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review 2018-04-11 09:36
Murder at Half Moon Gate (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery, #2)
Murder at Half Moon Gate - Andrea Penrose

I like these books; the first one had some plotting problems towards the end, but this one offered a much tighter and surprising story.  The author does an excellent job with atmosphere and setting too, although I can't comment on historical anachronisms.  Penrose does include an author note at the end discussing the backdrop of the story and offering some non-fiction titles for further reading.

 

There's a stronger element of romance to these books than there were in the previous historical mysteries by Penrose, but it's not at all overbearing, and the characters are much more sympathetic.  I was worried the author was going to drag Charlotte's big dreaded secret out even longer into a 3rd book, but she pulled it out right at the end (and spoiler - it's not even a little shocking).  I continue to like the two waifs Charlotte has taken under her wing too; I generally don't like kids in my mysteries much, but they work here and they're never purposefully cute or cloying.  

 

I'd put this series in just about the same class as the Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber - so if you like those, you might enjoy these.

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review 2018-04-07 01:58
Great historical setting, mystery is meh
Falconer's Crusade - Ian Morson

This is a pretty short mystery to read through. Looks can be deceiving though. Despite being short, it’s packed in with some heavy duty stuff.

 

The setting for example. Very rich in detail and gives you a sense on how it was back then in William Falconer’s time. Add in some political intrigue, a Jewish Quarter, and some rioting and it gets pretty exciting. I really can’t get over how great the setting is. It’s so descriptive you can feel the darkness and the dampness that permeates throughout the novel. Morson also does an excellent job to stay close to historical accuracy here in this novel as well. Forensic pathology is frowned upon, and you even get to see Falconer try on a strange contraption that looks a lot like Medieval opera glasses at the time. :)

 

The plot is pretty straight forward although there is not much of a secret mystery element in it. The suspect list is not extensive (thankfully! You’ll see why as you read further into this review) and when revealed it’s not much of a surprise or an a ha! Moment. There isn’t much personality to the characters except Falconer and his student Thomas. Thomas is a particular dolt. A Farmer boy who managed to be gifted and chosen to study and be a Scholar, well, for all the idiotic moves he makes, you have to wonder how the University chose this guy to let him attend their school. He fumbles and stumbles at the worst times and always manages to get himself into some life threatening situations (and doesn’t learn from it). It was funny the first few times, but after a while it gets annoying and you want to slap this boy upside the head. (You don’t deserve Hannah’s attention, you twit).

 

I’m going to assume it will get better with other books in this series, and this one serves as an introduction to the series. Since I really do love the historical aspect I will stick with this series and see where it takes me. Historical mystery lovers will love the setting and theme of this book, the mystery part, not so much.

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review 2018-03-28 00:48
Murder on Black Swan Lane (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery, #1)
Murder on Black Swan Lane - Andrea Penrose

This is one of those books that I liked in spite of demonstrable problems; a good example of when characters can overcome the flaws in a plot.

 

Lord Wrexford is an accomplished chemist and has the means to devote his time to it in the privacy of his own home.  He has a rather black reputation, although it's never specified why; only off hand references that include womanising, a disrespect of protocol, and a dismissive attitude about social conventions.  He has a valet named Tyler that acts as his lab assistant and all-around Bunter, only with a sharper tongue.  I like Tyler.

 

Mrs. Sloane is the widow of the famous satirist A.J. Quill.  An even better artist than her late husband, she secretly picks up his pen after his death to stave off certain penury; she also allows two homeless waifs known only as Raven and Hawk to shelter in her downstairs, feeding them when she can, and attempting to educate them and give them a bit of polish.  Mrs. Sloane is up to her eye-balls in secrets, her new profession seeming to be the least of them.  She reads and speaks Latin, and has a copy of DeBrett's in her desk drawer.  Half this book's weight is comprised of hints about Mrs. Sloane.

 

Wrexford has been verbally and publicly sparring with an influential member of the church.  When the man is found dead with chemical burns on his face and his throat slit, Wrexford is the obvious suspect and is set upon by a Bow Street Runner.  And all the while Quill has been faithfully satirising the events, with details that are frighteningly accurate.  Wrexford sets out to find out who the mysterious Quill is, and when he does, strikes a bargain with her:  His continued silence in exchange for access to her information network in order to prove his innocence.

 

So far, so good.  Even though this isn't a new premise, I can't help but get sucked in.  Unfortunately Penrose's plot doesn't really work.  It's two different plots that she attempted to merge into one with a single weak scene.  What could have been a very tight and gripping plot ended up being undermined by the forced connection, and left clunky and underwhelming.  This, combined with much too heavy-handed hints about Mrs. Sloane's 'mysterious' past resulted in a book that was good, but not great, and only mildly entertaining when it could have come closer to edge-of-your-seat stuff.  Penrose also qualifies for the dubious award for most overused idiom.  I love the phrase "pot calling the kettle black", but using it a dozen times in the same book is an excessive display of exuberance.

 

Still, Penrose has put together a great cast of characters and I'm interested in finding out what happens to them next.  I'm hoping, too, that subsequent books (there's at least 1 more out now, and 1 planned, I think) will see her finding her groove and writing stronger stories.

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review 2018-03-22 03:54
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions (Kopp Sisters Novel, #3)
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions - Amy Stewart

This was my favorite of the three thus far, and oddly, it's because there really wasn't any single plot that stretched from beginning to end.  In fact, it's a stretch to call it a mystery.

 

Some background for those unfamiliar with the books:  This series is based on the life of Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the United States, and the first to be granted a shield, gun, authority to apprehend, and be paid the same wage as her male counterparts (likely the last one too, on that score).   Amy Stewart uses historically accurate events and characters, with as many details as she can find, then fictionalises the spaces in between.  At the end of each book, she includes a detailed accounting of what is factual and what is fictional, along with a detailed list of notes and sources.

 

While the first two books had, more or less, a single story line as the focus, ...Midnight Confessions is more a collection of smaller stories, each centered on a real person and event, that Stewart has woven together into a cohesive narrative.  

 

All of these smaller stories have a single theme: the very real vulnerabilities women had, and the rights they didn't.  We're all vaguely aware that society really frowned upon "loose morals" – a state unique to women, as men weren't expected to have any morals – and we've all made jokes about the "morality police", but when you read about a woman over 18 who is arrested because she left home to move into a strict, all-female boarding house to work in a powder factory so she could contribute to the war effort...well we've certainly come a long way in 100 years.  Waywardness this was called - and guess who brought the charges against her?  Her mother. 

 

Anyway, there are a few characters in this book that all have to face this lack of agency, whether they deserve the charges against them or not. (Deserve, as in guilty or innocent of the charges, not morally deserving.)  All of their stories play out over the course of the book, but there's no sense of tension or climax. Some might find that disappointing, but it worked really well for me; it kept the pace snappy, and I didn't feel like Stewart was manufacturing drama for the sake of drama.  I was able to enjoy and appreciate these women's stories on their own merit; if she'd tried to twist them and manipulate them to create some fictional plot, I doubt I'd have liked the book half as much.

 

She ends the book with an election year just beginning and an inevitable shake-up in the local politics.  I'm looking forward to the next book, scheduled for September, to see what happens to Constance and Sheriff Heath.

 

This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game card COD:  shot with an arrow.  It's written by an American woman.

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review 2018-03-17 09:32
One Corpse Too Many (Brother Cadfael, #2)
One Corpse Too Many - Ellis Peters

I had doubts starting this one, because it starts off slow.  Really slow.  Like, omg, this book is never, ever going to end.  This was largely due to the history dump Peters gives the reader in the beginning; the boring-to-me kind of history about battles and wars and political shenanigans.  

 

Then the dead body is found in the pile, and Cadfael gets his new assistant and stuff starts happening.  Midway through I was loving this story; "cat and mouse" comes to mind, but it's really much more "cat vs cat" because Cadfael is up against a man as clever as he is and there's no mouse in this plot.  The almost-the-end/climax-but-not was magnificent; the machinations were making me positively giddy, and yet the mystery itself continued.  Once Cadfael figured out who the murderer was, I admit I felt a bit knuckle-headed because the possibility never even entered my mind.  I can only tell myself I was entirely too caught up it the sub-plot of cat-n-cat and wasn't paying attention. 

 

That's what I'm telling myself anyway.

 

These are excellent mysteries for anyone who wants something more serious than a cozy, but doesn't want hard-core thrillers or crime stories.  Enjoying history is a plus, but not necessary save for the first few chapters.  There are 20 books in this series and if each of them are this meaty, I'll be reading them for years to come, because they aren't the kind I can binge read.  Yay!

 

This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD: Stabbed with a sword.  Primarily, it takes place during the middle ages, but it also is set in the midst of a civil war and the text is chock full of the word "sword".

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