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 NetGalley.com 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

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Lady Hardcastle and Flo Take to the Skies for King and Country

  A Lady Hardcastle Mystery # 7
 T.E. Kinsey
 Thomas & Mercer Publishing
  December 3, 2020

It is August 1911, and Lady Hardcastle, her "tiny servant" Flo Armstrong are enjoying an idyllic summer in the village of Littleton Cotterell. Having tea in the garden, trips to the village pub, and planning for the village show make up their days. However, things are heating up in Europe, especially in the field of aviation. The British government feels that aviation will play a large part in any coming conflict. So when a tragic accident occurs at nearby Bristol Aviation, what could be more natural than for the two former spies to be called back to duty? Lady Hardcastle's spymaster brother, Harry, has also discovered that someone at Bristol has been selling secrets to foreign powers. Feisty Flo has always wanted to fly, so it is decided that she pose as Lady Hardcastle's maid and a prospective student pilot. By the story's end, the two intrepid ladies find more skullduggery than even they imagined.

The Lady Hardcastle mysteries are delightful, and The Fatal Flying Affair is no exception. I especially enjoy the interplay between Lady Hardcastle and Flo, who are the best of friends and perfectly complement each other. This may be an England that never really was, but it is great fun to visit.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

4 Stars

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Death, Corruption, Family and Food in South Africa

A Tannie Maria Mystery # 3
Sally Andrew
Umuzi, Penguin-Random House
September 1, 2019

Death on the Limpopo begins much as usual with Tannie Maria in the Klein Karoo, writing her "Agony Aunt" column for the local paper, dispensing sensible advice along with delicious recipes. Her love life is looking up as well with Henk Kannemeyer, the local chief of police. The only problem is that when he says, "I love you," Tannie Maria is not able to reply in kind. She, of all people, doesn't know why. All bets are off when a tall, dark-skinned woman on a Ducati motorcycle roars into Ladismith. Zabanguni Kani is an investigative journalist, well-known and often in trouble for her stories of political corruption. Prickly is probably a kind word to apply to Zaba, but Tannie Maria likes her and offers her shelter when threatened and told to "back off," and then a close associate is murdered. Tannie Maria and Zaba set off to the Limpopo in neighboring Botswana. Not so coincidentally, Tannie Maria's father was mysteriously murdered on the banks of the Limpopo 30 years earlier. This is a chance for a pilgrimage she has always wanted to take.

The Tannie Maria Mysteries are a wonderful introduction to the blended cultures and languages of South Africa. The journey from the Klein Karoo to the Limpopo, the scenery, the people they meet on the way, and as always, the food is quite spectacular. I am aware of the evils of Apartheid and the long years that it took to overthrow the system, but I never knew much of the history of the few white people involved. Death on the Limpopo can serve as a mini-introduction, in human terms, to that struggle. I did find the plot a bit improbable, and the journey bogged down somewhat in places. The characters, especially Tannie Maria and Zaba, make up for any occasional plodding. And did I mention the food? Campfire food never sounded so good. There is a plus of recipes at the end of the book.

I highly recommend Death on the Limpopo and its predecessors, Recipes for Love and Murder, and The Satanic Mechanic. 

RATING- 4.5 Stars