Book Review: Death at the Priory by James Ruddick

Death at The Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England, by James Ruddick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A well-written true crime mystery and an in-depth look into the role of women in the Victorian period. Compelling reading! 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

In 1875, the beautiful and vivacious widow Florence Ricardo married Charles Bravo, a dashing barrister. The marriage seemed a happy one, but one night, four months after the wedding, Bravo collapsed. For the next fifty-five hours, with some of London’s most distinguished physicians in attendance, Charles suffered a slow and agonizing death.  All the doctors agreed: Charles Bravo had been poisoned.

The dramatic investigation that followed was covered in sensational detail by the press. So great was public interest in the case that coverage of it eclipsed the prime minister’s negotiations with Egypt, the Prince of Wales’ Indian tour and the conflict in the Balkans. The finger of suspicion pointed at various times at suicide, at Mrs Cox the housekeeper, at George Griffiths, a stableman with a grudge, and at the remarkable figure of Florence Bravo herself.

Death at the Priory is a gripping historical reconstruction and startling portrait of a woman, a marriage and a society. The brilliant conclusion uses new evidence discovered by the author to demonstrate conclusively who really murdered Charles Bravo.

Favourite Quote

“An unhappy woman with easy access to weedkiller had to be watched carefully.”

(From Death at The Prioy, by James Ruddick, page 172)

Review

It’s not often that I review non-fiction on Sammi Loves Books, because I tend to dip in and out of it, but I read “Death at The Priory” from cover to cover, and was completely gripped by the case.

I enjoy reading about true crime, especially if in an historical context, and especially if said crime remained unsolved, and if it could be classed as a type of “locked room” mystery.  I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the death of Charles Bravo before, given my interest in Victorian history and true crime.  By all accounts, it was covered with relish in the media of the day, eclipsing events on the world stage, even.

Death at the Priory is extremely well-written.  The evidence is presented clearly, in an easy to understand, easy to digest manner, without becoming heavy or requiring the author to dress it up with dramatic prose.  Although some passages are quite graphic – yes, there is a reference to sex in the book’s subtitle – it does help in providing a context in which Charles Bravo’s death occurred.

Florence Bravo, wife of the dead man, was certainly an interesting woman to read about, with a colourful life, and a tragic ending. She had been unfortunate in as much as she’d had to endure two unhappy marriages to husbands who were abusive towards her. The prevailing opinion of the day was that this was a woman’s lot, and she had to suffer it with grace and silence.  Florence, unconventionally for the time, did not believe she had to accept this.  She believed she had a right to be happy and if that meant away from her husband, she would not be forced to remain with him…

Charles Bravo is not painted as a sympathetic character at all, and I found myself having little concern for him in his plight.  I thought the author’s conclusions in his attempt to solve the case were definitely plausible, but of course, after the passage of so much time, and with all those being involved long dead, we will never know the truth for certain.

A fascinating read, one which I recommend to those interested in true crime, or who are interested in the role of women in Victorian society.

Rating

Book Review: The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches is the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

I loved everything about this book.  Flavia is fantastic, the storyline engaging and the setting captivating.  A wonderful read.  Highly recommended.  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gipsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer

Favourite Quote

“…But ‘kill’, as you will have observed, like ‘spy’ and ‘stop’, is really just one more of those short but exceedingly troublesome words.”

(From The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, page 220)

Review

I’m going to keep this review fairly short, for fear of sounding repetitive, seeing as though it was only a few weeks ago that I reviewed my first Flavia de Luce book and my thoughts haven’t changed.  (You can read that review here.)  Honestly, they’ve not changed at all.  Quite simply, I love this book, love Flavia, love the storylines, love the setting, and like how science is intertwined with the narrative.  

The level of poignancy is heightened in this instalment, given the subject: the body of Flavia’s mother is returned to Buckshaw, a decade after she went missing and was presumed dead after a wartime mission.  The dichotomy between who Flavia thinks she is (a very clever small person) and what she is (an eleven year old motherless girl) really comes to fore.  With clever storytelling we get to see how Flavia processes this turn of events, as she tries to figure out her place in the world and in her family.

The family dynamics, again, are worth commenting on.  Flavia isn’t close to anyone in her family, or outside it really, apart from Dogger, her father’s valet.  There is a coldness from her father, and a distance between her and her sisters that she struggles to overcome and understand, and I can’t help but feel for her.  For such a young person, she is certainly quite isolated, but I wonder if much of this stems from the fact she comes across as unusual and strange to others. They don’t know how to be around her or how to speak to her because she is smarter than they are because they’ve never met a child quite like her.

And this leads to one of the highlights of the storytelling: witnessing how Flavia interacts with everyone she comes across.  She is indulged, told off and warned away at various points by various people, and her reaction to most of these is, ‘What is their motive?’  I like that level of analysis.  Flavia does not take the world at face value.  Yes, she does appear a little lofty at times, but she is never annoying.

I am completely hooked on this series, and can’t recommend it highly enough.  The question now, is whether to continue on with the series where I am at with it, or to go back to the beginning and start the first book…Hmm…

Rating

Book Review: Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley

Speaking From Among The Bones is the fifth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

Quick review (read on for full review)

I absolutely loved this book – and Flavia too!  Beautifully written with a captivating cast of characters and an engaging plot, this is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sisters’ diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s never such thing as an open-and-shut case.

Favourite Quote

“I’ve mentioned before my passion for poisons and my special fondness for cyanide. But, to be perfectly fair, I must admit that I also have something of a soft spot for strychnine, not just for what it is, but for what it’s capable of becoming. Brought into the presence of nascent oxygen, for instance, these rather ordinary white crystals become at first rich blue in colour, then pass in succession through purple, violet, crimson, orange and yellow.

A perfect rainbow of ruin!

(From Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley, page 63)

Review

I absolutely loved this book – and Flavia too!  Beautifully written and heart-warming in its way, Flavia de Luce is wonderful as the younger-than-average sleuth, who no doubt possesses more brains than most. Although only a child herself, she is more than capable of working her way through the evidence, most of which she has collected herself, to locate the culprit.

First, a few thoughts on book covers and titles.  As regular readers of these reviews will have already worked out, I cannot resist beautiful book cover art, and it was the cover of the next book in the series which first alerted me to these books.  As for the cover of this book, I love the subtle colours, the tree branches, the headless stone carving and the bats.  And the titles of the books are dramatic and evocative.  Of the books in the series that I’ve so far read, I’ve learned these titles are inspired by Thomas Parnell’s poem, A Night-Piece on Death from 1721.  On to the review…

Although I jumped into the series with book 5 (and as soon as I finished it, I devoured book 6), I don’t feel that I needed to have read the preceding four books to understand what was going on in this one.  However, I will of course, be returning to book one because after enjoying them so far I. Must. Read. Them. All.

The series is set during the 1950s, a time which sees much change in England.  With the scars of the second world war still visible for many, this aspect of the setting isn’t down-played or glossed over – thanks very much to the character of Dogger. The book is full of quotable passages, and although it stars a child – Flavia is eleven at the time of “Speaking From Among The Bones” – this isn’t a story for children, and never does it once come across as childish.

I love the fact that Flavia loves poisons.  And that she has her own fully functional, fully stocked, science laboratory, where she carries out the analysis on the evidence – or else plans and prepares for any other weird and wonderful experiment she has dreamed up.  The world around her is at once both wonderfully simple and tremendously complex, given her age and her abilities.  She is a child, but she doesn’t act like one, yet when something arises for which she isn’t prepared or isn’t necessarily old enough to comprehend, her prism shifts and we see the eleven year old beneath the older, wiser exterior she projects and others take for granted.

The most trying thing of all for Flavia is her home-life.  Her relationship with her sisters is complicated, and the one with her father non-existent.  There is a distance between her and nearly everyone else in Bishop’s Lacey, even the people she is related to, except for one person.  The one person who seems to understand her best is Dogger, and in him she has an ally and a confidante. 

The mystery is a good one, the setting perfectly captivating and the humour, often laugh-out-loud funny. I have nothing but good things to say about this book, and I have added a new name to my list of favourite authors.  The next book in the series is, The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches, my review for which you will be able to read soon…

Rating

Book Review: Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Suspenseful, unpredictable and atmospheric.  This was an engaging, easy read, which kept me guessing…  4 / 5

Summary

It is Egypt in 2000 BC, where death gives meaning to life.  At the foot of a cliff lies the broken, twisted body of Nofret, concubine to a Ka-priest. Young, beautiful and venomous, most agree that it was fate – she deserved to die like a snake!

Butat her father’s house on the banks of the Nile, the priest’s daughter Renisenb believes that the woman’s death was suspicious.  Increasingly, she becomes convinced that the source of evil lurks within their household – and watches helplessly as the family’s passions explode in murder…

Favourite Quote

‘I, Renisenb, am an old woman, and I love life as only the old can, savouring every hour, every minute that is left to them.  Of you all I have the best chance of life – because I shall be more careful than any of you.’

(From Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie, page 200)

Review

A trifle, a little, the likeness of a dream, and death comes as the end…

(From Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie, page 55)

Death Comes As The End is a standalone novel, set in ancient Egypt, and I found it to be a great read. Historical fiction meets murder mystery, and although this book lacks gore and detailed descriptions of the death, there is no cosy element you find in many books of this genre. Instead you are exposed to the tense, suspenseful atmosphere that pervades this house as fear takes hold on the family.  There are plenty of plot twists to keep you wondering what is going to happen next, and just when you think you might have worked it out, something happens and changes everything.

The descriptions of ancient Egypt – the people, the places, the state of the country at the time the story is set, the ordinary life of Egyptians, the religion – it was all fantastic.  I found it very easy to envisage it all, and immerse myself in the story.  One of the hardest parts of reading this book was to pick a single favourite quote from all the ones I had bookmarked!

The characters really made the story, and it is their interactions and motivations that ensured I never lost interest in what was happening.  My favourite character was probably the quiet, dependable, sensible Hori, but I also loved Esa’s plain-speaking ways; she never shied away from telling anyone what she thought of them!

The only downside to the story was how Renisenb was portrayed.  At first, she came across as a little naïve, a little childish, but throughout she is exposed to the critical thinking of others.  Life seems a little more abstract to her than it does to, let’s say, Hori or Esa, or even Imhotep.  But then, she has suffered a bereavement and grief could be the reason for this.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t like her as a character, I did.  Nor does it mean that I didn’t find her character convincing, I did.  Only that at times I found her a little frustrating as she had a habit of taking things at face value and not understanding that it was possible for things to not be as they appeared.

Loving all things ancient Egyptian as I do, I loved this book.  If you’re a fan of ancient Egypt and want to read an unusual murder mystery, I recommend this book to you.

Rating

 

Book Review: The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters

* This review may contain spoilers *

The Leper of Saint Giles is the fifth book in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.

Quick review (read on for full review)

Engaging and entertaining, this is a fast-paced mystery full of unforgettable characters. 4.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Brother Cadfael has had no time to think about the grand wedding which is to take place in the church at Shrewsbury Abbey and is causing such excitement in the city. The groom is an aging nobleman; the bride a very young woman coerced into the marriage by her greedy guardians. But it soon becomes apparent that the groom, Huon de Domville, is a cold, harsh man — in stark contrast to his beautiful bride-to-be. Before the wedding can take place, a savage killing occurs, setting Brother Cadfael the task of determining the truth, which turns out to be strange indeed.

Favourite Quote

‘I have always known that the best of the Saracens could out-Christian many of us Christians.’

(From The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters, page 220)

Review

Another fantastic instalment in the series.

At the centre of the story are two young lovers: Iveta, a beautiful heiress and granddaughter of a great hero of the Crusades, and Jocelyn, the squire to the man to whom she has been betrothed.  Not many medieval marriages were love matches, but there is something about this one that has very many onlookers look at Iveta with sadness and pity as she arrives in Shrewsbury to marry the aged Huon de Domville. For all her wealth and status, she is at the mercy of her greedy guardians.

Cadfael, always, is wonderful as the main character.  Compassionate and caring, his observant nature ensures little passes him by and so when injustice strikes, he can be relied upon – by both readers and supporting characters alike – to the right the wrong if he can.  As for the other characters, they are all convincing and believable. The avaricious Picards, the passionate hothead Jocelyn, the hapless Brother Oswin, the kind and inquisitive Brother Mark…all are well-crafted.

Iveta’s character is the one that stands out.  She is very wishy-washy and weak, perfectly presented as the downtrodden maiden about to be forced into an unwanted marriage, which by the standards of the time is probably fairly accurate.  And, as the story unfolds she does become stronger, but those whose who like their heroines to be fiery and independent from the beginning may find it difficult to connect with her.

It’s easy to get lost in the sights and sounds of medieval Shrewsbury, the abbey and the surrounding area.  Historical descriptions are easy to envisage and the rich details of all the growing things that are encountered as the characters journey from one place to another are a treasure to read.

Leprosy, like the pestilence, was much feared in the middle ages, and those who suffered from it were segregated from healthy populations.  [A side note: this was another book I read during lockdown…] The disease is handled very sensitively in the story, as we meet lepers of all ages, at various stages of the disease.  Bran, a young lad at the leper house, has to be one of my favourite characters from across the series, and Lazarus is like a guardian angel.

The ending is one of the best of the series, where all threads meet with fairly explosive force and the truth comes out in its entirety.  Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.  The next book in the series is The Virgin in the Ice, which is one of my favourite Cadfael books.  I’m excited to revisit this one, and hope to get around to it soon.

Rating

4.5 / 5


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #17 in the list: a book that has been adapted for TV or film

Book Review: Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen

Murphy’s Law is the first book in the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable first book in a cosy mystery series.  Molly Murphy is a likeable and intelligent heroine, and I can’t wait to read more of her life in New York! 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Murphy’s Law is the captivating first entry of Rhys Bowen’s New York Times bestselling Molly Murphy series.

Molly Murphy always knew she’d end up in trouble, just as her mother predicted. So, when she commits murder in self-defense, she flees her cherished Ireland, under cover of a false identity, for the anonymous shores of late nineteenth-century America. When she arrives in New York and sees the welcoming promise of freedom in the Statue of Liberty, Molly begins to breathe easier. But when a man is murdered on Ellis Island, a man Molly was seen arguing with, she becomes a prime suspect in the crime.

If she can’t clear her name, Molly will be sent back to Ireland where the gallows await, so using her Irish charm and sharp wit, she escapes Ellis Island and sets out to find the wily killer on her own. Pounding the notorious streets of Hell’s Kitchen and the Lower East Side, Molly undertakes a desperate mission to clear her name before her deadly past comes back to haunt her new future.

Favourite Quote

‘Ellis Island.’ The word went around the ferry and everyone jostled to try to get the first glimpse. It was imposing enough with its big brick arches and its shining copper turrets.

(From Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen, page 45)

Review

An enjoyable first book in a cosy mystery series.  Murphy’s Law is set at the turn of the twentieth century and tells of one woman’s – Molly Murphy’s – move from Ireland to America, and it was not an easy one. 

I liked Molly.  She has a great big heart but won’t stand for any nonsense, which is how she finds herself in the trouble she’s in.  However, relying on her sharp wits and intelligence – surprising almost everyone she meets with the level of education she possesses – can get her into difficulties as well as out of them, as we soon discover.

Yet, for an intelligent young woman, Molly could be a little naïve at times.  And luck and coincidence do play a fairly sizeable roll in the story, so if that’s the sort of thing that annoys you, you might not enjoy the book as much as I did.

The settings read as vivid and authentic.  Whether it is rural Ireland, the bustling city of Liverpool or the sometimes dark and mean, sometimes colourful and enticing, streets of New York, there was enough detail and description to visualise clearly where Molly was and what she was seeing.

The passages set on Ellis Island, and on the ship crossing the Atlantic, were very well-written.  They were sensitive and emotional and they show quite starkly the journey people were making to gamble on a better life in America.  The immigration process once they reached Ellis Island was lengthy and must have been nerve-wracking for anyone who went through it, and as we see in the story, these people are vulnerable and easy to take advantage of.

As Molly tries to find her feet in New York, we are introduced to a number of characters, all of them coming across as believable. The budding romance between Molly and Captain Daniel Sullivan was interesting and awkward, given her story, and the attraction between them could be felt as the story unfolded. Michael Larkin was another interesting character.  Although Molly described him as “young looking” the first time they met, I did wonder if he was to be the love interest of the book.

The mystery doesn’t always take centre stage in the story and at some points, it perhaps felt more of a historical fiction novel rather than a historical cosy mystery, but I’m not complaining as I enjoy both.

Murder, corruption, lies and half-truths, political intrigue and a dose of romance, Murphy’s Law has it all.  An easy, entertaining read, and I’m looking forward to reading book two in the series, Death of Riley.

Rating

Book Review: Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate by M. C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate is the thirteenth book in the Agatha Raisin series by M. C. Beaton.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Entertaining and fun, another engaging instalment in this wonderful and not-too-demanding series. 4/5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Agatha is going through a man-hating phase and so is unmoved by news of the captivating new curate. But when she meets the golden-haired, blue eyed Tristan Delon, she is swept off her feet … along with every other female in the village. She is positively ecstatic when he invites her to dine with him but the next day Agatha is left with a hangover from hell and his cold corpse suggests that once again, she’s in the frame for murder!

Favourite Quote(s)

Agatha thought unkindly that she looked like a rabbit with myxomatosis.

(Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate by M. C. Beaton, page 8)

*

Men investigated.  Women were regarded as interfering.  Had women’s lib all been a myth?  All that seemed to have been achieved was that women were expected to work as well as raise families.  Respect for women had gone.

(Agatha raisin and the Curious Curate by M. C. Beaton, page 120)

Review

As I mentioned in my last Agatha Raisin review (Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage – see review here), I have decided to read these books out of order – you can find the explanation in that post.  In this instalment especially, I have found that perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas.  With the last review I only skipped one book, but this time I had skipped quite a few more.  Although it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the book – it was still very good – I will say that there were times when I wished I had read them in order due to spoilers. However, I’m more-or-less certain I will continue to read them out of order…

Agatha Raisin and The Curious Curate was another entertaining read in the Agatha Raisin series.  It’s no mystery who is going to turn up dead in these books, but the whodunnit is often unexpected or guessed at only late on in the story.  With plenty of twists and turns to keep you wondering, as well as the drama that follows Agatha’s social life, the plots are engaging and often hilarious.  I guessed who the murder was before the reveal – always good! – and on more than one occasion I found myself laughing at loud.

My favourite scene of the book had to be the fundraising duck race.  It started out so well but descended into utter chaos.  Fabulous!

I really love the characters and the locations in these stories; the murder and its subsequent solving are just an added bonus.  Carsely and The Cotswolds are picture perfect but beneath the pretty façade secrets are hidden and murder is plotted.  And as for the characters, Agatha is fantastic in her almost sympathetic – sometimes – often sharp and mean way (see first quote above!).  But, she is clever and strong, and manages to succeed through sheer force of personality and a will of iron.  Bill Wong is always a favourite, as is Mrs Bloxby, the vicar’s wife.  Bill usually has his hands full as he does his best to prevent Agatha interfering in the latest murder investigation, while Mrs Bloxby always has a kind thing to say and hates to see Agatha selling herself short.  Both are great friends: loyal and dependable.

These books are enjoyable and entertaining, and don’t require much on the part of the reader.  Quick and easy to read, they are pure escapism, perfect, as I’ve mentioned before, for reading at the end of a busy day.

The next M.C. Beaton book on my list is…Agatha Raisin and The Haunted House, which I’ve earmarked as one of my Halloween reads…

Rating

Book Review: Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody

Murder in the Afternoon is the third book in the Kate Shackleton Mysteries by Frances Brody.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging cosy mystery, set in a richly described location, with an interesting cast of characters.  Kate Shackleton is one of my favourite women sleuths, and this is my favourite of the series so far.  A fantastic read! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Dead one minute …

Young Harriet and her brother Austin have always been scared of the quarry where their stonemason father works. So when they find him dead on the cold ground, they scarper quick smart and look for some help.

Alive the next …

When help arrives, the quarry is deserted and there is no sign of the body. Were the children mistaken? Is their father not dead? Did he simply get up and run away?

A sinister disappearing act …

It seem like another unusual case requiring the expertise of Kate Shackleton. But for Kate this is one case where surprising family ties makes it her most dangerous yet – and delicate – yet …

Favourite Quote

The voice was cultured, with rounded vowels and carefully enunciated word endings; too careful, perhaps.  It was the voice of someone who had just filed her nails.

(Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody, page 350)

Review

I absolutely loved this book.  I really enjoyed the first two books in this series (Dying in the Woolsee my review here – and A Medal For Murdersee my review here) but this one surpasses them both.  As I read Murder in the Afternoon I really felt that the author hit her stride with the character of Kate Shackleton.  I just couldn’t get enough of the story or the characters.

In this book we are given our greatest glimpse yet into Kate’s background.  We know from the previous two books that Kate is adopted, and we have met her titled mother and her father who is Superintendent of the West Riding Constabulary.  This time around, we get to see where she came from, the place she would have grown up in if she’d not been adopted and the people she was related to by birth.  I thought this part of the storyline was handled very sensitively.

Kate Shackleton is a marvellous character.  She is strong and independent, intuitive yet sensible, sophisticated and intelligent.  Her relationship with Scotland Yard inspector, Marcus Charles, is an interesting one, but I like him a lot less in this book than the last one.  Jim Sykes, Kate’s assistant, is likeable and dependable, as always.  His character contrasts nicely with Kate, which leads to a difference of opinion on many occasions.

A number of the characters were children: Mary Jane and Ethan’s daughter and son, Harriet and Austin, and the almost wild maid, Millie.  All three were exceptionally well drawn – something I always make a point of noting, as having younger characters in a story aimed at adults doesn’t always work. Here, it does work, and works well.  I liked the three of them, especially Millie.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the storyline to keep you guessing, and a number of suspects who could have committed the murder.  It was interesting to read how trade unions, communism and socialism were viewed during the 20’s; how believing that workers deserved fair working conditions could set you apart as a dangerous troublemaker.  The ending, once the case was solved, was poignant and moving as we get to learn more about Gerald, Kate’s husband who was missing presumed dead / missing in action during WWI.

Kate Shackleton, along with Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple, is one of my favourite women sleuth’s operating in the period. I enjoyed Murder in the Afternoon so much, as soon as I finished reading it, I started on the next book in the series, A Woman Unknown.  Recommended for fans of the 1920, cosy mysteries and stories set in the north of England.

Rating

Book Review: Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and The Murderous Marriage is the fifth book in the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

My favourite from the series so far.  Fast-paced, easy to read and, of course, very entertaining. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Two husbands and a funeral!

The morning of Agatha’s marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. But the storm clouds of the day before would have been more appropriate when Agatha’s first husband, Jimmy Raisin, turns up at the church just in time to keep her from committing bigamy. The ensuing uproar – Agatha tries to strangle Jimmy, whom she had thought long-dead anyway – embarrasses James, who breaks the engagement.

When Jimmy is found murdered the next morning, Agatha is the perfect suspect. Since the easiest way to clear her name is to find the real murderer, Agatha convinces James to help her investigate. But will their subsequent close proximity – which has them, ironically, pretending to be man and wife – be enough to win James second time around?

Favourite Quote

The rendering of ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ was, Agatha reflected sourly, music to stun pigs by.

(Agatha Raisin and The Murderous Marriage by M. C. Beaton, page 92)

Review

Just a note: I have done something I don’t very often do: read books from a series out of order.  The reason is that I have so many books and they need reading and reviewing and then rehoming before their numbers reach critical levels 😉  So, I made the decision for some of the series I’m currently reading to read the volumes I have rather than waiting to buy the missing ones.  As someone who prefers to read actual books over digital ones, and purchase books from actual shops rather than online (I know, I like to make life difficult), it makes finding missing volumes harder…

The last book from this series that I read was book three, Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (see my review here), meaning I have skipped book four, Agatha Raisin and The Walkers of Dembley.  Of course, there is some information I have missed in doing this, however, I was surprised at how well this, the fifth book in the series, read.  I would say you could read it as a standalone and still understand all that is going on.

I love these books.  They are easy to read, don’t require much concentration and are just so funny.  This one might be my favourite yet.

The past and the present clash horribly in this instalment, with disastrous consequences for Agatha’s future.  There is a lesson here in never assuming anything – especially that your first husband, who you haven’t heard from in years, must have died.  Even if you hadn’t read the book summary, you would have guessed what was going to happen.  Poor Agatha!  You might guess who the culprit is early on – I did – but reading the unfolding story is fun and entertaining.

In this book we are given a glimpse into what made Agatha the woman she is, the answer being her childhood / young adulthood.  She has come through a lot to get where she is, and it is easy to understand how she comes across as abrasive and driven.

The pace of the story is quick, and as always, I love the setting.  The Cotswolds and its picture perfect image is a wonderful setting for a cosy mystery series. But it is the characters that make the story.  Bill Wong is always a favourite but Agatha is the star of the show.  Flawed and often the cause of her own trouble, you can’t help cheering her on.  She is definitely one of my favourite women sleuths!

Rating


Update: I re-read this in its proper order in December 2020. I thoroughly enjoyed rereading it, and have nothing much to add to the above review except that I prefer reading these books in the order they were written. Lesson learnt.  And, this book seems to be very quotable.  As I re-read it, I bookmarked three passages for the “Favourite Quotes” section of the review.  One was the one included above.  Here’s another:

The only thing she could do was move back into the anonymity of London with her cats and wait for death.

(From Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage, page 39)

 

Book Review: Deadly Secrets by Terry Odell

Deadly Secrets is the first book in the Mapleton Mystery series by Terry Odell.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable, quick read mystery with an added handful of romance.  An interesting setting with an engaging cast of characters, I look forward to reading book two in the series.  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Mapleton, Colorado’s police chief, Gordon Hepler, would rather be on the streets than behind a desk, but he promised his late mentor he’d accept the position. And to Gordon, a promise is a promise, even if the person you made it to isn’t around anymore. However, doubts creep in, and he wonders if he was shoved into the job because his mentor thought he couldn’t cut it on the streets.

Everything changes when a fatal traffic accident well outside Mapleton seems connected to the elderly Rose and Sam Kretzer, two of Mapleton’s most beloved citizens. When Gordon ties the car accident to a grisly murder in Mapleton—the first anyone in town can remember—he’s afraid he’s into more than he bargained for.

The arrival of Megan, the Kretzers grown godchild, and Justin, their grandson, add to Gordon’s troubles when Megan is mugged and someone breaks in and ransacks the Kretzers’ home. Gordon’s fears that he’s in over his head are realized when his investigation seems to link the Kretzers to a Nazi war criminal. Can he work with the big-city detective brought in to assist? Will he be able to solve the crime without revealing the secrets of his citizens?

Favourite Quote

Things happen for a reason.  As a cop, it’s your job to find it.  Don’t worry about whether it makes sense.  People are nuts.

(Deadly Secrets by Terry Odell, Chapter 25)

Review

I really enjoyed the first of the Mapleton Mysteries, Deadly Secrets.  A cosy mystery with a handful of romance, it reminded me of a TV movie, the type you can easily get lost in for a couple of hours and not realise how much time has passed.

The mystery was good, even if it did get a little complicated towards the end. There are plenty of twists and turns and red herrings for an amateur sleuth to wade through, which did a fantastic job of holding my interest.

As for the characters, they were all engaging and entertaining, but I did struggle a little bit to connect with Megan.  For some reason, I just didn’t quite like her, but neither did I dislike her.  Perhaps as I read more in the series, I will warm to her…

I thought the pace was good overall, and that the story moved forward at just the right speed.  I liked how the story was told from multiple viewpoints.  When something happened in the plot we were given the best POV to show us what was going on.  This had a great effect of heightening the tension and suspense throughout.

I loved the setting. The small town of Mapleton came to life as I read, and so did the characters.  All the details a reader needed was cleverly woven into the narrative.

Deadly Secrets is a well-written and well-crafted story, and I am looking forward to a return trip to Mapleton for book two, Deadly Bones.  Recommended to fans of (cosy) mysteries, but unlike most cosy mysteries, this book does have one adult scene which are not typical of the genre.

Rating