Death Comes to the Fair by Catherine Lloyd

deathfair.jpgAn ancient grudge turns to murder in a quiet English village, 1817.

Book 4 in the Regency series finds the spirited rector’s daughter Lucy Harrington and her protective fiance Major Kurland preparing to marry. While judging vegetables at the local fair, Lucy warns him to be diplomatic in his choice of winners. His refusal leads to a storm of outrage among the villagers, who are furious when the verger at the rectory wins.

It isn’t long before Lucy literally trips over the verger’s dead body in a tragic accident. Lucy grows suspicious when they discover a cursed charm by the body and they soon realize that the death was actually murder. While trying to uncover the killer, Lucy must deal with the unpleasant cook who shares her father’s bed, and the frustrating delay in her nuptials. The village’s darker side begin to surface and the couple themselves are placed in grave danger as another body is found.

The murderer’s reasoning is somewhat weak and the couple lose a little of their previous fire, but it’s a light, enjoyable read.

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.
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A Proposal to Die For by Vivian Conroy

todieforA Proposal to Die For is a combined romance and mystery with the winning Lady Alkmene Callender. It goes quickly and is easy to read, with Lady Callender proving to be an enjoyable narrator. I like that she’s bored and this inspires her investigation, rather than thinking herself special.

From the book’s description: ‘With her father away in India, Lady Alkmene Callender finds being left to her own devices in London intolerably dull, until the glamorous Broadway star Evelyn Steinbeck arrives in town! Gossip abounds about the New York socialite, but when Ms Steinbeck’s wealthy uncle, Silas Norwhich, is found dead Lady Alkmene finds her interest is piqued. Because this death sounds a lot to her like murder…’

It should include the romance angle, since this features quite heavily in the book. There’s a mysterious reporter in the tall, dark and intriguing category. Lots of flashing looks and sizzling arguments.

The mystery of Mr. Norwhich’s death is a prominent part of the story. I love the setup for the crime and the host of suspects. The murder proves to be fairly straightforward and has few twists, but I enjoyed the book and would give the next one a try.

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

A bold, clever murder spirals into desperate measures. 

A clever Agatha Christie that’s lamentably too short, The Mirror Crack’d is almost like two stories. One is the classic mystery and the other is a dissertation of sorts on growing old, especially after WWII.

Set closer to the 1950s, Miss Marple is far less mobile and relies on the help of the annoyingly kind Mrs. Knight. Mary St. Mead is modernising, but not always for the better, as the townhouse style development shows. Like the last Poirot case, Miss Marple is definitely struggling with the physical indignities of growing old while her mind is still razor sharp.

The mystery itself is extremely clever, a classic Christie, where golden age Hollywood meets 1950s England. An innocent woman is poisoned by mistake when a beautiful, tragic actress was the intended victim. Who tried to kill Marina – her apparently devoted husband? The cool young secretary almost certainly in love with the husband? Or one of a slew of jilted lovers, ex-husbands or cast-off children?

This wasn’t my favourite book by Christie. My main complaint is how short it is – we don’t get as much chance to really dig into motives and personalities. The stakes could’ve been raised and the characters better explored with more length.

But there’s always the brilliant puzzle, so painfully obvious in retrospect, to buoy an otherwise decent read.

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.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

monogramA modern homage to Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Writing under the Agatha Christie name, Sophie Hannah has crafted an immensely complicated murder. The premise is fantastic – a woman tells Poirot not to prevent her death at the same time that three people are murdered in an elegant London hotel, monogrammed cufflinks in their mouths.

Recounting this story is a detective named Edward Catchpool, modeled after many companions who do not understand Poirot. The main difference being Catchpool’s feelings are treated with equal weight to the murder plot. So we learn a lot about Catchpool’s fear of dead bodies, which made his chosen profession of homicide detective rather odd.

The three odd deaths are soon traced to a village tragedy, but Poirot and Catchpool struggle continuously against a parade of partial truths and side characters. During the final denouement, things twist around repeatedly and confusingly. Yet even when the entire story comes out, it remains slightly convoluted.

The main plot was genius. I would’ve loved a little more period detail, and a dash less moaning in Catchpool, to find it an utterly delightful Christie. The addition of the subplot felt unneeded and I was surprised by Catchpool feeling even a slight moral dilemma about the murderer.

A solid addition to Christie’s canon of works, I look forward to trying the next one.

The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn

DaisyWinterGardenA bold, vivacious sleuth takes on the 1920’s  with style.

Daisy Dalrymple is a modern woman with incredible energy and enthusiasm. She is the opposite of Poirot, she rushes from clue to clue, place to place, with a mixture of determination and persuasion. Even the Chief Inspector is in awe of her.

She comes from wealth but chooses to make her own way as a magazine writer and amateur photographer. When she arrives at Occles Hall to write about the garden, she’s caught up in the discovery of a buried body. It is poor Grace Moss, the parlourmaid who supposedly went off with a traveling salesman.

After an absolutely bumbling investigation by the local police, who are terrified of the dragonesque Lady Valeria, the case concludes with the arrest of Grace’s fiancé. As a Welshman, he’s a foreigner and makes for an easy target, despite his grief. Unable to let matters stand, Daisy summons her favourite policeman from Scotland Yard, Chief Inspector Fletcher.

Like many recently written 1920s mysteries, Daisy had a fiancé killed in the war and she has two possible rivals for her affections – eligible and kindly Philip Petrie, or sharp but kind Alec Fletcher. But Daisy does not spend all her time feeling lovelorn, she gets right on tackling the case – complicated by the possibility of suspects right in Occles Hall itself.

The culprit was not a big surprise but nor was it instantly obvious. I was most impressed with Carola Dunn’s take on the modern woman – Daisy ends up saving the inspector herself.

The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton

secretA simple murder turns into a twisted case of witchcraft, abduction and evil.

4 years after arriving to run a pub in the tiny and tight knit village of High Eldersham, Mr. Whiteman is inexplicably murdered. Constable Viney, a young’un who never dealt with worse than a drunkard, is suddenly confronted with a knifed man drenched in blood.

Poor Viney is hopelessly outclassed. While waiting for his superiors to arrive, he downs a pint and makes an effort to investigate. But luckily for him, Scotland Yard is called in and Inspector Young soon arrives.

I was a little sad not to have ‘met’ ex-policeman Mr. Whiteman other than the briefest mention at the beginning. The author captures character vignettes extremely well and Whiteman is the sort of jovial, good-natured person I’d get on with pretty well.

It soon becomes clear that High Eldersham is very odd and doesn’t care for outsiders. So why then did they tolerate Whiteman so long? And why kill him now?

The story takes a bit of a supernatural turn and Inspector Young soon calls in his “intuitive” friend Desmond Merrion. Mr. Merrion is a bit of an expert in the supernatural and agrees that something is up.

The book descends into an occult darkness that feels almost Sherlockian. It is difficult to tell how an entire village is involved from uneducated farmers to the wealthy Sir William and his pretty daughter Mavis, odd Mr. Hollesley in love with Mavis, and the cynical Dr. Padfield.

Whether truly supernatural, the plot is most certainly evil. Inspector Young and Mr. Merrion almost lose everything trying to uncover the devilish conspirator…

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

A classic locked room mystery featuring a bold, devious murder in mid air.

Somehow an old woman is murdered on a flight from Paris to London in plain view of several passengers. What might have passed as a death by wasp sting is foiled by the presence of Hercule Poirot.

Mr. Poirot is not just any detective. To most mystery readers, Agatha Christie is legend. Arguably her most treasured creation is Hercule Poirot, a short Belgian with a beautiful mustache and a penchant for truth and absolute symmetry. In this case, Poirot is one of the suspects (although not very seriously) when a murder is committed behind his back.

The murder by exotic blowpipe is so boldly, imaginatively executed that the Chief Inspector Japp is positively insulted. And yet, despite Japp’s insisting it to be mere luck, our favourite OCD detective Poirot says we must judge the end result. It is a successful murder.

This time Poirot is not accompanied by the sweet Hastings, who is a chivalrous bundle of passion and kindness, a Watson-like figure. Instead we have a French detective who believes in the psychological elements of a crime, unlike Japp, yet even he begins to doubt Poirot at times.

Despite Poirot’s frequent cry of ‘the grey cells’ and his disdain for rushing around, he does just that in this book. He follows and questions suspects, persuades them to do things for him, hunts for evidence, and generally gets so involved that it’s impossible to determine who he’s after. This one kept me guessing until the end.

Sometimes cozy murderers are sympathetic, especially when the victim turns out to be a blackmailer. But this murderer is pretty well heartless and ruthless, without even a shred of conscience…

Murder Fantastical by Patricia Moyes

A delightfully eccentric family’s refusal to sell their estate ends in murder.

What starts out as a deceptively simple murder in a tiny village proves to be a fantastically clever plot. The beloved Manciple family is eccentric to an almost unbelievable degree – even as you fall for them, you can’t help but wonder if they know far more than they let on?

All the aunts and uncles have returned to the ancestral home to vet a newcomer, the fiancé of beloved daughter Maud. But things go rather awry when the borgeouis neighbor (and successful bookie) who wouldn’t take no for answer is shot in the driveway.

Is it murder? Chief Inspector Tibbet is called in because the local policeman Sir John is too obviously a friend of the family. The head of the household, Major Manciple (who is a far cry from the stereotypical bluff major), helpfully compiles a list of suspects, motives and means for Tibbet.

But things are far from simple. Even though the plot of the victim to buy the house is fairly obvious, the story has far more depth than I expected. Vague characters like the ex-Bishop of Bugolaland and the ninety year old Aunt Dora are suspicious in their vagueness, while the Major’s darling wife Violet seems incapable of murder.

And the main characters provide so much fodder to unravel! An emotional gun-toting but pacifist ex-Major. A beautiful, vunerable and oddly remote daughter. A jealous, handsome and intelligent fiancee. A loud-mouthed boorish son who inherits his father’s business.

When a second death occurs, Tibbet is forced to work very hard and the plot plunges through so many twists that it is difficult to keep straight. When the denouement comes, in true Agatha Christie style everything clicks into place. You realize the meaning of many little oddities you had noticed without noticing. You curse yourself for a dunderhead and stand amazed at the author’s brilliant mind…

The only weakness in this highly enjoyable book is Tibbet’s wife. She’s not a bad character but she lacks Tibbert’s charm and she seems to play a very thin role. She comes in more at the end but seems to be a narrator for the plot while Tibbet’s away.

But don’t let this discourage you. This is a classic British mystery that pays homage to the greats, yet with a rare hint of something different. Even while you feel good has triumphed, it is not without a high cost, and the characters defy the typical endings you imagine for them.

One character seems to sum it up quite well – “You needn’t imagine I’m going to fit into your cozy little happy ending.”

Black Plumes by Margery Allingham

black2bplumes

An exquisitely constructed post-war mystery that keeps you guessing.

Another classic and delightful Allingham book. Instead of her usual detective it is narrated by the very charming young Frances. She’s desperately trying to tell her regal grandmother that the family gallery is going off the rails fast. The chapter culminates with a dramatic scene featuring a slashed painting and a seemingly simple argument that will descend into murder.

Why is Frances’ brother-in-law so furious when she turns down his friend, an unctuous and slimy little man? Why is her half-sister such a miserable, terrified wreck? When a murder occurs, they all know someone in the house is a killer. Despite the police presence no one feels safe, perhaps because the police are there as much to arrest as to protect.

There are a veritable feast of suspects and Frances is hard pressed to keep her cool. Could it be her own hysterical half-sister, the victim’s unhappy wife? Or perhaps Frances’ new fiancé, the artist whose painting was slashed and who wants to marry immediately so they can’t testify against each other? Even her beloved and regal grandmother, whose mind slides in and out of focus, could be using her age as a clever cover.

The book is seen through Frances’ uncertain and troubled eyes – Allingham uses this device brilliantly. We follow along with Frances, tortured by the conflict between her conscience and her sense of loyalty. The Scottish detective Birdie keeps his own counsel, so along with Frances we wait and listen to what clues drop, hoping to uncover the truth and protect the ones we love…