REVIEW: Linda Castillo’s A GATHERING OF SECRETS

Gathering_Of_SecretsI remember reading Linda Castillo’s first Kate Burkholder murder mystery, Sworn To Silence. I’d been reading romance steadily for two years and had come to realize that my previous mystery reading enjoyed the occasional romance that was included more than the mystery itself. What I missed about reading mysteries, though, was a sympathetic amateur/professional sleuth/detective, a voice of justice that rang true and vibrant and that I felt connected to. While Sworn To Silence‘s opening page was too violent for squeamish me, Kate captured my interest and sympathy. Castillo’s detective is, in this present volume, A Gathering Of Secrets, Painters Mill Ohio’s chief of police. She’d grown up as a member of their Amish community, but a teen-age sexual assault and the subsequent events and estrangements with family and community meant she left her sense of belonging behind. As a cop and now chief, Kate is nevertheless uniquely placed to deal with crimes occurring in Amish country, knowledgeable and understanding, yet very much dedicated to justice and the rule of law that comes with a secular perspective. Kate is a wonderful creation: fair, persistent, compassionate where she needs to be, never deviating from applying the law, but fully aware of the nuances of even the most heinous of crimes, and always, always empathetic to everyone affected, victims’ and victimizers’ families and communities.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Marguerite Kaye’s FROM GOVERNESS TO COUNTESS

From_Governess_To_CountessWhether it was my mood, or a super-busy two weeks, I slogged through the first in Kaye’s new series, From Governess to Countess. If I had to give you a baseline of my narrative immersion, it’d be: perked up to the premise, dragged my way through two-thirds and zipped through the last. Kaye’s novel is well-researched, with a fascinating and nicely developped setting, a lovely heroine and engaging secondary characters. The hero, on the other hand, is concocted out of bleached-out niceness and a copious dose of cluelessness.

I loved the premise: a mysterious “Procurer,” a woman, in 1815 London, seeks out disgraced women to offer them a task that may reestablish their finances and reputation. She is a “procurer” of second chances and her first mission is Miss Allison Galbraith, a Scottish herbalist, whose work has been derided by London’s medical establishment. The Procurer offers Allison a job, in St. Petersburg, as governess to the three orphaned children of Duke and Duchess Derevenko, presently in the care of their military-officer Uncle Aleksei, recently returned from defeating Napoleon.       Continue reading

REVIEW: C. S. Harris’s WHERE THE DEAD LIE

Where_the_Dead_LieThis summer, in anticipation of reading MissB’s Where the Dead Lie ARC, she listened to the first 10 volumes of C. S. Harris’s Regency-set murder mystery, C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series. MissB. listened to them, rapt, when she took a walk, prepared dinner, and dabbed make-up on in the morning. And, she discovered something about her mystery reading: she reads mysteries for the detecting figure’s personality, his mind’s workings, motivation, method, and relationships. Nothing is more satisfying for good doses of those reading interests than Harris’s series.

At the centre of it all is the enigmatic, gorgeous figure of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, amateur sleuth, military veteran: tall, handsome, with penetrating strange yellow eyes, and a deep sense of finding justice for the vulnerable and oppressed. Equally fascinating and much beloved are his family: wife Hero and baby-son Simon; the doctor-friend who helps him reveal what dead bodies can tell about their murders, Paul Gibson, and his mid-wife partner, Alexi Sauvage; the austere, fragile elderly man who is Sebastian’s father, Alistair St. Cyr, Earl of Hendon; arch-nemesis, father-in-law, Lord Jarvis; embittered, jealous sister, Amanda; beautiful, tragic niece, Stephanie, and dissipated nephew, Bayard; sleuthing partner, magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy; former actress-lover, Kat Boleyn; and Miss B’s personal favourites, Sebastian’s valet, Jules Calhoun and former-street-urchin tiger, Tom. While some novels in the series are stronger than others and MissB. may prefer some over others, Harris has created a Regency world, peopled it with the most likeable set of characters, drawn her villains with complexity, and ensured that MissB. remain with the series no matter where it might go.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Cathy Pegau’s MURDER ON THE LAST FRONTIER

Murder_On_Last_FrontierMiss Bates had every reason to want to read Cathy Pegau’s Murder On the Last Frontier: feminist-writer heroine, wintry setting (MissB’s favourite!), blue-eyed deputy hero, and that gorgeous hat! Sailing from her native Yonkers, journalist Charlotte Brody arrives in 1919 Cordova, Alaska, to join her doctor-brother, Michael. Charlotte’s plans are to write about northern frontier life as it confronts twentieth century American concerns: financial boom-times, women’s changing roles, mechanization, and the “soon-to-be-voted” Volstead Act. Charlotte is a proponent of women’s rights, especially the struggle for suffrage, and writes from that unique perspective, sending dispatches to Yonkers’s Modern Woman Review. Cordova is a small, but growing northern frontier town with sufficient amenities and a population, especially its upper echelons, who prides itself on its successes and attractions. Michael introduces Charlotte to  the Kavanaughs, town mayor and wife, his fiancée Ruth and her most respectable father, the Reverend Bartlett and his missus. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Alissa Johnson’s A TALENT FOR TRICKERY

Talent_For_TrickeryMiss Bates’ first great rom-love was the historical. Given the recent contemporary romance glut, she’s grateful for any historical romance writers she discovers. Alissa Johnson is not new to the genre (début publication dates 2008), but certainly new to Miss Bates. A Talent For Trickery is first in the Victorian-Age-set Thief-Takers series. Johnson’s characterization, plot, and theme reminded Miss Bates of Lisa Kleypas’s Hathaways (if you liked the Hathaways, you’re going to like this). Viscount Owen Renderwell arrives at Willowbend House, Norfolk, with his detecting partners, Sirs Samuel Brass and Gabriel Arkwright. He is reluctantly welcomed by his former-thief-turned-agent-for-the-crown partner, Miss Charlotte “Lottie” Bales, formerly Walker, daughter of Will Walker, notorious criminal. In eight years, Charlotte built a new life and persona for herself and her family. Owen reminds her of days of yore when she helped her father swindle London society. She shares a home with Esther, her sister, and Peter, their younger brother, for whom Charlotte would make any sacrifice to keep him from discovering the truth of their father’s life. Abandoned by their mother, father perishing while aiding Owen recover a kidnapped duchess and her jewels, Charlotte’s memories of working alongside and yearning for Owen return in full emotional force. Owen is equally affected, but his mission carries more weight than his physical desires and emotional yearnings. Mrs. Maggie Popple was murdered and Charlotte’s father’s letters and journals may hold the key to solving the crime. Lottie has the talent and know-how to decipher Will Walker’s encryption.
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MINI-REVIEW: Hank Phillippi Ryan’s WHAT YOU SEE – Isn’t Always What You Get

What_You_SeeMiss Bates read Phillippi Ryan for the first time, having noted time and again Phillippi Ryan’s name on the Agatha Awards nominee or winner lists. Phillippi Ryan’s murder-mystery-thriller-police-procedural narrative structure brings a wheel’s hub and spokes to mind. The novel opens, most dramatically, with a back-stabbing murder in the midst of a hot, tourist-laden June day in Boston’s Curley Park. This central incident radiates outwardly to a number of characters and situations, which come together in a masterful dénouement. The Curley Park murder scene draws hero and heroine, Jake Brogan, BPD detective, and Jane Ryland, unemployed journalist and Jake’s secret-lover. Jane freelances for a local TV station, working to resurrect her defunct career. A student-photographer claiming to have pics of the murder waylays Jane. Jake and DeLuca, his partner, run into an alley to discover a security expert wrestling the perp to the ground. Jane and her new photographer-friend follow. The scene is chaotic; neither Jane, representing the media, nor Jake and his partner, representing law enforcement, can tell the crime’s why or who. Meanwhile, in the mayor’s offices above Curley Park, teen-age Tenley Siskel, whose mom, Catherine, Mayor Holbrooke’s chief of staff, got her a job working the security video, may or may not have recorded the murder. Moreover, Jane responds to a call from her sister Melissa who’s frantic with worry over the disappearance of her nine-year-old step-daughter-to-be, Grace.
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REVIEW: Susan Elia MacNeal’s MRS. ROOSEVELT’S CONFIDANTE

Mrs_Roosevelt's_ConfidanteEver since youthful Miss Bates watched black-and-white film matinées, she’s a sucker for a narrative set in WWII (also, the glorious Band Of Brothers). She watched The Guns Of Navarone sundry times, even Mrs. Miniver, which gets a nod in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, fifth in the Maggie Hope series set during WWII. MacNeal’s murder mystery is historically rich, interweaving fictional and non-fictional characters that never feel contrived. The heart of Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the eponymous heroine, Maggie Hope, ostensibly Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s secretary, actually special ops spy and code-breaker. For the most part, the novel takes place in Washington D.C. during Christmas of ’41 to New Year’s ’42. Maggie and her cohorts, David Greene and John Stirling (former RAF pilot and ex-fiancé) accompany Churchill to his meeting with President Roosevelt. For Maggie, David, and John, this is the culmination of what Churchill and they have been hoping for and planning, an alliance giving Britain the edge to defeat Nazi Germany. However, forces in the U.S. and Europe are operating against them, some of global significance and others of an equally pernicious domestic nature. Maggie is embroiled in the latter when figures, aiming to hurt the liberal president and scuttle his war efforts, frame his wife Eleanor. Blanche Balfour, Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary, is found dead, an apparent suicide, with a note claiming that Eleanor made amorous advances to her. Should the letter be leaked to the media, repercussions would affect Roosevelt and Churchill’s plans …  Continue reading

Simone St. James’ THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, Or The “Undiscovered Country …

Other_Side_Of_Midnightfrom whose bourn no traveler returns,” says Hamlet – except in a Simone St. James novel says Miss Bates. St. James’ latest, The Other Side of Midnight, is dedicated to Mary Stewart, one of the mothers of gothic romance. Stewart’s spirit permeates St. James’ novels. Stewart’s spirit lives in the diffident, ethical cores to her heroines, in the mysterious atmosphere, foreboding mood, impending danger, and unknown territories heroines enter. Stewart peeks through in heroes who are ominous, frightening, ambivalent, but prove caring, loving, and protective. Stewart’s influence hints in the strength to St. James’ rendering of time and place. Stewart is present in the heroine’s venture into uncharted places, her crossing into extraordinary places, meeting, conversing with, and discovering the secrets of the dead. Stewart is present in the young, coming-into-her-own voice of the first-person narrator. In Stewart and St. James, a seemingly insignificant young woman destroys the powers of evil; she is the one who brings justice to a world disjoint. The Other Side of Midnight may not be homage to Stewart in content, but St. James places herself within a beloved literary tradition. She belongs there: after four wonderfully atmospheric novels, she’s proven her mettle and Miss Bates hopes she’ll reign long. Miss B. loved St. James previous novel, Silence For the Dead. In The Other Side of Midnight, St. James offers another hybrid mystery-ghost-story-suspense-romance novel and weaves her narrative threads for our reader delectation. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jeannie Lin’s THE JADE TEMPTRESS, Truth and Justice, Love and Freedom

The Jade TemptressCan you recall the experience of tasting a new dish? The ingredients somewhat familiar, the overall impression a little peculiar. You’re not used to it … but you like it. You like it! It’s fresh, interesting, new, yet, there’re things here you’ve had before. Reading Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress was such an experience for Miss Bates. Romance? Check, wondrously romantic. Enemies-to-lovers-good. Murder mystery? Miss Bates read tons of those back in pre-romance days and still occasionally enjoys them. Check to an intriguing whodunit. Throw two beloved narratives into a bowl, fold in a cool, jaded courtesan and colder, hard-nosed, heart-closed-off policeman, bind them with a compelling setting, 9th-century China, and you have Jeannie Lin’s sublime, elegant, and earthy novel, The Jade Temptress. A romance/mystery narrative so mesmerizing that Miss Bates carried it to work, read through her lunch hour and every spare moment of the work day into post-dinner evening and late into the night. It’s that good. It’s not an easy read, despite its elegant, understated prose. This is a harsh, hierarchical world, difficult scenes ensue … but it is utterly fascinating and beautiful, like the “jade temptress” and her detective-lover. Continue reading