Tag Archives: English mystery

A Step Back in Time

taxidermist 2

The Taxidermist’s Daughter: A Novel by Kate Mosse (William Morrow, $26.99, 412 pages)

In a remote village near the English coast, residents gather in a misty churchyard. It is St. Mark’s Eve, when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk.

Alone in the crowd is Constancia Gifford, the taxidermist’s daughter. Twenty-two and unmarried, she lives with her father on the fringes of town, in a decaying mansion cluttered on the remains of town, in a decaying mansion cluttered with the remains of his once world-famous museum of taxidermy. No one speaks of why the museum was shuttered or how the Giffords sank so low.

As the last peal of the midnight bell fades to silence, a woman is found dead – a stranger Connie noticed near the church.

A step back in time brings us to the early 1900s in Fishbourne, Chicester, West Sussex England. The author Kate Mosse (New York Times bestselling author of Labyrinth) is an accomplished writer of novels, non-fiction books and plays. Her writing style is consistent with the time she portrays. The specificity with which she slowly and gently unfolds her grisly tale is riveting, especially in light of the super fast action/thriller/mysteries we see today.

The physical book alerts the reader to the crafting and care embodied in The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Deckle pages add a touch of aged elegance, as do the illustrations marking each of the three parts of the tale and the start of each chapter. There is a detailed map of Fishbourne circa 1912 up front, which adds dimension and a sense of relationship between the sites where the action takes place. Readers would be wise to use a Post-It or page marker for ease in referencing the map. The Deckle edged pages are a bit difficult to separate for leafing back to the map.

taxidermist

Connie, the taxidermist’s daughter, lives with her father, Gifford, on an isolated marshland in an old house. A sequence of events in the marsh, nearby town and church is set forth by an unseen narrator in one type font and a series of first-person missives in a flowing italic font is interspersed between events. The missives are haunting and threatening. Clearly, there is a past deed that warrants retribution.

A murky mystery unravels as though the past is meeting up with the present. Author Mosse provides a wealth of information about the indigenous birds and plants of Fishbourne. The detail with which she lays out Connie’s skillful practice of taxidermy approaches textbook accuracy.

Be very aware that this tale is not for the casual reader of English mysteries. There is much to be learned within these pages both in terms of technical knowledge and human psychology.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on March 29, 2016.

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From London to France

Maise Dobbs

Maise Dobbs: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Crime, $14.95, 304 pages)

Maise felt a chill as the stillness of the cemetery seeped through her clothing and touched her skin. Yet the shiver was familiar to Maisie, who had felt the sensation even in warm weather when there was no cooling breeze. She had come to recognize this spark of energy passing across her skin as a warning.

The re-release of Maisie Dobbs proved a delightful introduction to Jacqueline Winspear’s British mystery series. Maisie is a top-notch spunky lady who has enjoyed the patronage of a wealthy benefactor, Lady Rowan Compton. Rather than a lucky happenstance, Maisie’s elevation from a lowly household servant to brilliant psychologist/detective is the result of her hard work and dedication to learning.

The time period is World War I, a favorite of many English mystery writers. What sets this one apart is the easy dialogue and charming characters. Maisie is going out on her own as an investigator after apprenticing with Maurice Blanche, a seasoned investigator. Her first case is a referral from Lady Compton’s attorney. A gentleman suspects his wife of being unfaithful and Maisie’s task is to determine whether the wife’s clandestine activities are a signal of marital trouble.

Maisie Dobbs is likeable without being too sweet or snarky. The book is a satisfying read. The trade paper book includes background on the author’s series and a list of reader study questions for book clubs.

Highly recommended.

Murder on the Ile Sordou (nook book)

Murder on the Ile Sordou: A Verlaque & Bonner Provencal Mystery by M. L. Longworth (Penguin, $15.00, 303 pages)

Verlaque said, “It’s a good idea, Clement. This is a beautiful place, from what I’ve seen so far. You’ll make back your investment.” Verlaque took another sip of wiskey; he knew all to well how risky the hotel and restaurant business was. And this one was on a remote island.

Now, there’s a change of scenery from London to France. The time is present day and the sleuths are two well-educated and highly placed legal professionals. Chief Magistrate Antoine Verlaque and his paramour law professor Marine Bonnet are embarking on their fourth adventure in Ms. Longworth’s series featuring the couple. Fans of Agatha Christie will notice her familiar style immediately. Longworth fashions her mystery using the gracious, unhurried approach and meticulous attention to detail that Christie readers expect.

Verlaque and Bonnet are on a summer vacation at a newly constructed/recreated 1960’s destination hotel situated on an island off the coast of Marseille. Their fellow vacationers include an old school chum of Verlaque and his wife, Ms. Bonnet’s best friend, a retired schoolteacher, a has-been French actor, his wife and stepson, and an American couple. Each of these characters, along with the hotel owners and staff are revealed with in-depth background information that the reader needs to use to solve the mystery.

The crime is committed well into the book, which highlights the nature of the tale – one that requires patience and careful attention to achieve a full enjoyment of the read. Ms. Longworth has a background that includes knowledge of French food and wine. She blends in her favorites in a way that feels charming rather than ostentatious. Although the Ile Sordou is fiction, the rest of the atmosphere is real.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were received from the publishers.

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Hiss and Hers

Hiss and Hers (nook book)

Hiss and Hers: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M. C. Beaton (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 304 pages)

“Yes,” said Agatha, acidly noting the plain hairstyle and fine wrinkles on Mrs. Freemantle’s face and wondering why she, Agatha, has wasted so much money on hairdressing and nonsurgical facelifts, not to mention a whole new wardrobe, all to lure George.

This book is one of an extensive collection of English mysteries centered around an aging, though not really older, lady detective. As is usually the situation, Agatha has her own wealth and runs a detective agency seemingly as a hobby rather than from financial need. Although Agatha is willing to work at staying attractive, she’s not likely to give up smoking and drinking. Throughout the book most of the characters were depicted pouring drinks, brewing tea and lighting cigarettes.

Enter George Marston, a retired military man who works as a handyman/gardener in the village where Agatha lives. George is distinguished looking and sought after by most of the ladies in the village, single and married. Sadly, Agatha seems to fail in her pursuit of George and she feels the need for a sure opportunity to corner him. A charity ball is her answer to the dilemma. Before Agatha’s big evening, George is found dead.

The real chase begins as Agatha takes on an assignment from George’s sister to find his killer. Agatha is brutally honest in her self-assessments as well as those that she makes of the various women whose lives intersected with George. To make matters more convoluted, Agatha has her ex-husband for a next-door neighbor and a former lover who has a key to her house that he uses whenever he wants her company.

“Oh, my mink,” mourned Agatha. “All those beautiful little vermin which were better on my back than depopulating the natural species of these islands.”

There are many non-PC comments and actions in the story, and that’s just fine. This is an English mystery for heaven’s sake!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Raisin (is an) irrepressible detective.” Library Journal

M. C. Beaton is also the author of the Hamish Macbeth Mystery series, which includes Death of a Chimney Sweep, earlier reviewed on this site.

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