Tasha Alexander: Secrets of the Nile

The annual return of Lady Emily – wherever she may journey – is always something to celebrate. In this outing, Tasha Alexander’s 16th, Lady Emily and the dashing Colin have chosen to accompany Colin’s mother on a trip down the Nile.  The host, Lord Deeley, is an admirer of Lady Hargreaves, Colin’s mother, as well as an old friend, and joining the expedition is Colin’s daughter Kat.  Emily has a slightly prickly relationship with both women, one she tries very hard to set right. read more

Andrea Penrose: Murder at the Serpentine Bridge

Murder at the Serpentine Bridge is the sixth installment in Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane Regency mystery series.  As the book opens, in 1814, the two protagonists, the Earl of Wrexford and Lady Charlotte Sloane, are a newly married couple, and Charlotte is trying to get used to life as a countess, while inwardly rebelling against the restrictions of Regency high society.

Wrexford is a man of science, a brilliant chemist, who relies on logic and deductive reasoning to solve crimes.  Charlotte is a satirical cartoonist who uses the pseudonym A.J. Quill.  She had eloped with her drawing teacher when she was very young, and scandalized her family.  Now that her first husband is dead and she is married to Wrexford, she is finally accepted back into polite society.  In contrast to Wrexford, she uses her intuition and artist’s eye to solve murders.  The two complement each other very well.  At first I wondered if the series would not be as compelling now that the two of them are married, but I am happy to say I was wrong.  Wrexford and Charlotte make a great couple, and the witty dialogue which was a strength of the earlier novels is still there. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: Mother Daughter Traitor Spy

In her Maggie Hope series, Susan MacNeal has seemed to be more and more interested in the US side of the outbreak of WWII (see The Hollywood Spy, 2021).  In this novel, a standalone, she pursues that interest, creating a terrifying account of Nazism in America in 1940.  Her central characters, mother and daughter Vi and Veronica, kick off the action with Veronica’s graduation from Hunter College in New York.  Veronica is looking forward to an internship at Mademoiselle magazine, but thanks to an unfortunate turn of events the internship is rescinded. She and her mother, along with her Pasadena based Uncle Walter (in town for her graduation from Hunter) make plans to move to California.  Uncle Walter is willing to let the women live in his beach house. read more

Amanda Flower: Because I Could Not Stop For Death

Amanda Flower’s charming historical mystery is set in the household of Emily Dickinson and her family around 1855.  The main character is not Emily herself (though she is a strong second) but the new maid in the Dickinson household, Willa Noble.  One of the more fascinating aspects of this novel is Flower’s simple ability to put the reader into a different mindset.  Willa, who has always been poor, is grateful for the work and for a roof over her head.  Her simple expectations are so different from the highly enlarged expectations of the early 21st century. read more

Deanna Raybourn: Killers of a Certain Age

This book is an absolute blast.  Hilarious, well plotted, exciting, packed with interesting characters, it is definitely the most fun I’ve had reading a book all year.  As I have read a few books lately with detectives who are on the older side, I thought I knew what to expect, but I was so, so wrong.  Raybourn’s “Killers” are 60 something female assassins who are on a retirement cruise. They are a little puzzled by the cruise but are determined to enjoy each other’s company, the food, and the booze. Their collective bad-assery is a far remove from Jane Marple’s. read more

Ann Cleeves: The Rising Tide

I came late to the Vera Stanhope party, but I am a complete convert.  Whenever she says “Not to worry, pet,” she reminds me so much of my beloved Columbo and his “Just one more thing.”  In this outing, Ann Cleeves does something else she excels at: setting.  This book is set on the remote British island of Lindisfarne, or “Holy Island,” a place not actually an island, but one that becomes an island thanks to rising and falling tides.  That particular detail could not have a more beloved place in the mystery genre, and Ann Cleeves, the ace of setting, does it better than anyone else. read more

Karin Slaughter: Girl, Forgotten

Despite the title of Karin Slaughter’s latest work, Girl, Forgotten, it’s pretty clear that Emily Vaughn’s idyllic little hometown has never truly forgotten her. Told half in the present, where the case has been reopened by newly minted US Marshal Andrea Oliver, and half in the past, where Emily lives out the days before her own murder, her voice isn’t silenced for long. That can make the horrific things she endured – rape by someone who knew she was drugged, ostracization by former friends, loss of her future, and unexpected pregnancy – difficult to bear. It is clear throughout that Emily was a sweet, good person who intended to make the most of her situation moving forward. Unfortunately, she never gets the chance to do so. read more

Vanessa Riley: Murder in Westminster

Sometimes all it takes is a small change in point of view to make a huge difference.  Vanessa Riley’s lively historical mystery set in 1806 London sets itself apart from the several other Regency historicals out there at the moment, simply by creating a black main character.  At the time the black population in London numbered up to 20,000, out of a population of about one million.  They were referred to as Blackamoors and included Africans and East and West Indians.  (Riley’s notes at the back of the book are invaluable.) read more

Faye Kellerman: The Hunt

The Hunt, Faye Kellerman’s latest Decker/Lazarus mystery, is barely their story at all. Instead, it revolves around the toxic, layered relationship of Chris and Terry, the biological parents of Peter and Rina’s adopted son, Gabe. Though Gabe is no longer close to either of his parents, when Terry calls him after she is seriously hurt, he turns to the powerful, mob-connected Chris for help. Terry’s younger son, Sanjay, has been kidnapped during the course of her messy second divorce. Chris seems the obvious choice to help get him back. read more

Rosalind Stopps: A Beginner’s Guide to Murder

This book was – surprisingly – both charming and touching, along with being a suspenseful caper novel. Three older women – Grace, Daphne and Meg – are sitting in a London coffee shop together when a young, frightened girl lurches in.  She heads for the restroom, and not long after a suspicious man comes in, claiming she’s his daughter.  They tell him they’ve seen nothing and watch him leave, then they immediately scoot out the back, taking the young woman with them.

As the title indicates, these women are beginners in the art of murder, but their target is immediately obvious.  What isn’t obvious are the personalities and characteristics of the women, and the author goes back in time to flesh out each character’s backstory, so the reader can see what shaped each one.  While the three hadn’t really known each other well before the coffee shop incident, they are united in their desire to save the young girl, Nina.  The real heartbreaker of the book is Nina’s story. read more