by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a trio of historical mysteries-City of Scoundrels: A Counterfeit Lady series by Victoria Thompson, Murder Cuts the Mustard: A Beryl and Edwina Mystery by Jessica Ellicott, and The Body on the Train: A Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 3 books, along with links you can use to purchase them. If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon links at the end of each review.
City of Scoundrels: A Counterfeit Lady series by Victoria Thompson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Elizabeth Miles, daughter of a grifter con man, wasn’t raised as a lady. It was a surprise to all concerned when Gideon, a very proper attorney, fell in love with Elizabeth; maybe a bigger surprise when she loved him, too. Gideon is known for his sometimes annoying habit of always telling the truth, quite a challenge to maintain now that he’s engaged to Elizabeth who’s not above lying as needed.
After being jailed, temporarily, with suffragettes, Elizabeth has found ways to help women stuck in hopeless situations, much to Gideon’s dismay. Since America entered WW1, those situations are plentiful. For instance, Rose and Tom were married before he shipped out. Gideon made Tom’s will, leaving Rose his shares in the family’s business, plus enough cash in the bank for her to live comfortably into old age. When word comes that Tom has died, his greedy brother Fred, vows Rose will never see a dime of the estate.
She should be protected, but the signed copy of the will goes missing, leaving Rose at the mercy of her brother-in-law. Gideon agrees to help, but the law isn’t enough. Elizabeth and the grifters work out a plan that gets more and more complicated as the con goes on.
In addition, Gideon has been drafted to fight in the war. Many wealthy men manage a deferment, but he feels it’s his duty to go. An influenza outbreak has people dying faster than mortuaries can bury them. Which is better for Gideon—catching the flu at home or getting shot overseas?
This is the third book in the Counterfeit Lady series (all reviewed here). I love the relationship between Elizabeth and Gideon. He gets dragged into being part of the con and manages to maintain his policy of not lying but telling only parts of the truth and letting the mark assume what’s going on. Gideon’s mother is a delight. Raised as a lady, she finds the cons to be great fun. Side characters Anna, Jake, Cybil, Zoe, Rose, and the Old Man (Elizabeth’s father) are vividly shown. At a time when women have no rights, especially after marriage, Elizabeth is eager to change the system, by hook or by crook.
The series explores America as it was a hundred years ago, with society’s rules and history, without distracting from the story. To decipher the clues and sort out the red herrings, remember these are grifters and con men. Probably only one word in ten is the truth. You can’t even trust what you see.
Murder Cuts the Mustard: A Beryl and Edwina Mystery by Jessica Ellicott
Review by Sandra Murphy
The end of the World War I turned England’s class system upside down. Working men, who fought alongside upper-class gentlemen, felt no obligation to return to positions of servitude once the fighting had ended. The formerly rich were as impoverished as those who knew lack as a way of life. Edwina (Ed) Davenport is such a person.
Raised by her mother’s strict rules, Edwina never held a job, had her beaus closely vetted, and never had money of her own. By the time both her parents died, their fortune was at a shockingly low level.
Her childhood friend, American Beryl Helliwell, world traveler, adventuress, and risk taker, came to visit and stayed. It was Beryl’s idea they start a private enquiry business. Their newest client is Jack, the paperboy. His father, a drunk, has been arrested for murder of Hector Lomax whose battered body was found in the churchyard.
There are many suspects, due to the fact that Hector was hated by most people. Sadly, Jack’s dad had the best opportunity and no memory of that night.
Simpkins, Ed’s so-called gardener, is found to be sleeping in her potting shed, a scandalous turn of events. He had moved from the house he shared with his brother-in-law, Hector. Besides being a suspect in the murder, Simpkins is the shocked beneficiary of good fortune, the kind that is either a great benefit or a great burden.
Beryl and Ed have their hands full, proving Jack’s dad is innocent, finding the real killer, figuring out the motive for a second death, and protecting Simpkins from himself and those who would take advantage of him.
This is the third book in the series. It’s interesting to see Beryl realize she could travel the world and take care of herself in any situation but feel like an outsider in a small English village. Edwina, so conscious of her mother’s many rules for ladylike behavior, is learning to adjust to the new order of things. Walmsley Parma is a village you’d like to visit, to have tea and scones, window shop, stop by the church, and sit on a bench in the green.
This is a series I thoroughly enjoy. The combination of the proper Edwina, flamboyant Beryl, and Simpkins, who is hardly a “get off my lawn” kind of gardener, means trouble will always be nearby. In spite of their differences, when the chips are down, they’re a team.
The Body on the Train: A Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody
Review by Sandra Murphy
Kate Shackleton is a private investigator. Along with Jim Sykes and her housekeeper, Mrs. Sugden, niece Harriet, and Sergeant Dog, she solves crimes that baffle even Scotland Yard. This time she’s warned to keep the investigation hush-hush. There might be Russian involvement, someone bringing gold into England to start another coal miner’s strike. It’s 1929, and no one has enough money anymore. Gold would be an irresistible temptation.
A man’s body is found on a train, shot in the stomach and dead for some hours. What makes the case so hard to solve is he was mostly undressed, had no identification, was in a potato sack with two potatoes and two gold coins, in a train car carrying the last of the year’s rhubarb harvest. With no clues to go on, Kate wonders if she’s being set up for failure.
Discovering another murder nearby on the same night, she thinks they might be connected. An arrest is made in that case, and the man awaits formal charges and his trial. Kate is convinced he’s innocent.
In order to properly investigate, Kate asks to stay with a friend who lives nearby. The tension in the household is attributed to stress from business and new investments. Whenever Kate leaves, she’s followed. Someone listens in on her phone calls. Threats and attempts on her life confirm she’s on the right track, but what exactly is that? When Scotland Yard tells her to drop the case, she’s on her own to save an innocent man’s life and to find out who killed at least two people.
This is book ten in the series, and one I always look forward to reading. Kate is someone you can rely on. Sykes doesn’t always agree with her methods but will fight to protect her. Mrs. Sugden’s able to talk to servants and the working class who would never speak to the police. Even Harriet helps on occasion. Sergeant Dog, a police dog candidate, flunked out because he was too friendly, not a drawback when working for a private investigator.
Kate has the knack to discover a hundred loose ends, seemingly unrelated, yet able to piece them together to solve a case—or two. Brody manages to insert history into the story with tales of the miner’s strike, orphans, the downfall of the gentry, and to explain those train cars full of rhubarb without distracting from the story.
Turning the pages to spend time with Kate is more than a good read. It’s a chance to visit friends.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “historical,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 18, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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