Share This

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2021

Review - Mrs. Morris and the Ghost

I discovered this series in my search for Halloween-ish mysteries to celebrate the season.  I am so glad I found it, because I am already eager to read the rest of the series.  If you aren't familiar with this series, see my thoughts on it below. 

Traci Wilton

Copyright: July 2019 (Kensington Cozies) 332 pgs

Series: 1st in Salem B&B Mystery series

Sensuality:  Adult topics discussed

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Charlene Morris, new owner of Strathmore mansion. 

Setting: Contemporary.  Salem, Massachusetts

Obtained Through: Library

Book blurb: "A grieving young widow, Charlene needed a new start—so she bought a historic mansion, sight unseen, and drove from Chicago to New England to start turning it into a bed-and-breakfast. On her first night in the house, she awakens to find a handsome man with startling blue eyes in her bedroom. Terror turns to utter disbelief when he politely introduces himself as Jack Strathmore—and explains that he used to live here—when he was alive. He firmly believes that someone pushed him down the stairs three years ago, and he won’t be able to leave until someone figures out who. If Charlene wants to get her business up and running in time for the Halloween tourist rush, and get this haunting houseguest out of the way, she’ll have to investigate. Though truth be told, this ghost is starting to grow on her . . ."  But Jack's isn't the only murder Charlene will deal with.

Charlene Morris is truly missing her deceased husband and Chicago held too many memories.  She is a "go-getter" with lots of drive and energy. Jack Strathmore is the extremely handsome ghost who owned the family mansion and believes he hasn't moved on because he was murdered.  He can be a bit pushy since he was catered to in life and was a renowned doctor.  Will Johnson and Minnie are her first staff hires.  Will handles the landscaping and maintains the grounds and his wife, Minnie, is housekeeper and cook.  Detective Sam Holden is six foot and looks like the actor Sam Elliot, mustache and all. He is pointedly interested in Charlene. 

The setting of Salem is just touched on in this first book since the mansion being turned into the Bed & Breakfast is the main stage for the story.  I look forward to more about Salem in future books.  The story moves along at a steady pace and kept my interest.  

The killer reveal was well done and I hadn't considered that character as the murdered.  The reveal was tense and played out logically.  I really liked the wrap-up and wonder how the situation with handsome Jack the ghost will develop over the series.

My Thoughts:  I found this to be a delightful ghostly cozy mystery.  I am looking forward to the next in the series already and wish I would have discovered it sooner.  A perfect mix of tenacious heroine, flirty ghost, well developed murder mystery, and spot on writing.  This is great for anytime of the year, not just Halloween.  I can't help but think this might be inspired by the movie The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Review - The Dead Cry Justice

 Heiress-turned-sleuth Prudence MacKenzie and ex-Pinkerton Geoffrey Hunter step out of the elite society of Gilded Age New York as they venture into the city’s crime ridden streets and most dangerous neighborhoods to search for two missing children . . .

This won't be available until Nov 30th

Author: Rosemary Simpson

Copyright: Nov 2021 (Kensington Books) 360 pgs

Series: 6th in Gilded Age Mystery series

Sensuality: harsh realities of brothels discussed and how children are trafficked in sex trade

Mystery Sub-genre: historical mystery, historical private inquiry

Main Characters: Prudence MacKenzie, judge's daughter and heiress-turned-sleuth

Setting: 1890's New York city

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Book Blurb: "May 1890: As NYU Law School finally agrees to admit female law students, Judge MacKenzie’s daughter Prudence weighs her choices carefully. Chief among her concerns is how her decision would affect the Hunter and MacKenzie Investigative Law agency and her professional and personal relationship with the partner who is currently recuperating from a near fatal shooting.

 But an even more pressing issue presents itself in the form of a street urchin, whose act of petty theft inadvertently leads Prudence to a badly beaten girl he is protecting. Fearing for the girl’s life, Prudence rushes her to the Friends Refuge for the Sick Poor, run by the compassionate Charity Sloan. When the boy and girl slip out of their care and run away, Prudence suspects they are fleeing a dangerous predator and is desperate to find them.

 Aided by the photographer and social reformer Jacob Riis and the famous journalist Nellie Bly, Prudence and Geoffrey scour the tenements and brothels of Five Points. Their only clue is a mysterious doll with an odd resemblance to the missing girl. But as the destitute orphans they encounter whisper the nickname of the killer who stalks them—Il diavolo—Prudence and Geoffrey must race against time to find the missing children before their merciless enemies do . . ."

Prudence MacKenzie isn't your typical rich girl. She is wicked smart and determined to be a good investigator. She has to face the realities of sex trafficking of girls in this story.  Geoffrey Hunter, her partner in the investigative agency, is an ex-Pinkerton.  He is very protective of Prudence and clearly cares deeply for her.  Josiah Gregory is their assistant who is a little bit of a mystery himself.  I like this character and want to see more of him.  Charity Sloan is a female Quaker doctor running a clinic who plays a significant part during the investigation.  Detective Warren Lowry is searching for his sister who was abducted from the family home and could be caught up in the same situation.  Danny Dennis is a hansome cab driver who aids Prudence and Geoffrey along with his dog, Blossom and horse, Mr. Washington.  He is a great character.

New York during the Gilded Age was brutal for everyone but the mega-rich.  This novel brings the class disparity into sharp relief and the fact that child sex trafficking has been with us right here in the States for a while.

The plot starts simple and gets more complicated as the reader learns more.  Two young boys that look a lot like the Prudence's sandwich thief are murdered and it's clear the kids are being hunted.  I was drawn in and became invested in the two children fast which kept me reading. 

 The killer confrontation is hair raising and puts both Prudence and Geoffrey in danger.  The wrap-up paves the way for some changes for Prudence.  

I haven't read any of the prior books in this series, this was my first foray and I didn't feel lost at all.  The subject matter is weighty and serious, similar to the Sebastian St. Cyr series.  Other than a more clinical description here and there, there are no graphic depictions. Jacob Riis was a social reformer photographer and journalist Nellie Bly are actual historical figures which brings depth to the investigation.  This was well written, the characters well developed, the investigation doled out clues for the reader at a good pace.  I recommend.  I may go back to the beginning to see how Prudence and Geoffrey's relationship started.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Review - A Brushstroke with Death

As I was looking for some fun cozy mysteries for Halloween to review, I came across this new series.  Check out this witch who is an artist.  I think this may be surprising change for many.  The author, Bethany Blake, wrote six books in the Lucky Paws Pet Sitting mystery series which are going on my TBR list.

: Bethany Blake

Copyright: October 2020 (Kensington Cozies) 322 pgs

Series: 1st in An Owl & Crescent Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Willow Bellamy, owner of Owl & Crescent Art Barn 

Setting: Contemporary, Zephry Hollow, Pennsylvania 

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "Near the creek that runs behind her Pennsylvania house, Willow Bellamy has converted an old barn into an art school—though the place does still have some animal inhabitants, including Rembrandt, the owl who lives up in the rafters. And while it’s important for any artist to have a vision, Willow can sometimes see things others can’t, just like her mother and grandmother before her. Not that she would exactly call herself a witch . . .
When some local merchants gather in the studio for a painting party, they focus their attention on a still life with flowers and an assortment of garden tools, including antique pruning shears that disappear—at the same time despised restaurant owner Evangeline Fletcher is murdered. Willow must use all her gifts to find the killer, although it means teaming up with a handsome, mysterious detective whom Willow fears she may have accidentally conjured from a canvas. This investigation is sure to be a hoot . . ."

Willow Bellamy is an artist and witch like her mother and grandmother. I liked her and felt we could be friends. She is thoughtful, reasonable, and loyal.  Astrid Applebee is the owner of Astrid's Astral Emporium, is one of Willow's coven and her friend.  Pepper Armbruster is a powerful witch from a wealthy family and the third member of the coven.  Detective Lucien Turner is completely an enigma who seems to know a lot about witchy things.  Derek Fletcher was Willow's first love and the victim's nephew who just returned to town.  Handyman George Van Buskirk seems mighty fond of Willow's grandmother Anna.  Willow's mother, Celeste Dinsmore Crockett Bellamy, is the Mayor of Zephry - that's not complicated at all.  Then there are the fantastic animals like Rembrandt, the owl; Mortimer, the rescue pig; and Luna, a petite gray cat with a white cresent-shaped mark on her chest that are Willow's companions.

Zephry Hollow is a good setting, but the Owl & Crescent Art Barn is a fantastic setting. Slightly secluded with the victim's mansion the closest home. The weather and seclusion add some atmospheric touches for a gothic touch.

Of course the plot revolves around Evangeline Fletcher's murder and suspects seem plentiful as Willow asks questions of everyone at the painting party to reveal Evangeline had made a lot of enemies.  I found the pacing kept me interested and wanting to read just one more page again and again.  There were a few twists as the story developed that really sucked me in.

I have to hand it to Ms. Blake.  She pulled off a great twist for the killer reveal.  I hadn't figured out the killer until just before the reveal and it was a surprising revelation.  The confrontation itself was a little nail-biting and blood pumping, just like I prefer it. Loved it.  The wrap-up was bittersweet but I can't go into it more than that.

Great fun with a little witchy business without being focused on only the paranormal. It had a twisty plot with some a good surprise at the climax. This is a thoroughly enjoyable cozy has a good paranormal element.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 18, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Knives Out

If you weren't part of the crowds that saw this movie in the theaters, let me introduce you to the movie Knives Out.  If you packed in to watch it on the "big screen", revisit it for Halloween.  Released November 2019 and rated PG-13.

What it's about
"The night after his 85th birthday, after a party with his combative family, the wildly popular mystery author, Harlan Thrombey (played by the legendary Christopher Plummer from The Sound of Music) dies a sudden and suspicious death. The police arrive to investigate with a well known private investigator named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig of James Bond fame) sporting a Southern drawl.  The assumption is Harlan committed suicide and cut his own throat - or could it be murder?  Benoit was hired by an unknown person to investigate which adds to the mystique.  The family members are all shown to have reason to kill the author.  The film centers around the author's nurse, Marta, who will literally vomit if she tells a lie.  The all-star cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) as the nurse. 

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Critic Leonard Maltin: "Knives Out is never, ever dull and offers the kind of classy entertainment we could use more of on the big screen. And I have a feeling we'll see more of Daniel Craig's colorful character down the road."
  • 3 nominations at Golden Globe Awards
  • Best Original Screenplay nomination Academy Awards  AND British Academy Film Awards
  • Selected for top ten films of 2019 by American Institute and the National Board of Review.
  • Plus many, many others
The director, Rian Johnson, wrote the screenplay and specifically wanted to make a Christie inspired murder-mystery film.  Filming was in and around Boston, Massachusetts with the exteriors of the house filmed at a mansion located in Natick, west of Boston. The interior shots used The Ames Mansion in Borderland State Park a lot.
My thoughts:
This is perhaps one of the best Hollywood takes on a traditional mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie (but updated) with a powerhouse ensemble cast.  It exceeded my expectations, and most peoples.  The acting reflects that everyone on set was enjoying their roles and the directing and camera angles created the tension and intimate feel.  The mystery has plenty of red-herrings, twists, and a surprise ending.  It is meant to be funny in parts, and pulls it off great.  This is a really good, fun, and clever adult-oriented movie.  

It is an "original" movie, meaning there was no book or comic book with a fan base already existing, it had to stand it on its own merit, and it did.  As one person in the industry noted for a Buzzfeed article: "It’s the stars, but it’s more. It’s the genre, but it’s more. It’s a solid script, a savvy director, attention to detail, and excellent casting." 

Another highlight to this movie is it wasn't generated, like the majority of movies these days, to be the basis for an exploitable merchandising campaign, but solely for the craft of the movie itself.  Sadly, Hollywood hasn't taken the lesson to create and support more original adult-oriented good content, but rather are running with this.  So, there will a Knives Out 2, trying to recreate the magic of the first and will be another Benoit Blanc investigation.  Please don't turn this into a series trying to milk this for every dime.

I highly recommend, make a night of it to watch the movie.

If you want more, here is the director going in depth into one scene of the movie and his insights on what the scene took.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review - The Unkindness of Ravens

I discovered this debut of a new mystery series on Netgalley and it intrigued me.

Tagline: "Librarian Greer Hogan matches wits with a deviously clever killer in M.E. Hilliard's chilling series debut, ideal for fans of Louise Penny and Dorothy L. Sayers."

Last week I reviewed Bait and Witch for a Halloween touch.  It featured a librarian sleuth, and this week I have another librarian sleuth and this is good for the upcoming holiday as well.  At points I would get the two books mixed in my mind.  But this is different in significant ways.

Author: M.E. Hilliard

Copyright: April 2021 (Crooked Lane Books) 331 pgs

Series: 1st in Greer Hogan Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, traditional mystery

Main Characters: Greer Hogan, librarian who is recently widowed 

Setting: Contemporary, Raven Hill, NY

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Book blurb: "Greer Hogan is a librarian and an avid reader of murder mysteries. She also has a habit of stumbling upon murdered bodies. The first was her husband's, and the tragic loss led Greer to leave New York behind for a new start in the Village of Raven Hill. But her new home becomes less idyllic when she discovers her best friend sprawled dead on the floor of the library.

Was her friend's demise related to two other deaths that the police deemed accidental? Do the residents of this insular village hold dark secrets about another murder, decades ago? Does a serial killer haunt Raven Hill?

As the body count rises, Greer's anxious musings take a darker turn when she uncovers unexpected and distressing information about her own husband's death...and the man who went to prison for his murder. She is racked with guilt at the possibility that her testimony may have helped to convict an innocent man.

Though Greer admires the masters of deduction she reads about in books, she never expected to have to solve a mystery herself. Fortunately, she possesses a quick wit and a librarian's natural resourcefulness. But will that be enough to protect her from a brilliant, diabolical murderer?

And even if Greer manages to catch the Raven Hill killer, will living with her conscience prove a fate worse than death?"

Greer has been the librarian for six months and remains hopeful of seeing a ghost in the supposedly haunted mansion made into the library. She is still a little traumatized from discovering her husband and discovering her friend's body brings it all back again.  There are a few employees at the library, but none take more of a central role.  She rents the top of a house owned by Henri and his dog Pierre who are the breakout characters and I adore them. Henri has sort of unofficially adopted Greer.  Officer Jennie Webber ends up being a substantial character in the investigation and I like this character and would love to see more of her.

Raven Hill and the gothic library with a brooding exterior are each used to great effect.  The creek, called Ravens Kill, was the sight of an old drowning and adds creepy touches as well. "I have it on good authority that the currents have always been strange in the Ravens Kill."

The plot centers around a killer who struck a woman down during library hours. Greer tries to figure out the culprit while fully aware the murderer could be lurking and watching.  The pacing is steady and this book builds till the very tense climax. 

The killer reveal, or showdown, is excellent and left me breathless.  Greer is daring and smart against the killer. Excellent. While I had begun to suspect the killer, the full motive revealed just how cold blooded the murderer was.  The wrap-up answers the final questions and firmly sets up the next book where she will face some nagging discrepancies in her husband's murder since she has had to relive that trauma throughout the story.

My thoughts: This book tries for literary, but some literary allusions didn't make sense or seemed forced to appear "literary".  The writing style adds to the atmospheric feel throughout the book. This is a little darker in feel and style than a cozy mystery and there isn't any romantic interest or light moments.  Overall the book is well done with a solid mystery and compelling characters, and the gripping climax is superb.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 11, 2021

11 Native American Mystery Series

Native American mysteries are some of the most atmospheric novels (in my opinion).  I have enjoyed many of these and some I discovered while researching for this post.  Let me know in the comments if you would like me to review more of those series that I don't have any reviews or only a few. 

Charlie Moon series by James D Doss features a Ute tribal policeman (later becomes private detective) in southern Colorado.
The first four are my favorites: Shaman Sings, Shaman's Laugh, Shaman's Bones, and  Shaman's Game

Of course Tony Hillerman put Native American mystery novels on the map like never before.  His series starts with The Blessing Way.  Anne Hillerman continued the series when her father passed away.  My favorites are A Thief in Time, Skinwalker, and Sacred Clowns.  **If you would be interested in my reviewing some of these, please leave a comment saying so.

Wind River series by Margaret Coel, Eagle Catcher is the1st in the series.

Manny Tanno Investigations by C.M. Wendelboe take place mostly on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota.

Kate Shugak Mysteries by Dana Stabenow (no review) take place in Alaska.

Vanishing Act is the 1st in Jane Whitefield series by Thomas Perry (no reviews). Jane is a Native American (Seneca) who has made a career out of helping worthy people disappear (like an abuse victim disappear from powerful husband sort of thing).

Shandra Higheagle Mystery series by Patty Jagger features a woman who is half Nez Perce for an amateur sleuth. Double Duplicity is the first in the series.

Sadie Walela Mystery series by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe features a Cherokee amateur sleuth in Oklahoma.

Naomi ManyMules mystery series by J & D Burges (no reviews) features a divorced, thirty-something mom of two as the amateur sleuth on the edge of Navajo country and claims it is humorous. 

Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson has many Native American themes and characters

This series has some Native American themes: Cork O'Connor Investigation series by William Kent Krueger

There you have 11 series either featuring a Native American sleuth/detective or that often have Native American characters or themes featured in the stories.  I may have missed some, so please share if you know of one that isn't spotlighted here.  If you have read some of these, tell me what you thought of them too.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Review - Bait and Witch

 “Zippy and fun, with just enough ambiance to satisfy readers seeking spooks and humor.”

—Kirkus Reviews

In my search for some paranormal mysteries for Halloween, I found this new cozy series.  Librarian Josie Way moved to small-town Oregon to lay low. Instead, thanks to newfound magic abilities—and a killer on the loose—she’s leapt out of the frying pan and into a cauldron of trouble . . .

Author: Angela M. Sanders

Copyright: Dec 2020 (Kensington Cozies) 338 pgs

Series: 1st in Witch Way Librarian Mystery series

Sensuality: Mature topics

Mystery Sub-genre: cozy paranormal mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Josie Way, librarian and newfound witch 

Setting: Contemporary, small town Wilfred, Oregon 

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "Josie Way loved working among the Library of Congress’s leather-scented stacks—until she uncovered corruption and made herself a target. As Wilfred, Oregon’s new librarian, Josie can stay undercover until the case goes to court. But life in this little town isn’t as subdued as she expected. The library, housed in a Victorian mansion, is slated to be bulldozed. Still digesting the news that her safe haven is about to become scrap lumber, Josie discovers a body in the woods . . .

 Almost as shocking, Josie learns that she’s descended from a long line of witches—and her powers have suddenly sprung to life. With help from a spoiled alley cat who just may be her familiar, Josie’s thumbing through a catalog of suspects, hoping she can conjure a way to save her library—and her life . . ."

Josie Way is a strong willed gal who suddenly has magic powers as she is hiding for her life. She was easily likeable and relatable.  Rodney is the black cat that has adopted Josie and seems too smart for the average cat.  He steals the show and I can't get enough of Rodney! Darla is the Library Trustee who hired Josie and the owner/operator of Darla's Tavern and Diner as well as owner of the Magnolia Rolling Estates Trailer Park.  Sam Wilfred is the only living descendant of the "Wilfred family" the town was named after. His ancestor's abandoned the town and mill that supported the entire town, so the town hates the family.  Roslyn "Roz" Grover is Josie's right hand gal at library with a secret.  Sheriff Bert Dolby and sister are ever present in the story.  Lyndon Forster is the minimal-talk caretaker of the grounds and library.

The library grounds include a caretaker's cottage and the Big House that are the primary setting with Magnolia Rolling Estates Trailer Park and the Kirby river added.  I love the Library building, but living upstairs was a little unsettling at night. Great use of the old mansion/library. 

The mystery is fairly straight forward, who killed the woman found behind the library and who was she anyway?  Was the victim an assassin after Josie or did somebody mistake the woman for Josie?  Is Josie safe or not?  Is the killer a local? As the story unfolds, things get complicated.  Along with the subplots around Sam acting suspiciously, Roz's secret, the fight to save the library, and Josie's fear of her own powers, the pages flew by.

 The climax was somewhat tense and I had only begun suspecting the villain a couple chapters before the reveal, so great job there.  The wrap-up was great and solves a big problem unrelated to the murder.  

I found this debut of a new paranormal cozy series very enjoyable. The witchy aspects are well done for added oomph to the story. I was surprised at the level of development for the supporting cast. The mystery was well done with a great surprise killer that I really appreciated.  There was an added bonus of a hidden crime being solved in the midst of all this as well.  I also found the economic hard times of the town more true to life for small towns than the rosy image portrayed in most cozy mysteries while still keeping it charming.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author and series on your watch list

Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 4, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte

I am reviewing this 1965 psychological thriller as a warm-up for Halloween.  Although this was directed by Robert Aldrich, you might think it was a Hitchcock flick with it's build up to edge-of-your-seat tension.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82% 
  • 7 academy award nominations (best supporting actress [Moorehead], B&W cinematography, score, song, art direction, costume design, and editing).
  • Adapted from the unpublished short story "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" by Henry Farrell 

Movie Blurb:  
An aging, reclusive Southern belle (Bette Davis) is plagued by a horrifying murder of her lover forty years prior when she was young.  The arrival of a relative (Olivia de Havilland as Miriam Deering) plunges Charlotte into madness - or is she being helped along?  And who killed lover John Mayhew all those years ago?

What's It About?:
Rotten Tomatoes: "Forty years ago, on the night they were meant to elope, Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) found her [married] lover decapitated during a party, the blood on her dress leading everyone to suspect she was the murderer. Now, in 1964, Charlotte is an old recluse and must fight to keep her home. She enlists the help of her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), who was there at the time of the murder. However, soon after Miriam's arrival, Charlotte's mind becomes unstable, and she starts thinking he is alive."  As for the mystery part, nobody was ever arrested for the murder. Did Charlotte kill him, or her father? Is she going insane now from guilt?  

Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland [Melanie from Gone with the Wind], and Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor, with appearances from  Agnes Moorehead (Known for playing Endora in Bewitched), Bruce Dern, and George Kennedy.

My Thoughts:
The murder mystery isn't at the forefront. But the murder becomes the impetus for what happens in the rest of the movie.  Bette Davis, Agnes Moorehead, and Olivia de Havilland gave powerhouse performances. The cinematography, although black and white, was atmospheric, providing an ominous feeling with plenty of gothic touches. Sadly, the special effects aren't very good.  It does show the privilege of wealthy white in the south and the struggles of facing a changing status quo in the sixties.  It also has a haunting theme song that gets stuck in your head:

“Hush hush, sweet Charlotte,
He’ll love you till he dies... 
And every night after he shall die
Yes every night when he’s gone
The wind will sing you this lullaby
Sweet Charlotte was loved by John.”

 It's dated and comes across a little melodramatic for modern audiences, causing some to call it "campy".  I saw it for the first time on television at around twelve years old and I was riveted. I have re-watched it many times over the years and love the build-up of tension.  Bette Davis gave a great performance of a woman with a tragic past fighting to save her world and fearing she is loosing her grip on reality. She made you feel sorry for her in one scene and hate her in the next.  There are red herrings regarding who actually killed philandering John Mayhew, but the murderer from forty years prior is finally and formally identified.

Everybody seems to want to compare this film to "What Happened to Baby Jane", but this was a better written screen play and the acting was better - in my opinion. I can't stand Joan Crawford, but de Havilland was superlative as cousin Miriam.  It isn't perfect, but it is wicked good. Make a tub of popcorn, some root beer floats, and watch this early psychological thriller to get in the Halloween mood.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 1, 2021

Review - The Agency: A Spy in the House

Where has this year gone. October already!  I will have many more Halloween-related reviews coming for this month (yay).

I have found this new-to-me series set in Victorian era featuring a resourceful seventeen year old young woman on her first assignment for an all women private investigation agency!  I know this isn't recently published, I think it is very worthwhile and want to share it with you. 

Author: Y.S. Lee

Copyright: March 2010 (Candlewick Press) 276 pgs

Series: 1st in The Agency Mystery series

Sensuality:  Adult topics or situations mentioned

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Suspense, historical amateur sleuth

Main Character: Mary Lang, 17 year old orphan and former thief 

Setting: 1858, London, England

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners -- and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust -- or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets -- including those of her own past."

Mary Lang (undercover as Mary Quinn) begins as a hard-luck 12-year-old orphan of half-Asian decent and accomplished thief about to be hung is saved by Miss Treleaven of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls.  We then pick up five years later - after she has been reformed and educated and asked to be an investigator by the school's leaders.  She did excellent in school and when presented with the chance to be an investigator she is eager to prove herself.  Anne Treleaven is the woman who saved Mary from being hanged, is involved in girl's school, and is a founder of The Agency, an all female investigative service.  Felicity Frame is also is involved in the girl's school, and another founder of The Agency.  Angelica Thorold, the spoiled young lady Mary is posing as her companion to investigate her father, has more to her as the story develops. James Easton, second son of wealthy status, is investigating Mr. Thorold- but his motives aren't clear. He takes an interest in Mary, but what is his game? Even sleepy, sickly Mrs. Thorold has her secrets.

London is presented with the lavish, vain society parties held in vast expensive houses along the river with its gagging stench. Which is a perfect analogy of London with ultra rich existing alongside, but oblivious to, the desperately poor and destitute.  

The plot of an investigation agency that uses young women, who are often overlooked, to investigate cases is a great concept. This first case for Mary seems simple and is supposed to be a gentle entry into the Agency, but quickly becomes complicated.  The story is written well and kept me reading into the night.

The climax shows Mary's bravery and true heart.  It was exciting and tense. The wrap-up is short, answering the remaining questions and solutions to the case.  The potential romance for young Mary will hopefully continue in the next book in the series.

My thoughts:  The mystery is solid with twists and surprises and the characters are fleshed out and defined well.  This book is marketed as age 12 and up, but honestly, this is perhaps young adult but solidly adult with the topics touched on.  Mary's mother turned to prostitution to survive for instance.  Although that is only mentioned and not detailed, that and other references to adult topics move this to an older audience than 12 years old IMHO.  

It boldly portrays class differences, love gone terribly wrong, racial discrimination, even London's growing struggles in the 1850s, and the status of women in society. Historical details bring the time period alive and immerse the reader. I felt deeply invested in the characters and the storyline. The dynamic and flirtation between the Mary and James provided some lighter touches and added to the characters as well as the story.  I highly recommend for historical sleuth fans.

Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

Bookmark and Share

Related Posts with Thumbnails