Marlowe Benn: Passing Fancies Saturday, May 30 2020 

Marlowe Benn brought readers her first Julia Kydd mystery, Relative Fortunes, and returns with the sequel, Passing Fancies. Set in the 1920s, I had the opportunity to speak with Benn about her books and their fascinating look at the era she’s chosen to delve into:

Auntie M: This is your second book set in the 1920s and your research is extensive, from manners to the clothing and food. What drew you to this era?

Marlowe Benn: First let me say thank you for this chance to share a bit about my books with your readers. I’m truly honored to be a part of this blog. I’ve always loved the style of the 1920s—the lively music, the daring fashions, the flamboyant determination to enjoy life’s pleasures. But while it looks like one big party, there was a lot of reckless desperation beneath all the rule-breaking fun. Notions like honor, duty, and moral responsibility seemed pointless after a crushing world war and global pandemic. With those old values discredited, new ones vied to take their place.

As I try to show in Passing Fancies, hopes for greater freedoms and opportunities for women and people of color struggled to compete with more cynical celebrations of wealth and power. I was drawn to this combination of eye-popping exuberance and deep social frictions. No shortage of mystery and crime fiction plot ideas there!

AM: Tell readers about creating the fascinating character of Julia Kydd, a thoroughly modern woman in this era, and one who has an unusual area of expertise that readers will learn about. How did your own past experience influence her development?

MB: Julia loves books. She likes to read, but it’s physical books she’s passionate about, as works of art. She’s been smitten by the Arts and Crafts “fine printing” movement, which revived the old hand bookmaking crafts. When I was in graduate school studying the history of that movement in the 1920s, I learned how to set type, print, and bind books by hand. As anyone who’s ever dabbled in today’s popular book arts can understand, it’s a heady thing to give visual and tactile form to a writer’s words. Julia is as addicted to that pleasure as I am.

AM: Julia’s family life is . . . complicated, to say the least, with several recurring characters. Care to comment on that?

MB: Complicated, and then some. In my first book, Relative Fortunes, Julia is vexed by her estranged older half-brother’s power over her money and thus over her independence. Although Philip is her closest relation, she barely knows him and seems to have nothing in common with him beyond a surname. Lacking conventional family attachments, in Passing Fancies Julia forges somewhat daring new bonds to take their place, both with Philip and with her lifelong maid and confidante, Christophine.

AM: In this second book in the series, Julia faces the racism of the era and has an epiphany of her own. It’s clear you feel strongly about that. Why choose that to explore?

MB: I often hear friends and acquaintances, who are white like me, talk about racism with sympathy for people of color, as if the problems don’t involve white people too. In fact, centuries of racism shape the experiences of all Americans, not just those of color. But because racist policies and values have always benefited white people—whether or not we condone or even perceive them—we tend not to see, or to deny or justify, our advantages. Julia is disturbed to realize this about herself, and readers may squirm too. Unfortunately, history is full of uncomfortable truths we cannot escape. As Faulkner famously put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

AM: What’s next for Julia?

MB: I wish I knew. Future publishing decisions are as uncertain as everything else these days. Julia has grand plans to get her Capriole Press off the ground, now that she finally has her printing studio, but we’ll all have to wait and see what happens.
AM: Thanks so much for these insights, Marlowe. And now on to discuss Passing Fancies.

Julia Kydd is trying to launch Capriole Press, a small press that will have limited but exquisite books that would be as beautiful to hold and admire as to read, and to that end, she attends society parties to find works she can produce. She’s also looking to find collectors who would back her and to be accepted into the publishing world.

It’s the Jazz Age in New York, and Julia is introduced to Harlem nightclubs. One particular performer she meets at a house party captures her attention, and even more so when Julia sees her perform.

Eva Pruitt is a black singer with a divine figure who has written an explosive novel. Despite being under contract, the novel is wanted by several houses until it goes missing during a murder.

The men in Eva’s life all want different things from her and go to great lengths to have what they want. The reality she has lived with and must continue to experience shocks Julia and creates a bond between the two women.

Julia steps in to help Eva while coming face-to-face with her own racial prejudices and assumptions. It will prove to be a life-changing relationship for Julia and those she loves.

In creating Julia, Benn has a young woman who chafes at the freedoms of the men who surround her. She’s bold and yet empathetic. She probably drinks too much at parties. Yet she holds the book together well and readers will be rooting for her to succeed as she matures.

Benn captures the era perfectly, and dazzles readers with the clothing, food, and excesses. She also takes a good hard look at the class and racial divides of the time, which still echo today.

Jennifer Ryan: The Chilbury Ladies Choir Wednesday, May 27 2020 

In this time of a forced stay-home with more reading time, Auntie M is catching up on several books she missed when they first came out that friends recommended.

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is Jennifer Ryan’s debut, set in the first days of World War II. The vicar has put up a notice that as the men of the town are mostly gone to war, the village choir is to close.

But he hasn’t reckoned on the strong women of the town, led by the colorful Prim, who knows music inside and out, and is giving Kitty singing lessons. The women continue the choir without male voices, a newfangled idea that soon catches on and leads to adventures even as they become the voice of solace for the village.

Ryan introduces us to the wonderful ladies of the village and tells their stories with devices such as “Excerpt from Mrs. Tilling’s Journal” and “Letter from Miss Edwina Paltry to her sister, Clara.” There’s the young Kitty Winthrop’s diary, too, and letters from Kitty’s sister, Venetia, to her friend from the village now living in London.

Introducing the characters in this way allows the different women to speak of their fellow villagers from their own points of view, and that vary from insightful to naive.

A clever map on the interior allows readers to plot the course of the action in a time when walking was how most people got around.

After Dunkirk there will be losses from the village, and more closer to home. There are intrigues, affairs, crushes, and even the hush of homosexuality. And could there be spies in their little town?

It all adds up to a book that’s full of hope, absorbing to read, and a perfect way to wile away a few hours with a good cuppa and a few biscuits for company.

Nell Pattison: The Silent House Sunday, May 24 2020 

Nell Pattison calls on her own experience with the deaf community to create a protagonist so unique you’ll be drawn to Paige Northwood form the outside in her debut thriller The Silent House.

Working freelance, taking assignments at interviews for the police is one aspect of Paige’s work. When she’s pulled from a warm bed to attend at the home where a ghastly murder had taken place, she realizes immediately she’s into foreign territory.

A little girl has been savagely murdered, and with the Hunter family being deaf, no one heard the intruder who took the child’s life in the middle of the night.

It’s a dicey line Paige walks, as her sister was dead child’s godmother. She hides this at first until she’s embroiled in the case. Competent sign language interpreters are thin on the ground.

Soon, threats come to Paige to leave the case alone, and that only shores up her determination to see the case through and help the police find a killer. But that decision leave her and those she loves in harm’s way.

Pattison gives a window to the deaf world with all of its challenges, while letting readers inside the way a BSL interpreter really works. This gives a view into how body language and facial features add to the interpretation.

A terrific debut that will leave readers hoping there’s a sequel in the works—there is, out this fall.

Susan Allott: The Silence Tuesday, May 19 2020 

Auntie M had the good fortune recently to interview Susan Allott, after reading and thoroughly enjoying her debut THE SILENCE. Here are a few questions to head the review and give readers a better sense of the author:


Susan Allott (photo by John Yabrifa)

Auntie M: The setting comes alive in both time periods of this mystery. I understand you spent time in Australia and used your own homesickness for England to inform the main character’s mother. What made you decide to set the The Silence in Australia?

Susan Allott: I wrote about Australia because of my time living there as a homesick ex-pat, and also because when I got back to London I met my future husband who was, by crazy coincidence, Australian. Louisa, my protagonist’s British mother, goes through an experience of extreme homesickness that was close to my own, and I originally thought her story would be more central to the book. But over time the Australian characters and settings took over and The Silence became a book about coming back to Australia rather than leaving it.

AM: It seems remarkable that a person could disappear for thirty years and not be asked after, yet you’ve skillfully set up those parameters. How did the Faber Academy course you took help with those kinds of plot points? Could you describe the course for readers?

SA: The Faber Academy course that I took part in runs over six months and is held in the Faber offices in central London. There were a dozen students, and we met up every Tuesday evening for six months. I already had a draft of The Silence when I enrolled but I had doubts about whether it was worth pursuing. The course gave me confidence and helped me to see myself as someone who could be published one day. Once you have that, the lessons about plot, structure, voice and so on start to take hold.

AM: The Isla who returns to Australia is not the same person who leaves for England, nor will she be at the end of the book. How did you decide on her pathway to growth and change?

SA: The subject that fascinated me from the outset of writing The Silence was the enormous pull of home, and how we form our identity around the place we come from. I also think we sometimes idealize the place we call home if we live far away, so that after a while home can become an idea without much grounding in reality. So Isla’s return to Australia to find out what happened to Mandy was also about Isla’s personal quest to figure out where she really came from, separating the idea from the reality.

AM: The colonial situation revolving around Aboriginal children is skillfully handled. What was it about that period in Australia’s history that made you decide to illustrate it? Which came first: that idea or the mystery?

SA: I’d written several chapters of The Silence, and had a whole cast of characters, when I read a book called Australia, the History of a Nation by Philip Knightley. He mentions a policeman living in Victoria, a southern Australian state, who gets home from work and cries on his veranda because part of his job is to remove Aboriginal children from their families and take them to state institutions. I already knew about the Stolen Generation but hadn’t thought of writing about it. But this policeman and his personal conflict felt like a way in. It fascinated me and the mystery grew out of that.

AM: What are you working on now, for readers who will be looking for your next book?

SA: I’m working on a spooky mystery set in my part of South London, where the new inhabitants of a Victorian house start knocking down walls and unsettling the secrets that have been locked into the building for decades. They unwittingly open up a long-buried pocket of time which starts to bleed into the present. Can they stop history repeating itself?

AM: Whose books would we find on your nightstand’s To Be Read pile?

SA: The new Elizabeth Strout, Olive Again, is next to my bed and will probably be my next read. But I’m also very tempted by Sadie Jones’ The Snakes, and Anna Hope’s Expectation. And although they aren’t physically on my nightstand, I SO want to read Hamnet, the new Maggie O’Farrel, and Bass Rock, the new Evie Wyld. Deciding what to read next is my favorite dilemma.

Many thanks for these insights, Susan. And now on to the review:

Susan Allott’s remarkable debut, The Silence, brings a mystery to the forefront, set in a Sydney suburb.

Alternating between 1967 and 1997, it tells the story of Isla Green, whose father calls her Hackney flat, a call that sees Isla return to Australia. The police have been to see him, in connection with a former neighbor’s disappearance thirty years a before.

Mandy and her husband Steve were the Green’s neighbor’s, and Isla’s father, Joe, told the police that they moved away together, but it appear Joe may have been the last person to see Mandy alive. In 1997, now that Mandy’s own father has died, her brother hasn’t been able to trace her for her part of the inheritance. In fact, he hasn’t heard from her in the past thirty years.

In 1967, Isla’s mother, Louisa, is homesick for the England she left when she and Joe emigrated to Australia. Mandy and Louisa have become friends, and Mandy watched little Isla while Louisa went out to work. Mandy’s husband was a police officer whose job had taken its toll on him emotionally.

With her father under suspicion and his drinking out of control, Isla searches for the secrets each couple hid all those years ago, determined to find the truth about Mandy’s disappearance, and about her father.

Handing the tough subject of aboriginal children under Australia’s colonial habits adds a sense of tension to the plot and increases the emotion. Will Isla find out the truth? And when she does, will she be able to handle it?

An accomplished debut with finely drawn, realistic characters. Highly recommended.

Victoria Dowd: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder Thursday, May 14 2020 

Please welcome Victoria Dowd, to describe debuting a mystery amidst the Corona virus:

My debut crime novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, was released on 6th May. After people say ‘Congratulations!’ the next sentence, however, is often ‘How has it been releasing a book at the moment?’

This is not an easy question to answer for someone who is a debut novelist. There’s very little I have to compare it to. There were some very obvious differences. The launch party was not a collection of friends and relatives clustered in a bookshop clutching glasses of warm white wine.

Instead, a group of very close, life-long friends appeared on my laptop screen in various fancy dress outfits which revolved throughout the evening with clothing cobbled together from childrens’ dressing up boxes and outfits left over from parties twenty years ago. It was definitely a night to remember!

There was the Facebook party organised with fellow authors from my publishers, involving (virtual) food, drinks and quizzes – with real prizes that were up for grabs that people had taken the time to make. These included miniature copies of my book, key rings and beautiful crotched book ‘merchandise.’ There have been fridge magnets of the book and cocktails created to drink alongside the book (a Fortune Teller, if you’re interested and it’s very potent!).

I have been overwhelmed by the lengths people have gone to. I can have a ‘normal’ launch for all the rest of the books and probably will do for this one as well. But I can never recapture the extraordinary efforts of those surrounding this book: the wonderful editor, Emma, who worked with me tirelessly and completely remotely, on every word and page right up to the very last minute; parties that we Zoomed, Facebooked and Skyped; the presents, cards and messages; independent bookshop owners such as Venetia Vyvyan operating her bookshop single-handedly from home, who telephoned to ensure she could obtain copies to sell; established authors such as Margaret Murphy taking the time to speak on the phone with invaluable advice for a new author.

We really did just carry on. It has been remarkable just how adaptable people have become so quickly and how incredibly generous and supportive others are in their efforts. It is no understatement to say that I have been utterly overwhelmed by the tide of goodwill.

In some ways, it was quite fitting that it should come out under such adversity. The book itself is, after all, a modern take on the crime novels of the Golden Age – a time of extraordinary upheaval and deprivation. From wars to depressions and rationing, these authors were not simply writing at a time of cocktail parties and country house weekends.

Although the books are often referred to as ‘cozy mysteries’ there is always the underlying ripple of people in dire straights, those who have lost loved ones to war and disease, or characters who will go to any lengths to obtain that longed for financial security. Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime herself, published many of her greatest works during the Second World War (And Then There Were None, Evil Under the Sun, The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger, Sparkling Cyanide – to name a few of many). The Golden Age of crime may well have had Lord Peter Wimsey whipping around in a sports car and Miss Marple solving crimes from the comfort of a drawing room, but it also had the constant undercurrent of those who will kill for inheritance, to hide past misdemeanours and avoid certain ruin – people who are desperate enough to carefully and coldly plan the taking of another human life.

In The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder I wanted to test those sort of characters to their limits. There is the familiar setting of the isolated country mansion. There are five women in a book club, again something very recognisable to many readers. And there is the narrator, a troubled young woman who, although not officially a member of the book club, tags along with her mother. Their dysfunctional, spiky relationship instantly causes an acerbic tension between them and the other members of the group.

There is also a dark humour to their interactions which I think is very much a trope of Golden Age crime. The sharp wit of authors such as Josephine Tey and Margery Allingham is very often dismissed or over-looked. I wanted to create that environment we expect from these sort of crime novels, so the unexpected can happen. I wanted the familiarity of the difficult mother and daughter relationship, a book club who don’t really read books, a group of friends where not everyone likes one another. Then they become isolated, snowed in and the murders begin.

Under this level of constant extreme pressure there is only one escape, to figure out who the killer is. And that is the glory of the Golden Age of crime. It’s not about the body, the blood or death – at least not all of it. It’s the puzzle, working out every single tiny clue before the denouement.

Can you solve it before the author gets to the final page? I hope not.

Victoria Dowd is a crime writer and her debut novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, is available to buy in paperback or ebook on Amazon, published by Joffe Books. It’s the first part of a crime series that is an updated dark, humorous take on the Golden Age of crime and the works of authors such Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey.

Victoria is also an award winning short story writer, having won the Gothic Fiction prize for short fiction awarded by Go Gothic. She was runner up in The New Writer’s Writer of the Year Award; her work has been short listed and Highly Commended by Writers’ Forum magazine. She was also long-listed for The Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition. She has had short stories published in BTS Literary and Arts Annual, Gold Dust magazine and also by Stairwell books in their literary and arts journal Dream Catcher. She lives with her husband and two children and can frequently be found in Devon swimming/floating/drinking around Burgh Island, reading Agatha Christies. Originally from Yorkshire, after studying law at Cambridge University, Victoria was a criminal law barrister for many years before becoming a full time writer.

James Oswald: Bury Them Deep Wednesday, May 13 2020 

James Oswald’s tenth Inspector McLean novel, Bury Them Deep, reinforces why he’s one of Auntie M’s favorites, whether its the newest McLean or in his equally well-written, yet vastly different series featuring detective Constance Fairchild (No Time to Cry; Nothing to Hide).

This time the Scottish detective mixes with a highly politicized operation when he sets out to find a missing administrative member of the Police Scotland team who’s not shown up for work. It doesn’t help that the woman’s mother is a retired Detective Superintendent Grace Ramsey, recovering from a broken hip, but still as intimidating as McLean remembers.

Assigned to the team working on an huge anti-corruption scheme, Anya Renfrew’s disappearance sets off alarm bells. With her access to many of the systems in place that unlock the secrets of Edinburgh’s most powerful businessmen, none of the possibilities look good. With fears Anya may have been bought off for the information she could share, another possibility is that she been silenced to keep her knowledge quiet.

Last seen in ancient hills where the maps are difficult to follow and the stories from folklore imbue the atmosphere, McLean and his team set out to find out all they can about Anya Renfrew, her current life, and her past.

At the same time, just to muddy the waters, an old foe of McLean’s at a long-term psychiatric hospital claims to have information about the missing woman.

It’s a race against time to find Anya as the team investigates a disturbing pattern of other women having disappeared from the same area where Anya is last seen.

One thing about Oswald’s plots: they are consistently creative and bring a new level of knowledge to the reader, as he explores areas most readers won’t be familiar with.

This ability to hit on unique stories, inhabited by a familiar cast of characters led by McLean, all set in the city and surrounding area of Edinburgh, make this a Highly Recommended read.

Sujata Maseey: The Satapur Moonstone Sunday, May 10 2020 

Sujata Massey’s Award-winning The Widows of Malabar Hill introduced Bombay lawyer Perveen Mistry, one of a few female lawyers in India in the early 1920s. Massey brings Perveen back for another adventure in The Satapur Moonstone, and it’s every bit as exciting a mystery as the first.

It’s 1922 and Perveen is asked to journey to the remote Sahyadri mountains to the state of Satapur. The royal family has recently seen its share of disasters: its maharaja died suddenly after taking ill and his eldest son died soon after in a hunting accident.

Now the dowager queen and her daughter-in-law maharani are at odds with how the next in line, a young crown prince, should be educated. With the British Raj agent involved in their rule, a woman is required as the two maharani’s live in purdah and do not speak to men.

After reluctantly agreeing to this venture, Perveen’s journey to the circuit house run by the Englishman Colin Sandringham is arduous, and it is even further to the royal palace in Satapur where the women await her visit. But Colin is interesting company and after a slight delay, Perveen is on her way inside a palanquin, being carried through the forest for the long and dangerous journey to the palace.

What she finds there, and show Perveen will cope with it, show her strength as well as her sleuthing skills. There are power plays and old secrets that threaten the young prince and his little sister, even as Perveen comes under threat. It will take all of her wiles to protect the royal children and carry out her commission.

The time and mores, the landscape and its dangers, all come alive under Massey’s graceful language and extensive research. Perveen is an interesting, intelligent woman, bound by Parsi customs and chafing at them due to her own history. It all makes for an absorbing read this is highly recommended.

Anne Cleeland: Murder in Deep Regret Wednesday, May 6 2020 

Anne Cleeland’s newest Doyle & Acton mystery, Murder in Deep Regret, finds the married detectives working a confusing case, just as they are having their portraits painted for his ancestral home.

A recent acquisition to the London Kingsmen football team, the player Rizzo had been awarded a huge salary that matches his popularity. So when his body is found inside St. Michael’s sacristy, an apparent suicide, Doyle’s nose for the truth twitches as her scalp prickles, and DCI Acton’s actions confirm this was murder.

The church is in the midst of a huge renovation project, dragging on due to the absence of the owner of the construction company. D’Angelo has gone missing after a sailing accident, and is presumed dead, lost at sea.

But what could his death and that of the most revered football player in recent history have to do with each other?

As the couple investigate and Doyle keeps her eye on her husband’s tendency for retribution and running a separate inquiry. Knowing he’s keeping secrets again, Doyle’s dreams come to the forefront with information, keeping the fey Irish gal asking questions without answers.

One thing she’s sure of, even as she juggles her job, watching over her husband, and caring for their young son, albeit with good help at home, is that whomever killed Rizzo did so to bring Acton into the the investigation.

Cleeland’s distinctive recurring characters, including those of their team and at home whom have become like old friends, round out the cast. This is another complicated case, with a hint of sexy romance that never fails to charm. A perfect read for distraction in these times, or anyone looking for a darn good mystery with characters you won’t soon forget in this continued series winner.

Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

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Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life

Gaslight Crime

Authors and reviewers of historical crime fiction

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews