Book Review: Murder by the Book ed. by Martin Edwards

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 10th, 2022
Pages: 304, paperback
Source: NetGalley

With Martin Edwards as librarian and guide, delve into an irresistible stack of bibliomysteries, perfect for every booklover and armchair sleuth, featuring much-loved Golden Age detectives Nigel Strangeways, Philip Trent, Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, and others. But readers should be warned that the most riveting tales often conceal the deadliest of secrets…

If much of the action is set in a bookshop or a library, it is a bibliomystery, just as it is if a major character is a bookseller or a librarian.
–Otto Penzler

A bookish puzzle threatens an eagerly awaited inheritance; a submission to a publisher recounts a murder that seems increasingly to be a work of nonfiction; an irate novelist puts a grisly end to the source of his writer’s block.

There is no better hiding place for clues–or red herrings–than inside the pages of a book. But in this world of resentful ghost writers, indiscreet playwrights, and unscrupulous book collectors, literary prowess is often a prologue to disaster.

Anthologies for me are usually like boxed chocolates – there are some I love, some I like, and then some that are going in the trash uneaten. With British Library Crime Classics anthologies, though, I generally devour all the stories greedily.

I’d read a few of the stories before, such as the Innes, Brand, and Crispin ones, but there was a Trent story by Bentley that I hadn’t encountered, and enjoyed. The star of the collection for me, though, was the John Creasey story, The Book of Honour. That story alone would have earned this four stars from me, even if the other stories were absolute dreck, which they were not.

Each of these stories has something to do with books. Books are sold, books are written, and books are stolen. Most of the stories are written by authors with whom the reader will be familiar, but there are a few, like the ones by the Coles and Bremmer, that are unexpected delights.

Recommended for those who love books and those who write them, and those who love a good Golden Age mystery.

Book Review: Guilty Creatures: A Menagerie of Mysteries ed. by Martin Edwards

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery short story collection
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 320, paperback
Source: NetGalley

“Curiously enough,” said Dr. Manners, “I know a story in which the detection of a murder turned on the behaviour of a bird: in this instance a jackdaw.” Since the dawn of the crime fiction genre, animals of all kinds have played a memorable part in countless mysteries, and in a variety of roles: the perpetrator, the key witness, the sleuth’s trusted companion. This collection of fourteen stories corrals plots centred around cats, dogs and insects alongside more exotic incidents involving gorillas, parakeets and serpents – complete with a customary shoal of red herrings. From the animal mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and F. Tennyson Jesse through to more modern masterpieces of the sub-genre from Christianna Brand and Penelope Wallace, this anthology celebrates one of the liveliest and most imaginative species of classic crime fiction. 

Guilty Creatures is the latest vintage mystery short-story anthology from British Library Crime Classics/Poisoned Pen Press, edited by Martin Edwards. This outing is all about mysteries where an animal is a key component of the case.

A few of the stories were familiar, but were welcome re-reads, like Doyle’s The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane. I’d forgotten that Doyle did occasionally have Holmes self-narrate a tale, and it’s interesting to see Holmes through his own eyes.

Some of the stories are weaker, mystery-wise, such as The Man Who Shot Birds by Mary Fitt, but the tale itself is so entertaining that that can be overlooked.

Pit of Screams by Garnett Radcliffe is another one I’d read before, but I’d forgotten the trick ending, which is a very pleasing one.

You can’t go wrong with Christianna Brand, whose Inspector Cockrill makes a welcome appearance in “The Hornet’s Nest.” This is another one I’d read before, but it’s just so good and so unexpected that it’s worth the time spent to read again.

The anthology is a mixed bag, but is well worth reading just for these gems.

Book Review: The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions by Kerry Greenwood

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: May 17th, 2022
Pages: 272, paperback
Source: NetGalley

The elegant Miss Phryne Fisher returns in this scintillating collection, featuring four brand-new stories.

The Honourable Phryne Fisher—she of the Lulu bob, Cupid’s Bow lips, diamante garters and pearl-handled pistol—is the 1920s’ most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.

Miss Phryne Fisher is up to her stunning green eyes in intriguing crime in each of these entertaining, fun and compulsively readable stories. With the ever-loyal Dot, the ingenious Mr Butler and all of Phryne’s friends and household, the action is as fast as Phryne’s wit and logic.

Phryne Fisher is back with four new short stories in The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions. Her sleek bob and sharp wits remain unchanged, but there are minor alterations to a few of the other thirteen stories, which were previously published in A Question of Death.

Phyrne is always a joy to read. She is poised, confident, and intelligent, and uses her skills (and money) to pursue justice and solve mysteries. I wish there were more than four new stories, but it had been awhile since I had read the anthology with the others, so it was like catching up with an old friend who had exciting new news.

But Phryne does not act in a vacuum. While she may dine with the upper crust, she’s equally at home in humbler (and more socialistic) settings. She’s a chameleon, but she’s always true to herself and is sympathetic to people in unfortunate circumstances.

If you like mysteries with wit, sparkle, and charm set in the period between the World Wars, you should be reading Phryne. Even if you don’t think that’s your cuppa, try them anyway. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Rotten to the Core (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #8) by T.E. Kinsey

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 334, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Summer 1911. A scorching heatwave engulfs the quiet town of Littleton Cotterell and brings about an unusually early harvest. The villagers are thrilled, but events quickly turn sour when one of them turns up dead in an apple orchard, stabbed through the heart.

Amateur sleuth Lady Hardcastle and her trusty lady’s maid, Flo, suddenly have a juicy case on their hands. Might the mysterious stranger they recently met in the village be to blame?

When a second cider-related murder takes place, it quickly becomes clear that there’s more to these mysterious deaths than meets the eye. The daring duo uncover whispers of an ancient order and moonlit rituals. And evidence points to a macabre secret in the village stretching back years. A secret someone will do anything—anything at all—to keep hidden.

Something is rotten, that’s for sure. With the local constabulary baffled, Lady Hardcastle and Flo must use all their powers of wit and whimsy to get to the bottom of the dastardly deed. But can they catch the killer before any more people drop dead?

Old sins cast long shadows in T E Kinsey’s latest Lady Hardcastle mystery, Rotten to the Core. In the midst of preparations for a harvest festival, a local man is found dead in an orchard. Lady Hardcastle and her more-than-a-maid Flo are called upon to investigate. They find a benevolent society with some odd rituals, a tourist/newcomer who picks some odd local sites to visit, and more than one motive for murder.

Flo and Emily are back with the sharp skills and witty banter that we’ve come to expect and love. There are red herrings and suspects galore in this outing, indeed, maybe a few too many. But Flo and Emily persevere, and solve the case in time to enjoy cider at the festival.

I always enjoy spending time in Littleton Cottrell, and this book is no exception.

If you like an egalitarian aristocrat with an amazing jill-of-all-trades sidekick, pick up this series now!

Book Review: Under Lock & Skeleton Key (Secret Staircase Mystery #1) by Gigi Pandian

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 15th, 2022
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her. 

Who better than a magician to unravel a locked room mystery?

Tempest Raj has returned home after nearly dying in her last magic show in Las Vegas. She can’t prove sabotage, but thinks her former assistant set her up. To Tempest’s surprise, her father’s crew find the body of her former assistant walled up in a property they are renovating. The only problem is, that section hadn’t been touched in decades, so it was impossible for her to be there. Tempest and her friends (including Sanjay, from Pandian’s Jaya Jones series) must unlock the mystery before Tempest becomes the next victim.

Tempest has had a rough go of it. She’s broke, has had to move back home with her father and grandparents, and may be sued by the venue where she used to perform. On top of that, she may be being haunted by her mother, who disappeared years ago, possibly due to the family curse.

Tempest is a likeable heroine and you’ll root for her. She’s not quite as fierce as she thinks she is, but she’s real and strong and has a good support system in her family and friends. She’s also lucky to have friends and family who share her interest in magic and puzzles. I was frankly jealous of her living space.

The story is well-written, and the action flows naturally. There are the requisite number of red herrings, and not too many potential villains. Like Tempest, once the reader figures out what made the crime impossible, the who and the how will follow.

Be sure to eat something before you read, as the food descriptions will make you hungry. Luckily, Pandian includes recipes in her books!

4 out of 5 magic stars – highly recommended.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden (A Laetitia Rodd Mystery #3) by Kate Saunders

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Pages: 336, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In the spring of 1853, private detective Laetitia Rodd receives a delicate request from a retired actor, whose days on the stage were ended by a theater fire ten years before. His great friend, and the man he rescued from the fire, Thomas Transome, has decided to leave his wife, who now needs assistance in securing a worthy settlement. Though Mrs. Rodd is reluctant to get involved with the scandalous world of the theater, she cannot turn away the woman in need. She agrees to take the case.

But what starts out as a simple matter of negotiation becomes complicated when a body is discovered in the burnt husk of the old theater. Soon Mrs. Rodd finds herself embroiled in family politics, rivalries that put the Capulets and Montagues to shame, and betrayals on a Shakespearean scale. Mrs. Rodd will need all her investigatory powers, not to mention her famous discretion, to solve the case before tragedy strikes once more.

For readers of the Grantchester Mysteries, The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden is the charming third mystery in Kate Saunder’s series about Laetitia Rodd, the indomitable lady detective.

The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden is the third outing for Laetitia Rodd. Her clergyman husband’s death left her to earn her living, and she has embarked on a career as a private detective.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series to date, and this story is no exception. Laetitia is asked by a neighbor, who is a retired actor, to assist in making a divorce settlement between a fellow actor and his wife. As it turns out, Laetitia’s brother is representing the husband, and welcomes her assistance. Not Laetitia’s usual fare, but it’s a paycheck, if either party truly has any money to spare.

But old sins cast long shadows, and the discovery of the body of a man who disappeared ten years ago plunges Laetitia into a murder investigation and crosses her path with that of Inspector Blackbeard once again, who, while willing to assist Laetitia, is still somewhat dismissive of her conclusions.

Laetitia is a well-drawn character. She is consistent and readers will cheer her on as she works to keep her independence and her modest living as a working woman in the mid-1800s. Her brother swoops in on a semi-regular basis, and we don’t know a great deal about him, his wife, or their ever-increasing brood of children.

Inspector Blackbeard, who is also widowed, may or may not become a love interest. For now, it’s enough to see them gain respect and understanding of each other, and assist each other in investigations.

Now, while I enjoyed it, I will say I figured out the motive well ahead of Laetitia, and honestly, as a clergyman’s wife, she should have seen this type of scandal before. Her naivety as a bit surprising, and caused the book to drag a bit. It’s not quite as strong as the first two in the series, but I still highly recommend it and am impatiently waiting for the fourth book.

Book Review: A Counterfeit Suitor (Rosalind Thorne Mysteries #5) by Darcie Wilde

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: November 30th, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Among the ton of Regency London, one breath of scandal can be disastrous. Enter Rosalind Thorne, a young woman adept at helping ladies of quality navigate the most delicate problems—in this charming mystery series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen…

It is every mama’s dearest wish that her daughter marries well. But how to ensure that a seemingly earnest suitor is not merely a fortune hunter? Rosalind is involved in just such a case, discreetly investigating a client’s prospective son-in-law, when she is drawn into another predicament shockingly close to home.

Rosalind’s estranged father, Sir Reginald Thorne—a drunkard and forger—has fallen into the hands of the vicious scoundrel Russell Fullerton. Angered by her interference in his blackmail schemes, Fullerton intends to unleash Sir Reginald on society and ruin Rosalind. Before Rosalind’s enemy can act, Sir Reginald is found murdered—and Fullerton is arrested for the crime. He protests his innocence, and Rosalind reluctantly agrees to uncover the truth, suspecting that this mystery may be linked to her other, ongoing cases.

Aided by her sister, Charlotte, and sundry friends and associates—including handsome Bow Street Runner Adam Harkness—Rosalind sets to work. But with political espionage and Napoleon loyalists in the mix, there may be more sinister motives, and far higher stakes, than she ever imagined… 

Rosalind Thorne, a “useful woman,” is back in A Counterfeit Suitor by Darcie Wilde. Having recently rejected a duke’s proposal, and having lost her housekeeper because of that choice, Rosalind is a bit adrift. Fortunately, her friend Alice is there to ground her, as she faces the greatest threat yet to her hard-won freedom.

Women of that era were rarely independent. Even if they built solid lives for themselves, it could be taken away by the courts and given to a male relative. So when Rosalind’s felon father escapes from her sister’s caretaking and is taken in by her enemy, she is understandably knocked for a loop. This happens at the same time as she is trying to organize a charity ball and help an anxious mother keep her daughter from possibly eloping. There are undercurrents there that threaten to sweep Rosalind away.

When Rosalind’s father is murdered, suspicion falls on her family, including her courtesan sister. Complicating the investigation are Rosalind’s feelings for Bow Street detective Adam Harkness, who is assigned to investigate the case. 

Wilde has written a wonderful mystery within a mystery for Rosalind to unravel. Bonapartists, blackmailers, forgers, and gamblers all combine in a knotty puzzle. It’s also good to see her interactions with Alice, and her childhood friend, Sebastian Faulks. Most of all, though, it’s good to see her start to examine her feelings for Adam, and admit to herself, and others, that she cares for him.

Book Review: The Return of the Pharaoh: From the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. (Nicholas Meyer Holmes Pastiches #5) by Nicholas Meyer

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 9th, 2021
Pages: 272, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In 1910, Dr. John Watson travels to Egypt with his wife Juliet. Her tuberculosis has returned and her doctor recommends a stay at a sanitarium in a dry climate. But while his wife undergoes treatment, Dr. Watson bumps into an old friend–Sherlock Holmes, in disguise and on a case. An English Duke with a penchant for egyptology has disappeared, leading to enquiries from his wife and the Home Office. 

Holmes has discovered that the missing duke has indeed vanished from his lavish rooms in Cairo and that he was on the trail of a previous undiscovered and unopened tomb. And that he’s only the latest Egyptologist to die or disappear under odd circumstances. With the help of Howard Carter, Holmes and Watson are on the trail of something much bigger, more important, and more sinister than an errant lord.

Watson’s wife has consumption, and they travel to a specialized clinic in Egypt to effect her recovery. Holmes is also in Cairo, hunting a missing nobleman who disappeared from an apparently non-existent hotel room. The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer takes Holmes and Watson on a hunt for a missing nobleman, and a long-dead Egyptian king. 

Nicholas Meyer captures Watson’s voice well, although I might quibble that his Watson is a bit more progressive than Conan Doyle’s. The story is interesting, and a few historical characters, such as Howard Carter, are scattered through, which will delight Egyptophiles. Naturally, there’s a mummy, as well as a tomb, and the duo must navigate not only the unfamiliar terrain, but the political landscape as well. England is still in full colonial mode, and still stinging from the defeat at the hands of the Mahdi some decades before.

If Watson is more progressive, Holmes is more fallible. The missing hotel room should not have taken him long to solve, even with the distraction of a dead waiter, and the arrival of his demanding client. There’s also a revelation toward the end of the book that could change their relationship. 

Would Conan Doyle have sent Holmes to Egypt to search for a missing lord? Maybe, maybe not, but the story is well-written and I felt Meyer did a good job capturing the characters and crafting an intriguing mystery.

Book Review: A Surprise for Christmas: And Other Seasonal Mysteries by Martin Edwards (Editor)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery Anthology
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: October 12th, 2021
Pages: 320, paperback
Source: NetGalley

A Postman murdered while delivering cards on Christmas morning. A Christmas pine growing over a forgotten homicide. A Yuletide heist gone horribly wrong. When there’s as much murder as magic in the air and the facts seem to point to the impossible, it’s up to the detective’s trained eye to unwrap the clues and neatly tie together an explanation (preferably with a bow on top).

Martin Edwards has once again gathered the best of these seasonal stories into a stellar anthology brimming with rare tales, fresh as fallen snow, and classics from the likes of Julian Symons, Margery Allingham, Anthony Gilbert and Cyril Hare. A most welcome surprise indeed, and perfect to be shared between super-sleuths by the fire on a cold winter’s night.

Anytime a new British Library Crime Classics comes out is like Christmas. A Surprise for Christmas and Other Seasonal Mysteries (bit of a mouthful, that), edited by Martin Edwards, is like a box of Christmas crackers. There’s something for everyone, and twelve stories in total, one for each day of Christmas.

There are the usual authors – Gilbert (as Malleson), Allingham, and Chesterton, but also a Loveday Brooke by Pirkis that I hadn’t seen before, and a Cyril Hare that I had, but still enjoyed. Like most anthologies, some of the stories are stronger than the others, and this isn’t one of the better Christmas collections by BLCC, but it’s well-worth a read, especially on a snowy Winter’s night.

Book Review: Murder in an English Glade (Beryl and Edwina Mystery #5) by Jessica Ellicott

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: October 26th, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

American adventuress Beryl Helliwell and reserved Brit Edwina Davenport may seem an unlikely pair, but they have reinvented themselves in the lean years following World War I as private enquiry agents. Now they’ve been engaged to stage a faux investigation–until murder makes it all too real… 

When a member of the Walmsley Parva upper crust, Constance Maitland, seeks to hire Beryl and Edwina for a sham investigation into an alleged dalliance by her sister-in-law Ursula to quell potentially scandalous accusations by an unstable cousin, it is with mixed feelings that they agree to pose as guests at her home, Maitland Park. Edwina is uncomfortable with the ruse, but Beryl is eager to escape tension with their feisty housekeeper and hobnob with bohemians as the Maitland family hosts an artists colony.

But when the painter suspected of having an affair with Ursula is found strangled beside his easel in a glade, the pretense turns into a genuine murder enquiry. With Maitland Park overrun by artists, every guest–not to mention family member–is now a suspect.

Beryl and Edwina must determine if they are dealing with a crime of passion or if there are more complex motives in play, which may include the family cigarette business, cutthroat artistic competition, or secrets from the war years. In any case, the intrepid sleuths will not leave until they have smoked out the real killer…

Beryl and Edwina are ostensibly investigating a case of adultery at an artist’s colony when one of the accused is found dead in Murder in an English Glade.

Beryl and Edwina are an odd couple that complement each other well. Beryl is (slowly) learning to temper her brashness and conviction that she knows the best way to manage things, and Edwina is opening up to even more change, both personally and professionally. Edwina even agrees to pose as an artist’s model in this book, so she’s come a long way in this fifth book in the series. 

This one was more reminiscent of Christie, with the artist’s colony, the possible adulterers, an eccentric poor relation, and a group of girl guides, one of whose precociousness may well get her killed. Even though many of the elements are familiar, Ellicott makes them seem fresh. I didn’t start suspecting who the killer was until fairly late in the novel. 

We learn a bit more of Beryl’s backstory and what she did during WWI. She and Edwina suffer a small misunderstanding that ends up strengthening their friendship and business partnership. Simpkins isn’t as present as much as he is in some of the other books, but he gives Beryl some food for thought, and helps her in her character growth.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I highly recommended it.