The Windermere Witness (Lake District Mystery, #1)

The Windermere WitnessThe Windermere Witness
by Rebecca Trope
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780749012694
Series: Lake District Mystery #1
Publication Date: August 26, 2013
Pages: 414
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Allison & Busby

Following a personal tragedy, florist Persimmon 'Simmy' Brown has moved to the beautiful region of the Lake District to be nearer her charismatic parents. Things are going well, with her latest flower arrangements praised and Simmy content to lose herself in her work. But the peace she has found is shattered when, at the wedding of a millionaire's daughter, the bride's brother is found brutally murdered in the lake.

As the wedding florist, and one of the last people to talk to Mark Baxter alive, Simmy gradually becomes involved with the grief-ridden and angry relatives. All seem to have their fair share of secrets and scandals - an uncaring mother, a cheating father, and a husband twenty-five years older than his bride. When events take another sinister turn, Simmy becomes a prime witness and finds herself at the heart of a murder investigation. The chief suspects are the groom and his closely knit band of bachelor friends. They are all intimidating, volatile and secretive - but which one is a killer?


I picked this up at a used book shop during our aborted Christmas travels; having spent time in the Lake District, specifically, the towns of Windermere, Bowness, and Ableside that this story is set in, it appealed to me instantly.

Alas, it was no more than a drab average.  The characters didn’t know what they wanted to be: the MC tells an inspector at the beginning she’s moved to Windermere after her divorce, that she was childless and insisted that there were “compensations”.  By the end of the book she’s barely coping with the stillborn birth she had 2 years before.  Coping and repression are likely, of course, but they aren’t part of of the narrative, so the reader is left with no grasp of this MC.  The Inspector is either attractive and friendly or greasy-haired and antagonistic.  The MC’s mother is supposed to be a hippy, but acts more like a criminal attorney; I never once got the impression she liked her daughter.  The bride of the story is either flaky, naive and needs to be protected, or a headstrong woman who is the only one that can steer her much older husband’s life.  Flip-flop.

The elements of the plot were interesting, but the plot itself wasn’t anything special.  The motivation was pathetic and unbelievable, given the characters, and the murderer pretty obvious after about half-way.

The setting was what I’d hoped for, at least.  My memories of the Lake District are still vivid, and I loved the area, so ‘re-visiting’ it through the book kept me picking it back up.  This is the first in a series all set here, and while weak, not so bad that should I come across another one at a used book shop, I’d probably pick it up.

A Pretty Deceit (Verity Kent, #4)

A Pretty DeceitA Pretty Deceit
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781496728470
Series: Verity Kent #4
Publication Date: October 14, 2020
Pages: 362
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

In the aftermath of the Great War, the line between friend and foe may be hard to discern, even for indomitable former Secret Service agent Verity Kent, in award-winning author Anna Lee Huber’s thrilling mystery series.

Peacetime has brought little respite for Verity Kent. Intrigue still abounds, even within her own family. As a favor to her father, Verity agrees to visit his sister in Wiltshire. Her once prosperous aunt has fallen on difficult times and is considering selling their estate. But there are strange goings-on at the manor, including missing servants, possible heirloom forgeries, and suspicious rumors—all leading to the discovery of a dead body on the grounds.

While Verity and her husband, Sidney, investigate this new mystery, they are also on the trail of an old adversary—the shadowy and lethal Lord Ardmore. At every turn, the suspected traitor seems to be one step ahead of them. And even when their dear friend Max, the Earl of Ryde, stumbles upon a code hidden among his late father’s effects that may reveal the truth about Ardmore, Verity wonders if they are really the hunters—or the hunted . . .


Aside from my subjective issues with the path Huber chose for these characters, I like this series; you could say I enjoy them in spite of myself.  But while this book was a 4 star read on the strength of its plot, it might have been a 4.5/5 star read if not for the weakness of the editing.

The narrative is much longer than it needed to be because Huber, with admirable motivation, spends a lot of time ruminating on the devastation wrought on both the soldiers who fought in WWI, and those left behind to cope in fear and anxiety.  She does bring light to many aspects of the horror that is war, especially the first world war, but she spends too much time doing it, and this is a murder mystery, after all.  I’m confident a lot of it could have been cut without losing the more important message, and the overall story would have been a lot better for it.

Still, the plot is a strong one, with aspects of scavenger and treasure hunting spicing up what would otherwise be an ordinary nemesis plot running parallel to a murder mystery.  I’m still kid enough to enjoy rhyming clues and secret codes, as well as the touch of cloak and dagger when used judiciously, and it is here.

As I opened the post with, I still don’t like what Huber is doing with the characters; while there are no love triangles or quadrangles, she has two other men in love with Verity who are dedicated to uncovering the series’ plot; there seems to be no plan for this to change and it’s tiresome.  Luckily, the murder mysteries have so far made up for it.  Can’t see that lasting much longer though.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and MurderA Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder
by Dianne Freeman
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Countess of Harleigh Mystery #3
Publication Date: July 24, 2020
Pages: 278
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

London is known for its bustle and intrigues, but the sedate English countryside can host—or hide—any number of secrets. Frances, the widowed Countess of Harleigh, needs a venue for her sister Lily’s imminent wedding, away from prying eyes. Risings, George Hazleton’s family estate in Hampshire, is a perfect choice, and soon Frances, her beloved George, and other guests have gathered to enjoy the usual country pursuits—shooting, horse riding, and romantic interludes in secluded gardens.

But the bucolic setting harbors a menace, and it’s not simply the arrival of Frances’s socially ambitious mother. Above and below stairs, mysterious accidents befall guests and staff alike. Before long, Frances suspects these “accidents” are deliberate, and fears that the intended victim is Lily’s fiancé, Leo. Frances’s mother is unimpressed by Lily’s groom-to-be and would much prefer that Lily find an aristocratic husband, just as Frances did. But now that Frances has found happiness with George—a man who loves her for much more than her dowry—she heartily approves of Lily’s choice. If she can just keep the couple safe from villains and meddling mamas.

As Frances and George search for the culprit among the assembled family, friends, and servants, more victims fall prey to the mayhem. Mishaps become full-blooded murder, and it seems that no one is safe. And unless Frances can quickly flush out the culprit, the peal of wedding bells may give way to another funeral toll. . . .


Historical mysteries seem to be all the rage at the moment, and fortunately, publishers have yet to monetise and ruin the trend to such a degree that you can’t find a selection of well written series to enjoy.  While the quality of cozy mysteries has been abysmal the last several years, Historical Mysteries have filled in the gap nicely for me.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder is the 3rd in a series I discovered at my first (and so far only) Bouchercon convention.  It’s a good series, and this book is a strong 3rd book, moving the characters’ arcs along quickly, while presenting an interesting stand-alone plot, with clues easily missed and writing that skilfully misdirected the reader down several false avenues.  As the story moved along, some of the misdirection became obvious, but some of it didn’t, rendering a delightful mystery well done.

My only groan over the book was the introduction of Countess Harleigh’s mother who was caricatured for most of her page time, only to do the whole mama-lion thing and achieving what to me was an insincere redemption in the final pages.  Fortunately she’s not around much in this book and it wasn’t enough to really weight the book down.

Death in Daylesford (Phryne Fisher Mystery, #21)

Death in DaylesfordDeath in Daylesford
by Kerry Greenwood
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781743310342
Series: Phryne Fisher #21
Publication Date: November 15, 2020
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Surrounded by secrets, great and small, the formidable Miss Phryne Fisher returns to vanquish injustice.

When a mysterious invitation arrives for Miss Phryne Fisher from an unknown Captain Herbert Spencer, Phryne's curiosity is excited. Spencer runs a retreat in Victoria's spa country for shell-shocked soldiers of the First World War. It's a cause after Phryne's own heart but what could Spencer want from her?

Phryne and the faithful Dot view their spa sojourn as a short holiday but are quickly thrown in the midst of disturbing Highland gatherings, disappearing women, murder and the mystery of the Temperance Hotel.

Meanwhile, Cec, Bert and Tinker find a young woman floating face down in the harbour, dead. Tinker, with Jane and Ruth, Phryne's resilient adopted daughters, together decide to solve what appears to be a heinous crime.

Disappearances, murder, bombs, booby-traps and strange goings-on land Miss Phryne Fisher right in the middle of her most exciting adventure.


I’ve been a fan of this series from the beginning but this one was phoned in, either by the author herself or Allen and Unwin, or, possibly, both.  I still enjoyed the hell out of catching up with Phryne and friends, but in quality, this was disappointing.

Death in Daylesford is one of her longer entries, and the story meanders quite a bit across at least 3 different plot-lines taking place in two different places: Melbourne’s mystery being solved by Phryne’s three adopted kids and her assistant’s fiancé (a police detective), and one in Daylesford, a spa town about an hour away from Melbourne, spear-headed by Phryne and her assistant Dot.

The Melbourne plot could have been scrapped and I’d have never missed it.  While I like Jane and Ruth as characters, I found their plot/mystery to be too Nancy Drew for my tastes.  The death they investigated was tragic, and it’s solution sad, but it was superfluous to requirements.

Phryne’s mysteries were more interesting and more diabolical, but poor editing and the inclusion of the Nancy Drew parallel plot detracted significantly from what it might have been.  The poor editing is obvious – and surprising – in the form of missing words, and one scene where the dead body is removed from the scene twice.  Blaming the parallel plot is just speculation on my part, but so many things in Phryne’s mysteries were glossed over and she reached conclusions with no discernible process to the reader, that I have to believe Greenwood just didn’t have the page space to expand on plot points the way she might have.  Which is a shame, because the plots were interesting and deserved more than they got.

In spite of all this, I enjoyed the read, and I’m thrilled to see a new Phryne Fisher mystery out, after I’d started to believe the series was over.  I hope there will be more, and I hope the author and the publisher both get their groove back.

Shake Down (Elliott Lisbon Mystery, #5)

Shake DownShake Down
by Kendel Lynn
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781635115871
Series: Elliott Lisbon Mystery #5
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Pages: 224
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Ballantyne Foundation Director and PI-in-training, Elliott Lisbon, is enjoying her idyllically slow life on Sea Pine Island, South Carolina. It’s the week before the annual Beach Ball and she’s sipping Bellinis on the sidelines. Her committee involvement is limited to securing the centerpieces: scrumptious masterpieces from the Cake & Shake. But when the head baker goes missing, Elli’s calm life gets a major shakeup. She takes the case and soon learns that missing is a relative term.

As Elli walks the delicate line between a woman finding herself and a woman needing to be found, the days speed up and she knows something’s about to go down. From drug runners to whistleblowers to sea turtle sabotage, Elli stirs up secrets and inadvertently whips a desperate killer into a frenzy. If she doesn’t find a way out of the heat, she’s going to get burned.


I’m always excited about a new Elliott Lisbon mystery being released; Kendel Lynn doesn’t publish on the typical once-a-year schedule, so you just never know when or if the next one is coming.

But they’re worth the suspense – these are well-written mysteries with solid plots and while definitely cozy, there’s nothing cutesy or twee about the characters or the plots.  Shake Down starts off slow and builds slowly, with the search for a missing woman.  Is she missing?  Did she just take off?  Was there foul play involved?  Elliott Lisbon is a PI in training, putting in her required hours before receiving her license and she’s hired to find the woman, or find out what happened to her.

For spice, and possibly levity, there’s a reality tv show involved in the plot, but the ending is unexpected and, well, unexpected.  This one isn’t going to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will offer you a satisfying mystery.

A Noël Killing (A Provençal Mystery, #8)

A Noël KillingA Noël Killing
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780143134060
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #8
Publication Date: November 12, 2019
Pages: 286
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

Just as the holiday cheer is in full swing, a man is poisoned, sending the community into a tailspin. The list of suspects, Verlaque and Bonnet quickly discover, almost fills the church itself, from the visiting vendors at the Christmas fair to the victim’s unhappy wife and his disgruntled business partner. In A Noël Killing, with the help of an ever-watchful young woman named France, the pair must solve the murder while the spirit of the season attempts to warm Verlaque’s stubborn heart.


In general, this series has been excellent in every way, but this one wasn’t its strongest entry.

The narrative meandered.  A lot.  It took several chapters to get a grip on what was going on, and who was doing what to whom.  There’s a slow build up to the crime, which I don’t mind, but because everything else was slow too, it was a battle to keep my attention on the book.

Once things did start moving, they felt scattered and disorganised, though this improved quite a bit as the story progressed.  Still, of the books I’ve read this month, this is the one I’m struggling most to remember anything about.  It wasn’t unpleasant or badly written, it just wasn’t a strong plot and it lacked the usual strong writing, or perhaps strong editing.

I’m happy to blame it on Covid and hope that the next one measures up to the first 7.

The Last Mrs. Summers (Royal Spyness Mystery, #14)

The Last Mrs. SummersThe Last Mrs. Summers
by Rhys Bowen
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451492876
Series: Royal Spyness #14
Publication Date: August 6, 2020
Pages: 290
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

Bowen’s homage to Rebecca, this entry might or might not be a disappointment to those who have read du Maurier’s classic – I’ve never read it myself, so the plot here was new to me, though I could appreciate the allusions and the tip of the hat to the gothic atmosphere.

The story, homage or not, is well-written enough that I don’t think fans of the series will be disappointed.  It’s not her absolute best (The Twelve Clues of Christmas, imo) but it’s well-plotted and the characters are well drawn.  Darcy has little page time, as usual, but we get a lot more of Belinda and her background, which I enjoyed.  Queenie makes a thankfully brief appearance, but otherwise it’s a whole new cast of characters in the wilds of Cornwall, in what ends up to be a delightfully crazy plot.

Eventually though, I’m going to have to cave and read Rebecca.

Fatal Cajun Festival (A Cajun Country Mystery, #5)

Fatal Cajun FestivalFatal Cajun Festival
by Ellen Byron
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781643851297
Series: Cajun Country Mystery #5
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Grab your tickets for Cajun Country Live!, the pickers' and crooners' answer to the legendary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Maggie Crozat, proprietor of the Crozat Plantation B&B, plans to be in the cheering section when her friend Gaynell Bourgeois takes the stage with her band, Gaynell and the Gator Girls.

The festival's headliner, native daughter Tammy Barker, rocketed to stardom on a TV singing competition. She has the voice of an angel...and the personality of a devilish diva. But Maggie learns that this tiny terror carries a grudge against Gaynell. She's already sabotaged the Gator Girls' JazzFest audition. When a member of Tammy's entourage is murdered at the festival, Tammy makes sure Gaynell is number one on the suspect list.

Gaynell has plenty of company on that list--including every one of Tammy's musicians. Posing as a groupie, Maggie infiltrates Tammy's band and will have to hit all the right notes to clear her friend's name.


Not bad; I think Crooked Lane Publishers could do better with a tighter editing process, but the plotting was excellent.  The characters weren’t engaging as past entries of the series, but I’m not sure I can say why.  Generally, a relatively solid entry in a better than average series.
 

Lowcountry Boondoggle (Liz Talbot, #9)

Lowcountry BoondoggleLowcountry Boondoggle
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635116076
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #9
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 240
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Private investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews thought they’d put Darius Baker’s troubles to rest—then his recently discovered son ropes him into a hemp farm investment with his college buddies. When a beloved Charleston professor—and potential investor—is murdered, Liz and Nate discover Darius keeps the PIs on speed dial.

A shocking number of people had reasons to want the genteel, bowtie wearing, tea-drinking professor dead. Was it one of his many girlfriends or a disgruntled student? Or perhaps Murray was killed because his failure to invest meant the hemp farm trio’s dreams were going up in smoke? Though Liz’s long-dead best friend, Colleen, warns her the stakes are far higher than Liz imagines, she is hellbent on finding the no-good killer among the bevy of suspects. But will the price of justice be more than Liz can bear?


Another solid entry in what’s been a very dependable, well-written series.  The mystery itself was a little predictable, but I can’t be certain the author didn’t intend that, as the clues weren’t subtle; a story about PIs wouldn’t really work with subtle and still be fair to the readers.

There’s some character development in this one, as well as references to a previous plot that make this less than ideal as a standalone, and it’s wroth the time to start at the beginning with book 1.

The Man in the Microwave Oven (Theo Bogart, #2)

The Man in the Microwave OvenThe Man in the Microwave Oven
by Susan Cox
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250116208
Series: Theo Bogart Mystery #2
Publication Date: November 3, 2020
Pages: 298
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur

Fleeing from a murder and family tragedy in her native England, where she was the scandal du jour for the tabloid press, Theo Bogart changed her name and built an undercover life in a close-knit San Francisco neighborhood. She didn’t expect to find love and friendship there, and now she doesn’t know how—or if—to reveal the truth.

After a confrontation with a difficult neighbor, Theo fears her secrets are about to be uncovered after all. When the woman who threatened to expose her is murdered, Theo is embroiled in the kind of jeopardy she crossed an ocean to escape. Worse yet, dangerous family secrets have followed her. Theo’s grandfather unveils a glimpse of the shadowy world he once inhabited as an agent for the British Secret Service, bringing an even bigger breed of trouble—and another death—to Theo’s doorstep. She finds herself fighting to protect herself, her family, and her new friends, aware that one of them might be a murderer.


Interesting concept, really interesting characters, a plot that’s a little out there, requiring a greater degree of suspension of disbelief.  I found the narrative hard to follow at times, as the style is a bit choppy; I feel like the editor could have smoothed out the rougher edges without sacrificing the author’s voice.  There were times when it was easy to lose track of who was saying what, and scenes within chapters could change abruptly.

The whole “I have a secret” thing is going to get old if Cox perpetuates through a third book, but otherwise I really like this start of a new series and I’m on-board with seeing where it goes.