Mystery

A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by Sherry Thomas

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Charlotte Holmes is utterly unsuited to marriage. She thrives on intellectual puzzles, little to no conversation, and an unhealthy sweets consumption that frequently leads her perilously close to her Maximum Tolerable Chins; none of this would endear her to the typical Victorian husband. She fended off marriage proposals bravely until her 25th year, under the assumption that her father would honor his promise to pay for her education. When he reneges, she does the only logical thing: renders herself ineligible for marriage through a sexual liaison with an unprincipled and unhappily-married gentleman.

Alas, his domineering mother catches them in the act, and scandal ensues. Charlotte flees her irate parents, only to discover that it is far more difficult than she expected for a “fallen woman” to find work. Furthermore, when the unhappily-married gentleman’s mother winds up dead, Charlotte’s sister becomes implicated in a murder inquiry. With the help of the widowed Mrs. Watson (a middle-aged former actress) and her old friend (and love of her life) Lord Ingram, Charlotte sets out to do what she does best–observe, make conclusions, and solve puzzles that baffle even the most intrepid and clever police inspectors.

Of course no one would believe the deductions of fallen woman and society scandal Miss Charlotte Holmes. The mysterious, bedridden, (entirely fiction) Mr. Sherlock Holmes however….

Sherry Thomas breaks out of the romance genre with a thrilling, funny, well-plotted, and (yes) romantic mystery series with a strong cast of characters and an immersive historical world that will keep readers rapt and turning pages. I read them all, then immediately read them again. Can’t wait for another LADY SHERLOCK book!

A Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series Book 1) - Kindle edition  by Thomas, Sherry. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

A CURIOUS BEGINNING by Deanna Raybourn

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Veronica Speedwell has no interest in becoming a mother of six. So she tells the Vicar’s wife after her Aunt Nell’s funeral. After all, with Aunt Nell gone, she no longer has ties in England and can immediately undertake another of her expeditions to the tropics, her bread and butter as a lepidopterist hunting rare butterflies. And while she’s abroad, she can engage in some healthy and commitment-free sexual release with a like-minded, anonymous man or two. Marriage to a boring English gentleman with a sizable brood of his own? Thank you, but no.

But before Veronica can embark on her expedition, she is assaulted by a thug and then rescued by a middle-aged German baron who claims to know her parents–of whom Veronica has no knowledge herself. The baron escorts her to London, leaving her in the care of a taxidermist and naturalist named Stoker. Before he can return for her, however, the baron is murdered. Fleeing for their own safety, Veronica and Stoker form a reluctant alliance to find the baron’s murderer and Veronica’s assailant–and on the way, discover a startling truth about Veronica’s parentage.

A suspenseful, action-packed mystery with a touch of romance, A CURIOUS BEGINNING starts off a series with a delightfully nonconformist Victorian feminist for a narrator and a surly but noble love interest/partner in slightly-criminal-criminal-investigation. Very fun read with plenty of thrills to keep you turning pages!

(Just FYI, Book 4 is my favorite.)

THE CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters

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At 32, Amelia Peabody is undeniably a spinster–and she intends to stay that way. To escape the host of unwanted and opportunistic suitors that descended after her father’s death, she takes her sizeable inheritance and sets off on a journey to explore the world.

She never gets past Egypt.

When she stops to tour Amarna, she and her companion, Evelyn, learn that the archaeologist Evelyn loves–and his infuriating brother, Emerson–have been hit with a fever. In the course of nursing (the ungrateful) Emerson back to health, Amelia gets swept up in a thrilling mystery involving a (seemingly) animated mummy that will draw her closer to her one true love (Egypt) and the man that unfortunately seems to meet her at every turn.

One if my favorite, favorite book series ever, Amelia Peabody starts out as Victorian romantic suspense, through later books fall solidly in the mystery category. Intentionally over the top, and an inevitable page turner, this is a great, classic read for anyone who loves mystery with a dash of romance or romance with a dash of mystery.

A SPY IN THE HOUSE by Y.S. Lee

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Mary Yang should have been hanged. She would have been–in fact–had the headmistresses of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls not been interested in her promising skills and personality. Because more than an Academy, Miss Scrimshaw’s is a cover for a feminist spy ring called the Agency. And at 17, Mary (now under the pseudonym of Mary Quinn) is ready for her first assignment. She infiltrates the household of wealthy merchant as a companion for his vapid daughter in the hopes of finding clues as to the whereabouts of missing cargo ships. It is supposed to be an easy job for a beginning agent. But Mary and her supervisors didn’t count on the presence of a charismatic (and persistent) young man. Or on the fact that this particular job has a connection to Mary’s long-buried past….

A fun Victorian mystery with crossover appeal for teens and adults, A SPY IN THE HOUSE is the first in THE AGENCY series. Lee has a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, and her credentials show in her meticulous world-building. Recommend to readers who (like me!) enjoy a touch of romance in their mysteries.

MURDER ON BLACK SWAN LANE by Andrea Penrose

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The Earl of Wrexford is used to being skewered by the press. His “ungentlemanly” interest in chemical experimentation and his scandalous liaisons with members of the opposite sex lend themselves to artistic satire. But the cartoonist A.J. Quill rankles him. It’s more than the tone of Quill’s cartoons–it’s how disturbingly accurate his information is. It’s almost as though Quill is following him around, although Wrexford is sure he would have noticed such surveillance.

Charlotte is good at what she does. Since taking over her husband’s artistic pseudonym after his death, she has managed to keep the creditors at bay and to support herself and the two young urchins she’s taken under her wing–who also happen to supply her with the juiciest gossip for her cartoons. But when their inside information leads her to a murder scene, she ends up embroiled in a mystery involving not just her husband’s mysterious past, but the one man she’s hoped most to avoid: the Earl of Wrexford.

This Regency mystery series has a secret society, a handful of comic characters, and a touch of romantic tension. I wouldn’t recommend it to pure romance readers, however, since the romantic moments are fleeting and unfulfilled. This will more likely appeal to readers of historical mysteries who like unconventional heroes/heroines, over-the-top premises, and a bit of suspense.

THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith

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Robin is thrilled when the temp agency assigns her to a private detective’s office. Detective work was always a secret dream of hers. But Cormoran Strike isn’t exactly the glamorous private eye she imagined. Having recently split up with his fiancee, he is living on a camp bed in his office, dining on Pot Noodle, and putting off the inevitable day when he’ll have to make a visit to the doctor to have the increasingly painful stump of his amputated leg examined. Also, he’s broke. And if he doesn’t get a case soon, he’ll face the wrath of already impatient creditors.

But Strike’s luck turns when John Bristow enters his office. Though supermodel Lula Landry’s death was thoroughly covered by the police–and the press–Bristow doesn’t believe that his adopted sister committed suicide. He peppers Strike with alternate conspiracy theories and begs him to take the case. Although Strike doubts to find anything, he doesn’t have the heart–or the money–to turn Bristow down. And as he and Robin begin to methodically reexamine the evidence, they gradually realize that not only was Lula Landry murdered, but other lives may be in danger as well.

Obviously Rowling (aka Galbraith) is a phenomenal writer, but in this novel she proves mastery not only of characters and prose but of the mystery genre. Meticulously plotted, with plenty of clues and plenty of misdirection, THE CUCKOO’S CALLING has all of the information you need to solve the mystery ahead of the big reveal, but presents that information in such a way that the resolution will very likely come as a surprise. It has a gradual start, but keep reading–it’s worth it!

This is an excellent audiobook as well.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie –and– MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

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The bottom line: the film is good, but the book is better.

Renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling on the Orient Express when a murder occurs. He quickly determines that the victim, an American, was traveling under an assumed name and was really the infamous gangster Cassetti, responsible for the murder of an infant in America years earlier. With the train stopped due to an avalanche, Poirot has a captive group of suspects–each more suspicious than the last–and begins to interview them, methodically as is his custom, to determine which among them is the murderer.

While enjoyable, the film was not a stand-out. The cast is star-studded (and it’s convenient to have Johnny Depp in a role where you’re supposed to hate him) but ultimately, the film stepped a bit too far over the line toward melodrama. I blame Branagh. What I love from an Agatha Christie mystery is the suspense drawn out through carefully plotted revelations, perfectly dropped clues, and an overabundance of sinister characters to suspect. This was all certainly present in the film, and the acting was good. But we really didn’t need a gunfight. Just sayin’.

MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz

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When an editor receives the final installment in famous author Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd mystery series, she is immediately sucked into the story.  A housekeeper has died falling down the stairs–a seeming accident.  But when the wealthy estate owner is decapitated at the foot of the same staircase days later, it must be connected.  Detective Atticus Pünd hadn’t intended to take any more cases since he learned he is dying.  But the facts of the case are too strange to pass up.  It seems everyone in the village had a motive for one or both murders, and yet none of the motives seem to explain all of the events.  As the novel draws to a close and Pünd is about to reveal the murderer, the editor realizes that there is a chapter missing.  She puts in a call to her boss, asking him to contact the author, and instead receives startling news:  the author is dead–an apparent suicide.  It turns out that he, like his character Pünd, was dying of cancer.  But something doesn’t sit right about the author’s death, and as the editor searches for the final chapter of his manuscript, she begins to suspect that he may have been murdered, as well.

This intriguing double mystery reads a bit like an Agatha Christie.  It is riddled with quirky suspects and red herrings–both in the framing story and the mystery “novel” within.  I found the Pünd plotline more engaging at first, as it took me a little while to get into the framing mystery once the Pünd story abruptly ended.  But it was a neat concept and definitely kept me reading to the end.  I recommend it to fans of classic whodunit mysteries.

THE PERFECT COUPLE by Elin Hilderbrand

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The maid of honor’s body washed up on the Nantucket beach the morning of the wedding.  It was the bride who found her.  Needless to say, the wedding was canceled.  Now it is up to the chief and his lead detective to interview the shell-shocked bridal party and figure out what happened.  The simplest explanation, of course, would be that it was an accident.  Girl has too much to drink, goes for a late night swim, washes up on the beach the next morning.  But what about the abandoned kayak that belongs to the father of the groom?  Why does the other bridesmaid seem so reluctant to discuss the MOH’s love life?  Why was the bride on the beach so early in the morning carrying a suitcase?  And where is the best man?  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone has at least one secret and no one is as perfect as they seem.

A character-driven mystery, this novel will appeal to some mystery fans, but also realistic fiction fans who like some good old-fashioned family dysfunction.  In the end, exactly what happened is less important than the complex web of relationships between the characters.  A fast and enjoyable summer read!

THE WORD IS MURDER by Anthony Horowitz

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On the day that she visited the funeral home to arrange her own funeral, Diana Cowper was murdered. Author Anthony Horowitz might never have been aware of the somewhat unsensational murder of elderly mother of a relatively well-known actor if he had not been approached by Daniel Hawthorne, an abrasive former detective turned police consultant with an unusual proposition. Hawthorne suggests that Anthony shadow him on the case and turn the events into a murder mystery story, which Hawthorne is certain will be a bestseller, due not so much to the intrigue of the case but to Hawthorne’s particular brilliance as a detective. Although he is off-put by Hawthorne’s egotism and other personality flaws and fears that such a book would be difficult to sell, Anthony finds the circumstances of Diana Cowper’s death so unusual and engaging that he must know what happens to her. And unless he agrees to Hawthorne’s book, he might never find out how the story ends. As the investigation unfolds, Anthony learns more dark secrets than he ever expected about Diana, her son, and Hawthorne himself. But every time he thinks of quitting, the mystery spurs him on, until he begins to wonder if he, the writer, is destined to solve it himself.

This meta-literary mystery is a fun, suspenseful read with enough twists, red herrings, and maddening clues to keep you going to the very end. The meta-literary framing, along with the brilliant yet barely likeable detective, sets the story as a kind of modern Sherlock Holmes novel, although the characters of the detective and record-keeping assistant are far from Holmes/Watson clones. I suspect this mystery may not be for everyone, as the meta-literary format is somewhat unique and experimental, but personally, I loved it. I particularly loved the moments when theories I had ended up being theories that Anthony would pursue–and then later have scornfully debunked by Hawthorne. I recommend it to mystery readers who like character-driven novels and who are open to interesting framing devices.