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Friday, May 31, 2019

Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews and The Shape of Lies by Rachel Abbot

What if...Jack the Ripper moved from London to New York?  

Letters from a Murder, an alternate history of Jack the Ripper--the unknown murder who has captivated authors and readers for generations, begins a new series featuring a London pathologist and a New York detective who are tasked with solving the murders of women in 1892 New York.   

Pathologist Finley Jameson, part of a team investigating the Ripper murders in  London, has moved to New York after inheriting a house from his aunt.  Jameson is accompanied by Lawrence, his autistic assistant with the ability to remember everything he has read.

Murders are nothing new in certain areas of the city where crime flourishes, but the murder of a prostitute has all the trappings of a Ripper murder, and Joseph Argenti, a New York detective is assigned the case.  Did the London murders stop because the murderer moved to New York?  

A letter arrives addressed to Finley Jameson, a copy of which also goes to the NY Times, and it seems that New York is in for the same turbulent fear that London has experienced.

Jameson and Argenti must work together and overcome their many differences to find the murderer who enjoys taunting them through letters.  This is a Ripper tale so be prepared for some pretty gruesome murders--which shouldn't surprise anyone.  On the other hand, I'm not really sure who is worse--the Ripper or the New York gangster Tierney.  Tierney is not as showy, but his body count is higher.

There are a number of things that just don't hang together well and areas that could be eliminated or drastically cut to keep the plot moving along, but this is an Advanced Reader Review copy and future editing may be in store.

 Jameson and Argenti have promise as characters in future books and the descriptions of historical New York are vivid.  I look forward to seeing the characters develop and would like the character of Lawrence enlarged.

UK version of cover.

NetGalley/Sapere Books
Historical Mystery.  May 31, 2019.  Print length:  404 pages.  

Yesterday, Scott was dead.
Today, he’s back.
And Anna doesn’t believe in ghosts.

I've enjoyed most of Rachel Abbot's books about DCI Tom Douglas, but this one is not one of my favorites.  

Maybe because I didn't like Anna, who keeps making bad choices and continues to get herself deeper and deeper into a morass of lies and deception.  

Maybe because there wasn't enough of DCI Douglas and the procedural part of the story.  

Maybe because the plot was hard to wrap my head around and genuinely believe in.

I guess the combination of all three factors made The Shape of Lies less of what I expected.  

I didn't guess the bad guy which was a plus, but the twist at the end did not "hook" me as it was obviously intended to do.  And as for Anna, I'm not at all interested in any more about her.  I want DCI Douglas and a police procedural, not an unlikable character who takes over the book with flashbacks and dumb decisions (even if I do kind of feel sorry for her).

Kindle Unlimited
Mystery/Thriller.  Feb. 19, 2019.  Print version:  384 pages.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

We Were Killers Once by Becky Masterman

We Were Killers Once is the fourth book in this series featuring retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn, but I haven't read any of the earlier books.  

The book takes a twist on the murders of the Clutter family so famously recounted in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  What if there was a third person involved?  

Were Perry Smith and Richard Hickock responsible to the murder of the Walker family in Sarasota, FL?  And what if there was a second confession from Hickock indicating a third person?

Taking all of these possibilities in to account, Masterman weaves a narrative that there was a second secret hidden confession and a third person.

An interesting premise based on the possible connection of Smith and Hickock and the murders of the Walker family.  The two were in Florida at the time and there were similarities.

As for the novel itself, I didn't feel much connection to the characters of Brigid Quinn and her husband Carlos.  The book has relatively slow pace with some build up of tension, but ultimately, this is not a series I would pursue.

Read in March.  Blog review scheduled for May 29.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Crime.  June 4, 2019.  Print length:  320 pages.  

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Broken Veil (Harbinger Series) by Jeff Wheeler

Jeff Wheeler excels at world-building and character development and in his various related series has created some complex, layered, and engrossing plots.  Despite the fantasy genre, the plots are those that we understand perfectly as human behavior, both positive and negative.  People with good intentions make mistakes; people who crave power and dominance  are willing to do violence in order to control others--real world problems set in make-believe worlds.

My favorite series is the Kingfountain series, but I've enjoyed the Harbinger series as well.  In Broken Veil, the fifth Harbinger book, Wheeler wraps up the series in a tense and exciting finale.

Cettie of the Fells and Sera Fitzempress  have evolved as they played their parts in the battles between Kingfountain and Harbinger.  Their roles in this story may be finished, but because Wheeler keeps connections between all of his worlds, characters often appear in other books.  One of my favorite Kingfountain characters (from a previous era) makes an appearance in Broken Veil

If you enjoy thrilling, imaginative, and visual worlds  try one of Jeff Wheeler's several series!  

You can get a look at Kingfountain here and Harbinger here.

Read in April, blog review scheduled for May 26.

NetGalley/47 North
Fantasy.  June 11, 2019.  Print length:  346 pages.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Face in the Crowd by Kerry Wilkinson and Two More from the Mercy Kilpatrick series

Another standalone by Kerry Wilkinson.  Lucy has a routine and the 24 bus is part of it.  She gets on each day to get to work, but rarely pays any attention to fellow passengers.  Today, things are not so routine, when she leaves the bus her purse feels a little different--because someone has stuffed an envelope with thousands of pounds into her purse.

Lucy has spent years paying off debts incurred in her name by her boyfriend.  She only discovered this when Ben dies in a train crash; now she is bitter, but determined to pay the debts.  How could she not have known the man she loved and planned to marry better?  

She will turn the money in the envelope over to the police.  She will.  But first she will wait and see if anything develops, if someone notifies the bus company of a loss or posts a flyer.

Then she spends a little.  Then a little more--on necessities and on helping others.  Disturbing phone hang ups.  A date with a man she met online.  The apartment across from her begins playing her favorite song, but no one has seen the occupant.

This is not my favorite by Wilkinson, but he has a fairly high-standard to live up to, and A Face in the Crowd is still an intriguing mystery with some twists and red herrings.  His Jessica Daniel series remains my favorite, but I haven't read anything by him that didn't keep me engrossed.

Review scheduled for May 24.

Mystery.  June 6, 2019.  Print length:  295 pages.

I didn't realize that I'd forgotten to review A Merciful Fate which I read in March or April as part of the Mercy Kilpatric series.  Mercy is both an FBI agent and a prepper.  I've reviewed the first four books, but somehow skipped this one.  

Poor Ollie finds a skeleton in the woods that is associated with a 30-year-old armored-car robbery.  Only one robber was arrested, the other four got away and the money was never found.  

With a definite connection to Eagle's Nest, Mercy suspects that maybe one or more of the folks she knows may be one of the robbers that escaped.

Truman is dealing with two cases of harassment and vandalism against two local women.  A tabloid reporter who has been stirring things up is murdered.

Someone Mercy and Truman knows has built a new life in the three decades since the robbery and is determined to remain secret. 

NetGalley/Montlake Romance
Mystery/Suspense.  January, 2019.  Print length:  359 pages.

The sixth book in the Mercy Kilpatrick series has Mercy going undercover, reluctantly, into a radical militant group.  She is a last minute replacement because the ATF agent assigned to the mission has shingles.  No time to prep thoroughly, Mercy gets dropped in with little information to help her navigate the dangers.

Truman is dealing with a puzzling body dumped on Britta's property.  The body is in Detective Evan Bolton's jurisdiction, and as the investigation continues, it turns out there have been similar execution-style body dumps.

The Mercy Kilpatrick series is concluded with A Merciful Promise, which is a little disappointing, but understandable.  I'd like to see more of Britta, her trauma and personality have been covered in earlier books, and I also like Detective Evan Bolton.  There are other characters, too, that I'd like to see more of even if Mercy and Truman are no longer main characters.

Hopefully, Elliot will not completely abandon the Eagle's Nest setting completely.

NetGalley/Montlake Romance
Suspense.  June 18, 2019.  Print length:  359 pages.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Traitor's Codex by Jeri Westerson

Another outing for Crispin Guest, The Tracker of London.  In this adventure, Crispin is given a dangerous codex which threatens the dogma of the Church.  

As usual, the depiction of the characters makes them believable, three-dimensional individuals.  As Crispin has grown more accepting of his fall from grace, his character has evolved and his life has developed in positive ways.  In Traitor's Codex, Crispin once again must confront Richard II with more understanding on the parts of both men.

Westerson's research is wide-ranging and thorough, weaving both real personages and fictional characters skillfully through a series of mysteries in which Crispin is engaged to solve various crimes.  

Dame Julian of Norwich, the famous medieval anchorite and one of my favorite historical figures--"all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well"--makes an appearance in the current mystery.  Other historical figures who often appear include John of Gaunt and Chaucer--two more favorite historical characters.

Each book in this series, designated as Medieval Noir, presents an intriguing mystery with fascinating historical elements, and I have enjoyed them all.

Read in January; blog review scheduled for May 22.

NetGalley/Severn House
Historical Mystery/Medieval Noir.  June 1, 2019.  Print length:  224 pages.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits by Alys Care

From the 1840's to the 1920's, mediums and spiritualism fascinated many; even the educated and famous flocked to seances in hopes of communicating with the dead.  

 The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits is set in the 1880's in London.  L.G. (Lily) Raynor, owner and only investigator of the World's End Investigation Bureau, needs a clerk to take care of filing and accounts so that Lily can meet with clients and carry on her investigations.

She hires Felix Wilbraham, who is in desperate need of a job and is more than capable of handling the paperwork.

While Lily is out of the office to meet with a client, Ernest Stibbins rushes in, mistakes Felix for L.G. Raynor, and in a frightened manner says someone is threatening his wife with harm--can the private inquiry agent help him?  He explains that his young wife Albertina is a medium and holds seances for a regular group of attendees several days a week.   Felix doesn't correct the mistaken identity and takes the case.

 Worried about how Lily will react to his assumption of her role as head of the agency, Felix dreads her return to the office.  Lily, however, is not at all disturbed by the acquisition of a new case.  Felix will take the role of investigator, and Lily will find a way to become part of the seance crowd.  

When Lily attends a seance, she is shocked to feel a terrible menace directed at Albertina.  A sense of dread and a fear for Albertina's safety makes Lily uneasy.  And how could Albertina have possibly known about an incident in Lily's own life?

I  enjoyed this first in the World's End Investigation Bureau Victorian mystery series and look forward to more.  The backgrounds of both Lily and Felix are hinted at and will most likely be developed in future books, but they are already interesting characters in a partnership with many possibilities.

Read in February; blog review scheduled for May 19.

NetGalley/Severn House

Victorian/Mystery.  June 1, 2019.  Print length:  226 pages.  

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Ghost of Hollow House, Thin Air, and The Night Before

I requested The Ghost of Hollow House from NetGalley, then realized it was the fourth in a series.  I read a little of the first chapter, and decided to go back and read the previous books before reading this most recent in the series.

This is the quote from The Ghost of Hollow House that was in the first few pages and convinced me to put it aside and read the earlier books:

"Mrs. Honeyacre, the second of that name, was the former Miss Kitty Betts, aged thirty but admitting to twenty-five.  She had once enjoyed a glittering careeron the popular stage as Princes Kirabampu the oriental contortionist, but had been looking for something a little more permanent.  Although Kitty lacked great beauty, she more than compensated for this with her cheerful and engaging personality, coquettish charm and a remarkably supple spine."

That quote amused me, perhaps more than reasonably, and I expected the earlier books to have much the same humor. In that I was a little disappointed, but I did fall in love with Mina Scarletti, who never lets her disability determine her life.   The influence of spiritualism provided another reason to continue the series.  

Known as a skeptic, Mina is invited to Hollow House to determine whether or not the house is haunted.  Accompanied by Nell and Dr. Hamid, Mina sets out to discover what is causing the disturbances in the Honeyacre home.  Complications:  her incorrigible brother Richard shows up, Nell's husband has a detective spying on her, a flood that cuts off the road into Hollow House, and the arrival of a character from a past investigation.

Having saved The Ghost of Hollow House until last, I am now caught up with the series.

NetGalley/Sapere Books
Historical Mystery/Spiritualism.  May 24, 2019.  Print length:  320 pages.

Thin Air by Lisa Gray has an intriguing premise: a message about investigating a missing child leads PI Jessica Shaw on an investigation that is intensely personal.

from description:  Private investigator Jessica Shaw is used to getting anonymous tips. But after receiving a photo of a three-year-old kidnapped from Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, Jessica is stunned to recognize the little girl as herself.

Shifting points of view keep the reader adding information a little at a time.

Thin Air was an Amazon Prime First Read book.  The author has a second book planned, and I'd be interested in seeing what happens next in Jessica's life.  I had a few problems with Jessica's character, but the mystery kept my interest.  I'm curious to see what I think of Jessica and of the writing in the next book.  

Mystery/Private Detective.  June 1, 2019.  Print length:  288 pages.

The Night Before by Wendy Walker is certainly a page turner, although at times I would put it down in pure frustration with Laura Lochner.

from description:  Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control. 

Definitely twisty and told from two points of view--Laura's and her sister Rosie's--also partly through excerpts from Laura's conversations with her therapist.  

Events in the past have influenced Laura's life in ways that prevent her from interacting in a healthy manner, especially where men are concerned.

A lot of folks are going to love this one, but Laura's behavior was frustrating and her running conversations with herself became tiresome, slowing down the action.

The Night Before has an intriguing premise, but felt a bit too contrived.  It isn't that the book didn't hold my interest; I definitely wanted to find out what actually happened, but Laura's self-destructive behavior annoyed me.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Psychological.  May 14, 2019.  Print length:  320 pages.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Turning Secrets (Stonechild & Rouleau) by Brenda Chapman

Another suspenseful Stonechild & Rouleau mystery. 

Is Nadia Armstrong's death suicide or murder?  Who's leaking information about the case?  Who is the older man high school student Vanessa is dating?

The suspicious death of young Nadia Armstrong is taking up much of Kala Stonechild's time, and she regrets not being home enough with her niece Dawn.  In addition to complications of the current case, Kala is frustrated by the knowledge that someone on the Major Crime team is leaking information,  and Kala suspects Woodhouse, who has been a thorn in her side in previous books.  

While Kala is often late getting home, Dawn has more time alone, and when her father approaches her, she is able to keep their budding relationship a secret from Kala.  Dawn knows that her mother has forbidden any contact with Dawn's father and that Kala agrees, so she feels guilty, but wants to help him.  

Dawn's classmate sixteen-year-old Vanessa has been behaving strangely since developing a relationship with a man in his twenties.  Vanessa tries to draw Dawn into a double date at the request of her boyfriend, but Dawn is decidedly wary as she is aware of Vanessa's unhappiness.

A lot of disturbing elements come to light as the case progresses.  Chapman draws from social problems that are frequently in the news, making them more personal, less abstract.  One of the pleasures in a good series is developing a relationship with characters, and Chapman's characters are interesting and well-developed.  Sometimes they are in the background, sometimes they take center stage.  Most surprising in Turning Secrets is that by the end of the book, one character behaves in an unanticipated way.  Just when you believe you have the characters in a definite groove, someone jumps the track.    

Read in November; blog review scheduled for May 14, 2019.


Detective/Crime.  June 4, 2019.  Print length:  408 pages.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

I'll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

What is it about boarding school and summer camp plots that so fascinate us?  The sense of isolation from adult guidance?  Young people in a confined setting that creates an alternate social setting from the wider world?

The setting of I'll Never Tell is Camp Macaw, a summer camp near Montreal owned by the MacAllister family, has a long history of generational campers who return year after year and then send their children to enjoy the same experiences.

In the present, after the death of their parents, the MacAllister offspring are gathered to hear the reading of the will.   The siblings will have to decide what to do about the camp; selling would be a financial coup, but not every wants to sell.  More importantly, there is a twist to the will that no one expected.   

Twenty years ago, Amanda, a seventeen-year-old counselor was bludgeoned with a paddle, but no one was ever charged with crime.  A contingency in the will has a requirement that involves discovering who was responsible for what happened to Amanda.  Who was where when Amanda was bludgeoned?  Who would have wanted to hurt her?  Secrets that have been kept for twenty years slowly come to light and suspicions run high.

The timeline shifts back and forth between past and present as Ryan, Margo, Mary, Kate, Liddie, and groundskeeper Sean revisit their memories of events to determine what happened to Amanda.  

At first, I didn't like any of the characters much, but as I continued to read, each character became more accessible and gradually more likable.  Each secret that was kept, often from misunderstandings, shielded the guilty party.  The puzzle unravels in a slow, but surprising way.  A new clue or revelation, a new suspect.  

I'll Never Tell is a skillful narrative that kept me engrossed and switching from one motive and suspect to another.

Read in February; blog review scheduled for May 13.  

NetGalley/Lake Union Publishing
Mystery/Suspense.  June 1, 2019.  Print length:  380 pages.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Curse of the Gypsy and The Royal Ghost

Curse of the Gypsy is the third book in the Lady Anne series by Donna Lea Simpson and was first published in 2009.  The series has been re-released under Simpson's pseudonym Victoria Hamilton.  That seems a little confusing, but the previous books in the series that I've reviewed have had the Victoria Hamilton label.  

I like this original cover much better than the most recent one.  

After Lady Anne's adventures in Cornwall with The Revenge of the Barbary Ghost, she returns to her home in Kent.

So...a gypsy curse, some unexplained illnesses, a blast from the past (and we thought he was dead), a mistaken identity, the arrival of Lord Darkefell (of course), and a resolution to this series of three Lady Anne books.

Light reading and enjoyable, but maybe the first one in the series is the best.  

NetGalley/Beyond the Page Publishing
Historical Mystery.  1st ed. 2009; 2019.  Print length:  363 pages.

After reading Mr. Scarletti's Ghost, I decided to try the second in this series by Linda Stratmann.

Brighton is once again a hotbed of spiritual and psychic chicanery in The Royal Ghost.  Tiny Mina Scarletti, twisted by scoliosis, once again takes up the banner of rational thought and investigates a pamphlet in which two sisters claim to have seen the ghost of King George IV.  Actually, not the fat and unpopular king, but the man he was when he was the young and attractive Prince Regent.

The two pseudonymous sisters say they witnessed the prince and his mistress in flagrante--and the details are such that the women of Brighton are surreptitiously buying and reading the scandalous pamphlet!  Ahh, the titillation of the Victorian era. 

Mina finds herself in an awkward situation when a famous person tries to convince her to retract her earlier statements about the medium Miss Eustace and to accept that the pamphlet by the two sisters is genuine.  When she refuses, she is threatened with blackmail.

While I find it difficult to imagine intelligent people being so determined to believe in mediums and psychic phenomena, spiritualism was surprisingly accepted from the 1840's through the 1920's, and Linda Stratmann has certainly done her research--including documentation of events and real people in her historical notes.

Historical Mystery.  2017.  Print length:  350 pages.  

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Your Kids on Books

I saw this on Jackie Long's blog and couldn't resist.

Day 2471: Last full day in Santa Fe.

Just curious about what "Your Kids on Tablets" might look like. :)

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Some Choose Darkness by Charlie Donlea

I remember the first time I read about Asperger Syndrome, and I've been intrigued by the variation in individuals, in both the variety of symptoms and the severity, ever since.    The Autism spectrum is wide, but on the higher end of the scale, those with Asperger Syndrome may be extremely intelligent and capable of handling many of the debilitating symptoms by developing coping mechanisms to help them through daily challenges. 

Rory Moore, a forensic reconstructionalist, has difficulty in social situations, struggles to make eye contact, and has intensely focused interests, but Rory has also had a childhood that supported her--both her parents and her great-aunt Greta have given her a sense of stability.  Her long-term partner Lane Philips understands her, and his career dovetails with Rory's so that they have a shared interest.

So...on to the plot.  Rory works with the police and with her partner's Murder Accountability Project, both of which allow her to work on her own.  After her father's death, Rory finds herself in a difficult situation when a judge requires her to become involved with the prison release hearing of a murderer her father defended decades ago.  The murderer known as The Thief (because the bodies were never recovered) was convicted of only one murder, even without the evidence of a body, but is suspected of the disappearances of the other women as well.   

Rory has a law degree, but has never practiced, partly because of her difficulty dealing with people, but the judge gives her no choice.  As she prepares for the hearing, she is puzzled by some of her father's notes and continues digging.  

Told in two time-lines, the book shifts from Rory in the present to Angela Mitchell, a young married woman in 1979, when women in Chicago were going missing.  Rory becomes fascinated with her father's involvement with the case and with Angela Mitchell, who suffered from some of the same symptoms Rory has.  Rory recognizes that Angela was on the Autism spectrum, which was not widely recognized at the time.  Angela had developed a hyper-focused interest in the missing women and was doing research on her own when she  disappeared shortly before The Thief was arrested.

Some Choose Darkness is compelling and has a few twists that kept me engrossed throughout.  I'm hoping Donlea is considering a series with Rory Moore.

NetGalley/Kensington Books
Crime/Suspense.  May 28, 2019.  Print length:  304 pages.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark and Revenge of the Barbary Ghost by Victoria Hamilton

Lady Anne Addison is not the typical Georgian lady.  She is plain, sharply intelligent, brash, often rude, wealthy--and titled--enough to have more independence than most women of the time.  At eighteen, she allowed herself to be pressured into a an engagement, but when her fiance died before the wedding, Anne realized that she had almost made a terrible mistake and happily makes the best of her newly realized autonomy.  In the six years since her narrow escape of marriage, Anne is quite content to be a spinster.

On receiving a letter from her friend Lydia, she rushes to Yorkshire to see what she can do to help, finds a body, hears tales of a werewolf, meets the haughty Lord Darkefell, and determines to discover the murderer.

Mystery and romance (some passionate kisses) in a not very realistic, but often humorous and entertaining plot.

NetGalley/Beyond the Page
Mystery/Light Romance/Historical Fiction.  2009; April 23, 2019.  Print length:  388 pages.

After Lady Anne's abrupt departure from Yorkshire, she decides to visit her friend Pamela in Cornwall.  Confused over feelings for Darkefell (he is dark and a little broody, but certainly no Heathcliff), she quickly becomes involved in another mystery after seeing the "Barbary Ghost" and a band of smugglers on the beach below Cliff House.

Oh, dear.  The determined Darkefell discovers where she has gone and plans to again attempt to persuade Anne to marry him.  He immediately wants to protect her from danger and continues to spoil his pursuit of marriage by issuing commands that frustrate and anger Anne.

I rarely read romance, but the combination of mystery and suspense has made the Lady Anne Addison series a fun and enjoyable experience.  Anne continues to struggle with her attraction to Darkefell and her need to be able to maintain her independence.  Maybe too many kisses and explanatory sequences, but fun nevertheless.

NetGalley/Beyond the Page
Mystery/Romance/Historical Fiction.  2014; April, 2019.  Print length:  345 pages.