Book Review: No Shred of Evidence by Charles Todd

No Shred of Evidence
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery #18
Charles Todd
William Morrow, February 2016
ISBN: 978-0-0623.8618-2
Hardcover

In this wonderful entry in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, Inspector Rutledge inherits a mystery when the original investigator suddenly suffers a heart attack and dies in a small Cornwall town. Starting from scratch because the original statements and notes of his dead predecessor are missing, Rutledge finds four young women accused of murder by a local farmer while rowing on a river; their claim: they were attempting to save him when his boat sank.

The victim, while in a coma, could not provide any facts, and when he dies of a head injury the charge becomes one of murder.  It remains for Rutledge either to prove or disprove the charge. While seeking the truth of the matter, including motivation, Rutledge encounters additional murders and assaults and the question arises: do these relate to the original case?

The mother-son writing team of this long-standing series takes a deep look into the personalities and motivations of the characters as Rutledge delves into the process of clearing the young women as he becomes more aware of the situation. As is a constant in the series, Rutledge is haunted by his experiences on the Western Front during the Great War, and the descriptions of the Cornwall area on the northern coast and speech of its inhabitants are skillfully done.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

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Book Review: Death of an Unsung Hero by Tessa Arlen—and a Giveaway!

Death of an Unsung Hero
A Lady Montfort Mystery #4
Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-10144-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In 1916, the world is at war and the energetic Lady Montfort has persuaded her husband to offer his family’s dower house to the War Office as an auxiliary hospital for officers recovering from shell-shock with their redoubtable housekeeper Mrs. Jackson contributing to the war effort as the hospital’s quartermaster.

Despite the hospital’s success, the farming community of Haversham, led by the Montfort’s neighbor Sir Winchell Meacham, does not approve of a country-house hospital for men they consider to be cowards. When Captain Sir Evelyn Bray, one of the patients, is found lying face down in the vegetable garden with his head bashed in, both Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson have every reason to fear that the War Office will close their hospital. Once again the two women unite their diverse talents to discover who would have reason to murder a war hero suffering from amnesia.

Time has moved on since our last encounter with Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson and England is growing weary of World War I, only halfway through the horror, although their patriotism is still high and everyone wants to do his—or her—part. When a military hospital is opened in Haversham Hall, a property owned by the Earl of Montfort, some neighbors are not welcoming. This is no ordinary hospital treating the visible wounds one expects to see but, rather, a shelter for soldiers suffering a badly misunderstood emotional affliction. Shellshock is a condition that’s newly-recognized by the medical community but many civilians see it as a mere excuse for cowardice in the face of the enemy. Still, murder seems to be an unnecessarily strong reaction.

Lady Montfort and her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, are the perfect upstairs-downstairs team and their individual stations and personalities complement each other when they investigate. Unlike some similar situations, these women are equally intelligent and determined to seek truth and justice plus they truly like each other and work together like a well-oiled machine. Now, they turn their attention to the question of why someone would want to murder Captain Bray just when he was beginning to recover from his amnesia and who that someone might be.

Tessa Arlen has cemented her place among the best historical mystery authors and, in my opinion, each book is a wonderful evocation of period and setting. It was nice to learn more about Lady Montfort’s family and the earl has become another of my favorite members of the cast. This entry has the added drama of war and it’s clear that the author understands and has a passion for the times and her wonderful characters. I’ll be adding Death of an Unsung Hero to my list of best reads in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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“The book is a delightful romp through a world of vividly
eccentric characters in a beautifully described setting. It was
pure pleasure to read, and it packed a punch.”
– Historical Novel Society

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About the Author

TESSA ARLEN is the author of Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, Death Sits Down to Dinner and A Death by Any Other Name. She is the daughter of a British diplomat and had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi, and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the US in 1980 and worked as an HR recruiter for the LA Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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To enter the drawing for a print
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leave a comment below. The winning
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“The way Arlen integrates the traumas of WWI into a
golden age whodunit plot will please Charles Todd fans.”
– Publishers Weekly

Book Review: Murder in Little Shendon by A.H. Richardson

Murder in Little Shendon
A Haxlitt-Brandon Mystery #1
A.H. Richardson
CreateSpace, August 2015
ISBN 978-1515283973
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Picture, if you will, a picturesque village called Little Shendon, suddenly caught up in dealing with a murder of one of its citizens — not a particularly well-liked one at that. Which makes it all the more intriguing because the list of suspects becomes very long. This tantalizing tale unfolds with twists and turns to find out whodunit to Mr. Bartholomew Fynche, the murdered shopkeeper.

Fear grips the community as the investigation slowly progresses. Everyone is interviewed; everyone is suspect! From his housekeeper to Lady Armstrong and her household staff. Or could it be the shy librarian new in town? Or the defiant retired army major and his ladyfriend, the post mistress? Or perhaps the weird sisters who live on the edge of town? Then there is the couple who own the local inn and pub, along with the two Americans who are staying there? Even the vicar and his wife fall under the gloom of suspicion.

Uncertainty, wariness, and terror reign as neighbors watch neighbors to discover the evil that permeates their upturned lives. No one feels safe in this charming little village. Who is the murderer? And why was this strange uncivil man dispatched in such a seemingly civil community?

A murder mystery that will keep you reading until you learn the details, uncovered by Police Inspector Stanley Burgess and his two amateur detectives, Sir Victor Hazlitt and Beresford Brandon. The three sift methodically through the Alibis and life stories of the suspects until they uncover…

You are challenged to discover the culprit before the last few pages. And no fair looking ahead — it’s the journey that proves the most enticing.

When I was first offered the opportunity to read and, perhaps, review Murder in Little Shendon, I had never heard of the book, although it came out two years ago, or of the author but I’m drawn to English village mysteries so I thought I’d give it a go and I’m glad I did.

The premise of a village police inspector tackling a murder case is, of course, not new but Ms. Richardson added in two elements that aren’t so common. The murdered man has a connection from the past to MI5, which is certainly not typical of the usual village murder victim, and that leads Inspector Burgess to enlist the aid of Sir Victor Hazlitt and his sidekick (his Watson, if you will), stage actor Beresford Brandon. Sir Victor was active in MI5 and had known the victim, thus the request from Stanley Burgess, and he invites Berry to go along because of his side interest in criminology. The next morning, off they go for a 10-day sojourn in Little Shendon and an adventurous patch of sleuthing with more than one murder and a multitude of suspects and possible motives.

There were a few noticeable construction flaws in this book and the pace is leisurely, almost too much so at times but, on the whole, I spent a very pleasant few hours with this trio trying to get to the bottom of this crime and the village itself was a step back in time. Sir Victor and Berry return in 2016’s Act One, Scene One…Murder and I’m going to make time to check it out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Review: A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen

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Book Review: Murder on the Mullet Express by Gwen Mayo and Sarah E. Glenn

murder-on-the-mullet-expressMurder on the Mullet Express
Three Snowbirds #1
Gwen Mayo and Sarah E. Glenn
Mystery and Horror LLC, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9964209-7-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s 1926. The West Coast Development Company is staging its biggest land deal in Homosassa, Florida, selling pieces of a planned city to speculators who dream of a tropical paradise. Army nurse Cornelia Pettijohn takes leave to travel to Florida with her ancient uncle, who claims that he wants a warm winter home. When their car breaks down, they take the local train, The Mullet Express, into Homosassa. By the time they arrive, though, a passenger has been poisoned. A second murder victim boards the train later, iced down with the fish. Uncle Percival’s hidden agenda makes him the sheriff’s prime suspect. Cornelia and Teddy Lawless, a twenty-year-old flapper in a body pushing sixty, must chase mobsters and corner suspects to dig her uncle out of the hole he’s dug for himself.

“…two old crows and one old coot…”

Those few words on the first page of this book told me I was most likely going to enjoy Murder on the Mullet Express and, indeed, I did. Cornelia, Teddy and Uncle Percival are such charming characters and I truly enjoyed spending time with them.

Generally speaking, worldbuilding is not as critical to mystery fiction as it is to speculative fiction, largely because most mysteries are set in a world we can relate to. It becomes more important in historical settings, as I’m sure you’ll understand, and Ms. Mayo and Ms. Glenn really do a nice job with their worldbuilding. Without cramming anything down the reader’s throat, they introduce elements common in the 1920’s such as the falling numbers of whooping cranes, the 1918 Spanish Flu, the lingering effects of mustard gas, racism, the KKK, Prohibition, and chain gangs. Those little touches, some of which are part and parcel of the story, pulled me right in and gave me a better understanding of what life was like then.

As for characterization, I found myself seeing the humor and strong personality of the elderly Percival but also the courage and determination of the women who served as nurses in World War I. Those qualities have carried over into their post-war lives and getting involved with death and ensuing investigations really does work here. In fact, although this has been labeled as a cozy, I think it leans more towards the traditional mystery category. Yes, they are amateur sleuths, but the locale is not a hometown and the players are not well-known to each other, both elements common to cozies.

There’s a kind of dry humor here, which I found refreshing, and a lively plot with mobsters, flappers, socialites and all sorts of folks. To wrap things up, Murder on the Mullet Express is a most enjoyable and auspicious beginning to what I anticipate will be a long-running series and I’m hoping the next book will be out before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen—and a Giveaway!

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Title: Death Sits Down to Dinner
Series: A Lady Montfort Mystery #2

Author: Tessa Arlen
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2016
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Death Sits Down to DinnerDeath Sits Down to Dinner
A Lady Montfort Mystery #2
Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-05250-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Filled with deceptions both real and imagined, Death Sits Down to Dinner is a delightful Edwardian mystery set in London.

Lady Montfort is thrilled to receive an invitation to a dinner party hosted by her close friend Hermione Kingsley, the patroness of England’s largest charity. Hermione has pulled together a select gathering to celebrate Winston Churchill’s 39th birthday. Some of the oldest families in the country have gathered to toast the dangerously ambitious and utterly charming First Lord of the Admiralty. But when the dinner ends, one of the gentlemen remains seated at the table, head down among the walnut shells littering the cloth and a knife between his ribs.

Summoned from Iyntwood, Mrs. Jackson helps her mistress trace the steps of suspects both upstairs and downstairs as Hermione’s household prepares to host a highly anticipated charity event. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson unravel the web of secrecy surrounding the bright whirlwind of London society, investigating the rich, well-connected and seeming do-gooders in a race against time to stop the murderer from striking again.

It would be difficult to find an historical period that’s more interesting than the Edwardian Era, particularly in England. This is a time when injustice could be found everywhere and, yet, progressive moves were being made in areas like women’s suffrage, child labor and racist attitudes and it’s the last period of a certain gentility before the first global war, just a few years away. Aeroplanes have brought an excitement not seen since the early days of the automobile and class differences are beginning to fade ever so slightly.

Lady Montfort is a progressive lady herself with an eye for ferreting out secrets when crime is afoot but she understands her limitations due to society’s class restrictions and enlists the assistance of her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, in keeping an ear to the ground belowstairs. These two ladies proved themselves in a previous situation and, if anything, have become even more adept at getting to the truth.

Clementine and Edith have become favorites of mine in the sleuthing world, most especially because of their high regard for each other. Each has particular abilities to offer and a good deal of intelligence and they find ways to work together within the confines of their society. Tessa Arlen has a fine hand with her characterizations and with settings that are truly vivid in their evocation of 1913 England. Secondary players are every bit as engaging and I particularly appreciate the author’s inclusion of a cast of characters.

As for the mystery itself, red herrings are in plentiful supply and, although Ms. Arlen certainly plays fair, the final denouement is as unpredictable as a mystery fan could wish. This second entry in the series is another winner and I’m already craving the third.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

About the Author

Tessa ArlenTESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

For more information please visit Tessa Arlen’s website. Read Tessa Arlen’s blog at Redoubtable Edwardians. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Subscribe to Tessa Arlen’s Newsletter.

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Book Review: A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet

A Fatal WinterA Fatal Winter
A Max Tudor Novel #2
G. M. Malliet
Minotaur Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-312-64797-1
Hardcover

This book established itself immediately as being a traditional mystery, reminiscent of the Golden Age of detective fiction, by having one of those delightful lists at the start which describes all of the characters and their relationships. As well, the story began with two church ladies in the small village of Nether Monkslip fighting over the Christmas church display, so I knew for certain that I was in Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh or Dorothy L. Sayers territory.

However, the setting of the book is current, and this becomes especially clear when the protagonist, Max Tudor, enters the picture. Max is a modern man, a handsome Anglican priest who has come to this second career only after spending much of his adult life as an agent for MI5. He’s unusual not only for making such a dramatic change in his working life, but also in his unconventional appreciation of Awena , the village’s lovely pagan.

As Max goes about his regular life, preparing sermons for the Christmas season, trying to placate the feuding flower ladies by taking in an adventurous cat, and struggling to find ways to maintain the church which is always in need of repair, he is called away to nearby Chedrow Castle, to help the local police investigate a murder.

Chedrow Castle is owned by Oscar, Lord Footrustle, who, in a bold move, decided to invite his three children (one middle-aged, two teenagers), his ex-wife, and his two nephews to stay with him for the festive season, despite the fact that none of them get along very well at all. Normally, the elderly Lord Footrustle resides quietly at the castle with his twin sister, Letitia, and her unhappy granddaughter, Lamorna, neither of whom was in favour of having guests to stay. Add a butler with a bit of a mysterious background, and his forthright wife, the cook, and you have the perfect characters for a locked-room mystery.

I felt Malliet was very successful at creating an updated cozy mystery. I loved the setting of Nether Monkslip, which seemed very appealing with its small mix of shops and restaurants, and inhabitants who might disagree but who also look out for one another. And Max, despite his similarities to Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey or Roderick Alleyn, is definitely his own distinct character.

The mystery itself was satisfying, and I was completely fooled by the set-up, which was done fairly.

Malliet is clearly a mystery lover herself, and the fun she had in creating a story which pays tribute to the writers who came before her, can be felt throughout the book. I will definitely be looking for the rest of the books in this series.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, January 2016.