Category Archives: historical

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder at Standing Stone Manor – A Langham and Dupré mystery by Eric Brown #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderatStandingStoneManorbookreview

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I’ve read two other books in this series and thoroughly enjoyed them – see my reviews of Murder Takes a Turn and Murder Served Cold. Right now, I’m particularly drawn to historical murder mysteries, so I was delighted to see this latest book in the series available and to be approved to read it.

BLURB: Newlyweds Donald Langham and Maria Dupré have moved to the country. They’re excited about starting a new life in the picturesque village of Ingoldby-over-Water – and about meeting their new neighbours.

But they’ve barely moved into Yew Tree Cottage when their new neighbour at Standing Stone Manor, Professor Edwin Robertshaw, invites Donald over to discuss some ‘fishy business’. Shortly after, a body is found by the professor’s precious standing stone in the manor grounds. Donald and Maria discover tensions, disputes and resentment raging below the surface of this idyllic village, but can they find out which of the villagers is a cold-blooded killer?

REVIEW: This is another enjoyable, well crafted murder mystery from an experienced writer who knows what he’s doing. The setting – a village deep in the English countryside in the mid-1950s in the depths of winter – is perfectly realised. I enjoyed learning about the village characters and possible suspects. One of the entertaining parts of this story, is that it is a while before the actual murder takes place – so I had fun working out who was going to be the eventual victim and who would be the murder suspects.

I liked the fact that World War II is still hanging heavily over the lives of several people who had served – it brought home to me just how much it affected the generation that went through it. Once the murder occurs, the leisurely pace picks up and there are more attempted deaths in quick succession. Donald Langham is given a great deal of licence to go off and do his own thing with the blessing of the local police, which works well for the purposes of the story.

The plot is satisfyingly twisty with plenty of suspects who had strong motives for murdering the initial victim. I enjoyed the well-handled denouement which manages to provide a complete surprise without short-changing the reader. All in all, this is an enjoyable read that provides a solidly written whodunit, complete with a cast of entertaining characters in an attractive, clearly depicted setting. Recommended for fans of historical whodunits, after the style of Agatha Christie. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Standing Stone Manor from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Women of Troy – Book 2 of The Women of Troy series by Pat Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheWomenofTroybookreview

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I encountered The Silence of the Girls last September – see my review – and it blew me away. While it was a powerful, disturbing read, I have always had a soft spot of Greek myths and this retelling really stayed with me. So I was thrilled to see this turn up on Netgalley – and even more thrilled to be approved to read it.

BLURB: Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

REVIEW: As should be evident from the punchy blurb, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence. Although I’d like to emphasise that there is nothing graphic or sensationalised about the plight of the women who find themselves part of the booty looted from Troy. Probably the most visceral scene is King Priam’s death – and that isn’t as grisly as some of the vicious hand-to-hand fighting depicted in epic fantasies written by the likes of John Gwynne, Joe Abercrombie and Miles Cameron.

What is undeniable is the power of Barker’s prose, as she immerses us in the daily lives of the captured women, experienced in first-person pov by former Princess Briseis, who witnessed the death of her family at the hands of Achilles in the early stages of the Trojan campaign. And was then captured by him. Now he’s dead, her life has once more become uncertain – particularly as she is carrying his child. It’s Briseis who tries to make life easier for the newly captive women, traumatised by the death of their husbands, fathers and sons – and are now having to cope with being owned by those responsible for killing their families. Barker could have so easily turned this into a sensational, stomach-churning read, but her immersive, intelligent writing – while not in any way belittling what is going on – gives us a ringside seat in the camp where the Greeks are still living. For despite being the victors, they are now imprisoned on the shores where they’ve been living for the past decade…

The unfolding story of what happens within that camp, as political alliances shift and rebalance in the light of the Greek victory, makes a riveting read. I fell in love with beautiful, brave Briseis in The Silence of the Girls and this book has only strengthened my admiration for her. If you enjoyed The Silence of the Girls, then this sequel comes very highly recommended. And if you like the idea of reading a retelling of the Trojan war and haven’t yet done so, then I suggest you look out The Silence of the Girls. This engrossing series gives you a version of the story from the viewpoint of the women caught up in it – something the Greek canon never bothered to do. While I obtained an arc of The Women of Troy from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #VelvetWastheNightbookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: 1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb, which I think strays into Spoiler territory. I’m a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – she is a mighty talent who makes a point of hopping across a number of genres to produce something different every time. Even more impressively, she manages to nail each genre every time, too. But I’ll confess that this time around, it was something of a battle to get through the first half of this book. It’s a noir thriller, set in a terrible time when people were being persecuted and beaten by thugs because of their political opinions. So inevitably, the mood is gritty and the main characters are trapped in circumstances beyond their control. As I’m also struggling with my own issues right now, I found it a difficult read – especially as I really cared about Maite.

Moreno-Garcia’s superpower is the way she manages to make me care about protagonists who are deeply flawed. Poor, downtrodden Maite is far too worried about what everyone else thinks. Lonely and depressed, she is also oblivious to what is going on around her. Elvis has got mixed up with a terrible organisation, having been mesmerised by a monster, and is capable of terrible acts of violence. Both of them aspire to a more glamorous life, as depicted in the films – the kind of life that missing Leonora seems to be leading. Though, despite her insecurities and ignorance of the sheer horror of what is going on around her, what stopped me from dismissing Maite as a complete loser, is the core of kindness that runs through her. And her refusal to give up trying to do the right thing.

After I got halfway through the book, the gathering pace and my fondness for Maite kept the pages turning. Moreno-Garcia’s evident talent shines through in her handling of the increasing tension, while the finale brought together all the strands of the story into a fabulous ending. Whatever you do, read the Afterword which explains the historical context of the events depicted in the book. Once more, this is a triumphant success by an outstanding author and I just wish my own circumstances had left me in a better place to be able to fully appreciate it. While I don’t normally reread books, this is one that I intend to visit again, once I’ve finally recovered from Long Covid. The ebook arc copy of Velvet Was the Night was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMurderatRosingsbookreview

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I was looking for an enjoyable whodunit, when I came across this offering – and was delighted to be approved to read it. I’ve largely enjoyed the Jane Austen-inspired books that I’ve read. Would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death. Will he end up hanged, with the rest of his family shunned by polite society?

REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the end of the blurb and omitted the final paragraph, which gives the impression that it’s Mary who is at the heart of uncovering the murder mystery. And whoever wrote that clearly hadn’t read the book. Because while Mary makes more of an appearance in this book than in Pride and Prejudice, she isn’t part of the investigation. It’s a shame the blurb is so misleading, because I kept waiting for her to become swept up in the murder mystery – and was a bit taken aback when it didn’t happen.

So my advice is to ignore the blurb and just relax into the story. I think Purdey Pugh has nailed the setting and the atmosphere at Rosings. We see another side of Lady Caroline de Bourgh, rather than the overly entitled harridan portrayed by Austen. Lady Caroline is depicted as a stickler for the rules, but also someone who is genuinely concerned about her servants and is grieved at the violent death of Mr Collins, to the extent that she is willing for the local magistrate, Sir John Bright, and the village constable, Robert Archer, to freely question both the servants and the high-born occupants of Rosings, given that it soon becomes clear that whoever murdered Collins had to have close ties with the household. She also deeply loves her daughter, which becomes increasingly clear throughout the book. So while I started this one expecting to thoroughly dislike her, my initial prejudice towards her softened into genuine respect for her.

I also liked the depiction of Mr Bennet, who although isn’t as witty as he appears in Pride and Prejudice, nonetheless does make the occasional light-hearted comment. But then, this event takes place several years after the events of P & P. Mr and Mrs Collins are now blessed with three children and the three married Bennet daughters are all in an interesting condition. So Bennet has a particular and pressing reason to visit his cousin, Mr Collins, who is the heir to Longbourn on Mr Bennet’s death. I also appreciated seeing more of Mary, who is more of a retiring, desperately shy scholar who dreads social occasions in this version. She and Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s timid daughter, immediately form a close relationship as they attempt to study Greek together without the aid of a tutor. While Lady Caroline loathes the Bennets, after Lizzy treacherously stole Mr Darcy from the arms of her daughter, she is prepared to make Mary Bennet welcome for the sake of Anne’s happiness.

There is also a darker sub-plot running through the story. There are young and vulnerable female servants among Rosings’ large staff – and the dangers they are subjected to makes for a thought-provoking read. Especially as the investigators and most of the main characters are clearly striving to do the best they can for the people in their charge. Thus demonstrating that it only takes one or two of the other sort to cause real harm. So there’s a trigger warning for sexual assault.

I think the murder mystery is handled very well. Although I soon guessed who the perpetrator was – until I was proved utterly wrong. Meanwhile, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, before the unexpected and rather shocking solution came to light. Overall, I found this to be an engrossing read that took me convincingly into Austen’s world, treating it with respect while giving us a different view of some of her characters. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of A Murder at Rosings from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #LochDownAbbeybookreview

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It was the wordplay regarding the title and that rather gorgeous cover that snagged my attention – and the blurb ensured that I requested a copy of this one. And I’m very glad I did…

BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

REVIEW: I’ve been reading a fair amount of historical fiction recently – but I can safely say that nothing has been quite like this offering. The Inverkillen clan are all thoroughly spoilt and entitled – and quite right, too. After all, they’re part of an aristocracy that goes back hundreds of years and everyone in the village and beyond acknowledges their superiority over the common sort. Indeed, they employ lots of the common sort to wait upon them hand, foot and finger. So when a mysterious and rather virulent illness strikes the domestic staff just when Lord Inverkillen is found dead by the weir, dramatic changes have to be made in domestic arrangements – and that’s before the Will is read…

This is a funny and engaging read – but do keep the character cast list bookmarked, at least for the first few chapters, because there are quite a lot of Inverkillens and events keep happening. Think of a cross between the televised version of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories and Agatha Christie’s country house mysteries. And I won’t compare Cowan-Erksine’s writing with Wodehouse, because his prose is far more hilarious. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed her dry humour and found myself laughing aloud more than once. And as I’m struggling with post-Covid fatigue syndrome, I’m not inclined to chuckle over anything that isn’t genuinely funny.

Since I’ve finished this one, I’ve found myself looking around for something similar – and I haven’t yet found it. If you are looking for a mystery that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Loch Down Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mystic’s Accomplice by Mary Miley Theobold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMysticsAccomplicebookreview

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I’ve read a 1929s murder mystery by this author writing as Mary Miley and thoroughly enjoyed – see my review of Renting Silence. So when this first book in a new series caught my eyes, I was delighted to be able to get hold of it.

BLURB: It’s 1924, and Maddie Pastore has it made. A nice house, a loving husband with a steady job – even if it is connected to Chicago’s violent Torrio-Capone gang – and a baby on the way. But then Tommy is shot dead, and she learns her husband had a secret that turns her life upside down. Penniless and grieving, Maddie is only sure of two things: that she will survive for the sake of her baby, and that she’ll never turn to the mob for help.

So when she’s invited to assist a well-meaning but fraudulent medium, she seizes the chance. She’s not proud of her work investigating Madam Carlotta’s clients, but she’s proud of how well she does it. When Maddie unearths potential evidence of a dark crime, however, she faces a terrible dilemma: keep quiet and let a murderer go unpunished, or follow the trail and put herself and her baby in mortal danger . . .

REVIEW: Poor Maddie’s life disastrously falls apart at the start of this book. Bad enough to suddenly find herself suddenly widowed and pregnant – but when she then loses everything, she’s desperate. Fortunately, she’s blessed with a lovely nature that people warm to and while she doesn’t want to be a charity case, Maddie is on the receiving end of a lot of genuine kindness. Though once Baby Tommy is born, she needs to find a job so she can keep a roof over their heads and feed herself – and it’s a huge struggle. She is caught in the all-too familiar dilemma facing working women with children, especially as she is breastfeeding him.

No… this book isn’t all about that. But I’m glad to see one of the plot threads running throughout the story is Maddie’s constant worry about how she will keep Baby Tommy safely cared for while she holds down a job. It certainly means that once she has a measure of financial security while helping Madam Carlotta gain information about her clients, she can’t easily find another position. Even though she is uneasy about what she is doing at times.

I was aware that in the wake of the Great War and the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, there was a huge upsurge of interest in spiritualists on both sides of the Atlantic. Millions of grieving relatives struggled to come to terms with the loss of far too many young people well before their time and turned to spiritualists for comfort. So Madam Carlotta feels she is called upon by a higher power to help people. And there are occasions when she clearly has flashes of genuine insight that can’t be explained away. However they are infrequent and fleeting. Therefore Maddie finds out as much as she can about the clients who book in advance to attend a séance, so Madam Carlotta can drop these details in. And it is when she discovers one family who have been particularly afflicted with more than one death that it occurs to her that the latest tragedy may not have been natural.

In the meantime, we get a vivid insight into a vibrant Chicago where Prohibition is in full swing and speakeasys and illegal gin joints have sprung up on every street. This gives the major crime families a licence to print money, by getting involved in the production of illegal liquor and distributing it. Gang warfare is simmering just below the surface – and given that Tommy was driving for one of the major outfits, Maddie needs to tread very carefully if she is going to keep herself and her newborn son free of their pernicious influence.

The story rattles along full of incident and suffused with Maddie’s gutsy can-do attitude, which I found very endearing. While the murder mystery is enjoyable and well done, it isn’t the narrative engine that powers this story – that is Maddie’s struggle to regroup after two devastating blows take everything, other than her child, away from her. That’s fine by me – the pages more or less turned themselves as I was fascinated to discover what happens next. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for the next book in this enjoyable series. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of The Mystic’s Accomplice from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 2nd June, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erkine – release date 10th June, 2021

#historical cosy country house whodunit

BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

I can’t lie – once again it was the cover that caught my attention. And then I read the blurb and I was sold. I’ve been reading a fair number of murder mysteries, particularly historical ones. And this one seems to have more than a nod to our ongoing pandemic, but with a slightly humorous overtone – which suits me down to the ground just now.

Has anyone else got this one on their TBR pile?

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Shadow of the Gods – Book 1 of The Bloodsworn Saga by John Gwynne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShadowoftheGodsbookreview

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I’ve had an unread hardback copy of Malice sitting on my bookshelves for far too long. Epecially as a number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are huge fans of Gwynne’s writing, such as Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek. So when I spotted this first book in a new series, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .

REVIEW: After reading the blurb, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a classic epic fantasy read, although the alternate world has some interesting twists in it, due to the previous apocalyptic event that tore it apart. Those who have survived are tough and resourceful – they have to be.

Gwynne has clearly thoroughly researched Nordic history and mythology and it shows in the immersive writing that gives a strong sense of the world, the clothing, food, weaponry and customs. I really enjoyed picking up these details through character actions and thoughts, rather than pages of information. But if you haven’t encountered this author before, do be aware that he drops in a lot of Norse words for articles of clothing, weaponry and food. If you find this tendency irritating, then this might not be the book for you.

We follow the fortunes of three main protagonists – two women and a man. Orka is a tough, experienced warrior who settled down with the love of her life to raise her son. But that was before a warband came through… Varg was raised as a slave and his beloved sister was the only source of light and love in an otherwise brutal life. Until she was murdered. Now he wants to find the killers and make them pay. Elvar is a young warrior who has risen through the ranks of a warband by her skill and courage, and has an interesting backstory that I won’t Spoil here. But as you can see – this is a brutal world, where might is right.

Gwynne’s plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding are all skilfully done – but what he does superbly well is describe battle scenes. This isn’t so much sword and sorcery, as slash and sorcery – using axes and knives as well as swords means that the close-quarters fighting is bloody and injuries are horrific. During the numerous fights and battles, I always had a ringside seat as to what exactly was going on and how the protagonist was feeling and coping, even as blows, stabbings and slashes were being traded. However, while the fighting was violent and bloody, at no stage was it gratuitous.

All in all, this was an engrossing story that kept me turning the pages until the end. And yes – about that ending… in common with many epic fantasy books, all the major plotpoints were left on a cliffhanger. So I’m hoping the second book won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in a Norse setting. While I obtained an arc of The Shadow of the Gods from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Evil – Book 3 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #TheKing’sEvilbookreview

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I’d read The Ashes of London, which is a gripping murder mystery set during the Great Fire of London, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so when I got the chance to pick up the Netgalley arc of The Last Protector, I jumped at it. Though I was a tad startled to find out that it was the fourth book in the series, so last year I decided to go back and get hold of an audiobook edition of The Fire Court and Himself bought me this one – The King’s Evil as a birthday present.

BLURB: London 1667. In the Court of Charles II, it’s a dangerous time to be alive – a wrong move may lead to disgrace, exile or death. The discovery of a body at Clarendon House, the palatial home of one of the highest courtiers in the land, could therefore have catastrophic consequences. James Marwood, a traitor’s son, is ordered to cover up the murder. But the dead man is Edward Alderley, the cousin of one of Marwood’s acquaintances. Cat Lovett had every reason to want her cousin dead. Since his murder, she has vanished, and all the evidence points to her as the killer.

Marwood is determined to clear Cat’s name and discover who really killed Alderley. But time is running out for everyone. If he makes a mistake, it could threaten not only the government but the King himself…

REVIEW: This Restoration murder mystery series is one I’ve come to love. James Marwood and Cat Lovett are both under a cloud, as their fathers were known sympathisers of Oliver Cromwell and both have had a tough time of it. And once again, Cat’s troubled past rises up
to destabilise the precarious life she has managed to carve out for herself. As she goes on the run, James Marwood finds himself caught up in the affair, as it appears Edward Alderley was on the fringes of a power struggle between the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Clarendon. His body is discovered in a well in Lord Clarendon’s grounds and immediately there is an arrest warrant out for Cat Lovett, who was known to hate her cousin – and with good reason.

As with most murder mysteries, this one can be read as a standalone. However, I strongly recommend that you read the previous books in this series, as you’ll better understand the main protagonists and their motivations if you do so. Taylor’s vivid writing successfully brings this turbulent period to life, such that I easily envisaged and smelt Restoration London and also enjoyed reading of Marwood’s journey to the fenlands of Norfolk on a special mission for His Majesty. Taylor is not only masterful at recreating the period, he is also extremely good at spinning a twisting plot where all sorts of events caught me unawares. I was particularly struck by the final twist, which has stayed with me – and made me mightily grateful not to have been born into that time.

If you enjoy your whodunits set in a vividly described historical backdrop, then this one comes very highly recommended – it’s every bit as good as C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series.
10/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheCaseoftheDragon-BoneEnginebookreview

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I’ve been reading a lot of murder mysteries recently – particularly those with an SFF element. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it, even though it is already published.

BLURB: Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago. Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The setting is a fantasy world where the industrial revolution is taking off – there are steam-powered trains and cars, but they are being superseded by the new dragon-bone engines. However they require fairies to drive these vehicles as the inherent magic within the dragon bones needs to be controlled by someone with magical ability – and other than a handful of noble families, most humans don’t possess magic. So we have fairies working long hours for low pay, often being exploited and they are becoming increasingly resentful and angry, which is beginning to lead to inter-species conflict. For humans all too often regard fairy magic with suspicion and dismiss them as being stupid and sub-human.

Enter our plucky investigators, Agent Beka Finley, the only woman to date who has succeeded in becoming one of the elite Royal Investigators, and her partner Agent Lester Donovan. They are both interesting characters with fascinating backstories. One of Coffeen’s superpowers is that she keeps the story moving along, without resorting to info-dumps that silt up the narrative. This means we are immediately tipped into the story and learn about our protagonists and the world as the story moves along in Agent Finley’s first-person viewpoint. I very much like this mode of story-telling, but I’m aware it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

There is an interesting dynamic in this Victorian-type society, where manners and dress conventions are formal and social mobility is clearly not easy, while Agent Finley is from a much humbler background than Donovan. As the rebel son who walked away from his powerful and rich noble family, we get a ringside seat into some of the pressure points within the class system and the inter-species prejudice – not to mention the general lack of enthusiasm to towards women working in anything other than a domestic setting. This could have turned into a glib commentary on social inequality that is becoming an increasingly popular sub-plot within modern SFF. But what saves it from making the usual facile judgements is the strong characterisation. Yes, Agent Finley has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues – but I get the sense that she would do, anyway, given her driven nature. And I also like the fact that our protagonist isn’t all that sympathetic to the outbreaks of violence and demonstrations from an increasingly beleaguered fairy workforce. She’s a law enforcement officer – of course she thinks they should find another way to express their dissatisfaction. Though she starts to reconsider her opinion after having seen first-hand just what a raw deal a particular fairy family are undergoing.

The murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of potential suspects, a steady increase in the stakes involved and a dramatic climactic denouement. I was impressed with the overall quality of writing – and as a bonus, there are a series of beautiful pen and ink illustrations in a 19th century style drawn by the author. After this impressive debut, I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book in the series.
9/10