Review: Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci Jefferson

Review: Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci JeffersonFall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci Jefferson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, historical fiction, historical romance
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on March 1st 2016
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On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month . . .
November 11, 1918. After four long, dark years of fighting, the Great War ends at last, and the world is forever changed. For soldiers, loved ones, and survivors, the years ahead stretch with new promise, even as their hearts are marked by all those who have been lost.
As families come back together, lovers reunite, and strangers take solace in each other, everyone has a story to tell.
In this moving, unforgettable collection, nine top historical fiction authors share stories of love, strength, and renewal as hope takes root in a fall of poppies.
Featuring:
Jessica Brockmole
Hazel Gaynor
Evangeline Holland
Marci Jefferson
Kate Kerrigan
Jennifer Robson
Heather Webb
Beatriz Williams
Lauren Willig

My Review:

There’s something about World War I that seems unbearably sad, even more so than World War II. I think it’s the sense that even though the war itself isn’t as simple or as clear-cut as the next war, there is so much more that died in that fall of poppies. So many different hopes, dreams and expectations. World War I changed the world in so many ways, where World War II seems like a continuation of a process that had already started with that first “World War”.

The stories in this anthology all center around World War I, and particularly around November 11, 1918, that singular moment when the war ended and everyone was left to look at the wreckage left behind and figure out how to pick up the pieces. Or even what pieces to pick up.

All of the stories in this collection are excellent, but there were four that particularly spoke to me, each in a different way.

Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole is a sweet love story. A young American airman comes to the rescue of a weeping Frenchwoman outside a doctor’s office. He has just been cleared to fly, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant. When the doctor begins berating the young woman about the baby, Wes decides to help her. At first, all his thinking is about getting her away from the doctor’s slightly slimy clutches. But as Wes and Victoire talk, he offers to marry her. He expects to die, a not unreasonable expectation for WWI flyers, and their marriage will leave her with his name and his widow’s pension. He gets someone on the ground who will send him letters, and she gets respectability. But as they write to each other, they discover they have a surprising chance at much more than either of them ever hoped for.

All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson is also a sweet love story, but it is a story about the enduring power of love, and its ability to overcome all obstacles, even time, distance and injury. It is guaranteed to give you an earworm for the song.

The Record Set Right by Lauren Willig will remind readers of Out of Africa and Circling the Sun, even as its story deals with two wounded survivors looking back at their war, and the lives that followed, 60 years after the Armistice that both brought them together and tore them apart. It’s a story that asks questions about how responsible we are for the lies we tell, and for the lies we believe. Now that the truth is revealed, it is much too late to change the past. But in spite of the betrayal that led them to the lives they had, are they better off dreaming of what might have been? Or were they robbed of the life they should have had together by a lie told by a selfish man who loved them both? They’ll never know and neither will we.

And last but not least for this reader, The Photograph by Kate Kerrigan. The armistice in this book is the same as all the others, November 11, 1918, but the war is not World War I. Instead it is set in Ireland, where the Easter Rising of 1916 has led to outright rebellion. So while Irish troops are fighting as part of the British Army in the trenches, back home in Ireland the British Army is attempting to keep down the Irish Republican Army. This story takes place both in the present day and in 1918, as one family confronts its past and its future. This story is lovely and sad, but ends with hope for the future.

Escape Rating A-: All of the stories in this collection have their moments, and they all serve their theme well, sometimes in surprisingly different ways. As with all collections, not all of them spoke to this reader, but the ones that did echo in my thoughts like the sound of artillery over the trenches.

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Review: Tales: Short Stories Featuring Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford by Charles Todd

tales by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford
Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Now published together for the first time: Charles Todd’s absorbing short stories—”The Kidnapping,” “The Girl on the Beach,” “Cold Comfort,” and “The Maharani’s Pearls”—featuring everyone’s favorite Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge and intrepid battlefield nurse Bess Crawford. These vibrant tales transport readers from the home front in Great Britain where ominous clouds of war will soon lead to the trenches of France, to the bloody front lines where Lieutenant Rutledge must risk his life to save his men. And finally to the exotic, dangerous India of Bess Crawford’s youth. Together they create a fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary backgrounds of two of mystery’s most popular characters.

My Review:

This collection of stories makes a great introduction to Charles Todd’s two completely different protagonists – the professional police officer Ian Rutledge, and the amateur detective but professional nurse Bess Crawford.

All of the stories take place in the World War I and immediate post-war period, so if you have an interest in that period, whether courtesy of Downton Abbey or not, these are great people to explore with.

maharanis pearls by charles toddEspecially since two of the stories in this series, the Ian Rutledge story Cold Comfort and the Bess Crawford story The Maharani’s Pearls, serve as prequels to their respective series.

Bess Crawford is a trained nurse who serves all too near the front lines during the war. Bess is in some ways a special case. Her father, often referred to as the Colonel Sahib, is a career officer who served in India, and continues to serve in some super-secret capacity during WWI. Though her connections to her father, Bess is sometimes able to circumvent authority, or at least drag more information out of it than it wants dragged. She also has a more thorough knowledge of how the Army works (and doesn’t) through her years following her father’s many postings.

The story The Maharani’s Pearls is a case in point. This story takes place during Bess’ childhood in India, and could be said to be her first case. It explores the relationships between the British military and the local population, and showcases Bess’ early talent for detection as well as subterfuge. When I picked this collection, I didn’t realize that I had read and reviewed The Maharani’s Pearls last summer.

cold comfort by charles toddCold Comfort, while it is listed as #16.5 in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, is also a sort of prequel. The series as a whole takes place in the post-war years, where Inspector Rutledge, after his military service, returns to his pre-war police career after a hard-fought recovery from shell-shock. However, the story in Cold Comfort takes place during the war, when Lieutenant Ian Rutledge is serving in France. He has to use his detection skills to figure out just why two Welsh sappers are so intent on killing one Manchester miner, to the point where they are willing to blow up their own side in the process. This is a case where Rutledge uses his skill and intuition to figure out the very civilian motive for all of the skullduggery that is concealed within the ranks.

The other stories in this book, The Kidnapping and The Girl on the Beach, show their respective detectives in their more usual settings. The Girl on the Beach, the Bess Crawford story, is particularly good at showing the way that Bess often inveigles herself into investigations that should be none of her business. One of the things I particularly liked about this one was the police detective who finds himself working with Bess almost without realizing he is doing it. Bess, of course, does contribute to the solution, but the fun thing for me in this story was that the description and mannerisms of the police detective reminded me very much of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. Admittedly, Foyle actually served in the Army in WWI, but the detective still felt and acted like him.

In The Kidnapping we see that Inspector Rutledge’s faculties are firmly back on track after his recovery from shell shock, but that his career still needs some healing. He’s stuck on night duty because he has so little seniority, and his seniors are unhappy that he manages to solve a very sensitive case without their help.

Escape Rating B+: These are all great stories in their respective series. The Maharani’s Pearls and Cold Comfort would make excellent introductions to their series for anyone who loves historical mysteries or historical fiction in this period. We are able to see the characters start, and then in the later stories we see how far they have come since those beginnings.

If you’ve never dived into either of these series, this collection is a great place to start. And it certainly whet my appetite for the new Bess Crawford book, A Pattern of Lies, which I’ll be reviewing at the end of the week.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

dead wake by erik larsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: history
Length: 430 pages
Publisher: Crown
Date Released: March 10, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.

My Review:

Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Lusitania. While the name “Lusitania” is one that we all know, sometimes we’re pressed to remember why it is memorable. 100 years is a long enough time for memory to fade and significance to be lost.

And the story of the Lusitania is one where the significance did not quite add up to what it was supposed to have been, for good or ill.

That lessened significance is embodied in the title of this book. A “dead wake” is a trail of fading disturbance in the water, usually after a boat (or a torpedo) has cut through that water. The moving body generates a wave, and then a white trail in the water, and then…nothing.

According to the book, the sinking of the Lusitania was supposed to pull the United States into World War I almost two years before we finally entered in 1917. The analysis behind that particular chain of events (or non-events) is a fascinating part of the story.

Lusitania in 1907
Lusitania in 1907

The story of the Lusitania’s final voyage is as big as the ship itself. It takes place on multiple continents, and takes into account the perspectives of a number of different groups – the passengers, the company, British Naval intelligence, the German U-boat captain, the German High Command and Woodrow Wilson, then President of the U.S.

At the time of the Lusitania’s sailing, the war had been going on in Europe for almost a year. The German U-boats, which had originally been thought of as a minor tactic, turned out to give the Germans an incredible advantage. When they worked, they were unbelievably deadly. Their ability to travel under the water, and under the keels of ships that might ram and sink them, gave them a stealth capability that made them incredibly difficult to catch. The boats themselves were fairly easy to destroy, but the problem was finding them first in order to wreak that destruction.

The success of the U-boats fueled the development of sonar, with its submarine detecting capabilities. Sonar was not deployed on ships until 1920, after the war was over.

The Lusitania sailed on May 1, 1915, with nearly 2000 people aboard, including nearly 200 Americans. At this point in the war, the U.S. was militantly neutral (if that is not a contradiction in terms) but the British were in the thick of the war, and the Lusitania was a British-flagged ship. As a passenger ship, it should have been safe, but it was also carrying arms for the British Army, so its non-combatant status was a bit iffy. Which didn’t matter in the end, because the German U-boats by this point were firing on anything that looked like a juicy target, no matter whose flag it was flying. Or even if it was flying the Red Cross.

The official warning issued by the Imperial German Embassy about travelling on Lusitania.
The official warning issued by the Imperial German Embassy about travelling on Lusitania.

In Dead Wake, the accounts of the passengers, provided by survivors and surviving letters and diaries of those who didn’t make it – reads as though it might have come from the Titanic, with a difference. Everyone knew about the war, unlike the icebergs. The Imperial German Embassy had posted an official warning in the newspaper before the Lusitania sailed, warning all passengers that the ship would be considered a target once it reached British waters. While onboard, the progress of the war in broad outlines at least, was publicized in the shipboard newspaper.

But like the Titanic, everyone believed that the Lusitania was unsinkable, even if it was attacked. It was considered too big to sink. Also, everyone believed that British warships would be on convoy duty once the ship reached their waters. They believed they were safe.

However, none of those assumptions turned out to be true. The Lusitania was a named target, and the British sent nothing and no one to protect her or even to warn her captain properly. To add to the upcoming clusterfuck, the U-boat got slightly lucky with her torpedo strike, and the Lusitania went down incredibly fast. That as many people survived as did was also a stroke of luck. It was a warm sunny day, and she sunk close enough to the Irish coast for fishing boats to reach her in three hours. An absolutely deadly and grueling three hours for the survivors.

As much of a tragedy as the sinking of the Lusitania was, it is a story where we already know how it ended. The tale of the political machinations both before and after is less well known, and even more chilling than the harrowing survival tales.

It is entirely possible, even likely according to the experts consulted by the author, that the British Navy deliberately left the Lusitania unwarned and unguarded in the hopes that a disaster of this magnitude would bring the U.S. into the war. For this reader, the story echoes the World War II bombing of Coventry, complete with Winston Churchill as one of the major players in the drama.

Reality Rating A: The human cost of the sinking of the Lusitania is an incredible and enthralling tale, all the more riveting, and disturbing, for being true. The survivors’ stories, how quickly celebration turned to tragedy, are enough to bring any reader totally into the account and its aftermath. Whatever the political ramifications, for those who lived through it, it was a life-altering or life-ending tragedy.

Unlike the Titanic, this one was preventable, but no one who could have stopped it seems to have had an interest in stopping it. Which made the result even more chilling.

The story of the Lusitania is also the story of a world that has gone and will not come again. The world of opulence and exuberance that existed before World War I ended with the war. The lights went out, and when some of them came back on, the world had irretrievably changed. So the passenger stories onboard tell us of the way things were. It was unbelievably lush and indulgent, for those who could afford it. The author, using their diaries, letters and post-sinking accounts, has breathed life into this group of people that never saw disaster coming, but still lived each day as though it were their last. In many cases, it was.

While the author does a terrific job of detailing the difficulties of the U-boat captains and their crews, and just how chancy and dangerous serving in a U-boat was, it hit this reader hard that the U-boat campaign was a deliberate and unrestricted war on commercial shipping, regardless of country of origin. It seemed to people at the time that this was unfair to non combatant countries, and looked certain to drag those countries into the war sooner or later. That the German High Command seems to have underestimated the ability of the U.S. to strike hard and fast once engaged seems foolish in retrospect.

The difficult read is of the case that the British set up the circumstances of the Lusitania sinking somewhat deliberately. While they did not exactly aim U-boat 20 at the Lusitania, the case that they knew about the probable destination of the U-boat, that the Lusitania was heading right for it, that there were plenty of British warships available to convoy the Lusitania but were deliberately left in port or even sent in opposite directions, seems as if it comes to a solid conclusion about British motivations in this fiasco. That the U.S. remained neutral for two more years makes the tragedy seem even worse. Would the war have ended earlier if the U.S. had come in sooner? We’ll never know.

As absorbing as this book is, I do not recommend reading it just before bed. The sinking of the Lusitania is definitely the stuff of which real-life nightmares are made.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

leaving everything most loved by jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #10
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: March 26, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The death of an Indian immigrant leads Maisie Dobbs into a dangerous yet fascinating world and takes her in an unexpected direction in this latest chapter of the New York Times bestselling series “that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).

London, 1933. Two months after the body of an Indian woman named Usha Pramal is found in the brackish water of a South London canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs to find out the truth about her death. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, evidence indicates that they failed to conduct a full and thorough investigation.

Before her death, Usha was staying at an ayah’s hostel alongside Indian women whose British employers turned them out into the street–penniless and far from their homeland–when their services were no longer needed. As Maisie soon learns, Usha was different from the hostel’s other lodgers. But with this discovery comes new danger: another Indian woman who had information about Usha is found murdered before she can talk to Maisie.

As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case as well as a growing desire to see more of the world, following in the footsteps of her former mentor, Maurice Blanche. And there is her lover, James Compton, who gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore.

Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this remarkable series.

My Review:

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearThis review is part of the “Month of Maisie Readalong” at TLC Book Tours. For those interested in reviews of the rest of the series, the list is here. Since the readalong starts with the second book in the series, Birds of a Feather, if you want to start your reviewing with Maisie’s introduction in Maisie Dobbs, you can look at my review last week.

We’ll be back next week with the review of the most recent book in the series, A Dangerous Place.

While I have not yet had the pleasure (and it will definitely be a pleasure!) of reading all the books in this series, I am very glad that I read the first book, Maisie Dobbs, before Leaving Everything Most Loved. While I don’t yet know all the experiences that have led Maisie to this point, all of the characters in Maisie’s life, all those people who are most loved that she leaves, are introduced at the beginning of the series.

When Leaving starts, Maisie is contemplating two very different futures. Her lover, James Compton, is going to Canada with his employer to work on airplane designs for the war that Churchill sees is coming. In the 1933 setting of this book, Churchill was experiencing his years in the political wilderness, and very few people believed him. History as we know it shows that he was right, but in 1933 he and anyone who believed as he did, were definitely in the minority.

But to go with James to Canada, Maisie will finally need to make up her mind to marry him. And she isn’t ready to give up her independence. Also, James’ employer is a unconscionable blackguard. She and James both know that he is willing to commit murder in the name of his greater good, and that he is too influential to bring to justice. Maisie believes he is right about the upcoming war, but she strongly disapproves of his methods of getting there. Especially since one of her own, her assistant Billy Beale, was almost a victim of his machinations.

Maisie herself is drawn to a different journey. She wants to retrace some of the steps of her late mentor, Maurice Blanche, and travel the world. She particularly wants to see India with her own eyes.

But before she can make a final decision, India comes to her in the person of Usha Pramal, an Indian woman of Maisie’s own age who came to England many years before as a governess in the service of a British family. Usha has been murdered, and her brother is referred to Maisie to help find her killer.

Because Usha was Indian, the local police don’t seem to have tried terribly hard to find her murderer. Maisie will try very hard indeed.

Her quest to find the killer takes her to the many and varied faces of the Anglo-Indian community in London, and all the ways that unprotected young women can be taken advantage of, especially when their skin is brown. At the same time she sees women who have adapted and adopted into the community, in many different but equally successful ways – including an Indian woman who has become a successful part of the Anglo intellectual community in her own right, while maintaining a marvelous marriage of equals with her English husband.

Maisie turns to Chaudhary Jones for both personal and professional advice, as she works her way through the case and her own personal dilemma.

The solution to the case stretches all the way back to India, and into the darkest places of the human heart and mind.

Maisie’s own solution was in her heart all along.

Escape Rating A: At 3 am, I closed the book with a very satisfied sigh. Even without having read the middle books in the series, Leaving successfully closes up a lot of the loose ends in Maisie’s personal and professional life, not always successfully from the perspective of the end being tied up. The first chapter of her life as an independent practitioner in London has come to an end. Her unfinished business is finished, and she has taken care of those she feels responsible for. It is time for Maisie to move on to the next chapter in her life.

Her last two cases turn out to be one case. Neither Maisie nor her mentor believed in coincidence, and that proves true again here. She is looking both for a missing boy and a murderer. While these two things should not be tied into each other, they are. Although not quite the way that one expects.

What carries the story, and what makes this series so interesting, is the character of Maisie Dobbs herself. She begins the series as a costermonger’s daughter, goes into service, receives an excellent if unorthodox education, becomes a nurse in WW1, and finally becomes a private investigator. Not by accident either, but definitely by intention as well as skill.

If her experiences as a nurse resemble Bess Crawford (A Duty to the Dead) and her education is more than a bit like Mary Russell (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice), then her life as an independent woman and private investigator looks more than a bit like Phryne Fisher in Kerry Greenwood’s series beginning with Cocaine Blues. Although Maisie is deliberately nowhere near as flashy as Phryne.

Maisie has assistants who work for her, and one of her major concerns with traveling aboard is that she feels that she must provide for them. Not charity, she wants to make sure they have new jobs before she leaves. She also needs to make sure that her father is comfortable. By the time of this story, Maisie is 36, so her father must be in his late 50s or early 60s at the very least. He is still working, but is not as young as he used to be. Maisie fears leaving him alone, and worries that if she travels too long she may not see him again. Some of her worries are resolved, but some are simply a risk she feels she must take.

She delays a final decision with James. He is very patient, and also tries to understand Maisie’s reluctance. But Maisie makes her decision and her conundrum very real for readers. While women have more independence than they did before the war, there are some rights that she will lose if she marries. Also James worries about the danger of her work, which is quite real. If they marry, he will be in a position to force her to stop.

And of course, there is the problem that she trusts James’ boss about as far as she could throw the man. Maybe less. She would be tying her life and her livelihood to a man who she believes is a cold-blooded killer who is always able to make excuses for himself or have them made for him.

But before she can think about leaving, she still has two cases to solve. In solving the murder of Usha Pramal, she runs into prejudice on every side. And in the case of the missing boy, she finds yet again that the wounds of the late war were not confined to the battlefield, and that the consequences are felt by an ever-widening circle of those who did not serve themselves, but were inextricably linked to those who did.

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #1
Length: 309 pages
Publisher: Soho Crime
Date Released: July 1, 2003
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

My Review:

Any number of people have recommended this series to me, so when the opportunity came along to review the latest books in the series for tours, it seemed like it was time to read at least the first book in the series.

And now I understand why so many people told me to read this series – it’s awesome.

Maisie reminds me more than a bit of Bess Crawford, from Charles Todd’s marvelous series, also named after its nurse/detective protagonist, that starts with A Duty to the Dead. I think that anyone who likes one will probably like the other.

Both Bess and Maisie were nurses during World War I, and the experience changed them forever. Both women have also become private detectives, although that is where the differences between them begin to appear.

Unlike Bess’ story, the bulk of Maisie’s book and her series take place after the war. We do see Maisie’s background, and the tragedy she experienced during the war, but she has moved into the post-war future, and this story takes place in 1929, with flashbacks to earlier years.

Bess is still in the midst of the war.

Also, Bess got into her detecting by accident, where Maisie has deliberately chosen to be a private enquiry agent as a career, and was trained for it, in a rather unusual apprenticeship, by her older friend and mentor Maurice Blanche. In Maisie’s deliberate choice of detection as a career, as well as the methods of Blanche, Maisie reminds me more than a bit of Mary Russell in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, although firmly without the budding romance.

Maisie’s romantic inclinations, when finally aroused, are fixed on a young man of her own generation, but not one of her own class. Maisie is a costermonger’s daughter who was blessed with a large amount of intelligence and a great deal of luck. She is not of the upper class, or even the middle class, and her apprenticeship begins while she is in service at one of the great houses in the years before the war.

So, in this story, we see Maisie setting up shop as a detective in her own right. Her mentor has finally retired, and it is time for Maisie to try her own wings. Her first major case starts out simply, a man is concerned that his wife’s unwillingness to divulge her whereabouts means that she is covering up for an affair.

Maisie is not happy that her first solo case starts out about a love triangle. But of course it doesn’t end there. In 1929 the late war was still fresh in people’s memories. In this case the war hangs over both the young woman she is investigating and Maisie herself.

Celia Davenham lost her first sweetheart to the war, as so many of that generation did. But he didn’t die, he was horribly disfigured and retreated to a rural farm for similarly injured soldiers called The Retreat. Where he died under mysterious circumstances and Celia has never quite gotten over her grief and her guilt at leaving him after his return.

Maisie discovers that this case is not simple, and that The Retreat may not be quite as benevolent as it first appears. In confronting the secrets kept at The Retreat, Maisie finds herself confronting her own secrets and leftover guilts from the War.

She also nearly gets her assistant killed.

Escape Rating A: There are three stories being told here – one is the story of Maisie setting up her own office and investigating her first solo case. The second is Maisie’s own story, how she rose from housemaid to private detective, with stops at both university and nursing.

Even when Maisie is forced or chooses to put off her own dreams for the greater good, she is always learning. She especially learns a lot about human psychology in her study of philosophy. Her tutorial from Maurice Blanche is certainly singular in its way of dealing with what people are saying in their silences.

Maurice Blanche and Sherlock Holmes would have gotten on like a house on fire. They get to the same place by different but often equally cerebral methods.

The third story in the book is the story of Maisie’s own romantic tragedy. The feelings that she is suppressing form a cloud around her, and the way that she forestalls her own memories until the very end keep the reader from guessing exactly what happened. We all know it ends badly, but we just don’t know how badly until Maisie finally lets her own emotions out, and begins to reach a resolution about her own past.

Maisie Dobbs tells a powerful story about a complicated woman, and about the way that war scars any who come near it.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson

after the war is over by jennifer robsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Date Released: January 6, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France returns with her sweeping second novel—a tale of class, love, and freedom—in which a young woman must fnd her place in a world forever changed

After four years as a military nurse, Charlotte Brown is ready to leave behind the devastation of the Great War. The daughter of a vicar, she has always been determined to dedicate her life to helping others. Moving to busy Liverpool, she throws herself into her work with those most in need, only tearing herself away for the lively dinners she enjoys with the women at her boardinghouse.

Just as Charlotte begins to settle into her new circumstances, two messages arrive that will change her life. One is from a radical young newspaper editor who offers her a chance to speak out for those who cannot. The other pulls her back to her past, and to a man she has tried, and failed, to forget.

Edward Neville-Ashford, her former employer and the brother of Charlotte’s dearest friend, is now the new Earl of Cumberland—and a shadow of the man he once was. Yet under his battle wounds and haunted eyes Charlotte sees glimpses of the charming boy who long ago claimed her foolish heart. She wants to help him, but dare she risk her future for a man who can never be hers?

As Britain seethes with unrest and postwar euphoria fattens into bitter disappointment, Charlotte must confront long-held insecurities to fnd her true voice . . . and the courage to decide if the life she has created is the one she truly wants.

My Review:

England after the end of World War I was a different place than it had been before the war. An entire generation of young men had died in that war, leaving behind a generation of women for whom there simply would not be nearly enough men to marry for those that wanted to. Which meant that, in spite of the country’s desire to return to the gentler days before the war, there was a generation of women that was going to have to earn a living because there was no choice.

Women had spent the war years working at jobs that men did, for relatively good wages, and did not want to give those jobs and wages up. It was difficult to return to the kind of unskilled and unstimulating labor that they had left behind to become nurses and ambulance drivers at the start of the war. And there were too many families where the husband could no longer work because of war-related injuries, but the wife either couldn’t get a decent paying job, or her husband wouldn’t allow it.

Add to this the changes for those privileged, and those in service. A significant number of young people who would have gone into service for a wealthy and titled family before the war, went into military uniform and experienced a life with considerably more equality. Often it was the equal share in being shelled or gassed, and an equal share in the possibility of dying. But the world changed. Fewer people came back to service after the war, and the life of the privileged classes was forced to change, even if those changes went very much against the grain.

Think of the post-WWI world portrayed by Downton Abbey. The post-war period is markedly different from the pre-war. The universe had changed.

somewhere in france by jennifer robsonAfter the War is Over is the sequel to Robson’s excellent Somewhere in France (reviewed here). The point-of-view character is one of the friends of Lilly and Robbie from that first book. Charlotte Brown is radically different from Lilly and Robbie, bordering occasionally on downright radical.

Charlotte was a nurse during the war, but before and after she served as an aide to a constituency advocate in Liverpool. Charlotte’s job is to find aid and assistance for families suffering from the economic downturn. Even with all the women being fired from what are supposed to be “men’s jobs” there still aren’t enough jobs for all the returning soldiers.

While Charlotte is happy for Lilly and Robbie, and content in the job she is all but married to, something is missing in her life. Someone. Charlotte fell in love with Lilly’s brother Edward the day she met him. Unfortunately, any chance they have for happiness seems doomed. At first, Edward is caught in an engagement arranged by his parents when he was a child. Then, when his father dies and he inherits the earldom, he discovers that his father did a lousy job of managing the estates and that the death duties are ruinous. He breaks off his engagement and searches for a rich young woman whose family fortunes can repair his own.

But the real block to any possibility of happiness is Edward’s continuing depression and illness after the war. He feels as if he will never be a whole man after losing his leg, and he appears to be drinking himself into an early grave. Edward is suffering from shell-shock, but perhaps something more as well.

It will be up to Charlotte and her nursing skills to find out what is really wrong, and to make sure that he takes the care and cure that he needs. Even if she knows she is making it possible for him to be whole with someone other than herself.

She’ll be happy again. Someday.

Escape Rating A-: It’s easy to sympathize with a lot of Charlotte’s story. She is a career woman, long before it was cool. She has an inbuilt drive to do something about for the people who need help. It’s not just that she saw too much as a nurse, it’s the way she’s always been. She recites her own story in a public speech, off the cuff, and it explains so much about what motivates her.

She was also lucky in that her parents supported her goals, whether they completely understood them or not. Her situation contrasts strongly with Lilly’s, as Lilly had to fight to be her own person. Charlotte always was. While there is a difference in class, Charlotte is firmly middle-class, she also faced the expectation that she would marry and have children. Her mother worries that she won’t be happy without those things, but still loves the person she is, and doesn’t try to change her.

It’s good to see a story like this where the heroine has supportive parents and isn’t running away from a horrible, or even just stifling, situation.

A lot of this story is about women’s relationships. Not just about the friendship between Charlotte and Lilly, but particularly about the life Charlotte has created for herself as a single woman. Her friendships (and frenemy-ships) with her co-workers and her housemates are important. As is the late war that hangs over everything in the story.

Charlotte’s relationship with Edward reminded me a bit of Downton, specifically Matthew’s illness after the war and his engagement to the heiress Lavinia Swire. The way that his injuries affected him, the engagement to a woman who may have been the “right woman” to solve his family’s problems but was certainly not the one he loved, and the problems of class were similar to Edward’s predicament, his engagement, and his love for Charlotte. Nothing turns out quite the same, except the happy ending, but the situations are predicated on some of the same decision points.

After the War is Over is much less soap-opera-like over all. The central story is Charlotte’s becoming everything that she can be, and learning to love the life she has, in spite of difficulties thrown into the path of a career woman in the 1920s. Her happy ending is excellent icing on a well-told cake.

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Beyond Coincidence by Jacquie Underdown + Giveaway

beyond coincidence by jacquie underdownFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Length: 239 pages
Publisher: Escape Publishing
Date Released: September 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

In 2008, 250 Australian and British soldiers are uncovered in a mass grave in Fromelles, France, lost since the Great War. One soldier, bearing wounds of war so deep it scarred his soul, cannot be laid to rest just yet.

When Lucy bumps into the achingly sad soldier during a trip to France, she doesn’t, at first glance, realise what he is – a ghost who desperately needs her help. Lucy can’t turn away from someone who needs her, even someone non-corporeal, and they travel back together to Australia in search of answers and, hopefully, some peace.

This chance meeting and unexplainable relationship sets into motion a chain-reaction of delicate coincidences that affect the intertwined lives of family, friends, and lovers in unexpected, beautiful ways.

My Review:

Beyond Coincidence is a romance that requires that the reader throw their willing suspension of disbelief out the window, but the history behind the love story is based on actual events.

Let’s just say that the author has taken an extremely romantic perspective on a project that is both sad and moving, and uses the romance to personalize something important.

Fromelles6_460x306pxThe genesis of everything lies in the Battle of Fromelles, which took place in France in World War I. Fromelles wasn’t merely a disaster for the Allies, it was also one of the most costly battles in history for the Australian Army. Over 5,500 men were killed in 24 hours of fighting.

In 2008, a mass grave was found near Fromelles, containing the unidentified bodies of 250 of those Australian losses. In the intervening years, a project has been mounted to identify those remains and create closure for the families.

Beyond Coincidence is a romanticized, in some ways paranormally romanticized, story about the identification of the remains of one particular soldier.

Lucy sees the ghost of a man, in a WWI Australian Army uniform, visiting the gravesite in Fromelles. At first, she thinks he’s a reenactor. When he keeps turning up, she decides he’s a stalker. It’s only when he materializes in her car that she finally starts accepting that he’s a ghost.

Freddy Ormon is one of the unidentified soldiers from the battle. He convinces Lucy that he won’t be able to rest until his grave is properly marked and his remains are identified. He has no idea how this is supposed to happen, just that it has to happen and that there is a greater plan that has chosen Lucy as the one to bring it about.

So Lucy sets out on a quest to find Freddy’s possible descendants. He knows that his wife was pregnant when he left Australia, so it is possible that there is a great-grandson or granddaughter back home. Lucy just has to find him, or her.

Lucy heads back home, and hunts down Nate Ormon, Freddy’s great-grandson. Both Lucy and Nate are at career and romantic loose-ends, so when Freddy serves as unintentional matchmaker, they click. Nate even looks like Freddy, which is not a hardship for Lucy. She’s quite fond of her “friendly ghost”.

In spite of some ham-fisted interference from Lucy’s suddenly violent ex, Nate and Lucy discover that they have a lot in common beyond Nate’s interfering ancestor. But they have some deep-seated fears that almost drive them apart.

The story ends with the promise of one of the sweetest but most surprising second-chances at love that I’ve read in quite a while.

Escape Rating B: Although this is Lucy and Nate’s love story, Freddy feels like the most memorable character in the book. He is so confused by what has happened to him, and so frustrated at his inability to act for himself.

His grief over the death of his wife is fresh and new. She lived decades without him, but he’s just now confronted with both her death and that of the child he never got to see. The world is so different from what he knew.

At the same time, his interactions with Lucy are quite funny. Not because he doesn’t know the 21st century, but the way he adapts surprises and dellights her. You can see them becoming friends, no matter how unusual that friendship might be.

There’s a sense that Freddy is Lucy’s guardian angel in some way. He looks out for her, and he’s also pushing her life into a different but better track than she would have found on her own. Lucy and Nate do not “meet cute” and without a push, she probably would never have seen him again.

Freddy, or someone above him, are also manipulating events for their own ends. “This has all happened before and it will all happen again” as they say. And the set up between Lucy and Nate does feel contrived. As much as I liked Freddy as a character, I had to swallow my logic in order to enjoy the story.

But I certainly did enjoy it quite a bit. It’s sweet and romantic, and I loved the history angle.

~~~~~~TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

Jacquie is kindly giving a $30 gift card for Amazon! To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd

unwilling accomplice by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford, #6
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: August 12, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Home on leave, Bess Crawford is asked to accompany a wounded soldier confined to a wheelchair to Buckingham Palace, where he’s to be decorated by the King. The next morning when Bess goes to collect Wilkins, he has vanished. Both the Army and the nursing service hold Bess negligent for losing the war hero, and there will be an inquiry.

Then comes disturbing word from the Shropshire police, complicating the already difficult situation: Wilkins has been spotted, and he’s killed a man. If Bess is to save her own reputation, she must find Wilkins and uncover the truth. But the elusive soldier has disappeared again and even the Shropshire police have lost him. Suddenly, the moral implications of what has happened—that a patient in her charge has committed murder—become more important to Bess than her own future. She’s going to solve this mysterious puzzle, but righting an injustice and saving her honor may just cost Bess her life.

My Review:

One of the things that makes the Bess Crawford series so interesting is the way that Bess manages to get herself into trouble. Naturally, she has to investigate what went wrong in order to get herself out of trouble.

maharanis pearls by charles toddIt’s clear that Bess has been doing this pretty much all her life, based on the story The Maharani’s Pearls (reviewed here) which has Bess at age 9 investigating an attempted assassination. Well more like making sure that her parents and the indefatigable Simon Brandon pay attention and investigate for her. After all, she’s only 9.

But in An Unwilling Accomplice, Bess is not the instigator of the particular trouble she has to investigate. Someone else puts her into the soup, and it takes all of Bess’ ingenuity and downright pig-headedness to find the answer that gets her out of it.

It was a thundering great honor for a soldier to receive his medal directly from the King. So when a Sergeant Wilkins requests that Bess accompany him to the ceremony, while she’s puzzled, she complies with her orders. Sergeant Wilkins is both a hero and an invalid, and her nursing services might be required. And, she gets to extend her leave a few more days.

But Bess doesn’t remember Wilkins, nor can she figure out why he’d ask specifically for her. In the cold light of morning, it unfortunately looks like Wilkins picked her specifically because she didn’t know him. During the night, he tossed off all his bandages and walked out of his hotel under his own steam.

In other words, a decorated war hero goes AWOL on her watch. Bess is under suspicion as his accomplice, and her nursing career is in extreme jeopardy.

Just like Caesar’s Wife, the Nursing Sisters of Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Service must be above reproach. And Bess suddenly isn’t.

As if things couldn’t get worse, while Bess is still under house arrest and waiting for a verdict on her own future, Scotland Yard is presented with evidence that her deserter went north and committed a murder. The mystery gets murkier, but Bess is seen as a bit less culpable–based on witness statements, she wasn’t present at the murder and hasn’t been further involved.

Whatever this is, it is way more than a simple case of dereliction of duty, either Bess’ or Wilkins’.

So what is it? That’s what Bess is determined to uncover. Until she can find Sergeant Wilkins and either turn him in or get him to make a clear statement to the police and the Army, there will always be the shadow of suspicion on her otherwise clean record.

With the assistance of Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, her friend and her father’s attache, Bess sets out to trace the route that Sergeant Wilkins seems to have traveled across country. Along the way she finds deceived nurses, irreproachable eye-witnesses, and a multiplicity of closed-mouth villages protecting too many men who seem to be temporarily on leave from their senses or the Army, or possibly both.

At the end, she has more than enough motives for murder; and too many potential suspects.

Escape Rating B+: The Bess Crawford series does a terrific job of letting readers experience English life in the World War I period. Yes, there is a slight resemblance to Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, but only because of the period setting. Bess Crawford is no debutante, she’s an Army nurse and the daughter of a career officer. She works, and she works hard.

As the daughter of a serving officer, she also has had experience living in India. Her perspective is more cosmopolitan than most gently-bred women of her time. Sybil Crawley she isn’t.

But there are tons of interesting commentaries on how much life has changed for young women since the war. Bess is still subject to some of the strictures, especially while she’s on leave, but at the same time she is a professional who expects to perform up to, and even past, her capacity.

This is still a time when young ladies’ reputations were expected to be protected at all costs in order to save them for marriage. The contrasts between Bess’ nursing practice on the field and the behavior required of her at home can sometimes be jarring, but feels real.

The action of this particular story takes place entirely in England, so Bess often feels those differences. And the impetus for the quest that is the heart of the story exists because her reputation must be spotless for her to serve as a nurse; a restriction that didn’t apply to officers or doctors.

Bess sets off on a cross-country journey to find the man who put her under so much suspicion. She needs to have her name cleared, but equally, she needs to find out why he deserted and why he committed murder.

As Bess hunts down her quarry, she is faced with all the changes that have occurred in England. The war is nearly over, but as a battlefield nurse, she hasn’t yet experienced that for sure. There are still plenty of wounded men. But she will have to come home when peace breaks out, and so much has changed.

While it is definitely interesting to follow Bess along, the journey did double-back on itself several times, especially as Bess and Simon found themselves chasing more than one man and following up more than one red herring. It will be part of Bess’ ongoing development to see how she handles peacetime, but this story rambled a bit while Bess did.

Her relationship with Simon Brandon is hard to pin down. They are friends, and they rely on each other. Without Simon’s assistance, Bess’ journey would not have been possible, and would have also been more dangerous.

They are so very comfortable with each other.

The reader can’t help but wonder if their relationship will evolve into something else after the war. They get closer with each adventure!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Maharani’s Pearls by Charles Todd

maharanis pearls by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford Mysteries
Length: 96 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Living with her family in India, young Bess Crawford’s curiosity about this exotic country sometimes leads her into trouble.

One day she slips away from the cantonment to visit the famous seer in a nearby village. Before this woman can finish telling her fortune, Bess is summoned back for an afternoon tea with the Maharani, a close friend of her parents’. The seer’s last words are a warning about forthcoming danger that Bess takes as the usual patter. But this visit by the Maharani has ominous overtones that mark it as more than a social call. Her husband has political enemies, and she has come to ask Bess’s father, Major Crawford, for help.

As the Maharani is leaving, Bess notices that there is something amiss with the royal entourage. Major Crawford must set out after them—but will he be in time?

And what will happen to Bess, and the household left behind, when a vicious assassin circles back to take hostages?

Here is an extraordinary glimpse into the childhood of the Bess Crawford we know from her service in the Great War.

My Review:

This story is a very short episode in the life of World War I Nurse Bess Crawford long before she became a nurse or volunteered to serve in the Army’s Nursing Corps.

On the other hand, even as a ten-year-old, it’s still very obvious that Bess has always been very much herself; adventurous, intelligent, headstrong in pursuit of what she believes is the right thing, brave and fairly unflappable.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddDuring the main sequence of the stories that chronicle her wartime career (start with A Duty to the Dead) Bess exhibits the same traits as an adult that show up in this brief story from her childhood.

Bess’ often remembers her childhood in India, both for the relative freedom she enjoyed and for the cosmopolitan outlook that growing up slightly outside the strictures of life back in England. She has more experience of more different types and backgrounds of people than most women her age. She’s also much more independent than usual for the era, because she has that broader experience.

In A Question of Honor (reviewed here) we see some of Bess’ memories of life in the Raj, and also discover the fate of some of the children whose A Question of Honor by Bess Crawfordparents sent them back home while they continued their service. Bess discovers just how much she has to be grateful for, that her parents, a high-ranking officer and his wife, kept her with them.

But in her childhood, Bess was already an intrepid explorer and someone who only obeyed the rules when it suited her. In the case of the Maharani’s pearls, Bess’ desire to push at the boundaries results in her being in the right place at the right time to save a life, and perhaps help maintain the British presence in India on a relatively peaceful basis.

Escape Rating B+: The Maharani’s Pearls is a very short story. While I certainly enjoyed the glimpse of Bess as a child, the story also introduced a few more mysteries about the people around her.

Her father’s willingness to listen to her story and take action on information that some might have claimed was a child’s imagining explained a lot about the way she was raised and how much she feels she needs to take action when things go wrong.

Child Bess made a ton of references to her father’s batman, Simon Brandon, and his mysterious origins. Simon, his service, his career and his place in her family’s life has been extremely mysterious from the very first book. It was to be hoped that this earlier glimpse of him might clear up some of the mysteries. Instead, it just makes his past even murkier.

unwilling accomplice by charles toddStill I can’t wait for the next book in the main series, An Unwilling Accomplice. This entire series does well at both evoking the era and providing a page-turning mystery.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd + Excerpt + Giveaway

hunting shadows by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge #16
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: January 21, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A dangerous case with ties leading back to the battlefields of World War I dredges up dark memories for Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge in Hunting Shadows, a gripping and atmospheric historical mystery set in 1920s England, from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd.

A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a man is murdered. After another body is found, the baffled local constabulary turns to Scotland Yard. Though the second crime had a witness, her description of the killer is so strange its unbelievable.

Despite his experience, Inspector Ian Rutledge has few answers of his own. The victims are so different that there is no rhyme or reason to their deaths. Nothing logically seems to connect them—except the killer. As the investigation widens, a clear suspect emerges. But for Rutledge, the facts still don’t add up, leaving him to question his own judgment.

In going over the details of the case, Rutledge is reminded of a dark episode he witnessed in the war. While the memory could lead him to the truth, it also raises a prickly dilemma. To stop a murderer, will the ethical detective choose to follow the letter—or the spirit—of the law?

My Review:

Hunting Shadows is a fascinating mystery that combines a search for “whodunnit” along with a surprisingly twisty trail leading to “why did they do it”. The struggle in this story is to make sense out of two crimes that seemingly don’t, until they suddenly, and chillingly, do.

This story starts out as a seemingly traditional mystery; we see the crime, but don’t know who the perpetrator is. It looks like the mystery will be the hunt for the killer. But it’s not that simple. He strikes again, and the second victim seems to have no relationship to the first. Except in the mind of whoever shot them both, using the tools and the training of a military sniper.

The combined crimes stump the local constabulary, and Inspector Ian Rutledge is called from Scotland Yard to Cambridgeshire. He arrives and promptly gets lost in both a meteorological and a metaphorical fog.

There are plenty of reasons why someone might want the first victim dead. Captain Hutchinson was a man who did his best to ingratiate himself with the most important people in any room. His problem was that he was just a touch obvious and his charm wore thin on close acquaintance.

It’s even possible to find a motive for the murder of Herbert Smith, the local Tory candidate for Parliament. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone who reasonably, or even unreasonably, wanted them both dead.

Especially not someone with sniper training. That points to a motive left over from the war, and that particular dish of revenge has gone very cold by the time this story takes place in 1920.

Investigation determines that Smith and Hutchinson did not serve together, and they don’t even seem to have known anyone who served with both of them.

But the war and its aftermath are still all too present. Every household lost too many of its young men. Even for those who survived, like Rutledge, the war altered their lives irrevocably. Rutledge manages to successfully investigate murder, sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of the PTSD that he still endures.

In this case, he is under pressure to find the killer quickly. His superiors want a fast result for the murder of a candidate for MP. But when Rutledge finally has a suspect who fits the crimes, he can’t make himself believe that the (relatively) easy solution is the correct one.

His slightly unorthodox methods, combined with intelligence and utterly dogged persistence, finally reach the guilty party.

Escape Rating A-: This series is a marvelous addition to the growing amount of historical fiction and mysteries that cover the World War I and post-war period. For anyone who has fallen in love with this era because of Downton Abbey, the Rutledge series provides a fresh perspective into the post-war life of a much bigger cross-section of people.

Rutledge survived his war, but his shell-shock makes the war an experience that he will carry with him forever. Through him we can see the changes that the war made on the people who served, and through his investigations, the impact on those left behind.

This is a mystery for those who want to see the details of the investigation, but also how the investigator uses his intuition and knowledge to determine the truth. There are no forensic miracles in Rutledge’s 1920, he solves his case with brains and a LOT of legwork.

We follow, and we see everything he sees, both about the case and about life in the Fen country at a time when the old customs were breaking down, but had not yet broken.

Even though Hunting Shadows is the 16th book in this series, it is also a great place to start following Inspector Rutledge’s cases. This is a mystery to savor, and I’m glad there are lots more to read.

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

The publisher has generously offered 3 hardcover copies of Hunting Shadows in this giveaway! This giveaway is open to the US and Canada. To enter just fill out the Rafflecopter.
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To read an excerpt from the first chapter, check below the fold.

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