Summer Reads: Historical Mysteries #amreading

My usual monthly Book Review Club is still on hiatus, but I thought I’d share some reviews anyway of four historical mysteries I read this summer.

Anatomist's Wife coverThe Anatomist’s Wife
by Anna Lee Huber,
Book 1 in the Lady Darby Mystery Series

Historical Mystery, Scotland 1830

My friend, Rebecca Anderson, recommended this book to me and I was glad she did.

Keira, Lady Darby, is the widow of a notorious anatomist who married her because of her artistic talent and then forced her to illustrate his anatomy book by observing autopsies. There was a scandal after his death and her part became public knowledge. She has been hiding out at her sister and brother-in-law’s estate in Scotland, until her sister decides to throw a house party and all the old pain comes back. The other guests treat her with disdain and mutter about her behind her back.

Then one of the female guests is murdered in a brutal fashion, and Keira is asked to help Nicholas Gage, who has some experience as an inquiry agent. Her anatomy training comes in handy, but she has a hard time dealing emotionally.

Very engaging main character and excellent mystery. I will read more in the series.

Maisy Dobbs Bundle 1 civer

Maisie Dobbs Bundle #1:
Pardonable Lies and Messenger of Truth

by Jacqueline Winspear
(actually books 3 & 4 in the series)

Setting: England in the early 1930s

I read the first two books in this series, Maisy Dobbs and Birds of a Feather and wanted more.

In Pardonable Lies, Maisie is asked to confirm the battlefield death of a man’s son, as well as to find out more about a friend’s brother who was reported missing, presumed dead, in WWI as well. It means Maisie must return to France and fight her own demons after being wounded at a battle station while nursing. And to make matters worse, someone wants her dead. I loved this book. I think it’s one of the best so far, after the first book which was excellent.

Messenger of Truth also revisits the specter of WWI. A female journalist, Georgina Bassington-Hope, asks Maisie to investigate whether her artist brother’s death was murder or a terrible accident. Maisie, who is a psychologist as well as an investigator, never does anything half way, so she ends up dredging up a lot of skeletons from the Bassington-Hope closets. Also good, but not quite as good as Pardonable Lies.

I do recommend this series to mystery readers looking for more depth of character than often found in series books.

Sovereign coverSovereign
(C. J. Sansom)
by C. J. Sansom,
Audiobook narrated by Stephen Crossley

When King Henry VIII goes on a progress to York, which rebelled the year before, Matthew is hired to assist with petitions from the Yorkers to the king. Henry is trying to consolidate his power and force the nobles to swear allegiance to him. Of course, nothing goes right for poor Matthew, a hunchback lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn. His father dies, so he and his assistant Jack Barak make a side trip to his old home, arriving a day late in York. Then a glazier removing stained glass from an abbey church falls into a wagon full of broken glass and dies after making a strange prediction about the king. Matthew can’t resist a mystery, so he sets out to investigate only to be foiled by higher up authorities, but not before Matthew uncovers an important clue, putting his life in danger.

This is a really long book, 676 pages in print, and 21 hours in audio, so it took me two months to finish. It’s really good though. Steven Crossley’s narration is excellent given the number of voices and accents involved.

Great series, though I recommend reading the books in order. The first one is Dissolution, set earlier in the reign of Henry VIII.

What have you been reading this summer?




Book Review Club: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club is back from summer vacation, and my choice for review is a favorite mystery, Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.

Maisie Dobbs coverMaisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs Mysteries Series Book 1)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Soho Crime, 2003

Maisie Dobbs is one of the most fascinating and memorable characters I’ve come across in a while. When we first meet her, she is a private investigator setting up her own business in 1929 London, an unusual profession for a woman. We also learn that she was after was a battlefield nurse during World War I. It soon becomes clear that she is extremely smart as well as insightful and compassionate. Her first client is a man who thinks his wife is having an affair. Twice a week she leaves home and no one knows where she has gone. When Maisie follows the wife, she tracks her to a cemetery on the outskirts of London where she tends the grave of a man called simply Vincent. She learns from a caretaker that Vincent was horribly disfigured during the war and committed suicide. In searching for more information about Vincent, Maisie discovers a terrible secret.

In the middle of the book, we flash back to Maisie’s past. The daughter of a London costermonger (vegetable seller), Maisie was a bright child with the potential to rise above her station and perhaps become a teacher–a high aspiration for a young girl in the early 1900s. Her mother’s death and subsequent medical bills put a halt to this plan, and her father reluctantly decides that thirteen-year-old Maisie must go into service. She is taken on as an under maid by Lady Rowan. One of Maisie’s jobs is to light the fires in the morning, including in the library. She falls in love with the room and decides to get up at 3 AM and read before it’s time to start work. One night, Lady Rowan, her husband, and their friend Dr. Maurice Blanche come home late. Lady Rowan goes to the library and finds Maisie there trying to teach herself Latin. Lady Rowan is astounded by her young maid’s ambition and intelligence, so she and Dr. Blanche decide to make Maisie their project. Dr. Blanche tutors her so she can go to college. But war breaks out after one year of college and she trains as a nurse. She also falls in love with a young captain in the medical corps. But he is obviously not part of the main story, and we don’t know what happened to him until the end.

I really loved this book. The mystery was very interesting and unveiled slowly but with rising tension. Though the war has been over for eleven years, its effects still linger. The characters are interesting and shown with more depth than is typical in many cozy mysteries. I’ll gladly read more in this series.

Click on the graphic below for more great reviews from the members of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.


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