Archive for the ‘Historical Mystery’ Category

Death Rides The Zephyr-Janet Dawson

September 19, 2013

Death Rides The Zephyr
Janet Dawson
Perseverance Press, Sep 10 2013, $15.95
ISBN: 9781564745309

On December 22, 1952, the California Zephyr begins its scenic journey from Oakland to Chicago. The crew is top rate as the company knows how important this trip is due to a train filled with people heading east to be with family for the holidays. The trip starts off as uneventful mostly because of the dedicated crew like Zephyrette hostess Jill McLeod who diligently works on insuring the passengers are comfortable, but she begins hearing complaints about missing items and thefts.

In Colorado, a rock slide injures some on board and blocks the tracks of the eastbound transcontinental. When a murder occurs, Jill, forced out of her comfort zone, investigates only to learn of a second killing.

Death Rides the Zephyr is a wonderful historical that turns into a “locked room” amateur sleuth tale late in the entertaining storyline. Readers will feel they are on board the Zephyr as they meet the crew and passengers with their tales told like Jill became a Zephyr to keep busy after her fiancé died in Korea. Although the whodunit is well written, the detour from riding the rails to murder mystery seems unnecessary as fans will relish more the vivid descriptions of the countryside enhancing the sense of a bygone era of traveling through the west.

Harriet Klausner

A Question Of Honor-Charles Todd

August 30, 2013

A Question Of Honor
Charles Todd
Morrow, Aug 27 2013, $25.99
ISBN: 9780062237156

In 1908 India, British Lieutenant Thomas Wade is the prime suspect in the murders of his parents though he is currently heading home on escort duty. When Wade returns to his regiment in the Northwest Frontier, he is accused of killing his parents and a family of three in England. He flees into the tribal area of the Khyber Pass and soon afterward is pronounced dead though no corpse was found.

In 1918 France, Bess Crawford serves as a nurse near the front. From a dying soldier she learns that Wade may be alive. Her retired father had been Wade’s regiment officer and his rep was devastated by the scandalous atrocity; Bess also knew the accused as a good soldier and person. Thus she tries to learn whether Wade survived the lawless tribal area and if he committed the homicides.

Team Todd provides another strong earth twentieth century historical in their fabulous fifth nurse Bess Crawford mystery (see An Unmarked Grave) as Edwardian India and England, and WWI France come to life enhanced by a profound historiographical feel to the engaging storyline. With the horrors of the front and the downside of serving in a colonial outpost vividly described, series fans will want to know whether Wade is a killer or another victim.

Harriet Klausner

Jump the Gun: An Annabelle Starkey Mystery-Zoe Burke

August 10, 2013

Jump the Gun: An Annabelle Starkey Mystery
Zoe Burke
Poisoned Pen, Aug 6 2013, $24.95
ISBN 9781464201639

Annabelle Starkey loves shoes, hats and old movies as she is Joan Cusack sidekick loser in Working Girl. At a book convention in Chicago, she meets film aficionado Mickey Paxton, who makes Annabelle feels she landed the lead female role in the Sea of Love. Mickey persuades Annabelle to stay with him at the Royal Opal Resort in Vegas.

In Vegas, his Richard Gere (Pretty Woman) acts more like Johnny Depp in Public Enemies. When he rushes down to the lobby, Goober the goon with a gun invades their room and grabs Annabelle. She escapes and is on the run with Paxton. When she learns someone murdered her friend Cassie while she was house and cat-sitting with Bonkers in Annabelle’s San Francisco home, she feels guilt.

Annabelle with her movie references makes for an appealing zany protagonist who changes from the sidekick to the lover to the damsel in distress in this enjoyable screwball comedy. Although the mystery never gels beyond madcap, readers will enjoy Annabelle’s “awful” awesome adventure.

Harriet Klausner

Downtown Strut: An Edna Ferber Novel-Ed Ifkovic

August 10, 2013

Downtown Strut: An Edna Ferber Novel
Ed Ifkovic
Poisoned Pen, Aug 6 2013, $24.95
ISBN 9781464201554

In 1927 Manhattan, playwright Edna Ferber knows this is her season as she has two productions opening on wintry Broadway. Just after Christmas, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern have provided a musical version of Show Boat; the following night Jed Harris’ production of her collaboration with George Kauffman, The Royal Family opens in spite of the potential law suit by raging Ethel Barrymore.

Through Waters Turpin, the teenage son of her black housekeeper, Ferber has met several talented black writers and performers who are keys to the Harlem Renaissance; she helps them break the previously white only ceiling. When she finds the corpse of Roddy Parsons, who she got a part in the Show Boat chorus, in his Harlem apartment, Ferber connects the deceased young man with Harris, who denies knowing him or any other of the black artists. Ferber soon uncovers proof that many of the Negros involved in the Harlem Renaissance detested Harris and Parsons, but not which one’s venom led to murder.

The latest Edna Ferber historical amateur sleuth (see Escape Artist and Make Believe) is an enjoyable period piece that brings to life New York City in late December 1927. The whodunit is fun and the look into the Harlem Renaissance and the Ferber Broadway season engaging with tidbits like Show Boat’s Negro Chorus breaking a glass ceiling of whites only. Although the relationship between Ferber and Harris becomes confusing as she bounces back and forth between attraction and loathing (which seems real but difficult to follow), readers will appreciate this 1920s mystery.

Harriet Klausner

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane AustenLindsay Ashford-

August 6, 2013

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen
Lindsay Ashford
Sourcebooks, Aug 6 2013, $14.99
ISBN 9781402282126

In 1817 Jane Austen died when she was forty-one years old. The family governess Anne Sharp who loved the author was heartbroken but took some mementos secretly. In 1843, still missing Jane, Anne sends a locket of Austen’s hair to Dr. Zechariah Stillar to test as the former governess refuses to believe her beloved Jane died of natural causes when the entire rest of the family lived many more years. Using a test devised by Mister James Marsh, Dr. Stillar tells Anne that the hair contained fifteen times the normal amount of arsenic. He further says Miss Austen was almost definitely poisoned but bringing the perpetrator to justice twenty-six after the murder occurred is virtually impossible. Anne looks back at the extended family while re-reading Mansfield Park and the other novels for clues as to whom murdered Jane Austen.

Based on the real Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, Lindsay Ashford provides a wonderful historical mystery and family drama from the perspective of the family governess at the time the author died. The brisk storyline grips the audience, especially Janeites, with the “cold case” used as a means for Jane Austen’s fans to learn more about her relationships while wondering whether one of her family members murdered her.

Harriet Klausner

Sugar Pop Moon-John Florio

July 13, 2013

Sugar Pop Moon
John Florio
Seventh Street Books/Prometheus, Jul 9 2013, $15.95
ISBN: 9781616147952

In 1930 Manhattan, Jimmy McCullough hires Jersey “Snowball” Leo to work at his mob-owned speakeasy Pour House because no one forgets seeing an albino; except perhaps his mother who deserted him (and his dad) when he was a baby. Snowball buys top quality booze for the bar, but the booze proves to be fake Sugar Pop Moon.

Knowing he will be blamed by his violent employers, Snowball searches for the missing seller to get back the money; but fails to find him while struggling through misadventures in Philadelphia at the same time someone stalks him. Snowball concludes he needs help. He turns to his pop, a former boxing champ who never hides his scorn of his offspring especially for working at a mob establishment. Father and son pursue the moonshine distributer

This is an exciting coming of age Prohibition Era noir. The cast is very strong, but obviously this is Snowball’s tale as he (and his father) tries to save his life while finding out revelations about himself and his family. Readers will enjoy this solid historical crime thriller and want a matured Snowball to return.

Harriet Klausner

Of Grave Concern-Max McCoy

July 6, 2013

Of Grave Concern
Max McCoy
Kensington, Jul 2 2013, $7.99
ISBN: 9780758281937

By 1877 many surviving family members heeded the advice of New York Tribune editor Horace Greely to “Go West, young man.” Heading for Colorado, spirit sensitive Ophelia Wylde rides the train accompanied only by Eddie the quoting bird in a cage. As the train passes the Hundredth Meridian that all schoolgirls know, Ophelia sees a spirit of a murdered girl. When the train stops moments later in Dodge City for a ten minute break, Ophelia takes a look at a murdered girl.

When she goes to re-board the train, Ford County attorney Michael Sutton stops her. She is accused of being murderess Kate Bender of the Bloody Benders and will be handed to the sheriff of Labette County where she will stand trial. Ophelia sits in a jail cell musing men enjoy taking away freedom from independent women. She puts on a psychic performance at the opera house to raise money to pay her lawyer Potete that stuns everyone except bounty hunter Jack Calder who knows she is a con artist. The customers turn into an ugly mob who takes her to Boot Hill where she encounters real ghosts; as Ophelia is legit but to make money means being a fake spiritualist; skeptical Jack saves her.

The first Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mystery is an enjoyable Reconstruction Era investigative thriller. Ophelia’s fabulous first person account anchors the time and place with terrific tidbits and witty commentary that holds true today. Readers will enjoy this entertaining historical as the medium and the bounty hunter make a fine team.

Harriet Klausner

Medea-Kerry Greenwood

June 9, 2013

Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen, Jun 4 2013, $24.95
ISBN 9781464201455

Princess of Colchis, Medea is a priestess of Hecate and guardian of the wood in which hangs the Golden Fleece. She also controls the serpent that violently guards this grove from intruders. Her childhood training was to safeguard at all costs the Golden Fleece that makes her kingdom prosperous.

When the Argo arrives at Colchis, the islanders welcome Captain Jason, his best friend Nauplius and the Argonauts. Jason flirts with Medea who falls in love with him. She switches loyalties and abets Jason’s stealing of the Golden Fleece. They sail home to claim his throne. Over the years, Jason abandons his wife who gave up everything for him, and ignores their children.

The latest Delphic Woman ancient historical Novel (see Out of the Black Land) is a powerful rendition of Medea that turns the accepted “mommy dearest” as written by Euripides on its head. The storyline is fast-paced throughout with several unexpected but fabulous twists. However, what makes this entry fresh is the Kerry Greenwood’s deep research supporting a different spin than that of the leading playwright of his time; as the reporter in Liberty Valance says: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Harriet Klausner

Capacity for Murder-Bernadette Pajer

June 9, 2013

Capacity for Murder
Bernadette Pajer
Poisoned Pen, Jun 4 2013, $24.95
ISBN 9781464201288

In 1903 in Ocean Springs near Seattle, the Healing Sands Sanitarium has earned an esteemed reputation for restorative cures. Owner Dr. Arnold Hornsby is proud of his facility’s safety and curative records; he especially is euphoric about his invention Dr. Hornsby’s electrotherapy machine that provides electrotherapeutics to patients.

When Hornsby’s son-in-law David Hollister is electrocuted in an electrotherapy machine, he asks the electrical forensic investigator State University Professor Benjamin Bradshaw to investigate the death. Bradshw concludes the machine worked properly but an anomaly means the deceased was murdered. Besides the family and staff, four patients were at the sanitarium at the time of Hollister’s death.

The latest Professor Bradshaw early twentieth century investigation (see A Spark of Death and Fatal Induction) is a super mystery in which readers obtain a close look at medical practices in the era. Fast-paced, the whodunit is top rate but it is a look at 1903 medicine (mindful of Dr. McCoy in the hospital in the movie The Voyage Home) that makes for a strong historical detective tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Altarpiece-Sarah Kennedy

May 27, 2013

The Altarpiece
Sarah Kennedy
Knox Robinson Publishing, Mar 6 2013, $27.99
ISBN: 9781908483478

In 1535 King Henry VIII sends soldiers to enforce the schism between England and Rome. His agents viciously destroy priories, churches and most remnants of the Catholic Church as the Church of England with the monarch as the Supreme Head has become the official religion of the kingdom. Priests, nuns and monks are tossed brutally onto the streets.

Lord Robert Overton arrives at the Priory of Mount Grace in Havenston, Yorkshire to claim his new property gifted to him by the king. However, he delays kicking the religious occupants out of their home when his younger brother William becomes seriously ill. Instead he orders a nun Catherine Havens the healer to save his sibling’s life. When William recovers, he and Catherine search for the missing valuable altarpiece that vanished at the same time as the siblings arrived at the priory; the prime suspects are the healer and her best friend Ann. Catherine and her former patient also investigate strange deaths that may be related to the Altarpiece.

The first Cross and the Crown Tudor thriller provides a deep look at the deaths, destruction and disarray caused by the shutting down of the Roman Church and the creation of the Church of England. The key cast is solid especially Catherine who faces moral dilemmas as she must choose between her past and an uncertain future. The leisurely-paced storyline enables the reader to believe we are there as Sarah Kennedy provides a wonderful spotlight on an age of deadly confusion.

Harriet Klausner