Dianne Freeman: A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder

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. read more

Allison Montclair: A Royal Affair

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. read more

Erica Ruth Neubauer: Murder at the Mena House

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. read more

Mariah Fredericks: Death of an American Beauty

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. read more

Cara Black: Three Hours in Paris

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. read more

Book Club Read: The Moonstone

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. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: The King’s Justice

This title will be available February 25, 2020.

As I was writing my review, instead of adding “Susan Elia MacNeal” as the author, I almost typed “Maggie Hope,” so indelible and real has this character become.  Maggie, the red haired spitfire who began the first book as Churchill’s secretary, has now left the SOE (Secret Executive Organization) after being sequestered on a Scottish island (see The Prisoner in the Castle).  It’s now 1943 and she’s defusing bombs for the war effort. read more

Karen Odden: A Trace of Deceit

A Trace of Deceit is the third Victorian mystery by Karen Odden, who has taught at the University of Michigan.  It is a suspenseful, compelling novel set in London’s art world in 1875.  The protagonist, a talented young painter named Annabel Rowe, is one of the few female students at the Slade School of Art, one of the only art schools to admit women at the time.  When she goes to visit her brother Edwin, she finds the police in his rooms, searching through his belongings.  Of course, Edwin has been murdered, and Annabel, while shocked, is not wholly surprised.  Edwin, a brilliant young artist, has led a dissolute life of gambling and drug use, and had recently been released from prison, where he spent time for forgery.  Annabel and Edwin were close as children, but had grown apart after Edwin left for boarding school, and he had hoped to rebuild his relationship with her.  Annabel wants to believe Edwin had reformed, but she is not always so sure, and she blames him for their parents’ deaths, because they died of a fever they supposedly caught from Edwin after one of his visits to an opium den. read more

Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig & Karen White: All the Ways We Said Goodbye

Williams, Willig and White, three bestselling authoresses who write historical adventures, romances and mysteries, have teamed up for the third time to write a wonderfully rich novel with a through line of the Paris Ritz.  Being a hotel brat myself, I enjoyed this method of tying the novel together.  It has three separate storylines, each focused on a different woman – one in 1914, one in 1942, and one in 1964.  In the two earlier storylines, there’s a woman who lives in a suite at the Ritz. She’s the first character’s mother and the second character’s grandmother.  The tie the third woman has to the first two is more tenuous and is one of the mysterious threads of the novel. read more

Jess Montgomery: The Hollows

The second novel in Jess Montgomery’s remarkable series set in a 1920’s Ohio mining town is every bit as memorable and vivid as the first, The Widows, which was far and away one of the best books of 2019.  Montgomery brings to life the story of the first female sheriff, Lily Ross, in tiny Kinship, Ohio.  While the first novel concerned itself with the politics of mining, this novel is more of a straight mystery, which veers into the unfortunate territory of racism and because of the time period, an ever present and ingrained sexism. This is naturally a hindrance at times to Lily’s carrying out her duties. read more