This is an utterly charming series debut. Dennison has two other series, but I think this may be my favorite so far. The story opens as recently widowed Evie sits in her lawyer’s office and discovers that she’s basically broke. Luckily, the lawyer’s secretary discovers a secret letter from Evie’s dead husband, telling her that she now owns a hotel thanks to an unpaid debt. Her sister, Margot, who has flown in from LA to be with her in England, heads back to Evie’s now up-for-sale house where she hatches a plan. For a little restful getaway, they will visit the hotel in question.
Ellen Hart knocks another one out of the park. I continue with my mantra: if you love traditional detective fiction, few writers are doing it better than Ellen Hart at the moment. The air is sucked out of the room by some of the writers of traditional fiction set in England (Ann Cleeves, Deborah Crombie) or Canada (Louise Penny), but make no mistake, Ellen Hart is treading the same ground. She’s just doing it in Minnesota instead of London or Montreal. As much as I love Cleeves, Crombie and Penny, I love Hart every bit as much, and with 27 books in her Jane Lawless series (and counting) there’s plenty to embrace.
This book will be published on September 8. You can pre-order it here.
Along with Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson, and Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves is one of the very best writers of traditional detective fiction at work at the moment. With now three strong series to her credit, one of the most delightful features the cranky Vera Stanhope, whose hopelessly messy and unstylish appearance conceals a sharp and perceptive mind. She’s Columbo in the British countryside, just a shade less congenial. This installment finds Vera face to face with the fancier branch of her family, impoverished landholders who can’t keep up the stately family home.
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.
I was a huge fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Sweeney St. George series, published in the early 2000’s. Sweeney was an expert on gravestone iconography, and the books were beautifully written, thoughtful mysteries. Stewart Taylor has been away from mystery fiction since 2006, and this return feels more polished, more pointed in its narrative drive – it’s a step up. I’ll say up front it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
It’s not a total departure from the Sweeney books – the passion is there, the love of history is there, but it’s more focused. It follows the story of Maggie D’Arcy, who, as an adult, is a homicide detective on Long Island, but who, as a 20 something, lost the cousin who was like a sister to her. The cousin, Erin, had left the states for Ireland, and hasn’t been heard from since 1993. There are other young women who were killed (and discovered) in the same area, and Maggie and the rest of her family are pretty sure Erin is dead, but they’d like to know.
If you’re a fan of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s, you’ll be delighted to know that Hid From Our Eyes picks up right where One Was a Soldier left off. Since it’s been awhile I’ll recap: Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband Russ Van Alstyne have welcomed their first child (read the book to find out the child’s name and sex). Clare is in addiction recovery, and believably – for anyone familiar with addiction – she teeters from sober to wishing she wasn’t. That’s the rich background.
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.
This novel is available January 7, 2020. You can pre-order it on this website.
There’s always a moment in a Tasha Alexander book where I give a little yip of joy. Be it a ghost ballerina or a lovingly described Worth dress (there’s a beauty in this book), in this outing, it was the body hidden in plain sight amongst all the others in Pompeii. When a fresher corpse is noticed by Lady Emily and her husband as having the wrong sideburns and the discovery was made, I could not have been happier.
The 26th novel in the Jane Lawless series is as good, as crisp, as memorable, as the first in the series. Jane, the calm center of every storm in her life, agrees to investigate a closed case (the alleged perpetrator is in prison) when her father, lawyer Raymond Lawless, asks. The case involves the murder of one partner by another – the partner was an obvious choice as the killer and was duly convicted. But.
Everyone Jane talks to – including her old friend, the flamboyant Cordelia – affirms the man’s goodness, and their disbelief that he could harm anyone. Many threads swirl around the case, which at first looked like a suicide. Ellen Hart, in her masterly way, uses these many threads to paint her complex portrait of a crime.
Ann Cleeves wrapped up her stellar Shetland series and has turned her hand and eye to Devon, a British resort area where of course she finds out what’s lurking under the surface. She introduces the reader to detective Matthew Venn, who has a complex backstory that would seem to lend itself to further discovery in more books down the road.
Matthew is a bit OCD, reminding me slightly of Margaret Maron’s great creation, Sigrid Harald. He was raised by parents who were members of a Christian cult and when he renounced their faith he was banned from their lives. He’s married to the lively, artistic and sometimes messy Jonathan, who runs the local center for art and disabled adults. The odd combination of artistic pursuit and mental health and disabled adult care seems to work well and the center is a lively place, important to many families in town.