The narrative begins the summer of 1976 when Ruth Gilmartin, a single mother living in Oxford England, discovers that her mother, Sally, is really a Russian émigrée called Eva Delectorskaya. Sally, after decades of concealing her past, but now fearing her life is in danger, reveals her recruitment and involvement in espionage work during WWII.

Ruth learns that Sally had been enlisted to work as an undercover agent for the British Intelligence Services, where she was trained in various covert operations as a spy, and where the number one rule was “to trust no one”. Working in France, England and Scotland she eventually is transferred to New York, and was assigned as an undercover news reporter for the TransOceanic News Agency where she works to plant pro-British propaganda in newspapers to spur the United States government into joining the war effort. When a field operation goes wrong, Sally is forced to cover her tracks and goes into hiding. She has maintained a low profile for thirty years, but now believes she is being watched and that someone from the past has come back to silence her.

Skeptical at first, Ruth is gradually drawn into her mother’s story and sets out to hunt down Sally’s former mentor, Lucas Fromer, hoping to alleviate her mother’s fears.

While Ruth’s life as a teacher of English takes a back seat to her mother’s spy tale, the author presents a vivid account of Sally’s life of ciphers and double agents, detailing the mounting tension of each mission.

Overall, “Restless” is an absorbing spy thriller set against a largely unknown episode in U.S.-British relations.

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There are those that say certain kinds of mystery books are cozy. I think they categorize cozies, by having amateur sleuths, lovely little towns, and having folks getting murdered “off stage”. So what happens when you have a series that has a little Minnesota town, the main character owns a needlework/craft shop, solves mysteries on the side, but the killings are not necessarily pretty. How’s getting tossed off a balcony (Crewel Yule), cut by the throat (Cutwork), and having a knitting needle pushed into your brain (Sins and Needles)? Cozy? I think not.

Monica Ferris has created a great character in Betsy Devonshire. And she has given her a interesting group of friends and neighbors. Betsy has a talent for figuring out the little things that solve cases. And she is not so sure she likes this talent. It does bother her that some of these killers are people in the community. Folks that she knows. (Now, that is why I always find these “malice domestic” books creepier – these are not strangers doing the killing!)

She’s embarked on this path by accident. She really was just intending to stay with her sister and help her in the store, while she was getting over her divorce. And then her sister was murdered. And she inherited the store and estate. So she stuck around for awhile. And got more involved with her employees and her customers.

Ferris does a nice job fleshing out the secondary characters throughout the series; it is a rare “cozy” that has a regular character that is gay. But Godwin grows and develops through the series. He becomes more than the guy who can match the right thread colors. Various members of the store’s regulars – the Monday Bunch – get their own spotlight in the books in the series.

And then there is the needlework. Cozy? Maybe. It has been considered an art form for years. This series is a great way to see how Ferris mixes it in with the mystery. One book has Betsy trying to identify a certain bobbin lace pattern, the next has her researching symbols on a church tapestry. And the store is used as a place where folks in the community can gather. Actually, I wish we had a store like Crewel World locally. These books make me want to take up my cross-stitching again! So do yourself a favor – start with the first three books in order, and then you can mix them around a bit. And discover the world of Excelsior, Minnesota. A fun series.

Monica Ferris’ mystery series featuring Betsy Devonshire:

Thai Die (2008)
Knitting Bones (2007)
Sins and Needles (2006)
Embroidered Truths (2005)
Crewel Yule (2004)
Cutwork (2004)
Hanging by a Thread (2003)
A Murderous Yarn (2002)
Unraveled Sleeve (2001)
A Stitch in Time (2000)
Framed in Lace (1999)
Crewel World (1999)

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Cara Black starts off her series with lead character Aimee Leduc in the book Murder in the Marais. What starts out as a simple and overpaid job of hunting down a encripted website, ends up becoming a case of murder. Aimee finds the body and sets in motion an investigation that goes all the way up to the top level of French politics.

The Marais is the traditionally Jewish section of Paris. And this is where the French Jews were rounded up during the occupation. Memories are long for injustices, and Aimee finds she is sifting through the history of the occupation in order to find out who would want an elderly Jewish woman murdered and who wants her to stop investigating.

This is a fast paced story but Black gives the reader enough time to get to know Aimee and her unusal background. Black hints at the fact that Aimee has secrets of her own that will be revealed in later books. Aimee is a tough character who has been trained by her recently deceased father in the art of detection. And it does not take the reader long to admire her tenacity and skill at going undercover to figure out the case. I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series. A good mystery and a very good read.

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When the dead body of a stranger lies in the garden of an disheveled ancient family home, what’s an eleven year old girl with a passion for chemistry (and a unnatural knowledge of poisons) supposed to do? Solve the mystery of course. Welcome to Flavia’s world.

Flavia de Luce is 11 going on 40. She’s the neglected youngest daughter of an absent minded stamp collector in Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. With her trusty bicycle Gladys, Flavia is determined to solve this crime. When her father is charged with the murder, it becomes even more important. She doesn’t realize that the investigation will lead her to finding out more about her father’s past.

Bradley does an excellent job showing us an eccentric dysfunctional family and manages to make it seem “normal” to Flavia. And when her older sisters lock her up in a closet or tell her she was really brought home as a baby from a store, she does what any normal youngest child does. She takes revenge. She just does it a little differently, with poison ivy in a lipstick.

I’m excited that this is to be a series. There are too many de Luce family secrets that have been hinted at and need to be uncovered. As a reader, I am looking forward to seeing Flavia and her sisters growing up in this odd environment. Perfect for traditional mystery fans.

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Murder On the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner is a wonderful book that combines history and mystery to produce a fun work of fiction. We are immersed from the beginning in the 1889 World Exposition in Paris. The entire city is focused on the new Eiffel Tower and the exposition. The joy and the excitement of going up to the viewing platforms has visitors in a frenzy. And when someone is murdered on the platform, the case makes front page news. But who would murder a maiden aunt taking her niece and nephews on an outing? Victor Legris, a young bookseller, is on the platform with newspaper friends when this happens and wants to find the culprit. And when more people start dying after visiting the viewing platforms and the exposition, he is determined to solve the case – even as his friends are turning into suspects.

The author (really a pen name for two lady booksellers in modern France) brings to life the Paris of the time, and Victor’s occupations as bookseller and book critic. Victor is a compelling character who is trying to be modern but finds he is more conservative than he thinks he is. With a cast of interesting secondary characters, the story allows us a brief glimpse into their world. And we had a wonderful time. A very fun read.

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A sharp, methodical mystery from Canadian writer Peter Robinson. This is his first mystery featuring English cop Alan Banks…who has subsequently become a continuing character of Robinson’s. Set in Yorkshire, Banks recently made the move from London to the North of England…and is still getting used to small-town ways. Robinson does a great job of setting Banks up as a character we want to get to know better. We feel comfortable with this man and like him…because he’s human. He has flaws, bad habits and is not always Super Cop. This book deals with two crimes…one involving a peeping tom and one involving a murder. Robinson does a great job of letting Banks unfold both cases. A superb mystery with a fascinating new police character!

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This is a great, funny mystery, ala Hiaasen. Schreck has a strong writing style, a knack for developing fresh, fun characters and a witty, droll sense of humor that compliments the darkness of the subject matter (in this case child porn and a child sex ring). His main character, Duffy Dombrowski, is a rude, crude, messy social worker/amateur sleuth who is someone you want to keep reading about. I hope this series continues and continues….

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At the amazing age of 88, Dick Francis has recently published his 44th novel, Silks. Francis’ son Felix gets a co-author credit on this, as in their first collaboration, Dead Heat. Despite a heavy-handedness in the characterizations, Silks has all of the Francis trademarks: absurdly handsome hero, check; ascension of right over might, check; horse racing, check; violence, check. Geoffrey Mason is a widowed barrister and amateur steeplechase jockey who makes a dangerous enemy when he prosecutes the young ruffian Julian Trent. Too soon, Trent is out of jail and becomes the executor of a series of anonymous threats Mason receives when he undertakes the defense of a jockey accused of muder. Along the way you learn about foaling operations, horse racing over hurdles, how jockeys cheat at weigh-ins, and the English justice system (which is just like ours). This might not be Francis and company at the height of his powers, but how could Dick Francis not be a good read?

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OK — I LOVED the first one — Silent in the Grave — and this one is good, but somehow, it didn’t captivate me the first novel did. This one also features Lady Julia Gray and her PI cohort Brisbane — who have sort of a Victorian Maddie Hayes/David Addison relationship…meaning they are civil to each other at time, argue at times, claim they can’t stand the other and really just want to sleep together. This time, Julia, Brisbane, members of her family and some friends are snowbound in a castle retreat…and then one of the houseguests turns up murdered. Julia and Brisbane once again provide the right amount of sexual tension…without being too un-Victorian about it.

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