by Sandra Murphy
This week we have 3 more Golden Age mysteries from Penguin authors-The Royal Assassin by Kate Parker, Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont, and No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman. Details on how to win copies of all 3 books at the end of this post along with a link to purchase them.
The Royal Assassin by Kate Parker
Review by Sandra Murphy
Those pesky Russians! They see anarchists behind every plot. Still, one must do what one can for the good of one’s country.
Georgia may look like a middle-class bookseller but she’s much more. She’s a vital member of the Archivists, a group that works undercover to keep Queen and country safe. Their upper-crust liaison is the Duke of Blackford. Georgia is secretly more than a little in love with him, but their stations in life prevent any relationship.
Princess Kira, a Russian, is engaged to marry Sussex, a younger son of royalty and cousin to the Queen. He’s completely smitten with her, and she is not one to let such an advantage go to waste. En route to England, her English-speaking guard was killed. Now, in order to protect the Princess while on English soil, Georgia goes undercover as secretary for the Duchess of Hereford, and is also going to teach the Princess English.
Running parallel to that problem is an investigation into burglars who use bombs to open home safes. They steal furniture, paintings, and collectibles, as well as jewels and cash. During one robbery, a footman was killed, so the Archivists must spread themselves thin to find the burglars while still protecting the Princess.
The Princess seems to have an agenda of her own, which includes meeting a woman who looks remarkably like her. The Princess has a chaperone, a woman of little means who is pressed into service in exchange for her keep. She has a shrill voice and easily gets on everyone’s last nerve. The poor Duchess had no idea what she was getting into when she agreed to host the Russian visitors. Her husband, the Duke, must have had a clue since he fled to their country home for the duration of the Princess’ visit.
The characters are engaging, with the hint of romance between Blackford and Georgia, something readers will want as much as Georgia. Emma, Georgia’s friend who works in the bookshop, has her own romance, if only the couple can live through passing themselves off as anarchists. All in all, after reading of Georgia’s exploits, you’d also want to work in the bookstore between Archivists’ cases, to be right in the middle of things.
In this, the third book of the series, Parker gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at royalty, a close-up of class distinctions, and realistic characters with a dash of intrigue, hope for romance, and a puzzling mystery.
Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s 1895, a time when upper-class women who have married well, change their clothes eight times a day with the help of maids of the lower class, who went into service as young as age twelve. Deanna and her ladies maid, Elspeth, are such a pair, although they dare to question the idea of ladies who lunch, the frivolity of Parisian-made dresses worn once, and tedious four-hour dinners. They wonder what women could accomplish if their energies were put to a purpose other than social climbing and one-upmanship.
Deanna’s mother rules the home. Every move is based on what a lady would do, because only a lady will attract a rich gentleman for a husband. Luckily for Deanna, her sister Adelaide has migraines—sad for Adelaide, but having her mother hover over her sister gives Deanna a bit of breathing space.
During a party, Daisy, a maid, is found dead on the rocky shore. The gentry would prefer to think she jumped, but since the fall was a short one and her neck was broken, it was murder.
Deanna and Elspeth secretly read dime novels, which gives them the idea that they can investigate Daisy’s murder better than the police. In truth, the gentry won’t admit anything to a police officer. The servants close ranks as well. Deanna can find information from the wealthy while Elspeth gets all the gossip from the staff.
When Adelaide has to go to Boston for treatment, their mother decides Deanna can’t stay alone in the house with her father and the servants. It is Just Not Done. So her trunks are packed and she and Elspeth go a few blocks away to stay with a trusted friend—at the site of Daisy’s murder.
The social whirl goes on as if nothing happened. Lord David Manchester is in town with his sister, Lady Madeline. They own a sugar plantation in Barbados and Deanna’s father wants to buy their sugar cane. Deanna’s mother thinks a match between Deanna and Lord David would be perfect, for the business, for her own social standing, and for Deanna’s future.
Deanna and Elspeth manage to find clues the police do not. They’re observant, and although they don’t understand everything they see, they do give accurate reports, which helps the investigation.
The characters are charming: Gran Gwen is a treasure, a woman who dares to be different and gets away with it; Joe, a former suitor for Deanna, turned inventor; Will, who is gentry, but pursued forensics and became a police officer. The trap laid to catch the murderer is true to the times and fun as well. The ending leaves a few questions which the reader can only hope are answered in future books.
With clues scattered throughout the book, it’s an engaging mystery and a chance to visit times long gone. Freydont also writes the Celebration Bay mysteries, set in present day. I look forward to more of both series.
No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman
Review by Sandra Murphy
Celia Davies is a transplant from Britain to America. Her Irish husband, Patrick, wanted to join his brother, Tom, to find a better life. Their plots and plans eventually led them to California. Patrick, a restless man, took a job on a ship. Now it’s unclear if he’s dead or alive, leaving Celia somewhere between wife and widow.
She lives in a house inherited from her uncle. His half-Chinese daughter Barbara, a teenager, lives with her, as does Addie, friend and servant. Addie insists she’s looking for a husband but somehow she doesn’t progress past the looking stage.
Celia earns very little from her vocation as a nurse, relying for the most part on a small stipend left by her uncle. It’s the lower classes who come to see her, not realizing that in Britain, she was gentry. Because of Barbara and a friend named Li Sha, Celia tries to help the Chinese prostitutes too. Since the brothels view the girls as property, they don’t invest much in health care. If there’s a chance for a cure, fine. If not, the girls are left for dead. There’s always another girl to take her place
Li Sha has been living with Tom and is now expecting their child. Both seem happy with the arrangement but Celia’s not too sure about Tom. When Li Sha’s body is found floating just off the wharf, Tom is the most likely suspect.
The Anti-Coolie Movement is led by the Irish who feel the Chinese are taking all their jobs. Tempers run high as threats are made. The Chinese are afraid to leave their own neighborhood.
Celia believes that Tom is innocent. There are other suspects: former clients, someone who resented Li Sha’s cleaning job at the pharmacy, Tom’s former lover, or a bully gone too far. Detective Greaves seems to be an honest cop. With the help of his aide, Taylor, he is investigating, which is unusual concerning the death of a Chinese woman, who many assume is still a prostitute. Most people won’t talk to the police, so Celia convinces him to let her help—and then goes further than he agreed, often putting herself in danger.
The difference between the moneyed families and the poor is vast. Celia, as in her marriage, falls somewhere in-between, formerly upper class, but now seen as a working woman. Barbara doesn’t fit in either, being half Chinese. Even Addie is far from a typical servant.
For a look back in time when women’s lives were restricted and controlled by men, this book provides a clear picture while offering an intriguing mystery with a hint of romance.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 Golden Age mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “More Golden,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 29, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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