Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillanMurder at the Flamingo (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #1) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #1
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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“Maybe it was time to land straight in the middle of the adventure…”

Hamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times -- including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin's “right hand man” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand.

Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo night club.

When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.

My Review:

This historical mystery begins when two 20-somethings run away from home. Separate homes.

Hamish DeLuca runs away from his home in Toronto, Regina Van Buren runs away from her home in New Haven Connecticut. They both end up in Boston in the midst of the Depression, and they both end up working for, or with, Luca Valari as he performs all the wheeling and dealing necessary to open his high-class nightclub, The Flamingo.

Hamish intended to end up with Luca. Luca is his cousin, his favorite cousin. And the only person who ever seems to have treated Hamish as normal and not as “poor Hamish” afflicted with a nervous disorder. Hamish has severe panic and anxiety attacks. His most recent, or most embarrassing, occured in the middle of a courtroom as he attempted to defend his first client. In the aftermath, he discovered that even the job he thought he’d earned had been given to him as a favor to his father.

Hamish ran off to Luca.

Reggie ran away from her upper crust family and her upper crust boyfriend when said boyfriend decided to announce, in the middle of a huge family party, that he and Reggie were engaged. They weren’t. He hadn’t even asked. The force of the slap she administered could be heard echoing all the way to Boston. Or so it seemed.

She packed a bag and ran away, intending to make a life for herself away from her family’s privilege, money and restrictions. Luca hired her to answer his phone and stave off his creditors, not necessarily in that order, and to provide a touch of class to his new establishment.

Reggie and Hamish find themselves, and each other, working with Luca. But the trail of slimy double-dealings has followed Luca from Chicago to Boston – and it catches up with them all.

Escape Rating B: This is the first book in an intended series. Book 2, Murder in the City of Liberty, scheduled for publication next spring. As such, it has to carry the weight of all the worldbuilding for the series, and it’s a lot of weight.

The characters of both Hamish and Reggie are interesting, and Reggie in her exploration of Boston’s working class precincts is a lot of fun, but they cut themselves off from their backgrounds, leaving a lot about where they respectively began more than a bit murky.

But not nearly as murky as the character of Luca Valari, around whom so much of the story resolves. Luca seems to be absolutely dripping in charisma, and Hamish certainly hero-worships him. Reggie is grateful for a job opportunity that does not involve being groped and ogled, and is caught up in his spell to some extent, but not in a romantic sense. Still, she’s aware that Luca has something that makes people want to please him.

However, while it is obvious fairly early on that Luca is up to his eyeballs in something at least slightly dirty, neither Hamish nor Reggie are savvy enough to figure out exactly what, or how much, until it is far too late. Unfortunately for the reader, Luca is so good at keeping his secrets that even after all is supposedly revealed, it still feels like some things remain lost in that murk.

This is also a very slow building story. The titular murder does not occur until the mid-point of the story, and it is only then that things begin to move into a higher gear. While the introduction to the characters and their situation is interesting, it takes rather long to get to the meat of the story.

Murder at the Flamingo, as hinted at by its art deco inspired covers, takes place in the late 1930s, post-Prohibition, pre-World War II and in the depths of the Great Depression. This isn’t a period that has been seen a lot previously in historical mystery, so readers may not be as familiar with this setting as, for example, the “Roaring 20s” or the WWII time frame. More grounding in the setting might have been helpful.

If this time period interests you, another historical mystery series set in the 1930s, the Jake and Laura series by Michael Murphy, is worth taking a look at. The first book is The Yankee Club, and it comes at the period from a different perspective as both Jake and Laura, while doing well by the time the story begins, both had a much more hardscrabble upbringing than either Hamish or Reggie.

I liked Hamish and Reggie more than well enough to stick around for their next adventure. I want to see if Quasimodo manages to figure out that he really is Superman, and gets the girl after all.

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Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + Giveaway

Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + GiveawayTrial on Mount Koya (Shinobi Mystery #6) by Susan Spann
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Shinobi Mysteries #6
Pages: 256
Published by Seventh Street Books on July 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo head up to Mount Koya, only to find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery, this time in a Shingon Buddhist temple atop one of Japan's most sacred peaks.

November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple's priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife--the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests--including Father Mateo--become unwilling members of the killer's grisly council of the dead.

My Review:

One of the factors that makes historical mysteries so interesting is that the investigator, whoever they might be, is forced to rely on instinct and intelligence, as forensics as we know them today do not yet exist. At the same time, the investigator can’t let their instincts get too much in the way. To quote Will Rogers, who won’t be born for more than three centuries after Trial on Mount Koya takes place, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Shinobi (read ninja) Hiro Hattori is usually an excellent investigator. In his own society, mid-16th century Japan, he is an outsider on multiple levels. First he’s a master assassin. Second he’s the bodyguard and now friend of a Portuguese Jesuit priest. And third he is masquerading as a ronin, a masterless samurai. He’s normally on the outside looking in, even while appearing to be part of everything.

But in this particular case, while he is an outsider in this group of isolated people, he is unable to muster his usual clear-sighted lack of emotional involvement. He is still grieving the events of the the previous book, Betrayal at Iga, and his judgment is clouded because his friend is as threatened as everyone else in this remote killing ground.

And having just lost his lover in a murder that he believes he should have prevented, he is afraid of losing his closest friend as well. As a consequence he is jumping at shadows, unable to see or admit that his clouded judgment is causing him to miss vital clues and suspect people who he should have eliminated from suspicion – if he were operating as his usual, rational self.

Normally, between the Jesuit Father Mateo and the shinobi Hiro Hattori, Hiro is the level-headed one while Mateo rushes in where his religion’s angels would certainly fear to tread. And while Mateo still serves as our “Watson” in this outing, being the outsider to whom Hiro must explain the ins and outs of their purpose and location, in this particular story he is much more clear-sighted than his friend.

This story is also a variation on one of the classic mystery tropes. A relatively small group of people is isolated by a blizzard in a remote location. No one can get in, and no one can get out. There is a murderer amongst them who turns out to be a serial killer. And he must be one of them, because he can’t escape and no one could be hiding on the mountainside in the fierce and freezing storm.

It is up to Hiro, with the assistance of Mateo, to first get his head out of his own ass, and then to figure out whodunit. The setting is a remote monastery, where someone is methodically murdering the monks. As Hiro puts it, the usual methods for murder are love, money and power. They are in a monastery, a Buddhist monastery. It seems as if those motives could not possibly apply.

But of course one of them does. It is up to Hiro to figure out how and why before his best friend becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: This series is absolutely fascinating, both for its characters and for this recreation of a marvelous world that seems both incredibly exotic and extremely familiar. Exotic because I have little knowledge of the place and period it covers. Familiar because in the end, the characters are so very human, in all their muck and glory.

Human beings are, at heart, the same all over. While what constitutes money and power may vary from one society to another, the lengths that humans will go to in order to achieve or steal them are all too similar.

And, as always, that love is all there is is all we know of love. But what Hiro to his surprise grasps on the one hand, he loses track of on the other. Eros is not the only form of love. A strong enough version of any form of love could be a motive for murder.

Or the killer could simply be barking mad. Or both.

In its remote setting and isolated group of religious observers, Trial on Mount Koya reminds me just a bit of The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. With one major difference. At the end of The Beautiful Mystery, while I certainly felt for the victims, I also understood why the particular events, the murders, happened. When completed, the story felt finished and I felt satisfied that all had been resolved, good had, if not triumphed in that particular case, at least lived to fight another day.

As much as I enjoyed Trial on Mount Koya, the deep dive back into Hiro and Mateo’s world, and the progress of the investigation, as well as learning more about 16th century Japan and its culture, the revelation of the killer and his reasons felt unsatisfactory. This is possibly because the killer was both utterly insane and completely organized at the same time. It may have been because his logic and his motives were so far outside my own perspectives that I just couldn’t understand them enough.

And it could be that there is more yet to discover, not about this killer in particular but about the outside events that set Hiro and Mateo on this particular journey in the first place. I’ve enjoyed every one of their adventures from the series’ beginning in Claws of the Cat, and if you love historical mysteries I highly recommend starting this series at the beginning.

I’ll be back to follow them on their journey. They are intending to take the road to Edo. I’m sure they’ll have more fascinating adventures along the way. And probably turn up a dead body, or two, or six.

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

I am very happy to be giving away a copy of Trial on Mount Koya to one lucky US or Canadian commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 22, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name​ ​for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports​ from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take...

Written by NBA superstar Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes reveals the untold story of Sherlock’s older brother. This harrowing adventure changed his life, and set the​ stage for the man Mycroft would become: founder of the famous Diogenes Club and the hidden power behind the British government.

My Review:

Because of the house closing tomorrow, I’m having a difficult time concentrating on all the books I’m supposed to be reading. Instead, I’m looking for books to sweep me away, mostly to places and people I’ve met before. Or at least am well acquainted with through the pages of my favorite books.

And that led me to this one. As I’ve said many times before, I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, particularly when they are done well and/or introduce me to new facets of characters that I think I know and certainly love.

Mycroft Holmes as depicted by Sidney Paget in the Strand Magazine

This book about Mycroft Holmes in his “salad days” does a bit of both. For those of us who are fond of the Holmes Brothers, this story about Mycroft’s early days as a government official, when he was young, in love, and his weight was definitely proportional to his height, is treat. And not just for its glimpses at an even younger Sherlock Holmes, still at school and a very indifferent student, trying to hone his gift for memory and observation into something that will keep him away from boredom, and see him intellectually if not always gainfully employed.

Even though this is a story about Mycroft rather than Sherlock Holmes, someone still needs to serve as “Watson’, chronicler, sounding-board, foil and occasionally backup gunman. In this story that role falls to Cyrus Douglas, a black man in his early 40s who is still a powerful street fighter as well as the secret owner of a successful tobacco shop in London.

The story begins when Douglas receives word from his home in Trinidad that someone or something is killing young children in a manner that strongly suggests supernatural origin. The children are dead, the adults are both grief-stricken and scared, and Douglas is tempted to sail home and look into the matter.

So is Georgiana Sutton, Mycroft Holmes fiancee, also a native of Trinidad – although from much different social and economic circles than Douglas.

Young Mycroft, deeply in love (and there’s a phrase I never thought I’d be writing) decides to follow Georgiana to Trinidad, using his government position as cover and providing Douglas with cover for his own desire to head home.

Mycroft and Douglas, true friends masquerading as master and manservant, run into trouble from the moment they arrive on shipboard, and stay in various states of trouble from embarkation to disembarkation.

Only to arrive in Trinidad, battered, bruised and uncertain of what happened to Georgiana or just which of the two of them exactly what forces are after with such bone-breaking intent.

This journey that leads Mycroft Holmes into the heart of darkness, breaks the young man that he was. And takes him on his first steps into becoming the spider at the heart of the British government’s wide, wide web.

Escape Rating A-: As a portrait of the government functionary as a very young man, Mycroft Holmes is a treat. When the story begins in 1870, Mycroft is all of 23. That puts his birth year in 1847 – which would make Sherlock a young 16. We think of these characters based on the Sidney Paget drawings from The Strand Magazine, but if they must have been young once.

(I have a picture in my head of Mycroft as he’s described in this book, and he looks a lot like Simon Ward as Young Winston Churchill.)

Mycroft begins this story very young indeed, not just in years, but in naivete. (Another sentence I never expected to write.) A reviewer referred to this as being the story of Mycroft in his “salad days” and that feels right. The comment about “salad days” is from Shakespeare, as said by Cleopatra in the play Antony and Cleopatra, “my salad days, when I was green in judgment…” And so Mycroft is. So much of what sets Mycroft off on his quest is his complete misunderstanding of the character and nature of the woman he believes he loves. Even Sherlock points out his lack of clear sight when it comes to Georgiana, and he’s only 16. The more mature Douglas has doubts about the young lady from the very beginning. And they are both right.

This may be the last time that Mycroft is ever wrong about anything. He certainly learns his lesson – perhaps a bit too well.

The case that Mycroft and Douglas investigate is as much a part of its time and place as the Sherlock Holmes stories are of Victorian London. As Mycroft does what he does so well, pulling the threads of monetary exchanges, political double-dealing and government corruption, he and Douglas find themselves in the middle of a plot to enslave a new generation of black men and women in a nefarious enterprise where it seems that all the players are doing their best to pretend that they are not actually slavers.

But they are. And Mycroft and Douglas, with the help of some surprising allies, set out to stop them at all costs. And it’s terrible and harrowing and marvelous and necessary and right. This is a story that introduces a marvelous and fascinating character in Douglas, and provides new insights into the familiar character of Mycroft while telling a cracking good story.

There’s a sequel coming out this fall. In fact, I was led to this book by a promo for the upcoming title, Mycroft and Sherlock. And I can’t wait.

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. KingIsland of the Mad by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #15
Pages: 306
Published by Bantam on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called "the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today."

A June summer's evening, on the Sussex Downs, in 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are strolling across their orchard when the telephone rings: an old friend's beloved aunt has failed to return following a supervised outing from Bedlam. After the previous few weeks--with a bloody murder, a terrible loss, and startling revelations about Holmes--Russell is feeling a bit unbalanced herself. The last thing she wants is to deal with the mad, and yet, she can't say no.

The Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, yet he seemed to be improving--or at least, finding a point of balance in her madness. So why did she disappear? Did she take the family's jewels with her, or did someone else? The Bedlam nurse, perhaps?

The trail leads Russell and Holmes through Bedlam's stony halls to the warm Venice lagoon, where ethereal beauty is jarred by Mussolini's Blackshirts, where the gilded Lido set may be tempting a madwoman, and where Cole Porter sits at a piano, playing with ideas...

My Review:

I have followed Mary Russell’s adventures from her very first outing in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, almost 25 years ago. And how that time has flown!

The story we have in Island of the Mad reminds me of the best of the Russell/Holmes kanon (yes, that spelling is deliberate) combining the farcical aspects of the case in Pirate King with the more serious undertones, as well as a few of the characters, from the second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. And the result is glorious – as well as a bit star-studded.

And if you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the name “Lido”, which seems to be a deck on every cruise ship as well as appearing in multiple songs and all sorts of other places, our journey also takes us to what feels like the original of the name, the Lido di Venezia in the beautiful La Serenissima – Venice.

The case before our intrepid heroine is to determine whether her best friend’s aunt disappeared of her own free will, was the victim of some foul deeds, or succumbed to the madness that has plagued her for the past dozen years or so.

Or perhaps all of the above.

When Mary’s search for Vivian Beaconsfield leads her from Bedlam to Venice, a separate case miraculously (or perhaps nefariously) appears before her husband Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft desperately wants his brother to poke his inquisitive nose into the rise of the Fascisti in Italy. While too many people in England think that a strong man like Il Duce Mussolini is just what Italy needs, Mycroft is certain that there is something sinister about the rise of the fascists in Italy, Germany and possibly even Britain.

History proved he was right, but in 1925 all that Mycroft had was his finely honed intuition. He can’t send an agent because even he can’t describe what an agent should be looking for. But if there is something to find, Mycroft is certain that Sherlock will find it. Or that it will find him, whether he wants it to or not.

While their separate missions lead them to the same city, the things that need investigation pull them in entirely different directions. While Mary hunts for evidence of Vivian’s presence among the more outre denizens of Venice’s celebrating ex-pat nightlife, Sherlock inveigles himself into the household of American composer Cole Porter, where anyone who is anyone in the city is entertained in lavish style while the rich Americans drop millions of lira into the local economy.

When their respective cases dovetail into one another, the conclusion of both trails ends in a bang, a whimper, and an explosion of sound and light. Lots and lots of bright, white, revealing light. Flashbulbs!

Escape Rating A: As much as I love this entire series, naturally some of the stories work better than others. Island of the Mad worked really, really well, because it went back to the elements that make this series so special.

The premise of this series, established all the way back in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was that after Sherlock Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs at the end of his adventures, he literally stumbled over a 15-year-old girl – or rather she stumbled over him while her nose was buried in a book. After that fortuitous meeting, he took her on as an apprentice, and in the course of her apprenticeship, they eventually, after the events in A Monstrous Regiment of Women, married.

If you can swallow that premise, and admittedly some people can’t, the entire series is marvelous from beginning to the present. I don’t say beginning to end, because I sincerely hope the end never comes. If you can swallow the premise and have not read the rest of the series, well, you could start with this one. It does stand a fair bit on its own. But it would lose some of its resonance. If you are interested, but just not up to plowing through all 14 previous books in one go, read at least the first two so that you know how these two fit together into their singular relationship.

The series began in 1915, and this story takes place in 1925. Holmes and Russell have been married for several years, and are quite happily married. Also, it is a real marriage and not in any way a marriage of convenience – as many of their acquaintances occasionally assume. Their marriage is a true partnership, and much of the fun of the series is watching them work together, even if, as happens here, they are sometimes apart in their togetherness.

The stories are always told from Russell’s perspective, with her parts being in the first person, and Holmes’ separate investigations in the third person. We operate from inside her head, but with extremely rare exceptions, never inside his. Holmes is as inscrutable as ever, including at times to his wife.

There’s a difficult balance to strike between having Russell operate on her own and making sure that Holmes participates enough to keep things interesting for both them and the reader. The books do not always strike that balance well, but this particular outing does. They have separate tasks to perform and separate ways to go about them, but they check in with each other on enough of a regular basis for the reader to feel invested in both cases, and for the dovetailing at the end to work well.

One of the things that makes this series different from other Holmes pastiches and continuations is not just Russell’s voice but the way that she takes Holmes’ training and moves it into a new century with the different sensibilities of both her generation and her gender.

There are two dark themes underlying the froth in this particular outing. One is, of course, the rise of fascism in between-the-wars Europe and just how quickly and easily the fascists have taken over Italy. That is a darkness and a threat that Holmes would both recognize and fight against whether Russell was present or not. And any resonance between the situation they investigate and current xenophobic and tyrannical regimes rising today is probably intentional.

But just as the way that the fascists have come to power leads the reader to compare that situation to the present, so does the initial case that takes Russell to Venice in the first place. Her best friend’s aunt has been committed to Bedlam, the psychiatric asylum in London, for years. She has escaped. As Russell investigates, it turns out that the question isn’t why she escaped, but why she was committed in the first place. And if you don’t see the #MeToo movement peeking out from behind the historical curtain, you’re not looking.

There’s a lot of substance under the froth of the “Young Things” partying between the wars and the glitter of the ex-pat night life – if you want to look for it. But even if you don’t, it’s a fascinating story from the very first page.

I look forward, as always, to Mary Russell’s next investigation.

Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg

Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard GoldbergA Study in Treason (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #2) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #2
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A continuation of USA TODAY bestselling author Leonard Goldberg's The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Treason is a new intriguing locked room mystery for Joanna and the Watsons to solve.

The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told.

When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their keen detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

Told from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, Jr. in a style similar to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Treason is based partly on facts in our world and partly on the facts left to us by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Full of excitement and intrigue, this mystery is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as the works of Laurie R. King and Charles Finch.

My Review:

A Study in Treason is the followup to last year’s The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes. I’m a sucker for Holmes’ pastiches, and I absolutely loved that first book. Not only was it the right book at the right time for me, but it seemed to hit all the right notes, with Holmes’ daughter taking her father’s place and solving crimes with Dr. Watson Sr. as well as his son, Dr. Watson Jr. In keeping with the spirit of the original stories, Watson Jr. is the chronicles of these new events.

But after having read A Study in Treason, I’m starting to wonder if this is something that can only be done well once. Part of what makes the first book so much fun is the nostalgia factor; that it echoes the originals while being just a touch new and just slightly different.

Nostalgia can only carry a person, a book, or a story so far. And I think that shows in this second book. While Watson Sr. is an older version of himself in the canon, very much as he should be, the new characters need to go in at least a few new directions.

Instead, Joanna Blalock Watson feels more like a carbon copy of her famous father. It is ironic in a case that proves that nurture is more important than nature, that Joanna seems to have each and every one of Holmes’ talents and habits, in spite of not having been raised by him. While Joanna certainly knows who her father was, I’m not certain that she actually met the man.

Yet somehow, not only his talents but his every habit seems to have passed down to her, as if by osmosis, barely changed from the original. And while the talents could indeed pass through the blood, that the habits would too seems a bit unlikely.

The story in A Study in Treason, recalls The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, while its title calls back to the first published Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. But in spite of the veritable school of red herrings thrown in the reader’s, and Lestrade’s, way, the case itself seems fairly obvious from the early stages. And obvious in a way that has been overused.

Escape Rating C+: I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, especially after the promising start in the first book. Instead, the story feels a bit thin and stretched, as though the author has taken a good idea and pushed it past its limits.

In order for this series to work, the characters need to change and grow. It makes no sense for Joanna to be such an exact replica of her father, particularly having grown up outside his influence. There should be some marked differences, and those differences would make her an interesting character in her own right.

She also seems to face or have faced little of the difficulties that a woman in a man’s profession would have faced in the 1910s. Or she has completely brushed all of them aside. Even if she chooses to ignore those differences, anyone she deals with on a professional basis would not. And that constant fight should have had some influence on her character.

There’s not enough there there, and I’m sorry to have to say that. I had high hopes for this series. But for a more believable female Holmes, I’m going back to Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series.

Review: Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Death by Water by Kerry GreenwoodDeath by Water (Phryne Fisher, #15) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #15
Pages: 250
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 1, 2010 (first published 2005)
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The nice men at P&O are worried. A succession of jewellery thefts from the first class passengers is hardly the best advertisement for their cruises. Especially when it is likely that a passenger is the thief. Phryne Fisher, with her Lulu bob, green eyes, cupid's bow lips and sense of the ends justifying the means, is just the person to mingle seamlessly with the upper classes and take on a case of theft on the high seas - or at least on the S.S. Hinemoa, on a luxury cruise to New Zealand. She is carrying the Great Queen of Sapphires, the Maharani, as bait. There are shipboard romances, champagne cocktails, erotic photographers, jealous swains, mickey finns, jazz musicians, blackmail and attempted murder, all before the thieves find out - as have countless love-smitten men before them - that where the glamorous and intelligent Phryne is concerned, resistance is futile.

My Review:

In between yesterday’s big and marvelous epic fantasy (Spinning Silver) and tomorrow’s big series-opening epic fantasy (The Magic of Recluce) I found myself looking for something less weighty that I knew from the off would be quick to get immersed in. Spinning Silver was wonderful but left me with an epic book hangover.

So naturally I turned to something, or rather someone, who always manages to sweep me back into her world at the drop of a hat, the lighting of a gasper, or the discovery of yet another dead body.

Of course, I’m speaking of Miss Phryne Fisher. The books, while in some ways markedly different than the TV series, always serve up a delicious repaste of Phryne’s signature style, sizzling wit and nose for both finding and solving trouble.

Death by Water was certainly no exception.

This was an interesting story for multiple reasons. This is one of the few cases where the book consists almost entirely of the case. It is also a story where Phryne is operating far away from her usual base of operations, and without most of her cast of regulars. And the cruise ship itinerary as described in the book is fascinating.

She boards the P&O cruise ship SS Hinemoa for a luxury cruise to New Zealand with only the redoubtable Dot at her side. Phryne has chosen to accept this case from the cruise line to discover who is stealing expensive jewels from its first-class passengers so that she can escape a period of more than the usual chaos at her house in St. Kilda.

The thefts have been cunning. The jewel thief or thieves have managed to make some of their heists in the middles of crowded dancefloors with no one being the wiser. It’s giving the cruise line a black eye in the publicity department, not to mention costing them a pretty penny in reparations. And it has to stop.

So Phryne boards the ship with a stunner of a sapphire and a tragic story of a curse to go with it. The games begin almost immediately, as the thieves make attempts on her stateroom and both Phryne’s and Dot’s possessions and eventually persons.

That makes it personal.

But just as Phryne begins to put all the pieces together, murder enters the scene. Are the crimes connected, or are there two crime sprees aboard this one ship? With the help of the ship’s cat Scragger, Phryne is able to reveal all. Or almost all. Or all that needs to be revealed.

Escape Rating B+: I went looking for fun, and I found it. And just like Phryne drinking a restorative brandy, I feel ready to tackle whatever comes next.

This is one of the stories that was not filmed, and I understand why. At the same time, I’m sorry it wasn’t – the sets and the costumes would have been glorious!

The case here turns out to be unusually straightforward. The ship is a closed community, and there aren’t a lot of options for misdirection. Phryne, as usual, solves the problem with intelligence rather than forensics. She studies the people involved, looks at the possible motives and opportunities, and figures out who is acting out of character, even if she can’t always tell why.

But Phryne is alone, except for Dot of course, on this trip. This wasn’t a case where the usual gang would have been all that helpful, and they weren’t missed as they have been in other stories. Cec’s niece Lizbeth, Navigation Officer Green and others do end up filling the places of Phryne’s assistants, and for once it works well. It helps that Phryne’s fellow first-class passengers are a colorful lot – to say the least!

The descriptions, both of shipboard life on a first class cruise and of cruise tourism in New Zealand in the 1920s are marvelous. The reader feels as if they are there on the ship, with all its gossip, pampering, troublemaking and ennui. If it weren’t for the frequent attempts on Phryne’s and Dot’s lives, it would seem like quite a restful trip! And if you enjoy Phryne’s singular voice, it’s a lovely journey.

Review: Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly

Review: Fall of Angels by Barbara CleverlyFall of Angels (An Inspector Redfyre Mystery) by Barbara Cleverly
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Redfyre #1
Pages: 384
Published by Soho Crime on May 15th 2018
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Great Britain, 1923: Detective Inspector John Redfyre is a godsend to the Cambridge CID. A handsome young veteran bred among the city’s educated elite, he is no stranger to the set running its esteemed colleges and universities—a society that previously seemed impenetrable to even those at the top of local law enforcement, especially with the force plagued by its own history of corruption.

When Redfyre is invited to attend the annual St. Barnabas College Christmas concert in his Aunt Henrietta’s stead, he is expecting a quiet evening, though perhaps a bit of matchmaking mischief on his aunt’s part. But he arrives to witness a minor scandal: Juno Proudfoot, the trumpeter of the headlining musical duo, is a woman, and a young one at that—practically unheard of in conservative academic circles. When she suffers a near-fatal fall after the close of the show, Redfyre must consider whether someone was trying to kill her. Has her musical talent, her beauty, or perhaps most importantly, her gender, provoked a dangerous criminal to act? Redfyre must both seek advice from and keep an eye on old friends to catch his man before more innocents fall victim.

My Review:

I keep wanting the author’s name to be Beverly Cleverly, but it’s not. Fall of Angels, however, is a very clever little mystery, filled with interesting characters and tempting red herrings – and a few flaws.

I picked this book up because I was looking for something a bit less weighty than the rest of my books this week. But while it is a bit shorter, after finishing it I’m not so sure that it was actually lighter, at least not in the end.

It feels as if there are two books in one in Fall of Angels, one a rather lightweight between-the-wars mystery, and the other an exploration of the suffragist movement in England in the post-WWI era counterpointed by the rise of misogyny as backlash to that same movement – with a few other even darker things thrown into the not completely well-stirred soup.

I’ve mixed my metaphors. Let me explain.

This is the first book in a new mystery series featuring Detective Inspector John Redfyre of the Cambridge CID. That part of the story feels like an homage to the classic mysteries of the era, with the attitudes of the principals updated a bit to appeal to 21st century readers. Redfyre feels like a combination of Lord Peter Wimsey and the TV version of Jack Robinson from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Like Wimsey, Redfyre is from the upper-crust, although exactly how is not specified. So throw in a bit of Campion for spice on that score. Likewise, Redfyre is university educated, but Cambridge rather than Wimsey’s Oxford – although Campion was also a Cambridge man. Also like Wimsey, Redfyre served as an officer in the Great War, but seems to have come out relatively unscathed, at least in comparison with Wimsey’s horrific bouts of PTSD.

In his actions, Redfyre reminds me of Phryne’s Jack Robinson – the TV version and not the one in the books. They are both police officers, and even both have the same rank. And they are about the same age, somewhere in their 30s, and both came out of the war relatively unscarred. They are also both methodical investigators, and they are both above reproach as officers. And they are both rather handsome – but handsome is as handsome does, and they both do quite well.

The investigation that Redfyre finds himself in the middle of is dark and deadly. A young female trumpet player is receiving deadly poison pen letters, and an attempt is made on her life after a Christmas concert at the college – an attempt that Redfyre witnesses due to machinations on the part of his redoubtable Aunt Hetty.

As he investigates, he finds himself following a trail of bodies, all of young women who in one way or another challenged the status quo. A status quo that kept most women on their Victorian pedestals and subservient to or chattels of the men in their lives – even after all the changes wrought by the war.

Redfyre discovers that all the victims are members of an unnamed group of women’s suffragists who want universal female suffrage and so much more, and are willing to use rather underhanded means to reach their goals.

While those underhanded means fall short of murder, someone is willing to murder them to stop them from taking what he sees as places that are rightfully and properly reserved for men.

It’s up to Redfyre to figure out whodunnit before the killer gets to his Aunt Hetty’s name on his murder list.

Escape Rating B-: I have mixed feelings about Fall of Angels. I liked John Redfyre, his “beat” in Cambridge, and what looks to be his cast of regulars.

The between-the-wars period is always interesting. The way things used to be was the first casualty of the Great War, and most people are aware that whatever happens next is going to be very different. It is also the period called the “Roaring 20s” when everyone was celebrating hard to forget the war. That it all comes crashing down at the end of the decade is not yet on the horizon in 1923 when this series begins.

University towns, and Cambridge is certainly that, are also hotbeds for mysteries. The college brings in lots of outsiders, and the town vs. gown conflict is ever ready to produce criminal activities, whether violent or not. And the faction rivalry results in a lot of conflicting pointing fingers once the deed has been done.

So there’s a lot to like. But the crime that Redfyre has to solve in his initial outing feels anachronistic, or at least his attitudes do. Or both.

Not that there were not plenty of women agitating for universal suffrage after the war. They were eventually successful in 1928. But much of what this nameless group is proposing feels too serious for the story, while their actions to achieve their ends seem almost farcical. It felt like it should either be melodrama or drama, but not both at the same time. Other readers may feel differently.

So for me, the blend did not quite work. But I liked Redfyre enough that I’ll probably come back for the next book in the series, just to see how things turn out.

Review: Twenty-One Days by Anne Perry

Review: Twenty-One Days by Anne PerryTwenty-One Days (Daniel Pitt, #1) by Anne Perry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Daniel Pitt #1
Pages: 320
Published by Ballantine Books on April 10, 2018
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In this first book in a new series, Thomas Pitt's son Daniel races to save his client from execution, setting him against London's Special Police Branch.

It's 1910, and Daniel Pitt is a reluctant lawyer who would prefer to follow in the footsteps of his detective father. When the biographer Russell Graves, who Daniel is helping defend, is sentenced to execution for the murder of his wife, Daniel's Pitt-family investigative instincts kick in, and he sets out to find the real killer. With only twenty-one days before Graves is to be executed, Daniel learns that Graves is writing a biography of Victor Narraway, the former head of Special Branch and a close friend of the Pitts. And the stories don't shed a positive light. Is it possible someone is framing Graves to keep him from writing the biography--maybe even someone Daniel knows in Special Branch?

The only answer, it seems, lies in the dead woman's corpse. And so, with the help of some eccentric new acquaintances who don't mind bending the rules, Daniel delves into an underground world of dead bodies and double lives, unearthing scores of lies and conspiracies. As he struggles to balance his duty to the law with his duty to his family, the equal forces of justice and loyalty pull this lawyer-turned-detective in more directions than he imagined possible. And amidst it all, his client's twenty-one days are ticking away.

My Review:

Twenty-One Days is an intense and absorbing mystery, filled with difficult questions and seemingly impossible answers. And it is utterly impossible to put down.

It may also remind readers, just a bit, of the TV series Murdoch Mysteries. While Murdoch begins earlier, by this point in the series it is nearly contemporaneous with Twenty-One Days. And the combination of tried-and-true investigative techniques with the early days of forensic science, as well as the prominence of women scientists in professionally supporting roles has a similar feel.

But unlike Murdoch, or its own predecessor series featuring Daniel Pitt’s detecting parents, Charlotte and Thomas Pitt (series begins with The Cater Street Hangman and is marvelous), young Daniel Pitt is a junior (very junior) barrister. In other words, Daniel begins his investigations from the perspective of a practicing lawyer.

Which does not mean that he has forgotten anything he learned following his father around, or listening at keyholes and behind the banister while his parents and their friends discussed Thomas Pitt’s more difficult cases as a police detective and later a member of Special Branch.

This story, and this series, open with kind of a teaser. Daniel is defending one of his father’s old friends, and gets the man off. Not through trickery, but through science. As well as a bit of deductive reasoning and a flash of insight. But he proves that the man was not guilty, because the man really wasn’t guilty – he was merely “in the frame”.

Which leads immediately to his next case, where another, completely different man also seems to be “in the frame” for a crime he swears that he did not commit. Unfortunately for this new defendant, not only does the frame fit, but he’s such an unlikeable bastard that the jury wants to make it fit – and honestly so do both his lawyers.

Even after the man is convicted, Daniel is tasked with finding the truth, whatever it is. Luckily for Daniel’s conscience, he is not charged with proving the bastard innocent whether he is or not, merely with finding the truth of the crime, whether their client is guilty or not. And whether anyone wants him to be guilty or not.

It turns out that everyone wants the bastard to be guilty, including both of his attorneys. Daniel discovers that he wants the man to be guilty, whether he is or not, because if the man is telling the truth then much of what Daniel believes, not just about himself but about his parents, their friends, and everyone he holds dear, may be a lie. Or his father may be a monster and not the hero Daniel has always believed him to be.

There is certainly a monster somewhere at the heart of this case. But who? It’s up to Daniel to find out, before it’s too late. Once the client is hanged, the answers won’t matter – unless they’re the wrong ones.

Escape Rating A: This was absolutely marvelous, utterly compelling, and a page turner from beginning to end. If you love historical mysteries, this book, and the series that it opens, look like real winners. This first outing certainly is.

Anyone who loved the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series is going to enjoy this first case featuring their son. But it is not necessary to have read the previous series to get into this one. As this case forces Daniel to investigate his father and all of his friends and associates, the reader new to the family gets all the introduction to the past that is needed. The elder Pitts are definitely tertiary characters here, and it was lovely to see them again, but their past investigations are not truly germane to the present one.

This case is Daniel’s coming-of-age, his biggest step on the road to independent adulthood. He looks at the past but does not live in it. Investigating that past from the perspective of a lawyer and not a cop is his breaking away from it – even as he respects it and loves the people who raised him and shaped him.

This case also introduces the people who will become Daniel’s friends, colleagues and confidants, including the female forensic scientist Miriam fford Croft and the Blackwoods, mother and son, who provide sage advice and investigative assistance in equal measure.

Daniel asks for help when he needs it, however reluctantly, but the logical leaps are all his, as are the worries and fears. He learns that his parents are mortal and fallible, and that adulthood often consists of not choosing the better option, but picking between a choice of evils.

And that just because a person is not guilty of one crime, that does not mean that they are in any way innocent of much of anything at all. Those discoveries, and the need to find them, is the making of Daniel Pitt, and the heart of this terrific mystery.

Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris

Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. HarrisWhy Kill the Innocent (Sebastian St. Cyr, #13) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #13
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on April 3, 2018
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In the newest mystery from the national bestselling author of Where the Dead Lie, a brutal murder draws Sebastian St. Cyr into the web of the royal court, where intrigue abounds and betrayal awaits.

London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose's ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane's murderer to escape justice.

Untangling the secrets of Jane's world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death . . .

My Review:

Every book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series of historical mysteries, from its very beginning in What Angels Fear, begins with a question word. The words that inform the investigation of any mystery. Who? What? When? Where? Why? And every book ends with an answer to that question. In the middle, there is a chilling mystery.

But none quite as chilling as the mystery in Why Kill the Innocent, which takes place during the deadly frozen winter of 1814, the last time in recorded history that the Thames River froze over – solid enough for a Frost Fair to be held in the middle of the river, out on the ice.

That winter there was a killing cold, but the cold is not what killed Jane Ambrose. It is up to St. Cyr, with the able assistance of his wife Hero, to discover the cause of that particular mystery.

As in all the books of this series, Sebastian St. Cyr finds himself, or rather feels compelled to insert himself, into a mystery that explores the dark underbelly of the glittering Regency. An underbelly that is very dark indeed, and usually rotten.

The story begins with Hero Devlin and midwife Alexi Sauvage discovering a frozen corpse in the streets of Clerkenwell, a down-at-heels district at the best of times. And these are far from the best of times.

They recognize the body, and they can all too easily determine the cause of death. And that’s where all the problems begin. Jane Ambrose was a talented composer and a gifted pianist, but as a woman, the only acceptable outlet for her talent was as a piano teacher. As one of her students was the Princess Charlotte, heir-presumptive to the throne of England, they are certain that the palace will want to hush the crime up as quickly as possible.

That there is a crime to investigate is all too clear. Jane Ambrose was found with the side of her head bashed in, but there was no blood in the surrounding snow. She did not die where she was found, and she did not stagger to the site after she was struck. Someone put her in the street, making her death at least manslaughter if not murder.

And the palace will not want anyone to talk about a murder of someone so close to the Princess, no matter how much her father the Regent hates and despises both his only child and her mother. There’s a tangled web here even before the body is discovered.

After that gruesome discovery, St. Cyr takes it upon himself, with help from Hero and their friends and associates, to discover everything he can about the last days of Jane Ambrose. And whether she died as the result of something in her own life, or because of secrets she was privy to as a member of the Princess’ inner circle.

And whether or not Hero’s father, the manipulative, powerful and secretive Lord Jarvis, might possibly lie at the center of this web.

Escape Rating A+:The St. Cyr series is deep, dark and marvelous. If you like your historical mysteries on the grim side, where the detective and the reader get to dive deeply into the nasty, smelly side of the glittering past, this series is like the finest dark chocolate, mostly bitter, just a tiny bit of sweet, and absolutely delicious.

Why Kill the Innocent, like the rest of the series, is set in the Regency, but it is definitely not the sparkling Regency of Georgette Heyer. St. Cyr is a troubled soul, suffering from PTSD as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. He feels compelled to search for justice as a way of paying back, not just for his privileges, but also as a way of dealing with a heaping helping of survivor’s guilt.

St. Cyr is a member of the aristocracy, which gives him entry into places that other detectives cannot go. Not just the gentleman’s clubs, but also the halls of power, including the households of the Princess of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte.

He is also in a position to say what other people fear to say, or are punished for. The Regent, the future George IV, is a profligate spendthrift who treats both his wife and his daughter abominably and leaves the actual governance of his kingdom to men like Lord Charles Jarvis, who flatter the Regent’s massive ego while they accumulate power by any means available, no matter how nefarious.

The series as a whole does not shy away from the darkness that lay beneath the glitter. Hero, in particular, is a social reformer, and a tireless investigator. She finds Jane Ambrose’s body because she was in Clerkenwell writing a story about the wives left behind in extreme poverty after their husbands had been “impressed” by the British Navy. (This same practice became one of the foundational causes of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and her recently independent and frequently obstreperous colonies in the Americas).

Throughout Why Kill the Innocent St. Cyr and Hero are fighting an uphill battle. There is no one who wants this death investigated. That they keep doggedly on compels the reader to follow them, as they piece together the victim’s last days. And find not one, but multiple cesspools still stinking. And while the stink may rise all the way to the top, the rot that they are there to uncover lies much closer to the bottom – and much nearer to home.

Although the mystery is, as always compelling, the success of this series relies on the strengths of its two main characters, St. Cyr and Hero. Their unlikely match has resulted in a partnership of equals, which is always marvelous to read. But it is their flaws that make them so fascinating to watch.

Why Kill the Innocent could be read on its own. The crime and the investigation of it are complete in this story. As St. Cyr and Hero follow the clues and we meet their friends and enemies, characters who have appeared before in the series are given just enough background to keep a new reader engaged in the story. But for those who have read more of this marvelous series, there is added depth to the characters and the story. If you want to get in on this series from its beginning, start with What Angels Fear.

I’ll be over here, waiting for next year’s installment, tentatively titled Who Slays the Wicked.

Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry GreenwoodQueen of the Flowers (Phryne Fisher Mystery #14) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #14
Pages: 256
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on November 7th 2017
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St. Kildas streets hang with fairy lights. Tea dances, tango competitions, lifesaving demonstrations, lantern shows, and picnics on the beach are all part of the towns first Flower Parade. And who should be Queen of the Flowers but the Honourable Phryne Fisher? It seems that the lovely Phryne has nothing to do but buy dresses, drink cocktails, and dine in lavish restaurants. Unfortunately, disappearances during this joyous festival aren t limited to the magic shows. One of Phryne s flower maidens has simply vanished. And so, Phryne is off to investigate aided by Bert and Cec and her trusty little Beretta. When her darling adopted daughter Ruth goes missing, Phryne is determined that nothing will stand in the way of her investigation. Phryne must confront elephants, brothel-life, and perhaps worst of all an old lover in an effort to save Ruth and her flower maiden before it is too late. Queen of the Flowers is the fourteenth book in the Phryne Fisher series, with no sign of Ms. Fisher hanging up her pearl-handled pistol yet."

My Review:

The more of this series that I read, the more amazed I am that they managed to film it at all, let alone that it is still possible to recognize the original in the changes – and vice versa.

I turn to Phryne when I need a comfort read, because she is guaranteed to whisk me away to Melbourne in the 1920s, whether the particular adventure is one of the better ones or merely a visit with old friends.

Queen of the Flowers is one of the better ones, and it is one of the occasions where the book is much better than the TV show – not that there haven’t been plenty of cases the other way around.

One reason why I marvel that the series was ever filmed at all is just how frank both the author and Phryne were about the seamy underbelly of life in general and life in Melbourne in the 1920s in particular. This story is one that pulls absolute no punches whatsoever.

But the way that it links back to both Phryne’s past and her adopted daughter Ruth’s certainly does tug at the heart.

The mystery, and the story, in Queen of the Flowers revolves around a series of abused young women. Not just the school of hard knocks that Phryne certainly graduated from, but also the house of ill-repute that her adopted daughters Ruth and Jane survived. And most important for this particular story, the house of horrors that young Rose Weston is so desperate to escape from, and the reasons for that desperation.

Once Phryne is on the case, there is no question that all of the young women in desperate trouble in this story, not just Ruth and Rose but also all of the young female servants in the place Rose escaped from, will all find safe harbor after Phryne finishes the case.

The only question, in the end, is just how much justice Phryne will mete out herself before she lets the police clean up the garbage. And the elephant poop.

Escape Rating A-: Queen of the Flowers is definitely one of the better stories in the series, at least so far. I’ll confess that I had a bit of a hard time getting into it at the very beginning, much as Phryne was having a difficult time at her luncheon with the young ladies who will form her “court” when she does her charitable duty as “Queen of the Flowers” in the upcoming parade.

But once she is woken up in the wee hours because Rose Weston is missing and her mother has gone mental, the story is off to the races, and just gets more and more fascinating as it goes.

While Phryne’s life often seems like a circus, the real circus has come to town for the fete and the parade, and has brought with it one of Phryne’s old friends, her friend’s three elephants, and one of Phryne’s old lovers – as well as a plot to ensnare her daughter Ruth and attempt to bilk some money out of Phryne.

The circus just adds to the confusion, as well as to the number of potential suspects and hiding places, once Rose and Ruth have both gone missing. However, the parallel cases provide ample opportunity for all of the regulars in the series to get plenty of chances to shine in a bit of the spotlight.

But as much as Ruth’s disappearance and/or abduction worries Phryne and her whole household, the real drama in this story is provided by Rose Weston’s plight. Because once Phryne begins her investigation, she keeps digging right to the bottom of every terrible thing that has happened to Rose to put her in this fix. And the lengths that Phryne is willing to go to in order to see right finally done take her to some very low places – where she always holds her own.

Which does not make Phryne’s foray into the criminal underworld of Melbourne any less daunting – or any less fascinating.

In the end, as always, evil gets its just desserts and good in the person of Phryne Fisher definitely triumphs – in this case even more spectacularly than is usual even for Phryne. It’s not every heroine that gets to ride to glory on the back of an elephant!