Book Review: Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati @akaSaraDonati @penguinrandom

Where the Light Enters
The Waverly Place Series #2
Sara Donati
Berkley, September 2019
ISBN 978-0-425-27182-7
Hardcover

Where the Light Enters is a massive 672 page book that starts off in an epistolary fashion as Dr. Sophie Savard waits for her husband, Cap Verhoeven, who is afflicted with tuberculosis, to die. They are in Switzerland in an attempt to prolong his life, but when that proves to be in vain, Sophie, and Pip, her little dog, return home to New York. The year is 1884 and, although I believe Sophie’s history with Cap is detailed in a previous novel, that Cap was part of the wealthy New York society clique and married to a mulatto physician is an integral part of the plot.

Sophie tries to make her way both as a physician, a wealthy widow in high society, and a part of a large integrated family from all sorts of backgrounds. She also becomes, with her cousin Anna, another physician, involved in a horrific act of crime. Anna is married to a police detective who is charged with finding a murderer who’s method of killing is especially cruel. It seems the killer is an abortionist who uses expertise in surgery to murder the victims. Who better to help identify such a person than a couple of women doctors?

But don’t read this story as a mystery. It really isn’t. Very soon we can make a good guess at the killer. Even that seems almost incidental as the book could also be identified as a psychological morality story. Or simply a historical detailing not only the prevailing attitude toward women doctors, especially one of color, but of the fashions and mores of the time. And possibly, given the familial aspects, a feel good tale of love and acceptance.

Something for every reader, melded together in the best possible way. The details are wonderfully compelling and you may just find yourself immersed in the historical period.

If I had a problem with the story, it’s that a great many characters were introduced from the first and, although maybe it was just me, I did have a bit of trouble keeping them separate.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2019.
www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride
and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

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Title: The Body in the Ballroom
Series: An Alice Roosevelt Mystery #2
Author: R.J. Koreto
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: June 12, 2018

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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The Body in the Ballroom
An Alice Roosevelt Mystery #2
R.J. Koreto
Crooked Lane Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-577-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

President Teddy Roosevelt’s daring daughter, Alice, leaps into action to exonerate a friend accused of poisoning a man just about everyone hated.

Alice Roosevelt, the brilliant, danger-loving daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, has already risked an assassin’s bullet to solve one murder. She never expected to have to sleuth another, but she’d never pass up the opportunity, either. Anything to stave off boredom.

And such an opportunity presents itself when Alice is invited to a lavish ball. The high-society guests are in high spirits as they imbibe the finest wines. But one man, detested by nearly all the partygoers, quaffs a decidedly deadlier cocktail. An African-American mechanic, who also happens to be a good friend of former Rough Rider-turned-Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, is suspected of the murder-by-poison, but Alice is sure he’s innocent and is back on the scene to clear his name.

From downtown betting parlors to uptown mansions, Alice and Agent St. Clair uncover forbidden romances and a financial deal that just might change the world. But neither Alice nor her would-be protector may survive the case at hand in The Body in the Ballroom, R. J. Koreto’s gripping second Alice Roosevelt mystery.

The irrepressible Alice Roosevelt is back and, if her father or anyone else thought she would settle down after her adventure regarding the McKinley assassination, they were very wrong. When Secret Service agent Joseph St. Clair is re-assigned to Alice as her bodyguard, he first finds her practice shooting a Smith & Wesson she’s not supposed to have and not doing it very well; he knows at once that his charge hasn’t settled down in the least.

Alice and St. Clair head to New York City and the chaperonage of Alice’s Aunt Anna Cowles for a round of high society social events and, when a guest who’s pretty much universally hated is poisoned at a ball, Alice can’t resist the opportunity to snoop. This time, St. Clair is not entirely averse to her activities because a friend, Peter Carlyle, has been accused of the murder and St. Clair is sure he’s innocent.

In a way, this episode in Alice’s adventures is an homage to the large immigrant population that existed in New York City at the turn of the century and a look at racial relations as well. At times, the solving of the murder takes a bit of a back seat but, for the most part, The Body in the Ballroom is a nice blend of history, social injustice and criminal investigation that I enjoyed very much. Alice and St. Clair have become one of my favorite crime-solving duos and their third book can’t come too soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

An Excerpt from The Body in the Ballroom

President Roosevelt and I were just finishing out talk when a moment later, the office door opened, and Mr. Wilkie, the Secret Service director, walked in. I stood to greet him.

“St. Clair. Glad to see you’re back. Very pleased with the way it went in St. Louis.” He turned to the president. “Have you spoken to him yet, sir?”

“Yes, and he’s agreed.” Wilkie looked relieved, too.

“Very good then. If you’re done, sir, I’ll take St. Clair to her. My understanding is that arrangements have been made for Miss Roosevelt to leave tomorrow afternoon.”

“Exactly. We’re all done then. St. Clair, thanks again. And I’ll be up in the near future, so I expect to see you again soon.” We shook hands, and I followed Mr. Wilkie out the door.

“Is she smoking on the roof again, sir?” I asked. That’s what happened the first time I met Alice in the White House.

He grimaced. “No. My understanding is that she is in the basement indulging a new hobby of hers. But you’ll see.” He led me downstairs, and that’s when I heard the unmistakable sounds of gunfire. Mr. Wilkie didn’t seem worried, however. “Miss Roosevelt somehow got hold of a pistol and has set up her own private firing range in a storage room. We launched an investigation to figure out how Miss Roosevelt obtained such a weapon but were unable to reach a formal conclusion, I’m sorry to say.”

No wonder they wanted me back.

And just as when Mr. Wilkie had sent me to get Alice off the roof, he once again cleaned his glasses on his handkerchief, shook my hand, wished me luck, and departed.

I heard one more shot, and that was it. She was probably reloading. The sound came from behind a double door at the end of the hallway. I carefully opened it, and she didn’t notice at first.

I watched her concentrating on the pistol, her tongue firmly between her teeth as she carefully focused on reloading. It was an old Smith & Wesson single-action, and she was damn lucky she hadn’t blown her own foot off. She was shooting at a mattress propped against the far wall, and from the wide scattering of holes, it was clear her marksmanship needed a lot of practice.

“A little more patience, Miss Alice. You’re jerking the trigger; that’s why you keep shooting wild. And that gun’s too big for you.”

It was a pleasure to see the look of shock and joy on her face. She just dropped the gun onto a box and practically skipped to me, giving me a girlish hug. “Mr. St. Clair, I have missed you.” She looked up. “And I know you have missed me. They say you’re back on duty with me. We’re heading to New York tomorrow, and we’ll have breakfast together like we used to and walk to the East Side through Central Park and visit your sister Mariah.”

I couldn’t do anything but laugh. “We’ll do all that, Miss Alice. But I’m on probation from your aunt, so we have to behave ourselves. You have to behave yourself.”

“I always behave.” She waved her hand to show that the discussion had ended. “Now there must be a trick to loading revolvers because it takes me forever.”

“I’ll teach you. Someday.” I made sure the revolver was unloaded and stuck it in my belt. Then I scooped up the cartridges and dumped them in my pocket.

“Hey, that’s my revolver,” said Alice. “It took me a lot of work to get it.”

“You’re not bringing it to New York, that’s for sure, Miss Alice.”

She pouted. “I thought you’d relax a little after being in St. Louis.”

“And I thought you’d grow up a little being in Washington. You want to walk into the Caledonia like a Wild West showgirl? Anyway, don’t you have some parties to go to up there?”

“Oh, very well. But promise me you’ll take me to a proper shooting range in New York and teach me how to load and fire your New Service revolver.”

“We’ll see. Meanwhile, if you don’t upset your family or Mr. Wilkie between now and our departure tomorrow, I’ll buy you a beer on the train.” That made her happy.

We walked upstairs as she filled me in on White House gossip.

“Oh, and I heard you were in a fast draw in St. Louis and gunned down four men.” She looked up at me curiously.

“A little exaggeration,” I said. I hadn’t killed anyone in St. Louis, hadn’t even fired my revolver, except for target practice.

“You didn’t kill anyone?” she asked, a little disappointed.

“No. No one.”

But then her face lit up. “Because your reputation proceeded you, and they knew there was no chance of outdrawing you.”

“That must be it,” I said.

“But look on the bright side,” she said, still full of cheer. “New York is a much bigger city. Maybe you’ll get a chance to shoot someone there.”

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Excerpt from The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto. Copyright © 2018 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

R.J. Koreto has been fascinated by turn-of-the-century New York ever since listening to his grandfather’s stories as a boy.

In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He’s a graduate of Vassar College, and like Alice Roosevelt, he was born and raised in New York.

He is the author of the Lady Frances Ffolkes and Alice Roosevelt mysteries. He has been published in both Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also published a book on practice management for financial professionals.

With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Catch up with R.J. Koreto on Website , Goodreads , Twitter , & Facebook !

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Book Review: Haunting Investigation by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Haunting Investigation
A Chesterton Holte Mystery #5
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Smoke & Shadow Books, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-943052-01-1
Hardcover

First of all, detective Chesterton Holte is a ghost, and only newspaper reporter Poppy Thornton can see or hear him⏤aside from her Aunt Jo’s old dog and the cat. And the only reason he’s haunting her is because he directly led to her father being executed as a spy during World War I and this is his way of making it up to her.

The year is 1924 and the country is still reeling not only from the war, but from the millions of lives lost to the Spanish Flu. Women are taking jobs usually considered the male prerogative and Poppea Thornton is one of them. She is a budding newspaper reporter, up to now assigned to the society pages as she is one of Philadelphia’s upper crust. But when one of society’s own is murdered, Poppy, to her satisfaction, receives the job of reporting the news. In her duties, she meets a handsome police detective, which serves her well when she becomes the murderer’s target, but it is the ghost, Chesterton Holte, who helps Poppy root out the clues.

Against a whole lot of opposition, Poppy works hard and diligently to make her way in a man’s world.

I liked the characters. I formed good pictures of Aunt Jo, cousin Stacy, the widow, and all the others. The setting is well done. I enjoyed the descriptions of the cars, the attire of the day, and especially, the food and drink⏤lots of drink. And during prohibition, too, wink, wink. However, the murder methods seemed odd to me. Also, there didn’t seem to be any real resolution to the story, ending more with a whimper than a bang. Even so, I enjoyed the journey with Poppy and Holte and Detective Loring. One assumes it is to be continued.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

The Spook Lights AffairThe Spook Lights Affair
A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery #2
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
Forge, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3175-5
Hardcover

Set in 1890’s San Francisco, Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services, is unique in that the Carpenter of the agency is female. Smart, able, and relentless in her duties, Sabina Carpenter is a fine character, and more than capable of holding John Quincannon’s amorous tendencies at a distance.

Quincannon is not quite so sympathetic a character. Lots of flaws in this man, including the fact he’s a bit on the greedy side. He also does a lot of smirking, which does become annoying. He’s a good detective, though. A match for Sabina.

San Francisco is almost a character, as well, if one can call a city that. Muller & Pronzini set us down in the town and bring it alive for the reader. From the hell-holes of the Barbary Coast to upper crust socialites on Nob Hill—which brings us to this episode of these two detectives’ continuing escapades.

Sabina is investigating the disappearance of a debutante, who may, or may not have committed suicide while Sabina was watching. But why? That’s the question. Was she murdered? Leave it to Sabina to find out.

Meanwhile, John is hot on the trail of bandits who robbed a Wells Fargo office. With a 10% reward on the line, he’s determined to bring the culprits to justice. All does not go smoothly, of course, what with a character who claims to be Sherlock Holmes butting in. And the thieves themselves are only too ready to defend their evil-doing.

This is a well-plotted mystery appealing to readers who appreciate the old days, as well as those who usually plant their feet in the present day.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: The Bloodied Cravat by Rosemary Stevens

An old favorite resurrected from my “Dark Ages” files:

 

The Bloodied Cravat HCThe Bloodied Cravat
A Beau Brummell Mystery
Rosemary Stevens
Berkley Prime Crime, May 2002
ISBN 0-425-18539-7
Hardcover
Now also available in ebook format

It is the height of London’s Society season in 1806 and George “Beau” Brummell has gone to Oatlands, the country home of Frederica, the Duchess of York, for a weekend party celebrating her birthday. Unfortunately, he is having some difficulty maintaining his usual sartorial splendor as the esteemed Robinson and Beau’s luggage are long overdue.

As it turns out, Robinson has been held up by a highwayman and all of Beau’s belongings have been stolen except his gift for Freddie, which Robinson protected at risk of life, limb and dignity. Among the missing items is Beau’s scrapbook which contains a letter written to him by Freddie in a moment of weakness, a letter which, if exposed, could cause a Royal scandal and lead to Beau’s disgrace. At all costs, Beau must find the letter, and that means he must unmask the highwayman.

In the meantime, Freddie’s other guests have arrived, including a few of questionable quality. There are some thefts and Freddie receives the first blackmail threat. Feeling betrayed by Beau, she becomes noticeably cool towards him and begins to show favor to those who would be pleased to see him lose his high place in Society.

The Bloodied Cravat ebookA guest who has managed to antagonize nearly everyone is murdered during the house party. Freddie calls in John Lavender of Bow Street, a dour Scot with a low opinion of Society in general and George Brummell in particular, largely because of his earlier attentions to Lavender’s lovely daughter, Lydia. Beau knows that Lavender would like nothing better than to prove him guilty of the murder, propelling him into his own attempt to solve the murder as well as find the letter. Above all, Beau needs to win back the Duchess’s affection and trust.

Agatha award-winning and national bestselling author Rosemary Stevens brings the reader into the heart of Regency life, ranging from high society to the criminal world of Seven Dials, with both pathos and humor. The Siamese cat Chakkri, “otherwise known as Master and Supreme Ruler of the Brummell Household”, continues to be Robinson’s nemesis while Beau contends with more bodies, blackmail threats, spying and the malevolent gazes of Lavender and Freddie’s companion, Ulga. Red herrings abound to keep the reader guessing and Beau’s pain and confusion are evident as his feelings for both Freddie and Lydia become more apparent in this third entry in the Beau Brummell series. Ms. Stevens has created another winner and readers will clamor for more.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2002.