Archive | December 2016

Three Reviews: 1. Graveyard Shift by Casey Daniels. Severn House 2. The Heretic’s Creed, by Fiona Buckley. Severn House. 3. A Rustle of Silk by Alys Clare; Severn House Publishers.

Graveyard Shift

This is a witty book featuring an engaging heroine, Pepper Martin, with an unusual profession (or, as she puts it, her Gift): PI to the dead. She also has a boyfriend, police detective Quinn, and a mother who is continually pushing Pepper toward marriage.

She is spunky and no-nonsense, dealing with clients that others would be avoiding. This time, her help is sought by famed G-man Eliot Ness. He has an unusual problem: his ashes are interred in a memorial site. But he isn’t happy, because he says most of those ashes aren’t his. It seems a collector sought the remains of the famed G-man for their shelf of memorabilia.

Ness wants Pepper to retrieve his stolen ashes–something he proposes will be an easy assignment. Pepper reluctantly agrees to help Ness after he leaves her with little choice.

But of course, it isn’t so easy. Things get more complicated when the ghost of the infamous Al Capone is added to the situation. Pepper discovers that bad guys don’t stop being bad just because they are ghosts, and that these spirits can use dangerous means to achieve their ends. Pepper finds that not only she, but also people she loves, can be put in jeopardy as she pursues her unique profession.

 

The Heretic’s Creed

Ursula Blanchard, half-sister to Queen Elizabeth I, and a respectable widow who has established a comfortable life, is happy with her lot as she sets out to enjoy the happy wedding and marriage breakfast. Life is good. But a distinguished guest at the festivities, Lord Burghley, Sir William Cecil, congratulates Ursula on the happy day but follows those remarks with a request for Ursula’s help.

The request is simply that Ursula undertakes an errand for Cecil. As Ursula is planning to visit Edinburgh for the birth and christening of her good friend Mistress Jester’s first grandchild, Cecil asks Ursula to make a short side trip to deliver a letter from the Queen’s court to Holyrood Palace. Cecil assures Ursula it is a task that is confidential, but not dangerous. Sounds simple enough, but as Cecil continues his explanation, it becomes clear that two Queen’s messengers, including Ursula’s good friend, Christopher Spelton, were already give the directive to deliver the letter. Both have gone missing, with the letter undelivered. So, hearing that, Ursula has misgivings, but being conscious of her duty, agrees to do it. But then Cecil adds, “there is one more thing.”

Ursula’s heart sinks at that, but Cecil again assures her there is nothing at all secret about this second assignment; rather it is just a simple commission. It seems Ursula is to go to a community of women known as Stonemoor, to retrieve a copy of a rare book desired by the Queen’s magician, Dr. Dee. The community is remarkable because it appears the women are practicing Catholics, despite Henry XIII’s changing the country’s religion from Catholic to Church of England. For complicated reasons, the women of Stonemoor are allowed to go their quiet way in their chosen religious pursuits. The Stonemoor women have agreed to sell this rare book, considered to be heretical because of its views on astronomy and related subjects.

So in the end Ursula agrees to both tasks: delivery of the letter and retrieval of the Stonemoor book. Oh, and if, by the way, she should chance on any information regarding the fate of the two missing Queen’s messengers, she will be asked to impart her findings.

Well, as you might imagine, these tasks prove to be neither simple nor easy. Ursula and her group will be hard pressed to achieve success and return safely.

This is a riveting story, full of historical detail and richly imagined atmosphere. It makes for a most enjoyable read.

 

A Rustle of Silk

 

This is a story of a physician, Dr. Gabriel Taverner, set in England in the early 17th century. James I is about to ascend to the English throne; times are still precarious in the areas of politics and religion.

Gabriel started out sharpening steel tools, moved from that to ship’s surgeon, and now intends to make his way on shore as a physician to residents of the Devon countryside.

The story is richly descriptive and sets the scene of the times wonderfully well. The story is intriguing and for Gabriel, increasingly dangerous, to him and to those close to him.

The author spins a story replete with images of the rich silk offered by the finest merchants of the day, including his sister’s husband. Celia appears to lead a life of luxury and ease, but thread-by-thread the fabric of her life is tangled. The images met by Celia and Gabriel are not for the faint of heart or sensitive of spirit. For me, those images were so grotesque that it interfered with the enjoyment of the story. Still, this is an admirable piece of work.

 

For all three books, my thanks to author, publisher and NetGalley for providing an advance copy for me to read and review.

 

 

Review: A Pinch of Poison by Alyssa Maxwell. Kensington Books.

It’s April 1919, and Lady Phoebe Renshaw is the speaker at a charity luncheon at the Haverleigh School for Young Ladies, encouraging the students and faculty in their efforts to aid the needy in this post-war era.

In the midst of this worthy activity, tragedy strikes, and the school’s headmistress, Miss Finch, suffers a sudden choking attack after eating her special Madeira cake, and falls dead before anyone can help her. At first it seems an unfortunate accident, but the Coroner finds that death was due to cyanide poisoning.

This throws the students and faculty and families into instant chaos. School is suspended, girls are returned home, and the future of the school is in doubt.

It falls to Lady Phoebe and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, to solve this challenge. That proves difficult, as they soon find that nearly everyone connoted with the school has a secret. Is one of those secrets the key to the murder of Miss Finch?

This is an engaging and well-constructed tale that uses the talents of these two ladies. In the process, they may find that romance also looms for one or both of them.

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing this advance copy to read and review.

Review: Bryant & May: Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler. Bantam

I am an enthusiastic reader of the Peculiar Crimes Unit books, and this latest entry continues the splendid tradition.

 

There are actually at least three story lines encountered early on. The first is the status of the Peculiar Crimes Unit itself. Arthur Bryant, that brilliant but thoroughly eccentric sleuth, has a problem: he is apparently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disorder. So his quirkiness is joined by random episodes of hallucination, endangering him personally and causing no end of consternation, but also impacting the Unit itself–because without Bryant’s brilliance, the Unit is no longer what it was. Second, we meet Ali, a desperate, clever refugee who finds his way to Britain and embarks on his personal crusade to remake himself as a typical Londoner, blending in and becoming successful from the edges of society. Third is the case the newspapers have dubbed the “Bride in the Tide”: a beautiful young woman who is an apparent suicide on the banks of the Thames under extraordinary and baffling circumstances.

 

Christopher Fowler has set quite a task for himself, as these three threads are interwoven into the complex tapestry that forms a formidable challenge for the storied Peculiar Crimes Unit. The very existence of the Unit would appear to be on the line. Will this be the end of this excellent series?

 

The River Thames becomes a major player in the story; we are given a wealth of learned information on the history and mythology of this river and the great city it is a part of. Strange Tide is an engrossing tour de force of writing fashioned by a masterful writer: finely crafted, richly layered, and enormously satisfying.

 

My sincere thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review, which was my pleasure.

 

Review: Starring Miss Seeton by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic; Farrago.

This is a festive holiday book, featuring a play-within-a-book: the Plummergen village production of “Cinderella”, starring some of our favorite characters. Set in verse, the ingenious villagers’ presentation (a fundraiser for the church organ) offers plenty of entertainment. Mr. Jesyp and Dr. Knight as the Ugly Sisters Injecta and Instructa are not to be missed. Those are just two examples of cross-dressing in the cast, another being Maureen from the George and Dragon as Prince Charming, chosen not for her histrionic ability (onions can be used to induce tears when needed) but because of her excellent legs (in the Prince’s tights). Plummergen is very practical in its casting: Emmeline Putts has the title role because she owns a lovely long blonde wig. Miss Seeton’s roles are set designer and prompter.

But of course, there are always the bad guys, this time two different gangs robbing banks. Add the discovery of valuable Roman artifacts, the temptation of the cash receipts from the production. and of course Miss Seeton’s restless fingers creating still another enigmatic cartoon. The message is that appearances are deceiving, and some things (and people) are not what they seem.

The gangsters are dealt with in thoroughly Miss Seeton manner, leaving the village free to enjoy a Yuletide visitation from the traditional Mummers. All in all, a delight–a tasty sugarplum to savor.

As always, my thanks to author, publisher and NetGalley for providing an advance copy for me to read and review.