by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
Playing catch-up again this week with 3 more mysteries that have come out in the last few of months-The Right Sort of Man: A Sparks and Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair, Murder at Crossways: A Gilded Newport Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell, and Murder at the PTA: A Maya and Sandra Mystery by Lee Hollis. 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 (We do not have a link for Murder at the PTA because it is a Barnes and Noble exclusive and our links are for Amazon and Mysterious Galaxy). If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon links at the end of each review.
Murder at Crossways: A Gilded Newport Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s August, 1898, the end of the social season. Mamie Fish is the hostess with the mostest and aims to keep the title. Her party will be the last before summer residents return to the City. With the promise that the guest of honor will be none other than Prince Otto of Austria, everyone will be sure to show up—especially mothers with marriageable daughters.
Emma Cross, a poor relation of the Vanderbilts, used to be a society page writer for the local newspaper. She’s been promoted to acting editor in chief and now someone else writes the society news—until his wagon breaks down and he’s unable to travel to the party. Emma is willing to fill in, tedious though it may be. On the other hand, Mamie is known for her sense of humor so it might be better than she expected.
And so it was. When Otto was a no show, Mamie had someone bring in a trained monkey dressed as Otto. After all, one must not disappoint one’s guests. Before the party ends, the monkey makes his escape and finds the real Prince Otto’s body in the garden, stabbed to death.
Emma’s friend Jesse is the detective assigned to the case. He’s also working the case where a dead body was caught in the surf—mysteriously killed in the same way as Otto. Are the cases connected? The dead man looks like an older version of Emma’s half-brother, but who could he be?
Between trying to connect the two murders and worrying about a rash of bad luck and accidents at the newspaper office, Emma has her hands full but that’s not the least of it. Mamie Fish has decided they are partners in solving the crime in order to protect her reputation as hostess. Emma suspects Mamie enjoys questioning her guests about any secrets they have.
This is book seven in the series. While once attracted to each other, Jesse and Emma have realized a relationship would not work. Emma is drawn to Derrick, the owner of the newspaper, who is currently out of town. While past books have been more about Emma’s limbo between belonging to society and reporting on it, this book shows real growth for her. Just as she no longer is part of a whirlwind society, she’s no longer a reporter, but a boss. With a deft hand, Maxwell blends the tales of the upper and lower classes, those in between, work and home life, and readily available vs. longed for romance. And of course, murder.
The Right Sort of Man: A Sparks and Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s London, 1946. Two unlikely friends have started The Right Sort Marriage Bureau in hopes of fixing up returning soldiers and single women, as well as feeding themselves with the profits they hope to make. Gwendolyn Bainbridge is a society woman, widowed, and dependent on her in-laws, an untenable situation. She and her son have to get away from the overbearing pair. Her mother-in-law disapproves of the business—and most anything Gwen does.
Iris Sparks, a single woman, won’t talk about her time during the war. Gwen has suspicions she served in a higher capacity than she’ll tell—classified, you know. Between Iris’ ability to talk to anyone and Gwen’s ability to read people, they make great business partners.
Even though they have some qualms about their newest client, they fix her up with a sweet man. Before the date can take place, the girl is murdered. Her date is the prime suspect since he can’t prove they didn’t meet. Iris and Gwen transform themselves into investigators to clear their client. After all, how can they marry him off if he’s jailed or worse? And who will sign up for their service if they’re apt to be matched with a murderer?
This is a fun read, a glimpse into post-war London as the class system is crumbling. Society women are forced to work, shop girls look for husbands so they don’t have to. What was familiar and sure is gone. In this tale, two women work together to find their way in a world neither of them had known or could imagine. They manage to do it with finesse, style, and humor. Sally, an unlikely sidekick, is willing to answer phones as he writes his masterpiece and to threaten deadbeat clients by his sheer size. As the women delve into the their clients’ lives, they learn even more about themselves.
This is the first in what I hope is a long running series. It’s a book to read more than once, just to hang out with Gwen and Iris.
Murder at the PTA: A Maya and Sandra Mystery by Lee Hollis
Review by Cynthia Chow
Newly elected South Portland High School PTA President Sandra Wallage doesn’t even manage to finish her inaugural meeting before it is interrupted by a barrage of phone alerts from the school gossip site Dirty Laundry. As much as Sandra would want to serve as an example by ignoring the lurid, innuendo-filled site, that’s going to be impossible considering the latest post announcing a U.S. senator’s sex scandal cover-up. A senator who happens to be Sandra’s very own husband, Stephen Wallage. While he is adamant that the accusation is false and that everything will all blow over soon, Sandra can sense looks of suspicion cast her way while her teenaged sons get into fights at school defending the family honor.
As luck would have it, one of Sandra’s own former high school classmates is also on the trail of the online trouble-maker, and as a former police officer-turned-private investigator, Maya Kendrick is close to tracking down the source. Too bad that Maya’s suspect is dead before a confrontation can be made, especially when it is Sandra who coincidently stumbles into the discovery of the body. Both Sandra and Maya question the investigating detective’s proclamation of an open-and-closed case, but the last thing Maya wants at this point is Sandra’s help. Maya already has a partner in their private investigation business, although Frances Turner’s eighth month of pregnancy means that she’s not the best candidate for night-long stakeouts. Maya realizes that taking along her teenaged daughter instead isn’t much of a better option, but at least it allows them to have a little mother-daughter bonding time as they wait out cheating spouses together.
Hired by the victim’s sister to prove that the death was not a suicide, Maya convinces a very reluctant Frances that Sandra has the social connections to give them inside access to the case. Sandra is determined to take on a more hands-on approach than they would like, considering that she is willing to use an inappropriate Halloween costume to confirm alibis by infiltrating some Ladies of the Night. When not embarrassing their children or preventing possible teenaged pregnancies, Sandra and Maya tentatively agree to share information to solve the murder of an Internet vigilante.
Not since Lethal Weapon’s Riggs and Murtaugh – or perhaps Turner and Hooch – has there been such a delightfully different detecting duo. During high school Sandra was a ponytailed cheerleader, the good-girl whom the cigarette-smoking Maya cheated off of during their Chemistry class. What they both share are husbands whose misdeeds disrupt and jeopardize the future of their families. Maya’s career with the police was cut short when her husband was convicted of corruption within the department, while the Senator’s salacious scandal has reporters clamoring at their doorstep and school administration pressuring her to resign. This new series by the brother and sister writing team of Rick Copp and Holly Simason delivers so many unexpected plot twists and turns that readers will be kept at the edge of their seat and anticipating the next hilarious surprise. Maya and Sandra each must deal with sexism and misogyny, along with the normal challenges facing the parents of hormonally-driven teenaged children. That they do so with humor, cleverness, and love only makes them more relatable and eminently likable. These authors continue to be at the top of their game as they introduce these strong, vulnerable, and very funny women.
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 “fall catchup,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 9, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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