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