Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. Owens

Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. OwensScript of the Heart: A Celta Heartmates Novel by Robin D Owens
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, science fiction romance
Series: Celta's Heartmates #9A
Pages: 364
Published by Follow Your Heart on October 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Celta, a place of magic, telepathic animal companions, and romance...Script of the Heart, a story set decades ago, of a couple struggling with love and loss...

Giniana Filix, a dedicated Healer, is desperate to raise funds for an experimental treatment to save her dying FamCat. She has no time or interest in a relationship.

Growing up on an impoverished estate as the last of his line, actor Klay St. Johnswort hears of a script of a lifetime, a script he believes will catapult his career to greatness and enable him to restore his home. Appalled to learn the script has mysteriously disappeared, he is determined to reclaim it at all costs.His desire to be close fuels her fear of abandonment.

Her distrust of actors clashes with his pride in his craft. But they discover a connection they can’t deny. Will their attraction be enough to force them to write their own Script of the Heart?

My Review:

Sometimes, even though, as the saying goes, it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it isn’t actually a duck. The Celta’s Heartmates series is one of those “not a duck” situations, along with Pern, Darkover, Harmony and Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra.

These are all series that read like fantasy and/or fantasy romance, but if you look under the hood – or back in the history of how these places came to be – there’s a space ship lurking in the shadows. Or in the case of Markswoman an apocalypse. And if you’re looking for a book to cross over from one of these genres to the other, something from one of these series might just be your jam.

What I mean is that all of these series feel like fantasy. Their worlds are either lower tech than ours is currently, and/or what tech they have is based on something other than electricity – usually psi power of some kind. The mileage, parsecs and/or warp speed varies.

But these are worlds that have a scientific origin and reverted to a lower level of technology either out of necessity or conscious planning. Usually within the course of the series those origins, if not widely known, are re-discovered.

Celta, in specific, is a lost colony of our very own Earth, in a far-flung future. It was settled by the survivors of three ships from Earth, filled with refugees who left because they were persecuted for their psi-power, called Flair in this series. By the time that Script of the Heart takes place, Celta has been established for centuries. Life on Celta is not perfect (no place is perfect) but it is good for most people most of the time.

Celta also seems like a reasonable place to live. This society seems to actually work and not merely lurch from crisis to crisis. The world creation in this series is top-notch every step of the way.

This story, in spite of its designation as #9a in the series, is a full-length novel. But it takes place chronologically during the events of Heart Journey. You don’t need to have read that to enjoy this, but you do probably need to have some other exposure to Celta before diving into Script of the Heart. Starting with either Heart Mate (the first published book in the series) or the story Heart and Sword (included in the Hearts and Swords collection) the first story in the internal world chronology, should be enough to get you hooked.

The course of true love never does run smooth, and that is certainly true in Script of the Heart – along with a rather large helping of “pride goeth before a fall”. Klay St. Johnsworth is a respected actor at the height of his career. He is also the last of his respected but not in the least wealthy line.

Giniana Filix is a respected healer who was abandoned by her family of actors. This has not left her with a very high opinion of the profession, and in some ways rightly so. She’s done her best to make her own way, but at the moment it isn’t quite enough.

Her FamCat, Thrisca, is the “oldest of the old” of the telepathic, highly intelligent FamAnimals that live on Celta. Thrisca is dying. Giniana will do anything to earn enough money to allow Thrisca to participate in an expensive and experimental procedure that might just save her life – if Giniana doesn’t work herself into illness along the way.

Giniana doesn’t have time for romance, or even friendly relationships. She’s working every hour of the day and night to earn the money for Thrisca’s treatment. But that’s when she meets Klay, and can’t make herself resist the actor – no matter how much she distrusts his profession.

It’s mostly Giniana’s pride that gets in the way, as well as her lingering resentments of her family situation. It’s not just that her parents were actors, but that they were profligate with their money, sparing with their affection, and never seemed to put anything before their own careers and especially their own selves. Not even each other and certainly not their daughter.

That her mother spent her life looking for a man to sponge off of has left Giniana with a fear of taking help, at least help in the form of money, from anyone. Even someone she is coming to love.

But Klay has his own pride. He wants to help Giniana. But he needs for her to accept him as he is, because his career is every bit as much a part of him as hers is of her. It’s up to Klay with a little bit of help from her FamCat (and her FamCat’s FamCat) to get Giniana to finally see that sometimes we all need a little help from our friends.

Escape Rating A-: Script of the Heart is simply a lovely romance between two interesting people in a fascinating place.

It’s not just that Klay and Giniana are great people to follow into a romance, but also that their story shows a side of Celta that we don’t see all that often. While many of the stories involve couples who operate at the highest echelons of this society, Klay and Giniana are both in the lower-middle class. They both have to work for a living, and they have to live off what they make. They also have to worry about scrimping and saving and not always having quite enough to meet their everyday needs, even with careful planning.

We’ve seen a few people at the very low end of this society get vaulted into the upper class, but it’s been a while since we’ve followed people in this situation, if ever. It’s impossible not to feel for Giniana and her desperate need to keep her oldest and best friend, her FamCat Thrisca, alive and well if at all possible. Those of us who have companion animals know that feeling of watching a beloved friend slip away and being unable to stop it.

The FamKitten Melis offers the comic relief in this story, as Klay brings her to Giniana in the hopes that Melis may be able to ease her grief if the worst happens to Thrisca. That the old FamCat herself adopts the kitten gives Thrisca a bit of a new lease on life. But the FamCats in general are simply a joy to read. (We have a little kitten of our own right now, and Melis is VERY kitten!)

So a lovely romance, with happy endings all around. Especially for the FamCats!

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + GiveawayAsk Me No Questions (A Lady Dunbridge Mystery #1) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #1
Pages: 352
Published by Forge on October 16, 2018
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From New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble, Ask Me No Questions is the first in the Lady Dunbridge Mystery series featuring a widow turned sleuth in turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City.

A modern woman in 1907, Lady Dunbridge is not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She’s ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm.

From the decadence of high society balls to the underbelly of Belmont horse racing, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

Although this is the first book in a new series, it has a bit of the feeling of starting in the middle (in a good way), as Lady Philomena Dunbridge seems to have already solved at least one mystery ahead of the police when we first meet her. In London. Being lectured to and ordered about by her father.

Who seems to have forgotten that Phil is a widow of independent means, and no longer under his control. He also doesn’t seem to understand just how determined she is to stay that way.

In her determination, Phil takes herself off to America to stay with her best friend, Beverly Reynolds. Phil is hoping that Bev’s membership in the smart set of Gilded Age New York City will provide her with the entree that she needs into New York high society.

And far, far away from the stultifying traditions of “jolly olde England” where she will be forced, one way or another, to occupy the place reserved for dowager countesses. At 30ish, Phil is much, much too young to be a dowager, or to put herself on any kind of shelf.

She comes to New York to live.

Only to be greeted at the dock by the corpse of Bev’s husband, leaving her with a mystery to solve.

That Reggie Reynolds was shot by Bev’s gun would automatically make her a suspect, even if he hadn’t been found in the arms of his mistress.

At first, the police seem determined to pin Reggie’s murder on either Bev or the mistress. And while Phil has no compunctions about letting the poor floradora girl face the music if she’s guilty, it doesn’t seem possible. Especially when a second dead body turns up in Bev’s library, also shot with her gun.

And that’s where the story goes off to the races. Literally. Because Reggie had a horse running at Belmont, and Devil’s Thunder was favored to win. Favored to win enough that all of Reggie’s many, many creditors should have been paid off.

Unless, of course, that was the point of his murder after all.

Escape Rating A-: Phil reminds me a great deal of Phryne Fisher, and for this reader, that’s an excellent thing. Although the Lady Dunbridge series is set in Gilded Age New York, as is Joanna Shupe’s marvelous Four Hundred series, it’s Phil’s likeness to Phryne that sticks in my mind. And also more than a bit of Lydia Kang’s excellent A Beautiful Poison)

Both women are more than a bit cynical and jaded. While the both acknowledge benefits of kowtowing to society expectations, they also are very much aware of just how hollow and hypocritical those expectations are. Phil has to live by her wits a bit more than Phryne does, so she gives a bit more than lip service to those expectations, but their attitudes are similar.

And while Phil does not bed hop to the degree that Phryne does, it is clear that she also takes her pleasures where she finds them, if a bit more discreetly than her Australian counterpart.

Phil has also become an amateur detective, although in her first official outing she is still at the point where she becomes involved because a friend – and also herself – are under threat of being embroiled in the police investigation. She’s not yet taking paying clients – although there’s a hint that she may have an unofficial, semi-official paying client in future books.

What makes Phil so much fun is that she definitely has all of her wits about her, and never, ever looks down her nose at anyone who might be able to help her in her investigations. Like her butler and her lady’s maid, both of whom seem to be quite a bit more than they seem.

She also never looks a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it’s an actual horse – or at least an actual clue about a horse. The recommendation she receives from a mysterious stranger to read Sherlock Holmes’ Adventure of the Silver Blaze is a bit of a clue-by-four, but her pursuit of said clue is every bit as much fun as her pursuit of the mysterious stranger.

I simply had a lot of good fun with Phil, much as I do with Phryne. If you enjoy historical mysteries featuring intelligent and cynical female detectives, this is a real gem and I sincerely hope the series continues. Soon.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle

Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy CarlyleA Duke Changes Everything (Duke's Den, #1) by Christy Carlyle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Duke's Den #1
Pages: 371
Published by Avon on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the first novel in Christy Carlyle’s sizzling Duke’s Den series, three men, intent on making a fortune, discover irresistible opportunities . . .

Nicholas Lyon gambled his way into a fortune and ownership of the most opulent, notorious gentlemen’s club in England. But when Nick’s cruel brother dies, he inherits a title he never wanted. The sooner Nick is rid of the estate that has always haunted him, the sooner he can return to the life he’s built in London. But there’s one obstacle—the exquisite Thomasina Thorne.

When the new heir to the Tremayne dukedom suddenly appears in Mina Thorne’s life, she’s flustered. Not only is he breathtakingly handsome, but he’s also determined to take away her home and position as steward of the Enderley estate. If Mina learns what makes the enigmatic duke tick, perhaps she can change his mind—as long as she doesn’t get too close to him.

With each day Nick spends with Mina, his resolve weakens as their colliding wills lead to explosive desire. Could she be the one woman who can help him finally bury the ghosts of his past?

My Review:

There are multiple ways to interpret the title of this lovely historical romance, and all of them are equally applicable to the story.

It could be that BECOMING a duke changes everything, because it certainly does for Nick Lyon.

It could be that the ARRIVAL of a duke changes everything, because it definitely does that for both Thomasina (Mina) Thorne and the ducal estate at Enderley.

It could also be that the new duke himself, Nick Lyon, changes everything related to being a duke, to dealing with his own past and forging his own future.

And it’s a whole lot of fun every single step of the way.

There’s also just a bit of a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe to this story. Nick Lyon certainly thinks of himself as a beast. He isn’t but his late and unlamented father drummed the idea into him often enough – and left Nick with the physical as well as the emotional scars to make it seem all too inevitable.

Mina is every bit as practical a girl as Belle, and also very much in love with books, as the heroine of the Disney version of the story certainly was. There’s even Gaston-a-like in this tale if you squint a bit.

Mina and Nick begin on opposite sides. She has devoted her life to taking care of the estate, but most importantly its people. Nick’s plan is to strip the estate bare and rent it out to whoever will give him the most money. Not because he actually needs the money, but because he absolutely cannot stand the place. Every moment he is forced to spend there reminds him of the torment he and his mother suffered at the hands of his abusive father.

On the one hand, it’s hard to blame Nick for his feelings. And on the other, the old man is dead, as is Nick’s older brother. Any of the people who participated in or colluded with his abuse are dead and gone. He can’t make them suffer anymore. But abandoning his responsibilities will hurt the people of the estate and the nearby village.

Mina tries to make him see the place through her eyes of love and duty, while he tries to avoid letting her see the depth of his pain. When they manage to meet in the middle, the find a place where they can both belong – together.

Escape Rating A-: A Duke Changes Everything is an absolutely delightful historical romp – without being nearly as frothy as historical romances can sometimes be.

Just because no one talked about either child abuse or spousal abuse, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen in historical eras. It just wasn’t punished, at least not unless the spouse or the child had enough and either ran away and/or killed the perpetrator. Then the victims got punished.

Nick was beaten, starved, imprisoned and eventually escaped with the help of his mother and the butler. His mother died in exile in Paris and Nick lived by his wits, eventually returning to England and opening an extremely successful gambling den. He remakes himself completely, but never heals from the abuse.

Mina was a child on the estate when Nick left, younger than he. And the sons of the duke, even if the duke believed that Nick was a bastard, did not associate with the daughter of the steward. Mina grew up in the same place Nick was tortured under the loving care (and occasionally benign neglect) of her father. When he died, she slid into his place – and Nick’s brother either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

What makes this story work so well is the way that they change each other’s lives. Mina gets Nick to see that his responsibilities don’t have to be the painful burden that they have been, and he gets her to see that she can both take care of her responsibilities and also let go enough to enjoy the world she’s always longed to see.

Part of what made this story so lovely was the way that it ended, as Nick and his partners decide – with a bit of a push from Mina – to change the focus of their gambling den from betting on games of chance to betting on inventors. The next book in the series, Anything But a Duke, looks like it will be loads of fun!

Reviewer’s Note: I KNOW I’ve read a book with a similar premise (Lord inherits estate and arrives to discover his steward is a woman) sometime in the not too distant past. I’ve been trying to find it, but so far, no joy. If you recognize it, please let me know in the comments. I’m going bananas!

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. KlingerFor the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, historical mystery, mystery, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Featuring Stories by: Peter S. Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni L. P. Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, D. P. Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoe Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson.

My Review:

Welcome to my review of the biennual collection of Sherlock Holmes-inspired stories edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. This is an every two years treat, as evidenced by my reviews of the previous collections in this quasi-series, A Study In Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes.

The stories in all of these collections were inspired by Holmes, one way or another, and are commissioned for the collections. And like all collections, they are a bit of a mixed bag. The game, however, is definitely afoot, both in stories that feel like they could be part of the original canon, and in stories that take their inspiration from the Great Detective without necessarily featuring him in either his Victorian guise or a more contemporary one.

I have several favorites in this year’s collection, one each to reflect the different aspects of Holmesiana that are represented here.

My favorite story in the manner of the master himself The Case of the Missing Case by Alan Gordon. It takes place before the canon begins, when Mycroft is still working his way up the government ladder, and Sherlock, in his very early 20s, has not yet taken up rooms with Watson. And is not yet quite as sure of himself and his methods as he will later become. It actually fits quite nicely into the period between the excellent Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse, and the beginning of the official canon.in A Study in Scarlet.

In this story we see a very young Sherlock justifying his continuing presence in London to the consternation of his parents and the absolute chagrin of brother Mycroft by solving the case of a missing violinist and saving his brother’s life. This story also provides a rather lovely explanation for Sherlock’s acquisition of his famous Stradivarius.

This collection has relatively few Holmesian stories set in the Victorian era. Most are either modern variations of Holmes – or modern detectives, whether amateur or professional, who use Holmes’ methods.

Of the contemporary Holmes stories, I can’t decide between Hounded by Zoe Sharp and The Ghost of the Lake by Jamie Freveletti. They are such completely different versions of the 21st century Holmes that choosing between them is impossible.

Hounded by Zoe Sharp is so much fun because it is a contemporary reworking of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It shows just how timeless the canon can be, by transplanting from the 19th century to the 21st and still making it all, including the ghostly hound, work.

The Ghost of the Lake, on the other hand, is a 21st century version of Holmes that owes a lot to both Elementary and Sherlock without feeling like an imitation of either. In this story, Sherlock Holmes is a 21st century operative for a secret British government department who has come to Chicago to prevent the kidnapping of an American national security specialist who has plenty of tricks up her own sleeve – and who is every bit Holmes’ equal in every way.

I liked, not only the portrayal of Holmes in this story, but also the character of Dr. Hester Regine. And I loved the trip down memory lane to Chicago, my favorite of all of the places that we have lived.

Last but not least, the story that took the phrase “inspired by Sherlock Holmes” to new heights. And depths. And several places in between. That would be The Adventure of the Six Sherlocks by Toni L.P. Kelner. This story both spoofs the love of Holmes and celebrates it at the same time, as its amateur detectives find themselves using Sherlock Holmes’ own methods to investigate a murder at a convention of Sherlock Holmes fans.

The story reminds me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, where an author is murdered at a science fiction convention – but if “Six Sherlocks” uses that book as a springboard, it’s a very light spring.

Even the idea of a cooking show featuring actors portraying Holmes and Watson is hilarious. But when someone murders “Holmes” at the Sherlock Holmes convention, there are too many pretend Sherlocks and nearly not enough real ones to crack the case. This one is a light and fun send up of fan conventions in general and Sherlock Holmes mania in particular as well as being a cute mystery.

Escape Rating B+: Overall I enjoyed this collection. There were a couple of stories that just weren’t quite my cuppa, and one or two where it felt like they were a bit too far off the Holmesian tangent to be in this collection.

I read it in a day, finding myself getting so caught up in each story that I almost finished before I knew it. If you like Holmes or Holmes-like or Holmes-lite stories, this collection is every bit as much of a treat as its predecessors.

Of all the stories in all these collections, the one that still haunts me is from the first one, A Study in Sherlock. It’s The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman, and it’s the one that I still most want to be true.

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + Giveaway

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + GiveawayThe Frame-Up (The Golden Arrow #1) by Meghan Scott Molin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Golden Arrow #1
Pages: 287
Published by 47North on December 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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By day she writes comic books. By night, she lives them.

MG Martin lives and breathes geek culture. She even works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page.

But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. The thing is…superheroes aren’t real. Are they?

When the too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules. And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble.

Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks…

My Review:

First of all, think of Batman. Not because he appears in this story, except by mention. As does every geeky/nerdy movie, TV show, book, comic and game that you can think of. And a few you probably can’t. (Not just because a few of the geek references are made up for the purposes of this story, but because no geek, no matter how dedicated, is into absolutely every geekish everything on every geekish axis. I say this as someone who is fairly geeky, and recognized most but not quite all of the references and in-jokes.)

And I’m not sure if someone without at least a passing knowledge of geekdom will enjoy this story, because there are a LOT of in-jokes. And while the point of the romance part of the plot is that MG finally realizes that she doesn’t need to find someone who knows the ins and outs of geek culture in order to find her happily ever after, it does help the reader to know what at least some of what the flying references refer to.

Back to Batman. Among all of the famous superheroes, Batman is the one who is just “original recipe” human. He may be incredibly rich, and probably has a heaping helping of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but underneath the batsuit is just a (usually really, really buff) man. No extra-terrestrial origin, no mythic ancestors, no science experiment gone wrong. Just as Batman responds in Justice League to the question, “What are your superpowers again?”. His answer, “I’m rich.”. And that’s all.

The “caped crusader” who turns out to be at the heart of the mystery in The Frame-Up, the Hooded Falcon, is just like Batman. Not nearly as rich, but just as human. And only human. Excessively trained, and with a desire to see justice done, but merely human.

As a comic book, the original Hooded Falcon died decades before the opening of the events in this story, but MG Martin is a writer for Genius Comics, the company founded on the popularity of the Hooded Falcon. And even though the Falcon’s original creator is long since dead, his son still publishes a comic under the Hooded Falcon name – admittedly without any of his father’s, or his father’s creation’s spirit.

But someone in LA is committing crimes that recreate panels from the classic Hooded Falcon adventures. This person seems to have taken up either the banner of the Falcon himself, or perhaps that of the Falcon’s creator. Either way, there’s a vigilante on the streets of LA who has put himself (or possibly herself) in the sights of LA’s current generation of drug kingpins.

The police want to stop the crime spree before it’s too late. After a chance encounter, Detective Matteo Kildaire recruits MG as a police consultant expert on all things geek in general, and on her hero the Hooded Falcon in particular.

But all the clues point much, much too close to home, both for MG and Matteo. When his creator died, the Hooded Falcon was on the trail of both the drug kingpins AND the dirty cop who was covering for them.

History seems to be repeating, with both MG and Matteo caught in the crossfire. This time it’s not a crossfire of BAM and KAPOW, but real guns firing real bullets and dealing real death. They have to find the faces behind the masks, before it’s too late for our heroes.

After all, in real life there’s no possibility of a failure saving reboot if they get it wrong.

Escape Rating B-: The Frame-Up felt a bit like two books in one. One book that I really liked, and one that I really didn’t.

The first third or so of the story is the setup. We get introduced to MG, her coworkers at Genius Comics, and the opening frames of her relationship with Matteo. That relationship begins by being intimately tied to the case – not that it doesn’t take on a life of its own.

But the introduction to MG’s world is hard to take. MG is the lone female at Genius Comics. We see things entirely from her perspective, and that’s a realistically scary place to be. Geekdom in general, and geekdom-creation spaces in particular, are rightfully notorious for their misogynistic dudebro culture. Women are made to feel unwelcome, and it’s deliberate. MG is correct in her belief that she has to be “more badass” than any of the guys just to be taken half as seriously  – no matter how unfair it is or how much it hurts to be that defensive all the time.

Matteo, with his need to find an “in” so that he can surreptitiously scope out the company, absolutely DOES undermine MG’s position. That she falls for him rather than boot him to the curb at the first opportunity rankles quite a lot.

And the whole setup makes for very hard reading.

Once things are significantly setup, the story kicks into a higher gear and becomes a lot of fun.

The mystery is definitely a wild and crazy ride, only missing a few scattered BAMs and KAPOWs to make it completely part of the comic hero genre. I really liked MG’s nerdiness and felt for her desire to be her authentic best self. I particularly liked the way that Matteo, while he is a “virgin” when it comes to geek culture, is open minded about everything he experiences. It’s easy to see that he accepts MG for who she is, loves her as she is, and doesn’t feel any need to cram her into a box that won’t fit – as her parents and so many people in her life have previously tried to do.

The case has a lot of heart to it. It’s about children taking care of, writing wrongs for, or attempting to get past the legacies of their parents. It’s about superheroes and supervillains, and how real people come to fit into those places – whether they intend to or not.

And in the best superhero tradition, good triumphs, evil gets its just deserts, and the hero and heroine live happily ever after. At least until the next supervillain comes along…

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Frame-Up to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

Review: Markswoman by Rati MehrotraMarkswoman (Asiana, #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Asiana #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager on January 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife.

My Review:

This one sits right on the border between YA fantasy and Adult epic fantasy. I say this as more of a warning, in that the “official” genre designations on both Goodreads and Amazon emphasize the epic fantasy aspects and gloss over the young adult heroine. I enjoyed the book a lot, and am hoping to get an eARC for the second book in the series, Mahimata, but I’m not sure I would have picked it up if I’d known it was YA. So I’m not sorry in the least that I did, but your mileage may vary.

The Asiana series is also part of the “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but isn’t actually a duck” school of fantasy-flavored science fiction. Or, if you prefer, science fiction that feels like fantasy. Like Pern or Celta, worlds that were created or found by science but have either regressed or chosen to live in a way that feels fantasy-like. I suspect that the SFnal origin will come into play later in this series, just as it does in both Pern and Celta.

In the case of Asiana, this world is a far-future, extremely post-Apocalyptic version of quite possibly our own Earth. The Apocalypse in question is so far back in the distant past that it is by this point a matter of myth and legend rather than history, but it is definitely there. The Orders of Peace of which the Order of Kali that Kyra belongs to is one, are known to be descendants of that long ago catastrophe.

More than long enough ago that the rules, regulations, strictures and beliefs have morphed considerably over the centuries. But at their heart lies that long ago, planetary-wide devastation.

But this story takes place in that far-future “present” and focuses on the struggles of the young Markswoman, Kyra.

Markswomen are bonded to their specially forged blades, and serve as peacekeepers, guards, judges and sometimes assassins throughout the world of Asiana. We meet Kyra as she undertakes her first Mark, the death that signifies a change in her status from apprentice to full-fledged Markswoman.

For Kyra it is also a personal quest, as her mark is the son of the man who wiped out her entire clan. It is justice, as his father murdered her clan’s future, she in turn kills his.

But it also marks the beginning of a long journey. One in which Kyra discovers that what she has been taught is not all that it seems – and that betrayal comes most easily from those that are closest to us.

It is a lesson that sends Kyra on a journey across the continent and back, because the person who has been betrayed is Kyra’s teacher and not herself. And Kyra is the only person capable of resetting the balance.

Escape Rating B+: Markswoman is the opening of a terrific epic fantasy – one that is all the better for having its roots somewhere other than the Western traditions that so often flavor epic fantasy.

The story also sits on that dividing line between coming-of-age and coming-into-power. Kyra is on the cusp of becoming a full Markswoman as the story begins. She is uncertain about her place in the Order of Kali and in her world in general. And she has to leave home in order to figure out what her destiny is and where she truly belongs. For most of the story, she is constantly learning lessons – not the formal lessons that comprised her novitiate and apprenticeship in the order, but the life lessons that will allow her to move forward.

One of the hardest, as it so often is, is the lesson about letting go. Not giving up, but of learning which are the battles to be fought and which are the injustices to be forgiven. We feel her indecision, her desperation, her frustration and her impatience. We also feel her need to make things right, and the conflict that brings to her heart.

But, as I said at the beginning, this story lies on the knife edge between YA and epic fantasy. The one place where it slips into YA territory is in its treatment of potential romantic relationships, as it very nearly falls into the dreaded love triangle trap. It doesn’t quite fall, but it gets a bit too close for comfort.

This also leads to wondering about the complete gender segregation of all of the Orders of Peace and how on Earth – or Asiana – that possibly works. Admittedly, we do get hints that it doesn’t. But it does make one wonder how Kyra’s nascent relationship with a Marksman from another order is going to work – if at all – or how much trouble it’s going to get them both into if they survive.

Which leads to my fair warning about the end of the book. Because Markswoman ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. While I wonder what took me so long to read it, I’m also glad that the eARC for the second book is already available. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene TurstenAn Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, short stories
Pages: 184
Published by Soho Crime on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?

My Review:

I picked this up because I loved the title. And because I read one of the author’s previous books in her Inspector Huss series (Who Watchetch) and liked it very much. So I was hoping for more of the same, both in the style and of the character.

And I was in the mood for a mystery. I got a tiny taste of Inspector Huss – but I’m not so sure about the mystery – because we always know whodunit.

Mostly, I got a variation on Arsenic and Old Lace, with a much smaller cast and no lace. Also, the old lady administering the equivalent of the arsenic isn’t nearly so lovable. – but she’s twice as irascible.

She’s also much better at hiding her tracks.

There’s a part of me that wants to be Maud when I’m her age. After all, she’s in her late 80s in these stories, and is perfectly capable of traveling around the world by herself at a whim, as well as able to climb through her own apartment windows in order to cover up a bit of murder.

I’d want the first part but not the second. Maud’s answer to taking care of situations that bother her is just murder. And she doesn’t even seem to have much of a conscience about it.

Great health, lousy ethics. Not that the people that we see her eliminate aren’t due for a bit of trouble, but murder seems a bit drastic. Most of the time.

The stories in this collection that are the most interesting are the two at the end, The Antique Dealer’s Death and An Elderly Lady is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma, because they show the same crime from two rather different perspectives.

In The Antique Dealer’s Death Inspector Irene Huss is called to Maud’s apartment, The elderly lady has found a dead body stewing in one of the unused rooms. We see Maud at her best, pretending to be confused and frail, but by this point in the collection we know it’s an act.

The police, however, do not. They take the old lady’s behavior at face value, which is always a huge mistake. Maud’s behavior can never be taken at face value. We watch both the police and even an amateur detective who gets roped into the scene fix their sights on the dead antique dealer having an accomplice who killed him and scarpered when they attempted to rob the old lady. And we know they are all barking up the wrong tree – or scaffolding.

But in the companion story, An Elderly Lady is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma, we see Maud in all of her excellent health, equally excellent planning, and slightly sociopathic glory as she discovers the antique dealer in the process of robbing her and decides not just to kill him but also how to fool the police.

As she does, and does well. The Inspector does figure out at the end that the only logical conclusion to the crime is that Maud did it, but she is also aware that there is no way to prove it.

Maud is just too good when she is up to no good.

Escape Rating A-: Lesson to be learned, never take an old lady for granted, she may be more than she seems. Maud’s “adventures” make for grisly fun, and a quick read if you’re in the mood to dip into a bit of Scandinavian noir.

Review: Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Trust by Mary BaloghSomeone to Trust (Westcott, #5) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Series: Westcott #5
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

During a rare white Christmas at Brambledean Court, the widow Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, defies convention by falling in love with a younger man in the latest novel in the Westcott series.

After her husband's passing, Elizabeth Overfield decides that she must enter into another suitable marriage. That, however, is the last thing on her mind when she meets Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, at the Westcott Christmas house party. She simply enjoys his company as they listen to carolers on Christmas Eve, walk home from church together on Christmas morning, and engage in a spirited snowball fight in the afternoon. Both are surprised when their sled topples them into a snow bank and they end up sharing an unexpected kiss. They know there is no question of any relationship between them for she is nine years older than he.

They return to London the following season, both committed to finding other, more suitable matches. Still they agree to share one waltz at each ball they attend. This innocuous agreement proves to be one that will topple their worlds, as each dance steadily ensnares them in a romance that forces the two to question what they are willing to sacrifice for love...

My Review:

This is the latest volume in the marvelous historical romance Westcott series. The series as a whole deals with the consequences of the late Lord Humphrey Westcott’s bastardy. That bastardy was only in the metaphorical sense, but he certainly qualified. When it was discovered, upon his death, that his marriage to his still-living countess was bigamous – on his part – his family was forced to re-think their entire future. Not just his now illegitimate son and daughters whose futures were suddenly not what they thought they were, as they and his wife were ostracized by society, but also the lives of both his legitimate daughter, suddenly an heiress, and his cousin who has acquired a title that came with a neglected estate, a load of debt, and no money to deal with either.

What makes the series so marvelous is the way that each of the affected people deals with the sudden change in their circumstances. While it is not necessary to read them all to enjoy any one in particular, they are great stories. If you want the full tale of just how big a bastard Lord Humphrey is, start with Someone to Love, appropriately titled because the Westcott family, minus Lord Humphrey, is very lovable indeed.

Even though the overall story has not yet dealt with all of the late Lord Humphrey’s children (I suspect the story about his son Harry is going to be last) the family connections have expanded enough through marriage that we are able to get this delightful romance between two of those connections on the outer fringe of the group.

Elizabeth Overfield is still a relatively young widow at 35, and she has reached the conclusion that it is time for her to marry again and finally set up her own household now that her brother Alex has found the love of his life. (Alex and Wren’s story is in Someone to Wed)

But Alex and Wren’s marriage has brought Wren’s brother Colin into the Westcott fold. Because of the circumstances of Wren’s early life, as detailed in Someone to Wed, Wren is estranged from most of her family – and with good reason.

Colin would prefer not to have much to do with his mother and his other sisters himself, not after hearing Wren’s full story, but he doesn’t have much choice. Colin is Lord Hodges, the head of his family, and he needs to do something to keep his narcissistic mother both in line and out of his business. It’s going to be an uphill battle – especially as it’s a battle he’s avoided since he gained the title several years ago upon the death of his father. Colin is now 26 and it’s past time for him to take up all his responsibilities – including finding a wife and continuing the family.

Colin and Elizabeth meet at the Westcott family Christmas party, the first of what will clearly be an ongoing tradition at her brother Alex’s partially updated family pile. (He’s working on it, and it needs a LOT of work)

As people who are both a bit outside the central family circle, Colin and Elizabeth gravitate towards each other, and discover that they like each other’s company very much indeed. More than either of them is willing to admit to the other – or even to themselves.

Elizabeth is 9 years older than Colin, so any relationship between them other than friendship seems impossible. She can’t believe he would be interested in a woman so many years older, and he can’t believe she’d be interested in someone so callow and immature.

Except, of course, they’re both wrong. And so very right for each other.

Escape Rating A-: I love it when an older woman/younger man romance does it right, as Someone to Trust certainly does. I also hate it when it’s done wrong or for laughs, which never happens in this story.

While the time and place are different, the thoughts running through Colin’s and especially Elizabeth’s heads are very real and ring true to life. My life. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so when this trope works for me, it really works. When it doesn’t, it grates like sandpaper.

No sandpaper in this romance.

This series in general has been terrific. Each of the people affected by Lord Humphrey’s mess are affected differently, and their reactions, while different, have felt realistic. Harry joined the army. His older sister gets a job. His mother retreats. His cousin tries to find a woman he can love who also happens to have a fortune so he can handle the responsibilities he’s just been saddled with.

Colin and Elizabeth are less directly affected by Lord Humphrey’s shenanigans, but they have plenty of issues of their own. Elizabeth’s late and totally unlamented husband was an alcoholic who beat her during his drunken rages. She married him because she loved him, and doesn’t trust herself to fall in love again. Once burned, twice shy, and with good reason.

Colin’s family, with the exception of his sister Wren, is a piece of work. Especially his mother, who fits the classic definition of a narcissist, whether the term was known or not in the 19th century. Just because there’s no word for something doesn’t mean the phenomenon doesn’t exist. The scary thing about his mother is that she’s real. I’ve met people like that, even to that degree although it manifested differently. And they are every bit as frightening as his mother because they live in their own little world and do entirely too good a job of manipulating the rest of the world into conforming with their self-centered views – because they can’t hear or see anything else.

One of the issues with any age gap romance, whichever direction it goes, is to deal with closing the emotional/maturity/experience gap. This is all too often glossed over when the gap goes in the traditional direction, but it’s always there.

In this story, it’s handled well. Colin’s experience with his parents, particularly his mother, would result in him growing up early. When the parent is the child, the child becomes the parent. It works.

And so does the rest of this story, as Colin and Elizabeth meet in the middle, and realize that in spite of all of the outside voices that say they couldn’t possibly love each other or have a successful marriage, the still, small voices inside their own hearts are very, very sure that they can and they will.

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security (Team 52 #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Team 52 #3
Pages: 212
Published by Anna Hackett on November 11th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like. But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

My Review:

I’ve always said that this series reminded me of Stargate. I had to laugh out loud when they headed to Denver, the home of the Cheyenne Mountain Base. There may not be a Stargate in the mountain, but as many artifacts as Team 52 has turned up so far, you never know!

This story begins when Team 52’s logistics expert, Kinsey Beck, is kidnapped from their in-town “Bunker” in Las Vegas. Her kidnapping sets off several chain reactions, reactions of all different kinds.

One is the chain reaction her kidnapping sets off in Smith Creed, one of the loners in Team 52. He’s interested in Kinsey, but as has been the case with the other heroes in this series, Smith believes that he’s too damaged to be good for Kinsey. Kinsey has more than few emotional scars of her own, and has assumed that her own interest in Smith is one-sided. Wondering whether or not you’re going to live another day has a way of focusing one’s priorities.

Although Smith tries to keep Kinsey at more than arm’s length, when the first snatch and grab turns into the second and eventually the third, he gives in to the inevitable – and Kinsey is more than willing to give in to him. She just doesn’t think it will last.

There are also some subterranean chain reactions, set off by the ancient artifact that Team 52 is forced to trade for Kinsey’s life. Someone seems to think that setting off earthquakes is the perfect way to get attention – and remake the world.

Of course Team 52, with more than a little help from Treasure Hunter Security, is going to stop the villains from carrying out their nefarious plans – once they manage to stop everyone from kidnapping Kinsey!

Escape Rating B-: My favorite scene was when Team 52 meets up with Treasure Hunter Security in the THS offices, and Darcy Ward (co-owner of THS and heroine of Undetected) tell them, “THS badasses meet the Team 52 badasses.” What a hoot!

However, I also found myself thinking that for all the prep that the badasses of Team 52 do for their missions, they did a really lousy job of taking care of the security for their logistics manager. So much of what happens to Kinsey in this story happens because she wasn’t prepared. Not that she didn’t do fairly well with the hand that she was dealt, but she gets kidnapped so damn often because she wasn’t nearly well trained enough for a situation that seemed inevitable.

Some evildoer was bound to figure out that Kinsey was the weak link in Team 52’s security sooner or later – and they really should have bet on sooner. After all, it’s what they do.

As with all of this author’s work, I found the story to be a lot of fun, but it also felt like the cheesy factor lived up to the title. I’ve always found the titles of this series to be particularly cheesy, and this entry lives up to the cheese.

First, Kinsey gets kidnapped way too often. One of the things I like about this author is that she usually doesn’t resort to the stereotypical “heroine in jeopardy” plot devices. This outing got way too close to falling into that trope trap.

That being said, I still had a good time with Mission: Her Security – even if poor Kinsey wasn’t very secure for a good chunk of the book. But then, that’s why it needed to be a mission!

I’m looking forward to Anna Hackett’s return to science fiction romance in Edge of Eon, coming in December. OMG that’s next month! YAY!

Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise PennyKingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14
Pages: 400
Published by Minotaur Books on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The new Chief Inspector Gamache novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author.

When a peculiar letter arrives inviting Armand Gamache to an abandoned farmhouse, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec discovers that a complete stranger has named him one of the executors of her will. Still on suspension, and frankly curious, Gamache accepts and soon learns that the other two executors are Myrna Landers, the bookseller from Three Pines, and a young builder.

None of them had ever met the elderly woman.

The will is so odd and includes bequests that are so wildly unlikely that Gamache and the others suspect the woman must have been delusional. But what if, Gamache begins to ask himself, she was perfectly sane?

When a body is found, the terms of the bizarre will suddenly seem less peculiar and far more menacing.

But it isn’t the only menace Gamache is facing.

The investigation into what happened six months ago—the events that led to his suspension—has dragged on, into the dead of winter. And while most of the opioids he allowed to slip though his hands, in order to bring down the cartels, have been retrieved, there is one devastating exception.

Enough narcotic to kill thousands has disappeared into inner city Montreal. With the deadly drug about to hit the streets, Gamache races for answers.

As he uses increasingly audacious, even desperate, measures to retrieve the drug, Armand Gamache begins to see his own blind spots. And the terrible things hiding there.

My Review:

The original quote is from the philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” There’s irony in the use of the quote, as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, currently the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec , albeit under suspension, would never put himself in the place of the one-eyed man. He always believes that he is one of the blind – even as he fervently prays that he is not.

This is a story where there are two cases, as there often are in this series. One case initially seems trivial, but of course turns out to be much larger than it appears. But it does not tie into the other case in this story, the one that not only starts out large, but started out in the previous book in the series, Glass Houses.

Which itself was the culmination of a story that begin several books before that. Which is a hint that this series is best read in order and from its beginning in Still Life. And that it’s worth every moment of immersion with these people and in the quirky, semi-lost village of Three Pines.

The small case seems to be the easy part, at least at first. Someone has named Gamache, his neighbor Myrna Landers, and a builder from Montreal as the liquidators, we would call them executors, of her will. None of them knew the dead woman, and have no idea why she named them in her will. But Gamache and Myrna, a psychologist turned bookstore-owner, are intrigued enough to agree, as does the young builder.

When they all get blizzard-bound in Three Pines, it provides plenty of opportunity for Gamache to investigate the possible connections between the three of them and the dead woman, and for the residents of Three Pines to pass judgment on the young man unwittingly stuck in their midst.

This case, while it turns out to be a great deal larger than it originally seemed, also provides the source of most of the lighter moments in the story – as any protracted sojourn in Three Pines generally does.

Those lighter moments are needed, as the decisions that Gamache and his team made in Glass Houses are still hanging over their heads like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Gamache has planned that the sword will fall on his head alone, but he is still making one last desperate attempt to clean up the deadly mess he created in order to eliminate the rot in his beloved Sûreté.

That his career will end as a result of his actions is a consequence that he can live with. Leaving the deadly opioid carfentanil on the streets of Montreal is not. But the piece he has left on the chessboard to clean up that mess may not be enough.

If she is not, her death will only be the first of thousands that will be rightfully laid at his door.

Escape Rating A+: I was riveted by this story, and at the same time there were points where I had to stop and literally turn my eyes away – it was just too much. There were times when I nearly lost faith with Gamache, it seemed against the character of the character I have grown to love and admire that he would send an agent into the literal heart of darkness and that the agent would be unaware that they had been sent. I should have known better.

And yet there was a point where that had seemed to happen. That a young Sûreté cadet had either committed a heinous act or had been set up to take the fall for one, and that the agent had been sent into the hellish streets where addicts wasted their lives in pursuit of their next fix of a drug that was certainly killing them. It seemed that the cadet had been sent out into the cold, into the streets from which they had been rescued, with no resources and no backup, in the hopes that the missing drugs could be found before they hit the streets and set off a wave of death from which there could be no escape.

It didn’t seem as if Gamache could have committed such a terrible betrayal, and yet it seemed that he had. It’s only at the end of the story that we discover the truth, bitter but not black after all.

The other, initially smaller case is equally bitter, if at a slight remove – throwing the parallels into stark relief. Gamache has taught all of his agents many hard lessons, among them the lesson that betrayal can only come from those who are closest. That is what it appears has happened with the young agent sent into the wild streets, and that is also at the heart of the story of the dead woman and the three confused liquidators.

In the end, the story is brought full circle, as the betrayals are revealed, the cases are closed, and the reckonings come due. The open arcs of story that began 30 years and many books ago have finally closed. It is possible that this is the end of the series. It could conclude at this point, but I truly hope not. These characters have taken on a life of their own, and I want to see it continue with all my heart.

If it does not, I’ll be echoing Gamache’s grandson Honore’s first words, imitating Rosa the duck. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”