by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a fun group of December and January mysteries from Penguin and Kensington-some Golden Age, Amish, travel and more. Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell, Plain Dead by Emma Miller, Kingdom Come by Jane Jensen, Dearly Departed by Hy Conrad, and A Wee Dose of Death by Fran Stewart. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 of these books, along with a link to purchase them.
Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell
Review by Sandra Murphy
The year is 1918. Foxwood Hall is the scene of what the family hopes will be Julia’s engagement announcement. The Marquis of Allerton has been courting her and intends to ask for her hand. Things don’t always go as planned.
Julia and the Marquis have an argument and it’s overheard by Phoebe, Julia’s younger sister. Phoebe has advanced ideas for a woman of that day and age. She thinks women are equal to men, a scandalous thought. When the Marquis manhandles Julia, Phoebe intervenes and diffuses the situation.
On the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, the servants are treated to half-days off so they can see their own families. Each is given a gift from the family to be opened after their own celebrations. It’s not just a surprise but a shock to find a human finger in several of the packages. One even contains a note that says it’s in payment—but for what?
Surely anyone who lost that many fingers would have left evidence, but where to look? The police aren’t even sure who the victim is until Phoebe manages to sneak a peek and recognizes the ring—it’s the Marquis.
The Marquis’ mother is a guest at Foxwood, and she refuses to believe anything is wrong. There are mysterious footprints in the garden, but they don’t seem to lead anywhere. Phoebe, with the help of her maid, Eva, wants to investigate. They are both fans of the penny dreadful crime novels. Between what they’ve learned from the books, Phoebe’s way with the gentry, and Eva’s way with the servant class, surely they can find more clues than the local police.
The police are a lazy sort, except for one detective. Vernon, a footman at Foxwood, is arrested for the murder even though there’s no body to be found. The Marquis had made improper advances on a maid who is Vernon’s sweetheart. That’s enough for the police chief. The detective is not so sure.
Phoebe is a breath of fresh air to the ladies who lunch and the servants who help them change their clothes ten times a day. Eva is much more uncomfortable breaking the barrier between the upper class and the below-stairs men and women who serve them. It’s refreshing to read about life before the Internet, cell phones, jet planes, and all our modern conveniences. It’s also a darn good mystery, one with a satisfying ending.
Maxwell also writes the Gilded Newport mystery series (4 books), featuring Emma Cross. Readers will enjoy those too.
Plain Dead by Emma Miller
Review by Sandra Murphy
For the Amish, if someone decides the life is not for them and leaves before being baptized, the Amish maintain contact and pray for their return. If the decision was made after baptism, the person is shunned—no one from the Amish community, including the family, will speak to them or acknowledge their existence.
Rachel Mast opted to leave but still has strong ties with her family and community. There are rules—she can’t sit with her parents at dinner, her mother won’t speak directly to her, and although they like her policeman boyfriend, Evan, they hope she’ll marry an Amish man.
A PR person at heart, Rachel organized the Winter Frolic to celebrate the snowy weather and to bring tourists to the town. Since she also runs her own B&B, staffed with Amish friends, she’s got a vested interest in its success. She’s been trying to find newspaperman Bill Billingsly to read him the riot act. He’s started a gossip column that goes beyond who went on a trip or was seen at the barber shop. It’s downright malicious. It seems Bill has a knack for digging up dirt.
When he walks into the festival, Rachel delivers those choice words but to no avail—in fact, he threatens to tell a secret about her in his next column. She’s already keeping one secret from them, and this one is much worse.
It’s hard to keep her mind on the Frolic and the B&B with that hanging over her head, so she decides to walk to Bill’s to talk calmly this time. Surely he’ll see to reason. Right at the door though, she realizes, it won’t do any good. She turns around and heads home.
The next morning there’s a commotion down the street in the direction of Bill’s house. Rachel has the misfortune of seeing what happened—Bill’s on the front porch, tied to the railings, wearing nothing more than boxer shorts, and encased in ice, dead as a mackerel.
Considering how many people he angered lately, the suspect pool is large, including Rachel herself—and Evan doesn’t even know about her late night trip to Bill’s house or the threats he made to her. It won’t hurt to ask a few questions, right? Except that Evan looks at her snooping as distrust of his ability to solve the case. What she finds out could rock the Amish community with suspicion leading to the Bishop himself.
This is the third book in the Amish Mystery series. Plain Murder and Plain Killing were the first books. Rachel is a sensible woman for the most part, grounded with a pretty clear idea of what she doesn’t want in life—if only figuring out what she does want were as easy. It’s going to be interesting to see what’s next for Rachel and Evan. The community is one you’d like to visit and after reading about the meals served there, the B&B is the place to stay when visiting.
Kingdom Come by Jane Jensen
Review by Sandra Murphy
Elizabeth Harris is a NYC police detective until her husband is murdered. Robbers came into a convenience store, and although no one resisted, shot the owner and all the customers. That was the last straw for Elizabeth. She retreats to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Amish country where she grew up. It should be a peaceful and healing atmosphere.
It was. When an “English” girl, as the non-Amish are called, is found dead and displayed in a sexual manner in one of the Amish barns, Elizabeth has to call on all her skill and patience to solve the case. The Amish are not trusting of outside authority so it’s important to ask the right questions of the right people to find out anything.
The women won’t speak without their husbands present, the children without both parents there—no wonder it’s hard to find out the most basic things. It’s obvious the killer knew the area well. Boot prints in the snow reveal almost nothing. There are six families along the road: thirty-one children in five of the families, one widower and his spinster sister in the other home. Each family has a business that brings tourists or vendors to the area, so the suspect pool is huge. After interviewing each person, recording their statements, and asking about a million questions, Elizabeth’s frustrated that there still are no clues. It takes days to find out who the girl was.
There’s a small, well, large really, complication. The widower, Ezra, is just about the most beautiful man Elizabeth has ever seen. Since her husband died, she’s felt numb, but in Ezra’s presence, she’s happy and full of hope.
Although he has the best alibi for the night of the murder, there are still some questions that he must answer.
A second body is found, and that opens the case further. There’s never been a case of murder in the Amish community, but since the second girl is Amish, Elizabeth is convinced it’s possible the murderer is too. Apparently she’s hit a nerve. A delegation of Amish elders come to the police station and ask that she have no further contact with any of their members. That means Ezra, too. Ezra has already given thought to leaving the community, even knowing he’d be shunned. It’s a decision that affects his life, his work, his beliefs, and his sister’s life.
This is the first in what I hope is a long series. It’s darker than a cozy, but there are no gruesome details or serial killer motives involved. At work, Elizabeth tries to be one of the team and succeeds for the most part. With Ezra, she’s just flat-out giddy, and the contrast is fun to watch. It’s nice to see someone so blindsided by an attraction and find it returned.
The next in the series is In the Land of Milk and Honey. It won’t be available until August 2016. It will give you time to re-read Kingdom Come, so you can not only find any clues you missed, but to spend a little more time with Elizabeth and Ezra.
Dearly Departed by Hy Conrad
Review by Sandra Murphy
Paisley McGregor worked as a maid, confidant, and conscience for the rich all her life. Over the years, they’ve remembered her birthday and holidays with lovely gifts—or more accurately, re-gifted her with unwanted, hideous gifts they’d received. Now that she’s at the end of her life, cancer you know, Paisley wants to give a gift to her former employers—her memories.
Peter is a travel agent. When he’s summoned to meet an unknown client in the penthouse of a posh building, he never expected the client to be Paisley. She’d worked for him for a couple of years. It seems that six years before, she inherited a fortune measured in the millions from grateful clients. She continued to work as a maid because she loved to be the observant part of her employer’s lives. Since she never traveled, now she’d like her former employers to take her on that world tour, all expenses paid with her inheritance, and spread her ashes at the places that meant so much to them. She’s got specific hotels and even room numbers listed, photos with the view she wishes she’d been able to see for herself.
Peter invites Amy Abel, of Amy’s Travel, to help him with the tour. It’s partly for the help and partly because he thinks he and Amy would be a great couple. Of course there’s Marcus to consider. He’s Amy’s boyfriend, not too reliable, not above lying or at least embellishing the truth and honestly, he’s a bit lazy. Amy’s mother Fanny loves him, of course she would. Their personalities are twins separated at birth.
To get away from them, Amy says yes to Peter’s tour idea. Fanny remains at home to write her blog (TrippyGirl). It’s ever so popular, about a girl who travels alone and totally a lie. Meanwhile, Marcus takes a job as a doorman at the Ritz. It seems to fit his talents, including how he had to stretch the truth to get the job.
On the tour, the first big glitch, and it’s a doozy, is when the Turkish officials confiscate Paisley’s ashes at the airport. How can Peter and Amy explain they’ve lost Paisley? While they’re discussing it, an ex-pat overhears the conversation, admits he misses speaking English but never expected to hear about missing ashes and volunteers to help. A substitute urn is found and filled with ashes from a cooking pit. Amy thinks the urn smells vaguely like chicken but no one notices so all’s good, next stop Taj Mahal.
Amy and Peter scope the place out before the families are up and about, only to find the dying ex-pat. Did he follow them or have a sudden urge to visit the Taj himself? The police are only too happy to write his death off as a mugging.
There were other odd things—one woman is allergic to nuts but her husband recommended duck stuffed with chestnuts for her dinner. Was it an honest mistake or attempted murder by duck? Another couple frantically search the marketplace for an old-fashioned alarm clock, something about a bomb. It seems everyone has a secret and maybe murderous intent.
Readers will love Amy, Fanny, Marcus and even Peter, for their quirky outlook on life, ability to get into trouble and more importantly, their ability to get themselves out of it.
Toured to Death was the first in the series (reviewed for KRL). Get them both and wait in line for the next tour—the trip is worth the wait.
A Wee Dose of Death by Fran Stewart
Review by Sandra Murphy
Peggy Winn runs the ScotShop in Hamelin, Vermont. When she was in Scotland, she bought a shawl from a little store off the beaten path. It came with a surprise—its very own ghost. He has a very long and complicated name, so she calls him Dirk, when she’s not calling him the most irritating man ever. He has a lot of questions about modern times. Since he’s from the fourteenth century, that covers a lot of ground.
Vermont loves snow and it’s a good thing because they have a lot of it. Peggy (and Dirk) go out cross country skiing along a lesser-used path, planning to warm up at a cabin, and then head home. When they arrive, it’s apparent the cabin is occupied and by no other than the police chief. He and Peggy don’t see eye to eye on anything so she turns around and heads back to town without going in, Dirk protesting that they should have checked on the chief.
They should have—the chief is hurt. He broke his leg while skiing and dragged himself to the cabin. As if that isn’t bad enough, it’s already occupied, kind of—by a dead guy. With no cell service, it looks like they could be there a while. Other incidents happen but it’s hard to tie them all together. It turns out Kara, Peggy’s best friend, knew the dead man, a college professor. Peggy knows his wife. After all, it’s a small town.
It seems the professor had a secret, but no one is even sure what he was working on. He had a habit of squirreling away flash drives and keeping hard copies, just in case. His laptop is missing from his house, his office was searched, the cabin too—but what were they looking for?
His wife has no clue. She’s baffled by the whole thing. Who would want to kill her husband? He was a kind man, well-liked by his students and faculty, and not into anything controversial.
When Peggy and Kara go back to the cabin to search again, now that they know who the victim was and his habit of hiding things, Kara’s shot too. Luckily, Harper, the police detective Peggy’s kind of sweet on, wants to see the scene again and is there to help Peggy get Kara off the mountain, so an ambulance can get her to the hospital.
This is the second in the ScotShop Mystery series. I look forward to finding out more about Harper and Peggy. They’re a match, even if they don’t seem to realize it—or at least at the same time. It should be interesting to see how Dirk takes the news. He thinks Peggy needs a man’s protection but it might be another story when he’s confronted with the reality.
Great characters, nice suspense, clues that are there but not obvious—it all makes a satisfying read.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “new,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 6, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Click on this link to purchase any of these books. This link takes you to Amazon where you can search for & purchase any of them. If you have ad blocker on you may not see this link: