Review: Find Me by Alafair Burke

Review: Find Me by Alafair BurkeFind Me by Alafair Burke
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Ellie Hatcher #6
Pages: 293
Published by Harper on January 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The disappearance of a young woman leaves her closest friend reeling and an NYPD homicide detective digging into her own past in this thrilling mystery full of twists from the New York Times bestselling author of The Better Sister and The Wife.
Some pasts won’t stay forgotten . . .
She calls herself Hope Miller, but she has no idea who she actually is. Fifteen years ago, she was found in a small New Jersey town thrown from an overturned vehicle, with no clue to her identity. Doctors assumed her amnesia was a temporary side effect of her injuries, but she never regained her memory. Hope eventually started a new life with a new name in a new town that welcomed her, yet always wondered what she may have left behind—or been running from. Now, fifteen years later, she’s leaving New Jersey to start over once again.
Manhattan defense lawyer Lindsay Kelly, Hope’s best friend and the one who found her after the accident, understands why Hope wants a new beginning. But she worries how her friend will fare in her new East Hampton home, far away from everything familiar. Lindsay’s worst fears are confirmed when she discovers Hope has vanished without a trace—the only lead a drop of blood found where she was last seen. Even more ominously, the blood matches a DNA sample with a connection to a notorious Kansas murderer.
In pursuit of answers, the women search for the truth beneath long-buried secrets. And when their searches converge, what they find will upend everything they’ve ever known. 

My Review:

The title has a chilling double meaning in this wild thrill-ride of a story. On the surface it’s about Lindsay Kelly’s search for her missing best friend, Hope Miller. Under the surface of that desperate search, there’s Hope Miller’s search for herself.

Once upon a time, fifteen years ago, the woman now known as Hope Miller crashed a stolen SUV outside tiny Hopewell New Jersey. Her seriously injured body was found by the police chief’s daughter, Lindsay, on her way home.

When Hope regained consciousness in the hospital, she had no memory of the crash – or of any part of her life before it. She was a blank slate with no knowledge of who she was or what she was doing on that road or in that car. She had to start her life over with nothing to guide her.

But Lindsay saw her rescue of the young woman as a responsibility. She stood by the woman now called Hope every step of the way. The entire town protected her once the police chief and his daughter took her under their wing, always looking out for her. And making sure that no one tried to take advantage of her. They even found work for her, always paying in cash because Hope had no ID and no way to get one without a birth certificate. Legally, Hope existed in limbo.

Emotionally, she was a woman who began to want to stretch her wings – however tentatively. Hopewell was safe for her, but it was also a place where everyone was up in her business all the time. Lindsay’s close friendship was comforting but also confining, so Hope struck out on her own.

She moved to the Hamptons, found a place to rent for cash and an under-the-table job as a realtor’s assistant. Also for cash.

And then she disappeared. After a couple of weeks of no calls and no texts, her frantic best friend went to East Hampton to see Hope for herself. Only to learn that her friend hadn’t been seen or heard from for over a week. And that no one, not even the local police, was willing to start even a cursory search for a missing woman who might have just decided to vanish just as thoroughly as she had appeared all those years ago.

But Lindsay refused to believe that. She refused to let go. And in her unrelenting search for her missing friend she turned over a rock that no one even knew was there – until the snake crawled out.

Escape Rating A+: What makes this thriller so suspenseful and so damn, pardon me, thrilling is the way that it turns itself inside out not just once, but over and over and over again. The story starts out simple – a woman is missing and her friend wants to find her.

Then it grows tentacles.

Hope may have scammed her boss out of some cash before she disappeared. It looks like someone left behind a lot of blood in her last known location – and it’s not her blood. Someone claims she was stalking her boyfriend – and the man’s corpse turns up literally dead in the water – but not a drowning victim. No one shoots themselves in the back of the neck, hiding the wound under the hairline to make it harder to spot.

So Hope, whoever she really is, is wanted for murder.

But those tentacles suck in an NYPD homicide detective who has never given up on finding her father’s murderer. Which should be one hell of a stretch of the long arm of coincidence. Except that Hope has no memory of who she was or where she came from, so it’s just barely possible that she had something to do with either the death of a cop in Wichita Kansas fifteen years ago OR that her true identity had some relationship to the serial killer case that obsessed him.

And it’s equally possible that nothing Lindsay Kelly thought she knew about her best friend was really true. Or that someone that either Hatcher or Kelly has relied upon in this crisis is who they think they are. Or both. Possibly both. Frighteningly both.

This is a page-turning, nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat read as ideas and assumptions knot and unknot at breakneck speed with each move that Lindsay Kelly and Ellie Hatcher take. They are both searching for a truth that neither of them really wants to find. A truth that very nearly finds them first.

And just when the reader thinks the story is done, it twists one last time and muddies all the water all over again.

I had not realized when I picked this up that it was the 6th in a series featuring NYPD homicide detective Ellie Hatcher. I was immersed in it immediately without that background as the story focuses more on the original characters Lindsay Kelly and Hope Maxwell than it does Hatcher. But the story was so compelling that now I’m terribly curious about the earlier books in the series, starting with Dead Connection, so I’ll probably go back and pick them up the next time I’m looking for a compelling police thriller.

Because Find Me had me in its grip from the very first page.

Review: A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline WinspearA Sunlit Weapon (Maisie Dobbs #17) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, World War II
Series: Maisie Dobbs #17
Pages: 358
Published by Harper on March 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series, a series of possible attacks on British pilots leads Jacqueline Winspear's beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs into a mystery involving First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
October 1942. Jo Hardy, a 22-year-old ferry pilot, is delivering a Supermarine Spitfire--the fastest fighter aircraft in the world--to Biggin Hill Aerodrome, when she realizes someone is shooting at her aircraft from the ground. Returning to the location on foot, she finds an American serviceman in a barn, bound and gagged. She rescues the man, who is handed over to the American military police; it quickly emerges that he is considered a suspect in the disappearance of a fellow soldier who is missing.
Tragedy strikes two days later, when another ferry pilot crashes in the same area where Jo's plane was attacked. At the suggestion of one of her colleagues, Jo seeks the help of psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs. Meanwhile, Maisie's husband, a high-ranking political attach� based at the American embassy, is in the thick of ensuring security is tight for the first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, during her visit to the Britain. There's already evidence that German agents have been circling: the wife of a president represents a high value target. Mrs. Roosevelt is clearly in danger, and there may well be a direct connection to the death of the woman ferry pilot and the recent activities of two American servicemen.
To guarantee the safety of the First Lady--and of the soldier being held in police custody--Maisie must uncover that connection. At the same time, she faces difficulties of an entirely different nature with her young daughter, Anna, who is experiencing wartime struggles of her own.

My Review:

I love the Maisie Dobbs series, so I had been saving this book for a time when I needed a reading treat. As yesterday was Memorial Day, I was looking for a book about war and what comes after. Considering the origins of Memorial Day, I probably should have been looking for a book set during the U.S. Civil War, but I remembered I’d been saving this one and today seemed like a perfect time. So here we are.

Part of what makes this series so compelling is the way that Maisie Dobbs as an investigator turns some of the mystery conventions on their pointy little heads. A lot of fictional detectives don’t believe in coincidence, so when there are multiple crimes it usually turns out that there’s a single cause or perpetrator at their roots.

Maisie, as trained by the late and often lamented Maurice Blanche, sees coincidences as guideposts – not necessarily to the crime she’s investigating, but to something in her own life that needs looking into. Which means that in addition to the usual questioning of witnesses and suspects, Maisie is quite often questioning herself. Not that she doubts herself, but that she’s always looking for the lesson that the universe is trying to teach her.

The cases and incidents that she undertakes to resolve in A Sunlit Weapon have huge, potentially world-shattering consequences. They will also change the life of one little girl. And all the aspects of that tangled investigation are wrapped around war. Not just this war, but also the one before. And not just the fighting, but the grief that inevitably follows in its wake.

Maisie begins with one case. A young aviatrix, a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary tasked with repositioning planes from one airbase to another, is nearly shot down over Kent by someone on the ground. When Jo Hardy goes back to check out the scene on the ground, she finds, not the shooter, but Mattias Crittenden, a young black American soldier bound and gagged in a deserted barn. She is determined to make sure that the black GI gets justice and not a lynching, so she turns to Maisie for help.

Maisie also has a much more personal case of her own. Her adopted daughter Anna is being bullied at school because Anna is slightly darker skinned than the typical “English Rose” complexion. The children at her school have suddenly started harassing her and referring to her as an enemy Italian, when in fact she’s English. (Her father was a Maltese sailor. Malta became part of the British Empire in 1814.)

What has Maisie perplexed is that Anna was happy in school and eager to learn – up until the past few weeks. Something at the school has changed – and not for the better.

These two “cases” shouldn’t have anything to do with each other. Or to the third case that falls into Maisie’s lap. Her new husband, Mark Scott, is an American attached to the U.S. Embassy. His current task is to handle security for Eleanor Roosevelt’s imminent visit to Britain. Scott has learned that there are plans to assassinate the First Lady while she’s in Britain.

Maisie’s search of the barn where Private Crittenden was discovered turned up two items. The dog tags of Crittenden’s friend Private Stone, who is missing – and coded plans that reference the First Lady’s codename while she’s traveling.

Somehow, Jo Hardy’s mysterious ground shooter and the plot to assassinate Mrs. Roosevelt are linked – even if Maisie doesn’t yet know how. And all of it, along with the mystery at little Anna’s school, may not all be part of the same series of crimes, but are all part of the same thing – the terrible consequences of war.

Escape Rating A-: We’ve followed Maisie from her childhood apprenticeship with Maurice Blanche through her nursing service in WW1, through her grief at the loss of her fiancé, her eventual wedding and subsequent tragic widowhood, her recovery and now her second marriage to the American Mark Scott who she met in a previous book in this series, The American Agent. What we haven’t seen until now is Maisie as a married woman, as the period in her life when she was married happened between Leaving Everything Most Loved and A Dangerous Place. So for those of us who have followed Maisie through her career, this is the first time we’ve seen her in the position where she’s going to have to negotiate how to balance her work life and personal life in a way that she hasn’t had to before.

Because being an investigator is very much core to who Maisie is as a person. It wasn’t easy giving it up to marry the first time around, but she was younger and less well established. At this point in her life she knows she can’t give up being who she is to become a traditional wife and mother – something that the Headmistress of her daughter’s school throws in her face in their first confrontation.

At the same time, a part of the undercurrent of this story is that Maisie’s job is dangerous, and that no matter what she promises she’s not going to stop doing it. And that her new husband hates the danger she throws herself into – even though that kind of danger is the reason they met in the first place.

But the case, or rather cases, that Maisie looks into exemplify the way that Maisie works. She pulls on one thread because it’s part of her initial remit from her client. The more she pulls, the more she investigates, the more complicated and interwoven the threads seem to be – until they send out branches and tentacles into people and places she never thought they’d go.

It’s not a quick process, so Maisie’s stories aren’t page-turners in a thriller sense. And yet they’re compelling because Maisie makes them so. She’s intelligent and complicated, and the way she works through her cases is the same – no matter where they lead her.

In this case they lead her from a black GI accused of killing his white friend even though no corpse has been found. It’s all too clear that this is a rush to judgment or that he’s a convenient scapegoat because of the color of his skin. There is no part of the way that the US military treats its black soldiers, particularly in the persons of its MPs, that does not grate – not just on 21st century readers but on the British public at large at the time. Because racial segregation doesn’t make sense and that’s all too easy to see through the eyes of people who don’t employ it. (That’s not to say that Britain didn’t and doesn’t have plenty of its own problems in regards to class separation, elitism, etc., just that it didn’t run that way at the time.)

But in doing her best to ensure that Pvt. Crittenden isn’t rushed to a hangman’s noose or the electric chair for the murder of a man who might not even be dead Maisie opens up more cans of worms. As she does.

And in the middle of investigating how Crittenden got to be in that barn – no matter how many roadblocks, literal and figurative, get thrown in her way – Maisie links the barn to the shooting, the shooting to a damaged young man, and the young man all the way back to the Headmistress of her daughter’s school. Not because they have the same beliefs or commit any of the same actions, but because they were all, every single one, damaged by the war that was supposed to have ended all wars.

Not because it didn’t, but because war is hell – both for the ones who fight it and the ones who wait behind.

I am already looking forward to Maisie’s next adventure, and not just because I’m wondering how hard (or if) she’s going to have to hit her husband with a clue-by-four to get it through his head that she’s never going to turn away from doing the right thing no matter how dangerous it might be. As this book took place in the autumn of 1943, I expect the next book to cover some of 1944. If Maisie ends up being involved in the planning of or the misdirection wrapped around D-Day I will not be at all surprised. Riveted, but not surprised. And I can’t wait to read it!

Review: The Sacred Bridge by Anne Hillerman

Review: The Sacred Bridge by Anne HillermanThe Sacred Bridge (Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito #25) by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito #25
Pages: 320
Published by Harper on April 12, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"A fine legacy series . . . in the spirit of her late father, Tony."--Booklist
An ancient mystery resurfaces with ramifications for the present day in this gripping chapter in the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series from New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman.
Sergeant Jim Chee's vacation to beautiful Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell has a deeper purpose. He's on a quest to unravel a sacred mystery his mentor, the Legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, stumbled across decades earlier.
Chee's journey takes a deadly turn when, after a prayerful visit to the sacred Rainbow Bridge, he spots a body floating in the lake. The dead man, a Navajo with a passion for the canyon's ancient rock art, lived a life filled with many secrets. Discovering why he died and who was responsible involves Chee in an investigation that puts his own life at risk.
Back in Shiprock, Officer Bernadette Manuelito is driving home when she witnesses an expensive sedan purposely kill a hitchhiker. The search to find the killer leads her to uncover a dangerous chain of interconnected revelations involving a Navajo Nation cannabis enterprise.
But the evil that is unleashed jeopardizes her mother and sister Darleen, and puts Bernie in the deadliest situation of her law enforcement career.

My Review:

Underneath the mysteries that propel the action in (and around) The Sacred Bridge is the story of a solid relationship between two people who have both reached a crossroads in their careers. Which makes it entirely fitting that one half of the story is set at Lake Powell, a man-made lake near Rainbow Bridge that was created by damming the Colorado and San Juan Rivers in 1963.

When the author picked up her late father’s long-running mystery series with Spider Woman’s Daughter in 2013, she brought back the characters of the Legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, his proteges Sergeant Jim Chee and Officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito. Leaphorn has retired, Chee has finally grown up, and Bernie has turned into an excellent cop ready to stretch her wings.

But Chee and Bernie are married, and happily so. Except for the times when Chee gets stuck as the officer in charge at the Shiprock office of the Navajo Police and is temporarily acting as his wife’s boss.

Bernie’s considering becoming a detective, while Chee’s been a cop more than long enough to be getting a bit worn down by the job. He’s at the point where his options are to get promoted into management – which is too much like politics for his taste, keep doing what he’s doing – even though that’s already getting old and sour, or find something new.

Or go back to something old. When we first met Chee back in People of Darkness, he was training with his uncle to become a hatááłii or medicine man, a practitioner of the Navajo sacred healing ceremonies. But Chee’s uncle died years ago, if he truly wants to pick up that training, he will need to find a practitioner willing to teach him.

So as the story opens, Chee and Bernie are miles apart. She has returned home to go back to work, and to check on her elderly mother and her sometimes wayward younger sister. And almost immediately finds herself neck deep – possibly literally – in a case that will test her decision to become a detective – and test whether or not everything that goes along with that job is what she really wants.

She’s in way over her head – and will need skill, courage AND luck to break the surface.

The Rainbow Bridge and surrounding canyon seen from the Navajo Mountain side

Meanwhile, Chee is at Rainbow Bridge, the Sacred Bridge of the title, letting the peace of the place help him see into his own heart. But, like so many cops on vacation – at least in fiction – he finds himself back on the job when he looks down into Lake Powell and discovers the body of someone who will never break the surface again.

Bernie’s case is wrapped up in 21st century problems – drugs and the money they bring, along with all of the ills that follow in their wake. In the case of the K’e Hemp Farm, those ills include human trafficking, forced labor, paying workers in illegally-grown marijuana instead of cash – and the murders necessary to cover it all up.

The case that Chee has fallen into – or that the dead man he found has fallen out of – is rooted in older and deeper motives. In the resentments that still swirl around the lake and all the sacred places that were drowned to create it, but also the motive for the oldest crime in the book – the jealousy that drove Cain to kill Abel.

So Chee is trying to unravel a knot of emotions, while Bernie is trying to protect herself from being tied up in a net of drugs, money and murder. Neither case is easy, and both have the potential to provide their personal dilemmas with an all too permanent solution.

Escape Rating B: I love this series. I loved the original, and I love the way that the author has picked up her father’s torch and brought these characters into the present. So this entry in the series, as always, was a visit with some old and dear friends.

But I was hoping that this book would break the grade “B” reading week I’ve been having, and it just didn’t. It could be me, it could be that everything I’m picking up is turning into “B for Blah” whether it really is or not. But this entry in the series fell just a bit flat for me.

Some of that may be due to Leaphorn being absent entirely. Even though he’s more-or-less retired, his perspectives and insights always add some depth to the story. So I missed his presence.

Also, this revival of the series has been centered on Chee and Bernie and they usually spend at least some of each story in the same place working on the same or parallel cases. While it makes sense that they need some time on their own to think about their respective careers, they are miles apart and all-too-frequently completely out of contact with each other.

And on my third hand, Bernie’s part of the story didn’t quite gel for me. She goes undercover into the middle of a very dangerous drug operation, but she’s not remotely trained for it, she doesn’t have any reliable backup, and she’s in over her head to the point where she nearly drowns in it. It all veered very close to “heroine in jeopardy” in ways that felt cliched – but possibly entirely too real. One of the villains definitely bordered on “bwahaha” territory.

But if the point, at least from the perspective of her police superiors along with all the alphabet agencies tagging along on this case, was to throw her into the deep end to see if she sank or swam, well, mission accomplished. Howsomever, something about the combination of how extremely important the case was vs. just how underprepared she was didn’t quite match up.

Chee’s case made more sense – and/or it felt more like the cases that make up the backbone of the entire series. It was a mix of the traditional, the historic, and the contemporary with a thoughtful exploration of the characters involved. Although I did figure out whodunnit long before the reveal, I still enjoyed that part of the journey quite a bit.

In short, I liked parts of this one, but not as much overall as I usually do. But it’s always good to see how these characters are doing, and I’m curious about whether Leaphorn is going to come back from his unexpected trip to Hawaii married to his longtime companion. And I really want to find out what decisions Bernie and Chee make about their careers, their life together, and whether or not they plan to plunge ahead and have children – which will also have impacts on those careers and that life.

So sign me up for the next book in this series whenever it comes along – hopefully around this time next year.

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony HorowitzA Line To Kill (Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, #3) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Hawthorne and Horowitz #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on October 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of the brilliantly inventive The Word Is Murder and The Sentence Is Death returns with his third literary whodunit featuring intrepid detectives Hawthorne and Horowitz.
When Ex-Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, author Anthony Horowitz, are invited to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England, they don’t expect to find themselves in the middle of murder investigation—or to be trapped with a cold-blooded killer in a remote place with a murky, haunted past.
Arriving on Alderney, Hawthorne and Horowitz soon meet the festival’s other guests—an eccentric gathering that includes a bestselling children’s author, a French poet, a TV chef turned cookbook author, a blind psychic, and a war historian—along with a group of ornery locals embroiled in an escalating feud over a disruptive power line.
When a local grandee is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Hawthorne and Horowitz become embroiled in the case. The island is locked down, no one is allowed on or off, and it soon becomes horribly clear that a murderer lurks in their midst. But who?
Both a brilliant satire on the world of books and writers and an immensely enjoyable locked-room mystery, A Line to Kill is a triumph—a riddle of a story full of brilliant misdirection, beautifully set-out clues, and diabolically clever denouements.

My Review:

Think of this story, in fact, think of this entire series, as taking place surrounded by the rubble of the “fourth wall” that author Anthony Horowitz continually demolishes by making himself a character in his own series.

And not even the hero of it. He’s the narrator, but he’s definitely not the star of this show. That position is reserved for – really taken over by – detective Daniel Hawthorne, formerly of the London Metropolitan Police and currently working for himself and whoever is willing to pay him to figure out whodunnit when the Met is stumped.

Or when he’s way, way off their patch, as he and “Tony” are in this story.

After the previous books in this series, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death, where Hawthorne barges in, completely disrupts “Tony’s” life, drags him along on a case and never lets the man catch his breath, this case begins when Tony reluctantly agrees with his agent’s notion to send both himself and Hawthorne to a literary festival in the Channel Islands. Tony hopes that this will finally be the first time in their contentious acquaintance that Tony will be in his element and Hawthorne will need at least a little bit of his help and guidance.

But Hawthorne has an agenda of his own on Alderney and is just going along with this literary festival idea for the ride to a place he wants to get to anyway. And, as much as this might not be the mostly anti-social Hawthorne’s natural setting – he’s VERY good at playing whatever part is necessary to get him who and what he needs to achieve whatever he’s set out to do.

Whatever Hawthorne’s private agenda, and Tony’s anger and disappointment when he figures it out, their entire reason for being on Alderney ends up taking a back seat to murder. Specifically the murder of the man responsible for funding the literary festival, and coincidentally – or perhaps not – responsible for the current controversy that is tearing tiny Alderney apart.

Considering that Alderney has a population of around 2,000, it’s not much of a surprise that they have a police force of 3. That none of the three are actually available to work this case is a bit of an issue, but considering that no one can remember the last time there was a murder on Alderney, they’re not much missed. But the police force on the nearby islands isn’t much bigger – or much more experienced with murder. (If anyone remembers the TV series Bergerac, there’s no one like him anywhere in evidence – and this was a case that could certainly have used an experienced detective with local knowledge and no axe to grind.)

Naturally they ask for Hawthorne’s help. And just as naturally, Hawthorne assumes that Tony will tag along as chronicler, occasional foil, and, just as important from Hawthorne’s perspective, the person who will pay all the bills.

So Tony finds himself in the exact position he had no desire to be in again, serving as Watson to Hawthorne’s Sherlock – and one of the less ept Watsons into the bargain. Meanwhile Hawthorne is on the track of a murderer that Tony is certain no one will feel an ounce of sympathy for, making any book coming out of this case a nonstarter.

However, as their previous cases have proven, in the end Hawthorne is always right, and Tony is inevitably barking up the wrong tree when it comes to figuring out whodunnit. There might be a book in this mess after all.

Escape Rating B+: Both of the author’s current series, the Susan Ryeland series that starts with Magpie Murders and the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, take the concepts of a classic murder mystery and wrap them up in ways that the authors of those classics never would have thought of.

In the Susan Ryeland series, that’s literal, as the classic-style mysteries of Atticus Pünd, which are included in their entirety in each book, provide clues to the more recent murder that Susan Ryeland is bumbling her way towards solving.

In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series it’s a bit more of a stretch, but still definitely there, and not just because the main characters are so obviously avatars for Holmes and Watson, albeit a Holmes who is even more sociopathic and self-absorbed than the original, leading around a Watson who is even more bumbling. Not that saying any of that doesn’t feel slightly weird, as it’s the author of the book inserting himself into the narrative as a character, which gets more than a bit meta.

But the mystery that Hawthorne is presented with in this case begins as something that Dame Agatha Christie – at least in the person of Hercule Poirot – would have had a great time solving. The victim is wealthy – and he’s an absolute bastard. The line of people wanting to murder him is long, to the point where the title of the book is a pun on the concept. Alderney is a relatively remote location, an island that can be closed so that the potential suspects are forced to remain, while the murder itself begins as a locked room murder in the victim’s own mansion.

All of those are plot elements that Christie played with more than once, and quite successfully. It’s not a surprise that another mystery writer would take those same ingredients and make something quite a bit different from them. Because, of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

Except the victim’s bastardy. That was most definitely real. And the point of quite a lot.

The case is even more complicated than it initially appeared to be. At first, it just seems difficult, but as Hawthorne digs into the lives and motives of the potential suspects, it gets deeper as well. And puts at least some of his own motives for coming to Alderney on display. A bit. As much as Hawthorne ever displays much of any part of his internal life.

Or to put it another way, once the body was discovered, the story got really fascinating really quickly. It was much more fun following Horowitz following Hawthorne as he investigated than it was hanging around as Tony groused – mostly to himself – about getting there and being there and dealing with Hawthorne and the other authors at the festival.

The other stories in this series started with murder. This one takes a while to work itself up to that sticking point. Once it does, it’s off to the races, while throwing out plenty of red herrings for the reader, along with Tony, to chew on.

The thing is, Tony doesn’t actually like Hawthorne, which is fair, because Hawthorne is not at all likeable. It makes the early part of this book awkward because all of their interactions are frustrating, and Tony is clearly frustrated by pretty much everything involved in his odd relationship with Hawthorne. Absent a case, their conversations seem rather forced – only because they are. But it makes for a bit of a slow read until they have a case in hand.

Also, and very much the point, Tony may not like Hawthorne, but he is utterly fascinated by him. And so are we. So once Hawthorne is in his element, solving a mystery, the relationship between them falls into a place from which we can watch the master at his work – even if, or especially because, we can’t see where he’s heading with it until the end. Or somebody’s end. Or both.

“Tony” may not want to work with Hawthorne again. Ever. But I really hope he does.

Review: Stargazer by Anne Hillerman

Review: Stargazer by Anne HillermanStargazer (Leaphorn & Chee, #24) by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Leaphorn and Chee #24, Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito #6
Pages: 318
Published by Harper on April 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Murder, deception, Navajo tradition, and the stars collide in this enthralling entry in New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman’s Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series, set amid the beautiful landscape of the American Southwest.
What begins as a typical day for Officer Bernadette Manuelito—serving a bench warrant, dealing with a herd of cattle obstructing traffic, and stumbling across a crime scene—takes an unexpected twist when she’s called to help find an old friend. Years ago, Bernie and Maya were roommates, but time and Maya’s struggles with addiction drove them apart. Now Maya’s brother asks Bernie to find out what happened to his sister.
Tracing Maya’s whereabouts, Bernie learns that her old friend had confessed to the murder of her estranged husband, a prominent astronomer. But the details don’t align. Suspicious, Bernie takes a closer look at the case only to find that nothing is as it seems. Uncovering new information about the astronomer’s work leads Bernie to a remote spot on the Navajo Nation and a calculating killer.
The investigation causes an unexpected rift with her husband and new acting boss, Jim Chee, who’s sure Bernie’s headed for trouble. While she’s caught between present and past, Chee is at a crossroads of his own. Burdened with new responsibilities he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want, he must decide what the future holds for him and act accordingly. 
Can their mentor Joe Leaphorn—a man also looking at the past for answers to the future—provide the guidance both Bernie and Chee need? And will the Navajo heroes that stud the starry sky help them find justice—and the truth they seek?

My Review:

It’s not exactly a surprise – or a spoiler – for a mystery to open with the discovery of a dead body. But when that discovery is immediately followed by a voluntary confession to a circumstance that the police haven’t yet even determined is a homicide, well, that is kind of a surprise.

Although in real life the police would probably be thrilled to have a case wrapped up so neatly and tied with such a pretty bow, in mystery fiction that easy resolution could end the book – with 300+ pages or so left to fill.

So, the reader is pretty sure that there must be more to this story from the very beginning. Luckily, so is Officer Bernadette Manuelito of the Navajo Police. Once upon a time, when Bernie was in college, she and the confessed murderer were roommates, while the victim was the bilagaana lover who whisked her friend off to Hawaii for marriage, a son, and a later breakup.

It’s not that Bernie can’t imagine that her once-friend isn’t capable of murder, because after ten years on the force she knows too well that every person is capable of killing someone in the right – or wrong – circumstance. But THIS murder doesn’t match the person she knew.

Particularly as the confession is a bit threadbare, to say the least. The supposed murderer isn’t saying much of anything about either how or why – and the circumstances just don’t add up. But the circumstances do conspire to keep Bernie on the case, even though the crime was not committed on Navajo land and therefore not in Bernie’s jurisdiction.

She’s, not happy about driving back and forth the four hours between Shiprock and the county sheriff’s office in Socorro but she is more than a bit relieved to get away from her substation, where her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is currently also serving as the supervisor – and Bernie’s temporary boss.

Bernie and Chee need their captain to get back from his meetings in Window Rock before their marriage suffers any more stress than is normal for two cops married to each other. And Bernie wants to make sure that she does right by her old friend.

The more times that Bernie makes that long drive, the more certain she is that her friend’s convenient but threadbare confession doesn’t hold up to any examination whatsoever. But if the woman won’t help herself and tell the police – and Bernie – something, ANYTHING to make the whole thing make sense, the system is going to grind her under and spit her into prison whether she deserves it or not.

It’s up to Bernie to find the answers – to the crime, to her marriage, to her relationship with her mother and even to the future of her own career – on those long, solitary drives before it’s too late to fix any of the messes that she’s stuck in the middle of.

Escape Rating B+: I read this series because it’s a comfort read. It’s been a comfort read for decades at this point, as I started the series back in the 1990s when I had a really long car commute, and the then Leaphorn & Chee series written by the author’s father was one of the few things available in audiobook at my library. What a long, strange trip it’s been!

So I know and love these characters, and visiting them again is as comfortable as a warm pair of slippers – even if the case they end up investigating turns out to be considerably less warm and fuzzy. This week, when I wasn’t feeling all that great, I found myself searching out comfort reads – and lo and behold, here’s Bernie Manuelito, her husband the Cheeseburger, and the Legendary Lieutenant Leaphorn to see me through.

There are two threads to this story. The primary thread, of course, is the case. The second thread is the part where this being an ongoing series comes into play, as Bernie, Chee and even Leaphorn are all facing decision points, whether large or small, in their lives.

The case, although it’s a twisted mess, is the easy part. Or the easy-er part, anyway. It’s fairly obvious from the beginning that the confession doesn’t really solve anything. Partly because the book would end at that point if it were correct, but mostly because it doesn’t make sense, whether to Bernie or to the reader.

There’s no there, there. To the point where it was obvious, at least to this reader, that the woman confessed in order to protect someone else. The questions then become who is she protecting and why is she protecting that person? The protection was, as I said, obvious, but the who and the why weren’t nearly as obvious as they seemed. I bit down on that red herring pretty hard and didn’t manage to extract myself until close to the point where Bernie extracted herself.

And even then I was half right after all, making the mystery of this entry in the series not quite mysterious enough.

The parts of the story that deal with the life-decisions that the characters have to face were much more interesting – at least to this long-time reader of the series. Leaphorn’s decision isn’t all that earth-shattering, but Chee and Bernie are on the horns of some pretty big dilemmas, both together and separately.

It’s always Bernie’s decisions that interest me the most, because she’s the point of departure from the original series. And because she faces conflicts that neither of the men will ever have to. Bernie’s caught between her career, her marriage, and her love of and duty towards her aging mother. All of her decisions are hard, and they all impact each other, because they face in different directions.

So I love this series. Sometimes for the mystery, sometimes just to keep up with these beloved characters and their lives. Often a bit of both. I’m looking forward to my next visit to Four Corners, hopefully this time next year. And if you’re looking for a fresh take on a well-loved series, you can get hooked back into these characters and this place in Spider Woman’s Daughter, the marvelous mystery where the author picked up the threads that her father dropped and made them her own.

Review: The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear + Giveaway

Review: The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear + GiveawayThe Consequences of Fear (Maisie Dobbs #16) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, thriller
Series: Maisie Dobbs #16
Pages: 352
Published by Harper on March 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Europe buckles under Nazi occupation, Maisie Dobbs investigates a possible murder that threatens devastating repercussions for Britain's war efforts in this latest installment in the New York Times bestselling mystery series.
September 1941. While on a delivery, young Freddie Hackett, a message runner for a government office, witnesses an argument that ends in murder. Crouching in the doorway of a bombed-out house, Freddie waits until the coast is clear. But when he arrives at the delivery address, he’s shocked to come face to face with the killer.
Dismissed by the police when he attempts to report the crime, Freddie goes in search of a woman he once met when delivering a message: Maisie Dobbs. While Maisie believes the boy and wants to help, she must maintain extreme caution: she’s working secretly for the Special Operations Executive, assessing candidates for crucial work with the French resistance. Her two worlds collide when she spots the killer in a place she least expects. She soon realizes she’s been pulled into the orbit of a man who has his own reasons to kill—reasons that go back to the last war.
As Maisie becomes entangled in a power struggle between Britain’s intelligence efforts in France and the work of Free French agents operating across Europe, she must also contend with the lingering question of Freddie Hackett’s state of mind. What she uncovers could hold disastrous consequences for all involved in this compelling chapter of the “series that seems to get better with every entry” (Wall Street Journal).

My Review:

In London, in September of 1941, fear was a constant companion. Every person old enough to be aware, including any children past toddlerhood, has to have felt at least some level of fear every waking minute. Fear of bombs, fear of losing someone dear to them – likely because of a bomb, fear of being made homeless and losing everything they owned – due to a bomb.

Fear that Hitler would invade Britain after softening up the target with – yet more bombs. Fear that Britain, standing alone, wouldn’t be able to hold back the tide of Nazi Germany any more than King Canute could hold back the ocean’s tide by ordering it so.

Maisie Dobbs, once upon a time a battlefield nurse in World War I, now serves as part of the checks and balances at the Special Operations Executive, vetting agents who are about to be sent to infiltrate occupied Europe as secret radio operators, saboteurs – and spies.

She did her bit in the first war, and she’s doing it again. Just not quite as near the front lines, although every bit as heartbreaking.

Maisie has spent the years between the wars as a private investigator, trained by her mentor Maurice Blanche, to ferret out the secrets that people have been keeping, sometimes even from themselves, in order to resolve personal issues they bring to her, and crimes brought to her by the police, or, in the case of her interviewing for the SOE, by the government.

The story here is about Maisie attempting, not always successfully, to balance her government work, her private clients, her family out in the country, and her American lover in the Diplomatic Corps of his own country.

It is also a story about the ways in which those responsibilities come into conflict. A country that expects her to drop everything at a moment’s notice in order to send people into situations where death is almost certain. A country that expects her to keep its secrets even from those she loves. A country that expects her to help cover up a murder in order to protect an alliance that it considers strategic.

It’s that last stress that proves to be more than Maisie can live with. The question becomes whether or not she, or anyone else involved, will die for it.

Escape Rating A: This is Mystery & Thriller week on Goodreads, and the image being used looks a lot like a piece of the cover for this book. I fully admit that I had no idea when I was picking out this week’s books that I would be echoing this theme, I just wanted books that I knew would be good and it turned out I struck a theme.

It took me most of the book to get how the title related to this particular story. Everyone is afraid at this point in the war. Things are pretty dark, and in spite of the famous British “stiff upper lip” the situation does not look hopeful.

But the fears that drive this story are not all about the war, even though they circle back to it. There’s a murder in this mystery, and everything about that murder is a result of fear. The murderer fears the loss of his honor, and the exposure of that loss. The witness fears that the killer knows he is a witness, and that the murderer is out to get him as well. And Maisie fears that her emotions are clouding her judgment, and most importantly, fears that the war will rob her of her second chance at happiness.

All three act out because of their fear, and act on their fear at the same time. This entire case and its outcomes are all consequences of those fears.

The ending is not all heartbreak as one might expect from the beginning, although the piper does get paid.

The story closes on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. The Americans, including Maisie’s lover, are scrambling to prepare America’s response to the attack. The entire war has changed irrevocably, along with Maisie’s life.

I’ve followed Maisie’s adventures from her very first story, fittingly named after this singular character. This is a series that follows the history of both its character and the world she inhabits, and sincerely rewards readers who get involved at the very beginning. This is not a series to pick up in the middle, especially as the last few books in the series, from A Dangerous Place onwards, show the shadows darkening over Europe as Britain prepares for the inevitable that no one wants to see.

This turned out to be a fitting close for the theme of this Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week as well. Both Maisie Dobbs and Sebastian St. Cyr are coincidentally at the 16th book in their respective series, but more importantly, both are atmospheric historical mysteries set in periods of great upheaval featuring compelling and fascinating protagonists.

Maisie also links back to, not Susan Ryeland or Atticus Pünd in Moonflower Murders, but rather to the author of the series, Anthony Horowitz, and the TV character he created, Christopher Foyle of Foyle’s War. Although a police detective rather than a private investigator, Foyle is another compelling character who served in WW1 and is now, in the second war, investigating crimes on the homefront – and occasionally working for the government – just as Maisie is.

I expect Maisie’s war to be every bit as dangerous, and to include every bit as much crime and punishment as her between the wars life has done. And I’m certainly looking forward to reading about Maisie’s war now that it is finally and officially here.

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

Today is the final day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. This is a series that is near and dear to my heart, making it a perfect ending to a week of giveaways. I love this series and am thrilled to share a bit of that love with one lucky winner.

The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by Jacqueline Winspear (up to $25 US to include The Consequences of Fear) whether in the Maisie Dobbs series or her standalone or her nonfiction. If you haven’t met Maisie, I would recommend starting with one of the early books in the series, either the collection of novellas in Maisie Dobbs, or the first complete novel that features her, Birds of a Feather.

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Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + Giveaway

Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + GiveawayMoonflower Murders (Susan Ryeland #2) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Susan Ryeland #2
Pages: 608
Published by Harper on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly complex literary thriller with echoes of Agatha Christie from New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she's always wanted. But is it? She's exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she's beginning to miss London.
And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married—a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Halle—fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts. 
One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim—an advertising executive named Frank Parris—and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pund Takes the Cake, on that very crime. 
The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder—a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman—is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.
Brilliantly clever, relentlessly suspenseful, full of twists that will keep readers guessing with each revelation and clue, Moonflower Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction from one of its greatest masterminds, Anthony Horowitz.  

My Review:

For a dead man Alan Conway certainly does manage to get around. He even manages to cause just as much mischief from the grave as he did while alive. Something that he is probably looking down upon, or more likely up towards from below, with a great deal of pride if not utter glee.

In life, Alan Conway was not what one would call a “good person”, even if he was a very good author of very twisty mysteries. Until he became part of one himself, in the story that is told in the first book of the Susan Ryeland series, Magpie Murders.

As a reader, I wasn’t expecting to see Ryeland, Conway, or the detective character that Conway created, Atticus Pünd, ever again. After all, as Charles Dickens so eloquently opened A Christmas Carol, “Marley was dead to begin with” just as Alan Conway is at the start of Moonflower Murders. Atticus Pünd was a product of Conway’s now dead imagination, and Susan Ryeland is not just out of a job at the end of Magpie Murders, but the publishing company she worked for is as dead as Conway.

I have to say that of the three of them, I missed Atticus Pünd the most. In my review of Magpie Murders I said that I really wished the Pünd series actually existed because I would love to read them. Based on Moonflower Murders, it is entirely possible that I might get my wish.

There is a complete Atticus Pünd mystery enclosed within the pages of Moonflower Murders. However, unlike Magpie Murders, the title of both the book by Anthony Horowitz is different from the Atticus Pünd book by Alan Conway that forms the heart of the case that Susan Ryeland finds herself stuck in the middle of, whether that’s where she wants to be, or not.

In this case it’s more like wants to be. Or at least wants to be if there has to be a case at all. Which there definitely does. And it’s all, just as it was in Magpie Murders, Alan Conway’s fault.

As this story opens, it’s been two years since the events of Magpie Murders brought Susan Ryeland’s career in publishing to an end, and brought Alan Conway to his. His end, that is. (His books seem to be doing just fine.) Susan is now the co-owner of a small hotel in Crete, with her business-and-domestic partner Andreas. At the point where the Trehernes, Conway and this case invade her life, the hotel is losing money, Susan has lost her patience with being a hotel owner and her relationship with Andreas has lost much of its steam.

So she’s ready for a change, or at least a break. The Trehernes in their tragedy offer her both a partial solution to the hotel’s problems and a break from her own. They are willing to pay her 10,000 pounds to come back to England and stay at their hotel for a week. (That’s nearly $14,000 (US) so enough to make a serious dent in the inn’s financial problems. A real temptation on that front alone, without Susan’s other reasons for taking a break from Crete, innkeeping and Andreas.)

The Trehernes’ visit has nothing to do with their common interest in small hotels and everything to do with Alan Conway and Atticus Pünd. Because Alan Conway visited their hotel, Bramlow Hall, and wrote about a real-life murder that took place there. Of course Atticus Pünd solved the fictitious murder, but their daughter, after reading Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, believed that Alan Conway had solved the real murder as well.

A belief that she conveyed to her parents in a rather frantic telephone call, just before she went missing.

The police have not found Cecily Treherne, and her parents are desperate to grasp at any straws that might lead to their missing daughter. Alan Conway is beyond grasping at, but his editor Susan Ryeland is not.

Whether Susan can figure out what it was that Cecily Treherne believed that Alan Conway knew is a long shot. But it’s one that Susan is willing to try in order to get away from Crete and gain some perspective on her life there.

She goes into the whole thing thinking that it’s a clever puzzle that she might just have a chance at solving. And it is. But it’s also digging up the dirt in a whole lot of lives that thought they had put it all behind them. For those people, it’s not just a clever puzzle.

And for someone, it’s murder. Again.

Escape Rating A-: This is a book that I began in audio and switched to the ebook relatively early on. I got to the weekend, didn’t have any place I needed to drive to, and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

And it was a whole lot easier to peek ahead to see where the Atticus Pünd book started in the ebook!

This book within a book contrasts the process of the extremely amateur detective, Susan Ryeland, against the tried-and-true methods of the professional detective Atticus Pünd. And it’s clear from the outset that Susan is in WAY over her head in a way that Pünd never is. Also that Susan has to reckon with a lot more pesky reality than the fictitious detective ever does – lucky for him.

But then, Pünd reads as if he is both an homage to Dame Agatha Christie’s celebrated detective Hercule Poirot and his antithesis. Both are post-war refugees, neither are English. Making them both outsiders who can investigate a case without bias or prejudice. Both are acknowledged geniuses. At the same time, they are refugees from different wars, Belgium was neutral before it fell while Germany was the enemy. The biggest difference between the two is that Pünd seems to have relatively few affectations while Poirot seems to be the accumulation of his.

And in the background there’s the late and mostly unlamented Alan Conway. Certainly no one at Bramlow Hall misses him. But Susan is following his trail, hoping to see either what he saw, what the missing Cecily Treherne saw, or to figure things out for herself.

But Conway had an advantage – he knew many of the principals before he ever entered the scene. Susan, however, has a different advantage. She, like Pünd, is an outsider. She arrives with no preconceived notions about who might have done it.

She’s a blank slate as an investigator, but she’s often just plain drawing a blank, knowing that there’s something she isn’t seeing or isn’t putting together. She’s just not sure what. As this story is told from Susan’s first-person perspective, whatever blank she’s drawing – we’re drawing it too.

Normally I’d say that with a first-person narrator it’s important to like the person whose head you’re in. I have to say that isn’t true here, or at least it wasn’t true for me. I’m not sure I actually like Susan much. She treats all of the people involved in the case as though she were reading a book and they’re all just characters – and not real people whose lives are being upended for the second time.

That she isn’t sure of anything, not whodunnit, not who Alan thought done it, not even why she’s there or where her life is going felt both real and off-putting at the same time. Probably part of why I like Atticus Pünd better is that he always seems sure of his course – even when he isn’t.

All Susan is sure of is that she’s pissing everyone off nearly as much as Conway did before her. And that the missing Cecily Treherne, whether she solved the mystery or not, was most likely dead long before Susan arrived back in England.

What keeps this story moving, and keeps both the reader and Susan Ryeland guessing every step of the way, are the multiple mysteries that need to be unraveled at Bramlow Hall. Who committed the original murder? What happened to Cicely Treherne? What did Alan Conway know? And the key that unlocks the entire mystery, who committed the murder in Atticus Pünd Takes the Case?

This is a series that just didn’t seem plausible after Magpie Murders. But I’m so glad it’s here! Maybe we’ll even get to read ALL of the Atticus Pünd series before Susan Ryeland’s career as an amateur detective goes the way of her publishing career.

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

Moonflower Murders is the first of three days of book giveaways for this year’s Blogo-Birthday Celebration. This felt like the right book to start with for two reasons. The first reason, and the most important, I always fill this week with books I love and want to share, and this author always fills that bill. Even when his characters infuriate me, I love the stories he tells with them. Moonflower Murders was certainly no exception to that rule. Second, the author and I share our birthday, April 5, although he’s just a smidge older than I am, which makes me feel a tiny bit better about the whole thing.

The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by Anthony Horowitz (up to $25 US to include Moonflower Murders), whether in this series or any of his other series or standalones.

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Review: The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman + Giveaway

Review: The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman + GiveawayThe Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn and Chee #23, Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito #5
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Legendary Navajo policeman Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn takes center stage in this riveting atmospheric mystery from New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman that combines crime, superstition, and tradition and brings the desert Southwest vividly alive.

Joe Leaphorn may have retired from the Tribal Police, but he finds himself knee-deep in a perplexing case involving a priceless artifact—a reminder of a dark time in Navajo history. Joe’s been hired to find a missing biil, a traditional dress that had been donated to the Navajo Nation. His investigation takes a sinister turn when the leading suspect dies under mysterious circumstances and Leaphorn himself receives anonymous warnings to beware—witchcraft is afoot.

While the veteran detective is busy working to untangle his strange case, his former colleague Jim Chee and Officer Bernie Manuelito are collecting evidence they hope will lead to a cunning criminal behind a rash of burglaries. Their case takes a complicated turn when Bernie finds a body near a popular running trail. The situation grows more complicated when the death is ruled a homicide, and the Tribal cops are thrust into a turf battle because the murder involves the FBI.

As Leaphorn, Chee, and Bernie draw closer to solving these crimes, their parallel investigations begin to merge . . . and offer an unexpected opportunity that opens a new chapter in Bernie’s life.

My Review:

I found the original Leaphorn and Chee series sometime in the 1990s, when I had a horrifically long commute in the Chicago suburbs and audiobooks saved my sanity if not my life. Audiobook publishing was nowhere near as robust as it is today, and there weren’t a lot of options for someone who spent 3 hours in their car, 5 days a week, for most of 9 years.

I listened to a lot of books, and The Blessing Way (the first book in the series) and all of the following books that were available, during those long drives. The stories, told in the inimitable voice of George Guidall, swept me away, kept me awake, and left me enthralled every time.

When the original author, Tony Hillerman, died in 2008, the series seemingly ended. At least until his daughter Anne picked it back up again in 2013 with the marvelous Spider Woman’s Daughter, adding Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernie Manuelito’s name to the series as well as her perspective to the continuing series.

The Tale Teller is the fifth book in that continuation, and it swept me away from the very first page – as all of the books in this series have done.

One of the things that has made the return of the series so marvelous has been its addition of Bernie to the mix. Bernie is a Navajo Tribal Police Officer, as is her husband Jim Chee, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn.

They each bring a different perspective to their work, to their culture, and to life in the Four Corners. Leaphorn is older, semi-retired, and does not believe in many of the traditions while still revering the history. Chee, although younger, has much more belief in the traditions of their people, and once studied to be a healer. Bernie Manuelito is a woman caught between the demands of her career and the need to still fulfill as many of the traditional roles of oldest daughter to her aging mother as she can manage – including the role of attempting to keep her wayward younger sister on the straight and narrow.

While the “torch” directly passed from Leaphorn to Chee and Manuelito at the beginning of Spider Woman’s Daughter, Leaphorn has remained a presence in the series as he recovered from a near fatal gunshot wound but continued to provide information and support in whatever capacity he happened to be capable of at the time.

In The Tale Teller, while Leaphorn is not quite back to fighting form, he has healed to the point where he can manage to pick up his work as a private investigator, part-time consultant to the Tribal Police and frequent mentor and sounding board for Chee and Manuelito.

This is the first story in the continuing series where Leaphorn has been fully capable of performing his own investigations and providing a full third point of view on events.

And what fascinating events they are!

At first there seem to be three separate cases here, but as so often happens in mysteries, in the end that are only two. This is one of the rare mysteries where everything does not tie up neatly in a single bow. Instead, we have two bows, one reasonably neat and one a bloody mess.

Bernie finds a dead body on a hiking trail, guarded by the victim’s faithful dog. An old friend of her mother’s finds a valuable piece of jewelry that he previously reported stolen being sold at a flea market – leading into Chee’s investigation of a sudden string of home robberies. And Leaphorn takes on a case from the Tribal Museum. An important donation may have been stolen, either before it arrived, or after. Or it may not have been in the box at all. That the donor wishes to remain anonymous adds to the mystery. That one of the important pieces of the puzzle dies almost the instant that Leaphorn gets involved shifts the problem from seemingly minor to possibly deadly.

While not all of the cases end happily, following the trail of clues and bodies is a page-turner from beginning to end – and a delight.

Escape Rating A+: I read this in a single day. This was one I picked up pretty much everywhere, like at meals, in the bathroom, in the car (as long as someone else was driving), and pretty much every time I had a couple of spare minutes.

I sunk right back into this place with these people on the very first page, and didn’t come out until the end.

What I love about this series is the way that it combines its police procedural mystery with a perspective into a part of the U.S. that outsiders don’t often get to experience with an, if not insider’s perspective, at least a well-informed and reverential outsider’s point of view.

This would be a very different series if the investigator were one of the FBI agents who often intrude – as they do in this case. Instead, it is the point of view of people who are insiders in a world that most of us are not, while they still are outsiders within their own culture so that they can both see the “why” of things while not being emotionally involved with all of the “who”.

The cases in this particular story are complex, especially Leaphorn’s investigation into the possibly missing artifact. As readers, we learn a lot about both the history of the Navajo people and the treatment of precious artifacts. At the same time, the case has echoes in the past while it is motivated by events in the present. The resolution is heartbreaking but fits.

Chee and Manuelito’s cases turn out to have more tentacles than an octopus, ranging from burglaries to internet scams to witness protection to murder – but at least that case, which gets a bit too close to Bernie’s family, ends with a mostly happy resolution.

That the perpetrators were hiding in plain sight but not obvious until very near the end made both cases fascinating to read.

I’m grateful to those long ago long commutes, now that they are in the past, for the terrific series such as this one that they introduced me to. And I’m looking forward to returning to the Four Corners with Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito at the next opportunity!

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

For the final day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week I’m giving away a copy of any book in the combined Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series, from it’s very beginning in The Blessing Way to the latest book, The Tale Teller. If you are new to the series, I would recommend starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter, as it brings the reader into the action at the present while providing enough background to immerse you in the story and familiarize you with the characters. But it is up to the winner to decide. Enter the rafflecopter, and it might be YOU!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline WinspearThe American Agent (Maisie Dobbs, #15) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #15
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs, “one of the great fictional heroines” (Parade), investigates the mysterious murder of an American war correspondent in London during the Blitz in a page-turning tale of love and war, terror and survival.

When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. He is accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice—Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938. MacFarlane asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.

As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the British Isles, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect Anna, the young evacuee she has grown to love and wants to adopt. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend—and the possibility that she might be falling in love again.

My Review:

It’s March, which means it’s time for this year’s Maisie Dobbs adventure. I’m just sorry her publisher isn’t sponsoring the “Month of Maisie” any longer, as that always made for a terrific excuse to pick up one of the earlier books in the series as well as the new one.

For Maisie, the year in 1940, and London is in the middle of the Blitz. And so is Maisie, as she and her best friend Priscilla are doing in London what they did in the Great War so many (and so few) years ago.

They’re driving an ambulance and taking the wounded from the “front” to hospital. It’s just that this time, that “front” is the streets of London. Their roads are better paved this time around, but the shelling is even more deadly.

Just because Maisie is driving an ambulance every night, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t solving cases during the day. Even though she’s “dead on her feet” half the time, victims of murder still need justice.

Her worlds collide. One night, Maisie and Priscilla have an observer on their ambulance run – a female American journalist. Cath Saxon is reporting the war from a woman’s perspective – with the hope of becoming one of the “boys” working for and with Edward R. Murrow.

Just as Cath gets in – she’s out. She’s found murdered in her rented rooms, and both Scotland Yard and the American Embassy call on Maisie to find out who killed her. It might just be a love affair gone wrong. It might have something to do with her reporting. There’s also a chance that her powerful family back in America decided that Cath’s sympathetic reports of the plucky and heroic English response to Hitler’s Blitz might be too embarrassing for their Hitler-sympathizing friends back home.

Maisie is supposed to be working with an American agent on this case. Mark Scott is the same American agent who saved her life during her nearly disastrous Journey to Munich. But as the case progresses it’s clear to Maisie that the man who is supposed to be working WITH her is working on an agenda of his own – and mostly far from Maisie’s inquiries.

And that at least part of his hidden agenda has more to do with Maisie herself than any case either of them might be investigating.

Escape Rating A: This is a series that I absolutely love, and eagerly await the next book. So I’m already on tenterhooks for book 16, hopefully next March. But in the meantime there’s plenty to discuss regarding The American Agent.

One thing that struck me as I read about Maisie and Patricia’s exploits as ambulance drivers was the way that it brought home just how close World War II was to World War I. Both women served in the Great War, Maisie as a nurse and Patricia as an ambulance driver. As this book opens, they are still only in their early 40s, still in their prime. And serving again. Although there are many young people who think that war is glorious, as evidenced by the behavior of Patricia’s son in To Die but Once. At the same time there are plenty of people populating Maisie’s world who served in the first war, are serving in the second, and know from grim experience that war is terrible. And are equally aware that they must fight, that surrender is unthinkable.

However, there are plenty of people who have taken that belief that war is terrible, but either believe that Hitler is unstoppable or don’t care who dies as long as their profits continue. And some who agree with his many and terrible hatreds and prejudices. (If that sounds familiar, it bloody well should as things stand today!)

Ironically, we are re-watching Poirot, and the later episodes of that series also deal with the impending war. The Clocks had been rewritten to take place before the war, and part of the plot revolved around government agents who were giving secrets to the Nazis to make Britain fall faster so that the war would end sooner. The Duke of Windsor was part of this movement, much to the embarrassment of the Royal Family.

There were also plenty of people in America who believed that Hitler’s win was inevitable – or were in at least economic cahoots with Germany. And there was a significant amount of Antisemitism involved, people who believed that Hitler’s plan to kill all the Jews was the right way to go. (Yes, that’s appalling. But true.)

Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, was a prominent member of the America First Committee, which wanted America to stay out of the war and tacitly agreed with the Antisemitic tone of the party. One of the other prominent members of the America First movement was Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. Joe Kennedy was also the U.S. Ambassador to Britain during this story, and Maisie’s American Agent is using the hunt for Cath Saxon’s killer to poke into Joe Kennedy’s dubious dealings. Because there were plenty to poke into.

It works as a ruse because Cath’s father, a prominent U.S. Senator, is also an America Firster. And he, along with his “friends” were dead set against Cath reporting material that was sympathetic to the British cause. The family was dead set against Cath being a reporter at all.

Maisie has to look into just how dead they were set. And wonders if her investigations will lead her into places that the U.S. Embassy will not want her to go. Or, at least to report.

But Maisie never presumes, never presupposed and never lets herself get dead set on any hypothesis. She follows the clues where they lead her. No matter how much she has to dig, and how many secrets she uncovers along the way.

It’s what makes following her so interesting, and her character so fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading more of Maisie’s war in the next book. And while I wait, I think I’m going to treat myself with a dive into What Would Maisie Do?

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony HorowitzThe Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Hawthorne #1
Pages: 400
Published by Harper on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She planned her own funeral--but did she arrange her murder?

A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own.A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control.

What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz's page-turning new thriller.

My Review:

This is a weird book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good and that I didn’t enjoy it – because it is and I did. But it was not what I expected.

Not exactly what I expected, anyway. I was, after all, expecting a murder mystery. What I was not expecting was for the book the break the fourth wall as much as it does, or for the author to be a fictional character in his own book.

I’ll confess that I began looking up some of the people in the story, to see if they really were real. The degree to which the author inserts himself and his own history makes everyone in the story seem like they must be equally real.

Or if not real, then at least recognizable stand-ins for some true-life counterpart. But they are not. At least I don’t think they are. Or if they were I couldn’t figure out who they were standing in for.

What adds to the verisimilitude is the way that author Anthony Horowitz seems to include so many easily verifiable details of his own work, if not his own life. He is the creator of two of my favorite TV series, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. He is also the author of two excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiches, The House of Silk and Moriarty.

But in The Word is Murder he seems to find himself playing Watson, both as a sidekick and as a recorder of events, to an even more misanthropic Holmes than the original.

Daniel Hawthorne is not a likeable protagonist. As a detective he is every bit as brilliant as the ‘Great Detective’ he is so obviously modeled after, while at the same time so focused on whatever case he is following that he does not care who he pisses off or how much he ignores all of the social niceties that keep the wheels of society grinding.

He’s a man with zero friends, lots of enemies, and a nose for figuring out “whodunit”.

And even though Horowitz-the-author seems to draw the man in all of his misanthropic ‘glory’, we are drawn into the cases every bit as much as the author seems to be, and we understand why he follows along – because we are every bit as compelled as he is.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I loved both The House of Silk and Magpie Murders, although I admit that I enjoyed the historical portions of Magpie Murders more than the contemporary framing story.

I didn’t know what to expect with The Word is Murder, just that I was interested enough to give it a try. I had not read any of the reviews beforehand, so I was at a bit of a loss when the author himself appeared as a character in the book.

I knew the book was supposed to be fiction, but so many well-known details of the author’s career were introduced into the narrative that I’ll admit I started to wonder.

While the way that this book is written is meta (actually very, very meta), the story itself is a classic. A woman goes to a funeral home to plan her entire funeral. When she is murdered a few short hours later, it seems obvious that the long arm of coincidence just doesn’t stretch that long.

The police want the murder to be a burglary gone wrong. That’s a simple crime with a simple solution. But ex-cop Daniel Hawthorne is certain that it’s not that easy. He knows that when the Met calls him in as a consultant, it’s because someone at the top is certain it isn’t that easy – even if they can’t articulate exactly why.

Figuring it out is Hawthorne’s job. Annoying all of the investigating officers involved in the case seems to be part of the fun of it – at least for him. Dragging his narrator out of an important meeting with OMG Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson shows just how little Hawthorne can be bothered with anything outside his laser focus on the case.

In the end, the case is both simple and complex. The reasons for the murder are classic. The misdirection is epic. And even though I figured out who didn’t do it before the narrator, the reveal of just who did was as much of a surprise to me as it was to him. Just like the narrator, I was too caught up in the story to follow the clues to their final destination.

There’s going to be a sequel. I’m more than curious enough to see what Daniel Hawthorne investigates next – as long as Anthony Horowitz is at his side.