Saturday, December 24, 2022

Rockton's relocation brings new questions

Haven's Rock
Kelley Armstrong
February 21, 2023

Murder at Haven's Rock is a spin-off from the earlier Rockton series after seven books. Set in the Canadian Yukon, Rockton is one of the most unique crime series I have read, and I was sad to see it go, even though that storyline had run its course. Rockton was founded as a refuge for people on the run from abusive relationships and problems not of their own making. People with unpopular political views also made up the shifting population. Over the years, Rockton devolved into a money-making enterprise, allowing some unsavory and murderous characters to take refuge there. Sheriff Eric Dalton, who was born there, and his now-wife, Casey Duncan, are tasked with riding herd on the population. Detective. Casey was one of the latest residents running from her problems. Throughout the series, their relationship matures. Casey, in particular, grew more comfortable in her own skin.

When Rockton met its end, the two had enough resources (along with others) to build a new Rockton called Haven's Rock. The plan was to stay away during the settlement building, which is nearly finished. Eric and Casy are called back because the project's architect has vanished into the forest. As one of the crew says, "shit happens up here." Does it ever!! There is a missing woman, a dead woman, an attacked worker, and a gold miner hiding in the forest. There is also a woman living in a highly camouflaged cottage who claims to be a nature photographer. Haven's Rock is not as secluded or safe as hoped.

Some of Rockton's former residents will be returning but are only mentioned here until the end. April, Casey's physician sister, has to come back when the bodies multiply. The new characters are certainly "colorful" and may have nefarious plans. The bad apples will go, but some others whose motives are not clear ask to remain. I predict another stellar series from Kelley Armstrong that will keep me guessing.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

The Start of a New Contempoary Trilogy from Jayne Ann Krentz

The Lost Night Files #1
Jayne Ann Krentz
Berkley Books
January 3, 2023

Few authors are as prolific and successful in their chosen field as Jayne Ann Krentz, and has who knows how many NYT Bestsellers to her credit. Sleep No More kicks off a new trilogy, The Lost Night Files. Krentz specializes in Romantic Suspense with a paranormal twist in both contemporary and historical settings. 

Pallas Llewellyn spent the night at The Lucent Springs Hotel and woke up with frighteningly enhanced psychic abilities and no memories of the night. Two other women, Amelia Rivers, and Talia March, had the same experience. They reacted differently, but all their lives have changed. The three have banded together and now have a cold case podcast. They cover all sorts of cases, but their own is always uppermost. When Pallas gets a message from Ambrose Drake suggesting she investigate the Carnelian Sleep Institute and that he witnessed a murder there, she agrees to meet him. After a rough start, the two make a deal to work together. There is a lot of shady activity in the town of Carnelian, including murder, drug rings, and financial malfeasance at a small local college.

Krentz always writes engaging characters, and Sleep No More does not disappoint. I especially liked Ambrose Drake, a writer whose life has been upended by his experience at Carnelian. He suffers from crippling sleep deprivation and is not precisely the macho hero. His writing career is in shambles, and his personal life even more so. In fact, he is a mess, but the two manage to find love and support despite it all. 

Thanks to Berkley and Netgalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4 Stars

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Timely and Compelling Police Procedural


Detective Inaya Rahman #1

Ausma Zehanat Khan

Minotaur Books

November 8, 2022

The picturesque town of Blackwater Falls in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado seems an ideal place to live and work. The setting is glorious, with camping and trails for visitors. The leading employers are Apex Dynamics, a tech research firm, and Natural Foods, a meatpacking plant. There is also a large population of Muslim refugees from all over the world, primarily Syria and Somalia, most of whom work at Natural Foods.

Underneath the surface, however, bubbles a stew of hate and corruption. The hate comes from a prominent evangelical church and its accompanying biker gang, the Disciples. The corruption stems from the Sheriff, who has a finger in every pie and absolute control in the town. Inaya Rahman is a local who has returned after a traumatic stint at the Chicago PD. She is part of the new Community Response Unit, led by Lt. Waqas Seif. Her first significant crime is genuinely horrific, the murder of a promising refugee student, Razan Elkader. Razan was nailed to the door of the local Mosque in a sick parody of the Crucifixion. The disappearance of two Muslim teenage girls preceded the murder of Razan, ruled runaways by the Sheriff with little to no investigation. Neither the church nor the Sheriff has escaped scrutiny. The FBI has an operative implanted with the Disciples and the police department.

Blackwater Falls is a complex and timely novel in which just about everyone's motives are suspect at one time or another. Inaya is a well-portrayed character, as are her Hispanic partner and a Black firebrand attorney. Both are female, and the three become close friends and colleagues. I suppose I am as ignorant as the average American about the lives of immigrants. Blackwater Falls gave me a look into those lives, especially a Muslim woman who wants to operate as a professional yet feels the tug of her religious beliefs. Inaya's decision to wear the hijab when the other women in her family do not is just one instance. 

The themes of violence and social justice resonate in Blackwater Falls and make for a compelling read. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Hilarious Sci-Fi Romp


OCTOBER 4, 2022

Sci-Fi is not my usual genre. I have read only one series in its entirety: Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, and that multiple times. The premise of Station Eternity caught my interest immediately. Mallory Viridian has a long-standing problem. Over and over, she finds herself at murder scenes and seems to be the only person who can solve the murder. She has only failed in very few cases. Unlike Jessica Fletcher of "Murder She Wrote" fame, it hasn't made her in demand at parties. The cops hate her and have prevented her from finding jobs. What remains of her family hate her after the murder of her uncle. Her cousin's subsequent arrest and conviction for the crime and her failure to exonerate him are the last straw. Earth's "First Contact" with aliens has just occurred, and Mallory asked for sanctuary aboard Station Eternity, a sentient space station. What could go wrong with no other humans on board?

However, there are two other humans, the Earth Ambassador and a person Mallory knows from her college days. Xan was a casual friend who later joined the US Army. He was also a chief suspect in a murder Mallory couldn't solve. He was reportedly abducted by aliens the same night the murder occurred. The station is a bit of a prima donna, and she houses several alien races. The wasp-like Sundry seems to have a particular fascination with Mallory. She has befriended Stephanie, the giant Gneiss, made of rock. The Gurudev are insect-like stick figures, and the Phantasmagores can blend into any background. One similarity is that they all can form symbiotic relationships with other species and find humans lacking because humans cannot. Even Eternity has a symbiote; a Gurudev, Ren, is murdered, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. A shuttle is headed from Earth and loaded with VIP visitors, the first to be allowed. Eternity goes mad and partially destroys the shuttle.

Station Eternity is a wild ride full of unique, often hilarious, and sometimes horrifying characters. It keeps you guessing until the end with non-stop action. Who will survive, and why is Mallory's estranged aunt aboard the shuttle?

Thanks to Netgalley and Ace for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

Rating- 3.5 rounded up to 4

Thursday, October 20, 2022

An Engrossing Regency Mystery


Wrexford and Sloane #6
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
September 27, 2022

The newest book in this historical mystery series takes us back to London in the summer of 1814 when the nation was celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Paris of the years-long Napoleonic Wars. The celebrations center on the grand Parks of London, with the staging of the replica Battle of Waterloo on the Serpentine River in Hyde Park. Lord Wrexford and his new wife Charlotte will inevitably be at the center of the celebrations due to their high positions. Complications arise when Wrexford's two wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a man's body floating in the Serpentine. The man, identified as Jeremiah Willis, a well-known engineer, and inventor, was thought to be set upon by criminals hoping for loot. The oddity was that Willis was plainly dressed and a black man. More pressing are Charlotte's family obligations. Her brother Hartley has invited them to his in-laws' estate. Belmont. When they arrive, they see all is not well. Belmont is distracted, his wife Louisa is stiff, and there are signs of economic stress. A visitor from London arrives, demanding to see Wrexford. It seems that Jeremiah Willis was far from unimportant. He was designing a repeater gun whose use would revolutionize warfare. The plans have not been found, and the government wants them back. So do all the major European government representatives present for the celebrations. There are rumors of an auction of the plans. To gain Wrexford's cooperation, the man insinuates that he knows Charlotte's alter ego, A. J. Quill, a notorious satirical artist. 

The Wrexford and Sloane novels are favorites of mine. They never displease, full of action, historical detail, and color. The characters are well-rounded and believable. My favorites are the former street urchins, Raven and Hawk, who are maturing into intelligent and gifted young men. A welcome addition is Peregrine, the future Lord Belmont. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

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

Rating- 4 Stars

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Timely and Chilling Novel of Nazi Sympathizers in Pre- World WarII Hollywood


Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam Books
September 20, 2022

It's 1940 in New York, and everything seems to be coming up roses for Veronica Grace and her widowed mother, Violet. Ever since childhood, Veronica has wanted to be a journalist, modeling herself on Martha Gellhorn. She is graduating with honors from Hunter College and has a great job lined up. Her father, a Naval Commander, has been dead for six years, so her uncle Walter has come from Southern California to celebrate. Little do they know that everything is going to change. Veronica has a secret. She has been having an affair with an older reporter who was supposed to be mentoring her, and his wife has found out about it. Unluckily, the wife is part of a mighty publishing family who has reported it to Hunter and Veronica's prospective employer. Veronica's dreams are smashed, and even worse, she is just one of a string of girls who were fooled by him.

Uncle Walter has a plan for them, though. He has a small cottage in California to offer them so they can make a new start. Despite having lived their whole lives in Brooklyn, Violet and Veronica see no alternative. A scandal like this can't be hidden or glossed over, not in 1940. The little family heads off to sunny LA with heavy hearts and no idea how to start over. Veronica finds it challenging to find a job, especially without any experience or education she can mention. Violet is a typical housewife and mother of the time with no work experience. She is, however, a talented seamstress and specializes in custom embroidery on clothing. One day mother and daughter engaged in a casual conversation with a woman who told Veronica of a possible job with the woman's brother-in-law doing stenographic and general office work. Violet's beautiful embroidery is also noticed by rich, well-connected women, primarily women connected to right-wing causes. Veronica takes the job but soon discovers that her seemingly "nice," jovial employers are part of the America First Committee and are distributing poisonous propaganda for the Nazi Regime. She is sickened and horrified, and when she tells Violet, the two women go first to the police, then to the FBI. The police can do nothing and seem, if anything, sympathetic. And J. Edgar Hoover was only interested in chasing Communists. A call to a Naval colleague of Veronica's father brings results, however. He puts them in touch with two active agents trying to stop the Nazi influx. Since Violet and Veronica are of German heritage and look like perfect blonde examples of Aryan womanhood, they will have no problem infiltrating. The women agree since they both are patriots who hate the rise of the Nazis. It becomes clear to them that they will be in great danger. The Nazi sympathizers are planning something "big" if Roosevelt is re-elected. 

The plot of Mother Daughter Traitor Spy would be quite fantastical if one didn't know how dangerous Nazi sympathizers were all over America, especially on the coasts. Xenophobia ran rampant when it became clear that America was being inexorably drawn into another World War. However, the characters of the agents, Violet and Veronica, as well as the Nazis, are based on real people. The agents went on after the War to successful careers and prominence. The women who placed themselves in such peril have been largely forgotten, which seems to be how such things go. Veronica's real name was Sylvia Comfort. One can't read Mother Daughter Traitor Spy without seeing the parallels to today's political climate. This is a nail-biting thriller with characters to remember.

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


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Not the Usual Longmire

 Walt Longmire #18
 Craig Johnson
 September 6, 2022

It has been a while since I read the Walt Longmire series, but when I had a chance to read Hell and Back, I was pleasantly reminded just a few pages in. Johnson's prose is beautiful, and the character of Walt is one that you just want to spend some time with. This is not quite the Walt I remember since Johnson takes him into mystical territory. He has strayed there in previous novels, but not to this extent.

Hell and Back opens with Walt waking up snow-covered in a street. He is also covered in blood and doesn't know his name or where he is. He sets off for the nearest lights in a diner just beginning to close. Despite an advancing blizzard, the pretty waitress (who looks somewhat familiar) still makes a meal for him. She also helps him with his name on the hatband inside his cowboy hat. He is in Fort Pratt, Montana. Fort Pratt was the home of an Indian Training School that burned to the ground over a hundred years ago, killing thirty boys. The waitress tells him there haven't been any good stories in Fort Pratt since.

The fact that Walt is missing is not lost on Vic Moretti, his under-sheriff, and his longtime friend, Henry Standing Bear. Both, along with Walt's giant indeterminately bred hound "Dog,"  have set off to find him in the teeth of the blizzard, and the story switches between them and Walt. Walt's wanderings feature meetings with all sorts of characters in the snowy landscape, both natural and possibly imagined. The gates of the training school are still standing. When Walt crosses onto the grounds, he thinks he is back in time to when the school was still operating, to the very day it burned at 8:17pm.

This departure may throw longtime readers of the series, but Johnson gives us the twists in plotting and robust character building that we expect. I am decidedly not a fan of Westerns, probably because I watched too many bad ones on TV in my childhood. Johnson has taken a risk with Hell and Back but succeeds in all ways.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars


Monday, August 29, 2022

This Garden is Not Eden


Laurie R. King
Bantam Books
September 6, 2022

Laurie R. King is best known for her long-running Mary.
Russell and Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, but she has also written several excellent stand-alone novels. Back to the Garden falls into that category. The Gardener Estate is steeped in California history and has seen many transformations. It is reminiscent of the Hearst San Simeon Estate, with baronial interiors, exteriors, and extensive gardens. The Estate has always remained in the Gardener family's hands.   In the 1970s, the Estate rested in the hands of the "Old Bastard," always referred to by his grandsons." Fort" and Rob Gardener are the heirs to the Estate. "Fort" has already taken off for an ashram in India and disinherited. The rebellious and volatile Rob refuses to be part of his grandfather's plans. He joins the Army and is promptly sent off to Viet Nam. Only a cousin stays involved with the running of the Estate, but since his last name is not Gardener, he can't inherit.

When Rob returns from Viet Nam and inherits, he is still rebellious and volatile. He is also deeply immersed in the 1970s "counterculture." He and his partner, Meadow,
remake the house and grounds into an experiment in communal living. All sorts of people come and go from 1970s cultural icons to petty criminals. "Fort" reappears, still with no designs on the Estate, rather than a seemingly small request. All seemed well until Rob and Meadow decided to have an art and music festival, mainly to showcase the success of their experiment. On that weekend, everything changes. Meadow and "Fort" disappear, and the commune breaks up quickly. Currently, the Estate is managed by a Trust, and Rob is a hermit living on the grounds. The Estate has been returned to its former glory, and big plans are afoot. An immense statue, The Three Eves, has to be moved and shored up. A human skull and remains are discovered beneath.

Anyone who lived through the 70s might remember that there was also a surfeit of serial killers operating in America. Young women on the roads were killed and disappeared all over, particularly in California. When a Cold Case investigator, Racquel Laing from the SFPD, gets wind of the find, she thinks it would fit her case, that of The Highwayman. The Highwayman is in custody, but he is dying. Racquel is on a mission to find out who, other than the nine women they know about, fell victim to him. He isn't talking unless forced to, and Raquel is determined to find out every victim before time runs out. The intersection of the history of the Gardener family and the Highwayman is bound together.

Back to the Garden is an intricate and compelling read with King's signature full-bodied characters and atmospheric writing. Thanks to and Bantam Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, August 7, 2022

A "Witches Brew" of a Cozy Mystery


A Witches' Brew Mystery #1
Gretchen Rue
Crooked Lane Books
September 6, 2022

Sometimes a reader needs a break from the darker side of mayhem and murder and suspend disbelief for a few hours. The first in a new cozy series, Steeped to Death, fits the bill exactly. A picturesque small town, a gutsy heroine amid a life change, a companion cat, and a touch of magic are all present. 

Phoebe Winchester is coming out of a divorce from her philandering husband when her beloved Aunt Eudora dies, leaving her a large Victorian house in the tourist-based village of Ravens Creek, WA. Along with the house comes Aunt Eudora's used bookshop/tea shop, the Earl's Study, and a companion ginger cat named Bob. Eudora was known for her sense of adventure and ability to blend unique teas with possibly magical qualities. In fact, many residents of Ravens Creek think she was a witch. Phoebe doesn't believe that for a moment since she spent many childhood summers with Eudora and saw no evidence of magic. 

Everyone seems welcoming to Phoebe, except for Dierdre Miller, who accosts her at every turn. Dierdre wants to buy the house and business and doesn't accept "No" as an answer. Then there is Owen, owner of a shoe store nearby who doesn't miss an opportunity to insult her, and The Earl's Study. On the other hand, Phoebe meets a childhood friend, Rich Lofting (formerly Ricky), now a handsome P.I. living in an apartment over The Earl's Study. When Phoebe finds a dead body outside her store and she is being stalked, she doesn't know who to trust. Even stranger, it seems that Aunt Eudora might have been a witch after all, and Phoebe might have inherited her abilities and some of her own.

Steeped to Death is a promising beginning to a new series, one that is very enjoyable. Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Saturday, August 6, 2022

A Long Ago Retreat Haunts Its Particpants

 Vera Stanhope #10
 Ann Cleeves
 Minotaur Books
 September 6, 2022

Ann Cleeves' newest Vera Stanhope mystery reaches back into the past for the motive behind a series of murders. Fifty years ago, a group of students at Kimmerston Grammar, brought together by their teacher, had a sort of retreat on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and formed strong bonds that have lasted a lifetime. Five have gathered on the island every five years for a reunion. Those meeting this October include Rick Kelsall, a celebrity journalist whose career has come to a screeching halt by accusations of sexual harassment from an intern. There is also Annie Laidler, co-owner of a successful bakery/deli in Kimmerston; Philip Robson, an Anglican priest; Ken Hampton, a successful head-teacher now suffering from Alzheimer's, and his wife, Louise. Holy Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway, inundated by the rising tide once a day. On the first reunion, Isobel Hall left the island in a temper when the tide rose and was swept away in her small car. She is much remembered by the remaining group.

Vera has had no cases for a while that challenged her, so when news of a possible suicide on Holy Island reaches her, she secretly hopes for a murder. Rick Kelsall is dead, found hanging in his room by Annie. Rick had been surprisingly upbeat with his career in shambles, talking about new projects, including a novel. It does look like a suicide, but the postmortem shows that Rick was smothered with a pillow and strung up. This investigation, with the wives, ex-wives, friends, and the now-retired teacher who brought them together, will prove to be the most dangerous and tragic of her career. All her team is involved, particularly Holly and Joe Ashworth. Even the upstanding police commissioner, Katherine Willmore, has a connection to the group, making the case more political than usual.

The Holy Island, with its dangerous tides, mists, and the sound of foghorns, is almost a character on its own. Who, among this group of seemingly respectable seniors, is a dangerous killer, willing to do anything to keep the secrets of the past? The Rising Tide is a masterpiece of plotting, keeping me guessing until the end. The end itself is shockingly unexpected and may portend some changes for the irascible Vera. Ann Cleeves continues to provide mysteries that are not only puzzles but investigations into the human heart.

Thanks to and Minotaur for an advance digital copy, The opinions are my own.

RATING  4 Stars

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

And then the Pooch Showed up with a Human Leg!!!

FLIGHT RISK ( The Booking Agents #2)
Cherie Priest
Atria Books
November 1, 2022

Seattle's only psychic/travel agent, Leda Foley, has her hands full when she is hired to find Dan Matarese's sister, Robin Reddick, who has gone missing. Not only Robin is missing, but also her vintage orange Volvo and thirty thousand dollars in her employer's money. Robin has worked as a landscaping architect for a large construction company. Her specialty is lessening the environmental impact, and she is completely trusted. When Dan contacts Robin's husband, college professor Paul Reddick, Paul is supremely unconcerned, saying that she is probably just on a get-away. Brother Dan is not convinced. Neither he, his other sister, or Robin's son have heard anything from her in more than a month.

Meanwhile, Detective Grady Merritt  (Leda's sometime collaborator) has his own case to deal with. He and his teenage daughter, Molly, are on an outing with their dog at Mt. Ranier. Cairo, the dog, goes bounding off into the brush and disappears. Molly and Grady are passing out flyers at the visitor's center when Cairo comes back....with a human leg in his mouth. Immediately called "Mr. Leg," DNA testing shows it belongs to Paul Reddick, the missing Robin's philandering husband. So Leda's and Grady's cases intersect once again. Grady has become a true believer after Leda booked him on an ill-fated flight and then canceled the ticket because she had one of her "feelings." The plane crashed on take-off. Leda is not always consistent in her predictions but has honed her skills. She does an occasional karaoke show at a neighborhood bar, The Castaways. Billed as The Psychic Songstress, she has become quite a draw. Finding out what happened to Robin and the whys and hows of "Mr. Leg" landing in a tree is a tall order.

I have been a fan of Cherie Priest since reading her award-winning Steampunk fantasy, Boneshaker, several years ago. She writes in several genres, always with flair and humor. Likable, quirky characters and laugh-out-loud dialogue make Flight Risk and its predecessor, Grave Reservations, winning and most enjoyable reads.


Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Missing Persons, a Mystery Writer, and very Bad Men

G.M. Malliet
Severn House
July 6, 2022

I've read quite a few of G.M.Malliet's books and always appreciated her ability to use humor to such good effect and her deft plotting. Most of her whodunnits are set in the UK, and she created the perfect English village in her Max Tudor mysteries. I've read quite a few of G.M.Malliet's books and always appreciated her ability to use humor to such good effect and her deft plotting. Most of her whodunnits are set in the UK, and she created the perfect English village in her Max Tudor mysteries. Augusta Hawke, however, is set in the Washington DC area in Georgetown. Augusta is a successful mystery writer, with 18 novels to her credit. She is widowed, living in an upscale townhouse community. She is intensely private and organized, knowing little about her neighbors. Like many such developments in America, people come and go, keeping themselves to themselves. She does take some interest in the young couple living directly across from her. Zora and Niko Norman are a handsome pair with an almost-year-old baby. It's not that she watches them purposely, but they have no curtains, and she is home almost all the time. Plus, she is stalled on novel #19. 

When the perfect couple goes missing, the dishy Detective Narducci asks what Augusta knows about them. She realizes that she is probably the only one who knows there is trouble in the Norman marriage. Augusta saw a heated argument through the window and heard a shriek from who she thought must be Zora. Augusta doesn't want to be stereotyped as nosy, so she doesn't tell Narducci at that time. Instead, she contacts Zora's mother at the downtown DC gallery she owns. The baby is safe, and Zora's parents never liked or trusted Niko. Augusta enlists Misaki Nelson, a retired lawyer, in her search for the Normans. The two are off to the races. A sleazy PI (and true crime writer) involves himself in their investigation as well. Detective Narducci is decidedly not happy. There are moments of wry humor, hilarity, and great danger before they find the missing Normans. The only negative is an overly quick wrap-up.

Some people don't enjoy the first-person narrative, but I enjoyed being in Augusta's head. She is unique and fearless. I hope there are more novels to come. I like Augusta, and new opportunities open up in her life, which has been stagnant. Thanks to NetGalley and Severn Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, July 4, 2022

And then Covid-19 Comes at You.

 Ruth Galloway #14
 Elly Griffiths
 Mariner Books, Audible
 June 28, 2022

The Dr. Ruth Galloway series has become one of my favorites since I discovered them several years ago. Dr. Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist specializing in bones, a college professor, and a single mother of an 11-year-old daughter, Kate. She lives in a cottage on the wind-swept marshes of Norfolk. Ruth's mother, Jean, died five years ago, and she is going through her belongings at her father's request. She finds an old photograph of her cottage, a place that Jean hated and refused to stay in overnight. On the back is a notation, "Dawn, 1963." Ruth is determined to find out the meaning of the photograph. Upon arriving home, she finds that she has a new neighbor with whom she feels an immediate connection. The woman is a nurse, a bit older than Ruth, named Zoe.

Ruth's plans go out of her head when Covid-19 goes from a rumor to a full-fledged crisis. Everything gets locked down, and the country is brought to a standstill. DCI Harry Nelson, the father of Ruth's child, Kate, finds himself working with a skeleton crew. His right hand, Judy, has to quarantine when her husband, Cathbad, is one of the earliest victims and goes almost immediately into intensive care. Nelson has a series of deaths of middle-aged women. They are all labeled as suicides, but Nelson is sure they are murders. He doesn't have the manpower to investigate as he might but enlists Ruth to nose around. Besides, his wife, Michelle, is stranded in Blackpool with her mother. Nelson ends up on Ruth's doorstep. Again. Another thread of mystery is the story is a woman locked in an underground room, starving and being encouraged to use a handful of pills to end her ordeal.

Reading The Locked Room brought back all the uncertainty and anxiety of the early days of Covid-19. I was fearful for Cathbad, one of my favorite characters. So many died in the earliest days when even medical science was at a loss. When the murderer of the women was exposed, I was also reminded of the evil men can do without even trying very hard. We are left with a bit of a cliffhanger as far as the relationship between Nelson and Ruth goes. Nelson seems to be growing (somewhat) as a human being, but.....

I highly recommend The Ruth Galloway Series for lovers of intricate, atmospheric mysteries, peopled by distinctive characters.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Assassins to Remember

Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books
September 6,2022

Deanna Raybourn takes a leap into the present day
with this intelligent and action-packed new book, and may I say, she hits it out of the park. Anyone who has read her successful Lady Julia and Veronica Speedwell Series knows that her heroines are sophisticated and competent yet rooted in the Victorian Era. The ladies are anything but shrinking violets. But they would have never imagined a foursome like this!

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie first met when recruited by a shadowy, non-governmental agency called The Museum. The Museum was started by US and British former agents, disgruntled by so many Nazis who were allowed to escape justice after World War II. They had managed to clean up many of them before the seventies when they moved their efforts to more familiar, garden-variety tinpot dictators, drug dealers, murderers, and the like. The women became assassins, often working as a team, the first female team in Museum history. They each had their own specialty; Billie, for instance, is accomplished in hand-to-hand combat. Billie also tells the story in Killers of a Certain Age. They came from widely divergent backgrounds but naturally developed a close relationship, having kept themselves alive in dangerous circumstances. Now, they have all entered their sixties, and retirement beckons. The Museum wants to send them on a luxury cruise together as a thank-you with a retirement package meant to keep them in comfort for the rest of their lives. However, much to their surprise, they are the targets of a young assassin, one from their own former employer. The chase to find out why they have been targeted and how to get the mark removed makes up the rest of this bang-up thriller. It's not easy, but none of these women have lost their skills. Or their desire to settle some old scores.

Killers of a Certain Age jumps back and forth in time, revisiting their training days and various missions they have done together and separately. I especially enjoyed their defeats of younger agents, often dependent on technology, using more "old-fashioned" methods. It's tremendous fun, and I couldn't put it down. The Museum should have known better. 

RATING- 5 Stars

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Mayhem, Murder and Apple Cider

Lady Hardcastle Mystery # 8
T. E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
June 7, 2022

It's 1911 in the English countryside and the hottest one 
anyone can remember. The people of the small market town of Littleton Cotterell are planning for an early harvest and the obligatory Harvest Festival. As usual, Lady Hardcastle and her maid/sidekick/friend Flo Armstrong are knee-deep in the planning, whether they want to be or not. They stroll down to the local pub one hot evening and find everyone at tables outside. When they go inside to order, they find a group of men gathered. These are the " Weryers of The Pomary" or the Cider Wardens. The organization has been around for hundreds of years, doing "good works" and holding much sway in the area. Lady Hardcastle and Flo think it to be just another eccentric feature of rural life. Until the next day, they learn that one of the Wardens has been murdered. When Wardens are murdered, one by one, their friend, Inspector Sunderland, asks them to become involved. They soon find that much more is going on than is ever mentioned in "polite" conversation. Those unmentioned things nearly get them killed.

Rotten To The Core is delightful, full of humor, and clever repartee. I always know I will be immersed in a few hours of pure enjoyment. A quote from Agatha Christie, "In an English village, you turn over a stone and have no idea what will crawl out," always comes to mind when reading this series. T.E. Kinsey owes much to Miss Marple, but Lady Hardcastle and Flo are much more fun. The characters, like their friend, Daisy the barmaid, Inspector Sunderland, and the Farley-Strouds add an extra bit of laughter to the mix. I highly recommend starting with the first in the series, A Quiet Life in the Country, to discover more about Lady Hardcastle and Flo's adventures in the years before the country life.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Beginning of a Delightful New Series Set in India


Vaseem Kahn
Mulholland Books, Hachette Audio
August 15, 2015

Nothing makes a voracious reader happier than discovering a new binge-worthy series. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra fits the bill exactly. Inspector Ashwin Chopra has been forced to retire after nearly 30 years from the Mumbai Police due to a heart condition. On the day of his retirement, Chopra is surprised by an unexpected delivery, a baby elephant, accompanied by a note from an uncle he has not seen or heard from for years. The message says the elephant is not a "usual" elephant. Chopra, who lives with his wife, Poppy, in a Mumbai high-rise apartment, sees no alternative to accepting the delivery. The elephant looks morose, even depressed, and Chopra decides to find some kind of refuge for the little elephant. Hopefully, he can keep him on the apartment grounds for a few days after finishing his final day of work. Baby Ganesh has other plans resulting in much hilarity and horror from Poppy and her dragon of a mother who resides with them. While he is at the station, he is visited by a distraught mother whose son has drowned, and the police declared it a suicide. She is one of the millions of impoverished Indians and thinks she will never see justice for what she knows was murder. Chopra feels he must investigate it himself, retired or not. The little elephant is not a "usual" elephant, and he and the upright Chopra make a highly unusual investigative team.

The author, Vaseem Kahn, is English of Indian heritage who lived and worked all over India for a decade. Despite his knowledge of its problems and shortcomings, his love for the country shines. Millions live in grinding poverty, with no hope of advancement. Like our own country, the "Haves" live in obscene excess, and corruption is a way of life. Bureaucracy stifles everything. Set against that backdrop are the sights, colors, and sounds of an extraordinarily vibrant culture, where anything can happen. All the characters are beautifully drawn, memorable, and very human. I listened to The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra on audio, and the narration is stellar. I can't recommend it highly enough.

RATING-5 Stars

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Things That Go Wrong At A Country House Party


Claudia Gray
May 3, 2022

Approximately 22 years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, the Darcys are invited to the home of Emma and George Knightley, Donville Abbey. The other guests include the Brandons, the Bertrams, and the Wentworths, all characters made immortal in the novels of Jane Austen. Also included are 17-year-olds Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcey. The guests expect all the things that happen during a house party, several weeks of hunting and shooting, delectable food, visiting the countryside, and good conversation. A massive storm blows up on the first evening, and an unexpected guest arrives. The villain of Pride and Prejudice, George Wickham, strides into the gathering as if he were a guest. He makes it plain that he has business with all of them and no plans to leave. Propriety demands that George Ridgeway not throw him out into a massive storm. They don't make him at all welcome, and as the rain and wind wear on, Wickham is the cat among the pigeons. Juliet Tilney discovers Wickham, bludgeoned to death, in the Gallery. 

Wickham's murder sets the stage for a very clever whodunnit. All the men have reason to see Wickam dead and some of the women. But who could have done it? The youngest guests, Juliet and Jonathan, form a pact to find out who the culprit is. Juliet is afraid that the Magistrate might blame a servant. Jonathan is worried that Wickham might have pushed one of his parents over the edge at last. All the married couples have cracks and secrets in their marriages, so Wickham is a plague even when dead. Juliet is a delightful addition, and Jonathan is fascinating. He is extremely socially awkward, always wondering how to behave, and finds being in company a trial. The two make a good pair of investigators, if not always impartial.

If it had been me, I would have buried Wickham in the garden and gone on about enjoying the house party after the storm stopped. But, one has to do the right thing, and the reader wouldn't have a  puzzle to solve. I admit I didn't solve it, but I did have questions! I highly recommend The Murder of Mr. Wickham. Thanks to NetGalley and Vintage for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Dangerous Introduction to America


Captain Jim Agnihotri #2
Nev March
St. Martins Minotaur
July 12, 2022

The second book in the Captain Jim Agnihotri series opens in Boston, where Jim and his new wife have moved, leaving India and their former lives behind. Jim has taken a position as a detective with the Dupree Detective Agency. Diana has found the changes in her life challenging, moving from a life of luxury and servants to one of doing her cooking,
laundry, and baking. She is also missing her family and drawing on her memories of them to help her cope. Diana is more than equal to the challenge; however, making friends and allies both high and low. Understanding of American ways is coming slowly and surely. 

When Jim goes to Chicago on a mission, one that he is very closed-mouthed about, Diana is all alone in Boston. Jim warned that he would not be able to communicate with her often or regularly. Still, after five weeks of no messages at all, she is frantic. Adding to her worries, a man arrives at her home carrying a letter for Jim. The man exudes fright, and the letter is in German. Rather than sitting and stewing, she decides to go to the Dupree Agency. Both father, Alfred, and son, Peter Dupree, have also not heard from Jim since his departure. But they tell her Jim is investigating a case at the soon to open Centennial Exposition, which led to an earlier investigator's death. This situation will not do. Through force of will and a little judicious blackmail, Diana gains a helper, a black man named Tobias, to aid her on the trip and the search for  Jim.

The trip to Chicago is a revelation to Diana. She never knew the depth of the racism and poverty that afflicted the still-new nation. The after-effects of the Civil War hung over everyone a decade later. Chicago is in a state of turmoil in 1876 with the opening of the Centennial Exposition. It is the first World's Fair held in America, and the movers and shakers are determined to show the world that Chicago is stepping back to the stage after the Great Fire. There is also grinding poverty, worker unrest, violence, and a possible anarchistic threat. That is the Chicago Jim has infiltrated. When Diana finds him, she is also exposed to that world. But she also moves into the world of the powerful, presenting herself as an Indian Princess. There appear to be many possible bad actors among the rich and powerful.

Peril at the Exposition is an action-packed, well-plotted, thrilling adventure with dizzying twists and turns. The many characters are fleshed out and memorable. It is a worthy addition to the series, one that I enjoyed immensely. Thanks to and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.