Book Review: Upstaged by Murder by C.S. Challinor

Upstaged By Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #9
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5647-9
Trade Paperback

It’s opening night for a play by a local playwright that brings together five celebrated British literary sleuths to identify the murderer of a glamorous young woman, occupant of a luxurious manor house. At the end of Act 1, Lady Naomi Grove is scripted to be killed. Shockingly, a single shot rings out, killing the actress behind a theatre scrim.

In the audience is a well-known Scottish barrister and private detective, Rex Graves. He’s enjoying a short vacation with his new wife, Helen. His natural curiosity and reputation draw him to offer his services to the local policeman tasked with finding the real killer.

With Graves, readers will be treated to an interesting twisting trail through the lives of the amateur players, all of whom are initial suspects. The community is naturally enthralled by the dramatic circumstances and nicely used by the author as the broader setting for the detection. Red herrings will mis-direct readers at crucial points throughout this cozy mystery and the relationships between Graves, his new bride and the constabulary are well-thought-out and presented.

For mystery readers who are fans of cozy murder mysteries, this novel will provide a fine weekend of enjoyable recreation beside a nice wood fire.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Judgment of Murder by C.S. Challinor

Judgment of Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #8
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5009-5
Trade paperback

For a mystery, this British entry into the field is so low key that I think even I might have a more exciting life. Scottish barrister Rex Graves’ old mentor, Lord Murgatroyd–also known as Judge Murder, has passed away. Phoebe, his daughter, thinks he may have been murdered, although the evidence is flimsy. An unlocked window? A not very valuable stamp album gone missing? None of it seems very convincing, but Rex travels from Edinburgh to Canterbury upon her invitation to see what he makes of the situation.

Not much, as it turns out. But he makes a few phone calls when he gets back to Edinburgh, and oddly enough, is put in danger by a man the judge had put in prison, but who has been released.

Meanwhile, a schoolgirl from the area has been kidnapped and is feared dead. It happened not far from the judge’s house, and is a subplot that runs through the story. Actually, it’s the most interesting part, as the characters in this story did not intrigue me, nor were they particularly sympathetic. The most interesting is Rex’s pal Alistair, who also has the most action. Turns out the judge’s daughter is a tippler and a would-be man eater, not that that sort of thing works on a man like Rex.

The dialogue seemed mundane to me, and old-fashioned in the extreme for people who carry mobile phones and drive a Jaguar, but it does get the job done. In the climax, all the ends are tied, the plot holes explained, and everyone gets their due.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: On a Desert Shore by S.K. Rizzolo

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Title: On a Desert Shore
Series: A Regency Mystery #4
Author: S.K. Rizzolo
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Genre: Historical Mystery



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On a Desert ShoreOn a Desert Shore
A Regency Mystery #4
S.K. Rizzolo
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0545-3

From the publisher—

Protecting an heiress should be an easy job for Bow Street Runner John Chase. But the heiress—daughter of rich London merchant Hugo Garrod and a slave-housekeeper on his Jamaican property—is no conventional society miss. Educated to take a place among Regency England’s upper crust and marry well, she has failed at London’s social scene and lives isolated among the Garrod family in Clapham. And someone is playing her malicious tricks, some of which recall her island heritage of Obeah.

John Chase needs to determine whether Marina is indeed a victim—or is herself a delusional and malicious trickster. If the trickster is real, is it her rejected suitor and cousin Ned Honeycutt? His demure sister? Their devoted aunt who acts as the Garrod housekeeper? A clergyman friend? Everyone around Hugo Garrod has a stake in how he disposes of his immense wealth.

Meanwhile Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, an abandoned wife, flouts convention by earning her living with her pen. She’s in love with barrister Edward Buckler and hesitant to further scandalize society by breaking any more rules. Hugo Garrod invites her to join his household and put her pen to work. Her assignment takes her into an exotic world where menace lurks at every turn of the garden path and the façade of propriety masks danger.

To solve the case, Chase must grasp the enigma of Marina, an expert in self-concealment, who challenges his assumptions and confronts him with difficult truths. And, with the aid of Penelope and Edward Buckler, reveal a clever killer.

On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.

I’ve been trying for many years to figure out why the Regency period appeals to me so much in both historical fiction and mysteries (and real history) but I can’t quite put my finger on it. My attraction to the era comes and goes; back in my 20’s (the dark ages), I was really into Regency historical fiction, then I fell off, then I went back to those and mysteries, then I fell off again and now I’m back once more. It seems I can’t stay away but I do know that part of my liking for it is a deep-seated love of American history and this period was certainly important to the left side of the pond.

Anyhoo, there are particular authors that I can always count on to carry me away to the Regency and S.K. Rizzolo is one of them, without fail. I love the history of the Bow Street Runners, the beginnings of London’s police, and John Chase really brings the Runners to life. Having to cope with two distinctly different cultures in his latest case brings out the best in him, piquing his natural-born curiosity and his (perhaps) unusual intelligence. When Hugo Garrod engages Penelope Wolfe to interview him for a magazine piece at the estate, she goes against the best advice of her dear friend Edward Buckler because she is in real need of income since her ne’er-do-well husband abandoned her.  It’s only natural for Chase to accept her help in finding the culprit behind the malicious events surrounding Marina, given their successful collaborations in the past, and Edward finds it impossible to remain uninvolved.

A highlight of this series is the attention the author pays to various social issues of the day and in this book she tackles the British feelings regarding slavery and racism, specifically bringing it out in the story of a biracial daughter of a wealthy British merchant and his determination to introduce her to society. That girl, Marina, comes into her own during this very stressful time but what exactly is causing her so much difficulty in the rarified world of British society if not the facts of her birth?

I so enjoyed being back in the company of Penelope, John and Edward and it’s their personal stories that really draw me in with the crimes they work on being the icing on the cake. The ways they find to get to whatever truths are eluding them are entertaining and sometimes inspiring and, once again, Ms. Rizzolo takes us along for a delightful journey.  The last few sentences leave the reader wanting more and I really wish I could twitch my nose and bring that fifth book into being right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

About the Author

S.K. RizzoloS.K. Rizzolo earned an MA in literature before becoming a high school English teacher and writer. Her Regency mystery series features a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. On a Desert Shore is the fourth title in the series following The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles.

For more information visit S.K. Rizzolo’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+, and Goodreads.


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“Fans of traditional whodunits with a closed circle of
suspects will enjoy Rizzolo’s fourth historical featuring
savvy Bow Street Runner John Chase.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“This fourth outing for Chase (Die I Will Not, 2014, etc.)
blends thwarted love, class and racial issues, partly convincing
historical details, and solid sleuthing.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Bow Street runner John Chase is hired to protect a young
heiress from Jamaica, and Mrs. Penelope Wolfe is engaged
to live in the woman’s household as an added layer of
protection. Together, they must work to uncover a ruthless
and diabolical killer. An engrossing fourth historical
adventure (after Die I Will Not).” – Library Journal


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Book Review: Blood From Stone by Frances Fyfield

Blood From StoneBlood From Stone
Frances Fyfield
Witness Impulse, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-230186-4

From the publisher—

Marianne Shearer is at the height of her career, a dauntingly successful barrister, respected by her peers and revered by her clients. So why has she killed herself? Her latest case had again resulted in an acquittal, although the outcome was principally due to the death of the prime witness after Marianne’s forceful cross-examination. Had this wholly professional and unemotional lawyer been struck by guilt or uncertainty, or is there some secret to be discovered in her blandly comfortable private life? Her tenacious colleague Peter Friel is determined to find out if that last trial held the reason for her taking her own life. The transcript holds intriguing clues, but it is another witness at the trial who holds the key to the truth.

What would make a woman take her own life, especially one who seems to be at the top of her game, one of the most feared, admired and respected barristers in England? Could it be that having a brilliant career was not enough for Marianne Shearer?  Perhaps her reasons—her motivations, so to speak—go much deeper than anyone really suspects because, in fact, no one truly knew Marianne at all. Getting to the truth behind her seemingly inexplicable action will lead more than one person down a twisted path and secrets will be revealed that will have lasting effects. In the end, truths will come out that no one could possibly have foretold.

During the first third or so of this book, I occasionally put it down, finding it more than a bit slow, almost dense. I began to realize that was because there are so many diverse characters who need to be properly introduced to the reader. All of them have an important part to play so we do need to understand them as much as possible although no “normal” person could ever truly understand a monster like Rick Boyd. I liked a few of these players, especially Peter, and either disliked or had no real feeling for others but Hen is the centerpiece. By turns, she is frustrating and appealing, seeming to be vengeful and sorrowful at the same time and she has every right to be both. In the early stages, I thought she was rather dull but then she began to come to life in my mind and, in the end, she became something of a heroine, albeit with flaws.

The answers that finally come to light and the consequences of Marianne’s death are quite simply mindbending considering the coincidences that have brought all these people together, people who, in any other circumstances, would never have had any connections. Coincidence is, in fact, the cornerstone of a mystery that, when solved, brings a sense of satisfaction even though the results are not what one would normally expect in a law-abiding world. I’m very glad I stuck with the book through those early slow pages and recommend Blood From Stone to any reader who enjoys psychological as well as criminal perplexity.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2013.

An Excerpt

The trial had gone wrong on her, with the right result, certainly, one achieved through exploitation of weakness, legal argument, bullying, manipulation and luck. The suicide of the prime witness could only be called a misfortune. A thoroughly professional hatchet job on her part, in other words. It was for the prosecution to prove their case and for her to destroy it; she had done the latter but the result would not cover her with glory simply because it would be seen as an outrageous piece of cruel luck, rather than advocacy.

She would not want to say goodbye. She would never want to see him again, but he was fresh out of jail and for the first time he was leaving the court via the front door and not via the prison van. The prison van, he had told her, was an exquisitely uncomfortable mode of transport, like traveling on the inside of a human time bomb complete with molded plastic seats and manacles.

About the Author

Frances Fyfield“I grew up in rural Derbyshire, but my adult life has been spent mostly in London, with long intervals in Norfolk and Deal, all inspiring places. I was educated mostly in convent schools; then studied English and went on to qualify as a solicitor, working for what is now the Crown Prosecution Service, thus learning a bit about murder at second hand. Years later, writing became the real vocation, although the law and its ramifications still haunt me and inform many of my novels.

I’m a novelist, short story writer for magazines and radio, sometime Radio 4 contributor, (Front Row, Quote Unquote, Night Waves,) and presenter of Tales from the Stave. When I’m not working (which is as often as possible), I can be found in the nearest junk/charity shop or auction, looking for the kind of paintings which enhance my life. Otherwise, with a bit of luck, I’m relaxing by the sea with a bottle of wine and a friend or two.”-Frances Fyfield

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Book Review: Murder of the Bride by C.S. Challinor

Murder of the Bride
(Rex Graves Mystery Series Book #5)
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, March 2012
ISBN 978-0-7387-2335-8
Trade Paperback (E-ARC)

Rex Graves is back, this time visiting his fiancee, Helen d’Arcy, so they can attend the wedding in Aston-on-Trent of one of her former students. Polly is very pregnant and her groom, Timmy, looks a bit peaked but is it just the dreary day leading Rex to think the success of this marriage is doubtful? Perhaps not, as the reception at the bride’s family country home in Derbyshire soon turns from a pleasant celebration to a scene of mayhem when Polly collapses, looking more than a little green. The vicar and Victoria, the bride’s mother soon fall just as ill and it becomes apparent that food poisoning may be the cause. When the ambulance arrives, though, Rex suggests that the hospital might want to test for arsenic poisoning as he has recognized the symptoms.

As a barrister in Scotland, Rex has some knowledge of such things and he has begun to develop a reputation as a sleuth.  Certainly there are indications that mischief is afoot, such as the disappearance of the bride and groom figures from the top of the wedding cake and the apparent theft of some very valuable collectibles but the news that Polly’s long-lost father may have returned to the area and the discovery of a body at the bottom of the tower solidify Rex’s misgivings.

Leaving the reception and heading to Aston-on-Trent, Rex learns a great deal more about the secrets of the Newcombe and Thorpe families. Is jealousy behind the attacks? Greed? Infidelity? Overbearing mothers? Rex and the local police have an overabundance of clues and evidence and getting to the solution to the case will require much thought and cooperation.

This latest case for Rex Graves is every bit as charming and entertaining as those in earlier books and readers will not be disappointed. The setting, an English country home, is as much a character as the people and many of those characters are a delight, especially Police Constable Perrin  (and the cast of characters provided by the author is very much appreciated). It should be noted that, while the book is billed as a locked-room mystery, that really isn’t true. That slight failing does nothing to dampen enjoyment of Murder of the Bride and I will look forward eagerly to my favorite Scottish barrister’s next case.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2012.