Anna Lee Huber: An Artless Demise

The seventh in Huber’s enjoyable Lady Darby series, this novel finds the lovely and talented Kiera happily married to investigator Sebastian Gage and pregnant with her first child. At this point, the talented Huber is a nice cross between the romance of Tasha Alexander and the social commentary that Anne Perry focuses on in her novels. In 1830’s London, there’s plenty of social injustice to go around, though that is far from Huber’s main theme.

I’ve always loved the premise of these novels. Kiera is a painter who was forced, under her first husband’s tutelage, to create precise anatomical drawings from corpses he obtained probably through illegal means. At the time, the idea of an autopsy or of learning from a human body was considered something of a scandal. When Kiera’s first husband dies, she’s forced to retreat to her sister’s home in Scotland because her work for her husband has made her notorious.
It gives Kiera a fabulous backstory – her first husband’s treatment of her is always at the back of her mind, and her lack of acceptance by conventional members of the “ton” make every social occasion a minefield. Luckily, her present husband, Gage, is a model of kindness and they are a wonderful detecting pair. read more

Maureen Jennings: Heat Wave

This book is available on April 30, 2019.

The prolific Maureen Jennings begins a new series with Heat Wave, set in 1936 Toronto, which is experiencing a particularly brutal heat wave.  The main character is young Charlotte Frayne, a fledgling private eye who works for the usually unflappable Thaddeus Gilmore.  When she arrives at work the day the book opens, though, Mr. Gilmore has received a particularly nasty piece of hate mail, and he hurries off.

When he’s away, several things happen.  One of them is that owner of the nearby Paradise Café comes by and asks Gilmore and associates to look into some theft going on at his restaurant. The other is a call from Mr. Gilmore, informing Charlotte that his wife has been taken to the hospital, the victim of some type of attack. read more

Rhys Bowen: The Victory Garden

We are welcoming a new reviewer, Cathy Akers-Jordan, an avid mystery fan, long time Aunt Agatha’s customer and all around lovely human.  Her more official bio follows this review.

Towards the end of WWI, 21-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She defies her parents and joins the Women’s Land Army. What follows is a coming-of-age story full of history, romance, and a little mystery with a satisfying twist at the end.

What makes the story fascinating is the focus on how British women adapt to their new roles while the men are at war. Even in the tiny village of Bucksley Cross on the edge of Dartmoor, where Emily ends up, social dynamics are turned upside down. There are no more servants because women are busy doing men’s work: planting, tending, and harvesting crops; caring for livestock; and running all the shops in the village, including the Blacksmith’s forge. Women from all classes of life work together side by side, freeing themselves from their corsets and social classes, in order to feed Britain. read more

Claire Harman: Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

Like many True Crime books, Murder by the Book starts with a bloody crime, a man with his throat cut in his own bed. London in 1840 was a pretty grim place, but the reason this crime became a veritable national sensation didn’t have much to do with the gore of the thing or the apparent brazenness of it, but the simple fact that it happened to a member of the uppermost crust, Lord William Russell. Forget the miserable and dangerous lives of the poor, when an aristocrat got murdered, the new consort, Prince Albert, and the old general, the Duke of Wellington, wanted to see the matter cleared up as soon as possible. read more

Sujata Massey: The Widows of Malabar Hill

I was a totally geeked out fan of Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura series about a Japanese American antiques dealer living in Japan.  The books became progressively better and better as the series went forward, and Massey has apparently brought all the knowledge and expertise gained in writing those eleven books to good use in delivering this bravura work of historical fiction.

Set in 1920’s India, young Perveen Mistry is a lawyer – extremely unusual for the time and place – working for her father’s law firm, and though she’s not allowed to argue cases in court she can do all the research and contract work needed by the firm.  Coming across her somewhat sparsely populated desk is the case of a will for three widows who were married to the same man.  Their male agent has submitted documents stating that the women want to give up their inheritance and donate it to a charity instead, and the document is signed by all three. read more

Start at the very beginning

An overview of First in Series books: find them for sale in our online store.

We’re offering these first in series titles for a couple reasons – one, some are hard to find and mystery readers like to read a series in order!  And secondly, while many of you may be familiar with these series, you may have only read the later books.  These are all incredible starts to great characters and stories.  Reading through all of them will give you a great overview of contemporary mystery fiction, in all its many threads – private eye, police, cozy, British procedural, historical.  Setting has proven to be key for the modern mystery as has a broader array of character types, ranging from Tony Hillerman’s iconic Joe Leaphorn to James Lee Burke’s P.I. Dave Robichaux to Laura Lippman’s kick-ass Tess Monaghan to Dorthy Gilman’s sweet old lady CIA agent Mrs. Pollifax.  If you had walked in to our store, we would have recommended these titles to you depending on your interest.  One of our all time bestsellers was Deborah Crombie’s spectacular debut, A Share in Death.  We hope you’ll dig in!  Here’s a list, and you can find them for sale on the online store page. read more

Candace Robb: A Murdered Peace

The third in Candace Robb’s Kate Clifford series, set in 1400 York, finds much has changed in Kate’s world.  Kate, a widow who had been shackled by her late husband’s debts, has at last paid them off.  She’s a happy mother to her wards – two of them her late husband’s illegitimate children – but she loves all three of her children, one of them saved from the streets of York, equally.  Her household is a bustling and happy one.

As the book opens, a friend appears of her doorstep in a snowstorm, requesting shelter.  Kate unthinkingly takes her in and only on reflection realizes the danger of taking in a woman who may be regarded at the worst as a traitor, at the least as a fugitive and corpse thief.  The woman, Lady Kirkby, has witnessed the beheading of her husband during an uprising in nearby Cirencester. read more

Lynne Truss: A Shot in the Dark

While I was hesitant to pick up this novel – Truss is best known for her grammar book Eats, Shoots and Leaves – I was smitten by her introduction where she confessed her goal of becoming a member of the Detection Club.  After reading that, I was all in, and the book took me the rest of the way on its own.  This is the kind of funny, dry, intelligent humor the Brits do so well, and the set up is delicious.

The novel is set in Brighton in 1957, and makes frequent reference to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, a classic novel about gangs.  Truss’s Brighton, while also beset by gangs, is a slightly less ominous place.  The story opens as Inspector Steine is greeted by a new and enthusiastic recruit, Constable Twitten.  Steine is pretty oblivious and only interested in resting on his past laurels – where two rival gangs took themselves out under his watch – he now insists, Stalin-like, that there is no more crime in Brighton. read more

Jonathan F. Putnam: Final Resting Place

This is a lovely series, full of energy and insight.  This installment, set during the election season of 1838 in Springfield, Illinois, follows the story of a man shot during the 4th of July fireworks and his subsequent trial, where his defense is taken on by Abraham Lincoln.  The two central characters in this series are Joshua Fry Speed, known to history as Lincoln’s best friend, and Lincoln himself.

Why, you may say to yourself, I know all about Abraham Lincoln.  Unless you are an historian, I assure you, you do not.  Putnam has chosen to set his series during Lincoln’s younger years, before marriage to Mary Todd, when he’s living what was then a hardscrabble life as a lawyer.  He and Speed share one bed in a rooming house; there’s another bed in their room shared by two other men. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: The Prisoner in the Castle

The Prisoner in the CastleIt’s 1942, and SOE agent Maggie Hope is stuck in the wilds of Scotland, essentially on a time out from the war. She and her fellow inmates on the Isle of Scarra are sequestered there because they know too much or seem to be in danger of spilling what they do know. Maggie, who was whisked to Scarra fresh from a Gestapo interrogation in Paris (The Paris Spy), is resentful she’s not doing her bit for the war effort. Her fellow inmates have all been traumatized by their war experience in various ways, but all of them feel the same as Maggie. Unfortunately, news of the war is almost non-existent and contact with anyone back home is completely non-existent. read more