Murder Most Fair (Verity Kent, #5)

Murder Most FairMurder Most Fair
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781496728494
Series: Verity Kent #5
Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

 

I think this book ended up with a 4 star rating because I liked the ending.  Looking back as I write this there were several things that probably put this more at 3.5 stars.

There were some editing issues; I’m pretty sure the German Aunt central to this plot started out being on Verity’s mother’s side (references to her mother’s German family) and then suddenly, she’s Verity’s father’s Aunt.

But mostly the story was just so melancholy.  It fits with the time period – post WWI – and all the books have been tinged with an appropriate air of pain, confusion and recovery, but Huber just piled on in this book.  We have the veterans trying to adjust to life after the trenches, we have Lord Ryder wallowing, passed-out drunk in the uncertainty that his father might not have been a loyal peer of the realm before his death, we have the culmination of a 5 year breach between Verity and her family, and Verity’s inability to confront her grief over the loss of one of her brothers during the war.  It’s all very heavy.

Buried underneath all this depressiveness is, actually, a really good mystery, albeit a very slow moving one under the weight of all the above, about the murder of her German Aunt’s personal maid, during a holiday gathering at the family estate in the Yorkshire Dales.  Huber touches on the bigotry in the aftermath of war, and the inability for some to differentiate between a person and a government.  It was a well-crafted plot, too, in that I should have seen the killer before I did, but missed it.

So, really probably a 3.5 star read, but laziness will keep it at 4.  A good story bogged down by what would be normally be compelling side lines on their own, but taken together felt altogether too depressing for a cozy mystery.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it fits the Country House Mystery square, as it’s set at the family estate in the Yorkshire Dales.

The Cannonball tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #5)

The Cannonball Tree MysteryThe Cannonball Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781472132031
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #5
Publication Date: June 3, 2021
Pages: 313
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Blame it on being written, and punished during a pandemic, maybe, but this one wasn’t nearly as good as the last, The Mimosa Tree Mystery.  There were serious issues with editing and continuity, both within the story and with the overall series.  In the previous book, Hideki tells Su Lin her mother was the youngest of the cousins, but in this book he is said to have looked upon her as “an older sister or mother figure”.  The first murder victim in this book is the sister of Su Lin’s aunt by marriage, but the victim is referred to several times as Su Lin’s Aunt and as ‘being married to your uncle’.

There are at least half a dozen more instances where a character does or says something on one page and then is said to have said/done the exact opposite a page or two later.  I don’t know if this is poor story editing, or if it’s meant to reflect the hysteria of war time in an occupation where anybody could be shot for simply now bowing deeply enough.  If it’s the latter, then the editing still failed as the narrative left me confused about my confusion.

The storyline itself also failed to compete with the compelling storyline of Mimosa Tree, which involved war time codes, rebel forces, POW’s, treasures and a murder that happened just hours before the story started.  In this one, the first murder didn’t take place until well over 100 pages of household drama – pretty horrific household drama, I’ll grant, but overall, not worth the 100+ pages it was written on.  The last 200 pages have moments that are far more interesting, but not enough to really shine; I kept reading because I kept waiting for interesting things to happen, and they rarely did.

Most disappointing of all was the absence of Le Froy, a primary character of the series, obviously modelled after Sherlock Holmes.  While absent for 99% of Mimosa Tree he was a guiding and motivating force for Su Lin and the plot.  Here, his name was barely mentioned and only then in passing introspective thoughts.  It’s as if with the absence of Le Froy, the story – and the author – lost it’s focus, organisation, and its logic.

But then again, this book takes place in 1944, when the axis countries started to fall apart, and perhaps this books disorganisation is a reflection of the unraveling  of the Japanese Empire towards the end.  Who knows?  I only know it wasn’t nearly as good a story as I know the author is capable of.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021.  I’m using it for my Truly Terrifying square by invoking my Amplification spell card.  Ovidia Yu is a Singaporean author and qualifies as a diverse voice from an historically marginalised community.

The Mimosa Tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #4)

The Mimosa Tree MysteryThe Mimosa Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781472132024
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #4
Publication Date: June 4, 2020
Pages: 311
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Even though I’ve enjoyed the previous three entries in this series, I hesitated over this one.  The first three were pre-WWII, but The Mimosa Tree Mystery moves the series into Japanese occupied Singapore.  I couldn’t see how Yu would be able to write a story that maintained the gentility of a traditional mystery in the middle of a Japanese occupied war-torn setting and maintain any semblance of authenticity.

Yu not only managed, she outdid her previous efforts.  There’s no sugar-coating the atrocities perpetuated by the Japanese during that time – Su Lin and her family are Chinese, and the story starts in the middle of a roundup into a killing field – but by focusing on Su Lin and the murder mystery the author avoids the story being overwhelmed by the horror of the times.

I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this story.  I liked the previous ones, but I had a hard time becoming invested in the characters.  This time around it wasn’t a problem – the story was riveting enough and the pace fast enough that whether I became wholly invested in the characters didn’t matter.  My only complaint was the denouement scene.  I understand that the point was the murderer wasn’t rational, but Yu did the job too well and it became extraordinarily difficult to follow along with who supposedly was working with whom and who ordered what, etc.  It was a small thing in the overall enjoyment of the story, but it was at the end, so it stuck.

I now find myself eager to dive into the next book, The Cannonball Tree Mystery to find out what happens next with Su Lin, her family, and (former) detective, now POW, Le Froy.

 

I read this for 2021 Halloween Bingo.  It fits the Tropical Terror square rather well, as it is set in Singapore (Tropical) during the WWII Japanese occupation (Terror).

The Virgin in the Ice (Brother Cadfael Chronicles, #5)

The Virgin in the IceThe Virgin in the Ice
by Ellis Peters
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780708825839
Series: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #5
Publication Date: March 12, 1984
Pages: 220
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Futura Books

Not the best Brother Cadfael I’ve read, but Hugh was back and that was worth 1/2 a star.  I might just even be in a grumpy reading mood, because, really, the mystery was crafted well enough, if the resolution was a tad weak.  The murderer had very little in the way of evidence against him, and yet Brother Cadfael and Hugh were quick to be certain.

Mostly, I disliked the protracted capture and battle scenes, especially as the captured was a 12 year old boy.  A different time and place, to be sure, but still not my cup of tea to read about the torture of children.

The ending was rather sweet though.

This was my third Christmas mystery in a row, and I’m beginning to feel like I should put a tree up.

 

DNF: A Dangerous Engagement (Amory Ames, #6)

A Dangerous EngagementA Dangerous Engagement
by Ashley Weaver
Rating:
isbn: 9780749024581
Series: Amory Ames #6
Publication Date: April 23, 2020
Pages: 382
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Allison & Busby

Amory Ames is travelling to New York, excited to be a bridesmaid at her friend Tabitha's wedding, but with Prohibition in full swing, her husband Milo is less than enthused. When a member of the wedding party is found murdered on the front steps of the bride's home, the happy plans take a darker twist.

Amory discovers that the dead man has links to the notorious - and notoriously handsome - gangster Leon De Lora. While the police seem to think that New York's criminal underworld is at play, Amory feels they can't ignore the wedding guests either. Milo and Amory are drawn into the glamorous, dangerous world of nightclubs and bootleggers. But as they draw closer to unravelling the web of lies the murdered man has left in his wake, the killer is weaving a web of his own.


I tried.  I walked away and gave it a few days, and tried again.  I couldn’t do it.  While the series started off strong, and interesting, it has bottomed out with this book, wallowing in mediocrity with bland and tedious descriptions of every little thing (they went to an automat; she describes what an automat looks like, then describes all the categories displayed, then describes Amory and Milo getting change for the machines, then getting their trays, then which food they’re choosing).  It’s endless.  And the paragraphs of Amory’s internal dialog outnumber actual dialog by at least 5 to 1.  I have decided that the abundance of internal dialog that has become so common in most of today’s mysteries is because authors and editors are forced to assume their average reader is stupid, and so lacking in critical thinking that they must be led through the steps of the mystery like a particularly dim child.  The misanthrope in me understands the likely necessity, but I am not stupid, and I’m quite capable of thinking critically, so I find the trend irritating.

Oh, and speaking of irritating trends: wonder of wonders, she’s pregnant, only she doesn’t know yet, even though it’s obvious even to someone like me, who has never so much as had a scare.  I’m willing to bet .50 cents that Milo will figure it out before she does.

And speaking of Milo – he’s an ass.  I’m assuming the author is going for something akin to insouciance, but really, just an ass.  He talks down to Amory more often than he ever has anything nice to say to her, and she just takes it.  It’s all way too stiff-upper-lip for my patience.

It’s a shame to see this series go to the dogs, but after this one I can’t imagine it rebounding in my eyes, unless Amory were to ditch Milo in some spectacular fashion, and that isn’t going to happen, so instead I’m going to ditch the series and re-claim valuable bookshelf space.

Lady Julia Grey Novellas 6-9

 

 

 

 

These have been sitting in my TBR on my iPad for … years?  And after my recent re-read binge of all the novels, I thought I’d knock these out too.

They’re all about what you’d expect from a novella; too short to get into any character development or conflict, just short, happy little mysteries with tidy endings, but they’re fun to read and one or two loose ends from the main body of the series are wrapped up.

Death Comes to the Rectory (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #8)

Death Comes to the RectoryDeath Comes to the Rectory
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★½
isbn: 9781496723253
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #8
Publication Date: January 26, 2021
Pages: 262
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

Lucy and Robert's joy in christening their new daughter, surrounded by extended family and loved ones who have gathered in the village of Kurland St. Mary, is only enhanced when Robert's aunt Rose--now the second wife of Lucy's father Ambrose--announces that she is with child. However, not everyone is happy about the news, in particular Rose's adult daughter Henrietta and her husband, who fear for their inheritance.

Following the christening, Rose's disagreeable son-in-law Basil Northam threatens to turn afternoon tea in the rectory into an unsightly brawl. The next morning, he is found in the rector's study, stabbed through the heart with an antique letter opener, clutching a note that appears to implicate the rector himself.


Tedious.  While I’ve enjoyed this series up until now – enough to re-read a few of the books – I found this one tedious.

If I’m being completely fair, I imagine some of this is because I’ve just come off a re-reading binge of Deanna Raybourne’s Lady Julia Grey series, and the tone and writing are altogether different from the Kurland St. Mary series.  It would probably have been better to cleanse the reading palette in between.

Even if I’d had, I’d still have found it tedious to a degree.  The author over plays her characters: her villains are entirely too villainous; her suspects entirely too cryptic, the clues completely chaotic.  The tension between the two MCs was altogether irritating.

Buried beneath all this unfortunate tediousness is a rather clever murder plot though.  I almost DNF’d the book early on because I was certain the murderer was too obvious, and all due credit to Lloyd, she completely fooled me until I got much closer to the end.

I’m not completely turned off the series, but I have to admit my enthusiasm is diminished.  Whether or not I read another book (should one be forthcoming), will come down to my mood and my memory.

A Wicked Conceit (Lady Darby, #8)

Now, this one was much more interesting for me.  Kiera and Gage are back in Edinburgh awaiting the birth of their first born.  And Bonnie Brock Kincaid is back too, which always ratchets up my enjoyment factor; I like a dark horse, especially when the author makes a place for him without creating any triangles.

There’s been a tell-all book written about gang-leader Bonnie Brock and his Robin-Hood-esque adventures under the nose of the Scottish authorities, and Keira and Gage are in it too.  This causes a lot of tension between all the characters, as nobody is all that keen to be in the pubic eye, so the race is on to find the man behind the poison pen.

The book also allows a massive tension to ignite between Kiera and her sister, one that started in the previous book but really blows up in this one.  So does the issue of paternity that was also introduced previously.  In the former, I think the author could have created a better dynamic behind Alana’s motivation, but as the story is being told from Kiera’s POV, I suppose I understand the logic.  The latter was handled better, I think.  There was a blow up when the truth was discovered, but it wasn’t drawn out and beaten into the ground, and resolution was quick but reasonable.

In general, a story I enjoyed quite a bit more than I did the previous book, but that’s likely down to personal tastes.  As Kiera has had the blessed child, I’m looking forward to their next adventure, hopefully after they’ve hired a nursemaid.

A Stroke of Malice (Lady Darby, #7)

A Stroke of MaliceA Stroke of Malice
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451491381
Series: A Lady Darby Mystery #7
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Pages: 372
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

A solid, dependable series, which makes it sound like a beloved pair of sneakers, but I can’t think of one of the books in the series that’s really let me down, although some are better than others.

A Stroke of Malice takes place during a weekend at a Duke’s castle in Scotland, celebrating Twelfth Night, with Keira 6 months pregnant.  Call me unnatural, but this might be part of the reason it’s not my favorite of the series; there was much rubbing of the belly and cradling of said belly with heaps of overly sentimental musings about the sanctity of life and blah blah blah.  Just not my jam, but the mystery was extremely diverting and for almost all of it, I had no clue, though I should have.  Which makes the writing even better, in my opinion, since the answer was right there but she managed to keep me from seeing it.  A secret paternity is revealed too, which kept things interesting.

So generally, a good one but not the best, and likely other readers with even an ounce of maternal feelings won’t be as critical as I’ve been.

An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell Mystery, #6)

An Unexpected PerilAn Unexpected Peril
by Deanna Raybourn
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780593197264
Series: Veronica Speedwell Mystery #6
Publication Date: May 8, 2021
Pages: 340
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

Not every book in a series can be the best, not even in a series as fabulous as this one.  There’s always one that just doesn’t quite meet expectations.  This is that book in the Veronica Speedwell series, for me.

In previous books, Veronica has always been larger than life and proactive, doing what must be done, and damn the consequences.  She’s strong, independent, confident in who she is, and makes no apologies.

She’s none of that in An Unexpected Peril.  She’s still running full steam ahead, but this time it’s a reactive sort of running, going against the grain of her own personality by charging into an investigation that does not involve her as a means of running away from her own anxieties.  A woman who willingly discussed anything in the previous 5 books, now avoids discussing anything of import.  And given her character and Stoker’s, it’s a bit of a letdown in its predictability, something neither character had been thus far.

Still, putting that aside, the rest of the story is fun and kept my attention.  Veronica gets to pretend she’s a princess, giving her the opportunity to see what she’s missed all these years, and the killer was a mystery until the end when it all came together beautifully.  It would have been a far better story overall without the angst and repression, but I suppose it had to happen at some point.

I’m still eager for the next one and hope that in book 7 the true Veronica will return in all her bossy, outrageous glory.