Clara McKenna: Murder at Morrington Hall

This book will be available May 28, 2019.

The first book in the Stella and Lyndy series, Murder at Morrington Hall, is not your typical rich-American-heiress-marries-broke-English-aristocrat story. Kentuckian Stella Kendrick loves horses more than anything in the world. It’s 1905, and she’s excited to journey with her father to deliver thoroughbreds to an English Earl. Upon arrival at Morrington Hall, the Earl and his Countess are appalled at Stella’s straightforward America manners and her lack of understanding of their aristocratic titles and way of life. Their son, Viscount “Lyndy” Lundhurst is utterly charmed. read more

Christine Trent: A Murderous Malady

The second book in Christine Trent’s Florence Nightingale series is even more gripping than the first. The story opens with a friend of Florence’s innocently heading to the British Museum with her father and on the way, their carriage is attacked and their driver is killed. Because Florence’s friend is married to the secretary of war, the family wants discretion, and they ask Florence to investigate rather than the police.

Of course Florence is no lady of leisure – she’s running a hospital (the center of the action in the first novel) and in this novel, she’s asked to consult when cholera breaks out in the Soho section of London, a notoriously poor and miserable part of the city. She does agree to take on the investigation though. When another of her friend’s servants turns up at her hospital suffering with cholera, she’s on a tear. read more

Sujata Massey: The Satapur Moonstone

When you’re young and discover you love reading, nothing is better than finding the kind of book that takes you away and absorbs you for hours.  As a child, I felt this way when I discovered books like The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web and the entire Narnia Chronicles. Transported.

It’s not so common to find this kind of immersive reading experience when you’re an older reader, so discovering one of these reads is a treasure to be cherished.  That’s a long way of saying that Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry series are just such immersive, absorbing and captivating reads. read more

Susanna Calkins: Murder Knocks Twice

Susanna Calkins had a wonderful series set in 17th century England, featuring maid turned bookseller Lucy Campion.  Those were slightly more serious in tone than this delightful new series launch from this talented writer.  Murder Knocks Twice is set in prohibition era Chicago, with all the attendant issues of the mob, the past war, and the depression coming into play.  Series heroine Gina Ricci is out of work and finds a job at a speakeasy through a friend.

She’s a little unsure about working there – she’s worried about what her father will think, for one thing – and for another, she’s replacing a girl who was killed and that makes her slightly wary. Calkins has a brisk story telling style, and she quickly establishes her setting and a wide array of characters.  She’s very good at delineating characters and making them memorable; I was never unsure or trying to remember who she was talking about, and to me, that’s the mark of a very good writer. read more

Mariah Fredericks: Death of a New American

I was knocked out by Mariah Frederick’s first novel, A Death of No Importance, and wasn’t sure how her book about a maid in a wealthy American household slightly after the turn of the century could be translated into a series, but it seems it surely can be. Jane Prescott, a woman of her time in some ways, is grieving over the recent loss of the Titanic like everyone else, but unlike everyone else, she’s shepherding her charge, Miss Louise Benchley, through the trials and tribulations of a giant society wedding. read more

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