Elly Griffiths: The Locked Room

I have devoured every word of the Ruth Galloway series, and each time I pick one up, I am reminded again what wonderful, pure reads these books are.  From the second you crack open the first page to the moment you close the cover at the end, Griffiths as a storyteller holds her reader completely in her grasp.  Under her spell.  Bewitched. This book is no different, though it was, to me, a bit more intense and a bit more grim as she confronts covid front and center.

It is historically significant to have lived through a pandemic – and we seem to be emerging from it at last – but as you live through something historically significant, you have no actual perspective.  A start to gaining some perspective is to read a thoughtful examination of just what happened, which Griffiths provides her reader. As the book opens, Ruth is teaching an archeology class and she gets a call that there’s body on a construction site.  She takes the class along as a learning experience, event letting the students bag up the bones for transportation at the end.  The students are curious to discover if the body comes from a plague pit, a foreshadowing of what’s to come. read more

Dianne Freeman: A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder

I knew from Dianne Freeman’s first book that this was a special series, and the subsequent books have done absolutely nothing to change my initial opinion.  In this installment, she manages to carry off the wedding of the main character without destroying the interest and tension in the novel.  I can think of other series where a wedding can prove to be a disaster for the characters and only one other historical series, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books, where that was not the case.  So, bravo to Ms. Freeman right off the bat, before I even got to the heart of the book (the wedding happens at the very beginning). read more

Sarah Stewart Taylor: The Drowning Sea

The third novel in Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Maggie D’Arcy series finds Maggie at a crossroads.  Formerly a Long Island cop, she’s now unemployed, and in Ireland with her daughter, on holiday with her boyfriend, Connor and his son. The first novel was Maggie’s journey backwards: she looked for the killer of her cousin, who had disappeared in Ireland twenty years before.  The second novel finds her investigating a crime that begins on a Long Island beach but has roots in Ireland.  This third novel finds her firmly in Ireland, planning to move there, and deciding what she should do as far as a new career.  As the book makes obvious, she very much misses police work and hates being on the outside looking in (this is a clue to her eventual decision, but it’s hardly a spoiler). read more

Sulari Gentill: The Woman in the Library

This odd, endearing and weirdly tricky book is a meta meditation on the traditional detective story.  Playing off of Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library, author Sulari Gentill yanks this classic into the present.  In Christie’s Body the corpse of an apparently unknown young woman appears in the library of a private home.  In Gentill’s update, four young people are sitting near each other in the Boston Public library.  The main character, Freddie (or Winifred), a mystery writer, is working on a new book and she’s observed the others sitting near her, giving them nicknames as she slots them into a possible book.  Freud girl, Heroic Chin and Handsome Man have all invaded her imagination, when their real iterations hear a blood-curdling scream. read more

Siena Sterling: Tell Us No Secrets

Set at a girl’s boarding school in 1970, Siena Sterling’s debut novel was immediately attractive to me, as a 1977 graduate of a girl’s boarding school myself.  There is no doubt Ms. Sterling attended boarding school as the details are pretty much spot on. Happily, I had a much better experience than the four girls in the novel, Abby, Zoey, Cassidy and Karen. Boarding school is a time of intense bonding – girls are there from the ages of 14 to 17 or 18 – and as that coincides with the surge of adolescence and self discovery, the friendships formed during that time of your life often prove to be the most indelible. read more

Catherine Lloyd: Miss Morton and The English House Party Murder

This charming first in a series has some kissing cousins – it bears a resemblance to Dianne Freeman’s Lady Harleigh series and to Darcie Wilde’s Rosalind Thorne books.  Set in the same time period, 1830’s Britain, this book has a vivid, fast paced story telling style that makes it difficult to put down.  Young Lady Caroline Morton has been disgraced by her father’s bankruptcy and suicide, so she’s left her aunt’s household and is – gasp – earning a wage as the companion of Mrs. Frogerton, a forthright, wealthy widow who is sending her daughter, Dorothy, out into the wilds of the London “season.” read more

Juliet Blackwell: The Paris Showroom

This is not a mystery, but an historical novel by the talented Juliet Blackwell, who has two cozy series to her credit as well as several novels.  This novel is set in a now very familiar time period: WWII.  Blackwell’s story takes place in occupied France, and she has a slightly different and original twist to her story.  The main characters are Capucine, a fan maker, and her estranged daughter, Mathilde.  The two live lives that haven’t intersected much, but this is not only the story of Mathilde’s growth from a callow, privileged young woman into something much more, but the story of Capucine, a true flapper in every way, who is now being held prisoner by the Nazis on the top floor of a Paris department store. read more

Brian Klingborg: Wild Prey

This is the second novel about Inspector Lu Fei, who works in a small town outside of Harbin, China.  The charm of the first novel, Thief of Souls, were the inner workings of a small town Chinese police department and the lives of the officers, including and especially Lu Fei, who is an incredibly appealing character.  In Wild Prey Lu Fei remains appealing, but the topic Klingborg has chosen to spotlight is far more difficult.  The first novel was a serial killer story; this one focuses on the illegal (and immoral) killing of rare animals for food. read more

Stacey Halls: Mrs. England

If a publisher is going to send an anglophile like myself a book titled “Mrs. England,” well, I’m going to read it.  I was not disappointed, and I was instantly immersed in the story of Norland nanny Ruby May, a 1904 graduate of the now famous school (the nannies trained there are hired by royal families today).  In 1904 the school was new, and the idea of any training or learning about childcare was a novelty, as were the distinctive uniforms the Norland nannies wore (and still wear to this day.) read more

Kathleen Marple Kalb: A Fatal Overture

A Fatal Overture is the third in Kathleen Marple Kalb’s wonderful mystery series set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, featuring opera singer Ella Shane, a mezzo soprano “trouser diva,” known for singing male roles.  Ella, the daughter of an Irish father and a Jewish mother, grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side and was orphaned at an early age.  The trauma of finding her mother’s body, frozen to death in their tiny room, has never truly left Ella.  After being raised by her aunt on her father’s side of the family, Ella found a mentor, a famous opera singer, who discovered she had a great voice, and so, by the time the series begins, Ella has also become famous.  She owns her own company and lives in a brownstone on Washington Square with her cousin Tommy, the son of the aunt who brought her up.  Tommy, a former champion boxer, is a closeted gay man who manages her career and helps her fend off unwelcome admirers. read more