I have quite a backlog on mysteries I’ve read for review, and mid-July seems like a good time to catch up, since mysteries make for excellent summer reading. I’m listing the novels in reverse star order: highest star rating to lowest. They’ll all make fun summer reading, but some are particular standouts.
A Tiding of Magpies: A Birder Murder Mystery, by Steve Borrows, released 9 June, 2018, published by Dundurn, 384 pages. This is a favorite series from a favorite publisher. Dundurn publishes Canadian authors writing both fiction and nonfiction. They’re not as well known in the U.S. as they deserve to be, and Steve Burrows’ birder murder mysteries are some of their best. Chief Inspector Dominic Jejeune is a brilliant, taciturn character, an immigrant from Canada to the United Kingdom, and an avid birder. His colleagues find him inscrutable and incommunicative, but they respect his intellect. As a character, Jejeune is on a par with P. D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh, simultaneously opaque and engaging. This volume in the series is melancholy, revisiting old cases (and shortcomings?) in Jejeune’s past. Read it not just for the tighly plotted mystery, but also for the quality of the prose and the richly depicted characters.
Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, by Andrew Shaffer, released 10 July, 2018, published by Quirk Books, 304 pages. If you’re dismayed by the current administration and thinking nostalgically about the previous one, this book will delight you. Our detectives are Joe Biden and Barak Obama, who have seen very little of one another since leaving the White House. Biden, a train buff, decides to investigate the recent death of a favorite conductor, and Obama joins him on the hunt. The Biden and Obama characters are grounded in the men’s public personae, but Shaffer gives them unexpected talents and foibles that add to the fun of the novel. I very much hope this title will be the first of a series.
Island of the Mad, by Laurie R. King, released 12 June, 2018, published by Bantam, 320 pages. If you read mysteries, you are most likely familiar with Laurie R. King’s Russell-Holmes mystery series. King’s Holmes is older, officially retired, but still engaging in investigations. He’s married to Mary Russell, a transplant from the U.S. with her own set of remarkable skills. Russell and Homes are the sort of characters who leave one longing for the next installment in the series, the sort of people one is always hungry to spend more time with. In this volume, Russell and Holmes seek to solve the disappearance of a friend’s “mad” Aunt, who had been a resident of Bethlem Royal Hospital. This mystery, like others in the series, pays particular attention to the condition of women’s lives in the early 20th Century. Without becoming didactic, Island of the Mad offers a feminist perspective on life in post-World War I England.
Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot, multiple authors, released 24 April, 2018, published by Diversion Books, 270 pages. This collection of thirteen new variations on the Holmes canon offers a range of experiences with varied settings and protagonists. The short story format makes this title particularly enjoyable for the summer reader who faces multiple distractions or responsibilities. Pick it up, read a story, put it down, repeat. This title will prove an excellent companion during the spare moments one finds for indulging in a read.
Edgar Allen Poe and the Jewel of Peru: A Poe and Dupin Mystery, by Karen Lee Stewart, released 8 May, 2018, published by Pegasus Books, 352 pages. This is the second title in an interesting series that pairs Poe with his fictional (though in the world of this novel very real) detective C. Aguste Dupin. Set in the final quarter of the 19th Century, this novel touches on topics ranging from anti-immigrant tensions to ornithomancy to exploration of Peru. The plotting is complex, which leaves the mystery a mystery until the end.
The Tin God: A Victorian Police Procedural, by Chris Nickson, released 1 July, 2018, published by Severn House, 224 pages. I’ve been a fan of the Tom Harper series from the get-go. This series offers a historical version of the police procedural mystery, detailing law enforcement practices from that late 19th Century. Harper, the central character, has an interesting back story and is dealing with progressive hearing loss that he fears will threaten his career. His wife is a successful business woman running for a post as a Poor Law Guardian. The female candidates for this position have been receiving threatening letters warning them that their place is in the home, not the public sphere. These letters are followed by a fatal bombing at the site of a campaign meeting. The story moves back and forth between the investigation of the threats and murder and the election battle Harper’s wife is fighting.
The Changeling Murders, by C.S. Quinn, released 29 May, 2018, published by Thomas & Mercer, 368 pages. The Changeling Murders is the fourth volume in the Thief Taker series set in London following the restoration and the crowning of Charles II. Because this is one title in a series, new readers will need to catch onto existing plot lines and relationships among characters, but Quinn makes this easy without resorting to heavy-handed backstory. This title opens in the year following the great fire of London. Charlie Tuesday, the central character of the series, investigates the disappearance of an old flame on her wedding day—a disappearance which seems connected to the murder of an actress whose body was found clothed in the garments of a missing woman. The book also follows two story lines that have been developing over the series: Tuesday’s relationship with Lily, his headstrong partner in investigations and Tuesday’s search for his own origins.
The Queen’s Progress: A Tudor Mystery, by M.J. Trow, released 1 July, 2018, published by Severn House, 224 pages. The ninth title in the Kit Marlowe mystery series has the playwright-intelligencer investigating potential threats to Elizabeth I as she begins her summer progress. Deaths pile up in advance of Elizabeth’s arrival at several stops in her progress, and Marlowe has to discover the underlying connections among these acts of violence and ensure the queen’s safety—and accomplishes this through a clever plan of his own.
The Bone Shroud, by Jean Rabe, released 30 March, 2018, published via Amazon, 284 pages. Imagine a DaVinci Code-esque mystery with a female protagonist who is visiting Rome to attend the wedding of her expatriate brother to the man who is his lover. Make the protagonist an archivist at Chicago’s Field Museum and the lover an archaeologist on the cusp of what may be a major discovery. Throw in mayhem ranging from unexplained assault to arson and you have The Bone Shroud. While, this quick-paced read is improbable, that doesn’t make it unenjoyable.
Note: I received free electronic review copies of these titles from the publishers.