Archive | September 2016

Review: Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham. Peters Fraser & Dunlop.

death-of-a-ghost-largerThe enigmatic “Albert Campion” is invited to a remarkable art showing by the widow of painter John Sebastian Lafcadio. This is the eighth of twelve scheduled events to exhibit a set of posthumous works left by the temperamental artist with explicit instructions about the annual showing of the painting, one at a time. But the carefully choreographed event goes seriously awry when the lights go out. When they are restored one of the attendees is found stabbed.

 

Albert Campion is noted for his ability to solve puzzling crimes. He is also known to be mild-mannered and inoffensive to a remarkable extent. Therefore, it is shocking for those of us who know Albert when he becomes really angry in this story. The question here, you see, is not the identity of the murderer. The exasperating challenge here is to prove what is already known.

 

For Albert does know, early on, who is behind the murder. Indeed, the murderer knows that he knows, and taunts him expertly and incessantly with high good humor. After all Albert’s efforts go unrewarded, there is a startling and surprising resolution.

 

Once again, Allingham’s ability to create fascinating characters and intriguing situations makes for a tour de force of the writer’s art.

 

My thanks to Camilla of the Margery Allingham Estate for making an advance copy of this book available for me to read and review.

Review: Unlucky Charms by Linda O Johnston. Midnight Ink.

unlucky-charmsThe author has introduced us to the superstition tourist town of Destiny, California. Myth has it that Destiny was founded in the Gold Rush era when lucky seekers found gold there at the end of a rainbow.

You can believe that or not, but it’s a fact that Destiny has a thriving tourist business and the businesses there work together to preserve the superstitious flavor. Our heroine, Rory, manages the Lucky Dog Boutique and has just brought forth a new collection of personally designed doggy good luck toys.

But when a resident is found dead with one of Rory’s lucky rabbit toys, Rory instantly becomes the principal suspect. Rory knows she had better do something fast to turn luck around for herself, other businesses, and the town.

Rory manages a particularly awkward situation: being the principal suspect in a murder while being the main squeeze for Destiny’s police chief. Suspects are plentiful, and Rory has her work cut out for her.

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy of this book available for me to read and review.  I enjoyed the mystery–and learned a lot about superstitions.

Review: Hands Up, Miss Seeton, by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago.

hands-up-miss-sMiss Seeton arrested! How can that be?

It’s really not her fault. Our Miss Seeton, feeling a trifle fatigued from her weeks of substitute teaching, decides to take a day for herself and go to London: visit art galleries, maybe do a little gift shopping and treat herself to a really nice lunch. Soon she is happily on her way, but a sudden rainstorm hits the city and the day turn tempestuous, the high winds turning Miss Seeton ‘s second-best umbrella inside out. Then it gets worse: she witnesses a stabbing. Or at least it looks like one, and it wouldn’t be the first time that she interrupted a villain in the act. But in this case, it is the 17th incident this year of the Tomato Ketchup Gang at work–creating a distraction to cover a robbery. The outraged victim, his nice new coat now a mess of ketchup stains, makes a citizen’s arrest of Miss Seeton, angrily assuming she is a part of this fraudulent scheme.

Thank goodness Miss Seeton has friends in high places–Scotland Yard, that is. So while the village rumor mill starts up again, the police smooth ruffled feathers and turn to Miss Seeton for her artistic talents to provide a sketch of the escaped perpetrator.

Well of course it’s not that simple. Miss Seeton produces one of her trademark cartoons, which starts the process of discovery and capture. There are a lot of birds in the story, particularly pigeons; Chief Superintendant Delphick’s day is complicated by a pigeon flying into the window of his home; Miss Seeton feeds pigeons in the park, then rescues a carrier pigeon found exhausted in her back yard.

Dickie Nash and Juliana Popejoy, last seen during Miss Seeton’s Greek islands cruise, appear in the village seeking to do business with an art copyist they know. They claim it’s strictly a legitimate proposition, but exactly what are they up to? Oh really, it’s getting too hard to explain, and besides that would spoil the fun. Just read it. You’ll like it.

 My thanks to publisher and NetGalley for making an advance copy of this fine book available for me to read and review.

Review: The Book Club Murders: The Oakwood Mystery Series, by Leslie Nagel. Random House – Alibi

book-club-murdersRecipe for a successful mystery novel: Take one spirited woman (Charley Carpenter), add a mystery book club populated with dedicated Agathaphiles. Add half-dozen pedigreed mysteries, including Christie’s And Then There Were None and one of my personal favorites, Murder, She Meowed by Rita Mae Brown.  Blend an intriguing vintage clothing store (Charley’s pride and joy), and one handsome police detective (Marc Trenaut) with a prickly relationship with our heroine Charley. Stir well.

 

Season sparingly with brutal murders; apply skills of police, Charley, and her friends. Garnish with elements of those classic mystery books in the crimes, putting Charley and her friends on high alert. Sprinkle tastefully with mouth-watering red herrings. Serve at once.

 

This is a delightful book: fun to read.  Thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy available for me to read and review.

 

Review: Girl Number One, by Jane Holland. Thomas & Mercer.

girl-number-oneEleanor Blackwood is a young woman struggling with a traumatic past. On the 18th anniversary of her own mother’s murder, an event witnessed by six-year-old Ellie, she decides to challenge her gremlins by taking a run through the very woods that were the site of her mother’s death. She is not prepared for what she finds on her run: a naked dead woman in the woods, with the number 3 written on her forehead with black marker. She can barely believe her own eyes. In a panic, she runs from the scene, scraping herself badly during the hectic one through the nettle-filled woodland trail.

 

It gets worse. When Eleanor reports her experience, she is received skeptically by the police, who nevertheless search for the body in the woods, and fail to find one. At that point, reactions vary: the police, knowing her history, think she is either suffering hallucinations or an overactive imagination. Her father is angry, accusing her of attention-seeking behavior. Her employers at the local school think she should take a leave from teaching. Even Eleanor begins to doubt what she has seen, or not seen. She has been through years of therapy, and indeed is currently seeing a hypnotherapist, Dr. Quick.

 

This is a riveting first-person story that offers flashback scenes interspersed with current events. We, the reader, aren’t sure about Eleanor’s mental health, either. But when events become even more complex, we increasingly feel there is a malevolent force behind what we are seeing through Eleanor’s eyes, and like her, we are hard pressed to recognize who is friend and who is foe. I found it hard to put this book down, and read long chunks at a time. The author has done a masterful job of telling a difficult tale.

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy available for me to read and review.

Review: A Killer Closet: A Mystery, by Paula Paul. Random House – Alibi

killer-closetAuthor Paul adeptly sets the stage for this book in the opening sentence, when Irene finds a dead woman in her closet.

 

OK, we’re hooked, and want to learn more. We find that Irene was until recently an assistant DA in Manhattan who was lured/coerced into returning to her hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico by her mother, the still-glamorous Adele. The daughter-mother connection has been somewhat distant, with Adelle spending her years with a series of husbands after the death of her first husband, Irene’s father. But now, at age seventy, Adelle’s luck has run out and she turns to her only daughter for help.

 

After some amount of discussion, Irene finally and reluctantly agrees to leave her New York life and come to Santa Fe. The plan is that Irene will open a consignment shop selling gently worn haute couture.

 

But Irene’s first day of business is complicated by the unsettling discovery in her closet. She meets the Santa Fe police chief, acquires a young but very capable assistant, Angel, and soon encounters a pushy local attorney, Peter James [AKA PJ] Baily, who takes an interest in Irene’s circumstances rather against Irene’s wishes.

 

This is a cleverly told tale that keeps us guessing through the many turns and twists encountered by a persistent Irene and a reluctant Adele. As it turns out, Irene is hard pressed to know whom she can trust, and who is part of the problem, and indeed just what the problem is.

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy of this book available for me to read and review.

Review of Allingham Box Set 1: Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger. Pub. Ipso Books div. of Peters Fraser + Dunlop Ltd.

allingham-set1-copyThe Margery Allingham estate sent me a preview of this box set in March, 2016, and asked for my comments, which are re-posted below. (My individual reviews of the three books also appear on Amazon’s pages).

 

Allingham is a superb writer who can spin a yarn with the best of them. She sets a scene or creates an atmosphere in a way that pulls us in at the outset. She intrigues us early on, and fills in the details as she goes, leaving a trail of verbal breadcrumbs to guide us on our journey.

 

The first book, Look to the Lady, introduces us to the enigmatic but resourceful “Albert Campion” and also gives us a taste of Miss Allingham’s storytelling abilities. We hear the tale of the ancient and legendary Gyrth Chalice, and encounter a venerable castle complete with mysterious tower room. There is a widely varied assortment of characters, including thugs and petty criminals, a band of friendly Gypsies, and a family of ancient lineage.

 

In the second book, Police at the Funeral, we meet the widely varied members of the Faraday family. The tale unfolds along with our knowledge of the characters, their relationships and history. The suggestion of something dark and awful just off-screen flavors the story and leads us to a most ingenious dénouement. To say much more might constitute a spoiler.

 

The third book, Sweet Danger, is perhaps the most fanciful–and that’s saying a lot. We are asked to believe in the existence of a tiny (800-acre) principality of enormous significance to the British Crown, but also to a league of powerful and sinister characters. This book is notable for the introduction of flame-haired Amanda Fitton at age 17; she will prove to be a Person of Importance in the saga of Albert Campion. There is a captivating chapter describing Campion’s entrance and progress through the headquarters of Xenophon House (the villain’s headquarters), in which Allingham clearly channels Lewis Carroll. In case we missed it, at one point Campion offers to “repeat my journey through the wonder house.”

 

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my repeat visit to these books, first read perhaps twenty or thirty years ago. At that time, I don’t believe I fully appreciated the finer points of the Albert Campion character depiction. In those days, I preferred Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey. Now, while still a Sayers fan, I find Lord Peter’s storied erudition a bit smothering. I enthusiastically recommend this boxed Allingham trio.

 

Review: The Secrets of Wishtide: A Laetitia Rodd Mystery, by Kate Saunders. Bloomsbury USA.

Wishtide

In 1850 England, the widowed Laetitia Rodd lives in genteel but straitened circumstances. Letty’s particular talents are utilized from time to time by her brother Frederick, a criminal barrister of high repute. As the story opens, Frederick has found a new assignment for his sister. It seems that Charles, son of Sir James Calderstone, is set on making a marriage that his father finds highly unsuitable. Laetitia’s job is to join the household of Sir James, posing as the new governess for the two Calderstone daughters. Her assignment is to find out the truth about the background of young Charles’ intended without attracting attention.

 

Laetitia soon finds her job not as straightforward as was represented. We move through the story with her, discovering more pieces of what soon appears to be a puzzle, or at least something a good deal more complex than was first assumed. Before long, events take a tragic turn, and the tragedy and loss deepens as we and Letty go forward.

 

This is an intriguing story, tantalizingly told. There is a rich cast of characters, and the threads of their stories are woven into an intricate tapestry of circumstances and events. Letty is stalwart, conscientious, caring and brave–an altogether admirable heroine of a fascinating tale.

 

At the end of the book is an Afterword that might well have been a Foreword–but perhaps that would have given away too much too soon. Far be it to me to be a spoiler; sufficient to say that Ms. Saunders story grew out of her fondness for Victorian fiction, and drew inspiration from the pages of David Copperfield. Mr. Dickens would be pleased, I think.

My sincere appreciation to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy of this fine book available for me to read and review.

Review: Miss Seeton Paints the Town, by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago.

There is much ado in Miss Seeton’s little village of Plummergen in Kent. It’s time for the Best Kept Village completion, and all the Plummergen residents are united in their efforts to beat their archrivals in Murreystone.

Miss Seeton is busy being a substitute art teacher for the local school children, but she still finds time to help her neighbors by joining Sir George Colvedon in making a Before and After portfolio, with Sir George providing the Before photos and Miss Seeton applying her artistry to imagining improved After scenes.

But there is also a crime wave in the area, involving arson, thefts, and vandalism to Plummergen’s gardens, including an apparent village-wide invasion of moles digging up lawns and flowers, and thefts of ornamental ironwork.

Fire becomes a recurrent theme in the story, with Miss Seeton finding difficulty doing her Yoga exercise gazing upon a lighted candle. Then, she uses candle smoke to create an art exercise for the children. The police and Scotland Yard have, so far, taken a breather from involving Miss Seeton in resolution of the current crime problems. But we all know what happens when Miss Seeton starts drawing her signature cartoons, and it doesn’t take long for Inspector Delphick to see clues in her latest art efforts. When one picture shows the lower end of the village overtaken by flames, the police and villagers are on full alert.

It really does take a village, in this case, to resolve the various dilemmas, In addition to all the regulars we know and love, there are some new characters in this story, starting with Mr. Alexander, a mysterious Russian, his pair of energetic Russian wolfhounds (Boris and Sasha), the secretive Miss Ursula Hawkes who seems to do odd things at odd times, and an odiferous mole catcher, Jacob Chickney. It’s all very witty, and great fun, and once again Miss Seeton does not disappoint.

Once again, my thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for making this delightful book available for me to read and review.