Jo Spain: After the Fire Wednesday, Oct 7 2020 

Jo Spain’s sixth Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery, After the Fire, combines the best of police procedurals with a team of characters who grow more familiar with each book.

Tom’s job as chief superintendent of the National Bureau of Crime Investigation in Dublin takes him away from being in an on-the-ground investigation, tied up in administrative bureaucracy.

Forced to take two weeks off of holiday time, he and his wife Louise are helping their physician daughter, Maria, with caring for her six-year old daughter, Cait. He’s having lunch at the hospital with Maria during his time off when he overhears two porters discussing a new patient, and is all ears.

A young woman was found walking down the street, naked, exhibiting signs of smoke inhalation and burns on some surfaces of her body, mumbling about a not being about to save the baby.

That’s all it takes for Tom to check out the patient, and soon his friend and colleague, DCI Laura Lennon of the murder squad. Tom soon finds himself lending a Laura’s case a hand, when the house the young naked woman escaped from is found to contain more victims and was a case of arson.

Only slightly escaping Louise’s wrath at becoming involved, Tom manages to help Laura and her team investigate what might be a trafficking ring. Meanwhile, Laura’s husband, Ray, assigned to the new gun-related crimes unit, has his own sources that may contribute to the situation.

The people living in the burned out house were not the casual renters thought at first glance. Several others are missing. And where is this baby?

Spain’s newest elevated the police procedural in a fast-paced race to find those at risk, rescue an infant, and keep the burn patient from becoming the next victim.

All the while, she manages to give the effect of the Irish accent without resorting to overdone brogue dialect. Her dialogue sparkles with the relief of black humor most long-term police adopt, adding a realistic feel and depth to her characters.

A fast and engrossing read. Already looking for the next one.

Nicola Upson: The Secrets of Winter Tuesday, Oct 6 2020 

Nicola Upson’s ninth historical mystery novel featuring Josephine hey, The Secrets of Winter, takes readers to a Cornish Christmas in December 1938 with a devastating opening that will proved to be key to the resolution.

Hitler is on the rise, trying to gather friends, even celebrities, for support. But Josephine and Marta have been issued an invitation by their good friend, DCI Archie Penrose, to be part of a special Christmas celebration in aid of charity taking place in the castle high on St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.

Accessed at low tide by a causeway and by ferry boat at others, the Mount has its own medieval church, and the castle, filled with history, seems barely changed from its origins with the exception of a few modern conveniences. The charity being bolstered by Miss Hilaria St. Aubyn of the current family in residence is in aid of bringing thousands of Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to be cared for in hostels and private homes.

When Archie and soon the assorted company, which includes a famous film star, are faced with a murder in the small town at the foot of the Mount and a second murder on the castle premises, it’s easy to feel the chill of the cold stone as a blizzard keeps the gathering cloistered at the castle during what should have been merry Christmas festivities.

Now Archie, aided by Josephine with her keen sense of human nature and her discerning eye, will need all of their attention turned to figuring out who amongst their company is a murderer, before death strikes again.

This is the UK cover for the same book, titled The Dead of Winter. Both covers and titles convey the story inside, based on real history and real people. Auntie M had the great good fortune to visit St. Michael’s Mount, off the coast of Marazion, when she stayed in Penzance on a setting research trip. It’s a must-stop for anyone traveling to Cornwall, despite the steep walk up to the castle. The dizzying height and glorious gardens on the island, plus its innate charm, will surely delight any traveler.

Upson perfectly captures the charm and essence of the community in this era who live and work on the island, and the families who keep the castle at its summit running. A better setting for murder and intrigue could not be imagined, and Auntie M is only sorry Upson got there first.

For this story is full of twists and compelling intrigue, perhaps not quite the Christmas holiday Josephine had envisioned, but one that will have readers enmeshed in the lives of those who have gathered to celebrate Christmas in a castle on top of a high hill. It’s to her credit that Upson manages to create a world where Tey and her friends survive and live on, one that is built on reality but imbued with the authors’ knack for the telling detail and her character’s inner lives.

Another solid entry from an award-winning writer whose work has been shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger, this one is definitely Highly Recommended.

Claire Gradidge: The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox Sunday, Oct 4 2020 

It’s 1941 in Romsey, England, in Claire Gradidge’s fine mystery, The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox. This is another of Auntie M’s TBR personal file from other crime writers’ recommendations.

Jo hasn’t been to her hometown for two decades, after her grandfather unceremoniously threw her out. Born out of wedlock, her mother had already been banished from the family home.

But the young woman, who’s husband is missing in action, returns to uncover who her father was, after her mother dies without telling her.

Needing a job, she arrives the day after the local pub has been bombed, and soon finds herself the coroner’s assistant. But the waters soon muddy when the bodies found in the pub are increased by one unexpected body that doesn’t seem to have suffered bomb damage, that of a teenaged girl, unknown in the area.

The coroner is her childhood friend, Bram Nash, who has suffered his own war injuries, and works at a local law firm as he carries out his coroner duties. The two will set out to discover who the unknown girl was, with Jo bearing the brunt of the investigation. And as she searches for this young girl’s identity, she also finds herself coming closer and closer to the truth of her own parentage.

Atmospheric, with an authentic voice, and with a determined protagonist in Jo, this was the winner of the 2019 Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. Readers will root for Jo and hope to see her return.

Laura Thompson: Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life Thursday, Oct 1 2020 

What better way to celebrate fall than with the stunning biography Laura Thompson wrote on the queen or mystery. Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life is a complete, fully researched examination of the woman whose crime novels are only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare.

From the Edwardian idyll that was her childhood, Agatha was closest to her mother, although she loved her father. After his death, mother and daughter became even closer, although there was an older brother and sister in the family. Clara’s influence would be clearly felt by Agatha for the rest of her life, in ways large and small, and in her attitude towards money.

The tall, slim girl with the lovely golden hair soon grew into an athletic and graceful young woman, one who wrote poetry and had a leaning to writing. She was a listener, one who absorbed what people said and how they behaved. When she falls for Archie Christie, handsome but without means, her mother is less than impressed with her new son-in-law.

As her writing takes off and a child appears, daughter Rosalind, Agatha’s maternal attitude became diffident, and while she loved her daughter, they never had the same connection Agatha had with Clara. Too long the beloved daughter to be an effective mother, Agatha allows nannies and boarding schools largely to care for her daughter after a few years.

And then the unthinkable happens: Archie has fallen for another woman and wants a divorce. Agatha’s subsequent breakdown, manifested in her disappearance for eleven days that caused an international sensation, is cleverly explained by Thompson, who spins what seems to be the most realistic story of what really happened.

Once Agatha is found at a Harrowgate spa, the divorce occurs and her life changes. She would refuse to discuss the incident ever again, and if anyone dared question her about the period, that person would be obliterated from her life.

Her second marriage several years later to archeologist Max Mallowan was more of a reassurance to Agatha, and her books took off as her writing flourished when she traveled with him. She helped him in his work; theirs was a comfortable relationship that brought Agatha emotional security.

There were multiple houses, too, including the lovely summer home Greenway in Devon that Auntie M visited in 2013. There were also multiple tax issues her ‘fortune’ created, with UK high taxes and the US suddenly deciding they were owed back taxes, a situation that literally dragged on for decades until settled, leaving her an employee of a trust created in her name to control the debt.

Thompson takes issue with those who have called Agatha’s stories simple. They were created out of her deep knowledge of human nature, with almost geometric plots. “But at the heart was her fascination with human nature. This is the great joke: Agatha Christie was not interested in murder.”

Thompson makes a grand case with supporting documentation for this, and also explores the dame’s writings as Mary Westmacott, where she allowed herself to explore the emotions she usually kept in check.

For anyone interested in understanding the evolution and influences of Dame Agatha Christie, look no further than this compelling and highly readable examination of her life that is Highly Recommended.

Clare Chase Day: The Tara Thorpe Mysteries Monday, Sep 28 2020 

Auntie M has been reading several series in order, and today she’s talking about Clare Chase, whose Tara Thorpe series is set in Cambridge.

Murder on the Marshes introduces Tara, a Cambridge journalist who is investigating the death of a young woman found in the fountain of one of Cambridge’s college courtyards.

When Tara learns the woman had been receiving death threats, she can’t help but flash on the one that was left on her own doorstep the night this woman died.

Her personal interest in the case catches the attention of DI Garstin Blake, and he reluctantly comes to see that her journalistic nose has its advantages, as she interviews what they both feel are potential suspects. But Tara’s past experience with police has left her wary of police in general.

Refusing to acknowledge the pull she feels toward the married Blake, Tara doesn’t share the secret in her past that might have bearing on the case, even as they get closer and closer to the killer.

Death on the River opens a few years later, when Tara has left journalism and entered the police force. Only a few weeks into her position as a DC in Cambridge, she is shocked one night to find a woman on the doorstep of her isolated fens cottage. Dr. Monica Cairncross begs Tara to investigate the death of her brother, Ralph.

It’s been deemed an accident, but Tara’s immediate supervisor, DS Wilkins, has little time for Tara’s efforts to find out about the accident and if there was any possibility it could have been murder. But going behind Wilkin’s back, Tara finds out Ralph Cairncross had an earlier accident with the wiring on a faulty lamp that almost killed him.

Butting heads with her DS isn’t missed by their boss, DI Blake, who is determined to give Tara the chance she deserves in his team, despite the misgivings of Wilkins. Just how far will her DS go to scupper Tara? Then a second body is found, and it becomes clear someone has murder on their mind.

With Death Comes to Call, Tara’s newest case revolves around the disappearance of local painter Luke Cope. Inspecting his paintings, Tara is alarmed to see one of a pretty woman with a man’s hands around her throat.

She’s at a loss, until the body of a young woman is found on a nature preserve, left overnight. The dead woman is Freya Cross, an art gallery employee who modeled for Cope and is the woman from the painting. Is life imitating art?

Tara investigates, sometimes using unusual methods she’s fond of from her journalism days. There have been changes to Blake’s team, too, that effect their working. As Tara and the team investigate both Freya’s husband and stepson, there are other forces at work trying to destroy the new detective constable.

Murder in the Fens brings Tara and her team to the body of a young woman found on the edge of the fens, her pockets stuffed full of dead flowers. Was this an affair gone wrong, a crime of passion, or something more?

Searching the young student’s room, Tara finds what turns out to be a rare family heirloom hidden among her things. What was smart Julie Cooper doing with something valuable that belongs to the family of the master at her college?

Was this simple theft, or the hint of something much more? And how far back in time will Tara have to look to find the threads of what is at the heart of this death?

With team changes come a new detective who seems too good to be true, but at least Tara isn’t the lowest in the pecking order. Her tense relationship with DI Blake takes an unexpected turn in this one.

The mystery is solved in each one, so the books don’t strictly have to be read in order, but there was an undeniable pleasure in watching the progression of the relationships Tara has, first as a journalist, and then as a young detective with the various members of her team.

She has her own past, a complicated family situation, and support in odd corners, but it all works and makes her an interesting and strong young woman, whose sense of determination sometimes gets in the way of being a team player, something she must learn.

Chase does a good job, too, exploring Cambridge as a setting, bringing the ancient city and its many colleges to life, as well as the stark fens countryside.

All in all, it’s a satisfying series and Auntie M is looking forward to Tara Thorpe’s next case.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: The First to Lie Friday, Sep 25 2020 

The First to Lie, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s newest suspense mystery, revolves around women and echoes her own life, with the multiple-Emmy and award-winning investigative reporter creating a character who will have that same job. It begs the question about the identities that we show to the world, and what will be believed about us.

Ellie Berensen, new to Boston and ready to start at a brand new channel, takes on an important case that should set her career at Channel 11 off with a bang.

Her investigation is into a drug company owned by a wealthy family, who may be keeping a devastating side effect from the women using it. This has her scrambling for information on the story and for an insider’s view. With her new boss breathing down her neck, Ellie finds herself saddled with a perky producer, Meg.

In their infinite wisdom, the channel has installed Meg in the apartment across the hall from Ellie. Meg Weest is the kind of eager woman who starts to become a pain in Ellie’s side. She asks questions that are too personal, and insinuates her self into Ellie’s story in far too many areas.

Nora Quinn is one of a batch of new sales reps for the drug company Pharminex. Acing her orientation is one thing; dealing with the doctors and the women she meets in their offices is another.

While vastly different, one thing all of these characters have in common are the secrets they are hiding, and the past hurts that have pushed them to seek revenge.

Effective flashbacks tell the story of other women, one whom has been betrayed by her own family; another whom has had her secure future and family yanked away from her.

But just whom is masquerading as whom? And when other women linked to the Pharminex case start to die in accidents, are their deaths really accidental or deliberate?

Ryan brings her own expertise and knowledge of a reporter’s investigation into play in a devious and twisted plot that will keep reader’s flipping pages as the one truth emerges: everyone is lying.

Matthew Cost: Mainely Power Wednesday, Sep 23 2020 

Please welcome guest Matthew Cost, to discuss his new mystery MAINELY POWER:

Power. Mainely Power. By Matt Cost

Not all technology advances society. This was the thought that first sparked my mystery novel, Mainely Power.

I began to ponder some inventions that proved this point, and of course, the thought of weapons came to mind. From the musket, to the Gatling gun, to tear gas, to bazookas, and to bombs, weapons have been used for destruction.

Eventually, my thoughts led me to the most lethal weapon ever devised. The nuclear bomb. The utter devastation and destruction that it wrought upon humanity and the earth. I pondered how these armaments are loaded upon missiles and rockets that are housed in silos pointed at our perceived enemies.

And then some genius decided to create power to be used for good out of this murderous science and the nuclear power plant was born. Built within the borders of the USA. With little to no security. I remembered a conversation with a fisherman who said one of his favorite spots to fish was just in front of Maine Yankee, a nuclear power plant in Wiscasset, Maine.

He said he could’ve waded ashore and wandered around. That there was nothing to stop him from entering a facility that housed the same technology that blew entire cities off the map in Japan.

This was the premise of Mainely Power. But who would want to sabotage a nuclear power plant? The obvious answer would be terrorists, perhaps working for some foreign government even. But, could it also be done in the name of the environment? Or for money? Or for political power?

It was this that made me realize that so much of the history of humankind has been for power. Wars, governments, businesses, and relationships are based upon power.

This then, is what my mystery novel is about. It is the place where rich landowners, wealthy businessmen, politicians, and environmentalists intersect. This area is the venue know as influence.

Who swings the biggest stick? Mainely Power. A melting pot of eminence.

Laura Gail Black: For Whom the Book Tolls Sunday, Sep 20 2020 

Please welcome guest Laura Gail Black, to talk about her debut release, For Whom the Book Tolls:

How to get away with murder
Laura Gail Black

It’s the quandary which every mystery writer must face: how to plot a believable murder the killer would feel was air-tight and the sleuth can figure out without author interference.

Thanks to police procedural TV shows such as CSI or NCIS and their spinoffs, as well as their softer counterparts such as Elementary, or Death in Paradise, today’s reader has a deeper understanding of how police policies and procedures work with regard to scene processing, victim and suspect rights, and how the legal system works. Gone are the days when a writer can simply make it up and assume the typical reader won’t know the difference.

Today’s mystery author often has books about causes of death, body trauma, poisons, weapons, crime scene investigation, deadly drug interactions, and forensics. In addition, we often have internet search histories which may have us on FBI watch lists for our research into poisons, bomb making, bank robbing, how long a body takes to decompose in varying settings, and which countries have no extradition treaties with the U.S.

Some of us also have stories of the raised eyebrows at our doctors’ offices when we take an opportunity during a routine exam to strike up a conversation on how rapidly a certain body trauma would cause unconsciousness or death. On top of these subjects, we must learn how to hide a body, dispose of weapons, and ensure we don’t leave physical evidence behind—fingerprints, hair, and fibers.

The next difficulty comes when we need our sleuth to figure it all out, putting aside our own knowledge of the crime and looking at it from a not-in-the-know point of view. We can’t cheat and conveniently have everything drop in our sleuth’s lap. He or she needs to work for it, finding tidbits of information through conversations, searching, and snooping. They must stumble across all information and come to the solution without our help.

Police or attorney best-friends or significant others are allowable if not overused, but the sleuth can only learn a few tiny tidbits from these sources. Often this significant other or friend is used as a sounding board for ideas and theories, although they cannot, must not, be the ones to come up with the solution. Our sleuths have to push through the process, sometimes moving into danger to prove their theories and suss out a killer.

Authors walk a tightrope of ensuring we dole out just enough information without giving away too much. We don’t want the reader to figure things out too quickly. However, a reader should be able to look back and see the clues and what they meant after the fact.

We are taught, as authors, to write what we know. Yet I feel confident in stating most, if not all, mystery authors have never once committed murder. Instead we have researched, imagined, daydreamed, and queried our local police officers, fire fighters, and coroners and have taught ourselves, in essence, how to get away with—and solve—murder.

Laura Gail Black writes cozy mysteries on the beautiful shores of Lake Marion in South Carolina, where she lives with her husband and four rescue dogs. She began collecting antique books when she worked in a used and antique bookstore in college. Today, Laura’s bookshelves contain many antique books, some of which are close to two hundred years old. When not writing or playing with her dogs, Laura creates her own jewelry, crochets, cross-stitches, spends time on the water with her husband, and enjoys all things tea.

Sophie Hannah: The Killings at Kingfisher Hill Tuesday, Sep 15 2020 

Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot mysteries capture the essence of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective. She returns with her newest, The Killings at Kingfisher Hill, the fourth approved by the Christie estate.

Poirot and Inspector Catchpool are to take a coach to the private gated community at Kingfisher Hill. The Belgian detective has been begged by Richard Devonport to visit his family home with an eye to finding the real murderer of his estranged brother, Frank.

Frank Devonport had just reconciled with his family and a few hours later was dead after a fall from a high staircase. His fiancee, Helen, has confessed to pushing Frank over the banister, but Richard is convinced she is innocent, and hires Poirot to prove it while he’s convinced Helen to marry him.

After a startling and almost bizarre coach ride to journey to Kingfisher Hill, Poirot and Catchpool start their investigation and meet the unpleasant Devonport family and several close friends. With strong personalities dominating everyone’s actions, the red herrings abound. And then there is a second murder . . .

This is a mystery of the mind, with alibis crisscrossing each other and secrets being held. Hannah does a fine job of capturing Poirot’s voice, and has created her most twisted plot yet, one even Christie would find complex.

Catchpool is not Hastings, but he is coming into his own with his relationship with Poirot deepening as the detective mentors the young man to impart how the inspector can better use his little grey cells.

What could be better than an outing with Poirot under the skilled pen of Sophie Hannah. Now who will tackle Miss Marple?

Highly recommended.

Spencer Kobe: Shadows of the Dead Sunday, Sep 13 2020 

Spencer Kope returns readers to the Special Tracking Unit of the FBI in Shadows of the Dead.

Magnus Craig is known as “Steps” but only a few people know of his ability to see shine, a color stream of the essence created by people, varying in color and intensity depending on the length of time they’ve been in a certain place. The origin of this synesthesia is in itself interesting and creative. How he deals with it with special glasses adds to this touch and creates empathy for a man whose special sight is a daily bombardment of colors and senses without the glasses.

The strong opening in this third outing (Collecting the Dead, Whispers of the Dead)creates immediate interest: tracking a man after he’s fled in the woods after a police chase to a remote cabin in the woods brings them information about his partner in crime, a man he calls OK for Onion King.

Then a young woman is found in the trunk of his car, a woman he calls Eight. When she regains consciousness, her information is telling: she was abducted by someone different from the man who left her in the woods; and more critically, she was not the first but the eighth victim.

Steps and his partner, Jimmy, will trace the villain in real time and though the dark web, a race against time for the unknown abducted victims still being held. For is this young woman was Eight, where are the first seven?

Kope, a working crime analyst, brings a huge sense of reality to the plot through profiling and other detection methods from his own knowledge base. Yet he’s smart to weave characters who will capture the readers’ attention, especially Steps, even as he takes them on a wild ride.

The unpredictable plot, as well as the easy camaraderie and dialogue between Jimmy and Steps add to make this a wholly satisfying read.

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