A special treat: we have another lovely article from fresh fiction reviewer Miranda Owen, all about historical mysteries. Enjoy, and be sure to check back soon for more from Miranda and other reviewers soon!
Nowadays I generally read contemporary cozy mysteries, but I have a fondness for Golden Age mysteries. Some of the first mysteries I ever read were set in England during the 1920s and 30s written by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Although it may not be what I usually read, I’ve recently enjoyed a crop of fascinating and incredibly varied collection of historical mysteries. THE MURDER AT MANDEVILLE HALL by Stephanie Laurens, AN ACT OF VILLAINY by Ashley Weaver, BRIGHT YOUNG DEAD by Jessica Fellowes, BLOOD IS BLOOD by Will Thomas, and NAUGHTY ON ICE by Maia Chance are all entertaining stories but with sleuths, settings, and tone that differ wildly from each other.
I love a hint of romance in a mystery, so I adore Stephanie Laurens’ mysteries and the Amory Ames mystery series by Ashley Weaver featuring Amory and Milo Ames. These authors’ books are totally different but each does an exquisite job balancing mystery with a hint of romance. THE MURDER AT MANDEVILLE HALL by Stephanie Laurens takes place in 1839 and has one of my favorite settings – a house party. Stephanie Laurens excels at writing drawing room murders set among England’s high society and THE MURDER AT MANDEVILLE HALL is a first-rate example. Alaric, Lord Carradale and Constance Whittaker discover the murder victim and each other at the same moment. Underneath a façade of propriety lurks a heart of darkness and secrets a murderer would kill to protect. The sleuths – both amateur and professional – as well as the suspects and victim, all move in the same society. AN ACT OF VILLAINY is another great example of friendly facades hiding dark and twisted machinations. Amory Ames and her husband Milo get swept into another murder mystery when friends of theirs become embroiled in murder. Milo and Amory have an occasionally turbulent relationship and so this murder affecting their friends’ marriage strikes a very personal note for her. I love Ashley Weaver’s Amory Ames series, but AN ACT OF VILLAINY, with the theatrical settings, reminds me of so many Agatha Christie stories that I love. Ashley Weaver makes terrific use of misdirection and red herrings as Amory hunts down motives and clues. The ending is just as dramatic as the play at the center of this story revolving around actors and wronged lovers.
NAUGHTY ON ICE by Maia Chance and BLOOD IS BLOOD by Will Thomas both follow partnered detectives but Lola and Berta are as different from Cyrus and Thomas as could possibly be. Set in the US in the 1920s, NAUGHTY ON ICE is a hoot that is deliciously campy and will make you laugh. Lola Woodby and her Swedish cook Berta are partners in their own detective agency, and Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewlyn are private enquiry agents in 19th century England. However, Lola and Berta are sleuths who learn as they go along and are much more Daphne and Velma or Nancy Drew and her housekeeper Hannah – if Hannah had any inclination toward helping Nancy solve crimes. Barker and Llewlyn resemble Holmes and Watson more so than any detectives in this group. Lola and Berta have the unenviable task of trying to get answers and talk to suspects when everybody either wants them out of town or thinks the worst of them, and they do it all freezing as they trudge through Vermont during the winter. Thomas Llewlyn is preparing for his upcoming wedding when things blow his world apart – literally. This is the first book I’ve read by both authors, but I love them both. Will Thomas’ dry wit and amusing turn of phrase sucked me in from the first paragraph of BLOOD IS BLOOD. I enjoy stories in which one member of a detective duo is out of commission for whatever reason, and the bulk of the investigative work rests on the other member. In BLOOD IS BLOOD, Thomas is a likable, intelligent, and thoughtful investigator.
Louisa Cannon in BRIGHT YOUNG DEAD by Jessica Fellowes is a different sort of amateur sleuth than any in this collection. Louisa is a former criminal and current chaperone and servant, and the class struggle is painstakingly documented in BRIGHT YOUNG DEAD. If the victim of crime is a member of high society, that individual is painted in a more positive light by society and if the victim is from the lower class, that individual’s death is largely ignored. Suspicion is more quickly thrown onto a servant or a member of the lower class with support in short supply. There is a feeling of “us versus them” in BRIGHT YOUNG DEAD, and Jessica Fellowes convincingly conveys Louisa’s panic that the finger of suspicion will point at her. Jessica Fellowes explores the ways in which a woman can turn to crime to support herself or the drudgery of servant life. With Louisa Cannon and Constable Mary Moon, Fellowes shows how a woman with intelligence tries to navigate in a man’s world. The dual mysteries in BRIGHT YOUNG DEAD provide variety for mystery readers. Louisa and Sergeant Guy Sullivan approach each mystery from different perspectives but it’s exciting watching the two cases collide.
Here are some other historical mystery releases for you to enjoy:
DEATH BELOW STAIRS by Jennifer Ashley
THE HANOVER SQUARE AFFAIR by Jennifer Ashley
THE HUMMINGBIRD DAGGER by Cindy Anstey
MURDER ON ASTOR PLACE by Victoria Thompson
AND ONLY TO DECEIVE by Tasha Alexander
A BEAUTIFUL BLUE DEATH by Charles Finch
DEATH AT BISHOP’S KEEP by Robin Paige
THE CATER STREET HANGMAN by Anne Perry
WHAT ANGELS FEAR by C.S. Harris
SILENT IN THE GRAVE by Deanna Raybourn
A DUTY TO THE DEAD by Charles Todd
THIS SIDE OF MURDER by Anna Lee Huber
MURDER IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE by Jessica Ellicott
A LADY’S GUIDE TO ETIQUTTE AND MURDER by Dianne Freeman
THE SILVER GUN by L.A. Chandlar
MURDER AT THE BREAKERS by Alyssa Maxwell
MURDER ON BLACK SWAN LANE by Andrea Penrose
LIES THAT COMFORT AND BETRAY by Rosemary Simpson
A PINCH OF POISON by Alyssa Maxwell
MURDER IN GREENWICH VILLAGE by Liz Freeland
LADY OF ASHES by Christine Trent
HUNTING A DETROIT TIGER by Troy Soos
MURDER WILL SPEAK by Penny Richards
THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER by Mary Lawrence
RATTLE HIS BONES by Carola Dunn
PRIDE AND PRESCIENCE by Carrie Bebris
DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P.D. James
JANE AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR by Stephanie Barron
A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES by Ellis Peters
THE HOLLOW OF FEAR by Sherry Thomas
MURDER YOUR DARLINGS by J.J. Murphy
MURDER AND THE FIRST LADY by Elliott Roosevelt
MURDER IN THE PLEASURE GARDENS by Rosemary Stevens
MIDNIGHT FIRES by Nancy Means Wright
LOUISA AND THE CRYSTAL GAZER by Jeanne Mackin
DEATH IN THE DARK WALK by Deryn Lake
THE NINTH DAUGHTER by Barbara Hamilton
GROUCHO MARX, MASTER DETECTIVE by Ron Goulart
THE DOROTHY PARKER MURDER CASE by George Baxt
BLIND JUSTICE by Bruce Alexander
HER ROYAL SPYNESS by Rhys Bowen
BLOODLIST by P.N. Elrod
THE HUM BUG by Harold Schechter
MAISIE DOBBS by Jacqueline Winspear
ANYTHING GOES by Jill Churchill
MURDER ON THE CLIFFS by Joanna Challis
ROOM WITH A CLUE by Kate Kingsbury
THE DETECTIVE AND MR. DICKENS by William J. Palmer
OSCAR WILDE AND A DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE by Gyles Brandreth
THE INSPECTOR AND MRS. JEFFRIES by Emily Brightwell
THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE by Laurie R. King
THE ANATOMIST’S APPRENTICE by Tessa Harris
ABSOLUTION BY MURDER by Peter Tremayne
#1 New York Times -bestselling author Stephanie Laurens brings you a tale of unexpected romance that blossoms against the backdrop of dastardly murder.
On discovering the lifeless body of an innocent ingénue, a peer attending a country house party joins forces with the lady-amazon sent to fetch the victim safely home in a race to expose the murderer before Stokes, assisted by Barnaby and Penelope, is forced to allow the guests, murderer included, to decamp.
Well-born rakehell and head of an ancient family, Alaric, Lord Carradale, has finally acknowledged reality and is preparing to find a bride. But loyalty to his childhood friend, Percy Mandeville, necessitates attending Percy’s annual house party, held at neighboring Mandeville Hall. Yet despite deploying his legendary languid charm, by the second evening of the week-long event, Alaric is bored and restless.
Escaping from the soirée and the Hall, Alaric decides that as soon as he’s free, he’ll hie to London and find the mild-mannered, biddable lady he believes will ensure a peaceful life. But the following morning, on walking through the Mandeville Hall shrubbery on his way to join the other guests, he comes upon the corpse of a young lady-guest.
Constance Whittaker accepts that no gentleman will ever offer for her—she’s too old, too tall, too buxom, too headstrong…too much in myriad ways. Now acting as her grandfather’s agent, she arrives at Mandeville Hall to extricate her young cousin, Glynis, who unwisely accepted an invitation to the reputedly licentious house party.
But Glynis cannot be found.
A search is instituted. Venturing into the shrubbery, Constance discovers an outrageously handsome aristocrat crouched beside Glynis’s lifeless form. Unsurprisingly, Constance leaps to the obvious conclusion.
Luckily, once the gentleman explains that he’d only just arrived, commonsense reasserts itself. More, as matters unfold and she and Carradale have to battle to get Glynis’s death properly investigated, Constance discovers Alaric to be a worthy ally.
Yet even after Inspector Stokes of Scotland Yard arrives and takes charge of the case, along with his consultants, the Honorable Barnaby Adair and his wife, Penelope, the murderer’s identity remains shrouded in mystery, and learning why Glynis was killed—all in the few days before the house party’s guests will insist on leaving—tests the
resolve of all concerned. Flung into each other’s company, fiercely independent though Constance is, unsusceptible though Alaric is, neither can deny the connection that grows between them.
Then Constance vanishes.
Can Alaric unearth the one fact that will point to the murderer before the villain rips from the world the lady Alaric now craves for his own?
An Act of Villainy is an a gem, set in 1930s London and filled with style, banter, and twists that traditional mystery fans will positively relish.
“So you’ve gotten yourself involved with another murder,
Walking through London’s West End after a night at the theater, Amory Ames and her husband Milo run into wealthy investor and former actor Gerard Holloway. Holloway and his wife Georgina are old friends of theirs, and when Holloway invites them to the dress rehearsal of a new play he is directing, Amory readily accepts.
However, Amory is shocked to learn that Holloway has cast his mistress, actress Flora Bell, in the lead role. Furthermore, the casual invitation is not what it seems—he admits to Amory and Milo that Flora has been receiving threatening letters, and he needs their help in finding the mysterious sender. Despite Amory’s conflicting feelings—not only does she feel loyalty to Georgina, but the disintegration of the Holloways’ perfect marriage seems to bode ill for her own sometimes delicate relationship—her curiosity gets the better of her, and she begins to make inquiries.
It quickly becomes clear that each member of the cast has reason to resent Flora—and with a group so skilled in the art of deception, it isn’t easy to separate truth from illusion. When vague threats escalate, the scene is set for murder, and Amory and Milo must find the killer before the final curtain falls.
Mystery Historical [Minotaur Books, On Sale: September 4, 2018, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250159755 / eISBN: 9781250159762]
Set amid the legendary Mitford household, the second in the thrilling, Golden Age-style Mitford Murders series by Jessica Fellowes, author of the New York Times bestselling Downton Abbey books.
Meet the Bright Young Things, the rabble-rousing hedonists of the 1920s whose treasure hunts were a media obsession. One such game takes place at the 18th birthday party of Pamela Mitford, but ends in tragedy as cruel, charismatic Adrian Curtis is pushed to his death from the church neighbouring the Mitford home.
The police quickly identify the killer as a maid, Dulcie. But Louisa Cannon, chaperone to the Mitford girls and a former criminal herself, believes Dulcie to be innocent, and sets out to clear the girl’s name . . . all while the real killer may only be steps away.
Mystery Historical [Minotaur Books, On Sale: October 30, 2018, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250170811 / eISBN: 9781250170835]
When a bombing injures Cyrus Barker, it’s up to his partner Thomas Llewelyn—with the help of Barker’s long-lost brother—to find the person responsible before it’s too late. In 19th century London, Cyrus Barker and his associate Thomas Llewelyn are renowned private enquiry agents, successfully employed by the highest levels of Her Majesty’s government as well as private citizens. Their success, however, has led to their acquiring a powerful group of enemies, many of whom are determined to have their revenge.
At least one of those enemies is responsible for a bombing of their offices that puts Cyrus Barker into the hospital and endangers Thomas Llewelyn’s rapidly forthcoming nuptials. To add to the confusion, Barker’s long-lost brother Caleb turns up on the rubble of their doorstep not long after the not-quite-fatal bombing.
Warned about him by Barker, Thomas reluctantly accepts Caleb’s help both with a new case that comes in as well as trying to pinpoint which of Barker’s enemies is making a move against them. As Thomas works his way through their enemy list, someone else is winnowing down that list: one by one those enemies are dying.
With time running out—and his bride-to-be reconsidering their marriage—Llewelyn must (with the sick-bed bound Barker’s help) uncover the killer and the plot before it’s too late.
Mystery Historical [Minotaur Books, On Sale: November 13, 2018, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250170385 / eISBN: 9781250170392]
The next in Maia Chance’s dazzlingly fun Prohibition-era caper series featuring society matron Lola Woodby and her stalwart Swedish cook, Berta.
The Discreet Retrieval Agency is doing a brisk holiday business of retrieving lost parcels, grandmas, and stolen wreaths. But with their main squeezes Ralph and Jimmy once more on the back burner, both Lola and Berta pine for a holiday out of New York City. So when they receive a mysterious Christmas card requesting that they retrieve an antique ring at a family gathering in Maple Hill, Vermont, they jump at the chance. Sure, the card is signed Anonymous and it’s vaguely threatening, but it’s Vermont.
In Maple Hill, several estranged members of the wealthy Goddard family gather. And no sooner do Lola and Berta recover the ring—from Great-Aunt Daphne Goddard’s arthritic finger—than Mrs. Goddard goes toes-up, poisoned by her Negroni cocktail on ice. When the police arrive, Lola and Berta are caught-red-handed with the ring, and it becomes clear that they were in fact hired not for their cracker-jack retrieving abilities, but to be scapegoats for murder.
With no choice but to unmask the killer or be thrown in the slammer, Lola and Berta’s investigations lead them deep into the secrets of Maple Hill. There, they must find out once and for all who’s nice…and who’s naughty.
Mystery Historical [Minotaur Books, On Sale: November 13, 2018, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250109071 / eISBN: 9781250109088]