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
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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!

Review: To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: To Die but Once by Jacqueline WinspearTo Die but Once (Maisie Dobbs #14) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #14
Pages: 336
Published by Harper on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Spring 1940. With Britons facing what has become known as "the Bore War"—nothing much seems to have happened yet—Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate the disappearance of a local lad, a young apprentice craftsman working on a "hush-hush" government contract. As Maisie’s inquiry reveals a possible link to the London underworld, another mother is worried about a missing son—but this time the boy in question is one beloved by Maisie.

My Review:

In the earlier books in this series, Maisie reminded me a lot of Bess Crawford, from Charles Todd’s series, or even Mary Russell from Laurie R. King’s Holmes/Russell series. Bess, Mary and Maisie are all contemporaries, and had similar experiences.

But Maisie’s series has moved on, from World War I through the between-the-wars period and now she has reached World War II. And now Maisie, 20 years older and hopefully wiser than she was in her earlier cases, reminds me all too much of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War.

While the scenario behind To Die But Once is straight from the movies. One movie in particular, Dunkirk.

The movie was set on the beaches as the men waited desperately for rescue. To Die But Once takes place on the other side of the Channel, on the home front, where Maisie’s friends, and therefore Maisie herself, worry about their hostages to a fortune that they desperately hoped never to see again in their lifetimes. A hope that has been miserably dashed on the rocky shore at Dunkirk.

As with Foyle’s War, while the background of war is ever present, the story revolves around events on the home front. Just because there’s a war on, even if in 1940 it was the “Bore War”, does not mean that human beings have refrained from their usual patterns of crime if not punishment.

The impending war merely provides yet more opportunities for nefarious activity, unfortunately not limited to graft, cheating on government contracts, selling secrets, and that age-old wartime pastime, the black market.

War makes very strange bedfellows, especially when there’s money to be made.

Maisie begins by investigating the disappearance of a young man. She, as well as the entire neighborhood, watched Joe Coombes grow up in his family’s pub. He’s a sweet young man, and at 16 he’s away from home for the first time, apprentice to a painter’s crew doing government work at RAF bases all over Britain.

While Maisie hopes to discover a boy out on a lark, she is prepared for what she does find – Joe’s unidentified body in a morgue. For Maisie, that is never the end of a case – only the beginning.

Maisie isn’t satisfied with the coroner’s ruling of death by misadventure. It is possible that this was the case – but it just doesn’t feel likely. And the more that Maisie looks into Joe’s life, the less likely it seems.

All she has to do is find the one thread to pull that will unravel this case – if the mysterious gentlemen in the black sedan don’t unravel her first.

Escape Rating A: This series is, from beginning to end, marvelous. It is a comfort read for me, having now read the first four books and the last five. I plan to meet myself in the middle sometime soon.

But this is a dense series. While the case in each book is generally singular, or at least all the cases that Maisie turns up are all completed within the volume, each entry requires at least some previous knowledge of Maisie’s background, her professional history, and an acquaintance with Maisie’s friends and associates.

In other words, don’t start here. Particularly as the series has been building towards the war for several books, since A Dangerous Place, if not before. Maisie’s adventures begin in the first book in the series, named for its protagonist, Maisie Dobbs.

Maisie is both a thorough and a thoughtful detective. She is also, as she describes her associate Billy Beale, a terrier. Once she has a case between her teeth, she doesn’t let it go until she has poked her nose into every single one of its dark alleys.

That’s certainly the case here. Joe is dead, but his death was caused as much by the tentacles of corruption that surround his family as it was by the sharp blow to the head that snuffed out his life. And Maisie uncovers a net that reaches from a small-time contractor to a big-time hoodlum to the halls of power and everywhere in between.

The case is twisting and convoluted, and keeps both Maisie and the reader captivated as she follows its turns to the very end.

There is so much going on here, with Maisie, with the case, and with the war. Maisie is often pushed to her limit, and in more than one direction. In the end, it is her willingness to confront the difficult, and her ability to see inside the human heart, that provides the answers – even if those are answers that no one wants to hear.

The Maisie Dobbs series is one of my favorite historical mystery series. I enjoy every entry, to the point where it is difficult to review the book. When I read Maisie, it feels like I am there. And I can’t wait to travel with her again. Even into war.

Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline WinspearMessenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs, #4) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, World War I
Series: Maisie Dobbs #4
Pages: 322
Published by Henry Holt on August 22nd 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

London, 1931. On the night before the opening of his new and much-anticipated exhibition at a famed Mayfair gallery, Nicholas Bassington-Hope falls to his death. The police declare the fall an accident, but the dead man's twin sister, Georgina, isn't convinced. When the authorities refuse to conduct further investigations and close the case, Georgina - a journalist and infamous figure in her own right - takes matters into her own hands, seeking out a fellow graduate from Girton College: Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator.

The case soon takes Maisie to the desolate beaches of Dungeness in Kent, as well as the sinister underbelly of the city's art world. And while navigating her way into the heart of the aristocratic yet bohemian Bassington-Hopes, Maisie is deeply troubled by the tragedy of another, quite different family in need.

In Messenger of Truth, Maisie Dobbs again uncovers the dark legacy of the Great War in a society struggling to recollect itself in difficult times. But to solve the mystery of the artist's death, she will have to remain steady as the forces behind his death come out of the shadows to silence her.

Following on the bestselling Pardonable Lies, Jacqueline Winspear delivers another vivid, thrilling, and utterly unique episode in the life of Maisie Dobbs.

My Review:

I was disappointed to learn that there was no “Month of Maisie” this year. The last couple of years the publisher has toured both the upcoming book in the series (this year it’s To Die But Once) as well as the entire series to date. It’s been my prompt disguised as an opportunity to read one of the earlier books and then treat myself to the new one.

I always look forward to this tour, so I decided to do my own “Month of Maisie” this year. Hence today’s review of Messenger of Truth. Eventually I’ll catch up to myself, as I started reading with Leaving Everything Most Loved (book 10 in the series) and have been reading both forward and backward ever since. (I’m planning to review the new book during its “book birthday” week at the end of the month)

Messenger of Truth is set in 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression. As is usually the case for Maisie, she is somewhat at a crossroads. After the events in Pardonable Lies, she has broken with her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche. She did not find his lies all that pardonable.

She has also moved out of her free lodgings at the London house of her “sponsor”, Lady Rowan Compton and into a purchased flat of her own.

Last but not least, she is discovering that she enjoys her freedom, and needs her work, much too much to give it up for marriage to Andrew Dene, the surgeon who has been courting her for the past couple of stories. Andrew is a perfectly nice and respectable man, but also a traditional one. And Maisie has determined that the traditional life of a wife and mother is not what she wants, or at least not what she wants right now. Or possibly just not what she wants with Andrew Dene.

So a case drops into Maisie’s life, one that will focus her energies not just on her work, but on what she wants to do and where she wants to go from here. It is also a case that will help her turn towards the future and finally step out of the shadows of World War I, even though, in the end, the war is what the case is all about.

Georgina Bassington-Hope hires Maisie to discover the truth about how her twin brother Nicholas died. Or was killed. The police have ruled the death of the promising artist a tragic accident, but something in Georgina believes it was murder. When the police are fed up with listening to her, they refer her to Maisie.

Because Maisie will find out the truth. No matter who it might hurt. Even if the person most destroyed turns out to be her client. Or herself.

And no matter how much danger she puts them both into along the way.

Escape Rating B+: This series as a whole are excellent historical mysteries. If you like the genre and haven’t read them yet, start with the first book, Maisie Dobbs. And if you are a fan of either the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd or the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, you’ll probably also love Maisie. All three series take place in the same WWI and between the wars period, and all feature heroines who would have a lot in common – and would probably enjoy a cuppa together to compare notes but would probably not become besties. They are all fascinating in similar ways, and they all cover some of the same turf, but are not much like each other.

I digress.

One of Maisie’s singular characteristics is her dogged determination to discover the truth, no matter what the cost. While most of her methods are fairly standard detective work in the sense of searching for clues and following the leads, she is also a practicing psychologist.

Another difference is that Maisie in “sensitive” in a way that might be described as psychic, although Maisie herself would never call it that. But she deliberately sets out to sense the vibrations and aura of a place, and will also deliberately put herself into a meditative trance in order to pick up those vibrations. The less one believes in this, the more off putting one finds it.

Messenger of Truth is a story where she does that rather a lot at the beginning, if only because there aren’t many physical clues to work with. Maisie, as she often does, looks deeply into motive to finally figure out “who done it”.

One of the hallmarks of Maisie’s cases is that there is always much more going on than just the case, and the way that Maisie usually discovers something about herself and her own issues as she resolves the case.

There’s a big, well, not exactly a red herring but certainly a bright pink one in this case. Nicholas and several of his painter friends kept studios on the beach at Romney Marsh, and either witnessed, were involved in, or a bit of both, one of the oldest “occupations’ on the English coast – smuggling.

That particular operation creates ties, and clues, in several directions – the past, the future, and the Customs and Excise. The call back to Dr. Syn and a Disney movie I saw as a child, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, was a trip down memory lane. The look into the future, at the direction Hitler was taking and the desperation of Jews to get their possessions out of the reach of the Nazis was prophetic. The Customs and Excise actually created a bit of comic relief, but also highlighted just how many things the dead artist was stirring up that no one wanted stirred.

In the end, it all circles back to the Great War. As so many things did at that time, and in Maisie’s life.

Maisie herself is always a fascinating character. Her life has made her the ultimate outsider, not part of any of the social classes, but able to operate in all of them. At the same time, this is a case where Maisie herself is working through multiple crossroads, deciding whether she wants a traditional life after all, or to continue down the independent road she has chosen. And just how much of her war it is time to put behind her – even as the next war looms on the horizon.

In the end, it’s not the case, but Maisie that we come to see, and it is her life that we want to read about. The case just provides focus for both her and the reader.

I can’t wait to pick up To Die But Once to see Maisie dealing with her second war, this time from the homefront.

Review: Season of Blood by Jeri Westerson

Review: Season of Blood by Jeri WestersonSeason of Blood (Crispin Guest Medieval Noir #10) by Jeri Westerson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Crispin Guest #10
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House Publishers on December 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A missing Holy Relic. A mysterious and beautiful woman. Two murdered monks: Crispin Guest tackles his most intriguing investigation to date.

1390. Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire, England. Two monks lie murdered, their Holy Blood relic stolen: a relic that is said to run liquid for the sinless and remain stubbornly dry for the sinner. Unwilling to become involved in a bitter dispute between a country monastery and Westminster Abbey, the disgraced former knight Crispin Guest attempts to return the relic to Hailes where it belongs, but somehow it keeps returning to his hands no matter what.

As he tries to shield a former nemesis from a charge of murder while becoming entangled with a mysterious and beautiful woman caught between Church politics and the dangerous intrigues of King Richard's court, Crispin begins to suspect that someone at Westminster is conspiring with the assassins. Can the Blood of Christ point to the killer?

My Review:

Season of Blood follows last year’s A Maiden Weeping, and Crispin seems to have learned very little from all the trouble he got into during that case.

A man dies on his doorstep with a knife in his back. In Crispin’s down-at-heels section of London, that actually might not be all that uncommon an occurrence. But the dead man in this particular case is a monk. And in addition to his corpse, he leaves Crispin with two big problems.

That knife in the monk’s back clearly bears the seal of Simon Wynchecombe, former Sheriff, current Alderman, and always a thorn in Crispin’s side. Simon hated Crispin while he was Sheriff, and beat and belittled him at every turn, including when he needed Crispin to resolve a case.

The second problem presented by the corpse is that he has a religious relic in his possession. Crispin has been involved with relics before. He doesn’t trust them or the people who traffic in them. But the damnable things keep invading his life, and that never ends well for him.

On the heels of the corpse, a woman hires Crispin to find her errant niece, who seems to have run off with a married man – that married man being the same Simon Wynchecombe whose knife was in the dead man’s back.

This all should scream “unlikely coincidence” to Crispin the expert tracker, but something about this woman has Crispin doing most of his thinking with his little head instead of his big one. Not that that hasn’t happened before, too. Crispin can never resist a pretty face, especially when there’s a clever brain behind it.

So Crispin, as usual, finds himself investigating a case where he trusts that no one is telling the truth. He is forced to rely on his own wits to determine who killed the first monk (and eventually the second and the third) without having anything like 21st century forensic science. Only his own knowledge of how things work and how people behave – even if his wits are a bit addled by the beautiful woman who seems to be at the center of this spider’s web of a case.

And just because he doesn’t believe in the truth of the relic, doesn’t mean that others are not willing to kill for them. Or that just because so many of the people involved with this case are celibate monks, does not mean that there are not men under those robes, just as fascinated by a pretty face as he himself is. Possibly even the same pretty face.

The chance to solve this conundrum tests Crispin at every turn. But the unexpected chance to score against an enemy – PRICELESS.

Escape Rating B+: A part of me wants to say that this was fun, in spite of the dead bodies falling at every turn. This case is interesting because it is so foreign. The past is definitely another country in this one.

Crispin is skeptical about the truth and the efficacy of those much venerated relics. His attitude is in some ways almost modern, and in others fits within his time. He’s not sure they are real, but if they are, we don’t deserve them. And it’s not for him to judge their religiosity, only to follow the trail of death and end it – no matter the cost.

But this is a case where trying to follow “who benefits?” is difficult because the benefits don’t seem based in our reality – even though they are in theirs.

As always, Crispin is a fascinating character. Once upon a time, he was a nobleman, who lost his station and his fortune by backing the wrong claimant in one of the early skirmishes of what became later known as the “Wars of the Roses”. He should have been killed for his treason, but instead he was reduced severely in station.

He should have died of his ignorance, but instead was helped and taught until he could manage to make his own living as the infamous “Tracker” who solves problems for a fee and shows up the Sheriffs at every turn. He has seen life from both the heights and the depths, but is a stranger in both and at home in neither.

He’s also in his mid-30s and starting to feel that he is no longer young. At the same time he has no idea of if or how to “settle down”. He does have a knack for gathering interesting people around him who both help and support him. A group that gets more interesting all the time, particularly in this outing.

If you like historical mysteries where you really feel (and occasionally taste and smell) just how different the past is from our own present, Crispin Guest is a master at bringing his world to life – and solving its suspicious deaths.

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry GreenwoodThe Castlemaine Murders (Phryne Fisher, #13) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #13
Pages: 240
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The fabulous Phryne Fisher, her sister Beth and her faithful maid, Dot, decide that Luna Park is the perfect place for an afternoon of fun and excitement with Phryne's two daughters, Ruth and Jane. But in the dusty dark Ghost Train, amidst the squeals of horror and delight, a mummified bullet-studded corpse falls to the ground in front of them. Phryne Fisher's pleasure trip has definitely become business. Digging into this longstanding mystery takes her to the country town of Castlemaine where it's soon obvious that someone is trying to muzzle her investigations. With unknown threatening assailants on her path, Phryne seems headed for more trouble than usual....

My Review:

This was the first time that one of Phryne Fisher’s mysteries gave me a bit of a book hangover. Normally, this series is more like a palate cleanser for me, in that when I find myself in need of a quick, comfortable read, I pick up the next book in the series, read it in one night and the next morning I’m ready for whatever is next on my actual schedule.

The true historical elements wrapped into this story, combined with the cultural background on Chinese immigration and Chinese society in Australia in the 1920s and before were fascinating. Also, unlike most of the books in the series that I have read so far, this particular story was not filmed, nor were any of the elements from this story part of any of the filmed episodes.

So it was both utterly familiar and completely new at the same time.

There are really two stories in this book, running mostly in parallel and eventually meeting up at the end. Phryne uncovers (unmasks, perhaps unboots) a mummy at an amusement park. In spite of the age of the mummy, who while certainly not an Egyptian pharaoh seems to be at least half a century old, someone still seems to be dead – or perhaps deadly – interested in preventing Phryne from discovering who he used to be.

Meanwhile, Phryne’s lover Lin Chung is in the process of assuming control of the Lin family. His venerable Grandmother is still alive, but now that Lin Chung is an adult, control of the family businesses is his. If he can manage to gain that control without offending the old dragon too much, and without making her lose too much face in the process. It’s a delicate balance.

A balance that is made even more delicate when Lin Chung manages to settle a century-old feud between the Lin family and the equally distinguished Hu family. Among the many outstanding issues to be settled between them is the theft of gold from the Lin family and the murder of their four couriers back in 1857, at the height of the Australian gold rush and the depths of anti-Chinese prejudice in Australia.

But when all the accounts are settled between the two families, with nothing left owing on either side, the theft and the deaths are still outstanding, because the Hu family was not responsible. So who was? What happened to the bodies? And what happened to the gold?

Meanwhile, Phryne’s younger sister Beth has been rusticated to Australia by their bully of a father, because she will not marry either of the two men he has picked out for her. And with excellent reasons, even if it does take her half the story to finally reveal all.

It is rather convenient that the mysterious mummy, the missing couriers and Beth’s erstwhile suitor all resolve into one single problem. And it’s also a whole lot of fun to watch it all finally unravel.

Right along with the rope that the villains tie Phryne up with.

Escape Rating A-:This was the right book at the right time. I’ve been reading the Phryne Fisher series in order, but not one right after another. As much as I love the series, what makes reading one seem fresh would get a bit stale if I tried reading a bunch of them back-to-back, no matter how tempted I might be.

The Castlemaine Murders was one that tempted me a great deal. It had a lot of elements that made it just a bit different from previous books in the series, while, unlike Death Before Wicket, the story was not based on something in which I have neither the interest nor the understanding.

Instead, the mystery in The Castlemaine Murders is all about history. And while the particular mystery that Phryne had to solve was fictional, the events of the Australian Gold Rush in general, including the terrible treatment of the Chinese laborers brought in to work the fields, was all too true. Much of the history that Phryne and Lin Chung investigate really happened, if not quite in the same way as in the story.

A significant chunk of this story revolves around Lin Chung rather than Phryne – they operate separately for much of the narrative. It’s a fascinating introduction to a culture and society that I am not familiar with, while at the same time the prejudices that the Chinese laborers faced in Australia were unfortunately not all that different from what they faced in the California Gold Rush.

This is also to some extent Lin Chung’s coming of age story, as he begins to operate as head of the family and out from under his very formidable grandmother’s thumb. He’s an interesting character in his own right (and in Phryne’s life) and his parts of the story were absorbing.

One of the ways that this story diverges from the TV series, in addition to the significant part that Lin Chung plays in the narrative, is the part of the story relating to Phryne’s sister Beth (who is dead in the series) and their father who is rather feckless in the TV series but a bully and a tyrant here.

For those reading this book expecting it to be just like the TV show will probably be a bit disappointed, or even censorious about Phryne’s continued relationship with the married Lin Chung. But for those following the book series on its own merits, this one is a treat.

Up next is Queen of the Flowers, the next time I need a comfort reading break!

Review: Wings of Fire by Charles Todd

Review: Wings of Fire by Charles ToddWings of Fire (Inspector Ian Rutledge, #2) by Charles Todd
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge #2
Pages: 306
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on May 15th 1999
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Charles Todd's Wings of Fire, Inspector Ian Rutledge is quickly sent to investigate the sudden deaths of three members of the same eminent Cornwall family, but the World War I veteran soon realizes that nothing about this case is routine. Including the identity of one of the dead, a reclusive spinster unmasked as O. A. Manning, whose war poetry helped Rutledge retain his grasp on sanity in the trenches of France. Guided by the voice of Hamish, the Scot he unwillingly executed on the battlefield, Rutledge is driven to uncover the haunting truths of murder and madness rooted in a family crypt...

My Review:

I’ve been looking for comfort reads this week, and that has led me to take a look at some mystery series that I’ve been meaning to get caught up on. Today, that led me to Wings of Fire, the second book in Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge series. I love their Bess Crawford historical mystery series, but by the time I started with Bess, the Rutledge series was already into double-digits and I wasn’t quite ready to face catching up. I have read scattered entries in the series, including the first book, A Test of Wills, so I was happy to answer when this one started calling my name.

That it reminded me, a bit, of the historical mystery that served as part of (the best part of, to my reading) Magpie Murders was just icing on the cake.

The Rutledge series is set in the post-World War I period. Ian Rutledge was a Scotland Yard detective before he went to serve in France, and now that the war has ended, he has fought his way back into his old job – even though he doubts himself and his superiors most certainly doubt him at every turn.

Rutledge returned from his war with shell-shock, which in his time was seen as a moral failing and not as the psychological trauma that it truly is. He faces skepticism about whether or not he is remotely capable of doing his job from every direction. Including the doubts from within. A manifestation of his PTSD is that he hears the voice of a young soldier that he was forced to execute for desertion. Whether “Hamish” is merely a figment of his imagination or is the voice of his conscience and his intuition is anyone’s guess, including Rutledge’s. However, while Hamish’s voice may be imaginary, his advice is all too often correct – except, of course when it is terribly, horribly wrong.

Rutledge is sent to Cornwall to reopen the case of a series of suspicious deaths within one prominent family. His superiors want him out of the way while an important serial killer is pursued in London, and they assume that he can’t do any harm in Cornwall, but will assuage the conscience of the local squire who called for the fresh investigation.

But Rutledge is an indefatigable pursuer of the truth, no matter who he might make “uncomfortable” in the process. And there is plenty in this case to be uncomfortable about. The local police ruled that the deaths of half-siblings Olivia Marlowe and Nicholas Cheney were suicide, while the subsequent death of their half-brother Stephen was an accident.

That’s an awful lot of bad luck and tragedy for one family – enough to make any detective suspicious. When those suspicions are combined with the revelation that Olivia Alison Marlowe was also the famous WWI poet O.A. Manning, doubts multiply.

As Rutledge digs deeply into the past of this once-numerous family, he finds a history of tragedy of disaster that stretches the bounds of bad luck past breaking. A murderer has been hidden in their midst for decades, but no one wants to believe that a beloved child or sibling could have held so many in so much terror for so long.

The question is whether Rutledge can sort through the clues and prove it, before he becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating A-: This was just what the reading doctor ordered. When life is disordered it is cathartic to get sucked into the “romance of justice” where good is tested but triumphs, and evil receives its just desserts.

Rutledge is a fascinating protagonist, because he is always the quintessential outsider. Even back in his own London home, his wartime and peacetime experiences set him apart from the rest of his fellow detectives. They don’t trust him, and he honestly does not trust himself.

In this setting, Rutledge is the distrusted “City” man poking his nose into local business that everyone believes has been satisfactorily resolved. He is not wanted, and no one believes that he is needed. He is resented at every turn, and yet no one can tell him to “shove off” no matter how much they want to.

That no one wants to believe in even the possibility of foul play just makes his job that much harder, and his self-doubts that much louder. And yet, it seems obvious from very early on that something must be wrong. This is a family that lost two children, three husbands, one wife, and three adult siblings to various accidents and mysterious deaths over the course of two decades. Nobody has luck THAT bad – especially not when there is money and property involved!

Part of what makes this case so fraught for Rutledge is the identity of Olivia Marlowe as the wartime poet O.A. Manning. The possibility exists that Olivia is the person responsible for the long series of deaths, and Rutledge is desperate for that not to be so. He found comfort in her poetry during his war, and does not want her legacy to be diminished at her death if he can help it. Yet, when the evidence seems to point that way, he refuses to ignore it.

What makes this case so interesting is its tangle. Something was wrong within that family. But what or who? And how can Rutledge prove anything when it seems that everyone who might know something is dead as the result of whoever-or-whatever it is. And no one really wants to know.

It’s Rutledge’s dogged pursuit that keeps the case going, and the reader’s fascination with it that makes this book a page-turner. I’m looking forward to continuing my way through Inspector Ian Rutledge’s case file whenever I need to sink my teeth into a meaty historical mystery.

Review: Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in Montparnasse (Phryne Fisher Mystery #12) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #12
Pages: 253
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Always enticing in divine twenties fashion, Phryne, one of the most exciting and likeable heroines in crime writing today, leads us through a tightly plotted maze of thrilling adventure set in 1920s Australia. The divine Phryne Fisher returns to lead another dance of intrigue. Seven Australian soldiers, carousing in Paris in 1918, unknowingly witness a murder and their presence has devastating consequences. Ten years later, two are dead under very suspicious circumstances. Phryne s wharfie mates, Bert and Cec, appeal to her for help. They were part of this group of soldiers in 1918 and they fear for their lives and for those of the other three men. It s only as Phryne delves into the investigation that she, too, remembers being in Montparnasse on that very same day. While Phryne is occupied with memories of Montparnasse past and the race to outpace the murderer, she finds troubles of a different kind at home. Her lover, Lin Chung, is about to be married. And the effect this is having on her own usually peaceful household is disastrous."

My Review:

For various reasons, some of which are detailed in this Facebook post, this week went to hell in a handcart. And a crappy handcart at that.

As usual, when I can’t concentrate on much of anything else, I turn to my current comfort read, Phryne Fisher. Murder in Montparnasse swept me back in Phryne’s world for a few hours, where there is plenty of danger, but also lots of derring-do, where justice triumphs and evil gets righteously crushed.

And where the ghosts of memory are laid to their proper rest.

For those who have watched the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series, Murder in Montparnasse was filmed, and broadcast in the middle of the first season. I recently re-watched it, so the story in the TV version is still pretty clear in my memory.

It feels like the base story is the same in both versions. There are alterations in the details, as there usually are. The TV version includes Jack and Phryne’s first kiss, when Jack needs to distract Phryne and keep her from giving the game away to the villain.

Jack in the books is absolutely nothing like Jack in the TV series, so many of the changes between versions involve Phryne’s long-term lover, Lin Chung, and the rather interesting arrangements for his upcoming marriage.

But the two versions are the same at their heart. Bert and Cec, who served together in WW1 at Gallipoli and many other terrible places, come to Phryne with a problem. Two of their mates have been murdered in such a way that both deaths appeared to be accidents, at least on the surface. The circumstances in both cases were very definitely fishy, and should have been investigated properly, but weren’t due to police incompetence. Something that Jack in the book definitely has something to say about. Whatever he is or isn’t, he is always a good cop.

Bert and Cec’s problem connects to a piece of Phryne’s past that she has tried to bury, mostly from herself. On leave at the end of the war, Bert and Cec and their mates were in Paris, and they witnessed the murder of the painter Sarcelle. Phryne modelled for Sarcelle (among others), and also knew that his death had been ruled an accident.

Their description of the incident takes Phryne back to her own Parisian experience. She remembers everything all too well, especially the cold-hearted beast who seduced her, beat her, and expected her to keep on taking it until he was done. She ran before she could be broken. But she’s never forgotten the man who broke her heart even as he tried to break her body and spirit.

The beast has come to Australia. At first, Phryne doesn’t know why. But she does know that whatever Rene Dubois is involved in this time, it must be far from the side of the angels.

All Phryne has to do is figure out what, and if and why he has to do with the deaths of Bert and Cec’s friends, before he escapes justice yet again.

This time Phryne, with the help of Bert and Cec and their mates, are going to see that the man who haunted her nightmares finally gets exactly what’s coming to him. No matter what it costs.

Escape Rating A-: As a story, this one hangs together a bit better in the book than it did on TV. Even though there are multiple plot threads here, not just Phryne’s past and the deaths of Bert and Cec’s friends but also a kidnapped young woman, a different young woman who wants to get out of the marriage her parents have arranged for her, Lin Chung’s bride’s secrets and Mr. Butler’s resignation, the threads do connect and Phryne’s ghosts get expiated.

The ending is very satisfying.

We also see more of Phryne’s past and in more detail than TV could portray. The glimpses, through Phryne’s eyes, of the post-WW1 Paris that Hemingway called “a moveable feast” are evocative and poignant. And we get a much clearer picture of what Phryne thought and felt during that transitional, ephemeral time and place. It all goes a long towards explaining how Phryne got to be who she is at the point where the books begin. For this reader, at least, it feels like Phryne preserved more of her agency in the book version that her memories indicated in the TV version. And I always prefer that my heroines have all the agency they can grab.

The ending of Murder in Montparnasse is far from tidy, but it feels incredibly right. Dubois gets exactly what he deserves. It is not a neat, clean or even legal result. But it is definitely justice. And it feels intensely satisfying to see it delivered.

A little Murder in Montparnasse was just what I needed. I think I’m going to go and watch it again.