Book Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

This is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series. Naturally there will be spoilers for the first two books in the review below. Don’t forget to check out my reviews of A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking.

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After the adventures of the past two books, Veronica and Stoker have eased in to a unique sort of friendship. Kept busy cataloguing the vast (and strange) collections of the Earl of Rosemorran, who hopes to turn his family’s collection of oddities into a museum. When a cursed Egyptian expedition, complete with mysterious deaths and disappearances, makes the tabloids, irrepressible Veronica can’t resist getting involved, especially once it becomes clear that Stoker has a dark past with one of the curse’s victims. With scandal threatening to undo her friend, Veronica wades into the breach, determined to prove Stoker’s innocence.

Deana Rayboun continues her comedic-romantic-Victorian-mystery series in fine form. She provides plenty of ribald humor, sexual tension, and a juicy mystery. By this point in the series, we are well beyond the awkward introduction portion, and can simply sit back and enjoy watching the characters bounce off one another. In A Treacherous Curse, we get to see the relationship between Veronica and Stoker deepen and mature (possibly the wrong word choice here) as Stoker’s past comes back to threaten him in the present. Though I’ll confess that it took me a bit to warm up to her, Raybourn has quite a fun, strong character in Veronica Speedwell. Here is a woman who knows what she wants and society be damned. 

Fans of the first two books will enjoy this continuation of the series. Anyone looking for an atypical Victorian mystery series should add this to their TBR.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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Book Review: Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley


Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

The first book in the Kat Holloway mystery series introduces us to our heroine; a Victorian-era cook with secrets in her past that leave her teetering on the fine edge of respectability. After starting a new position as cook for a wealthy and influential London family, Kat’s professional life takes a blow when her young assistant is brutally murdered. With the help of her long-time friend (and mysterious the secret-agent type), Daniel McAdam, Kat vows to uncover the truth about what happened to the young woman. As the plot thickens, the scope of the crime continues to grow, until even Queen Victoria placed at risk.

I love a good period mystery. Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series is a perennial favorite. Seeing the typical Victorian mystery through the eyes of a cook (generally depicted as tyrants or foils) also promised to be interesting and novel. And in general, Death Below Stairs delivered on its 19th century promises. Kat Holloway is intelligent but not perfect, Daniel McAdam is mysterious and reserved, and the supporting cast of characters is eccentric and entertaining.

However, I do have to say that this book doesn’t read like the first in a series. There is a lot of backstory, especially with Kat and McAdam, that is mentioned but not explained. Past events are referenced obliquely and little detail is given. I assume that a lot of this will be fleshed out in future books, so no harm done, but the book feels more like jumping in at book four or five than starting fresh. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’m glad the author has fleshed out her characters to this extent, but I did have to check multiple times that this was indeed the start of a series. 

Nevertheless, fans of period mysteries, especially Victoeian-era mysteries, will probably enjoy this book a great deal. This a well-crafted mystery, perfect for consuming over the course of a chilly gray afternoon.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

this side of murder

This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

After the end of World War I, Verity Kent is on her way to a house party celebrating the engagement of one of her late husband’s friends. Normally Verity prefers to be alone in her grief, but a mysterious message arrives, alleging that her husband, who died in battle on the fields of France, was actually a traitor to Great Britain. The letter hints that answers will be found at the party, and so Verity, who worked for the Secret Service during the war, sets off to find out the truth of her husband’s death. Once on isolated Umbersea Island, however, Verity finds that most of the party guests are potential suspects. When several guests are die mysteriously, it seems that someone will go to any lengths to keep the facts secret, and Verity must race against time to uncover the murderer’s identity before she is targeted next.

This was a great little period mystery. Verity Kent is an intelligent, determined, traumatized woman, who despite her losses in the war, is determined to continue to live her own life and defend the reputation of her dead husband. The isolated island provides a nice little “locked room” aspect to the mystery, ensuring that those on the island are unable to get help, and are indeed trapped with a murderer. Huber does a wonderful job with Verity, and the interactions between her characters are top notch. There are the requisite twists, turns, and red herrings, but I have to say that I did not anticipate how the book would end.

Fans of period mysteries, such as the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Windspear, and classical mysteries like Agatha Christie‘s novels should find a lot to love in this new mystery series. Huber has delivered up a classically intriguing story, and a fantastic new heroine.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Death at the Emerald by R.J. Koreto


Death at the Emerald by R.J. Koreto

 This is the third book in the Lady Frances Ffolkes series. Expect spoilers for the first two books in the review below!

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Lady Frances is still turning heads. Having returned to London after the events of the last book, she seeks a way to turn her experience solving mysteries into something of a detective role. Gossip having arrived before she did, Lady Frances soon finds herself helping an elderly dowager find her daughter, missing for over thirty years. Taking to the case with enthusiasm, Lady Frances and her loyal maid, June Mallow dive into the world of theatre, moving pictures, secret pacts, and mysterious stalkers. Determined to prove that she is capable of becoming a real-life “Lady Sherlock,” Lady Frances refuses to give up the hunt, even as her own safety is threatened.

I love this series. R.J. Koreto, who also writes the Alice and the Assassin series, does a great female lead. Lady Frances is forward and clever, but her intellect is human, and does not ascend the remote and reptilian heights employed by a Sherlock Holmes. Lady Frances makes mistakes, and overlooks clues, but her tenacity and quick mind generally lead her aright. As a result, the character is very relatable. Rather than feeling like the protagonist is so far beyond you as to be a separate species all together, Lady Frances is like the clever friend you always like spending time with.

June Mallow is also a lovely character. Where Lady Frances holds her strength in her boldness and willingness to write her own rulebook, Mallow finds her strength in quiet determination and an unflagging loyalty to those she loves. The relationship between both characters is the best kind of friendship, where each character’s strengths are offset by the other’s weaknesses, and vice versa. The two women may exasperate one another on occasion, but by and large they function much better together.

Fans of female-fronted mystery series will love this book. Fans of Victoria Thompson and Deanna Raybourn should definitely add this book to their TBR lists!

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

Book Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson


Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

This is the seventh book in the Josephine Tey mystery series. There’s probably going to be spoilers in this review for the previous books in the series.

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Detective Archie Penrose is called to the scene of a most unusual murder. A man has been found buried alive in a crypt in Hampstead Heath. The look of terror and the ravaged fingers of the dead man speak to hours, if not days, of torment trying to escape the crypt. Tracing a clue about the murder to Cambridge, where writer and friend Josephine Tey has recently taken up residence, Penrose finds the local constabulary overwhelmed trying to stop a series of increasingly violent rapes in the small town. When a second body is discovered, Penrose realizes that he is dealing with an incredibly intelligent, and unspeakably ruthless murderer, and his list of victims is only going to grow.

I have not read the previous books in the series, but fortunately, for the most part the book is able to stand on its own merits. There were a few instances where I felt like a reference was passing me by, or that I had missed some subtle reference, but all in all the back story is well explained without becoming laborious.

This is an interesting (and frankly creepy) mystery. The gothic elements of the main murder series, and the more visceral horror of the serial rapist combine to make the town of Cambridge feel distinctly unsettling. Upson deftly keeps the suspense high with atmospheric writing. Her portrayal of a idyllic small town in the grip of an unknown monster is well done.

The literary aspects of the mystery were especially intriguing. I had never read anything by M.R. James, but after his inclusion in the plot, I found myself a collection of his ghost stories and am looking forward to reading them now that autumn is at hand.

Fans of period mysteries (and, I’m presuming, fans of the series thus far) will find a lot to like in this book. I was surprised that a book in a series featuring a female protagonist is told mostly from the male detective’s point of view, I’m not sure if this is a departure from the regular tone of the series or not. Either way, Upson is able to craft a compelling mystery, one that will keep the reader on his or her toes.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

the beekeepers apprentice

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I’m continuing my Sherlockian trend with the first of this series by Laurie R. King!

Sherlock Holmes has retired from the life of a consulting detective to keep bees and indulge in chemistry experiments in the Sussex Downs. Mary Russell is a teenage orphan, forced to live with her penurious aunt until her majority. When the two chance to meet, Holmes is not expecting to encounter a mind equal to his, and Mary Russell is not expecting to find a mentor. This first book chronicles the first four years of their friendship.

This is the first in a series which now contains fourteen books. I’m definitely late to the party. Like most of the other Sherlock Holmes stuff I’m reading lately, the choice was inspired by From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström. The book is a series of interconnected vignettes rather than one contiguous story. In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, we move from Mary and Sherlock’s first meeting, to their strange friendship, and the beginning of Mary’s training in the art of detection.

In Mary Russell, King has given us a heroine who is fiercely intelligent and independent, and more than a match for Holmes himself. I loved that while she shares a lot of Holmes’ personality traits, the two complement one another rather than existing as mirror-image duplicates. As with any new series, there is always the awkward getting-to-know-you period. But this is a great start to a series, and I’m quite looking forward to binging on the rest of the series.

Book Review: The Atwelle Confession by Joel Gordonson


The Atwelle Confession by Joel Gordonson

There’s something odd about St. Clements church in Atwelle, Cambridge researcher Margeaux Wood can feel it. When odd gargoyles are found carved into the eaves of the church during its restoration, her hunch seems to be confirmed. Teaming up with Don Whiby, the architect in charge of the restorations, Margeaux sets out to uncover the story behind the unique carvings. But then there is a murder, and soon another, and the pattern of the murders seems to echo the mysterious carvings in the eves. Furthermore, these murders seem to echo similar crimes committed during the reign of Henry VIII . . .

I really liked the concept of this book. The interplay between Tudor England and modern times was well done. Gordonson gives the reader a wealth of historical detail to work with, and I found the balancing act played by both church officials and highly placed citizenry during Henry VIII’s conflict with the Vatican to be truly fascinating. The mystery itself is original and interesting.

That being said, I found the execution of the book to be somewhat wanting. The characters of Margeaux and Don, and others central to the plot, feel a bit unfinished. There is little to the characters beyond the immediate needs of the story, nothing about wants, desires, or dreams beyond the gargoyles in the church. Additionally, the antagonists seem to have little motivation for being such. They are acting to foil or to harm our protagonists, yes, but why?

There are some nicely suspenseful scenes in this book, with a good creep factor to boot. But I did find that several opportunities for suspense were passed by, possibly to increase the pace of the book. The plot does move quickly, but occasionally feels like it’s stampeding along, sacrificing plot and character development in the process.

I guess my overall impression is one of haste. The plot gallops along, leaving us with quick glimpses of something fascinating. Taking the time to give the reader a bit more to work with, to flesh out the characters, the world they live in, and the (really quite interesting) central mystery would have given this book real punch.

In all, this is a fantastic idea, with a great amount of attention paid to historical detail. Gordonson is certainly able to craft a compelling story. But I feel that as written, we are seeing only the bare bones of a great story.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas


A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

This is the second Lady Sherlock book by Sherry Thomas. You should naturally expect spoilers for the first book, A Study in Scarlet Women in this review. If you haven’t yet read the first book, stop what you’re doing and read it now. I’ll wait.

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I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first book featuring Charlotte Holmes. Rather than the trite gender-swapped rehashing of the well-trod Sherlock Holmes stories, I found a smart, witty, and wonderfully realized mystery featuring not Sherlock Holmes, but a woman whose brilliant deductive mind is trapped in the body of a Victorian society lady,mwith all the attendant limitations and societal entrapment.

The second book in the series does not disappoint. Taking place shortly after the first book leaves off, we find Charlotte settling into the life of a social pariah, and enjoying the freedom that comes with being “Sherlock Holmes.” Things go a bit sideways when she is approached by the wife of Lord Ingram, her childhood friend, who is trying to track down her first love. Beyond the obvious conflicts of investigating the case without the knowledge of Lord Ingram, the further Charlotte digs into the identity and history of Lady Ingram’s former paramour, the more strangely complicated matters become. Soon Charlotte finds herself embroiled in hidden ciphers, codes within codes, blackmail plots, poisoning, and espionage. Weaving these disparate threads into a resolution will tax even her brilliant mind.

Charlotte Holmes is simply a great character. She is by no means a female stand-in for the great detective, rather it’s as if Thomas grew her from scratch; a brilliant and analytical mind on par with Sherlock Holmes, but within a person who has had to grow up adhering (to a greater or lesser degree) the societal expectations for a nineteenth-century lady of breeding. Thomas also continues to develop the characters of Mrs. Watson, Lord Ingram, Inspector Treadle, and Charlotte’s older sister, Livia. Though the supporting characters don’t get as much attention as Charlotte, there were several excellent subplots throughout the book. I was especially impressed with the characterization of Inspector Treadle, an honorable and forthright man, trying to come to grips with the existence of women who seek a measure of independence. This could easily have turned into some cliche or overdone condemnation of weak-minded men, but instead we see Treadles honestly wrestling with himself and his preconceptions.

Fans of historical mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and the like should check out this series. If you enjoyed A Study in Scarlet Women you will likely enjoy this book as well. I cannot wait to see what Thomas does in future books in this series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

 The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
This book has been drifting around my TBR for a bit. But after my recent read of From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström, I find myself moving any and all Sherlock Holmes stories up on my to-read list. This book is significant because is is one of the only stories to win the seal of approval from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate, his heirs being determined to jealously preserve the Holmes mystique. So with all that in mind, there’s a lot of pressure on Horowitz to deliver not only a good mystery, but also a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

The story begins in typical fashion, with Holmes and Watson (visiting his old friend while his wife is away) sitting in their respective chairs by the fire. Sherlock delivers his usual uncannily accurate observations on Watson’s recent activities. Watson, per usual is totally flabbergasted until the requisite explanation is offered. From there we delve into a multifaceted mystery encompassing stolen artwork, Irish gangs, Pinkerton Detectives, and threats to the Baker Street Irregulars. 

Horowitz is careful to include many of the common elements from Conan Doyle’s stories. The House of Silk, written for a modern audience, is darker and more violent than the original stories. Horowitz, not needing to contend with Victorian sensibilities, is able to lay out what Doyle only hinted at. In all, though, this is a well done addition to the Holmes canon. Fans of Sherlock Homes (duh) or Victorian mysteries should add this book to their to-read lists.

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

watchmaker of filigree street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

 

Thaniel Steepleton is a low-level telegraphist with the British Home Office. One morning, after a long night shift, he finds a mysterious package sitting on his bed. Inside is a watch he is unable to open, though he can hear the clockwork moving inside. Forgetting about the mysterious watch as the months go by, Thaniel is drawn with the rest of the government into investigating bomb threats being made by Irish Nationalists. When the watch saves him from such a blast, Thaniel is determined to get to the bottom of the timepiece’s mystery. Seeking out the maker of the piece, a Japanese Baron turned watchmaker, Thaniel finds a quiet, unassuming man. As events continue, it appears more and more that Keita Mori is hiding something. Thaniel must weigh his growing regard for the kindly Mori with his increasing suspicion that he may be at the center of the bombings in London.

This is a neat little book, and took me down unexpected paths. In the interests of keeping my reviews spoiler free, I won’t elaborate any more on the plot here, but suffice to say that having started the book, I could not have predicted where it would wind up. There are elements of fantasy and steampunk in this story, but these aspects don’t seem intrusive, which is a fairly easy trap to fall into in this genre. Rather, the book felt like a historical mystery, with the more fantastical elements providing a gilding along the edges.

The characters of Thaniel Steepleton and Keita Mori are richly drawn. Mori, especially, is well done. As the plot weaves on, we come to regard both he and Thaniel as sympathetic characters, yet we are left guessing until the very end of the book whether or not Mori is a villain.

Fans of historical mystery, steampunk, or historical fantasy will find a great deal to like in this book. The book lies somewhere between the historical-with-a-bit-of-supernatural Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, and the vividly steampunk Magnificent Devices series by Shelly Adina.