Book Review: Queen’s Gambit by Bradley Harper @bharperauthor @SeventhStBooks

Queen’s Gambit
A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness
Bradley Harper
Seventh Street Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-001-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Spring, 1897. London. Margaret Harkness, now in her early forties, must leave England for her health but lacks the funds. A letter arrives from her old friend Professor Bell, her old comrade in the hunt for Jack the Ripper and the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Homes. Bell invites her to join him in Germany on a mysterious mission for the German government involving the loss of state secrets to Anarchists. The resolution of this commission leads to her being stalked through the streets of London by a vengeful man armed with a powerful and nearly silent air rifle who has both Margaret and Queen Victoria in his sights. Margaret finds allies in Inspector James Ethington of Scotland Yard and his fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who aspires to follow in Margaret’s cross-dressing footsteps.

The hunt is on, but who is the hunter, and who the hunted as the day approaches for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee when the aged empress will sit in her open carriage at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral? The entire British Empire holds its breath as the assassin, Margaret, and the Queen herself play for the highest of stakes with the Queen’s Gambit.

I wouldn’t want to have lived in the Victorian era but I really do enjoy reading books set in the period and, with an author’s effective worldbuilding, getting immersed in it. Bradley Harper does that for me very well.  Not only can I envision myself settling in for a chat with Margaret and all her friends; I think I would truly like these people should they suddenly become real today (many actually were real more than a hundred years ago).

I did miss having more of Margaret’s interactions with Arthur Conan Doyle and Professor Bell as I had enjoyed those characters so much in the first book but James and Elizabeth were delightful additions to the cast. Also, Queen Victoria comes across as a woman to be reckoned with, perhaps a sort of role model for young women who resist their “place” in the world. Margaret is one of those young women, a journalist and author who dares to overstep the bounds of her time.

After her adventures with Doyle and Bell, I found this latest undertaking a little less engaging which is more than a little ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, Margaret and company are involved in international intrigue and trying to prevent anarchists’ terrorist activities; what more could I possibly want? Let’s just chalk it up to my own fascination with Jack the Ripper and the efforts of the Victorian police 😉

One of my favorite parts of this book is the Afterword in which Mr. Harper provides tidbits of very interesting information regarding the people and events depicted in this novel based on facts. After an ending that made me tear up more than a little, I’m truly anticipating the next book featuring the intrepid Margaret Harkness, should there be one, and I certainly hope there will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

Book Review: The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

The Girl in the Ice
A Detective Erika Foster Novel #6
Robert Bryndza
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5387-1342-6
Trade Paperback

This debut novel introduces DCI Erika Foster, and is the start of a new series.  The next novel in the series will be entitled The Night Stalker.   In The Girl in the Ice, she is brought in from her previous post in Manchester, where she led a flawed operation which resulted in the deaths of several police, including her husband.  Although she has yet to come to terms with her past, the detective superintendent believes her to still be an effective detective and places her in charge of the investigation of the murder of a prominent young woman from a well-to-do family.

The woman’s body is found frozen in ice.  Death was caused by strangulation.  Foster’s efforts are hampered by interference by the powerful father, a wealthy defense contractor, and police politics.  She stands her ground, but suffers for her principles and supposed clues, while attention is focused by higher-ups on other possible “clues,” which she feels are false.

Foster is a flawed character in need of growth.  Her efforts seem to be haphazard and insubordinate, resulting in her being removed as SIO of the case.  The novel progresses by fits and starts, and concludes with a denouement for which no basis is laid in the preceding chapters.  However, it is a good read and can be [and is] recommended, only hoping that the sequel overcomes these stated objections.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis

Crow Mountain
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House, June 2016
ISBN: 978- 0-545-90407-0
Hardcover

Sixteen year old Hope lives in London with her extremely feminist, scientific researcher mom. She has very little contact with her actor father who took off with his pregnant co-star around the time Hope was born. Mom is extremely controlling…Of Hope’s schooling, her diet, what she can do, pretty much everything.

When Mom heads off to do an ecological study on a Montana ranch, one of the few remaining unspoiled ones that practices environmentally friendly ranching, she drags her daughter along, even though Hope wants to stay in London and be with her friends.

Crow Ranch has been in operation since the 1870s and run by the same family. When a handsome young man, Caleb, the owner’s son, meets Hope and her mother at the airport in Helena, she feels an immediate attraction, but her shyness keeps her from saying anything. When they stop in Fort Shaw and the local sheriff harasses Cal, as he prefers to be called, while hinting to Hope about unsavory behavior in Cal’s past, it’s her first inkling that there’s trouble ahead.

It doesn’t take long for Cal and Hope to start talking and become very aware of their growing mutual attraction. After he shows her the room above the barn where she can hide out from her mother, Hope discovers a diary written by a girl named Emily who was on her way to an arranged marriage in San Francisco via Portland Oregon, by stagecoach in the early 1870s. She’s fascinated by the story and takes the diary with her the following day when she and Cal head off through back country roads in the national forest on a trip to get Cal’s mother who has been caring for her sister in law following a broken bone. They’re also hauling a horse trailer as they’re to bring back a couple horses.

At this point, the book begins to alternate chapters between Hope and Cal following a scary accident, and diary entries telling the story of Emily and the mysterious young man she first sees outside her hotel room in Helena, as they encounter an eerily similar fate. To say more might spoil the plot, but I can say that first off, I bought this immediately following my reading of her other book City of Halves, which is equally stellar.

This is an excellent book, part adventure, part love story, part historical fiction and a book that forces you to keep reading because of the tension and uncertainty facing both couples. It’s one that deserves a place in many libraries, both school and public. If you like it, read her other book, City of Halves.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, June 2018.

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors
B. A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press, August 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-12100-4
Hardcover

Some have labeled this novel noir domestic fiction. I found it darker and more dangerous than that. The novel is also brilliant, in its structure, its characteristics, descriptions and stunning in its conclusion.

Grace falls in love with a slick, handsome well-educated lawyer. Jack is highly trained careful in his preparations and courtroom tactics and had never lost a case. He is also arrogant, cunning, manipulative and consummately evil.

The structure of the novel carries readers from present to past and back again several time. The story explores the marriage of Grace and Jack and details their relationship and its change over time, in a London suburb and in their travels to Thailand.

Grace has a younger sister, Millie, who is developmentally damaged and Jack cleverly manipulates the girl to maintain his control over his new wife. The relationship between the married couple forms the core of the story, but as the tale unwinds, it is an acquaintance named Esther who ultimately becomes the rock on whom Grace is able to secure a real future.

Well-written, intense, and elaborate, author Paris is destined for wide readership and many discussions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
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: Cold is the Grave by Peter Robinson

Cold Is the Grave
Inspector Banks Novels #11
Peter Robinson
William Morrow Paperbacks, September 2016
ISBN: 978-0-0624-3128-8
Trade Paperback

Stranger things have happened, but when Chief Constable Jimmy Riddle asked Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks for a favor the world didn’t stop turning.  Neither man liked the other, and the antagonism between them was more than apparent.  But Riddle recognizes that Banks was good at what he does and is discreet, and that is what he needed.  It seems that his daughter had left home some time ago, and there was no word from her.  Banks is asked to find her in London, talk to her, and reassure her parents that she’s OK.

But Banks does more than that, in just over a weekend.  He not only finds her, but he brings her home.  And the consequences flow from this simple task.  And then a series of murders takes place, and Banks finds himself in the middle of not only a murder investigation, but also in the midst of his chief antagonist’s private life.  Meanwhile, Bank’s own private life begins to take some dramatic turns as well.

As are all he novels in the series, this book is finely nuanced, well-written, and filled with twists and turns to keep the reader on the edge of the seat.  Enough said.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child
Fiona Barton
Berkley, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-99048-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

Just mention a dead baby and the pathos sets in, doesn’t it? Regardless of what might have happened to that infant, you know it was sad in one way or another and, in this case, it’s really bad because this poor little child had lain in its small grave for so many years.

Many people from the past and present are affected by this discovery, as you might imagine, but there are four women in particular who get our attention. At times, the baby was front and center but, at other times, the story focused much more on the individual women and Kate, the journalist, is the catalyst that brings out more than one truth. What begins as a story that shocks the senses in the beginning soon proves itself to be full of innuendoes and accusations, heartbreak and, eventually, healing.

Ms. Barton has crafted a tale that has been told before in some ways, both fictionally and in real life, but it’s the twists and coincidences that grabbed my attention, even though I was pretty sure of the direction this was taking. At the end, I felt a sense of sorrow at what one human can do to another but also hope for mending and new beginnings.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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

Purchase Links:

         

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

About the Author

credit Jenny Lewis

It was the allure of a hidden story that propelled Fiona Barton to her long-time career in news. A journalist and British Press Awards “Reporter of the Year,” she has worked at the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, and brings that experience to bear in her novels.

In THE CHILD she details how Kate’s lengthy investigation into Building Site Baby’s death represents a perilous breach of the newsroom’s new culture of 24/7 online news. Says Barton: “The danger for Kate is that she risks becoming one of the dinosaurs—sidelined because she is unable and unwilling to be part of the revolution. And I feel for her.”

Though THE CHILD delivers an evocative look at the changing face of journalism, and a delicious plot twist, it is the characters’ haunting and rich emotional lives that set Barton apart and confirm her stature as a crime novelist of the first order.

              

 

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

“Tense, tantalizing, and ultimately very satisfying …
definitely one of the year’s must-reads.”—
Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Fiona Barton has outdone herself with The Child. An engrossing,
irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried
secret and an absolutely fabulous read—I loved it!”—Shari Lapena,
New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door

“Startling twists—and a stunning, emotionally satisfying
conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Book Review: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

the-distanceThe Distance
Helen Giltrow
Anchor Books, July 2015
ISBN: 978-0-345-80435-8
Trade Paperback

In an ambitious debut novel, a former bookseller has written a dark novel, one which mystified this reader.  Is it a crime novel?  A mystery? A Le Carre-type story involving the intelligence community?  Or a mixture of all these genres?

The Distance would seem to contain all the elements of the three characteristics, and therein lies the ambition of the author.  Some simplification would appear to be in order.  The plot is too complicated, the reading too slow and the story unwieldy.  Too bad.  Because it is an interesting tale, and deserves to be read.

The gist of the novel is a tale of a woman, alternatively identified as a London Socialite, Charlotte Alton, and Karla, the head of an enterprise that specializes in, among other things, erasing identities and covering a criminal’s tracks.  One such person is Simon Johanssen, who surfaces after being hidden for years, asking for her help on an assignment to murder a woman held in “The Program,” a prison-like compound where he eventually becomes involved with the victim while hiding from a criminal boss also incarcerated there.

It all comes together at the finale in a perfunctory short wrap-up.  There are few if any clues before the end to establish these conclusions as if they are included merely to end a laborious effort.  A good re-write might have helped, certainly better editing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2016.