A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

perilous.jpgThe second book in Deanna Raybourn’s new series is a romantic suspense with elements of mystery. Her prose and story-telling is excellent, very beautifully rendered, so that even if you’re not a big fan of the smoldering chemistry between the protagonists, you’ll stick around for the writing.

Set in England in 1887, Veronica Speedwell is a butterfly collector with a secret past and a passion for observing. She’s a cross between Flavia de Luce, Sherlock Holmes and a romance heroine. She habours a not-yet-consummated longing for the handsome Stoker, who may look like ruffian but acts not at all like one.

Veronica is asked to do the impossible – clear an artist convicted of murdering his pregnant mistress in one week before he hangs. Caught between the royalty and attractive but morally questionable artists, Veronica and Stoker have their work cut out for them.

If you’re a mystery lover, then the murderer will likely be obvious in the first few chapters. There are certain things you just know how to look for. But how Veronica and Stoker discover and trap the killer remains an interesting and satisfying read.

(Review of book #1, A Curious Beginning)

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.
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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.

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.

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.

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

curiousAn elegant historical romance with a hint of mystery and a butterfly collecting heroine.

The novel opens at a funeral with the unusual heroine, Veronica Speedwell, unable to shed a tear for her lately departed guardian. Veronica is a thoroughly modern woman despite her Victorian surroundings – she’s a lepidopterist or butterfly collector with a scientific bent, an unknown past and an enjoyment of love affairs. Imagine a grown up Flavia de Luce meets romance heroine.

After the funeral she startles a would-be thief and manages to put up a good fight before being helped by a baron. The baron dumps her in the lap of Mr. Stoker, a scarred, handsome and muscular taxidermist whose greeting is little more than a growl of displeasure. The baron’s murder puts them both on the run, winding up at a traveling circus, and things only go downhill from there.

I don’t often read romance, not through any special dislike but because I have a long backlog of mystery books. This prose is elegant and enjoyable, although it took some time before we reached the murder and the circus. Veronica is strong-willed, even if that’s unlikely for her upbringing with two spinster aunts, but it helps to move the story along as she gives the world as good as she gets.

The story spends a lot of time on the fire between Stoker and Veronica, while making it clear that Veronica is her own woman and will choose Stoker on her own terms or not at all. There are similarities to this and Deanna Raybourn’s first book, Silent in the Grave, but Veronica is stronger and far more scientific than Lady Julia.

The ending brings the plot to an interesting close without banishing all of the miscreants, leaving plenty of opportunity (and future revelations) when Veronica and Stoker agree to an expedition together…

30-DAY E-BOOK LOAN COURTESY OF NETGALLEY.

A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde

darcie.jpgA compelling Regency heroine solves the murder of a young man.

This is a deeply immersive mystery set in Regency London. The intelligent heroine Rosalind is demure yet spirited, her life of privilege disrupted by her father’s financial crimes.

There’s a lot of mystery hinted at with her sister and father vanished, and her mother basically gone over the deep end. Her position is as a “useful” woman who understands and helps smooth over social functions with her knowledge of people and position, yet is too lowly to attend many functions.

The mystery plot is well done. Rosalind finds a man’s body in a privileged ballroom. She doesn’t start out as a sleuth, but when the man’s family asks for her help she ends up investigating. The characters are well-developed and Rosalind is torn by all sorts of loyalties and conflicts. She sometimes stumbles along the way, but always with increasing skill and urgency. The romantic angle is well-written but a little over the top at times.

An immersive book that fans of Jane Austen and cozy crime will appreciate!

30-day e-book loan courtesy of NetGalley.