Mystery

THE SILVER BLONDE by Elizabeth Ross

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Clara is ecstatic when the studio execs promote her to the film editing staff. After putting in her time in the film studio vault, she will now be a real member of the crew. It is her dream come true–a dream that would have been difficult enough for any woman to attain, let alone a German immigrant in 1946. But her triumph turns to horror when she stumbles on the body of film star Babe Bannon’s stand-in.

Everyone has a theory as to who killed poor Connie. After all, Babe has a slew of enemies in the studio and beyond, and it would be easy enough for someone to mistake the stand-in for the star. Same build, same costumes, same silver-blonde hair. But Clara isn’t convinced that Babe was the intended victim. When the cops let her return Connie’s belongings, Clara finds herself swept up in an investigation that endangers her job and brings her back in contact with the Nazi threat her family worked so hard to leave in the past.

I loved this atmospheric noir mystery! Though WWII historical fiction is ubiquitous, this novel takes a fresh look at the War (and post-War) in Hollywood and the subtle, insidious ways that ordinary people get swept up in hateful movements. There are frequent reminders of the many American Nazi sympathizers before Pearl Harbor (including famous figures like Walt Disney and Henry Ford) and the way microaggressions create a culture of discrimination. Though it is set in the past, this novel is (sadly) timely.

Adult fans of historical mysteries: do not let the YA label turn you off to this book! It is for you. Teen fans of historical fiction, noir fiction, and/or Old Hollywood will certainly enjoy the book as well, but THE SILVER BLONDE really exists in the mythical “New Adult” niche. All of the characters are 18+, some of them war veterans, struggling to advance their careers in misogynistic, antisemitic workplaces and reevaluating priorities when good career moves will take them away from family. While these themes aren’t inaccessible to teens, they will resonate most with college-age adults and 20- and 30-somethings. College book clubs will definitely want to check this one out!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Amazon.com: The Silver Blonde eBook: Ross, Elizabeth: Kindle Store

THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS by June Hur

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Hwani hasn’t returned to the island of Jeju in years—not since the Forest Incident, when she and her sister were found near the body of a murdered young woman, an incident which Hwani cannot remember.

But Hwani’s father never forgot. The woman’s murder was the one case Detective Min never solved, and the continued disappearance of young girls from the forest caused him to return to Jeju over the past five years. Until the day he disappeared. Disguised as a boy and clutching her father’s journal, Hwani returns to the village of her birth, determined to find her father and solve the mystery of the stolen girls. But when the mystery brings her to the door of her estranged sister, Hwani discovers that the forest isn’t the only source of secrets, and she begins to wonder if finding the truth of her past will be worth the cost.

Set in 15th century Korea, this historical mystery is suspenseful, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. It gripped me from start to end. Though it is YA, adult historical fiction readers will find lots to love here, too. My favorite book of the year so far, and a must-read for YA mystery or historical fiction fans!

THE BURNING GIRLS by C.J. Tudor

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Perhaps it’s best that the bishop is reassigning Jack. After all, she doesn’t enjoy being “the vicar with blood on her hands.” Maybe in getting away from Nottingham, she and her teenage daughter, Flo, can escape the scandal, escape the memories of little Ruby–and Jack’s husband–and start anew.

But Chapel Croft, Sussex, might be just a bit too far from the life she and Flo know. The isolated country parish isn’t enthusiastic about a female vicar. And Jack soon learns that Chapel Croft has scandals of its own. From the legends of the two young girls burned to death in the sixteenth century (and allegedly still haunting the chapel) to the disappearance of two teenage girls in the ’90s to the suicide of Jack’s predecessor, the village has a dark past. It isn’t long before Jack and Flo get sucked into the mysteries–all of which seem to point back to the Church itself.

I literally read this book in one sitting. The e-reader did not leave my hands until I got to the end. It’s dark and layered–full of twists to keep you guessing and underlying questions about the nature of evil, spirituality, and free will. Whether you are a fan of psychological thrillers, suspense-heavy mysteries, or Kingian horror, this is one you’ll definitely want to check out!

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’.