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

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

Best of: History Mystery 2021

After we closed the store and my reading was slightly less proscribed by authors visiting or the latest new thing, I realized that one of the genres I truly love is historical mysteries. The range is so wide – in story telling style, in time period, in characters, and the armchair history lessons always, always add to my reading enjoyment.  The fact that the books are set in the past makes the detective rely much more on old fashioned, golden age style sleuthing methods, another attraction, as far as I’m concerned.  Thanks to Mystery Scene Magazine as well as my own reading, I find I read pretty widely in this subgenre.  Here are my 10 favorites this year. One of them I liked so much it’s on my all around top 10 list (stay tuned!) 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

Rhys Bowen: God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen

Poor Lady Georgie.  She’s at last married to Darcy, in residence at a lovely estate, and all she wants is to have a happy family Christmas at her new home.  A typical wish for any young bride, but Georgie seems to have left her planning late, and her invitations are unfortunately declined as all and sundry seem to have made other plans.  Luckily Georgie’s grandfather is able to come, and sadly for Georgie (but happily for the reader) her brother and sister in law, Binky and Fig, also plan to make an appearance. read more

Andrea Penrose: Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens

This is the fifth installment in Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane series, set in London in the early 1800’s.  In each novel, Penrose folds in some sort of scientific discovery, and in this one, the discovery involves a cure for malaria, a huge problem at the time.  Set in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Penrose also includes some real-life scientists (read her interesting author’s note), while at the same time creating an exciting adventure and a bit of romance.

When the series opened, Lady Charlotte Sloane was a widow who had slipped into her late husband’s career as a satiric artist.  She works anonymously, often causing a stir when her work is published in the paper. She assists her now fiancée, Lord Wrexford in investigations. As the book opens, he is introducing her to society at a huge gathering at the Botanical Garden as his future bride.  Unfortunately, a dead body is discovered during the course of the evening, and Wrexford, a now well known amateur sleuth, is called in for advice. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: The Hollywood Spy

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. read more

Allison Montclair: A Rogue’s Company

This has very quickly become one of my favorite and most anticipated series.  Set in London just post war, the main characters are Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge, two opposites who work like clockwork together.  Iris is single and Gwen is a widowed mother living with her in-laws, and the two run a marriage bureau called the “Right Sort”.  Each book opens with the approach of a client, and that sets off whatever delightful chain of events Montclair has in store for her reader.

Iris and Gwen have expanded their business a bit, and now boast a two-room office suite as well as a secretary.  The approach of their first African customer throws them off a tiny bit, but the ladies rally and agree to help find proper, polite Mr. Daile a match.  The book opens with a scene in Africa. It’s brief though memorable, as a boat sinks and many are lost.  Certainly, you will be thinking to yourself, Mr. Daile is connected to this tragedy.  The cagey Montclair reveals no secrets before her time, though. Three books in, I was more than content to leave it in her capable hands and feel certain the link would be made clear.  (Reader, it was). read more

Kathleen Marple Kalb: A Fatal First Night

This is the second in Kathleen Kalb’s delightful series about opera star Ella Shane, who is working in  New York City in 1899.  She and her cousin Tom run an opera company and live agreeably together in a large brownstone with Ella’s parrot, Montezuma.  These books have a really vivacious quality, matching Miss Ella’s own.  Not only is Ella a working woman in 1899, she sings men’s parts – she’s what was known as a “trouser diva”.

Her first nights tend to be problematic, however.  In the first book, as she sang Romeo to her Juliet, Juliet was really dead.  In this book, though the stage portion of her new show goes perfectly, when she comes off stage she discovers one of her co-stars in his dressing room, covered in blood, a dead man at his feet.  The gentle singer is hauled off to the Tombs and Ella tries to wrap her head around his guilt. read more

Mariah Fredericks: Death of a Showman

I love this vibrant, lively, insanely readable series, a series that takes unexpected turns with its characters but still hews to the traditional norms of historical mystery fiction.  The first book in the series, A Death of No Importance, was a fabulous origin story, where ladies’ maid Jane Prescott takes on the nouveau riche Benchley family in the first decade of the twentieth century.  The books are set in New York City and the Benchley girls are viewed as rich upstarts, and Jane’s special charge, Louise, is shy and gauche and seems to fit in nowhere. read more