Tag Archives: historical mystery

As Death Draws Near

As Death Draws Near

Title:                                    As Death Draws Near (Lady Darby 5)
Author:                               Anna Lee Huber
Publisher:                           Penguin
Publication Date:              2016
ISBN:                                   978-0-425-27772-0

Book Summary:
While relaxing on their idyllic honeymoon in the Lake District, Kiera and Gage’s bliss is interrupted when they receive a missive from Lord Gage, forcefully requesting their assistance with the murder of a nun at an abbey in the village of Rathfarnham in Ireland.  Not appreciating his father’s high-handedness, Kiera and Gage reluctantly agree to make the journey to Ireland; partly because of the heinous nature of the crime and partly due to the fact that the murdered nun was a cousin of the Duke of Wellington.  Kiera and Gage, along with their servants Bree and Anderley, travel across the rough waters, and along the way, they run into an old acquaintance.

When they arrive at Lorreto Abbey, the identity of the killer seems elusive, and many factors interfere with their ability to find out the truth.  The local constabulary isn’t totally honest about their loyalties or their knowledge of the crime; the nuns at the abbey and some of their day school students are reticent to confide in Gage and Kiera; and the political and religious conflict between the Ribbonmen and Orangemen is boiling just under the surface.

Kiera and Gage are frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation but when masked men threaten them and another nun is found murdered, the threat strikes even closer to the newlyweds.  As more details and secrets come to light, Kiera and Gage find themselves embroiled in a conflict from which they must fight to escape.

Book Commentary:
I absolutely love the Lady Darby series and this newest installment does not disappoint!  The author has done a fabulous job at maintaining the dynamics and struggles of the two main characters – Kiera and Gage – while adding the new dimension of their marriage. Both are so fiercely independent and yet insecure; they each want to be their own person but need each other to do so. I love how they truly respect and appreciate each other’s intelligence. With that intelligence, there has be a bit of banter and accountability. They hold each other responsible for their thoughts and words.  They are also trying to figure out how to make marriage and their investigations meld into a meaningful and acceptable way.

The book also took a bit of departure from the previous novels in that the crime committed did not have any direct relationship to Kiera or Gage; they are investigating because they are good at it and not because they have a personal stake.  Of course, as the story progress, the reader realizes, perhaps even before the characters do, that they do take their investigations personally and through their inquiry and examination of the crime, they are also discovering more about themselves, their values, their commitment, and their future.

I found the history of the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics, and both the Irish and English perspectives, fascinating and also a bit depressing.  In some ways, so many attitudes haven’t changed in 175 years.  The author does a fantastic job at blending the fact into the story in a meaningful and understandable way; history helps the story along but doesn’t overshadow the character or plot development.  Old grudges and prejudices are revealed to the characters and the reader is able to process the facts and fiction along with Kiera and Gage.

We also see a great deal of growth in Kiera herself as she struggles with the useful, although not her choice to receive, knowledge of anatomy. With Gage, she sees what a marriage and relationship should look like and yet still struggles to put aside or come to terms with her past.  I think her personal growth and self-awareness really adds to the psychological depth of the crime analysis.  I look forward to watching her not just “come into her own,” but to accept and actually embrace it as well.

Who might like this book:
If you like a good, well-plotted historical mystery series that puts character development first, read this series.  Some of my other favorite authors – Deanna Raybourn, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Victoria Thompson, Carol K. Carr – have all written endorsements for this unique heroine and I couldn’t agree more!  I anxiously await the next story in this fantastic series.

As always, don’t ruin the story by starting in the middle.  Read the series in order.  You will thank me.

The Anatomist’s Wife
Mortal Arts
A Grave Matter
A Study in Death
A Pressing Engagement (an eNovella)
As Death Draws Near

 

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When Falcons Fall

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Title:  When Falcons Fall (Sebastian St. Cyr 11)
Author:  C. S. Harris
Publisher:  Penguin Random House
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-451-47116-1

Book Summary:
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, his wife Hope, and their infant son Simon have traveled to the peaceful Shropshire village of Ayleswick-on-Teme to pay their respects to the family of a friend.  At the same time, Sebastian hopes to gain some more insight and answers to the secrets of his own mysterious heritage.

Emma Chance is a young widow who has also traveled to Ayleswick in search of answers to her own ancestry, but when she found dead along the banks of the River Teme with an empty bottle of laudanum by her side, the Constable quickly rules it suicide.  Archibald Rawlins, the Squire of Ayleswick, has only recently risen to the title following his father’s death; he is inexperienced and young but feels that there is more to the widow’s story.  Having discovered that Sebastian worked at times with Bow Street and had some success in solving murders, Archie asks for his assistance at the disapproval of the constable.

When Sebastian views the young woman’s body, he immediately knows that it was murder.  However, the more Archie and Sebastian dig into the woman’s life, they quickly discover that she is not who she was said to be and her death could possibly have international implications.

Is her death somehow tied to Lucien Bonaparte, brother to Napoléon, who has sought asylum along with his family at the local estate of Northcott Abbey?  What about the deaths of two other young women that were ruled suicide in the past fifteen years?  Why is Hannibal Pierce in town?  Pierce was a former captain in the dragoons who now works for the king’s cousin, Charles, Lord Jarvis, who also happens to be Hero’s father.  Could the secrets of Sebastian’s own troubling ancestry be tied to the murder?  More murders occur and the truth may be the link between the past, the present, and the future.

Book Commentary:
I have been waiting for this book since March 2015 . . . when Sebastian book 10 was released!!!  I love this series! Although definitely part of the aristocracy, Sebastian’s past as a soldier defines his need for justice and restitution.  His own questions about his past and his previously-thought-dead mother drives his insatiable curiosity and quest for answers.  His intense personality is at times contradicted by his passion for his wife and son and his sense of honor.  He is truly a complex and flawed human but the reader is drawn to his compassion and loyalty and accepts his frailty more than he does.  I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the growth and depth of this character develop over the course of eleven books.  The author has done an amazing job at truly allowing the character to grow and done so by seamlessly allowing it to occur with the varied plotlines.

This is the first novel to not be set in London, and although I missed the presence of Paul Gibson and Hendon, this story line allowed Sebastian to serve as a mentor to young Squire Rawlins.  As the setting and all the characters are completely new, the reader feels to be making the discoveries right along with Sebastian.  Although Jarvis is not in the story, his presence is definitely made through the character of Hannibal Pierce and it becomes clear that Jarvis’ power and control is all-encompassing.

I also really enjoyed watching how Sebastian and Hero took on the roles of husband and wife and mother and father.  Traveling with an infant is not easy at any time in history and it was fun to watch their roles adapt to both their personal and professional needs.  Once again, Hero is a strong sounding board to Sebastian’s inquiries while still doing some investigating on her own.  I really liked seeing her in a maternal role as well.

Not all of Sebastian’s ancestry questions are answered, but there is progress made.  I can’t wait to see what is revealed in the next story.

Who might like this book:
This is definitely one of my top two most favorite historical mystery series.  They are very well plotted and the characters are engaging.  The story lines tend to be a bit darker than some of the mysteries I read and there is a great deal of historical research.  I find that I have to concentrate a lot on how the history is evolving, along with the plotline.  I think I enjoy the seediness of the stories because they almost have a “true crime” feel . . . set in Regency England.  I can’t recommend these books enough!

If you haven’t read any of the series, start them in order.  Secrets are revealed along the way and you don’t want to spoil anything by reading out of order!!

What Angels Fear
When Gods Die
Why Mermaids Sing
Where Serpents Sleep
What Remains of Heaven
Where Shadows Dance
When Maidens Mourn
What Darkness Brings
Why Kings Confess
Who Buries the Dead

The Adventuress

                            The Adventuress Inscription           The Adventuress

Title:  The Adventuress (Lady Emily 10)
Author:  Tasha Alexander
Publisher:  Minotaur Press
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1250058263

Book Summary:
The French Riviera is an idyllic place for romance, and Colin and Emily are there to celebrate the engagement of one of Emily’s oldest friends, Jeremy, Duke of Banbridge.  His fiancé is Amity Wells, an American heiress who was in India with her parents as her father conducted business.  There she met Christabel Peabody and Jeremy’s brother, Captain Jack Sheffield.  As the younger son, Jack has dedicated his life to the army and serves as an entertaining and knowledgeable guide to the young ladies. Christabel is in India visiting her brother; her friendship with Amity blossoms into a true bond. As the friends develop fellowship, Amity shares her struggles as the daughter of a wealthy southern gentleman who built his fortune in copper following the War Between the States, and his fiercely determined wife who is intent on seeing her only child wed to an English nobleman. When Amity meets Jack’s older brother Jeremy, their two adventurous and slightly unconventional personalities seem to be a perfect match.

In an effort to outdo the American nouveau riche like the Vanderbilts and to give her daughter the most spectacular of weddings, Amity’s mother organizes a lavish engagement celebration in Cannes for her daughter, her fiancé, and their closest friends.  Emily is cautious about Jeremy’s impending nuptials; as life-long friends, she truly wants what will make Jeremy most happy.  Growing up on neighboring estates, Jeremy and Emily were childhood friends and at one point it was thought that they would marry.  Instead, they developed a link of camaraderie and mutual respect.  Why then is Emily so uncomfortable about the engagement and Jeremy’s intended?  Events occur that suggest the Emily is jealous, and that Jeremy’s marriage will end Jeremy’s platonic devotion to her.  Emily begins to question her own motivations and innermost feelings, and even her closest friends start to show some threads of doubt.

When Chauncey Neville, a member of their celebratory party and a longtime friend of Jeremy’s, is found dead of an apparent suicide, the festivities are cut short.  A seemingly happy and jovial man, suicide is very uncharacteristic of Chauncey.  Emily is dissatisfied with the coroner’s report and begins to investigate.  As questions and reservations begin to creep into the minds of the group, concerns of trust and safety become paramount.  Will tragedy and heartache prevent Amity and Jeremy from beginning their lives together?

Book Commentary:
Tasha Alexander is one of my top five most favorite historical mystery writers and her tenth installment of the Lady Emily series does not disappoint.  I’m going a little fan girl here, but I won an advanced reading copy of this book!!  She even wrote me a little note!!  Squeak!! The book is set for wide-release tomorrow, October 13.

My most favorite thing about this series is the character of Lady Emily.  She is confident, intelligent, and assertive, and yet follows the social mores and expectations of her time period.  I find her very believable in that she isn’t really frustrated with her placement in society, but rather accepts her role because it is what it is.  Now, she is of the upper crust and has connections to the Queen, but she is truly a woman of her time.

Emily’s husband, Colin Hargreaves, is an inquiry agent for the Queen and crown.  Emily’s involvement in his investigations and her own follows a believable and realistic pattern.  Her inquiries are melded with her social and societal obligations.  There is a seamless blending of the two roles that adds to the credibility of the story.

The novel took a slight departure from previous stories in that it seemed to be more of a psychological thriller than a mystery.  I was constantly questioning who I believed and who I trusted; much in the same way that Emily experiences her own self-doubt.  The French Riviera setting provided a beautiful backdrop to the story but wasn’t as integrated into the mystery itself as is often seen in the Lady Emily books, and I enjoyed this departure.

Tasha Alexander has a great voice in her writing.  I really enjoyed that the story was told by both Emily and Amity, using different starting points for each of their narratives.  As their story-telling caught up to the same point in time, the tension and excitement of the story built as well.  It was really interesting to see the evolution of the two viewpoints.

Who might like this book:
If you like English historical mysteries, you will enjoy the Lady Emily series.  The author has done an amazing amount of research and does a fabulous job at blending the atmosphere into the story.  Her characters are delightful; it is so much fun to see the reoccurring characters of Jeremy, Margaret, and Cecile develop and grown as individuals but it is just as fascinating to see their perspectives and interpretations woven into the plot.

Tasha Alexander’s biography indicates that she was an English major “in order to have a legitimate excuse for spending all her time reading.”  How brilliant is that!  Make sure that you read her series in order.  You will do a disservice to yourself if you miss any of the previous adventures.  The stories in order are:

And Only to Deceive
A Poisoned Season
A Fatal Waltz
Tears of Pearl
Dangerous to Know
A Crimson Warning
Death in the Floating City
Behind the Shattered Glass
The Counterfeit Heiress