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.
Murder at Wedgefield Manor is the delightful second book in Erica Ruth Neubauer’s series set in the 1920s, featuring the adventurous American World War I widow Jane Wunderly. After solving a mystery in Egypt in the first book, Murder at the Mena House, Jane, her matchmaking Aunt Millie, and Millie’s secret daughter Lillian arrive at Wedgefield Manor, the English country estate of Lord Hughes, who had been Millie’s lover years ago. Quite possibly, Millie and Hughes are rekindling their romance. Lillian is the product of their brief affair. Lord Hughes and his wife had adopted Lillian and raised her as their own, and as far as Jane knows, Lillian is not aware of the fact that Millie is her mother–a fact that Jane had uncovered in the course of her investigation in Egypt, where she met Lillian for the first time.
Tasha Alexander writes one of the most reliably entertaining series in mystery fiction – every book has a complex plot, often a dual timeline, a bit of romance, plus the reader gets to go on some armchair travel and learn a bit of history to boot. In this latest Lady Emily outing, her dishy husband, Colin, takes her to Florence, along with her friend Cecile, for cover, as he works on something so secret for the Crown that he can’t even tell Emily.
It’s 1903 and they’re staying at Colin’s newly discovered daughter, Kat’s, home in Florence, and merely reading the descriptions of Florence will make you long not just for armchair travel but for the real thing. Emily and Cecile are folded into Colin’s work by a circumstance beyond his control – when they arrive at the villa, one of the workers plunges to his death from the top of the villa and is discovered by one of the maids. Emily and Cecile think they can do better winkling out what really happened to him, and of course, they are correct.
This is a slightly different book for Lauren Willig, as it’s more straight up history than romance or mystery. It’s about a group of women, Smith College alums, graduating right before WWI, who form a relief unit and head to France to help the victims of the war in the French countryside. They set sail for Paris in the summer of 1917, with ideas of what Paris will be like wildly out of sync with wartime Paris. One girl is planning to buy her trousseau.
The two central characters are Kate, a scholarship girl at Smith who has been working as a French tutor, and Emmie, a wealthy daughter of a politically active suffragette. The two had been best friends at Smith – Emmie’s sweet goofiness balanced by Kate’s practicality. Kate wears a pretty big chip on her shoulder, though, and it often gets in the way of the friendship. When they arrive in Paris, everything is topsy turvy.
Confession: this is the first Charles Finch book I’ve read. I’m not sure why as it falls in my reading wheelhouse – I love historical novels and Finch is covering a period of history I enjoy reading about. I’ve certainly devoured books by Tasha Alexander, Deanna Raybourn, Dianne Freeman, Maureen Jennings and Anne Perry. Finch takes a comfortable seat beside these writers, and his detective, Charles Lenox, is an appealing Englishman, covering the London streets of the 1870’s. This is a later book in the series and Lenox is comfortably married to the glamourous and capable Lady Jane, he’s settled in his career, but he has always felt a yearning to travel.
I love this series set in 1660’s London, featuring former maid turned bookseller Lucy Campion. London has weathered both the plague and the great fire, and the upheaval finds some women able to take work usually reserved for men. While Lucy is not technically a bookseller’s apprentice, she does everything an apprentice would do. In the 1660’s, bookselling also meant publishing, so Lucy works as a typesetter, a sometime writer of murder broadsheets, which were often sold at public executions, as well as working as a seller. Her intelligence and connections to the wealthy Hargreaves family, her former employer, get her into some places the police cannot go. She’s also torn between two suitors – Constable Duncan and Adam Hargreaves.
This novel will be published December 29.
This novel is more of a village cozy than a war novel, though it’s set at the start of WWII in the tiny British village of Pipley. The heroine, Olive, longs to enlist as a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), but she’s tethered to home, helping her father with her stepmother, who has MS, as well as with a young war refugee, Jonathon. She also has the responsibility of the family pigeon loft, a fine one, and one her bristly father hopes will meet with the approval of the NPS, or National Pigeon Service.
This is the second entry in Maureen Jennings’ Paradise Café series, set in almost wartime Toronto (1936). Detective Murdoch’s son, Jack, is now the “Detective Murdoch” in this series, which centers on young Charlotte Frayne, who has joined up with an older private investigator, Mr. Gilmore. Mr. Gilmore is out of town as the story opens.
Charlotte arrives to open the office and discovers two women waiting for her, both of them in heavy mourning. As Jennings lays her story parameters out in this first chapter, I think her rare capacity for both breaking a reader’s heart and reaching it have never been more strongly on display than they are here. The women relate the story of the suicide of Gerald Jessup, the son of one and the wife of the other.
Death, Diamonds, and Deception is the fifth book in Rosemary Simpson’s Gilded Age mystery series set in New York City in the 1880s. It’s the first I’ve read, but I enjoyed it so much that I will definitely look for the others. The two protagonists are heiress Prudence MacKenzie and ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, who are partners in a detective agency. Prudence is the daughter of a wealthy judge, a prominent man in New York, who died about two years before this book begins. She is part of the city’s elite, the world of the Astors and Vanderbilts, even though she defies the standards of that society by becoming a detective. Geoffrey is a Southerner who came to New York around the time of the Civil War because he was anti-slavery. He is quite a bit older than she is. Prudence is around twenty, and, although Geoffrey’s age is not specified, it seems that he was already an adult at the time of the Civil War, so he must be in his early forties at least.
A Lady Compromised is the fourth book in the Regency mystery series by Darcie Wilde (a pseudonym for Sarah Zettel) featuring Rosalind Thorne, a gentlewoman living in reduced circumstances after a family scandal. To make a living for herself, Rosalind helps society ladies solve their problems, which, in this book and the others in the series, include murder investigation. At the beginning of this book, Rosalind travels to Cassell House, the country estate of Devon Winterbourne, who has recently, and unexpectedly, inherited the title of Duke of Casselmaine following the untimely deaths of his father and older brother. Rosalind and Devon had been close to becoming engaged before Rosalind’s father’s disgrace, at a time when Devon was a second son, with no prospects of inheriting the dukedom. Now his cousin, Rosalind’s friend Louisa, is getting married, and Rosalind is looking forward to attending the wedding and possibly rekindling her romance with Devon.