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