One-Eyed Royals (Seven of Spades #4) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Shattered by their devastating breakup, Detective Levi Abrams and PI Dominic Russo find themselves at war right when they need each other most. While Dominic is trapped in a vicious cycle of addiction, Levi despairs of ever catching the Seven of Spades. The ruthless vigilante’s body count continues to climb, and it’s all Levi can do to keep up with the carnage.

When Levi’s and Dominic’s paths keep crossing in the investigation of a kidnapping ring with a taste for mutilation, it feels like history repeating itself. Thrown together by fate once again, they reluctantly join forces in their hunt for the mastermind behind the abductions.

But the Seven of Spades hates sharing the spotlight, and they have an ace in the hole: a new batch of victims with a special connection to Levi. Their murders send shockwaves through Las Vegas and change the rules of the game forever.

The Seven of Spades has upped the ante. If Levi and Dominic don’t play their cards right, they’ll end up losing everything.

Rating: A

Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series comprises some of the best books I’ve read this year, and if you’re a fan of m/m romantic suspense/thrillers and haven’t read them yet, then you’ve got a real treat in store.  The titular Seven of Spades is a serial killer plaguing Las Vegas, and because the series has plotlines and character relationships that stretch across all five books in the series, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.  And this is absolutely not the place to jump in if you haven’t read the previous books.  Go back to book one, Kill Game, and then work your way here – I promise you won’t be disappointed because this series is one of the most gripping I’ve ever read.

At the end of book three, Cash Plays, Detective Levi Abrams and his lover, PI Dominic Russo, crashed and burned in a pretty spectacular way.  Dominic, a compulsive gambler, doesn’t see his addiction as an illness, believing instead that it’s a personal weakness he just has to be strong enough to conquer.  Because of this, he hasn’t really sought out the right sort of help (or much of it), and when a case he was working put him in the way of starting to gamble again in order to maintain his cover, he fell very quickly back into old habits.  One of the things Cordelia Kingsbridge does spectacularly well in these books is explore the motivations and thought processes of an addict, and she shows very clearly the processes of self-deception and denial Dominic goes through in order to convince himself there’s nothing wrong and he can stop gambling after the case is over.  And while Dominic is becoming increasingly self-absorbed and desperate to hide his relapse from Levi, Levi is going through hell courtesy of his increasing frustration over the lack of progression in the Seven of Spades case and the growing suspicion of his colleagues. In yet another Machiavellian turn, the killer is targeting the men who beat Levi so viciously over a decade earlier and were never punished, and the SoS’s fascination – obsession – with Levi and the similarities in their psyches pointed out by the  FBI profiler in the previous book are driving a wedge between him and those around him. He’s hanging on to his volcanic temper and his sanity by the merest thread, his professional reputation is being gradually eroded and he’s more afraid than ever of what he might do if he’s pushed too far.  And he’s going through it alone and without the support of the man he loves.

Levi and Dominic split up after an epic row at the end of Cash Plays, and at the beginning of One-Eyed Royals a few months later, are still apart… although they can’t keep their hands off each other and continue to have sex on a fairly regular basis.  These hook-ups inevitably end badly, but they just can’t quit each other.  Levi vowed to make Dominic’s life a living hell until he stopped gambling, and he’s making good on that promise, having him blacklisted from practically every casino in the city and making sure Dominic is hounded by cops every time he turns around.   Levi has always had a capacity for ruthlessness; he’s sarcastic, abrasive and there’s no doubt some of his actions and words are downright cruel – yet I couldn’t exactly blame him for them most of the time.  (And Dominic isn’t completely blameless in the cruelty department, either.) Levi is furious with Dominic; not because he’s relapsed but because of the lengths he’s gone to hide it from him – and because Dominic can’t (or won’t) admit his gambling has become a problem again.

In each of the books in the series so far, the author has cleverly developed two seemingly disparate plotlines only to gradually merge them during the course of the story, and that’s no different here.  The Seven of Spades is continuing their vigilante crusade, the city’s rival gangs are still jostling for position and Dominic’s latest case is proving extremely frustrating.  Hired to look into the possibility of fraud or sabotage at Kensington Insurance Group, a company that specialises in providing insurance against kidnap and ransom for high-ranking executives, his client is unhelpfully cagy, unwilling to brief Dominic on all that he needs to know.

On top of all the stress of the stalled SoS investigation and of Dominic’s descent back into addiction, Levi picks up another murder case, this time seemingly unconnected to the Seven of Spades, in which the victim has had one eye surgically removed.  When a young woman, a high-powered executive, arrives at the station and tells him how she was kidnapped and had the same procedure – her eye sent to her family and colleagues as an unmistakable message – it’s clear there’s more to the murder than at first appeared.  It transpires that both she and the dead man were insured by Kensington, which throws Levi and Dominic into each other’s orbits once again, and they reluctantly have to work together in spite of the seemingly irreconcilable differences that lie between them.

Cordelia Kingsbridge once again weaves a compelling suspense plot and ratchets up the tension as the SoS’ latest killing spree strikes really close to home for Levi.  But the relationship between the leads is the big draw in this series, and in this book, the angst-o-meter is cranked up to eleven.  Both men are hurting; Levi knows Dominic is his bashert, his soulmate, and he feels totally bereft without him, while Dominic is so far down the rabbit hole of denial, his feelings of worthlessness stoking his need for the rush gambling gives him, that he can’t and won’t seek the help he needs.  It seems there’s no hope for them until another shocking development pushes Levi one more step closer to the edge and finally brings the truth home to Dominic; and in a brilliant yet disturbing set-piece near the end in which they’re pitted directly against the Seven of Spades, they prove once and for all that they’re stronger together than apart.

At the end (where I may have squealed with delight) Ms. Kingsbridge sets the scene for the final book in the series with considerable aplomb, promising an exciting showdown between our heroes and the enigmatic killer who has so far eluded them.  I know there are lots of theories out there as to the identity of the Seven of Spades, but I confess to having no idea whatsoever and I’m quite happy to wait for the reveal in A Chip and a Chair when it comes out later this year.

The Seven of Spades series has quickly become a firm favourite, and while part of me wishes I’d read it earlier, another part is glad I picked it up near the end so that I haven’t had to wait between instalments.  I love the characters, the plotlines, the humour, the angst and the tenderness; Cordelia Kingsbridge has consistently maintained an incredibly high standard throughout the series, and I’m eagerly anticipating more of the same come December.

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The Corset by Laura Purcell

This title may be purchased from Amazon

NOTE: NOT AVAILABLE DIGITALLY IN THE US. The book is being published in the US in June 2019 under the title The Poison Thread

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth.

Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted to have the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

Rating: B

Laura Purcell first came to my attention as the author of a couple of very fine pieces of historical fiction, and earlier this year, I awarded her fabulous, spooky supernatural/gothic mystery The Silent Companions DIK status at AAR  and gushed about it to everyone who crossed my path!  I’ve been waiting eagerly to read her next novel The Corset, another mystery set in Victorian England, this time, featuring two very different women who are brought together in the gloomy surroundings of a London prison.

Dorothea Truelove is pragmatic, intelligent and privileged.  She is heiress to a considerable sum, but continually resists her father’s attempts to find her an eligible husband, preferring instead to concentrate on her scientific interests and the young, most definitely ineligible policeman with whom she is in love.  Dorothea has become fascinated by phrenology  – a pseudoscience that posited that a person’s character could be determined by the measurements of their skull and that personality, thoughts and emotions were located in certain specific regions of the brain – and is furthering her knowledge by visiting female inmates at Oakwood Gate Prison.  She is keen to meet the latest new arrival, a sixteen-year-old girl called Ruth Butterham who has confessed to the murder of her employer and several other people, and to study the size and shape of her skill, believing her research could help “devise a system to detect, scientifically, without a doubt, all evil propensities in the young” and thereby a way of preventing them from becoming criminals.

Ruth Butterham couldn’t be more different to Dorothea.  A talented seamstress, Ruth’s life has been blighted by tragedy, poverty and horror; when her father commits suicide, she and her sick mother are forced to seek help from Mrs. Metyard, a popular modiste for whom Ruth’s mother often does piece-work.  In desperation, Ruth’s mother more or less sells Ruth to Mrs. Metyard, believing that a roof over her head and regular meals will be better for Ruth than anything she can provide, which is why, aged just twelve, Ruth finds herself subjected to abuse and exploitation alongside four other girls, all of them terribly mistreated, half-starved and regularly beaten.

The story is told from both Dorothea’s and Ruth’s points of view, the latter in the form of the tale she is telling Dorothea and her thoughts and feelings upon it.  Ruth tells how she came to believe that she had the ability to impart her feelings through her needle and into her work, and how she has been able to cause harm to those who harmed her by weaving her hatred and anger into her sewing.  Dorothea is at first fascinated and excited at the prospect of being able to examine the head shape and size of a murderess, but soon becomes annoyed and frustrated; what she is hearing from Ruth’s lips and learning from her skull shape and measurements don’t match up at all, because her centres of morality and memory are too well developed for someone who is clearly telling so many lies.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Dorothea’s narrative is somewhat less engrossing than Ruth’s.  She doesn’t have to worry about where her next meal is coming from, or whether dropping this plate or that candle will result in a vicious beating (which happens in Ruth’s story); her problems are trivial by comparison, as she fumes about the fact that her father is planning to marry a woman she dislikes intensely, and over his attempts to force her into marriage. That said, the parallels the author draws between the women in relation to how little control either has over their lives is relevant and nicely done, showing clearly that gender was a great leveller, still the biggest obstacle to a woman having choices, no matter her social or financial status.  The corset is certainly an interesting metaphor, applied just as well to the garments that restricted women’s movement as to the rigid conventions that restricted their behaviour and opportunities.

As is the case with the other books I’ve read by Laura Purcell, The Corset is beautifully written, and her research has clearly been impeccable.  The descriptions of what Ruth goes through – the poverty, the despair, the cruelty – have a visceral impact and make Ruth an easy figure to sympathise with, but they were also a little too gory at times for my taste, and there were elements of unnecessary repetition that didn’t enhance or further the story.  And here I have a confession to make; the reveal that came around the half-way point was so daft that it actually made me want to snort with laughter rather than hide behind the sofa.

I find I can’t write about The Corset without reference to Ms. Purcell’s previous novel, The Silent Companions, which is one of the best modern gothic novels I’ve read.  Deeply atmospheric and seriously creepy, it worked so well because there was genuine doubt as to what was really going on; was the heroine subject to supernatural forces or mere human evil?  Whatever the answer arrived at by the reader, both options were equally terrifying.  In this novel, however, there is no real horror (unless you count the account of the birth of Ruth’s sister, or the gloopy slime of the decaying fish one of the other girls put into Ruth’s work-basket), or sense of the unexpected. I was never really convinced by Ruth’s belief that she could somehow sew malevolence into the garments she made and embroidered, which always seemed to me to be something latched on to by a girl so traumatised by loss and despair that she would believe anything if it meant she was able to exercise even the smallest amount of control over her circumstances.

The characterisation of both leads is extremely strong, Ruth’s naïve, trusting nature tempered by an incredible resilience and endurance while Dorothea, ostensibly a good young woman with a penchant for doing good works, turns out to be something of  a self-righteous prig.  Ms. Purcell interweaves their narratives skilfully and in such a way as to give the reader time to reflect upon their reliability, and the final chapters and slowly evolving revenge plot are incredibly well done; for my money, the final twenty percent of the novel is easily worth the price of admission alone.  But for all the great things the book has going for it, I wasn’t as drawn into it as I’d hoped to be, which I freely admit may be because I had such high expectations and had hoped for more of what I found in the author’s previous novel.

The Corset nonetheless earns a solid recommendation courtesy of its superb writing, strong characterisation and intriguing storylines.  The novel’s flaws don’t outweigh its strengths by any means, and anyone looking for a gritty, well-written and well-researched gothic mystery could do worse than give it a try.

Quickie Reviews #2

Here are another couple of Quickie Reviews; books I’ve read or listened to recently but haven’t written full-length reviews for.


Among the Living (PsyCop #1) by Jordan Castillo Price

Rating: B-

An entertaining novella, first in a series featuring the rather endearingly shambolic PsyCop, Victor Bayne. The author sets up her world – in which “stiff” (non-psychic) cops are paired up with a psi – very well, and clearly shows there’s a downside to having psychic gifts. Victor and his new partner, Lisa Gutierrez, are assigned to investigate a murder in which the victim is artfully arranged on a bed, surrounded by glass/mirror fragments. Victor, a level five medium is concerned when he can’t sense the dead person – usually their ghosts hang around to bitch about being dead – so this is odd. We’re also introduced to Victor’s love interest, Jacob Marks (another “NP” – non-psychic) and his partner, Caroline who is the human equivalent of a lie detector, and the four of them set about solving the mystery and finding the killer.

Because this is a novella, certain aspects are rushed – like the relationship between Victor and Jacob, who, in the books first pages, hook up at a party, but hopefully there’ll be more development in future books.

Victor is an engaging narrator and I’ll be checking out more of the books in the series.

ETA: I recently picked up the audio version of this in a Whispersync deal, and Gomez Pugh does a terrific job with the narration.  Great character differentiation and a terrific portrayal of Victor – I’m definitely going to pick up more of this series in audio.


The Duke I Tempted by Scarlett Peckham

No Rating

This was actually a very rare DNF for me, so I will not be rating the book; I didn’t finish reading it because I didn’t care for the BDSM element of the story. I’m no prude, I read books with explicit sex scenes on a regular basis, but I just can’t equate pain with sexual pleasure and I was unable to sympathise with the hero as a result. (And as a hero-centric reader, that’s pretty much the death knell for any book for me.) What I read was well-written and I would be interested in reading more from this author, but the BDSM scenes – though very few – turned my stomach. I also didn’t care for the cheating fairly late on in the story (I skimmed through to the end after I stopped reading); there’s a scene in which the heroine discovers the hero on his knees, stripped to the waist, and obviously aroused while being whipped by another woman.  YMMV of course, but in my mind, that’s infidelity and although I can deal with it in a romance under certain circumstances, this wasn’t one of them.  I don’t have many dealbreakers when it comes to what I read, but two in one story torpedoed this one.


The Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock #3) by Sherry Thomas


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

Rating: A

It seems that my reaction, whenever I finish one of Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock books, is forever destined to be one of complete awe as I sit stunned, with my brain trying to catch up while I’m also trying to scrape my jaw up off the floor. I’m not sure I’m capable of forming whole sentences just yet, because DAY-UM, but the woman has a devious mind!

The Hollow of Fear is the third in the series, and it opens exactly where book two – A Conspiracy in Belgravia – left off. So be aware that what I’m going to say next is a spoiler for that book, and that there are most likely to be spoilers for the other books in this review. Readers should also know that while there is information dotted throughout that supplies some of the backstory, I’d strongly recommend reading all the books in order so as to gain a greater understanding of all the relevant events.

The plotline of Conspiracy concerned the search for one Myron Finch, who is Charlotte Holmes’ illegitimate half-brother. In a surprise twist tight at the end of the book, we learned that Finch has actually been hiding in plain sight all this time, working as the Holmes family’s coachman, and this conversation continues at the beginning of Hollow. Finch explains that he’s in hiding from Moriarty because he – Finch – has something belonging to his former master and knows that death will be his punishment should Moriarty ever find him. After a daring escape – made with the aid of Stephen Marbleton (whose mother was married to Moriarty at one time) – Charlotte is making her way back to the house she shares with Mrs. Watson when a carriage draws up beside her, the door opens – and the gentleman inside gives his name as Moriarty.

Skipping ahead a few months, we find Charlotte and Mrs. Watson comfortably settled in a cottage situated not very far from Stern Hollow, the country estate of Charlotte’s closest friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton.  The two have known each other since they were in their teens and it’s been very clear from the moment readers were introduced to Lord Ingram – Ash – that there’s more lying between him and Charlotte than friendship.  But he is married (albeit very unhappily) and Charlotte is… an unusual woman, to say the least, one who does not “understand the full spectrum of human emotions”, or rather, whose own reactions to those emotions are not always those that are desired or easily understood by others.  Lord Ingram and Charlotte know and understand each other on a deep, instinctual level, and their relationship is both beautiful and frustrating; the complementary way their minds work is wonderful to see – when it comes to logic and investigation, their thoughts mesh seamlessly – but their emotional connection is far more complex and Lord Ingram, fully aware of the nature of his feelings for Charlotte, is just as fully aware that they may never be returned as he would wish.

However, the reason Charlotte and Mrs. Watson are sojourning near Stern Hollow is not Lord Ingram, but Charlotte’s sister, Olivia, who is staying close by, at a house party being hosted by their father’s cousin, Mrs. Newell.  Given that Charlotte was disowned after her disgrace (A Study in Scarlet Women), she cannot openly contact Livia and hopes she will be able to see her while she is in the vicinity.  It looks as though fate is against them when Mrs. Newell’s home is flooded and it seems the party must be broken up, but Lord Ingram steps in to offer the hospitality of Stern Hollow to the displaced guests.  Livia’s enjoyment of her new surroundings is slightly marred by the presence of  two of society’s pre-eminent gossips, who have alleged that Charlotte and Lord Ingram are lovers and are trying to prove it.  Lady Ingram’s continued absence – the story is that she has gone abroad for the sake of her health; the truth is that she was divulging state secrets to Moriarty, and was allowed to leave the country before she could be arrested – produces even more juicy speculation on the part of the two ladies, who are now putting forth the rumours that Lord Ingram may have done away with the wife from whom he was known to be estranged in order to marry Charlotte.  When, a day or so later, Lady Ingram’s dead body is discovered in the ice house, Livia knows it will look as though those rumours are true – and that there’s only one person who will be able to prove Lord Ingram’s innocence.

Gah!  There’s so much more I could say about this book, but I don’t want to give too much away.  The bulk of the story is devoted to the investigation into Lady Ingram’s death – but it’s far more complicated than that, and we’re gripped by the various twists, turns and discoveries as Sherlock’s ‘brother’ – Sherrinford Holmes – helps Lord Ingram to ferret out and piece together the evidence needed to exonerate him. There’s no question the stakes are high; this is the first time we’ve seen Charlotte even the slightest bit rattled, and the pervasive sense of fear running throughout the story is palpable.  For three-quarters of the novel, Ms. Thomas lulls readers into the belief that this is the story – only to rip out the carpet from under our feet and show it’s been about something else all along, revealing that while Ash’s life really IS on the line, he and Charlotte are facing a very dangerous, devious foe and they’re out to do much more than bring a murderer to justice.  That’s not the only twist in the tale however – a couple of chapters later I was reeling from yet another unexpected reveal that had my husband wondering what on earth I was swearing aloud about!

One of the (many) things that marks the Lady Sherlock series out as superior to so many other historical mysteries is the incredible amount of character development going on.  More layers of Charlotte’s complex personality are peeled back here, and we learn a lot more about Lord Ingram and his unpopular wife; but most importantly, with Ash and Charlotte together for almost the entire book we get to see the reality of their messy, complicated relationship and to gain a deeper understanding of why things between them are the way they are.  Their scenes together are electric, the sexual tension so thick it could be cut with a knife; the author wasn’t kidding when she said – “this is the one in which the romance between Charlotte Holmes and her good friend Lord Ingram really picks up steam”, so it’s not a spoiler to say that there are some interesting developments between them, but there is still much to hope for in future instalments.

Even with the high-stakes plot and the character and relationship development, there’s still time to shine a light on Charlotte’s family situation; on her plans for Bernadine, the older sister whose mind has never progressed beyond early childhood and on Livia, prone to melancholy and fearful for the future, but fiercely devoted to Charlotte – and, it seems, in love for the first time.  Inspector Treadles, who has been struggling ever since discovering Sherlock Holmes’ true identity, his judgement strongly coloured by his – probably typical for the time – misogynistic views as to what a woman should and shouldn’t be, proves a trustworthy ally, and by the end of the book – thanks to Charlotte – he’s realised the need to let go of this preconceived ideas.

The story is very cleverly constructed, making excellent use of flashbacks in the latter part to complete the bigger picture and fill in some of the information the reader almost doesn’t realise has been withheld. That’s not to say that I felt cheated at any point – I didn’t.  But I was able to figure out some things and not others, meaning that there were still plenty of surprises in store, and I loved that.

The Hollow of Fear is yet another tour de force from Sherry Thomas – and long may she continue to deliver them. A mystery filled with as many twists and turns as any Conan Doyle fan could wish for, a fascinating character study, and an unusual romance, it’s easily the best book of the series (so far) and my only complaint is that I have to wait until next year for another helping.

The Fire Court (Marwood and Lovett #2) by Andrew Taylor

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Somewhere in the soot-stained ruins of Restoration London, a killer has gone to ground…

The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away.

James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder…?

Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death… and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.

Rating: B+

The Fire Court is the sequel to Andrew Taylor’s The Ashes of London, an historical mystery that opened dramatically during the Great Fire of London and then proceeded to unravel a tale of murder and betrayal stretching back decades, to the reign of Cromwell and Charles I.  This novel reunites the protagonists of the earlier book – James Marwood and Cat Lovett – as they become entangled in the complicated business of the Fire Court, a body set up to oversee and settle any disputes that arise as a result of the rebuilding of the city after the fire.  With so many buildings damaged or destroyed, Parliament is eager to rebuild as soon as possible, and the Fire Court is charged with helping that along by settling legal disputes about leases, land boundaries and other matters pertaining to property ownership.  With greed and corruption snaking through the business of the court, the stakes are high for many – and for some, are high enough to commit murder.

Seven months after the events of the previous book, James Marwood is comfortably settled and is prospering financially in his posts as clerk to Joseph Williamson (Under-Secretary of State to Lord Arlington) and clerk to the Board of Red Cloth, a department attached closely to the king’s household.  He is still caring for his elderly, mentally unstable father, but early in the story, Mr. Marwood senior dies in an accident leaving his son with little other than some confused ramblings about his mother, the rookeries and a woman decked out like a cheap whore in a yellow dress.

Cat Lovett, who ran from her well-to-do family in order to avoid marriage to her smarmy cousin (who raped her) is still in hiding and has adopted the name and persona of Jane Hakesby, cousin and servant to Simon Hakesby, a well-respected architect.  Cat is a talented draughtsman herself, although as a woman, the profession is barred to her, but Hakesby – who is not in the best of health – allows her to assist him on occasion and to make her own designs under his auspices.  At the beginning of the novel, she is attending the proceedings of the Fire Court, partly to take notes (and to practice her newly learned shorthand) and partly to attend her master, who is there to watch out for the interests of one of that day’s petitioners.

Marwood and Cat have not encountered each other in the intervening months and don’t expect to do so, as they move in very different circles.  But they are drawn together again after Williamson instructs Marwood to accompany him to view the body of a woman found dead in the ruins of what seems to have been the cellar of a house.  The woman’s garish clothing suggests she may have been a whore, but that isn’t the case; she’s identified as a wealthy widow, which explains the government’s interest in the woman’s fate.  Charged with finding out as much as he can about the murder, Marwood is suddenly reminded of his late father’s last ramblings – which it seems may not have been ramblings at all.  But while Williamson wants answers, Chiffinch, Keeper of the King’s Private Closet (and Marwood’s other employer) wants things left alone; but Marwood is already too involved to stop looking for answers – which come at a very high personal cost.

As in the previous book, Marwood’s portions of the tale are told in the first person, while Cat’s are in the third, and I had no problems whatsoever with the juxtaposition of styles.  We find out a little more about both characters here, as they do about each other; in The Ashes of London, they encountered each other only briefly although their stories intersected frequently, and in the dramatic climax of the story, Marwood saved Cat’s life. It’s this that prompts her to go against Hakesby’s wishes when Marwood asks for her help, and leads to her being drawn into intrigue and danger as she, too, becomes involved in the investigation into the murder.

My one criticism about The Ashes of London was that I didn’t quite feel as though I got to know either Cat or Marwood, but here, they’re starting to feel more fleshed out.  Marwood is a pleasant young man who just wants to live a comfortable, quiet life as he tries to live down his father’s reputation as a radical and former Fifth Monarchist. I sympathised with his conflicting feelings for his difficult, sometimes demanding father,  and with the dilemma of his divided loyalties and the need to make a choice between his two employers.  Cat continues to be prickly and defensive, but her position is a precarious one; she cannot risk being found by her family or she will be forced into an unwanted marriage.  She’s observant and sharp-tongued, brave and loyal, and I was pleased to see the slowly developing trust between her and Marwood.

Although I found the book a little slow to start, I was hooked within a few short chapters and eager to see where things were going.   Mr. Taylor’s research is impeccable and has clearly been extensive; his descriptions of post-Fire London are incredibly evocative, and he paints a wonderfully vivid picture of a city in a state of flux, where poverty is rife and life is a daily struggle for many.  It’s not essential to have read The Ashes of London in order to enjoy and understand this novel, although I’d recommend it in order to gain a fuller appreciation of the historical context and of the evolution of the relationship between Cat and Marwood.  The Fire Court is a complex, absorbing read, full of political and legal intrigue, high-stakes situations for our two protagonists, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fans of intricate, well-written historical mysteries will find much to enjoy, and I’m eager to see what’s in store for Marwood and Lovett in the next book in the series.

 

Murder in Mayfair (Atlas Catesby #1) by D.M. Quincy (audiobook) – Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

In 1810, Atlas Catesby, a brilliant adventurer and youngest son of a baron, is anxious to resume his world travels after a carriage accident left him injured in London. But his plans are derailed when, passing through a country village, he discovers a helpless woman being auctioned off to the highest bidder–by her husband.

In order to save her from being violated by another potential buyer, Atlas purchases the lady, Lilliana, on the spot to set her free. But Lilliana, desperate to be with her young sons and knowing the laws of England give a father all parental rights, refuses to be rescued–until weeks later when her husband is murdered and Atlas is the only one who can help clear her name of the crime.

Fortunately, Atlas is a master at solving complicated puzzles, both with games and the intricacies of human motivation, and finds himself uniquely suited to the task, despite the personal peril it may put him in. But soon Altas learns the dead man had many secrets–and more than a few enemies willing to kill to keep them quiet–in Murder in Mayfair, the first in a new historical mystery series by D. M. Quincy.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – C

D.M. Quincy’s Murder in Mayfair is the first in a series of Regency Era historical mysteries featuring gentleman traveller, Atlas Catesby. The blurb and some reviewers have suggested it will appeal to fans of Georgette Heyer or of C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr novels, but that’s misleading. The writing is solid, but doesn’t possess the wit or sharp observational humour of Heyer – who certainly didn’t pepper her prose with Americanisms – and the plotting doesn’t come close to the complexity of a St. Cyr mystery, not to mention that Atlas Catesby is no Viscount Devlin.

Atlas – the youngest son of a baron – spends most of his time travelling the world, but an injury to his foot has seen him lingering in England for longer than he normally likes, and he’s finding his patience sorely tested. He and his good friend the Earl of Charlton have stopped for refreshment at a country inn when a commotion in the yard draws Atlas’ attention. A jeering crowd surrounds a stocky man and a much younger – and rather striking – woman, and Atlas is outraged to hear the man – identified by the innkeeper as a Mr. Warwick – announce that his wife is for sale to the highest bidder.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dinner Most Deadly (John Pickett Mysteries #4) by Sheri Cobb South (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin

dinner most deadly

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When Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, returns from Scotland restless and out of sorts, her friend Emily Dunnington plans a select dinner party with half a dozen male guests from whom Julia may choose a lover.

But Emily’s dinner ends in disaster when one of her guests, Sir Reginald Montague, is shot dead.

When Bow Street Runner John Pickett is summoned to Emily’s house, he is faced with the awkward task of informing Lady Fieldhurst that their recent masquerade as a married couple (Family Plot) has resulted in their being legally wed.

Beset by distractions – including the humiliating annulment procedure and the flattering attentions of Lady Dunnington’s pretty young housemaid – Pickett must find the killer of a man whom everyone has reason to want dead.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

Note: This review contains spoilers for earlier books in the series.

Sheri Cobb South’s series of historical mysteries featuring the charming young Bow Street Runner John Pickett continues apace with the fourth full-length novel in the series, Dinner Most Deadly. It’s another enjoyable mix of murder-mystery and romance, but here, the romantic angle is as much the focus as the mystery, as John and the love of his life, Lady Julia Fieldhurst, struggle to deal with the ramifications of their recent masquerade as Mr. and Mrs. Pickett in book three, Family Plot. This instalment is particularly angsty in terms of their continuing relationship; John has been in love with Julia since they met in book one, In Milady’s Chamber, and while it’s taken Julia longer to realise the truth of her feelings for the thoughtful, insightful and achingly sweet young man who is so devoted to her, she is finally starting to see them for what they really are. But… a viscountess and a thief-taker who earns the princely sum of twenty-five shillings a week? The social divide between them is too great to permit even the merest nodding acquaintance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals