by Cynthia Chow
& Carolyn Hart
We are huge fans of mystery author Carolyn Hart here at KRL so it was a joy to not only review two of her novels, Skullduggery & The Devereaux Legacy, but also to have a guest post from Carolyn called Old Books Live Again, and be able to give away copies of both books-details at the end of this post.
Skullduggery By Carolyn Hart
Originally published in the year 2000, this reprint showcases the talent of the award-winning author of nearly fifty mysteries. Living in San Francisco in the 1980s, twenty-seven year old anthropologist Ellen Christie is living a perfectly predictable, perfectly comfortable life. She has a reliable boyfriend who always arrives on their set dates for dinner, is attractive, and is completely predictable. So what if he is just a bit…boring? So when a handsome young Chinese man knocks on her door asking if she is the “Bone Lady” and needing her help, all of the reservations that she may be living too safe kick in and she finds herself on the back of a motorcycle speeding through Chinatown. Her long-suppressed instincts were right though, as Jimmy Lee reveals a stunning discovery; the skull of the Peking Man, the bones long since missing from China through a twisted history of war, theft, and a complicated path that crossed nations.
Before she can examine the skull much further they are interrupted by a gang of thugs who chase them out and leave Ellen stranded with Jimmy’s very angry brother Dan who is demanding answers. An attorney who has always looked after his little brother, Dan is the responsible brother who lived up to his parents’ expectations of success while Jimmy became the idealistic one who works for an underfunded welfare organization that attempts to aid the needy immigrants of Chinatown. So why would this moral young man be in possession of nearly priceless artifacts and attempting to profit from them?
Ellen finds herself torn between reporting the find to the police and following her professional ethics and doing what may be best to protect Jimmy’s life. As Dan and Ellen follow Jimmy’s tracks from his job at Trouble, Inc. to the many needy clients living in Chinatown, they are shown a nearly foreign land where elderly garment ladies labor for pennies while forced to take their work home, kitchen workers with no benefits are virtually enslaved, housing for the most basic of apartments has waiting lists numbering in the hundreds, and the police ignore the deaths of the youths who are victims of their gangs. While disclosing tales of a Chinatown where the elderly have the highest of suicide rates and a five dollar increase in rent can push them over the edge, Hart manages to carefully balance the line between explaining and lecturing. The fascinating and complicated history of the immigrants from China to San Francisco is both tragic and inspiring, as their past successes in America have led to a current legacy of recent immigrants being exploited and the youths cast adrift.
Just as compelling is Ellen’s own struggle with her moral and professional ethics along with her new attraction for Dan. Hart obviously enjoyed her research in the mystery of the Peking Man, and she expertly draws the reader into its political and anthropological history. Personally, having relatives that emigrated four generations ago from Canton, China, I found the plight of the Chinatown residents both inspiring and tragic. I can’t emphasize enough though, what an enjoyable and compelling mystery Hart has crafted that combines history, anthropology, and romance and showcases her talent as an author.
The Devereaux Legacy By Carolyn Hart
In her new introduction to this reprint of her 1986 gothic romance, Carolyn Hart writes that she normally has the same negative reaction as other writers when asked whether or not they re-read their work once it has been printed. However, this time Hart states that thirty years after its original release she is able to reminisce about how, in a time when publishers were only interested in publishing either hard-boiled mysteries or those written by dead English ladies, she was able to sneak in through a side door by crafting a gothic romance with very strong mystery elements.
Upon the death of her beloved grandmother, Leah Devereaux makes the shocking discovery that both of them were believed to have drowned along with her parents nearly twenty years ago. Through a magazine article and a partial last letter written by her grandmother Leah tracks down her remaining family to South Carolina where she is welcomed back into the family by her remaining grandmother but met with suspicion from her two cousins. Far more receptive is her third cousin Merrick, which itself comes with disappointing complications. As Leah tries to understand why her grandmother hid their past from everyone she stumbles through whispers of a harbinger ghost, doomed romances, and a family history of murder.
Although written nearly thirty years ago the setting feels surprisingly modern as the emotions and legacy of family secrets resonate through today. The romantic elements are introduced early but never intrude on the plot, surprising in this gothic romantic mystery. The pace and characters are well-developed and strong enough to keep the reader glued to the page to the suspenseful end. While fully in the spirit of the gothic romances by Victoria Holt and Elizabeth Peters, Hart puts on her own twist by keeping the mystery at the forefront. Fans of romances and mysteries will find much to enjoy as Hart reveals the early talent that will be evident through the nearly fifty mysteries that are to follow.
Old Books Live Again
by Carolyn Hart
Douglas MacArthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Of course, he fully intended to be remembered! As an author of books that at one time were part of a distant past, emphasize distant, I never thought those once moribund titles would be available except as tattered copies at garage sales.
To my surprise and delight and with a huge huzzah to two small presses, Seventh Street Books and Oconee Spirit Press, the rebirth of seven early books is a reality.
And, utter miracle of miracles, the Seventh Street Books publication of Skulduggery won the book its first reviews in PW and Library Journal even though the title was originally released in 1984 in England and in the U.S. in 2000. To me this is a huge thrill and I hope I will be forgiven if I share from the reviews. From PW: “Hart combines a treasure hunt with a tribute to San Francisco’s Chinatown of the early 1980s in this diverting reissue…Hart’s tale deftly blends thrills with more thoughtful moments.” From LJ: “Hart’s light romantic suspense stand-alone is thickened with just enough espionage and intrigue to keep readers guessing. Additionally, the award-winning Hart provides a superb new introduction…”
Coming in February from Seventh Street Books will be The Devereaux Legacy, my one and only Harlequin romantic suspense novel, released in 1986. Leah Devereaux comes to South Carolina in search of the truth about her parents’ deaths and why there is a tombstone with her name in the family cemetery plot. PW said: “Hart’s fans will appreciate what were later to become the author’s signature elements: the Lowcountry setting, the vivid description, and surprising twists.”
In June 2013 Seventh Street will publish Escape From Paris. Two American sisters in 1940 Paris risk their lives to save downed British airmen, knowing the Gestapo is only a step behind.
In August 2013, Seventh Street will publish Brave Hearts. Lovers treasure stolen moments against the backdrop of war in the Philippines, the fall of Corregidor and the capture of Bataan.
Oconee Spirit Press published Rendezvous In Veracruz in 2012, a thriller about college students in a dangerous search for contraband. As I told the editor, its rebirth was better than a draft of refreshing water from Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth. When I reread the galleys, I felt as though I was once again eighteen and living in Mexico City.
Oconee also published Flee From The Past in 2012. Janey Hamilton flees from heartbreak and horror in Italy. She creates a new identity but one day the past catches up, threatening her life and her young daughter’s.
Oconee is publishing A Settling Of Accounts in March 2013. Kay Emory remembers too much about the wartime underground to be safe when she returns to London.
I hope readers will be willing to give these stand-alone novels a chance. They are harder-edged than the traditional mysteries I have written since the publication of Death On Demand.
In fact, as my husband said in regard to Escape From Paris, “This book reveals a Carolyn Hart readers never knew.”
You can learn more about Carolyn and her books on her new website!
To enter to win a copy of both of these Carolyn Hart reprints, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Carolyn”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 23, 2013. U.S. residents only.