Spotlight: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden + Excerpt

Spotlight: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden + ExcerptUnder a Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan #2) by Karen Odden
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Corravan #2
Pages: 336
Published by Crooked Lane Books on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the tradition of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, a fatal disaster on the Thames and a roiling political conflict set the stage for Karen Odden’s second Inspector Corravan historical mystery.
September 1878. One night, as the pleasure boat the Princess Alice makes her daily trip up the Thames, she collides with the Bywell Castle, a huge iron-hulled collier. The Princess Alice shears apart, throwing all 600 passengers into the river; only 130 survive. It is the worst maritime disaster London has ever seen, and early clues point to sabotage by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believe violence is the path to restoring Irish Home Rule.
For Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan, born in Ireland and adopted by the Irish Doyle family, the case presents a challenge. Accused by the Home Office of willfully disregarding the obvious conclusion, and berated by his Irish friends for bowing to prejudice, Corravan doggedly pursues the truth, knowing that if the Princess Alice disaster is pinned on the IRB, hopes for Home Rule could be dashed forever.
Corrovan’s dilemma is compounded by Colin, the youngest Doyle, who has joined James McCabe’s Irish gang. As violence in Whitechapel rises, Corravan strikes a deal with McCabe to get Colin out of harm’s way. But unbeknownst to Corravan, Colin bears longstanding resentments against his adopted brother and scorns his help.
As the newspapers link the IRB to further accidents, London threatens to devolve into terror and chaos. With the help of his young colleague, the loyal Mr. Stiles, and his friend Belinda Gale, Corravan uncovers the harrowing truth—one that will shake his faith in his countrymen, the law, and himself.

Welcome to the blog tour for Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden, organized by Austenprose PR. I’m especially excited to be part of this tour as I’ve already read this book and was absolutely thrilled by it. It’s a dark and compelling historical mystery (and so is Inspector Corravan’s first outing, Down a Dark River). If you’re intrigued by this excerpt, take a look at my reviews of Down a Dark River as well as Under a Veiled Moon to see just what a treat is in store for you!

Excerpt from Chapter 2, pp. 8-10 of Under a Veiled Moon © 2022, Karen Odden, published by Crooked Lane Books 

I knocked twice and inserted my key in the lock.

Even as I did so, I heard the twins, Colin and Elsie, their voices raised as they talked over each other—Elsie with a sharp edge of frustration, Colin growling in reply. Odd, I thought as I pushed open the door. Since they were children, they’d baited each other and teased, but I’d never known them to quarrel. 

Colin sat in a kitchen chair tilted backward, the heel of one heavy boot hooked over the rung. He glared up at Elsie, who stood across the table, her hand clutching a faded towel at her hip, her chin set in a way I recognized. 

“Hullo,” I said. “What’s the matter?” 

Both heads swiveled to me, and in unison, they muttered, “Nothing.” 

They could have still been five, caught spooning the jam out of the jar Ma hid behind the flour tin. Except that under the stubble of his whiskers, there was a puffiness along Colin’s cheek that appeared to be the remnants of a bruise. 

Colin thunked the front legs of the chair onto the floor and pushed away from the table. “I got somethin’ to do.” He took his coat off the rack—not his old faded one, I noticed, but a new one—and stalked out the door, pulling it closed behind him. 

I raised my eyebrows and turned to Elsie. She grimaced. “He’s just bein’ an eejit, like most men.” Her voice lacked its usual good humor; she was genuinely angry. 

Jaysus, I thought. What’s happened?
But I’d give Elsie a moment. “Where’s Ma?”

“Went down to the shop for some tea.” She stepped to the sideboard and moved the kettle to the top of the stove. The handle caught her sleeve, pulling it back far enough that I caught sight of a white bandage. 

“Did you hurt your wrist?” 

She tugged the sleeve down. “Ach, I just fell on the stairs. Clumsy of me.” 

The broken window and Colin’s abrupt departure had been enough to alert me to something amiss. Even without those signs, though, I wouldn’t have believed her. I knew the shape a lie took in her voice. 

“No, you didn’t,” I said. 

Her back was to me, and she spoke over her shoulder. “It’s nothing, Mickey.” 

I approached and took her left elbow gently in mine to turn her. “Let me see.” 

Reluctantly, she let me unwrap the flannel. Diagonal across her wrist was a bruise such as a truncheon or a pipe might leave, purple and yellowing at the edges. 

I looked up. “Who did this?” My voice was hoarse. 

Her eyes, blue as mine, stared back. “Mickey, don’t look like that. It was dark, and I doubt he did it on purpose.” 

“Jaysus, Elsie.” I let go of her, so she could rewrap it. “Who?” 

“I don’t know! I was walking home from Mary’s house on Wednesday night, and before I knew it, twenty lads were around me, fightin’ and brawlin’, and I jumped out of the way, but one of them hit my wrist, and I fell.” 

“What were you doing walking alone after dark? Where was Colin?” 

She gave a disparaging “pfft.” “As if I’d know. Some nights he doesn’t come home until late. Or not at all.” 

Harry’s words came back to me: “Out . . . as usual.” 

I cast my mind back to my own recent visits. Colin had often been absent, partly because he’d been working on the construction of the new embankment, but that had ended in July. So where was he spending his time now? And where had he earned the money for his new coat? 

We both heard Ma’s footsteps on the inside stairs. 

“Don’t tell Ma,” Elsie said hurriedly, her voice low. The bandage was completely hidden by her sleeve. “She has enough to worry about. Swear, Mickey.” 

Even as I promised, I wondered what else was worrying Ma. But as the door at the top of the inner stairs opened, I had my smile ready. 

Ma emerged, carrying a packet of tea from the shop. “Ah, Mickey! I’m glad ye came.” Her face shone with genuine warmth, and she smoothed her coppery hair back from her temple. Her eyes flicked around the room, landing on Elsie. “Colin left?” The brightness in her expression dimmed. 

“Just now,” Elsie replied. Their gazes held, and with the unfailing instinct that develops in anyone who grew up trying to perceive trouble before it struck, I sensed meaning in that silent exchange. But before I could decipher it, Elsie shrugged, and Ma turned to me, her hazel eyes appraising. 

“You look less wraithy than usual.” She reached up to pat my cheek approvingly. “Elsie, fetch the preserves. I’ll put the water on.” 

“I’ll do it, Ma.” I went to the stove, tonged in a few lumps of coal from the scuttle and shut the metal door with a clang. As Elsie sliced the bread, I filled the kettle and Ma took down three cups and saucers from the shelf. 

The tension I sensed amid my family derived from something drifting in the deep current, not bobbing along the surface, driven by a single day’s wind and sun. Something had changed. 

About the Author:

Karen Odden earned her Ph.D. in English from New York University and subsequently taught literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has contributed essays to numerous books and journals, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes & Noble classics series and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP). Her previous novels, also set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and the recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Karen lives in Arizona with her family and her rescue beagle Rosy.

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Review: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden

Review: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen OddenUnder a Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan #2) by Karen Odden
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Corravan #2
Pages: 336
Published by Crooked Lane Books on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the tradition of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, a fatal disaster on the Thames and a roiling political conflict set the stage for Karen Odden’s second Inspector Corravan historical mystery.
September 1878. One night, as the pleasure boat the Princess Alice makes her daily trip up the Thames, she collides with the Bywell Castle, a huge iron-hulled collier. The Princess Alice shears apart, throwing all 600 passengers into the river; only 130 survive. It is the worst maritime disaster London has ever seen, and early clues point to sabotage by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believe violence is the path to restoring Irish Home Rule.
For Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan, born in Ireland and adopted by the Irish Doyle family, the case presents a challenge. Accused by the Home Office of willfully disregarding the obvious conclusion, and berated by his Irish friends for bowing to prejudice, Corravan doggedly pursues the truth, knowing that if the Princess Alice disaster is pinned on the IRB, hopes for Home Rule could be dashed forever.
Corrovan’s dilemma is compounded by Colin, the youngest Doyle, who has joined James McCabe’s Irish gang. As violence in Whitechapel rises, Corravan strikes a deal with McCabe to get Colin out of harm’s way. But unbeknownst to Corravan, Colin bears longstanding resentments against his adopted brother and scorns his help.
As the newspapers link the IRB to further accidents, London threatens to devolve into terror and chaos. With the help of his young colleague, the loyal Mr. Stiles, and his friend Belinda Gale, Corravan uncovers the harrowing truth—one that will shake his faith in his countrymen, the law, and himself.

My Review:


Drawing of a collision between the Princess Alice and Bywell Castle

What happens Under a Veiled Moon is a series of real, historical tragedies. Well, the tragedies themselves, including the Sinking of the SS Princess Alice and the Abercarn mine explosion. But the causes of those disasters were thoroughly investigated at the time. While there was plenty of blame to go around – and did it ever go around – the plots that Inspector Corravan eventually ferrets out are not among them.

But it does blend those real disasters with a fascinating story about the power of the press – its use and particularly its misuse – to change minds and inflame emotions.

Corravan, Acting Superintendent of the Wapping River Police, opens the book by rushing to the scene of an explosion on the river. The SS Princess Alice, a passenger steamer, was rammed by the coal barge SS Bywell Castle near the south bank of the river. The Castle emerged from the collision with minimal damage, but the Alice broke in three and sank almost instantly. (It sounds like it would be the equivalent of an automobile accident with a double-semi crashing into a Smart Car only with more passengers in the tiny car.)

Between 600 and 700 people died in the wreck, and it is still the greatest loss of life of any British inland waterway shipping accident ever recorded.

It takes days to recover everything that can be recovered, including the bodies. The city is reeling from the shock, and everyone official is looking for someone to pin the responsibility on. And that’s where things get interesting, as well as downright confusing, for a whole lot of people – especially Inspector Michael Corravan.

Someone – actually a whole lot of rich and influential someones – seems determined to blame the disaster on the pilot of the Bywell Castle. A man who can’t seem to be found in the wake of the tragedy. And who just so happens to be Irish. Which shouldn’t matter. But is made to matter very much in the press – and is linked, step by painstaking step in those newspapers – to a recent railway disaster, to a mining disaster that occurs in the aftermath of the wreck, and finally to gang warfare in Irish immigrant districts and a three-year’s past terrorist bombing claimed by the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

It starts to look like an organized effort to blame the Irish for everything currently wrong with the state of Britain – for reasons that do not seem apparent on the surface. Until Corravan, with his roots in the Irish community, his position in the police and his relationships with a surprising number of very helpful and intelligent people – begins to see a pattern.

An insidious pattern that began in a shared tragedy but seems determined to end in a shared explosion of one kind or another – even if the conspirators have to engineer it for themselves.

Escape Rating A+: I think that Under a Veiled Moon is an even better story, both as historical fiction and as mystery, than the first book in the series, Down a Dark River. And I loved that one. This one is so compelling because what happens under that veiled moon takes place at the intersection of power corrupts, the ends justify the means, and there is nothing new under the sun. And it’s absolutely riveting from beginning to end.

We get to know Corravan a bit better in this one. We learn a lot more about where he came from and how he got to be who he is now that he’s in his 30s. The underpinnings of this one, the involvement with the Irish community in London and the various hopes and fears about the possibility of Irish Home Rule set alongside the prejudice and resentment of Irish immigrants really exposes some of what he keeps hidden in his heart.

And he’s just old enough to see his own past and resent his own errors of youth and judgment – and we like him the better for it.

At the same time, the mystery plot is deep and dark and downright frightening. Not just because it’s so easy to see how it might have happened then, but because we can all too clearly how its happened before – for real – and very much how it’s happening again.

It’s also a very smart puzzle with a whole lot of moving parts, most of which don’t seem to fit in the same jigsaw because honestly they don’t. Watching the way that the square peg red herrings are retrofitted to slot into the available round holes makes the mystery that much harder to solve.

I did recognize that the long arm of coincidence couldn’t possibly be as long as it was being made to appear, but the how and why of it is so steeped in the history of the time that it made the revelation and resolution that much more riveting.

This is a series that I seriously hope continues. It combines elements of C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series with Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series along with her William Monk  series. It deals with the issues of its day and the influences of the wider world on its London microcosm with the same depth as St. Cyr while focusing on a character who works for his living as a “copper” as do both Pitt and Monk, at a time period where the world is changing at an ever increasing pace to the one we know. There’s also a bit of an irony there, as Corravan is an Irish police inspector while Pitt ended up being Head of Special Branch, an office whose remit was to deal with terrorism – particularly that sponsored and/or perpetrated by those agitating for Irish Home Rule.

An issue that I expect Corravan to get caught in the middle of, again and again, through the hopefully many future books in this compelling series.

Review: A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari

Review: A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate KhavariA Botanist's Guide to Parties and Poisons (Saffron Everleigh Mystery #1) by Kate Khavari
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Saffron Everleigh #1
Pages: 262
Published by Crooked Lane Books on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Saffron Everleigh is in a race against time to free her wrongly accused professor before he goes behind bars forever. Perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Anna Lee Huber, Kate Khavari’s debut historical mystery is a fast-paced, fearless adventure.
London, 1923. Newly minted research assistant Saffron Everleigh attends a dinner party for the University College of London. While she expects to engage in conversations about the university's large expedition to the Amazon, she doesn’t expect Mrs. Henry, one of the professors’ wives to drop to the floor, poisoned by an unknown toxin.
Dr. Maxwell, Saffron’s mentor, is the main suspect, having had an explosive argument with Dr. Henry a few days prior. As evidence mounts against Dr. Maxwell and the expedition's departure draws nearer, Saffron realizes if she wants her mentor's name cleared, she’ll have to do it herself.
Joined by enigmatic Alexander Ashton, a fellow researcher, Saffron uses her knowledge of botany as she explores steamy greenhouses, dark gardens, and deadly poisons. Will she be able to uncover the truth or will her investigation land her on the murderer’s list?

My Review:

There’s something rotten in the state of London’s University College botany department. The signs, at least in the very broadest strokes, are a bit difficult for researcher Saffron Everleigh to miss. After all, the wife of one of the leading lights of her department has just been struck down – right in front of her – in the middle of a faculty and staff party.

A party to celebrate the fast-approaching departure of many of the department’s most prominent – and/or most ambitious – members for a research expedition to the heart of the Amazon.

Not that Saffron ever had the remotest chance of going on that expedition. Not that she isn’t an excellent researcher with sincere hopes of entering graduate studies in her chosen field. And if she were a man, she’d be well on her way.

As it is, she’s the focus of gossip, innuendo, and even blatant sexual harassment from the head of her department. As the story opens, the only person she’s certain respects her as a scientist is her mentor, Dr. Maxwell, who treats her very much as a daughter.

Because he was a close friend of her late father, who was also a botany professor at the College. But Dr. Everleigh was killed in the Great War, as was the man Saffron intended to marry. So she is following in her father’s footsteps as a researcher instead of living the life she had planned on.

When her mentor is accused of poisoning Mrs. Henry with poisonous plants he brought back from an earlier expedition, Saffron rushes to prove the police wrong. While her amateur detecting nearly results in her own death by poison, she does manage to conclude that the police have leapt to an obvious but incorrect conclusion.

The woman was poisoned, she is in a coma, but her mentor did not commit the deed. But as she waits for the results of her ill-advised experiment to wear off, she learns she has another colleague in finding the solution to the crime.

Alexander Ashton isn’t certain which he finds more alluring – the investigation of the poisoning or the woman who is hell-bent on conducting it. But the deeper they dig into the rot, the more dangerous the situation becomes. If there’s a secret that is worth putting one woman into a coma, it’s all too possible that it’s a secret worth killing for.

But Alexander is determined to help Saffron find it, and not just for personal reasons. After all, if Dr. Maxwell is not the poisoner, someone else in the Botany Department is. And that poisoner might just be part of the Amazon expedition right along with him.

Escape Rating A-: What makes A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons so much fun – besides that wonderfully evocative title – is the way that, as the story goes on, so many of the things we – and Saffron – thought were true turn out to be not quite what we thought they were. Particularly the people. And especially Saffron herself.

At first, Saffron is investigating what she believes is a miscarriage of justice being perpetrated by police detectives who are too interested in the obvious solution and unwilling to put in either the legwork or the brain work to make sure they’ve got the right man – or even the right crime.

Her initial motive for her amateur sleuthing is to clear the name of Dr. Maxwell, who is both a mentor and a father-figure to her. She knows he can’t possibly be guilty of the poisoning, not just because she knows the man but because her logical mind has examined the scene from all sides and knows that it wasn’t physically possible for him to have either poisoned the champagne or the glass it was poured into.

As we follow along in Saffron’s wake, as she and her reluctant fellow amateur investigator Ashton go further and further out on the limb of illegal and illicit activities in her dogged pursuit of the truth and his equally dogged pursuit of her – everything changes.

Mrs. Henry WAS poisoned – but not for any of the personal or scandalous reasons that Saffron originally believed. She may have begun her quest to clear Dr. Maxwell’s name, but she continues to pursue it because she’s caught up in the hunt and can’t resist the puzzle. The more she digs, the more she uncovers, the more there is to find. And the more dangerous her situation becomes.

The more evidence she presents to the police the more she realizes that the enigmatic police inspector is way more savvy than she initially suspected. And the more that Alexander Ashton follows her through thick, thin and thorny bushes, the more she realizes that she might have found a man who is capable of seeing her as both a scientific colleague and as someone to love.

This is a story that starts out seeming like it’s heading down a rather salacious and scandalous path, only for it to twist itself into a much more serious investigation of discovery of both the criminal and the personal kind.

To sum things up, A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons is a fun and twisty mystery that has a lot of things to say about women in academia at a time when it was possible but not expected or respected. As the first book in a series, it gives hints that Saffron and Ashton’s relationship will continue to blossom – and probably continue to investigate crimes that the police would prefer they kept clear of.

If you like stories like Saffron’s, she reminded me of several investigating heroines who operate during the same time period, particularly Mary Russell, Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford. And for a similar story in a much different setting, The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older covers some surprising bits of the same ground of deadly shenanigans in academia under investigation by initially reluctant academicians turned amateur detectives.

But the most on-point readalike for A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons should be the second book in the Saffron Everleigh series, A Botanist’s Guide to Flowers and Fatality, coming out next summer!

Review: Down a Dark River by Karen Odden

Review: Down a Dark River by Karen OddenDown a Dark River by Karen Odden
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Corravan #1
Pages: 328
Published by Crooked Lane Books on November 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the vein of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, Karen Odden’s mystery introduces Inspector Michael Corravan as he investigates a string of vicious murders that has rocked Victorian London’s upper crust.
London, 1878. One April morning, a small boat bearing a young woman’s corpse floats down the murky waters of the Thames. When the victim is identified as Rose Albert, daughter of a prominent judge, the Scotland Yard director gives the case to Michael Corravan, one of the only Senior Inspectors remaining after a corruption scandal the previous autumn left the division in ruins. Reluctantly, Corravan abandons his ongoing case, a search for the missing wife of a shipping magnate, handing it over to his young colleague, Mr. Stiles.
An Irish former bare-knuckles boxer and dockworker from London’s seedy East End, Corravan has good street sense and an inspector’s knack for digging up clues. But he’s confounded when, a week later, a second woman is found dead in a rowboat, and then a third. The dead women seem to have no connection whatsoever. Meanwhile, Mr. Stiles makes an alarming discovery: the shipping magnate’s missing wife, Mrs. Beckford, may not have fled her house because she was insane, as her husband claims, and Mr. Beckford may not be the successful man of business that he appears to be.
Slowly, it becomes clear that the river murders and the case of Mrs. Beckford may be linked through some terrible act of injustice in the past—for which someone has vowed a brutal vengeance. Now, with the newspapers once again trumpeting the Yard’s failures, Corravan must dredge up the truth—before London devolves into a state of panic and before the killer claims another innocent victim.

My Review:

This first book in the Inspector Corravan series begins in the middle in a way that just plain works. For one thing, Corravan is 30 or thereabouts, meaning that he had not just a life but an adult life for years before this story begins. Howsomever, the book does a terrific job of telling the reader enough about his previous life AND his previous cases for us to get a feel for the man as a character as well as how good he is at his job and how often he rubs his superiors the wrong way.

It’s also a bit in the middle when it comes to the circumstances of Scotland Yard and the London Metropolitan Police Department. The situation that the department is in when we first meet Corravan is taken from history. The corruption trial that rocked the Met and still influences the public’s acceptance or lack thereof towards the police really happened. The man who is in charge of the newly formed CID (Criminal Investigation Department) that Corravan serves is a fictional avatar of the real C.E. Howard Vincent who held that position at the time this book takes place..

So the story is grounded in the real a bit more deeply than the usual historical mystery, and that’s part of what makes the story so fascinating. But the truly compelling part of this story is the mystery itself. As it should be.

It all starts with the discovery of a woman’s body floating down the Thames in a lighter, a small boat used to carry cargo along the river. She’s relatively young, blond, pretty and appears to have been well-off if not outright wealthy based on her clothing and her physical condition. She wasn’t raped, but the skirt of her dress was cut open, her wrists were slashed post-mortem and there were flowers in the boat.

Whoever killed her, whyever they did it, the dead woman left behind a fiancé, parents and friends who loved her and are devastated by her death. Corravan begins an investigation, under pressure from his superiors, who are under pressure from theirs. Everyone wants the murder solved before the public loses even more confidence in the police.

A week later there’s a second body. Then a third who the mysterious killer lets go, possibly because she’s pregnant. Corravan is out of his mind, losing his temper, and losing his battle against the demon drink all at the same time.

Because the victims seem to have nothing in common save their gender, station and appearance. He’s not making any headway and the powers-that-be are losing patience – although not as fast as Corravan is.

Just when he’s at his wit’s end – and about to be demoted for it – a key witness steps out of the shadows. He learns just how heinous this crime really is – and just how hard it will be to bring absolutely everyone responsible to any kind of justice.

Escape Rating A: I picked this up because I read and enjoyed two of the author’s previous books, A Dangerous Duet and A Trace of Deceit, also Victorian-set mysteries. And also books that center women’s stories and women’s lives even though much of the investigation is driven by a male protagonist.

So when I learned this book existed, I was happy to set aside the books I’d bounced off of this week and dive right in. Especially as I was even more tempted by the description of the story appealing to readers of C.S. Harris and Anne Perry, as I loved both authors’ 19th century-set mystery series.

While Down a Dark River resembles C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series in the way that it is so firmly grounded in its time and place, and the way that it borrows from real history using real people as secondary characters, the true resemblance is to Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series and her William Monk series. Corravan’s background – and his temperament – resemble Monk, but the time period in which this series is set makes him contemporaneous to the Pitts. A time when the world was obviously changing as a result of the Industrial Revolution, both for good and for ill.

This case, as Corravan himself remarks, feels like a new kind of crime. He’s chasing a serial killer – someone organized but with a deranged mind or at least worldview. Not someone who kills in the heat of the moment, but someone who plans meticulously and seeks out victims who make sense for reasons that exist only in his own head.

The process of the investigation, and the way that Corravan nearly loses not just control of it but control of himself, gives us a window into a fascinating character who does not want to adapt to the times or the circumstances, only to discover that the cost of not doing so is greater than he is willing to pay.

Earlier I said that this book centers women’s stories and lives in spite of its male protagonist. And the way that is worked out in the story made for a compelling twist that carries the reader, the detective and eventually his department along to a stunning conclusion that satisfies in one way but can’t possibly do so in another.

Nor should it, which is what made this so very good.

I expected to like this, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I most definitely did. So I’m very happy that Inspector Corravan’s investigations will continue later this year in Under a Veiled Moon.

Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeaches and Schemes: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Pages: 304
Published by Crooked Lane Books on May 11, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Anna Gerard's third delightful Georgia B&B mystery, Nina Fleet learns that despite the satin, lace, and buttercream trappings, weddings often prove to be anything but sweet...
Undeterred by the handful of hiccups she's had with her bed and breakfast in the small tourist town of Cymbeline, Georgia, Nina Fleet has her pedal to the medal to make her inn the best it can be with her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda. Looking for potential new guests, Nina takes a booth at the annual Veils and Vanities Bridal Expo, put on by the town's two wedding pros: Virgie Hamilton, retirement-aged dress shop owner, and Roxanna Query, a Gen X event planner and Nina's new friend. But everything goes wrong when Roxanna comes tumbling out of an oversized prop wedding cake, strangled to death by a scarf.
Virgie is immediately arrested for the crime, having been overheard accusing her partner of embezzlement. Nina is incensed to believe Roxanna's denials from the argument since Virgie has a relationship for burning bridges. Meanwhile, Nina's sometimes nemesis and current tenant Harry Westcott informs Nina that her lousy ex-husband is engaged to be married again. Unable to wrap her mind around the news, and incensed by her friend's murder, she goes to do the very least she can: rescue Roxanna's now ownerless dog. But when she does to Roxanna's house, the place is ransacked.
Virgie's been in custody this whole time, without enough time to have made the scene since Roxanna left her house. The police have the wrong man, but when he's released from custody, he immediately disappears, and Nina is convinced it's more than a case of skipping bail. That's when she finds on her front gate a scarf identical to the one on Roxanna's neck when she died. A warning? Now Nina fears that if she can't find Virgie, tying the knot will take on a whole new meaning just for her.

My Review:

I have to say that Cymbeline Georgia is growing on me with every book in this series – but I still miss the nuns from Peach Clobbered. They were definitely something special and I’m still hoping for a return visit.

Even if the homicide rate is approaching that of Cabot Cove, Maine.

The murder that kicks of this particular installment of “as the bodies drop” takes place in a scene that is often fraught with high drama – even if in this case the drama inducement is a bit of by proxy.

I’m referring to weddings. Tensions often run high at weddings, whether on the part of the couple getting married, their respective families, the audience, or all of the above. The stakes feel so high and so many people want to get everything perfect on this special day. But there are plenty of ways that things can go wrong, and so many people are so stressed that its easy for even the littlest things to get blown out of proportion.

The wedding business, therefore, is a business of high stakes and high drama. So it’s not all that surprising that Nina Fleet, owner of the Fleet House Bed and Breakfast, hears not one but two threatening “conversations” between one of the organizers of the local wedding convention and various participants in the event said organizer organized.

But the stakes get higher when the corpse of one of the participants in those conversations spills out of a fake cake at the end of the bridal fashion show in front of an audience expecting to see the latest in bridal creations and not the town’s most recent corpse.

Nina can’t help getting involved this time – not that ever can. The victim was a close friend, while the suspected murderer – as argumentative as the woman ALWAYS is – just plain didn’t have the physical strength to strangle someone with their own scarf. Especially considering that the scarf tripped her Trypophobia.

The cops aren’t quite ready to believe they’ve got it wrong – but someone sure thinks that Nina is on the right track – and keeps trying to run her over with their car to prove it. The question is who – along with why. And how many “shots” at Nina will they get to take before Nina finally puts the pieces together.

Escape Rating B+: Part of the charm of this series – and it certainly is charming – is in the cast of characters and the setting the author has created to contain them and their murderous ways.

Well, not their murderous ways exactly. So far, at least, when Nina puts on her “Secret Squirrel” hat and starts looking into something she has no business investigating, both the victim and the murderer inevitably turn out to be people who are new in town – or new back in town. Nina and her cast of friends and regulars may occasionally be suspects but they’re never the guilty party.

And that’s the way it should be in a cozy mystery series.

But there’s one continuing character in this series who, while not generally a murder suspect, is usually suspected of being up to something, and this entry in the series is no exception.

Nina Fleet and Harry Westcott have been the best of frenemies since Peach Clobbered, when Harry rode into town on a tour bus dressed as Harvey, the 6’ tall white rabbit, claiming that he was the true owner of the home that Nina had just converted into a B&B. Harry is now living at Fleet House, in the high turret he used to occupy when his great-aunt owned the place. Nina and Harry aren’t exactly friends, aren’t exactly enemies, and certainly aren’t lovers, but they have come to rely on and depend upon each other in a way that makes both of them more than a bit uneasy.

They care about each other but they don’t exactly trust each other. They can’t resist sniping at each other about their true motivations for continuing to look out for each other. Neither of them is ready for any kind of a relationship and neither of them is quite willing to let go.

So they end up as partners in crime and the solving of it more often than not. I hope the resolution of whatever they are going to be to each other takes a long time because it’s fun to watch them spark and snipe.

Reading Nina’s latest adventure, I also can’t help but think that Nina Fleet and Charlie Harris, the increasingly less amateur detective of the Cat in the Stacks series, would get along like a house on fire, comparing notes on how they each got into being amateur detectives in their small Southern towns, and just how often they’ve each promised local law enforcement to keep their inquisitive noses out of police business – only to break that promise as soon as the case starts to hit too close to home. As small as both Cymbeline GA and Athena MS are, it’s all too easy for that to happen in blink of an eye.

As it does in Peaches and Schemes, much to my reading enjoyment. I had a great time visiting Cymbeline again and I’m looking forward to Nina’s next case. But I still miss those nuns!

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Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeachy Scream (Georgia B&B #2) by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on August 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To die or not to die? Georgia B&B proprietor Nina Fleet struts and frets to bring the curtain down on a Shakespearean actor's killer.
It's nothing short of inevitable that Cymbeline, GA, hosts an annual Shakespeare festival. But stage-struck Nina Fleet is about to learn that putting on an amateur theatrical production can be murder. Nina's anticipating showbiz glamour and glitz when a community Shakespearean troupe arrives for a two-week stay at her B&B. But the lights dim when she learns the company's director is her nemesis, struggling actor Harry Westcott--who still claims to be the rightful heir to Nina's elegant Queen Anne home.
Meanwhile, the troupe members are not content to leave the drama upon the stage. Accusations of infidelity and financial malfeasance make a shambles of rehearsals. And then, two days into the troupe's stay, the lead actor is found dead in Nina's formal Shakespeare garden. Murder most foul!
Worse, it seems every member of the amateur troupe has a motive--including wealthy construction company owner Marvin Jeffers, who seems to have a personal interest in Nina. But when the sheriff arrests the supposed boyfriend of the slain actor's widow, Nina suspects that the wrong troupe member is in jail. She and her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda, join forces (none too happily) with Harry to sleuth out the murder plot.
Will they find the real killer before someone else shuffles off this mortal coil? Find out in Anna Gerard's delightful second Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

The first book in this series, Peach Clobbered, was just the quintessential first book in a cozy mystery series. The location was marvelous, the characters were appropriately quirky, the dog was adorable and the mystery was properly twisty while the story had a lot of heart – and a superfluity (that’s the correct word, I looked it up) of surprisingly with-it elderly nuns.

I miss the nuns. (Now there’s a sentence I never expected to write!)

Not that Nina Fleet – and her still adorable dog Mattie – aren’t still operating the Fleet House B&B in lovely Cymbeline Georgia. And not that I still wouldn’t love to find the place that inspired it once travel is safe again.

But I miss the nuns. They brought something to the first book that isn’t present in the second one. Making Peachy Scream more of a typical cozy than one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

The story in Peachy Scream is still plenty charming – although the murder victim certainly is not.

When Nina’s nemesis, jobbing actor Harry Westcott, returns to her B&B with a troupe of amateur Shakespeare players in tow, Nina is certain that Harry is up to something. Again.

After all, when Nina and Harry first met, it was over his lawsuit to vacate her ownership of his great-aunt’s house. The place that Nina had just bought and just started setting up as a B&B in touristy Cymbeline. Not that Nina didn’t buy the house fair and square, rather that Harry’s contention was that the seller had no rights to sell because his great-aunt promised to leave him the house in her will. Which she didn’t – or at least no such will has ever been found although I expect it to turn up at some point later in the series. (That is a guess on my part and not a spoiler. I could be totally wrong. Time will eventually tell. Hopefully.)

Still, Harry’s back and Nina’s suspicious. As she should be.

But Cymbeline, named for Shakespeare’s play, is just about to open its popular, profitable and annual Shakespeare Festival. Harry and his troupe are the contracted acting company for this year’s play, Hamlet. And every other possible place for the players to stay was booked long ago. The festival is very popular!

Which means that Nina, rightfully suspicious as she is, can’t afford to throw Harry out on his rather delectable ass. Not that she’s noticed. Much.

It’s clear to Nina from the moment that she is introduced to Harry’s troupe of players that, to quote the Bard, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” or at least in the state of the company. When the man whom everybody seems to hate – including his trophy wife – turns up his toes in the middle of Nina’s Shakespeare garden, there’s a bushel of suspects, a peck of motives and no end in sight. But the show must go on.

And so must Nina’s and Harry’s reluctant collaboration in investigation. But this time, it’s not the play that’s “ the thing to uncover the conscience of the king”, it’s the play within a play within a play that catches the murderer.

Escape Rating B: Anyone who has spent their school years being endlessly compared to an older sibling or cousin and always failing to measure up will understand my reaction to Peachy Scream. I absolutely loved Peach Clobbered and picked up Peachy Scream because I was hoping for more of the same – or hopefully even better – in the second book in the series now that the setting and characters had been established.

I just didn’t realize how much of the charm of the first book was owed to the nuns. Without them, Peachy Scream doesn’t have quite the same charm. It’s still a good cozy mystery, but the nuns made the first book rise in a way that this one doesn’t.

Not that the story doesn’t have its own charms. The troupe of players, their surprisingly convoluted relationships and the almost internecine warfare amongst them certainly adds plenty of drama to a scenario that is already fraught with it. After all, these are actors – albeit amateur ones – and drama is their natural state.

The whole concept of the play within a play within a play really works here, especially as it seems completely natural for Cymbeline to host a Shakespeare Festival. It would be more of a surprise if they didn’t!

And the hidden agendas of the players make for an appropriate tipping of drama into melodrama, while the strange and strained relationship between Nina and Harry adds an element of farce.

There’s one element of the story that, while in some ways it’s done very well, in one particular aspect adds to some discomfort while reading. It was a common device in several of Shakespeare’s plays, for example in As You Like It, for the Bard to play with gender roles and gender stereotyping by having one or more female characters spend much of the play masquerading as male characters, with all of the dramatic and comedic possibilities for mistaken identities and misplaced affections on full display.

So the concept that one of the members of the troupe is a woman pretending to be a man fits right into the Shakespearean milieu that Cymbeline plays homage to with its festival.

But Nina’s reaction to discovering the possibility that the Chris that presents themselves as male may be female made for a very uncomfortable read. In 21st century terms, when this story is set, it is entirely possible that Chris is in transition rather than in disguise. Nina’s waffling about how to refer to Chris inside her own head, her seeming compulsion to hang herself up on knowing Chris’ gender felt so wrong that it literally dropped the grade of the book from a B+ to a B. The point where Harry just tells Nina to get over herself and use the gender nonspecific “they” in reference to Chris made ME heave a sigh of relief. And it should not have been necessary.

That being said, there was a lot about Peachy Scream to enjoy. The cast was even quirkier, in their own way, than the previous book. The town of Cymbeline is filled with a terrific bunch of folks, and while the Reverend Dr. Bishop, local minister, funeral home director and county coroner, wasn’t as much fun as the nuns; he was a fascinating character in his own right and I hope we see more of him in the series.

And Nina’s relationship with Harry, as weird as it already is, got even weirder at the end of the book. I’m terribly curious to see how THAT plays out in future books in the series!


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Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeach Clobbered: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B Mystery #1
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on July 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

What’s black and white and dead all over? Georgia bed and breakfast proprietor Nina Fleet finds out when she comes across a corpse in a penguin costume.

Nina Fleet’s life ought to be as sweet as a Georgia peach. Awarded a tidy sum in her divorce, Nina retired at 41 to a historic Queen Anne house in quaint Cymbeline, GA. But Nina’s barely settled into her new B&B-to-be when a penguin shows up on her porch. Or, at least, a man wearing a penguin suit.

Harry Westcott is making ends meet as an ice cream shop’s mascot and has a letter from his great-aunt, pledging to leave him the house. Too bad that’s not what her will says. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Perpetual Poverty have lost their lease. Real estate developer Gregory Bainbridge intends to turn the convent into a golfing community, so Cymbeline’s mayor persuades Nina to take in the elderly nuns. And then Nina finds the “penguin” again, this time lying in an alley with a kitchen knife in his chest.

A peek under the beak tells Nina it’s not Harry inside the costume, but Bainbridge. What was he doing in Harry’s penguin suit? Was the developer really the intended victim, or did the culprit mean to kill Harry? Whoever is out to stop Harry from contesting the sale of his great-aunt’s house may also be after Nina, so she teams up with him to cage the killer before someone clips her wings in Peach Clobbered, Anna Gerard’s charming first Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

I want to know where Cymbeline is – because it sounds like a great place to visit that would only be a hop, skip and a jump from my home in the Atlanta exurbs. And we all need a quiet place to escape to every once in a while.

Not that things are really quiet in tiny Cymbeline – especially not for Nina Fleet.

Nina would love to open a B&B in her newly acquired Victorian house, but there are roadblocks a-plenty in her way, including plenty of B&Bs that beat her to the punch. As much of a tourist mecca as Cymbeline has become, no place needs an infinite number of inns – until a sudden influx of displaced nuns gives the mayor a reason to fast-track Nina’s application.

Opening an instant B&B isn’t the only problem that Nina has to contend with. She bought her house legally, fair-and-square, cash on the barrel-head, etc., etc., etc. And she absolutely loves it. But Harry Westcott, the nephew of the late owner of Nina’s house, believes that he is the rightful owner of the property – and he’ll see her in court.

The worst part for Nina is that he might be. He probably isn’t, but there’s an off chance. Not that Nina did anything wrong in her purchase, but that the seller might not have had the right to sell in the first place. She’d get all her money back, but she really, really, really just wants the house. In a few short months, it’s become home.

Between Harry and the nuns, Nina seems to have her hands full. They only get fuller when a local property developer is killed while wearing Harry’s penguin suit. How that translates to Harry becoming a suspect in his murder is anybody’s guess, considering that Harry may be one of the few people in town who didn’t have a motive.

Including the nuns.

Nina can’t resist poking her curious nose into the affairs of her neighbors, and the murder of the least liked among them. And she can’t help but band together with Harry and the nuns when they are all under threat.

When they set a trap to catch the killer, the tables get turned. It’s up to the nuns to save the day!

Escape Rating A-: This was just a load of fun from beginning to end, from Harry’s first appearance in the penguin suit right up to his driving off into the sunset at the end, with the murder resolved but the ownership of the B&B still very much up in the air – along with Nina and Harry’s completely unresolved potentially romantic and currently contentious relationship.

Their “relationship” begins with a fairly twisted meet cute. Harry arrives on Nina’s doorstep, suffering from heat stroke (all too plausible with our hot, muggy Georgia summers) while wearing a penguin costume. Which isn’t helping with the heat stroke. Clutching an envelope in his hand that he believes proves his rights to own Nina’s house.

Watching the ebbs and flows of their always just-one-tick-away-from-mutually-assured-destruction relationship is always fun. They want to like each other. They want to trust each other. It’s entirely possible that they have the hots for each other. And they want to destroy each other’s claim to the house they both love.

And they need each other to solve the murder, just adding to the fraught possibilities.

The nuns, on the other hand, are surprisingly delightful from beginning to end. They are the perfect opening guests for Nina’s B&B, even if their reason for landing in her lap (so to speak) is pretty awful. And directly relates to their possible motive for killing that hateful real estate developer.

He’s the one who evicted them from their home and business. Most of the nuns have been together, making excellent cheese and saying their prayers, for 50 years together. With the loss of their convent and fromagerie, the archdiocese plans to retire them to separate communities. They are broken-hearted at the thought of losing their family-of-choice.

And absolutely perfect guests. Also surprisingly with the 21st century for a group of elderly semi-cloistered nuns. Their customers have kept them firmly rooted in the now – to Nina’s surprise, and to the detriment of the killer stalking Cymbeline.

This is definitely a cozy mystery, as it’s wonderfully light-hearted – even if it does feature a dead body – albeit a dead body in a borrowed penguin suit.

Nina’s exploration of the town in her process of eliminating would-be suspects introduces readers to all of the residents of this quirky little place. Even if she does go off the track of whodunnit on more than one occasion. Or perhaps especially because. And I went right there with her. I didn’t guess this one at all.

As Peach Clobbered reads like the first book in a series, I’m looking forward to reading Nina’s (and hopefully Harry’s) future adventures. And definitely getting to know the denizens of Cymbeline a whole lot better.

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