Christine Trent: A Murderous Malady

The second book in Christine Trent’s Florence Nightingale series is even more gripping than the first. The story opens with a friend of Florence’s innocently heading to the British Museum with her father and on the way, their carriage is attacked and their driver is killed. Because Florence’s friend is married to the secretary of war, the family wants discretion, and they ask Florence to investigate rather than the police.

Of course Florence is no lady of leisure – she’s running a hospital (the center of the action in the first novel) and in this novel, she’s asked to consult when cholera breaks out in the Soho section of London, a notoriously poor and miserable part of the city. She does agree to take on the investigation though. When another of her friend’s servants turns up at her hospital suffering with cholera, she’s on a tear. read more

Elly Griffiths: The Stone Circle

As Elly Griffiths pens her eleventh Ruth Galloway novel, she comes – appropriately, given the title – almost full circle, back to her first novel.  Cast your mind back to Ruth’s teacher Eric and the henge discovered on the saltmarsh and move forward ten years, and Ruth is now dealing with Eric’s son, Leif, who is in town to look at a newly discovered henge.  Just like 10 years ago, two bodies are discovered on the site, one ancient, and one not so ancient.

Somehow Griffiths’ storytelling style is not only plot oriented, it’s character oriented, so she’s taking into account the many happenings in her character’s lives over the past 10 years.  Ruth is the mother of a 10 year old, thanks to a one night stand with the father, Detective Nelson.  Nelson’s wife is expecting a late in life baby at any moment, which may or may not be Nelson’s – she’d been having an affair.  Their older daughters are unaware that Kate, Ruth and Nelson’s daughter, is their sister. read more

Sujata Massey: The Satapur Moonstone

When you’re young and discover you love reading, nothing is better than finding the kind of book that takes you away and absorbs you for hours.  As a child, I felt this way when I discovered books like The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web and the entire Narnia Chronicles. Transported.

It’s not so common to find this kind of immersive reading experience when you’re an older reader, so discovering one of these reads is a treasure to be cherished.  That’s a long way of saying that Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry series are just such immersive, absorbing and captivating reads. read more

Susanna Calkins: Murder Knocks Twice

Susanna Calkins had a wonderful series set in 17th century England, featuring maid turned bookseller Lucy Campion.  Those were slightly more serious in tone than this delightful new series launch from this talented writer.  Murder Knocks Twice is set in prohibition era Chicago, with all the attendant issues of the mob, the past war, and the depression coming into play.  Series heroine Gina Ricci is out of work and finds a job at a speakeasy through a friend.

She’s a little unsure about working there – she’s worried about what her father will think, for one thing – and for another, she’s replacing a girl who was killed and that makes her slightly wary. Calkins has a brisk story telling style, and she quickly establishes her setting and a wide array of characters.  She’s very good at delineating characters and making them memorable; I was never unsure or trying to remember who she was talking about, and to me, that’s the mark of a very good writer. read more

Mariah Fredericks: Death of a New American

I was knocked out by Mariah Frederick’s first novel, A Death of No Importance, and wasn’t sure how her book about a maid in a wealthy American household slightly after the turn of the century could be translated into a series, but it seems it surely can be. Jane Prescott, a woman of her time in some ways, is grieving over the recent loss of the Titanic like everyone else, but unlike everyone else, she’s shepherding her charge, Miss Louise Benchley, through the trials and tribulations of a giant society wedding. read more

Melanie Golding: Little Darlings

This book was a non stop read of the creepy psychological variety. The book opens with Lauren and her husband Patrick in the hospital as Lauren gives birth to twin boys, Riley and Morgan. While initially Lauren is afraid she won’t love them, that fear is quickly dispelled, but it’s replaced by a more disturbing fear: someone is trying to take the babies.

There’s an epigraph at the beginning of each chapter that grounds the book in the idea of the changeling, an ancient folkloric concept that the real baby is taken and replaced by an elf baby or an ice baby or in Lauren’s case, a river baby. And if this was the straight up thrust of the novel, it would have been almost a cliché. read more

A Chat with Mariah Fredericks

Mariah Fredericks wrote one of my favorite books of 2018, A Death of No Importance, featuring Jane Prescott, maid to the wealthy Benchley family in 1910 New York.  The next book in the series, Death of a New American, will be published in April of 2019. and it’s every bit as terrific, vital, and hard to put down.  Mariah was nice enough to answer a few questions about her books.

Q: I like that you include the Titanic but it’s just almost background. Did you feel that as you were writing a novel set in 1912, it had to be a part of the canvas? How did you approach it? read more

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