Anna Lee Huber: An Artless Demise

The seventh in Huber’s enjoyable Lady Darby series, this novel finds the lovely and talented Kiera happily married to investigator Sebastian Gage and pregnant with her first child. At this point, the talented Huber is a nice cross between the romance of Tasha Alexander and the social commentary that Anne Perry focuses on in her novels. In 1830’s London, there’s plenty of social injustice to go around, though that is far from Huber’s main theme.

I’ve always loved the premise of these novels. Kiera is a painter who was forced, under her first husband’s tutelage, to create precise anatomical drawings from corpses he obtained probably through illegal means. At the time, the idea of an autopsy or of learning from a human body was considered something of a scandal. When Kiera’s first husband dies, she’s forced to retreat to her sister’s home in Scotland because her work for her husband has made her notorious.
It gives Kiera a fabulous backstory – her first husband’s treatment of her is always at the back of her mind, and her lack of acceptance by conventional members of the “ton” make every social occasion a minefield. Luckily, her present husband, Gage, is a model of kindness and they are a wonderful detecting pair. read more

Peter Lovesey: The Crime of Miss Oyster Brown

Peter Lovesey has written some of my very favorite detective novels – The False Inspector Dew(1982), Rough Cider (1986) and The Reaper (2000), not to mention his long and delightful Peter Diamond series.  One of the things Lovesey is the very absolute best at is simply plot.  In his novels, these can be longer and more complex affairs, but in this collection of short stories, the plots are deadly little masterpieces of wit and style.

Short stories are a tricky medium.  In a short span of pages, an author needs to draw the reader in, make them care about at least one person in the narrative, and tell a completely contained story, soup to nuts.  Lovesey’s elegant writing and humor serve him well, as story after story in this collection, reprinted here by the venerable Crippen & Landru, are both memorable and concise. read more

Maureen Jennings: Heat Wave

This book is available on April 30, 2019.

The prolific Maureen Jennings begins a new series with Heat Wave, set in 1936 Toronto, which is experiencing a particularly brutal heat wave.  The main character is young Charlotte Frayne, a fledgling private eye who works for the usually unflappable Thaddeus Gilmore.  When she arrives at work the day the book opens, though, Mr. Gilmore has received a particularly nasty piece of hate mail, and he hurries off.

When he’s away, several things happen.  One of them is that owner of the nearby Paradise Café comes by and asks Gilmore and associates to look into some theft going on at his restaurant. The other is a call from Mr. Gilmore, informing Charlotte that his wife has been taken to the hospital, the victim of some type of attack. read more

Elly Griffiths: The Stranger Diaries

This is a banner week for us as we add two new reviewers!  The second is our daughter Margaret. who unsurprisingly is a big mystery fan, and one of her favorites is Elly Griffiths.  Welcome, Margaret!

Elly Griffiths, author of two mystery series, takes a stab at stand alone fiction with The Stranger Diaries. This novel brings us a modern-day gothic horror story while keeping solidly grounded in tradition. Instead of a castle or drafty mansion, there is an old school with secrets. Instead of a threatening lord of the manor, characters are menaced by fellow teachers and students. There is a ghost story in the background of the novel, and a mystery concerning the true identity of someone long dead. Delightfully, the novel’s three heroines are not quite so traditional. read more

Rhys Bowen: The Victory Garden

We are welcoming a new reviewer, Cathy Akers-Jordan, an avid mystery fan, long time Aunt Agatha’s customer and all around lovely human.  Her more official bio follows this review.

Towards the end of WWI, 21-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She defies her parents and joins the Women’s Land Army. What follows is a coming-of-age story full of history, romance, and a little mystery with a satisfying twist at the end.

What makes the story fascinating is the focus on how British women adapt to their new roles while the men are at war. Even in the tiny village of Bucksley Cross on the edge of Dartmoor, where Emily ends up, social dynamics are turned upside down. There are no more servants because women are busy doing men’s work: planting, tending, and harvesting crops; caring for livestock; and running all the shops in the village, including the Blacksmith’s forge. Women from all classes of life work together side by side, freeing themselves from their corsets and social classes, in order to feed Britain. read more

Claire Harman: Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

Like many True Crime books, Murder by the Book starts with a bloody crime, a man with his throat cut in his own bed. London in 1840 was a pretty grim place, but the reason this crime became a veritable national sensation didn’t have much to do with the gore of the thing or the apparent brazenness of it, but the simple fact that it happened to a member of the uppermost crust, Lord William Russell. Forget the miserable and dangerous lives of the poor, when an aristocrat got murdered, the new consort, Prince Albert, and the old general, the Duke of Wellington, wanted to see the matter cleared up as soon as possible. read more

Sophie Hannah: The Next to Die

Sophie Hannah’s books are police procedurals, and technically a series, but she seems always more interested in plot than in the coppers making the deductions.  That’s not a bad thing, but there’s no Inspector Dalgleish or Rebus or Banks to love.  Instead, the reader gets the messier – and no doubt far more realistic – interchange of police at all different levels and abilities.  In the case in this novel, the group have a very puzzling crime to solve.

Hannah diffuses her narrative with different narrators, newspaper columns, emails, and a host of other devices that keep the reader guessing along with the detectives.  There’s the straight up procedural story where the police are trying to solve a string of four murders that look to be paired murders of best friends, though carried out at different times and in different locations, and then there’s the story of the various characters in the novel. read more

The Noir version of The ABC Murders

John Malovich as Poirot, Rupert Grint as Inspector Crome

When we closed the store and no longer felt Amazon breathing down our necks, we went ahead and subscribed to Amazon Prime so we could catch up on things like Bosch, which customers had been telling us frequently they enjoyed.  (And Bosch is excellent, very true to the books though not an exact replica).

Prime’s The ABC Murders is not an exact replica of Christie’s enjoyable, early serial killer novel either.  First there’s the casting of John Malkovich as Poirot.  He doesn’t look like everyone’s mental picture of Poirot – that would be David Suchet – he’s instead an older, defeated Poirot, scraping along without his faithful valet, George, and his nightly hot chocolate. read more

Peter Robinson: Careless Love

This title is available Feb. 12.  You can pre-order and we’ll ship when it arrives.

Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks books are classics of the rare sort – British police procedurals that aren’t too dark, with a sympathetic main character at the center of things. Banks is a decent guy, obsessed with music and wine (reading the books is a crash course in jazz) and respectful of his co-workers. That said, I was thinking recently about what makes a book great, rather than just good. And I think it’s theme. read more