The sparkling fourth installment to Dianne Freeman’s insanely enjoyable Frances, Lady Harleigh series finds the intrepid Frances on the verge of marriage to her beloved George, only to discover, practically on the eve of her wedding, that George’s wife has appeared. Of course, it’s a misunderstanding, but the social damage is done. Irena, the woman making the claim, appears not only demented but in danger, as she’s been receiving threatening letters.
This was a blast of a read, akin to the kind of great caper novels written in the past by Donald Westlake, and more recently by talented writers like Jeff Cohen and Catriona McPherson. This is a caper novel with a broken heart at the center. While Westlake stuck pretty strictly to the caper element, Cooney brings the reader in emotionally as well.
The story centers on sweet, stoner Freddy, who makes glass beads and pipes for a living, and who has ended up caring for his grandmother who has dementia. Freddy is a regular visitor to his grandmother’s memory care home and knows the staff and patients well. He slips in the back door of the facility and doesn’t sign in, doing this, like everything in his life, just off the grid.
It’s amazing to me that Linda Castillo can work within such a tight construct and still, every time, produce an original and thoughtful book. Her set up: Chief of Police Kate Burkholder, who has grown up Amish, is the insider/outsider head of law enforcement in tiny, Amish centric Painter’s Mill, Ohio. She has connections with the Amish but they don’t fully trust her as she’s left the faith, but she still has insider knowledge of the culture that help her to solve the crimes that occur in her community.
I loved Goodman’s novel last year, The Sea of Lost Girls, and I love this one even more. It’s very of the moment, as it involves a powerful newspaper magnate who has been sexually harassing his female employees. Like last year’s novel, Goodman’s concern is the shame the women feel for something that is not their fault. She expands these horizons, making the book specific (an element in every successful novel, to my mind, is specificity) by tying the shame element to her two main characters as well.
Susan Elia MacNeal somehow manages to write about incredibly dark topics – WWII, the Blitz, Nazis – with a non-heavy hand. She visits the darkness but there’s room in the world of her heroine, Maggie Hope, for light. The last novel, The King’s Justice, saw Maggie truly struggling with the many things she’s seen and experienced since the start of the war. It was a crie de Coeur. In this novel, while she’s about to encounter more terrors, she’s out in Hollywood enjoying the sunshine and the availability of food and drink not seen in England since the war began.
Murder at Keyhaven Castle is the third book in Clara McKenna’s Stella and Lyndy mysteries, set in the New Forest area of England in 1905. I had not read the two previous books, but McKenna gives the reader enough background that I had no problem getting into the book, and I enjoyed it so much that it made me want to read the others.
Stella Kendrick is the daughter of a wealthy horse farmer from Kentucky. Her overbearing, social-climbing father, who had never shown her any love, had taken her to England, ostensibly to buy horses, but really to marry her off to Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst. Lyndy’s aristocratic family has lost their fortune. I was never sure exactly why, and that was probably explained in the earlier books, but it is suggested that Lyndy’s father wasted the family’s money. Stella’s father wants the social connections an aristocratic title would bring. Needless to say, neither of the young people was consulted at the time their fathers planned their engagement. Luckily for them, they fall in love with each other, even though Lyndy’s snobbish, traditionally-minded parents disapprove of Stella’s unconventional ways. Stella and Lyndy share a love of horses and, as it turns out, crime solving.
Elly Griffiths is playing to her strengths with this (seemingly) effortless, blast to read entry in her Ruth Galloway series. Ruth is back home where she belongs, having broken it off with the unfortunate Frank, and she and Nelson are once again having fated and tense encounters. Ruth is now head of the archaeology department at her university, discovering the paperwork and supervision headaches that come with being in charge. She’s especially annoyed by the “new Ruth”, David, the know-it-all older lecturer she herself has hired. He seems to be tagging along everywhere she goes and trying to tell her what to do.
The second in Stewart Taylor’s Maggie D’Arcy series follows her elegiac first outing, The Mountains Wild, my favorite read of 2020. Maggie is a Long Island homicide cop, but as the first novel explored, she has deep roots in Ireland. In the first novel she searches for her long lost cousin’s killer; in the second novel, the crime occurs up the street from her home, but the roots of the story again take her back to Ireland.
She’s left behind a new-old flame in Ireland and has been planning a long vacation there with her daughter to visit him, but she catches a homicide case two days before they plan to leave. When it turns out the victim was Irish, she figures she can combine business and pleasure, and her boss gives her leave to take off.
This is a perfect summer read – short stories are the perfect thing for waits in the car, on a line, at an airport or yes – on the beach before you drift into a sun infused nap. They are even perfect for lunch breaks at the office. Have lunch, read a whole story. Stories are kind of like poetry in that they can’t waste words, are, as the description tells the reader, short, and really must pack a punch and a memory into a short space of time.
These were all fun reads, all set on different beaches from the east coast to Cabo San Lucas (a yummy destination to read about in Eleanor Cawood Jones’ Cabo San Loco). In keeping with the summer theme these were all on the lighter side, some of the stories not even involving a murder. One of the most successful stories, A Tale of Two Sisters by Barb Goffman, has no murder, just some petty theft.
This review comes to us courtesy of Jonathan Wilkins, a poet and cozy aficionado. I’m delighted that the cozy mystery is being taken seriously – as it should be! For more on cozies, you can read my essay here.
For most of us our introduction to the crime fiction genre was through the cozy mystery, and at last we have a critical approach to that almost ignored genre. Ignored because it has not been taken seriously in the past. The advent of Nordic Noir and now Domestic Noir seems to have pushed it further back. Time for the cozy crime to fight back and show its value to the literary world.