Knowing I’m always in the market for a good mystery, especially a good British one, I recently got a recommendation to read the Ruth Galloway series from Elly Griffiths.  And what I discovered is a fantastic new writer who weaves an excellent British mystery with an archaeological spin. Set in the eastern English county of Norfolk, Ruth is an archeologist who gets called in by the local authorities to check the age of a skeleton that was found. This find leads to Ruth getting emerged in a missing person’s case and a whole web of mystery and murder. I VERY MUCH liked the chemistry between Ruth and the inspector who works with her…Nelson. And a surprise at the end of the book means that their relationship is only beginning.  Nelson is the kind of “man-you-love-to-hate…” meaning he’s gruff and harsh, with a sweet side and a heart of gold.  And Ruth herself is a refreshing female mystery character, who is less amateur sleuth and more “right place, right time” gal.  She never ASKS to be involved in the police investigation…it just sort of happens.  And Ruth is full of spunk and vitality, though she’s more than her fair share of self-effacing. I will read more from Griffiths and look forward to where she leads Ruth and Nelson next!

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One of the best beginnings of a mystery (historical or otherwise) I’ve read in a long while.  I was just literally fixated for the first 100 pages.  After that, we gets a little too convoluted with less-than-necessary characters and too many plotlines that pop up and lead nowhere.  But, it is a must read for those first chapters!  The story revolves around nurse Bess Crawford who is working the frontlines during WWI when she stumbles upon a body that was not shot, but rather had its neck broken.  On her way to report this, she faints and succumbs to the Spanish flu, an epidemic that taking almost as many lives as the war. Once she is better, she finds out that the only people who know of this “mysterious” body are dead, most likely having been killed. Bess is a fabulously feisty character who is almost as good of an amateur sleuth as she is a nurse.  A mother and son writing team work under the pseudonym Charles Todd and their writing is highly vivid and strong and the way they create the mounting suspense leaves the reader craving more.  I could not put this one down.  I will continue to read this Bess Crawford series for sure!

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First of all, I don’t want to give the impression I am pitting these authors against each other. Anytime I see “vs.” between two names, I think of an anticipated boxing match. My goal here is to compare, non-violently, these two historical romantic suspense authors and help readers decide if one or both of these authors are for them.
First, Deanna Raybourn, who I have loved since her first book featuring Lady Julia Grey, Silent in the Grave, is an author with an exceedingly light touch. A light touch in writing style…a light touch when it comes to Lady Julia and a light touch when it comes to the story. Nothing ever gets too dark or threatening here. Even when Lady Julia or another character, such as her P.I. husband Nicholas, encounters a dangerous and potentially fatal situation, Raybourn always shines a little air of affability into the mix. Saying that, this does not mean I do not savor everything Lady Julia does. I do and I try my best to wait patiently for her next book. All I’m saying is that there is no sense of continual doom with Raybourn like there are with some suspense writers. She keeps it light…and I keep reading.
Onto Tasha Alexander, who I first discovered at a mystery writer’s conference where I bought a book and had Alexander sign it based on hearing her speak. But, the book sat on my shelves for over a year until Julia Keller, the Chicago Tribune’s Cultural Critic, wrote a piece on Alexander (December 4, 2011, Arts and Entertainment) for Keller’s LitLife column. So, I got the book, A Fatal Waltz, out, dusted it off and began, quite pleased I did. Unlike Raybourn, Alexander’s writing style is a little more refined, a little more literary. I hesitate to say more polished, since I think Raybourn is a good writer, but Alexander’s entire style does enhance the affluent world that her main character, Lady Emily Ashton, lives in. Both Raybourn’s Lady Julia and Alexander’s Lady Emily are wealthy Victorian London crime-solving ladies, but the way Alexander writes her tales includes the required upper-class effect. Does this mean I like Alexander more? No. It means that when I’m looking for something lighter, I will reach for Raybourn and Lady Julia. When I am ready for something more meaty and more challenging, I’ll pull out another Alexander and Lady Emily.
Both writers create fiercely strong ladies who enjoy solving crimes, even though it’s highly unladylike in late 1800s London. Both writers weave compelling stories that hold the reader’s interest from start to finish. Basically, both writers excel in this genre (or is historical romantic suspense a SUBgenre?). Try both and see for yourself.

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Lucy and Nate kiss under the famed Venice “Bridge of Sighs” which has years of legend and mysticism about it, saying anyone who kisses under it is sealed for a lifetime.  After the couple loses touch, years later they reconnect.  Can the legend be true?  At first, Lucy thinks it might be, but then things change.  Not deep (it is chick lit after-all), but one of the better new chick lit authors I’ve read in a while, even though it gets a little silly towards the end.  And when the “mysterious” artist Lucy is trying to win over (she works for a NYC art gallery) is named ARTSY, ala Banksy, I almost lost the faith.  But, my persistence paid off with a rewarding ending.  Overall, this one is LOTS of fun and VERY sweet. 
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OK — I LOVE this series but some of the more recent ones of the series have been just so-so. As with all of them in the Lady Julia Grey series, Raybourn pairs Grey with her now-husband, private investigator Nicholas Brisbane, who is trying his best to control Julia’s wild and un-ladylike impulses. In this book, Brisbane and Julia find themselves embroiled in a murder inquiry where psychics and séances are par for the course. Naturally, their lives are in perpetual danger as they do their investigating, but that never slows them down much. Since they are now married, the sexual tension has been replaced by a type of fun, bickering tension…Brisbane is always worried about Julia…Julia is always upset he does not include her in his investigating. Yes, it sounds a little tedious, but somehow Raybourn makes it work. The first one in this series, Silent in the Grave, is still the best, but this one is a close second! I’m glad Raybourn is back in top form!

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This is my first novel from Chicago-area novelist Laura Caldwell and I loved it.  It’s fun and light, but it has enough oomph to surpass romances and other lighter chick lit fair.  Caldwell’s writing style is easy going and breezy, just like the story here, which revolves around three friends who have been pals for years but are going through a “seven-year itch” in their friendship. The storyteller of the book, Casey, has been in a relationship for a while and that has changed the friendships she has. So, all three friends decide to take a trip to Italy and Greece to have fun and re-bond, but things begin to go awry quite quickly.  So, basically, you have the best of both worlds here…travel and light romance.  It’s fun and entertaining, while never being too fluffy.  Another author for me to savor! 

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A new London crime detective takes to the big city streets with a vengeance.  There is a little political intrigue mixed up with the murders John Carlyle is investigating…the case involves a former Cambridge University club filled with future politicos who are being killed off one by one years later. Carlyle is a believable London inspector who fights crime with a passion, though the writing could be a little better and the book does have its fair share of cliches.  Not the best British mystery (by a long shot) but far from the worst.  Definitely something for British mystery lovers to try. 

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Set in 1920 London, this mystery intertwines the horrors of World War I in a web of war survivors, murders, romance, social customs and history. Recovering from the trauma of both serving in the war and losing a wife and child, Laurence Bartram receives news of the suicide death of a classmate, Captain John Emmett. Feeling compassion for the family, Laurence comes to the aid of his sister to discover the why of the suicide and bequests to unknown individuals in his will. Laurence falls hopelessly in love with the sister, Mary. The investigation becomes one of can’t stop reading intrigue when it is discovered that Captain Emmett was a member of a firing squad for the execution of a British sergeant for desertion during the war.
Aiding Laurence in this investigation is good friend Charles. Charles knows everything and everyone and he steals every scene where he is placed and provides many light moments amid the darkness. The author does not spare the reader from the sad awfulness of World War I. This war destroyed a generation with over 1.6 million British men wounded, 662,000 men killed and 140,000 men reported missing in action. The novel’s core focuses on the psychological trauma of the survivors, shell shock, and vividly awakens the reader to current copings with the post traumatic stress disorder of contemporary military veterans.
This mystery has a lot to offer. While discovering the history of post World War I Britain, the reader can savor the puzzle of who, what and why.

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a fantastic book about love, friendship and prejudice at any time in life, within any social status, anywhere in the world.  The character of Major Ernest Pettigrew is pretty much the stereotypical older English gentleman.  He’s classy, he’s respectful, he’s neat and tidy, he’s quiet and he’s not one to ever make a scene.  Enter Mrs. Jasmina Ali and her Pakistani background and ways and the Major finds his proper, sedate life turned upside down.  Right from the start, there is some chemistry between Mrs. Ali and the Major but because of both cultural and class prejudices (from the townspeople, from the Major’s son Roger and even from the Major himself), Mrs. Ali leaves the town, and the Major, behind.  What the Major does next leads to one of the best “adult” endings in fiction ever.  Very little in this book is trite or clichéd.  An excellent, mature read for all…not only for those in the twilight of their lives. 
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