Review: In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline WinspearIn This Grave Hour (Maisie Dobbs, #13) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #13
Pages: 352
Published by Harper on March 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Britain becomes engulfed in a second World War, the indomitable Maisie Dobbs is plunged into a treacherous battle of her own when she stumbles on the deaths of refugees who may have been more than ordinary people seeking sanctuary on English soil, in this enthralling chapter in Jacqueline Winspear’s enormously popular New York Times bestselling series
Critics have long sung the praises of Jacqueline Winspear and her bestselling Maisie Dobbs series. In the thirteenth installment, Maisie—“one of the great fictional heroines, equal parts haunted and haunting.” (Parade)—is back with more mystery, adventure, and psychological insight.
When readers last saw Maisie Dobbs, it was 1938 and the world was on the brink of war. Maisie herself was on a dangerous mission inside Nazi Germany, where she encountered an old enemy and the Führer himself. In This Grave Hour, a year has passed and Maisie is back home in England—yet neither she nor her nation is safe. Britain has just declared war on Germany and is mobilizing for the devastating battle ahead. But when she stumbles on the deaths of a group of refugees, Maisie suspects the enemy may be closer than anyone knows.
Old fans will be delighted at Maisie’s return and new readers will be hooked by this thrilling installment in Jacqueline Winspear’s “thoughtful, probing series” (Oprah.com).

My Review:

Welcome to the Sitzkrieg, or as it was better known in Britain, the Phoney War.

As this 13th book in the Maisie Dobbs series opens in the fall of 1939, Britain declares war on Nazi Germany after its invasion of Poland. Then nothing happens. And nothing continues to happen for eight months, until Germany invades France and the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands) in May of 1940.

But during the period of this book, nothing much happens on the war front. Everyone knows it will come, and many people, including Maisie herself, have known that war was coming for quite some time, but for the moment, there is a pause. Not a peace by any stretch of the imagination. More like a vast inhaling of breath before the six year sigh of loss after loss.

And a murder. A whole series of murders. Deaths that owe their origin, not to the stresses of the upcoming war, but to the unresolved issues of what people are suddenly forced to call “the previous war” – the Great War, the War that unfortunately did not End All Wars, what history came to call World War I.

Murder, unfortunately for the world but fortunately for Maisie, never takes a vacation.

As the story opens, Maisie is dragged away from the war announcement to meet an old colleague. Dr. Francesca Thomas, in her guise as a member of the Secret Service, prepared Maisie for her undercover task in Journey to Munich. Now Dr. Thomas wants to hire Maisie to investigate the murder of a Belgian refugee from the previous war who has been murdered on the eve of this one.

Dr. Thomas is herself a Belgian national, and is now attached to that embassy. The murder of her fellow countryman is a crime that she wants to redress, before it happens again. She is aware of just how good Maisie is at her job, but she still keeps secrets. It is her nature. And almost her undoing.

While Maisie tracks down the patterns of life and causes of death of the late Frederick Addens, more former Belgian refugees turn up dead. By the same method, and most likely by the same hand. But whose? And more important to Maisie, why?

As Maisie begins to close the net around a suspect she also finds herself deep into a problem much closer to home.

Many children were evacuated from London to the countryside at the opening of the war. One such young girl is now boarded with Maisie’s family. But this little girl is a bit different. Not just because her coloring is noticeably darker than English peaches and cream, but because the little girl refuses to speak, and seems to have no documentation whatsoever.

And Maisie can no more resist solving that little puzzle than she can let a murderer go free. No matter the cost to herself.

Escape Rating B+: As World War II begins, this series reminds me more and more of Foyle’s War. (That there are no books for Foyle’s War continues to be a great source of disappointment!) Like Christopher Foyle, Maisie solves her cases with her brains rather than her fists. Also like Foyle, she is solving murders on the homefront, a task that many people think of as less important than the war. But as it so often turns out, those murders are often not divorced from the war, and in some cases are hidden by it until the investigator steps in.

As much as I love this series, this particular entry didn’t grab me by the throat and hang on quite the way that some of the other books have. I still enjoyed it, but it has the feeling of a pause before the storm, much as Britain itself was in during the Phoney War. Pauses, by their nature, just aren’t as dramatic as crises. And so it proves with this book.

There are, as there often are, two mysteries in front of Maisie. They don’t dovetail as well as they sometimes do. The murder of Frederick Addens, and the ones that follow, are one case, and while important, it feels like merely a case. The little girl’s missing identity is the part of the story that strikes Maisie’s heart, and it is the one that felt most important, even if the string of murders was obviously deadlier and had larger implications, or should have.

And that’s part of what fell just a bit flat for me. The serial murders of Belgian refugees and the people who assisted them felt like it was building up to something bigger. The resolution actually turned out to be small and rather close to home. Also frustrating as regards that particular case, both for Maisie and the reader, is just how much and how obvious it was that Dr. Thomas was, if not telling actual lies, certainly lying by omission every time she spoke. And yet she never seriously emerges as a possible candidate to be the murderer.

On that other hand, the case of the little girl was heartbreaking, particularly for Maisie. She sees herself in the child, as well as the child she lost when her husband was killed. Her heart is engaged with someone who will eventually have to go home. Perhaps. That piece of the story has yet to be resolved.

And I’m very much looking forward to Maisie’s further adventures, to discover just how she resolves it. Or doesn’t. I expect to find out next year during the 2018 Month of Maisie Readalong!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay Faye

Review: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay FayeThe Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Pages: 388
Published by Mysterious Press on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.
Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In “The Lowther Park Mystery,” the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.

My Review:

I have an often-confessed penchant for Sherlock Holmes pastiches. As a consequence, I’ve read a lot of them. Some take the Holmes canon into entirely different directions, like Laurie R. King’s Holmes/Russell series, A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, or Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series. Others serve to either extend the existing canon or act as homages to it, attempting to recreate the style and the period of Conan Doyle’s original work, using his immortal characters and merely telling us new stories in the same spirit.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay FayeOne of the best of the latter type that I have read was Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow. In that story, she relates the investigation of the Jack the Ripper case as conducted by Sherlock Holmes and documented by his faithful friend, Dr. John Watson. If you have any interest either in Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, or late Victorian-set historical fiction, this book is a winner on all fronts.

I’ve been hoping for years that the author would return to Holmes, and she finally has in The Whole Art of Detection. Unlike the recent collaborative collections of Holmes pastiches edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, which do contain some marvelous stories each time, The Whole Art of Detection is the output of a single mind, just as the original Holmes canon was. And also like the canon, all of the stories in The Whole Art of Detection are set in Holmes’ native Victorian age, and for the most part purport to be written by Dr. John Watson in his inimitable style.

And it feels as if we are back there again. These stories feel like the familiar Holmes. They read as though they are part of the whole, merely a part that has been hidden until now. It is marvelous to immerse oneself back in that time and place, and with these two singular characters.

As much as I enjoyed the whole book, the stories that I loved the most were the two that were not told as stories, but as diary entries. It is clear within the stories that Watson is writing for his audience in The Strand Magazine, but in An Empty House we get to read a bit of Watson’s personal diary during March and April of 1894. At that time, Watson was recovering from the recent death of his wife Mary, and still dealing with the death of his friend Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls three years earlier. Watson’s method of dealing with Holmes’ death was to continue writing up their previous cases, as he is still doing within the pages of his diary. As a method for handling the stages of grief, neither the reader nor Watson himself is certain of its efficacy. And it is completely insufficient for helping him to handle his feelings about Mary’s recent passing. So we read Watson in his internal travails, his and his friends’ attempts to help him, and his resolution to finally quit England and his memories altogether. And then a miracle occurs.

In Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma, on the other hand, we have a rare case narrated by Holmes himself. Like all the cases in The Whole Art of Detection, this case is firmly set not just within the original canon, but at a specific point within that canon. In this case, we see what Holmes was doing in September of 1888 when he sent Watson to Baskerville Hall ahead of him. In addition to viewing Holmes’ rather non-traditional resolution of this case, we also have the opportunity to read Holmes’ own thoughts and feelings about this case, the Baskerville mess, and his thoughts about his friendship with Watson and the fame that has resulted from Watson’s publications. It is a fascinating peek into a mind that we normally only see from the outside.

Escape Rating A: As is clear, I loved this book and had an utterly marvelous time dipping back into the adventures of Holmes and Watson. While many of these stories have been published before, this is the first time that they have all been gathered together. And there are a lot of them, so hunting them all down would be a task almost worthy of Holmes himself.

Just like Dust and Shadow, this collection gives the reader the feeling that we are back there again at 221B, sitting invisibly by their fireplace and listening to them discuss their cases. Like the original canon, these are all cracking good stories, and they run the gamut of the strange, the unusual, the criminal and the bizarre that the originals did.

As a 21st century reader, I have a sense that there is a bit more acknowledgement of the true depths of their friendship than was true in the originals. But I might be mistaken about that. I guess I’ll have to go back and read them again. Something to anticipate with great pleasure.

Review: Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on the Ballarat Train (Miss Fisher's Murder Mystery #3) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #3
Pages: 151
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on November 3rd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When the 1920s most glamorous lady detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, arranges to go to Ballarat for the week, she eschews the excitement of her red Hispano-Suiza racing car for the sedate safety of the train. The last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save lives.
As the passengers sleep, they are poisoned with chloroform. Phryne is left to piece together the clues after this restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can t remember anything, rumors of white slavery and black magic, and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. Then there is the rowing team and the choristers, all deliciously engaging young men. At first they seem like a pleasant diversion ."

My Review:

I’ve watched Phryne, I’ve read Phryne, and now I’ve listened to Phryne, and she’s utterly marvelous no matter how she is experienced.

I’m absolutely certain that the “beautiful young man” in Murder on the Ballarat Train would wholeheartedly agree. Although his roommate probably would not.

That Phryne refers to the man she seduces, vamps and ravishes in this book as “the beautiful young man” multiple times is part of the reason that the character of Phryne seems much older than the 26 or so that the author purports her to be. Your mileage about Phryne’s mileage may vary.

The story in Murder on the Ballarat Train is possibly the opposite of Murder on the Orient Express, despite the similarity in titles. While everyone on the Orient Express wanted to murder that awful man, it seems that no one on the Ballarat Train hated Mrs. Henderson enough to murder her. Not even the adult daughter she regularly picked on and railed at.

It is, however, abundantly clear that the rather elderly Mrs. Henderson did not throw herself off the train, hang herself AND beat her own body to an absolute pulp afterwards. Nor did she fill the entire first-class carriage with sleeping gas. Somebody murdered her, even if Phryne can’t at first figure out how or why.

Neither can Phryne figure out who is responsible for the young girl who was hiding in the first-class toilet on that same train. The girl herself doesn’t even remember how she got there, why she hid there, or even who she is.

Phryne has multiple mysteries to solve. She’s just certain they must tie together somehow, even if she can’t determine exactly how that might be at the outset.

And she’s equally determined that no one will either abuse the young girl, or threaten the adult Miss Henderson, every again. Not while Phryne is on the case.

Escape Rating B+: In any format, the Phryne Fisher mysteries are an absolute lark from beginning to end, in spite of any of the dark corners of Melbourne or the human heart that Phryne might be forced to invade during the course of her investigation.

And it is those dark corners that keep Phryne, and the reader, on their toes. While the series is set in the 1920s, it was written in the 1990s. As much research as the author appears to have done to make sure that Phryne’s life and attitudes are those of a woman of her time, albeit an unusual and extremely adventurous one, the issues that Phryne runs into feel as contemporary to our time as they do to hers.

There are two villains in this story, and the one she finds by accident is much more evil than the one she hunts down deliberately. And while “white slavery” was often used as a scandalous threat of whispered evil in the gutter-press, it probably wasn’t as prevalent as yellow journalists made it out to be. Phryne’s investigation has nothing of the scandalized and salacious tone one might have expected in the 1920s. Instead, her pursuit of justice is coldly calculated to extract the maximum vengeance. The mesmerizing angle speaks of the 1920s, but Phryne’s reactions feel contemporaneous both to her time and our own.

I enjoyed this method of “reading” Phryne’s story just as much as I did reading it. I will, however, make one final note about the audio performance. In any audiobook where a single narrator attempts to voice multiple characters, some characters work better than others. That problem is made more difficult in the case of Phryne, as those of us who have watched the TV show already have a fixed idea of what these characters are supposed to sound like. The narrator of Murder at the Ballarat Train did an excellent job portraying Phryne, and surprisingly a fairly good job of making the male voices sound at least OK. But for some reason my ear kept telling me that Dot’s voice was completely off.

Which didn’t stop me from enjoying the whole thing immensely. I’m looking forward to picking up the next book in the series, Death at Victoria Dock, at my earliest opportunity.

Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline WinspearPardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs, #3) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #3
Pages: 342
Published by Picador on June 27th 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

London 1930, psychologist investigator Maisie Dobbs must prove Sir Cedric's aviator son Ralph Lawton died when shot down in 1917. In former battlefields of France, she re-unites with Priscilla Evernden, one of whose three brothers lost in the War is somehow connected. The case tests Maisie's spiritual strength and her regard for mentor Maurice Blanche.

My Review:

As part of the lead in to March’s Month of Maisie Readalong I get to dip into the earlier tales of Maisie’s adventures in preparation for reading her newest story, In This Grave Hour, in the middle of Maisie month.

Pardonable Lies was Maisie’s third outing, and even though it is set in 1930, the clouds of World War II are already looming over the horizon. And even though the meat of her case here concerns the Great War now over a decade in the past, it is the oncoming storm that adds the element of danger to her current affairs.

This is also a story about secrets and lies. Not just the kind of military secrets that dog Maisie through this investigation, but also the secrets that we keep in the belief that they protect others, and the lies that we tell ourselves, in the hope that we can prevent more pain.

It is also a story about growing up. Because part of growing up is seeing our elders, our parents and teachers and mentors, as fallible human beings just like ourselves. We reach that point where we see them less as above us and more as our equals. And often, as in Maisie’s case in Pardonable Lies, we come to that point when we discover that our trust in them has been betrayed.

As is frequently the case with Maisie, she is actually working on more than one case during this story. Two of those cases have definite similarities, as they are both missing persons cases leftover from the late war. And Maisie makes the third case tie into one of the other two. There are no coincidences in Maisie’s worldview. When things seem coincidental, as in the two missing persons cases, she views it as the cosmos telling her that she has unresolved issues that will be illuminated in the investigations.

And so it goes. Two families want her to find the final resting place of their lost soldier boys. Actually, flyer boys, as both young men were in the fledgling RAF. A respected barrister made his wife a deathbed promise that he would determine, once and for all, whether their lost son truly died in his plane crash or whether he survived, as his mother always believed.

Maisie’s friend Phyllis Evernden wants Maisie to find out how and where her brother Patrick died. She knows that he’s dead, but now that her own sons are growing up and starting to resemble her lost brothers, she feels the need for closure. She remembers that her parents were notified of his death, but nothing about the circumstances. And now she needs to know.

The cases both lead Maisie back to France. She served as a battlefield nurse, and left too many friends and loved ones behind. She’s worked hard to put it all behind her, but mostly she has just been running as fast as she can to evade the grief and the memories. She knows that returning to the scene of her own devastation is going to bring up things she would rather stayed buried.

Much as both of these cases will resurrect things that other people would prefer she left buried. Especially her now elderly mentor, Maurice Blanche, who returns with Maisie to France with his own hidden agenda.

And someone is trying to kill her. But due to which case? What rock has she turned over that someone will kill to leave unturned?

Escape Rating A: I always look forward to March and Maisie Month. It gives me a terrific excuse to dive into the archives of this series as well as look forward at the latest book. As always, the early book is a treat, as I get to discover where some of the later events took root.

In this particular case, that root is Maisie’s reluctant involvement with the British Secret Service in Journey to Munich. In Pardonable Lies, two of her cases have delved into national secrets that would be better left buried, and the Secret Service as well as her mentor try to divert her attention and make her take the easy way out.

The problem is that the secrets aren’t really buried. They aren’t even dead yet. The spies see the war coming and are all too aware that they will have to mobilize as many of their assets from the last war as are still available (i.e. alive). Maisie’s investigation jeopardizes past, present and future secrets.

The title of this story is very apropos. Maisie normally tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to her clients. In these cases she is caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. Because of official secrets, she cannot tell her friend Phyllis the whole, entire truth about her brother.

In the case of her other client, the barrister, Maisie discovers the truth that he fears, and that he does not want to hear at any cost. And it is a truth that hurts much less than the lie he wants to believe.

And Maisie herself discovers that the many pardonable lies that her mentor has told her over the years of her apprenticeship may not be pardonable after all. The revelations that arise during this case make Maisie re-think both their past and their future association.

Only one case gets Maisie’s usual whole truth; the case of a young prostitute accused of murdering her pimp. The rush to justice on the part of the police, and their willingness to ignore any and all mitigating or contradictory evidence in order to punish this young woman makes readers see both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go as a society. Only Maisie, is willing to believe that this woman might be innocent. And only Maisie is willing to delve into the truth to see that justice is actually done.

But in the process of these investigations, we finally see Maisie lay her own ghosts to their deserved rest. It’s an important part of the development of her character, and it is time for her to move on.

As do we. The latest book in the Maisie Dobbs series is In This Grave Hour. I am very much looking forward to reading and reviewing it next month.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

Review: Thieftaker by D.B. JacksonThieftaker (Thieftaker Chronicles, #1) by D.B. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Thieftaker #1
Pages: 327
Published by Tor Books on July 3rd 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, August 26, 1765
A warm evening in colonial North America's leading city. Smoke drifts across the city, and with it the sound of voices raised in anger, of shattering glass and splintering wood. A mob is rioting in the streets, enraged by the newest outrage from Parliament: a Stamp Tax . Houses are destroyed, royal officials are burned in effigy. And on a deserted lane, a young girl is murdered.
Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker of some notoriety, and a conjurer of some skill, is hired by the girl's father to find her killer. Soon he is swept up in a storm of intrigue and magic, politics and treachery. The murder has drawn the notice of the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce, a rival thieftaker in Boston; of powerful men in the royal government; of leaders of the American rebels, including Samuel Adams; and of a mysterious sorcerer who wields magic the likes of which Ethan has never encountered before.
To learn the truth of what happened that fateful night, Ethan must recover a stolen gem and sound the depths of conjurings he barely understands, all while evading Sephira and her henchmen, holding the royals and rebels at bay, and defending himself and those he loves from the shadowy conjurer.
No problem. Provided he doesn't get himself killed in the process.

My Review:

Today is Presidents Day in the U.S. It seemed an appropriate occasion to go diving into the depths of the TBR pile and search for either something relevant, or at least something set in the Revolutionary period. Several friends have recommended the Thieftaker series to me, and this seemed like the perfect time to finally start it.

And all my friends were right. This thing is fantastic.

The series begins in 1767, during the period when Samuel Adams and his friends were just beginning to whisper of the colonies separating from England. But those whispers were still very, very quiet. However, the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767 changed those whispers into a slightly louder muttering. Adams and his cronies fostered boycotts and fomented riots. No one saw it at the time, except possibly Sam Adams himself, but it was the beginning of the end for the British in the still disunited thirteen colonies.

Our hero, and occasional anti-hero, is Ethan Kaille, a man with a very checkered past, and a frequently none-too-pristine present. He may have begun his life in England among the wealthier if not titled class, but time and circumstance have pressed him into scraping his living as a ‘thieftaker’ in the colonies.

Thieftaking is not even the least respectable of Ethan’s activities. He is also a conjurer, what some in that time and place call a witch, although he perceives a difference between those two words. And certainly the Salem Witch Trials, and similar “events’ that took place all over New England less than a century before, punished mostly women who were not actually conjurers. But the laws that convicted them are still very much on the books, and Ethan rightfully worries about just how many people in Boston are aware of his “gift”.

So when a wealthy merchant hires Ethan to find the thief who took his daughter’s necklace just before he killed her, Ethan knows all too well that he is not being hired for his skill at finding thieves. Whoever took that necklace, the girl died by conjuring. And it is up to Ethan to track down the villain before he kills again.

If he can. And if he can survive the powerful and deadly forces raised against him, both magical and mundane.

Escape Rating A-: Now I understand completely why my friends raved so much about this book. It is awesome. It both immerses the reader in its time and place and tells a powerful story.

The blend here is fascinating. The author bills this series as historical fantasy, rather than historical fiction. The fantastic element is, of course, Ethan’s conjuring. He does cast spells and they do work. Nor is he alone in his talent. In this world, while conjurers are rare, they do exist. And like all humans, some are more-or-less good and some are definitely less than good. People are people.

The story also blends historical personages and events with entirely fictional ones. The situation in Colonial America at this point in time was as the book portrays it. This was the beginning of the cry of “No Taxation Without Representation”. The course for Revolution had already begun, even if no one but the visionary Samuel Adams saw the path.

Readers who like this mixture of historical persons and events with “private detection” by brain rather than forensics will probably also enjoy Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest series. Crispin’s series is set earlier, and in England, and without the conjuring. But Crispin and Ethan would recognize each other as “brothers” and have much to share.

Ethan’s story, while not in the first-person, is very much his singular perspective. We see, hear and know only what he does. There’s no omniscient narrator describing events elsewhere. But Ethan’s journey of discovery is an interesting one. The only equivalent of all of our forensic tests that he has are his spells, and they are limited by his power and his knowledge. He has to know both how to ask and what to ask, and his inspiration sometimes fails him. He’s fallible and very human.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I did have one frustration with it. There’s something about the character of Ethan’s chief rival, the beautiful thieftaker Sephira Pryce, that felt a bit “off” to me. Not that a woman couldn’t be the rival or the villain. Nor that she would be perfectly capable of running what appears to be the Colonial equivalent of an organized crime ring. But in her personal actions she comes off as petulant and childish. And the person with those characteristics so pronounced doesn’t seem like the same person who could be running her gang with such ruthless aplomb.

However my discomfort with Sephira’s character was not enough to keep me from wanting to dive eagerly into book two of this series, Thieves’ Quarry, as soon as I can possibly manage!

Review: Flying too High by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Flying too High by Kerry GreenwoodFlying Too High (Phryne Fisher, #2) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #2
Pages: 156
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on January 1st 1970
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Phryne Fisher has her hands full in this, her second adventure. And just when we think she’s merely a brilliant, daring, sexy woman, Phyrne demonstrates other skills, including flying an airplane and doing her own stunts!
Phryne takes on a fresh case at the pleading of a hysterical woman who fears her hot-headed son is about to murder his equally hot-headed father. Phryne, bold as we love her to be, first upstages the son in his own aeroplane at his Sky-High Flying School, then promptly confronts him about his mother’s alarm. To her dismay, however, the father is soon killed and the son taken off to jail. Then a young girl is kidnapped, and Phryne―who will never leave anyone in danger, let alone a child―goes off to the rescue.
Engaging the help of Bert and Cec, the always cooperative Detective-Inspector Robinson, and her old flying chum Bunji Ross, Phryne comes up with a scheme too clever to be anyone else’s, and in her typical fashion saves the day, with plenty of good food and hot tea all around. Meanwhile, Phryne moves into her new home at 221B, The Esplanade, firmly establishes Dot as her “Watson,” and adds two more of our favourite characters, Mr. and Mrs. Butler, to the cast.

My Review:

This has been a hell of a week for me, I’ve been both sick and injured, and nothing that I planned to read is holding my interest. But I recognize that it’s not the books’ fault, it’s most likely mine. I’m out of sorts and looking for instant absorption.

So I went back to Phryne, and was instantly absorbed.

cocaine blues by kerry greenwoodAs in Cocaine Blues, or the TV series based on these books, the mysteries, both of them, are slight. Not that the consequences aren’t serious in both cases, but that Phryne solves them with a quick application of her formidable intellect and what seems like a wave of her hidden magic wand. Along with the occasional application of “the old oil”.

And along the way she manages to show up the local police inspector, a man who is so stubborn that even his fellow coppers give him a wide berth. Benton isn’t stupid, exactly, but he certainly does have fixed ideas. And once one of those ideas gets fixed in his head, nothing will dislodge it.

Certainly not a female detective, amateur or otherwise.

William McNaughton is found dead in his garden, and his son Bill is immediately arrested for the crime. Not that Bill didn’t have a motive. Not that half of Melbourne didn’t have a motive. The elder McNaughton was a bully, a wife beater and a child abuser. His own child, his daughter. No one was safe from him, and no one misses him.

But no one thinks Bill actually killed him, except that one stubborn cop. There’s no real evidence, just that the younger McNaughton seems to be the only person in the immediate proximity who had the brute strength required to drive the rock into the late unlamented’s skull.

And if solving this little pickle wasn’t enough, Phryne also gets involved in the rescue of a kidnapped child. The only thing tying these two cases even remotely together is that one of the kidnappers is such a nasty pedophile that his predilections make the late Mr. McNaughton seem a model citizen by comparison.

Of course, Phryne figures out both solutions in one blink of her grey-green eyes. But it takes the mustered forces of all of her friends and “irregulars” to scotch the kidnappers and find the real murderer.

And it’s an absolute hoot from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A-: The Phryne Fisher series are popcorn books for me. By that I mean that I pick one up, expecting to take just a nibble, then a handful, and discover a couple of hours later that I’ve eaten the whole bag. And I don’t mean crappy burned microwave popcorn either. This is the really good stuff, like Garrett’s or KuKuRuZa. Fresh, flavorful and completely addictive.

One of the things that I love about this series is the way that the characters seem to have stepped off the page and into the TV show. Except for Jack Robinson and Mrs. Butler, everyone in the books appears in the show exactly as they should be. It adds to that absorption. I read the book and I see the characters in my head. I hear their voices and it all fits.

It also all floats along on the strength of Phryne’s personality, which is formidable. I would never want to get in this woman’s way, but I would love to have drinks with her. It’s hard not to imagine the stories she would tell, and they would all be marvelous.

One of the things that is more obvious in the books than the TV show is the aspect of the “We Have Always Fought” narrative that is present but not beaten to death. Phryne is a woman who always does whatever she wants and is always capable of accomplishing whatever she needs to. She can fight, she can shoot, she can fly a plane, and she can vamp any man she wants. She seems to have never found a situation she couldn’t conquer, in one way or another. This is something that male heroes carry off all the time, but we seldom read of women, particularly in time periods before our own, who are as omni-capable as Phyrne.

Likewise, Phryne has surrounded herself with a group of equally daring professional women. When she needs a lawyer, she knows just the woman for the job. Likewise when she needs a second pilot, or a doctor. Phryne may not be out there marching for suffrage, although I could certainly see her doing it, but she keeps putting her money where her own actions are, supporting other women in nontraditional roles. And she doesn’t do it by saying “oh look at me supporting another woman” it’s that she sees that the best person for a particular job is always someone she knows and trusts, and in the end, most of that circle is made of highly competent women like herself.

When I need another reading pick-me-up, I know I’ll be returning to Phryne’s world again and again.

Review: Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Cocaine Blues by Kerry GreenwoodCocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #1
Pages: 175
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on April 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This is where it all started! The first classic Phryne Fisher mystery, featuring our delectable heroine, cocaine, communism and adventure. Phryne leaves the tedium of English high society for Melbourne, Australia, and never looks back.The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honorable Phryne Fisher--she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions--is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.
Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism--not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse--until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.

My Review:

Cocaine Blues is simply tremendous fun. Not just that heroine Phryne Fisher is obviously having a marvelous time, but also that the book is fun to read. And Cocaine Blues works excellently as an introduction to the characters and the place and time in which it is set.

The series is named for, and absolutely stars, its heroine Phryne Fisher. Phryne is a bundle of fascinating contradictions, and her rather eclectic background serves the story well. And for those who have watched the utterly marvelous TV series based on the books, the characters as portrayed, with the exception of Jack Robinson, perfectly match the characters as described, at least so far.

Admittedly, in the book Phryne seems to be in her late 20s, but all of the experience she has accumulated (and definitely enjoyed!) make her seem a better match for the actress who plays her in the series, Essie Davis (seen in the book cover picture), who is in her 40s.

But I digress, just a bit. And why shouldn’t I? Phryne often does.

The series is set in late 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne was not exactly on the beaten path at that point, so the setting is novel, while the time period is a road well traveled. It’s a nice mix of what we know and what we don’t. As much as I liked the setting, occasionally the slang drove me nuts. Most of it was easy to figure out from context after a few minutes of thought, but the meaning of “U.P.” still escapes me.

The strength of the story, what makes it so much fun to read, is the characters. The mystery isn’t all that difficult to solve, but watching Phryne and company pull together and solve it is an absolute blast.

Phryne’s character shines through, and readers need to love her voice to be interested in the series. The story, and all the other characters, orbit around her like satellites. I’ll admit that I loved her voice. It’s irreverent and world-weary, and her inner thoughts reflect her somewhat cynical perspective on the way that things are. She may need to pretend a certain attitude to get what she wants or where she wants, but on the inside we see what she really feels.

She’s also fearless in a way that women seldom are in fiction. She is living her life exactly as she wants it, and will only kowtow to society when she feels it’s necessary, not because it’s “the done thing”.

Phryne is also the living embodiment of Sophie Tucker’s classic saying: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor — and believe me, rich is better.” Phryne was literally dirt-poor as a child in Melbourne, until all the men standing between her father and a rich title in England got killed in the Great War. Suddenly, she’s a wealthy heiress. And while she loves the life and the indulgences it provides, she has never lost sight of where she came from. It’s that background that enables her to relate to all the people she gathers around her, from Bert and Cec, the itinerant taxi drivers, to Dot, her earnest, well-meaning and down-on-her-luck, maid and assistant.

The mystery is not that difficult to solve, but the journey to that solution sparkles and fascinates from beginning to end. Just like Phryne Fisher.

Escape Rating A-: This was the right book at the right time for me. I loved it every bit as much as the TV series, although differently. I saw and heard the characters as they are portrayed in the series, and with the exception of Jack, those portraits meshed perfectly. In the book, Jack is described as being completely average and utterly forgettable. In the series he is anything but, as Phryne seems to be discovering.

miss fisher murder mysteries complete setFor those who have seen the series and wonder how the book matches the episode, this is one of the few times where the TV show actually is better. The plot is a bit tighter, and what are two loosely connected mysteries in the book become one single and stronger mystery in the episode.

As I wait in hope for a Season 4 of the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, I am thrilled to have discovered Phryne in print as a way to while away the time.

Review: The Piper by Charles Todd

Review: The Piper by Charles ToddThe Piper: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Story by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge #19.5
Pages: 63
Published by Witness Impulse on January 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge returns shell shocked from the trenches of World War I, tormented by the spirit of Hamish MacLeod, the young soldier he executed on the battlefield. Now, Charles Todd features Hamish himself in this compelling, stand-alone short story.
Before the Great War, Hamish is farmer in the Scottish Highlands, living in a small house on the hillside and caring for a flock of sheep he inherited from his grandmother. When one spring evening he hears a faint cry ringing across the glen, Hamish sets out in the dark to find the source. Near the edge of the loch he spots a young boy laying wounded, a piper’s bag beside him. Hamish brings the piper to his home to stay the night and tends to his head wound, but by the time Hamish wakes the boy has fled. He tracks the footsteps in pursuit of the injured lad and finds him again collapsed in the grasses—now dead.
Who was the mysterious piper, and who was seeking his death? As Hamish scours the countryside for answers, he finds that few of his neighbors are as honest as he, and that until he uncovers a motive, everyone, including Hamish, is a suspect. 

My Review:

I’m not quite sure whether to call this a prequel or a sidelight to the Ian Rutledge series, but it was certainly a lovely little story. And it doesn’t need to fit anywhere in the series timeline for the story to work. It just is. And does.

In the Ian Rutledge series, Hamish MacLeod is the voice that haunts the police Inspector. In some ways, Hamish is the voice of Rutledge’s shell shock (read as PTSD) from World War I. In other ways, Hamish is the voice of Rutledge’s conscience, or perhaps his guilt, over the deaths of so many young men that occurred under his command during the war. Certainly Hamish’ death is the one that haunts him the most.

But this gem of a story takes place before the Great War, when Hamish is still a young crofter in Scotland, Ian Rutledge is probably at the beginning of his police career at the Met, and the Great War is a looming cloud over the not-too-distant horizon.

And long before Hamish and Ian met, and before Hamish became the voice of Ian’s instincts and perseverance, Hamish solved a murder on his own. No wonder he is so good at helping Ian, even if it is from the back of Ian’s mind. Or it’s all in his head.

The case at first seems open and shut. A young man traveling the Highlands during a raging storm is set upon and wounded, discovered by Hamish, and eventually killed after he leaves Hamish’ croft. It is meant to look like he died in the storm. But he didn’t.

At first, the police try to pin the crime on Hamish. After all, he was the last person to see the boy alive. But there’s no evidence there, and someone else had plenty of reasons to kill the young lad.

He was a piper, and he regularly traveled the Highlands by himself, on his way between gigs. And on one of those lonely trips, he witnessed a murder. Unfortunately for the piper, the murderer witnessed him.

Unfortunately for the murderer, Hamish is more than willing to place himself as bait for a trap to prove that he has already figured out who the guilty party is. Justice will be done.

Escape Rating B+: This is a very short novella. Even shorter than it appears in the Goodreads listing, as the book includes an excerpt from the next Ian Rutledge book. But even though it is short, it is a complete story in itself. It also doesn’t require any knowledge of the series that follows it. Any reader who is looking for an introduction to the works of Charles Todd will find The Piper an excellent starting point.

Hamish, like most detectives, amateur and professional, finds that everyone has something to hide. Including himself. As he goes around to his neighbors, setting up a trap for the killer, he discovers that most of them have some secret, small or large, that they would rather not reveal. Likewise, Hamish doesn’t reveal that the purpose of all of his sudden socializing is to lay a trap for the killer.

His secrecy results in a comedy of errors at the final crisis, as everyone, the killer, Hamish, and his waiting helpers, all stumble around in the dark. But in the end, his dogged persistence pays off, and the killer is unmasked for all to see.

hunting shadows by charles toddHamish is an interesting character, whether readers are familiar with the series or not. I’ve read the first book (A Test of Wills), an actual prequel story (Cold Comfort) and only one of the later books (Hunting Shadows), and found this story enjoyable purely as a mystery. The link to the series is merely tangential. I also found Hamish MacLeod to be a more active and less exasperating Highland detective than Hamish Macbeth in the recent books of that series.

So anyone looking for a little mystery, a little introduction to Rutledge series, or a little taste of the Scottish Highlands will find The Piper to be a little treat.

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry ThomasA Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Sherry Thomas turns the story of the renowned Sherlock Holmes upside down…   With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.   When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

My Review:

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so when I saw the eARC of A Study in Scarlet Women, I was instantly intrigued. Sherlock Holmes has been adapted in so many different directions, from the very different modern TV incarnations of Sherlock and Elementary to the slightly off-tangent House to the married Holmes in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series along with the fantasy version in the late Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy series and Neil Gaiman’s award-winning A Study in Emerald.

While there was a well-known series by Carole Nelson Douglas that features Irene Adler (“the woman” from A Scandal in Bohemia) as a Sherlock Holmes-type detective, I’ll admit that I can’t find a citation for an actual female Holmes, although I know I’ve read them.

A Study in Scarlet Women is just that – it posits Sherlock Holmes as a woman who uses Sherlock Holmes as a nom-de-guerre to shroud her work in an air of mystery, and to keep both the police and the criminal element from dismissing her as merely a female. The rendering of Sherlock Holmes, nee Charlotte Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet Women is contemporaneous with the original Sherlock Holmes canon. One of the elements that is both fascinating and frustrating about A Study in Scarlet Women is that Charlotte Holmes does not feel anachronistic to her era at all. She is forced to deal with all of the prejudices and restrictions that surrounded young women of that era, and find a way around them.

While she does get a bit luckier than is probably likely, even her solutions fit within the time-frame. She hides who she really is behind a fictional “brother”, and conducts many of her consultations via the post, the better to hide her physical self.

Part of the frustration in this book is that those restrictions were very, well, restrictive. Charlotte’s solution to the problem of getting out from under her parents’ control while not putting herself under the control of a husband is ingenious. She reckons with all of the consequences to herself, but neglects to factor murder into her calculations. Not that she committed one, nor has anyone in her family, but that her disgrace gives her sister and her parents a reason to commit one, and puts them under suspicion of having done so.

Her first case arises from a need to clear their names, as well as to see justice done.

There is a Watson, and her origins (yes, her) are even more fascinating than Holmes, both in the ways that they do and do not follow the original character. Mrs. Watson, a well-to-do widow, comes to Charlotte’s rescue when she is at her most desperate, and finds a common cause and a new lease on life assisting in Charlotte’s investigations.

Where Dr. John Watson was a veteran of the Afghan war, Mrs. John Watson is the widow of an Army doctor who was killed in, of course, the Afghan War. However, Mrs. Watson, nee Joanna Hamish Redmayne, is also a former actress and retired denizen of the demimondaine, and therefore a scarlet woman. As is Charlotte, who arranged to have herself “ruined” to escape the strictures of upper-middle-class respectable and restricted womanhood.

It is these two scarlet women, with the help of Charlotte’s somewhat reluctant childhood friend, and an even more desperate police detective, who discover the link between a series of seemingly unrelated murders, and get Charlotte’s family off-the-hook.

It is the beginning of what I hope will be a brilliant career for Charlotte, make that Sherlock, Holmes.

Escape Rating B+: As I said at the beginning, this story is both fun and frustrating, sometimes in equal measure. Because it posits a female Sherlock Holmes during the Victorian Era, the character and the reader are forced to deal with the upper-class-Victorian restrictions on women’s, particularly young women’s, lives and movements. The first third of the book has to feature Charlotte’s solution to this particular quagmire, and its immediate consequences. It’s a situation that shows Charlotte’s resolution and self-knowledge, but for 21st century readers it’s fairly ugly. It feels realistic, but no fun at all to read through.

And we need to see the consequences of Charlotte’s tough decisions and all of their unfortunate direct consequences for Charlotte until she very nearly hits rock-bottom. It’s only at that point that she is rescued by the equally unconventional Mrs. Watson, and her story really begins.

Because Watson in this case is older and has more experience of the world, Holmes and Watson are much more nearly equal than some of the popular misconceptions about the pair. This Watson is no dunderhead. She is not the genius that Holmes is, but her acting ability, knowledge of the social strata and ability to understand people makes her a partner rather than a mere sidekick. Especially since Mrs. Watson provides the initial funds for the entire enterprise!

As the story unfolds, the reader gets to play a game of “spot the character” as we determine who in this new version is playing the parts that are familiar from the original canon. For example, the author of the stories will not be Watson, but Charlotte’s sister. It’s a fun game and I enjoyed figuring out who was who.

The case was every bit as convoluted, and the solution every bit as difficult, as any of the original Holmes’ cases. The clues may be there from the beginning, but determining whodunnit and why is an effort that takes both Charlotte and the reader the entire story.

One part of A Study in Scarlet Women troubles me just a bit. As is famously known, the original Sherlock Holmes seems to have had no truck with emotion of any kind. Until the version of Holmes portrayed in the Mary Russell stories, Holmes and romance have seemed to be, not merely on different continents, but on far distant planets from one another.

There is not exactly a romance in A Study in Scarlet Women, but there’s not exactly not one either. Charlotte’s childhood friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton, is clearly the man she should have married. And very much vice-versa. But they didn’t realize it until much too late, after Ingram was not only married but had discovered that his wife had only married him for his money and title. It is not a happy marriage, or even a companionable one. But Ingram is an honorable man, perhaps to a fault. The amount of unresolved sexual tension between Ingram and Charlotte is enough to light London for a month through a pea-souper fog. I wonder how this conundrum will get resolved as the series continued.

I wonder even more why it was necessary to introduce a romantic element for Holmes in the first place. Hopefully we’ll see in future entries in the series.

Review: The White Mirror by Elsa Hart

Review: The White Mirror by Elsa HartThe White Mirror (Li Du Novels #2) by Elsa Hart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Li Du #2
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In The White Mirror, the follow-up to Elsa Hart’s critically acclaimed debut, Jade Dragon Mountain, Li Du, an imperial librarian and former exile in 18th century China, is now an independent traveler. He is journeying with a trade caravan bound for Lhasa when a detour brings them to a valley hidden between mountain passes. On the icy planks of a wooden bridge, a monk sits in contemplation. Closer inspection reveals that the monk is dead, apparently of a self-inflicted wound. His robes are rent, revealing a strange symbol painted on his chest.
When the rain turns to snow, the caravan is forced to seek hospitality from the local lord while they wait for the storm to pass. The dead monk, Li Du soon learns, was a reclusive painter. According to the family, his bizarre suicide is not surprising, given his obsession with the demon world. But Li Du is convinced that all is not as it seems. Why did the caravan leader detour to this particular valley? Why does the lord’s heir sleep in the barn like a servant? And who is the mysterious woman traveling through the mountain wilds?
Trapped in the snow, surrounded by secrets and an unexplained grief that haunts the manor, Li Du cannot distract himself from memories he’s tried to leave behind. As he discovers irrefutable evidence of the painter’s murder and pieces together the dark circumstances of his death, Li Du must face the reason he will not go home and, ultimately, the reason why he must.

My Review:

jade dragon mountain by elsa hartIn this second story of the travels of Li Du, exiled Imperial Librarian, he has traveled far from the Court he left behind. But even in this remote mountain valley, it is still very much with him, and not just in his bittersweet memories.

At the end of the marvelous Jade Dragon Mountain, Li Du leaves China intending to travel to Lhasa. Even though his exile has been revoked after the services he renders to the Emperor in that tale, he still feels the urge to travel.

But the further he gets from his home, the more he longs for it. And the more that the mysteries he left behind beckon him to return.

Before that can happen, if it can happen, Li Du must first confront the mysteries that have arisen on his journey. His caravan has been taken off the beaten path, to a remote mountain village, for no reason that he can determine.

And as they reach their destination, Li Du finds himself in the middle of another murder mystery. Just as in Jade Dragon Mountain, Li Du has found another dead priest. But this time, the priest he has found is a Tibetan monk and not a Jesuit priest.

Not that there isn’t a Jesuit involved in this mess, because there is. But this time the Westerner is neither the victim nor the perpetrator. He is lost on a mission of his own. And he is just plain lost.

As the valley is covered in snow, the caravan is stuck waiting for the thaw. And Li Du finds himself incapable of letting the matter rest. The locals want to believe that the bizarre death of the priest is suicide, in spite of many, many clues that make that verdict a bit difficult to swallow. But no one wants to talk about murder.

Except Li Du, and his friend the storyteller Hamza. Li Du may be in pursuit of the truth, but Hamza seems to be looking for a good story. And he tells a bunch of them as he assists his friend.

At first, it seems as if this village murder is a local crime for local reasons. It is all too obvious that someone has designs on the local landowner, his holdings and his pretty wife. There’s a ready made villain, but not one who would have had a reason to kill the more than a bit crazy priest.

Li Du is forced to look far far afield for the reasons behind this crime. He may have left the Imperial Court, but its intrigues have found him. It is up to him to solve the crime before it claims more victims, or before the snow melts and he is forced to leave it all behind.

Escape Rating A-: This story started a bit slower for me than the utterly awesome Jade Dragon Mountain. In the end, I enjoyed The White Mirror very much indeed, but I missed the machinations of the court that permeated the action in the first book. The more this story reached out beyond its remote mountain setting, the faster it flew and the more I loved it.

There are so many delicious red herrings scattered through this snowy landscape. There is some obvious skullduggery going on between the landowner, his wife and his cousin. In that piece of the story there’s a fascinating amount of information about the way that the Dalai Lama and other Lamas are chosen. And how easily that process can be manipulated for both personal and political ends.

At first, it seems as if the current mystery is part of a conspiracy to make the wrong boy a lama, and a different but  equally wrong boy the heir to the household. It’s tragic that both young men have found themselves in situations to which they are not suited, and part of the solution to the crime allows them an opportunity to figure out who they are really meant to be.

But the mystery in The White Mirror, just like the one in Jade Dragon Mountain, involves wheels within wheels, and plots surrounded by counterplots. By the end of the story, we discover that no one is quite who they initially pretended to be. Removing their masks and discovering their true loyalties is what allows Li Du to finally determine not just who murdered the monk, but also why it was done. And just how far the tentacles spread.

And as he unravels the tangled threads, he also unravels the tangle of his own life. Not that he finds a solution to the issues that drove him into exile, but that he finally learns that the only way he can truly solve that mystery is to return to where it all began. He turns for home.