cozy crime, crime, mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Antipodean mysteries

So as you know from the weekly lists, I’m on a big old re-read of Phryne Fisher mysteries at the moment, so I’ve taken my inspiration for this week’s Recommendsday from that!

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

Lets start with something set just after Phryne – the first book in the Rowland Sinclair series is set in the 1930s. Like Phryne, Rowland is spending money and causing scandal – he’s the son of a well-to-do Sydney family – but rather than embracing a life of gentlemanly pursuits, he’s an artist. I’ve only read one of this series, I have the second book on the kindle and a couple more on the physical to read pile (see Books Incoming) but the first one sees Rowland investigating the death of his uncle – the only other Bohemian-y member of the family. This has politics and tensions and you see some of the same factors you see on the rise in Europe at the same time at play in Australia. It’s not witty like Phryne, and it’s further towards the thriller end of the spectrum than the cozy, but I liked it (as you can tell from the fact I have more waiting to be read!

Murder in the Telephone Exchange by June Wright

This was a really interesting murder mystery, written in the late 1940s and set in an Australian telephone exchange: When Maggie finds one of her unpopular colleagues with her head smashed in, she finds herself drawn into the mystery – not just because she was the person who found the body, but because she’s not sure that the police are on the right track. But soon the danger is increasing and someone else turns up dead. I read this a couple of years ago and loved the setting, liked Maggie, I though the mystery was clever and tense and packed with suspense. I’ve been looking for something else set in a telephone exchange ever since. And then…

A Matter of Love and Death by Carmen Radtke

I read this the other week: and it’s a murder mystery with a telephone exchange! Frances overhears a threatening message while she’s on shift at the exchange and thinks it might be linked to a robbery where a man died that she sees in the paper a few days later. Along with her family’s new lodger Phil and nightclub owner Jack, they decide to investigate. This is the first in a series that has gone through several covers and a change in author name and is trying to do quite a lot, but it was in Kindle Unlimited and wasn’t a total bust!

I’m fairly sure I read a contemporary murder mystery set in the outback not that long ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called or who wrote it, so I can’t look up what I thought of it on Goodreads! And I called this Antipodean mysteries – so I ought to mention a New Zealand-set book or two – so here’s a reminder that Ngaio Marsh set some of the Inspector Alleyn series in her home country. Vintage Murder sees Roderick investigating a murder at a cast party after the first night of a play. He is somewhat taken with the leading lady – which always makes me smile because this is the trip to that he’s on ship home from when he meets Agatha Troy in the next book in the series (Artists in Crime). Marsh sends Alleyn back to New Zealand during the Second World War and that’s where we get Colour Scheme – victim lured into boiling mud (yuck), complete with espionage and counter espionage – and Dyed in the Wool – a country house-style murder mystery but set on a farm and where the victim turns up packed in a bale of wool (also yuck). And even later in the series there is Photo Finish, with an opera diva who is taken to an island by her boyfriend to escape the paparazzi, where she plans a performance of a piece written specially for her by her younger lover and who is then murdered. And an honourable mention should go to A Surfeit of Lampreys, which starts off in New Zealand before the action moves to London and the murder happens, and Opening Night (also known as Night at the Vulcan) where the leading lady is newly arrived from New Zealand.

You’re welcome!

historical, mystery, series

Mystery series: Guy Harford

Happy Friday everyone. Here I am with another Friday series post about a historical mystery series, although as there are only three books so far, it’s more of a trilogy…

So T P Fielden’s three Guy Harford books follow an artist who is reluctantly drawn into the orbit of the Royal Family during World War Two. Guy finds himself in London after an Incident in Tangier. Officially he’s employed by the Foreign Office, but in reality he’s mostly doing the bidding of Buckingham Palace. Across the course of the three books, he solves murders and travels at home and abroad as he tries to find the killers.

Now there are several series that do something similar to this – royal-adjacent Second World War mysteries – but what makes these particularly interesting is that T P Fielden is the pen name of Christopher Wilson, who is a noted royal biographer and commentator. Now admittedly most of his books focus on the more modern royals, but the serial about the household make these something a bit different. And he also wrote the 1950s-set Miss Dimont mysteries which I have also really enjoyed.

There are only three of these so far, but we haven’t yet reached the end of the war, so there may still be more. I think I got the first of these as a Kindle First Reads pick, but they’re all in Kindle Unlimited at the moment, so if you’re a subscriber you can read them very easily. And if you like them, you have the option of Miss Dimont to follow on with!

Have a great weekend everyone!

historical, mystery, series

Mystery series: Lady Hardcastle

The new Lady Hardcastle book came out last week and I’ve just finished it so it seems like an ideal week to feature the series here!

These are Edwardian-set mysteries, following the widowed Lady Hardcastle and her lady’s maid. Lady Emily is in her forties and spent most of her marriage abroad with her husband who was in the diplomatic service. She moved to the countryside with the faithful Florence hoping for a quiet life – but they keep stumbling across murders! The books are written in the first person from Florence’s point of view and this gives you a fun perspective on the somewhat eccentric and very headstrong Emily. As you go through the series you discover more about what the two women got up to abroad, which explains why they’re good at solving murders. And the core duo get some regular assistants as the books go on too.

The duo live in the Gloucestershire and their village and the surrounding area provides the settings for the various murders so that it doesn’t seem like the Edwardian version of Midsummer! The series are fun, lightly comic, easy to read, very bingeable and the Edwardian setting makes a change from the various Victorian and 1920s series that are more common.

With the latest release, there are eight books in the series, with a ninth already planned for the autumn. As you can see from the picture, I own a couple and then they’re all in Kindle Unlimited at the moment – so perfect for a binge. And if you’re not in KU, they are somewhat of a bargain at the moment: books one and two are 99p (or free in Kindle Unlimited) A Quiet Life in the Country is the first and In the Market for Murder is the second.

Happy weekend!

bingeable series, mystery

Mystery series: Flavia de Luce

Another Friday, another post about a series here on the blog, another new post title. Today’s series is the Flavia de Luce historical mystery series, inspired by the fact that I was writing about young detectives yesterday – and Flavia is about as young a detective as you can get, although this series is definitely for adults. I last wrote about Flavia in 2016 so it’s been a while…

At the start of the series, it’s 1950 and eleven year old Flavia has a passion for chemistry and poisons and a running feud with her two older sisters. Their mother is dead, their father eccentric and their house is crumbling around them. When Flavia stumbles over a dying man in the first book she is more fascinated than horrified and the series goes from there.

In my Goodreads review of the first book I said that Flavia could occasionally be a little too all knowing, but as the character develops, she gets to a good balance of preternaturally clever but not too all knowing and annoying. And a lot of that is because although she is very book smart, her understanding of people is about what you would expect of someone her age, so there are things – quite a lot of things sometimes – that she just misses or doesn’t understand at all.

There are ten novels in the series, and as there hasn’t been a new one since 2019, I suspect that may be the lot – certainly the last book in the series isn’t my favourite and Flavia was not quite her usual self in it, so it may be that Alan Bradley has got fed up of her or gone as far as he wants with her. Or the delay could just be because of the pandemic. Because we all know that covid has messed up a lot of things.

These are usually fairly easy to get hold of – I picked up a lot of them from The Works, and read the last two from the library, but I see them all the time in bookshops. As you can see from the picture, there has been a redesign/rejacketing exercise done – in my picture the right hand side are the original style, the left the new. And obviously they’re on Kindle and Kobo as well as audiobooks – most of them read by Sophie Aldred, who if you’re my age you will remember from children’s TV and if you’re a bit older will remember as Ace from Doctor Who. You’re probably best reading them in order, but I didn’t and it didn’t really bother me too much – although it was a bit of a pain jumping from slightly more developed Flavia back to the less evolved version!

Happy Weekend!

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Lost Heirs part 1

Inspired by the latest Veronica Speedwell, today’s Recommendsday is books featuring lost heirs. They’re a staple of the mystery and romance genres, which as you know are two of my favourites, so I’m splitting the recommendations up and I’ve still had to restrain myself!

And this week we’re starting with mystery novels – where lost heir plots tend to revolve around whether a mysterious or reappeared person is who they say they are or if they are a fake. It’s a think that actually happened in history – Perkin Warbeck for example – but I’m mystery novels it’s usually an inheritance rather than a crown that the possible pretender is about to come into. It’s not a plot you can really do in the age of DNA, or at least it requires some creativity. So let’s start with a Golden Age Classic – Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar. In it a man called Brat Farrar appears and claims to be Patrick Ashby, the eldest son of the Ashby family who disappeared when he was 13 and thought to have drowned. He knows Patrick’s mannerisms and the story of his early life and it seems like he may pull it off, until secrets start to emerge…

Sweet Danger is my favourite of all the Albert Campion books (I think), and I listen to the audiobook or read it at least once a the year. In it Albert is trying to find the lost heir to a tiny Balkan principality and meets the family who claim they’re the rightful heirs. There’s also a ruthless crime Lord, witchcraft and the start of a romantic strand in the series – which I promise is not the main reason I like it! It’s actually a really good adventure caper as well as a mystery – and there’s no actual murder. You could also probably make a case that Agatha Christie’s Nemesis is a lost heir book in a way as well – as the mystery that Miss Marple is trying to solve is whether a a deceased millionaire’s son murdered a young woman or not – the son in question having disappeared.

Most historical mystery series will do a lost heir – or variation thereon at some point. In the Phryne Fisher series it happens fairly early on in the series – within the first half dozen in fact – and as the blurb is a little bit cryptic about it I shall be too, but you can probably work it out. The Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series has one relatively early on too – Justice Hall – the sixth in the series but really to appreciate it you need to have read the previous book O Jerusalem too, and they work really well back to back. In the Daisy Dalrymple books it happens much later in the series – Heirs of the Body is the 21st mystery (out of 23) and the whole plot revolves around finding which of four options is the heir to the viscountcy in Daisy’s family.

I’m fairly sure there are more of them that I’ve forgotten about – I’ve been mulling it over before I fall asleep at night and I’m fairly sure I haven’t remembered all the options I came up with, but that’s always the way with things that come to you as you drop off to sleep! But as I said, I have another post planned, and even if it’s meant to be all romances, I can always throw a mystery in if I remember something amazing…

Happy Wednesday

Series I love

Series I Love: Maisie Dobbs

It’s been nearly five years since the first in the Maisie Dobbs series was my BotW and as the seventeenth in the series can out recently, it seemed like an opportune time to feature the series here.

At the start of the series it’s 1929 and Maisie is setting up a private investigation firm in London. As I said in my review at the time, the mystery in that book is slighter than you expect because the book is also doing a lot of heavy work in the set up for the series itself. Over the course of the rest of the series Maisie has carried out all sorts of different types of investigations – some murder, some not – but a lot of them using her experiences and contacts made during the Great War. Time moves by as the series goes on (yes, I know that sounds obvious but it’s not always the case!) and by book 17 we’ve reached 1942. This passage of time has enabled a huge variety of different set ups as well as meaning that historical events can be woven into what’s going on. And of course there have been developments in Maisie’s personal life.

This is one of my favourite series to dip into. They’re basically very easy to read historical mystery novels. They don’t have the hint of humour that you get from Royal Spyness or Daisy Dalrymple, but they’re not gruesome-gruesome either. I think there’s bits of it that need to be read in order, but I certainly haven’t done that – at the moment I’ve read 13 of the series – but the books I haven’t read are 9, 14, 15 and the newest one and I’ve read some of the others in the wrong order too! If you don’t read them in order you will get spoilers for Maisie’s personal life, but to be honest that may not necessarily be a bad thing. If you read them you’ll understand, but anything else I say will be a spoiler!

In terms of getting hold of them, it should be fairly easy – I’ve seen them in bookshops (new and used), libraries (physical and virtual) and they’re all on kindle and Kobo too. And because of all the factors mentioned above, if you want to see if you like them, you could just start with whichever one you can get hold of easiest. As I write this the cheapest on Kindle and Kobo are books 11 and 12 weirdly.

Happy Friday!

Bonus picture: Fitzroy Square on Thursday morning – the location of Maisie’s office.

Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I Love: Veronica Speedwell

Today I want to talk about Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, because the latest book in the series came out this week, and it seemed like a really good moment to introduce newbies to the wonderful world of Veronica (and Stoker).

Our heroine, Veronica Speedwell is an orphaned, independent woman. When we meet her at the start of the series, she has just buried her aunt and is about to resume her life of travelling the world in the pursuit of butterflies. But while she is back in Britain, she is drawn into a mystery and into the orbit of the incredibly grumpy taxidermist and natural historian Stoker. The latest book, An Impossible Imposter, is the seventh in the series and so far we have discovered secrets about Veronica’s family and about Stoker’s past, romped through artists colonies, archaeological circles, women’s clubs, private clubs and gothic Cornish castles. The latest one promises an amnesiac heir and I can’t wait. Although I may have to, because I’m not meant to be buying hardcover novels at the moment, no matter how much I want to.

It’s hard to talk about them much more than that, or you give too much away – as you’ll see if you click through to the BotW reviews for A Treacherous Curse and A Dangerous Collaboration, but basically they’re fast paced Victorian-set adventure capers with a feisty heroine and a grumpy hero, if Stoker can be classed as such (he definitely wouldn’t like it). They’re also witty and have clever premises as well as good mysteries. What is not to like?

I forgot to check if Foyles had any in stock when I was in there the other weekend, but my suspcion is that if you want this in physical editions, you’re going to have to order them specially. But they are on Kindle and Kobo and do try and read them in order if you can, it will work so much better if you do. And if you’ve already read all of these, then you should really check out some of Raybourn’s other books – especially the Lady Julia series.

Enjoy!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Queen Elizabeth II

It was the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession on Sunday, so this week I thought I’d make recommendsday about books either about or featuring Elizabeth II. Some of these are a little tenuous… but that’s the way I role!

I’m going to start with Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. In it, the Queen discovers the joys of reading after coming across a mobile library and borrowing a book to be polite. Soon she’s asking guests about their reading matter when they meet her and turning up late for events because she needed to read “just one more page”. It’s only a novella but it’s really very funny.

I haven’t actually read a lot of non-fiction actually about the Queen directly, although I have read various biographies of people whose lives have intersected hers. In fact the only one I could find on my reading lists is by Angela Kelly, who is the Queen’s dresser and I can’t really recommend it because I learned even less from it than is expected – and I didn’t expect much as she is still working for the Queen and the book was approved!

On a slightly surreal note, there’s a bit of Elizabeth in Darling Ma’am – which is a book about Princess Margaret that is described as “a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography” which is about right. In actual fiction, the young Princess Elizabeth makes brief appearances in various books in the Royal Spyness series, as well as in my beloved Gone with the Windsors. Elizabeth and her sister Margaret play larger roles in Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal, but I had so many issues with that I nearly threw it at the wall – only the fact that I was reading it on the iPad stopped me!

Right, thats it – I’m off to try and work out which is the best of the actual biographies of Elizabeth II and dig out the Mountbatten book by the guy who wrote Traitor King for some more Elizabeth adjacent reading. And if anyone has read the new detective novel where the Queen is solving murders, let me know what it’s like in the comments – I keep seeing it but haven’t got around to taking a look yet!

Have a good Wednesday everyone!

Book of the Week, historical, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: Ashes of London

This week’s fiction book is a historical mystery that has been sitting on my Kindle waiting for me to read it for literally years. And as is so often the case, something I’ve been meaning to read for years turns out to be very good. So I’m owning up and writing about it!

So as The Ashes of London opens, the city is on fire. It’s 1666 and as the cover illustration suggests, the heart of the capital has gone up in flames. Among those watching St Paul’s cathedral going up in flames is James Marwood, who has been forced into a position as a government informer because of the actions of his printer father. In the aftermath of the fire he is drawn in to the investigation into a corpse found with his thumbs tied in a tomb that should have been empty. The investigation takes him back into circles that he would rather not be in but also brings him into contact with Cat Lovett. Cat is searching for her father but is also trying to escape from the people who are looking after her. But the secrets she is hiding are tied up with the answers that James needs.

Firstly an important warning: if you don’t read books with sexual violence in them, then avoid this. Spoiler alert, but in the interest of not letting people in for stuff they don’t want: there is an on page rape in this, which is over quickly but which forms part of Cat’s motivation going forward. I get why Andrew Taylor did it, but I wish he’d come up with another way of achieving the same thing. I’m going to read the second book in the series and I’ll update you if you can jump straight to that without missing too much background.

Now I’ve got that out of the way, I really liked the Restoration setting of this book and the slow drip, drip reveal of all the characters’ backstories. I don’t even think you need to know that much about the period to get the most out of it – as long as you know that Charles I was executed (in 1643) and that for nearly 20 years England was a republican commonwealth ruled by a Lord Protector. In 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II (son of the executed Charles) becomes king. And now I’ve told you do you do, and toh can get stuck into the intrigue and suspicion of the Restoration court, and in fact country. I liked the mystery, and the suspense and although ther is some violence and gore, it isn’t too graphic. If you’ve been a fan of the Tudor-set mysteries, and fancy a new scene then try this and if you do like it there are now four more books in the series. As I said at the top, I will read book two and take it from there.

As mentioned this has been on my kindle for ages and was actually part of the NetGalley backlog. But it’s on Kindle and Kobo for £2.99 as I write this and it should also be fairly easy to get hold of in paperback – Foyles have click and collect copies which is always a good sign!

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

New Releases: January 20th

Three books from my anticipated books post are out today – and for once I’m ahead of the game and have finished all of them. Why aren’t I saving one of to be in the running for a BotW post? Well one of them already has been and the other two are thrillery and have plots that I can’t really tell you too much about without ruining it

Covers of A Fatal Crossing, The Maid and The Christie Affair

Let’s start with Tom Hindle’s A Fatal Crossing, which I read in basically three sittings, it’s just they were spread across ten days because I got distracted by Ashes of London. I requested this from NetGalley because it’s a murder mystery on a 1920’s cruise ship and but it’s actually quite hard to explain what’s going on without spoiling it all. Many of the passengers are on their way to an art fair in New York and as well as the murder there is a stolen artwork to deal with. And on top of that, you see it all through the eyes of Timothy Birch, an officer on board the ship who is running away from a tragedy at home but can never quite escape it. This is page turning and atmospheric and I thought I knew where it was going, but i was wrong. I might have figured it out if I hadn’t been convinced of my rightness and had thought a bit harder about the other possible options! It’s hard to tell though once you know – even if you go back and read again, you can never read it again like you don’t know!

From the 1920s to the present day and The Maid by Nita Prose. Molly is a maid at an upmarket boutique hotel. She knows that she’s not like everyone else – but now her gran is gone she has no one to explain human behaviour to her any more. So now she throws herself into her job – where her obsession with cleaning and etiquette as an asset. But when she finds one of the guests dead in his penthouse suite, she finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation where her personality quirks mean the police think she’s their prime suspect. But soon some friends she didn’t know she had are helping her to clear her name. Molly is one of the most unique narrators I have recently come across – and it’s definitely one of those cases where the reader can see things that Molly can’t. I was quite infuriated early on in the book by the way that Molly had been treated, but never fear, her situation was much improved by the end of the book – and without her changing her essential Molly-ness. This is maybe my favourite of the three. But then it’s also the one that I read last, so it could just be recency bias. I do think that this is the easiest to recommend though – I can see why it’s had so much buzz and has been picked out by Good Morning America and the New York Times. I think it will appeal to readers across genres in the way that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Where’d You Go Bernadette did.

And finally, I have already written about The Christie Affair – it was last week’s book of the week and if you’ve already read that post, consider this your reminder to go and read a sample/buy a copy! If you’re only going to read one of two historical mystery picks, I’m struggling to decide which one to suggest, except that I think the Christie Affair is closer to the murder mysteries that it’s protagonist writes and A Fatal Crossing is less traditional in terms of genre rules when it comes to the resolution. So for me I found the Christie Affair more satisfying but a Fatal Crossing is potentially more thought provoking – or at least might generate more arguments at your book club!

But all three of these are good books and if it wasn’t January and we weren’t in the midst of an omicron wave I would say that all three would be the sort of book you could read on your sun lounger by the side of the pool. As it is, read them on your sofa wrapped in a blanket!

Happy Reading!