#AudioBookReview: The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate

#AudioBookReview: The Bodies in the Library by Marty WingateThe Bodies in the Library (First Edition Library Mystery, #1) by Marty Wingate
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: First Edition Library Mystery #1
Pages: 315
Length: 9 hours and 23 minutes
Published by Berkley on October 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Hayley Burke has landed a dream job. She is the new curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling's First Edition library. The library is kept at Middlebank House, a lovely Georgian home in Bath, England. Hayley lives on the premises and works with the finicky Glynis Woolgar, Lady Fowling's former secretary.
Mrs. Woolgar does not like Hayley's ideas to modernize The First Edition Society and bring in fresh blood. And she is not even aware of the fact that Hayley does not know the first thing about the Golden Age of Mysteries. Hayley is faking it till she makes it, and one of her plans to breathe new life into the Society is actually taking flight--an Agatha Christie fan fiction writers group is paying dues to meet up at Middlebank House.
But when one of the group is found dead in the venerable stacks of the library, Hayley has to catch the killer to save the Society and her new job.

My Review:

I have never been so happy to see a dead body in all of my reading life as I was when Tristram Cummins’ corpse was discovered in the library of Middlebank House, the home of the late Lady Georgiana Fowling’s First Edition Society.

Lady Georgiana Fowling died of natural causes – after all the woman was 92! – four years before this story begins. She was a collector of works written by the female authors of the Golden Age of Mystery, particularly Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey, among others. Daphne du Maurier’s works are also included in the library, not because she wrote mysteries – not exactly – but because she was a personal favorite of the late Lady Fowling.

Lady Fowling may be dead, but the Board of the charitable society that inherited her house and its contents – along with Lady Fowling’s secretary and personal assistant, Mrs. Glynis Woolgar – seem determined to preserve the library, the house, and its contents like a fly trapped in amber. Even if that is far from what Lady Fowling would have ever desired.

Hayley Burke, the newly appointed curator of the library, is determined to move the Society and its Library into the 21st century. She sees her job as placing the Library as prominently on the list of Bath’s literary-related attractions, such as the nearby Jane Austen Centre, as can possibly be arranged as quickly as can be managed. Or can be gotten past the Board and the Society’s Secretary.

Even though Hayley doesn’t know a thing about the Golden Age of Mystery – she knows plenty about ways that a literary site can put itself on the map, having previously worked – albeit in a rather junior position – at the Jane Austen Centre which has done an excellent job of just that.

The discovery of a body in the Society’s library, the morning after a contentious meeting of a local writers’ group, seems a bit too much like it’s straight out of the pages of one of the Agatha Christie novels sitting on a nearby shelf, The Body in the Library.

Whether inspired by Christie or not, that discovery, and the police investigation that ensues, certainly does put the First Edition Society on the map and at the top of mind of a whole lot of people who would otherwise never have heard of the place – in spite of Hayley’s best efforts.

But it’s not the kind of attention either Hayler or the Society actually wants. Because with all of the amateur and professional sleuths on the premises, someone will eventually deduce that the one person who should be an expert, the curator herself, doesn’t have a clue.

Escape Rating B: As much as I usually enjoy this author – and I’m particularly loving her London Ladies’ Murder Club (starting with A Body on the Doorstep) these days – I remember that I bounced off of this particular book really hard but didn’t remember exactly why.

So when I hit a hard flail and bail last week, in conjunction with a 2-for-1 sale at Audible, I picked this up in audio out of a bit of desperation. I knew that whatever had made me set this book aside when it came out, it couldn’t possibly be the same thing that was driving me away from the book I had just stopped listening to – with extreme prejudice – in the present.

I started the audio of The Bodies in the Library and figured out pretty quickly what drove me away the first time. OMG but Hayley Burke begins this story as a complete and utter doormat, and her doormat persona has invaded every part of her life.

This story is told in the first person, so we’re inside Hayley’s head – and it’s kind of a boring place to be, quite possibly because it seems like there’s no spine holding it up. Her long-distance boyfriend, her adult daughter, and her repressive, stick-up-her-bum colleague all walk all over her at every turn.

I could rant, but I’ll refrain. The work parts of this exhibition of lack of backbone are the one part of Hayley’s situation that make sense, as these two women share both the job and the house and making an actual enemy out of her recalcitrant colleague is the recipe for a very quick job change that Hayley can’t afford to make.

Howsomever, on top of the more personal aspects of her spinelessness it drove me round the twist. At least until Trist, the leader of that writers’ group, is found dead on the floor of the library and the pace of the story picks up while Hayley picks up her big girl panties and finally starts dealing with her life as well as the mystery that has been literally dropped in her lap.

One of the more, let’s call it awkward, parts of Hayley’s character at the beginning is that she doesn’t merely have impostor syndrome – don’t we all on occasion – but that she IS an actual impostor. She’s not REALLY qualified for the well-compensated job she lucked into. Hayley knows nothing about the Golden Age of Mystery as she specialized in 19th century literature for her degree. For a lot of the story, we see her flailing about in an attempt to hide her lack of knowledge – what we don’t see is her actually rectifying that lack until after the body drops. It’s clear that her continuing forays into the world of Golden Age mystery is going to be part of her journey – and will hopefully induce readers to do the same – but early on I found myself wondering, repeatedly and OFTEN, why she didn’t just stream a whole lot of video because they’ve ALL been done. It wouldn’t have been the same as reading the books, but it would certainly have given her a leg up that she desperately needed.

Speaking of media, however, the audio was fine, and it certainly got me over the rough first third of the book that drove me away the first time around. So I’m glad I picked it up – even though once the story finally got started I got more than caught up in it enough to want to find out whodunnit a whole lot faster than audio would allow.

The advent of that body in the library (all due apologies to Agatha Christie because the cases aren’t much the same after all) turns out to be the making of both Hayley and the story as a whole, which is the reason I ended up at a ‘B’ grade in spite of the character’s and the story’s frustrating and glacially paced opening. By the end, the whole thing shows a LOT of promise, to the point where I’m sure I’ll pick up the next book in the series, Murder is a Must, the next time I’m in the mood for a very cozy and gentle mystery.

Or I want to see how the Library’s cat Bunter is doing with the new visitors that Hayley is hopefully bringing to the place!

#BookReview: The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood

#BookReview: The Marlow Murder Club by Robert ThorogoodThe Marlow Murder Club (Marlow Murder Club, #1) by Robert Thorogood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Marlow Murder Club #1
Pages: 340
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on January 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

To solve an impossible murder, you need an impossible hero…
Judith Potts is seventy-seven years old and blissfully happy. She lives on her own in a faded mansion just outside Marlow, there’s no man in her life to tell her what to do or how much whisky to drink, and to keep herself busy she sets crosswords for The Times newspaper.
One evening, while out swimming in the Thames, Judith witnesses a brutal murder. The local police don’t believe her story, so she decides to investigate for herself, and is soon joined in her quest by Suzie, a salt-of-the-earth dog-walker, and Becks, the prim and proper wife of the local Vicar.
Together, they are the Marlow Murder Club.
When another body turns up, they realise they have a real-life serial killer on their hands. And the puzzle they set out to solve has become a trap from which they might never escape…

My Review:

Being in a murder-y mood this week, I was searching through the virtually towering TBR pile for mysteries, especially mystery series, that I hadn’t dipped into, and lo and behold The Marlow Murder Club popped to the top of the pile.

Recommended, pretty much everywhere as a readalike for The Thursday Murder Club, which I liked very much the second time I tackled it, I decided to give this other Murder Club a try. Even though that readalike recommendation isn’t quite on the nose – if anything Marlow turned out to be a teensy bit closer to An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, this still turned out to be a fun cozy that fit right into both that murder-y mood and to be the second book this week featuring surprisingly successful amateur detectives aiding, abetting and looked down upon by less than stellar local police.

At least the local police in Marlow have a really good excuse for their less than stellar performance – and they do manage to redeem themselves in the end, which was certainly not the case in Monday’s A Mischief of Rats or its entire series so far.

Let me go back to the beginning – at least the beginning of The Marlow Murder Club.

One evening, eccentric, reclusive Judith Potts hears a murder. Specifically, she hears a gunshot at her nearest neighbor’s house and punts along the Thames from her house to his to see if he’s alright. He’s not – not that she quite knows that at the time.

So she calls it in, the local police come out to their remote corner just outside Marlow, and discover – absolutely nothing.

Judith can’t let that rest, so she goes over the next day – better prepared – and investigates for herself. She discovers something the police missed – her neighbor’s dead body, caught in the rushes, with a bullet hole in the center of his forehead.

The police try to pass it off as an accident – or even suicide – but Judith is having none of THAT. When a second body turns up, complete with forehead-centered bullet hole, and the bullets are proved to be from the same antique pistol, it’s clear that there’s a serial killer in a tiny, peaceful little Home Counties village that has never experienced anything like this. At all. Ever.

The local police, in the person of Detective Sergeant Tamika Malik, are in over their under-equipped, under-trained and under-staffed heads. There should be a Detective Inspector in charge of this case – but none are available and none will be. Malik makes much too convenient a scapegoat if the crimes go unsolved – which is exactly what her superiors expect from her.

But Malik has been shadowed, dogged, and out-investigated by Judith Potts and her two new friends and accomplices, dog-walker Suzie Harris and parson’s wife Becks Starling. They’ve found clues and leads at every turn, while Malik keeps coming up with exactly nothing.

Malik’s desperate, they’re determined. So she drafts them into service as volunteer consultants. Malik was told to do “everything in her power” to get this case solved – and that’s exactly what she does.

That it works, and the way that it works, surprises everyone in Marlow. Especially the killer.

Escape Rating B: Marlow is very cozy, in spite of the murder spree. But about that murder spree…I’ve seen this particular plot device before, so I recognized what was happening REALLY early on. At that point I didn’t have enough of a picture of Marlow to know precisely whodunnit but I knew precisely how it was done much too early on.

The initial suspect was a bit too smug, and resembled a real-life Lucius Malfoy entirely too much to be anything but the villain. Or at least, a villain, and thereby hung the whole, entire, tale.

That being said, the story still worked, not so much as a mystery but definitely as a cozy. The way that the “club” puts itself together was a hoot, as none of the members intend to band together for anything, with anyone, but they can’t resist not just solving the murder but the sense of camaraderie and outright sisterhood they receive from working together.

So it was great watching the gang pull together, and especially for all of these lonely people – and they are ALL lonely, even married Becks – find common cause, common purpose, and much-needed friendship – even if none of them would ever have admitted that they were in desperate need of all of the above.

The other thing I really liked was that, while the local police were completely overwhelmed by a serial killer in their tiny town, the reasons they were overwhelmed were much easier to understand and empathize with than the lackluster performance of the local constabulary in Monday’s book and its series – although I still like that series and intend to continue it.

The police in the Dr. Nell Ward series often seem distracted and incompetent and made more incompetent by their distractions. DS Malik, on the other hand, has been left in this soup very much over her head, knows it, and does a surprisingly good job of finding people to throw her a lifeline. I felt FOR her to the point that just as much as she drafts the “Marlow Murder Club” in as auxiliaries to the investigation, they adopt her as an auxiliary member of their “club”.

As much as the mystery in this first outing was screamingly obvious, I still stuck with the book and outright enjoyed it for the development of the characters and the setting. I’ll certainly be back for the next book in the series, Death Comes to Marlow, the next time I’m in a murder-y mood!

#BookReview: A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #3
Pages: 420
Published by Embla Books on February 28, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a driver dies during a glamourous classic car event at her family's estate, Dr Nell Ward is in a race against time to uncover the truth and prevent the killer from making a speedy getaway...
Back in her natural habitat, Dr Nell Ward heads to a woodland pond to survey local newt populations. She's shocked to discover a car submerged in the water - with the driver dead behind the wheel.
Nell recognises the dead man as professional racing driver, and tabloid love rat, Jack Rafferty, whose performance on (and off) Finchmere's racetrack had earned him enemies.
Suspecting this isn't the tragic accident it appears DI James Clark calls upon Nell and her ecological skills to help find the murderer. But she soon finds that more lurks under the surface than she could ever have imagined. Despite the danger, Nell is determined to dredge up the truth from the murky depths of this case, before it's too late...

My Review:

Whichever of her two personas is her alter ego, both of them are entirely too busy during the jam-packed weekend this story takes place.

As Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont, daughter of the Earl of Finchmere and his wife, Imelda Beaumont MP, heir to the estate of Finchmere – the weekend of the Finchmere Classic – a Classic Car race, car auction, fun fair and general all purpose extravaganza may be one of Lady Eleanor’s favorite events at the estate but is also a showcase for her family’s stewardship of the land, maintenance of the estate, and everything she’s doing to keep the whole business self-sustaining and profitable for the ones who come after her.

That she is personally involved with one of the cars in the race, a formerly derelict but classic ‘gullwing’ Mercedes-Benz 300 SL that has been converted to an all-electric vehicle just adds to the heightened atmosphere – and the tensions among the car’s crew for the race add bucketloads of stress to a situation that is already fraught.

As Dr. Nell Ward, ecologist and environmental surveyor, she has committed to help a former intern at a nearby nature reserve do some surveying in preparation for an upcoming certification visit early on the morning that the festivities at Finchmere begin.

And both of her personas are on pins and needles as she hoped that she would be able to get to know her romantic partner’s parents as they attend the Classic – in between all the other demands on her time – which are legion even at the start.

When Nell and her friend Mai discover that the reserve’s pristine habitat has been compromised – if not outright ruined – by a car that crashed through and then sank in what had been a carefully rehabilitated pond – WITH a dead body in it – everything crashes along with the car.

Not that the dead man hadn’t honestly earned more than enough enmity for someone to have seen to his demise. But he was supposed to drive Nell’s car in the race. Her partner’s young sister left her custom-made earrings on the dashboard of the wreck. His parents, who already disapprove for multiple reasons – are about to blame Nell for the girl’s involvement – as well as everything else that continues to go wrong over one of the longest weekends in Nell’s life.

At least the police can’t arrest her for the murder this time around. Not that some of them wouldn’t still like to – if only to stop Nell meddling in the investigation. Again.

Escape Rating B-: This third book in the Dr. Nell Ward series, after A Murder of Crows and A Cast of Falcons, follows a pattern that this series seems to have hit in my brain. I keep having mixed feelings about the whole thing – and this entry more than most for reasons I’ll get to, appropriately as you’ll see, at the end.

I’ve been following the series because I like Nell as a character, but I like her nerdiness about her earned profession more than I do her persona as Lady Eleanor, so this book didn’t get as near to a mystery sweet spot for me as others that I follow. All of which means that I hope she gets back a bit more to her environmental work in the next book A Generation of Vipers. We’ll certainly see. Eventually.

But in the meantime, back to A Mischief of Rats. It could be claimed that the dead man was the chief rat in this mystery, but he actually wasn’t. The chief rat, that is. He certainly was one of the rats. That his rat-nature got him killed isn’t a surprise at all. That the road to figuring out how his rattiness rattled the chief rat to the point that it got him killed made for a marvelously twisty mystery, which I want to say had plenty of tasty red herrings but in this case no because rats and tasty do not belong in the same sentence or even the same paragraph.

Still, you get the point. Unlike the first book in the series, while I knew it wasn’t any of the obvious suspects fairly early on – I just didn’t figure out who the real killer was until the point where Nell does – with the police following along behind her. Literally.

The part that left me with extremely mixed feelings was the ending. Not the resolution of the mystery because that was fine and wrapped things up with a really cathartic and rat-free bow. But the personal parts of this story and the way they ended on a terrible crash of a cliffhanger gave me a lot of pause. And that’s literal, as in I will continue the series but I’m going to pause for a bit to let the ending settle.

While part of what I love about cozy mysteries revolves around getting to know the characters and the gang of friends and assistants that they gather around them, Nell seems to have a lot of personal angst and romantic drama that, for this reader at least, takes away from the fun and coziness of the mystery. There’s been a ‘torn between two lovers’ undercurrent going on through these first three books, and I’ve gotta admit that isn’t a place I want this series to go. (It’s part of what turned me off of the Stephanie Plum series – not that she changed her mind but that she couldn’t seem to make it up at all.)

I admit that this is a ‘me’ thing that may not be a ‘you’ thing. Howsomever, for this reader it feels like Nell’s romantic trials and tribulations are a bit over the top, particularly as her rich and aristocratic background – along with her surprisingly functional relationship with her parents – seem to have insulated her from a whole lot of regular stresses and issues to the point where over-the-top is the only direction left.

Which is exactly where this installment of the series ended – up and over the top of the wall and landing upside-down with traction. I’m still kind of reeling over it, to the point where I had to thumb the next couple of books to make sure that this story thread does get resolved no matter how much more angst will be involved in that wrapping.

So, for the most part, I was enjoying the mystery right up until that end, when I crashed right along with it. I’ll be back to see what murders Nell trips over and what terrible things happen in her personal life in A Generation of Vipers, but probably not for a couple of months at least.

We’ll certainly see the next time I get into another murder-y mood.

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Dance Hall by Marty Wingate + #Giveaway

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Dance Hall by Marty Wingate + #GiveawayA Body at the Dance Hall (London Ladies' Murder Club #3) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: London Ladies' Murder Club #3
Pages: 304
Published by Bookouture on April 8, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.org
Goodreads

1922. Amateur sleuth Mabel Canning is surrounded by the bright lights of London as she chaperones a young American woman to a dance. But when someone is murdered, a deadly tango begins…Meet plucky woman-about-town Mabel Canning, leader of the London Ladies’ Murder Club and trusted assistant to gentlewomen. When she is tasked with accompanying Roxy, a fun-loving heiress, on a glamorous night out, Mabel can’t wait to sip champagne and practice the foxtrot. But just as Roxy sashays out of sight, a mysterious man warns Mabel that the feisty young redhead is in danger. And someone is dead before the music stops...Roxy was the last person to see the victim alive, and she stumbles into Mabel’s arms with her daffodil-yellow dress splashed with blood. Determined to protect her ward, Mabel gathers her dashing beau Winstone and her pals from the murder club. Together they trace the weapon back to the ballroom, but when its twin goes missing, it is clear time is running out to prevent another murder on the dance floor…The police conclude the killer is in Roxy’s family, but Mabel finds herself spinning between a motley troupe of suspects. Mr Bryars, the anxious ballroom manager, is constantly tripping over himself to hide his secrets. But would he kill to protect his reputation? And young Ned Kettle may have looked dashing while waltzing around with Roxy, but he was once a notorious thief. Is the sticky-fingered rogue also a dab hand at murder?Just as Mabel and her murder club friends quickstep closer to the truth, Roxy is kidnapped, and Mabel comes cheek to cheek with the killer. Can she save poor Roxy and herself? Or has she danced her last dance?A delightfully witty and utterly addictive whodunnit absolutely bursting with 1920s sparkle, from USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman, Verity Bright and T.E. Kinsey.

My Review:

As a member of Miss Kerr’s Useful Women Agency, Mabel Canning has taken on all kinds of jobs and been useful to many different people, from helping someone decide on wallpaper to delivering packages to making sure that certain young scamps really do board their trains back to school.

It’s not at all outside the bounds of the services offered by the Useful Women Agency for Mabel to accompany a young American woman on outings and excursions, to be her tour guide while keeping an eye on her, and doing her best to keep Roxanne Arkwright out of trouble.

But trouble finds Mabel, as it has in her previous adventures, A Body on the Doorstep and A Body at the Séance, in the form of, well, a dead body – this time on the floor of the Hammersmith Palais de Danse.

(Yes, it’s a new face on the ballroom floor, which is how I always heard the phrase, “new face on the BARroom floor” as a child. I’m both tickled at the reference and chagrined at how long it took me to figure it out – albeit not THIS long.)

Scotland Yard, in the person of Detective Inspector Tollerton isn’t nearly as surprised as he’d like to be to discover Mabel on the scene of yet another murder – but Mabel has been useful to Scotland Yard in two previous cases, so Tollerton seems to have reached a position of tolerance, at least, on the subject of Mabel and her penchant for being on the scene when a body drops at someone’s feet – whether those feet are her own or not.

At least this time around Mabel can’t possibly be a suspect, as she was locked in the Palais’ larder at the time. And neither can her charge, Roxanne Arkwright, be in this particular frame. Although Roxanne’s father certainly could be. And briefly is as the case unfolds.

That the murder victim, Oswald Deuchar, was a private investigator in the employ of Roxanne’s father, Rupert Arkwright, for the purpose of watching over Roxanne – along with Mabel but without her knowledge – adds both to the confusion and to the potential motives for his death. After all, private investigators, even ones as quirky and eccentric as Deuchar often accumulate enemies.

Unless the poor man’s death wasn’t about Oswald the investigator and protector, but instead had everything to do with his protectee – and Mabel’s – Roxanne Arkwright.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve already reached the point in Mabel’s adventures where I’m here specifically for her, and the particular case she’s working on is just extra. A compelling extra in the case of A Body at the Dance Hall, but still extra. I’m here to see how Mabel and her friends are doing, and to watch as she learns more about London, her assigned jobs for the Useful Women Agency, and the progress of her romance with her neighbor, Park Winstone. I’m especially here for the way that she keeps learning how to be a good investigator as well as an independent woman, a good worker and a good friend.

What I really like about Mabel and her adventures is that Mabel comes into the story both by agency and with agency and that it doesn’t feel anachronistic that she does.

In the first book in the series, A Body on the Doorstep, Mabel comes to London from the tiny village of Peasmarsh. She’s in her early 30s, never married, and has always dreamed of being on her own. She loves her father dearly, but Peasmarsh is a small, insular town and she’s not ready to settle into the plans it has for her.

Mabel’s comes to London after both the Great War and the Spanish Flu epidemic. An entire generation of young British men died in the trenches, to the point where Mabel is one of many women who may have to make their own ways in the world because of those losses. The idea that she might be on her own, that her father may worry about her – he does – that the doorman at her building looks out for her on his behalf and sends back reports – which he does – does not mean that Mabel isn’t completely independent. It just means that he loves her and wants to know someone is looking out for her, but even that doorman abides by the principle that what her dad doesn’t know won’t hurt anyone. No one is supporting Mabel except herself and she answers to no one except Miss Kerr at the Useful Women Agency.

Mabel’s life is a far cry – and a delightful one – from women in quite a lot of historical mysteries (including the one I bailed on last week in a rage). Mabel’s world isn’t fair to women – the world STILL isn’t – but her times and her circumstances allow her to be in a position to answer to herself alone and not be forced to kowtow to the men in her life for every second of her existence. Which was a true experience but isn’t any fun to read and too many female-fronted historical mysteries spend the first third of the book if not more showing all the ways that the world forces them to conform and how they, in turn, are forced to work around all those restrictions.

This series is a breath of fresh air because Mabel doesn’t have to do all of that heavy lifting just to be about her business. And I’m so very happy that is so and honestly relieved to start another of her cases.

And I’ll get down from my soapbox now.

The thing about this particular case is that both Roxanne and the villain have daddy issues. Their fathers have been missing from their lives from about the same age – but the reasons for their absence are quite different, and the results, well, the results are about as diametrically opposed as they could get – very few of which have to do with their positions at nearly opposite ends of the socioeconomic ladder.

Because I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, let’s talk about Roxanne’s issues because, well, her issues have issues and not a one of them is her fault. Her parents are divorced, her mother left England for America eight years ago, when Roxy was just ten years old. And her mother has been gaslighting her ever since about pretty much everything to do with her father, to the point of outright parental alienation so severe as to constitute emotional abuse while demonstrating EXACTLY why parental alienation is considered emotional abuse at the same time. Roxanne comes to London expecting to find a monster, only to discover a father who loves her very much and has missed her terribly, and a stepmother who can help Roxy heal from her mother’s treatment and build up faith in herself and her own judgment – because that’s exactly what her own mother has been tearing down all these years.

All of which means that in the middle of her assignment to show Roxanne the sights of London, Mabel also has a ringside seat on the behavior of Roxy, her father and stepmother, her mother when she arrives from America very much like the avatar of DOOM in T. Kingfisher’s A Sorceress Comes to Call – albeit one without any actual magic but plenty of the same malice.

The closer Mabel gets to Roxy, the more she treats her as a bit of a ‘little sister’, the much harder it is to detach herself as the plot closes in and traps Roxy in its jaws. From that point, it’s a race to the finish, to save the young woman from an enemy that no one saw coming because there was so much enmity already floating around.

I had a ball with A Body at the Dance Hall, so I’m thrilled to say that there is a FOURTH book coming in December, Murder of a Suffragette. I’m already looking forward to it.

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

Because I really enjoy Mabel’s adventures, as I did the author’s Birds of a Feather and Potting Shed series, I chose this book for my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week, so that I could share that enjoyment with the lucky winner of today’s giveaway.

On this second day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, today’s giveaway is the winner’s choice of ANY one of Marty Wingate’s books, in any format, up to $20 (US).

Good luck with today’s giveaway and remember that there’s more to come!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

#BookReview: A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #2
Pages: 380
Published by Embla Books on October 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads

When the wedding of her oldest friend ends with a shocking murder, Dr Nell Ward is once again caught up in a web of subterfuge, secrets and lies...
When her childhood friend Percy announces she's engaged to handsome businessman Hawke McAnstruther, Dr Nell Ward rashly offers to host the wedding at Finchmere, her family's estate. But she hadn't anticipated Percy's parents' fiery disapproval of the groom.
The ceremony is barely over before Hawke's shady personal and professional life starts to unravel, and tension ripples through the assembled guests. When the wedding night ends with a shocking death, Nell, best-friend, Rav and DI James Clarke all find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie.
Surviving a terrifying threat to her own life, Nell has to face up to the truth. Not just about murder at Finchmere, but about where her heart truly lies...

My Review:

It really couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for whoever did the world a favor by bashing Hawke McAnstruther over the head before he could do any further damage to Nell Ward’s best friend Percy and her family.

Which is also, come to think of it, Nell Ward’s family – just at a bit of extension.

It IS too bad, however, that whoever eliminated Hawke from the gene pool before he could contaminate it further, the arsehole (they’re all Brits, only arsehole will do) did the deed at Nell’s family estate, Finchmere, just hours after the conclusion – the epically awful conclusion at that – of Percy’s wedding to the bastard.

Luckily for Percy, she wised up to her new husband’s evil ways in those few scant hours between the ceremony and his spectacular fall from grace onto the floor two or three stories below. So it’s good riddance to bad rubbish – and at that point it might really have been a drunken accident.

The wealth, influence and titles of both Percy’s AND Nell’s family are more than enough to ensure that the official verdict reads exactly that.

The only person who will really miss Hawke is his mother Linda. But not for long, as sometime in the wee hours of the morning someone savagely slit her throat and impaled the murder weapon in her chest to make sure that the job’s been done.

HIS death COULD have been an accident. HER death absolutely could not be accidental, nor is there any scenario where it could have been self-inflicted. Even the police are able to draw the obvious conclusion that there is at least one murderer on the premises – and possibly two.

There are plenty of suspects for Hawke’s murder, as the man was a charming, conniving slimeball who left a trail of ruined companies and broken people in his wake – and clearly planned to do the same to Percy, her family, and her family’s properties.

Motives and suspects abound for HIS murder, but for HERS, not so much. Leaving the police flailing, caught between compromised crime scenes, endless possibilities for sneaking around the stately pile without being seen, and more motives than they can shake a truncheon at.

But Nell Ward, as demonstrated in her first, and all-too-personal, investigation in A Murder of Crows, just can’t keep her nose out of the investigation. She might not be in the frame this time around, but her best friend and her extended family certainly are.

Even if that puts her on the opposite side of the investigation from her current boyfriend, Detective Inspector James Clark, and pushes her straight into the arms of her work partner and best friend Rav.

Exactly the place that Rav has always wanted her to be.

Escape Rating B+: The latest book in this series, A Trace of Hares, is coming out today. I’m reading this series from the beginning, so I’m not there yet, but I wanted to mark the day so here we are. I’m enjoying this series because I really like the protagonist, Nell Ward, and her geeky love of bats and owls as well as her personal and professional advocacy for ecology in general. Although, at least so far, she does seem to have a bit of Midsomer-itis.

Admittedly, from where I’m reading, the series is only two books in and so far she’s been intimately involved with both murders. And based on the blurb for the next book, A Mischief of Rats, that streak of unbelievably bad luck is not running out any time soon. Which it really needs to, as no one’s luck is this bad.

But that’s more of an overall issue that will hopefully resolve itself later down the series. This particular entry in the series, however, was a whole lot of murder-y fun, in spite of the personal consequences for Nell. It’s pretty easy to be a bit gleeful in this one, as the first murder victim was an arsehole, the second murder victim, the arsehole’s mother, proved that his apple didn’t fall all that far from the tree, and frankly the eventual third victim wasn’t all that great an excuse for a human being either even if he was a member of Nell’s extended family.

The family of the suspects may not have been nearly as despicable as the Thrombeys in Knives Out, but comparisons could certainly be drawn.

In the first book, Nell displayed the geeky professional persona of Dr. Nell Ward, while keeping her aristocratic background – among other secrets – hidden for as long as she could. It wasn’t until the local police went so far as to actually arrest her for murder with only vague suspicions and circumstantial evidence that her alter ego of Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont, niece to the Duke of Aveshire, daughter of the Earl of Finchmere and his wife, Imelda Beaumont MP, and heir to Finchmere came out – along with her family’s expensive and effective legal counsel.

Not that any of the above stopped Nell from investigating her way out of a rather well-placed frame and clearing her own name. Both of them.

This time around it’s Nell’s ‘lady of the manor’ persona that’s on display – although Nell the ecologist peeks out frequently and eventually manages to solve this murder as well – to the consternation of the police. Again.

I found Nell to be a likable amateur investigator, and certainly felt for her inability to keep herself out of the investigation. After her previous experience, I wouldn’t have trusted the police either – which makes her decision to date the man who investigated her the first time around a bit questionable. While the ‘torn between two (potential) lovers’ dilemma that Nell is in the midst of isn’t my favorite, it was certainly an interesting twist on the theme to experience it more from one of those two lovers’ points of view instead of Nell’s. I’m hoping that she sticks to the choice she made in future books in the series, but we’ll see.

I’m certainly planning to see that for myself as I continue my reading of this series. I’ll be picking up A Mischief of Rats the next time I’m in the mood for a cozy-ish, Midsomer Murders-type mystery. I may not have caught up with the series in time to read and review A Trace of Hares on its publication date, but I have a chance of being ready for the following book, A Swarm of Butterflies, by the time it comes out in August!

#AudioBookReview: A Midnight Puzzle by Gigi Pandian

#AudioBookReview: A Midnight Puzzle by Gigi PandianA Midnight Puzzle (Secret Staircase Mystery, #3) by Gigi Pandian
Narrator: Soneela Nankani
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Libro.fm, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery, thriller
Series: Secret Staircase Mystery #3
Pages: 342
Length: 10 hours and 38 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Minotaur Books on March 19, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In heroine Tempest Raj, modern-day queen of the locked room mystery Gigi Pandian has created a brilliant homage to the greats of classic detective fiction. Secret Staircase Construction is under attack, and Tempest Raj feels helpless. After former client Julian Rhodes tried to kill his wife, he blamed her "accident" on the home renovation company’s craftsmanship. Now the family business—known for bringing magic into homes through hidden doors, floating staircases, and architectural puzzle walls—is at a breaking point. No amount of Scottish and Indian meals from her grandfather can distract Tempest from the truth: they’re being framed.
When Tempest receives an urgent midnight phone call from Julian, she decides to meet him at the historic Whispering Creek Theater—only to find his dead body, a sword through his chest. After a blade appears from thin air to claim another victim, Tempest is certain they’re dealing with a booby trap… something Secret Staircase Construction could easily build. Tempest refuses to wait for the investigation to turn to her or her loved ones. She knows the pieces of the puzzle are right in front of her, she just has to put them together correctly before more disaster strikes.
Multiple award-winning author Gigi Pandian and her heroine Tempest Raj return in A Midnight Puzzle, where an old theater reveals a deadly booby trap, secrets, and one puzzle of a mystery.

My Review:

A Midnight Puzzle is all about the Raj Family Curse – and the sin of hubris that allows it to last so long and makes it so damn difficult to put to rest.

After her adventures – and misadventures – in the first two books in the Secret Staircase Mystery series, Under Lock and Skeleton Key and The Raven Thief, stage illusionist turned construction illusionist Tempest Raj believes that she is on the verge of solving the mystery that has cast a shadow over her family and her life for the past decade – if not considerably longer.

Long, long ago, the Raj family were illusionists and court magicians in their native India. Way back then, it was believed that a curse had been laid on the family – or the family business. It was said that the Raj family’s firstborn child in each generation would “die by magic”. Of course, over the centuries, it did happen sometimes. Just enough to keep the curse – or the belief in it – going for another century or so.

Tempest’s beloved grandfather Ash is the second child of his generation, because his older brother died “by magic”. Ash left India for Scotland and its renowned medical colleges, married a local artist and never looked back. Or at least tried very hard not to.

But the magic skipped a generation as well as a continent. Ash’s daughters, Elspeth and Emma, became stage illusionists as “The Selkie Sisters” until an accident and an argument broke their trust in each other. Working alone, Elspeth, the older of the two, did indeed “die by magic”, keeping the talk of the curse alive for another generation.

However, Emma died by magic as well – or at least disappeared in the middle of her own magic show, on the boards – or at least in the wings – of their hometown’s Whispering Creek Theater ten years ago.

Tempest has rented the haunted and haunting little theater in order to stage one final performance, a one night “Farewell” to her own ill-starred career as a stage illusionist. Of course, being in temporary possession of the place her mother vanished, Tempest is also determined to comb the theater for clues.

At least until disaster strikes – from without and from within. But in solving the current mystery, Tempest may have the opportunity she needs to lay that old mystery to rest. If her family’s construction company, Secret Staircase Construction, can survive just one more public disaster.

And if Tempest and her ‘Scooby gang’ can manage to unmask a killer before their curse sweeps Tempest AND her friends into yet another example of the Raj Family curse.

Escape Rating B: I have to admit that I went into this third entry in the series with a bit of trepidation after the muddle of The Raven Thief. Particularly as A Midnight Puzzle opened with Tempest, her family and the construction company being in the midst of what seemed like rather pointedly aimed chaos on all fronts – only because it was.

(I started this one in audio, as I figured it would get me over the hump of those trepidations. And it did. I switched to text once it got going because there were so many potential clues and delicious red herrings that I needed to find out who actually ‘dunnit’ FASTER.)

But at the beginning I was still a bit stuck in thinking this series was inflicted with Cabot Cove Syndrome, or perhaps Midsommer-itis. By which I mean that all of the mysteries so far have been a bit too intimate and her family and their business have been much too personally involved – not as the investigators, or even as the direct victims – but as the suspects.

No one’s luck is THAT bad. Unless, of course, they really are cursed.

Which means that I was very pleased to see the mystery of the Raj Family Curse – at least in its modern iteration – laid to rest at the end of A Midnight Puzzle, along with a promise of more mysteries but somewhat less personal ones in future entries in the series.

But first, there’s the mystery in THIS outing. Or rather, the two mysteries that are both squarely aimed at the Raj Family.

What makes this story work better than The Raven Thief is that the story keeps its eyes – and Tempest’s – on the prize of solving the mystery of her mother’s disappearance – no matter how many distractions and misdirections get thrown in Tempest’s way.

And no matter how much the police seem to be bungling their investigation into the deadliest of those distractions.

As much and as often as Tempest is tempted (and so is the reader!) to hare off after the many distractions and misdirections, in the end A Midnight Puzzle is a very satisfying wrap up to what looks to be the opening setup trilogy for this series. And the way that the whole thing was strung out over three books feels like it was the right length after all, because this mystery has been decades in the making, so it’s only fitting that it take a year or more to wrap up in a way that leads back around to a beginning that Tempest barely knew about, as well as a reminder that “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

But Tempest is not the one who falls, even though the resulting thud breaks her heart, and it clears the way for new, and hopefully less personal mysteries and adventures. I’m looking forward to see what Tempest stirs up next.

#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux

#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle ArceneauxGlory Be (Glory Broussard Mystery, #1) by Danielle Arceneaux
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by the publisher via Spotify
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Glory Broussard Mystery #1
Pages: 272
Length: 8 hours and 47 minutes
Published by Pegasus Crime, Spotify on October 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The first in a vivid and charming crime series set in the Louisiana bayou, introducing the hilariously uncensored amateur sleuth Glory Broussard. Perfect for fans of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club.
It’s a hot and sticky Sunday in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Glory has settled into her usual after-church routine, meeting gamblers at the local coffee shop, where she works as a small-time bookie. Sitting at her corner table, Glory hears that her best friend—a nun beloved by the community—has been found dead in her apartment.
When police declare the mysterious death a suicide, Glory is convinced that there must be more to the story. With her reluctant daughter—who has troubles of her own—in tow, Glory launches a shadow investigation into Lafayette’s oil tycoons, church gossips, a rumored voodoo priestess, nosey neighbors, and longtime ne'er-do wells.
As a Black woman of a certain age who grew up in a segregated Louisiana, Glory is used to being minimized and overlooked. But she’s determined to make her presence known as the case leads her deep into a web of intrigue she never realized Lafayette could harbor.
Danielle Arcenaux’s riveting debut brings forth an unforgettable character that will charm and delight crime fans everywhere and leave them hungry for her next adventure.

My Review:

Like most amateur detectives, Glory Broussard begins her first investigation because it’s personal. Her best friend is dead, and the police have ruled that death a suicide. A decision that Glory refuses to believe.

Glory had known Amity Gay since they were little girls in pinafores, and for all the 60-some-odd years of their lives that followed. Glory knew Amita Gay as well as she knew herself, and her friend was looking forward to life, not running away from it.

And through bitter experience, Glory is all too aware that the police, in Louisiana and elsewhere but perhaps especially in Louisiana, discount and disregard the deaths of black people in general and black women in particular.

Because that’s the way it always has been, and in spite of changes on the surface, that’s the way it still is.

So Glory, amateur detective, professional busybody and successful bookmaker (yes, I mean gambling and not bookkeeping) does a bit of surreptitious reconnaissance in her late friend’s apartment and discovers a whole lot of paperwork about a chemical plant that the big company in Lafayette wants to construct right next to a poor black town so they can make even more money and spread more cancer – not necessarily in that order to Glory’s cynical mind.

While the police might have left the paperwork behind because it wasn’t an actual part of the crime scene, Glory knows they didn’t search at all because she found a box of fentanyl-laced lollipops in the back of Amity Gay’s closet. Something that would definitely have been found and confiscated in even a cursory search.

Which means that obviously no search was done, that the police are rushing to judgment because its easier for them – and possibly for the big company with those chemical plant plans.

Glory will just have to nose her way around Amity Gay’s old friends, Glory’s own new enemies and figure out which of the possible parties and motives is responsible for the death of her best friend.

The last thing Glory needs to add to her already overwhelming to-do list is figuring out what her daughter, a successful New York City attorney, is doing back in Lafayette, minding Glory’s business and cleaning up her house. Or, for that matter, figuring out what has the city all fired-up to condemn her house.

Or even, heaven forbid, whether or not her dearest friend, a professed Catholic nun, had been doing something unholy. Again.

Escape Rating B: Glory Broussard does not hold back. Ever. Not within the confines of her own head as she tells this story, and not out loud, either. She’s certainly an acquired taste for her friends and neighbors, and quite possibly for the reader as well.

Glory does not suffer fools, neither does she let said fool out of her sight without telling them that she thinks they are one. Sometimes in great detail. In other words, Glory is a lot, and not exactly universally beloved – or even respected.

To the point where it’s easy to understand why her daughter, successful New York City attorney Delphine, wishes she could get her mother to just shut up now and again, especially when faced with city officials who want to condemn Glory’s house. Not that Glory doesn’t get the best of that situation – along with a whole lot else – in the end.

But part of Glory’s charm, and certainly part of the charm of the story as a whole, is Glory’s bone-deep authenticity. It’s certainly not Glory’s honesty, because she doesn’t seem to have an honest bone in her body – not even in reference to herself and the depression she has sunk into over the years.

What does ring true, particularly in audio, is the relationship between Glory and Delphine, that ‘roses and thorns’ kind of love that can exist between mothers and their adult daughters. Part of both the compulsion to finish this mystery and the difficulty of doing so for this reader is that I heard the echo of every single argument I had with my own mother in the exchanges between Glory and Delphine. That roses and thorns observation was heartbreaking because it felt so very true.

But the story, the mystery, and the eventual, hard-won mutual respect that arises between mother and daughter, follows Glory’s stubborn pig-headedness from something that everyone told her should be left well enough alone to a conclusion she almost wishes she’d never uncovered.

She’s left with the realization that too many of the people she believed in have feet of clay up to the knees. And to console herself, in the end, that justice has been done, along with the new lease on life that becoming an amateur detective has brought her.

Readers, on the other hand, can console themselves with the fact that Glory will be back on the case in another mystery this coming fall!

TLC

TLC tour schedule:

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Wednesday, February 21st: @simplyreadwithv

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Monday, February 26th: @sometimesrobinreads on TikTok

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Thursday, February 29th: @djreadsbooks

A- #BookReview: The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai, translated by Jesse Kirkwood

A- #BookReview: The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai, translated by Jesse KirkwoodThe Kamogawa Food Detectives (The Kamogawa Food Detectives, #1) by Hisashi Kashiwai, Jesse Kirkwood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, foodie fiction
Series: Kamogawa Food Detectives #1
Pages: 208
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The Kamogawa Food Detectives is the first book in the bestselling, mouth-watering Japanese series for fans of Before the Coffee Gets Cold.
What’s the one dish you’d do anything to taste just one more time?
Down a quiet backstreet in Kyoto exists a very special restaurant. Run by Koishi Kamogawa and her father Nagare, the Kamogawa Diner serves up deliciously extravagant meals. But that’s not the main reason customers stop by . . .
The father-daughter duo are ‘food detectives’. Through ingenious investigations, they are able to recreate dishes from a person’s treasured memories – dishes that may well hold the keys to their forgotten past and future happiness. The restaurant of lost recipes provides a link to vanished moments, creating a present full of possibility.
A bestseller in Japan, The Kamogawa Food Detectives is a celebration of good company and the power of a delicious meal.

My Review: 

“We find your food” is all the advertisement that the Kamogawa Diner – and the office of the Kamogawa Food Detectives located in the back of the tiny restaurant – either needs or wants.

Because that combination of slogan, motto and raison d’être says all that this father-daughter duo needs to say, either about the food they serve or the unique service they provide.

Taste and smell are inextricably linked to memory in ways that we all know, but are hard to articulate. It’s why the right perfume is so evocative, and why dishes we loved when we were children evoke such powerful memories.

Nagare Kamogawa and his adult daughter Koishi own, operate and investigate the dishes served at their diner. When someone comes in needing their special services, Koishi asks the questions and her father, a police detective turned masterchef, provides the answers in the form of a dish that brings back the memory that their client has been chasing down so hard, to no avail. At least until now.

The stories in this delightful little collection are the stories of their clients, each with a particular sharp need for something like closure of a loss that happened yesterday or long ago. They are pursuing a chance to commune one more time with someone they lost, someone they left behind, or someone they need to let go of.

Each comes to the diner with a vague memory of a time, a place, a person, and a dish upon which it all hangs together in a faded memory. Through recreating the dish, the Kamogawa Food Detectives give their clients one more chance to reconcile, or mourn, the person in that memory, whether it’s someone they lost or merely a part of themselves they left behind.

Like the cuisine that is mouth-wateringly described in each and every story, the memories are, for the most part, not sweet unless that sweetness is tinged with the bitterness of loss. Rather, each story is one to be savored, as is this whole, entirely delicious, slice of life at the home of the Kamogawa Food Detectives.

Escape Rating A-: This was absolutely the right book at the right time. In spite of being a loosely linked collection of short stories, it hung together MUCH better than yesterday’s book, to the point where I finished this little volume in one – admittedly hungry – sitting. At the end, my only negative thought about the book was that it wasn’t nearly enough.

Don’t go into this one hungry, because the descriptions of the food are every bit as tantalizing as the stories are savory – even the ones that describe something that might not be to one’s own taste. If these dishes are half as good as the descriptions in the book make them, I’d be willing to try them all.

I also couldn’t help but think of similar dishes, not in cuisine but in my own memory. Dishes that my grandmother made that neither my mother nor I were ever able to replicate. Love and nostalgia are seasonings that are difficult to duplicate, no matter how many times one has tried. (If you’re wondering, I can replicate my favorite dishes that my mother made. But my grandmother’s, no.)

I want to say this was sweet but based on the utterly tantalizing descriptions of the food, it would be more accurate to say that this was wonderfully umami, in other words, marvelously savory and absolutely delicious.

This is, honestly, a book that kind of defies description. You have to be there, within its magic, to get the full flavor of just how lovely it is. All I can say is that it is absolutely, delightfully, worth the read.

Speaking of magic, however, if the taste of The Kamogawa Food Detectives is as appealing to you as it was to me, if you would like to try something similar with a more overt hint of magic (I say more overt because it could easily be claimed that what these food detectives do IS magic) you might want to try The Nameless Detective by Tao Wong. The Kamogawa Food Detectives is also frequently cited as a readalike for Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Which I have not read YET, but certainly plan to in the months ahead.

The above recommendations will hopefully tide you over until your next delicious visit to The Kamogawa Food Detectives. This book is the first in a series of seven in the original Japanese, and the second book, The Restaurant of Lost Recipes, will be published in English in October.

I’m already salivating for another taste!

#BookReview: A Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #1
Pages: 368
Published by Embla Books on July 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Dr Nell Ward is an ecologist, not a detective. But when she’s the prime suspect in a murder, only her unique set of skills could help to clear her name…
In the sleepy village of Cookingdean, Dr Nell Ward is busy working in the grounds of a local manor house. Whilst inspecting an old tunnel, the last thing she expects to overhear is a murder. As the only person with any clues as to what happened, Nell soon finds herself in the middle of the investigation.
Desperate to clear her name Nell, along with her colleague Adam, set out solving the murder using their skills as ecologists to uncover details no one else would notice. But it soon becomes clear that playing Agatha Christie is much harder than it might at first appear…
The start of an exciting new cosy crime series – perfect for fans of Richard Osman, Faith Martin and Joy Ellis.

My Review:

Dr. Nell Ward, consulting ecologist, licensed surveyor of bats as well as great crested newts, barn owls and dormice, is a very square peg, personally and professionally.

She keeps her personal life VERY close to the vest, while professionally she’s both nerdy about her beloved bats and extremely meticulous about her work.

The problem is that the local police in Pendlebury have a rough but round hole they seem determined to shove her into.

Nell was doing an ecological survey, specifically a bat survey, in the old tunnels underneath Manor House Farm – with permission of course – when the owner, the woman who gave her that permission, was murdered at the opposite end of the tunnel where Nell was surveying.

Nell was alone, the bats unfortunately can’t give her an alibi, and the obvious suspect for Sophie Crows’ murder, her husband David, was at a business conference a couple of hours away. He has all the alibi he needs, while Nell has none.

On the other hand, David Stephenson had PLENTY of motives to murder his wife – it just doesn’t seem possible that he could have managed the job personally. That Nell has about as much motive for murdering Sophie Crows as her husband seems to have had opportunity doesn’t seem to matter.

Nell’s behavior, her seeming over-helpfulness and abundant documentation about her movements that night, combined with her reticence about her personal connections, strikes the police as suspicious behavior. They’re sure she must have a motive for the murder, and they seem determined to find it – or make one up – rather than dig deeply into the husband.

Leaving Nell in the midst of the absolute classic series starter for an amateur detective – her very first case is to do the job the police don’t seem to be nearly interested enough in doing themselves, and figure out who really ‘done it’ – before circumstantial evidence and a lack of imagination on the part of the local constabulary convict Nell of a crime that she may have heard committed – but absolutely did not commit herself.

Escape Rating B: I was hoping to love this book, because it definitely fits the murder-y reading mood I’ve been in recently and I can always use a comfort read series.

I did like Nell Ward rather a lot – at least in her first outing. I enjoyed her professionalism and especially her charming nerdiness about her job and her bats. Especially her bats. I may not ever want to meet a whole colony of the creatures but I could feel for her love of them and advocacy for them all the way through.

As well as her emotional conflicts around revealing her private self and ultra-privileged identity to her friends and colleagues. She doesn’t trust her judgment, she’s been burned by too many people before, and she has plenty to protect.

But there were a couple of things about the case that the local police did their damndest to stitch her up for that bothered me. More than a little bit. Actually rather a lot.

It’s not even that the frame was obvious – although it certainly was. I knew who really done it very early on, and had a good guess about how he’d managed it. He wasn’t even all that clever.

The police spent SO MUCH time on hypothesizing possible motives for Nell to have killed Sophie Crows that it seemed as if someone on the force was determined to make Nell pay for being extremely privileged. Or possibly for being nerdy and so overhelpful that the police were overwhelmed by all her information. At the same time, they spent very little effort checking out the husband’s alibi in comparison.

He had literally millions of reasons to murder his wife. And her mother. Millions of pounds sterling of reasons. Motives that should have garnered much more serious attempts to break his alibi.

But the story only works if Nell is wrongfully accused, and the only way that could happen was for the police to focus their efforts in Nell’s direction – whether their reasons made sense or not.

In the end, I liked A Murder of Crows rather than loved it. I like Nell a lot, although I’m hoping the love triangle she’s backed herself into gets resolved sooner rather than later. I’m really curious about how she’s going to manage to reconcile Dr. Nell Ward’s professional life with Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont’s wealthy and privileged existence as the daughter of the Earl of Finchmere, Lord Beaumont, and his Conservative MP wife Imelda Ward-Beaumont, and the heir to the grand – but seemingly not entailed – estate of Finchmere.

Because neither of the two men currently vying for her hand have a chance of fitting into Lady Eleanor’s world no matter how much either or both of them suit Dr. Nell Ward down to the ground. If she can ever manage to tell either of them so and very much vice-versa.

The book that A Murder of Crows reminds me of very much is A Death in Door County, the first book in the Monster Hunter Mystery series by Annelise Ryan. Both series are fronted by female scientists who are deeply but never pedantically into their scientific specialities, both were first books in series that hopefully will figure themselves out a bit better as they continue (the second book in the Monster Hunter series, Death in the Dark Woods, was much better than the first!) both women are making only tentative steps towards possible romances, and both have a habit of falling into amateur detection by way of their scientific pursuits.

So if you like the one series, you’ll probably like the other. I certainly liked Dr. Nell Ward more than enough to be looking forward to the next book in her series, A Cast of Falcons, whenever I next get the itch for murder.

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Seance by Marty Wingate

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Seance by Marty WingateA Body at the Séance (London Ladies' Murder Club, #2) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: London Ladies' Murder Club #2
Pages: 332
Published by Bookouture on January 11, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a body turns up at a glamorous séance, Mabel Canning’s sleuthing skills are put to the test. Because it appears the victim died twice…
London, 1921: As a winter wind blows through the streets of London, Mabel Canning is hired by the Useful Women’s Agency to attend a séance at the home of famous medium Madame Pushkana. But when Mabel hears a choking noise and a loud thud, she quickly turns on the lights to find herself at the scene of a murder.
The victim is none other than Stamford Plomley, whose widow arranged the séance after he died in a fire eight months ago. How did he come back from the dead without a scorch mark on him? And could one of their assembled party of gentlewomen have killed him… again?
When Scotland Yard arrive, the police try to stop Mabel from interfering. But having just formed the London Ladies’ Murder Club, Mabel isn’t going anywhere. And with the help of former detective Park Winstone, she begins to piece together what really happened at the ghostly gathering.
But when Mabel receives a threatening letter warning her to stay away from the case, she realises the murderer may have another victim in mind. With time running out, will she hit a dead end? Or can she keep herself from becoming the next one to be sent to an early grave?
A totally gripping, witty and warm Golden Age cozy murder mystery from USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman, Verity Bright and T.E. Kinsey.

My Review:

Whether or not one is a believer in spiritualism, the best one can hope for at a séance is a ‘message from the other side’ from the dearly departed. But no matter how much one believes, one absolutely does not expect the dearly departed to appear in the flesh. Even more miraculously, in the whole and entirely not desiccated or decomposing flesh – in spite of the dearly departed’s departure having taken place eight months previously.

However, one could not exactly say that reports of Stamford Plomley’s death had been greatly exaggerated – more that they were clearly premature eight months ago. Because the man is certainly dead now, strangled with the rope generally used to tie back the curtains that had so recently concealed his quite living body until the advent of the rope and whoever used it to bring about his delayed – or at least erroneously reported – demise.

And not that the world – and certainly Stamford Plomley’s widow Ivy – aren’t both better off with him firmly and finally deceased. However, that leaves both Scotland Yard and Mabel Canning, the head of the Useful Women’s Agency’s private investigations division with cases to solve.

Mrs. Plomley hires Mabel to investigate the circumstances of Stamford Plomley’s ‘first’ death, while Inspector Tollerton of Scotland Yard must look into the case of his second and more permanent one.

They will both have their hands full looking into the cult of believers who attended the séance conducted by the mysterious Madame Pushkana. A séance that was intended to bring Mrs. Plomley a message from the perhaps not-so-dearly departed – a message that was providentially – for someone – interrupted by a bit of flash paper and that rope around Mr. Plomley’s neck.

But if the late and not-so-lamented-as-was-originally-believed Stamford Plomley was killed with a rope in the séance room, when Madame Pushkana, the medium herself, is murdered by a knife in the back, backstage before one of her public ‘spiritual evenings’, both Inspector Tollerton and Mabel are forced to the realization that their cases have become uncannily close – and that someone is stalking their list of potential suspects.

Escape Rating A-: I couldn’t resist diving almost straight into A Body at the Séance so soon after the first book in the London Ladies’ Murder Club series, the charmingly murderous A Body on the Doorstep, because that book was just so much cozy mystery fun that I had to find out if the author managed to capture that lightning in the bottle a second time – even if said lightning jumped out of the bottle and killed someone new.

Which it did – in all the ways that the above can be taken as a pun. A Body at the Séance was every bit as much fun as the first book – if not just a teeny bit more because of the many ways that Mabel managed to hang onto her skepticism even as she found herself investigating an all-too-real murder that was just a bit over the top because of both setting and circumstances.

Watching Mabel unravel the murder while exploring her post-World War I London was just as charming as the first book – even if I did figure out whodunnit well before the final reveal.

What carried this second entry in the series, at least for this reader, was the intelligence and yes, charm, of Mabel herself. She’s easy for contemporary readers to identify with because, in spite of an entire century between her world and ours, her situation is so very similar to that of any independent woman determined to stretch her wings and make a place for herself on her own merits for the very first time in her life.

So Mabel is finding her way in what, for her, is intended to be a brave, new world, and it is. She’s got to earn a living, watch her expenses, find a new set of friends, new familiar places, and generally make her own way. She’s not rich, she’s not poor, she’s not in service, she’s from a comfortably middle-class background and has been given strong roots by her upbringing and wings from being finally able to make her own life.

And that’s a circumstance that many of us can identify with – with or without the ubiquity of social media.

That Mabel may have found an unexpected romance is just icing on a cake that she’s not sure she’s ready to eat. Because her independence is precious to her, she’s worked hard to reach it, and she’s not willing to fall back into the expected female role. She just isn’t sure yet whether the man she stumbled across in her first investigation will be able to accept her as an equal and not just as a wife.

She’s not willing to settle. And she doesn’t have to. Which makes her the kind of role model the world could still use more of.

So, as much as I came for the cozy murder mystery setting so reminiscent of the Golden Age of detective fiction, I’m absolutely sticking for Mabel Canning, her London Ladies’ Murder Club and the wonderful doggy assistance of the rather intelligent Gladys, because I’m loving every page.

Mabel, and her growing ‘Scooby Gang’, especially Gladys, will be back in April in A Body at the Dance Hall. As a child, I thought the old saying was “a new face on the BALLroom floor”, instead of what it really is. It looks like this time I’ll get to see my version come to life. Or, more likely, death, in just a couple of months.

Either way, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Mabel and her friends get to the bottom of their next case!