An embarrassment of riches on this week’s list, but I think this was my favourite. Lots of stuff from it will be making appearances in other posts soon too – in fact the only thing against Hither, Page being this week’s pick is that I sort of wanted it for my Christmas reading post, which is taking longer to put together than I was expecting because I haven’t liked a lot of the stuff that I’ve been reading with an eye to including it. But this wasn’t on the original list of potentials for the Christmas post, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Anyway, on to the book.
Hither, Page is a murder mystery and romance set in Britain in the aftermath of World War Two. James Sommers has come back from the war to work as the doctor in the village that he lived in as a child. After he catches his cleaning lady looking through his patient records and snooping in his flat he lets her go. But soon she’s found dead after a dinner party at the Big House and James feels like the peace of his post-war sanctuary has been shattered. Leo Page works for one of the shadowier (and possibly dodgier) bits of the British secret service and is surprised to be sent to a sleepy village to investigate a charlady’s death. Soon Leo and James are crossing paths – one as as he tries to solve the crime, the other he tries to get his village back to normal – or at least that’s what he thinks he’s doing.
I think you all know me well enough to know that this plot summary ticks quite a lot of my boxes – murder mystery, mid-twentieth century, secret services connection and it’s sort of enemies forced to work together. It’s funny and snarky and has a great cast of supporting characters who – as it’s the first of a series – we should hear more from in books to come. What is not to love.
I’m always after a new historical mystery series, and Cat Sebastian was one of my 2018 Obsessions as I worked my way through her back catalogue so this is practically a Venn diagram all on its own. My only complaints were that it wasn’t long enough and as it’s the first in the series I now have to wait impatiently for the next installment which doesn’t even have a name yet it’s so long away. However in writing this post I realised that there is another Cat Sebastian book due out soon (in December and I’ve got it pre-ordered already, well done PastVerity) which is good, but I think we’ve just ruled that out of BotW contention if I read it straightaway, which I think we all know I will. Hey ho (ho, ho), you can’t win them all.
My copy of Hither, Page came from the library – but it’s available on Kindle and on Kobo now.
Happy Friday everyone, and welcome to a special bonus post to mark the mid point in November. I’m one of the stops on the blog tour for TP Fielden’s Died and Gone to Devon – which came out yesterday – and which I read the other week.
This is the fourth book in the Miss Dimount Investigates series, featuring an intrepid lady reporter in the seaside town of Temple Regis in the late 1950s. In Died and Gone to Devon, a by-election is looming – but when one of the candidates winds up dead, Judy is soon investigating. Add into the mix a new and suspiciously ambitious journalist and a visit from her mother, and Judy has soon got a lot on her plate.
Regular readers will know that I love a murder mystery set in the past, and I love an unconventional detective. Judy is an older lady – not as old as Miss Marple certainly, but definitely not in the first flush of youth – and I really like the fact that she’s got her head screwed on and doesn’t sail off into danger without a thought. She’s smart, she’s had to fight to get to wear she is and she’s not going to cede her position easily. And I also like the late 1950s setting – Temple Regis is a sleepy, old-fashioned backwater but you can see the cusp of the swinging sixties on the horizon and the conflicts that are starting as times change. I had some of the mystery figured out early on, but not all by any means and I enjoyed watching everything unfold, although to be fair reading it in the week that a General Election was called might not have been my best plan – as it all got a bit election overload at times!
I read the first book in the series back in 2017, and enjoyed it but thought that there was a lot of set up for the series going on and a few too many unexplained hints about Judy’s past. But this definitely felt like a book in a series that has hit its stride – the characters are established, there aren’t any info dumps about people and there are a few little nuggets about previous cases that would work as callbacks if you’ve read them, or tempt you into reading them if like me you haven’t.
It’s nearly the end of my American Adventure, so my reading at the moment, as I mentioned yesterday, is mostly books I’ve borrowed from the library here. I’m prioritising the pile too – because when I was borrowing books I was targetting books that I find it harder/more expensive to get hold of in the UK, so I’ll be gutted if I have to take some of them back unread. And it also means that for the first time in a few weeks, I had lots of books to choose from for BotW this week, but it was a fairly easy choice – I raced through Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women on Saturday night – and it’s the first in a series. Ideal.
So, A Study in Scarlet Women kicks off the Lady Sherlock series – which as you might guess is a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes retelling. Charlotte Holmes has never really felt happy with the life expected of a woman in upper class London in the late Victorian era. And when her father reneges on a deal he made with her about her future, she takes matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, that means making herself an outcast – and life as an outcast is harder than she thought. And then there’s a series of deaths that are casting suspicion over the family she has left behind. Soon Charlotte is investigating – under the assumed name of Sherlock Holmes – with the help of a few new friends, and one very old friend who has loved her forever.
I read this in almost one sitting** and it is so good. Charlotte is a brilliant heroine. The analytical mind that serves Sherlock so well creates as whole load of problems for a woman – who isn’t expected to speak up, or demand a life that doesn’t revolve around marriage. Her deductions are clever, the mystery is great – and she’s much more sympathetic than Proper Sherlock is – she’s motivated by helping her family and her friends in a lot of what she does, not just the mystery solving. Just a note though I’ve seen this categorized as a romance – which I think isn’t quite right. I first head about it on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast and Sherry Thomas does also write romances, but for me this is definitely Historical Mystery with a side order of unresolved romance and sexual tension. Don’t go expecting a resolution/Happy Ever After here.
Side note, I was listening to that edition of Smart Bitches after a night shift on the way back to where I was staying, and the combination of lack of sleep, going to a different station to where I was used to heading to from Waterloo station and being engrossed in this saw me in autopilot mode and getting on the wrong train and ending up in Richmond and not in Barnes. I have a vivid memory of sitting on the platform at Richmond, freezing cold, watching it get light, waiting for a train back the other way and listening to Sherry Thomas talking about learning English as a second language through the medium of 70s and 80s historical romance novels!
Anyway, back to the book, if you like series like Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell or Lady Julia Grey, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily – or even some of the interwar-set detective series like Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher, Dandy Gilver or Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness – then definitely give this a try, even if you’re not usually into Sherlock retellings. And if you are a Sherlock fan, then definitely take a look at this.
My copy came from the library*, but you should be able to get your hands on this fairly easy. It’s available in Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from all the usual suspects. You might need to order it in though. I already have the second book on loan from the library, and I’ve ordered the third to take home with me even though I have limited space in my luggage home.
*Although I’ve since found it on my Kindle where I picked it up on offer for £1.49 last summer and then it got lost in the shuffle of books. Insert comment about the state of my tbr pile here.
**I moved from the sofa to bed about halfway through, but ended up staying up late to finish it.
It’s nearly Halloween and since I’m in the US where it is such a massive thing that it’s blowing my mind, I thought a round up of some spooky/halloween-themed reading might be in order. I was aiming for it to be recent Halloween-y reading – but you know how these things go – you get a stack of likely books together, you read them – and then you don’t like some of them enough to recommend them. And I’m always honest. Which is why I’m telling you up front that there’s no horror here – because I’m too scared to read horror. My brain is good enough at coming up with things to scare me without ready scary books. Thrillers are about as much as I can deal with. And some times I can’t even deal with that. So expect my usual mix of mystery, romance and fantasy with a dash of classic thriller thrown in.
The One with the sweet tooth
I read The Candy Corn Murder right after it came out three years ago and it sees a local reporter covering a Halloween Festival. But when her husband becomes the prime suspect in a murder, she steps in to investigate. This is the 22nd(!) in Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone series – and there are other Halloween-themed installments among the other 24 (!!) books in the series if you like Lucy’s world and want to spend more time there. I’ve read one, maybe two others and have my eye on a couple from the library to see how there series has evolved.
The one that’s a creepy classic
I’m slowly working my way through Daphne DuMaurier’s works – and there are several of hers that would be good for giving you chills on a dark night. The obvious one is Rebecca, but Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel are also properly atmospheric and creepy. Those two also have recent tv or film versions should you want to be a person who likes to watch the movie of the book and complain compare. I also have a massive softspot (if you can call it that for something so creepy) for the Charles Dance and Emily Fox TV version of Rebecca from the late 1990s.
The One with a creepy doll
Barbara Early’s new book, Death of a Russian Doll is mostly about the murder of the local police chief’s wife, but it’s also got a matroshyka doll that’s moving on its own to up the creep factor. Your amateur sleuth is Liz, the owner of the vintage toy shop next door to the murder scene and the sort-of ex-girlfriend of the police chief (he didn’t tell her about his estranged wife) who’s retired cop father is called in to investigate the crime. This came out this month and is the third book in the series, but it’s the first of them that I’ve read and I liked it enough that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more by this author.
The One with the Embarassing First Date
This is slightly tangentially Halloween-y because Carter and Evie, the hero and heroine of Christina Lauren’s Dating You, Hating You meet at a Halloween party being held by mutal friends. From that awkward beginning, a promising relationship starts until their companies merge and the two of them find themselves in competiton for the same job. I really liked Evie, but I had a few issues with Carter and I felt their prank war was just a little bit unprofessional. However the dialogue is sparky and the chemistry is there so I’m still mentioning it here because I know that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon sometimes and I know a lot of people who really loved it and didn’t have the same issues!
The One with that’s spoofing a Vampire Craze
I couldn’t help but include this. Lauren Willig’s the Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla sees Sally Fitzhugh investigating whether the Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire after a rumour takes hold in London in 1806. He’s not of course, but he doesn’t mind the reputation that he’s got, that is until a woman is found with the blood drained from her throat and it looks like he’s going to get the blame. This is the eleventh in the Pink Carnation series, which I would say to read in order to get the full force of the present-day story line (which runs through the whole series) but the nineteen century one is really the star here, so I think you could make an exception for Halloween. And it’s got a stoat. What more could you want?
The One with the Actual Vampires
If you haven’t read Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series (aka True Blood), Halloween might be a good chance to start. And now the series has been finished for a while if you like them you can glom your way through all thirteen of Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures. Just remember not to get too invested in any one outcome for Sookie in particular – because there was a lot of upset when the last book came out about which of her beaux she ended up with. I won’t give anything away, but I think the clues were sort of there about what was going to happen – or at least I didn’t think the ending ruined the whole series for me (which a lot of people did!). And if you like that world, there’s plenty of other Charlaine Harris novels, most of which are set in (what turns out to be) the same world of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures.
The One with the Haunted House.
You all know how much I love Meg Langslow because I keepwritingabouther, but Lord of the Wings, the 19th book in Donna Andrews’ long running series, is a Halloween one and I really liked it. There’s a massive Halloween festival going on in Caerphilly when first the Haunted House burns down and then a body is discovered in the wreckage. The usual Langslowian mayhem ensues – including Meg’s Grandad running a special exhibit at his Zoo – and then there’s the Goblin Patrol. Probably best appreciated if you’ve read some of the others in the series, but this is still worth a look.
If you’ve got any Halloween recommendations for me – and remember that I don’t do horror because I’m a scaredy cat – then put them in the comments!