The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford

thedarknessA 1930s radio star is thrown together with a private eye when she’s next in line for murder.

Starting out as a secretary, ambitious Vivian lands an high-profile role on the radio show The Darkness Knows. After a platonic date with her smoldering co-star Graham, she discovers the body of Marjorie, an established star that nobody liked. The only thing worse than finding the dead body is discovering she’s named by the killer.

She’s protected by a handsome dark horse, the private eye Charlie Haverman, like a classic if somewhat kinder Philip Marlowe. The two of them end up in compromising and dangerous situations (sometimes both at the same time) in their quest to uncover a killer. Everyone’s keeping something back about the murder, even the private eye. And Viv’s dealing with the ongoing threat of her jobs being yanked away, especially with the equally ambitious Frances fighting her for every role.

The setting of Chicago in the 1930s is well captured without overwhelming. Vivian’s got gumption and she’s determined to have a career in an era where women were expected to work only until they got married. She isn’t perfect, but her flaws only serve to make her more human.

The mystery angle was well done and there were plenty of red herrings. The murderer was not obvious but seemed to come a little out of nowhere, I thought there could’ve been a few more clues thrown in.

Definitely looking forward to the next book, I hope to see more of 1930s Chicago and slowly learn more about Vivian and Charlie.

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.
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Heirs and Graces by Rhys Bowen

heirsAn entertaining historical romance blended with mystery, very Downton Abbey.

In book #7 of the Royal Spyness series we meet Georgianna (Georgie), 35th in line for the throne and rather hard up for cash. After trying to write her flighty actress mother’s memoirs, Georgie winds up being asked to help the Dowager Duchess of Eynsford.

It seems the current duke is a bit of a man’s man and has no heirs, whereas his sister’s children cannot inherit due to the entail. Eynsford will therefore pass back to the crown as soon as the current duke dies.

But the Dowager Duchess is determined not to let the estate return to the crown, so she finds Jack, a male heir in Australia. Due to his normal upbringing, his manners are clearly not that of a “proper” English duke, so she wants Georgie to help him. Also on the scene is Georgie’s unofficial and handsome Irish fiancé, Darcy.

The murder occurs halfway through the book – overall this is a tad light on the mystery angle. Although there are red herrings a plenty and a case could be made for a few suspects, the murderer is fairly obvious early on. There’s not a lot at stake for Georgie in her personal life nor as a result of the murder. But Georgie is charming and energetic, her narration comes across like the confidences of a good friend a la Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I enjoyed the readability and the bright picture painted of the 1920s.

A Deadly Affection by Cuyler Overholt

DeadlyA romantic historical mystery brimming with loss and forgiveness.

A Deadly Affection brings to mind the books of Anne Perry and Deanna Raybourn. The setting is fresh and alive, an engaging portrayal of 1907 New York. Dr. Summerford is trying to succeed as a woman in a crowded medical profession, difficult enough, while dealing with a past full of the sadness she tries to cure in others.

Her honourable father wants her to use her talents properly, instead of wasting them on untested mental theories. Jealous male students seek to discredit her. And pushed down into the past is the stable boy well below her station who left her humiliated and heart-broken – until he appears in her life again as the one person who can help her.

The book begins with her trying to help a group of troubled young women. She encourages one of them, Eliza, to seek the baby taken from her. Unfortunately, the doctor who took her baby winds up dead that same morning. The police believe they have an open and shut case. Dr. Summerford’s anger and heartbreak with the stable boy Simon must be put aside if she is to solve the case.

As she attempts to prove the innocence of her client Eliza, she is forced to both confront her own past and the dark secret that lurks behind the death of the good doctor. The mystery twists and turns with an ending that was rather disturbing, but overall the book seeks to focus on the courage of the characters.

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham

A classic British mystery blending danger, suspense and eerieness. 

After Traitor’s Purse, this is my favourite Campion mystery. It combines just the right amount of mystery, danger and comraderie with a spookiness that remains with you even after the puzzles are solved.

The story opens with a constable handed a shilling to a poverty-stricken young man. Visible means of support was required to avoid arrest, and the constable has known the young man in his better days.

Val is homeless after being estranged from his father – it is just one of Campion’s jobs to return the young man to the ancestral home. More importantly, he must protect the Gyrth Chalice that has been in Val’s family for centuries.

Campion doesn’t share many details, even with his beloved servant and former burglar Lugg. If you’ve not read a Campion mystery, it is the chemistry between these two that makes the series so delightful. Campion’s amiable, vacuous personality conceals a brilliant mind. He’s inclined to make light of danger and act foolish, so the trucculent motherliness of Lugg provides a beautiful counterweight.

But this mystery is a doozy and puts both of them in extreme peril. The evil people seeking the chalice could be any number of vague people. What do the priceless chalice, the death of Val’s foolish aunt, a secret society and a living nightmare have in common?

These are the trials that Campion and Lugg must face, along with Val, his lovely sister Penny and a host of other well-rounded characters. In their quest to save the chalice, they must face the stuff of nightmares in a spooky old wood and survive multiple scores of violence.

This book more so than even Christie or Marsh mysteries thrusts you deep into the English countryside. Somehow it takes you deep into a tiny village in the post-war 1920s while simultaneously layering in the spell of a much older England.

Like our Sam Gamgee said that Lothlorien was like being inside an elven song, so is Look to the Lady like being transported into something quintessentially English.

Death Comes to London by Catherine Lloyd

deathlondonEqual parts London romance and cozy mystery, inspired by Austen. 

The main characters in Death Comes to London are echoes of Austen, with outspoken yet sensible Lucy (Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood) and sweet yet emotional Anna (Jane Bennet, Marianne Dashwood).

The second book in the series, Lucy and the perpetually grouchy Major Kurland were obviously involved in a murder earlier. Now Lucy and her sister are headed to London so that Anna can marry well, while Major Kurland comes to reluctantly accept a baronetcy. The reader is soon enveloped in a whirl of ballrooms and society dinners, disrupted by the death of a disagreeable old lady, the Countess of Broughton, and the poisoning of her grandson Lt. Broughton.

The suspects are an interesting assortment. Lady Bentley who planned to sue the countess for stealing her jewels; the jilted Miss Chingford (an old enemy of Lucy’s) who wanted to marry the grandson Lt. Broughton; the troubled younger grandson Oliver who vanishes after the murder. Since Lucy’s sister Anna and Lt. Broughton were becoming greatly enamoured, there’s a faint suggestion that Anna could have done it.

It was very obvious who the murderer was early on, so the interest became in seeing how they would catch the murderer, who would die next, and whether Lucy and the ‘hint-of-Darcy’ Major would finally become an item. The murderer was unmasked with 4 chapters remaining, but the ‘real’ climax of the book is later when Lucy’s wealthy uncle demands to know the Major’s intentions.

Although the mystery was not the strongest I’ve read, Lucy is a compelling character and I’m looking forward to trying book #3.

Bretherton by W. F. Morris

brethA gripping account of WWI with a tragic love story and a psychological mystery. 

When officer Captain Gurney stumbles into a ruined chateau, he is mystified why anyone would be playing a familiar British tune in the middle of the war. He discovers a German officer at the piano and a beautiful woman in white beside him. Both are dead.

But even more mystifying is that the German officer is actually G.B., his old friend and British officer Gerald Bretherton. How did G.B. come to this eerie chateau and how did he die? Is he British or German?

It is impossible to tell if G.B. is German or British until the very end. An equally good case could be made for either. The story is told from many views, including other men in G.B.’s unit and the diary of G.B. himself.

This story was written by a British Major who served in WWI and his treatment of the boys on the front is touching. He captures a sense of camaraderie, exhaustion, anger and bravery. It’s permeated with a sad, typically understated humour. After receiving a medal, G.B. says “Headquarters give decorations as lightly as they give up bits of the line that have cost lives to take.”

The premise is excellent but I found the mystery’s solution wasn’t entirely credible, like Agatha Christie’s more obscure short stories where the ending is a pseduo-psychological phenomenon. It also became obvious where the story was heading, so the last few chapters of the book fell a little flat.

A worthwhile read for the account of the war and G.B.’s tragic love story, even if the ending does not hold up on the suspense angle. It would also make an excellent movie.

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.