Two Tudor Plots

Steve Berry’s The Tudor Plot is a novella, and a prequel to The King’s Deception, short and entertaining. It almost slides over to the science fiction shelf, because its alternate timeline is so clear. Berry’s American set thrillers have fictional Presidents and Senators The Tudor Plot(which sounds to me like a pretty good idea right now), but we expect that in a political suspense novel. In fact, that’s pretty much a necessity. But the contemporary thriller story line in The Tudor Plot features an entirely alternate British Royal Family, headed by Victoria II, the fourth monarch of the Saxe-Coburg line, who succeeded her father, Edward VIII (who never abdicated, apparently willing and able to rule without the support of his American divorcee). Her Duke of Edinburgh, James, is an actual Scot, and they have tempted fate, unhappily, by naming their children Richard and Eleanor (poor choices on Victoria’s part, good ones on Berry’s). All four of these people are important characters in the story. A plot to disrupt and replace the succession echoes the Tudor replacement of the Plantagenet rulers (which I probably wouldn’t have appreciated as much if I hadn’t just read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time), while the historical story line follows attempts to establish the real existence (and resting place) of the legendary King Arthur in hopes of strengthening the modern monarchy. The connection between contemporary and historical is a little more tenuous than is usual in Berry’s full-length novels, but I enjoyed it.

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I’m sure I read all of Josephine Tey’s mysteries (not that she wrote many) decades ago. When I saw The Daughter of Time on one of the ebook sale emails recently I decided to see if it was as good as its reputation (and as I vaguely remembered). It is, especially for a history geek like me.

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Tey’s detective, Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, is facing weeks in hospital, flat on his back, The Daughter of Timewith a broken leg and a back injury of some unspecified sort (apparently this was possible back around 1950, with no worries about the resulting bill, either). A visiting friend brings him a stack of pictures, including one of Richard III, and Grant whiles away the rest of his stay investigating (with the help of a young American researcher in need of an excuse for hanging out at the British Museum) a very old cold case, the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

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I found the book, and the investigation, fascinating. Tey makes a very good case for Grant’s eventual theories, but what really struck a chord with me was his discussions of various historical “events” that actually never happened, at least not in the form that everyone thinks they did. His examples are largely from bits of English history I know little about (a riot in Wales, remembered as a massacre, in which no one was killed; “martyrs” who not only didn’t die for their faith, but didn’t die at all; vicious religious zealots remembered as heroes). Aha, I thought: Alternative Facts! Not a new concept at all.

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The Daughter of Time was voted Number One of the Best Crime Novels of All Time by the British Crime Writers Association in 1990, rather remarkable for such a non-traditional mystery. Very much worth reading. I may have to rediscover more of Tey’s work.

Three New Mystery Series

I’ve recently read the first installment of three mystery series. They don’t have much else in common (except that I enjoyed them all), but I do my best to find some way to tie these reviews together.

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Curse the DayCurse the Day, by Annabel Chase, is a delightful paranormal cozy mystery, first in a series, set in the small town of Spellbound. Spellbound isn’t just any small town in rural Pennsylvania. It’s populated entirely by paranormals, everyone from angels to vampires, witches to were-ferrets. And none of them can leave—no one is entirely sure how or why, or even when the town was cursed, but cursed it is.

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When underpaid and overworked lawyer Emma Hart stumbles into town (in the arms of a morose fallen angel), she has no idea that she’s anything but an ordinary human being. But when she tries to leave, she walks into an invisible but unbreakable barrier. The curse on Spellbound won’t release her, and the witches of the town recognize her as one of their own—and one badly in need of training. Before she can say abracadabra, Emma finds herself trying to learn the art of spell casting and trying to fill the now-empty shoes of the town’s public defender, a recently murdered vampire.

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Emma is a snarky, self-deprecating, very funny narrator, and the supporting characters, from the apprentice witches (who are sharper than their elders realize) to the cranky centaur sheriff, night-golfing vampires to flea-conscious werewolves, are a hoot. I thoroughly enjoyed Curse the Day, and there are several more installments waiting to be read. Number 2, Doom and Broom, is waiting on my Kindle.

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of the cozy mystery genre is the variety of setting and background. Zara Keane’s Dial P for Poison is the first in a series set on a small island off Dial P For Poisonthe coast of Ireland, featuring Maggie Doyle, who grew up in California but spent childhood summers visiting her Irish relatives on Whisper Island. Recently divorced from both her cheating husband and the San Francisco Police Department, Maggie has come back to help her Aunt Noreen run the Movie Theater Cafe, and maybe to hide out from life for a while. But she’s thrown right back into detecting when someone is murdered during a movie showing at the cafe and Noreen is accused of the crime.

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Surrounded by childhood friends—and enemies—and faced with a local Guard Sergeant who would really rather be playing golf, Maggie recruits a few allies and sets out to clear Noreen.

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I enjoyed both the writing and the setting, and have already downloaded the next book, The Postman Always Dies Twice. Keane’s web site promises at least one more, How To Murder a Millionaire.

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A Study in Scarlet Women is the first installment in Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series. A Study in Scarlet WomenThomas takes her time setting up the premise for her female Sherlock, Charlotte Holmes, youngest daughter in a thoroughly, suffocatingly Victorian family. When Charlotte deliberately engineers her own social downfall to escape her home life, she inadvertently throws suspicion on her father and sister in the wake of a series of unexpected deaths. Once she gets her now-independent feet on the ground, she falls back on her old penchant of writing letters of detective advice to the appropriate authorities, signing them with the name of her non-existent brother, Sherlock Holmes.

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It took a bit of a stretch for me to buy into a Sherlock Holmes tale in which, let’s face it, Sherlock doesn’t exist, but Charlotte, Lord Ingram Ashburton (who knows the truth), and Inspector Treadles (who doesn’t) combine forces to solve the murders.

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Thomas is primarily a writer of historical romance, and a bit of romance shows up for Charlotte toward the end of the novel, along with vivid descriptions of Victorian London from the viewpoint of a woman who has lost (voluntarily) her social position, and considerable commentary on the situation of Victorian women in general. The next volume in the adventures of Charlotte Holmes is due this fall.

Three Murders & a Death

Arlene McFarlane’s Murder, Curlers & Cream introduces Valentine Beaumont, beautician and amateur detective. It’s not that Valentine wants to be a sleuth—she’s already trying to live down a past incident involving a killer and a perm rod—but she’s got problems. Murder, Curlers & CreamBusiness is down, the mortgage on her salon is due, and she’s short of rent money. She’s also saddled with the world’s worst employee, a distant cousin she can’t quite bring herself to fire, despite regular disasters, and a rival salon owner trying to poach her best employee. But all that takes a back seat to the client waiting for a facial, found dead with an electric cord around her throat.

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Desperate to restore her salon’s good reputation (before the bank forecloses on the shop and her landlord kicks her out of her house), Valentine sets out to solve the case, armed only with her bag of beauty tools. Her plan leads to more problems, not the least of which is handsome police detective Mike Romero, who thinks Valentine should stick to the beauty business.

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She tries, but between a fire, an explosion, and another murder, she can’t seem to avoid trouble. This is a delightful first installment of Valentine’s adventures. And by the time you finish reading about the potential weaponization of various beauty products, you may think twice before your next salon visit.

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Death, Taxes, and Sweet Potato Fries is another hilarious installment in the saga of Tara Holloway, gun-toting IRA agent. This time she’s dealing with human smugglers, Death, Taxes, and Sweet Potato Frieskidnapped girls, fake 1099 forms, an addictive Spanish telenovela, and, of course, those sweet potato fries. Perhaps scariest of all, her mother has teamed up with Nick’s mom to plan The Wedding.

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I love this series, and it never lets me down. This is number 11, and Kelly promises one more, Death, Taxes, and a Shotgun Wedding, in November. And when you’ve caught up with Tara’s adventures, don’t miss Kelly’s series of K9 mysteries, featuring Megan Luz and Brigit.

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I read all the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout back in the day, and Robert Goldsborough has done a good job of picking up where Stout left off. Murder in E Minor is set in 1977, Muder in E Minortwo years after Stout’s last installment (A Family Affair), and I had to do a little research (you can find out just about anything on line) to catch up with the events mentioned in the book. Wolfe is lured into taking on his first case in two years by the niece of a man he knew back in Montenegro.

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I’ve only read a couple of Goldsborough’s books (I have more waiting on my Kindle), but so far I think he’s done an excellent job of capturing Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe, and all their associates (none of whom have aged a day since Stout began writing about them in 1934). I’m enjoying returning to the old brownstone on West 35th Street.

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I know I read all the Mr. & Mrs. North mysteries back in the day, so I picked this ebook edition up on sale for a nostalgia read. Murder Out of Turn was published in 1941, only the Murder Out of Turnsecond of the 26 installments Frances and Richard Lockridge eventually wrote, and I suspect they hadn’t quite hit their form yet. The main character in the book is actually Lt. Weigand of the NYPD; the Norths (often referred to rather formally as Mrs. North and Mr. North) are really supporting characters. The book is rather slowly paced (at least until the last couple of chapters), wandering off into detailed descriptions of martinis and such, and definitely old fashioned. Nostalgic indeed, but not enough to send me off in pursuit of more of the series. In my opinion, Rex Stout and Agatha Christie hold up better.

Three Good Mysteries

Kate Parker’s Deadly Wedding continues the adventures of Olivia Denis, begun in Deadly Scandal. Set in London in the late 1930s, the series combines mystery with a touch of cloak and dagger adventure. When Olivia agrees to help out with the wedding of a distant cousin, she doesn’t expect to find herself investigating a deadly-weddingmurder. And two attempts and another murder. As Olivia probes the family’s secrets, she has more and more reason to be glad that these people, with whom she spent much of her childhood, are only distant relations. Along the way she learns things she never knew about her father (they’re working together to investigate the murders, but Sir Ronald still doesn’t want to acknowledge Olivia’s job as a journalist), she sees some terrible sights on a trip to Vienna shortly after the Nazis move in, and the coming war colors everyone’s future. Olivia is a determined, independent woman, surrounded by a range of interesting characters, and her instincts for mystery solving are strong. I hope we’ll be seeing more of her Deadly adventures.

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Send In the Clowns is another (#4) thoroughly enjoyable Country Club Murder from Julie Mulhern. This time Ellison Russell witnesses a murder in The Gates of Hell—a haunted house attraction where her daughter Grace appears to have overstayed her curfew. Of course the body disappears send-in-the-clownsbefore the police get there, but when it does turn up it opens a whole can of worms for Kansas City society. Ellison deals with her snobbish mother, her goodhearted but old fashioned father (who thinks Ellison needs a man to “manage” her), and struggles with her up and down feelings for police detective Anarchy Jones and lawyer Hunter Taft. I love the characters in Mulhern’s series, and the 1970s setting is spot on.

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Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty Three is the latest in the long-running series about Stephanie Plum, accidental (and accident-prone) bond recovery agent. I still love this series. Stephanie and Lula still make me laugh out loud. If Lula’s turbo-twenty-threedescription of going into a public men’s room (her idea for a new reality series, after Naked Bungee Jumping didn’t work out) doesn’t make you laugh, you should probably be reading something else. This installment features an enraged clown, murders at an ice cream factory, Grandma’s new boyfriend (a tattooed biker, but age appropriate), Randy Briggs (the three-foot-tall naked bungee jumper), Joe, Ranger, Rex the Hamster, a slimy booby trap, several fugitives, and another wrecked car. All in a day’s work for Stephanie and Lula.

Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows Mysteries

MacDeath is the first installment in Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows series, and it’s a delightful backstage mystery, as Ivy plays one of the Witches in a wild circus-themed production of MacBeth. (MacBeth is the lion MacDeathtamer, the king is the ringmaster, and the witches tumble in and out of a flying cauldron.) When a cast member dies under suspicious (at least to Ivy) circumstances, she undertakes her own investigation, dragging in her private investigator uncle, never sure which cast members she can trust.

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Quirky characters include a fellow witch who calls herself Candy MoonPie (Ivy’s own real name is Olive Ziegwart), a local news personality who wants to be a Shakespearean actor, a very attractive MacBeth, and a decidedly odd Lady MacBeth. The setting and background, local theater in Phoenix, Arizona, are well described and entertaining.

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When I finished reading MacDeath, I downloaded Ivy’s next two adventures. In The Sound of Murder, Ivy’s theatrical career becomes even wackier, as she plays sixteen-year-old Teazel in “The Sound of Cabaret,” a mash-up of, you guessed it, “The Sound of Music” and “Cabaret.” Well, they’re both set in Germany in the 1930s, aren’t they? Ivy’s just glad to have a dinner theater gig, while she works days at her Uncle Bob’s PI office, Duda Detectives (try saying that while introducing yourself). And a house sitting gig, since she set fire to her apartment, and it will be under repair for a couple of months. Even if that gig includes taking care of a The Sound of Murderswimming pool, not an easy job for someone with a water phobia.

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And then there’s the suicide next door (who turns out to be connected to the theater), the lead actress who can’t remember her lines, Ivy’s own problems with singing in front of an audience, that guy with the mirror sunglasses, and the hot fireman she met when her apartment combusted. Just another day in Phoenix—whoops, is that Ivy’s car catching fire again?

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Ivy and Uncle Bob go undercover in Oliver Twisted, aboard a Dickens-themed cruise ship (the S.S. David Copperfield—and honestly, I want to go on that cruise). They’re looking for a gang of pick pockets and thieves that has been plaguing the entire Get Lit! literary-themed cruise line (they’re redoing the S.S. Anna Karenina because Tolstoy was too depressing). Ivy takes on the part of Nancy in the on board production Oliver Twistedof Oliver! At Sea! (with some amusing lyric changes) and finds herself filling in for an aerial dancer in the magic show, something for which she has no training at all, while Bob poses as a wealthy rancher, and attracts a lady who arouses Ivy’s suspicions.

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Poor cell phone service hinders Ivy’s communications with Bob, and with with Matt back at the group home in Phoenix from which her brother Cody has vanished. Bodies pile up on the ship, along with both real and fake thieves (the boys playing Fagin’s miscreants run loose on the ship, as do all the “ambient characters” from Dickens’ tales).

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There’s a big bonus in the job for Ivy and Bob, as well as a few days cruising Hawaii, if they can figure out what’s going on, who they can trust, and what family ties really mean.

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I hope Cindy Brown is planning more adventures for Ivy and Bob. This is a funny, entertaining series, one of several I am enjoying from Henery Press, a small house specializing in cozy mysteries with a light tone (and great cover art). Their catalog is definitely worth checking out.

Cozy Mysteries

Follow the Dotted Line by Nancy Hersage is a very entertaining cozy mystery, and I enjoyed it immensely. Andrea Bravos is a woman of a certain age (fairly close to my own, which is a nice change), probably over the hill by the standards of her screen writing career, wondering what the rest of her life holds, when that life is shaken up by the arrival of her ex-husband’s ashes. In a styrofoam burger box.

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Follow the Dotted LineAndy is determined, for reasons that aren’t clear even to her, to find out exactly what happened to the late father of her four grown children. The kids don’t much care. The widow who sent the ashes sent nothing else but a tersely worded demand that no one bother her about it. But Andy wants to know.

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The mystery surrounding the ashes is clever and well plotted, but what I enjoyed most about the book was the characters. Andy is determined, smart, and a bit snarky. Her kids are individuals, wildly different but still believable as siblings. Her CPA buddy fills in the blanks. And Andy’s teen-aged nephew, Harley Davidson (yes, and there’s a reason for that), dumped on her by her hippy sister, is a real piece of work, a dim bulb with remarkable flashes of brilliance.

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Follow the Dotted Line is full of sharp, snarky writing and interesting side trails, and it pulled me right in. I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review, and I’ll sum that up by saying that when the next Andrea Bravos mystery comes out, I’ll snap it up.

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I enjoyed the first book in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders series (The Deep End, set in Kansas City in the 1970s), but I think Guaranteed to Bleed is even better—I know I could hardly put it down. Ellison Guaranteed to Bleedand her daughter Grace are faced with some real dilemmas in this one, and the humor is balanced by some serious issues. Ellison’s mother is as insufferable as ever—but Ellison uses a few of the tricks she learned from Frances to good effect.

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As soon as I finished Guaranteed to Bleed, I downloaded the third book, Clouds in My Coffee, and it’s just as good as the first two. I’ve never lived in Country-Club-Land myself, but Mulhern does a wonderful job of bringing it to life. I do remember 1974, and she does a great job with that, too.

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Clouds in My CoffeeIn this adventure, it appears that someone is trying to kill Ellison, and she has no idea why, much less who. But Anarchy Jones is there to worry about her, and give her a ride home from the hospital now and then. Ellison’s aunt Sis turns out to be as formidable in her own way as Ellison’s mother, and then there’s Ellison’s sister Marjorie. And a fire bomb, and a duck pond, and a couple of disastrous parties.

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If you like cozy mystery with a significant helping of snark, you’ll love this series.

Cheryl Bolen’s Egyptian Affair

An Egyptian Affair is the fourth installment in Cheryl Bolen’s light-hearted Regent Mystery series, continuing the adventures of Captain Jack Dryden, former spy for the Duke of Wellington, and his wife and investigating partner, Lady Daphne.

An Egyptian AffairThe Prince Regent has turned over a substantial sum of money to a trusted Indian dealer in antiquities, Prince Edward Duleep Singh, for the purchase of a golden mask of the mummy of the pharaoh Amun-re. Now the dealer, the money, and the mask have all gone missing in Egypt, and the Regent wants Jack and Daphne to track them down.

Jack is more than ready for the job, but he thinks it may be too dangerous for Daphne (not to mention her propensity for sea-sickness). Daphne, however, is not about to be left at home, and the Regent agrees. Jack can hardly refuse when the Regent announces he will send ten of his own House Guards as security, and Stanton Maxwell, a young but renowned Orientologist, as guide and interpreter.

With Daphne’s youngest sister, Rosemary, along for the voyage, the party arrives in Egypt, where they are welcomed by Ralph Arbuthnot of the British Consulate in Cairo. Their trip down the Nile, complete with naked farm workers on shore, serves to convince the British travelers that they’re definitely not in London any more.

Cairo swarms with suspicious characters. Habeeb, the local dragoman hired for them by Arbuthnot, disappears from time to time. Gareth Williams, a deserter from Jack’s company at the Battle of Badajoz, pops up when least expected. What does the Turkish Pasha who rules the country know about the missing antiquities dealer? Is Ahmed Hassein, a rival antiquities dealer, not quite the “friendly competitor” he claims to be? And what about rival antiquities collector Sheik al Mustafa? Or Lord Beddington, the British explorer whose location is so hard to pin down?

Before long Jack and Daphne have discovered a murder, and things only become more complicated when Rosemary disappears from her tent during a visit to the pyramids.

Jack and Daphne take the reader on a tour of early nineteenth century Egypt while searching for answers to their many questions. An Egyptian Affair combines exotic locations, mysterious disappearances, and a bit of romance into a very entertaining story.

Catch up with the Regent Mystery series: With His Lady’s Assistance, A Most Discreet Inquiry, and The Theft Before Christmas, available separately or as a boxed set for your favorite e-reader.

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