Review: Wings of Fire by Charles Todd

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Review: I Think I Love You by Stephanie Bond

Guest Review: I Think I Love You by Stephanie BondI Think I Love You by Stephanie Bond
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, mystery
Pages: 384
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on July 7th 2002
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository

So there's some bad blood and bruised egos among the Metcalf sisters. At least they're reuniting. A cause to celebrate? Not for Justine, Regina, and Mica. Their parents are splitting up and the family business is going on the auction block--just a little reminder of how much they really have in common...
Take the local bad boy who proposed to Justine, seduced Regina, and ran off with Mica. Add the unsolved murder they witnessed when they were young girls, and their vow to keep it a secret. Toss in their knack for being drawn to shady men, and there's only one thing left for them to do--put the bonds of family loyalty to the test.
But it takes courage to outsmart a murderer, know-how to avenge the cad who betrayed them, and patience to bring their parent back together. Three talents. Three sisters. And who knows? Maybe even three new chances to fall in love when Justine, Regina, and Mica discover how much they're willing to risk--and forgive--in the name of sisterhood...

Guest Review by Amy:

When I found this well-worn paperback in the clearance bin at my local used bookstore, I knew I was onto something; the spine was bent, and many pages showed evidence of having been dog-eared from many re-readings. The back cover teased me with a tale of intrigue and romance, so I grabbed it, and two days later, was done reading it. I’m a big fan of Nora Roberts’ trilogy format where she has three stories, interconnected, and three romances come out at the end. Clearly, it works for her, and it sells lots of books, so I’m not surprised that she does that. But Stephanie Bond tries to do it all in one volume: three sisters who, despite their dysfunctional family, are bound together by a shared secret, and by a cad of a man.

Twenty years ago, three teenage sisters were witnesses to a murder, a secret they’ve kept for two decades as their lives have taken them to the far corners of the country. But finding out that their parents are splitting up brings one home, while a second is hiding out from an angry woman whose husband she’s had an affair with, and the third is running away from the cad, to give herself time to think about her life and career. Their lives, and their secrets, begin to unravel as the man wrongly convicted of their aunt’s murder all those years ago is seeking a new hearing, and the town is fairly crawling with lawyers and police trying to figure out what really happened all those summers ago. Meanwhile, an attorney-turned-appraiser is busy pricing all the antiques in the family store for auction, so they can settle their debts before the sisters’ parents break up.

Still with me?  Good. It’s all very complicated, I know.  Regina, the bookish middle sister, is intensely attracted to the handsome appraiser who, being a non-practicing attorney, has all sorts of useful skills outside the bedroom. Big sister Justine is running from an insanely angry woman who wants to kill her, and the cop who’s hunting the madwoman is awful darn cute, and he’s got a thing for the tall redhead. Dark-eyed, dark-haired baby sister Mica is running away from the abusive man who she stole from Justine years ago–who had made passes at Regina, before that–and her modeling agent sure is awfully sweet to her. If that’s not enough, Dean follows her back to their hometown, where he has the gall to get murdered–and the sisters’ father is the lead suspect!

Throughout all this mayhem, the three sisters are finally back in the same house after many years apart, and Justine and Mica, in particular, just aren’t getting along, which is kind of to be expected. After all, Dean left Justine on their wedding day to run away with Mica. Not cool. Regina tries and mostly-fails to keep the peace between them, and her exasperation shows in an ironic wit when she’s dealing with the flirtations of Mitchell while she’s helping him with the appraisal work.

A lot of the book is spent chasing around the clues to two murders, one fresh, and one twenty years cold. Regina’s beau Mitchell is most helpful, but we only hear about the other two men from “their” sisters. It isn’t until the very end that they show up for cameos. That would be my one complaint about Bond’s attempt at three romances in one novel: it’s unbalanced, and deeply so. We follow Regina and Mitchell, but Justine’s romance with Officer Lando, and Mica’s with her agent Everett, really don’t start to show until we’ve nearly reached the dénouement. Yes, it’s kind of obvious that they will get together into those pairings, but I’d much rather have spent some time seeing that happen. After we find out who the real villain was–and it’s not who you think, at all!–we wrap things up pretty quickly, with Justine and Mica getting involved with their men only after they get back to their homes.  Happy endings all ’round, of course, but it seemed just a little abrupt to me.

Escape Rating: B+. I like romances, and I like mysteries, and this tale had both. The trail of clues to the murders kept me interested enough that it was hard to put this book down. I was kind of stunned when we finally unmasked the villain, as I’d not seen it coming, and there were some tense moments there. The romance between Regina and Mitchell was interesting and entertaining, and Regina’s character was enough of someone I could identify with that I could get drawn into her story very well. Justine and Mica’s lives are different enough from mine that I had trouble identifying with them, and as noted, the romances for these two women were at-best glossed over, when they could have been more-deeply covered. This story had a lot going for it–interesting characters, romances, mysteries, almost a comedy of errors in some ways, but doing all that in one volume proved difficult for Bond, and while the book is an enjoyable read, there are a few aspects that left me feeling a little unfulfilled.

I’ve not read any of Stephanie Bond’s work before, but I look forward to finding another one.

Review: Intimate by Kate Douglas

Review: Intimate by Kate DouglasIntimate by Kate Douglas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, erotic romance, romantic suspense
Series: Intimate Relations #1
Pages: 336
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

From bestselling author Kate Douglas comes the first book in a sensational new series set in California wine country—a place where love is always intoxicating...
They call her Kaz. She's a gorgeous model with a good head for business—until now, at least. Kaz has just been fired from her latest photo shoot for having the wrong tattoo in the wrong place at the wrong time. But a chance encounter with photographer Jake Lowell could make everything right again . . . if Kaz is willing to accept his proposition. What does she have to lose?
Jake has been searching for the perfect model to pose for a body-jewelry shoot—one that will leave no room for modesty. Is Kaz, who is nothing if not professional, ready to bare it all for a man she is not sure she can trust? It's an offer that's too good to refuse . . . and as Kaz finds herself growing more comfortable with Jake, the attraction between them reaches arousing new heights. But while the artist and his subject learn more about each other in the intimacy of wine country, evil lurks in the shadows—and soon it becomes clear that someone else has designs on them...

My Review:

Intimate is the name of a brand that specializes in jewelry that does intimate things or features intimate places. Or both. It is also about intimate secrets that can save or doom a person – or a relationship. And the story is about the intimate relationship that develops between model Kaz and photographer Jake – a relationship whose intimacy neither intended, and one that will force them to deal with intimate secrets in both of their pasts.

This is a story of secrets and lies, and also the baggage that keeping those secrets drags behind us like a noose. Kaz reveals some of her baggage, and that revelation drives Jake to keep his very firmly under wraps – even when it reaches out of the past to put Kaz in deadly danger.

The story begins when Kaz is fired from her modeling agency. Although the ostensible reason is the monarch butterfly tattoo on her midriff, the actual reason is that she complained about the client’s son invading her dressing room while she was changing. And that the owner of the modeling agency is an asshat.

Jake needs a model with tats and piercings in both conventional and unconventional places to model his best friend’s line of high-end jewelry for body piercings. Jake is looking for someone both sexy and edgy, a model who conveys a slight touch of danger and lots of unconventionality. Kaz, with her six-foot-plus height, her bold butterfly tat, and her piercings in her ears, nose, belly button, and other more private places, is exactly the look that Jake is searching for.

That she also appeals to him on a personal and very intimate level is a bonus. Especially when she says that she hasn’t got the time or the energy to invest in a relationship while her career is smoking hot.

Because Jake and Kaz have unfortunate dueling traumas in their respective pasts. Kaz’ beloved little sister Jilly was killed by a drunk driver, and Jake did six years in the California Youth Authority for driving drunk and killing a young mother and her child.

Once Jake learns about Jilly, he is determined to keep his own unsavory past from Kaz. They fall into an intense weekend fling, that neither of them expects to be more – even while they separately hope that it could.

But someone from Jake’s past is sending threatening texts – and trying to frighten or kill Jake with a series of near-fatal accidents. It looks like someone all too sober wants Jake to die the same way that his victims did all those years ago.

When Jake’s stalker turns his attention from Jake to Kaz, Jake is forced to confront the actions he thought he left two decades in the past – before they take the life of the woman he loves.

Escape Rating A-: The romance in Intimate heats up almost instantly, while the suspense does a slow and increasingly frightening build to its bloody climax. Once the suspense ramps up, it is impossible to put this book down. I know, I tried.

One of the fascinating parts of the suspense in this story is that Jake’s secret both is and isn’t what the reader thinks it is at the beginning. It’s a slow reveal that ramps up the tension and drives the reader crazy. Jake and Kaz would have had a much easier time of it if he had come clean a lot earlier – but it is easy to understand why he doesn’t.

At the same time, the story of little Jilly’s death both is and isn’t the one that Kaz initially tells. The bits that she leaves out don’t have the same feel of lies of omission that Jake’s do, but they are still pretty important. And they make the two sets of old baggage match a bit more than the reader first believes.

The chemistry between Jake and Kaz is absolutely smoking hot from the very beginning. These are two people who can’t keep their hands, their minds or their hearts away from each other from the moment they meet. But their mutual hesitancy about taking the relationship further than model/photographer is very real.

The villain of the piece is a bit over the top into absolutely screaming, foaming at the mouth crazy. His motive for all this evil seems logical on the surface, but once we finally get to meet him in the epic conclusion, we see that he has pretty much flung himself off the edge of sanity. To the point where, based on his history, one can’t help but wonder if he was ever ON or even within spitting distance of the edge of sanity in the first place.

redemption by kate douglasThe fast tension of the romance and the slow build of the suspense make Intimate a fantastic story to get absorbed in. And the ending provides a very satisfying conclusion to the dangling threads of all of Kaz’ and Jake’s relationships – especially the one that no one sees coming.

And for the real treat – Intimate is the first book in a series. The teaser at the end for the next book, Redemption, had me well and truly teased. I can’t wait.