I confess I read so many books, and many many mysteries, that it is hard to write prompt reviews. So here are several recently read, all available in the library! It’s not too early to be thinking of gift giving (Hostess gift for thanksgiving?!)
1) Susanna Gregory 2013 Death In St James’s Park
This is the 8th book in the Thomas Chaloner series that takes place in the 1600s London. She also writes the Matthew Bartholomew series in medieval Cambridge (I adore the series for the titles alone, e.g. A Plague on both your Houses). Interestingly she was a Leeds police officer before changing careers to become an environmental consultant with field work in polar regions (seals, whales, walruses). As an academic she also taught comparative anatomy and biological anthropology. She has a vivid eye for detail and a strong research bent, which makes for great (but perhaps dense) historical mysteries. Aka Elizabeth Cruwys (Cambridge academic) and aka Simon Beaufort (Author).
Thomas Chaloner is “spy to Earl of Clarendon or intelligencer to The Lord Chancellor” (and given the title of gentleman usher as his disguise). It is 1665 and an explosion at the General Letter Office (PO!) leads to an enquiry. Thomas is something of an inept spy and leads a rather dreary existence, but then Gregory accurately portrays the harsh realities of everyday life. He’s already sent off to Russia on his next assignment at the end of this book. Most of her characters are real people doing their “jobs” which makes for fascinating reading. You’ll be glad of central heating.
4 stars for excellent historical drama.
Read on to CJ Sansom Shardlake series.
Noted similarities to Cadfael, by Ellis Peters/Ellis Pargeter
I prefer the Mistress of the Art of Death series (Diana Norman, Ariana Franklin) and wait for it!!!! Norman’s daughter has continued the series!
2) Silent Murders 2014 Mary Miley
This is the second book in the not to be missed series (The Impersonator 2012 won Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers First Crime Novel Award).
25 year old Leah Randall, now Jessie Beckett (after impersonating Jessie Carr, book one) is now in the silent film industry after a lifetime in Vaudeville (first with her mother) working in the Pickford/Fairbanks studio. She’s reinventing herself while using past skills to investigate an increasing body count. She’s quirky, plucky, intelligent, fun loving, plucky jack (Jill) of all trades.
This has a who’s who in early film stars feel! Movie buffs will enjoy this.
(Myrna Loy is her new friend, roommate and a friend of hers is Gary Cooper!)
And as Hollywood, there’s starlets, booze, drugs and genuinely lovely people. This is really the roaring twenties, fabulous Jazz Age and the Silver Screen era. It is also well researched, providing a great escape into a period piece. I look forward to the continuation of this cozy series.
“Prohibition laws were treated with the scorn they deserved.”
“I’d rather have met ‘little Mary’ than the queen of England.”
“That night Myrna showed me how to toast a cheese sandwich with ham, adding another recipe to my short list of culinary accomplishments.”
“Jessie Beckett, girl detective.’ Sounds like a feature film, doesn’t it Mary? Too bad women can’t be policemen.”
Mary Miley Theobald 2012 Death by Petticoat: American history myths debunked
Reminds me of the spunky heroine Phryne Fisher (Kerry Greenwood) novels, without the money!
3) Blood on the Water 2014 by Anne Perry
This is the 20th Inspector Monk mystery, but it feels like yesterday to me. I love the period detail and the character development (can Scruff really be 15?). It is 1865 and Victorian London is still seething with politics, class and empire. Beloved characters are struggling to balance their ideals with actual human behaviour, which still resonates today. But we enjoy living with Monk, Hester, Scruff and Oliver for 309 short pages.
Monk and Orme witnessed an explosion on a private water craft which caused the death of 200 people. His investigation is particularly gruesome and chilling, literally and figuratively with politics quickly coming into action. The first part of the book concerns the criminal investigation, while the latter is primarily courtroom drama and discovery of motivation, which of course is what finally determines the true killer. It is often the insight of Hester, with help from Scruff that provides import at information to the case. But Rathbone also has a vast understanding of the law, as well as a moral code. Perry is a master in this era, and particularly with these characters, and delivers another outstanding historical novel. I particularly liked the insight noting the fallibility of eyewitness accounts and testimony, and what we chose to see and hear. Many thought provoking moments.
4) The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014)
10 Short stories
I am exhausted from reading these tales, and not sure I would have survived if they had been novellas or full length novels. They are penetrating, unsettling, unnerving, unpredictable, ingenious, fascinating and revealing. There are fractured dysfunctional families, yet dreams in every one. I also feel like I have just had a college English class – intense descriptive yet sparse, short stories, beautifully written, evocative, scary to terrifying, full of the unknown, reeling from the passage of time.
In Audio books, Jane Carr’s brilliant reading truly rewards the ears. And adds dimension if possible (I listened to most of the stories, after reading them!).
Hilary Mantel is the only woman to win two Man Booker prizes for her amazing novels a out Thomas Cromwell and Tudor England. The third book of the trilogy will be some time but eagerly awaited by all her fans. Don’t miss this stunning collection.