Libby Hellman is known for her slightly gritty mysteries set in Chicago, often reaching back into the past. Her first novel, An Eye for Murder (2002) looked back to the holocaust; she’s ventured to Cuba, to the 60’s in the United States, to WWII, and to Iran. This is her first novel, however, that’s straight up history. She sets it in Vietnam in 1968, during the war. As someone who came of age in the late 70’s, the Vietnam War wasn’t history. It was news. It was classmates wearing POW and MIA bracelets. It was on TV and in the newspapers almost every day.
To my mind, historical mysteries are some of the best mysteries being written at the moment. They combine classic elements of detective fiction, unmarred by cell phones or computers, and combine it with fascinating time periods and characters. These wonderful books are now all available to order on our website, along with many other historical mysteries (have a browse!) Kathleen Marple Kalb’s first novel came out this April, a difficult time for a first novel, with no bookstore events or conferences to attend. I am not a fan of the cover art, but I am a huge fan of this charming debut. My review ran in Mystery Scene, and you can read it here. The main character, Ella Shane, is a “trouser diva”, an opera singer who sings men’s roles in 1899. At the time, opera was a travelling proposition, as the Met was new. If you enjoy books by C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber or Dianne Freeman, check this one out.
James R. Benn continues to explore all the nooks and crannies of the mystery genre, keeping things fresh even in book 15 of this long lived and now beloved series. Main series character Billy Boyle started as a beat cop in Boston, learning the “job” from his father and uncles, who get him a (supposedly) soft wartime post with “Uncle Ike”. As any reader of this series knows, Billy becomes an investigator, finding the smaller crimes within the larger confines of WWII. Sometimes the war is front and center but Benn is always a meticulously detailed pure mystery writer, making his books a real pleasure to read.
Every year, for many years now, I’ve set aside a day. If I’m lucky, and there are no distractions, it’s a whole delicious day devoted to Rhys Bowen. This year that day came August 4, when I cracked open the new Lady Georgie mystery, The Last Mrs. Summers, Rhys Bowen’s take on the classic Rebecca.
Georgie is a newlywed with her own house to run – Queenie making scones in the kitchen and starting (hardly any) fires – and life with Darcy to enjoy. Unfortunately, in the first chapter Darcy is off on assignment and when the lonely Georgie goes up to town her friends and even her grandfather are all busy. Dejected, she heads back home, only to run into her buddy Belinda, who has just inherited a place in Cornwall. She and Georgie decide to head to Cornwall to check it out together in quick order.
This delightful series continues to enchant. The first book introduced the widowed Frances, Lady Harleigh, rich and on the loose in 1890’s London for the first time. By this third installment, she’s engaged, is busy with her daughter, Rose, and is supervising the wedding plans for her sister Lily, who is inconveniently pregnant.
Frances is nothing if not practical, and she and her fiancée George quickly arrange for Lily to be married from George’s family seat while George’s brother is abroad. The wedding party is smallish, but for a house party – and a pool of murder suspects – plenty big enough. Combining the classic British house party whodunnit with a lighter, funnier version of an historical cozy, Freeman is a deft hand with both narrative and character, and she keeps things percolating.
I loved the first book in this series, The Right Sort of Man, and I loved this installment every bit as much. Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge own The Right Sort marriage bureau, operating in post war London, and while they are still working to match couples, they do seem to get caught up in a great deal of subterfuge. Which, for the lucky reader, is all to the good.
As Iris and Gwen are working away one day, their afternoon appointment turns out to be an envoy from the royal household, with the hope that Iris and Gwen can vet a possible marriage candidate for the young Princess Elizabeth. This of course is none other than Prince Philip, and as any devoted royal watcher knows, Philip’s backstory is almost like a novel. The talented Montclair takes this fact and runs with it.
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.
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.
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.
For our March book club, we’ll read Wilkie Collin’s 1871 classic, The Moonstone. We are meeting on Thursday, March 26, 6 p.m. at Seva, which is at Westgate shopping center. This book is Victorian so the writing is more flowery and detailed than you might be used to but the story it fantastic and the basis for so many other detective stories throughout history. From a review on NPR by Chitra Divakaruni in 2013:
“I was struck by how masterfully Collins pulls together the different strands of a complicated plot. T.S. Eliot called The Moonstone “the first, the longest, and the best of the modern English detective novel.” I could see why. Reading the book was a little like seeing the Wright brothers maneuvering their first aircraft, except there was no awkward bucking, no crashes.