THE MASQUE OF A MURDERER by Susanna Calkins

PUBLISHER: Minotaur, 3/2015
GENRE: Fiction/Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, 1667
SERIES: A Lucy Campion Mystery, #3
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: In Susanna Calkins’s next richly drawn mystery set in 17th century England, Lucy Campion, formerly a ladies’ maid in the local magistrate’s household, has now found gainful employment as a printer’s apprentice. On a freezing winter afternoon in 1667, she accompanies the magistrate’s daughter, Sarah, to the home of a severely injured Quaker man to record his dying words, a common practice of the time. The man, having been trampled by a horse and cart the night before, only has a few hours left to live. Lucy scribbles down the Quaker man’s last utterances, but she’s unprepared for what he reveals to her–that someone deliberately pushed him into the path of the horse, because of a secret he had recently uncovered.

Fearful that Sarah might be traveling in the company of a murderer, Lucy feels compelled to seek the truth, with the help of the magistrate’s son, Adam, and the local constable. But delving into the dead man’s background might prove more dangerous than any of them had imagined.

MY THOUGHTS: This was pretty boring, a little slow, and could have been written in about sixty pages less. There weren’t any interesting characters in this at all, not one. There were way too many characters to keep up with, at least thirteen, and I got a bit confused a few times. There should have been some backstory on Lucy but there wasn’t.

The murderer is too over the top in what they’ve done. And they gave a full confession at the end which is very annoying and unbelievable and I wish writers would stop having their villians do that.

There were quite a few times in the story when Lucy made comments, not asked questions, and the author ended the sentences with question marks. A few examples: Surely there is something you can do?, I could talk to them again? See if I could learn anything more?, I could take some tracts to share? While I make some general inquiries?

See my reviews for books one and two in this series.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

MURDER MOST MALICIOUS by Alyssa Maxwell

murderPUBLISHER: Kensington, 12/2015
GENRE: Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, December 1918
SERIES: A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery, #1
PURCHASE: link
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: B-

FROM PUBLISHER: December 1918: As a difficult year draws to a close, there is much to celebrate for nineteen-year-old Phoebe Renshaw and her three siblings at their beloved family estate of Foxwood Hall. The dreadful war is finally over; eldest daughter Julia’s engagement to their houseguest, the Marquis of Allerton, appears imminent; and all have gathered to enjoy peace on earth, good will toward men.

But the peace of Foxwood Hall is shattered on the morning of Boxing Day, when the Marquis goes missing. Not entirely missing, however, as macabre evidence of foul play turns up in gift boxes given to lady’s maid Eva Huntford and a handful of others. Having overheard her sister and the Marquis in a heated exchange the night before, Lady Phoebe takes a personal interest in solving the mystery.

As the local constable suspects a footman at Foxwood Hall, Phoebe and Eva follow the clues to a different conclusion. But both young women will need to think outside the box to wrap up this case–before a cornered killer lashes out with ill will toward them. . .

MY THOUGHTS: This sounded very interesting and indeed parts were, like the foul ‘gift’ included in several gift boxes for several of the employees of Foxwood Hall. The whole story was very ordinary, slow-paced, and not a whole lot went on. It certainly isn’t action-packed. This was a very mild mystery that seemed like it was for young adults.

There were entirely too many characters to keep track of and I have about 1 1/2 pages of names written down in my notes so I could keep up with everyone…and still had trouble remembering who’s who. I think some of them were added just to help fill pages.

There’s no depth to the story or characters. I like Eva a lot and would have liked to have gotten some background information on her. Julia, Phoebe’s older sister, is very unfriendly, even to Phoebe, and I didn’t get to find out why, or much else about her.

I’m not happy with who the culprit was, his reasons for doing what he did and passing out the ‘gifts’ he did though I loved what the author chose for him to do. Not original but imaginative. I’m sick and tired of authors’ having the culprit confess to at least one person, usually his next potential victim, right at the end of the story, then he/they’re captured and the story is wrapped up with a pretty bow. That doesn’t happen in real life.

Though my review is mostly critical I still enjoyed the story. It was slightly boring because of the pace and I did wish it would move along faster throughout most of it but it still held my interest. I liked both lead characters, Phoebe and Eva. Not quite thirty pages into the story is when the mystery began, and for that I’m happy. I’m impatient so I appreciated not having to get halfway through the story before anything big happened.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

THE SPOOK LIGHTS AFFAIR by Marsha Muller and Bill Pronzini

spook lightsPUBLISHING INFO: Forge Books, 12/2013
GENRE: Fictional Historical Mystery
SETTING: California, USA, 1895
SERIES: A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery #2
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: In 1895 San Francisco young debutantes don’t commit suicide at festive parties, particularly not under the eye of Sabina Carpenter.  But Virginia St. Ives evidently did, leaping from a foggy parapet in a shimmer of ghostly light. The seemingly impossible disappearance of her body creates an even more serious problem for the firm of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services.

Sabina hadn’t wanted to take the assignment, but her partner John Quincannon insisted it would serve as entrée to the city’s ultra rich and powerful. That means money, and Quincannon loves the almighty dollar. Which is why he is hunting the bandit who robbed the Wells, Fargo office of $35,000.

Working their separate cases (while Sabina holds John off with one light hand), the detectives give readers a tour of The City the way it was.  From the infamous Barbary Coast to the expensive Tenderloin gaming houses and brothels frequented by wealthy men, Quincannon follows a danger-laden trail to unmask the murderous perpetrators of the Wells, Fargo robbery. Meanwhile, Sabina works her wiles on friends and relatives of the vanished debutante until the pieces of her puzzle start falling into place. But it’s an oddly disguised gent appearing out of nowhere who provides the final clue to both cases—the shrewd “crackbrain” who believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes.

MY THOUGHTS: Slight spoilers ahead. I’m so disappointed in this story. It started out so good and interesting but became too far fetched. John and Sabina own a private investigation business and like in the previous book in this series each was working on a separate case that turned out to be connected. Why couldn’t they have worked cases that are unrelated in book two? My interest waned when the ‘ghostly sightings’ came along but that, thankfully, turned out to be something other than what we were lead to believe. I give the authors’ credit for originality regarding the suicide/ghostly activity but the story just wasn’t believable because of those things, IMO. I think what happened with the suicide was ridiculous and just not likely to have really happened. There was really no good reason for eighteen year old Virginia to want to do that anyway.

The whole robbery plot being connected to Virginia’s case wasn’t something I’d suspected. The Sherlock Holmes imposter made a very brief yet helpful appearance then went on his merry way. Not a fan of his character but since his time was so brief in the story, I didn’t mind him. John is still letting it be known he’s interested in Sabina but she’s still not interested in him that way. A new man has come into her life so we’ll have to see where that goes in the next installment.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

DEATH COMES TO LONDON by Catherine Lloyd (Kate Pearce)

deathcomestolondonPUBLISHING INFO: Kensington, 11/14
GENRE: Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, 3/1817
SERIES: A Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #2
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: A season in London promises a welcome change of pace for two friends from the village of Kurland St. Mary until murder makes a debut. With the reluctant blessings of their father, the rector of Kurland St. Mary, Lucy Harrington and her sister Anna leave home for a social season in London. At the same time, Lucy’s special friend Major Robert Kurland is summoned to the city to accept a baronetcy for his wartime heroism.

Amidst the dizzying whirl of balls and formal dinners, the focus shifts from mixing and matchmaking to murder when the dowager Countess of Broughton, the mother of an old army friend of Robert, drops dead. When it’s revealed she’s been poisoned, Robert’s former betrothed, Miss Chingford, is accused, and she in turn points a finger at Anna. To protect her sister, Lucy enlists Robert’s aid in drawing out the true culprit.

But with suspects ranging from resentful rivals and embittered family members to the toast of the ton, it will take all their sleuthing skills to unmask the poisoner before more trouble is stirred up.

MY THOUGHTS: I liked this one a bit more than the previous installment. It’s a plot about poison and greed. Poor Oliver. Lucy and Robert worked together to help solve the mystery surrounding three deaths. I don’t dislike Robert like I did before. He worked well with Lucy. Still no chemistry between them and they definitely have a platonic friendship. I don’t like the marriage proposal at all and felt it so out of place, out of the blue, and unnecessary.

The dark plot was interesting but it wasn’t too surprising who the culprit was. That’s never a good thing. I don’t understand why some mystery writers have the killer confess all right at the end. It’s so annoying and unrealistic. Another annoying thing is the reappearance of Robert’s ex-fiancé. She was in this book for no good reason just as in the previous book. This book is under 300 pages and all characters were underdeveloped. Honestly I think I’m finished with this series.

I received this from the author in exchange for an honest review.

 

THE MIDWIFE’S TALE: A MYSTERY by Sam Thomas

midwifePUB. INFO: Minotaur Books, 1/2013
GENRE: Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, 1644
NARRATION: First person
SERIES: A Midwife Mystery, #1
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: C-

FROM PUBLISHER: It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.

Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

MY THOUGHTS: I found this to be very boring and it took me forever to finish because of it. Extreme boredom set in at the halfway point of a book that’s only 310 pages.

Bridget is thirty years old, twice widowed, and has lost her two children. Other than that we didn’t get any background on her, the main character. I didn’t find her to be that likeable either. I did like her maid, Martha, but found it pointless to add in the stuff involving her brother. It just detracted from the main mystery of who poisoned Esther’s husband, Stephen. It isn’t anyone I suspected so I give the author credit for not making it so obvious.

There were too many characters, most of which were unnecessary, and too many murders, and I just didn’t care about any of it. It wasn’t interesting or suspenseful like I was hoping. I don’t think Bridget is interesting enough to carry a series.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

THE ARNIFOUR AFFAIR by Gregory Harris

arniPUBLISHING INFO: Kensington, 1/2014
GENRE: Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, early 1900’s
SERIES: A Colin Pendragon Mystery, #1
AUTHOR SITE: link
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: B

FROM PUBLISHER: Set against the fog-shrouded backdrop of turn-of-the-century London, Gregory Harris’s new historical mystery series introduces tenacious sleuth Colin Pendragon, and a case that illuminates the darkness lurking in the heart of one of England’s most noble families.

When a carriage bearing the Arnifour family crest–a vulture devouring a slaughtered lamb–arrives at the Kensington home of Colin Pendragon, it is an ominous beginning to a perplexing new case. Lady Arnifour’s husband has been beaten to death and her niece, Elsbeth, left in a coma. Is the motive passion, revenge, or something even more sinister? Police suspicions have fallen on the groundskeeper and his son, yet the Earl’s widow is convinced of their innocence.

Even as Colin and his partner Ethan Pruitt delve into the muddy history of the Arnifour family, a young street urchin begs their help in finding his missing sister. Ethan, regrettably familiar with London’s underbelly, urges caution, yet Colin’s interest is piqued. And in a search that wends from the squalid opium dens of the East End to the salons of Embassy Row, the truth about these seemingly disparate cases will prove disquieting, dangerous, and profoundly unexpected. . .

MY THOUGHTS:  This was a somewhat interesting mystery novel. It certainly was a family affair, in more ways than one. I like thirty-eight year old Ethan Pruitt, the narrator, business partner and lover to Colin. They’ve worked together as detectives for twelve years. We don’t have much backstory on either one. I really wanted to know more about Ethan since he’s a recovering opium addict who grew up on the streets and that I find interesting. They’re a gay couple who live together but who knows they’re gay? Is that known by everyone they’re close to, house servants included, or do people just assume they are? Those answers weren’t given. Since this is the first in a series I feel all of that should have been established.

As for the murder itself, very interesting. All the secrets and drama that ensued near the end, ridiculous, mostly, and slightly farfetched.

There was a subplot involving a young missing girl. I was initially interested but soon became bored with it. Looking back I’m not sure what the point of adding that to a relatively short novel was.

One thing that irritated me in this novel, and this happens in most of the historical mysteries that I’ve read, was how one person figured who the killer(s) was/were right at the end and told everyone, then the killer(s) confessed to it all with no remorse.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS by Susanna Calkins

charredPUBLISHING INFO: Minotaur Books, 4/22/2014
GENRE: Fiction/Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, 1666
SERIES: Lucy Campion Mysteries #2
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: C

From Publisher: Weeks after the Great Fire ravaged London, Lucy Campion—formerly a chambermaid, now a printer’s apprentice—is helping dig through the ashes of an old tavern, when a body is found stuffed into an old malt barrel, a knife through his chest. On the corpse is a small leather bag, promptly pickpocketed by a passing thief, and passed accidentally to Lucy. Inside the bag, Lucy discovers a strange collection of objects—the winnings from the last card game ever played at the tavern and a poem. These are also the only clues to the victim and his murderer. Not realizing that the poem is in code, Lucy persuades her new employer to publish the poem. This action leads to a chain of events that once again brings Lucy in direct confrontation with a murderer.

MY THOUGHTS: Well, the crimes themselves were interesting. The characters involved were not, except for Francis Clifford, who didn’t make an appearance until near the end. I thought the murders were somewhat convoluted and a bit over the top, especially all the things involving Francis’ parents, his mother in particular. Actually I think too much was going on and there were too many characters overall.

There’s confusion for some time about who the murdered man in the barrel is. I just didn’t like any of the characters that that murder introduced- Rhonda Water and Darius. There was something I found strange about them and I felt like they didn’t fit into the story very well. That’s when I started to get bored. A barmaid gets killed too. Revelations about a woman, Amelie, who had died before this story began come to light and we get introduced to her nutty father and Francis, her ex-lover. I don’t like her father at all. I do like Francis. Too bad he wasn’t in the story earlier.

Like with the first book in this series, this one too wasn’t very interesting when it could have and should have been. All the elements of a good mystery were there- the narrative just stunk.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

DEATH AND THE COURTESAN by Pamela Christie

PUBLISHING INFO: Kensington, 6/2013
GENRE: Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, early 1800s
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Since the age of sixteen, Arabella Beaumont has been happily employed as a highly paid woman of pleasure. True, respectable ladies of the ton would never deign to call at Lustings, her delightful home. Then again, Arabella has no desire to make dreary small talk and sip tea when she could be enjoying the company of amusing, intelligent, and extremely generous gentlemen.

But while Arabella’s admirers are legion, she also has enemies. A paper knife stolen during one of her salons was discovered near the body of a former rival. Arabella was entertaining her wealthy benefactor on the night of the murder, but the engaged duke can’t provide the alibi she desperately needs. It falls to Arabella and her resourceful sister, Belinda, to clear her good—or at least innocent—name. Utilizing all the talents in her arsenal, the irrepressible Miss Beaumont will endeavor to catch the real culprit, before the hangman catches up to her…

MY THOUGHTS: Arabella is in her mid-twenties. We got no backstory on her at all which is a big mistake for an author to omit that information. I learned nothing about how she came to be a courtesan. Why someone set her up to be accused of murder is a mystery too. The story was silly and dull, PG-13 rated and just too plain and simple. I felt Arabella didn’t take the murder accusation too seriously. Yes, she, with the help of a few people, tried to solve the mystery on her own and did solve it. That part was just not believable. How the real murderer came to be arrested was not believable either.

This seems like a short story that was written by a thirteen year old and I can’t recommend it to anyone.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.