Erica Ruth Neubauer: Murder at the Mena House

Erica Ruth Neubauer’s debut novel is lots of fun, much in the vein of Kerry Greenwood’s delightful Phryne Fisher books. It’s 1926 and Jane Wunderly is on vacation with her slightly prickly Aunt Millie, from her dead husband’s side of the family.  Aunt Millie has selected the exclusive Mena House in Cairo for their trip, a place nearly at the foot of the Great Pyramids. (It’s also the spot where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile).

While this novel is steeped in all things Egyptian – camel races, pyramids, the sphinx, stolen and found artifacts, along with a visit to the museum – it is not about an archeologist or archaeology.   I thought this was an interesting choice given the time and place, but a sensible one.  It allowed Neubauer to tell a full on traditional golden age style detective story. read more

Mariah Fredericks: Death of an American Beauty

I remember when Rhys Bowen started writing her Molly Murphy series.  I inhaled them the second they were published.  I loved (and still do) the mix of the feisty Molly, her journey of discovery as a new immigrant, the clever mysteries, and the turn of the century settings.  Rhys Bowen has the gift of narrative.  I am so happy to tell you – because I want to make you a fellow fan – that Mariah Fredericks has that very same gift.

I have so far inhaled all three of her books featuring ladies’ maid Jane Prescott, who works for the wealthy Mrs. Louise Tyler around the 1910’s.  She has a way with a story, and a way of getting you to care about and be invested in her characters.  In this novel Jane is on “vacation”, so she goes home.  Home for Jane is a refuge for fallen women, run by her uncle, a Presbyterian pastor.  He takes women who come from the streets and gives them a place to live, something to eat, and a little hope for the future and a different way of earning a living. read more

Harlan Coben: the Boy from the Woods

Harlan Coben’s The Boy from the Woods is one of his fresher – and angrier – books in awhile.  He’s using lawyer Hester Crimstein as his main character (mostly), and as readers, we get some of the fierce Hester’s backstory, as she listens to her grandson when he tells her he’s worried about the disappearance of a bullied girl in his class.

There’s also the titular character, the “boy from the woods,” aka Wilde, a man who was discovered as a 6 or 8 year old in the woods, apparently having survived living on his own for quite a while.  He learned English from breaking into abandoned homes and watching television but as a grown man, he’s still most comfortable alone in the woods. read more

Julia Spencer-Fleming: Hid from Our Eyes

If you’re a fan of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s, you’ll be delighted to know that Hid From Our Eyes picks up right where One Was a Soldier left off.  Since it’s been awhile I’ll recap: Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband Russ Van Alstyne have welcomed their first child (read the book to find out the child’s name and sex).  Clare is in addiction recovery, and believably – for anyone familiar with addiction – she teeters from sober to wishing she wasn’t.  That’s the rich background. read more

Cara Black: Three Hours in Paris

This book will be available on April 7, 2020.

This ticking clock thriller feels like the book Cara Black has long wanted to write, it’s so explosive, so taut, and so impossible to stop reading.  The propulsive narrative follows Kate Rees, a young American sent to assassinate Hitler when he visits Paris for three hours in 1940.  The set up introduces Kate as she’s waiting with her sniper rifle for Hitler’s appearance; then it goes back in time, very briefly, to establish Kate as a person.  She’d been living in Scotland with her Welsh husband and their baby daughter when she loses them both to a German bomb, making her determined to fight the Germans with every bit of herself. read more

Carol Goodman: The Sea of Lost Girls

Carol Goodman’s luscious prose doesn’t mask her storytelling drive, and it’s a haunting and unforgettable combination.  The Sea of Lost Girls is set at a girl’s boarding school in Maine, centering on the family of Tess, Harmon and Rudy.  Tess and Harmon both work at the school; Rudy is Tess’s son and Harmon’s stepson, as well as a student at the school. The book kicks off with him texting his mother in the middle of the night, and she rushes off to find out what’s wrong.

As a reader, I was instantly drawn into the dynamic between Tess and her son, who has had some troubles but whom she loves fiercely.  Her greatest goal is that of any mother’s: to protect him.  And, as it turns out, he needs it.  His girlfriend, Lila, whom he had been fighting with, turns up dead the next morning and suspicion falls on both Rudy and Harmon in turn. read more

Serena Kent: Death in Avignon

This was a delicious slice of armchair travel – I have never personally been to Provence, but I think my new life goal might be to get there.  Serena Kent’s British heroine, Penelope Kite, has started over in Provence after a divorce and seeing her children out of the nest.  She’s rehabbed a gorgeous old stone farmhouse (I’m assuming it’s gorgeous, because, by the sound of the book, everything in Provence is gorgeous). She lives a pleasant life walking into the village for croissants, eating lots of incredible sounding meals, drinking wine that sounds just as luscious, practicing her cello, and oh yes – she has a flair for detection. read more

Lori Rader-Day: The Lucky One

The Lucky One follows the stories of Alice Fine, who as a child emerged unscathed from a kidnapping, and Merrily Cruz, who wants badly to find her missing father – or the closest approximation to a father that she’s known.  Rader-Day, in her typical fashion, fleshes out these women’s stories with psychological background to each character, building and building them, until the two women practically become real.

Alice’s obsession with her kidnapping leads her to a website called The Doe Pages, where people are searching for the lost.  She’s drawn to it and she also thinks maybe she can find her kidnapper there.  Her life is a little shut off – she’s broken up with her fiancée and she lives alone.  She works in the office of the family construction company, with her father and uncle as benevolent bosses.  The women on the Doe Pages, strangers, become acquaintances, then friends. read more

Simone St. James: The Sun Down Motel

Simone St. James is one of the best of all modern gothic novelists, and importantly, the ghosts in her books are real, they’re not actually mysterious human strangers hanging around in vacant buildings for nefarious reasons.  She combines her ghost stories with cracking good mysteries, an irresistible combination, and unlike practically any other mystery novelist, the characters are pretty much exclusively female.  There are a few male characters for sure, but they are more on the window dressing side of things.  It’s the ladies that carry the narrative. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: The King’s Justice

This title will be available February 25, 2020.

As I was writing my review, instead of adding “Susan Elia MacNeal” as the author, I almost typed “Maggie Hope,” so indelible and real has this character become.  Maggie, the red haired spitfire who began the first book as Churchill’s secretary, has now left the SOE (Secret Executive Organization) after being sequestered on a Scottish island (see The Prisoner in the Castle).  It’s now 1943 and she’s defusing bombs for the war effort. read more