Tag: Historical Mystery

Review: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery #5)

Murder_Royal_Botanic_GardensContinuing my journey to reader-recovery (see my previous two posts), I read the latest in another favourite historical mystery series, Penrose’s Regency-set Wrexford and Sloane, Murder At the Royal Botanic Gardens. I read it steadily over the past two days (yet one more way to stave off the reality of returning to work after a gloriously idle summer; with major de-cluttering, but still). I love this series for the same reason I read others: the characters, the characters, the characters…and their relationships.

Set in a time of rigid class divisions, Penrose’s series is a wonderful fantasy of cross-class found family. At its heart are the Earl of Wrexford, dark, brooding, powerful, volatile at the series start and Lady Charlotte Sloane (aka skewering cartoonist A. J. Quill), disinherited, disgraced, and thus free of social convention; this, she and Lord Wrexford have in common, which is why their growing love is as much built on a shared upholding of justice, defending the underdog, and prizing people’s worth on merit, not birth as attraction, compatibility, shared purpose, and companionship. Along the way, they have picked up and created their found family, as Charlotte notes in the present volume “love was the true bond that tied all of her odd little family together”: valet and co-sleuth Gideon Tyler; formidable “housekeeper” McClellan; two adopted “guttersnipes”, “Weasels” Raven and Hawk; brilliant mathematician Lady Cordelia Mansfield; “coroner” Basil Henning; Bow Street Runner Griffin; Wrexford’s friend and Cordelia’s business partner, Christopher “Kit” Sheffield; and my favourite, Charlotte’s Aunt Alison, the dowager Countess of Peake. Together they band to expose baddies, putting themselves in mortal danger and always coming through for each other.

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Review: Jennifer Ashley’s THE SECRET OF BOW LANE (Below Stairs Mystery #6)

Secret_Bow_LaneHmmm, it looks like my favourite Below Stairs mystery, Death In Kew Gardens, has a rival in The Secret of Bow Lane. While I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the “ensemble cast” of characters, especially the butler Mr. Davies and assistant cook, Tess, The Secret of Bow Lane gave us more of Kat Holloway’s and Daniel McAdam’s backstories and brought them closer together. It was most pleasurable to read. In contrast to A Death at the Crystal Palace, the mystery held together, with a consistent, cohesive sequence of revelations leading to the resolution.

The Secret of Bow Lane refers to Kat’s childhood home, as well as where she was bamboozled by her bigamist husband and where she had her lovely baby, Grace, now baby no longer, but a perspicacious lady of eleven. She and Daniel McAdam call on Kat’s closely-held heartstrings and, at least in this latest volume and to the reader’s great delight, loosen them. But first, the back-cover blurb for clarity:

In Victorian-era London, amateur sleuth and cook Kat Holloway must solve a murder to claim an inheritance she didn’t know she had (more…)

Mini-Review: Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE (Below Stairs Mystery #5)

Death_at_the_Crystal_PalaceI’m glad to be caught up with Ashley’s Below Stairs mysteries with Death At the Crystal Palace in anticipation of #6, The Secret Of Bow Lane, whose premise sounds most intriguing and is set to be out next week. As always, Ashley’s amateur-sleuth-below-stairs-cook, Kat Holloway, is a wonderful heroine, but as with most mystery series I follow, it’s also the ensemble of characters around the central figure I love. This is no less true of Kat and her crew of sleuthing “aides”.

In this latest volume, there are two mysteries, tenuously connected, and somewhat half-baked, both of them. In Death at the Crystal Palace, Kat is tasked with discovering who is poisoning Lady Covington, the Bywaters’ neighbour where Kat is cook, all the while becoming embroiled in Daniel McAdam’s “police work” trying to bring to light who is bankrolling Irish rebel assassins. But it’s the friendships and potential love interests that see me love and follow the series, and especially because Kat’s “crew” are all infused with goodness, care, and the desire to bring justice (Kat, who never sees a wrong she doesn’t want to redress, address, or redeem). (They’re also quite funny.) Kat always finds the good in others, even when they’ve committed evil deeds and, were is just for that, Ashley has penned a wonderful heroine. (more…)

Review: Allison Montclair’s THE UNKEPT WOMAN (Sparks and Bainbridge Mystery #4)

Unkept_Woman…and possibly my favourite of the series (#1 is marvellous too). Montclair takes the narrative threads set up in book one, The Right Sort of Man, and brings them to some resolution. In The Unkept Woman, Iris Sparks finally reckons with her past and Gwen Bainbridge gains in strength and resolve, which go a long way to bring her closer to regaining custody of her finances and son (as we learn from book one, Gwen had what would be deemed in post-war England a “nervous breakdown” and was declared “incompetent” [legal term] losing custody of her son, Ronnie, and finances, given over to her conservative, draconian in-laws. Gwen’s emotional collapse came at the death of her husband, Ronald Bainbridge, in WWII). But in the latest volume, Sparks’ past returns: she is the eponymous “unkept woman”, having broken off from the married man she’d been having an affair with, on and off, during and post war-time intelligence training and action. But things are more complicated than what I’ve described so far. (more…)

Review: C. S. Harris’s WHEN BLOOD LIES (Sebastian St. Cyr #17)

When_Blood_LiesI’m elated C. S. Harris continues to give us a St. Cyr mystery annually and that I can devote uninterrupted time to reading it because it’s summer holidays for this schoolmarm! And #17, When Blood Lies, did not disappoint; au contraire! I think it’s one of the best of the series, mainly because Harris finally arrives at completing certain story arcs she’s carried over the entire series. And, in her clever way, still leaves us with unanswered questions and the possibility of further revelations. Nevertheless, it still felt like we arrived at a new place for one of our favourite investigating couples, Sebastian and Hero, his wife. Be warned: if you haven’t read the series and wish to, some of the discussion to follow may spoil it for you, so read from book #1 and come back! (more…)

Review: Deanna Raybourn’s AN IMPOSSIBLE IMPOSTER (Veronica Speedwell #7)

An_Impossible_ImposterAh, Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell #7, what a thorough joy I had of it! Its pacing was perfect, my beloved Veronica and Stoker were as larger-than-life as ever, both familiar and exhibiting interesting growth, and containing a mystery less cut-and-dry for them than usual, with all manner of messy feelings along with the resolution. And, ugh and love-it, a cliff-hanger of an ending: mystery solved, but our beloveds’ personal lives…well, let’s just say there needs be way more untangling than mere whodunnit.

Recently returned from their latest adventure in the fictional kingdom of Alpenwald, Stoker and Veronica are barely ensconced in the cataloguing employ of Lord Rosemorran before they’re summoned by Sir Hugo Montgomerie, the head of Special Branch, Scotland Yard, for a personal favour. He asks Stoker and Veronica to travel to a Dartmoor estate, Hathaway Hall, in aid of his god-daughter, Euphemia. The Hathaway heir, RIP Jonathan, died in the Krakatoa explosion years ago and the estate passed to the second-born son, Charles, who, with his nouveau-riche wife, Mary, are running the hall with an iron hand for improvement and return from neglect. Recently, a remarkable development: Jonathan has returned, most definitely undead. But is he Jonathan Hathaway, or an imposter? This is Sir Hugo’s request of Stoker and Veronica, to find out…especially because Veronica knew Jonathan Hathaway from her pre-Stoker adventuring. This appearance out of Veronica’s past precipitates heart-ache and a Veronica-Stoker reckoning. (more…)

Mini-Review: Allison Montclair’s A ROGUE’S COMPANY (Sparks and Bainbridge #3)

A_Rogue's_CompanyI read Montclair’s A Rogue’s Company with a relish I did not experience with #2, A Royal Affair, though I obviously loved the series from its début, The Right Sort Of Man. I enjoyed A Rogue’s Company because Montclair (pseudonym for Alan Gordon) returned to giving us more of the characters’ lives and histories. Montclair is not one to write much of his characters’ inner lives, but providing us with more of their motivations and histories made for a better book than his sophomore effort. (Not exactly “sophomore”: let it be said that Gordon wrote tons of mysteries under his real name and A Royal Affair is “sophomore” only for his Montclair persona.)

In A Rogue’s Company, our two match-making amateur detectives, Mrs. Gwen Bainbridge and Miss Iris Sparks, are approached for a match by a Black man. They’re nonplussed because their connections stop at White and English-born, but they’re keen to expand the business and offer services to a diverse clientele. It was a good move on Montclair’s part to create a mystery with some sense of London’s post-WWII diversity, but prejudice and racism are only surface-skimmed. This is crime fiction of the, if not cozy, light variety, well-written, witty, with likeable characters. The back-cover blurb will provide some of the plot details:

In London, 1946, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting on its feet and expanding. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go of it. That is until Lord Bainbridge—the widowed Gwen’s father-in-law and legal guardian—returns from a business trip to Africa and threatens to undo everything important to her, even sending her six-year-old son away to a boarding school.

But there’s more going on than that. A new client shows up at the agency, one whom Sparks and Bainbridge begin to suspect really has a secret agenda, somehow involving the Bainbridge family. A murder and a subsequent kidnapping sends Sparks to seek help from a dangerous quarter—and now their very survival is at stake. (more…)

MINI-REVIEW: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT QUEEN’S LANDING (Wrexford & Sloane #4)

Murder_at_Queen's_LandingThough I’ve only recently started to read Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane Regency-set mysteries, they quickly became favourites, with anticipation for the next book to drop into my e-reader. Though beset by the clean-up/book orders/final reports weeks of another school-year end, I joyfully crawled into Charlotte and Lord Wrexford’s world (whose first name still eludes, by the way, but a strong hint in this volume) during my meagre leisure time.

Wrexford and Sloane #4 is as reader-sigh-worthy satisfying as were the previous ones. In this case, I admit to muddle-headedness concerning the financial machinations surrounding the murder (never a head for the numbers, that’s me). The publisher’s blurb will elucidate way better than I:

When Lady Cordelia, a brilliant mathematician, and her brother, Lord Woodbridge, disappear from London, rumors swirl concerning fraudulent bank loans and a secret consortium engaged in an illicit—and highly profitable—trading scheme that threatens the entire British economy. The incriminating evidence mounts, but for Charlotte and Wrexford, it’s a question of loyalty and friendship. And so they begin a new investigation to clear the siblings’ names, uncover their whereabouts, and unravel the truth behind the whispers.

As they delve into the murky world of banking and international arbitrage, Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other. But the clock is ticking—a cunning mastermind has emerged . . . along with some unexpected allies—and Charlotte and Wrexford must race to prevent disasters both economic and personal as they are forced into a dangerous match of wits in an attempt to beat the enemy at his own game.

Hmmm, all is correct, except for “Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other” … um, nope, it’s obvious they’re in love. With Charlotte’s past of a if-not-failed-then-disappointing marriage and Wrexford’s emotional reticence, maybe they have a tad trouble admitting their feelings, but what they are and who they’re for, clear as a lake on a windless day. (more…)

Mini-Review: Kearsley’s, Huber’s, Trent’s, and Harris’s THE DEADLY HOURS

I never have been, nor will I ever be a fan of the genre novella. The reader-deliciousness of romance and mystery is in the sinking-in for a long, luxurious, fully-developped read. (Despite its spareness, I would say that a great category romance accomplishes this very thing as well.) BUT two of my favourite authors were featured in this inter-connected anthology of novellas and I couldn’t resist. I was especially lured by the promise of Kearsley and Harris goodness, even though Harris’s narrative isn’t Regency-set, nor features my frisson-inducing favourite hero, Sebastian St. Cyr, but I’ll take what I can get. I thought the premise and historical arc, linked by this “cursed” pocket-watch, intriguing:

A stellar line-up of historical mystery novelists weaves the tale of a priceless and cursed gold watch as it passes through time wreaking havoc from one owner to another. The characters are irrevocably linked by fate, each playing a key role in breaking the curse and destroying the watch once and for all.

From 1733 Italy to Edinburgh in 1831 to a series of chilling murders in 1870 London, and a lethal game of revenge decades later, the watch touches lives with misfortune, until it comes into the reach of one young woman who might be able to stop it for good.

The four novellas are inter-connected by the watch, as well as the four elements: the watch must endure a test by air, earth, fire, and water before the curse can be broken. The anthology had everything necessary to make for a great read: mystery, a hint of mortality and fate in the cursed-watch motif, and rich historical detail. And yet, while I enjoyed the individual efforts, I can’t say it ever came together … and maybe that is just the nature of the beast. I felt the same way about Willig, Williams, and White’s All the Ways We Said Goodbye. I liked the bits, wasn’t keen on the whole. Kearsley’s and Harris’s efforts, however, were quite enjoyable
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REVIEW: C. S. Harris’s WHAT THE DEVIL KNOWS

What the Devil Knows is C. S. Harris’s 16th Regency-set Sebastian St. Cyr mystery. Always leery of a series losing its reading-lustre, I’m amazed how each one keeps me in thrall for the one or two days in which I devour it. Part of it is thanks to Harris’s rich historical setting, focussed on the injustices of a society where the privileges of wealth and birth are in turn the exploiters of the poor, vulnerable, and low-born. Most of it, however, is due to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin; wife, Hero (adorable son, Simon), a slew of sleuthing-helpers (among my favourites, Irish surgeon Paul Gibson and Sebastian’s “tiger,” Tom) who care: they care about justice being done, they care about the downtrodden; they care about the precarious lives of the ordinary people who make up Regency London. If you come looking for the verve and froth of Bridgerton‘s London (I loved it, but this is a different animal), you won’t find it. Instead, the steadiest, most loving of couples and Harris’s meticulously researched world, more in service of great fiction than exactitude (always read the author’s note). In What the Devil Knows, London’s port and the publicans who serve her is her setting; past murders and mysteriously connected new ones set Sebastian on the path to untangling past and present:

It’s October 1814. The war with France is finally over and Europe’s diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together. With peace finally at hand, London suddenly finds itself in the grip of a series of heinous murders eerily similar to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.

In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect–a young seaman named John Williams–was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.

Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym’s colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question–who was and why are they dead set on killing again? (more…)