Sunday, December 27, 2020

Amateur Sleuths in a 1920's English Village


A Beryl and Edwina Mystery # 4
Jessica Ellicott
Kensington Books
October 27, 2020

The fourth of Beryl and Edwina's adventures take place in their home village of Walmsley Parva. Spinster Edwina Davenport has lived there all her life, except for a stint in an all-girls boarding school, where she met Beryl, and the two became the unlikeliest of friends. Years later, internationally known, high-flying adventuress Beryl Halliwell is between husbands, a bit down on her luck, and determined not to return to America until Prohibition is repealed. Edwina lost much of her income during the Great War and is quite desperate about keeping up appearances. The two quickly fall into their old friendship, pool their funds, and discover a talent for sleuthing.

Beryl can be considered a reckless driver, not only by Edwina but also by local Constable Gibbs. Ticketed by the constable, Beryl appears before the Magistrate, a pompous individual named Farraday. Beryl proceeds to charm the Magistrate and escape what could be a large fine. Also in the court is handsome Declan O'Shea, new to the village, and Irish. Beryl thinks his harsh fine is more about his Irishness than his offense and hires him to help their ancient gardener. Declan also seems to be the natural suspect in a series of burglaries in the village as well.  The census-takers' schedules have been stolen in the burglaries, and the ladies are hired to find them. During the investigation, they visit the Magistrate and find him dead at the bottom of the stairs. Could the murder and the census be connected?

Murder Comes To Call is another fast, fun read in the series. However, I found it a little repetitive of earlier books and not as humorous as the first three. I enjoyed it, however, and thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy.

RATING 3 Stars

Shady Finances at a For-Profit College and a 30-year-old Mystery

Hester Thursby # 3
Edwin Hill
Kensington Books
December 29, 2020

Hester, her veterinarian "non-husband" Morgan, and his niece, 5-year-old Kate, are attending a gala at the new campus of Prescott University. Also in attendance are  Detective Angela White. The university owners are Tucker and Jennifer Matson, and the President is Vanessa Matson, their daughter, Vanessa's husband, Gavin Dean, is CFO. However, the real mover and shaker and a sort of adjunct to the family is Maxine Pawlikowski. The only missing principal is reclusive Jennifer Matson. During the course of the evening, Maxine approaches Angela and Hester for help, and a quick visit to Pinebank, the Matson's historical mansion in Jamaica Plain. Jennifer has called reporting that Pinebank has been broken into. Maxine doubts that and would like Hester and Angela's input before making a formal report. After talking to the vague Jennifer, the three are convinced that Jennifer staged the break-in. But then, Angela is knocked down by an intruder while checking the grounds. As an aside, Maxine asks Hester to use her considerable talents as a research librarian to track down some missing alumni. One of these missing alumni is soon found murdered in her apartment.

The connections between all the characters run wide and deep in Watch Her starting with the "accidental" drowning death of 2-year-old Rachel, the youngest Matson daughter on the Pinehurst property nearly 30 years earlier: a death which quickly disappeared from the news. As Hester observes, she "doesn't need to be a police officer to know that it would take a whiteboard, string, and about a hundred hours of group therapy to figure out the dynamics going on among these people." Shame and what lengths people will go to avoid it, along with some plain everyday larceny, play a prominent role.

Watch Her has all the crime fiction elements that I most enjoy: a complex puzzle, relatable if not all likable characters, and plenty of suspense. I highly recommend it, but I also would say that it would be best to read the previous books, Little Comfort and The Missing Ones. Both are page-turners, highly addictive, with good insight into Hester and Morgan's relationship. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Murder and Malfeasance


Wrexford and Sloane #4
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
September 29, 2020

Murder At Queen's Landing begins with the murder of a young man in the dark of night on the infamous Thames River docks. That in itself would not be unusual, as the docks are notorious. This particular young man was a shipping clerk at the powerful British East India Company. Rumors of some sort of financial malfeasance begin to swirl but are not of immediate interest to the Earl of Wrexford and Lady Charlotte Sloane. However, when their friend Lady Cordelia, and her brother, Earl of Woodbridge, go missing, they are afraid there is a connection. Wrexford's friend, Sheffield, is frantic about Cordelia and enlists Wrexford to help find her.

An element of this series is the new technology emerging in the Regency Era. Many titled (and common) gentlemen pursue interests in chemistry, mathematics, botany, and biology. All of this will lead to the Industrial Revolution and its sweeping social change. As a gifted mathematician, Lady Cordelia has her part to play and might be in danger. Another element is the powerful British East India Company, an entity that I have always found fascinating. How a trading company was allowed to become so powerful and rich, even having a huge private army is a puzzle. There are many financial terms like arbitrage and bills of exchange floating around that generally make my eyes cross, but it's abundantly clear that all is not above-board at the Company. But who is at the bottom of it all?

All of the favorite characters are back, Wrexford and Charlotte, the "Weasels," two small street urchins who she adopted and is educating, and Charlotte's Great-Allison, who facilitated her re-entry into society. Everything is solved by the novel's end and wrapped up with a much-wished for happy development for our two main characters. This could be the series end, but I understand the author has plans for more books.

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

RATING 4.5 Stars rounded up to 5

Monday, September 28, 2020

Winter Comes to Northumberland

Vera Stanhope #9
Ann Cleeves
Minotaur Books
September 8, 2020

It's the first snowstorm of winter in Northumberland, and DCI Vera Stanhope is headed home. Despite having driven the lonely road thousands of times, she misses a turning and becomes disoriented. Suddenly she sees a car on the side of the road, door open, and she stops to investigate. No driver is to be found, but there is a toddler strapped into a car seat. Vera knows nothing about children, but she realizes she needs to get the child to warmth and safety. Soon she realizes precisely where she is, the local "big house", Brockburn, where her father, Hector, grew up. The Stanhopes of Brockburn have had very little to do with Vera, but the daughter of the house, Juliet, recognizes her and welcomes her in. Juliet and her husband, theater director Mark Bolitho, are having a party, but Juliet and her housekeeper soon get the child warm, fed, and changed. No one knows who the child might be. That changes soon when the tenant farmer arrives with news of a young woman with a massive head injury found in the snow. She is Lorna Falstone, a local with a history of eating disorders and mental health issues. Nobody knows who the father is. The Darkest Evening is a crime novel, with a feeling of a throwback to classic Agatha Christie "country house" mysteries. It is also a story about families and how they intertwine in small, still somewhat feudal communities. Lorna's family, the Stanhopes, the tenants, and even the Brockburn housekeeper have secrets and stories to tell. Even if they really don't want to let go of their secrets.

I have been catching up on the Vera TV series, but have never gotten around to reading the books. I was delighted to get an advance copy from Minotaur and add the rest of the books to my list. Vera is a fascinating character, gruff, dumpy, and poorly dressed. It's clear from Brenda Blethyn's portrayal that Vera has a soft center hidden away, and that center is on display in The Darkest Evening. It's a tragic story that has a little hope and reconciliation for many of the characters. It also kept me guessing until nearly the end.

Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Perfect Antidote to Pandemic (and other assorted) Blues


The Case Files of Henri Davenforth #5
Honor Raconteur
Raconteur House
September 17, 2020

The crime-solving team of Henri Davenforth, Royal Mage Seaton, and Detective Jamie Edwards are faced this time with murders among the upper crust. The bodies of the Atwoods, a wealthy couple are found in their country house, posed in an odd manner. The pose duplicates a statue in another part of the house.and magic was clearly employed. The Atwoods were friends of Henri's parents and their grieving children approach him to investigate. The local police have declared the deaths murder-suicide with no real investigation. There is a lot going on that has been hidden, and some of it about the Atwoods themselves.

I have enjoyed this series since discovering it. The characters are, including the secondary cast, all vividly described and develop in every book. I love the world-building with its magic, were people, and vaguely Victorian/Edwardian setting. We get new adorable characters, crime-solving magically constructed kittens. Three Charms, simply put, is a delightful escape from everyday reality, with more than a touch of romance this time.

I highly recommend the series as a perfect escape read.

RATING- 4.5 Stars rounded up to 5

Monday, August 31, 2020

A Well-Executed Departure in this Long-Running Series


Inspector Gamache #16
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, MacMillan Audio
September 1, 2020

All the Devils are Here is a departure in this long-running series, taking place in Paris, rather than Quebec or the much-loved village of Three Pines. Armand Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, are in Paris for the birth of their granddaughter. The parents are their daughter, Annie, and son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Jean-Guy was Gamache's second-in-command at the Surete de Quebec. They have recently moved to Paris because Jean-Guy had taken a job in private industry. The person responsible for the job change, billionaire and Gamache's godfather, Stephen Horowitz, is also awaiting the birth of the baby. Gamache's son, Daniel, a banker, and his family have lived in Paris for years. The family is leaving a favorite bistro and crossing a busy street when the 93-year-old Stephen is struck down by a van and left grievously injured. It was clearly no accident. Gamache calls in his old friend, Prefect of the Paris Police, Claude Dussault, to investigate. Still, Dussault seems strangely uneager and even reminds Gamache that he has no standing in Paris.

What follows is a breakneck thriller, centered around immense corporate malfeasance by the very firm where Jean-Guy works and a sinister security firm staffed by former commandos. Stephen Horowitz has plunged them all into a situation that will be deadly unless the family can cooperate using their various abilities. The clock is ticking, both for the baby's birth and their only chance to thwart the corporate plot, thereby saving countless lives. Family, as always, plays an integral part in All the Devils are Here. Daniel Gamache has only been mentioned previously, so it comes as a surprise that he and Armand have had a stressful relationship for years. Daniel's long-held resentments might keep him from playing a part and are fully exposed in the course of the story. Success comes with a high price tag but many benefits.

The City of Paris is vividly described and almost a character itself. I did miss Twin Pines, but the quirky, much-loved inhabitants are there in spirit. Everything comes full circle with a satisfactory ending for all. The audiobook form for this series has always been my preferred format, so I was delighted to get an advance copy via NetGalley. Robert Bathurst does his usual stellar narration. Thanks so much! The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

From Mayfair To The Slums

Kat Holloway Mystery  #4
Jennifer Ashley
Berkley Books
August 4, 2020

Kat Holloway is a cook in a Victorian upper-class household, a cook so good at her job that she commands a good salary and a full day and a half off, rather than the half-day usually granted to domestic servants.The reason for this demand is a secret, though, as Kat has a young daughter living with friends. The usual assumption is that a servant in the era had no personal life and no right to one. Kat must tread lightly to maintain secrecy. She also has a man in her life, Daniel McAdam. Daniel is a mystery'" who comes and goes and has connections to the government and police.

Daniel has involved Kat in several of his investigations because she can ingratiate herself with servants in other households. The servants always know what is going on upstairs. She is also brave, trustworthy, and a bit reckless. This time, Daniel asks for her help to find out what has happened to several missing children from a foundling home. Kat is particularly upset by this since, at one point, she was close to leaving her own daughter at a foundling home. The investigation turns up some unsavory activities associated with the charity and takes them into danger in the infamous slums of the London East End. Kat also meets a mysterious "brother" to Daniel, one he has never mentioned.

Murder in the East End is a solid entry in the series, with strong plotting, a cast of interesting side characters, and lots of action. The relationship between Kat and Daniel is progressing nicely, with more of his past revealing itself. I'm rooting for Kat to open the tea shop she dreams of and Daniel to extricate himself from his government duties. 

RATING-4 Stars

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Nefarious Small Town Shenanigans

A Helping Hands Mystery #2
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
July 28, 2020

Social Worker Hildy Schneider has picked up a part-time job after her hours are cut at the hospital. She is riding with the small-town Sorenson WI police department. The department is trying out a new program using Hildy's skills to deal with possibly mentally disturbed people on calls. On her first night, she encounters a person she knows very well. Danny Hillebrand is a schizophrenic who has been doing well on a new course of meds, but tonight he is in bad shape. He says he has seen a murder and a pink and purple dinosaur saw it too. Danny says the ghost of the victim is haunting him. After getting Danny, his sister Allie and live-in boyfriend, Joel, to the hospital to be sorted out. Hildy and her police partner go out on a wellness check. The scene is very much what Danny described. There are nefarious forces in Sorensen, involving both Danny and another of Hildy's patients.

Hildy is sympathetic, a person who cares deeply for her patients and those who she meets on her night shift. She is aided and sometimes impeded by a cast of quirky characters and her trusted therapy dog, Roscoe. She may have bitten off more than she can chew with the two jobs, but there may be a welcome resolution coming, both in her work and personal life.
This series is a spin-off of Ryan's earlier Mattie Winston series, but it could work as a standalone. The first book in the Helping Hands series is Needled to Death if you like to read in order.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, August 17, 2020

Someone is Always Lying

Alice Feeney
Flatiron Books, MacMillan Audio
Narrated by Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine
July 28, 2020

There are two sides to every story: yours and mine, ours and theirs, His & Hers. Which means someone is always lying.

I borrowed the above description from the publisher because it is the perfect encapsulation of this fantastic read. Anna Andrews has worked her way up the BBC hierarchy and has occupied the noon newsreader desk for two years. The previous newsreader has been on maternity leave for two years, and Anna has put her possible return out of her mind. All that changes when she does return, and Anna is relegated to lowly correspondent again. Anna jumps at a news story, because she needs to get her career on track, and she doesn't want to face the humiliation. A woman has been killed in the small village of Blackdown, but no one at the BBC knows that it is Anna's home village, a place that she fled at 16-years-old. DCI Jack Harper left London a year earlier to work in Blackdown, a place where nothing ever happens. Both Jack and Anna have connections to the victim that run deep and are longstanding.

The whole notion of the unreliable narrator is one that I enjoy but has been somewhat overdone in recent years. Not so in His and Hers, as told in Anna's and Jack's voices, with the killer's voice as well. It is brilliantly plotted and kept me guessing at every turn. I was always wrong when I narrowed down who I thought the killer was. I don't usually care for multiple narrators on audiobooks, but I don't see how it could be done as well without three voices. I am a big fan of Richard Armitage's narrations, and Stephanie Racine equals him.

I mentally subtracted 1/2 star for an incident of animal cruelty that I thought was not necessary, but that is something I can't tolerate. So I added the 1/2 star back, but I believe a sensitive reader should be aware of it. Also, if it's bedtime and you are nearly at the end of the novel, you might as well keep on reading! I couldn't get it out of my head.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for a free audiobook copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars

Friday, August 14, 2020

Island Sisters #1
Hannah Dennison
St. Martins Press
August 18, 2020

Death at High Tide opens with Evie Mead speaking with her recently deceased, much-older husband's accountant. Evie had believed that she would be well provided for, as she and Robert lived well, and he always had lots of deals happening. On the contrary, the accountant informs her that Robert is nearly bankrupt. Evie's sister, Margot, has flown in from Hollywood to be with her, and the two discover a letter from Robert detailing a 100,000£ loan that Robert had made to a Jago Ferris. The loan collateral is a hotel on Tregarrick Rock, on one of the Scilly Islands off the coast of Cornwall. There is no sign of the loan ever having been repaid. The two sisters rush off with no notice to the owner that they are coming and why. Upon arrival, they find a very oddly decorated hotel, a mixture of beautiful Art Deco and 1970s kitsch, and a decided lack of welcome. Two murders ensue, and as outsiders, Evie and Margot are the prime suspects.

I wanted to like Death at High Tide much more than I did. The assorted characters at Tregarrick Rock are almost all unlikable, except the cat, and most of them are up to no good. The only surprise I felt about the victims was that they had managed not to be murdered before. Evie herself is the most naive 36-year-old-woman imaginable, oblivious to the fact that her sister Margot has problems of her own. The person at the bottom of it all was obvious to me at the outset. I did enjoy the setting, knowing nothing at all about the Scilly Islands. 

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

RATING- 2 Stars

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Crime Novel that Transcends the Genre

Dave Robicheaux #23
James Lee Burke
Simon and Schuster 
August 11, 2020

Dave Robicheaux and his best friend and sidekick, Clete Purcel, find themselves in the middle of a war between two vicious crime families, the Balangies and Shondells. Teenager Isolde Balangie approaches Dave, telling him that she is being sold as a sex slave to Mark Shondell, and she needs rescuing. She is in love with Johnny Shondell, the youngest of the Shondell clan. Dave, knight-errant that he is, takes up the cause of this mobbed-up Romeo and Juliet. 
Dave's penchant for getting involved with the wrong woman, in this case, women, results in making deadly enemies of both crime bosses. Enter a time-traveling assassin with the ability to induce terrifying hallucinations and other enemies bringing more mundane threats. 

Only a writer of James Lee Burke's power and craftsmanship could make the plot of A Private Cathedral work. I have had a long off and on relationship with Dave Robicheaux and Clete; one that I had stepped away from because of the extreme violence of the series. As soon as I started reading I knew I was in for the long haul. Burke can bring the unknown territory of South Louisiana to steamy life. I know Dave and Clete's demons well. There is an entire gallery of secondary characters who are brought to vivid life, in all their frailty and in some cases, evil. The book is set not in the present day, but several years in the past, foreshadowing the times we live in today. Burke's prose is something to be savored and I highlighted many passages to revisit.

Many, many thanks to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 stars

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Wedding in the country turns Lethal

A Countess Harleigh Mystery #3
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books
August 5, 2020

Frances, Lady Harleigh is planning a wedding, for her sister Lily and her affianced, Leo, when she finds out that the wedding must happen much quicker than expected. The two are discussing elopement, but Frances fears scandal. Not only that, but Frances and Lilys' social-climbing mother is also expected any day from America. George Hazelton comes to the rescue by offering his family estate, Risings, for the wedding. While there, George hopes that Frances will announce their own engagement, something she has been somewhat reluctant to do.

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder has all the usual ingredients of the Engish Country House murder. There are all sorts of undercurrents among the multiplicity of guests and a series of accidents that escalate into death. But who is responsible and who is the target? I enjoyed this third book in the series but got a bit bogged down in the middle. The ending, also, while exciting is somewhat predictable. It's an enjoyable read and I look forward to the next in the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Roaring Twenties on the Riviera

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes # 16
Laurie R. King
Bantam Books
June 9, 2020

After Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes' adventures in Venice, Sherlock is off somewhere (probably for brother Mycroft). It's only eleven weeks after Clara Hudson, Holmes' longtime housekeeper, left their employ inThe Murder of Mary Russell. A seemingly offhand remark from Mrs. Hudson saying that she always liked Monte Carlo leads Mary to believe that she may be there. Mary still has plenty of questions to ask Mrs. Hudson. Mary takes the opportunity to sail up to Monaco with friends where she finds Mrs. Hudson on the beach at Cap d' Antibes with Gerald and Sara Murphy, American expatriates with an extensive circle of friends among The Lost Generation of writers and artists who wandered Europe in the 1920s. Mrs. Hudson is not eager to talk to Mary and disappears from the group quickly. However, when a young man is found murdered in Mrs. Hudson's lodgings, Sherlock and Mary become involved, Sherlock having been in Monaco already.

The Russell/Holmes series has been a favorite from its beginning, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Ms. King can take this reader to places and times unknown. The descriptions are so vivid, and she can drop historical figures into the narrative effortlessly. The Murphys themselves were real people, and they include such people as Picasso, John Dos Passos, and Scott and Zelda Fitgerald in their entourage. Monaco at the time was a gathering place for such as Sir Basil Zararoff, the sinister international arms dealer, and smugglers, along with all sorts of conmen and women. Mrs. Hudson's old friend in Monaco is the legendary Lille Langtry, who is still a beauty and plays a major part in the story. 

I highly recommend Riviera Gold to fans of historical mystery and thank NetGalley and Bantam for an advance digital copy. I am particularly looking forward to the next in the series which evidently will take Mary and Holmes to Romania in pursuit of "vampires". The opinions are my own.

RATING 4.5 Stars

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Great (New-to-Me) Find

Ruth Galloway # 1
Elly Griffiths
Mariner Books
February 5, 2009

Ruth Galloway is a Forensic Archaeologist on the faculty of the fictional University of Northern Norfolk. Bones are her specialty, and she is an acknowledged expert Verging on forty, somewhat overweight, and a loner, Ruth lives on the edge of the Saltmarsh, where the ocean meets the earth. It's a desolate place with dangerous tides and traps ready to spring for the unwary walker. The bleak beauty of the area, however, suits Ruth perfectly, and she finds peace in living there. That peace frays when she is called to the site of the discovery of bones by the local constabulary. Inspector Harry Nelson thinks that they may be the bones of Lucy Downey. Lucy was abducted from her bed 10 years earlier, and Harry has been searching ever since with no success. This particular discovery turns out to be approximately 2000 years old, an Iron Age relic, definitely not Lucy. Nelson has been receiving periodic cryptic letters from the killer, letters steeped in literary allusion, and Pagan references. When another child disappears, Ruth is drawn into that investigation as well.

It is always a treat to stumble across a series that is well established, especially one that drew me in as completely as The Crossing Places. I started the book with somewhat high expectations, and those were easily surpassed. The characters are all distinct and well-rounded. Most of them are not at all who Ruth thought they were. The descriptions of the Saltmarsh are so vivid that the area becomes a character in itself.  The suspense is extraordinarily well sustained and builds to a thrilling conclusion. As there is a substantial cliff-hanger, I am delighted that I was able to begin the next in the series, The Janus Stone, immediately.

I am looking forward to reading more and highly recommend the series, based on The Crossing Places.

RATING- 4.5 Rounded up to 5 Stars

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Modern Day Country House Murder

Oxford Tearoom Mystery # 10
H.Y. Hanna
Wisheart Press
December 1, 2019

I don't know how one of my favorite complete escape reads fell through the cracks, but I think it was partially a bit of a reading slump I have been in. It can also be attributed to the pandemic that we all have been dealing with. I've been glued to the news and lacking in concentration for anything else. When I was paging through the back-up of unread books on my kindle, I was excited to find it.

Any Agatha Christie (or Golden Age mystery) fan is aware of the country house mystery, the one where a motley group of people is marooned in the house by some natural disaster. This time it's an unusual Christmas snow in Oxford. Gemma Rose has agreed to cater a Christmas party for local children in a stately home. The prodigal son, who has been missing for years and thought to be dead, is murdered. The Mousse Wonderful Time of The Year has all the stock characters of the genre; the overbearing peer, the downtrodden daughter of the house, her disagreeable husband, and the obnoxious murder victim himself. Added to the mix are intrepid sleuth, Gemma, her mischievous cat, Muesli, the incompetent policeman, and the four "Old Biddies" from the tearoom. All the family has more than sufficient reason to wish the prodigal dead.

This is an excellent entry in the long-running Oxford Tearoom Mysteries, and I look forward to the next one.

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Crime Which Keeps Repeating Itself

Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery # 9
Julia Spencer-Fleming
St. Martins Minotaur
April 7, 2020

The small town of Millers Kill in the Adirondacks is suffering budget woes, and a vocal minority thinks the solution is dissolving the police force and handing policing to the NY State Patrol. That minority has added the plan to a referendum in November. It's August, and Chief Russ Van Alstyne knows he has a lot to do to gain support and head off disaster for him, his staff, and the community. Politics have never been Russ's strong suit. Added to that stress is a new baby in the house, Ethan. Both he and Clare are having difficulty balancing work and home life, even though they are delighted to have a son that neither thought they would have. Life only gets more complicated when Russ is called to a scene on the highway. A young woman is lying in the middle of the road, deceased, in a party dress with no shoes, hosiery, or identification. There is no indication of what might be the cause of death, and that exactly duplicates two previous unsolved crimes; one in 1952 and one in 1972. A very young Russ Van Alstyne was a suspect in the 1972 crime. Small towns being what they are he knows that people will remember.

There has been a six-year gap since the previous book in the series, Through the Evil Days, due to many personal losses suffered by Ms. Spencer-Fleming. I was delighted to know that another book was coming and to get my hands on an advance copy. I also was concerned that I might have forgotten some facts and characters, but everything came back to me as I read. All the characters from Russ and Clare to Russ's mother, Margy, and the members of the force are so well-written that they have become old friends. I also like the plot device of crimes from the past haunting the present. Not only these three crimes but others play into the unfolding story. However, I did find the jumping back and forth a bit hard to follow, at least in the beginning. I also thought the solution to all the crimes was somewhat rushed and unbelievable. That being said, it was a very good read, and I am looking forward to the next in the series. A number of questions still remain.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, April 20, 2020

Behind the Headlines

A Jimmy Vega Mystery # 5
Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
March 31, 2020

Tensions are on the rise in Lake Holly, NY, along with ICE raids and deportations and an anti-immigrant district attorney. Jimmy Vega, cleared of charges in the shooting of an unarmed man, but still on limited duty, responds to a call to that same DA's home. The new wife of the DA, Talia Crowley, has been found hanging in their flooded basement. The police are ready to call it a suicide but will go through the motions, especially in their search for Crowley's immigrant maid. The maid is the niece of Edgar Aviles, the long-time custodian at Beth Shalom Synagogue. When ICE shows up to deport Edgar, the synagogue somewhat reluctantly gives him sanctuary and calls in Adele Figueroa, Jimmy's girlfriend, and the force behind La Casa, the local immigrant advocacy group. Added to the mix is Michelle, the ICE agent sent to supervise the case; she is also Jimmy's estranged half-sister.

Voice With No Echo starts with a bang, and the action doesn't let up. The ugly underbelly of local ICE and police operations is exposed in this case. Jimmy has to confront some demons from his past. He also must deal with doing what is right as opposed to what is legal, and the fact that sometimes people are not at all what they appear to be. Once again, Suzanne Chazin is even-handed in her characterization of both the immigrant and legal community while spinning an intricate plot.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Monday, April 6, 2020

Turning Points

Charles Lenox # 13
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
February 18, 2020

It's 1855 London, and a young Charles Lenox is establishing his reputation as a private detective in London. From time to time, he gets a summons from Scotland Yard to consult on a case. This time he is called to Paddington Station to look at a crime scene. A passenger, a young man, has been found in a first-class carriage, brutally slain. The young man is well-dressed but has no identification, and the conductor claims no knowledge of the passenger. The first order of business is to find out who he is. When Lenox and his indispensable valet, Graham, learn who he is, they are plunged into the world of Abolitionists, white supremacists in England, and the ongoing slave trade to America. The US government is also very interested in this particular young man's fate. No one, however, is quite who he seems to be in this story, and many members of the aristocracy are involved.

I have much enjoyed the previous two books in the Charles Lenox series, The Woman in the Water and The Vanishing Man. They have examined the early life of Charles Lenox, his uncertainty about balancing his work and his place in society. Many people have "cut" him for engaging in "trade." Thankfully, none of those people are in Lenox's family. His mother, however, is concerned for him and wants him to find a wife who will support him and avert loneliness. She enlists Lady Jane, Lenox's neighbor and childhood friend in the effort. Charles thinks he has found her until his heart is broken. Charles also sees more of the duplicity and callousness of the upper classes than ever before. 

This is a solid entry in the long-running Charles Lenox series. As always, I particularly enjoy the little fascinating facts that Charles Finch drops, seemingly effortlessly, into the text. This time, he covers the state of politics in America, embroiled in the issue of slavery. My favorite this time is that Queen Victoria had a black African god-daughter. Who knew? Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, April 5, 2020

An Epic first day on the job

Sunshine Vicram # 1
Darynda Jones
St. Martin's Books
April 7, 2020

Sunshine Vicram never thought she would return to her hometown of Del Sol, New Mexico, after leaving with her infant daughter 14 years earlier. Sunshine was abducted at the age of 17 and barely survived. She had since built a stellar career in law enforcement in Albuquerque and was content with her life. However, after winning the election to be the new sheriff of Del Sol, one that she was not aware of entering and never campaigned for, she decided to return with her daughter, Aurora. No doubt, her loving parents engineered the election somehow. Sunshine wants to find out how they did it, and more importantly, find her abductor and bring him to justice.

Del Sol is usually a tranquil place, and Sunshine only expects to have to arrest the occasional flasher and manage an ongoing feud between two senior citizens over a rooster. She also anticipates having to deal with the Ravinder clan of transplanted Southern Mafia types. The head of the family, Levi Ravinder, has dragged them into respectability (somewhat) with his successful and legal moonshine distillery. Levi is also the only man that Sunshine has ever loved since they were children. Expectations change when a 14-year-old girl is abducted on Sunshine's first day, announced by the girl's distraught mother crashing her Mercedes through the front wall of the police station. This abduction has disturbing echoes of Sunshine's own experience.

A Bad Day for Sunshine is a mix of family drama, crime drama, a touch of paranormal, frequent laugh-out-loud moments, suspense and simmering romance. To say that the village of Del Sol is inhabited by quirky and eccentric characters is a gross understatement. But after all, New Mexico is the home of Roswell. There are more twists and turns in the story than one can count and I was sucked in from the first page. Told from the viewpoints of Sunshine and her scarily smart daughter, Auri, this novel is a true page-turner. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 rounded up to 5 stars

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pirates, Aargh!

A Death by Chocolate Mystery #3
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books
February 25, 2020

It's early September in Eastport ME, which means it's time for the Pirate Festival, a weekend full of fun, booze, and "Aargh." Partners in The Chocolate Moose bakery, Jake and Ellie, are hoping for a big weekend of sales at the end of the tourist season. Eastport is full of people, mostly those who are looking for fun in their pirate garb. Among those visitors are Harry Hadlyme, 'foodie' celebrity, and his camera crew. Harry is not out for fun, though. His purpose seems to be to trash all the food establishments in Eastport. A confrontation with Jake is soon big news all around the town, and when he is discovered dead in the basement of The Chocolate Moose, Jake becomes the prime and only suspect. 

I always enjoy my fictional visits to Eastport. We took a very long drive to Eastport from our usual Maine vacation spot a few years ago on the strength of Grave's previous series, Home Repair is Homicide. It's a lovely small town with gorgeous 19th-century houses and vivid history. Sarah Graves captures the look and feel of the place beautifully. Jake and Ellie are a bit of a "Lucy and Ethel" pair of sleuths. The difference is that they are capable women who manage to get themselves out of their sometimes hare-brained plans. This time they cut it very close. I always enjoy the supporting characters whom I have become to know so well. Ellie's ever-expanding family in the big old house on Key Street plays a part in this story as well.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Wrenching Story, Beutifully Told

Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin's Press
January 14, 2020

It's 2018, and 22-year-old Morgan Christopher is starting the second year of her sentence for a crime she did not commit. Her incarceration in the NC State Correctional Center has completely derailed her hopes for a career in art. When she is offered a chance to be released to restore a WPA Post Office mural, which was never hung in the Edenton NC post office. The offer comes from the daughter of Jesse Jameson Williams, a renowned African-American artist from Edenton. Jesse had a history of helping young artists, but Morgan has no idea how he learned of her work and can't ask since he is now deceased. She, of course, jumps at the offer, despite her lack of any experience with restoration. There are several other strings attached, chiefly a hard date for the completion of the repair. The mural must be hung in the gallery that Jesse wanted to be built in Edenton. Compounding the mystery is the question of why the mural was not hung in 1940, and the fate of the young NJ artist, Anna Dale. Anna disappeared, and nothing has been heard of her since. The story is told from the viewpoint of Morgan in 2018, alternating with Anna in 1940.

I found Big Lies in a Small Town a somewhat difficult read. It pushed a lot of buttons for me since I grew up in a small town not that far from Edenton, and not that many years after Anna's time. Growing up in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s made me aware of the dangers and prejudices that a forward-thinking young woman from NJ faced in Edenton. Added to those problems, Anna had won the contest for the mural over a local, "favorite son." Reading Anna's viewpoint filled me with foreboding as to what her fate might have been. However, I came away from the book with an appreciation for its sense of place and time, and indelible characters. It's a wrenching story, beautifully told. I had never read anything by Diane Chamberlain before Big Lies in a Small Town, but I hope to read more of her work in the future. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Fatal Trip Into Dixie

Gunnie Rose # 2
Charlaine Harris
Gallery/Saga Press
January 14, 2020

Lizbeth Rose, recovered from the events and injuries she sustained in An Easy Death, is hired by a new crew. Gunnie is a gunslinger in dangerous modern America, one in which the country split into independent nation-states. The split was precipitated by the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even the Holy Russian Empire has a foothold in what was formerly California and Oregon. The crew is protecting a crate being sent into Dixie, one in which there seems to be much interest. The long train ride has been mostly uneventful until the very end when a gunfight erupts, and the train is blown up. The crew leader is injured but alive and is left to guard the crate while Gunnie tries to help survivors. When she returns, the crew leader is dead, and the box has disappeared. Surprisingly, an old friend, Ilya (Eli) Savarov, a "Grigori" (magician) who has his own interest in the crate, one that he refuses to disclose. Gunnie and Eli join forces to search for the container. Gunnie never wanted to go to Dixie, and the reality is as awful as she imagined. Slavery no longer exists, but Jim Crow, racism, sexism, and religious fervor are the norm. An unaccompanied woman, wearing trousers at that, can't pass under the radar in Dixie. Posing as a married couple, the two hope to find the crate and fulfill their respective missions.

I have been a fan of Charlaine Harris' particular blend of genre-bending fiction for a while now. I enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse series (at least the majority of them) and particularly liked the Midnight, TX, and Harper Connolly series. The blend of alternate history, action, magic, romance, and an appealing lead in Gunnie kept me interested and involved throughout. I am already looking forward to the next in the series. I hope that Eli and Lizbeth can work out the differences in their relative "stations" in life and make a go of it. Since Eli is out of favor with the other Grigori so it might be possible. The differences are more in her head than in his, I think.

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

RATING-4.5 rounded up to 5

Monday, February 3, 2020

Old Secrets Always Surface

A Southern B&B Mystery # 2
Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
November 12, 2019

Sisters Quinn and Delilah Bellandini are happy to be back to normal and running the family B&B after solving a murder in a local restaurant in Savannah (Southern Discomfort). At least Quinn is happy, having nearly lost her life in the investigation. Delilah, on the other hand, misses the excitement and longs for more. There is plenty of excitement to come when Quinn and her new boyfriend, Tucker Heyward, are digging in his Aunt Lela's yard to build a firepit and discover a long-buried body. When the body turns out to be Esther Sinclair, who supposedly left town for good after her high school graduation, Aunt Lela is in big trouble. She and Esther had quite a history that hasn't been forgotten in the intervening thirty-three years. In fact, Esther had more secrets than any 18-year-old girl should have, along with the members of her high school clique, the "Magnolias." Tucker, who is very close to his Aunt, changes his tune against Quinn's sleuthing and even participates. When the sisters' aging hippie mom and absentee father get dragged in as suspects, the chase is on to find out just who, of the many who might have wanted to kill Esther actually did.

I found the byplay between the two very different sisters particularly amusing. Two more different sisters could not be imagined, but those differences complement each other. I was very much "in the dark" as to who exactly could have killed Esther, and why. Southern Harm is an entertaining and enjoyable read. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-3.5 Stars rounded up to 4 

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Cost of Duplicity

Lady Emily Mysteries # 14
Tasha Alexander
St. Martins Minotaur
January 7, 2020

It's 1902 and Lady Emily with her husband Colin Hargreaves are on holiday in Italy with their friends Ivy and Jeremy, the Duke of Bainbridge. The plan is to explore the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mt.Vesuvius in AD 79. While exploring, Ivy comments on the sideburns showing on one of the plaster casts, not exactly a feature of a first-century body! Upon chipping away at the plaster, Colin finds a much more recent corpse, no more than a month or two old. The police call it a local mafia crime, but when another death occurs on an archaeological dig, Colin and Emily spring into action. In the midst of their investigation, an unheralded visitor brings marital strife. Colin's previously unknown daughter, the product of an affair with his partner in espionage, now deceased, arrives in Italy. Not unexpectedly the daughter, "Kat", and Emily get off to a very rocky start, even though Emily tries her best. There is a secondary story being told as well and the narrative switches from 1902 to AD 79 and tells the story of a sixteen-year-old slave girl in Pompeii, who is also a gifted poet.

I have enjoyed all of the Lady Emily mysteries to a greater or lesser degree, and I think In the Shadow of Vesuvius is one of the best of the series. I was much more invested in the slave girl's story that I had initially expected to be. The two storylines tied together very satisfactorily in the end. It's difficult to maintain the momentum in such a long-running series, but Alexander has pulled it off again. Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars