The Chills Continue

Settle old scores – Or promote healing of old wounds?

Title: Old Scores by Will Thomas

Publisher: Minotaur Press (2017) 294 pp

Genre: mysteries, English mystery, historical mystery, detective fiction

5 stars, highly recommended

Author:

Will Thomas (b 1958) writes an award winning Victorian mystery series featuring Cyrus Barker, a Scottish detective or “private enquiry agent,” and his Welsh assistant, Thomas Llewelyn. The Barker/Llewelyn novels are all set in the 1880s with accurate historical events. Martial arts/ combat is featured throughout the series. Thomas has said that Barker is based on characters such as Richard Francis Burton and Edward William Barton-Wright, founder of Bartitsu (which Thomas also studies).

Previously, Thomas wrote essays for Sherlock Holmes society and lectured on crime fiction of the Victorian era. Thomas’ first novel Some Danger Involved was nominated for a Barry Award and a Shamus Award, and won the 2005 Oklahoma Book Award. The Black Hand was nominated for a 2009 Shamus Award. Fatal Enquiry won the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award. He was a librarian with the Tulsa City-County Library System. Thomas enjoys Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. His wife, Julia Thomas, recently published her first mystery, The English Boys (2016) followed by Penhale Wood (2017).

Story:

This is the 9th in the series and provides many answers and background to the previous 8 stories. Barker has always been quite mysterious as an unusual private investigator, as well as dangerous, and has been the cornerstone of this developing series. Llewelyn, witty narrator, provides the engaging and entertaining commentary on 19the century Victorian London. Thomas is a fantastic suspense writer, with attention to detail of class, traditions, culture, lore as well as weaving an intriguing tale of betrayal, secrets, honor and love. This is fast paced prose with fascinating suspects, red herrings and a satisfying conclusion which also hints at a continuing story thread. I read it straight through in a night, and then just reread it several months later, still enjoying and savoring the details.

Read on to Laurie King’s Mary Russell series (Mrs Sherlock Holmes). If you like Sherlock Holmes, this is not a clone as so many are. I also recommend Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock series. I was surprised to learn of his wife’s two books and can recommend those English mysteries too!

Received as an ARC from netgalley and the publishers. Purchased my own copy, to continue my set.

Weekend Reading

6 books leapt into my hands during a quick trip into the Library. Yes, all in the New Section when you walk in. And mostly new to me authors.

Both the title and the cover attracted me to this book : A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray (the third book of the series, so now I have to read the other two!). Edwardian time travel back to 1300 Orkney with Scottish myths. Then I discovered that this is a pseudonym for Beatriz Williams, whose books I discovered in December, and proceeded to devour as great escapism.

A Hunter in Winter by Conor Brady A Joe Swallow mystery. This is the third in a series, set in Ireland 1888. Wonderful evocative writing with fascinating characters and political intrigue. Great quote:“All for the empire upon which the sun will never set….Because God couldn’t trust the English for what they’d likely do in the dark.”

Gin and Panic by Maia Chance was a delightful romp during prohibition NYC. This is also the third in the Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries. The author is writing her PhD dissertation on nineteenth century American literature.

And perhaps the most timely is Lockdown by Laurie R. King. I highly recommend ALL her books and was disappointed that this book wasn’t more popular. It’s a hard, difficult US subject, a high school lockdown, but King is an amazing detailed writer of psychological suspense.

Will finish the other two tomorrow or Monday of the long holiday weekend.

Happy reading!

(They will be returned Tuesday if you want to check them out!)

March is national reading month!

I had a lovely extended weekend away which involved several airplanes and therefore reading opportunities with a loaded kindle. But new cities and airports are new bookstores and several new books leapt into my luggage. So in addition to required reading I had a fantastic time. AND also learned of several more books by favourite authors to be published later this year.

Title: A Love Most Dangerous by Martin Lake
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing January 2015
352pp.
Genre: historical fiction, Tudor, Henry VIII, English history,
3.5 Stars ***
Author: Martin Lake is an English author who has written several historical novels, primarily self published. It appears he writes series, his first concerned the Norman invasion of England, The Lost King: Resistance, Wasteland and Blood of Ironside (soon to be a fourth). Another concerns the Crusades: Outcasts. I had not read this author previously, so was unprepared for the abrupt ending, which of course generally signifies a sequel. Indeed, an interview states an interesting historical character, Nicholas Bourbon will participate. While I would consider these to be superficial historical fiction (there are just enough facts and interesting characters) Wikipedia is a primary reference. Modern language and behaviour are annoying (an editor would also be useful). But they are entertaining reads. Tudor fans will enjoy.
Story line:
It is 1537, Jane Seymour is Queen, but Henry’s roving eye finds another mistress. Alice Petherton (not an historical figure, but Lake later discovered the Shelton mistresses around the same time period) is a Maid of Honor to the Queen’s Court. She’s 17, innocent but determined to control her life (never to be queen, but unrealistic for the turbulent masculine time period). I found it hard to believe that men found her so irresistible or she was seemingly unaware of this (until Cromwell points it out at the end). She is a survivor though, and became a fascinating character in the course of the year (although I am still not clear on the timeline). I would continue this series, especially at the beach.
There are several side plots, and power twists, but descriptive London locations made for interesting reading. Unexpectedly, I liked Thomas Cromwell best.
This is more of a bodice ripper with more physical assault and gratuitous sex than I expected. Hilary Mantel it is not. But not every book needs to be a history lesson. And it is Henry the VIII, with graphic detail of poverty and decadence. Tudors sell.
(Just opened my Daedalus catalogue and discovered 4 page of Tudormania, evidently it sells well! But I found three to read, the Marlowe papers by Ros Barber, The Divorce of Henry VIII by Catherine Fletcher and King’s Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes).
Read on:
He recommends reading Alison Weir and Ian Mortimer.
I recommend Hilary Mantel or Vanora Bennett.
Phillipa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) and SJ Parris (Prophecy) are favorites.
Leanda de Lisle Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder.
Quotes:
Opening line:
To be a servant at the Court of King Henry is to live with your heart in your mouth.

She (Anne Boleyn) took me as one of her Maids of Honor and my slow approach to the furnace began.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

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When is an accident murder?

When the victim has had a pedicure…
Andrea Camilleri The Fourth Secret
This is a novella, (168 pages), which is part of a larger body of work: 16+ novels and countless short stories, which have evolved into a 9 season television series (26 episodes, with Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano). Beware the translator, he is an Italian author, and those books translated by Stephen Sartarelli are far better (Camelleri was awarded a 2012 crime writers international dagger for Potters Field, translated by Sartarelli). Sadly, this novella was translated by G Arizona and D Siracusa and often feels like a farce. There are also unforgivable spelling mistakes (eg here instead of hear).
The detective series (begun in 1994) features Inspector Montalbano (homage to a Spanish writer Montalban and his fictional detective Pepe Carvalho) who is a famous Sicilian detective in the Italian police force. Montalbano is a complex character, always clever, but often offputting (to me) as he can be very macho, mercurial, selfish. Yet I have continued to read the series, as each book is quite different. I also appreciate the European writing, which can be dramatic while stark, emotional while sparse. Do not start with this novella or you won’t continue the series. Begin with The Shape of Water. I read them out of order, as I found them, which might have lead to some confusion of character development. I intend to start with the television series as I have heard very good things about it.

Read on:
to Simeon (Maigret), Donna Leon (Italian detective).
If you like food to play a part in your novel.
If you like quaint police procedurals a la Agatha Christie.

3 stars

Quotes:
“Certainly it was quite the situation, but the Inspector couldn’t help but notice that Cadarella had a nice voice. …ah, sir, you should know that when I sing, I do damage. I’m so out of tune that dogs start barking as soon as they hear me.”
“Nine lines, including the title, at the bottom of the last column in the right. The page exuded complete indifference toward that unfortunate death, …”
“And so the plot thickened and thinned at the same time.”
Received as an ARC from Netgalley

Autumn Mysteries

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.
4 stars
Quotes
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.”
Read On
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.
4.5 stars

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.
5 stars
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.

BookScapes by Helen McIver

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The Midwife’s Tale  by Samuel Thomas

The midwife in this tale is Lady Bridget Hodgson, and her newly acquired servant and apprentice Martha. Lady Bridget is a 30 year old twice widowed woman, whose real sorrow is the loss of her 2 children. She lives in York, and best of all is based on a real character. These were streets I know well, and the pull back in time was intense: the setting perfectly depicted the harrowing days of a siege (by the Scots, described here as barbarians). This story has an intriguing list of characters, all well developed, with distinct differences and functions. Many classes of people are represented from city officials, soldiers, jailers, working women, wives, tailors, to street urchins, in churches, government, bars, apothecaries etc.

Martha is also a fascinating character, useful to the household, but with unusual set of skills, not so much house cleaning as house breaking. She has a few secrets of her own.

This is primarily a book about women, but there is an interesting assortment of men:

nephew (Mathew) with a club foot, tormented individual but helpful

brother-in-law (Edward), dominating, political, ultimately trustworthy

Italian (Baca) mysterious bordering on violence and deadly

husbands, sinful men of god, ‘the godly’

dwarf jailer – humour in odd places, goodness

Lord mayor – powerful, secretive, ruthless chess player

rebels and kingsmen in bombardments (to be avoided!)

siege which is destroying innocent townspeople

This is not a fast paced thriller. It is filled with death and the grim reality of the struggle for life, such that you wonder how we as humanity made it out of the 17th century. There is scathing social and religious commentary, interesting portrayal of the conniving and desperate lives of most women, the corrupt power of local politics all the while presenting everyday life. If you think you’d like time travel, read this for the gritty, grimy gruesome detail that will make you revel in central heating and plumbing. My nose wrinkles just thinking of her descriptive reeking passages. The contrast with her life (with linens, extra clothing, food) to the poor and unfortunate is uncomfortable at best. The writing is evocative – reel from the scents (stinking smells really), the sounds (cannons, horse screams, rain) but also the torment and sorrow of loss of children, babies, diseases, and the precariousness of life. There are full descriptions of several types of births but also the customs and camaraderie of the gossips (those women who helped with birthing)

But the characters were intriguing and interesting and every page turned effortlessly. I so enjoyed this book that I seriously hope that it is the beginning of a series. That Lady Bridget will continue to deliver babies and solve mysteries satisfactory, especially with Martha now taken on as deputy (midwife in training).

Quotes

“I was struck once again by the artist’s inability to portray him as any less pathetic than he had been in life. In truth it was a peculiar kind of masterpiece.”

“Phineas (her second husband) had taught me the hard lesson that contentment in marriage could not be taken for granted. I preferred the certainty of my work to the unknown of married life.”

‘I never forget a mother, the fathers were a different matter.”

“It is said that in his youth Edward ordered his sleeves cut an inch longer than was fashionable in order to hide the pommel of his dagger. This seemed right to me.”

“Edward was a voracious reader, and the walls of the room were covered with bookshelves containing works on every subject imaginable. There were books in English and Latin, of course, but also French and what looked like Greek. Massive folios of Shakespeare’s plays sat comfortably next to cheap pamphlets detailing a monstrous birth in Sussex….his desk was a riot of correspondence and commonplace books in which he scrawled notes…despite all this the room exuded not chaos but a sort of controlled energy.”

4.5 stars

read as an ARC

If you like Ariana Franklin, CJ Ransom and Vanora Bennett this is a book for you.