British cook and amateur sleuth Kat Holloway returns in the latest mystery by Jennifer Ashley, taking place in and around London during the early 1900s. Death at the Crystal Palace is the fifth book in the Below Stairs Mystery series which focuses on the “downstairs” staff headed by cook Holloway and the rest of the staff, whose lives intertwine with the “upstairs” aristocratic class and estate owners. Kat and the rest of the below stairs staff keep the manor house running smoothly. Kat spends her days preparing complex delicacies for the aristocratic family for whom she works. Her position within the household makes for long hours in the kitchen, sometimes cooking for dozens of household members and their numerous guests. With all her obligations, she still finds the time to help solve a mystery or two.
Death at the Crystal Palace opens with Kat accompanying one member of the household, Lady Cynthia, to an academic lecture at the Crystal Palace in London. At the conclusion of the lecture, Lady Covington, the widow of a railway owner, approaches Kat and declares that someone in her household is trying to poison her. She is adamant that she needs Kat’s sleuthing skills to help find the culprit. Kat is immediately suspicious of the claim. Is Lady Covington being targeted by someone in household or is it all in her head? Kat makes arrangements with Lady Covington to make a secretive visit to her household under the guise of recipe sharing with the Covington family cook, in order to find out more about the possible plot.
After learning more about the Covington family and their possible motivations for wanting to bring harm to the matriarch of the family, Kat finds herself yet again, at the Crystal Palace for an academic event. With all the Covington family in attendance and able to be observed, Kat discovers another member of the family near death as the result of an attempted poisoning .
While tending to the crisis at hand, Kat’s close confidant, Daniel McAdam, is up to his neck in his own case and recruits Kat to assist him in much larger matters of national security. Toggling between the matter of Lady Covington’s potential poisoning and assisting Daniel with his undercover endeavor, Kat is at risk of having her true identity discovered which could potentially have catastrophic consequences for the future!
This series keeps getting better and better with each book. Author Jennifer Ashley not only gives the reader a complex and intricate mystery to solve, the series is also a great example of historical fiction, detailing the lives and customs of the British at the turn of the last century. Although this book is able to be read as a stand alone mystery, I highly recommend starting with the first book in the series Death Below Stairs.
Shiloh Bellamy has ditched bright and sunny Los Angeles and has made a road trip back to her childhood farm in Cherry Glen, Michigan, accompanied by her loyal pug, Huckleberry. Farm to Trouble is the first book in a new cozy mystery series, Farm to Table Mysteries by Amanda Flower. Shiloh’s mission is simple : to reignite her family homestead, Bellamy Farms, with financial help from an investor in order to make the farm profitable again as an organic and sustainable farm. Bellamy Farms has fallen into despair and Shiloh’s father is in no condition to bring the farm back on his own and has enlisted her help. Just days after her arrival into town her investor, Jefferson Crocker, is found dead by Shiloh at the farmer’s market and all eyes in town turn to the Bellamy family.
As the town focuses on Shiloh as a likely suspect, she begins to learn that her investor was not a very popular man in town with his big plans to install wind turbines across the serene pasture of the countryside. Shiloh is now doing double duty – trying to find a new investor willing to take a chance on Bellamy Farms and attempting to catch the real killer. She learns that numerous townspeople had reasons to hope for Crocker’s demise and as the police close in, Shiloh knows time is of the essence for her to try to find the real culprit. The list of suspects grow and as Shiloh uncovers more about the master wind farm plan, numerous suspects rise to the top of the list, which includes many Cherry Glen residents that Shiloh has known her entire life!
Farm to Trouble kept me guessing the culprit until the very end and the novel does a good job of balancing a cozy mystery with creating a sustainable, organic farm narrative. The second book in the series, Put Out to Pasture, is already scheduled to be published in early 2022. I’m looking forward to the continued saga between Shiloh, the residents of Cherry Glen and Huckleberry and to see if Shiloh turns the family farm around!
Katrine Engberg’s debut mystery, The Tenant, is the first book in the exciting Korner and Werner series. Another strong entry in the Scandinavian crime genre, Engberg’s debut focuses on Danish detectives Jeppe Korner and his partner Anette Werner who reside in Copenhagen. Their latest case involves a young woman, Julie, who has newly relocated to Copenhagen alongside her friend and roommate. Julie is found murdered in her apartment after a night out with friends. Julie’s murder has undertones of a ritualistic killing pointing to Danish history. The detectives soon learn that the victim is a tenant in a building owned by a budding novelist, Esther de Laurenti, who just happens to be writing her first novel about a young women who is murdered. Her main character bears more than a passing resemblance to Julie. To complicate matters, Esther is a member of a writer’s group who share their writing with other members of the group and provide feedback to each other. Did someone have access to one member’s computer and gain access to their writing or did Esther kill her tenant?
Since de Laurenti is still actively working on her novel when the murder occurs, suspicion again turns to her when a second murder occurs and the victim is another person close to her. She quickly becomes the prime suspect but her motivation is unclear. Esther de Laurenti’s life is extremely colorful, hosting lavish parties and events for a sampling of Copenhagen’s elite. Could a fellow partygoer have a reason to frame Esther? The detectives are convinced that the crimes will continue based on her newly finished prose and urge caution when Esther convinces them to let her write another chapter in order to entrap the killer. Will the killer follow her storyline?
Looking into her past as well as Julie’s past reveals deep and dark family secrets that are decades old and have just come to light. Old alliances and friendships are revealed and mistaken identities are divulged. These revelations are coupled with detective Korner’s personal demons that run the risk of derailing the entire investigation when he becomes involved with someone close to the murders.
Filled with red herrings, mistaken identities and a possible killer that has a master plan for everyone involved, The Tenant is perfect for readers who are passionate about Scandinavian crime. The second book in the series, The Butterfly House, was just translated into English and released earlier this year. More books in the series are planned and I look forward to the complex and multilayered relationship between Detectives Korner and Werner.
Ruth Ware is one of my favorite authors writing primarily mysteries and psychological thrillers. With many titles being published in this genre over the last few years, Ware is unique among authors with her innovative twists and turns. Her titles are always among the best. If you are intrigued by this genre and don’t know where to start, I highly recommend Ruth Ware. Each of her books is a stand alone title and any would be a good place to begin, including her latest release, One By One.
When One By One opens, we meet Erin and Danny, caretaker and chef respectively, of a picturesque chalet in the French Alps. They are preparing the chalet for a new tech start up group who will be arriving from London and will be renting the chalet. The CEO has rented the house for the inner circle of the company with the intention of team building, presentations and strategizing.
As voyeurs to the group and the changing dynamic between its members, Erin and Danny soon sense tension as old secrets start to emerge. The group conducts their annual business meeting and during the meeting a faction of employees announce their intention to take a buyout deal that would make millions for a select few.
After the tense meeting, the guests try to settle in at the chalet. Just as they start to relax, an avalanche quickly and violently destroys the chalet’s access to the outside world. To make matters worse, one of the guests was on the slopes when the avalanche hit and did not return to the chalet. With the group being isolated, Erin and Danny frantically try to keep the guests calm while simultaneously trying to contact the authorities for help. They soon realize that help may not be coming and the most dire threat may be from one of the guests as their numbers start to dwindle one by one in a variety of suspicious circumstances.
The book wraps up with a thrilling ski scene that makes you feel like you are right on the slopes of the French Alps. Again, another winner from Ruth Ware!
One By One is also available as an eBook and eAudiobook on Overdrive.
I have been a big fan of the Amory Ames mysteries by Ashley Weaver since the series debuted in 2014. Primarily set in 1930s England, these cozy mysteries give the reader a glimpse of the pampered life of Amory Ames and her circle of friends as they jet set between England, New York and the warm Mediterranean coast. The seventh book in the series, A Deception at Thornecrest, is another exciting and richly detailed mystery with a cast of interesting and memorable characters.
At the start of the novel, Amory and her husband, Milo, are currently residing at Thornecrest, Milo’s family estate in England. They are eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child. While Milo is away in London, a strange woman appears at the door and declares that she is Mrs. Ames, wife of Milo. As Amory tries to process the news of how this mishap could have occurred, the woman confirms through a wedding photo of Amory and Milo that she is, in fact, married to the man in the picture! Amory’s mind spins with this news and it could not have come at a worse time, with the baby due any day. All she can think of is that maybe Milo is up to his old tricks again.
After getting word to Milo that he must return to Thornecrest at once, he begins to answer Amory’s expected questions. With the answers it quickly become apparent what has happened when an unknown man shows up at their door and looks very familiar to Amory and Milo. This stranger brings a second set of mysterious developments to Thornecrest and with a bit of digging, long dead secrets resurface and questions are answered. With one mystery somewhat solved, Amory focuses on planning the Springtide Festival in the village.
The day of the Springtide Festival arrives and all is proceeding smoothly until Milo’s stable hand, Bertie, is found murdered during the horse race. Honing her amateur sleuth skills, Amory sets out to solve the case but she can’t help but wonder if the arrival of a few strangers to town has something to do with the murder.
If you like cozy historical mysteries set in England, I highly recommend the Amory Ames series. You could read this book as a stand alone or consider starting the series with Murder at the Brightwell.
The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart is enjoying a new rebirth thanks to Otto Penzler and his American Mystery Classics series. Originally published in 1942, The Haunted Lady is one of a handful of reprinted mysteries hand selected by Penzler for a new generation of mystery readers. Even though the American Mystery Classic series includes a multitude of vintage authors, the reissued titles have a common theme in their beautifully modern covers that give the books a uniform look and feel. The cover of The Haunted Lady is exactly what drew me to the book in the first place. Known as “the American Agatha Christie”, Rinehart apparently lost popularity after her death in the 1950s. Penzler provides a short history of the author’s work at the beginning of the book. Featuring nurse Hilda Adams, The Haunted Lady is one of three books featuring Adams. Even though this book is the second in the series, picking up the book without reading the first in the series was seamless.
When we meet Hilda Adams, she has been recruited by Inspector Fuller to insert herself into the wealthy Fairbanks household to look after the elderly matriarch Eliza Fairbanks. Mrs. Fairbanks is convinced someone in her household is trying to kill her by initially feeding her arsenic and then by driving her mad with loose bats in her bedroom. Nurse Adams charge is to keep an eye on Mrs. Fairbanks and report back to Inspector Fuller. She meets a cast of characters in the Fairbanks family, and almost immediately more odd occurrences happen. After a murder is committed in a seemingly locked room under Nurse Adams watch, she and Inspector Fuller team up to uncover the baffling truth.
For fans of early 20th century mysteries and cozy mysteries, I recommend The Haunted Lady as well as other novels in the American Mystery Classics series. At the time, Mary Roberts Rinehart was a very popular mystery writer and although not well know today, her mysteries still hold the reader’s attention and keep them guessing as to the culprit. This series reintroduces vintage authors to an entirely new set of readers in today’s world.
Maggie Holt was too young to remember the terrifying time she spent at Baneberry Hall, the expansive Victorian mansion her parents purchased in rural Vermont nearly 25 years earlier. Maggie, along with her parents Ewan and Jess, lived at Baneberry Hall for only three weeks before sheer terror drove them to flee in the middle of the night. Now nearly 30, Maggie has to face the reality of not only the recent death of her father, but yet again she has to face the skepticism and criticism regarding his best selling book, House of Horrors. Her father’s book detailed the paranormal activity and deep secrets of the home’s history. Author Riley Sager merges the past and present as well as the suspenseful and supernatural in Home Before Dark.
On her father’s deathbed she learns that she is the new owner of Baneberry Hall. As a restorer of old homes, Maggie’s goal is to make the needed updates and sell the home as quickly as possible. Upon moving into the house temporarily, Maggie begins to doubt that her father invented many of the stories detailed in House of Horrors. She begins to meet many of the townspeople portrayed in his book. They have long memories and still harbor mixed emotions toward her family and the book. As odd occurrences begin to spook Maggie, she begins to question everything that she has doubted her entire life – are there sinister evil spirits in Baneberry Hall or did her father invent the phenomenons that he claimed were true?
Home Before Dark is the second Riley Sager book that I have read and have thoroughly enjoyed both titles. I would highly recommend his books if you enjoy the psychological suspense genre peppered with a little horror and supernatural elements. In addition to the print book, Home Before Dark is also available as an eBook through Overdrive.
The Half Sister by Sandie Jones is a whirlwind ride of a suspense novel, full of unexpected twists, turns all within one family, where each member is hiding their own damaging secrets. This is another strong offering in the domestic suspense / psychological thriller genre that is currently quite popular. The Half Sister is Sandie Jones’ third novel, following both The First Mistake and The Other Woman, which was a Reese Witherspoon Sunshine Book Club Pick in late 2018.
Joining their mother for the routine Sunday dinner after the death of their father, Kate and Lauren begrudgingly go through the emotions of a seemingly normal family whose cracks have become more and more apparent. The sister’s relationship was never very solid and the death of their father, and their opposing memories of him creates a deeper divide with each family dinner.
On a typical Sunday, the group receives an expected visitor named Jess who promptly announces that she is the daughter of their father, which makes her Kate and Lauren’s half sister. Each sister has their own reaction to Jess, which spans the spectrum from complete denial that their father would have had a secret daughter (Kate) to intrigue that the stranger may be telling the truth (Lauren). Jess does have scientific proof in the form of a DNA test that, on the surface, proves her claims.
As the weeks wear on, Jess has an uncanny ability to cause more and more friction between the sisters and their mother, who also harbors doubts about their father and a possible secret life. As Kate delves into spotty memories of the past, she realizes that there are a handful of unexplained behaviors from her father that make her doubt her memories of him as the “perfect” father.
Lauren, who believes Jess, is on a quest to discover the truth which leads her to a decades old mystery that has never been solved. The trail leads right back to the family and a past that has been strictly off limits. When the truth begins to rise to the surface, the twists and turns come in quick succession. I really enjoyed The Half Sister, especially the second half of the book when the tension, theories, and accusations come to the shocking conclusion.
Set in southern Poland at the turn of the century in 1890, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing , is the first book in a new series by Maryla Szymiczkowa, a pseudonym for two Polish authors. The book offers a unique look at the culture, lifestyle and social climbing of the upper class society in Cracow, which comes alive through our heroine, Zofia Turbotynska. Zofia is the wife of a university medical professor who is looking to strengthen (and elevate) her social status with a variety of charitable endeavors but finds her true calling as a newly minted sleuth.
Her favorite organization of the moment, Helcel House, is a retirement home run by a bevy of nuns who she finds in panic one morning upon the disappearance of an elderly resident, Mrs. Mohr. Mrs. Mohr is finally located dead in an attic room that would be impossible for her to reach in her immobile condition. Zofia starts her own investigation after the police rule the death an accident. Soon thereafter, another resident of Helcel House goes missing and then a third disappears and Zofia is confident that someone is targeting the elderly residents of the home. Investigating the cases with only her cook and one inquisitive nun in her confidence, Zofia is able to solve the complex case near the end of the book while gathering all the parties together at the Helcel House for an unveiling of the real killer.
Its glimpse into the changing landscape of Poland is what initially caught my attention. As mysteries are my genre of choice, the cultural context and hierarchy of their society was fascinating as well. The author provides a nice summary at the beginning of the book that details the complex history of Poland during the 1800s, which includes being partitioned by the empires of Prussia, Russia and Austria. If you like the feel of a cozy mystery with a rich historical glimpse into the past, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing is a great choice.
Over the last month, I have had the chance (and frankly, the time) to indulge in one of my favorite digital offerings at the Davenport Public Library, Acorn TV! Since mysteries are my genre of choice, Acorn TV a great place to find both long running mystery series and shorter limited run series. Acorn TV has many excellent dramas, comedies and documentaries as well. Two recent mysteries that I have discovered, Mayday and Winter are both top notch mystery series. Each series is just one season and contain five and six episodes respectively. These are but two of the many great mystery series available on Acorn TV. To access Acorn TV from home, go to www.davenportlibrary.com and click on “Digital Content” at the top of the page. Then, follow the directions under Acorn TV to create an account.
Mayday – A small English village holds its annual Mayday festival and parade where a local teenage girl will be crowned as Mayday Queen. But as the parade begins and the Queen’s float appears down main street, it is empty. The Mayday Queen has disappeared mere moments before the parade is set to begin with only her abandoned bike found near the woods at the edge of town. The locals quickly organize to look for her throughout the area. As the search goes on it becomes clear that many in the village have a motive to do harm to the young girl. We meet a cast of characters, including ex-police officer, her detective husband, a real estate developer, a society wife and a man with mysterious access to heaps of cash. Many of the locals have their own dark secrets that they intend to keep at any cost. The series not only highlights the intricacies of the police investigation but how the villagers react to a suspect being one of their own. Mayday if full of red herrings, shocks and surprises and I highly recommend it for mystery fans.
Winter – Australian detective Eve Winter is on a brief hiatus between cases when she is recruited to come back after the death of a young woman whose body was found at the bottom of a rocky cliff just north of Sydney. Simultaneously, Eve learns of a young girl hospitalized after a hit and run accident. It becomes apparent to Eve that these two cases have everything to do with each other and if she can get the young girl to trust her and talk may be the key to cracking the case. Splitting her time between the murder investigation and gaining the young girl’s trust, Eve and her team discover that there are many powerful and influential residents who will cover the secrets in their past at any cost. Winter is another great mystery series with all the twists, turns and secrets of the past that make the story so memorable and suspenseful.