Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley
This is the second book in the Kat Halloway Mystery series, so this review may contain spoilers for the first book. You can always check out my review for Death Below Stairs here.
Kat Halloway has settled into her role as cook for a wealthy London family after several months of murder, mystery, and fenian plots. When a friend of Kat’s employer is accused by her husband of stealing priceless artwork, Kat finds herself drawn into the scandals and betrayals of the above stairs world. When the rash of thefts spreads to neighboring houses and the British Museum, it seems Kat has her work cut out for her. Balancing her demanding work life, prickly new assistant, devotion to her daughter, and unofficial detective duties is hard, but cooks are very good at multitasking.
This is a strong second entry into the mystery series. Kat Halloway is quite a good protagonist, smart, quick-witted, and relatable. So many Victorian-era mysteries focus on upperclass women solving mysteries, it’s nice to see the belowstairs folks get their day in the sun. Ashley has also provided us a strong secondary character in the form of Tess, Kat’s sharp-tongued new assistant. While it would have been easy to leave Tess as a surly young woman (with or without a heart of gold) Ashley takes the time to flesh her out beyond the basics and make her someone the reader wants to root for.
This is a great series for folks who dig historical mysteries. If you’ve read and liked The Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson, or the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, this is a great next stop for you!
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
I’m continuing my Sherlockian trend with the first of this series by Laurie R. King!
Sherlock Holmes has retired from the life of a consulting detective to keep bees and indulge in chemistry experiments in the Sussex Downs. Mary Russell is a teenage orphan, forced to live with her penurious aunt until her majority. When the two chance to meet, Holmes is not expecting to encounter a mind equal to his, and Mary Russell is not expecting to find a mentor. This first book chronicles the first four years of their friendship.
This is the first in a series which now contains fourteen books. I’m definitely late to the party. Like most of the other Sherlock Holmes stuff I’m reading lately, the choice was inspired by From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström. The book is a series of interconnected vignettes rather than one contiguous story. In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, we move from Mary and Sherlock’s first meeting, to their strange friendship, and the beginning of Mary’s training in the art of detection.
In Mary Russell, King has given us a heroine who is fiercely intelligent and independent, and more than a match for Holmes himself. I loved that while she shares a lot of Holmes’ personality traits, the two complement one another rather than existing as mirror-image duplicates. As with any new series, there is always the awkward getting-to-know-you period. But this is a great start to a series, and I’m quite looking forward to binging on the rest of the series.
A Quiet Life in the Country by TE Kinsey
Welcome to Littleton Cotterell,a small village in Glouchestershire. The year is 1908, and Lady Emily Hardcastle and her intrepid maid, Florence Armstrong, are looking to settle in to the nice, quiet, retired life after several years spent adventuring around the world.
Naturally, such plans are always disrupted. In this case, the two women discover a dead body hanging from a tree while out on a morning walk. The death is meant to appear as a suicide, but certain inconsistencies seen to point more towards murder. With the local constabulary over their heads, Lady Hardcastle and Flo must draw on their previous experiences to solve the murder before anyone else gets hurt.
The mystery goes off in fairly expected fashion, with the eccentric and kindly Lady Hardcastle relying on her witty and resourceful maid. There are suspicious characters and red herrings aplenty. And, naturally, the initial mystery gets wrapped up in several others in the course of the book.
I will say this for A Quiet Life in the Country: it does not take itself too seriously. The usual tropes of the cozy mystery are addressed with a wink and a nudge (such as one character explaining to Lady Hardcastle that the tiny, 30 person village she just moved to is actually the murder capital of the country). I appreciate the effort made to acknowledge all the commonly used bits that go into a cozy murder mystery, and it certainly helped to dispel a feeling of deja vu.
In all, if you’re looking for a nice, quick mystery with not one but two strong female leads, you could do far worse than to join Flo and Lady Hardcastle on their adventures.
A free copy of this book was provided via Goodreads Givaways in exchange for an honest review. A Quiet Life in the Country is currently available for purchase (and, at the time of this writing, free via Kindle Unlimited).
Death Among Rubies by R.J. Koreto
This is the second in the Lady Frances Ffolkes mystery series. But don’t be too put out; this is a perfectly enjoyable book even if you haven’t read the first.
At the turn of the 20th century, Lady Frances Ffolkes (Franny to her friends) has turned every head in aristocratic English society. She is a single woman living alone, and perhaps most scandalous, an outspoken suffragist. Frances wades in where others fear to tread, bolstered by her sharp wit and fearless demeanor.
Death Among Rubies finds Frances traveling with her friends Gwen and Thomasina to Gwen’s family’s country estate for a respite from the city. The trip starts off on an ignominious foot when Thomasina finds herself threatened for her “close relationship” with Gwen. Upon arriving at the country manor, the situation deteriorates fully: Gwen’s father has been killed, stabbed to death in his own office. And what’s more, his role as unofficial ambassador for England means that his death could have international repercussions for England itself.
It’s up to Frances, assisted by Gwen, Thomasina, and her indomitable maid, Mallow, to uncover the truth behind the murder, because other lives most certainly hang in the balance.
I really enjoyed this mystery. Lady Frances is a fun, engaging focal character, reminiscent of Lady Julia Grey or Veronica Speedwell (both excellent characters written by Deanna Raybourn). Those looking for a grand manor murder mystery will enjoy this book.
An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Death Among Rubies will be available for purchase on October 11th, 2016.