Tag Archives: dry wit

The Worms Crawl In

A Case of Doubtful Death: A Frances Doughty Mystery by Linda Stratmann (The Mystery Press, $14.95, 283 pages)

A Case of Doubtful Death

Author Linda Stratmann is not shy about telling her tale in graphic detail. Get ready for an amazing visit to England in the late 1800s and an education in the means by which folks dealt with death and burial. Ms. Stratmann explores in depth the notion of death houses where the recently deceased are treated as patients and monitored by medical staff to assure that a loved one is not buried alive. The particulars of the monitoring of the dead, the care of the corpses and the maintenance of security are laid out in minute detail. The service is costly and not really an option for folks of the lower classes.

The notion of class and appropriate vocations for females during the Victorian Era are prominent themes in the Frances Doughty Mystery series. This book is the third in the series. Frances is a plucky young woman who has taken up the profession of detective after her father died leaving her in need of an income. She is aided by her sidekick Sarah, the former Doughty family housekeeper. Sarah is a burly, intelligent and no-nonsense woman who happens to be the oldest of eight children. Clearly, she is experienced in dealing with people.

An American counterpart for this series would be the Sarah Woolson Mysteries by Shirley Tallman that are set in San Francisco during the same era. Both series make ample use of dress codes and etiquette to give the reader a strong sense of the limitations placed on these capable and very smart young women who are struggling to make an honest living while furthering the cause of equality for their sex.

In Doubtful Death, the significant (read that dead or missing) characters work at Life House (a death house), the location for much of the tale. These men include several physicians and two orderlies. The tale begins with the death of one of the physicians and the disappearance of one of the orderlies, both occurring on the same night. Henry Palmer, the orderly who has disappeared, is the stalwart older brother in a family of five orphans. His sister and her fiance approach Frances Doughty in the hope of finding Henry, preferably alive.

Absent cell phones, the internet and medical technology common today, the pace of the search for Henry Palmer could have been laboriously slow; however, Francis makes good use of her shoe leather, contacts among the eccentrics of her city and foot messengers to solve the mystery. To Ms. Stratmann’s credit, the pace moves along well and her dry wit that is expressed through conversation among the characters is most entertaining.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “In the field of historical crime writing, (Stratmann) is bound to make her mark.” SJ Bolton

A Case of Doubtful Death will be released on September 1, 2013.

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Heart of a Killer

Heart of a Killer: A Thriller by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 304 pages)

Author David Rosenfelt has added another winner to his long lists of credits with his latest effort, Heart of a Killer.   This reviewer has written about two of his Andy Carpenter mystery novels.   This time out, there is a different and unlikely hero.

The main character, Jamie Wagner, is a Harvard Law School graduate working as an associate at a corporate firm whose office is located in New Jersey.   Wagner, something of a contrarian, chooses to live in Manhattan on the west side where the atmosphere is urban and enjoyable.  Pro bono cases are often assigned to attorneys who are working their way toward a partnership in the firm.   This is precisely the position Wagner is in when the story opens; however, he sees little hope for attaining partner status.

The pro bono case Wagner is working centers around a woman who pled guilty to the murder of her nasty, evil husband six years prior to the time of the story.   Sheryl has been sitting in a New Jersey prison quietly doing time as a model prisoner while her mother takes care of granddaughter Karen.   Karen has a failing heart and her health has taken a turn for the worse.   She needs a transplant or she will die.   Yes, Sheryl has herself tested and is found to be an ideal match.   The confusion around whether Sheryl has the right to donate her heart provides ample motivation for Wagner to bring his Harvard education and well-honed brief writing skills into the picture.

The mystery revolves around some very seedy and brilliant characters that lack a conscience, hence, the proliferation of deaths by nefarious means.   Rosenfelt is a master of understatement and dry wit.   He aptly displays both in Heart of a Killer.   Rather than a straightforward mystery, this one is an in-depth examination of human nature and personal values.

After three wonderful reads, this reviewer is considering delving into past works by Rosenfelt.   It’s like betting on a sure thing.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Heart of a Killer was released on February 14, 2012.   Click on this link to read the opening pages:   http://www.davidrosenfelt.com/heart-of-a-killer-first-chapter/

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