Song Ying’s Debut of the Month, Sanders, Upson, Weiss, plus New Series Lineup | Mystery Reviews, February 1, 2016

An increasingly popular trend in crime fiction is the insertion of historical figures into the story, often as the detective or a significant bystander. Well-known ­writers Edna Ferber, Josephine Tey, and Walt Whitman demonstrate their sleuthing skills in this month’s column, but there are a number of backlist authors who also incorporate the famous into their mysteries. Librarians should consider pairing their works as read-alikes with newer titles.

Bruce Alexander won several prestigious awards for his series featuring Sir John ­Fielding (1721–80), the half brother of author Henry Fielding (Tom Jones). Blinded in a naval accident, Sir John cofounded with his brother the Bow Street Runners, the first professional police force. Alexander introduced Sir John in 1994’s Blind Justice and continued the series through ten more books.

Stuart Kaminsky’s “Toby Peters” series featured a 1940s movie studio guard–turned–Hollywood gumshoe who gets involved with many famous stars, including W.C. Fields, Judy Garland, and John Wayne. In his first case (1977’s Bullet for a Star), Toby must find out who is blackmailing actor Errol Flynn.

With 1994’s Death at Bishop’s Keep, Robin Paige (actually Susan Wittig Albert and ­husband Bill) introduced Kathryn ­Ardleigh, an American writer of “penny dreadfuls” in Victorian England who is assisted by such notables as Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and T.E. Lawrence in solving each puzzle. Albert also pens a series featuring author Beatrix Potter, ensconced in her Lake District home, Hill Top Farm. Albert finely blends the known historical record of Potter’s life along with some flights of fancy into a delightful cozy series. Starting with The Tale of Hill Top Farm in 2004, there are eight books so far.

DEBUT OF THE MONTH

redstarSong Ying. Apricot’s Revenge. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2016. 320p. tr. from Chinese by Howard Goldblatt & Sylvia Li-Chun Lin. ISBN 9781250016447. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466873988. M

apricotsrevenge.jpg11816When a corpse washes up on a resort beach in southern China, it is soon identified as real estate mogul Hu Guohao. Apparent cause of death: drowning. The police are baffled because Hu was known to be a strong swimmer. Nie Feng, a reporter for Western Sunshine magazine, interviewed Hu the previous week, and, he, too, is perplexed. Nie manages to gain access to the investigation and uncovers the first important clues that will lead to a suspect previously unknown to the police. Secrets going back to the days of Chairman Mao and the turbulent cultural revolution will surface. VERDICT A best seller in China, this first-class procedural offers an intriguing setting and exquisite portrait of a modern country grappling with its past. The smooth translation renders the narrative well. Both fans of Qiu Xiaolong’s “Inspector Chen” mysteries and Sinophiles will want to add this social crime novel to their reading lists.

Author Sleuths

Ifkovic, Ed. Cold Morning: An Edna Ferber Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Mar. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781464205415. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464205439. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464205446. M

Almost three years after the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, Bruno Richard ­Hauptmann is put on trial for the crime in Flemington, NJ. Novelist Edna Ferber and Aleck Woollcott (of Algonquin Round Table writers’ group fame) are hired by the New York Times to cover the story. Edna’s ­attention is diverted by the killing of a young waitress at their hotel who claimed inside knowledge of the abduction. Who benefited the most from the murder of Annabel Briggs? The simple rube from the Jersey sticks who is immediately arrested and charged? Or, someone closer to the Lindbergh family who has much to conceal about both the kidnapping and the death of Little Lindy? Capturing the period’s frenzied anti-German sentiment and yellow journalism, this mystery presents an exciting perspective on an early “trial of the century.” VERDICT The seventh entry in Ifkovic’s historical series (after Cafe Europa) continues to entertain with Woollcott and Ferber trading barbs and bon mots with Walter Winchell and Adela Rogers St. John from the Hearst syndicate.

redstarSanders, J. Aaron. Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery. Plume. Mar. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780143128717. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780143128748. M

In 1843 New York City, ­Elizabeth ­Blackwell is under the tutelage of ­Abraham and Lena Stow, studying to become the first female U.S. medical doctor. When Abraham is murdered, Lena is taken into custody, convicted, and hanged. Vowing to exonerate his late friend, young reporter Walt Whitman investigates and finds a link between Abraham’s killing and the underground world of the body snatchers, or resurrection men, who sell stolen corpses to medical colleges. He also works with Blackwell and the other students of the Women’s Medical College to keep the school open as crowds protest the use of cadavers (and the methods in which they are procured) in their training. VERDICT This elegant literary mystery from Sanders (English, Columbus State Univ.) makes a fine debut, bringing to vivid life one of America’s greatest poets and presenting a fresh perspective on a less-familiar period of U.S. history. An excellent choice for readers who enjoyed Louis Bayard’s The Pale Blue Eye, which featured a young Edgar Allan Poe as a sleuth.

redstarUpson, Nicola. London Rain. Bourbon Street: HarperCollins. (Josephine Tey, Bk. 6). Mar. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780062418159. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062418142. M

londongrain.jpg12016Writer and amateur sleuth Josephine Tey arrives in London from Scotland just in time for the 1937 coronation of George VII. In honor of the event, Tey’s play Mary, Queen of Scots is being presented as a radio broadcast. On the day of the coronation, Anthony Beresford, a renowned announcer who once had an affair with the lead actress, is shot to death in his broadcasting booth during the live coverage of the ceremony. His wife, Vivienne, confesses to the murder, driven by her rage at his numerous infidelities. But Viv will not admit to the killing of his mistress, and Tey must investigate. VERDICT For fans of period British crime fiction, this sixth series entry (after The Death of Lucy Kyte) delivers deft plotting and evocations of the era through charming descriptions of London. As little is known about Tey, Upson’s speculations on her life create intriguing (fictional) biographical footnotes.

Check These Out

Adams, Leigh. Hostile Witness: A Kate Ford Mystery. Crooked Lane. Mar. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781629531991. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629536705. M

After single mother Kate Ford is suspended from her job at a secretive computer security firm for specious reasons, she gets involved with a trial that revolves around the kidnapping of Chan, the daughter of her firm’s CEO. It becomes clear to Kate that the man accused of the crime, Kevin Ozgo, is being railroaded. But why? And how does it connect to the death of Chan’s boyfriend in Afghanistan? VERDICT Debut author Leigh introduces a feisty tech-savvy protagonist with unusual medical problems (she’s extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli) and family troubles. Government corruption cases are always complicated. Aficionados of conspiracy plots will enjoy this launch.

Kasasian, M.R.C. Death Descends on Saturn Villa. Pegasus Crime. (Gower Street Detective, Bk. 3). Mar. 2016. 496p. ISBN 9781605989716. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681771120. M

After her godfather, Sidney Grice, London’s greatest detective, travels to Yorkshire for a case (even though he rarely leaves the city), a bored March Middleton is lured to Saturn Villa in Highgate to reunite with a long-lost relative. March is unfamiliar with her family’s history and is convinced Ptolemy Hercules Arbuthnot Travers Symth is her great-uncle. When “Uncle Tolly” is murdered, March needs Sidney to uncover the truth and save her from the gallows. VERDICT The third outing in this Victorian series (after The Curse of the House of Foskett) stars a clever, twisty plot and entertaining characters. Not just another Sherlock Holmes pastiche, this series has its own allure that will attract fans of Will Thomas, Alex Grecian, and David Morrell.

Masterton, Graham. Blood Sisters. Head of Zeus. (Katie McGuire, Bk. 5). Mar. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9781784081331. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781784081324. M

DS Katie Maguire’s most recent case (after Taken for Dead) has her called to a nursing home in Cork, Ireland, where an elderly nun has been suffocated and violated in a particularly heinous manner. This is just the latest in a string of such attacks. How do these crimes relate to the 23 racehorses, driven over a cliff to their deaths? When a child’s skull is found in the garden of the Bon Sauveur Convent, where, years ago, it had been a home for unwed mothers, more dark secrets are revealed. On the personal front, Katie faces some serious complications. VERDICT Acclaimed for his horror fiction, award winner Masterton also writes crime fiction with verve. Here his engrossing effort is full of menace and mystery. Admirers of Bartholomew Gill and Ken Bruen will want this one, but they should remember to brush up on their Irish slang.

Montanari, Richard. Shutter Man. Mulholland: Little, Brown. (Balzano & Byrne, Bk. 9). Feb. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780316244770. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316244787. M

A serial killer commits a series of strange home invasions in Philadelphia; handicapped by a rare disease that renders him unable to recognize faces, the perpetrator carries a photograph of his victims in his pocket. As Det. Kevin Byrne and assistant DA Jessica Balzano, his former partner, investigate, past crimes committed in Byrne’s childhood neighborhood of Devil’s Pocket raise their ugly heads to haunt the present. VERDICT Montanari’s newest series offering (after The Doll Maker) includes spooky and mystical elements in this story of hardscrabble living, remorse, and renewal.

cozy corner

Fluke, Joanne. Wedding Cake Murder: A Hannah Swensen Mystery. Kensington. Mar. 2016. 356p. ISBN 9781617732164. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781617732171. M

weddingcakemurder.jpg12016Hannah’s wedding day is here at last! Groom Ross Barton is just the right counterbalance to Hannah’s roller-coaster sleuthing and baking life. However, before the festivities commence, Hannah participates in a TV celebrity chef baking competition. She and her sister, Michelle, feel out of their depth. After all, the Cookie Jar in Lake Eden, MN, is not exactly New York City. Then, chef Alain Duquesne, the contest’s judge, is murdered. Still, the show must go on, so Hannah and Michelle investigate while prepping for the contest. ­VERDIct Fans’ romantic expectations for Hannah and Ross culminate in the 19th volume (after Double Fudge Brownie Murder) of the long-running series. Everyone’s favorite chef gives us over 20 recipes, including her wedding confection, Double Rainbow Swirl cake. Expect huge demand.

Lyle, Dixie. A Deadly Tail: A Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250078438. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466890633. M

Foxtrot is Deirdre Lancaster, a personal assistant to billionaire Zelda Zoransky; Whiskey is Deirdre’s ectoplastic dog, and Tango is a cat enjoying her eighth reincarnation. On the side, the trio guard the Great Gateway, a passage to the afterlife, located in a pet cemetery on ZZ’s property. In this third paranormal adventure (after A Taste fur Murder and To Die Fur), ZZ has agreed to host the filming of a zombie movie at her mansion. After the producer is found dead, the film star is nearly killed by a bomb, and animal spirits erupt from the cemetery, ­Foxtrot and crew try all they can to keep the balls up in the air. VERDICT With a little romance, a bit of paranormal activity, and a dash of mystery, this title will entrance readers of Leanne Sweeney, Miranda James, and Sofie Kelly.

redstarWeiss, Kirsten. The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum. Midnight Ink. Mar. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780738747514. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780738748269. M

Madelyn Koslowski returns to San ­Benedetto, CA, to lick her wounds after her career goes down the tubes. She is well and truly snared when she agrees to run temporarily the Paranormal Museum (for a few weeks) because her friend Adele ­Nakamoto wants to open a tea room. Then the deceased body of Christy ­Huntington turns up inside the museum and things begin to look really bad for the two women. It seems Christy was responsible for ruining Adele’s life, and Maddie might have made a few threatening statements to Christy on Adele’s behalf. Therefore, Maddie juggles her overly concerned family and her new job, and, oh yeah, there might be a haunting or two at the museum. VERDICT The author of the “Metaphysical Detective” books launches a delightful new series with this humorous cozy. Mystery buffs who like Rose Pressey or Victoria Laurie will be enchanted by the engaging Maddie.

Series Lineup

bloodwilltell.jpg12016Dams, Jeanne. Blood Will Tell. Severn House. (Dorothy Martin, Bk. 19). Mar. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780727885555. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780107189. M

While her husband attends a police conference at Cambridge University, ­Dorothy Martin explores a science building and discovers a pool of blood—but the blood is gone when she returns with help. A prank gone wrong? A failed experiment? The 19th entry (after The Gentle Art of Murder) continues the winning ways of this long-running series.

Delany, Vicki. Unreasonable Doubt: A Constable Molly Smith Novel. Poisoned Pen. Feb. 2016. 266p. ISBN 9781464205132. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464205163. M

Walt Desmond spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. No one understands why he would return to the town in British Columbia that betrayed him. And then the attacks begin again. Delany’s eighth series title (after Under Cold Stone) is a taut, well-written whodunit.

Handler, David. The Lavender Lane Lothario: A Berger and Mitry Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781250076113. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466887497. M

When Hubie Swope, the building inspector for tiny Dorset, RI, is murdered, resident trooper Des Mitry is stymied. Who could want to end the life of such an innocuous guy? Mitch Berger investigates where Des cannot go and uncovers too many suspects. The 11th entry (after The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb) concludes with an unexpected twist.

Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia. One Under: A Bill Slider British Police Procedural. Severn House. Mar. 2016. 256p.

ISBN 9780727885562. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780107196. M

A middle-aged city planner jumps in front of a London tube train; a 15-year-old girl is the victim of a fatal hit-and- run accident. DCI Bill Slider, never one to take the easy way out, gradually links the two cases in the 18th addition to this excellent British police procedural series (Hard Going).

Rizzolo. S.K. On a Desert Shore: A Regency Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Mar. 2016. 278p. ISBN 9781464205453. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464205484. M

Bow Street runner John Chase is hired to protect a young heiress from Jamaica, and Mrs. Penelope Wolfe is engaged to live in the woman’s household as an added layer of protection. Together, they must work to uncover a ruthless and diabolical killer. An engrossing fourth historical adventure (after Die I Will Not).

speakersofthedead.jpg12016QUOTABLE “The next morning the air is mild as it often is before a good snowstorm, and ten thousand vehicles careen through the streets of the affluent…. Broadway Ike swings the omnibus around the corner, the dividing line between rich and poor…. The streets breathe people. Heads stick out of windows, men and women move in and out of open front doors, and children bounce through it all. The noises travel in and out of each other with no beginning and no end…. And the pungent odors created by the marshlands nearby hover oppressively, as if the entire neighborhood has spoiled.”—J. Aaron ­Sanders, Speakers of the Dead

Additional Mystery

Flannery, Tim. The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781250079428. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466892156. M

Australian scientist and environmentalist Flannery (The Weather Makers) tries his hand at mystery fiction in this 1930s caper. Young anthropologist Archie Meek has returned to Sydney from a yearslong field trip to the Venus Islands and finds his museum in disarray. The board has a frighteningly aggressive new member, his registrar fiancée is furious over his latest love token, and several curators have up and disappeared. On top of that, someone has clearly tampered with the museum’s famed Venus Island Fetish, an enormous ceremonial mask decorated with human skulls. Some of the skulls look a little too “fresh” for a historical object. Archie fears that the missing curators might have become a part of the collection and so endeavors to learn the truth while winning back his fiancée and securing his job. VERDICT Ribald and filled with of-the-time views on race, Flannery’s debut has trouble keeping a handle on its wide cast of characters. The setting is perfect for a post-Depression farce, and while many of the elements are there, the effect comes off more muddled than effervescent. Flannery/­Butterworth clearly considers the pun the ultimate form of humor, so readers with similar sensibilities may find enjoyment here. [See Prepub Alert, 8/17/15.]—Liza ­Oldham, Beverly, MA

French, Nicci. Thursday’s Children: A Frieda Klein Mystery. Penguin. Mar. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780143127215. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698184749. M

When the mother of an anorexic teenager asks Frieda Klein for help, the eccentric psychotherapist quickly discovers that an eating disorder is only the outward manifestation of a far more serious crime, one that mirrors an incident in Frieda’s own troubled past and compels her to travel from London to her hometown in Suffolk. There, her former classmates, an odd assortment long ago abandoned by her without explanation, are about to gather for a reunion. Before she can get far in her investigation of the teen’s apparent suicide that may be murder, Frieda learns that her own mother, from whom she has long been estranged, is dying from a brain tumor. Trying to track down the man responsible for horrible crimes past and present, Frieda must confront not only numerous suspects known more than 20 years earlier but also the current disarray in her own life. VERDICT The fourth Frieda Klein mystery (after Waiting for Wednesday) starts slowly, gathers interest about midpoint, and then meanders to a tepid close. While astute in their analysis of character, coauthors Nicci Gerrard and Sean French seem to have lost the intensity of the earlier books in this series. Advise potential readers to start with the first book or they may abandon the strange Frieda Klein.— Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson

redstarLeon, Donna. The Waters of Eternal Youth: A Commisaario Guido Brunetti Mystery. Atlantic Monthly. Mar. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780802124807. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802190314. M

A new literary mystery by Leon is cause for celebration, and her latest superb novel (after By Its Cover and Falling in Love) takes the series featuring contemplative Venetian Police Commissario Guido Brunetti to a new level. The investigation commences when Brunetti’s mother-in-law invites him to dinner, and he meets a wealthy, socially prominent contessa who makes a peculiar request—namely, that Brunetti investigate the near-drowning of her granddaughter 15 years ago. The contessa insists that Manuela was terrified of water and was an intended murder victim. Moreover, the inebriated man who rescued Manuela initially claimed that he had seen another man push her into the water. While Manuela survived her submersion, she incurred severe brain damage that left her dramatically impaired. VERDICT Surprisingly, Leon has crafted a crime novel both more complex and less dark than his usual offerings. In fact, the book ends not only optimistically but affirmatively. Perfect for readers who enjoy Andrea Camilleri’s Italian mysteries. [See Prepub Alert, 10/15/15.]—Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., ­Morgantown

Todd, Charles. No Shred of Evidence: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery. Morrow. Feb. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780062386182. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062386205. M

It’s 1920, and Insp. Ian Rutledge (last seen in A Fine Summer’s Day) has been sent to the Cornish countryside to investigate a case of attempted murder. Four gently bred young women insist they were trying to save Harry Saunders from drowning, not kill him. However, Harry’s in no condition to tell what really happened, and the one witness says otherwise. Cornwall is definitely not Rutledge’s favorite place, and he is painfully reminded of his past here. Nevertheless, he is determined to do his duty, especially since he has a personal connection to one of the accused women. VERDICT As always, Todd skillfully explores human emotion and motivations and is a master at creating an evocative setting. Not the strongest entry in the series but still enjoyable for fans of historical mysteries. [See Prepub Alert, 8/10/15.]—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Viccy Kemp is the Technical Services Manager for the Flower Mound Public Library, TX, where she buys the books and deals with library technology. Reading mysteries is her passion because it’s only between the pages of a book that justice can really be done

This article was published in Library Journal's February 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Marc Ross says:

    Hello Ms. Kemp,

    My response is in regards to the Feb 1st Library Journal story, “Mystery.’
    What is behind the increasingly popular trend of inserting historical figures into crime fiction? Why are more and more authors in the crime fiction genre using historical figures in their stories?

    Thank-you
    Marc

    • Viccy Kemp says:

      I think it has to do with writers experimenting with the standard mystery tropes. Trying to bring something new to a formula that really hasn’t changed too much since Edgar Allen Poe wrote Murders in the Rue Morgue.