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The Perfect Game by Leslie Dana Kirby

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Suppose your sister was murdered and you were suspected, and suppose the real killer gets away with it, what could you do to find justice?  Not an original plotline, but Kirby has come up with some very intriguing twists that should keep you reading ‘til well past bedtime. 

Dr. Lauren Rose’s sister Liz, married to a famous baseball player, is murdered.  In their grief Lauren and widower Jake Wakefield find some comfort in each other, all very innocent, but that’s not what it looks like to the police and the public at large.  Looking for someone to blame for Liz’s murder, the police can’t go past the obvious suspect: a jealous sister who’s the recipient of a million dollar insurance policy.  When Lauren refuses a lie detector test because she feels it’s bad science, and then gives in to get the police off her back, the test is inconclusive; a second test has results which the police won’t share with her.  To protect herself Lauren retains a lawyer, but in many people’s view this itself is suspect.  Why does an innocent woman need a lawyer?  (As any watcher of true life crime fiction shows knows, that’s the very person who’s most likely to need a lawyer—but I digress.)

Liz learns a lot of dark things about Jake and his marriage to her sister, and sees how he’s manipulated her and many other women in his life.  Eventually Jake is arrested and sent for trial, but is acquitted.  A great deal of mud and suspicion is cast on Liz by his defence team, and even her platonic but developing relationship with one of the police detectives is muddied.  Life looks pretty grim, but Lauren picks herself up and goes back to work in the Emergency Room and tries to forget the injustices of her life while she busies herself in saving the lives of others.

It is in the ER one night that fate delivers to Lauren the perfect means to bring Jake to justice.  We are privy to the details later in the year when Lauren visits Liz’s grave, and if you don’t feel like giving a hearty cheer when you finish the chapter, you’re a cooler person than this reviewer.  This is a nicely crafted crime novel that’s a cut above most of this year’s offerings; get a copy before they’re all sold out.

 

 

Café Europa by Ed Ifkovic

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you like historical mysteries that give you the flavour of a past age, you should enjoy this book.  Ifkovic uses Budapest  on the eve of the Great War like a piece of jewellery: the elaborate setting for the dark gem of murder.  His protagonist is the real-life novelist Edna Ferber.

Decades ago I read Ferber’s “Giant”, one of the major family drama novels of the mid-20th century, but never knew much about the author.  Ifkovic shows us a strong-minded woman who breaks free—temporarily—from the smothering mothering of Julia Ferber and takes off on a tour with an English suffragette, Winifred Moss. 

In Budapest the women are annoyed by a Hearst journalist, Harold Gibbon, who claims to smell decay behind the gilded facade of the imperial city, and who expects war to start on some pretext any day now.  Ferber suggests his employer may be stirring the pot to encourage it, as she alleges he did in 1898—there are many who believe the Spanish-American War was largely due to the inflammatory journalism of the Hearst newspapers.  (Long forgotten, this war’s touch paper was the explosion of the battleship Maine, at the time as much a focus for ultra-nationalism as the Twin Towers were at the start of the 21st century.)

Ferber makes the acquaintance of two avant-garde artists as well as a young, rich, spoiled and frightened American girl, Cassandra Blaine, who has been all but sold by her family to a Hungarian count in need of a rich wife.  Edna realises that, like her classical namesake, the girl may speak some truth in her overly-dramatised way, but isn’t believed—and then Cassandra is killed.  A man she was infatuated with is accused of the murder, and it’s up to Edna and the artists to clear his name.  

Edna’s investigation reveals that the political radicalisation of the young did not start with 21st century extremists, and reminds the reader that the dark intrigues of international arms dealers have a long and bloody history.  This is an entertaining novel, with real events and people mixed with fictional ones embroidered seamlessly on the slightly tarnished and occasionally moth-eaten backdrop of 1914 Budapest. 

(The real Edna Ferber went on to a productive life as a writer, never married, and was a member of the fabled Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel.)

 

 

 

 

Bye, Bye Love by K J Larsen

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The entertaining Larsen sisters have produced another in their amusing crime series about private detective Cat DeLuca, proprietor of the Pants on Fire agency which specialises in catching cheating lovers.  Cat has a canine partner, Inga the beagle, who on a rainy night in a Chicago suburb leads Cat to a very dead, very messy corpse.  Cat is about to report the find to the police when she’s clobbered from behind by—presumably—the killer.  Grateful that he didn’t kill her as well, Cat calls in the cops, only for them to discover there’s no body.  Scorn heaped on her by “Captain Bobby” makes Cat determined to A), find the dead man and B), find the killer and deliver him to the cop shop and force an apology.

Ideas like this need a bit more detailed planning than Cat realises, but luckily she has a family full of policemen who believe her story, and a slightly manic associate, Cleo Jones, who has more ways to carry a concealed weapon than most of us would think of.  She also has Uncle Joey, a man who manages to have a lot of life’s goodies without many visible receipts.  There was a wallet with ID for a Bernard Love on the dead man, as well as an envelope full of cash with Joey’s name on it.  Not a good look, Cat thinks, and of course removes the envelope before the body is spirited away.  Cat tells Joey the dead man’s name.  Joey is shocked: it’s his old buddy Bernard Love, bookkeeper to some shady characters who just might be interested in his perpetual silence.

The identity of the killer is soon discovered, but he’s on the loose and he’s gunning for Cat.  Yes, really gunning for her.  She narrowly misses being shot on the street, and Uncle Joey’s Ferrari, which she was recently driving, is blown up in front of her--strong messages from a bad, bad man that she should back off.

Meanwhile in another part of town a young policeman is reported to have fallen to his death while adjusting the satellite dish for his defective television set, leaving behind a devoted pet dog.  Cat lock-picks her way into his apartment and finds a TV in perfect working order, and on his refrigerator is the late Bernard Love’s phone number.  This can’t be a coincidence, Cat thinks, and the more she investigates, the murkier things become.  Joey says he gave the young cop Bernard’s phone number in order to help him investigate a possible fraud case involving the police union retirement fund.  Where there’s big money, there’s big motive.  If she can find the killer, she may find some answers, so Cat enlists the aid of her lover, FBI agent Savino.  Sure enough she finds the killer, but not in a condition to be much help.  Frozen people don’t talk much.

While she’s trying to solve the murder, Cat has to fend off her mother, who is obsessed with the idea of getting Cat married and producing more grandchildren.  As well, Mrs DeLuca is masterminding her own second wedding, the big formal affair she never got and feels she deserves.  The wedding is to be themed for the 1980’s, and the family home is overrun with big hair, padded shoulders and unlikely colour combinations.  Is there enough Chianti in all of Chicago to get the DeLuca brothers into baby-blue tuxedos?

With the aid of a couple of cigar butts, Cat suddenly sees how the dead bookkeeper, the dead cop, a missing recluse and a heart-broken dog all fit together.  Now if she can just stay alive long enough for the cavalry to arrive!

This is a lot of fun to read, and despite the corpses, it’s not going to give you nightmares, so it makes a great bedside book.  (Even if you figure out the most important clue halfway through the book as I did, it won’t spoil the enjoyment.) 

 

 

 

The Charlemagne Connection by R M Cartmel

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I was delighted to find this book in this week’s box of review books, having not long ago read and reviewed the first book in the series, “The Richebourg Affair”.  It was a very enjoyable and involving book , as is this second outing for the Serious Crimes policeman, Commander Charlemagne Truchaud, known in the local patois as “Shammang”.  Once again he is called home to his little village of Nuits-Saint-Georges from police HQ in Paris, and once again the Commander finds himself embroiled in not only his own family problem, but those of several other families.

The most immediate problem is the patriarch of the family, who thinks the world is his pissoir, and has been wandering around irrigating other people’s property.  Truchaud is in the invidious position of many other middle-aged children: his father has dementia but is still mobile, and has many ‘normal’ days as well as episodes of childlike behaviour.  The old man can no longer manage the family vineyards and Truchaud’s brother who once did is dead.  The brother’s widow is more than busy enough with feeding and supervising the family, keeping track of the old man, and doing the accounts for the business.  Nephew Bruno is too young to take over, so a manager is seeing to the day-to-day work.  The manager is being shared with another small vineyard, but if he should leave, the vines will be in desperate need.  Various plans are afoot to tie him to the village, but not everyone approves.

Truchaud was responsible for the death of the village’s murderous chief of police, so it seems only sensible to his superiors back in Paris to put Truchaud in the vacant position while he sorts out his family problems.  This job is not onerous; mainly it involves stolen bicycles, lost cows and speeding tourists.  One of the first problems is Dagmar, a German tourist and her friend, who have come in search of Dagmar’s brother.  He went missing some months ago and his van has been in the police pound since.

Using the keen wits developed over the years in his demanding post in Paris, Truchaud quickly discovers why the young man was in Nuits-Saint-George, and why someone might want him to vanish.  A chance discussion with another winemaker about a small patch of ailing vines makes Truchaud’s antennae twitch; in short order a body is unearthed and Truchaud not only has a murder to solve, he also needs to keep Dagmar safe, since it seems that the blood she shares with her missing brother is the key to the mystery.

This is a very enjoyable story that takes you right into a small French village, makes you part of the community, whets your appetite for the local food and wine, and leaves you with a satisfied feeling.

The sad thing to report about this book is that is the second of three; apparently Dr Cartmel only plans a trilogy, so those of us who have become attached to Commander Truchaud and the little village of Nuits- Saint-Georges will find ourselves bereft before long.  Perhaps if we bombard him with fan mail, he will reconsider.

 

 

 

False Tongues by Kate Charles

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I have a particular soft spot for cosy mysteries set in cathedral closes and small country parishes—I recently re-read with great satisfaction some books from the Golden Age such as Dorothy Sayers’ “The Nine Tailors” and Ngaio Marsh’s earlier works.  It was therefore with pleasure that I opened the most recent batch of review books and found a new Callie Anson novel.

Callie is a newly-ordained Church of England priest, working hard to learn the ropes in a parish where the Rector loads her with a lot of the donkey work, where his wife suspects her of being an occasion of sin for her husband, and where gossiping tongues are ever ready to slice up the unwary.  Callie isn’t unhappy—she has a cosy little flat over the church hall, a faithful dog, and a new boyfriend who has just given her a spectacular ring and an offer of marriage.   However, she does have some baggage from her past that makes her life a little less than it could be.  Former fiancé Adam dumped her unceremoniously and while she’s sure she’s over him, she can’t forgive his behaviour.

Her best friend Tamsin is one of those forces of nature who carry you along on their enthusiasms and against her better judgment, Callie agrees to come along to their alma mater for a week-long study and renewal course, once she is assured that Adam won’t be there.  Of course when it’s too late to back out, she learns Adam is a last-minute arrival.  Like it or not she will have to see and perhaps interact with him.

While Callie is away on the course her fiancé Mark Lombardi is dealing with his difficult job as police liaison officer in London.  He is trying to console and assist a pair of middle-aged doctors whose teenage son has been found murdered in the local park.  Despite the surgeon-mother’s determined insistence that the boy was nearly a saint, Mark and his fellow officers learn that Sebastian was hiding a lot in his closet.  As well as his demanding job, Mark is trying to cope as a stand-in father for his niece whose father has recently died.  His old-style Italian family of women will suffocate him one of these days, but he doesn’t seem able to deal with it. 

While Mark and the other police officers assigned to the murder case try to sort truth from fiction, Callie becomes involved in a similar task at Archbishop Temple House, where some very decent people are likely to be ruined by thoughtless slander.  Without being “preachy”, this book works as a solid reminder of the dangers of passing on gossip, and mindless sharing of quasi-news and questionable facts.  On the edge of disaster, the presence and gentle counsel of John Kingsley, a retired priest, makes all the difference to several people at the conference.  “Who do you think is suffering because you can’t forgive Adam?” he asks Callie.  The anvil drops: Callie’s not stupid, and a new and better life suddenly opens before her.

The story is told through Callie’s point of view, with some sidesteps into the minds of the other main characters.  There are several rather odious characters, but Kate Charles gives even these some humanity and empathy.  Highly recommended.

 

 

 

Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan by Vasudev Murthy

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I’m a sucker for Sherlock Holmes stories, both the originals—still the best after more than a century of prints and reprints—and the modern stories based on the character.  There has been any number of pastiches, parodies, and second-rate copies of The Master, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a handful of top-quality new writings.

I am please to say that the new series by Vasudev Murthy which tells us about the missing years when Holmes was presumed dead after what was thought to be The Final Battle with his archenemy Professor Moriarty is not among the second-rate offerings.  Despite a few flaws and anachronisms, this first volume in the projected series is a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.  Murthy has captured essence of the loyal, brave, somewhat stolid Watson, and the keen intellect of borderline Aspergian Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes...Japan” is both a murder mystery and a travelogue, taking us through a great deal of the British Empire of the late 1800’s.  The premise of the book is that long before the official reappearance of Holmes in London, he was undertaking some delicate investigations for various foreign powers, in this case, the government of Meiji Restoration Japan.

We learn that not only did Holmes not die at Reichenbach Falls, but that Professor Moriarty also survived.  The evil mastermind is plotting world domination and he’s started by enlisting the infamous Yakuza of Japan to assist him in corrupting people in all sorts of responsible positions.  It is hard to know who can be trusted, so an outside investigator is required to identify those whom Moriarty has bought or suborned.  Several deaths that look at first glance accidental or natural are soon proved to be murder.

Holmes has uncovered most of the corrupt links in Moriarty’s dark chain, but this information has to be brought to the Emperor of Japan quickly, before a world-wide scandal leads to hasty actions and possible war.  Holmes contacts Watson, and sends him a ticket on a steamship headed for Japan.  The only instruction Watson is given is to bring Holmes’s violin.  (Keep your eye on this: it’s not just a valuable Stradivarius, but it has a major part to play in the adventure.)   Largely narrated by Watson, the story is occasionally expanded by other voices, including Moriarty’s.  We are told by Watson that these extra insights were obtained long after the fact, and with some difficulty.

The bulk of the book follows Holmes and Watson (in various plausible and implausible disguises) from Aden to Bombay to the jungle, the mountains and the sea, hotly pursued by various thugs of greater or lesser skill.  Along the way they meet a number of interesting characters, both real and imagined, including India’s great poet Rabindranath Tagore and Jagadish Chandra Bose, scientific genius (and also the father of Bengali science fiction).  Finally fetching up in Japan Holmes and Watson find that the danger is by no means over.  Have they come so far and suffered so much only to be strangled with red tape at the last minute?

This isn’t a book that will appeal to fans of the fast-loading Walther PPK or seductive foreign agent genre of mystery; it takes its time getting to its goal, as did the Victorian travellers.  For those who appreciate a trip into an earlier age in the company of a great literary hero and his offsider, this book should suit you to a T—or perhaps a cup of lapsang souchong.

 

 

 

Blood Sweep by Steven F Havill

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

What a treat when you discover a book you have just read is one of a series which you didn’t know existed!  “Blood Sweep” is the 20th account of Posadas County New Mexico, and it’s such a good read that I regret not to have been following the characters since the first volume.  No doubt the back numbers are available, but I’ll need to win the lottery to afford them all.

The story revolves around the life and work of Estelle Reyes-Guzman, Undersheriff for the county, mother of two bright boys, and devoted friend of the retired sheriff Bill Gastner, whom half the county refer to as ‘padrino’.  (Think “The Godfather”, but nicer.)

Estelle’s busy day is interrupted by the bank manager who wants to see her urgently.  Her aged adoptive mother has asked him to cut a cashier’s cheque for $8000, a large—but odd—amount.  He suspects a scam and wants Estelle’s reassurance that all is on the level.  It isn’t, of course—old Theresa Reyes has been targeted by the local equivalent of a Nigerian prince, and worse, the scammer has told her that her grandson’s friend is in trouble and needs bail money.  The scammer has passed himself off as Tomas Naranjo, a colonel in the Mexican police and long-time friend and mentor of Estelle.

Estelle wants to get to the bottom of the obvious scam, but she’s committed to seeing her old boss safely to a hospital.  Bill Gastner has fallen and broken his hip, and as the air ambulance takes off it clips a suicidal antelope and damages its propeller.  Nothing for it but to take Bill by road to where he can get urgently needed surgery.  Estelle’s life becomes more complicated when she learns that someone has taken a potshot at the current Sherriff, Bobby Torrez and that a strange man has phoned her younger son claiming to be her uncle.  Estelle doesn’t have an uncle—not that she’s aware of—so she at once worries that the stranger may have some evil plans for her other son, currently playing a concert in Mazatlan, a town deep in the south of Mexico, and one which is known for violence.

To make life even harder for the law and order folks in Posadas County, the sniper who shot at the sheriff turns up dead, clearly the victim of an execution by a professional.  He’s not the last corpse to turn up, and it soon becomes clear that the alleged uncle is involved somehow.

To say any more might give the plot and sub-plots away, and that would be a shame for those who have yet to read this involving and fascinating story.  The book is well written, well-plotted, filled with believable--and for the most part likeable--characters, and is worth every penny of the asking price.  Track down a copy today, you will really enjoy your visit to Posadas County.

 

 

 

A Ghostly Undertaking by Tonya Kappes

Publisher: Witness

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Emma Lee Raines has diligently helped her family run their multi-generational business, Eternal Slumber. While her beautiful sister Charlotte handles funeral arrangements and other necessities with the living, Emma tends to the dead. Those less well-known but equally necessary aspects don't really become topics of conversation in A Ghostly Undertaking, but Emma's relationships with the dead take center stage when one of them appears to her as real as flesh and blood, claiming that she's been murdered.

Bold and loud, Ruthie Sue Payne lived up to her name and was a pain to Emma's entire family. Ruthie never forgave her husband Earl for leaving her for Emma's grandmother, the vivacious Zula. As a result, Earl and Zula lived one wall from Ruthie in the historic inn that each person refused doggedly to leave. Even after Earl's death, Zula and Ruthie stayed put, keeping the well of town gossip  full.

After Ruthie fell down stairs, everyone is sure that the gossipy older lady just had an accident. It's only when Ruthie herself claims to be pushed that Emma starts investigating to rid herself of her pink pajama-clad ghost.

With Ruthie gone in body if not in spirit, Zula appears ready to make a surprising decision that wins approval from strange quarters. In true small town fashion, everyone knows everybody else's business and happily weighs in on both the investigation into Ruthie's death and on Zula's news.

Meanwhile, Emma's reputation takes a nosedive at the same time that the sheriff begins to show an interest in her. He seems to think she knows something, leaving Emma in a quandary of what to do next.

Tonya Kappes, who previously self-published, nails the Kentucky rhythm in language and warmth even as she plunges into a larger-than-life scenario that's pure escapist fun. Readers fond of Carolyn Hart's Bailey Ruth Raeburn will find Emma to be a comfortable fit, full of charm and sass and even one to remark on feisty redheads. It's worth taking the ride with Emma Lee and the rest of her family and friends as she tries her best to send Ruthie Sue Payne to her final reward.

 

 

 

 

Field of Prey by John Sandford

Publisher: G.P Putnam’s Sons

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

In rural Minnesota, a teen couple seeking an isolated spot to “park” finds a grisly secret. An overwhelming stench is coming from a long disused cistern. When a police officer investigates the report, he discovers a secret that causes him vomit – a reaction shared by many of the investigators that come later.

The cistern proves to be the dumping ground for the bodies of fifteen missing women. Gradually the fact is revealed that these murders have taken place over a number of years. For some reason, these murders had gone undetected.

The women, for the most part, share certain characteristics. They are generally blond and like to party. As to whether, the partying gives the killer the chance to get close to the women or their alcoholic daze makes them easy targets remains a mystery to the investigators. 

The investigators fall in roles that best suit their skills. Among the investigators, Lucas Davenport, of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is struggling to identify leads and chase them down. He prefers this role since that is suitable to his personality.

Shaffer, a methodical investigator, has an epiphany regarding the crimes. Unfortunately, in his excitement to chase down a lead, he makes a mistake – fatal mistake. He is shot dead by one of the killers for the case is further complicated by the fact that there are two killers working in unison.  

Mattsson, a female investigator, assumes a role of PR officer in dealing with the media. This is a mistake on several levels. Her inexperience in dealing with the fickle reporters causes the hounding of an apparently innocent man. At the same time, her TV appearance draws the attention of one of the killers for she resembles the victims.

This work given its length of 392 pages and attention to detail could have easily become a dry procedural. However, Sandford shows his literary skills by avoiding that pitfall. His character development, humor and plot twists will not keep the readers on the edge of their seats, but will hold their interest. This is a work well suited for serious readers of the crime genre.

 

 

 

The Mark On Eve by Joel Fox

Publisher: Bronze Circle Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If a witch assured you that you would not die before you kissed your lover whom you feared would drown at sea, you’d be happy, wouldn’t you?  Well, yes and no: Eve Hale is happy in 1717 when she is given the promise, but three hundred years later she’s still waiting and life—eternal life—has been less than wonderful for much of that time.  The promise has become a curse and there’s only one way to end it.

Because she doesn’t age, Eve has had to re-establish herself over the centuries, finding a new life every few decades, and never able to have a proper home and family.  Sometimes she passes herself off as her own niece or granddaughter.  She’s seen a lot of history, but usually manages to keep out of the spotlight—until she saves the life of Judith Rhodes, presidential candidate.  Eve has a fanatical commitment to the election of the first female president of the United States, born of her decades of observation of the plight of other women.

Now calling herself Eve Skeller, she literally ‘takes a bullet’ for her candidate, and despite trying to step back into the shadows, she finds herself in the public eye, and being pursued by a dogged reporter who sniffs out the story of a lifetime.  Tom Evanger doesn’t buy the story of a defective round that merely bruised Eve: the bullet should have killed her but it didn’t. 

Tom’s editor takes him off the Presidential campaign trail in order to assign a woman reporter to it.  Tom feels hard done by for this, but he’s not about to give up his interest in Eve Skeller’s mysterious past.  Tom’s pursuit, Eve’s history, and an expedition to find the pirate ship Zarrago all come together one day on Cape Cod.  Eve’s long-held dream is about to come true when she realises that the man she’s loved through the centuries is still the same—but she is no longer the same woman who loved him. 

Author Fox has woven chapters of Eve’s former lives into his main thread, making a panorama for the reader to explain what has made the modern Eve into what she is.  There’s a bit of what one might think is gratuitous sex, but it serves to illustrate Eve’s determination to do whatever it takes to get her candidate over the line while protecting her own secrets.  I could easily see this turning into a six-part TV series with someone like Scarlet Johansson or Katherine Heigl in the lead.

 

 

The Alchemist’s Daughter by Mary Lawrence

Publisher: Kensington

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

A mercurial, Catholic alchemist nearly lost his life last year when someone else’s plot against the aging reign of Henry VIII (Catholic, but now Supreme Head of the Church in England) went terribly wrong. Fortunately for him, his resourceful daughter saved him and it is this daughter, Bianca Goddard, who is the focus of these adventures. 

In fact, in spite of saving her father’s life, Bianca avoids him and her long-suffering mother as much as possible. Instead, she lives alone in her room, or rent, filled with ill-smelling salves, rat poison, medicines and other concoctions, causing even hardened Southwark dwellers to comment on the foul smells. Like many of London’s poorest, Bianca’s created a bit of a family with her best friend, Jolyn, and her long-time suitor, a coinsmith’s apprentice named John whom she’s known since she was twelve.

Jolyn’s found a bit of luck lately, having recently left her mud-caked life looking for mildly valuable items in the muck for room and board in a former brothel. Now lovely—fresh and clean—Jolyn’s also found a well-heeled admirer, which gives her greater hope for her future. When she visits Bianca for a stomachache remedy, the strong young woman instead dies on the spot, leaving Bianca both bereft at the loss of her friend and the obvious choice for the hangman’s noose.

Bianca must evade the lazy local constable who’s certain she committed the crime while figuring out who and what killed Jolyn. Fortunately she has other colourful friends who lend assistance even while John petulantly reacts to her air of distraction.  

In an area like Southwark, there are plenty of possible suspects—including countless petty thieves and bored criminals—in addition to people who may have actively wished for Jolyn’s demise. Bianca’s chase through these mean streets feels a world away from the glittering—and also dangerous—court of the five-times married (so far!) king, but feels authentic and relatable.

Author Mary Lawrence does an excellent job of fleshing out her characters amidst the backdrop of London and the era without ever letting those details overwhelm the primary narrative. She adds historically accurate descriptions of historical places such as Newgate Prison and various practices such as gibbets and the gallows which inspired terror for citizens accused of crime or treason.

Bianca is both extremely likeable and exasperating, but her quirkiness bonds her friends to her, resulting in a wonderfully interesting ensemble. The Alchemist’s Daughter is well-written, enjoyable, and well-worth reading—and fortunately for the reader, the first in a planned series.

Ultimately, Lawrence’s debut novel successfully marries the historical fiction depicting the Tudor-era grimy underbelly of London’s dangerous streets with an effective thriller laced with quickening fear as Bianca runs out of time to save herself and to find the killer.

 

 

 

 

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Publisher: Crown

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Beautifully written as a coming of age story for a young woman caught between two overtly mismatched families, Bittersweet’s mysteries inhabit the dark space of family secrets on both sides, some open and others carefully kept because of their devastating results.

Ev Winslow has it all—she’s thin, blonde, gorgeous, and part of a powerful and wealthy family that summers in lovely rural Vermont. Her college roommate, Mabel Dagmar, on the other hand, is her opposite: chubby, awkward and the child of drycleaners who never fail to point out her flaws. Ev hardly even notices her until a Winslow family tragedy opens Ev up to friendship with Mabel, starting a slow  transformation as she teaches Mabel how to dress and rechristens her as “May.”

May eagerly accepts Ev’s invitation to spend the summer at the Winslow family property, leaving all thoughts of her wretched family and her own guilty secret as far behind as she can. She knows she’s not a Winslow, but for a while at least, she’s able to pretend to be part of this outwardly perfect clan, even as she receives cryptic warnings to the contrary.

When Ev’s Aunt Indo asks May to do family research and hints at “blood money,” promising to fill May’s dreams in return, May can hardly turn her down, even enlisting one of her new friends in the hunt. May basks in the sun, swimming with 14 year-old Lu and Ev’s cadre of siblings and cousins, all while realizing something darker permeates the idyllic retreat.

Whittemore’s descriptive imagery hews both sharp with the self-assured Winslows (“Her cheekbones cut like razors across her face.”) and soft with desperate Mabel (“She’d be the key to surviving the Price is Right and the tickle of cat hair at the back of the throat.”) Characters like Ev’s brittle mother seem initially predictable, but Whittemore refuses to allow any one-note characters to clutter up the many threads that make up the mystery. Readers may figure out a couple of the family secrets fairly early on and Indo’s big secret may not be quite as surprising as intended, but the character development and lovely prose far outweigh correct early guesses.

Filled with the romance of place and the lust for a place in which to belong, Bittersweet opens with a promise to change naïve May’s life only to fulfill it with a spectacular array of mystery, romance, and danger; ensuring readers spend long sessions trying to find out exactly what these secrets are and how they will change May and the Winslows forever.