Intriguing historical series!

Title: Iron Water (A Victorian Police Procedural) by Chris NicksonPublisher: Severn House 224pp November 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, historical, English mystery     4.5+ stars

Author: Chris Nickson (b 1954) is a British novelist, music journalist, and biographer who lived in the United States for 30 years before returning home. As a music journalist, he specialized in world and roots music, writing a regular column for Global Rhythm magazine. He wrote The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to World Music. He has written biographies of celebrities including Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Reeve and the late singer-songwriter John Martyn, Solid Air (ebook in June 2011). His first novel, The Broken Token (2010), was set in Leeds in 1731 followed by Cold Cruel Winter, then The Constant Lovers, The Cruel Fear, At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies: these are The Richard Nottingham novels. Then there are the Laura Benton series which take place in Seattle, the Detective Harper late Victorian (1890s) series also in Leeds, and other one-off novels and non-fiction. The audiobook of The Broken Token was named as one of the Audiobooks of the Year for 2012 by The Independent on Sunday.

Story line: I was very excited to discover a new author! This book looked interesting and is a genre I enjoy, but after the first 25 pages I settled in for a wonderful read. And then I discovered this is actually the fourth in a series, which I now must read in order. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies and Skin Like silver. All of his books have been added to my list. I love discovering a new (to me) author and enjoy sharing. Thanks to Netgalley for the chance to read Nickson. What a pleasure to enjoy an intricate plot, wonderful detailed characters, accurate interesting historical detail for an enjoyable afternoon read. These days stories often set your teeth on edge, you encounter graphic sex or violence when you’re not expecting it, editing leaves something to be desired, or…. this didn’t disappoint on any level.

We catch up with Detective Tom Harper witnessing a demonstration of a new naval weapon, the torpedo, in Waterloo Lake (aka Iron Water). Unfortunately a body is dislodged and then dredging operations unearth a women’s leg in the River Aire. Every era and town seems to have a violent criminal underworld. His wife Annabelle is also a suffragist and we see many societal changes including class structure, women’s issues, children. Leeds is a grim dirty industrial city (newly designated) and it’s obvious I have to read his other historical novels of this city. What a pleasure to add him to my winter reading. I eagerly await the next installment 2017, after I finish the rest of the series!

Www.chrisnickson.co.uk

Read on:

Late Victorian detectives: Canadian Det Murdoch (Maureen Jennings), Mary Russell (Laurie King)

Quotes:

But until Mary was born he hadn’t known how loudly his heart could sing. 

Detective Sergeant Ash he was now, promoted the year before and worth his weight in diamonds. He was a natural detective, a man who made connections well, who could think on his feet. Harper had pushed for him to be given his stripes; he deserved them.

He’d been a copper for fourteen years and never had a corpse emerge from the water before. Now there were two in a single morning.

‘Detective Inspector Harper, Leeds City Police.’ He still wasn’t used to the new name of the force.

The file on Archer was almost six inches thick, years of papers piled one on top of the other. The rumour was that he’d committed his first murder when he was just ten; a shopkeeper who clipped him round the ear when he came in and demanded money. No one had ever appeared in court for the death. He’d been arrested and questioned more often than Harper had enjoyed hot dinners.

‘You work out what the truth is,’ Harper told him. ‘That’s what the job is all about.’

‘Ready?’ Harper asked. ‘As I’ll ever be, sir,’ Ash answered. ‘I made out my will a few months ago.’

The sergeant smiled under his moustache. ‘I doubt Charlie Gilmore’s come within shouting distance of the truth since he learned how to talk. But there might have been a few places where he wasn’t lying too much.’

Six dead now. He couldn’t remember another case with so many murdered. And now? There was still one man out there. Morley’s killer. The last man standing. And he didn’t know who that might be.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Thank you!

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It’s a new book….if you haven’t read it!

It’s a new book….If you haven’t read it

I reviewed this book three years ago, but have since had several people ask me about it. Thought I would share again. Good for Christmas gifts, travel planning, winter armchair reading as we dream of green gardens again.

Hermit in the Garden From Imperil Rome to ornamental gnome by Gordon Campbell

Oxford University Press (October 2012)

Campbell is a noted historian, distinguished professor of Renaissance studies at the University of Leicester and has an impressive list of literature, art and history books authored and edited. (I thoroughly recommend his book “The story of the King James Bible”)

This is a magnificent historical account of Hermits, Hermitages and English Garden design, especially Georgian. Hermitages have enjoyed a minor renaissance recently, with old ones restored, new ones built and even job offers with increased tourism. I think the popularity of hobbits might have helped too. Although he claims that gnomes are a logical evolution of the hermit they are still banned at Chelsea Flower show! “Garden hermits evolved from antiquated druids and eventually declined into the garden gnome.” He illustrates four types of hermitages- religious, secular or court, Elizabethan and earlier British hermits (he often states English hermits, while showing them in Scotland and Ireland). Many early garden hermitages were in southern Europe, Italy, France around the 1400s, although the first might have been at the Roman villa of Hadrian. Campbell also recounts the fascinating history of hermitages in Spain.

18th century British grand garden design brought follies into the landscape. Follies often included hermitages with or without hermits (not religious but secular). Britain has had hermits since pilgrimages of Christianity, but I was astonished at the list of 750 cells and names of 650 hermits in the 1800s (Rotha Mary Clay). These were places of contemplation, which allowed “pleasurable melancholy” and deep thought, sometimes following a retreat after personal crisis. They were also fads/fashionable as recounted by nobility ‘pretending to be peasants”. The affinity for nature and solitude had a quite different expression in America with Thoreau and Emerson. Hermits have been romanticised but in actual fact the austere living conditions were primitive at best – and sometimes had required conditions of not cutting hair or nails (for up to 7 years). I found the descriptions both beautiful and tragic, for so many gardens and hermitages lost over the centuries.

I have space in my garden: gnomes need not apply.

Appendix has a list of interesting hermitages, several I have visited: Dunkeld, Dalkeith park, Craigieburn, Taymouth castle.  Some good illustrations, mostly black and white photos and drawings in my e-copy (contents say 63 color plates, 304 pp).  Bibliography and List of Hermitages in the World (country and county) Now I must visit the Ermitage at Arleshein, Switzerland – it sounds idyllic and has the last surviving ornamental hermit.

Read on to (preferably in your garden)

Edith Wharton (short story) Hermit and the Wild Woman, Tom Stoppard Arcadia, Seamus Heaney (1984) poem The Hermit

Read as an ARC from NetGalley

4.5 stars

A perfect holiday read

Title: The Inheritance by Charles FinchPublisher: Minotaur Books 304 pp November 2016

Genre: mystery, English historical mystery, series, Charles Lenox, fiction, 

4.5+ stars

Author: Charles Finch is the author of the bestselling Charles Lenox mystery series, The Inheritance being the 10th installment. The Last Enchantments (2014) was his first stand alone novel, about a group of students at Oxford. He is a book critic for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. Recently he was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award.

Story line: This is really a not to be missed series. Start at the beginning! Charles Lenox is an eminent Victorian detective with a penchant for solving unusual cases. As a boy at Harrow (Eton’s rival, more sophisticated and smarter) he was never able to determine the MB, mystery benefactor, of another student Gerald Leigh. Thirty years later Leigh contacts Lenox over another anonymous legacy, but then goes missing. Through a series of flashbacks with current events, rich period detail peels away layers of intrigue. There are several mysteries involving our usual well loved characters, which take place over 6 months of 1877, from a cold snowy January in London to what amounts to an English summer. You won’t want to miss catching up with Lady Jane, Dr McConnell, his two partners Polly Buchanan and Lord Dallington, his older brother Sir Edmund, Charles former butler, now an MP and so many more. I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting and compelling read, especially in light of recent political events. The world receded. It is a well written, thoroughly engrossing, historical novel with fascinating Victorian details: Pasteur, microbes, fish and chips, Churchill, Parliament, the Royal Society, plagiarism, farthings, and Lennox musings on friendship, love, egotism and current events. Finch has an eye for evocative detail e.g. it’s not just a pencil, but a charcoal pencil and the letter is sealed with a signet ring.

Read on:

Chris Nickson, Will Thomas, Bruce Holsinger. CS Challinor, David Liss

Quotes:

London was silent with snow, soft flakes of it dropping evenly into the white streets, nobody outside who had somewhere inside to be. It was the third day of the year. Already the light was fading, though it was scarcely past two o’clock in the afternoon,

But not enough business, alas, to keep him occupied for more than a few hours the previous afternoon, so that on this lonely endless Sunday he had already reorganized the long rows of books that lined the walls, had gone through several pots of tea—and above all had waited, waited, waited, all the infinite day through for a certain visitor to come.

Lenox was forty-seven now—a tall and thin man, with a close brown beard and a thoughtful, kindly, but undeceived face—and had been a detective since roughly the age of twenty-two, first as a private investigator, now as a professional in the agency he had founded with two close friends. (For several years between these stages of his career, he had been in Parliament, the ancient family game, but that was all in the past now.)

Kirk raised his eyebrows very slightly, which was the equivalent in him of asking outright whether Lenox had gone insane, and perhaps needed to check into a sanatorium known for its particular specialty in madness, and should he call a doctor.

“Cabs, you know, is what we started calling them at the advent of the modern period, oh, a thousand years ago.”

Leigh had been famous within the houses for the most part as a singularly awful student.

Rackham up—the driver being an unrepentant dipsomaniac, who had concealed within his cloak and breeches at all times, like a pirate with never fewer than thirteen knives stowed away upon his person, various bottles of alcohol.

Their third and final partner, Lord John Dallington, was a wry, handsome young fellow of thirty, youngest son of a duke and duchess, who in his earlier years of adulthood had earned a terrible reputation as a rake—but had mostly reformed of drinking and late nights now, and possessed a tremendous innate gift for detection, even if he was prone, still, to the occasional lost night.

There were several detectives, all formerly of the Yard, who worked for the agency. The bulk of their business was commercial: acting more swiftly and with greater energy than the police could on behalf of various businesses when they had internal troubles…

“You would hate my work, if you are so easily dispirited by the depths of behavior to which our species can descend.

“I can’t believe we have found someone Debrett’s knows and you do not!” said Dallington. “A Member of the House of Lords. Dear, dear. What will Lady Jane say?”

He was more than a talisman, but his good cheer, his idle words, his neat appearance, Lenox realized, were essential to the happy workings of the agency.

The single stupidest person Lenox had ever met was Georgie Cholmondley, now Lord April, who had been at Harrow at the same time that he and Leigh had.

“We could have a look around Truro.” “Yes, that should be a thrilling eight minutes.”

Upon the fourth finger of her left hand was a ring, set with a diamond. In Lenox’s day the women’s engagement rings had been, without exception, of pearl and turquoise, but according to Dallington this was the new vogue, the diamond.

When Napoleon had ordered the execution of the Duc d’Enghien, it was said, he had done worse than commit a crime—he had committed a blunder.

it rained steadily and torrentially, the light washed out of the sky, the people washed out of the streets.

Seated between them, curling her fingers through her doll’s hair, was Sophia, who had stood near Polly with a basket of flowers, eaten too much soup, had a tantrum, and fallen asleep in her chair. Not one of her finest performances.

“No, it’s not magic, the future—it’s science.”
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library

Welcome to Hell…Bay!


Title: Hell Bay By Will Thomas 

Publisher: Minotaur Books 304 pp. October 2016

Genre: mystery, English historical, series, fiction

4.5 stars

Author:  This is the 8th in the Barker and Llewelyn series written by Will Thomas, an author from Oklahoma. I have avidly followed this historical mystery series, eagerly awaiting each installment. I have never been disappointed from Some Danger Involved to the last Anatomy of Evil and would recommend reading them in order. This is not the usual gritty crime ridden streets of Victorian London tamed by Barker, but a well written closed room mystery with personal development.

Story line: Private enquiry agent extraordinaire and scotsman Cyrus Barker agrees to his least favorite assignment, security. A secret conference at the private estate of Lord Hargrave on a remote island, Godolphin, off the coast of Cornwall will negotiate a new treaty with France. The cover story for the gathering is a house party–an attempt to introduce two unmarried sons to potential mates. Nothing like a little intrigue to determine true colours.

But almost immediately Lord Hargrave is killed by a sniper, and the French ambassador’s head of security is stabbed to death. Trapped in the manor house with no means off the island, Barker and his Welsh assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, must determine which among them is the killer(s) while also uncovering family secrets and motives. It has a satisfactory ending, with rapid page turning!

Read on:  If you like Sherlock Holmes, or manor house mysteries.

Quotes:

Everything was falling into chaos everywhere. Standards were no longer being met, and so they lowered the standards, rather than getting at the root of the problem, which was lazy boys.

Quite probably, he died feeling no pain whatsoever, which, considering how much he had inflicted on others during his many years, doesn’t exactly seem fair.

We all make mistakes, of course, even the best of us. Some of us are famous for them. 

We’re like that, Cyrus Barker and I: chalk and cheese. If something interests one of us, it probably won’t interest the other.

One cannot go anywhere without being questioned about everything. One is asked about one’s relatives, one’s political views, private history, and personal references. One engages in small talk. Do I look like the sort of person who enjoys engaging in small talk?….If I have to endure a week of sweetmeats and polite conversation, I’m liable to set back Anglo-French relations all by myself.”

The colonel smiled, revealing a full set of ivory teeth that had looked better on the elephant.

To my mind, nothing said that we were staying in an actual castle more than the fact that the dining table seated twenty. It was not a number of tables put together, or even two smaller ones abutted, but one table…

“The bullet passed right through my hand,” Fraser said. “That will not improve my rheumatism.” We were impressed. The man at seventy-three was making jokes about having just been shot.

Nobody ever talks about a brooding Pole or a brooding Chinaman, but Scotsmen are known for it. It was good that the weather was too warm for a fire to stare into or there would be no word from him all day.

You work for a man for six years and then one day he hands you a death sentence. I recalled the Llewelyn luck: everything bad that can happen to one probably shall, and yet one will not die from it, as that would end the torment too quickly.

No self-respecting Scotsman would be without his skean dhu.

She could have given the sun lessons in how to shine.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

TagManII

Title: Presumption of Guilt by Archer MayorPublisher: Minotaur books 305 pp (Sept 2016) 

Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, series, Joe Gunther. 4.5+ stars

Author: Archer Mayor is a bestselling author of the 27-book police procedural series featuring VPI detective Joe Gunther. After graduating from Yale he wrote historical non fiction. In addition to his writing, Mayor is a death investigator for Vermont’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and a longtime detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office. Mayor integrates his actual police experiences which adds depth, detail, and authenticity to his characters and provides rich multilayered plots. He won the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Fiction–the first time a writer of crime literature was honored. He has also been cited for Excellence in the Arts by the State of Vermont. 

Story line: I have been a fan since the publication of his first novel, and yes, I have them all. In hardback. Living all over the world, each book gave me a fresh current look at home. There is always an excellent ensemble of characters, well loved with growth and scars. It helps to read these in order as each character has an extensive backstory. New faces and the next generation are intriguingly present here. I especially like the realistic, often witty dialogue, the relevant and timely well researched multilayered plots, with a lack of gratuitous sex or violence. Vermont is warmly depicted, Vermonters occasionally hilariously so. Every book is a solid, engaging page turner. I highlighted 50 quotes I wanted to share. It was a fast read, but also had an abrupt ending. I tried to turn the last page three times, expecting, wanting more. I loved Krunkle’s role and the return of TagMan. I’m glad some peace has found Joe.

Read on:

John Sandford Virgil Flowers series, Craig Johnson Walt Longmire series, Dick and Felix Francis, Kathy Reichs, Susan Hill

Quotes:

“Brattleboro? That’s a bar town, not a city. They should call it Dodge and have done with it. We’re going to Keene.”

You’re the flatlander. Bright lights’re like oxygen to you.”

And that meant not just “away,” as many Vermonters called the world beyond their borders.

“Can’t we rule it a suicide?” Willy asked now, looking down at the calcified finger with the ring, still trapped in place. Predictably, Lester laughed, Sam rolled her eyes, and Joe answered evenly, “Probably not, but I like the creative thinking.”

This is sounding like a modern Agatha Christie novel, although I doubt she would’ve used a nuclear reactor as a setting.”

Because to her, Dan Kravitz would forever be his own alter ego: not the menial everyman with an eerie ability to keep clean, but rather what the papers had coined “the Tag Man” a couple of years ago.

Didn’t they do that in a Columbo episode?”

In 1967 and ’68, homicides jumped from four a year to around twenty. The hippie counterculture, the Vietnam War protests, the interstate coming through, unemployment … The population jumped sixty thousand, because of urban flight, at the same time about twenty-five hundred farms went belly-up. This state was reeling, and I’m barely touching the surface.”

“The mere fact you just said so’ll make it happen, oh fearless leader,” Willy said resignedly. “That is the way it works.”

“You are a sweetheart. Never hesitate to call. If I’m in the middle of a gunfight or something, I’ll phone you right back.”

“It’s AA. It’s anonymous.” “It’s Vermont, stupid. There’re twelve people in the whole state. Everybody knows everybody else. Who else was there?

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover.

Cozy books for cool nights

Title: All the Little Liars by Charlaine HarrisPublisher: Minotaur Books 240 pp, October 2016

Genre: mystery, cozy, series, Aurora Teagarden, fiction, 

3.5 stars

Author: I don’t think this author needs any introduction after the urban fantasy Southern Vampire HBO TrueBlood mystery series. Although as I have said before, I like her earlier mysteries more, and love the current Midnight Texas series. Harris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League. She is a member of the board of Sisters in Crime, and alternates as president of the Arkansas Mystery Writers Alliance.

Story line: This is the 9th installment but 13 years after the previous mystery. There are many expected changes but it remains comfortably familiar. Recently, many well established authors have had minor but glaring errors in their books which is more than a little disappointing. As an easy read, it is simple to ignore them, but they are annoying. Roe is always a charming librarian, and we want to catch up with what happens next with an old friend, however fictional. She’s back from her honeymoon, her 15 year old half brother Phillip is now living with them, but mysteriously disappears, and then a body is found. It’s a typical cozy in that the amateur detective solves the case that stymies police and FBI. This wasn’t the best read as I missed the wit and intelligence of Roe, but it was short and has an obvious progression. There are evidently 4 HallMark movies starring Candace Cameron Bure, which might explain the new, and forthcoming, books.The first two films, based on the second and first book premiered in 2015 on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel. The third film is based on the third book Three Bedrooms, One Corpse while the fourth film is The Julius House (2016).

Read on:  If you like cozy mysteries. her fans won’t be disappointed.

Quotes:

Robin was nothing if not suspicious; since he was a mystery writer, that came naturally.

I was learning about living with a writer. I had loved Robin’s crime novels long before I’d ever met the man and loved him, too.

I appreciated the fact that the library was so relevant to the lives of the people it served.

But I’d always been a printed-word person. I loved holding an actual book. I loved turning the pages. I loved carrying a novel around with me, getting it out of my purse at lunch to read for a few minutes in the break room. I had never been able to fathom what people did with their free moments, if they didn’t read. But I’d become increasingly aware that this attitude aged me, made me more like seventy-six than thirty-seven.

There were more people we could have called, but abruptly, we circled our wagons and spent the rest of our night reading.

Every town has a boy like Clayton, I suppose.

A row of casserole dishes cluttered the table. Friends had brought food. That proved we were in a crisis.
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Austenesque?

Title: The Ill-Kept Oath by CC AunePublisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishers (Sept 2016) 416pp

Genre: mystery, paranormal, YA, historical fantasy, Victorian, fiction, 

3.5 stars

Author: From Amazon’s author page: ” Aune’s ramblings have led her through 49 states—nine of which she has called home—plus a fair number of countries. She has been a journalist and a contributor for the companion book to PBS’s 2000 series In Search of Our Ancestors. Currently, she directs the blog One Year of Letters, which explores the internal landscape of writers. The Ill-Kept Oath is her debut novel. This is the first of a planned series, with the second Talisman Keepers installment in rewrite.”

Story line: I received an advance copy but after a few chapters found it didn’t meet my expectations. It was less paranormal/ fantasy and more scattered romance. I put it aside for more compelling reads, until rainy, snowy weather held me housebound. Then, grasping the central characters, and melodramatic teen writing, it was a quick read. The two heroines Josephine and Prudence, write to each other from their respective abodes, Stanistead House, a country estate, and London during the Marriage Mart Season. Both are interested in obtaining husbands, both have received an inheritance of Talismans, and both find themselves involved in intrigue. Prudence Fairweather and her brother Edward were taken in by Lord Middlemere, who has a daughter of similar age Josephine Weston. All three were raised in ignorance of their blood legacy, as per the Oath. Prudence,18, has limited options because she is poor, but she is pursued by Underwood (dull but wealthy) while she is interested in the unreliable William MacNeal. There is of course an evil socialite. Lady Josephine, 16, is interested in Robert Quimby, a young military man who is socially beneath her. Meanwhile, there are trolls rampaging in the countryside and magic escaping in candlelit ballrooms.

There is some interesting historical detail (the costume and waltzes) with dark magic being slowly revealed. Good character development bodes well for the continuation of this series. I would have preferred to read the series together as I felt much was unexplained in volume one, lose ends abound, and we still don’t know what kind of magic to expect. The story feels incomplete. Also, who is the target audience?

Quotes:

Normally, Prudence would never challenge authority, but her guardian, having conjured this evocative subject, might as well have touched a spark to gunpowder. Curiosity gave way to burgeoning wonder.

“They possessed a rare set of talents called the Inheritance.”

She’d spent six weeks in London undergoing this transformation. Gone was the country girl who climbed trees and rode bareback; gone forever her girlhood spent in the idyllic hills of the west. Until now, she had directed no thought toward her future. Love might have found her in Wiltshire…

“Shall we rely on social calls to open the right doors? My heart may not be so sanguine with the purposes of a Season, but I have accepted it as a necessary rite of my passage. I’ve been in London already one quarter of a year but not one event have I attended.”

She was doomed to be perceived as an immature child, and the keepsakes seemed to make matters worse. Edward’s point about her reputation had been perfectly valid, however cruelly stated, but the dangers were worse than he could possibly imagine.

Middlemere squeezed the bridge of his nose. Two decades ago, he had postulated that Talismans could, even without ritual, awaken a Keeper’s instincts.

With a crescendo of chords, Middlemere ended the concerto. Everyone applauded, whether they’d been listening or not.

“No one expected the Talismans to exert a force of their own. We called ourselves Talisman Keepers, but our power relied on more than mere objects. Most Keepers formed partnerships that made them still stronger. In the early days, they offered their services in exchange for titles and land and became much coveted by the nobility.

They would descend on our Family and examine everyone for the Trait, identifying you and perhaps Edward before drawing Mr. MacNeal into the net. What would happen to Us then is uncertain, but the Exorcist’s description still burns in my head: a magical Voiding of one’s Memory with the potential to produce unexpected Results.

“Not at all. Think of the quarrels he and I shall have. I’m far too opinionated to be a good marchioness.”

She advanced to the sideboard and poured them all a strong drink, which Prudence and MacNeal accepted with a good deal more alacrity than was strictly necessary.

Do you have any idea what the average man thinks about?” Prudence shuddered and turned bright red.

“I have learned enough to make me proud of my heritage, but if the price of happiness is never to learn another thing about the Inheritance, then gladly will I pay.” 

Read on:

If you like Gail Carriger, Alan Bradley, Seth Graham Smith Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.