The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

Published:  October 15, 2019 – Berkley

Digital galley courtesy of Berkley and NetGalley

Description: Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of The Hollow of Fear.

As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.
 
But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.
 
Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia’s admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake… (publisher)

My take:  Since Sherlock Holmes is always indisposed, his sister Charlotte fills in for him – much to prospective clients’ chagrin. Soon they find the confidence to hire Charlotte to solve their problems.

In a world that adheres to strict social rules life isn’t easy for a young woman on the fringes of society. In The Art of Theft we get to know more about Charlotte’s sister Olivia. She’s a writer and is hoping to finish a Sherlock Holmes mystery. She’s also worried about turning thirty years old with no prospects.

This novel takes Charlotte and her ‘team’ of friends to France in search of a painting and other assorted items that pose a threat to an important client. Sherry Thomas uses subtle humor and great pacing to advance the plot culminating in an exciting event that placed me in the middle of the scene. I loved that! The epilogue foreshadows the next book which made me happy and anticipating where Charlotte and her friends’ next task will take them. Recommended to fans of Sherry Thomas, historical mysteries, and a good story.


 

Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn

Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn

Published:  August 2019 – Lake Union

Book courtesy of the publisher and Little Bird Publicity

Description:  In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.

When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.

Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance… (publisher)

My take:  Julia Kydd sails from England to New York with the sole purpose of claiming her inheritance upon her 25th birthday. That evolves into a fight with her half-brother that keeps her in New York longer than she’d expected. They strike a deal – a bet, really – in which the winnings (the inheritance) will go to the victor. I won’t spoil by revealing more. What I can say is that fans of historical mysteries, a post WWI New York City setting, and snappy writing of the era will probably enjoy Relative Fortunes as much as I did. I’ll be watching for the second book in the Julia Kidd series.


About the author:

Marlowe Benn (who also writes as Megan Benton) was nominated for UCLA’s 2013 Kirkwood Prize for fiction. Her poetry has appeared in the Chicago Review and other outlets, and her history of American book culture between the wars, Beauty and the Book, was published by Yale University Press in 2000.


 

Why Kill The Innocent by C.S. Harris

Why Kill The Innocent by C.S. Harris

Published February 2019 – Berkley Trade Paperback

Book provided by the publisher

Description:  London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose’s ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane’s murderer to escape justice.

Untangling the secrets of Jane’s world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death . . . (publisher)

My take:  Hero Devlin and her friend Alexi Sauvage are on their way home from visiting a young woman whose story will be integral to the article Hero is writing. The weather is frigid, the worst winter they’ve had in memory, and they are anxious to step into the carriage that awaits them at the end of a lane. Hero suddenly trips on what turns out to be the body of a young woman. When Hero discovers her identity she becomes intent on learning how she ended up on this small lane in a part of town that people of her sort wouldn’t be expected to be found. Hero and her husband Sebastian St. Cyr will make solving this mystery their primary focus but it won’t be easy. Palace interference, politics, family rivalries, and the winter of 1814 will put obstacles in their way as they grow closer to the truth.

The pace was good and kept me turning the pages as I learned quite a bit about that particular winter. Harris’s detailed settings brought me into each scene – from the palace to the Frost Fair on the frozen Thames to the drawing-room in Hero and Sebastian’s home. I enjoyed dipping into this series for the first time. Why Kill The Innocent is book thirteen but I didn’t feel lost. I realize I’ve missed a good deal of main character development which has me adding previous books to my list. Recommended to fans of the author and historical mysteries.


 

US Giveaway: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris

Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris

April 2019 – Berkley

Description:

The death of a fiendish nobleman strikes close to home as Sebastian St. Cyr is tasked with finding the killer to save his young cousin from persecution in this riveting new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent….

When the handsome but dissolute young gentleman Lord Ashworth is found brutally murdered, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is called in by Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy to help catch the killer. Just seven months before, Sebastian had suspected Ashworth of aiding one of his longtime friends and companions in the kidnapping and murder of a string of vulnerable street children. But Sebastian was never able to prove Ashworth’s complicity. Nor was he able to prevent his troubled, headstrong young niece Stephanie from entering into a disastrous marriage with the dangerous nobleman.

Stephanie has survived the difficult birth of twin sons. But Sebastian soon discovers that her marriage has quickly degenerated into a sham. Ashworth abandoned his pregnant bride at his father’s Park Street mansion and has continued living an essentially bachelor existence. And mounting evidence–ranging from a small bloody handprint to a woman’s silk stocking–suggests that Ashworth’s killer was a woman. Sebastian is tasked with unraveling the shocking nest of secrets surrounding Ashworth’s life to keep Stephanie from being punished for his death.


About the author: 

Candice Proctor, aka C.S. Harris and C.S. Graham, is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than a dozen novels including the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series written under the name C.S. Harris, the new C.S. Graham thriller series co-written with Steven Harris, and seven historical romances. She is also the author of a nonfiction historical study of the French Revolution. Her books are available worldwide and have been translated into over twenty different languages.


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A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn

Published:  March 2019 – Berkley

Review book courtesy of Berkley and NetGalley

My take:  Veronica Speedwell receives an offer she can’t refuse: Accompany Lord Templeton-Vane to his long time friend’s home (a castle on an island off the Cornish coast) for a few weeks and she’ll receive a prized butterfly colony for the museum she and her colleague Stoker are creating. Easy-peasy, right? Not really. Upon arriving at the castle Veronica meets the rather quirky family who reside there along with their interesting staff. It soon becomes clear why Lord Templeton-Vane, Stoker and Veronica have been invited. There’s a mystery to be solved – what became of the lord of the castle’s bride who vanished on their wedding day a few years earlier. There are plenty of suspects who could be responsible for her disappearance. The characters, the atmospheric setting of a castle on an island, and the mystery of the bride combined to make my first Veronica Speedwell Mystery an enjoyable read. I liked the more-than-friends tension between Veronica and Stoker and look forward to seeing what caper they find themselves involved in next.


About the author:

Deanna Raybourn is the author of the award-winning, New York Times bestselling Lady Julia Grey series, currently in development for television, as well as the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries and several standalone novels. Visit her online at www.deannaraybourn.com, on Facebook at DeannaRaybournAuthor, and on Twitter @deannaraybourn.


 

Spotlight/US Giveaway: Why Kill The Innocent by C.S. Harris

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris

Berkley Trade Paperback; February 26, 2019; $16

Description:  WHY KILL THE INNOCENT transports readers to 1814, during the height of a frigid London winter. Lady Devlin literally stumbles upon trouble when she trips over a cadaver on a snowy city street. She soon discovers that the body belongs to beautiful young musician Jane Ambrose, the piano instructor of the royal Princess Charlotte. Ambrose’s death stirs fear within the palace, and any investigation into the matter is quickly dismissed. But Sebastian and Hero, determined to fight for justice, search all of London for Ambrose’s murderer. As the winter air turns bitterly cold, the brooding and contemplative Sebastian finds a chilling number of potential suspects, all with ample reason to kill the brilliant musician. Which of them forced Ambrose to take her final bow?


About the author:

Candice Proctor, aka C.S. Harris and C.S. Graham, is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than twenty novels including the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series written under the name C.S. Harris, the C.S. Graham thriller series co-written with Steven Harris, and seven historical romances. She is also the author of a nonfiction historical study of women in the French Revolution. Her books are available worldwide and have been translated into over twenty languages.

A former academic with a PhD in European history, Candice also worked as an archaeologist on a variety of sites including a Hudson’s Bay Company Fort in San Juan Island, a Cherokee village in Tennessee, a prehistoric kill site in Victoria, Australia, and a Roman cemetery and medieval manor house in Winchester, England. She loves to travel and has spent much of her life abroad, living in Spain, Greece, England, France, Jordan, and Australia. She now makes her home in New Orleans, Louisiana, with her husband, retired Army officer Steve Harris, and an ever-expanding number of cats.


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Excerpt/US Giveaway: Naughty on Ice by Maia Chance

Naughty On Ice by Maia Chance

Minotaur Books; on sale November 13, 2018; $26.99

Description:

When an anonymous Christmas card from Maple Hill, Vermont beckons the Discreet Retrieval Agency to recover an antique ring at a family gathering, of course Lola and Berta jump at the chance – after all, holiday business hasn’t been such exhilarating work, and their sweethearts Ralph and Jimmy have been on the back burner.

But no sooner do they find the ring on Great-Aunt Daphne Goddard’s arthritic finger than Mrs. Goddard drops dead from a poisoned glass of Negroni on ice – and the police show up to find the two red-handed with the ring. It’s clear that Lola and Berta were set up to be framed for the murder, and now the duo must uncover the secrets of Maple Hill in order to clear their name… or be thrown in the slammer. (publisher)


About the author:

MAIA CHANCE was a finalist for the 2004 Romance Writers of America
Golden Heart Award and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of
Washington. She is writing her dissertation on nineteenth-century American literature. She is also the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal mystery series.

Photo credit: Fedora of Spectrum House Seattle


 

Excerpt:

Maple Hill, Vermont December 19, 1923

 

The circumstances, I do realize, were ghastly. A chunk was missing from the molasses layer cake on the kitchen table. A corpse lay, probably still warmish, out on the living room carpet. And I was aware that, having been caught in the act of removing a ruby ring from an elderly lady’s finger, my detecting partner, Berta Lundgren, and I looked as guilty as masked bandits in Tiffany’s.

The policeman, who had announced himself as Sergeant Peletier, stood over the kitchen table, wearing an Oho, what have we here? expression. “You’re the uninvited guests, I reckon,” he said. “Mrs. Lundgren and Mrs. Woodby?”

“We were invited,” Berta said coldly.

“That’s not what I was told,” Peletier said. He surveyed drunken Aunt Daphne, the ring, and the cake. “Having a bit of dessert with a side of jewel thieving, I see. Mighty funny thing to do right after your hostess has expired.”

“Aghamee do eshplain,” I said.

“I beg your pardon?” Peletier said.

I swallowed cake. “Allow me to explain,” I repeated.

This wasn’t the plan. The plan had been to retrieve the ring, pop it in the breadbox, slink out of the house, and skip town on the next train out.

“Yes,” Peletier said. “Please explain. Mrs. Goddard lies dead in the other room, and you’re here in the kitchen shimmying a ring off Mrs. Lyle’s finger?”

At the mention of her name, Aunt Daphne raised her champagne glass. “Cheers,” she crowed.

“I will explain,” Berta butted in. She was a rosy, gray-bunned lady of sixty-odd years who spoke with a faint Swedish accent and resembled a garden gnome. “What you see before you is a tried-and-true method for removing stuck rings from fingers—fingers, you understand, that have . . . expanded.”

We all regarded Aunt Daphne’s fingers, which, short and plump and swollen, resembled a litter of Dachshund puppies. The too-small ring had been maneuvered to just below the knuckle with Berta’s trick of looping embroidery thread under the ring, winding the thread tightly around the finger, and then unwinding the thread from the bottom. With each loop that was unwound, the ring edged up another millimeter. The downside was that it looked rather painful. However, Aunt Daphne, drinking champagne and shoveling cake with her free hand, had yet to complain. There really are no better painkillers than cake and booze.

“My mother always used butter to remove stuck rings,” Peletier said.

“A pound of butter wouldn’t get this thing off me,” Aunt Daphne said. “Believe me, I’ve tried it! This darned thing’s been stuck on my finger since the summer of 1919.”

“When you stole it,” I prompted.

“Stole it?” Aunt Daphne snickered, and with her free hand she lifted the glass of champagne to her lips and polished it off. “I never said that!”

“Yes, you did.” Panic zinged through me. I turned to look up at Peletier. “She stole it. She told us she did. In the summer of 1919. We have merely been, um, asked to remove it.”

“By Mrs. Lyle, here?” “Well, no. . . .”

“Sounds like thievery to me. And now, coincidentally, Mrs. Goddard is dead.”

My cheeks were growing hot. “As I said, Aunt Daphne stole the ring, and we are merely attempting to restore it to its rightful— Hold it. What are you suggesting? ‘Coincidentally’? Mrs. Goddard died of a heart attack, didn’t she? That’s what it appeared to—”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Peletier said. “It was poison.”

“Poison!”

“I smelled it on her breath. Cyanide. Likely in the cocktail she’d been drinking at the time of her death.”

“Are you certain?” I said. “I happened to notice she was drinking a Negroni. Those are made with Campari, you know, which itself is as bitter as poison—”

“‘Happened to notice,’ eh? Any chance you fixed it for her?” “No!”

Phooey. It had been Berta’s idea to carry on with the ring-retrieval job even after Judith Goddard had kicked the bucket about an hour earlier. Having nothing else to do while waiting for the authorities to turn up, we had conferred in the butler’s pantry amid the family silver. I had whispered that it was unseemly to filch a ring under the circumstances. Berta had whispered, “Oh no, we did not come all the way up here to the snowy wilds of Vermont for nothing, we are finishing the job.” I had conceded. Our train tickets had been costly.

Now I gave Berta a bug-eyed I told you so look.

She ignored it and busied herself with completing the ring removal.

“Oh, all right,” I said to Peletier with a sigh. “The jig is up. We’re private detectives—”

“Go along!” Peletier said. “Truly.”

“Ha-ha-ha!” Peletier slapped his thigh.

“Did you bring a card, Mrs. Woodby?” Berta asked. “No. You?”

Berta flicked Peletier a frosty look. “I did not expect to be asked to provide my credentials this evening. Ah! There. The ring is—” She wiggled it from Aunt Daphne’s fingertip. “—off.”

“You’re an angel of mercy,” Aunt Daphne said to Berta. “Thank you. My! Just look at the divot it left behind.” She massaged her finger, and then helped herself to more champagne.

“Buying that’s against the law, you know,” Peletier said, pointing to the champagne bottle.

“Oh, to Hell with your Eighteenth Amendment,” Aunt Daphne said. “It’s for the dogs. And politicians and church ladies.”

“Would you mind if I placed the ring in the breadbox?” Berta asked Aunt Daphne.

“Not at all. I never want to see that thing again.”

Berta went to put the ring in the metal breadbox on the counter—plink—and then sat back down.

Peletier pulled out one of the ladder-back chairs, sat, and extracted a notebook and pencil from inside his coat. He was small and wiry, with a flushed face, beady eyes, and tufting gray hair and eyebrows. He called to mind a disgruntled North Pole elf. His embroidered badge read Maple Hill, VT Police and featured a deer and a pine tree.

Cute.

“Start at the beginning,” he said.

In a tumbling back-and-forth, Berta and I explained to Peletier that we were private detectives with our own small agency in New York City.  How, last week, we’d received an invitation from an anonymous sender asking us to dinner at Goddard Farm, requesting that we retrieve a stolen ring, place it in the breadbox, and to subsequently expect payment in the mail. That we’d only arrived in Maple Hill earlier that afternoon, having taken the night train, and that we had rooms at the Old Mill Inn only for that evening. How Anonymous had not revealed him- or herself to us upon our arrival at Goddard Farm (really a mansion on a ridge above the village).

How we’d been gobsmacked when Judith Goddard went toes-up only fifteen minutes after our arrival.

“I understand that this was a family gathering to celebrate Mrs. Goddard’s recent engagement,” Peletier said. “How did you explain your appearance at a family affair?”

“Well, at first it was a bit awkward,” I said. Only Judith Goddard, her brother Roy, her aunt Daphne, Judith’s three adult children, her brand-new fiancé, and two servant women had been present in the house. “You know how it i—”

“We had no choice but to fabricate an explanation,” Berta interrupted. She was serenely sawing the molasses cake.

“They said that I invited them,” Aunt Daphne said. “That we’d met at a ladies’ poetry luncheon at the country club in Cleveland. I can’t remember much any more, of course, and poetry knocks me out cold, so I didn’t realize that they were lying—”

“Mrs. Woodby and I are innocent of any wrongdoing,” Berta said. “We were merely doing our job. Surely, Sergeant Peletier, you are able to understand that.”

Peletier snorted and stood. “Come down to the station tomorrow morning, and if you can show me this anonymous invitation of yours, maybe I’ll let you off the hook. Until then, don’t even think about leaving town. Good evening.” He left the kitchen, Aunt Daphne drifting after him with the champagne bottle.

Berta and I looked at each other across the collapsing cake. “Would it be absolutely unconscionable to leave right now?” I whispered.

“There has been a death in the family, Mrs. Woodby, and we are strangers. We should leave them to their grief.”

“Maybe there is something we could do to help—”

“There is nothing worse than having to speak with strangers when one’s heart is breaking.”

Honestly, I hadn’t gotten the impression that Judith Goddard’s demise was cracking anyone’s heart in two. Not even the heart of her fiancé-to-be. “They aren’t an especially happy family,” I said, “but I suppose none are. Happy families are a myth.”

“Nonsense. You must simply know one when you see it. They sometimes come in unusual forms. Now, come along. After we show the invitation to Sergeant Peletier in the morning, our hands will be washed clean of this terrible affair.”

I felt like an absolute gink as we sneaked to the entry hall to fetch our coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. We didn’t encounter any of the family or the servants, although voices rose and fell in distant rooms. We stepped out the front door into the night. Our breath billowed in the icy air. Berta bent her head into the wind and toddled toward our rented pickup truck, an REO Speedwagon with a boxy cab and wooden rails around the bed. She winched herself up into the passenger seat.

I followed, mincing like Comet or Cupid through the crunchy snow in my high heels. I took the hand crank from the cab floor, resuscitated the engine, climbed behind the wheel, flicked on the headlamps, and we were off.

“Oh, it is so very cold,” Berta said with a shiver. “As cold as I remember Sweden being when I was a girl, but I am no longer young.” I inched the truck down a steep, snow-packed road. Bristling black forest encroached from beyond the headlamp beams. I was accustomed to the glitter and hum of Manhattan. Nighttime in the countryside was giving me the jumps.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” I said.

“If you slip, steer into the slide. That is the only way to avoid a tailspin.”

“Not that. The murder.

“We will be on our way home tomorrow.” How I wished I could believe it.


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