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.

Book Review: A Baffling Murder at the Midsummer Ball (A Dizzy Heights Mystery #2) by T.E. Kinsey

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: July 27th, 2021
Pages: 318, paperback
Source: NetGalley

A locked room. A mysterious death. Just another gig for the Dizzy Heights.

When London’s finest jazz musicians, the Dizzy Heights, are booked to play the glitzy Midsummer Ball at a country house in Oxfordshire, they expect a weekend filled with flappers and toffs having a roaring good time.

But the festivities at Bilverton House take a turn for the worse when the group are stranded by a summer storm. And when a member of the Bilverton family turns up dead in a locked room in an apparent suicide, Skins, Dunn and Ellie realise this is going to be a much tougher gig than they thought.

But here’s the lick. What if it was in fact cold-blooded murder? And what if the killer is still at large? It’s up to the Dizzy Heights to once again put down their instruments and get improvising if they want to solve this confounding mystery.

I love T E Kinsey’s Lady Hardcastle series, and enjoyed Skins and Dunn in those books. I admit, though, that I’m struggling to enjoy this spinoff series as well as the original one. A Baffling Murder at the Midsummer Ball is the second Dizzy Heights mystery. Kinsey’s writing is witty, the characters are engaging, and the story well-told. I adore country house and locked-room mysteries, and this combines both.

But…

I figured out whodunnit about 22% of the way in. Normally, that doesn’t bother me too much, but since the quality of the writing is so high, I think I expected the puzzle to be a bit more, well, puzzling. 

The band and entourage comprise a large number of characters, which, in addition to the family and servants at the country house, sometimes made it hard to keep up. Also, some of the characters, such as Skins and Izzie, are called by both their given and nicknames by other characters. 

Spoiler question: How did the murderer know there would be someone by the study when the gunshot sounded?

Book Review: Silence in the Library (Lily Adler Mystery #2) by Katharine Schellman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: July 13th, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Regency widow Lily Adler didn’t expect to find a corpse when visiting a family friend. Now it’s up to her to discover the killer in the charming second installment in the Lily Adler mysteries.

Regency widow Lily Adler has just started to feel settled into her new London home when her semi-estranged father arrives, intending to stay with her while he recovers from an illness. To placate and avoid him, she takes his place in a social visit with Lady Wyatt, a woman Lily doesn’t know. But when Lily arrives for her second visit, she finds the household in an uproar: Sir Charles, Lady Wyatt’s much older husband and a friend of Lily’s father, is dead in his library. All signs indicate that he tripped and struck his head on the mantelpiece. But when Bow Street constable Simon Page is called to the scene, he suspects that Sir Charles was murdered.
Mr. Page was there when Lily caught her first murderer, and he trusts her insight into the world of London’s upper class. With the help of Captain Jack Hartley, they piece together the reasons that Sir Charles’ wife, sons, and nephew might have wanted him dead. But everyone who might have profited from the old man’s death seems to have an
alibi. With no clear suspect, the trio nearly conclude that the death was an accident after all… until Lily receives a mysterious summons to speak with one of the Wyatts’ maids, only to find the young woman dead from poison when she arrives.
Mr. Page believes the surviving family members are hiding the key to Sir Charles’ death, and it isn’t long before Lily realizes that her father may know what it is. To uncover the truth, Lily must convince the father who doesn’t trust or respect her to help catch his friend’s killer before anyone else in the Wyatt household dies.

Silence in the Library is the second book in Katharine Schellman’s Lily Adler mystery series. The book opens with Lily returning to her London home to find her father paying an unexpected and unwelcome visit. Her overbearing father manipulates her into calling on his friend and country neighbor, Sir Charles Wyatt, to congratulate him on his recent remarriage.

Lily and her friend Jack Hartley call upon the Wyatts. Sir Charles’ son, Frank, and his nephew, Percy, are also present, and there is some unpleasantness involving missing money that Lily quickly sorts out. Sir Charles’ wife, Winifred, invites Jack and Lily to ride with her the next morning, but when they arrive at the house, they discover that Sir Charles has been murdered.

Readers may figure out the motive and “whodunnit” fairly early on, but the story is strong, and the relationships between the characters are interesting. I’m not entirely convinced of how sympathetically many of the book’s inhabitants treated the neurodivergent characters, given that this was the Regency period, but did find it believable that Lily and her friends would not be prejudiced against someone who was different in some ways.

Book Review: A Rogue’s Company (Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery #3) by Allison Montclaire

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: June 8th, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In Allison Monclair’s A Rogue’s Company, business becomes personal for the Right Sort Marriage Bureau when a new client, a brutal murder, two kidnappings, and the recently returned from Africa Lord Bainbridge threatens everything that one of the principals holds dear.

In London, 1946, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting on its feet and expanding. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go of it. That is until Lord Bainbridge—the widowed Gwen’s father-in-law and legal guardian—returns from a business trip to Africa and threatens to undo everything important to her, even sending her six-year-old son away to a boarding school.

But there’s more going on than that. A new client shows up at the agency, one whom Sparks and Bainbridge begin to suspect really has a secret agenda, somehow involving the Bainbridge family. A murder and a subsequent kidnapping sends Sparks to seek help from a dangerous quarter—and now their very survival is at stake. 

Things are looking up for Gwen and Iris in A Rogue’s Company, the latest Sparks and Bainbridge mystery by Allison Montclair. They’ve just expanded their marriage bureau and hired a new employee. Gwen feels she’s close to regaining custody of her son, and her relationship with her mother-in-law has become, if not close, at least no longer adversarial. 

The unexpected, and very unwelcome, arrival of Gwen’s father-in-law upsets them both, as it leads to trouble for Gwen, two kidnappings, and the making of some deals which may have long-term repercussions. Amidst this, Gwen and the her family are forced to reexamine the way their class views those of other cultures, and the way the British have treated their colonies.

While I love Gwen and Iris, Sally is my favorite character, and I was very glad to see him as an active character in this book. True, it’s still a case of him coming whenever either Iris or Gwen calls, but he seems content to hang on the periphery of their world, at least for now.

Iris is sassy, as always, but we do see a bit of a vulnerable side, as she faces what she had to do, and give up, during the war when she worked as a spy. She also interacts more with Gwen’s son, Ronnie, and we see that maybe she’s not the “tough broad” she makes out to be.

Readers may guess what’s behind the kidnappings before Gwen and Iris do, but the writing crackles, and the characters are so wonderful, that the mystery isn’t as important as the connections between them all.

Highly recommended, along with the rest of the series.

Book Review: Death in Daylesford (Phryne Fisher #21) by Kerry Greenwood

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: June 1st, 2021
Pages: 336, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Taking the waters has never been more delicious–or dangerous…

When a mysterious invitation for a spa holiday arrives for Miss Phryne Fisher from an unknown retired Captain Herbert Spencer, Phryne’s curiosity is piqued. Spencer runs a retreat in Victoria’s rural spa country for shell-shocked veterans of World War I. It’s a cause after Phryne’s own heart, but what can Spencer want from her?

Phryne and her faithful servant Dot set out for Daylesford, viewing their rural sojourn as a short holiday. While Dot gets to know the remarkable women who run the hotel where they are lodging, Phryne enjoys an enticing meal–and dessert–with the attractive Captain Spencer. But their relaxation is short-lived as they are thrown into treacherous Highland gatherings, a mysterious case of disappearing women, and a string of murders committed under their very noses. Meanwhile, back at home, Phryne’s three wards are busy solving a mystery of their own when a schoolmate is found floating facedown near the docks–and pregnant at the time of her death.

With her usual pluck and deft thinking, Phryne methodically investigates the strange goings-on in this anything-but-tranquil spa town.

Phryne and Dot visit a small town with big secrets in Death in Daylesford, the latest from Kerry Greenwood in the Phryne Fisher mystery series.

While the titular mystery gets most of the attention, there is a submystery that Phryne’s wards, Jane, Ruth, and Tinker, solve handily, with help from Dot’s police beau, Hugh. All the characters put in at least a brief appearance.

Phryne and Dot investigate the disappearances of several women in rural Australia, as well as the murders of several men. Are the crimes being done for love or money…or both?

Phryne is her effervescent self in this one, choosing her lovers and her libations with care. The book has a different tone than some of the earlier ones, and Phryne seems less patient with some foibles she might have shrugged off in earlier novels.

Still, it’s a solid entry in the series, and fans and newcomers alike will enjoy it and cheer Phryne on.

Highly recommended. 

Book Review: Auntie Poldi and the Lost Madonna (Auntie Poldi #4) by Mario Giordano

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: May 18th, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

There’s only one Auntie Poldi: bewigged, cursing in Bavarian, and knocking back a wee shot of grappa as a pre-breakfast aperitif . . . or is there? No one is as they seem (and sound) in this hilarious new mystery featuring Sicily’s sultriest sleuth.

Strange dealings are afoot in the Apostolic Palace—a nun leapt to her death shortly after participating in a seemingly routine exorcism. But when a priest clad in Gammarelli and a Vatican commissario with an almost unholy level of sex appeal turn up at her door, Poldi is shocked to hear that she’s a suspect in their case.

Who is the woman being exorcised, and where has she disappeared to? And why in the world does she claim, in perfect Bavarian, to be Poldi, Isolde Oberreiter, of Torre Archirafi?

Poldi will need all the help she can get to clear her name, but her nephew has been distracted by a love affair gone sour, someone in the town has been spraying graffiti death threats on her front door, and her local friends seem to be avoiding her. And even Vito Montana balks when Poldi discovers that the case hinges on a lost Madonna statue, stolen years ago from the pope himself.

Forza, Poldi! With a pair of mysterious twins dogging her every move and a mandate to maintain sobriety, will Poldi be able to find the lost statue in time, and survive her sixty-first birthday?

Poldi’s nephew is back from the City of Lights and once again takes us on a rollicking ride, propelled by the (somewhat plausible) adventures of his sexagenarian Sicilian-Bavarian sleuth, Auntie Poldi. Take one beehive wig, a liter of grappa, a dash of Baron Munchausen, and a cup of Auntie Mame, and you might just end up with Poldi.

Auntie Poldi and the Lost Madonna begins with an exorcism, where the possessed claims to be Poldi. Soon after, one of the nuns who witnessed the exorcism plunges to her death. Poldi sneaks in to the Vatican to investigate, and uncovers an unholy conspiracy. Encounters include the Pope, twins in fluorescent sneakers, a doppelganger, and, of course, Death and his clipboard.

Poldi’s nephew’s character growth continues, as does his attempt at writing a novel of his own. Given the plotline of that, you do have to wonder how many of the embellishment’s to Poldi’s stories are from Poldi herself.

We also learn the history of the Sad Signora.

Poldi and Vito team up in this latest outing, and their relationship is forever altered. As in the preceding novel, Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio, the Lost Madonna has several red herrings, and Poldi must face her past in order to save her future.

The writing, as always, is exquisite. I don’t know how much to attribute to Giordano, the author, and Brownjohn, the translator, but between the two, they produce magic. Go be mesmerized by Poldi.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: A Fatal First Night (An Ella Shane Mystery #2) by Kathleen Marple Kalb

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: HIstorical mystery
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: April 27th, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Set in Gilded Age New York, Kathleen Marple Kalb’s adventurous new historical mystery series returns for its second installment starring the swashbuckling opera singer Ella Shane, an Irish-Jewish Lower East Side orphan who finds fame and fortune singing male trouser roles. But while her opera company’s latest premier manages to attract adoring crowds and rave reviews, it also attracts a killer who’s a real showstopper…

New York City, Fall 1899. Ahead-of-her-time coloratura mezzo Ella Shane has always known opening night to be a mess of missed cues and jittery nerves, especially when unveiling a new opera. Her production of The Princes in the Tower, based on the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s two sons during the Wars of the Roses in England, concludes its first performance to thunderous applause. It’s not until players take their bows that the worst kind of disaster strikes…

Flawless basso Albert Reuter is found lurched over a bloody body in his dressing room, seemingly taking inspiration from his role as the murderous Richard III. With a disturbing homicide case stealing the spotlight, Ella can’t be so certain Albert is the one who belongs behind bars…

Now, Ella must think on her feet while sorting out a wild series of puzzling mishaps and interlocking mysteries. Yet even when sided with her aristocratic beau, does this scrappy diva have the chops to upstage the true criminal, or will this be the last time she headlines a Broadway marquee?

Opera diva-detective Ella Shane is back in Kathleen Marple Kalb’s A Fatal First Night. When one of her cast is murdered, and another is imprisoned, Ella must “determine to prove a villain” and save her company, all while staging an opera based on the princes in the tower. Her prospective beau, Gil, has come over from Britain on a quest he can’t tell Ella about, but which involves a beautiful widow.

Ella’s voice is much clearer in this second book. She also doesn’t mention every other chapter how hard the world is and how she does what she can to make it better. It’s nice to see a progressive cast of characters in a Gilded Age cozy mystery, and Ella handles racism against one of her cast as she handled homophobia against her cousin, straightforward and not tolerating the perpetrators for a moment. She shelters her loved ones and casts her net wide to help those in need.

It’s understandable that she does not want to give up the freedom that her career offers to enter into a formal relationship with Gil, and even nicer that Gil, and Ella’s friends, do not push her to do so. She does waffle a great deal, though, and she and Gil talk about their future children and marriage as though things were settled, when they have only an “understanding,” and not a formal engagement.

One small fact check – there are no polar bears in Antarctica, as mentioned by Ella’s housekeeper after she attended an “improving lecture.”

Recommended, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when Ella and her company cross the pond in the next book.

Book Review: Murder at Wedgefield Manor (A Jane Wunderly Mystery #2) by Erica Ruth Neubauer

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Historical mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: March 31st, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In the wake of World War I, Jane Wunderly–a thoroughly modern young American widow–is traveling abroad, enjoying the hospitality of an English lord and a perfectly proper manor house, until murder makes an unwelcome appearance…

England, 1926: Wedgefield Manor, deep in the tranquil Essex countryside, provides a welcome rest stop for Jane and her matchmaking Aunt Millie before their return to America. While Millie spends time with her long-lost daughter, Lillian, and their host, Lord Hughes, Jane fills the hours devouring mystery novels and taking flying lessons–much to Millie’s disapproval. But any danger in the air is eclipsed by tragedy on the ground when one of the estate’s mechanics, Air Force veteran Simon Marshall, is killed in a motorcar collision.

The sliced brake cables prove this was no accident, yet was the intended victim someone other than Simon? The house is full of suspects–visiting relations, secretive servants, strangers prowling the grounds at night–and also full of targets. The enigmatic Mr. Redvers, who helped Jane solve a murder in Egypt, arrives on the scene to once more offer his assistance. It seems that everyone at Wedgefield wants Jane to help protect the Hughes family. But while she searches for answers, is she overlooking a killer hiding in plain sight?

Murder at Wedgefield Manor is the sequel to Murder at the Mena House, by Erica Ruth Neubauer. Jane and her aunt, Millie, are in England, at the country house of Millie’s former (and possibly current) lover, Lord Hughes. Tragedy strikes when one of the estate’s workers is killed in an auto accident that turns out to be murder. Redvers shows up, and he and Jane must solve the case.

The series is off to a great start. Jane is a likeable heroine, and Aunt Millie isn’t quite as intolerable and overbearing in this book. Jane picks up another potential love interest, and shows that she isn’t bound by her abusive past or by all the conventions society placed upon women of that time. Jane is taking flying lessons in addition to her sleuthing.

While there are lots of suspects and potential motives, the mystery is not terribly complex, and readers may guess the culprit well before the end of the book. Don’t let that deter you. This is an engaging cozy mystery and I recommend this series.

Book Review: Fatal Fried Rice (A Noodle Shop Mystery #7) by Vivien Chien

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: March 9th, 2021
Pages: 320, mass market paperback
Source: NetGalley

Lana Lee returns for another delectable cozy set in a Chinese restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio in Vivien Chien’s Fatal Fried Rice

Lana Lee runs her family’s Chinese restaurant in Cleveland’s Asia Village like nobody’s business. When it comes to actual cooking, however, she’s known to be about a step up from boiling rice. So Lana decides to go to culinary school on the sly―and prove that she has what it takes in the kitchen after all. But when course instructor Margo Chan turns up dead after class, Lana suddenly finds herself on the case, frying pan in hand.

Since she was the one who discovered the body, Lana must do double duty in finding the killer and clearing her name. Now, with or without the help of her boyfriend Detective Adam
Trudeau, Lana launches her own investigation into Margo’s life and mysterious death. Doing so leads her on a wild goose chase to and from the culinary school―and all the way back to the Ho-Lee noodle shop, where the guilty party may be closer than Lana thinks.

Fatal Fried Rice is the seventh installment in the Noodle House mystery series featuring Lana Lee. Lana has signed up for Asian cooking classes in order to surprise her coworkers and family. She discovers the body of her teacher and becomes one of the prime suspects after butting heads with the lead detective.

This is a stronger novel than Killer Kung Pao, the sixth in the series. Lana flails around much less in this book, and doesn’t jump to as many conclusions. In fact, she may jump to too few conclusions, leading her to land in trouble once again.

The plot in this one is a bit weaker than in other books, too, as is the killer’s motive. Lana once again disregards the advice of several of her friends, relying on her somewhat questionable instincts and luck to serve up the killer. Lana is a lot of fun to read about, though, as are her relationships with her friends, family, and Asian Village community. This may not be the life and career she chose, but she’s made it work for her.

Recommended.

I was given a free copy by NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Lady Compromised (Rosalind Thorne #4) by Darcie Wilde

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: November 24th, 2020
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: Library

Fans of Jane Austen have fallen in love with Darcie Wilde’s mystery series featuring Rosalind Thorne, a young woman adept at helping ladies of the ton navigate the darker corners of Regency England–while revealing Society’s most shocking secrets…

Rosalind is pleased when she’s invited to Cassel House to help her friend, Louisa, prepare for her upcoming wedding. But that’s not the only event on her agenda. The trip will also afford Rosalind the chance to see Devon Winterbourne, the newly minted Duke of Casselmaine. Devon and Rosalind were on the verge of betrothal before the infamous Thorne family scandal derailed their courtship. Now Rosalind wonders if there’s a chance their love might reignite.

Devon is as handsome as Rosalind remembers and it’s clear the attraction they once shared hasn’t waned. But their time together is interrupted by one crisis after another–not the least of which is an awkwardly timed request for help from Louisa’s friend, Helen Corbyn.

Not long ago, the untimely death of Helen’s brother, William, was ruled a suicide, but few people truly believe he took his own life. Helen needs to know what really happened–especially since she’s engaged to the man some suspect of secretly killing William.

While Rosalind desperately wants to help, she fears her efforts might cast a pall over Louisa’s nuptials, not to mention her reunion with Devon. But when another untimely death rocks the ton, Rosalind has no choice but to uncover the truth before more people die…even if her actions threaten her future with Devon.

NOTE: There are spoilers for the book in this review!

The second half of A Lady Compromised was better than the first half, where Wilde purposely sidelines Rosalind in order to show that she doesn’t quite fit in with the setting. Because of this sidelining, the POV switches multiple times in several chapters, causing Rosalind to feel like a secondary player in her own story. This gets resolved almost half way through and things go better from there, but the first half was a struggle to get through.

A lot of characters are involved in the mystery of A Lady Compromised, to the point where I had trouble keeping track of a few and their relation to each other. It felt a little too spread out, and while I realize you need multiple red herrings for your mystery novel, something about the number of characters here was just a bit too much. Wilde brings up a lot of different moving parts and doesn’t quite successfully juggle all of them. For instance, there’s one point where Devon’s mother implies that Devon killed his brother to Rosalind, and in Rosalind’s next chapter, when she sees Devon, she makes no internal mention of it at all. Why bring that up and then not even have Rosalind make a small mention of it immediately afterward? Maybe it was to show that she trusted Devon too much to buy into his mother’s suspicion, but it still seemed odd.

I also question the resolution of the mystery. It felt too neat. Devon had the coroner falsify the death record by saying the victim died by accident, when Devon believes he died by suicide, to save the family the grief. This isn’t brought up in the rushed final chapter which details the trial. Was it not brought up? Did the coroner stick to the accident story when that would have put his reputation on the line? There’s no mention of it at all in the end, so I suppose it was just ignored. 

Still, I enjoy the way Wilde is able to incorporate all the little details of manners that everyone has to follow in high society and never make it seem like an info-dump or have it slow down the pace of a scene. I always feel a little constrained when I read these books because Wilde is great at showing how constrained life was for everyone, but especially women, in Regency England. I still love the characters in this novel, and I still adore this series. A Lady Compromised simply wasn’t my favorite of the series.