The Best Corpse for the Job by Charlie Cochrane

A satisfying cozy mystery woven with a well-drawn gay romance, this book reads like a modernized Agatha Christie Miss Marple story or a more diverse Midsomer Murders adventure.

In The Best Corpse for the Job by Charlie Cochrane, Adam is a young teacher expecting nothing but boredom and sniping from the process of selecting a new Head Teacher for St. Crispin’s school. The board of governors is prickly at the best of times, after all. But things go beyond gossip when one of the applicants is found dead. The police send Robin, a police Inspector and an alumni of St. Crispin’s, to investigate, much to his regret. Memory lane only brings up the traumas of bullying he endured, so he’s eager to get the case resolved. But the case is trickier than it appears, not least because Robin and Adam feel an instant attraction to each other that’s hard to fight. They start to work together to piece together clues, but struggle to keep up after a second body is discovered. The stakes have never been higher with justice, love, and careers on the line.

In terms of plot and pacing this is a highly readable mystery, with sympathetic characters and a relatively believable resolution. The balance between romance and mystery was good, which kept both the calm domesticity of the characters’ attraction as well as the methodical police procedural, from getting dull or repetitive. There’s also a very strong sense of place rooting the story strongly in England, and as an Anglophile I was delighted  a cozy mystery that is true to the genre and evokes classic tropes while seamlessly including gay main characters.

If you’re looking for a light, quick read that is thoughtful and positive in its depiction of LGBTQ life, but focused on a mystery plotline, this is a good pick for you.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

‘She felt quite light-headed. Low blood sugar, maybe, or perhaps it was the dizzying effect of watching her horizons, narrowed for so long, expanding once again.’

Paula Hawkins’ latest thriller A Slow Fire Burning is a book that messes with your mind, but in a good way. Hawkins has written a book that talks about how far someone is willing to go to find peace (or revenge).

Someone has been killed. A young man was found gruesomely murdered in his London houseboat. When the authorities start investigating, questions begin to mount surrounding three women who knew him and the others living in his periphery.

Laura is a troubled young woman who was the last person seen both with the victim and in his home. Their one-night stand was fraught with violence, something that Laura admits to the police when questioned. Laura was in a devastating car accident when she was young that left her hot-tempered, rash, and dangerous. Others judge her, something that has left Laura living as a loner.

Miriam knows all too well about how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the person who lives in the houseboat next to the dead man, Miriam has a unique insight into his life, plus she’s nosy. She also knows that just because she saw Laura leaving the houseboat covered in blood, that doesn’t mean she killed him. Miriam has been taken advantage of one too many times, so she will do whatever it takes to clear Laura of any wrongdoing.

Carla’s nephew was just brutally murdered. Her sister died in an accident eight weeks earlier. So much tragedy in such a short amount of time has left her completely stricken and at a loss. Carla no longer trusts anyone and views those around her as damaged creatures. All she wants is peace. Or does she?

Others circulate behind the scenes: Carla’s husband Theo and the women who lives next door to the deceased man’s mother. Everyone in this story is filled with resentment. While their reasons may be varied, they all desire to right the wrongs perpetrated against them. Their journeys to revenge will lead them to peace or destruction, risks they are all willing to take.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

“Books are what have brought us together. A love of the stories within, the adventures they take us on, their glorious distraction in a time of strife.”

Published just this past April, The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin is a historical fiction novel set during World War II, offering a candid glimpse into life in London during the Blitz. While I have read several excellent novels in this time period before (as I’m sure you have, too!) , I don’t recall one exclusively focusing on the Blitz in London, so this title was a unique perspective I had not yet afforded!

After losing her mother and essentially being disowned by her uncle in a rural town in England, Grace and her best friend, Viv, journey to London to live with her mother’s best friend. While both women had long dreamed of coming to London, neither expected it to happen forcibly, let alone on the brink of a second great war. While Viv quickly finds a job at the glamorous Harrods, Grace is offered a position at a local bookshop which, as someone who didn’t read, was a less-than-ideal assignment. With the intention of working just six months to gain a letter of recommendation to find a better position, Grace begins working in a disheveled, dusty, and dingy bookstore with a seemingly irritable owner who barely tolerates her presence.

As rumblings of the war draw closer to home, however, Grace slowly finds herself becoming more and more committed and interested in her work at the bookshop. This is in no small part due to George Anderson, a particularly attractive and frequent patron who shares his authentic love of reading with Grace before leaving to serve as a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot. Although initially doubtful about the impact reading would have on her own life, Grace becomes enraptured with The Count of Monte Cristo (one of George’s recommendations) and quickly becomes a voracious reader herself. With her newly found love of reading, Grace naturally begins to develop special relationships with several patrons, as well as with the owner himself, as she works to make the bookshop as accessible as possible. Not long after this, though, London itself becomes suspended in the throes of war, putting everything Grace loves at risk.

All in all, this is a wonderful story about someone who comes to learn the value of reading and eventually helps others in the community not only survive, but thrive in the stories of others during the unbearably difficult circumstances of wartime; it is truly an ode to the power of literature, and there were many lovely and moving quotes that warmed my heart as a librarian. I also really appreciated reading about a female protagonist who not only immerses herself, but thrives in a wartime position typically reserved for men; on top of working at the bookshop, Grace volunteers as an Air Raid Protection (ARP) warden to help those impacted by the daily bombings that would occur overnight. Lastly, I reveled in the obvious research Martin did on the Blitz to portray a captivating account of life in London during this time in history.

While there were some moments toward the conclusion that seemed to tie up a little too conveniently, I would still highly recommend this novel to anyone looking to dip their toes in a new perspective on WWII or just for a new historical fiction read in general! I would also like to note that, while Martin is a well-known historical romance author, this novel was not primarily focused on romantic themes or aspects.

 

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

“It is a cruel, ironical art, photography. The dragging of captured moments into the future; moments that should have been allowed to be evaporate into the past; should exist only in memories, glimpsed through the fog of events that came after. Photographs force us to see people before their future weighed them down….”

Have you ever reread a book you love when you feel in a rut and need an escape from the stresses of daily life? I recently did this with The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. Originally released in 2007 as her debut novel, this enthralling plot simmers with family secrets, doomed love, and the ruthless influences of war to create a beautifully tragic story that will captivate you from the first page to the last.

Set in England and alternating between the historical backdrop of WWI and 1999, ninety-eight-year-old protagonist Grace Bradley relates her past as a young housemaid for an aristocratic family at Riverton Manor as she reaches the end of her life. It isn’t long, however, before you realize this reminiscing is not just for nostalgia’s sake. Upon receiving a visit from a young filmmaker planning to produce a movie about the dramatic and devastating events that eventually befell this renowned family, Grace begins to relive her past and experience her own role in the harrowing affairs that unfolded, tearing open a wound and exacerbating a guilt she has carried her entire life.

These calamitous events began with the apparent suicide of a young poet at Riverton Manor during a summer party in 1924. According to newspapers and official records, the only witnesses were sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, who never spoke to each other again, and the family was seemingly cursed with several additional misfortunes thereafter. What the official records don’t show, however, is that there was a third witness and much more to the story than the public eye will ever know. As Grace tells some of her story to the filmmaker, the biggest secrets of all are only revealed in recordings she makes for her grandson, Marcus, as both grandmother and grandson carry guilt of a tragedy in their lives in which they feel at fault, despite truly extenuating circumstances.

One of the things I love most about Kate Morton’s novels are the ways in which she creates authentically complex characters who display such genuine portrayals of the human condition. While I have read several books with phenomenal character development in the past, Morton does so in such a masterful and poignant way I feel no other author does; this is especially true when considering the innocuous ways in which tragedy strikes in her novels. These tragedies truly create a haunting aura in which characters live with scars and guilt, but also often come full-circle when their struggles are used to help others get through similar hurdles, which often span generations. I also absolutely love the ways in which Morton effortlessly and seamlessly moves back-and-forth in time within her storylines.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-developed fiction with rich, complex character development; historical ties, especially to WWI and the English aristocracy; and a suspenseful, haunting storyline that will leave you guessing until the very last page!

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eBook

Deception at Thornecrest : An Amory Ames Mystery by Ashley Weaver

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.  

Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman

Figuring out who you are as a person is a never-ending process, one that changes as you age. While most people have a solid base of who they are, others seem to flit from job to job, friend to friend, place to place. What would you do if you lost the very essence of yourself? Catherine Steadman discusses this topic in her newest book Mr Nobody.

A man is found on a British beach with no identification and unable to speak. He is drifting in and out of consciousness, has no identifying characteristics, and seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Public interest in this mystery man immediately peaks with everyone wanting to know who he is. To give him a name, the press dubs him ‘Mr. Nobody’. Taken to a hospital and run through an initial battery of tests, hospital staff and medical experts try to figure out a course of treatment to bring Mr. Nobody’s life back to him.

Considered one of the experts in her field, neuropsychiatrist Dr. Emma Lewis has spent her career waiting for a case like Mr. Nobody’s. Called in to assess the patient, Emma is initially thrilled because this case has the power to make her name known. As soon as she realizes where she has to go, Emma freezes. She left that small town tucked deep inside English countryside fourteen years ago. Emma hasn’t been back since. She has worked hard to hide all traces of her past in those past fourteen years. Going back will dredge up all those painful memories and will put her family in danger again. Something is calling her back though and Emma can’t resist the pull of Mr. Nobody’s case.

As soon as she shows up back in town, Emma realizes that all her efforts to conceal her past were pointless. This small town hasn’t changed much and the people that were there fourteen years ago are still there. Pushing through those bad memories, Emma starts working with her team to create a treatment plan to help Mr. Nobody. The more time Emma spends with him, the more she realizes that he knows more about her and other hospital staff than she should. The fact that he knows about what happened to her fourteen years ago instantly send up alarm bells since no one should know about that. Mr. Nobody must be hiding something.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Reading is such an extraordinary way to escape reality, and distancing ourselves from the anxieties and uncertainties in our lives is so important for our health and well-being. One hidden gem I have recently reread (for the third time!) and would highly recommend is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. This book journeys back-and-forth in time, place, and perspective, and features the voices of several young women who are bound by a century-old mystery.

Beginning in 1913 in Cornwall, England, this novel revolves around a young girl who is placed on a ship to Australia and arrives with nothing but a suitcase: not even a name. Twenty-one years later, this young girl called Nell discovers a secret that upends her entire world, leading her to question her identity and embark on a journey to discover who she really is.

The story then follows the narrative of Cassandra, Nell’s granddaughter, who inherits an estate in Cornwall upon her grandmother’s death. Not only was Cassandra unaware of the existence of this estate, she also never knew Nell had visited Cornwall, let alone planned to live there. Upon receiving this inheritance, Cassandra picks up the loose threads Nell left behind to unravel the mystery of her grandmother’s life, learning a lot about herself along the way. While Nell and Cassandra are the two focal characters in this story, readers also experience the journey of several other lives that are inextricably intertwined with theirs.

Filled with secrets and revelations that will keep you guessing until the very end, this novel features a mysterious, winding storyline; beautiful, elegant language; and intricate, relatable character development. On top of that, there is a dark book of fairy tales and a secret garden (I can never resist a secret garden!). Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to be whisked away to a forgotten garden in Cornwall or immersed in a multi-generational story brimming with family secrets, mystery, and discovery. This book is also available as an eBook:

Acorn TV Mysteries!

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.

Online Reading Challenge Wrap Up

So. That was quite a month, wasn’t it? How did you do with your Online Challenge reading? I have to admit, I haven’t been reading as much lately. With the extra time at home, I had thought I would get lots of reading done, but I’ve found that I get distracted easily. I think it has to do with this new normal that we are living through, adjusting and absorbing how life is now and wondering what it will be like in the future. What about you, are you having issues adjusting?

I did read a book for this month’s theme which was inspired by the film and television series Downton Abbey. I read A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd, the first in the Bess Crawford mystery series. While I enjoyed the book, I found it slow in parts and it didn’t grab my attention completely.

Bess Crawford is a nurse serving in the British army during World War I. She is injured when the hospital ship she is on, the HMHS Britannic, is sunk by a German mine (a true event) Home again in England to recuperate, she is haunted by a promise she made to Arthur Graham, a soldier she cared for who died in France, a promise that she has yet to fulfill. At her father’s urging she takes the time now while she is home to lay this promise to rest.

Traveling by train to Kent, Bess pays a visit to the Graham family estate and delivers Arthur’s cryptic message to his family. They are startling unimpressed and, while polite, seem to have no interest in pursuing the matter further. Delayed on her return, Bess stays with the Grahams a few extra days and discovers a complicated family dynamic with a mysterious brother hidden away in an insane asylum. Bess gets caught up in the dramas of the small local village (jumping in to help the local doctor in an emergency) and the mystery surrounding the Graham family.

There was a lot I liked about this book – the brave, level-headed Bess, the time period and the settings. The sinking of the HMHS Britannic at the beginning of the book was very interesting and exciting, but I found the pace of the rest of the book slowed and even dragged at times. It is the first of the series though and it will be worth trying more titles in this popular series in the future.

How was your reading this month? Did you read anything good? Let us know in the comments!

Vintage Roads Great and Small on Acorn TV

Tootling along in a bright blue vintage Morgan 4/4 roadster, Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison set out to explore some of the most iconic – and most beautiful – roads of Great Britain in this delightful series, Vintage Roads Great and Small.

Timothy and Davison are longtime friends, having met when they filmed the beloved series All Creatures Great and Small which aired for many years on local PBS stations. (Does anyone else remember the series? My Mother and I loved it and watched it every Sunday night. When we traveled to England one of our major goals was to visit the Yorkshire Dales where the series took place.) Based on the books by James Herriot, the series follows the story of a young veterinarian working in the remote Yorkshire Dales during the 1930s. The books and the series are filled with funny and heartbreaking stories about the animals and their people, many of whom are very eccentric characters. The Dales, while wild and unforgiving, are also breathtakingly beautiful. I recommend both the books and the series as great fun for everyone in the family.

Timothy (who played the young vet James Herriot) and Davison (who played Tristan Farnam) have a comfortable give and take, poking fun at each other and stopping whenever something catches their fancy which include vintage cars, British history and ancient (but not always passable) roads. Road trips have included a drive through the Scottish Highlands from Inverness to the Isle of Skye and a trip from London to the southern tip of England at Land’s End. Just like in the television series they became famous for, they tell stories (some a bit embellished!) and find interesting characters to chat with along the way.

Haven’t tried Acorn TV yet? It’s a streaming service that offers the best of British mysteries, dramas and documentaries and it’s free through the Davenport Library. Visit our Digital Content page and click on the Acorn TV logo to get started. All you’ll need is a (free) account with RBDigital and your library card number.