Third of my favorites is The Ghost of the Lake by Jamie Freveletti, which puts Holmes into the 21st century with a female Watson. The two are trying to recover a missing security operative from a terrorist group and our female Watson equals Holmes in brains and skill.

This is a very enjoyable anthology and I thank Pegasus Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4 Stars