Book Review: Death at Dovecote Hatch by Dorothy Cannell

Death at Dovecote HatchDeath at Dovecote Hatch
A Florence Norris Mystery #2
Dorothy Cannell
Severn House, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-7278-8480-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

November, 1932. Still reeling from the recent murder at Mullings, country estate of the wealthy Stodmarsh family, the peaceful little village of Dovecote Hatch is about to be rocked by news of another violent death. When mild-mannered Kenneth Tenneson is found dead from a fall down the stairs at his home, the coroner’s inquest announces a verdict of accidental death. Florence Norris, however – the quietly observant housekeeper at Mullings – suspects there may be more to it than that.

Florence’s suspicions of foul play would appear to be confirmed when a second will turns up revealing details of a dark secret in the Tenneson family’s past. Determined to find out the truth about Kenneth’s death, Florence gradually pieces the clues together – but will she be in time to prevent a catastrophic turn of events?

There’s something special about English country house and village mysteries, isn’t there? I’m not even all that particular about the time period but I do have a fondness for historical, especially those set in the 1700’s to early 1900’s. In the case of Death at Dovecote Hatch, we’re visiting a time when people (primarily the “upstairs”) had lost that certain innocence prevalent prior to the first World War but not yet aware of the coming horror. They’re all, no matter what class, in the grip of the Great Depression to varying degrees.

All that is background noise to the events occurring in the village of Dovecote Hatch a few months after the affair at Mullings during which housekeeper Florence Norris was seen to be an intelligent, thoughtful woman who became invaluable in solving the crime. Now, though, life has settled down and Florence is on a visit with her cousin, Hattie Fly, in London when Inspector LeCrane seeks a private conversation with George Bird, pub owner and Florie’s intended. LeCrane is quietly and unofficially looking into the recent death at Bogmire of Kenneth Tenneson, ruled an accident at the inquest, but LeCrane is acting on a hunch that something isn’t right. Having experienced Florence’s innate abilities in the Mullings case, he requests that George let her know her assistance—as well as George’s—this time would be most welcome. And thus begins their investigation.

Much of the appeal in this book lies in the village goings-on outside of the case, the day to day lives of its people, and I truly enjoyed spending time with them, as much as with the mystery (mysteries?). These are characters who are so nicely fleshed out that it’s easy to feel that they’re old friends and acquaintances, all with their own concerns whether they be happily content or worried about their circumstances. The interesting thing to me is that there is quite a large cast and, yet, I had no trouble keeping them straight, testament to Ms. Cannell‘s fine characterizations.

The mystery itself is a true puzzle with lots of potential resolutions and, as it happens, one or two other mysteries add to the fun. All in all, the author has once again offered a very pleasing tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Book Review: The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the WardrobeThe Body in the Wardrobe
A Faith Fairchild Mystery #23
Katherine Hall Page
William Morrow, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243950-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Minster’s wife, caterer, and part-time sleuth Faith Fairchild pairs up with Sophie Maxwell, last seen in Body in the Birches and now a newlywed living in historic Savannah, Georgia, where Sophie crosses paths with murder.

Attorney Sophie Maxwell has come to Savannah to be with her new husband, Will. But nothing throws cold water on a hot relationship faster than a dead body. Worse for Sophie, no one believes the body she knows she saw is real, Will is spending an awful lot of time in Atlanta on a case he claims is urgent, and she’s been tasked with house hunting for them with his former sweetheart, who Sophie can’t help but suspect wishes Sophie would return to her Yankee roots!

Fortunately, Sophie has a good friend in Faith Fairchild. With teenage Amy being bullied by mean girls and husband Tom contemplating a major life change that will affect all the Fairchilds, Faith is eager for distraction in the form of some sleuthing. In between discussions of newlywed agita, surprising Savannah customs and, of course, fabulous low country food, Faith and Sophie will pair up to unmask a killer!

In a departure from other books in the series, Faith Fairchild was not the primary protagonist in the most recent book, The Body in the Birches nor is she in The Body in the Wardrobe; rather, the storyline follows Faith’s friend, Sophie Maxwell, as she marries and moves to her new husband’s home in Savannah. It’s Sophie who’s confronted with disappearing bodies, family secrets, a hostile stepsister-in-law and a new husband who seems to be a bit too close to an old girlfriend, all while learning to live in and love a city radically different from her native Long Island. While all that’s going on, Faith is dealing with family issues including her husband, Tom’s, interest in possibly leaving Aleford for a new parish and her teen daughter, Amy’s, unhappiness in a new school. Her connection to all that’s going on in Savannah is limited to phone calls with Sophie until the last pages.

Savannah, a city I’ve visited several times, is itself a character with all its history, architecture, ghosts and unique culture. Ms. Page brings this quintessential Southern town to vivid life and makes me want to go back as soon as I can.

Truthfully, there are multiple threads in the story, some of which turn out to be mysteries while others are focused on family and town issues in both Savannah and Aleford. Sophie’s husband, Will, is a private investigator working on a case in Atlanta so he’s in and out as Sophie navigates her adopted town and family but he still manages to make enormous mistakes with his new wife and is remarkably uncommunicative. It’s a good thing he’s usually quite likeable but I still had moments of thinking Sophie should make a run for it. She sticks it out, though, even when no one believes she saw a dead man tumble out of her wardrobe and she excuses a lot of Will’s shortcomings. . .until he vanishes and that’s when Faith comes to the rescue.

In a few short hours, the women solve the immediate problem which leads to a denouement that’s little short of implausible and pretty much totally unexpected. In short, this is not the greatest crime story but Ms. Page’s series is so charming overall that a lot can be forgiven and I’ll think of this as a pleasant entry featuring a young woman I’ve come to like very much. I’m looking forward to seeing whether future books will concentrate on Faith again or periodically focus on Sophie.

Note: one thing plucked my last nerve more than once. The word “y’all” is the subject of an ongoing argument as to whether it’s always intended to be second person plural or can sometimes be addressed to a single person, the latter usage being almost entirely in areas not part of the South. I’ve been a Southerner all my life and cannot imagine a native of Savannah addressing one person with this word as happens several times in this story.

Second Note: the foods described are so mouthwatering they can make you feel weak with hunger.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

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About the Author

Katherine Hall PageKatherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-two previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic, she has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Macavity Award. She lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Deer Isle, Maine, with her husband.

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Book Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted ArchesThe Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
A Flavia de Luce Novel #6
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34405-0
Hardcover
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle
Random House Audio, January 2014
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gypsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer.

I don’t often feel the need to read a series in order but there are a few exceptions and the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley are a prime example. From the beginning, we’ve watched Flavia grow from a very precocious child with a penchant for chemistry to a slightly older and still very precocious child who not only loves chemistry but also can’t abide an unsolved mystery. We’ve felt for her as she quietly lets us know her family with all its “issues” including the emotional distance between her father and all three of his daughters. We’ve come to understand how Flavia tries to cope with never having known her mother and the feeling that there’s a great gaping hole in her life.

And then we come to The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches in which her mother’s body, found after so many years, is coming home and a virtual plethora of mysteries begin. Why on earth has Winston Churchill accompanied Harriet on her final journey? How did Aunt Felicity come to be part of the sad homecoming and why does the great Mr. Churchill ask Flavia if she likes pheasant sandwiches? Who was the man who tries to tell Flavia something he says is urgent?

Of all the Flavia de Luce books, I think this one is the most emotionally wrought and there are so many twists and turns that you really have to pay attention. I ended up listening to the audio book and also reading the print version just so I could pick up on all the little nuances; by the time the end rolled around, I was a little stunned by some of the revelations and I, quite simply, had to get my hands on the next book, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. That review will be forthcoming soon.

As for the audio book, Jayne Entwistle remains one of my very favorite narrators and, in my mind, she is Flavia, bringing her to life and giving the perfect voice to one of the most delightful characters I’ve ever “met”.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

Book Reviews: A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H. Cook and The Color of Light by Wendy Hornsby

A Dancer in the DustA Dancer in the Dust
Thomas H. Cook
The Mysterious Press, September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2272-8
Hardcover

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this novel is a mystery wrapped in a love story immersed in a tragedy.  It is the story of one woman’s attempt to help preserve a newly independent African country pitted against the force of do-good charities and the powers-that-be with their hands out to use the money and goods to preserve their control.

As a young man, Ray Campbell takes on the task of an aid worker hoping to improve conditions in the newly-independent country of Lubanda. He is assigned to a remote village where he meets Martine Aubert, a white woman in a black nation who owns a small farm and lives a simple life. While he falls in love with her, she apparently loves Lubanda more. And her beliefs are opposed to the plans of government officials for development, leading to a tragic end.

The author blends a tale of love and death that is totally consuming. By presenting the plot in the present, with flashbacks, the reader moves forward gaining knowledge slowly but logically. The book is written with grace and simplicity describing a complex narrative, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

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The Color of LightThe Color of Light
A Maggie MacGowen Mystery #9
Wendy Hornsby
Perseverance Press, April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-56474-542-2
Trade Paperback

In Wendy Hornsby’s ninth Maggie MacGowen mystery, we find Maggie, two weeks before her planned trip to France to make a film, going back to her childhood home in Berkeley, California, to clear out the family house, as her mother has moved into a smaller place (her father, a physicist, having died a while back).  In the course of which her instincts, the fact that she “plays” at being an investigator on her popular TV series and, perhaps, the fact that her late husband was a homicide detective, lead to her uncovering things other than old family treasures.  She finds inescapable the memories of a murder that occurred over 30 years ago, when the beautiful Vietnamese mother of a school friend was brutally raped and killed, when she and her friends were then ten and eleven years old.  Her mother was a close friend of the murdered woman, as Maggie was with her son, Beto.

Maggie’s boyfriend at the time of the murder is now Detective Kevin Halloran, who is not crazy about the fact that she is asking questions of people she suspects are hiding secrets.  Maggie is very skittish about secrets:  It was not long ago that she discovered that her biological mother was a woman with whom her father had had an affair long ago in France.  The film she is about to make is about that woman’s family and their farm in Normandy.  Her daughter, Casey, has just finished her sophomore year in college, and Maggie is traveling with her current boyfriend, the French consul general  and a widower with a son about Casey’s age, to Los Angeles.  The ensuing investigation is fraught with danger; as Maggie’s uncle tells her, “Always an adventure with you, kid.  Always an adventure.”  The author has blended a great cast of characters and an intriguing mystery, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2014.

Book Reviews: Notown by Tess Collins and The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

NotownNotown
Book One: The Midnight Valley Quartet
Tess Collins
BearCat Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-937356-31-6
Hardcover

The Notown of the story is a nowhere kind of place, a coal mining town set in Kentucky’s Cumberland Mountains. The heroine of the story is a no-good kind of girl, a product of her times in the 1960’s, at least in this particular place. Randi Joe Gaylor’s daddy is a coal miner who, although not always successful, works hard to feed his many children. Her mother is something else, a woman of secrets. But Randi Jo slowly discovers the whole family has secrets, some more gruesome than others, some because once again, these people live in this time and in this place. Murder and betrayal are a part of their history, as well as the history of the people they know. And if you’re born a Notowner, as Randi Jo finds out, you are always a Notowner. There doesn’t seem to be any way out.

Notown is a crime story, although it’s not a mystery. The people, even Randi Jo, as we follow her life from the time she’s a little girl, to young love, marriage and motherhood, to her final degradation and redemption, seems to personify a class of people. Who says America doesn’t have a class system? In Notown it throve, sad and joyless.

Once into the story, the writing is riveting, faithfully reflecting Randi Jo’s voice. Hard reading, at times, because the emotion can only be taken in smaller doses. I think it might be overwhelming in one fell swoop, needing time to be assimilated. Notown is excellent and is sure to make you think about the world and the people in it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Widows of Braxton CountyThe Widows of Braxton County
Jess McConkey
William Morrow, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-218826-7
Trade Paperback

Kate Krause was a very happy bride as she traveled with her husband, Joe, to her new home in Braxton County, Iowa.  Kate and Joe met online but Kate felt that they were just right for each other.  Kate’s widowed mother had passed away and her grandparents raised Kate. Her grandmother complained endlessly and Kate’s life was not a happy one.

When the new couple arrived at Joe’s farm, a woman that Kate first mistook for a housekeeper met Joe and Kate at the door.  The woman was Trudy Krause, Joe’s mother.   Joe explained that he didn’t tell Kate about Trudy because Trudy was to have moved to a retirement home prior to the couple’s homecoming but there was some problems at the home and her room would not be ready for weeks.

Kate soon found that life was not going to be as she pictured it.  The farm was in bad financial shape and Kate’s savings were used to pay some of the debts but it wasn’t enough.   Joe would not agree to let Kate help him with the management of the farm even though Kate had proven to be an excellent money manager.  Plans for Trudy’s move to a retirement home did not materialize.

As Kate became acquainted with the neighborhood, she finds that the Krause family harbors a long kept secret about a mysterious death.   This secret haunts Kate as dangerous, unexplainable events begin.

A Krause family member, but not one that Joe associates with, owns the local hardware store.   Joe warns Kate not to shop at that store.  Kate ignores his wishes, makes friends with the owner of the store, and finds out a little more about the mysterious past and haunting secret of the Krause family.

The book goes back and forth between present day and the past where the Krause mystery began.  I found this book to be very interesting and I could not wait to get to the end but when I did, I wished the book were longer.

Jess McConkey a/k/a Shirley Damsgaard is an award-winning writer.  Love Lies Bleeding was the first book I read by the author Jess McConkey and it was a good read.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2013.

Book Reviews: Reunion by Carl Brookins, Crashed by Timothy Hallinan, Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman, and When the Past Haunts You by L. C. Hayden

ReunionReunion
A Jack Marston Mystery
Carl Brookins
Echelon Press, 2011
ISBN No. 978-1590806685
Trade Paperback

Jack Marston, a former investigator for the Navy, is now a student service director at City College in Minneapolis.  Jack is living with Lori Jacobs and Lori has just received an invitation to the reunion of the Class of 1989 in the town of Riverview. Lori isn’t too excited about going but Jack encourages her to accept the invitation.   Lori accepts but wants Jack to attend the reunion functions with her.

The couple travel to Riverview to attend.  There are some interesting sounding events set up for the attendees at the reunion.  Jack takes a walk outside on the first night and finds a dead body and this won’t be the first murder to happen during the reunion.

Lori didn’t expect things to remain the same in Riverview but it isn’t the town that she remembers.  It seems that there are a lot of shady dealings going on and certain people will go to any length to keep their secrets hidden.  Jack is using his investigator skills to attempt to figure out what is actually going on in this crooked town and Lori is helping with her knowledge of the people.

The couple’s investigations lead them to a discovery that puts their lives on the line.  Can Jack possibly figure out a way to save them both before they become the next victims?

Reunion is a book that I didn’t want to end and I was surprised when the complicated plot and the actual murderer was finally revealed.

Carl Brookins is a retired professor, author and reviewer.  I would recommend Reunion as well as The Case of the Greedy Lawyers, another Brookins novel.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2012.

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crashedCrashed
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, November 2012
ISBN No. 978-1616952747
Hardcover

Junior Bender is a burglar but he has some rather unique ways of approaching his jobs.  Some of his methods will have you rolling on the floor laughing but they seem to work for him – at least most of the time.  There are a few moments when the reader wonders if Junior will survive to steal another day.

An LA crime boss is producing a porn movie starring Thistle Downing. Thistle is a former child star who was loved by her fans but time has taken a toll on Thistle and she is currently living in a drug-induced stupor, destitute and uninsurable.  The movie would bring income to Thistle but would only send her further down her current path of destruction.

Junior is blackmailed into accepting the free-lance job of finding out who is sabotaging this movie.  His job is to keep the movie on track. The problem Junior is running into is that he likes Thistle and knows the movie is not the best thing for her even though she needs the money.  Junior sets out to fulfill his obligation but at the same time do right by Thistle and this isn’t an easy thing to do.  Junior has some very interesting friends who lend a helping hand  along the way.

I want to read more and more about Junior.  He is a character that is full of charm and certainly has some interesting escapades.   Crashed is written in a totally different style from the Bangkok series.  This novel proves that Timothy Hallinan can entertain us with more than one type of novel and I for one want to read everything he writes.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, January 2013.

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Don't Ever Get OldDon’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman
Minotaur Books, May 2012
ISBN No. 978-0312606930
Hardcover

Buck Schatz has been married to his wife, Rose, for 64 years.  Buck can be pretty set in his ways but when Rose speaks Buck does listen.  Rose insists that Buck go to the hospital to visit Jim Wallace.   Jim is dying and is asking to see Buck.  Buck uses the excuse that he can’t drive to the hospital but Jim’s daughter Emily Feely agrees to drive him.  Jim and Buck have never been close but they did spend time together in a POW camp back in 1944.

Jim confesses to Buck that he had seen Heinrich Ziegler in France in 1946.  Ziegler was not a happy memory for Buck.  Zeigler was head of the POW camp and was very cruel to Buck, partly because Buck was Jewish but mostly because Ziegler was simply a very cruel individual.  Buck had heard that Ziegler was dead but Jim states that not only was Ziegler alive but he had given Jim a gold bar to let Ziegler go.

Buck having fulfilled his agreement to visit Jim is more than ready to return home and daytime TV.  A retired homicide detective, Buck has had many dangerous adventures in the past but is now pretty much content to just stay at home, visit the Jewish Community Center on occasion, eat Rose’s cooking and smoke Lucky Strikes.  Buck carries a “memory book” jotting down notes of things he needs to remember because at 87 a person can’t be expected to remember everything.  Buck can’t understand why he can’t light up a Lucky in public and that is just one of the many things Buck finds unacceptable.

But it seems that Jim Wallace told more than one person about Ziegler and the fortune in gold bars that Wallace seemed to think Ziegler possessed so soon Buck is very popular because some of these people think Wallace told Buck how to get his hands on the gold bars.

It turns out that Ziegler is still alive.  Buck’s grandson Tequila decides he will help out his Grandpa and find Ziegler and the gold bars.  So in spite of the fact that Buck isn’t too keen on this idea the two set out to bring home the treasure.  Buck’s almost forgotten detective instincts take over and soon the two have a very exciting adventure.

Don’t Ever Get Old is a joy to read, a wonderful story with great characters.  I am sure that all of us know some elderly person that has a lot of Buck’s attitudes.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2012.

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When the Past Haunts YouWhen The Past Haunts You
A Harry Bronson Mystery
L. C. Hayden
Books by Hayden, February 2012
ISBN No. 978-1470074791
Trade Paperback

It would be difficult to find a happier married couple than Harry and Carol Bronson. Harry is retired from the Dallas police department and enjoys traveling with Carol.  Harry has been involved in a number of mysteries in spite of the fact that he is retired.

Carol Bronson would be the first to tell you that there are no secrets between her and Harry.  However, Carol is going to find out that this statement is not entirely accurate.  Harry has a huge secret that he has never discussed with his wife.  This secret is a sister that he has pushed to the back of his mind and never mentioned her existence to his wife.

Lorraine, Harry’s sister, had a terrible fight with Harry’s parents.   She immediately left home and Harry had no further contact with her until recently when she began calling him.  Lorraine begs Harry to come to Pennsylvania and meet with her.  Harry finally agrees and they meet in a state park that had been a location for good childhood memories for both brother and sister.  However, before the two had a chance to reconnect Lorraine was shot and killed right in front of Harry and there was not one thing Harry could do to save her life.

Even though it was too late to reconnect with his sister, Harry is determined to learn all that he can about her life since she left home.    As Harry traces Lorraine’s life by following up on any information he can discover, he learns that she lived quite a different life than he imagined.  He also learned that she had never forgotten her brother and was always very proud of Harry and his accomplishments as a police officer.

Harry’s quest to learn everything about Lorraine’s past since she left home puts his life in danger but he has no intentions of giving up.  Harry intends to uncover all of Lorraine’s secrets and to bring her killer to justice.  Harry feels that this is the very least he can do for the sister he has ignored for all these years.  Lorraine’s life has involved people from every walk in life, from pimps to millionaires.   Harry is in for many surprises as he investigates.

L. C. Hayden has written an exciting book that keeps the reader on edge every step of the way.  I have read several L. C. Hayden novels and would recommend them.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2013.