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review 2017-02-09 03:32
Secrets and Small-Town Lies
A Death in the Dales (Kate Shackleton Mysteries) - Frances Brody

The latest in this savvy historical mystery takes Kate to a small town full of dark secrets. A mystery that is also a character(s) study. Worth the read!

Reviewed for Affaire de Coeur Magazine: http://affairedecoeur.com.

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review 2017-01-29 09:16
The Crimes of Dr. Watson
The Crimes of Dr. Watson - Duane Swierczynski

I bought and read this book almost 10 years ago - it was one of the first books I bought after moving to Australia, and I remember because I couldn't believe I was paying that much money for a book (prices here were astronomically high then - a mass market paperback was 20-25 dollars - where as now they only sit at a suborbital price).  But this is one of those fancy books:  clues like letters, newspapers, telegrams, etc. are mounted onto pages so that the reader can remove them from envelopes and play along.  I'm such a sucker for these books.  Like pop-ups, only people don't give you the side-eye for enjoying them without kids around.


The story purports to be real:  a satchel found in the wall of a home being torn down in Philadelphia, present day, contained this letter from Dr. Watson, along with the clues.  The reader is told at the beginning that no solution exists for the mystery and readers are invited to try to solve the very cold case.


It's really well done, really extraordinary, and the mystery itself is delightfully difficult.  Everything is done more or less within the established canon timeline and remains faithful to Doyle's creations.  No liberties are taken...not really:


At the very end, a solution is made available and it is... audacious. It messes with a very minor established character, but in such a way as to be logically possible.  It felt a bit out-there to me, but not at all impossible.

(spoiler show)


I'm not sure if this is still in print or not, but if you're a Holmes fan and see it, take a look - it's one of the most faithful pastiches/homages I've yet found.  

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review 2017-01-25 07:05
A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)
A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn

I've been looking forward to this second book for months and while it wasn't quite as good as the first book, it definitely wasn't disappointing.


In the first book, startling revelations about Veronica were a big part of the plot, and Stoker's past was shared in teasing bits here and there.  I suppose, given those revelations, the author couldn't resist using them to prop up the plot in this book, but I'll admit I found the device (especially the you must investigate this!) trite.  At a guess, the family angst bit was perhaps meant to show Veronica's vulnerability and humanity - we all just want to be accepted and loved, dammit!  But it just didn't work for me.  I found the scene with the butterfly in the garden to be far more effective and moving, without being a cliché.  I did enjoy learning more about Stoker's family though.


A BookLikes friend of mine wrote, in her review, that the themes throughout this book seemed chosen as much for their shock value as for their ability to showcase Veronica's conscious independence.  She's not wrong.  I'm not sure if the author wanted to shock, or just combat the general assumption that Victorian England was the apex of prudishness, purity and virginal thinking, but either way, this book is not for anyone who prefers a chaste story.  There's no overt sex, but boy howdy, is it talked about.  A lot. 


The murder reveal didn't surprise me; the more the author asserts a character's innocence, the more I suspect them, but I hardly cared.  The banter between Stoker and Veronica–actually the banter between anyone and Veronica–were what I enjoyed the most about this book.  If you want a strong, intelligent, pragmatic, rational female heroine you cannot do much better than Miss Speedwell.  Raybourn knows how to write.


My favourite highlights: Patricia the Galapagos tortoise, and that final scene between Stoker and Veronica.  That final scene might, in fact, make my top 5 favourites of all time.



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review 2017-01-03 11:15
Book of Beloved (Pluto's Snitch, #1)
The Book of Beloved - Carolyn Haines

I'm a big fan of Carolyn Haines' Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries, so I was excited to see that she was starting a new historical mystery series, but said excitement was tempered by the fact that she was publishing with Thomas & Mercer for this one, not St. Martin's.


I have no idea why St. Martin's didn't publish it, but it wasn't because it was a bad story or concept.  The story was excellent.  A ghost story set in Mobile, Alabama in 1920.  Haines is the first writer to really make me realise just how close the Civil War was to World War I; a mere 60 years separated the two.  I always knew this in an academic sense, but I never really thought about the idea that people lived through both.  Haines also does an incredible job of putting the reader in the deep south in the early 1920's, with all that that implies.  I tagged this as cozy because 90% of it is, but the racial issues running throughout the story aren't cozy at all and Haines does the unthinkable for a cozy author by killing off at least one beloved character.


The plot also gets points for freshness; talk about your deep, dark secrets!  I'm not going to say what it is, not even in a spoiler because it would ruin the unexpectedness.  I thought it was clever, interesting, and between it and the ghosts my attention was riveted.


The bug in my iced tea?  I have come to expect a certain polished writing style from Haines that wasn't quite up to snuff here.  I'm thinking mediocre editors.  As good as the story was, it could have been tighter and there were definitely a few things that got missed (like the MC parking her car twice in the same paragraph).  The very end was a bit illogical too, but not disastrously so; mostly it just felt weak.  If this had been my first Haines book I don't doubt I'd have rated it higher, because it is good.  But I know what she's capable of so I know it could be better.


I hate buying anything that benefits Amazon, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for the next book; Haines has me hooked for at least one more.

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review 2016-12-13 05:26
Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Kopp Sisters, #2)
Lady Cop Makes Trouble - Amy Stewart

I am really liking these so far.  Amy Stewart has crafted another interesting if not nail-biting mystery around actual events and cases that Miss Constance Kopp worked on in her career.


Lady Cop Makes Trouble focuses on the case of escaped convict Von Matthesius and Kopp's efforts to recapture him.  Along the way she also investigates a landlady arrested for killing a tenant and man taking advantageous of native young girls.  Kopp's sisters play a much smaller part in this story and Stewart turns up the tension between Kopp and Sheriff Heath without so much as implying any attraction or romance (although Normal gets a few jabs in on occasion).


I kept expecting the story to drag, but it moved along well and the pacing was smooth; there's very little 'whodunnit' here so any expectations on the part of mystery lovers is going to require some adjustments.  It's definitely worth it.


As before, Stewart includes an acknowledgments and citations page at the end that discusses exactly what parts of the story were taken from newspapers and historical accounts, with relevant citations and suggested readings, and which parts of the story she made up.  It's not unreasonable to imagine that if Stewart kept writing Kopp's adventures, a reader would end up with a rather credible biography at the end of it.  I'll be hoping for a third book, at least. 

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