Book Review: Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice Roosevelt was the daughter of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Born into the heights of New York Society, and thrust further into the spotlight as a member of the first family, Alice was a determined rebel in an age where proper behavior was paramount for well heeled women. Fiercely intelligent and chafing at the limitations placed upon her by society, Alice drank, smoked, and drove in cars with men. She imposed herself on her father’s policy meetings, offering political advice and helping in diplomatic meetings. Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

R.J. Koreto brings this remarkable woman to life in the historical mystery Alice and the Assassin. Koreto is an old hand at historical mysteries, his Lady Frances Ffolkes series features another strong (and fictional) heroine, and is quite a fun read (you can read my review of Death Among Rubies here).

This book, hopefully the first of several, features seventeen-year-old Alice and her Secret Service bodyguard, Joseph St. Clair. The year is 1902, and Theodore Roosevelt has recently ascended to the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. Alice, wishing to satisfy her own curiosity about the incident, decides to seek out famous anarchist, and associate of Czolgosz, Emma Goldman. However, this meeting seems to disturb powerful factions within the local community, and soon Alice and St. Clair find themselves embroiled in a wide-reaching conspiracy which may threaten another president.

I am a fan of Koreto’s previous work and this book did not disappoint. Alice is well realized, both as a vulgarity-slinging iconoclast and a sheltered seventeen year old who wants to protect her family. Historical details are sprinkled throughout with satisfying accuracy, and those aspects which are fictionalized for the plot roll nicely into the feel of the era.

The book begins with some stutters as the author introduces us to the protagonists and the world they inherit, but rapidly finds its footing. The pacing is splendid, with enough narrative false trails and red herrings to make for an enjoyable mystery. The plot, while fictional, is based on real events, and the final solution to the plot feels a bit too possible for comfort.

In all, fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this book. I would recommend Alice and the Assassin to fans of Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series, Deanna Raybourn‘s books,  or the Maisie Dobbs series. Anyone looking for an engaging book featuring a strong female protagonist will also enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Quiet Life in the Country by TE Kinsey

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A Quiet Life in the Country by TE Kinsey

Welcome to Littleton Cotterell,a small village in Glouchestershire. The year is 1908, and Lady Emily Hardcastle and her intrepid maid, Florence Armstrong, are looking to settle in to the nice, quiet, retired life after several years spent adventuring around the world.

Naturally, such plans are always disrupted. In this case, the two women discover a dead body hanging from a tree while out on a morning walk. The death is meant to appear as a suicide, but certain inconsistencies seen to point more towards murder. With the local constabulary over their heads, Lady Hardcastle and Flo must draw on their previous experiences to solve the murder before anyone else gets hurt.

The mystery goes off in fairly expected fashion, with the eccentric and kindly Lady Hardcastle relying on her witty and resourceful maid. There are suspicious characters and red herrings aplenty. And, naturally, the initial mystery gets wrapped up in several others in the course of the book.

I will say this for A Quiet Life in the Country: it does not take itself too seriously. The usual tropes of the cozy mystery are addressed with a wink and a nudge (such as one character explaining to Lady Hardcastle that the tiny, 30 person village she just moved to is actually the murder capital of the country). I appreciate the effort made to acknowledge all the commonly used bits that go into a cozy murder mystery, and it certainly helped to dispel a feeling of deja vu.

In all, if you’re looking for a nice, quick mystery with not one but two strong female leads, you could do far worse than to join Flo and Lady Hardcastle on their adventures.

A free copy of this book was provided via Goodreads Givaways in exchange for an honest review. A Quiet Life in the Country is currently available for purchase (and, at the time of this writing, free via Kindle Unlimited).

Book Review: Death Among Rubies by R.J. Koreto

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Death Among Rubies by R.J. Koreto

This is the second in the Lady Frances Ffolkes mystery series. But don’t be too put out; this is a perfectly enjoyable book even if you haven’t read the first.

At the turn of the 20th century, Lady Frances Ffolkes (Franny to her friends) has turned every head in aristocratic English society. She is a single woman living alone, and perhaps most scandalous, an outspoken suffragist. Frances wades in where others fear to tread, bolstered by her sharp wit and fearless demeanor.

Death Among Rubies finds Frances traveling with her friends Gwen and Thomasina to Gwen’s family’s country estate for a respite from the city. The trip starts off on an ignominious foot when Thomasina finds herself threatened for her “close relationship” with Gwen. Upon arriving at the country manor, the situation deteriorates fully: Gwen’s father has been killed, stabbed to death in his own office. And what’s more, his role as unofficial ambassador for England means that his death could have international repercussions  for England itself.

It’s up to Frances, assisted by Gwen, Thomasina, and her indomitable maid, Mallow, to uncover the truth behind the murder, because other lives most certainly hang in the balance.

I really enjoyed this mystery. Lady Frances is a fun, engaging focal character, reminiscent of Lady Julia Grey or Veronica Speedwell (both excellent characters written by Deanna Raybourn). Those looking for a grand manor murder mystery will enjoy this book.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Death Among Rubies will be available for purchase on October 11th, 2016.

Book Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

The second installment of Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell mystery series picks up soon after the first book leaves off. Tiny warning: from here on out there will probably be a few spoilers for the first book. So if you haven’t read A Curious Beginning yet, you may want to stop reading here.

We begin with Veronica and Stoker, settling in after the events of A Curious Beginning at the Belvedere, working to turn the enormous collection into a museum. The two lead characters have settled into their atypical friendship. We find the two intrepid explorers chomping at the bit over a delay in an expedition to the South Pacific when a mysterious summons arrives for Veronica.

Arriving at a social club for intellectually-inclined women, Veronica is introduced to the enigmatic Lady Sundridge. The mysterious aristocrat sets Veronica a nigh impossible task: A renowned artist, Miles Ramsforth, stands accused of murdering his mistress, and will hang for the crime in a week. Lady Sundridge is set on absolving her friend and discovering the truth behind the heinous crime.

Reluctantly taking on the case, Veronica and Stoker are plunged into the 19th century art world. With the clock ticking against them, they must navigate their way past the bohemian glamour to the darkness and debauchery beneath.

In the second book in the series, Raybourn has the luxury of moving past the origin story and is able to let the two main characters’ personalities bounce off one another. Raybourn’s strength has always been in her female protagonists: they are witty and intelligent, determined and independent, and they hold their own against their male counterparts. Veronica Speedwell is no exception. In this book, we are also introduced to Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk, great aunt to Veronica and Stoker’s patron, and my new role model.

The mystery in A Perilous Undertaking is satisfying and deliciously debauched. In additon to the main plot, Raybourn continues to drop little tidbits about both Stoker’s and Veronica’s pasts. These morsels, sparingly dispersed through the book, add extra interest and leave me a bit sad that the next installment is so far away.

In sum, this is a great read for fans of historical mysteries. I think Raybourn has hit her stride with Veronica Speedwell: the characters have a great repartee, the pacing is spot on, and the mystery consistently interesting. I look forward to seeing where Raybourn takes this series and her characters.

An advanced ebook was provided by Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. A Perilous Undertaking is due for release Janurary 10th, 2017.

A Fatal Grace (Inspector Armand Gamache #2)

A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #2)

 

A Fatal Grace By Louise Penny

3.5 out of 5 Stars

I received this book via a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Ding dong, the witch is dead! The second book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series features the murder of someone so incredibly awful and unsympathetic, you find yourself rather solidly in the murderer’s camp.

Welcome back to Three Pines, where newcomer and resident bitch CC de Poitiers has just been shuffled off the mortal coil. This, of course, would be the second murder in the small Quebec hamlet in as many years,and one can only hope it doesn’t bring down the property values too much. Beyond the mystery of who killed CC (and by the time the murder is committed, the reader is likely ready to kill her themselves), is the mystery of how. You see, CC was killed in the midst of a curling match, in full view of the entire town, on the middle of a frozen lake. Oh, and she’d been electrocuted.

Despite the fact that tiny Three Pines seems poised for a murder a year for the foreseeable future, for those who read the first book in the series, Still Life, it is quite nice to get back to he tiny hamlet, and the cast of characters we were introduced to in the first book. A few get a bit more play this time than the last go-round, Clara Morrow and Ruth Zardo being the main focus. Inspector Gamache is also back, along with his crew of investigators, and we all get down into the business of solving murders. This installment also builds on a few threads introduced into the background of the first book, giving us more insight into Gamache’s past, and why he seems to have so much time to spend in the village of Three Pines.

In all, this book was a decently enjoyable cozy mystery, though I wound up liking it less than the first book in the series. The murder was interesting and different, which I always appreciate. However, the secondary characters seem to be more akin to caricatures, letting loose one liners according to type (gay B&B owner, sole black woman in town, etc). The exposition I had trouble with in the first book is still present, though much improved.

Then there’s the random religious element to the story (which, granted, takes place around Christmas). Clara (for reasons I won’t get into here) spends a good chunk of the book believing that a bag lady she met might be God. Later in the book, Gamache also shares his own encounter with “God” in a north country diner. At the end of the book, once the mystery has been wrapped up, Gamache’s God story repeats. It’s not necessarily that this is badly done, but it is definitely not my cup of tea, and not what I read mysteries for, so unfortunately that whole plot line rather turned me off the series.

I gave this book 3.5 stars, it is enjoyable, and the mystery is pretty interesting. If you are a spiritual or religious individual, you will probably like it more than I. Aside from the “finding God” storyline, it is overall a strong mystery series, though I don’t think I personally will be reading any further.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1)

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #1)

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1) By: Louise Penny

4 out of 5 Stars

When the body of an elderly woman is discovered in the woods outside the idyllic hamlet of Three Pines, the first assumption is that this is the result of a tragic hunting accident. Unfortunately, in the world of mystery novels, nothing is ever as cut and dried as it seems.

”Still Life” is the first novel by Louise Penny. The book was published in 2007, and the twelfth book in the series will be published in August of this year. This should give you some indication of both the series’ success, and the work ethic of the author.

The book introduces the title character, Armand Gamache, a chief inspector of the Sûreté du Québec, as he seeks to solve a murder in a small village near Montreal. The village itself, and its eclectic denizens, becomes a character in the book, quirky and unique, always providing some background movement to draw the eye. The setting in a small village in the Canadian province of Quebec also adds interest, as Penny delves (a little bit) into the tensions, and friendships, between francophone and anglophone Québécois.

The supporting characters are also incredibly well done. From the strange and eccentric citizens of Three Pines, to the police officers tasked with solving the murder, each character is uniquely realized and speaks with a distinct voice. However, Penny tends to rely heavily on exposition to advance her characters in the story, rather than dialogue. Characters thought lines tend to spell out exactly how they are reacting to situations that arise in the book, rather than letting the subtext of their actions or dialogue advance the plot. The style is clunky and a bit disappointing, but hopefully can be chalked up to inexperience on the author’s part. (I certainly hope so, I started the second book in the series, A Fatal Grace, yesterday. I’ll keep you all posted)

The mystery itself is satisfying, red herrings and false flags abound. And while the clues to solving the mystery are there to be found, they don’t slap the reader in the face and scream “look at me!” This (I find) is a hard line for mystery writers to walk. Make the resolution too obscure, or the clues happen off screen, and the end is unsatisfying and feels tacked on. Telegraph the important stuff too loudly, and the mystery is solved by the read way too early, and takes a lot of the fun out of the read. Louise Penny does a great job sprinkling bits and pieces around, but blends them expertly into the background. It’s only when you go back and think about it that you put the pieces together.

In all, this is a satisfying “cozy-type” mystery, great for an afternoon’s read (and it is currently beach-reading season). The book is generally well written (barring the clunky exposition I mentioned earlier), and the characters engaging enough to encourage you to jump directly into the sequel. I also have to say that Penny captures the northeastern landscape in fall closely enough to cause some homesickness in this transplanted New Englander.