Book Reviews: Proof of Life by Sheila Lowe and Simply Dead by Eleanor Kuhns @sheila_lowe @suspensemag @EleanorKuhns @severnhouse

Proof of Life
A Beyond the Veil Mystery #2
Sheila Lowe
Suspense Publishing, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-45315-6
Trade Paperback

After the accident in which her abusive husband and their infant son died, Jessica Mack had amnesia and began to experience strange noises and even voices. This enthralling thriller traces her development from confused and upset to more and deeper understanding of non-corporeal experiences. A practicing artist, Jessica Mack creates art that seems to illustrate crime scenes, but she cannot recall making the art, nor where the detailed information came from.

Gradually over the space of this excellent novel, Jessica begins to understand what may be happening to her. It is unsettling, disrupts her life at times, but instead of resisting or rejecting the forces, she instinctively sets out to learn more.

For many people whose religious or world views reject the idea of other worlds co-existing with that which we inhabit, this may become unsettling. I would urge such people to persist and read this book. Jessica Mack, an identical twin, has already experienced odd experiences with her twin sister. So she is open to learning more about the spirit world. As should we readers.

Unlike many novels that create a spirit world to fit the story, this author has created a character who is not a willing subject, but one who becomes interested in life for those beyond the veil and in a fascinating and consistent way, struggles to learn more and then to use her developing awareness to aid in a race to locate a small child who may have been kidnapped.

The author steadily raises the tension as time inexorably passes. Jessica must deal with her sister, her FBI acquaintance, other skeptics and a burgeoning love interest. The novel is very-well written, extremely carefully plotted, logical and peopled with very interesting, well-drawn characters It will capture the interest of a wide range of crime novel addicts. I strongly recommend this excellent novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simply Dead
A Will Rees Mystery #7
Eleanor Kuhns
Severn House, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8884-6
Hardcover

Winter in northern climes is difficult in the best of times. In late eighteenth century rural Maine, winter can be deadly. In a small Shaker community located in a snow bound village, a deeply disturbed murderer threatens to tear apart an already uneasy relationship with the World, as it is known among Shakers.

Will Rees is a weaver and hard-scrabble farmer with several children and a bright loving wife in his care. The weaver and farmer is an interesting motivator for the novel, husband and father of a teen girl and some even younger children. His almost insatiable curiosity propels him into conflicts at several levels when a local midwife goes missing in the snowy woods. Naturally he seeks her, exposing himself to storms and cold. He finds the midwife almost dead of exposure in the snow and rescues her while realizing the young woman is distraught and hiding something, something truly horrible.

The novel is a deliberate and accurate portrayal of early life for settlers in Maine during the period and is liberally strewn with a wide range of characters one might expect to find in an isolated settlement like this in early America. His small village has a constable who owns and runs the town bar and restaurant and thus is not reliable to protect locals against the menace of hungry wolves.

Conflicts arise for Rees and his family on all sides, affording the author ample opportunity to make deep dives into a host of personalities and situations and she takes most opportunities to do that, including brief but telling examination of the Shaker community. Consequently, the well-written, finely organized story presents several varied and useful personalities in both ordinary and highly fraught situations in a novel of manners, murder and detection. Readers will finish the novel having a concentrated experience of a particular part of America and its people before there was a United States.

Simply Dead is simply a good story with a lot of excellent characters, very well told.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Advertisements

Book Review: Five Days, Five Dead by Carol Wright Crigger—and a Giveaway!

Five Days, Five Dead
A China Bohannon Novel #5
Carol Wright Crigger
Five Star Publishing, December 2018
ISBN 978-1-4328-4729-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sepp Amsel, a fabulously successful gambling hall and saloonkeeper entrepreneur, is about to become the bridegroom in the most public wedding ever to take place in wild and woolly Spokane, Washington. He wants to engage China’s detective services when his fiancee’s sister is kidnapped and a substantial ransom demanded. There’s just one problem. The client thinks it’s possible he’s being bamboozled because things don’t quite add up. Only days remain for China to figure out why the sister was snatched and not the bride. But the clock is ticking. Worse, it isn’t long until murder becomes part of the equation. First a bellhop, then a tailor. Who will be next? China had better find out soon, before she, too, becomes a target for murder.

China Bohannon is a young woman blessed with determination, intelligence and the ability and desire to look out for herself quite well but, unfortunately for China, she lives in a time when those characteristics are not generally seen as positive virtues. She’d very much like to be a “real” detective in her uncle’s agency but Uncle Monk and his partner, Gratton Doyle (who is much too attractive), just can’t be convinced that this is work suitable for a woman so she snatches her chances when she can.

When Sepp Amsel walks into the Doyle & Howe Detective Agency, China is fortuitously the only one there and she’s intrigued by what he tells her, starting with the fact that he came to engage her in particular. Amsel is in the gambling and saloon business and there are only a few days to save the young woman who has been abducted for ransom. Time might be especially short as the kidnappers have taken the wrong woman.

An already suspicious situation becomes more so when the Austrian mail order bride, sister of the kidnap victim, is less than helpful and, of course, there’s a whole lot more to this case. When Uncle Monk and Gratton find out about it, they naturally try to take over but they get led astray and China soon finds herself in a world of trouble, largely because of her inexperience. With the help of a few friends and with her beloved Bedlington terrier, Nimble, by her side China manages to keep one step ahead of mortal danger while following leads through the seamy side of Spokane during a harsh winter spell. Bodies are accumulating, though, and she has a lot of clues to sift through. Eventually, the guys return and their assistance is not entirely unwelcome.

Will the plaque in the office window ever read “Doyle, Howe & Bohannon”? Only time will tell if the two men will eventually acknowledge her talents enough to take the big step but, in the meantime, China is honing her skills one case at a time. I hope she’ll attain her dream one day but I’m enjoying watching her learn how to be a proper detective and can’t wait for her next adventure. This one is going on my list of best books read in 2019.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for an Advance
Reading Copy of Five Days, Five Dead
just leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on the evening of
Friday, July 26th. Open to the US and Canada.

 

Book Review: Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Veil of Lies  
A Crispin Guest Novel #1
Jeri Westerson
Minotaur Books, October 2008
ISBN 978-0-312-37977-3
Hardcover

Not being a fan of medieval crime fiction, I approached this story with a small amount of trepidation. By the time I reached page fifteen, I was hooked. The author invites us back in time to the late Fourteenth Century in England, specifically, London. A young Richard is on the throne and our protagonist, who backed the wrong horse in a recent scrum over ascension to the English throne, is making a new life for himself.

Crispin Guest is a defrocked knight who escaped his mistake at court by the merest margin of luck and the backing of his patron, the Duke of Lancaster. Without that support Crispin Guest would be dead. But here he is stripped of everything, struggling to make his way on the mean and cold and rainy streets of the city.

Now called the Tracker, Guest is tasked by a wealthy merchant to prove whether or not his wife is unfaithful. It’s a small task and Crispin is quick to the task. But the mystery explodes in his face when he returns to report to the merchant and discovers him dead. In a room locked from the inside with no key.

If one can find fault with this steady intriguing narrative which is full of interesting and unusual characters, it is the bad weather, the extensive descriptions and the length of the narrative. But if readers are even slightly interested in the life and times of the English people, as different from the royals and the gentry, the vivid tasty narrative will take them deep into the mean and dangerous streets of ancient London. Crispin, with help from various street people and even the Lord High Sheriff of London, solves the mystery and expands his lower class reach and influence. Recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

The American Agent
A Maisie Dobbs Novel #15
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, March 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-243666-5
Hardcover

In this latest novel by Jacqueline Winspear set in London during the Second World War, her protagonist Maisie Dobbs, an investigator and psychologist, is asked by a long time friend Robert MacFarlane, who works in the Secret Service, to look into the murder of an American woman, Catherine Saxon. Catherine had been working as a reporter, intent on letting the American people read first hand about the horrific devastation and deaths caused by the German bombers.

The British authorities are keeping Catherine Saxon’s death under wraps, and are hoping Maisie with the help of Mark Scott, an American Agent she has worked with before, to find the murderer. Maisie had in fact met Catherine when she’d accompanied Maisie and her best friend Priscilla Partridge a few nights previously, as they’d worked their shift as volunteer ambulance attendants.

Over a period of weeks Maisie interviews the other occupants residing in the boarding house where Catherine lived and where her body was found. It’s a slow process and amid the nightly turmoil of bombings, progress is slow. Maisie also has other responsibilities, not the least being the welfare of a young child Anna, an evacuee she’s grown to love. Anna is meantime in the countryside being looked after by Maisie’s father and stepmother. But Maisie is anxious about the upcoming hearing with regard to her adoption of young Anna.

I’ve been reading the Maisie Dobbs novels since the first came out in 2003 and which won numerous awards. Maisie is a strong woman, she’s had to be, considering all she has gone through. She’s honourable, steadfast and caring, and has a unique way of investigating and uncovering the truth.

The background of the Blitz, as it was referred to, actually took place from November 1940 to May 1941 and the sense of danger and the relentless bombardment from the German Luftwaffe and their fighters makes for a tension filled story. It’s a difficult case and Maisie faces a number of challenges in her quest to uncover the killer.

While this book is the latest in a series, it isn’t vital that you read the previous books. But if you want to get to know Maisie Dobbs and her friends and family a little better…. then search them out.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2019.

Book Review: A Promise Given by Michelle Cox—and a Giveaway!

A Promise Given
A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel #3
Michelle Cox
She Writes Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63152-373-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Anxious to be married, Henrietta and Clive push forward with their wedding plans despite their family differences, made worse now by Oldrich Exley’s attempts to control the Von Harmons. When the long-awaited wedding day arrives, there is more unfolding than just Clive and Henrietta’s vows of love. Stanley and Elsie’s relationship is sorely tested by the presence of the dashing Lieutenant Harrison Barnes-Smith and by Henrietta’s friend Rose―a situation that grows increasingly dark and confused as time goes on.

As Clive and Henrietta begin their honeymoon at Castle Linley, the Howards’ ancestral estate in England, they encounter a whole new host of characters, including the eccentric Lord and Lady Linley and Clive’s mysterious cousin, Wallace. When a man is murdered in the village on the night of a house party at the Castle, Wallace comes under suspicion―and Clive and Henrietta are reluctantly drawn into the case, despite Clive’s anxiety at involving his new bride and Henrietta’s distracting news from home.

Delicately attempting to work together for the first time, Clive and Henrietta set out to prove Wallace’s innocence, uncovering as they do so some rather shocking truths that will shake the Linley name and estate forever.

Following their Chicago wedding, Henrietta Von Harmon and Clive Howard leave tumultuous family issues behind, heading for a honeymoon in England at the ancestral Howard estate, Castle Linley, but their romantic interlude is affected by current events. It’s 1935 and the lingering effects of World War I can be seen and felt along with financial troubles stemming from the Great Depression but it’s a murder in the nearby village that shocks everyone.

Detective Chief Inspector John Hartle quickly suspects Wallace Howard, Clive’s cousin. Formerly a police detective, Clive is drawn in by his fondness for Wallace to investigate with Henrietta’s help; meanwhile, she’s trying to accustom herself to the trappings of British society and then receives unwelcome and distracting news from home regarding her family. The two are very surprised when they discover why Wallace has been so secretive but this knowledge may not lead to Wallace’s being cleared.

To me, this installment focused too much on the romance elements and even provided more, er, details than I cared to know while the mystery kind of took a back seat. Still, the setting is delightful, the nods of appreciation to Pride and Prejudice are fun and I particularly enjoyed seeing the beginnings of a brand new private investigation agency.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a trade
paperback copy of A Promise Given,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on the evening of
Thursday, July 11th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

Murder in the City of Liberty
A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #2
Rachel McMillan
Thomas Nelson, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-7852-1696-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Hamish DeLuca and Regina “Reggie” Van Buren have a new case—and this one could demand a price they’re not willing to pay.

Determined to make a life for herself, Reggie Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he’s afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes.

When Hamish has his careful constructed life disrupted by a figure from his past, he is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

Ahh, Reggie and Hamish are a charming couple although, strictly speaking, they aren’t really a couple because they’re studiously resisting any kind of romantic attraction. They do, however, have a strong partnership in their detective agency and, even in these early days, they’re getting noticed.

Their latest case involves a black man, a baseball player who wants to break the color barrier in the big leagues. Errol Parker retains Hamish and Reggie to look into what the police call pranks being played against him but they soon realize these are acts of racism and there is nothing prankish about these attacks. This is 1940 and Boston is a hotbed of racism, particularly against blacks and ethnic minorities, so they have a formidable task identifying the perpetrator(s) and stopping them.

Meanwhile, Hamish is dealing with a kind of anxiety disorder and a tricky relationship with the criminal world and Reggie is fighting to maintain a distance from her high society background. This story is, realistically. more of a character study of Reggie, Hamish and a variety of peripheral players than a mystery but, for all that, Murder in the City of Liberty is an entertaining tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

************

Purchase Links:
Barnes  & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Books-A-Million // Indiebound

************

About the Author

Rachel McMillan is the author of the Herringford and Watts mysteries, the Three Quarter Time series of contemporary romances set in opulent Vienna, and the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries praised for bringing an authentic 1930’s Boston world to life while normalizing the fictional conversation surrounding mental illness. Her first work of non-fiction, described as a romantic’s guide to independent travel, releases in 2020. Rachel lives in Toronto, Canada.

Connect with Rachel
Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #2
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-4967-1690-3
Hardcover

Lady Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, has been doing a little matchmaking. Her sister Lily is almost engaged to Leo Kendrick, a match Lade Frances approves of, although she would like them to wait just a bit longer to announce their engagement. Her cousin Charles Evingdon has been discreetly seeing Mary Archer, a local widow with society connections although apparently little to no money. Lady Frances is encouraging the match; Charles is that geeky, clumsy cousin with minimal social skills who could do much worse than the widow Archer. This match, however, has come to naught; Charles informs Lady Frances that he and Mary Archer will not suit and won’t say why. This isn’t really a problem until Inspector Delaney arrives to ask Lady Frances why Mary Archer is in possession of information she shouldn’t have. He, for obvious reasons, decided that Charles is a suspect in Mary Archer’s murder. So Lady Frances needs to clear Charles (he is her cousin, after all), as well as niggle out how Mary Archer came to have such intimate details about the Harleigh family finances.

Lady Frances and her next-door-neighbor George Hazelton have had interactions, social and private, in the past. They are once again working on the same case. Mary Archer has been supplementing what little income she had by writing a local gossip column, Miss Information. George’s political connections are such that Inspector Delaney has been required to pass all the gossip column research to George for perusal and discreet intervention. George, having other problems on his plate, delegates that task to Lady Frances and, in the interest of speed, her household. All sworn to secrecy, of course.

Freeman seems to have done her research. London, during the summer, is fairly somnolent in terms of high society and the events that revolve around aristocrats. This means Lady Frances has fewer people on her suspects list, and more time to deal with all the questions that arise during her investigations. Freeman has built a good supporting cast for Lady Frances, and the new introductions bode well for future entries in the series. George Hazelton features prominently, as one might imagine, and his mixed messages do their best to keep Lady Frances in a tizzy. In the meantime, Charles finds his own match, and there is plenty of opportunity for another Countess of Harleigh mystery in the future.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2019.