Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: Jane Wunderly #1
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on March 31, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel--an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers wait in the shadows . . . Egypt, 1926. Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won't be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie's best efforts at meddling with her love life, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane's plans to remain cool and indifferent become ancient history in the company of Mr. Redvers, a roguish banker she can't quite figure out . . .
While the Mena House has its share of charming guests, Anna Stainton isn't one of them. The beautiful socialite makes it clear that she won't share the spotlight with anyone--especially Jane. But Jane soon becomes the center of attention when she's the one standing over her unintentional rival's dead body.
Now, with her innocence at stake in a foreign country, Jane must determine who can be trusted, and who had motive to commit a brutal murder. Between Aunt Millie's unusual new acquaintances, a smarmy playboy with an off-putting smile, and the enigmatic Mr. Redvers, someone has too many secrets. Can Jane excavate the horrible truth before her future falls to ruin in Cairo . . . and the body count rises like the desert heat?
The Emersons always stayed at Shepheard’s when they were in Cairo, but I still picked up this book because of my extremely fond memories of Amelia Peabody Emerson and her tribe of family, friends, associates and enemies from her series, which begins in 1884 with Crocodile on the Sandback, and ends with Tomb of the Golden Bird, set in 1922-23 when Amelia would have been 70 or thereabouts. Possibly. She was a bit cagey about her actual age as the numbers rose.
But still, Amelia and her redoubtable husband Radcliffe Emerson were practicing scientific archaeology as well as amateur detecting, through the years when archaeology in Egypt began to shift from treasure hunting to historical fact-finding. An evolution that is still continuing at the time period of Murder at the Mena House.
Jane and Amelia don’t miss each other by much in time – there’s only three years between Amelia’s final bow in 1923 and Jane’s trip to Cairo in 1926 – and they would have enjoyed each other’s company if they had met. Although if they had, Amelia would probably have rescued Jane from her sadistic husband a LOT sooner, instead of waiting for the war to take care of it for her.
While I may have gotten into this because of Amelia, Jane more than carries this story on her own – with able assistance from Mr. Redvers – or the other way around – whatever his name is. It’s fairly obvious to Jane that the handsome Redvers is hiding quite a lot, and not just the question of whether Redvers is his first or last name. Whatever he is, he’s definitely not like any banker that Jane ever met.
But it’s his not-so-well concealed talents that Jane needs when a young woman is murdered at the Mena House – and Jane is the prime suspect.
Jane may have originally come to the Mena House as a companion for her formidable Aunt Millie, but in the wake of that death and the accusation that follows Jane’s mission at the Mena House has multiplied three-fold, if not more.
She needs to clear her name. She wants to figure out who really did murder Anna Stainton, partly to clear herself and partly for the mystery of it. Jane is itching to solve not only that puzzle but all of the other puzzles that ripple out before her, like the identity of the young women that her normally rude and standoffish Aunt has suddenly become so fond of. And then there’s the identify of Mr. Redvers, and his true mission, whatever that might be.
When the murder Jane is accused of tangles itself up with the smugglers that Redvers is trying to catch, the game is definitely afoot. Occasionally camel-foot, but definitely afoot. Also sometimes a-car and a-truck.
Jane is after the murderer, Redvers is after the smuggler, and it begins to look like Jane and Redvers are after each other. If they can get past the many, many lies and half-truths they have told each other in the course of their somewhat impromptu investigation.
If they survive.
Escape Rating B+: Murder at the Mena House is a whole lot of historical cozy mystery fun. And it does a terrific job of opening up this new series. With its meticulous historical details, it also successfully evokes the Golden Age of mystery in which it is set. Poirot would be right at home in the Mena House.
At the same time, this story is written in the 21st century, and like Amelia Peabody written at the end of the 20th, the focus is on its female amateur detective, Jane Wunderly. As a character, Jane makes a good choice for a detective. She’s still relatively young, but as a widow she is less burdened by the restrictions that society placed on young women than she would have been if still unattached.
However, the mystery surrounding her marriage, while easy for the reader to figure out, adds to the depth of her character. She has secrets that, while we may have sussed them out, are not known to her friends and acquaintances, or even her family.
Not that any person in their right mind, as Jane certainly is, would give her Aunt Millie ANY information that could be used later in an attack. Aunt Millie is, frankly, the epitome of an old battle-axe, and the revelations of her own youthful tragedy do not significantly soften her character. Of all of the possible continuing characters for this series, she’s one I hope we don’t see a lot of.
I do hope we see a lot of Redvers, no matter what his name really is. He and Jane form a terrific partnership that contains just the right amount of will they/won’t they. Because Jane has an entire truckload of baggage that she needs to work through in order to be part of a relationship beyond friendship – but she’s getting there.
The mystery in this one, along with the oodles of historical detail, really do sweep the reader back in time and across the ocean to Cairo in the 1920s. In true cozy fashion, there are plenty of red herrings and a ton of misdirection, while at the same time important issues are at least touched on if not dealt with that would not even rate a mention in material actually written at the time this takes place.
And then there’s the antiquities smuggling subplot, which becomes a big part of the main plot. The illicit trade in antiquities – and murder – leads me right back to where I started, with Amelia. She would have been right at home in the Mena House helping Jane investigate this crime spree. I can see the passing of the torch, and I’m so there for it.