Book Review: A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond @heatherhiestand @KensingtonBooks @partnersincr1me

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

A Christmas Carol Murder

by Heather Redmond

on Tour November 1 – December 31, 2020

Synopsis:

The latest novel from Heather Redmond’s acclaimed mystery series finds young Charles Dickens suspecting a miser of pushing his partner out a window, but his fiancée Kate Hogarth takes a more charitable view of the old man’s innocence …

London, December 1835: Charles and Kate are out with friends and family for a chilly night of caroling and good cheer. But their blood truly runs cold when their singing is interrupted by a body plummeting from an upper window of a house. They soon learn the dead man at their feet, his neck strangely wrapped in chains, is Jacob Harley, the business partner of the resident of the house, an unpleasant codger who owns a counting house, one Emmanuel Screws.

Ever the journalist, Charles dedicates himself to discovering who’s behind the diabolical defenestration. But before he can investigate further, Harley’s corpse is stolen. Following that, Charles is visited in his quarters by what appears to be Harley’s ghost—or is it merely Charles’s overwrought imagination? He continues to suspect Emmanuel, the same penurious penny pincher who denied his father a loan years ago, but Kate insists the old man is too weak to heave a body out a window. Their mutual affection and admiration can accommodate a difference of opinion, but matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of an infant orphan. Charles must find the child a home while solving a murder, to ensure that the next one in chains is the guilty party . . .

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery Published by: Kensington Publishing Publication Date: September 29th 2020 Number of Pages: 320 ISBN: 1496717171 (ISBN13: 9781496717177) Series: A Dickens of a Crime #3 || A Stand Alone Mystery Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads

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

A Christmas Carol Murder
A Dickens of a Crime #3
Heather Redmond
Kensington Books, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1717-7
Hardcover

When Charles and Kate are out with friends on a cold Victorian winter’s night and a body literally falls at their feet, we’re immediately off on the hunt for a killer and a bit of a jolly romp. Ms. Redmond didn’t exactly create the protagonist since Charles Dickens was a real person but it’s always fun when an author creates a story around such a character. In this case, it’s even more fun because of the way a mystery has been intertwined with the Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol, and I really appreciated the punnish names such as Emmanuel Screws and Jacob Harley; in fact, they put me on high alert looking for other takes on that classic story.

As a journalist, Dickens has a natural bent for looking for the truth but Kate is just as involved, having her own ideas about what might have really happened to Jacob, and the pair find themselves in the midst of more than just a murder investigation. Plenty of unexpected twists kept me interested and I’m now a devoted fan not only of the characters but also of the very clever plot. I’m definitely going to have to get the first two books in this charming series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, December 1, 1835 They hadn’t found the body yet. Old Sal was surely dead. Feathers had caught on candles, igniting the blaze. Maybe a yipping dog had some part in the fiery disaster. The marchioness’s advanced age had surely contributed to the fatal misadventure. The marquess, her son, had nearly killed himself in a futile attempt to rescue her. Charles Dickens’s cough forced him to set down his pen. Ink dribbled from it, obscuring his last few words. He found it hard to stay seated, so he pushed his hands through his unruly dark hair, as if pressing on his sooty scalp would keep him on the pub bench. Only three hours of sleep before being dragged from his bed to make the twenty-three-mile journey from his rooms at Furnival’s Inn in London that morning. Nervous energy alone kept his pen moving. He rubbed his eyes, gritty with grime and fumes from the fire, both the massive one that had destroyed the still-smoking ruins of Hatfield House’s west wing, and the much smaller one here in the taproom at Eight Bells Pub. Some light came in from out of doors, courtesy of a quarter-full moon, but the windows were small. He called for a candle and kept working. Putting the messy slip of paper aside, he dipped his pen in his inkwell. Starting again, he recalled the devastation of the scene, the remains of once noble apartments now reduced to rubble and ash. He filled one slip after another, describing the scene, the architecture, the theories. When he ran out of words, he let his memories of massive oaken Tudor beams, half-burned; heaps of bricks; lumps of metal; buckets of water; black-faced people; and unending, catch-in- your-throat soot—all that remained of forty-five rooms of storied, aristocratic things—fade away. The ringing of St. Ethelreda’s venerable church bells returned him to the moment. Had it gone eight p.m. already? Hooves and the wheels of a cart sounded in the narrow street outside. A couple of men passed by, discussing the fire. The door of the pub opened and closed,allowing the flash from a lantern to illuminate the dark room. Charles noted the attempts to make the room festive. Greenery had been tacked to the blackened beams and draped around the mantelpiece. He thought he saw mistletoe mischievously strung up in that recess to the left of the great fireplace. Next to it, a man slumped in a chair. He wore a tired, stained old surtout and plaid trousers with a mended tear in the knee. Next to him waited an empty stool, ready for an adoring wife or small child to sit there. Charles stacked his completed slips of paper on the weathered table and took a fresh one from his pile, the pathos of that empty seat tugging at him. He began to write something new, imagining that last year at this time, a sweet little girl sat on the stool, looking up at the old, beaten man. How different his demeanor would have been then! Charles drew a line between his musings and the lower blank part of the page. His pen flew again, as he made the note. Add a bit of melancholy to my Christmas festivities sketch. Unbidden, the serving maid delivered another glass of hot rum and water. The maid, maybe fourteen, with wide, apple- colored cheeks and a weak chin, gave him a sideways glance full of suspicion. He grinned at her and pointed to his face. “Soot from the fire. I’m sending a report back to London.” His hand brushed against his shoulder, puffing soot from his black tailcoat into his eyes. She pressed her lips together and marched away, her little body taut with indignation. Well, she didn’t understand he had to send his report by the next mail coach. Not much time for sentiment or bathing just yet. By the time he finished his notes, the drinks hadn’t done their job of settling his cough. He knew it would worsen if he lay down so he opened his writing desk to pull out a piece of notepaper. Dearest Fanny, he wrote to his sister. Where to begin? I wrote to my betrothed this morning so I thought I should send my news to someone else. Was ever a man so busy? I am editing my upcoming book. Did I tell you it will be called Sketches by Boz? I have to turn in the revisions for volumes one and two by the end of the year, in advance of the first volume releasing February eighth. I am also working on an operetta, thanks to that conversation with your friend John Hullah, in my head, at least. I hope to actually commence writing it as soon as my revisions are done. I remember all the happy Christmas memories of our earliest childhood, the games and songs and ghost stories when we lived in Portsmouth, and hope to re-create them in my own sweet home next year. How merry it will be to share Christmas with the Hogarths! To think that you, Leticia, and I will all be settled soon with our life’s companions. Soon we will know the sounds of happy children at our hearths and celebrate all the joys that the season should contain in our private chambers. He set down his pen without signing the letter. It might be that he would have more to add before returning to London. He had no idea how long it would be before they recovered the Marchioness of Salisbury’s body, if indeed, anything was left. Restacking his papers, he considered the question of her jewels. Had they burned? At least the priceless volumes in the library all had survived, despite the walls being damaged. His brain kept churning, so he pulled out his copy of Sketches by Boz. He would edit for a while before retiring to his room at the Salisbury Arms. No time for sleep when work had to be done. Pounding on the chamber door woke him. Daylight scarcely streamed around the tattered edges of the inn’s curtain. Charles coughed. He still tasted acrid soot at the back of his throat. Indeed, it coated his tongue. The pounding came again as he scratched his unshaven chin. Had the Morning Chronicle sent someone after him? He’d put his first dispatch from the fire on the mail coach. Pulling his frock coat over his stained shirt, he hopped across the floor while he tugged on his dirty trousers. Soot puffed into the air with each bounce. “Coming, coming,” he called. The hinges squeaked horribly when he opened the door. On the other side stood a white-capped maid. She wore a dark cloak over her dress. A bundle nestled between her joined arms. Had she been kicking the door? “Can I help you?” Charles asked, politely enough for the hour. To his right, his boots were gone. He had left them to be polished. The girl lifted her bundle. The lump of clothes moved. He frowned, then leaned over the lump. A plump face topped by a thatch of black hair stared back. A baby. Was she hoping for alms? “What’s your name, girl?” “Madge, sir. Madge Porter.” “Well, Madge Porter, I can spare you a few coins for the babe if you’ll wait for a moment. Having hard times?” She stared hard at him. He realized the cloaked figure was the tiny serving maid from the Eight Bells. “He’s my sister’s child.” “I see. Is she at work?” He laugh-choked. “She’s not in here with me, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Her mouth hung open for a moment. “No, sir, I don’t think that.” “What, then?” He glanced around for his overcoat, which had a few coins in a pocket. “What is the babe’s name?” “Timothy, sir.” She tightened her weak chin until her pale skin folded in on itself. “Timothy Dickens?” she warbled. “Dickens?” He took another glance at the babe. Cherry red, pursed lips, and a squashed button of a nose. He didn’t see any resemblance to his relatives. His voice sharpened. “Goodness, Madge, what a coincidence.” Her voice strengthened. “I don’t think so, sir.” He frowned. The serving maid did not seem to understand his sarcasm. “I’ve never been to Hatfield before. My family is from Portsmouth. I don’t know if your Timothy Dickens is a distant relative of mine or not. Who is his father?” “She died in the fire.” He tilted his head at the non sequitur. “Who?” “My sister. She died in the fire. She was in service to old Sarey.” Charles coughed, holding the doorjamb to keep himself upright. This was fresh news. “How tragic. I didn’t hear that a maid died.” “They haven’t found the bodies.” “That I know. I’m reporting on the fire, but then, I told you that. Thank you for the information. I’ll pay you for it if you wait a moment for me to find my purse.” She thrust the bundle toward him. “Timothy is yer son, sir. You need to take him.” Charles took a step back, waving his hands. “No he isn’t.” “He’s four months old. It would have been last year, around All Hallow’s Eve. Do you remember the bonfire? She’s prettier than me, my Lizzie. Her hair is lighter, not like yers or mine.” “Truly, I’ve never been in Hatfield before now,” he said gently. “I work mostly in London.” She huffed out a little sob. He sensed she was coming to a crescendo, rather like a dramatic piece of music that seemed pastoral at first, then exploded. “I know yer his daddy, sir. I can’t take him. My parents are dead.” He coughed again. Blasted soot. “I’m sorry. It’s a terrible tragedy. You’re young to be all alone with a baby.” Her entire being seemed to shudder, then, like the strike of a cobra, she shoved the wriggling bundle into his arms and dashed down the passage. His arms fluttered like jelly for a moment, as if his bones had fled with the horror of the orphaned child’s appearance, until the baby opened its tiny maw and Charles found his strength. Then he realized the blankets were damp. Little fatherless, motherless Timothy whoever-he-was had soiled himself. The baby wailed indignantly but his aunt did not return. Charles completed his reporting duties with one hand while cradling the infant, now dressed in Charles’s cleanest handkerchief and spare shirt, in the other arm. Infant swaddling dried in front of the fire. When Charles had had his body and soul together well enough to chase after little Madge Porter, the proprietor of the Eight Bells had told him she wasn’t due there until the evening. He’d begged the man for names of any Porter relatives, but the proprietor had been unhelpful. Charles had tripped over to St. Ethelreda’s, still smelling smoke through a nose dripping from the cold. The canon had been of no use and in fact smelled of Hollands, rather than incense. He went to a barbershop, holding the baby while he was shaved, but the attendant refused to offer information. When the babe began to cry again, he took him to a stable yard and inquired if they had a cow. A stoic stableman took pity on him and sent him to his quiet wife, a new mother herself. She agreed to nurse the child while Charles went to Hatfield House to see if the marchioness had been found yet. He attempted to gain access to the marquess, still directing the recovery efforts. While waiting, he offered the opinion that they should pull down the remaining walls, which looked likely to kill the intended rescuers more assuredly than anything else in the vast acreage of destruction. Everyone coughed, exhausted, working by rote rather than by intelligence. After a while, he gave up on the marquess. He interviewed those working in the ruins to get an update for the Chronicle, then went to the still-standing east wing of the house to see the housekeeper. She allowed him into her parlor for half a crown. The room’s walls were freshly painted, showing evidence of care taken even with the servant’s quarters. A large plain cross decorated the free space on the wall, in between storage cupboards. The housekeeper had a tall tower of graying hair, stiffened by some sort of grease into a peak over her forehead. Her black gown and white apron looked untouched by the fire. When she spoke, however, he sensed the fatigue and the sadness. “I have served this family for thirty-seven years,” she moaned. “Such a tragedy.” He took some time with her recital of the many treasures of the house, storing up a collection of things he could report on, then let her share some of her favorite history of the house. But he knew he needed to return to gather the baby from the stableman’s wife soon. “Do you have a Lizzie Porter employed here?” “Yes, sir.” The housekeeper gave a little sob and covered her mouth. “In the west wing, sir. I haven’t seen her since the fire.” His fingers tingled. “Do you think she died?” “I don’t know, sir. Not a flighty girl. I doubt she’d have run off if she lived.” “Not a flighty girl?” He frowned. “But she has a babe.” He was surprised to know she had kept her employment. The housekeeper shook her head. “She’s an eater, sir, but there never was a babe in her belly.” The story became steadily more curious. “Did she take any leave, about four months ago? In July or August?” The housekeeper picked up her teacup and stared at the leaves remaining at the bottom. “An ague went around the staff in the summer. Some kind of sweating sickness. She had it like all the rest. Went to recuperate with her sister.” “Madge?” She nodded absently. “Yes, that Madge. Just a slip of a girl. Hasn’t come to work here but stayed in the village.” “I’ve met her. How long was Lizzie with her?” “Oh, for weeks. She came back pale and thin, but so did a couple of other girls. It killed one of the cook’s helpers. Terrible.” The housekeeper fingered a thin chain around her neck. It didn’t sound like a group of girls made up the illness to help Lizzie hide her expectations, but the ague had been timed perfectly for her to hide wee Timothy’s birth. Who had been the babe’s wet nurse? “Do you know where Madge lives?” “Above the Eight Bells, sir. Servants’ quarters.” The housekeeper set down her cup and rose, indicating the interview had ended. Charles checked around the pub again when he returned to town, just a short walk from the grand, if sadly diminished, house. The quarters for servants were empty. Madge seemed to have gone into hiding. How she could abandon her nephew so carelessly, he did not know, but perhaps she was too devastated by her sister’s death to think clearly. A day later, Charles and the baby were both sunk into exhaustion by the long journey to London. Charles’s carriage, the final step of the trip, pulled up in front of a stone building. Across from Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside, it had shop space, three floors of apartments, and a half attic on top. He’d had to hire a carriage from the posting inn where the coach had left them on the outskirts of town. While he had no trouble walking many miles, carrying both a valise and an infant was more than he could manage. At least they’d kept each other warm. He made his awkward way out of the vehicle, coughing as the smoky city air hit his tortured lungs. In his arms, the babe slept peacefully, though he had cried with hunger for part of the long coach journey. Charles’s friends, William and Julie Aga, had taken rooms here, above a chophouse. The building exuded the scent of roasting meats. His stomach grumbled as he went up the stairs to his friends’ chambers. William was a reporter, like Charles, though more focused on crime than government. Charles doubled over, coughing, as he reached the top of the steps. He suspected if he’d had a hand free to apply his handkerchief, it would come away black again. The door to the Agas’ rooms opened before he had the chance to knock. “Charles!” William exploded. “Good God, man, what a sound to torture my ears.” Charles unbent himself and managed a nod at his friend. William had the air of a successful, fashionable man-about-town, even at his rooms on a Thursday evening. He wore a paisley waistcoat under an old black tailcoat, which fit him like it had been sewn directly on his broad-shouldered body. They both prided themselves on dressing well. His summer-golden hair had darkened due to the lack of sun. He had the look of a great horseman, though Charles knew that William, like he, spent most of his time hunched over a paper and quill. “I like that fabric,” Charles said. “Did Julie make you that waistcoat?” “Charles.” William waved his arms. “Whatever are you carrying in your arms?” Charles dropped his valise to the ground. It grazed his foot. He let out a yelp and hopped. “Blast it! My toe.” William leaned forward and snatched the bundle from Charles’s arm. The cloth over little Timothy’s face slid away, exposing the sleeping child. “No room in the inn?” “Very funny,” Charles snarled. He rubbed his foot against the back of his calf. “That smarted.” “Whose baby?” “A dead serving maid’s. I remember you said that a woman across the hall from you had a screaming infant. Do you think she might be persuaded to feed this one? He’s about four months old.” William rubbed his tongue over his gums as he glanced from Timothy to Charles, then back again. “He needs to eat. I don’t want to starve him. Also, I think he’s a little too warm.” Charles gave Timothy an anxious glance. “Let’s hope he isn’t coming down with something.” William stepped into the passage and gave a long-suffering sigh. Then, he crossed to the other side and used his elbow to bang on the door across from his. “Mrs. Herring?” Charles heard a loud cry in the room beyond, a muttered imprecation, and a child’s piping voice, then the door opened. A girl about the age of his youngest brother, Boz, opened the door. “Wot?” she said indistinctly, as she was missing several teeth. “I need your mother,” William said, smiling at the girl. The girl turned her head partway and shrieked for her mother. A couple of minutes later the lady of the house arrived, a fat babe burping on her shoulder. She appeared as well fed as the infant, with rounded wrists tapering into fat fingers peering out from her cotton dress sleeves. “Mr. Aga!” she said with a smile. Charles instantly trusted Mrs. Herring’s sweet smile. Her hand had gone to the top of her daughter’s head for a caress, the sort of woman who genuinely enjoyed her children. “Good lady,” Charles began. “I’ve been given the custody of this orphaned child due to a rather dramatic situation. Might you be able to take him in to nurse?” Mrs. Herring stepped toward William. She took one look at the sleeping Timothy and exclaimed, “Lor bless me!” She handed her larger infant over to her daughter, then reached out her hands to William. He promptly placed the bundle into the mother’s arms. Charles saw Timothy stir. He began to root around. “Hungry. Hasn’t been nourished since this morning.” “Poor mite,” Mrs. Herring cooed. “How could you have let this happen? They must be fed regularly.” “I don’t know how to care for a baby,” Charles admitted. “But I remembered my friends had you as a neighbor. Can you help him?” “We’ve no room for the tiny lad,” Mrs. Herring said sternly. She coaxed her daughter back inside. “I can pay for his board,” Charles responded. Mrs. Herring didn’t speak but her eyebrows lifted. “Just for tonight at first,” William suggested with an easy smile. “You can see the situation is desperate.” Charles reached into his pocket and pulled out a shilling. “I’m good for it. Truly. This would pay for days of his care if I hire a wet nurse. He has an aunt but she disappeared. I couldn’t find her before I had to return to London.” “We’ll talk to you again in the morning,” William said. “I won’t leave the building until we’ve spoken.” “Where am I to put him?” she asked, staring rather fixedly at the shilling. “The bed is full and we don’t have a cradle.” William nodded wisely, as if he’d thought of this already. “Mr. Dickens and I will consult with my wife and bring something suitable. If you can feed him while we wait?” Mrs. Herring reached out her free hand. Charles noted she had clean nails. She seemed a good choice for wet nurse. He placed the shilling in her palm and prayed they could make longer-term arrangements for a reasonable price. Timothy let out a thin wail. “He sounds weak,” Charles said, guilt coloring his words. “I’ll do what I can.” Mrs. Herring glanced at the babe in her arms, then shut the door. *** Excerpt from A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond. Copyright 2020 by Heather Redmond. Reproduced with permission from Heather Redmond. All rights reserved.

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

Author Bio:

 

Heather Redmond is an author of commercial fiction and also writes as Heather Hiestand. First published in mystery, she took a long detour through romance before returning. Though her last British-born ancestor departed London in the 1920s, she is a committed anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century. She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her 2018 Heather Redmond debut, A Tale of Two Murders, was a multi-week Barnes & Noble Hardcover Mystery Bestseller. Her two current mystery series are “A Dickens of a Crime” and “the Journaling mysteries.” She writes for Kensington and Severn House. She is the 2020-21 President of the Columbia River Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC).

Catch Up With Heather Redmond: HeatherRedmond.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

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

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more
great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=299179

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

Enter To Win!

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners
in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Heather Redmond.
There will be 1 winner of one (1) $20 Amazon.com Gift
Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway begins on November 1, 2020
and runs through January 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Get More Great Reads at
Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Book Review: A Bond Undone by Jin Yong @StMartinsPress

A Bond Undone
Legends of the Condor Heroes 2
Jin Yong
St. Martin’s Griffin, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-25011-7
Trade Paperback

Lotus Huang is cunning, kind and quite adorable. Her culinary craftiness is unparalleled, her loyalty unmatched. And her kung fu is phenomenal. As would be expected from the daughter of Apothecary Huang, one of The Five Greats.

Instantly, I love her. Almost as much as she favors the hapless, bumbling Guo Jing. Hopelessly smitten, courageous, yet frightfully foolish, he seems to be her quintessential companion. Until family histories have been sorted out.

Lotus was very young when her martial sister, Cyclone Mei, followed a path of dishonesty and deception. First, falling in love with the wrong man, then helping him steal a Martial Manual of such importance that Shifu permanently crippled her and banished the two from Peach Blossom Island forever.

While the Chinese martial-arts world is vast, it is also oddly intimate. It is not an astounding coincidence when Guo Jing traps himself in a cave inhabited by the embittered Cyclone Mei, causing secrets to be spilled; dark intentions revealed.

Initially, I felt a bit like I was reading a mash-up of Dragon BallZ and Avatar, The Last Airbender. I’ve no idea what is happening, but I’m into it. It didn’t take long, however, for me to figure out who’s who and become fully invested in Mr. Yong’s marvelous martial world.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with huge thanks
for the Advance Review Copy to add to my favorite classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2020.

Book Reviews: The Budapest Escape by Bill Rapp and West of Famous by Joni M. Fisher @JoniMFisher

The Budapest Escape
A Cold War Thriller #3

Bill Rapp
Coffeetown Press, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-94189-072-1
Trade Paperback

The novel is set in the 1950s in a time of great turbulence in the world. The Soviet Union is showing cracks in its leadership. Tensions between the world powers are still evident and relationships between Allied nations are still settling down. Life and routines in the relatively young Central Intelligence Agency are still often experimental and somewhat uncertain.

The novel’s protagonist is Karl Baier, a CIA agent attempting to maneuver himself into a higher-level position, possibly Chief of Station. Meanwhile, turmoil rises in the Eastern European nations; Baier worries about his assets in Hungary and determines to rescue one of them before the revolution occurs and destroys nearly all social routine.

The potential for this novel to be a truly action and intelligence-filled narrative are all there. Unfortunately, in spite of a high degree of authenticity, and historical accuracy, the novel reads like the kind of reports government bureaucrats too often file. It is mostly devoid of emotion and the tension-filled moments are too often seen as if being observed from behind a screen. The history and circumstances of life during this period are accurate and interesting, but I would have preferred more terror, emotion, and human mistakes.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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

West of Famous  
Compass Crimes #3
Joni M. Fisher

Joni M. Fisher, February 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9972575-4-0
Trade Paperback

A handsome evocative cover introduces a riveting tale of kidnapping, identity mistakes, the internal power of a young woman and the kind of inevitable encompassing efforts of law enforcement when called on.

Martina Ramos, a bright college graduate student is immersed in the college grind of prepping for exams at Oxford. Her college friends believe her on break, her family thinks she’s studying, nose to grindstone. Certain other friends believe she’s taking a brief break from a chance encounter with a pop star. The pop star needed a favor, a stand-in to take her place for a few weeks on the party circuit in south Florida. Martina fits the role to a T.

When she awakens in the foul hold of a boat anchored somewhere off the Florida coast, the number of people who truly know where she is has been reduced to three or maybe four. And they are not Martina’s friends.

What follows is a carefully designed, increasingly tense and terror filled effort to find the kidnapped college student while keeping her true identity secret, because her family doesn’t have the kind of ransom money being demanded.

As Martina’s family, experienced law enforcement and military types, come together with a small cadre of FBI agents, plans are formed to rescue the girl before her true identity is discovered and before the looming deadline for delivery of the ransom money arrives. The plans and movements which form the bulk of this well-written novel are carefully and logically laid out. Meanwhile, readers are treated to the terror-filled existence of the young girl, contrasted with her tough-minded cautious efforts to extricate herself from the clutches of the kidnappers. The possibility of death for the unfortunate girl is well-explicated in both narratives, that of her searchers and her own interactions with her captors.

The novel is peopled with a range of interesting individuals and their interactions are both logical and well-reasoned so that readers will be eminently satisfied as the resolution looms ever closer. A thoroughly enjoyable crime novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Circle of Dead Girls by Eleanor Kuhns @EleanorKuhns @severnhouse @partnersincr1me

A Circle of Dead Girls
A Will Rees Mystery #8
Eleanor Kuhns
Severn House, March 2020
ISBN 978-0-7278-9008-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In the spring of 1800, a traveling circus arrives in town. Rees is about to attend, but sees his nemesis, Magistrate Hanson in the crowd, and leaves. On the way home he meets a party of Shaker brothers searching for a missing girl. They quickly come across her lifeless body thrown into a farmer’s field.

Rees begins investigating and quickly becomes entranced by the exotic circus performers, especially the beautiful young tightrope walker.

Other murders follow. Who is the killer? One of the circus performers? One of the townspeople? Or One of the Shakers?

Will Rees is a conflicted man. Accused of murder, he and his family fled their town and ended up on a farm in a Shaker community near the town of Durham where they now live safely but Will detests farming. What he does enjoy is being a traveling weaver and, now that spring has come to Maine, he’ll be heading out soon. First, though, he’s attracted to Asher’s Circus and has gone to town to see it. While he does get to see a couple of amazing acts, he’s soon forced to head back home.

On the way, Will runs into a small group of Shaker men who are searching for a missing teenaged orphan, Leah, and he agrees to help look for her; they very quickly find her, dead, clearly murdered. Because he has established a reputation for solving crimes, Will is soon following leads but his interest in the circus, and one performer in particular, distracts him from his investigation while his absence from home is leaving his wife, Lydia, with the burden of his normal farming work. It seems that Will might not be able to carry out his accepted duty and stay focused so well this time but the twists in the case and the memory of the murdered girl won’t let him ignore it all for long.

One of the highlights of this tale, for me, was learning a little about the sort of circus that existed in 1800, before trains and big tents. In my opinion, this series is one that has been greatly underappreciated and deserves much more attention. The stories are intriguing, the characters are vividly drawn and appealing and Ms. Kuhns is a good writer. While I haven’t read every book in the series and it’s natural that reading in order gives a better understanding of the settings and primary players, each one has a self-contained story and is very satisfying. Give it a try!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

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

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

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

An Excerpt from A Circle of Dead Girls

Chapter 1

As if God Himself had taken a hand, winter abruptly changed to spring. The six inches of snow that had fallen just last week – the third week of April – was melting in the suddenly balmy air. Instead of hard packed snow, the roads were surfaced in slush and mud. Only on the north sides of the slopes and under the trees did snow remain and even there green spears poked through the white.

Rees had already planted peas and in a few weeks he would begin plowing the rocky fields. He sighed. Although glad to see the spring, he did not like to think about the coming backbreaking toil. He would turn forty this year and his dislike of farm work had, if anything, intensified. His father had died at the age of forty-six, while Rees was away serving with General Washington in the War for Independence, and sometimes he wondered if six years was all he had left. Six years with his arms up to their elbows in mud and manure. Just the thought of it pressed down like a heavy weight. He didn’t think he could bear it.

At least, with the coming warmer weather, he could look forward to a few weeks of freedom as he traveled these roads weaving for the farm wives. Besides the cash he would earn, he looked forward to what he imagined as sunlit days of freedom from the farm.

With a shake of his head, he pushed the gloomy thoughts from his mind. Now he was on his way into town. For the past several days men had been shouting up and down the lanes and byways: Asher’s Circus was coming to town. Rees had brought his children to the Surry road yesterday to watch the circus arrive. First came a man in a scarlet coat and top hat riding a bay. Bells jingled on his harness and feathers danced upon his head. Two carriages followed, the beautiful women seated inside leaning through the curtained windows to wave and blow kisses. At least five wagons followed, wagons that were unlike any that Rees had ever seen. These vehicles looked like the carriages but were bigger and taller and the curtains at their small windows were shut. On every wagon door a bright gold rearing horse glittered in the sunlight. Finally, clowns with colored patches painted over their eyes and vivid clothing walked alongside. One was a dwarf with a pig and a dog and the other a giant of a man. While the little man turned cartwheels, the big fellow walked straight ahead barely acknowledging the crowds lining the street.

Rees’s children were beyond excited, jumping and shouting beside the road. Even Rees, a cosmopolitan traveler who’d visited several large cities, had been enchanted. After a long winter kept mostly inside and occupied solely with mending tack and other chores he was ready for some entertainment.

Now he was on his way into town to see a performance. A sudden wash of muddy water splattered, not only the wagon, but him as well. He swore at the young sprig galloping by, so intent on reaching Durham that he paid no attention to those he passed. But Rees was not really angry. A circus was a grand event and he guessed he could extend a little charity to the eager farmer’s boy. Rees knew Lydia would have liked to join him, and probably the children as well, but no lady would be seen at such rude entertainment, so she must rely on his descriptions.

The streets of Durham were thronged with traffic. Wagons jostled for space next to horses and mules. Pedestrians were forced to cling to the side of the buildings lest they be trampled underfoot. Rees shook his head in amazement; he had never seen the streets so crowded.

And Rouge’s inn! The yard swarmed with horses and shouting men. Rees’s hope – that he could leave his horse and wagon there – died. When he turned down an alley that went to the jail, he found this narrow lane almost as impassible. But he could already see a tall structure in the field that the Durham farmers usually used for Saturday market. It was so early in the season that market was just beginning. Later in the spring the grounds would be in use every Saturday.

Finally, Rees parked his wagon and horse at the jail. He watered Hannibal from a nearby trough and joined the mob streaming toward the large field. Affluent townsmen rubbed shoulders with sunburned farmers in straw hats and dirty clogs. At first, except for the arena built in the center, the fairgrounds looked exactly as normal: an occasional ramshackle hut interspersed with large areas of open ground. The farmers usually set up their wares in one of those small squares; this was how Lydia sold her butter and cheese. Rees lifted his eyes to the tall wooden structure, dazzling with colorful flags flying around the roof, that dominated the field. At first, he did not notice how peculiar the building looked. But as he approached the flimsy construction, the lack of any windows, and the slapdash roof became apparent. An arc of roofed wooden vehicles – the circus wagons – curved around the back.

At several yards distant he could see gaps between the splintered boards that made up the walls. Posters, all designed with a crude woodcut of a horse, papered over the widest of cracks. Rees directed his steps to a bill posted on the wall and paused in front of it. “Asher’s Circus”, he read. “Mr. Joseph Asher, trained by Mr. Phillip Astley and Mr. John B. Ricketts, and just arrived from tours of London, Philadelphia, Boston, and Albany, is pleased to present daring feats of horsemanship, the world -famous rope dancer Bambola, clowns after the Italian fashion and many more acts to amaze and delight.”

Rees grunted, his eyes moving to the bottom. Names and dates scribbled in by different hands, and then crossed off, filled all the white space with the last being Durham, show time five o’clock. Since he didn’t recognize most of the names, he suspected they were for very small villages, not the cities mentioned above. Mr. Asher clearly had grandiose aspirations.

Rees walked around to the front. An opening was screened by a shabby blue curtain, dyed in streaks and with the same look as the boards- used over and over for a long time. Now more curious than ever, he bent down and peered through the gap at the bottom. He could hear the sound of hooves and as he peeked under the curtain he saw the skinny brown legs of a galloping horse thud past.

‘I really must begin my journey.’ Piggy Hanson’s whiny drawl sent Rees’s head whipping around. What the Hell was Piggy doing here? Rees had not seen Hanson, or anyone else from his hometown of Dugard, Maine, for almost two years, not since the magistrate had written an arrest warrants for Lydia – witchcraft – and for Rees – murder. His family had had to flee for their lives. He did not think he would ever forgive the people involved, especially the magistrate who had enabled the persecution. Rage swept over Rees and he turned to look around for the other man.

He saw his nemesis – they’d been enemies since boyhood – standing in a cluster of gentlemen, their cigar smoke forming a cloud around them. With every intention of punching the other man, Rees took a few steps in his direction, but then his anger succumbed to his more rational mind. He did not want Piggy Hanson to know he lived here now and anyway there were far too many men for him to take on by himself.

‘I must leave for the next town on my circuit, you know,’ Hanson continued. A magistrate for a large district, he regularly traveled from town to town ruling on judicial issues. He knew Rees was innocent of murder, Rees was certain of it, but he suspected he would still be treated as though he was guilty. And he doubted he could behave with any civility at all, not with this man. He cast around for a hiding place and, quicker than thought, he dashed behind the blue curtain.

He swiftly moved away from the portal, pressing himself against the wooden wall so that no one who came through the curtain could immediately see him. Then he inhaled a deep breath and looked around.

Stones carried in from the field outside marked off a roughly circular ring. The galloping horse thundered past, a woman in a short red frock standing on the saddle. At first scandalized to see the woman’s legs knee to ankle, Rees’s shock quickly turned to admiration. She stood on the saddle in comfort, her red dress and white petticoats fluttering in the breeze. Puffs of dust from the horse’s hooves sifted into the air.

‘Pip,’ said a voice from above. Rees looked up. A rope had been stretched tautly across the width of the enclosure and a woman in a white dress and stockings stood upon it. She wore white gloves but no hat and her wavy dark hair curled around her face. Rees stared in amazement as her white feet slid across the line. She was totally focused upon her task and did not give any indication she saw him. ‘Pip,’ she said again, and went into a flood of French mixed with some other language. Rees understood enough to know she was complaining about the rope.

This, he thought, must be Bambola, the ropewalker, crossing the sky above his head. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. As her white dress fluttered around her, all he could think of was angels.

‘Bon.’ A man Rees had not noticed detached himself from the wall and moved forward. He was easily as tall as Rees, if not taller, and lanky. His hair was a peculiar reddish black color. In French he assured the rope dancer that he would fix the rope in a minute.

Holding up his hand, he moved toward the ring. The equestrienne dropped down to the saddle, first riding astride and then moving one leg across so she rode sidesaddle. She pulled the horse to a stop and jumped down with none of the hesitation of a lady. She conferred with Pip for a few moments in tones too low for Rees to hear and then she went out the opening at the back. The man leaped easily into the saddle and urged the horse again into a gallop. He stood in the saddle, balancing even more easily than his female partner, and then, in one fluid motion, dropped to the saddle to stand on his hands. His lean body formed a long streak toward the sky. Rees gasped in amazement. Then the performer began jumping from one face of the saddle to the other, riding diagonally on each side with his feet pointing at the horse’s hindquarters. He was even more skilled than the woman and Rees was so enthralled he forgot why he was there and lost all track of time.

Finally, Pip moved his long body into the saddle and slowed the horse to a walk. He dismounted and, taking hold of the bridle, began to walk the animal around the ring. ‘You,’ he shouted at Rees in a heavy French accent, ‘get out. You must pay.’

Rees half-nodded, listening to the chatter floating over the wall; he could still hear Piggy talking outside, his high-pitched voice carrying over the lower tones of the other men. ‘I didn’t sneak in to see the show,’ Rees told the circus performer in a near-whisper. ‘There’s someone outside I don’t want to meet.’ With a grin – he could also hear Piggy – the other man turned and pointed to the curtain at the back. Rees struck across the ring for the screen. Disappointment – for now he would not be able to stay and enjoy the show – fell heavy upon his shoulders. Another crime to put at Piggy’s door.

Before he dropped the cloth over the opening Rees turned to look back over his shoulder. Now the tall man was scrambling up the pole to the small landing above. Rees wondered if the talented rider was a rope dancer as well as an equestrian but he did not go all the way up. Instead, as the girl withdrew to the landing on the other side, Pip began working with fittings. The rope vibrated.

Rees dropped the curtain and looked around. He found himself in the cluster of the circus carriages, horses, and hurrying people. A dwarf wearing a clown’s short ruffled red pants and with red triangles drawn in around his eyes hurried past, quickly followed by a slender fellow with oiled black hair and an aggressive black mustache streaked with gray. The performance would begin soon. No one took the slightest notice of Rees as he threaded his way through the circus performers.

Close to, the wagons looked beat up, scarred with use. Most of the gold horses on the wagon doors were simply paint and the few that were carved wood or sculpted metal were losing their gilding. Rees distinctly saw the tell- tale red of rust fringing the head of one rearing stallion.

He broke into a run. He would never have expected to meet the Magistrate here in this tiny Maine town. And he prayed Hanson would leave soon. Rees would not dare to return until he could be sure that Piggy Hanson was gone.

Leaving Durham proved just as challenging as entering town in the first place. The streets seemed even more congested now than they had been earlier. Abandoning the main road once again, Rees turned down a side street on the southern side of town. There was a narrow lane, little more than a footpath, that went east, from Durham to the Surry Road. He could follow Surry Road north past the Shaker community and then to his own farm. If he could just reach the lane. The side street was packed with wagons coming from the farms on the southern side of town. It took Rees much longer than it should have to drive the few blocks before he was finally able to turn.

But from what he could see of this winding track, there was little traffic here. Because of the narrow and twisty nature of this lane most of the traffic was on foot. Only a few vehicles were heading into town. Congratulating himself on his foresight, Rees settled himself more comfortably on the hard wooden seat. If one were not in a hurry, this was a pleasant ride through the stands of budding trees and lichen spotted boulders. He glanced at the sky; he’d reach home before it was entirely dark. And, although he had not been able to attend the circus, at least he’d seen enough to make a good story to tell Lydia and the children.

The wagon trundled around the last steep sharp curve. From here the road straightened out, cutting through farmland until it reached Surry Road.

And ahead was a group of Shaker Brothers, walking towards him. Rees was surprised to see them. A devout group that rarely left their well-ordered community, they surely could not be walking into Durham for the circus. He slowed to a stop and jumped to the ground.

Chapter 2

The group of men resolved into individual faces. One man, Brother Daniel, Rees knew well. Daniel had been the caretaker of the boys when Rees and his family had sought refuge here two years ago. Promoted to Elder since then, Daniel was beginning to look much older than his almost thirty years. He’d lost the roundness to his cheeks, his face now appearing almost gaunt, and the gray appearing in his hair made him look as though he were fading like a piece of old cloth. Rees, who’d recently discovered white hairs on his chin and chest, felt a spasm of sympathy.

Now worried lines furrowed Daniel’s forehead. ‘Rees,’ he said. ‘If I may request your assistance?’

‘Of course,’ he said immediately. ‘What do you need?’ Not only was his wife a former Shaker but the members of Zion had helped him more times than he could count.

‘When you came through town did you see a Shaker lass?’ Daniel’s normally quiet voice trembled with fear and desperation. Rees shook his head. He had seen few women or children and none clothed in the sober Shaker garb.

‘What happened? Did she run off to see the circus?’

‘Yes,’ Daniel said with a nod. ‘With one of the boys.’

‘Shem,’ said Brother Aaron. Rees knew the cantankerous old man well. and was surprised to see him here, searching for the girl. Although a Shaker, Aaron was not always kind or compassionate. ‘I fear he was easily led by that girl,’ he added, confirming Rees’s judgement.

‘Apparently they took off right after our noon dinner,’ Daniel continued, ignoring the other man. ‘We wouldn’t know that much but for the fact Shem was almost late for supper.’

‘Well, have you asked him where she is?’

‘Shem had nothing to do with it,’ Aaron said sharply at the same instant Daniel spoke.

‘Of course we did. We aren’t fools.’

Rees held up his hands in contrition. The Shakers were usually the most even-tempered of people. He knew Daniel’s testiness was a measure of his worry. ‘What did he say?’

‘That they were separated.’

‘Shem wanted to see the circus horses,’ Aaron said.

‘Leah wanted to come home,’ Daniel explained, throwing an irritated glance at his fellow Shaker. ‘Well, they wouldn’t allow a woman to enter such a rude entertainment, would they? She was probably bored-.’

‘He is horse mad,’ Aaron interjected.

‘Please Aaron,’ Daniel said in a sharp voice, staring at his fellow in exasperation. Aaron acknowledged the rebuke with a nod and Daniel continued. ‘How could Leah have been so lost to all propriety as to imagine she would be allowed entry, I don’t know.’ For a moment his frustration with the girl overshadowed his fear. ‘What was she thinking? I’m not surprised that rapscallion Shem would behave so carelessly but Leah is soon to sign the Covenant and join us as a fully adult member. The amusements of the World should hold no attraction for her.’

Rees shook his head in disagreement. He didn’t blame the girl. He thought that this was exactly the time when she would want to see something outside the kitchen. After all, he was a man, well used to traveling, and seeing the circus had made him long to pack his loom in his wagon and go.

‘Like all women, she is flighty,’ Aaron said, frowning in condemnation. ‘Attracted to sins of -.’

‘Did you search Zion?’ Rees interrupted.

‘No,’ Daniel said. ‘When we couldn’t find the children, we suspected they’d left . . .’ His voice trailed away and he looked from side to side as though expecting the girl to spring up beside him.

‘Perhaps she just wanted to go home to her family,’ Rees suggested.

‘She has no family,’ Daniel said curtly. ‘Neither of those children do. Shem is an orphan and Leah has lived with us since she was a baby. Her mother brought her to us and died soon after. Leah knows no other family but us. She would not leave our community.’

All the more reason for her to want to experience something of the world, Rees thought but he kept his opinion to himself. ‘I drove to town on the main road,’ he said aloud. ‘I did not see any children at all.’

‘When was that?”

“About four,’ Rees replied.

Daniel nodded and rubbed a shaking hand over his jaw. ‘You were on the road too late, I think. The children left the village right after noon dinner.’

‘That means they would have been on the main road between one and two,’ Rees said. ‘Depending on their speed.’ And if Leah had parted from Shem and started home by two-thirty or three, walking either road, she would have reached Zion by four. Four-thirty at the latest. Anxiety for the girl tingled through him. He thought of his own children and the kidnapping of his daughter last winter with a shudder of remembered terror. ‘I’ll help you search,’ he said. ‘The more of us the better.’ He already feared this search would not have a good outcome.

Daniel turned to two of the younger Brothers. ‘Search along the road,’ he said. ‘And hurry. We have less than an hour of daylight left.’ They started down the lane, moving toward town at a run.

Rees looked up at the sky. The fiery ball was almost at the horizon, and long low rays streamed across the earth in ribbons of gold. In thirty – maybe forty minutes the sun would drop below the western hill and the pink and purple streamers across the sky would fade into black. ‘I’ll park the wagon,’ he said, jumping into the seat.

He pulled it to the ditch on the left side and jumped down, looking around him as he did so. Farmer Reynard had planted the sloping fields on Rees’s right; buckwheat probably given the sloping and rocky nature of the ground. But on the left the buckwheat straw from last year stood almost four feet high, waiting to be cut down and then turned over into the soil. Rees inspected that field thoughtfully. Tall thick stems such as that could hide a girl who did not want to be found. ‘We should check the fields,’ he said as he rejoined the Shakers. ‘And the pastures.’ When Daniel looked at him in surprise, he added, ‘She might have started back to Zion and when she saw us coming gone to ground. She might not want to be dragged back to Zion in disgrace.’ Daniel nodded, pleased by the suggestion and quickly asked the other Brothers to spread out across the fields. Rees and Daniel started walking down the lane.

But before they had gone very far, one of the other Shakers called out.

‘Hey, over here.’ A young fellow whose yellow hair stuck out around his straw hat like straw itself, began retching. ‘Oh, dear God.’

Daniel did not pause to remonstrate with the boy for his language but vaulted the fence into the field and ran. Rees struggled to keep up. Was it Leah? Was she hurt? His stomach clenched; he was so afraid the situation was far worse than that.

They arrived at the body lying sprawled in its buckwheat nest at the same time. She lay partly on her right side, partly on her back, her left arm crooked at her waist at an odd angle. Her plain gray skirt was rucked up to her thighs and blood spattered the white flesh. Daniel turned around, his face white, and shouted at the Brothers approaching him, ‘Stay back. Stay back. Don’t come any closer.’

‘Oh no,’ Rees said, dropping to one knee. ‘Oh no.’ Although he’d been told Leah was fourteen, she looked much younger. Under the severe Shaker cap, her skin had the translucent quality of the child. Her eyes were open, the cloudy irises staring at the darkening sky. Rees bent over her. Although it was hard to tell in the fading light he thought he saw marks around her throat. ‘She may have been strangled,’ he said, his eyes rising to the worm fence that separated this field from the road that led into Durham. Leah’s body had been dropped only a few yards from the fence but in the high straw it would have been almost invisible, even in daylight. Rees began walking slowly toward the main road, his eyes fixed upon the ground. There did not seem to be any path from the fence to the body; none of the buckwheat stalks were bent or broken in any way. He did not see any footprints in the soft April soil either. But in the setting sun detail was difficult to see and he made a mental note to examine this section of the field more closely tomorrow.

‘The farmer, did he do this terrible thing?’ Daniel cried, glancing from side to side.

‘Perhaps, but I doubt it,’ Rees said. He touched the girl’s upraised arm to see if he could move it. As he suspected, the body was growing stiff. ‘He would be a fool to leave her in his own field.’

‘It was not Shem,’ Aaron said loudly. Rees glanced up at the man. Why was Aaron so protective of that boy?

‘She’s been dead for about some hours,’ Rees said, returning to his examination. Then he thought about the warmth of the day. Leah would have been lying here, in the sun. ‘Maybe since mid-afternoon.’ And that time would be consistent with the time she’d left town.

‘How do you know?’ Daniel stared at Rees in shock, mixed with dawning suspicion.

‘You told me she was seen at noon dinner,’ Rees replied, ‘so we know she was alive then.’ He rose to his feet and looked at Daniel ‘It must be almost six o’clock now.’

‘Probably after,’ Daniel said, looking around at the fading light.

‘A body begins to stiffen a few hours after death and then, maybe half a day later, the rigidity passes off. I saw this frequently during the War for Independence but any good butcher will tell you the same.’ Rees kept his eyes upon the other man who finally nodded with some reluctance. ‘I would guess that Leah was accosted by someone on her way home.’ He paused. The poor child had probably been lying here when he rode past, thinking of the circus. He closed his eyes as a spasm of shame went through him.

‘She knew she was not to leave Zion,’ Daniel said with a hint of wrath in his voice.

Rees sighed. This was not the first time he had seen the victim blamed. And perhaps, for a celibate such as Daniel, anger was an easier emotion right now than horror and disgust and grief as well. ‘Perhaps she behaved foolishly, but she did not deserve this end to her life.’

‘We will take her home -,’ Daniel began. But Rees interrupted.

‘We must send someone for the constable.’

‘No. No. She is one of ours.’

‘This is murder,’ Rees said, staring fixedly at Daniel. Although shocked and horrified, he had witnessed too many violent deaths to be paralyzed by such evil any longer. His calm voice and stern regard had the desired effect. Daniel sucked in a deep breath. After he had mastered himself, he left Rees’s side and joined the group of Shakers.

‘Run back to the village and get a horse,’ he told one of the youngest Brothers. ‘Ride into Durham and fetch Constable Rouge.’ His voice trembled on the final word. Rees looked at Daniel. He was swaying on his feet, his eyes were glassy and his skin pale and slick with perspiration. He looked as though he might faint. Rees drew him away from Leah’s body and pressed him down into a sitting position. Daniel was little more than a boy himself and had lived in the serene Shaker community most of his life. It was no surprise he was ill-equipped to handle such a terrible occurrence. ‘Put your head between your knees,’ Rees said. ‘I’m going to walk to the farmhouse and talk to the farmer. Maybe he saw something.’

‘I’ll go with you.’ Daniel stood up; so unsteady Rees grabbed him to keep him from falling.

‘No,’ he said with a shake of his head.

‘I need to go with you,’ the Brother said fiercely. ‘I need to do something. That poor child!’ Rees stared at the other man. Although Daniel’s face was still white, and he was trembling he had set his mouth in a determined line. ‘I must do this, Rees.’

‘Very well.’ Rees glanced over his shoulder at the body. From here, it appeared to be a bundle of rags dropped among the stalks. ‘Poor chick won’t be going anywhere.’

Daniel looked at Brother Aaron. ‘You were once a soldier,’ he said. ‘You’ve seen violence and death. Please stay with our Sister.’ Aaron nodded and, withdrawing a few steps, sat down in the row between the stalks. In the encroaching shadows he instantly faded from view. Only his pale straw hat remained, shining in the last of the light like a beacon.

Rees and Daniel set off across the fields for the distant farmhouse.

***

Excerpt from A Circle Of Dead Girls by Eleanor Kuhns.
Copyright 2020 by Eleanor Kuhns. Reproduced with
permission from Eleanor Kuhns. All rights reserved.

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

About the Author

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur First Crime novel competition for A Simple Murder. She lives in upstate New York. A Circle of Death Girls is Will Rees Mystery # 8.

Catch Up With Eleanor Kuhns:

www.Eleanor-Kuhns.com
Goodreads
Instagram
BookBub
Twitter
Facebook

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

Follow the tour here.

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

Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by
Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for
Eleanor Kuhns. There will be 5 winners of one (1)
Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway
begins on September 1, 2020 and runs through
October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

Enter here.

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

Book Review: A Shadowed Fate by Marty Ambrose

A Shadowed Fate
A Claire Clairmont Historical Mystery
Marty Ambrose
Severn House, March 2020
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8992-8
Hardcover

For all the accolades presented to this series of books by other reviewers, I’m afraid I got a different impression. Perhaps if I’d started with the first of the series it would be different, but in A Shadowed Fate, instead of connecting with the characters (in this case the real-life mistress and mother of Lord Byron’s child, Claire Clairmont) and what should have been the mystery, the reader is told what has happened with Claire and Lord Byron up until her age of 70+. At that point we learn someone has broken in to her home and robbed Claire of a valuable painting, the sale of which she had been depending on to keep her and a couple of dependents from abject poverty. She managed to save some papers, written by Byron, that indicate their daughter, whom Claire thought died of typhoid at a very young age, might have lived. And so a search is on. Byron is long dead by this time, although he’s still a central character, detailed in a series of flashbacks taking place fifty years in  the past.

Trelawny, a friend of Byron’s who delivered the papers, accompanies Claire, her niece and her niece’s young daughter, on a trip across Italy to Ravenna, in a quest to discover the truth about the missing child.

The journey reads much like a travelogue. There’s not a lot of mystery, never really any tension,  and to me, the dialogue and characters seemed a bit flat, especially as the question of the child’s life or death is not answered. For that, you’ll have to read the next book in the series.

Nicely written, it’s a story I’m quite sure will appeal to fans of Lord Byron’s poetry.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: The Blues Don’t Care by Paul D. Marks—and an Excerpt @PaulDMarks @DownAndOutBooks

The Blues Don’t Care
Bobby Saxon, Book 1
Paul D. Marks
Down & Out Books, June 2020
ISBN 978-1-64396-050-0
Trade Paperback

The author is an experienced and winning author of thrillers. This novel, from its title to its epilogue shows the research and care directed to the details of such a story set in a previous century. The action takes place in Los Angeles in the 1940s. It was wartime and a period of active and intense musical development and interest as a counter to the war. Los Angeles was an important part of the home front during World War II.

Bobby Saxon is a recent graduate of a local high school. He’s a brilliant pianist and his goal is a gig with one of LA’s top blues and swing bands. That quickly introduces an important theme that affects everything that happens in the novel because Bobby is white and the band is black. The blues was dominated by black artists. Mixing the races in any way, including performing, was actively prohibited in that decade and Bobby has to deal with it. He has other secrets as well and while performing a guest gig with the band, he becomes involved in a murder that may involve another member of the band. Solving the murder, avoiding revealing personal secrets and finding his way through a city engaged in a war effort requires agility, naivety, flexibility, and a level of personal charm not usually found in such strength in a single individual.

The novel is long, fully engaged with its location and history, very well written, episodic in structure, logical and engaging. In the end, the author is right, the blues really do not care.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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

An Excerpt from
The Blues Don’t Care
by Paul D. Marks

The Blues Don’t Care uses the framing of device of a prologue and epilogue to bring the story into the present, show a little bit of who Bobby Saxon, the main character was – and who he became. In the prologue, Dianne, Bobby’s daughter, comes to L.A. and is intrigued by the person she thought was her father (and he was). But she begins to see another side of him as Booker begins relating Bobby’s story, much of which Diane didn’t know before. She’s drawn into his story, as I hope the reader will be and want to find out more about him, just as she does.

PROLOGUE

San Francisco—The Eve of the Millennium

The late-night phone call jangled Diane awake.

“Diane Saxon?” the officious voice on the other end said.

“Yes.” She tried to shake the sleep out of her voice.

“This is the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office—”

Paul D. Marks

In those few words, any leftover sleepiness Diane had escaped, replaced by dread.

She pressed the phone tighter against her ear. Squeezed the receiver until it nearly cracked in her hand. As soon as the phone rang, she knew it couldn’t be good news.

“Are you related to, um—” papers rattling “—Robert Saxon?”

“Yes, I’m his daughter. Did he—”

“I’m sorry to call you so late, but I’m afraid your, uh, father has passed away. Can you come down to L.A. to identify him?”

Diane looked at the clock. Midnight. Bobby would have appreciated that.

Los Angeles—The Next Morning

Diane walked the musty halls of Bobby’s house, killing time before her appointment at the coroner’s office. Bobby, so meticulous all his life—sometimes to the point of driving her crazy—had let things go in the last year or so.

She returned to the scrapbook she’d left on the dining table, turned the yellowing pages in the fragile book. A pristine shellac seventy-eight rpm record spun on an ancient but near-mint condition record player. This record had only been removed from its sleeve a handful of times over the years for fear of breaking the delicate material. “La Tempesta,” an allegro tune for two pianos—Bobby on one of them—spun its satiny web from the player’s speaker. The tune reverberated in Diane’s head; she’d heard it many times. She could picture Bobby wailing on the piano like a possessed demon.

The brittle scrapbook paper nearly crumbled in her fingers. Faded photographs, brown with age, stared up at her. Bobby from the forties, sitting at a grand piano in a snazzy wide-lapelled pinstriped suit. Bobby in a white jacket and bow tie in the fifties. Bobby in black tie and jacket in the sixties. Bobby in shirt sleeves barbequing in the backyard of the rented duplex on Edinburgh. Diane as a baby, on her stomach, feet in the air—cheesecake pose. Her sister Mindy on their favorite red rocking horse with painted on black saddle. Diane’s mom and Mindy’s mom—Diane and Mindy, sisters with different mothers. She sipped the Bubble Up she’d gotten from the fridge. Who knew if they even made that anymore? She wanted to keep turning pages but had an appointment to keep. She gently closed the cover on the scrapbook.

She walked to Bobby’s mirror—Bobby loved his mirrors—checked her makeup, grabbed her purse. She noticed his favorite cigarette lighter on the dresser, the one with the picture of that “Kilroy Was Here” guy on it, so popular during the war. She squeezed the lighter as if that could bring a memory from it, slipped it into her purse.

“Criminy,” she said, holding back a tear.

She had flown in from San Francisco, but Bobby’s old red-over-white sixty-one Corvette Roadster would take her where she had to go now, probably better than any new car. Bobby was a whiz with cars, always fixing them up and selling them. She headed out the door, “La Tempesta” still spinning its magic.

She drove past familiar haunts from her childhood, down the Miracle Mile, past the fabulous streamline May Company building, the La Brea Tar Pits, where Bobby had taken her and Mindy on picnics, and the old El Rey Theatre, where they’d gone to the movies. Oh boy, how Bobby loved movies. Past Bullock’s Wilshire, the art deco masterpiece, and by MacArthur Park, which Bobby insisted calling Westlake Park, even long after the name had been changed to honor the great World War II general. She jogged up and over, onto North Mission Road, looked for a place to park.

Heart tapping a hard four-four time in her chest, she walked toward the white-trimmed red brick building, beautiful despite its nature. It had been a hospital, once trying to save lives, now dealing with the remains. The green-and-white marble lobby seemed sober enough for its purpose. She did a double take at the Skeletons in the Closet gift store, a gift shop in the morgue that offered up all matter of items, from keychains to beach towels with body outlines on them, even body-shaped Post-it pads. Maybe she’d pick up a monogrammed body bag for some friends—enemies?—on the way out.

“May I help you?” a young man in suit and tie asked. He didn’t look ghoulish, but who else would want to work here?

“I’m here to identify someone’s remains.” Diane thought that’s how it should be put. She wished Mindy was here for moral support but she had refused to come. Some kind of ill-defined bad blood between her and Bobby. Something that neither could figure out how to resolve so they resolved to avoid each other, even though Mindy only lived an hour away from Bobby, up in Lancaster. Something that would never be resolved now.

The young man pointed her to the elevator in a small vestibule. The short trip seemed to take forever. A ride down, into the past.

She stepped out into a world that was more what she expected. Sterile, tile, gurneys. People in white smocks. An attendant escorted her to the viewing room. A spikey-haired doctor joined them.

“I’m Doctor Takamura. I’m sorry you had to come down here.”

“I guess it’s something that has to be done.”

“We don’t usually have people come down to the morgue to identify remains anymore. That’s just in the movies. But this was a special case.”

Diane wasn’t sure why Bobby was a special case. Maybe because he’d been a fairly well-known musician at one time, though that was long ago.

The doctor knocked on the glass. An attendant on the other side opened the blinds and pulled back the glaring white sheet. Diane walked closer to the window, almost pressing her nose against the glass. Bobby had almost made it. Today was the last day of the year; tomorrow would not only bring a new year but a new millennium, the twenty-first century. How Bobby would have loved to see it. He was always excited about things like birthdays and Christmas and New Year’s. Everyone had to die sooner or later, but she wished he could have lived just a few more days. Just long enough to be alive in the new millennium.

“Yes, that’s him. That’s my father.”

“Robert Saxon?” A look passed between the doctor and the assistant.

“Yes.”

“There’s something you should know,” the doctor said.

Before Diane could respond, an ancient black man entered the room. His dark blue double-breasted suit with padded shoulders and long drape was stylish, if out of date. And she hadn’t seen a Dick Tracy hat like that, well, since Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. The fuchsia silk kerchief craning up from the pocket was just right. All topped off by an ebony cane with a gleaming pearl handle. “Help you?” Dr. Takamura said.

“Booker Taylor,” the man said, sauntering in, very haughty. Lots of bling sparkled from his fingers. Booker “Boom-Boom” Taylor. He was an old friend of Bobby’s. She remembered him from her birthday parties when she was very young. He would toss her over his broad shoulders and play horsey. It started trickling back, Bobby and Booker and several of Bobby’s other friends jamming at her parties. And she remembered a neighbor once remarking, why did Bobby have that colored fella over all the time?

“Are you sure you’re in the right place?” the doctor said. Booker ignored him.

“Diane. Look at you.” Booker’s eyes lit up. “All grown up and quite the lady.” He squeezed her hand. Turned to see Bobby through the glass. “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby.” A long sigh escaped his lips. He went to the door that led to the little room.

Dr. Takamura stepped in front of him.

“No, it’s okay,” Diane said, smiling at Booker. He looked too sad to smile back. “He knew my father. They were in the music business together.”

Booker opened the door and went inside, Diane trailing. He took Bobby’s hand, tenderly massaged it.

“We weren’t in the music business together. We owned it. We had this town of Los Angeles locked up tighter than a bass drum. And your pop, he really could have gone somewhere. And no one could tap the eighty-eights like he could.”

“Eighty-eights?” the assistant said.

“The piano, hon. Tickle the ivories. Back in the day, Bobby Saxon was the man. And he knew one thing better than anyone, that we’re all bluffing our way through life.” Booker tripped on his words as another man entered the room. Dressed casual-cool.

“Who’re you?” the doctor said.

“Irvin Hernandez, L.A. Times.”

“The Times—what does the Times want here?”

“This is Bobby Saxon, right?”

“Yes.”

“I want his story.”

“I didn’t know anyone remembered my father. He hasn’t played music in years.”

“You’re his daughter? You must have some story to tell.”

To Diane, Bobby was just dad. She didn’t have much to tell. Her puzzlement must have been clear to everyone in the room.

Booker sat on a chair in the corner, leaning his chin on his cane. “I have a story to tell,” he began. “It was the middle of the war when I met Bobby…”

Excerpted from THE BLUES DON’T CARE Copyright © 2020 by
Paul D. Marks Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Book Review: The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper @TeaCooper1 @ThomasNelson @TLCBookTours

The Woman in the Green Dress
Tea Cooper
Thomas Nelson, June 2020
ISBN 978-0-7852-3512-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A cursed opal, a gnarled family tree, and a sinister woman in a green dress emerge in the aftermath of World War I.

After a whirlwind romance, London teashop waitress Fleur Richards can’t wait for her new husband, Hugh, to return from the Great War. But when word of his death arrives on Armistice Day, Fleur learns he has left her a sizable family fortune. Refusing to accept the inheritance, she heads to his beloved home country of Australia in search of the relatives who deserve it more.

In spite of her reluctance, she soon finds herself the sole owner of a remote farm and a dilapidated curio shop full of long-forgotten artifacts, remarkable preserved creatures, and a mystery that began more than sixty-five years ago. With the help of Kip, a repatriated soldier dealing with the sobering aftereffects of war, Fleur finds herself unable to resist pulling on the threads of the past. What she finds is a shocking story surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress. . . a story that, nevertheless, offers hope and healing for the future.

It seems as though I’ve been reading quite a few books in the past year or so that feature mutiple timelines, as does The Woman in the Green Dress, but there’s a difference with this one. Rather than a contemporary setting that flashes back to an earlier time, here we have an historical setting that takes us back to a still earlier time, a nice change from the norm. Added to that, for me, having the stories take place in Australia is a bonus because there’s so much about that country that I don’t know.

Fleur Richards sets out on the long journey to her husband’s home country because she doesn’t really believe he’s dead and she wants to see to it that his estate goes to his remaining family. Well-intentioned as she might be, the inheritance is hers, an old shop and a farm, and it’s the shop that garners her attention with its collection of oddities, including a number of taxidermied creatures. Fleur learns that another young woman, Della, had continued her father’s work back in the early 1850’s, showing a fine touch in preserving such beautiful, exotic specimens.

Fleur begins to unearth more about the unusual Della, including a long-lasting mystery and, with each turn of the page their stories and the mystery regarding a beautiful opal, I became more and more engaged with this appealing tale. Tea Cooper is a new author to me but I’ll be looking for more of her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2020.

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

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

About the Author

Tea Cooper is an Australian author of historical and contemporary fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling.

In August 2011 Tea joined Romance Writers of Australia and her debut novel Tree Change was published in 2012. In 2015 her book The Horse Thief won the Australian Romance Readers Award for Favourite Cover.

Connect with Tea:

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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

Follow the tour here.

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