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 Netgalley.com 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 NetGalley.com 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 Netgalley.com 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 NetGalley.com and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Murder in a Divided Maine Town


Maine Clambake Mystery #10
Barbara Ross
Kensington Books
June 28, 2022

I discovered the Maine Clambake Mysteries while in Maine for vacation a couple of years ago and have been reading them steadily since. This tenth installment takes place in Mud Season, that season between winter and summer when the snowmelt is gone, and the most plentiful things in Maine are mud and blackflies. Busman's Harbor is gearing up for the tourist season, not least Julia Snowden, who manages the Snowden Family Clambake. Julia feels at loose ends after ending a long-term relationship and is back in her family home. Even the apartment she lived in is unavailable for a few months.

A divided Busman's Harbor is on the verge of deciding whether to install a proposed pedestrian mall during the summer months. Some are bitterly opposed, including "antique" dealer Phinney Hardison, but others, including some wealthy pillars of the community, think it might be a good idea for the town. Zoey Butterfield is at the center of the controversy. She owns a thriving pottery business and employs Livvie, Julia's sister, in the off-season. The pedestrian mall was her idea. Phinney and Zoey share a retail space, so tensions are exceptionally high. When Julia sees police cars in the early morning, she races over to find Zoey's side of the building has been vandalized. Thousands of dollars worth of pottery were destroyed, ready for the season and shipping worldwide. Phinney, of course, denies any responsibility. However, when Phinney is discovered dead in the building's shared basement, Zoey is squarely in the sight of the police.

Julia needs to find out who is responsible for both crimes before the town tears apart. What follows is an intricately plotted chase with all the familiar characters and a very welcome new one in the person of Zoey. Muddled Through is a most enjoyable addition to the series. Thanks to NetGalley.com and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

4 Stars

Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Spooky Old House and a Devastating Storm


Death by Chocolate Series # 5
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books
March 29, 2022

I am always happy to revisit historic Eastport, Maine, where a lot happens in such a small town. When things happen (usually homicide), best friends and partners Jake Tiptree and Ellie White are always mixed up in it. We first met Jake and Ellie in Sarah Graves' first long-running series, Home Repair is Homicide. Jake is a transplant from NY who arrived in Eastport running away from an abusive ex-husband. Her young son, Sam, has drug problems and a penchant for getting into trouble, sometimes life-threatening. Jake also has a somewhat shady past as a money advisor for the NY mob. Ellie is a life-long Eastporter, down to earth with the Maine knowledge that Jake lacks. The first series is set against the background of Jake's endless rehabbing of her early 1800s house. In the second series, Jake and Ellie have opened a bakery called The Chocolate Moose. 

When Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake opens, Jake and Ellie are wondering how to keep the bakery open during the off-season for the locals. When a limo arrives carrying a somewhat faded Hollywood icon, Ingrid Merryfield, they think their prayers are answered. Ingrid claims that she was born in Eastport and has purchased Cliff House, a mansion that has been uninhabited for years. Cliff House has quite the reputation since multiple murders happened there, and the locals think it is haunted. Ingrid wants to hire The Chocolate Moose to cater a party she is throwing for a small group of friends. Jake and Ellie have plenty of questions, but the money is too good to turn down, enough to keep the bakery open through the winter. They can't find any evidence of Ingrid's Eastport birth, and why is she having a party before any renovations to Cliff House? And why does Ingrid need a very imposing bodyguard? There are plenty of spooky events at Cliff House, but neither Jake nor Ellie believe in ghosts. What worries them is the motley crew of guests Ingrid has gathered there. Some of them appear to be enemies rather than friends. A devastating storm sweeps in, stranding them all at Cliff House. Murders begin, and they have to get out somehow. The storm was so violent that no help was coming from Eastport or the Coast Guard.

All the Eastport characters have come to feel like friends over the years I have been reading both series. There are no lengths they will not go to for each other. This book is another action-packed entry for Jake, Ellie, Sam, and especially Jake's aging and ailing father. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Home-Grown Espionage in WWII England


Electra McDonnell #2
Ashley Weaver
St. Martins Minotaur
May 10, 2022

The McDonnell family lives in London’s East End and is well known for locksmithing. They also do a little safe-cracking on the side when economic circumstances require it. The only girl in the family, Electra, grew up learning locksmithing at her Uncle Mick’s knee and is an expert.

But as a woman in the WWII era,  Electra is usually laughed at by prospective customers until she proves what she can do. Uncle Mick and her cousins, Colm and Toby, have no such reservations, and Electra is a welcome part of the safe-cracking side of the business. In the previous book, His Majesty’s Government, in the form of the upright and reserved Major Ramsey, offers the McDonnell family an offer they can’t refuse; forgiveness for previous crimes in exchange for help with the War effort. Part of the deal is the cessation of all illegal activities. The McDonnells agree as they are patriots; besides, England is in the “phony war,” waiting for Germany’s inevitable attack.

Electra proved her mettle in her first case, A Peculiar Combination, so it is no surprise when Major Ramsey has a new investigation for her. A girl has turned up drowned in the Thames wearing a bracelet adorned with a unique locket. When Electra opens the locket, it has microfilm inside. The young woman was involved with espionage, but why and who would kill her? She appeared a regular country girl who was looking for a new life in London in all respects. This investigation will take Electra and Major Ramsey into perilous territory as the Blitz finally arrives. The descriptions of those first nights of the bombing are riveting.

The Key to Deceit is another enjoyable entry in the series, combining a puzzle to solve, adventure, suspense, with a light touch of romance. Will she or won’t she, and if so, with whom? A secondary, important mystery is Electra’s quest to find out more about her mother, who died in prison after giving birth to her. She supposedly killed Electra’s father but always denied it and was believed by many. Electra’s Uncle Mick was her father’s brother and took her in, raising her as one of his own. Not surprisingly, it was never discussed in his household. Readers of cozy historical mysteries should enjoy the Electra McDonnell series immensely.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. See also at www.mysteryandsuspensemagazine.com.

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, March 18, 2022

Twists and Turns Make a Can't-Put-It-Down Thriller

Edwin Hill
Kensington Books
March 29, 2022

Sisters Natalie Cavanaugh and Glenn Abbott could not be more different. Natalie is a 40-something Boston detective, and Glenn is a food blogger who is on the cusp of significant success with a book coming out in a few days. Loner Natalie passes out every night from drinking too much and seems to have no one who cares about her other than her mentee on the force, Zane Perez, and her sister. Glenn appears to have everything in control, with her husband Jake and 12-year-old daughter, Mavis. There is a lot of trouble in Glenn's paradise, however.

The secrets that the two sisters share go back to the murder of their father years earlier. Alan Cavanaugh was murdered in the woods behind their house in suburban Boston. It appears that he was murdered by their next-door neighbor, who had an affair with him. She even confessed to it before killing herself. As a result, her two children were broken up and sent into the foster system. Natalie and Glenn were never separated, but many townspeople still believed that their mother, Ruth, was actually guilty. All the disparate threads of the murder of Alan come back to haunt them. 

Hester Thursby, librarian and researcher extraordinaire, and her veterinarian husband, Morgan make a brief appearance (along with their daughter, Kate, and various assorted canines). Their friend, Detective Angela White, is prominently present, who takes the investigation away from Natalie when Glenn's daughter Mavis discovers a grotesquely murdered body in an abandoned warehouse. All the clues seem to point back to that earlier murder of Alan Cavanaugh. The Secrets We Share is Hill's best work, full of head-spinning twists and turns that kept me up late. When the final solution to the puzzle was revealed, I was astonished. Hill's portrayal of Mavis, intelligent, focused, and fierce, placed in considerable danger, is also a stand-out.

I highly recommend The Secrets We Share. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

5 Stars

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

More fun with Veronica and Stoker

 Veronica Speedwell #7
 Deanna Raybourn
 Berkley Books
 February 15, 2022

Veronica and Stoker have just returned from their adventures in the tiny principality of Alpenwold and are hoping to resume their work on Lord Rosmorran’s ever-growing collection.
Soon after their arrival, they have a visit from Sir Hugh Montgomerie, head of the Special Branch of Scotland Yard and sometimes right-hand man to the Queen. Sir Hugh has a favor to ask, that Stoker and Veronica visit a family of his long acquaintance. The Hathaway family has thought for years that the heir, Jonathan Hathaway, was killed in the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa, but a man purporting to be him has returned. Veronica was with Hathaway and another man on the ill-fated expedition. Veronica has always believed that both were killed. Sir Hugh also wants them to check on the well-being of Euphemia “Effie” Hathaway, his god-daughter. He sweetens the deal for Stoker with a promise that there might be a specimen of a “Tasmanian Tiger” at Hathaway Hall and butterflies for Veronica.

Upon arrival, they find a household in turmoil, a miserable Effie, a managing and social-climbing wife to Charles Hathaway, the younger brother to Jonathan, and the estate’s present owner. There is also a dragon of a mother-in-law. Upon introduction to “Jonathan,” Veronica gets the surprise of her life, and so does the reader! The secret of his identity is one she can’t reveal, especially to Stoker. It’s hard to believe that Veronica was ever a romantic fool, but everyone is young once.

An Impossible Impostor is full of chases, kidnappings, escapes, stolen Indian jewels, supernatural happenings, and threats to life and limb. Of course, one has come to expect all that from a Veronica Speedwell novel. The Impossible Impostor himself is just that, impossible indeed. There is the introduction of a new villainess, one I would expect to see again. Isabel MacGregor is not the type to be forgiving when thwarted. The novel ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger, but it only whets the appetite for the next book in the series.
Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Profane, Blackly Funny and a Must-Read

Peter Mann
Harper Publishing
January 11, 2022

When I began reading The Torqued Man, I was unsure whether it would be for me, as espionage is not my usual genre. However, I do have an enduring interest in the WWII era. The Torqued Man is in two journals, one by Adrian De Groot, a minor functionary in the Nazi Party intelligence agency and a translator. Adrian comes from an impoverished family of merchants but has the advantage of a good education. Not aligned with Nazi Party politics or philosophy, De Groot hopes to keep his head down and survive. He is also used to recruit agents to infiltrate Ireland and build sentiment for a German invasion. He recruits Frank Pike (also known as Finn), a rabble-rousing IRA fighter. After becoming disenchanted with current IRA leadership, Pike joins the International Brigades and lands in one of Franco's infamous Spanish prisons. From Pike's viewpoint, Adrian's offer is a life-saver. Pike is a riotous, completely undisciplined person whose veracity cannot be trusted on any level. De Groot and Pike are unreliable narrators on an epic scale and become irretrievably entwined as the Reich falls.

The Torqued Man is a "can't put it down" adventure story of one of the most destructive eras of world history and an exploration of the human heart. It is blackly funny, profane, and entirely unexpected with characters, even minor ones, who jump off the page. It is also replete with literary allusion and, in my opinion, impeccably researched. I have always wondered how Germany went so off the rails. One can't ignore the connections to our era. If you put the worst of society, unscrupulous, immoral, ignorant, and steeped in racial animus, in charge of the house, don't be surprised when the roof falls in.

I can't imagine that The Torqued Man will not be one of the top books of my reading year. Thanks to Harper and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Updated Collection of Phryne Fisher Stories for 2022


Phryne Fisher Collection
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
May 17, 2022

I am a fan of the Miss Fisher series with the incomparable Essie Davis in the title role. But, I had only read a few of the books, so this collection was a delight. Even more so was the introduction describing how Phryne sprang into being. There are four new stories in the group, and some others have been edited. They were all new to me. I can't say which stories were better than others. Still, I can point out a couple of my favorites: Death Shall Be Dead, in which Phryne shows her innate kindness by finding a home for the old dog of a murdered man. Marrying the Bookie's Daughter, in which she thwarts the revenge of a jilted young woman by getting her a more profitable one, is another favorite.

I highly recommend The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions for fans of Miss Fisher, both old and new. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars