Book Review: A Treacherous Tale (The Cambridge Bookshop Series #2) by Elizabeth Penney

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2022
Pages: 288, mass market
Source: NetGalley

Lately, Molly has been feeling that she might have fallen into a fairy tale: she’s reinvigorated the family bookshop Thomas Marlowe—Manuscripts and Folios, made friends in her new home of Cambridge, England, and is even developing a bit of a romance with the handsome Kieran—a bike shop owner with a somewhat intimidating family pedigree.

Having recently discovered The Strawberry Girls, a classic children’s tale, Molly is thrilled to learn the author, Iona York, lives nearby. But while visiting the famous author at her lovely cottage in nearby Hazelhurst, an old acquaintance of Iona’s tumbles off her roof to his death.

Then, when one of Iona’s daughters—an inspiration for the original Strawberry Girls—goes missing, Molly begins to worry this story might be more Brothers Grimm than happily-ever-after. Especially after Molly learns about the mysterious long-ago death of Iona’s husband and co-author of The Strawberry Girls…could past and present crimes be linked? Molly must put the clues together before someone turns this sweet tale sour.

Molly Kimball, recent transplant from Vermont to Cambridge, is busy with her bookshop and her aristocratic beau, but when her uncle is suspected of murder, she flies on her bicycle to solve her second case.

In A Treacherous Tale, Molly is organizing an event with local author Iona York, who is coming out with a new edition of her classic children’s book. She visits Iona, only to discover the body of a local antiques dealer, who has fallen off the roof of Iona’s house, where Molly’s uncle was repairing the thatch.

Molly is a likeable heroine and has a great support system in her friends and family. While she does occasionally jump to a wrong conclusion, she generally follows the evidence and the reader is given all the clues they need to solve the case along with her. The secondary characters are important to the narrative, and don’t just serve to enhance Molly.

Penney is a solid cozy writer, and I hope there are many more in this series. I like the Cambridge Bookshop series, but I admit I’m more partial to Penney’s Apron Shop series. Both are well worth reading.

Book Review: Death at the Manor (Lily Adler Mystery #3) by Katharine Schellman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th, 2022
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London society. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, Lord and Lady Carroway, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family is delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Piqued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—but tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found smothered to death in her bed.

There was no one else in her room, and the door was locked from the inside. The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. The servants are keeping secrets. The local magistrate is flummoxed. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

Lily Adler’s third case is a death that may have been caused by a ghost. In Death at the Manor, Lily, along with her friends Lord and Lady Carroway, are on a visit to Lily’s aunt in Hampshire. There have been recent sightings of a “Grey Lady” at the local manor, so Lily and Ophelia wish to investigate. Matthew Spencer, who may or may not be a potential beau, is a neighbor of the Wrights, and assists with their investigation.

While good, this book may be suffering from sophomore slump, even though it’s the third in the series. I think this is largely due to the absence of Jack and Simon. Matthew may be a potential suitor, but he isn’t the foil for Lily the way the other two are. It was nice that Lily and Ophelia got to spend more time together, and we got to spend time with the Carroways as a couple and see more of their relationship.

I also think the book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, a Regency romance, a cozy mystery, or a gothic. It led to some slow pacing and an overall disjointedness. That said, it’s still a really good mystery on its own merits, and if I hadn’t had the previous two to which to compare, I’d probably have rated this one more highly.

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: 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.