Sunday, October 31, 2021

Invaluable Resource for Historical Mystery Readers


Otto Penzler, Editor
Vintage Crime, Black Lizard
October 19, 2021

The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries is a comprehensive reference to the detective short stories published during the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. While some of these stories were published earlier, the massive success of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes' adventures kicked off a bumper crop of authors trying to match his success. In the Big Book, we see such literary luminaries as Charles Dickens, WilkieCollins, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and Guy de Maupassant trying their hands at the detective short story, to greater or lesser success. Most of the other authors were not so familiar, at least to me. Many are unknown to today's reader.  

Otto Penzler has written a brief introduction to each story with helpful background on the story and author. I was delighted to find the first mystery stories featuring the female detective, much different from today's market! It's impossible to pinpoint a favorite story in such a massive collection, but these display the panoply of British society from high to low and a considerable degree of inventiveness. It struck me that the authors and the British reading public must have had a fascination with all things "exotic," from fine jewels (usually from foreign lands) and unusual detectives with unusual methods. One even used an Indian snake-charmer to aid him in his investigations. I expect this fascination can be attributed to the immense expansion of the British Empire in the era.

The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries is an invaluable addition to the shelf of the scholar, collector, and readers of detective stories. I highly recommend it as a "bedtime" book as well. Thanks to NetGalley and Black Lizard for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4-Stars

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Murder and Kakaoke


Cherie Priest
Atria Books
October 26, 2021

I first read Steampunk when I was introduced to Cherie Priest's Century Trilogy, which is still far and away my favorite in the genre. Her other work is mainly in the Horror field, not my cup of tea. I have also been in a bit of a reading "slump" and thought that a new mystery by Cherie Priest would be just what I needed to blast me out. I was right!

Leda Foley is a thirty-something who is trying to start up a travel agency in her hometown Seattle. She is also a psychic with a highly spotty and untrustworthy ability. Her ability has never done anyone any good, least of all her. She has been trying to hone her abilities by performing at her favorite local bar. One might think that nobody uses a travel agency anymore. Still, it turns out a few clients are willing to pay an agency just to avoid the aggravation of searching for flights and accommodations online. When she got a strong feeling that a client wouldn't get off his booked flight alive, she promptly changed it to a later flight. Her client, Grady Merritt, was irate until he watched the plane he was booked on exploding on take-off. Grady, a Seattle Police detective, is intrigued enough to approach Leda about helping him solve a cold case that is driving him crazy. She explains to him that her abilities are far from consistent but has a case of her own. Her fiance, Tod, was murdered 3 years earlier, and there has been no resolution. The two form a partnership, aided (?) by her bartender bestie, Niki.

Grave Reservations has a likable heroine and a wealth of sidekick characters, all of whom are quirky and devoted to her. The mystery is fast-moving and kept me reading. Grady and Leda make a good team, and I only hope that this is the beginning of a new series. Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Multiple Murders, Mutiltiple Characters and a Big Surprise

Two Rivers  # 2
Ann Cleeves
Minotaur Books
September 7, 2021

Ever since The Long Call, the first in the Two Rivers series, I have been looking forward to the second book featuring DCI Matthew Venn and his team. Venn grew up in a fundamentalist Christian group in Devon. He was a rising "star" in the Barum Brethren until a sudden loss of faith resulted in his expulsion from the group and his family, not to mention his homosexuality. Now, he and his husband, Jonathan, are back in Devon. These are treacherous waters for Matthew and Jonathan, as the Brethren are involved to one degree or another. Thankfully, Matthew has a good team in DS Jenn Rafferty and DC Ross May. Jenn is a single mom with two teenagers, and May is dedicated, at least as far as building his career goes. The Heron's Cry begins with Jenn at a party at her friend Cynthia's home. Jenn is a bit tipsy, not an unusual occurrence in social situations when she meets Nigel Yeo. It's a pleasant meeting, but Jenn senses he has something on his mind. Imagine her surprise when Nigel is found dead at his artist daughter's studio. This event sets off even more murders. All the deaths occur among the people living at an artist's colony on the property of millionaire financier Frances Ley.

Very few authors have the characterization skills that Ann Cleeves possesses. She is juggling multiple characters, who all have a part to play in the plot. All are so finely drawn they are indelible, and their varying situations intersect to bring it to its end. I'm particularly fond of Jonathan, who has an endless well of support and sympathy for Matthew, even though their marriage does have its stresses. I am getting fonder of his mother, who seems to be trying in her own way to, if not mend fences, make a halting new beginning. A plus for me is that I didn't have a clue who the perpetrator was and why.

I highly recommend The Heron's Call. Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. 

5 Stars

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A Below Stairs Mystery
Jennifer Ashley
Berkley Books
July 6, 2021

The fifth of the Kat Holloway Mysteries takes the intrepid cook into the highest levels of society and government affairs. A child of the London streets, born within the sound of Bow Bells, Kat has raised herself at a very young age to the highest levels, working in aristocratic Victorian households. Her success is thanks to her hard work and skill at cooking and a mother who worked day and night cleaning. Kat was apprenticed and learned how to read. Life has not always been rosy, however. At a young age, Kat married a sailor and had a daughter. When he died at sea, Kat found out he already married, making the child illegitimate. That could have been the end of everything, but Kat asked friends to raise her.  Kat demands not one but two half-days a week so that she can be with the youngster. Her skill is such that she gets the days. So far, the daughter is a secret to her employers.

A chance encounter with the charming Daniel McAdam changes Kat's life. She met him as a deliveryman who kept coming around to see her. It soon is apparent that Daniel is not just a delivery man but a chameleon who can move from the highest to the lowest levels of society with ease. He works for a shadowy figure in the British Government, one who has something to hold over Daniel's head. Reluctantly, he has needed to involve her in his doings from time to time, and she has proved an asset. In Death at the Crystal Palace, Kat is approached by Lady Covington on an excursion to the Palace. Lady Covington thinks someone is trying to poison her. Kat has gained somewhat of a reputation for truth-finding. Meanwhile, Daniel is investigating a British nobleman who may be funding Irish terrorists. When the two investigations intersect, Kat is thrown into mortal danger.

The Kat Holloway Mysteries are extraordinarily well-written and enjoyable visits to Victorian England, full of detail of lives both "Upstairs" and "Down." The characters are vivid with all the virtues and defects of human beings in any age. I highly recommend the series and am looking forward to the next one. I fear that Kat will finally come to the notice of Daniel's employer, whom even he fears.

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


Monday, June 21, 2021

Start The Day with a Raccoon on the Loose...


Sunshine Vicram #2
Darynda Jones
MacMillan Audio 
Narr: Lorelei King
July 27, 2021

It's a normal day in the mountainous tourist town of Del Sol, NM. Sadly, four months into the tenure of Sheriff Sunshine Vicram, she knows that "normal" means anything can happen and usually does. How on earth her parents managed to put her name in for the election without her knowledge and win is beyond her understanding. But it brought her and her teenage daughter, Aurora, back to her hometown. For good, at least until the next election, unless the Mayor decides to fire her. Sunshine's day starts with a raccoon on the loose in town, wreaking havoc. No sooner than he is captured, the day escalates into a bar fight with one seriously injured fighter and two others on the lam with another soon-to-be-dead fighter, based on the volume of blood left behind. Successful moonshine distiller and ex-bad-boy Levi Ravinder was also in the fight and seriously injured but refused to go to the hospital. Sunshine knows he isn't guilty of anything, but as usual, he isn't talking. Add to that the ongoing mystery of Sunshine's abduction fifteen years earlier, Aurora's pursuit of a serial killer responsible for several missing persons over the years, and the fact that someone in the Ravinder family is trying to kill Levi makes for an action-packed story. Not to mention the raccoon who managed to escape his cage.

I enjoyed Darynda Jones' first series, One Foot in the Grave, but I like this one even better. All the supporting characters are quirky and entirely believable: Sunshine's parents, her hunky deputy, and life-long best friend, and the other staffers at the station. Even the old lady who confesses to every crime in town is not beyond belief. Best of all is the loving relationship between mother and daughter. There are plenty of laughs in A Good Day for Chardonnay and a puzzling mystery to boot.

Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Audio for an advance digital copy. Lorelei King is one of my favorite narrators, so it was great to hear her telling the story. I am looking forward to the next one.

RATING-4.5  rounded up to 5 Stars.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Turmoil in 1940s Hollywood


Maggie Hope # 10
Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam Books
July 6, 2021

The tenth book in the Maggie Hope series takes Maggie back to the United States, her native land. Not the Massachusetts of her youth, but sunny Hollywood, CA. She has come at the behest of Flight Commander John Sterling, her former fiancé. John can no longer fly, but the British Government has sent him to work at the Disney Studios in the propaganda film wing. While in Hollywood, he met a young woman named Gloria Hutton, fell in love, and broke the engagement. The young woman drowned in a swimming pool at the famous Garden of Allah Hotel. The death was declared an accident, but John is confident that it was murder. Who better to investigate than Maggie? Maggie is understandably somewhat reluctant, but when her ballerina friend, Sarah Sanderson, gets a job making a film with the famous George Balanchine, she decides to go.

Maggie arrives in Hollywood and sees an America that she never expected. Far from the united front she expected, Los Angeles is a hotbed of racism and segregation like in the Jim Crow South: if not in law but fact. Organizations like the German-American Bund and the KKK have gone underground after Pearl Harbor, but they are still active and plotting. The American Nazi Party is alive and well. Maggie's first day in 1943 Hollywood sees the first of the Zoot-Suit Riots; when American service members face off with Hispanic Angelinos. As Maggie and John investigate Gloria's death, it appears that she might be involved in all the seething politics. The notoriously corrupt LAPD has no interest in what they find, except for one honest cop. 

The Hollywood Spy is intensely atmospheric, hot and sultry, and full of secrets. I learned so many things that I had not known or of which I was only dimly aware. MacNeal does meticulous research, as witnessed by her sources at the end of the book. For example, she used the word "surreal" to describe the similarities between the societal problems of 1943 and what we are facing today. I can't agree more with that assessment. I highly recommend The Hollywood Spy, both as crime fiction and a fast-paced mystery.

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

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Race to Find a Murderer in Ancient Rome

Leonidas the Gladiator # 2
Ashley Gardner
JA/AG Publishing
May 10, 2021

Freedman Leonidas is finding his way in what is a new world for him. As a youngster, he came to the games, convicted but innocent, in the death of his former master in the building trades. Since then, he became the fiercest and most skilled gladiator in Nero's Rome. When he earned his freedom, an anonymous benefactor came forward and gifted him a slave; Cassia is a skilled scribe. Leonidas and Cassia have managed to eke out a reasonable life with his work as a bodyguard and Cassia's household management. The two have gained a reputation for crime-solving as well. His former trainer, Aemil, summons Leonidas to his Ludus, and Aemil is not one to be refused. Three of his gladiators are AWOL, and Aemil wants them found. It turns out that Nero wants them found as well, and Nero cannot be refused; Leonidas finds the gruesomely murdered bodies of two, and the race is on to find the last. The search takes them into the highest and lowest places in Rome.

I happened upon this series by chance, and since I enjoy Ashley Gardner/Jennifer Ashley's other historical mysteries, I gave it a spin. It quickly became another favorite, even though Ancient Rome is not a period I have ever been particularly interested in. What does attract me are the vivid characters and descriptions. Leonidas is an open book, but Cassia is more than a little mysterious. These two are forming a relationship deeper than Master and slave, and it's fun to watch. As Cassia says, "You are a good man, Leonidas." He is a thoroughly good and decent man, despite his history.

I'm looking forward to the next in this series, and I highly recommend it.

5 Stars

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Classic Locked-Room Mystery


Yorkshire Murder Mystery # 6
J.R. Ellis
Thomas & Mercer
May 27, 2021

The Whitby Murders takes DCI Jim Oldroyd off his beaten track to Whitby in the far north of Yorkshire. Whitby plays a prominent part in Bram Stoker's Dracula; the Count leaves the ship bearing him to England in the form of a huge black dog. The ruins of Whitby Abbey overlooking the town make a perfect setting for "Goth Weekend" when tourists invade for spooky good fun. DCI Oldroyd's young adult daughter, Louise, and a group of her friends head off to one of Whitby's "escape rooms." There, they role-play and try to escape from the room with the clues supplied. Things go drastically wrong when one of a couple, Dominic, stabs his partner, Andrea, to death and escapes. The couple is known to have a volatile relationship, and CCTV says that is what happened. But Louise has a gut feeling that something is wrong. She calls in Jim, hoping that he can look into the case.

There is nothing I like more than a classic locked-room mystery, but I am afraid The Whitby Murders missed the mark for me. The plot seemed unnecessarily complicated; I had the "who" but not the "why" figured out quickly. I also thought that the Whitby detective was entirely too cooperative with Jim messing about with her case, even though they were former colleagues. That being said, I did enjoy the characters, as usual, especially Andy Carter and Stephanie Johnson, Jim's investigative team. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an advance copy. I have read and enjoyed the previous books in the series much more than this one, so this was a bit disappointing. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Holmes and Russell in Dracula Country


Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17
Laurie R. King
Bantam Books
June 8, 2021

After Russell and Holmes' adventures with Mrs. Hudson in Monaco (Rivera Gold), Sherlock receives a summons from Marie of Roumania. Marie is Queen of Romania and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and a personage in her own right. She is taking up residence in Castle Bran, given to her by her grateful people. She has received messages that threaten Princess Ileana's life if Ileana also comes to the castle. She wants Holmes to find out just what is going on. Upon arrival, the two find all sorts of things going on; summonses from the graveyard, girls disappearing, a possible ghost haunting. But none of that seems connected to any threat to Ileana. The two take to skulking about the grounds at night to try to find the perpetrator. Of course, they know it is nothing supernatural, even more so when Mary is smashed over the head and kidnapped. When she comes to and escapes, they discover puncture marks on her neck. It's clear someone is trying to stir up bad feelings against the Queen and her upcoming visit. But how far are they willing to go?

Each book in the Russell and Holmes series is a treat for a history geek like me. Who knew that the Queen attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and single-handedly gained international recognition of Romania reclaiming Transylvania? Not me. She was a force to be reckoned with and beloved by her people. Many historical figures make appearances in Castle Shade, and all are portrayed fictionally but accurately within the context. The novels are extremely atmospheric, making me feel I had visited the far-flung places and times in each adventure with Russell and Holmes. 

Many Sherlock "purists" object to this long-running series, but I am not one of them; personally, I think Sherlock Holmes is immortal, and kudos to Laurie King for keeping the legend alive with such entertaining novels, and Mary Russell keeping him on his toes. Thanks to Netgalley and Bantam Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

4.5 stars rounded up to 5

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Murder and Blackmail in a Quiet English Village

Stephanie Graves
Kensington Books
December 29, 2020

World War II has fully engulfed the continent, but things are much the same in the pretty village of Pipley in Hertfordshire. Despite food shortages, rationing, and other inconveniences, the Women's Institute is determined to keep morale up and do its bit for the war effort. Twenty-two-year-old Olive Bright has bigger hopes, however. She had to interrupt her veterinary studies because of her stepmother's illness and is home helping out in her father's veterinary practice and caring for the family's prize-winning racing pigeons. The Brights hope that the National Pigeon Service will accept the birds to carry coded messages for the British Army. Failing that, she would like to join FANY and serve, as her mother did in WWI, as a nurse or ambulance driver. Her somewhat irascible and demanding father seems to have antagonized the NPS, and hopes are fading. When two young men show up asking to see the pigeons, her hopes are raised until she realizes that neither knows anything about pigeons. Instead, they offer her a chance to work with "Baker Street," a covert operation running missions with the French Resistance. She just has to prove that her pigeons are up to the task. The usual flow of village life is interrupted by murder. Local busybody Miss Husselbee, otherwise known as the "Sargeant Major," had plenty of people who found her absolute certitude on what is proper insufferable, but who among them wanted her dead? The possibility of blackmail and treason seems to be at the center of the case. Olive tries to put some of the methods of her favorite sleuth, Hercule Poirot, to the test to solve the murder.

While I enjoyed the book overall, especially Olive's love and care for her pigeons, I also thought that the plot was going in too many directions. The characters are well-drawn, and the portrayal of village life in wartime excellent. However, it bogged down somewhat. The inclusion of a love-hate relationship with her Baker Street "handler" Jameson Aldridge was one too many elements for me. He could give even her father pointers in obnoxious behavior but does redeem himself in the end,

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

RATING- 3 Stars


Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Feisty Heroine in a New WWII Mystery Series


Electra McDonnell # 1
Ashley Weaver
Minotaur Books
May 25, 2021

A Peculiar Combination introduces a very unconventional heroine in Electra McDonnell. She is far from being aristocratic, coming from a working-class London background at the beginning of World War II. Orphaned in infancy by a double tragedy, Electra was taken in by her uncle Mick, a locksmith, and raised by him in a loving, close-knit family. Her cousins, Colm and Toby, are like brothers. Both are off fighting the war, so Electra is the only one at home and locksmithing is slow. Uncle Mick has hidden talents; he is a gifted safecracker, and he has passed on his skills to Electra. She is conflicted about their activities but enjoys the thrill and challenge. When Uncle Mick hears rumors of a Mayfair home that will be empty, he and she set out in blacked-out London to do the job. Electra has a bad feeling about it, and she is right. They are arrested, red-handed, at the mark's home by several dark-suited men driving a government vehicle. They are whisked off to meet Major Ramsey, who has a proposition for the two. There is a highly-placed individual who the Major thinks is a double agent. The night's misadventure will be forgotten if they can retrieve papers from the suspect's safe. The papers, if passed on, would do great harm to the war effort. It's a proposition the two can't refuse.

Electra and the entire McConnell family are captivating characters, despite their dodgy activities. Uncle Mick has provided a good education for Electra, and she has the ability to fit in almost effortlessly into any strata of society. She is confident in her abilities, and the upright (and undeniably attractive) Major Ramsey does not know what to make of her. The two form an unusual partnership in a case that has multiple twists and turns. Electra is also a patriot who has no intention of giving up, even when she fears losing her life in the effort.

I highly recommend A Peculiar Combination. It is an auspicious first book in a new series from Ashley Weaver. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own,

4.5 rounded up to 5 Stars

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Norfolk Marshes Yield Up Secrets


Ruth Galloway #14
Quercus UK
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt USA
Elly Griffiths
June 29, 2021

I was late to discover Dr. Ruth Galloway from the talented pen of Elly Griffiths. After binging the series, I was impatiently waiting for The Night Hawks. Thanks to Quercus for an advance digital copy. Dr. Ruth Galloway, an archaeology professor, has returned to her beloved Norfolk fens after a year-long stint teaching at Cambridge. She is back at North Norfolk University, this time as department head. Of course, her 11-year-old daughter, Kate, seems happy to be back and seeing her father regularly. Her father is DI Nelson, who Ruth met when he needed her help in an investigation. Their one-night encounter produced Kate, and eventually, the girl was accepted by Nelson's wife and two grown daughters.

Nelson and Ruth have collaborated on numerous cases over the years. She is an expert on dating bones, and those turn up regularly in the marshy landscape of Norfolk. She is called out to examine what might be an Iron Age hoard turned up by The Night Hawks. The Night Hawks are metal detectorists who have to be licensed in England. Nelson is much more interested in a nearby body, a young man Nelson thinks might be an asylum seeker. Then he turns out to be a local, recently paroled from prison. A second call comes shortly after to the scene of a murder-suicide at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Then, the members of the Night Hawks start dying one after another. Can the two cases be connected somehow, and or is the spectral black dog of British folklore real?

The Night Hawks is a pivotal book in the Ruth Galloway series. It ends with somewhat of a cliff-hanger, as least as far as the Galloway-Nelson relationship is concerned. Things aren't going so well in the Nelson marriage, and Nelson is being pressured to retire. I know how I want it to go, but other people may feel differently. I don't think Nelson and Ruth could exist for 24 hours in the same household. Of course, many of the characters we love make appearances, especially Cathbad, a self-declared druid and all-around wise soul. I highly recommend The Night Hawks, as I do the rest of the series.

Thanks again to Quercus and NetGalley. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Old Sins have Long Memories

Nora Roberts
St. Martins Press
May 25, 2021

It has been a while since I read a Nora Roberts standalone novel. I tend to be more of a fan of her long-running In Death series, which is always a day of publication purchase. But when I was offered an advance copy, the premise was so interesting I jumped right on it. Legacy sounded like the perfect pandemic read for someone who has been in a bit of a reading "slump." I was not disappointed.

Seven-year-old Adrian Rizzo met her biological father for the first and last time on the day he tried to kill her. Adrian was the product of an ill-advised affair between Lina, her mother, and her college professor. Lina had broken off the affair when she discovered the professor was a married philanderer. She had gone on to be a famous and successful fitness guru and raised Adrian alone. With fame and fortune came a curious "journalist" who dug up the affair and wrote about it, bringing the murderously enraged professor banging on her door. Lina knew he was bad news, but not a psycho, and managed to dispatch him before he actually killed Adrian. In the wake of this scandal, Lina sends Adrian to her parents in Maryland to get her away from it. It was a wonderful solution, as Lina's parents are both charmers who gave her a chance to be a child, make friends, and learn some wisdom from them. She also meets her first crush, the green-eyed Raylan, the brother of a friend.

Years later, Adrian has built a successful career as a fitness guru on her own, globetrotting and turning out bestselling videos. She made good friends in school who have made their individual contributions to her success and their own. They are a tight group, not only business partners but true friends. With success comes unwanted attention in the form of threatening rhyming messages. At first, they appeared about once a year but have increased in frequency and virulence. When events take Adrian back to Maryland, she will need the support of all her friends and that early crush, Raylan.

Good characterization and plotting are hallmarks that Roberts has developed over her long and prolific career. I thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful and romantic novel. Thanks to and St. Martins for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING 4 Stars 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Case of Twins

  A Mattie Winston Mystery # 12
  Annelise Ryan
  Kensington Books
  March 30, 2021

Death Examiner Mattie Winston is looking for a quiet weekend off with her husband, Detective Steve Hurley, and their small son, Matthew. However, people are dropping like flies in Sorenson, WI, and the surrounding area. Most of the deaths are not suspicious, but the sheer number stresses the small police department. Mattie and Hurley are called to an upscale neighborhood, where they find Montgomery, "Monty"
Dixon, impaled upon a pool cue. The much younger wife, Summer, is the first suspect. Summer is hardly a distraught widow, especially when she finds that her realtor husband is flat broke rather than being well-off. Then, Monty's son, Sawyer, is saddled with large gambling debts to some very unsavory people. To round up the suspect pool, Monty's twin brother is a shady businessman with financial troubles of his own.

As they are deeply involved in the case a domestic difficulty ratchets up to a real friction point between Hurley and Mattie. Juggling a busy work life, trying to manage her son and household chores is getting to be a problem for Mattie, despite help from family and friends. They are interviewing candidates for a part-time housekeeper but Hurley is resistant to having a stranger in the house. The parade of possible employees provides the humor that this series is known for. Hurley and Mattie manage to solve the case without blowing up either their house or their marriage.

I can hardly believe that this is the twelfth book in this series. All the characters, supporting and main, have evolved naturally, and keep the series fresh. I enjoy the wealth of forensic detail included in each book. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars


Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Community in Flames

Aaron Falk #1
Jane Harper
Flatiron Books
January 10, 2017

The outback Australian farming town of Kiewarra has been suffering through years of drought. Businesses have closed, farms are failing, and the only really viable concern in town is the pub. Tempers are high, but everyone is shocked when a local farm family is shotgunned to death, and it appears that the father did it and then killed himself. The parents of the father, Luke Hadler, refuse to believe that he could have done such a thing. So they call in Aaron Falk, now an Australian Federal Agent specializing in financial crimes, to investigate. The last place on earth Aaron wants to be is Keiwarra. He, Luke, and Ellie Deacon were inseparable as children. The three formed a sort of adolescent romantic triangle as teenagers, and when Ellie was forcibly drowned in the river, Kiewarra decided that one or both boys must have done it. The two alibied each other, but Aaron has never been sure of Luke since Luke refused to say where he really was. The result was that Aaron and his widowed father were literally driven out of town. Luke managed to stay and put it all behind him.

The Dry is an intensely atmospheric thriller. One can feel the heat and see it shimmer off the roads. Kiewarra is a blasted landscape, ready to go up in flames, as are the townspeople. The novel is tightly plotted and filled with believable characters trapped in adverse circumstances, often of their own making. I picked up on the killer of Ellie pretty early on, but the person who killed the Hadler family was a real surprise. I don't know why The Dry sat so long on my "to be read" shelf. It is a most impressive first novel.


Monday, February 15, 2021


Veronica Speedwell # 6
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books
March 2, 2021

The Curiosity Club, an organization of brilliant and adventurous women in 1889 London, has asked Veronica Speedwell to mount an exhibit. The exhibit is in honor of Alice Baker-Greene, a renowned mountaineer who recently died in a fall from a peak in the tiny principality of Alpenwald. Veronica, of course, as the newest member, is delighted. Her natural historian partner, Stoker, is also called upon to add his expertise. But when they unpack Alice's effects, which have been shipped from Alpenwald, they discover a piece of evidence indicating her death might not have been accidental. After all, Baker-Greene was an expert mountaineer and had climbed that peak many times. The Princess of  Alpenwald, Gisela, is in London with her retinue to attend the exhibit's opening. However, when they present their findings to the Princess, her Chancellor, and the Baroness, her lady-in-waiting, they are rebuffed; until the Princess disappears without a trace. It seems that there are reasons other than the exhibit that brought the Alpenwalders to London, reasons that threaten the stability of Europe in an anxious time. Having noticed Veronica and Gisele's strong resemblance, the Chancellor and Baroness ask Veronica to impersonate her. It seems that this is not the first time Gisele has disappeared but has always returned. Stoker is entirely opposed to the mad undertaking, but that does not deter her in the least. Immersion into the duty-bound life of a Princess, a spot of breaking and entering, assassination attempts, and a close encounter with Veronica's own family, who never acknowledged her will not stop her.

An Unexpected Peril is another exciting entry in the Veronica Speedwell series, a long time favorite of mine. So many intrepid Victorian lady explorers dared to brave convention and go out to pursue their passions. Sadly, many are not well known. Women were beginning to demand the right to govern their own lives, and it is quite chilling to know what the powers-that-be were willing to do to stop them. I enjoy the characters of Veronica and the way that they are working together to accommodate each other. There are romantic moments, as well as roof-raising disputes. As always, Raybourn injects her own unique humor into the book.

I highly recommend An Unexpected Peril.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Perils of Fame

Charles Lenox #14
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
February 16, 2021

After a three-book journey into the beginning years of Charles Lenox's career as a detective, we return to 1878 London. Lenox is thriving and has gained considerable fame. There is a new addition to his household in a baby daughter, quite a surprise since Charles is nearing 50, and his wife, Lady Jane, is in her forties. For weeks, Charles has been embroiled in a  case of corruption involving highly placed inspectors at Scotland Yard. He is looking forward to getting acquainted with the new baby, but fate intervenes. The Queen's Prime Minister, Disraeli, wants him to write up his testimony for the upcoming trial and visit police departments in America to consult on police methods. In reality, Disraeli just wants him out of the country during the trial. Charles is reluctant but has always harbored a desire to travel. The combination of the difficulty of refusing Disraeli and Lady Jane's approval sends him on his way.

Since Lenox is traveling under the Queen's Seal, he is naturally welcomed by all and is accompanied by a seasoned diplomat. However, he suspects that the New York City Police are not all that interested in sharing methods. He is most struck by the considerable wealth he sees, the sense of equality between the classes, and the hold that the Civil War still has on everyone he meets. A diffident young man approaches him named Teddy Blaine, who wants to speak with him about methods, and offers his services. On the train journey to his next stop, Boston, he receives a telegram which sends him to Newport, RI. A young woman has been murdered, and his assistance is requested. Never has Lenox seen such opulence as the "cottages" of Newport. Nor did he foresee a near-death experience and a reordering of his priorities.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Extravagant Death. Not only was it a page-turner, but Finch also sprinkles little pieces of historical trivia into the text. This time, I particularly remember the origins of 'white elephant."  Charles Finch goes from strength to strength in this long-running and delightful series. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Secrecy Almost Fails in Rockton


Rockton #6
Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur Books
February 9, 2021

Rockton is a small, secret village in the Canadian Yukon, with a strange history and an even stranger purpose. Originally established about sixty years ago as a refuge for idealistic young people who had run afoul of the "establishment," usually for political views. Since then, it evolved into people who were on the run from the law, wrongly accused or convicted, or hiding from an abusive ex-partner. Lately, though, the governing body, the shadowy "council," seems to let anyone in who has the money, no matter how heinous their crime. Even so, the number of admissions to Rockton seems to be declining, a matter of concern to Sheriff Eric Dalton and his deputy and romantic partner, Casey Duncan. Casey was tricked into coming to Rockton but has found a haven and a purpose.

Secrecy is paramount in Rockton. The council has spent huge sums over the years for the technology to make the small settlement invisible, even to aircraft. However, there are hikers and explorers from time to time. When a female hiker is found nearby, stumbling, badly injured, and delirious, it is alarming. There will undoubtedly be searchers, and when she is conscious, she seems to speak only Danish. A new resident in the village "just happens" to speak Danish and offers to translate. On the heels of this, Emilie, one of the council members and one of the village founders, arrives unexpectedly. Add complications of people from the settlements who split off from Rockton and the "hostiles" who have also split off and gone completely feral, and the story becomes very complicated.

The Rockton series is one that I have eagerly followed from the beginning. Kelley Armstrong builds an entirely believable world in this village and the characters who come and go. However, in reading A Stranger In Town, I was quite often lost in the fast-paced events and new characters appearing. I was somewhat disappointed, but as this is clearly a transitional book, I will just have to wait for the next one. Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Head and Shoulders Above the Average Crime Novel

John Hart
February 2, 2020
St. Martins Books

"We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful."

Every time I open a new John Hart crime novel, I know that I am in for a challenging and thrilling read. I also wonder if he can surpass his previous books. The Unwilling does not disappoint. Part family drama, part crime thriller, part coming-of-age story, and part examination of the different aspects of brotherhood, The Unwilling grabs hold immediately and does not let go.

Charlotte, NC detective Bill French and his wife, Gabrielle, have lost more than their fair share in the disastrous Viet Nam War. One son, Robert, was killed less than one year into his deployment. The second son, Jason, came home after almost three tours bitter, alienated, addicted to heroin, and dishonorably discharged. Jason quickly falls into the world of drugs, guns, and biker gangs. The third son, Gibson, is everybody's favorite; athletic, smart, funny, and kind. He will soon graduate from high school and hit 18 when he has to register for the draft. Gibby has no real doubts about what he should do, follow in the footsteps of his brothers. Gibby's best friend, Chance, has different thoughts about his future. Chance has already reached 18 and failed to register.

Jason has been in an infamous prison, built originally in the 1860s, on a drug conviction. It's known as a hellhole, but no one who hasn't been there knows exactly how much. The prison is in the iron control of an infamous criminal known as "X." Jason has been out for several weeks and living in a halfway house in Raleigh but has not contacted his family. Jason does not know, for sure, anyway, that "X" has taken a particular interest in him and wants him back inside. Gibby and Jason reconnect, despite the elder French's wishes. A trip into the countryside with two young women leads to an encounter with a prison bus and one of the young women's hideous death. Jason is immediately a suspect, and when the other young woman disappears, Gibby is suspected as well. Now, Bill French must balance his duties as a policeman, father, and the support of his fragile wife.

In the hands of a lesser writer, "X" would be a cartoonish supervillain, as well as his minion, the detestable Reese. A lesser writer would not be able to draw all the narrative threads into a cohesive whole. There are descriptions of stomach-churning violence and depravity, contrasted with the solid friendship between Gibby, Chance, and Gibby's first love, Becky.
He has created indelible characters that will be with me for a long time, and I would love to see them again. John Hart has been known to do that.

I may have to rethink the whole "star" rating. The Unwilling is head and shoulders above any other crime novel I have read in quite a while. So I will enthusiastically give it two 'thumbs up".
Thanks to St.Martin's and Net Galley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Costs of War

Maggie Hope # 9
Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam Books
February 25, 2020

The ninth mystery in the Maggie Hope Mysteries 
The ninth mystery in the Maggie Hope Mysteries is set in London in 1943. The Blitz is seemingly over, but the city is in ruins. After her experiences since the beginning of the War, one could say that Maggie is in ruins herself. The things she saw and did working as a spy behind enemy lines have left her disillusioned and wondering if she has taken the wrong path. Maggie feels betrayed by her government and is taking a leave from the SOE. She still has a talent for solving murders, but the last one she helped Scotland Yard with was the Blackout Beast, Nicholas Reitter, a serial murderer who was terrorizing the city. Her up-close and personal encounter with Reitter almost cost her life. Her escape is drinking too much, smoking too much, riding a motorbike at high speed, and de-fusing unexploded bombs in the streets of London. Most of the men she works with are conscientious objectors and "Britalians," British citizens of Italian extraction. War has changed Maggie in ways she never expected.

Her "boyfriend," Detective Chief Inspector James Durgin, is worried about her and wants to involve her in a new case, the theft of a Stradivarius. Maggie is reluctant but agrees, not expecting the theft will intersect with another serial murderer operating in London, "Jimmy Greenteeth." This murderer targets not women but conscientious objectors, disposing of the bodies in a particularly gruesome fashion. That makes it personal for Maggie.

I had not read this series before, so I felt somewhat at a disadvantage at the beginning. However, MacNeal brought me up to date on many of Maggie's very complicated life events without divulging them all. Now I must start at the beginning of the series to catch up, not a chore! The story drew me in with its vivid portrayal of wartime London immediately. There is a wealth of historical detail about wartime measures of which I was unaware. Even not at her best, Maggie is an engaging character who struggles with the moral complexity of living through War and surviving.

I am looking forward to finding out more about how this American girl landed in Britain and started as Mr. Churchill's Secretary. I highly recommend "The King's Justice'.

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

RATING-5 Stars

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Romance, Murder, and Adventure in the "Raj"


Nev March
Minotaur Books
November 10, 2020

Anyone who follows my reviews is aware that I am somewhat obsessed with British history's Victorian era. More recently, I have branched out to the "Raj", the period of British rule in India (1858-1947) and its predecessor, the British East India Company (1757-1857). Murder in Old Bombay seemed to be right up my alley, and I was not disappointed.

Anglo-Indian Captain Jim Agnihotri has been in the military hospital for months, recovering from battle injuries. He knows at the age of 30, his career in the military is over, and his status as a "half-caste" further limits him; despite a stellar record and decorations for valor. His final engagement has also left him with sorrow and guilt for lost comrades. Having little reading material in the hospital, he read and re-read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Captain Jim decides that he might try to be a detective. When he reads in the newspaper of the deaths of two highly-placed Parsee ladies and the unsuccessful murder trials following, he offers his services to the grieving Framji family, especially the husband and cousin of the victims, Adi. The Framjis welcome him into their family circle, and Jim's heart is put at risk by their beautiful and very modern daughter, Diana.

The quest takes Jim into warring tribal areas all over India, searching for the men charged and then cleared of the ladies' murders. Along the way, he picks up a band of rag-tag children displaced by conflict. He is persuaded by the British Army into a seemingly hopeless rescue of British troops cornered by Afghan soldiers. High adventure ensues, aided by Jim's abilities in disguise, a la Sherlock Holmes. His devotion to duty and care for the children made me fall for him. 

Murder in Old Bombay suffers a bit from trying to do too many things at once. There is romance, mystery, and adventure, but they seem episodic and not well integrated into the overall storyline. That being said, it is a solid 4 stars. I became emotionally invested in the characters, even to the point of tears (something that doesn't happen often). Many thanks to and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own, and I am looking forward to a sequel, hopefully.

RATING- 4 enthusiastic stars