Tag Archives: 1920’s

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – Book 1 of the Black and Dods Mysteries by Diane Janes


Once again, it was the cover that attracted me to this offering, along with the emphasis on it being a 1920s murder mystery. I really like that era, being a fan of Agatha Christie and an even bigger fan of Dorothy L. Sayers, so I hoped that Janes would prove to be an entertaining read.

1929. The night before she’s due to make a speech to the Robert Barnaby Society on the subject of the famous writer’s ‘magic chair’, committee member Linda Dexter disappears. When her body is discovered two days later, fellow members Frances Black and Tom Dod determine to find out the truth about her death.

This is the very simple premise that sets up the story, where a guest speaker inexplicably disappears during a conference and when her body is later discovered, it is assumed she has committed suicide. Both Frances Black and Tom Dod don’t believe this is the case and are determined to get to the bottom of why Linda is murdered.

I loved this one – Janes has taken care to set up the story and establish the characters in much the same way as Christie did. There is also no shortage of likely candidates when it comes to working out who the murderer is. As the investigation proceeds, we also learn more about Frances and Tom – and why the pair of them might be very willing to spend time and energy worrying about a problem that has nothing to do with their own daily routines. Despite this story consciously harking back to the past, there is no sentimentality in Janes’s depiction of the 1920s. The shadow of the Great War is still lying heavily across the country and although women have been granted the vote during the previous year, the manner in which Frances is frequently dismissed makes me very glad that I wasn’t born in that era.

I was also impressed with the worldbuilding and the level of historical detail throughout – at no time did any of it jar. What you don’t get with this book is foot to-the-floor action as the story builds steadily while Frances and Tom discover yet more facts and clues surrounding Linda’s life. Nonetheless I was immersed in the world and wanting to know exactly why Linda was murdered and who did it.

One of the pleasures in reading this type of crime novel is trying to guess the culprit and while I won’t claim to be particularly good at it, I can report that I didn’t guess whodunit, yet the murder and why it was committed made complete sense. I came to really like Frances and I’m going to be looking out for more books in this series – luckily it seems that Diane Janes is a prolific author. Yippee! While I obtained an arc of The Magic Chair Murder from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Dancing With Death Book 1 of the Nell Drury series by Amy Myers


This classic country house murder mystery from Severn House popped up at Netgalley and caught my eye…

1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.

This cosy mystery is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read. Myers evokes the period well as steady, sensible and very ambitious Nell Drury, working at Wychbourne Hall as Chef, suddenly finds herself confronted with a violent murder of one of the guests. While it might have seemed unlikely that a young woman would land a prize post like this, due to the shortage of young men after the ravages of WWI, this was a time when a generation of women had an opportunity for a career – so long as they didn’t want to get married. Nell is one of those women. Fans of Downton Abbey will recognise the strict hierarchy of below stairs as she regularly locks horns with housekeeper, Mrs Fielding, who is thoroughly disapproving of a female chef.

But Nell has other things to worry about other than whether her soufflés will rise, when Lady Ansley appeals to her to ensure none of the servants are caught up in the bloody murder. I like Nell’s character. Her cool-headed steadiness and self-confidence comes from having to fight for her place and growing up in the war years, which still casts a long shadow over most of the characters – and quite right, too. Myers has very much caught the flavour of the age, it seems to me, having grown up with stories of the time from my grandmother, who was a flapper.

In order to make this sort of book really work, we need a good spread of likely suspects amongst the supporting cast and Myers certainly provides plenty of memorable, strong contenders. We have the eccentric aunt who is convinced the house is crowded with a posse of ghosts, all keen to make contact with their living counterparts; the gang of bright young things, including the three Ansley youngsters who are caught up in the frantic round of parties and nightclubbing; two school friends who seem far too attracted to each other rather than their supposed partners; the vamp; the terrifying elderly female relative (think Maggie Smith); and her arch-enemy a sprightly avuncular gentleman. In the middle of this, you have poor, bewildered Lord and Lady Ansley… There is also a strong cast of below stairs characters and a rather forbidding detective from Scotland Yard who travels down to investigate the murders as the local bobbies are completely out of their depth.

This is all as cosily familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa – but there is a good reason why Agatha Christie-type murder mysteries work, demonstrated here by Myers’ well-written homage. The pages simply turned themselves as I dived into this one while struggling with a heavy cold. The denouement was also well handled – I hadn’t guessed whodunit or why and was also pleased that some of the red herrings cast around during the investigation weren’t necessarily as herring-like as I’d thought. It always slightly annoys me when an author provides a parade of suspects and a trail of clues – only to suddenly provide a completely different set of motives with a flourish at the end. Myers isn’t guilty of such a sleight of hand. My only niggle is the very, very abrupt ending – unless for some reason my arc is missing a final paragraph. But this one is recommended for fans of a classic cosy mystery set in a country house.

While I obtained the arc of Dancing with Death from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.


Review of Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann


I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the successful Newbury and Hobbes series set in a version of Victorian London – see my reviews of The Immorality Engine here and The Osiris Ritual here. All very anarchic and entertaining stuff with plenty of action and the alternate, cool touches that defines steampunk. Would I enjoy this new genre mash-up series?

ghostsofmanhattan1926. New York City. It’s the Roaring Twenties but not as history remembers it. Coal-powered cars line the streets, while zeppelins and biplanes patrol the skies. The US is locked in a bitter cold war with a British Empire that still covers half the globe and the Lost Generation is drinking away the nightmares of the trenches. In Manhattan, a run-down police force is losing the fight against a tide of powerful mobsters and against one in particular: The Roman. His henchmen – not all of them human – with the streets and the body count is rising. It’s time in need of a hero. It’s a time in need of THE GHOST.

As you can immediately see from the blurb, steampunk has shifted from its more usual Victorian timescape, which was really successful in my opinion. There are some significant problems with the Victorian era – not least that many of the ingrained attitudes towards anyone not white, male and upper middle-class jar with modern tastes. Not that I’m holding up the 1920’s as any ideal of broad-mindedness – but attitudes and behaviour had been modulated by the Great War. Did Mann take account of that huge event? Absolutely. I have read books set in the 1920’s that completely ignore the Great War, while Mann effectively depicts the damage wrought upon his protagonist, who is still haunted by the carnage experienced in the trenches.

There is a gothic-noir feel to this book that puts me in mind of the Batman films. Not that I have a particular problem with that – Mann knows how to tell an entertaining tale. His characters are reasonably convincing and I’m guessing that there are untold layers about the Ghost we will uncover in subsequent books.

The baddies are satisfyingly nasty – in fact my chief grizzle is that I would have liked to learn more about The Roman who appeared to have really fascinating backstory. I will be looking out for the next in the series – I generally enjoy Mann’s work and I’d like to see where he takes the Ghost in future instalments.