Being the 13th


Title: Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron

5 Stars *****

Publisher: Soho Crime 320pp

Genre: regency mystery, historical fiction, Jane Austen, mystery series

Author: Francine Stephanie Barron Mathews (b 1953) is a mystery writer and has written several series. As Francine Mathews, Merry Folger is a police officer in Nantucket while the Caroline Carmichael series are spy thrillers based on Mathews CIA analyst career. Her descriptive writing was influenced by one of her Princeton professors, John McPhee (one of my favourite non fiction writers!). As Stephanie Barron she writes the Jane Austen mysteries, presented as lost diaries edited by Barron. They are extremely well researched, witty, charming and a lovely homage to Jane Austen. I cannot believe it has been 20 years since the first novel. Worse, this novel takes place in November 1815 and Jane died in 1816. Barron writes for the thinking reader. These are gentle, entertaining mysteries with careful staging and intricate characters. You will enjoy the wit, charm and satire of Jane Austen in this beautiful homage. There are many Austen spin offs: Barron is my personal favourite.

Story line:

Being the 13th novel in the series.

The battle of Waterloo has left the British economy in shreds, and Henry Austen is nearly bankrupt. Jane is editing her proofs of Emma while nursing her beloved brother in London. There are wonderful quotes from Emma throughout. Jane hears the two words Waterloo Map from the young, dying Calvary officer Col McFarland and sets out to unmask the poisoner. Jane’s keen observations and wit provide interesting details of social conventions, daily life, and personal reflection that make this a wonderful period piece. Misdirection gives a nice twist at the end.

I still miss Lord Harold Trowbridge, her previous romantic interest and fellow sleuth (5 books ago) but delighted to see her reacquainted with the fascinating artist Raphael West. This is a rather fast paced two weeks in her life. Persuasion is next! 

Read on:

Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries as period diaries.

For period mysteries : Nicola Upson, Jacqueline Winspear, Deanna Raybourn, Barbara Cleverly, or Anne Perry.

For intricate historical novels: Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley.

Quotes:

Opening line: There can be few things more lowering to the female sensibility than to be caught in a shower of rain at exactly the moment one desires to appear to advantage.

Closing line: But as I watched West’s equipage pull away from Hans Place, I felt a blank pit of loneliness just below my heart. And hoped, for all of us, in the promise of spring.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

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Summertime Reading!

Title: The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths. 4stars****

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. Quercia books 356 pp

Genre: mystery, english mystery, murder mystery, historical, mystery, series

Author: Elly Griffiths is a British novelist of the Ruth Galloway forensic anthropologist crime series. The Galloway books need to be read in order for character development and overarching story. Her first book was The Crossing Places, with The Woman in Blue the eighth. This book takes place shortly after the last, but there is not a lot of personal development. These novels were inspired by her husband who became an anthropologist and her summer holidays in Norfolk; they now live in Brighton. She read English at King’s College and worked in publishing. Her writing is often poignant, atmospheric and compelling. Griffiths recently wrote a new 1950s crime series (Stephens and Mephisto The Zig Zag Girl and Smoke and Mirrors) that I also recommend. She also writes Italian novels under the name Domenica de Rosa.  

Story Line: The title is of course the Virgin Mary and we’re back with medieval legends in the religious town of Little Walsingham. Here the lady in blue is also the first victim in a puzzling modern day murder. Familiar characters, Nelson and his team, Cathbad, and Ruth cross paths and collaborate to solve the mystery. There are no old bones for Ruth this time; she’s looking into threatening letters an old college mate turned priest is receiving. She also provides much of the historical and religious insight into the town and characters. Ruth is accomplished, intelligent, a dedicated professional and a single mother. But she is still insecure and less self aware/too critical. She’s 45 with a five year old daughter. I usually enjoy catching up with the characters, but Ruth has not moved on from DI Nelson, and she needs to get a life. I’m beginning to think she’s codependent, not independent. But as always, Cathbad has his Druid moments, but he now is also a family man with wife Judy and their son and a ten week old daughter.

The lovely Norfolk landscape still plays a central role in these novels and l love the wildness, beauty, history and nature. I like that there are real snowdrops in February, justly famous and worth a visit. The British weather (unrelenting wind, rain) is so much more enjoyable from my sunny lounge chair. This is a solid, well written entertaining mystery for an enjoyable summer read.

Read On: 

Mysteries in Norfolk: Elly Griffiths The Crossing Places in order

Simon Beckett Dr David Hunter, forensic scientist in Norfolk in The Chemistry of Death

PD James Devices and Desires Adam Dagliesh (series)

American mysteries: Kathy Reichs Tempe Brennan series, an forensic anthropologist

PBS fans of Midsommer murders, Rosemary and Thyme, Inspector Lewis

Quotes:

Opening lines: Cathbad and the cat look at each other. They have been drawing up the battle lines all day and this is their Waterloo.

Well, if it isn’t Admiral Nelson himself!

Ruth is trying to write….rather to her surprise, she acquired a publisher, an editor and something called a ‘two book deal’…surely it wouldn’t hurt to check her emails….

Perhaps it is better to just believe things, as Cathbad does, without attempting to explain them.

Received gratefully as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

It’s Cool to Read!

Summer  time and the reading is easy…

At any one time I have a dozen library books checked out. A stack of bookstore purchased TBR. Numerous ebooks are just waiting for a flight or extended travel. Some of today’s list I have reviewed before, as Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, but reading a book in hardcover has such appeal to me. It was great, however, to have the ebook well ahead of publication! I was so pleased when a house guest recently discovered this series in my shelves and is now devouring them. Binge reading at its best. 

I love a good mystery, and many of my favourite authors have extended series. Three recent books are interesting page turners which keep you guessing. I caution you to read these in order, so if you don’t know these great authors, you’re in for a treat (and a lot of summer reading!): Charles Todd, Elly Griffith and Amanda Quick all write historical fiction, period suspense that never fail to charm me. Nothing too heavy for he hammock, but well researched, interesting characters and wonderful sense of place be it the Norfolk broads, Victorian England or post WWI England. 
A read surprise for me was Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. (I am now finding her earlier novels, Dust and Shadow, Gods of Gotham.). Each chapter of Jane Steele opens with a quote from Jane Eyre, which just might make you rethink Charlotte Brontes gothic tale. This Jane is fun, and finds a hidden knife quite useful in Victorian society. Perfect beach read.

There are also series that have made the move to television. The next Walt Longmire mystery The Highwayman is also now in bookstores, just as I’m catching up with Longmire on Netflix. And while I am addicted to the program, I love the these books more. I thought his last, Any Other Name was the best yet. Really. Normally I would say that with the character development and overlapping cases, you should read them in order. But this is a novella, classic Longmire, and something of a ghost story. It could be inserted almost anywhere in the series. There is a warmth, a sense of humanity and a wonderful sense of place (Wind River Canyon) perfect for the armchair traveler. Walt is the stuff of Wyoming legend and Johnson doesn’t disappoint. I can’t wait for the next book (Sept) An Obvious Fact.

And then there is the nonfiction account of The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu! I confess after the first two chapters I had to read the ending to make sure he (Haidara) was alive. That the books and manuscripts had survived. That I wouldn’t hyperventilate anymore. I was intrigued by the Arabic manuscripts themselves, and every introduction of what he saved from Al Qaeda was astonishing. It is a truly aspiring but short account.

BLR!

Title: A Murder in Time, Julie McElwain
3.5 to 4 Stars ****

Publisher: Pegasus Books April 2017 320 pp

Genre: time travel, historical, English mystery, regency mystery

Author

This is Julie McElwain’s debut novel, which was selected as a Big Library Read (BLR), the first global ebook club for the period June 23- July 7th. Check out their website http://www.biglibraryread.com. I intend to keep track of these books now that I have discovered the site. I was prompted to read the book from Rochester Public Library’s website. And I was also intrigued that she grew up in rural North Dakota, local!

Story line: 

This novel makes a lovely beach read: it’s a fast pace, easy read with elements of romance, fantasy (time travel), mystery (rather gruesome serial killer) and regency England. Here we have a special ops FBI agent Kendra Donovan, who is thrown into an English castle in 1815. A serial killer has targeted Aldrich Castle and she must use her wits to catch him. There are several moments you have to suspend belief, the killer was a little too easy to figure out, and there are many unanswered questions until you realize this is part of a series. A Twist in Time will be published next spring to continue the Kendra Donovan saga.