Tag Archives: England

The Inheritance

the-inheritance

Title:  The Inheritance (Charles Lenox Mystery 10)
Author:  Charles Finch
Publisher:  Minotaur
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-250-07042-5

Book Summary:
After a quiet holiday in the country with his family, Charles Lenox returns home early when he receives a cryptic note from an old friend.  Gerald Leigh and Charles were unlikely friends at Harrow; Charles was a fairly “by-the-book” student while Gerald scoffed at the rules and eventually left school early.  Charles was from a well-to-do family; Gerald’s attendance at Harrow was paid for by a mysterious benefactor.  Although different, the two boys found common interests and deep, respective friendship, and the search for the identity of Gerald’s mysterious benefactor was Charles’ first, albeit unsuccessful, foray into detecting.

Gerald’s note is choppy and distracted, but Charles feels compelled to help.  His intent for assistance turns into alarm when Gerald fails to appear to meet as promised.  Charles deduces some potential places that he may be hiding out and when he finds Gerald, he is discovers two shocking things.  One, Gerald has been bequeathed another, more substantial bequest, and someone is trying to kill him.

Committed to helping keep his friend safe and finally solving his first case, Charles plunges into the scientific world of the Royal Society.  In the years since he left Harrow, Gerald has established a name for himself through his scientific discoveries; is it someone from his present, or from his past, that is trying to kill him?  Further demanding of his time, Charles’ detective agency is on retainer for smaller cases in Parliament.  A recent rash of thefts has proven elusive and dangerous.  With his quintessential English stoicism, Charles strives to help both his friend and his country.

Book Commentary:
With the tenth book in the Charles Lenox series, author Charles Finch has something that few authors of long-running series can claim: he maintains consistent quality stories.  I find that with some authors who have a dozen or more books in a series, there are a few that just don’t maintain my interest or have a consistent quality.  All the Charles Lenox stories are excellent, and I think the main reason is the character of Charles Lenox.  He is an intelligent, charismatic protagonist with a refined, calm demeanor.  That is not to say he is perfect; at times, he is arrogant, aristocratic, and flawed.  He is human, from his flaws to his attributes; he is also very likable, someone I would like to have tea and an intelligent conversation with.

The series relies on diverse plot-lines with some adventure, but bottom line is that the protagonist solves the cases through good, old-fashioned detecting. I don’t want to insult them by calling them “quiet” stories because author’s witty and elegant writing style keep the reader fully engaged, but he doesn’t feel the need to always include some grandiose, cliff-hanging escapade in order to solve the case.

I also enjoy the subtle history lessons that author weaves into the story.  He discusses how advent of the telegraph brought both progress and problems to Parliament and how the English custom of driving on  the left came about.

The secondary characters of Edmund, Jane, Dallington, and McConnell reappear in each book to help maintain the consistency of the plots and help to ground Charles into the life of a gentleman.  I look forward to their appearance in each story; their own personal growth and development as characters further influences and defines Charles’ own personality.

Who might like this book:
This series would appeal to anyone who likes a classic English mystery.  The author’s grasp on history is similar to how Tasha Alexander weaves together events, customs, and principles of England in the late 1800’s.

DO NOT even think about not reading this series in order.  It is a great one to get hooked on because there are so many!!  Here is the series in order:
A Beautiful Blue Death
The September Society
The Fleet Street Murders
A Stranger in Mayfair
A Burial at Sea
A Death in the Small Hours
An Old Betrayal
The Laws of Murder
Home By Nightfall

Advertisements

Death Wears a Mask

death-wears-a-mask

Title:  Death Wears a Mask (Amory Ames 2)
Author:  Ashley Weaver
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-250-09612-8

Book Summary:
After capturing a murderer and almost being killed herself at Brightwell, Amory Ames is enjoying some quiet time at home.  Her relationship with husband Milo seems to have arrived at a comfortable truce and she is hoping that his playboy ways have been calmed.  Amory accepts an invitation for she and Milo to attend a dinner party at the home of the Barringtons.  Mrs. Barrington was a friend of Amory’s mother and Amory is a bit surprised at the attempt at a renewed friendship after years apart.  At the party, it becomes apparent that Mrs. Barrington has more need of Amory that just her presence.  She pulls Amory aside as they progress into dinner, fiercely whispering to her that she should watch the guests.

Because of Amory’s success at Brightwell, Mrs. Barrington reveals to her that a number of her expensive and sentimental jewelry pieces have gone missing.  Through careful research, she is able to eliminate the staff as suspects.  Coincidentally, all the thefts have occurred on days when she has hosted dinner parties and all these dinner parties have included the same guests.  Amory and Mrs. Barrington work together to lay a trap the next evening at a masquerade party given by one of the guests, Lord Dunmore.  Lord Dunmore is charming and handsome and has almost as rakish a reputation of Milo.  Mrs. Barrington plans to wear a paste version of an expensive sapphire bracelet to entice a theft and to then catch the villain in the act.

Milo is amused by Amory’s involvement but deems it more necessary to visit his club to discuss the purchase of a fine Arabian horse than attend the party.  Unsure about Milo’s motivation and true intent, Amory arrives at the ball alone and the stage is set.  Lord Dunmore takes great interest in Amory and when she slips on the stair and sprains her ankle, he is quick to whisk her off her feet and take her to a bedchamber to examine her foot.  When Milo catches Amory with Lord Dunmore, he is nonplussed.  However, the scene becomes dire when a shot is heard, and the body of Mrs. Barrinton’s nephew is found with the stolen jewels in his pocket.

Inspector Jones from Brightwell has been reassigned to Scotland Yard and once again asks for Amory’s insight on the guests.  Amory agrees to help but quickly is overwhelmed by romantic conflicts, hidden agendas, and secret pasts.  Milo also has seemed to take the opportunity to revert back to his old ways.  Amory is unsure of who and what to trust because of the masks that people wear.

Book Commentary:
What a fantastic series!!  This is book two and the setting has switched to the elite of London.  Post World War I has invited a time of opulence and grandeur and the characters seem to have a life of lavish and leisure.  However, dark secrets of betrayal, financial loss, and violence are hidden just below the surface.  I really enjoy how the author describes this Golden Age while still laying the foundation of how the world will change in just a few short years.  I look forward to watching how these conflicting themes will play out in future books.

I absolutely love the character of Amory.  She is smart, refined, and elegant but her underlying sensitivity and humanity drive her actions.  She definitely knows her role in society and her marriage and doesn’t outwardly rebel against the norms but she knows how to work the system behind the scenes.  I appreciate her motivation in helping others as opposed to using the events just as a diversion.  Once again, Milo is an enigmatic character; we see a bit more of who he is but there is still more brewing under the surface.  I had a prediction as to what his character motivation was based on the first book and I was wrong; however, the author does provide some clues and I hope that more will be discovered in future books.

Who might like this book:
I have been reading a lot of books about World War I and the Golden Age right afterward; it is fascinating time in history and the series has set itself well into the manners and enigmas of the upper echelons of society.  In some ways, Amory reminds me of a more “modern day” version of Lady Emily from Tasha Alexander’s series; they are both strong, intelligent women who understand the norms and customs of society but also how to use them to their advantage.  Milo and Colin, however, are as different as can be!

You must read the first book, Murder at Brightwell, first.  It is just wrong to read this series out of order.  I am thrilled that the new Amory book, A Most Novel Revenge, is set for release on October 11, 2016.  As further endorsement of this series, unlike the first two books, I am not waiting.  I’m splurging on the hardback!!

 

The Summer Before the War

simonson_summer_final

Title:  The Summer Before the War
Author:  Helen Simonson
Publisher:  Random House
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-451-48211-2

Book Summary:
Following her father’s death and the lukewarm reception from her relatives, Beatrice Nash is compelled to seek out employment on her own.  After traveling the world with her father and handling all his papers and correspondence in exotic locales, East Sussex is quite the lackluster destination.  But, in 1914, a woman seeking a position as a Latin teacher, must accept any opportunity that is offered.

Agatha Kent is a force to be reckoned with in the small, insulated community of Rye.  Her reputation and word are on the line as she has pushed for the hiring of Miss Nash.  Her husband works in the Foreign Office and although there is plenty of unrest on the continent, no one is very concerned during this idyllic summer.  As Agatha and John Kent have no children of their own, they dote on their two nephews.  As different as can be, Daniel dreams of writing poetry and enjoying the pastoral life while Hugh works to finish his medical degree and impress both Sir Alex Ramsey, his mentor, and Lucy, his daughter.  Both nephews, however, dote on their aunt and assist with her numerous involvements.

And so begins a summer in Rye.  Beatrice tutors three reluctant and diverse boys from the community, the Mayor’s wife continues to flaunt her position and influence, and the town opens its homes to Belgium refugees.  Although the refuges tell of the horrors of the war, the town continues to live in denial until the inevitable happens.  As England joins the war, the town and its population will never be the same.

Book Commentary:
Wow!  This book was nothing like I expected.  I was familiar with the author whose first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, garnered a great deal of attention and honors, but I haven’t read it.  It is now on my list.  The book starts as a truly beautiful and nostalgic visit to simpler times.  The town gossip, the shock at a woman riding a bicycle, the prejudice towards both the Belgium refuges and the traveling gypsies all encompass the minds and talk of the townsfolk.  A friend asked me what I thought of the book when I was about two-thirds of the way through and I said it was “nice.”  It was a quiet, peaceful, armchair kind of read.

Then suddenly for the reader, the shock, horrors, and reality of the war are thrust into the forefront.  The author created the same feel for the reader that townspeople must have felt; all that they held true and right was destroyed in an instant.  I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book; I was riveted by the final third.  The author slowly and meticulously shows the destruction of a previous way of life.  I gasped and sobbed as I finished the final third of the book.  I felt compelled and driven to continue reading but at the same time was constantly fearful and anxious as I turned each page.  Truly a brilliant work and one I highly recommend.

On a separate and a bit humorous note, I accidentally purchased the Large Print version off Amazon.  I’m not quite to the age or need for this type of book, and I struggled a bit with the format.  As I got further into the story however, I was reminded of my grandmother who used to read the Large Print versions of books, and although she was just a child at the start of World War I, I couldn’t help but think of how her family and life were also forever changed.

Who might like this book:   
I’ve been reading a lot of post-World War I books recently, but few before the war.  The contrast between the times is sweeping and heart-breaking but I admired the endurance of the characters and their spirit.

Amy Snow

Amy Snow

Title:  Amy Snow
Author:  Tracy Rees
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-5011-2837-0

Book Summary:
In 1831, Aurelia, eight-year-old daughter and only child of Lord and Lady Vennaway, once again disobeys her governess and rushes out to play in the newly fallen snow on her family’s English estate.  Headstrong and spoiled, but also compassionate and inquisitive, Aurelia is shocked to discover an abandoned infant left in the snow.  Although her parents disapprove of the child, they are unwilling to deny anything to their only child.  And so, Amy is raised in the household.  She spends most of her time below stairs and out of the Vennaway’s sight, but Aurelia is ever diligent and stops in very frequently to be with Amy and comfort and guide her.  As Amy grows older, she provides a comforting balm to Aurelia’s flighty personality.  Grudgingly, the elder Vennaway’s allow Amy into the schoolroom to take lessons with Aurelia when the tutor recognizes the effect Amy has on the young heiress.

Although Amy has Aurelia’s love and devotion, life at Hatville Court is challenging.  She helps the servants with the chores, but Amy learns quickly that it is best that avoid all contact with Lord and Lady Vennaway.  She isn’t able to make a connection with the servants, because they think she is above them.  The bond however between the girls is as close as sisters and eventually, Aurelia makes Amy her personal companion.

Aurelia’s parents push for a marriage which would eventually give them the heir they so desire, but these plans are cancelled when Aurelia is discovered with a terminal illness.  Amy serves Aurelia in her final days as a nurse, but immediately following her death, funeral, and reading of the will, the Vennaways make it clear that Amy is to leave Hatville Court.  Prior to her departure, Amy is secretly visited by Mr. Clay who presents Amy with a letter from Aurelia that he was charged to deliver to her before she left Hatville.  Even in death, Aurelia is taking care of Amy and sets her on an adventure that would change her life.

The coded letter starts Amy on journey that enables Amy to discover not only who she is but also who she wants to be.  Her quest takes her to various locations around England and she meets a cast a characters, including a warm and welcoming family, a cantankerous old woman, and two dashing gentleman who vie for her heart.  The end result of the clues, puzzles, and hidden signs leads Amy to a conclusion that could threaten no only herself, but Aurelia’s legacy.

Book Commentary:
What a delightful story!!  I was intrigued by the puzzles and clues that were left to Amy, and the author does a wonderful job at allowing the reader to solve the mysteries along with her.  The story is truly a coming-of-age story with a great deal of mystery and subterfuge.  The author alternates the story between Amy’s present day situation and the story of her life with Aurelia though the memories.  Although the memories often help Amy solve the clues, they also provide so much insight about Aurelia and the relationship between the girls.

Amy is an admirable character and the reader enjoys watching her growth and discovery; however, even though Amy is the title character, I felt the story was really that of Aurelia.  Her depth of compassion, rebellion, and understanding of the world around her is evident through the quest she devises and I really felt she grew into herself posthumously through Amy’s own self-discovery.

The story is rich in detail about clothing and social mores and conventions; the reader feels Amy’s own spark of surprise and delight as her knowledge of the world grows.  The story is also full of entertaining and memorable secondary characters who help Amy on her journey.

Who might like this book:
Although a completely different type of story, I was reminded of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Darby series and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, in that the main characters truly learn the story of someone’s life after their death.  In all three cases, the story of the deceased character is told through letters, mementoes, and remembrances of other characters.  It is a really interesting way to tell a story.

The novel includes a wonderful interview with the author and a collection of book club discussion questions.  I really enjoyed the author’s writing style; she has one other book published called Florence Grace.  It is currently sitting in my Amazon wishlist!

Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell

Title:  Murder at the Brightwell (Amory Ames 1)
Author:  Ashley Weaver
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-1-250-07462-1

Book Summary:
England, 1932.  World War I is over and England is enjoying prosperity and a new age.  Amory Ames has been married to Milo for five years; although very charming and handsome, Milo shows little contentment at staying home with his wife.  He prefers traveling around the continent with, as he states, “more money than he could ever spend.”

When Gil Trent, Amory’s friend and ex-fiancé asks for help, she accepts an invitation to Brightwell as a welcome change.  Gil wants Amory to attend under the pretext that she is leaving her husband for him; a charade that Amory isn’t completely comfortable with.  Gil is concerned because his beloved sister Emmeline is engaged to Rupert Howe, a notorious playboy and gambler.  Gil hopes that if Emmeline sees how Amory is trying to leave a similar marriage, that she might reconsider the proposal.  Fellow guests at the resort include the Rodgers, a paradoxical couple of a solemn solicitor and a vibrant platinum blonde; the Hamiltons, a nasty critical husband and a shy unassuming wife; and Lionel Blake, a rising star of the British stage.

When Milo unexpectedly returns from Monte Carlo prior to her departure, Amory is confused but chooses to help Gil anyway.  The first evening at Brightwell is filled with dining and dancing and sly looks and whispered exchanges.  Gil and Amory plan to meet Rupert and Emmeline for tea the next day, but when they arrive, they discover Emmeline perplexed as Rupert is nowhere to be found.  Looking over the stone balcony, Amory is shocked to discover his body lying on the ground.  Inspector Jones arrives and, contrary to what is suspected, rules that Rupert was murdered.

Amory quickly becomes embroiled in the investigation when Gil’s dislike of Rupert becomes known and he rises to the position of top suspect.   It seems however that many of the guests had encounters with and dislikes of Rupert and the facts become muddied.  To complicate matters even more, Milo shows up at the resort.  Amory struggles with juggling between her friendship with Gil and her marriage to Milo.  Who does she trust, and just as important, who does she love?  As more accidents occur, Amory realizes that the culprit must be discovered quickly before she also becomes a victim.

Book Commentary:
What a completely delightful story!!  Set in the posh elegance of polite society, Amory is a woman caught in a marriage and life that seems to have no purpose.  Although obviously still in love with her husband, she feels as though she were ambling with no purpose.  She is a smart and clever heroine but also quite staid and reserved.  This contrast, coupled with carefully guarded emotions, creates a sense of mystery about her; however this mystery is only perceived by herself.  Told from the first person perspective, Amory reveals her fears and loneliness but doesn’t ever wallow in self-pity.

Milo, however, is the true mystery character and the author does a fabulous job at making the reader question who he is and what is his purpose.  The author does not reveal all and I look forward to his appearance in future stories.

I also loved the descriptions of this obviously elite resort; the details about the clothing, décor, and cuisine help to create the high-society feel of the setting and draws the reader into the story.

Who might like this book:
You know I love a good English mystery and this one definitely fits the bill.  Amory is a very likeable character and the time between the World Wars provides fodder for a great story. Unlike others I have read set during this time period, there is no international intrigue but rather a focus on the lifestyles and recreations of the very wealthy.

I was thrilled when I started to write this review to discover that the book was published in 2014.  A second book Death Wears a Mask is also out and a third book A Most Novel Revenge is set for publication in October of 2016.

Home By Nightfall

Home by Nightfall

Title:  Home By Nightfall (Charles Lenox Mystery 9)
Author:  Charles Finch
Publisher:  Minotaur
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-250-07041-8

Book Summary:
It is London, 1876, and after a very challenging and disheartening start to his detective agency, former Member of Parliament, Charles Lenox, has settled well into his new career.  As a member of that part of society whom “trade” is considered below them, Lenox has spent many years helping Scotland Yard and indulging his own interests and queries by engaging in detective work.  By joining forces with two other detectives, the formulation of their agency solidifies his dedication to his talents.  However, Lenox realizes how this comfort of pursuing a career that he enjoys and enjoying the life of husband and father can be shattered when his older brother’s wife dies suddenly.

As Edmund retires to the Lenox family estate in Markethouse, Charles feels compelled to join his brother in concern for his health in his grief.  Furthering the depth of the loss of Molly, Edmund’s sons Teddy and James are away from England and have not heard the news.  While in Markethouse, Edmund oversees the care of his estate but also as its Member of Parliament, he administers legal counsel.  Arthur Hadley is a resident of Markethouse and a vice director of the Dover Limited Fire and Life Assurance Company.  He approaches Edmund and Charles with a perplexing story.  Upon his most recent return from traveling for work, Hadley came home to his house to find a candlelight in the window.  He then saw a face in the window that disappeared.  Nothing was stolen from the house and other than a disturbing chalk outline of a girl on his front stoop, nothing else was amiss. Hadley then reports that a few days later he was called out of town for a fire insurance claim that was a false report.  When he returned home, he discovered that a bottle of sherry was missing.  All this occurred while his charwoman, Mrs. Watson, was in the home.  Hadley has no reason to question Mrs. Watson’s dedication but fears for his own safety that someone is able to enter his home without his knowledge.  Edmund’s curiosity is peaked and because of this spark of interest in his brother, Charles agrees to take the case.

However, this is not the only case Charles has on his mind.  Back in London, famous German pianist Mueller was the talk of all London.  He recently played a concert, bowed to the audience, returned to his dressing room, and disappeared.  No trace of a violent struggle or any explanation of how he was able to leave the theater without being seen is evident.  Scotland Yard is thoroughly confused and under a great deal of pressure from the press, and the Queen herself, to discover the whereabouts of the missing pianist.  To make matters worse, Scotland Yard has asked for the assistance of LeMaire, a detective who was formerly with Lenox and his partners, but left to form a competing agency.  To top everything off, a number of Lenox’s discreet clients have left his agency for LeMaire.  There seems to be a traitor in their office.

Traveling back and forth between London and Markethouse, Charles tries to juggle the three cases.  When someone is viciously assaulted and a body is discovered, the pressure to solve the cases escalates and Charles must draw on all this investigative skills and powers of deduction to find a killer, a traitor, and a missing person.

Book Commentary:
The book jacket of the Charles Lenox books describes the stories as “equal parts Jane Austen and Charles Dickens,” and this is truly a fitting description.  I have followed the Charles Lenox books since the first one and the character has really grown and developed.  What I most appreciate about his character is his humanity; he makes mistakes, at times he can be a bit conceited, and yet, he is always a proper English gentleman.  The cases he solves are varied and complex, and the storytelling isn’t fast-paced, but rather engaging and thoughtful.

I love this series!  I usually am drawn to female protagonists in historical mysteries so this is a pleasant departure for me.  I enjoy the ways women must work within the confines of the society in which they live.  The Charles Lenox series follows a similar pattern as he must work within the parameters of the land-owning population of 1870’s English society.  The juxtaposition of Charles dining at his club and then running through the back streets of the seedy parts of London gives great dimension to his stories.  The author has a very dry wit and though not formal, writes in an elegant, refined manner.

Who might like this book:
If you like classic British mysteries then this book is for you.  The story is engaging and thoughtful with quite a bit of wit, personality, and humor.  This is a great series that I think appeals to both genders.  Author of the Lady Emily series Tasha Alexander often comments on her love of this series and that is a great endorsement for me!

Here is the series in order:
A Beautiful Blue Death
The September Society
The Fleet Street Murders
A Stranger in Mayfair
A Burial at Sea
A Death in the Small Hours
An Old Betrayal
The Laws of Murder

The Crossing Places

The Crossing Places

Title:  The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway Book 1)
Author:  Elly Griffiths
Publisher:  Mariner
Publication Date:  2010
ISBN:  978-0-547-38606-5

Book Summary:
Ruth Galloway is content with life; she lives alone with her two cats in the desolate and bare area near Norfolk called the Saltmarsh.  As a forensic archaeologist, she is fascinated by the land and marshes around her home that were sacred to the Iron Age inhabitants.  Ruth spends her time on digs and teaching at the university, but her peaceful and serene world is shattered with DCI Harry Nelson asks Ruth for help.  The bones of a child have been found a beach and Nelson thinks that they belong to Lucy Downey, a little girl who disappeared ten years ago.  Ruth quickly determines that the bones are too old to be Lucy’s . . . about 2000 years too old.

Nelson has been haunted by Lucy’s disappearance and has been tormented by strange letters that include references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and ancient rituals.  As the letters are addressed directly to him, he is haunted by their accusations.  When another girl goes missing and the letters take on allusions to sacrifice and bones, Ruth is asked again to consult.  Are the two missing girls linked in any way?  What is the obsession to the Iron Age and ancient sites on the Saltmarsh?  Ruth is reluctant to help, claiming her detective skills are better suited to the ancient past, until an attack is made that threatens Ruth and makes her question what she really knows about the people she is close to.

Book Commentary:
I found this book when I was looking at Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin series about forensic pathology.  Incidentally, Erin Hart made an author commentary on the back cover of this book.  The two books are similar but it is fascinating how different pathology and archaeology can be.  Elly Griffiths relies a little less on the technical aspects of pathology and more on the psychological analysis of human nature.  I really enjoyed both book series.

Ruth is a very likeable and human character.  She is described as an “everywoman” who is intelligent and successful but also a bit naïve and self-conscious.  She lives in an encapsulated world where she is in control and understands the workings of her environment.  Her optimistic view of the world and its people is shattered by her involvement in the investigation, and the reader has to wonder how it will affect her future choices.

Who might like this book:
I think both Erin Hart and Kathy Reich fans will enjoy the forensic plot but readers will not be overwhelmed by the technical details.  I enjoyed how the past and present were woven together with both ancient and modern discoveries.  Ruth is a very likeable character, but I did not like some of the secondary characters; not for the way they were written but rather for who they were.  I am not sure how that will affect my view on future books in the series.  I plan to read the next book and see what happens from there.

If you enjoy The Crossing Places, this is great series to get hooked on as there are six more and the author is still writing.  Here are the next books in the series:

The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
The Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead
The Ghost Fields