Division Bell Mystery
December 8th, 2018 by diane92345

Set in the houses of Parliament in 1932, when it was also written, the Division Bell Mystery is the first mystery written by a female member of Parliament.

Someone is murdered. However, the focus is on British politics. Not being British, I had a hard time following the story. Those familiar with Parliament might enjoy the intrigue. However, I didn’t think the mystery was good enough to wade through all the politics. It is more of a curiosity than a good read. 2 stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Hall of Mirrors
December 5th, 2018 by diane92345

It’s 1969. Bryant and May are tasked with keeping a witness safe at an English Country House weekend. Unfortunately, the Army has closed the only exit road due to war games. There are nine suspects and more than one potential victim in this Hall of Mirrors.

Hall of Mirrors is the fifteenth entry in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series but the first I’ve read. It is a perfect entry point because it is a prequel of one of Bryant and May’s early cases. London in 1969 sounds like a groovy time, man. The setting of hippies, eastern spirituality and old staunch England all collide with humorous results. This book includes everything but the kitchen sink: mythical creatures, WWI heroes, innovative murder methods and motives. The conclusion was fabulous. I loved this book and will be looking for more from this series. It is highly recommended to armchair detectives and anyone looking for a challenging mystery. 5 stars!

Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

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In at the Death
October 7th, 2018 by diane92345

Amateur detective Mordecai Tremaine is back is the fine mystery In at the Death.

 

Dr. Hardene is found bludgeoned to death inside a vacant house. When Chief Inspector Boyce of Scotland Yard is called to investigate, he brings his buddy Mordecai Tremaine. Numerous questions emerge. Why was the Doctor carrying a gun in his bag? Why was his car parked down the street? Why does everyone in the small town seem to be hiding something?

Written in 1952, In at the Death showcases the puzzle making skills of the author. He seems to be hitting his stride in the fourth Mordecai Tremaine mystery. I was totally blindsided by the conclusion. If you want to play armchair detective too, I highly recommend reading this book. Hopefully, you will have better luck guessing the murderer. 4 stars!

Thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Excellent Intentions
October 7th, 2018 by diane92345

Herbert Cargate is a very unpleasant man. He is also soon to be poisoned on a train in the English countryside in Excellent Intentions.

Starting a murder case at the end, in the courtroom trying to prove a mysterious person’s guilt, is an unusual plot structure. Published in 1938, fifteen years before Agatha Christie’s more famous courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution, Excellent Intentions also uses a courtroom setting to obscure the face of a murderer. While I enjoyed the change, it did make playing armchair detective much more difficult. The point of view makes quick jumps between people and time periods. The author uses excessive and mostly meaningless detail as a red herring. The effect is rather like jet lag. Eventually, you are resigned to it and are just reading to find out whodunnit.

Excellent Intentions is an interesting golden-age British curiosity. However, it doesn’t work very well as a mystery. Therefore, it is recommended only for readers interested in the historical underpinnings of mysteries. It would be an unusual structure for a modern mystery writer to use and improve upon. However, even with the unexpected twist at the end, I can’t recommend it to regular mystery readers. To those people, I recommend the much better example of the author’s work, Murder of my Aunt. Excellent Intentions is rated a scant 3 stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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October 3rd, 2018 by diane92345

A beguiling mystery, unique romance and dynamic characters make the Hollow of Fear a perfect readcation for female Sherlock Holmes fans.

Set in Victorian England, the Hollow of Fear follows Charlotte Holmes and Mrs. Watson. Looking for her half-brother, Charlotte runs into Moriarty’s handiwork. Also, when Lady Ingram turns up dead, Lord Ingram is suspected. Charlotte must find the real murderer to clear his name while her relationship with the Lord takes an unexpected turn.

The use of Victorian language and plot devices (hidden tunnels and a multitude of disguises) matches the original Holmes atmosphere well. I especially liked the unusual romantic dynamic between Charlotte and Lord Ingram. Despite swapping genders of some characters and a very 21st century feeling to Charlotte, the mystery felt like it belonged in the Sherlock Holmes canon. It definitely wasn’t easy for this armchair detective to solve.

This is my first book in the series. While understandable as a stand alone, I felt the tale would have been more enjoyable if I had read the two previous books first. Regardless, it is a solid 4 star read!

Thanks to the publisher, Berkeley, and Edelweiss+ for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review

Posted in Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers Tagged with: , , ,

Malice Aforethought
September 15th, 2018 by diane92345

Malice Aforethought is a great British golden-age mystery with a killer twist.

Mrs. Julia Bickleigh was born into wealth and minor aristocracy. When her father blew the family fortunes before his death, Julia was forced to marry a common doctor. She never let her husband, Dr. Edmund Bickleigh, forget he was a worm well below her status.

“Dr. Bickleigh’s reactions to his wormhood were perfectly normal. He accepted it as one accepts a scar on the face. It was a pity, but there it was and it could not be helped.”

One day, the worm turned and the doctor began plotting his wife’s murder. He already had her replacement in mind, the extremely rich Miss Madeleine Cranmere. But first he must rid himself of his mistress.

Malice Aforethought was originally published in England in 1931. It had innovative plotting for its day with the whodunnit resolved on the first page leaving only the how to the rest of the book. After watching years of Columbo, the plot device seems rather creaky. However, the powerhouse ending makes up for it. If you like British golden-age mysteries, this is an excellent choice. It is also recommended to fans of Alfred Hitchcock films. 4 stars!

Thanks to Dover Publications and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Hangman's Hold
August 27th, 2018 by diane92345

Hangman’s Hold is a servicable British police procedural.

DCI Matilda Darke has a problem. Someone is killing ex-convicts on her patch. Adele, Sheffield’s pathologist and Matilda’s best friend, has a worse problem. She had her first date in 20 years with the first victim, Brian, the night he was murdered. Unfortunately, Matilda’s worst problem is someone is leaking confidential police information to a local reporter.

Although a back story from previous books in this series are alluded to within this book, the reader can start the series here. The main characters, Matilda and Adele, are convincingly portrayed as lonely middle-aged women. Most of the other detectives are not fully fleshed out and are introduced as new to Matilda too. This allows them to be suspects in the leaking mystery but it also makes it difficult to see their point of view.

For those looking for a good police procedural about a serial killer, Hangman’s Hold is recommended for an evening’s entertainment. 3 stars.

Thanks to the publisher, Killer Reads, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Weekend at Thrackley
August 8th, 2018 by diane92345

Jim Henderson, unemployed for three years since WWI, gets an invitation from a friend of his father for a free Weekend at Thrackley. The mysterious owner, Edwin Carson, has something rather different planned than a typical country house weekend.

The residents are Mr. Carson’s daughter, Mary; his butler, Jacobson; and four other burly male servants. The guests are Freddie, Jim’s rich club mate; Lady Stone, a wealthy socialite; Raoul, a beautiful female entertainer; and finally poor—but still maintaining the facade—twins, Marilyn and Henry.

Weekend at Thrackley is a British debut mystery originally published in 1934. At the time, it was a best seller. It hasn’t held up as well as the Christie canon unfortunately. There are many long and irrelevant descriptions of people, places and bridge games that can safely be skimmed with no impact to the main plot. The biggest issue is that the plot itself has been remade a countless number of times since 1934. Think of the movies Clue and Murder by Death without the humor. Overall, even though I adore British golden age mysteries, I can’t recommend Weekend at Thrackley. 2 stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Aunt Dimity and the King's Ransom
August 5th, 2018 by diane92345

Not much of a mystery, more of a history, is found in Aunt Dimity and the King’s Ransom.

Lori is trapped by flooding rains in rural England in Shepney when she meets former Bishop Christopher. When only a supposed haunted attic room is the only area left to sleep, Lori makes the best of it. Her mother’s deceased friend Aunt Dimity contacts Lori by automatic writing in a blank blue notebook. Dimity states there is no ghost in the attic but tells of several in different areas of the King’s Ransom Inn, where Lori is staying. Christopher and Lori hunt for the ghost story’s origin as well as that of the inn’s name.

I’ve never read any books in the Aunt Dimity series before and was disappointed by her extremely small role in this book. I verified that this is marketed as a cozy mystery though the mysteries also seem rather scant. There are no present day crimes in Aunt Dimity and the King’s Ransom at all. It is all smugglers’ gold and 1700’s English history. To be honest, it reminded me of the books and cartoons of my youth like Scooby Doo, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. While the plot wasn’t to my taste, those interested in British history or looking for a non-violent mystery might find it interesting. 3 stars.

Thanks to Viking Books and NetGalley for a copy.

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Bats in the Belfry
May 3rd, 2018 by diane92345

Characterization is sacrificed for plot in Bats in the Belfry.

There are a multitude of characters in Bats in the Belfry. Most are only vaguely fleshed out.  We first meet the main players at a funeral where they begin to discuss how they would hide a dead body.  Old Agatha Christie paperbacks always included a cast of characters at the beginning of the book.  However, this book doesn’t have one so here is my own:

  • Bruce Attleton, former bestselling author but now nearly destitute
  • Sybilla Attleton, wife of Bruce, famous actress and family breadwinner
  • Elizabeth Leigh, Bruce’s ward
  • Debrette, a mysterious foreigner who wants to speak desperately to Bruce
  • Thomas Burroughs, rich family friend perhaps too interested in Sybilla
  • Neil Rockingham, another family friend who is worried about Bruce’s reaction to Debrette
  • Robert Grenville, hopeful suitor of Elizabeth who is willing to check into Debrette for Neil

The plot has so many twists that admittedly I gave up trying to decipher the victim much less the murderer by the mid-point. If you wait until the end, the murderer is easily determined by seeing who has not either been killed or at least wounded yet.

Written in 1937, the convoluted plot in Bats in the Belfry holds up well for modern audiences. The best part was some of the 30s slang like ker-wite, bally-nix and prosy.  I was surprised that most of the words were found by my Kindle simply by clicking on the word so I would recommend reading this book on a Kindle just so you aren’t constantly looking up words on your phone. I was also surprised by the use of nouns for verbs (that practice that drives me crazy now) like corpsed for killed. The reverse was also true. For example, bury-ee is used for corpse.

Bats in the Belfry was a good, not great, golden-age British mystery. It is recommended for those readers that look more for plot than characterization in their fiction.  3 stars.

Thanks to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Charity Ends at Home
April 20th, 2018 by diane92345

Fifth in the Flaxborough Mystery series, Charity Ends at Home is another late Golden Age small English village cozy.

The village coroner, constable and editor of the local paper each receive an identical unsigned note stating that the writer is fearful of being murdered. The note references a photo of the writer but the photo is not included in any of the notes.

The plot and characters within Charity Ends at Home are unique. The mystery is great and unusual. This 20th century police procedural is worth 4 stars.

Thanks to Farrago and NetGalley for a copy. #FrugalFriday Short Review

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Murder for Christmas
October 4th, 2017 by diane92345

Splendid British Golden Age murder mystery.

For several years, Benedict Grame, a rich eccentric billionaire, has invited his friends to celebrate a traditional Christmas celebration in his mansion in a remote British village. However, this year he has also invited celebrated amateur detective Mordecai Tramaine. On Christmas Eve, a woman’s scream rends the night.  Santa is found sprawled dead under the Christmas tree.  Will Mordecai be able to assist the local Constable to solve the crime?  What is the meaning of the mysterious footprints to and from the murder scene? Does the secret passage between rooms impact the murder? What secrets are hidden among the guests, residents, or even Benedict himself?

The fun in this novel is trying to determine where all the clues lead.  Some lead to the solution.  Some lead to other activities unrelated to the murder.  Some are pure red herrings.  All are explained by the finale, which is challenging to determine prior to the last ten pages in the book.

This novel, which was previously published in 1949, is the second in the Mordecai Tremaine series of five books. Murder for Christmas can be read without any further exposure to the series. The language is easily understood by modern readers.

This book is highly recommended for fans of Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout and John Dickson Carr.   Anyone who enjoys a good mystery and especially readers who like playing armchair detective will enjoy Murder for Christmas.

Thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, and netgalley for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review. Murder for Christmas (Mordecai Tremaine Mystery) will be published on October 10, 2017.

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