Bubble bubble. Toil and Trouble!

Title: Thrice the Brinded Cat hath Mew’d By Alan BradleyPublisher: Bantam, 352 pp September 2016

Genre: cozy mystery, YA, British, historical, fiction

5 stars : Read in one sitting, as all previous books were, often late into the night

Author:

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto, Canada. After a career in television broadcasting, he retired from the University of Saskatchewan to write full-time. His publications include children’s stories, lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers and screenplays. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC radio and published in various literary journals. He was the recipient of the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature. 

The first in the series, “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” won the 2007 Debut Dagger Award of the Crime Writers Association in the UK; the 2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel; the 2010 Dilys, awarded by the International Mystery Booksellers Association; the Spotted Owl Award, given by the Friends of Mystery, and the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award, given by the Crime Writers of Canada for Best First Novel. It was also nominated for an Anthony Award, a Barry Award, and a Macavity Award. Sweetness made numerous lists and awards including the New York Times, as a Favorite Mystery of 2009, an American Library Association nominee as Best Book For Young Adults; a Barnes and Noble Bestseller. The audiobook version of “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” was voted Best AudioBook by iTunes. The books are all NYTimes best sellers. Don’t miss the audio books narrated by Jayne Entwistle- she is absolutely perfect, and in 2014 won Outstanding Audiobook Narration for The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. Academy Award-winning producer/director Sam Mendes, of “Skyfall” and “American Beauty” fame has optioned for Flavia for television movies (2012).

Story line:

This is book 8 in what I hope is a long series of sleuthing for our intrepid youngster Flavia De Luce. Yes, another cliffhanger so we know book 9 is in progress. Please read these in order as there is a good progression of character, friendships, sleuthing techniques, layers of personal history, and ‘in jokes’. My favourites are volumes 1,6 and now 8. A word of warning, have your hankies ready. If you love the Flavia stories you will definitely enjoy this installment back in 1950s England. Flavia returns without welcome as her father is gravely ill. In no time she’s off on trusty Gladys, in the usual English weather with the usual suspects. Fortunately there is a body and sleuthing commences.

Flavia has charmed me since the very first novel as has Bradley’s excellent writing. Flavia is still a fascinating, captivating, curious, quirky, beguiling, precocious 12 year old. Her observations are priceless. I enjoy the intricate mysteries that Bradley creates, here with interesting details of woodcarvers, witches, childhood storybooks, but Flavia is the reason to read. I love her clever mind. She is going to be an incredible, formidable adult! I can’t wait for the next book. The anticipation of each novel is exceeded only by the actual read. 

Quotes:

Gladys gave a little squeak of delight. She loved coasting as much as I did, and if there was no one in sight, I might even put my feet up on her handlebars: a bit of bicycle artistry that she loved even more than ordinary free-wheeling.

Life with my sister Daffy had taught me that you could tell as much about people by their books as you could by snooping through their diaries – a practice of which I am exceedingly fond and, I must confess, especially adept.”
Thanks to my Girl Guide training, I was able to bluff convincingly when required. All those wet and windy Wednesday evenings spent in cold, drafty parish halls were paying off at last.

How could I tell the dear man that murder made me feel so gloriously alive?

The DeLuce blood is stronger, afterall, then sentiment.

There is an art to staging a convincing accident. It is not as easy as you may think – particularly on short notice. First and foremost, it must look completely natural and spontaneous. Secondly, there must be nothing comical about it, since comedy saps sympathy.

The world can be an interesting place to a girl who keeps her ears open.

Read on: 

If you like Harriet the Spy or Lemony Snickett’s Violet Baudeleaire. Or are a Sherlock Holmes Fan.

Or listen to Jayne Entwistle narrate Julie Berry’s Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.

Laurie King The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Martha Grimes Belle Ruin series

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

Fall into a good book

Title: A Time of Torment by John ConnollyPublisher: Atria 480 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, series, Charlie Parker

5+ stars

Author:

John Connolly, born in Dublin, Ireland, studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper. He continues to contribute literary articles and interviews. He has visits Maine for over 20 years. The Time of Torment is the 14th Charlie Parker novel, joining a long line of exceptional writing, plot development and suspense. The first, Every Dead Thing (1999) introduced the former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow followed (2000) then The Killing Kind, (2001) and The White Road (2002). 2005 marked the publication of The Black Angel, The Unquiet, (2007) The Reapers, in 2008 The Lovers, in 2009, and The Whisperers, the ninth Charlie Parker novel (2010). The Burning Soul, was published in 2011, followed by The Wrath of Angels and The Wolf in Winter  2014. Last year I reviewed and highly recommended A Song of Shadows, the 13th Parker novel. 

In 2003, John published his first stand-alone book, Bad Men. Nocturnes, a collection of novellas and short stories followed and then Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2, the second collection of short stories. The Book of Lost Things, concerns fairy stories and the power that books have to shape our world. The Gates (2009), was his first novel for young adults. A sequel published in 2011 as Hell’s Bells in the UK and The Infernals in the United States, was followed by The Creeps. DreamWorks Studios acquired the Samuel Johnson trilogy for development. With his partner, Jennifer Ridyard, he has written Conquest, Empire and Dominion, in the Chronicles of the Invaders YA series.

Books to Die For, a nonfiction anthology co-edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke, won the 2013 Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Critical/Biographical Book of the year. His website: http://www.johnconnollybooks.com.

Story line:

As always John Connolly delivers an impeccable thriller. I still insist these need to be read in order, but know people who have started in the middle of the series, even with this book. They ALL go back the first novel. You don’t have the suspense of character development nor history with details that make the over arching story. Each book is a chapter in am amazing life.

This time we start in Maine and finish with a Cult in West Virginia. It could have been anywhere in the USA, particularly the Appalachians but also the West and Midwest, PNW. Connolly nails our culture of guns, violence, paranoia but also portrays intense loyalty, family and friends. The paranormal element is slight, tangible and believable. And ever present in the next book, as clearly there is much more ahead. Eager anticipation for every word.

Every book is well written, plot driven, meticulously researched and a joy to read, and reread. I always look forward to Louis and Angel. And now await Sam’s development. I own them all. Read them in one sitting, reread to ponder nuances. And leave the lights on.

Quotes:

The Collector had not seen Parker in more than a year, and was astonished by the changes in him. It was not simply the physical alterations wrought by his suffering, although his injuries, and his ongoing recuperation from them, had left him thinner than before, and his hair was speckled with white where the shotgun pellets had torn paths through his scalp. No, this was a man transformed within as well as without, and the unease that the Collector had always experienced in Parker’s presence, a glowing ember of concern, suddenly exploded into flame.

But it was his gaze that was most altered. If it was true what they said about the eyes being the windows to the soul, then Parker’s soul burned with a new fire. His eyes held a calm conviction that Dave had not seen in them before. This was a fundamentally changed man, one who had come back strengthened, not weakened, by what he had endured, but who was also both less and more than he once had been. 

….was good news for Portland’s better restaurants, once they’d grown used to Angel’s distinctive taste in attire and concluded that he wasn’t about to steal any of the silverware.

Sam was not what he had believed her to be. She was his daughter, and more than that: she was a being in the process of becoming, but what might ultimately emerge from that metamorphosis could not be foretold. If Sam knew, then she declined to say.

Parker could spend a lifetime hunting the servants, or he could find the master and destroy him.

Law and justice are not the same.”

He had decided that when he became governor, or world ruler—whichever came first—he’d pass a law forcing people to make and take all cell phone calls outside bars and restaurants, on pain of having their phones confiscated, or fed to them. 

For a moment, Parker thought he should have become a lawyer. He could have learned to live with the shame if it enabled him to own apartment blocks.

“I ought to warn you,” Parker told Louis. “They won’t have seen anything like you before.” “You mean black, or gay?” “No, just clean.”

The Fulci brothers rarely blessed the Porterhouse with their business. They preferred to avoid blighted institutions on the grounds that they brought their own trouble with them, and so drinking somewhere like the Porterhouse was like taking sand to a desert.

And then he saw the name attached to the academic reference, and a prickle of disquiet crept across him like the touch of a spider in the dark.

A dead king, then, is a kind of effigy, typically centered on the skull of a victim, but very rare, even in its most basic form, and the creation of one, as far as we can tell, is entirely the preserve of the most extreme of criminal groups or gangs.

Maybe sometime in the past, long before people knew about fripperies like proper plumbing, A/C that didn’t sound like a failing jet engine, and towels with a consistency softer than sandpaper, Dryden’s might have served as an acceptable rest stop for those with suitably low expectations, but it now belonged to another, distant century, just like smallpox and tuberculosis, although Louis wouldn’t have been surprised if a sample of some of the gunk behind the sink in his bathroom had revealed traces of both.


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

Sometimes you can’t escape the claws….

Title: Escape Clause by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers, #9 )
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 400 pp October 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, suspense

5 stars

Author:

From Amazon author list: John Sandford is the pseudonym for the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist John Camp. He is the author of twenty-six Prey novels, most recently Extreme Prey; four Kidd novels; nine Virgil Flowers novels; three YA novels coauthored with his wife, Michele Cook; and three stand-alones, most recently Saturn Run.

Story line:

Virgil Flowers, my favourite investigator for the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), is back for another roller coaster ride. We moved from dognapping to catnapping- with endangered tigers stolen from the Mn Zoo. Everyone else is involved in politics at the state fair (leftover from the last Davenport Prey book). Virgil gets the short straw as body counts rise, brutal attack occur and bombs go off.

I always looks for the references of either Davenport or Flowers depending on the book series, and this doesn’t disappoint. I don’t think of it as a spinoff either, Virgil feels more like a real MN cop: tough, smart, long haired (farmer), quirky Midwestern boy. Love the cultural t-shirt references. He does the legwork, finds the clues, thinks through the larger pictures and gets his sociopath, without a gun, if at all possible. The cat helped. 

I read this in one sitting, relieved to be laughing more with Virgil’s engaging antics and comments. Several of the Flowers books have been very dark indeed. The Midwest realism works on all levels, from the swimming hole to the immigrant factory to the traffic. Small town life contrasts seething political issues, with good commentary and further thought. This book will not disappoint.

Read on:

To the first Virgil Flowers Dark of the Moon, or the Prey Series.

If you like Lee Child (Jack Reacher), Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch) or David Baldacci (John Puller) series. 

Quotes:

“You must be the famous Virgil fuckin’ Flowers.”

Virgil could feel his heart clogging up with grease as he finished the sandwich,

New Ulm was getting more like LA every single day, Virgil thought.

“Did you have a gun with you?” Davenport asked. “Yeah.” “You didn’t shoot it, did you?” “No.” “There’s the fuckin’ Flowers we all know and love,” Davenport said.

…..but they had the IQs of small rocks.

“It’s another one of your damn Twin Cities murders that you keep unloading on us,” the sheriff said. “If he’d dropped the refrigerator fifteen feet west, it’d technically be a Minnesota case, which it should be.” “You’re breaking my heart,” Virgil said.

“Why do your cases always wind up like this?” Duncan asked, running a hand through his hair. “Why can’t you have a straightforward missing-tigers case?”

….had physically frozen on a street corner. For nearly half an hour, he’d been unable to pick up a foot to move. Since it was St. Paul, nobody had noticed.

“I gotta think,” Virgil said. “I mean, I am thinking, but I’m not coming up with anything.”

“Beer, weed, and skinny-dipping,” Bill said. He sounded happy about it. “It is just sort of Minnesota in the summertime, isn’t it?”

“If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t believe it. With you, I think, ‘Yeah, probably,’ ” she said.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Will be available from Rochester Public Library.

Summertime chills

It’s a new book….if you haven’t read it! Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find. Title: Shadow Play Iris Johansen

Publisher: St Martin Press. 337 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, fiction, 

4 stars

Author:

Iris Johansen is a New York Times best selling author whose genres include romance, mystery/suspense and crime/thriller. She is writing the Kendra Michels series with her son, the Edgar award winning screenwriter and novelist, Roy Johansen. Her daughter Tamara is her research assistant. Shadow Play is part of the Cara Delaney mini series within the well written Eve Duncan series (first published in 1998). Her next stand alone is No Easy Prey (April 2017); Nightwatch (October 2016 with Roy). 

Story line:

Shadow Play is the first book in a trilogy, within the Eve Duncan series (and book 19 of that). The other two have recently been published, Hide Away and Night and Day, which is why I am reviewing now. Each of the books ends on a cliff hanger, and to me was not complete. Each installment is very good, there is satisfactory character development, action, adventure and more than a few sociopaths. 

Eve Duncan is a world renowned forensic sculptor who has helped many families find closure. Early books focused on the kidnapping and death of her young daughter Bonnie. Her quest for justice with her police detective, now love, provided fascinating, all too real, and compelling reading. They now live in rural Georgia but head to California to solve this crime (and over to Scotland and Russia for the next two books). There are elements of paranormal/supernatural in this series, communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts or understanding animals. It is still a relief to not have graphic sex or violence (although there are plenty of gruesome details) with a mystery, and the detailed relationships between Eve and Quinn as well as Jane, Margaret, Cara, Jenny and Bonnie are lovely. The series looks to continue strongly, with additional developments.

Read on:

If you like Kathy Reichs, Lisa Jackson, Kay Hooper, JD Robb, Karen Robards, Beverly Connor, Heather Graham

Quotes:

This child’s killer might only have been a shadow-figure, but it was malignant and evil and Eve felt as if she could reach out and touch him. 

Out of the blue, out of the darkness, those words had come to her. Weird. Imagination?

…When I work on a skull, it doesn’t usually want to have a conversation.” She shook her head. “Well, that’s not quite true, it did happen to me once before, and that may be why I got a little nervous. I was working on a very nasty, vindictive man who only wanted to bring me into his world and hurt me. 

“And I’ll tell Joe Quinn what you’ve said if it will make you feel better. I’m sure that dossier you have on me stressed Joe’s importance in my life. He’s very good at eliminating threats, real or otherwise.”

How could she tell him that it wasn’t his competence but her own fear that she’d be responsible for something happening to him? Joe was like a force of nature when he was on the hunt.

Margaret nodded. “Okay, here goes. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been able to communicate with animals. I can kind of merge and read them.” Silence. “Read them?” Nalchek repeated. “Read their minds?” “No, not usually. Oh, sometimes. It depends on the species.

His voice was soft, urgent. “I have so much love for you, Eve. I’m full of it, you’re my center. You always have been and always will be. If your Bonnie drifts away from you, I’ll just pour more of that love toward you. I’ll find a way to stop you from hurting. I promise you.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).


Shadows…

Thrilling Summer Chills

Title: Pop Goes the Weasel by MJ ArlidgePublisher: Berkley 426 pp (2014/2015/2016)

Genre: mystery, thriller, Helen Grace, psychological thriller, series, serial killer

4.5 stars

Author:

Arlidge (b 1974) has spent 15 year’s writing high drama, prime time crime series for ITV, British television. He recently started the Det Helen Grace series, now into 6 books. Pop goes the Weasel is the 2nd, and I confess I couldn’t wait and read right through five, (Doll’s House, Liar, Liar, Little Boy Blue) eagerly awaiting the publication this autumn of Hide and Seek. His writing is terse, spare in these dark, fast paced, gritty thrillers. The character development improves with each novel and secondary characters play wider varied roles. I find these addictive, in a most unpleasant way. These are not cosy mysteries as realistic events happen that will cause nightmares. They are all psychological thrillers that provide fresh angles to some truly horrible serial killers and their gruesome crimes. Although I think the first book was the most original.

Story line:

In Pop goes the Weasel, as in all, Det Helen Grace is committed to her job, still largely dysfunctional in society, keeps secrets, remains respected but not liked in the Southhampton Force, and can be trusted to never quit. These mysteries must be read in order for the personal history, character development and escalating tension. As it’s a series, I know she will survive, but each book represents a challenge as to what happens next. There are great narrative twists. Read collectively they are a roller coaster! It’s always a race against time to find the killer before there is a next victim. They are very fast paced, short chapters, with vivid descriptions of time and place. I will continue to read them to see Det Grace grapple with her life.

Read on:

Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Stuart McBride, Peter May

Watch Luther, Dexter, MI5, Broadchurch, The Tunnel

Quotes:

Opening line The fog crept in from the sea, suffocating the city.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

It’s a new book…

…..If you haven’t read it!

Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find.  I have had this book on my TBR pile for some time, eagerly anticipating it because it is the 9th in the Tony Hill Carol Jordan series. Yet, I have to be in just the right mood to read these: they aren’t for the faint of heart, nor lonely late night readings. And I always read them in one sitting because I absolutely have to know what happens. 

Title: Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid (2015)

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press. 416 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, crime, Scottish author, English mysteries, series, serial killers

4+ stars

Author:

Biographical Notes 

“Val McDermid (b 1955) is a No. 1 bestselling author whose (29) novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year (Mermaids Singing, the first Hill and Jordan 1995) and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.” She is part of Tartan Noir, and cofounder of Harrogate Crime Writing festival.

From a personal interview: “You wouldn’t know it but I’m very good…. at knitting. My favourite work of art….is Portrait of a Young Man by Botticelli in the National Gallery. My five year plan….to stay alive, write more books.”

Story line:

This novel centers on mysterious deaths of several women who have been viciously cyber bullied. Dr Tony Hill thinks they are more than suicides, but first he has to rescue ex DCI Jordan, who in retirement has been drinking herself to death. Pressured into building a new department MIT (Major Incident Team) she assembles old colleagues and new technologies. I loved Det Stacey Chenn, IT expert and hacker extraordinaire, a la MI-5 style. Tony remains the socially awkward but brilliant profiler. I completely understand his need to have a storage unit to house his expansive library. (I also liked the literary clues). McDermid cleverly portrays the intricate complexities of relationships, consequences, criminal minds, alcoholism, internet trolls and the everyday all too real stories. She has been called the Queen of the psychological thriller.

I await the next book, with the continuation of their complex friendship/ relationship, the new team, another horrifying killer, the departmental challenges, and a satisfying intricate read.

You could start with this book, and then feel compelled to read the rest. There is enough backstory to understand the characters, but the first 6 books were cracking good reads.

NB the audio book read by Gerard Doyle is also very well done. 

Read on:

Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon series(6), Kate Branigan series(6), and next Karen Pirie in December 2016. Or watch The Wire in the Blood (6 seasons, 2002-2008)

If you like Thomas Harris, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Deborah Crombie, Tess Gerritsen, Tana French, Gillian Flynn

Quotes:

She didn’t think there actually was a word for the complicated matrix of feelings that bound her to Tony and him to her. With anyone else, so much intimacy would inevitably have led them to bed. But in spite of the chemistry between them, in spite of the sparks and the intensity, it was as if there was an electrical fence between them. And that was on the good days.

All his working life, he’d been held up as the expert in empathy, the one who knew how to stand inside other people’s skin and report back on what they felt and why they felt it.

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

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.

Intrigue!

The winners of the Agatha Awards, which celebrate the “traditional mystery–books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie,” were honored recently at the Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, Md. This year’s winners are:Contemporary Novel: Long Upon the Land by Margaret Maron (Grand Central)

First Novel: On the Road with Del and Louise by Art Taylor (Henery Press)

Historical Novel: Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King (Bantam)

Nonfiction: The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins)

Children’s/YA: Andi Unstoppable by Amanda Flower (Zonderkidz)

Short Story: “A Year Without Santa Claus?” by Barb Goffman (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2015)


Title: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Publisher: Bantam Press, Random House 384 pp (April 2016)

Genre: mystery, Sherlock Holmes, adventure, series, crime, historical thriller 

5 Stars ****

Author: Laurie R King is a best selling author of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, SanFran homicide inspector Kate Martinelli series, as well as stand alone suspense novels. She has been nominated for and won many awards for her writing, (including a Nero for A Monstrous Regiment of Women, (Russell/Sherlock) and a MacCavity for Touchstone, one of my favourite mysteries). Last week she was awarded an Agatha for best historical 2015 Dreaming Spies! The first Russell/Sherlock is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994). But don’t miss Beekeeping for Beginners (2011), a novella written from Sherlock’s perspective. King has also written a number of short stories, which are all worth collecting. She recently released The Marriage of Mary Russell, again, don’t miss it! She is co-editor with Leslie Klinger (master Sherlock authority!) of A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (3rd volume later this year!). She is a strong supporter of libraries and much of her recent book tour helped raise funds. There were also spectacular events (see fashion show on her website http://laurierking.com: enjoy her blog posts and facebook!)

Story line:

This is the 15th Mary Russell (aka Mrs Sherlock Holmes) mystery, narrated by Mary and this time with Mrs Hudson. Everyone has a backstory, and this is Mrs Hudson’s. Knowing Holmes and Russell, could you have expected less of Hudson? She was a beauty who overcame heartbreaking challenges, lived on the edge and risked everything. A completely new twist on her relationship with Holmes. 

They are very much historical novels, period pieces with intriguing mysteries. Mary is a strong female protagonist, intellectually formidable, equal with Holmes with a subtle personal relationship that I find tantalizing and perceptive. She remains one of my favourite bluestockings. Doyle should be impressed. Would that Cumberbatch gets interested.

It is an interesting puzzle, an intricate plot, a fascinating view of the 1860-1880s (as well as ‘current’ 1925), with intriguing layered characters and detailed backgrounds, all making for another very satisfying read. I’m going to reread the series in light of these revelations to see if I really missed the clues about Billy or Mrs Hudson. I can’t wait for the next adventure. Don’t miss King’s recent short story on the Marriage of Mary Russell either!

I will no doubt buy a hard copy, and continue to recommend her earlier novels. You can read this independent of the others but why? Start with the first: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and enjoy the character development and progression (and adventures!) They often follow directly on from the previous book.

Read on:

If you like Sherlock Holmes you will enjoy this series. Make note of the authors with membership in The Irregulars, or books sanctioned by the Conan Doyle Estate. Read the short stories by various authors in A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes. Edited by Laurie Kind and Leslie Klinger 

Arthur Conan Doyle The Adventure of the Gloria Scott

Caleb Carr The Italian Secretary

Alan Bradley Flavia DeLuce novels

Leslie Klinger The Annotated Sherlock Holmes 

Larry Millett Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon (for Sherlock in Minnesota)

Anthony Horowitz The House of Silk, Moriarity, and short story The Three Monarchs

Quotes:

I was married to Sherlock Holmes, had known him only a few hours longer than I had known Mrs Hudson, and the basic fact of life with Holmes was: the world is filled with enemies.

I see what you are up to, it said, but I love you anyway.

I stifled my arm’s automatic impulse to catch the outstretched hand and whirl him against the wall-

…my bereft heart had claimed Mrs Hudson for its own. I had known her for ten years now, lived with her for more than four, and she was as close to a mother as I would ever have again.

The embrace was as brief as it was emphatic, and left Billy open-mouthed as Holmes stepped away from me – one hand lingering on my shoulder. I felt a bit open-mouthed myself at this unprecedented public display.

Clara Hudson’s dark hair had gone mostly grey before she realised that childhood was not intended to be a continuous stream of catastrophe and turmoil. At the time, while she was living it, the constancy of hunger, discomfort, dirt and uncertainty with the occasional punctuation of death and fists, was simply the price of existence…
Read as an ARC from Netgalley

No time for tea!

Title: Deanna Raybourn A Curious Beginning (Sept 2015)Publisher: Penguin NAL: Signet Romance 352 pp

Genre: mystery, historical mystery, fiction, Victorian suspense

4+ stars

Author:

Deanna Raybourn is well known for her Lady Julia Grey series, beginning with Silent in the Grave (2007), which have been nominated for and won numerous awards. It was recently (April 2015) optioned for UK television series. (There are 6 books and several novellas). She has several other stand alone novels which are entertaining and richly detailed. A Curious Beginning features Miss Veronica Speedwell and is the start of a new series (the second is already at the editors). Raybourn also writes an interesting blog and is now on tour. 

Story Line:

Veronica Speedwell has a passion for lepidoptery (not moths!), and created an unusual career capitalizing on the Victorian obsession with collecting specimens. With the death of her guardian she is thrown into a mystery that appears to involve her unknown parents. Orphaned at a few months, she was cared for by two maiden aunts who themselves carried secrets. Break ins and murder find her in 1887 London where she puts her intelligence and talents into solving these crimes. She shares this adventure with the rather mysterious natural historian, explorer and scholar Stoker, aka the Honourable Ravelstoke Templeton-Vane.  

Speedwell is a rather modern female Sherlock Holmes but is modeled after Victorian female explorers who were independent and foreword thinking. As is Stoker. There is clever, witty dialogue and black humour which create a fast paced fun story. Charming descriptions, a hint of romance, never a dull moment with attempted abductions, robbery, murder, secrets, general mayhem, contribute to a neat read. I thoroughly enjoyed this, as all her other books, and look forward to the next installment.

Read On:

To the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters (still one of the best!)

To Mary Russell series (Mrs Sherlock Holmes) by Laurie R King

To Lady Jane Grey series by Deanna Raybourn 

Quotes:

Opening line:

I stared into the open grave and wished I could summon a tear.

…a figure at the lych-gate, tall and beautifully erect, with the sort of posture a gentleman of aristocratic breeding or enthusiastic besting at excellent schools.

…in every village no matter how peaceful and pretty, there was always someone to wag a tongue and pass judgement.

Overtime, I developed a set of rules from which I never deviated. Although I permitted myself dalliances during my travels, I never engaged in flirtations in England…foreign bachelors were my trophies, collected for their charm and good looks as well as their attentive manners. They were holiday romances, light and insubstantial.

There ought to have been a frisson of foreknowledge, a shiver of precognition that the choice to accompany the baron would prove the single most significant decision of my entire life.

Miss Speedwell, I have hiked the length of the Amazon River. I have been accosted by native tribes and shot twice. I have nearly met my death by quicksand and snakebite, poisoned arrow and one particularly fiendish jaguar. And I have never, until this moment, been quite so surprised by anything as I am by you.

Are you familiar with the intrepid lady travelers? Women like Isabella Bird and Marianne North?

In my experience Americans were very friendly and very fond of their firearms.

You cannot discount a theory simply because it does not suit your prejudices, he reminded me. That is bad science.

I could sooner influence the sun to set in the east, Sir Hugo. She is entirely her own woman.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!  
Veronica (common name Speedwell) is the largest plant genus in the family Plantaginaceae (500 sp). It is edible and nutritious, used as tea for asthma. You might know it as the weed which out competes lawn grass.

Page-turning to a Riveting Crescendo!

School buses have appeared, daylight lasts not quite as long and there’s a night chill. That luxurious feeling of time, to sit on a beach to relax and read is silently slipping away with summer. It only takes one book to keep that feeling, and there are so many to anticipate, being published this month.
Title: The Lost Concerto by Helaine Mario

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing July 2015, 443 p.

Genre: mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, political intrigue

4.5 stars

Author:

Helaine Mario grew up in NYC, graduated from Boston University and now resides in Washington DC and Sarasota FL. She published her first book Firebird in 2013, and it is now on my TBR pile. She founded (1998) the SunDial Foundation which contributes to more than thirty nonprofits in the DC area concerning women and children’s issues. 

A portion of the proceeds are donated to this foundation (inner city food banks, education, health, shelter, arts and economic development). Not only are you buying a great book, you are donating to a wonderful cause. Her extensive travel has contributed to her vivid descriptive prose.

Story Line:

I was looking for a large, complex compelling summer read, a la Discovery of Witches or Outlander and found it in The Lost Concerto. Hitchcock would have loved this book. Sumptuous locations (Paris, Brittany, Italy, Boston, Cape Cod, sanctuaries, concert halls, coastlines), lyrical prose, heartbreaking protagonists, gripping fast paced complex plots which are funny, poignant, powerful and evocative. It has it all. The lyrical writing involves all the senses as we are submerged in a web of intrigue which involves lost music, lost child, lost love, lost souls, and terrorists.

The story is told from several perspectives, providing you with a greater understanding of individual characters and overarching plot. Johnny O’Shea was an award winning investigative journalist. He died suspiciously in a boating accident while investigating the death of his wife’s best friend Sofia and her son Tommy (Maggie’s godson). Maggie O’Shea (48) is grieving for all of them, unable to play the piano which up has been her career, her solace and her soul. She is a smart, strong, sexy almost understated heroine struggling to move on with her life. A photograph of Zach(ary) Law, pianist, her first love, father of her son, MIA 30 years ago sends her off to find answers with the help of a quiet, crusty military intelligence office. Michael Beckett (and his dog Shiloh) still recovering from wounds received in Afghanistan is recruited to protect Maggie from a truly evil villain. Read on!!

Haunting, passionate, drama

Stolen art, poignant music, deadly terrorism

Stunning imagery, high adventure, nuanced characters, 

I love the literary and musical references and quotes. All relevant. And the puns, often on Maggie’s tshirts: Musicians Duet Better. I reread this as, in haste to turn the pages, I know I missed some of the nuances. It was fantastic. The author’s note at the end is insightful – plots straight from the news, places she has visited (now in my list), Maggie’s classical music favorites, her own rescue dog. This novel was inspired by her son Sean, a classical pianist.

Read On:

Rochester Public Library has a copy.

Helaine Mario Firebird (2013)

Stef Penny, Jennifer Lee Carroll, Diane Sutterfield, Lauren Belfer, Elizabeth Kostova, Kate Ross

Quotes:

You never know when you will be ambushed by grief.

The Steinway was deafeningly silent.

It was that magical moment just before the conductor strode onto the stage, when all things were possible.

The powerful notes of Zach’s concerto flew toward them like bright sparks in the pulsing darkness. 

Full of pain. And passion.

And promise.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!