Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Age of Steam and Conspiracy

Wrexford and Sloan #7
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
September 26, 2023

Lord Wrexford sets out quickly to Oxford when he receives a message from an old friend, Greeley, a Librarian at Merton College Library. More important, he was the dearest friend of Wrexford's younger brother, Thomas. Thomas was killed in a French ambush in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars, and Wrexford has always felt guilty that he was not there to save him. Greeley was the only survivor, grievously wounded in both body and spirit. Wrexford would never ignore a request from Greeley. Upon his arrival, he finds that the librarian has been murdered and a valuable manuscript is missing.

Meanwhile, in London, Lady Charlotte is investigating a possible arson fire at a laboratory under her pen name, AJ Quill.
 This is the age of steam; Stephen Fulton has just introduced the steam paddleboat in America to great success and acclaim. The British are all in on developing an ocean-going steamboat. As was the custom, consortiums are being formed to reap the benefits. Some of the consortiums have dubious characters involved, and Charlotte wants to get to the bottom of them, especially since their friend, Kit Sheffield, is tempted to join one of the most dubious.

As always, the burgeoning world of science is at the heart of the Wrexford and Sloane mysteries. The Regency era brought many new scientific advances and new ways to cheat others out of their wealth. In this particular entry, I found myself lost in all the theories of propulsion from DaVinci to more modern theorists. However, the cast of characters redeems that. Time spent in the company of the Wrexfords, their formerly street urchin wards, Raven and Hawk, and Peregrine, the new addition, Peregrine, is well-spent. It is an unconventional family, but a family nonetheless. We even get answers about Charlotte's taciturn housekeeper, Mac, and a resolution to just who was responsible for the death of Thomas in the ambush that killed him.

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

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Intrigue and Adventure on the High Seas

 Captain Jim and Lady Diana Mysteries, # 3
 Nev March
 Minotaur Books
 September 12, 2023

 The third story in this award-winning series features Captain Jim Agnihotri and Lady Diana embarking on a journey from their home in America to England at the behest of Diana's brother, Adi. Adi is in England on business and wants Jim's help with a matter he only wants to discuss in person. It suits Captain Jim since he has sensed a growing distance between himself and Diana. At first glance, the couple seems ill-assorted. Jim is a half-caste orphan invalided out of the Indian Army, and Diana is from a noble, wealthy Indian family and was university educated in England. Jim's service to the family (Murder in Old Bombay) made him almost a family member. They welcomed him with open arms when Diana set her cap for him. Diana usually gets what she wants! Jim's investigative skills, army background, and Diana's social skills make them a formidable duo.

As much as Jim is happy to take the journey, an old problem arises. Jim is a very bad sailor who never seems to quite overcome it. After one of his bouts, he goes out on the deck, hoping for fresh air and relief. While there, he meets an old soldier, Don Juan Nepomuceno. The two feel a sense of kinship, and the old man is kind to Jim. However, Don Juan is not universally loved, as becomes apparent when he is murdered in a grisly and very personal manner only a few hours later. His past includes the execution of many US Navy prisoners in Cuba years before. Many hate him, and some onboard have reason to do so. The fact that Don Juan is highly placed in the Spanish nobility threatens to create an international incident. The ship's captain asks Jim to find the killer before docking at Liverpool.

Hundreds of passengers are on the ship, from first class to second, and steerage. Then there is the crew. The author does a fine job of keeping them separate and distinct from each other. Diana, as always, involves herself but is limited to the first-class areas. Jim spends every waking hour, while not seasick, all over the ship and learning much about the operations of an ocean liner. Action and life-threatening danger are never far from the duo as they race to solve the murder. 

I have enjoyed each of the books in this series and was not disappointed in The Spanish Diplomat's Secret. There is a foreshadowing of the next puzzle for Captain Jim and Lady Diana in the person of Adi. I will be looking forward to it.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

A Very Surprising Find


Rachel Savernake #3
Martin Edwards
Poison Pen Press
August 1, 2023

As a lifetime reader of murder mysteries, especially British crime, I know of Martin Edwards. Edwards is the foremost expert on British Golden-age mysteries with many books, stories, prefaces, and non-fiction to his credit. To my knowledge, I had never read one of his novels, so when The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge popped up on NetGalley, with this fabulous cover, I jumped on it. 

Disheveled, heavy drinker and smoker Nell Fagan is "on her uppers," having lost her last reporting job, and is looking for a big scoop. She thinks she has found it when Vernon Baker asks her to look into his mother's death. She had married a much younger man who drove a wedge between mother and son. Vernon next knew that she had gone to a sanitarium for some rest in Yorkshire and died there. Vernon asks her to investigate the place, Blackstone Lodge. Having burned her bridges with just about everyone, Nell heads up to Blackstone Fell. She finds an odd and dreary place with a dangerous landscape. People go missing, never to be seen again; one in 1606 and one in 1906, most famously. When Vernon Baker is killed in London due to an "accident,." Nell returns to London to consult with Rachel Savernake.

Rachel Savernake is a wealthy young woman, the daughter of a notorious "hanging judge" in London. Evidently, the judge went bonkers after his wife died, taking his young daughter to grow up on the isolated island of Gaunt. Not surprisingly, when the judge died, Rachel headed back to London with her small band of one housekeeper, one maid, and a man of all work. All three are devoted to her. She is a mystery to everyone except her staff. She does have a hobby, solving grisly murders, which has given her fame and the police fits. Even in 1932-ish, the police did not approve of women solving crimes. Especially Rachel, who is coldly analytical, giving nothing away. When Nell returns to Blackstone Fell and promptly goes missing herself from the exact location where others have gone before her, Rachel rents a cottage and follows behind. Blackstone Fell is a seething mass of gossip, bad blood, and extra-marital activity. The Vicar himself is a wife-abusing zealot. There are plenty of bad actors to go around.

Following Rachel and Nell is Jacob Flint, a fellow reporter with Nell who has been involved with earlier investigations. Jacob seems genuine enough, but who knows in this group of characters? Rachel herself and her loyal band of employees are the main attractions. Rachel is mysterious to the nth degree and not at all likable. No doubt, it would help to read the previous two books, which I plan to start right away.

The Puzzle of Blackwood Lodge is atmospheric, masterfully plotted, and totally fascinating. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for an advance digital copy.

5 Stars

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

A Trio of Senior Sleuths Catch a Serial Killer

Peter Boland
Joffee Books
December 22, 2022

I picked up The Charity Shop Detective Agency as part of my Kindle Unlimited membership because I wanted something light to read. It bore a similar description to that of The Thursday Murder Club and features a trio of senior sleuths. When 86-year-old Sarah Brown is found murdered, stabbed in the back, and with a domino clutched in her hand with her name scratched on it, the ladies running the "Dogs Need Good Homes" Charity Shop spring into action. Sarah Brown was one of their favorite customers, part of a group for whom they provided a place to meet, tea, and cakes every Tuesday morning. Fiona, Sue, and Daisy have a surprising set of skills for retired ladies, all of which they employ in their dogged pursuit of the killer as the bodies pile up. The pretty small town of Southbourne has a serial killer on its hands. Have no fear, though; with the help of Fiona's scruffy terrier, Simon Le Bon, and the reluctant cooperation of DI Fincher, all will be well.

The Charity Shop Detective Agency has all the ingredients of a classic cozy mystery set in an English village; likable, if somewhat bungling, main characters and quirky supporting characters. All three ladies have technology skills, skulking about and even lock picking. It was surprising, to say the least, but less dramatic was their commitment to each other. All for one and one for all would be a fitting motto. I was reasonably sure of the guilty party, but the author threw in enough red herrings to keep it interesting. There may have been too many twists and turns in the plot as it slowed the story's progress.

I am looking forward to a second book.

RATING-3.5 Stars

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Don't Judge This Book By Its Cover

 Alexandra Benedict
 Poisoned Pen Press
 October 5, 2023

One might expect a cozy mystery by looking at the cover, or at least I did. All the Poirot-esque elements are certainly here but in a much more modern, darker form. Just retired London Metropolitan detective Roz Parker took a first-class ticket to Scotland on the last overnight Express before Christmas. She must arrive on time as her daughter is in labor, and Roz has somehow managed to miss most of the significant events of her life. 

The train has a very motley crew of travelers on board. We first meet Meg, a social media influencer taking the train to post updates and sell some products. Meg is obviously in trouble with her boyfriend, Grant. Grant is a reality TV star who is handsome and can be charming but is also belittling, and there are more than hints of physical violence. Meg is terrified of him but also alarmingly co-dependent. We also have a put-upon husband with a herd of children and a drunken wife. A group of university students are on their way to Scotland to participate in a trivia contest on TV. An elderly woman and her son, and a mousy young woman who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Roz takes her under her wing but has her own problems because her daughter's labor has become life-threatening. When the train grinds to a halt in a blizzard, and bodies keep dropping, Roz must take things in hand to find the killer. 

Murder on the Christmas Express tackles issues never seen in the cozy genre; sexual violence, rape, and the lasting effects of trauma. It also has the most unattractive cast of characters, except Roz and a few others I have ever encountered. What did I like about Murder on the Christmas Express? The plotting was excellent, with one twist, turn, and misdirection after the other. It definitely kept me reading until the end to see who the killer might be. I'm giving it 3 Stars based on that page-turning quality and the somewhat hopeful turn of events at the novel's close.

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

3 Stars


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hidden Beneath Maine Waters

 A Maine Clambake Mystery #11
 Barbara Ross
 Kensington Books
 June 27, 2023

I'm always delighted when a new book is published from one of my favorite "set-in-Maine" series. As someone who visits Maine regularly, it is one of my preferred places on earth, winter or summer, following the stories of the Snowden Family Clambake. After living away from Maine for years, Julia, the eldest daughter, has returned after her father's death to help save the Clambake from bankruptcy. Julia has had many ups and downs, both business and personal, but now the Clambake is stable. As is Julia, even though she is still hurting from her decision to end the relationship with Chris, the man she thought was her life's love.

Hidden Beneath centers on her mother, Jacqueline, and her relationship with other teenage girls years before on Chipmunk Island, an island nearby. Chipmunk is home to a summer colony of wealthy families who only mix a little with Busman's Harbor residents. One of the girls, Ginny, now middle-aged women, had gone missing five years earlier and had been declared dead. Jacqueline asked Julia to accompany her to Ginny's memorial even though the summer season was just starting. There are unusual overtones at the event, and when Jacqueline visits Ginny's cottage, she finds that furniture has been moved and walls have been painted over. The women who were friends years ago are looking for Ginny's missing will. When it is found, Jacqueline learns that she has been named executor. She is astonished because she has only seen Ginny in passing for years. But, being Jacqueline, she is determined to get to the bottom of the riddle of Ginny's disappearance and needs Julia to help.

The mystery of Ginny's disappearance and all the events leading up to it is a twisty tale that kept me guessing. The main attraction of the series for me are the characters and settings, all familiar to me. Having a mystery to try to solve is a big plus. This time I failed and was also blindsided by a possible new romance for Julia from an unexpected quarter! Thanks to and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 Stars

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Pie Can Be Deadly

 Death By Chocolate #6
 Sarah Graves
 Kensington Books
 April 25, 2023

Jake (Jacobia) and Ellie are gearing up for a new season at Eastport, Maine's bakery, The Chocolate Moose. Since the opening of The Moose, they have been successful and are an institution. This year, however, they have competition from Choco's, another bakery nearby owned by Brad Fairway, a newcomer to Eastport. Fairway is not above undercutting the Moose's prices and spreading rumors about bad hygiene at The Moose. The opening of the annual arts festival brings matters to a head. Jake and Ellie confront Fairway about his business practices and get no satisfaction. Both women are suspects when Fairway is found dead later, especially Ellie, whose gun was the murder weapon. The State Police are zeroing in on Ellie, and the Eastport chief of police, Bob Arnold, can't seem to divert them. Even worse, Jake thinks she recognizes Fairway from the "bad old days" in New York. Is the other shoe about to drop finally? As the arts festival goes on, there are more murders and attacks on the artists, muddying the waters considerably. 

I have been reading Sarah Graves' books for years, beginning with her long-running Home Repair is Homicide series. All are set in Eastport and feature the same main characters, Jake and Ellie, and their extended families and friends, with others coming in and out (quite often as victims). They are remarkably full of action for cozy mysteries, but at their heart are about friendship and the ties that bind. All the books are atmospheric, presenting Eastport very much as it is, perhaps a bit busier. Eastport was once a vast shipping center with its deep harbor. Those days are long gone. 

Death by Chocolate Marshmallow Pie is another enjoyable book in the series, but in some ways has the feeling of an ending. One significant character leaves, and many plot loose ends are wrapped up. I sincerely hope not. I will miss my visits to Eastport if so. 

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

RATING 4 Stars

Friday, April 7, 2023

Plucky Heroine and German Spies

PLAYING IT SAFE (Electra McDonnell #3)
Ashley Weaver
St. Martins Minotaur
May 9, 2023

The previous book in the Electra Mac Donnell series ended on the night the Blitz began in London on September 7, 1940. Electra had just finished a job for His Majesty's Government. As part of a safecracking family, she has agreed to use her considerable skills at picking locks in service to the war effort. In return, the government will exonerate them from previous crimes, as long as they commit no more. However, Electra and the MacDonnell clan are patriots and would have helped without the extra incentive.

Things have been disastrous in the East End, with nightly German bombers. Much loss of life and property has not defeated the people of London, not by a long shot. She has yet to hear anything from the straitlaced and upright Major Ramsey, who is her contact in the government and supervisor. As always, he appears suddenly and sends her to Sunderland. He tells her to get a room at a particular boardinghouse, tells her he will see her there and hands her a book on birdwatching. Electra considers his close-mouthed attitude ridiculous but has learned to trust him. Electra is very good at making contacts and friends wherever she goes and soon finds herself a part of a group of young people. When one of the group drops dead in front of her in the street, she begins to think that the members are a part of whatever mission she is on. When the Major tells her the nature of it, the two are entangled in their most dangerous mission yet.

Playing It Safe is an excellent addition to this series. I enjoy the interaction among the MacDonnell family, who have looked after her since infancy. Although her mother died in prison, accused of killing her father. She has never discussed it with her uncle, who was her father's brother. But Electra needs to learn more about her mother and seems to be on the verge of doing so. Then there is the undeniable attraction between herself and the Major, which explodes into fireworks this time, despite themselves. There is plenty to look forward to in the next book, and I certainly do!

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

1926, Instanbul-Anything can happen

Erica Ruth Neubauer
A Jane Wunderly Mystery #4
Kensington Books
March 28, 2023

I discovered the Jane Wunderley series about a month ago and binged through the first three (Murder at Mena House, Murder at Wedgefield Manor, and Danger on the Atlantic). I have always been fascinated by the period between WWI and WWII when the world went through one cataclysmic event after another. First, the Great War was meant to be the "war to end all wars." Following that, the Great Depression an economic disaster that took away the livelihoods of millions worldwide. Finally, the rise of fascism in Europe and the advent of WWII. For Jane Wunderly, the Great War ended a personal nightmare and set her on a path toward independence. Her sadistic first husband went off the war and never came back. Jane took back her maiden name and swore never to marry again. She has an opportunity to travel first to Egypt, then to England, and then a voyage back to America. Accompanying her is her annoying, alcoholic Aunt Millie. Millie has the money to travel, and Jane has always wanted to understand her aunt better. On that first trip to Egypt, she meets Redvers, a handsome and somewhat secretive English Englishman with a shadowy job with the British Government. Adventures with spies, assassins, and thieves ensue, and Redvers is always at her side. Jane is rethinking the single life.

Intrigue in Istanbul takes Jane and Redvers to Jane's childhood home in Boston. Redvers wants to present himself to her widower father, Henry, a historian. They discover an empty house, and nobody knows when or where he may have gone. While going through her father's mail, she finds that he has mortgaged their home for a large sum and is in arrears. The loan is due in just three weeks. Jane has an idea where he might be, however. He specializes in the history of Suleiman the Magnificent and has been obsessed with a storied object called the "Sultan's Heart." He has to be in Istanbul; she has a good idea of where he has lodged and some of his associates. As they reach Instanbul, she finds she has no idea what danger he has gotten himself into or of Redver's associates from his past there.

I am a fan of '30s and '40s movies that portray Americans abroad in a lighthearted and somewhat glamorous manner. Intrigue in Istanbul fits the bill very well. There are spies, assassins, and all sorts of colorful characters in an exotic and mysterious setting. It's a lot of fun and a perfect escape read. The author has visited the city and takes pains to be accurate. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy in return for an honest opinion.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The First Book in an Explosive Trilogy from Spain

Juan Gomez-Jurado
MacMillan Audio
February 14, 2023

 So far, 2023 has been a good year for thrillers, and Red Queen is outstanding. Originally published in Spain in 2018, it has gained a worldwide following and is now available in English. Juan Gomez-Jurado has introduced a detecting duo and a cast of characters as fascinating as any I have ever read. Inspector Jon Gutierrez of the Madrid Police is in hot water, not for the first time. He is a clothes-horse, despite being barrel-chested and overweight. Gutierrez also still lives with his mother and is gay, neither of which makes him popular on the force. This time he may have finally ruined his career by planting evidence on a pimp and drug dealer. Gutierrez did it to help one of the pimp's girls get loose from his influence. The girl, however, filmed it and put it on social media. Suspended without pay and with Internal Affairs on his heels, he has no idea what to do. Then he receives a phone call from someone only known as the "Mentor," who offers him an opportunity to resurrect his career.

The "Mentor" is part of a shadowy organization that pursues the worst of criminals, serial killers, killers-for-hire, and terrorists. "Mentor" wants him to meet with a former operative, half-English, half-Spanish Antonia Scott. She is a genius forensic expert with a mind like a high-functioning computer. They need her to solve several high-profile kidnappings of influential and wealthy people and the death of one of the children of the families involved. Antonia, however, has refused since her husband was shot and has been in a coma for three years. Her father has taken her young son away and assumed custody of him. She only leaves her apartment to go and sit with her husband in the hospital every night. Her life has collapsed, and she blames herself. The killer was after her, not her husband. Gutierrez has a tall order to get her out of her apartment, but the situation escalates when Carla Ortiz, the daughter of one of the world's wealthiest men, is kidnapped. There is no ransom demand, at least financially, but the families involved are not forthcoming about the orders made. Carla has only 40 hours left to live. 

There is non-stop action in Red Queen, kidnappings, car chases, subterranean pursuits, bombings, and encounters with some of the worst people one could imagine. If you aren't afraid of shadowy international organizations who think they have the right to decide the fate of everyone, you will be after reading this novel. Through skillful character-building, Juan Gomez-Jurado has written a story of love, friendship, and healing. I can't wait for the next book in this trilogy.

I received the audiobook of Red Queen from McMillan Audio and NetGalley. It was superbly narrated by Scott Brick, who I was aware of, but this is the first time I heard him. I will be on the lookout for his work in the future. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Friday, March 10, 2023

Bluestockings and Blackguards

 A Dear Miss Hermione Murder # 1
 Anastasia Hastings
 Minotaur Books
 February 7, 2023

Of Manners and Murders is the first book in a new series set in the late 1800s in England. Violet has returned with her half-sister, Sephora, from many years in India upon the death of her diplomat father. Having lived in India for years, encouraged by her father to see and learn everything, Violet has managed to avoid the prejudices of the English abroad. She would be called a "bluestocking" in every sense. Sixteen-year-old Sephora, however, is as empty-headed as a young lady was expected to be in Victorian England. The sisters are living with their flamboyant Aunt Adelia, who has suddenly taken off to the Continent with her "gentleman friend." Imagine Violet's surprise when Aunt Adelia discloses that she is Miss Hermione, author of England's most popular advice column. Not only that, she expects Violet to take over the column. Violet is in her twenties, firmly considered "on the shelf," and has no romantic experience other than one unhappy love affair. She feels obliged to act as her Aunt's proxy due to her fondness for Adelia.

Opening the first letter, she finds something far removed from a plea for romantic advice. Ivy Armstong, from a village close to London, is a newly married woman convinced that someone is trying to kill her. She even encloses newspaper clippings with pictures of her suspects circled. Violet feels that the matter is pressing enough to travel to the village of Willingdale to speak with her. Upon her arrival, however, she finds that Ivy's burial service is taking place. Violet presents herself as a friend of Ivy's from boarding school and sets out to find the culprit. Is it the handsome new husband, a jealous curate in love with Ivy, or a woman from the village angling for the new husband herself? What part did the village doctor play? While traveling back and forth from the village, she needs to pay attention to Sephora, who gets herself in massive trouble.

I found Manners and Murder enjoyable, with a couple of exceptions. I don't usually object to multiple POVs, but the breakaways to Sephora were annoying in this case. The reader already knows Sephora is an empty-headed, selfish, and self-involved twit. Her secondary drama was not particularly interesting, at least to me. One of the villains, and there were several, was almost cartoonishly evil. I do, however, like Violet very much and am interested in what may happen between her and the dashing American gentleman. He might be Violet's perfect match.

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

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Hilarious, Horrifying, and Engaging New Novel From Australia

Benjamin Stevenson
Harper Collins
January 17, 2023

Meet Ernest Cunningham, "Ern," the narrator of Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. Ern is the self-published author of numerous books telling others how to write crime fiction. He begins with Ronald Knox's 1929 Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction. Knox was a Catholic Priest and member of the legendary Detection Club. Other members included Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton. You should take a look at them, as they are essential.

Ern is attending a family reunion at a ski lodge in the mountains of New South Wales, AU. He never looks forward to reunions because he has always felt like an outsider. This reunion promises to be particularly fraught as Ern's brother, Michael, is getting out of prison after a stretch for murder. Ern happens to be the person who testified and put Michael there. The Cunninghams are unhappy with Ern, not his mother, Audrey, and her husband, Marcello, not Michael's ex-wife, Lucy, not Ern's soon-to-be ex-wife, Erin, or his managing Aunt Katherine. The only one who seems happy to see him is his half-sister, Sofia. That may be because she needs money and somehow knows about the bag containing 267 thousand dollars Ern has been holding onto for Michael. Soon after their arrival, a body is found, the victim of a particularly horrible death. Very quickly, the lodge is snowed in, and the temperatures drop precipitously. Not only is the snow falling, but so are the Cunninghams. Is there a serial killer loose known as The Black Tongue? Can one of the Cunninghams be the killer, or is someone seeking revenge for Ern's father, Robert, and his notorious criminal past? People don't often forget about cop-killers, even if they are long dead.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is one of the most original pieces of crime fiction I have ever read; horrifying and hilarious at once. Anyone who has read Golden Age mysteries will recognize all the tropes of the snowed-in scenario but with a new spin. Stevenson's Ern has a terrific "voice," sly, ironic, and likable. I was suspicious of his claim to be a reliable narrator, but that is what he proved to be. I don't expect to read another book this year that will engage me as much as Everyone in my Family has engaged me.

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

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Accident or Cold Blooded Murder?

 Veronica Speedwell #8
 Deanna Raybourne
 Berkley Books
 March 7, 2023

Veronica Speedwell has been not precisely pining but concerned by the absence of Stoker for several months. The two parted at an impasse due to events in An Impossible Imposter, previous in the series. She has an idea where he might be but has decided to take him at his word and give him space. However, when his older brother, Tiberius, Viscount Templeton-Vane, visits her and asks her to help him find Stoker, she drops everything. Tibirious has a problem that requires Stoker's talents. Twenty years previously, Tiberius made his "Grand Tour" in the company of several young men, self-named "The Seven Sinners." When the seven finished their tour and were dispersing from the Devon Templeton-Vane estate, one of their number met his end on the crumbling Devon cliffs. Lorenzo d'Ambrogio was a fossil enthusiast and had just made the discovery of a lifetime, a megalosaurus buried in the cliff. When the cliff crumbled during a storm, it took both the megalosaurus and Lorenzo. Long thought to be an accident, Tiberious was none the wiser until he received news cuttings about the deaths of two of the "Sinners" enclosed in a threatening note, proclaiming "Revenge for Lorenzo" and a threat to Tiberius. His response is to set up a reunion of sorts with the remaining survivors. 

When Veronica and Tiberius find Stoker wandering in the forests of Bavaria and present the plan to him, Stoker thinks it a hare-brained and dangerous scheme. But Tibirious knows his brother well and baits the trap with a commission to build a life-sized model of a megalosaurus. As a natural historian and taxidermist, Stoker cannot resist the challenge. He is also troubled about his brother's safety but downplays it. The people who gather at the Estate are not seemingly murderous, but there are undercurrents. At least some of them are hiding secrets regarding the death of Lorenzo and are willing to do anything to keep those secrets.

Veronica Speedwell, modeled on various "Lady Travelers" from the Victorian Era, is completely emancipated, a lepidopterist by trade. She has traveled the world bringing back rare butterfly specimens to earn her living. She is also stubborn as a mule and perfectly matched to Stoker. The verbal by-play between the two is always entertaining, and the scrapes they get into are often hair-raising. I enjoy this series tremendously and look forward to each one eagerly. Thanks to and Berkley Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, February 19, 2023

A Hotbed of Murder and Criminal Activity in a Sleepy Market Town

Pignon Scorbion and the Barbershop Detectives #2
Rick Bleiweiss
Blackstone Publishing
February 21, 2023

Murder in Haxford is the second entry in Rick Bleiweiss's Pignon Scorbion cozy mystery series set in 1910 in the small market town of Haxford. Haxford may be a sleepy town, but it is a hotbed of murder and criminal activity for the dapper and erudite new Chief Inspector. Being new to the area, Scorbion quickly enlists the aid of an old friend, Calvin Brown, who owns the local barbershop. He also assembles a band of quirky characters who assist in his investigations. They include Thomas, Barnabus, and Yves, all barbershop employees. An ambitious reporter, Billy, at one of the local newspapers also wants to be in on the investigations. Last but definitely not least is Thelma Smith, the beautiful and brilliant proprietor of the local bookstore. The "deputies" make Calvin's barbershop the center of their activities.

Our first murder takes place at the Haxford Market Fair, at a hot air balloon demonstration. One of the balloons plummets to the earth carrying one dead occupant. However, the dead man was not killed by the fall but by an arrow to the heart. The cast of possible suspects includes an assortment of village drunks and "ne'er do-wells," their wives, and relations. But who and, as importantly, why? There are many more bodies to account for before the end of this complex case, and justice is done. Next comes the poisoning death of a moneylender/artist, which has to be the oddest juxtaposition of occupations ever. Several individuals are in deep arrears on their debts, but what of the people involved in his side business of forging the works of well-known painters? 

Murder in Haxford is a fun, quirky cozy, as was its predecessor, Pignon Scorbion and the Barbershop Detectives. Pignon Scorbion is a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot with none of their more annoying "tics." The descriptions of his sartorial splendor and two-toned shoes are always amusing. Haxford in 1910s England might never have existed, but it is a charming fantasy.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Secrets Surface in a Small Australian Town

Aaron Falk #3
Jane Harper
Flatiron Books
January 31, 2023

I've been waiting patiently (somewhat) for the final entry in Jane Harper's splendid Aaron Falk Trilogy. The trilogy introduced me to Australian crime fiction and was highly atmospheric, packing an emotional punch, and perfectly plotted. From THE DRY, through FORCE OF NATURE, and now EXILES, Jane Harper's books have shown me a new world. Aaron Falk is a detective in the financial crimes division of the Australian Federal Police based in Melbourne. But he comes from the outback town of Kiewarra, as seen in THE DRY. On his consequential visit to his hometown, he formed a friendship with the new Chief of Police, Greg Raco, and his wife, Rita. The Racos have asked him to be their new child's Godfather. The christening will take place in Greg's hometown, Merrilee. The previous year, Falk visited them for the Merrilee Food and Wine Festival, and the christening is taking place the very same weekend. 

The previous year's Festival dealt the Raco extended family a considerable blow. His older brother Charlie's ex-wife, Kim, disappeared from the Festival, leaving her new daughter, Zoe, in a pram, never to be seen again. Her new spouse, Rohan, was having dinner with his parents and was cleared as a suspect. The Racos and their Merrilee friends and family are completely "at sea," saying that Kim would have never left Zoe alone. Charlie and Kim's daughter, Zara, now living with Charlie, and her friend, Joel, are insistent on this. The memories of Kim are close to the surface, especially since her friends had almost lost contact with Kim in the year previous to her disappearance. She had been living in Adelaide, not far away. Tragedy has been no stranger to Merrilee in the past few years. The daughter of the police chief died as a result of an alcohol overdose, and a respected member of the community was killed in a hit-and-run. 

As memories surface, it becomes clear that the secrets of all these events are in the close-knit community. The solution to Kim's disappearance will upend their little paradise. But new connections and a new relationship convince Falk that there are more things in life than policing, and after years of being solitary, he can find a new home. 

Thanks to Net Galley and Flatiron Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars