Review – Circle of Shadows: A Westerman/Crowther Mystery

Circle of ShadowsLately, everything I want to read is a series and a suspense filled historical mystery at that. I want that back story, the intimacy between characters, rich historical details, and a strange murder to be solved of course. Luckily for me, I found all those characteristics in Robertson’s Circle of Shadows.

Harriet Westerman is home at Caveley with her family attempting to forget the sorrowful events of the past few months. Hurtful rumors have plagued Harriet and she’s done her best to pretend none of it has bothered her but it has. All she wants now is quiet but when a letter arrives from her sister, Rachel, the quiet home life Harriet longed for evaporates. Rachel’s husband, Daniel Clode, has been accused of murder and Rachel needs her help. Harriet calls for her close friend, Gabriel Crowther, who is just as bothered and dismayed by the news as Harriet. Crowther, a reclusive anatomist and Harriet’s partner in several investigations, accompanies her to Germany and the Duchy of Maulberg, a strange little court that prides itself on its opulence but is a place they will need every observance of etiquette to remain safe.

While traveling to Germany, Harriet and Crowther look over the facts of the case and find it all too strange to believe. Daniel had been found with the body of Lady Martesen, a favorite of the Duke of Maulberg, completely incoherent and bleeding from a cut on his wrist. The theory of the local district investigator is that Daniel felt remorse after killing Lady Martesen and tried to take his own life. A theory Harriet and Crowther adamantly don’t believe. Daniel remembers nothing of the evening; especially not the murder or how he even came to be in the room with the dead woman. Crowther, a man all too familiar with the details of murder from his anatomy work, knows that the woman wasn’t killed by Daniel because she was in fact drowned — a pronouncement that throws the entire investigation into upheaval on their arrival.

After their arrival in Maulberg, Harriet and Crowther, and their traveling companions, are quickly schooled in the court etiquette which is rather more complex than what they’re used to in England. It will take every bit of decorum not to be thrown in jail with Daniel in the eccentric court where asking questions seems to be a nonstarter.

Making the case even more dangerous is the appearance of a man Harriet hoped never to see again alive — Manzerotti — the man who ordered the death of her beloved husband. Manzerotti is a spy caught up in the same case as Harriet and Crowther although no one but Manzerotti knows the details and he isn’t sharing.

The dynamic between Harriet and Crowther is what makes this series for me. Harriet is an outspoken woman who has no trouble saying what’s on her mind and acting on impulse — an unusual trait for a woman of the 18th Century. Crowther, on the other hand, would prefer to be alone with a corpse shunning pretty much everyone but Harriet. Their relationship is odd but makes the cases they get involved in so much more interesting for their personalities. The appearance of Manzerotti shakes Harriet’s rather stable emotions in this case, and while Crowther isn’t the most effusive of men, he is when it comes to protecting and helping Harriet, or at least keeping weapons out of her sight when Manzerotti enters a room.

I’ve read previous books in the Westerman/Crowther series and if you have as well, you’ll be happy to know this one lives up to the others. While the setting is interesting, it’s also slightly creepy, the way a murder setting should be. If you’re a fan of Robertson and the Westerman/Crowther series, this one is a good addition and one to be read.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Circle of Shadows: A Westerman/Crowther Mystery

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books/Viking

ISBN: 9780670026289

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Review – The Black Country

The Black CountryA small English village sustained by coal mining and strange superstitions is slowing sinking into the mines that crisscross under the village. It’s a rather bleak place. When a child and his parents go missing, the local constable, knowing his limitations and resources, asks Scotland Yard to help. He wants to uncover what happened to the family and figure out if the eyeball found by a young girl in a bird’s nest belongs to one of the missing.

When Inspector Day and Sergeant Hammersmith arrive from Scotland Yard, they are stunned by what they find and it’s not just the eyeball that has them confused — no one in the village will talk about the family or anything else for that matter and there’s a strange sickness taking over the place. Some are willing to blame it on superstition and others seem happy to pretend everything is normal. Day wants answers but meets a solid wall of silence in the form of Blackhampton’s residents. Hammersmith has the same luck when questioning people and unfortunately seems to be coming down with the same strange illness afflicting almost half the village. Calvin Campbell, a visitor to Blackhampton that no one knows, but oddly everyone seems to trust, becomes a focal point for Day’s investigation but he can’t pinpoint any connection and Campbell, like the rest of the residents, won’t talk.

The Black Country is Grecian’s follow-up to The Yard, the first book in the Scotland Murder Squad series. Even though this is the second book in a series, it stands on its own just fine. Grecian creates an eerie atmosphere from start to finish, and I have to say, and without giving anything away, the killer here is creepy and unexpected. I didn’t want to believe it but there it was fitting in perfectly with the dark overtones of the book. In fact, I like when that happens and I find myself surprised. Grecian didn’t let his characters off easy and as a reader I appreciate that.

The village of Blackhampton is the perfect setting — far away but not completely uncivilized yet cocooned enough to hold tight to old superstitions. The coldness of the people is much like the weather and the aloof way they deal with the disappearance of a well-known family is telling. Even the offhand way they think of the mines and the fact that the village is slowly sinking into the very thing that sustains the place and is slowly killing its residents tells you what sort of place it is. Day and Hammersmith aren’t prepared for the living in this place and yet it’s the dead that brought them there. Something is very wrong with not only the place but the people.

Then there are the secrets. Everyone in Blackhampton has something to hide be it an affair, a past, or a murder. People go missing in Blackhampton and there’s always a reason given and a reason accepted by the residents. It’s interesting to see how the village manages to block out change and progress yet holds dearly to old beliefs that no longer hold any ground.

Grecian’s first book made my to be read list when it came out. I didn’t get to it but jumped at the chance to read his second. I’m glad I did because it’s a satisfying read and I plan to go back and follow-up on the first book. It defiantly deserves a look. If you enjoy dark mysteries, The Black Country is worth a read.

 In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Black Country

Alex Grecian

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN: 9780399159336

 

Review – Faithful Place

Faithful PlaceFrank Mackey is a man who has purposely avoided his family for years. He ran away as a teenager and never looked back. When he gets a call from the one sister he speaks to telling him that information regarding his long lost girlfriend, Rosie Daly, has surfaced, he doesn’t know if he should run to his family or run further away. A man who has gone to extraordinary efforts to stay away from his family, he soon finds himself back home in Faithful Place; a neighborhood full of people with long memories and people that doesn’t easily offer forgiveness. After 22 years of trying to forget Rosie, his childhood, and in some ways his own family, he’s back home fighting with his mother and siblings, and thinking of ways to once more run away. When a favorite brother dies, and Frank’s only daughter is drug into the mess, he begins to realize just how deep he’s in.

The character of Frank Mackey was in The Likeness, French’s second book, but he’s much more intense in Faithful Place. His family and childhood home can never be described as a happy or content place and illustrate clearly just how much he’s managed to escape over the years and reinforce his actions, in his mind anyway. His very rosy memories of his missing girlfriend, which were buried deep by the years, come back full force and with his teenage romance memories come buried family memories, and he starts to drown in life.

Tana French is an amazing writer and I’ve started telling everyone I know they need to read her books. True story. In fact, when possible, I’ve shared my copies with anyone willing to read them. And that has been a benefit to me. You see, this was a borrowed book. I shared In The Woods and The Likeness with a co-worker and he went out and bought Faithful Place and gave it to me when he was done. He also plans on picking up Broken Harbor and promised to lend me that too. Sharing just works out in your favor some days.

French writes stories you don’t want to put down. She’s great at twists and turns, but I did figure out the killer early on in this one. I promised my co-worker I wouldn’t read ahead to find out who the killer was which was incredibly hard for me not to do. I ended up in his office asking questions instead. I can guarantee he won’t me ask me to promise that again. Anyway, he ended up telling me I had the right person but I think he was annoyed I figured it out. But, I think it was meant to be seen by the reader. You see, it was Frank that needed to work it out not the reader. You see him trying to do just that and I wanted to yell at him and that’s where French is so good. She brings the reader into the story and you end up investing so much in the characters and story that it’s draining but all in a good way. I love books that leave me feeling that way in the end. Reading should be an experience.

If you’re curious, my thoughts on French’s first two books In the Woods and The Likeness.

Faithful Place

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143119494

Mini Reviews

I’ve been meaning to review both of these books for a while, but I kept putting them off and now it’s been weeks. I still want to talk about them so I thought mini-reviews would be best. These are two very different books so have fun with that.

Fact about both books, each is the start of a series.

 

The Name of the StarThe Name of the Star

By Maureen Johnson

GP Putnam Sons

ISBN: 9780399256608

This is my first Maureen Johnson book. I follow her on Twitter and she’s hysterical so I thought I’d finally read one of her books. I know the second book in the Shades of London series is coming out soon so I picked this one. Also, a lot of other bloggers liked it; how could I say no to that kind of recommendation.

Rory, a teenager from Louisiana, moves to a London boarding when her parents take jobs in England. As soon as she arrives, Jack the Ripper style killing begin and she somehow ends up wrapped up in the case.

The Name of the Star is a weird mix-up of ghost story, mystery, police story, and teenage angst. Toss in a bit of boarding school drama and I had a story that I liked very much. I’m now looking forward to the second book.

 

Silent in the GraveSilent in the Grave

By Deanna Raybourn

Mira

ISBN: 9780778324102

Sometimes I do stupid things, like start a series in the middle which means I have to go back and start at the beginning and read ALL the books because that’s how I am. That happened with the Lady Julia Grey series. I read The Dark Enquiry when it came out almost two years ago and now I’m finally getting around to the start of this series and I want to devour ALL of them. No, really, these are so good.

Lady Julia Grey’s husband, Edward, is dead and as it turns out, he was murdered. Nicholas Brisbane, a man Edward hired to help investigate the sinister notes he was getting, is now all up in Julia’s business and she can’t decide if she likes it or not.

This is where Julia and Nicholas get together and oh it’s so fun — the arguing, the lust, and the misunderstandings. So. Much. Fun. Also, it’s a good mystery and the characters are fantastic. Thank god my library likes Deanna Raybourn.

Thoughts – The Sign of Four

The Sign of FourI used to read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories. Of course, this was years ago and I think I must have overdid it because I avoided Conan Doyle for years. Like the plague. Then I came across a few short stories when purging the shelves and thought it would be nice to take a look again, and it turns out, I still like me a bit of Sherlock and his handy sidekick, Doctor Watson. Feeling confident, I downloaded The Sign of Four from The Gutenberg Project and decided I would get re-acquainted with the duo. Not so much joy ensued.

Here’s the general overview: a man has gone missing, a treasure has been misplaced, and Sherlock is asked to stick his nose in and sort out the conflicting mess. It’s wildly more complicated than that but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t get into this one and barely trudged to the end. The mystery was bland to me and this is supposed to be one his most revered Sherlockian works. People supposedly love this one and to a high degree I might add.
I may not have had much interest in the actual mystery but what I did find interesting in this story was the drug use. Yep, right at the start Sherlock is getting high on cocaine (I have so little opportunity to quote the Grateful Dead let me revel in it!). It made me wonder why anyone would hire someone who seemed, at least here, to be mildly stoned for most of the day to solve a mystery. Also of interest, we get to meet the future Mrs. Watson.

I want to tell you more but I fear that my boredom with the story will cause me to give too much away. Besides, there are many favorable reviews of this book out there that if you like Sherlock, google it then read it. It might do wonders for you. If I may though, I’d recommend The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s still my favorite.

The Sign of Four
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Gutenberg Project Ebook

Review – The Likeness

The LikenessI read this book many weeks ago (months really). Why the long wait for the review? I didn’t know how to talk about this book. I started this post a few times and wanted this review to be more than just me blabbing on about how good it is. And still here I am one more time, and sadly, I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. So, I’ll get it out of the way now — if you’re not reading Tana French you should be. Go, now. Buy her books.

Detective Cassie Maddox is working domestic abuse, a department she’d rather not be assigned to, but after her last case went bad, it was her best, and some would say, only option if she wanted to remain on the force. When a body turns up in an abandoned cottage in the countryside, it leaves her, and her fellow detectives, stunned. The dead woman in a ringer for Cassie — every detail is exactly the same even down to an alias Cassie once used as part of an undercover case. She is, as far as anyone can tell, a dead Cassie Maddox. Cassie’s old boss from undercover wants to send her back under as the dead woman, and when Cassie agrees, that’s when the fun starts.

If you want a book that will lull you off into a pleasant sleep, this isn’t that book. If you want a story that will feel like it’s got an iron grip on your throat for over 400 pages, this is that book. Holy crap is French good at the tension. There isn’t one chapter of this book where you don’t feel it. One thing that helps, her characters are so real you never even stop to wonder if there’s anything wrong with them because, on the surface, there isn’t anything off. She hides the flaws so well you don’t even see anything coming, and when it does, it hits hard.

As usual, I read ahead. I couldn’t take the stress. It’s good stress though; stress that keeps you reading, unable to stop even when you know sleep would be the right move. French doesn’t skimp on words or details. Her books are heavy — the details of the characters’ lives are so wonderfully splayed out across the pages you feel you know these people so intimately that by the end of the book you end up worried about them. And Cassie is an incredibly likable character which made the ending so much more difficult. Relax, that’s not a spoiler.

While French’s books aren’t a true series, they do follow some of the same characters and I like that I get to see old characters in new situations. I liked getting reacquainted with Cassie Maddox and while I know she doesn’t appear again, I’m all right with that because I know that no matter what happens, the next French book will keep me up late. I’m looking forward to that.

The Likeness

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143115625

PS – I borrowed and devoured French’s third book, Faithful Place. Again, wow. A review soon, I promise.

Review – The One I Left Behind

The One I Left BehindI’m going to confess right up front — I read the ending of this book first. That happens often with me but I’m religious about reading the ending of a thriller before even getting 20 pages in. It’s my thing. This isn’t my first McMahon book and she has a way of creeping me out early on so I need to find that strand of sanity to hold onto while she pulls me through the story with my eyes half closed. Knowing the ending didn’t make this any less exciting. McMahon doesn’t take a straight path to the end, and even knowing still made it nerve wracking.

Reggie Dufrane’s life has never been easy. Born to a former beauty queen, she always idolized her mother, wondering at her beauty but never really knowing the woman beneath the veneer she created for her daughter. Having lost her ear when she was attacked by a dog at a very young age, Reggie grew up with one real ear and one fake one, never to be the beauty her mother was. In the summer of 1985, a serial killer begins terrifying the residents of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. When the severed hands of the victims begin appearing on the front steps of the police station, every resident in town waits, waits for the body to appear next. And each time a hand appeared, a body soon followed. When Reggie’s mother disappears, she knows the killer, dubbed Neptune by the local press, must have her. When her mother’s hand, recognizable by the scars she suffered rescuing Reggie from the dog attack, everyone waits for the body. It never appears. Days pass and months go by but the body of Vera Dufrane never appears.

Making the most out of an opportunity to start over, Reggie moves far away from Brighton Falls and puts as much distance as possible between her future and her past. A well-known architect, she celebrated in her industry but she’s never escaped Neptune and he haunts her till the day her mother re-appears — alive.

I knew how this was going to end but I still wanted to have every light on in the room I was sitting in and all the doors locked in the house. With most thrillers, I love the crazy ride, and you do get that here, but there’s the psychological element that McMahon does so well. It’s the cruel way she plays around with the characters letting you see every picked scab and dirty secret long-held onto in the dark.

Reggie is damaged goods, both mentally and physically. Her mother, a woman more damaged than her, is not one to look up to but she’s all Reggie ever had. The summer of her disappearance and supposed murder becomes an eye opener to Reggie who learns that her mother and the woman known as Vera Dufrane are two very different people.

McMahon doesn’t let anyone off easy and sometimes I did long for one person without any crazy skeletons in the closet beyond the embarrassing moments in high school that we all have. Those people don’t exist in her books and that’s what makes them so readable and difficult to read at the same time. Her characters are so flawed they become believable and unbelievable all at once and because of that you can’t stop reading. By the time you want out, you’re too far in and you need to know how it’s all going to turn out — good or bad.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The One I Left Behind

Jennifer McMahon

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780062122551