Book Reviews: The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Isenberg and Cogheart by Peter Bunzl @frumpenberg @HachetteBooks @peterbunzl @JollyFishPress

The Third Rainbow Girl
The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia
Emma Copley Eisenberg
Hachette Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-0-316-44923-6

The summer of 1980 gave the people of Pocahontas, and its neighboring Greenbrier county, something brand new to gossip and gripe about. A bunch of (probably) dirty, drunk and drugged-out dudes and chicks were about to descend. The Rainbow Family Gathering was moving east for the first time and the meeting place this year was in the Monongahela Forest in West Virginia.

Individually, the people are quite warm and welcoming. However, many did not want this Rainbow Festival happening on their pristine land. Some did long for a spectacle, eager to see a ‘freak show’ of nude, free-loving, tree-huggers dancing and skinny-dipping, flitting through their forests like true faeries.

I was only nine years old. I remember grumblings almost masking anticipation.

Before the gathering properly began, two female travelers were killed merely miles from their destination. Based on the location alone, there was no doubting that the shooter was a local. Determining who it was and why, though, would prove to be more challenging than anyone imagined.

Conducting an investigation when essentially everyone knows each other isn’t easy. There really aren’t secrets in small towns. Yet, the inexplicable killing of two “Rainbow Girls” was not a mystery to be solved quickly, or with collective satisfaction.

I remember watching an America’s Most Wanted episode about “The Rainbow Murders.” Jake Beard was a suspect, whereabouts unknown. Only, my younger sister piped up quickly, “He’s in Florida! I just got a letter from (his daughter).” Before leaving the mountains, Beard would pull his snazzy red convertible into our driveway and happily haul my sister and his daughter around town.

We did not immediately assume his innocence, though. Public opinion was absolutely split down the middle between the people who couldn’t believe Beard would flick off a flea, to the ones that swear he always had a wild, hateful streak.

Finally, there was a trial and a conviction. But that conviction was overturned.

Would the killer ever be identified? Or, do we already know who got away with murder?

I was excited to learn of The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg; although I admit to some apprehension due to a protective feeling towards my home state. I was pleasantly surprised and tremendously pleased with how well this author was able to understand the mountaineers and convey their way of life in an honest, objective manner.

I found her research and study of this criminal case to be tenacious and thorough without being too tough. The way that she shares what she learned was informative, but not suggestive. When I finished this book, my opinion of who killed those young ladies so many years ago has changed. And, I’m feeling a tiny bit homesick.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2020.


A Cogheart Adventure #1
Peter Bunzl
Jolly Fish Press, February 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-287-7
Trade Paperback

Set in the skies above and the streets running through London, this scintillating story of clockworks, mechanimals, hybrids and humans is the book that will keep kids reading well past bed-times. It has to be hard for a young reader to step away from this fast-paced, perilous plot because as an adult, I found myself hurrying through a chore or four so that I could get back to the search for the oh-so-secret cogheart.

Professor John’s airship was attacked and it seems the sole survivor is Malkin, the mechanimal fox that serves as family pet and pseudo-protector. He must get a message to John’s daughter, Lily, but even a creature as clever as he cannot make that journey alone.

Slinking and thinking, Malkin has no idea he has been spotted. The teen-aged boy living above Townsend’s Horologist’s was having trouble sleeping and he spied the fox from his window. With a watchful eye, Robert realized the fox was a mechanimal and impulsively sought him out to see if he could be of assistance. He is his da’s apprentice, after all.

Robert and Malkin are indeed an unlikely duo, but it is apparent that they must work together to get to Lily, because they are definitely being pursued. Mr. Creepy-Mirror-Eyes Scary-Face (not his real name) and his equally alarming pal are popping up everywhere and it soon becomes obvious that the four share the same goal but for very different reasons. One pair wants to protect Lily and provide comfort, the other is after the Professor’s greatest invention.

When we finally meet Lily, and she pulls her little nose out of her beloved penny dreadful, we see a young lady that needs no protecting. But she’s no fool, so she is willing to let Robert and Malkin assist in her quest to obtain the elusive perpetual motion machine and to keep it safe from the heinous hybrids and whoever they are working for.

Cogheart could be categorized as an epic action-adventure and that would be accurate; but there are also some subtle, yet intriguing, conversations that provided unique points to ponder. I just love everything about this book and I cannot wait to give my copy to my favorite classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2019.

Book Review: Things in Jars by Jess Kidd @JessKiddHerself @AtriaBooks

Things In Jars
Jess Kidd
Atria Books, February 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

When I first laid eyes on this novel I wasn’t going to read or review it. Not my kind of crime novel, I thought. But I read the first page. Then I read the entire thing, almost without stopping. This woman has a way with words and even more significantly, with story.

Here is London of the Victorian Age, but not the London of royalty and means. This is the London of disease, of violence and brutality, of starvation and lives too often begun and played out in darkness and misery, unseen, unremarked and unconsecrated. Here is London in myth and reality. More, here is a story that takes one to the edge of the sea and dares you to look deep, below the surface and just consider the possibilities.

Bridie Devine is an unusual anomaly in London. She’s a middle-aged single woman who supports herself as a private investigator. It’s the middle of the century and while prisons like Newgate are well-known, well-established protective police departments are not. The story chases Bridie back and forth from significant childhood among Irish contemporaries to recognition of her prodigious intellect at an early stage to considered analysis of facts and evidence.

Make no mistake, though this story deals prominently with other worldly manifestations, it is rooted in the mean and fraught world of the lower classes and with real human emotion and attitude. Here is a story that will grab you and not let go, even after the final page.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2020.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong by Emily Brightwell

Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong
A Victorian Mystery #35
Emily Brightwell
Berkley Prime Crime, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-399-58420-6
Trade Paperback

Inspector Witherspoon has the best household staff in all of Victorian London. A wealthy man, he’s still dedicated to justice for everyone, and his staff is determined to help him bring that about. The hardest part is convincing him he discovered all the clues himself. when he’s called upon to solve a murder.

When a despicable shyster con artist is murdered in his hotel room, no one is particularly sorry. Apparently everyone he came in contact with had a motive, but do the seeds of this crime lie in the past or in the present? This is what Mrs. Jeffries, Inspector Witherspoon’s stellar housekeeper, has the staff trying to find out. They work like well-oiled cogs in a fancy machine as they work their way through the mystery. All this and they manage to keep up their other duties too.

These are quite a diverse and egalitarian group for Victorian England, enjoyable for their differences. The dialogue seems suitable for who is speaking, the action never falters, and the descriptions are good, putting the reader right in place to observe.

Mrs. Jeffries never fails to put the Inspector in the way of catching the crook. There must be at least two dozen of these tales for readers to enjoy, and you probably won’t be able to stop at just one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Thirteenth Gate by Kat Ross

Continue reading

Book Reviews: Freaks by Kieran Larwood and Long Gone Man by Phyllis Smallman

Kieran Larwood
Chicken House, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-47424-5

A delightfully charming read, brimming with genuinely unique characters, who stumble onto an epic mystery and later embark on a fabulously frightening, daring adventure to solve it; with the entire tale brilliantly set in London, in 1851.

The most unlikely of pals, our cast of characters have been tossed together due to circumstances far beyond their control. Despite the vast differences among them, and deplorable living conditions; they offer support and form a formidable team.

Sheba, the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate little wolf-girl to ever walk the earth, narrates for us. Luckily, we have only a glimpse of her time caged with a sickly two-headed lamb for company before she is purchased to join a much larger Freak Show. Her new family consists of a spirited, smart-mouthed, bitter Monkey-Boy; Mama Rat, the pipe-smoking sweet-natured woman that appears to communicate telepathically with her “babies”; six giant rats that prove ingenious and endearing; Moon Girl, the soft-spoken, but surprisingly deadly ninja; a gargantuan hulk of a man, Gigantus and undoubtedly the most ornery, mischievous horse that has ever existed.

If this hasn’t piqued your interest, the mystery certainly will. Our freaks aren’t the lowest rung on the ladder in London during these times. Mudlarks are beneath them. These people spend entire days trolling the filthy, slimy banks and bottom of the polluted Thames River searching for any scrap that could be sold for a penny or two. When the mudlark children begin disappearing, no one would care, if Sheba hadn’t met Till.

The tiny, filthy mudlark stole into the show, marveling as Sheba, captive in her cramped quarters, frightened away grown men. For one fleeting moment, there were simply two little girls chatting. Sheba’s heart had never been so full as when Till slipped a chipped marble into her small, furry hand.

What follows is a quick-paced, exciting escapade that reveals a plan so sinister and devious, this reader was floored. Packed with action, compassion, engaging and humorous dialogue and a mystery beyond belief, this is certainly one of the coolest books I’ve read.

Although this is written for Middle Graders, and I am no longer even a “Young” Adult, I was completely immersed, in part, I think, because (as a teen) I actually visited a traveling Freak Show. I am curious to see how today’s American 10 – 14 year olds view this obscure concept. The astute addition of the author’s notes detail that, while this is a work of fiction, the deplorable conditions of London during this time were very, very real. He generously includes pictures of London Street Children, along with brief biographies of historic figures mentioned. The combination of a truly ingenious, remarkable story; supported with stranger-than-fiction facts of a time so long ago it seems unfathomable, makes this a fabulously superb book that will be a treasure to any reader.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2014.


Long Gone ManLong Gone Man
A Singer Brown Mystery
Phyllis Smallman
Touchwood Editions, September 2013
ISBN: 9781771510301
Trade Paperback

From the very first sentence, readers will sense they are in the hands of a master storyteller. With discerning eye and sensitivity to the feelings of a stressed woman, we land in a decrepit Dodge van laboring up a narrow, twisting, fog-enshrouded mountain road toward an unknown destination and what is meant to be a long-overdue confrontation. The driver is Singer Brown, a down-on-her-luck itinerant street busker with a history of travel and living on the street, of singing curbside for the change of passers-by. Like many of her ilk she’s had her ups and downs, including club gigs with bands as well as solo stands. As she struggles tensely up the mountain road we learn of a long-festering hatred that drives her on toward this mountain peak on an island off the British Columbia coast. Glenphiddie Island is home to a band leader singer Brown encountered many years ago far to the south in Taos, New Mexico.

When Brown finally reaches her destination, toward the top of the mountain, she encounters another highly stressed woman holding a gun, a woman whose husband, the band leader, lies dead of a gunshot to the head. Readers will already have had some intimation of layered mystery and several relationships in disarray. Members of the band Vortex, all of who live in proximity, are fading into career-ending oblivion, yet their controlling leader holds them in iron fingers.

There are other strands, bits of which are revealed chapter after chapter, including a stirring love story. Readers will have to pay attention as the suspense builds and more and more relationships and conditions are revealed. One never understands completely or sees the entire nasty web until the fog is finally swept away and the true character of all the players is revealed in a classic confrontation.

I thought the author could have done a bit more with the location, an area of spectacular vistas and seascapes, and surprising if minor actions involve some police figures. A few wisps of foggy threads are left to the imaginations of readers. The changeling, enigmatic central figure of Singer Brown is precisely characterized with murky strength and occasional clarity of purpose. She is a wonderfully sympathetic figure. I look forward to more from this excellent writer.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch—and a Giveaway!

An Old BetrayalAn Old Betrayal
A Charles Lenox Mystery, #7
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, November 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01161-9

From the publisher—

On a spring morning in London, 1875, Charles Lenox agrees to take time away from his busy schedule as a Member of Parliament to meet an old protégé’s client at Charing Cross.  But when their cryptic encounter seems to lead, days later, to the murder of an innocuous country squire, this fast favor draws Lenox inexorably back into his old profession.

Soon he realizes that, far from concluding the murderer’s business, this body is only the first step in a cruel plan, many years in the plotting.  Where will he strike next?  The answer, Lenox learns with slowly dawning horror, may be at the very heart of England’s monarchy.

Ranging from the slums of London to the city’s corridors of power, the newest Charles Lenox novel bears all of this series’ customary wit, charm, and trickery—a compulsive escape to a different time.

Years ago, when I read A Beautiful Blue Death, the first in this series, I was completely captivated by its charm and its debonair sleuth, Charles Lenox. I’m still just as entranced today with the seventh book.

It has been a while since the upper class Lenox last occupied himself as a private investigator and there have been other major changes in his life since that first adventure including getting married and becoming a Member of Parliament representing the Liberal Party. His young protege, Lord John Dallington, is now London’s lead private investigator but, truth be told, Lenox misses that life. It’s no surprise, then, that he readily agrees when Lord John requests his help with a potential client. Little does he know that even the first attempt at meeting this client will be a mystery in itself and lead to him re-thinking an expectation. He has, in fact, blown the rendezvous, and he doesn’t find out until later that this mysterious person is connected to Buckingham Palace.

Twists and turns lead Lenox to more and more complexity as he is drawn deeper into the case and murder becomes entangled with age-old animosities and the possibility of the Victorian version of terrorism. In the meantime, he is in the thick of Parliamentary concerns and comes to a surprising decision that will have significant effects on his own life. Betrayal takes many forms and becomes a common theme in his present endeavors.

It was a pleasure to visit again with old friends Lenox and his wife, Lady Jane, as well as Graham, butler turned political assistant, Lord John and Inspector Jenkins of Scotland Yard. Most readers new to the series will want to start at the beginning as that’s really the only way to fully enjoy the relationships among all these companionable people. Adding to the charm of of these characters is a vivid evocation of Victorian England and stellar plotting with more than a few puzzles and side stories along the way. Charles Finch is an author who is at the top of the historical mystery field.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2013.

About the Series

Charles Lenox, Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer, likes nothing more than to relax in his private study with a cup of tea, a roaring fire and a good book. But he can’t pass up a good mystery, and this amateur sleuth is often called on to leave his comforts behind in the pursuit of clues. Follow him into the public houses, Mayfair mansions and servants’ quarters of Victorian London, into the intrigues of Parliament and secrets of Oxford. This historical mystery series, with its keen eye for period detail and razor-sharp plotting, offers readers an unparalleled brand of charm, sophistication and suspense.

And Now, A Terrific Giveaway

Thanks to the generosity of Minotaur Books, one lucky winner will receive print copies of the first three books in the series. Leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing; the winning name will be pulled on the evening of Sunday, October 20th. This drawing is open to US residents.

A Beautiful Blue DeathThe September SocietyThe Fleet Street Murders

Book Review: The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation by George Mann

The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation
George Mann
Tor Books, 2009
ISBN 0765323206

The Affinity Bridge is a mystery set in a steampunk version of Victorian London.  Airships, steam-driven cabs, and clockwork automatons are transforming society.  Queen Victoria is kept alive on a primitive life-support system.  London is experiencing a plague that transforms its victims into zombies.  But some things never change.  Crimes are still being committed and it is up to Agent of the Queen, Sir Maurice Newbury and new assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes to solve them.

In this particular adventure, Newbury and Hobbes’ first, the Crown calls on them to solve the mystery of a airship crash and its missing pilot.  At the same time, they are attempting to track down a mysterious glowing policeman accused of a series of strangulations.


1.  Zombies!
2. The ending of the book is one long action-packed chase. Very exciting.
3. The two mysteries are wrapped up nicely by the end of the book. There is a subplot, involving a third mystery, that is obviously left unsolved for a future book.


1. The author spends the entire book telling me how I should react and feel about the characters and events that   occur, instead of SHOWING me.
2. The pacing of the book is somewhat uneven. The end of the book was very exciting. The first half of the book drags. Nothing really happens for long sections of the book.


Very uneven.  I’m hoping that as the series progresses that the author loses his death grip on his characters and trusts his audience to figure out the meaning and motivations of his characters without the author’s constant omnipotent presence.

Reviewed by Jennifer Hancock, April 2010.