Review: For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul

Review: For Dead Men Only by Paula PaulFor Dead Men Only by Paula Paul
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: Dr. Alexandra Gladstone #5
Pages: 202
Published by Alibi on April 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Hailed as “an intriguing mixture of mystery, romance, and history” by Lois Duncan, the Alexandra Gladstone series from award-winning author Paula Paul continues as an ominous horseman heralds the emergence of a secret society, hidden riches—and a string of chilling murders.   The Temple of the Ninth Daughter sits on a hill at the edge of Newton-upon-Sea, an aura of mystery lingering over its tall, gray silhouette. Villagers whisper about the treasure housed inside, protected by local Freemasons who are bound by clandestine oaths.   Dr. Alexandra Gladstone has no time for such nonsense. Between the patients in her surgery and the rounds she makes with her faithful dog, Zack, her days are busy enough. But Alexandra has no logical explanation when the Freemasons start dying, one by one, with no sign of foul play other than smears of blood on their Masonic aprons. And what to make of reports that a Knight Templar rides through the village before each passing?   After the constable disappears in the midst of the crisis, Alexandra reaches out to her dashing, diligent friend, Nicholas Forsythe, Lord Dunsford, for assistance. Is someone after the treasure, or might a more sinister game be afoot? In order to solve this puzzle, Alexandra must somehow catch a killer who shows no remorse—and leaves no witnesses.

My Review:

The title is a clue, but one that won’t make sense to most readers, including this one, until after the murderer is caught.

In the tiny village of Newton-upon-Sea, it is the late 1800s, and the local doctor is a woman. She can’t be licensed to practice because of her sex, but, it’s a tiny and remote village and Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is all they have. That she is both the daughter and the apprentice of their previous doctor is the only thing that makes her remotely acceptable to some of her patients, even after several years of successful practice.

Alexa is lucky that no other doctor, no male doctor, seems to want to start a practice in her little village.

But Alexa doesn’t just practice medicine. When murder comes to her village, she also engages in a spot of private detecting. She’s not exactly trained at it, but a logical and intelligent mind will get a person fairly far at figuring out who done it, especially in a place where one knows most if not all of the possible perpetrators and their victims.

However, in this case, it seems like Alexa is surprised up until the very end. Breaking one’s leg, and setting it oneself, in the middle of a case will do that to even the most stalwart person.

It all begins when first one man, then a second is found dead in the local Freemason Lodge. Both men were members, and both were discovered in suspiciously similar circumstances. Posed in the exact same place and position in their Lodge, Neither body seemed to have any wounds, but both were dressed in their ceremonial aprons and both aprons had blood on them.

And both of the victims were relatively young. Certainly not nearly old enough to both suffer from heart attacks. But the local police constable dismisses any suspicion of murder and refuses to investigate. Then he decamps suddenly for parts unknown. Rumors begin to swirl – either he fears becoming the next victim, or he is the perpetrator.

The case becomes even more convoluted when rumors of an old Templar treasure buried under the Masonic Lodge resurface. And when what appears to be the ghost of a Templar is spotted riding around the village.

Events are already at a fever pitch when a young woman confesses to Alexa that she believes her father is responsible for the crimes. Her reasoning seems hysterical but plausible, until her father turns up dead in the next village. Whether he was responsible for the first crimes, or for his own death, he cannot be responsible for what comes after.

Just as Alexa begins to zero in on the killer, her own household comes under attack. Either she is closing in on the truth, or someone is afraid that she is. When she nearly becomes a victim herself, Alexa finally figures out what is really going on in Newton-upon-Sea.

medium dead by paula paulEscape Rating B+: With its references to local myths and legends, ghosts of Templar horsemen, Masonic secret rituals and old-line family ties, For Dead Men Only has even more of a Gothic feel to it than the previous entry in the series, Medium Dead.

But just as with the earlier book, the real story here is firmly rooted in Newton-upon-Sea’s here and now. All the Gothic folderol is just a way for the murderer to cover up their series of crimes. And it works on both the protagonists and the reader quite well.

Just as in Medium Dead, the story rests on Dr. Alexandra Gladstone and her assorted household, with some able assistance from Lord Dunsford, who is both a practiced barrister and the local squire. He’s also sweet on Alexa, to the consternation and growling resentment of her faithful (and large) Newfoundland dog, Zack.

Zack correctly believes that Nicholas Forsythe, Lord Dunsford, is a rival for his mistress’s affections. He only declares a temporary truce when Nicholas is needed to rescue Alexa from her latest misadventure.

Although this is book five in the series, I believe that a reader could start the series here and find everything that they need to know about the personalities and positions of Alexa’s little band of irregulars contained within this story. Personally, I have only read books 4 and 5, and even though I’m terribly curious about previous events, it wasn’t necessary to have read the earlier books to enjoy the later ones.

The story, just like Alexa herself, is very much involved in the small doings of the community. Her practice provides her both with the opportunity to hear everything that is going on, and a whole lot of distractions when she reaches the point where she has to put all the clues together.

Alexa is all too often distracted or stymied by official prohibitions against a woman doctor, or even a woman professional. And she is equally condemned by unofficial but perhaps more dangerous social opprobrium against a woman who sees and does things that such “delicate creatures” are never supposed to engage in.

The author does an excellent job of making Alexa just enough of a woman of her time to experience the slings and arrows levied at her because of her sex, while at the same time making her modern enough for contemporary readers to identify with.

Readers who enjoy the slightly later adventures of Maisie Dobbs, Bess Crawford and/or Mary Russell will find a kindred spirit in Dr. Alexandra Gladstone.


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