Charles Todd: A Game of Fear

Through now 24 novels, Charles and Caroline Todd have provided their readers with excellence, pure and simple.  The first novel in the Rutledge series, A Test of Wills, is a classic, and the rest of the series, elegiac, carefully plotted, and richly characterized, have all been solid and worthy reads. Sadly, this is the last novel written in collaboration with Caroline Todd, who passed away in 2021. She leaves a huge legacy.

In this novel, set in 1921, Inspector Rutledge has been called in from Scotland Yard to look at a case in Essex.  He goes where he’s sent by his higher ups, but he is puzzled to be looking in a case that seems to involve a ghost.  No-one is better than the Todds at setting up a disturbing premise that sticks in your mind as you read, wondering what’s going on.  Twenty-four books in, I was pretty comfortable waiting to discover the solution. read more

John Keyse-Walker: Palms, Paradise, Poison

This is the third book in John Keyse-Walker’s enjoyable Teddy Creque series, set on the fictional island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. Similar in tone and feel to the TV series Death in Paradise, Keyse-Walker’s main character is not an imported British superintendent, but an island born constable, risen to the top of the heap in tiny Anegada.  He’s also a fisherman, and his community plays a huge part in the story.

While the first book in the series was a traditional police procedural story with the added zing of the Caribbean setting, this one is a stripped down wonder that embraces the setting completely.  The book opens with a hurricane hitting the island (a sadly common occurrence in the Virgin Islands), and Teddy, while trying to evacuate the islanders to safety further inland, goes out to rescue a fellow fisherman who is out in one of the worst storms in island memory. read more

G.M. Malliet: Death in Cornwall

I was (am) a giant fan of Malliet’s Max Tudor series.  I had always been aware of the St. Just series, but had never read one, and I am now a giant fan of this series as well.  There are really very few practitioners of the traditional British detective novel working at the moment, and Malliet is one of the best.  Her novels are very much golden age in pattern, with a series detective, a fast paced and tidy narrative, and in this case, a setting to die for – the Cornish coast.

Using a trope beloved of novelists from Agatha Christie to Deborah Crombie to Louise Penny, St. Just is on vacation with his fiancée (the wittily named Portia De’Ath – I hope she keeps her maiden name!) Like Crombie’s Duncan and Penny’s Gamache, St. Just seems to be the calm center of the storm.  It made it completely believable that the local constabulary would turn to him for advice. read more

Jane K. Cleland: Jane Austen’s Lost Letters

Long ago in a village named St. Mary Meade lived a spinster named Miss Marple, who could, through her knowledge of human nature, solve crimes.  Thanks to her status as an older lady who knitted and gardened, she was frequently overlooked and underestimated.  This was an asset to Miss Marple.  Fast forward to the present day.  The slew of amateur female detectives at work in the form of the contemporary cozy novel are not overlooked (though many of them are starting over).  They are strong women who in general run their own businesses and have successful relationships.  It’s no longer an asset to be overlooked – in fact, one of the characters in Jane Cleland’s new book has “Be Bold” tattooed on her arm. read more

Rachel Kapelke-Dale: The Ballerinas

This is a delicious swoon of a book.  It’s not a mystery though there are some (very) low level crimes involved, but it’s mostly a story about ballet, female friendship, and the efforts women make to be heard and acknowledged in their lives, professional and personal.  The central character is Delphine Legere, and as the book opens, she’s a young student at the Paris Opera Ballet (POB), an elite dance training school.  Delphine and her best friend, the tempestuous Margaux, are challenged by the arrival of the beautiful American student, Lindsay. read more

Darcie Wilde: A Counterfeit Suitor

This review is by our frequent reviewer Vicki Kondelik.

A Counterfeit Suitor is the fifth in the Rosalind Thorne series of Regency mysteries by Darcie Wilde (a pseudonym for Sarah Zettel).  Rosalind is a gentlewoman living in reduced circumstances after her father–an alcoholic, gambler, and forger–left England to escape his debts and avoid criminal charges for forging promissory notes.  He had taken Rosalind’s sister Charlotte to Paris with him, while Rosalind and her mother stayed in England.  Her mother has died since these events took place, a few years before the beginning of the series, and Charlotte has become a courtesan.  To support herself, Rosalind solves problems for gentlewomen in trouble, to avoid family scandals.  Usually, that means investigating murders with the help of her love interest, handsome Bow Street Runner Adam Harkness. read more

Paige Shelton: Dark Night

This is the third in Paige Shelton’s insanely enjoyable Alaska wild series, set in tiny Benedict and featuring Beth Rivers, who is hiding out. She’d been kidnapped and got away, though sustaining a concussion and other injuries as well as suffering from PTSD.  She is wary when she arrives in Alaska but by book three has begun to relax into life in Benedict – more or less.

She had left the lower 48 after her kidnapping, leaving the hospital against her doctor’s orders and in fear of the man who took her, who so far in the series has not been captured (though I’m assuming that will eventually happen).  She’s also a well known writer under a pen name, so she’s able to maintain cover by writing the tiny town paper while using the paper’s “office” – a tiny shack behind the library (good wifi and cell phone coverage, which happens few other places in town).  She’s made a connection with the librarian, a stoner Willie Nelson type who nevertheless has some special ops skills as far as obtaining information goes. read more

Alice Henderson: A Blizzard of Polar Bears

These books – two so far – are a mix of adventure, climate change despair, and appreciation and love of the natural world and the creatures that share the planet with us.  In the first book, Henderson’s protagonist, Dr. Alex Carter, left Boston to study wolverines in Montana.  As that study winds down in book two, she’s delighted to get a call from a colleague, asking her to fill in for her on a polar bear study in Churchill, Manitoba.

Thrilled, Alex jumps at the chance and hops on a plane.  She’s used to solitude and her main points of contact are a buddy who is an actor and her father.  While Churchill would be no one’s idea of the big city, to Alex, it almost is, as she’ll be working at a large center with other scientists.  She’s happy enough to be able to stay in a motel on her own instead of the center’s quarters. read more

Lori Rader-Day: Death at Greenway

The most towering figure in mystery fiction is Agatha Christie.  She created and influenced countless plots and tropes, and invented iconic detectives.  Surely no mystery writer can set a pen to paper without feeling in her debt.  Re-paying this debt with her impressionistic Death at Greenway is Lori Rader-Day, a writer known for multiple point of view novels and indirect storytelling.  Her style could not be further from Agatha’s, but – there’s still that debt to be paid.

The book is set during WWII at Mrs. Christie’s summer home, Greenway, in Devon.  During the war the Mallowans (for that was Agatha’s married name) lent their house to a war nursery – or to children evacuated from London, cared for by nurses.  Rader-Day has chosen to focus her story on Bridget Kelly, a failed nurse in training, who takes up the war nursery job out of desperation. read more

Craig Johnson: Daughter of the Morning Star

This review is by our frequent guest reviewer, Cathy Akers-Jordan.

Walt Longmire has been in some awkward and dangerous situations during his decades as Sheriff of Absaroka county. This year he faces one he had no way of anticipating: guarding a Indian teenage girls’ basketball team. Longmire, big, tough, and a man of few words, is clearly out of his depth. He survives but only due to the help of best friend Henry Standing Bear and Deputy Vic Moretti.

The story focuses on Jaya Long, niece of Tribal Police Chief Lolo Long. A year after Jaya’s sister Jeanie disappears, Jaya begins to receive threatening notes. Knowing she’s unlikely to keep her niece safe when she’s off the rez, Chief Long recruits Walt and Henry to do so and to find whoever is sending notes. Complicating the situation is Jaya’s status as a superstar basketball player. Traveling to other schools for away games means there are more opportunities for someone to kidnap or kill Jaya. read more