The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve West

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

1910. Joanna Blalock unknowingly is the product of a sole assignation between the late Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. After the nurse and her ten-year-old son see a man fall to his death in an apparent suicide, elderly Dr. John Watson and his charming handsome son Dr. John Watson Jr. invite her to join their detective team. From hidden treasure to the Second Afghan War of 1878-1880, the group devise an ingenious plan to catch a murderer in the act while dodging Scotland Yard the British aristocracy.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – C-

I’ll confess straight off that I’m not what I’d call a Sherlock Holmes “aficionado”. I’ve read some of the books and stories, and have enjoyed his various celluloid iterations, from Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing to Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, and Sherry Thomas’ re-imagining of Sherlock as Charlotte in A Study in Scarlet Women was one of my favourite books and audiobooks of last year. But I can’t quote chunks of text or even remember all the plots of the stories I’ve read, so I’m most definitely not a card-carrying member of the Sherlock Fan Club.

But I was definitely up for the idea of a story featuring The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, although now I’ve finished it, I can’t say if it’s the sort of book that will appeal to diehard Sherlockians or to the relatively uninitiated. Speaking as a member of the latter group, I’m not sure whether the style adopted by author Leonard Goldberg is akin to Conan Doyle’s or if it was his intention for the entire book to seem like averagely-written Sherlock Holmes fanfiction. Reviews of the book on Goodreads certainly indicate that those more familiar with Conan Doyle’s work appreciated the writing in this, but I found it plodding and unimaginative.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Anthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Rating: D+

Nancy Campbell Allen’s The Secret of the India Orchid appealed to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, much as I enjoy historical romances set in Europe, I’m always happy to see ones sent in more far-flung locations; and secondly, the premise of a dashing spy forced to conceal his true nature and purpose beneath the façade of a wastrel in order to protect his nearest and dearest is a trope that I enjoy when done well. Sadly, however, neither of those elements is particularly well-executed, and, together with weak characterisation and poor plotting, made for a plodding, insipid read overall.

Anthony Blake, Earl of Wilshire has been in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot, for some time and is about to ask for permission to court her when his former boss and spymaster, Lord Braxton tells him that he must undertake one, last mission. Anthony, who was relieved to get out of the spying game a couple of years earlier upon assuming his title, is not best pleased at being drafted back into service, but when Braxton tells him of the theft of the Janus Document – which contains sensitive information about British agents, their families, their habits and every aspect of their lives, any of which could potentially be used as leverage against them – Anthony reluctantly agrees to retrieve it.

Two years later, still heartbroken over Anthony’s sudden departure and wanting to get away from her memories of him in England, Sophia lands in India, intending to spend some time there under the sponsorship of Lady Pilkington. She is, however, destined not to be able to use distance to lessen her attachment to Anthony because he’s recently arrived in Bombay on the next leg of his tour of carefree fun and frolic (as she thinks), and in reality still on the trail of the Janus Document. All Braxton could tell him about the theft was that he believed it had been perpetrated by someone who worked for him, Harold Miller. Anthony has received word that Miller’s uncle, a sea captain, is a guest of the Pilkington’s, hence his presence in Bombay. He believes the nephew may have passed the document to Captain Miller and intends to meet with him and interrogate him, but before he can do so, the captain is murdered and the contents of Lord Pilkington’s safe mysteriously disappear.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Beauty Like the Night (Spymasters #6) by Joanna Bourne

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Sèverine de Cabrillac, orphan of the French revolution and sometime British intelligence agent, has tried to leave spying behind her. Now she devotes herself to investigating crimes in London and finding justice for the wrongly accused.

Raoul Deverney, an enigmatic half-Spaniard with enough secrets to earn even a spy’s respect, is at her door demanding help. She’s the only one who can find the killer of his long-estranged wife and rescue her missing fourteen-year-old daughter.

Sèverine reluctantly agrees to aid him, even though she knows the growing attraction between them makes it more than unwise. Their desperate search for the girl ​unleashes treason and murder. . . and offers a last chance for two strong, wounded people to find love.

Rating: A-

Beauty Like the Night, the eagerly awaited sixth book in Joanna Bourne’s widely acclaimed Spymasters series, tells the story of Séverine de Cabrillac, whom we first met as a very young child caught up in the revolutionary terror of late eighteenth century Paris in The Forbidden Rose.  Ten years after being brought to England by William Doyle, Sévie ran off to war where she joined Military Intelligence and gained an impressive reputation as a spy, a woman who took many names, who wore many disguises, who was always frighteningly effective.  Returned to London and now in her late twenties, she operates a small investigative agency – and is still frighteningly effective.  But her involvement with politics and espionage is far from over, as is shown when she becomes involved in the hunt for a murderer, a missing child… and a traitor.

Séverine’s reputation for getting results as an investigator is every bit as remarkable as her reputation as a spy.  Clever, uncompromising and tenacious, she is known to never back down or be frightened off, and it’s said that once she is involved with a case, it’s as good as solved.  Her name and reputation are partly responsible for leading Raoul Deverney to her bedroom late one night, when he casually requests the return of a twelve-year-old girl named Pilar, who has been missing since the murder of her mother – his wife – some three months earlier.  The girl is not his daughter, but she has in her possession, an amulet, a family heirloom he is anxious to recover. Séverine knows nothing of the girl or the amulet and is, not surprisingly, rather alarmed by the sudden appearance of a man bearing a knife at her bedside.  Yet nothing of this shows in her demeanour as she coolly denies all knowledge of both girl and amulet, assessing the intruder and deducing he’s either mad or deadly – quickly realising he’s not the former.  Their discussion ended,  he disappears into the night, but not before he has promised they will meet again – and ventured a brief touch to her cheek, which Séverine finds oddly unsettling.

Raoul Deverney is well acquainted with the name of de Cabrillac and has no doubt that the woman he encountered in Spain a decade earlier could have committed or been involved in the murder of his estranged wife.  But would she be party to the kidnap of a young girl?  He can’t be so sure about that.  Yet his search of his late wife’s  apartment revealed the words ‘amulet’ and ‘de Cabrillac’ scratched into Pilar’s bedframe – so there’s no question Séverine is involved in some way.  He just has to work out how.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

An Unnatural Vice by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.

Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel – or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.

Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.

But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust – and, perhaps, the only man he could love.

Rating: Narration – A- Content – A

An Unnatural Vice is the second book in K.J. Charles’ Sins of the Cities series, a trilogy set in late Victorian London which revolves around the search for the missing heir to an earldom. Each book features one central couple whose romance is complete by the end, but the overarching story of blackmail, bigamy and murder is carried through each one, so while it’s possible to enjoy the books on their own, I’d recommend starting with book one, An Unseen Attraction to get the best out of the series.

Almost six years earlier, Nathaniel Roy lost the love of his life in a freak accident. Since then – and with the loving support of a number of good friends who include Clem Tallyfer (main protagonist of An Unseen Attraction), he’s put the pieces of his life back together, and channels his focus into his career as a journalist, dedicated to exposing the plight of the poor and shedding light on the shady practices of big business. Emotionally, however, he is frozen, still mourning his sunny-natured, gentle lover and has never, in the years since Tony’s death, felt attraction or desire for another man.

Until the night he sets eyes on Justin Lazarus for the first time.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Single Malt (Agents Irish and Whiskey #1) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Eight months after the car crash that changed everything, FBI agent Aidan Talley is back at work. New department, new case and a new partner. Smart, athletic and handsome, Jameson Walker is twelve years his junior. Even if Aidan was ready to move on—and he’s not—Jamie is off-limits.

Jamie’s lusted after Aidan for three years, and the chance to work with San Francisco’s top agent directly is too good to pass up. Aidan is prickly—to put it mildly—but a growing cyber threat soon proves Jamie’s skills invaluable.

Jamie’s talents paint a target on his back, and Aidan is determined to protect him. But with hack after hack threatening a high-security biocontainment facility, time is running out to thwart a deadly terrorist attack. They’ll have to filter out distractions, on the case and in their partnership, to identify the real enemy, solve the case and save thousands of lives, including their own.

Rating: B+

Single Malt is the first book in début author Layla Reyne’s trilogy of romantic suspense novels featuring Agents Irish and Whiskey – Aidan Talley and Jameson Walker – two FBI agents whose unexpected  pairing in the field translates into a superlative working relationship … and into a more romantic partnership off the clock.

Eight months after the car crash that killed both his husband and his FBI partner, Special Agent Aidan Talley is cleared to return to work.  The night before his first day back, his sister-in-law – who is also his boss, Special Agent in Charge, Melissa Cruz – tells him she believes the accident was no accident and gives Aidan a flash drive that she was sent anonymously after the crash.  The information it contains is heavily encrypted, but she gives Aidan permission to start digging and tells him he must keep his investigations under the radar.

Melissa also tells Aidan that he’s been assigned a new partner, former basketball star, now one of the FBI’s most able cybercrime agents, Jameson Walker.   Mel wants Aidan to assess Walker’s capabilities in the field, but Aidan is not wild about the idea of mentoring the younger agent.  For one thing, he’d worked with his former partner for fifteen years and it’s bound to be difficult to adjust to someone else and for another, he’s not sure he wants the responsibility just as he’s returning to work after such a long absence.  And, as Aidan discovers on his first day back, there’s another problem.  Ten years in a committed relationship and he’s never looked at another man – until he’s confronted with the almost six and a half feet of handsome, blue-eyed Southern charm that is Jameson Walker in the flesh.

Shortly after working their first case together, Aidan and Jamie are assigned to work with colleagues in Galveston to investigate a series of security breaches at the Galveston National Laboratory Biochemical facility.  The suspense plot is intriguing and fast paced, sometimes moving at breakneck speed as the revelations come thick and fast and our heroes race against time to work out who and what is behind the emerging threat.  At the same time, the initial frisson of attraction between Aidan and Jamie is slowly developing into a strong emotional connection as the two men establish a solid working relationship based on mutual trust and understanding.  Aidan decides he trusts Jamie enough to reveal the truth about his off-the-record investigation into the accident, and while they work to find out the truth of what is happening at the lab, Jamie also begins to work his magic on the encrypted data.

The dénouement is high-stakes and exhilarating – and while the case is solved and the threat averted, there’s more to come after Mel drops an almighty bombshell about the identity of the terrorist behind the threat they’d been working to avert, and his connection to the crash that killed Aidan’s husband and partner.  Swearing Jamie to secrecy, she provides him with information she hasn’t given to Aidan and tells him to keep on with his investigation.

Single Malt is a terrific series opener, and Ms. Reyne does a great job setting up the story arc that will run throughout the series as well as establishing her main characters and how they all relate to one another.  The chemistry between the two leads is off the charts, and their slow-burn relationship is very well done, but they both have emotional baggage to deal with before they can really move forward together.  Aidan is naturally cautious about entering a new relationship, but it’s more than that – he’s terrified of falling in love again and opening himself up to another devastating loss at the same time as he recognises that it’s probably too late and he’s already in too deep.  Jamie’s had a thing for Aidan for years, but respected his marriage and never made a move – but he’s also learned caution as a result of his past as a celebrity athlete.  He’s not in the closet, but he doesn’t advertise his sexuality either, having had more than his fair share of media intrusion back in the day and knows that even now, his sexual orientation is likely to be gossip fodder.

Both characters are attractive and likeable; Aidan, a bit on the grumpy side but incredibly efficient and Jamie, open-hearted, brilliant and like Tigger on speed when he’s on a coffee-high after pulling an all-night hacking job.  Their professional skills complement each other and very soon, they’re operating like a well-oiled machine, able to anticipate the other’s thoughts and needs; and that carries over into their personal relationship as we witness their teasing banter and their obvious care and affection for one another.

My one complaint about the book is that all the acronyms and jargon (or “technobabble” as Aidan would put it) employed in the early stages made it quite difficult to read.  Maybe it’s because – as a non-American – I’m not familiar with all the different agencies and their initials, and I admit that sometimes all the hacker-nerd-talk went straight over my head.  But that’s probably just me – and otherwise, Single Malt is definitely a book to check out if you’re a fan of fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat romantic suspense.

Murder on Black Swan Lane (Wrexford & Sloane #1) by Andrea Penrose

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

In Regency London, an unconventional scientist and a fearless female artist form an unlikely alliance to expose unspeakable evil . . .

The Earl of Wrexford possesses a brilliant scientific mind, but boredom and pride lead him to reckless behavior. He does not suffer fools gladly. So when pompous, pious Reverend Josiah Holworthy publicly condemns him for debauchery, Wrexford unsheathes his rapier-sharp wit and strikes back. As their war of words escalates, London’s most popular satirical cartoonist, A.J. Quill, skewers them both. But then the clergyman is found slain in a church—his face burned by chemicals, his throat slashed ear to ear—and Wrexford finds himself the chief suspect.

Rating: B+

Murder on Black Swan Lane is the first book in a new series of Regency-era historical mysteries by Andrea Penrose (who also writes as Andrea Pickens and Cara Elliot), which sees a satirical cartoonist teaming up with a scientifically-minded earl to investigate a couple of gruesome murders. The mystery is well-put together and includes some fascinating detail about the chemical sciences as they were understood at the beginning of the 19th century – the author has clearly done her homework – and we’re introduced to an engaging set of characters who will, I hope, continue to appear throughout the series.

The Earl of Wrexford (who doesn’t appear to have an actual name, just a title) has recently been publicly denounced as the worst kind of dissolute rake by the pompous, puffed-up Reverend Josiah Holworthy. Never one to suffer fools gladly, and the sort of man whom boredom inspires to ever more reckless behaviour, Wrexford responds to his accuser by unleashing his razor-sharp wit in a clever rebuttal, which is printed in the Morning Gazette. An increasingly vitriolic and very public argument ensues between the two men which is eagerly documented every step of the way by the popular satirist A.J Quill, whose cartoons persistently skewer those at the highest levels of society, shining a light on the darkest misdeeds on the rich and powerful.

When the Reverend Holworthy is found dead in a church on Black Swan Lane, almost decapitated, his face disfigured by some sort of chemical, suspicion immediately alights upon Wrexford, whose rather eccentric interest in chemistry is widely known. With Quill’s uncannily accurate drawings and pithy captions stirring up public opinion against him, Wrexford decides it’s time to find out where the cartoonist is getting his information.

A talented artist, Charlotte Sloane picked up her late husband’s pen after his death some eight months earlier and has continued to produce satirical cartoons using his pseudonym, A.J Quill. She guards her identity judiciously, knowing that if it’s discovered that the scourge of the ton is a woman she will be completely ruined and unable to earn a living. So the last thing she wants or expects is to discover the Earl of Wrexford on her doorstep demanding to see A.J Quill. Charlotte’s attempts at deflection become increasingly desperate, at which point the earl realises the truth and offers her a deal. If she will agree to share such information as comes her way regarding the investigation, he will keep her secret and pay for the information. Charlotte is furious at being backed into a corner, but she has no alternative. She is living from hand to mouth as it is, and can ill afford to turn down the money the earl offers or risk being exposed as A.J Quill, so she takes the deal.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

Where the Dead Lie (Sebastian St. Cyr #12) by C.S. Harris (audiobook) – Narrated by Davina Porter

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

London, 1813. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is no stranger to the dark side of the city, but he’s never seen anything like this: the brutalized body of a 15-year-old boy dumped into a makeshift grave on the grounds of an abandoned factory. One of London’s many homeless children, Benji Thatcher was abducted and tortured before his murder – and his younger sister is still missing. Few in authority care about a street urchin’s fate, but Sebastian refuses to let this killer go unpunished.

Uncovering a disturbing pattern of missing children, Sebastian is drawn into a shadowy, sadistic world. As he follows a grim trail that leads from the writings of the debauched Marquis de Sade to the city’s most notorious brothels, he comes to a horrifying realization: Someone from society’s upper echelon is preying upon the city’s most vulnerable. And though dark, powerful forces are moving against him, Sebastian will risk his reputation and his life to keep more innocents from harm….

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A

It’s the rare author who can reach the twelfth book in a long-running series and still keep coming up with fresh ideas and interesting developments, but C.S. Harris manages to do both those things and more in her latest Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Where the Dead Lie. In this new instalment, our aristocratic sleuth becomes involved in the search for the perpetrators of the most horrible crimes upon the weakest, most vulnerable members of society – London’s street children. It’s a disturbing listen at times – as it should be, given the subject matter – and Ms. Harris doesn’t pull her punches when describing the plight of these often very young children who have been left parentless and homeless through no fault of their own, and how they are repeatedly betrayed by those privileged few who should be helping rather than taking advantage of them.

This is one of those series where the books really need to be listened to in order, and I would imagine it’s difficult to just pop in and out, reading some books and not others. Each of the mysteries is self-contained and reaches a satisfying ending, but just as compelling as those individual tales is the overarching story of Sebastian’s search for the truth about his birth and what happened to his errant mother, his difficult relationship with his father, the Earl of Hendon, and the intense animosity lying between Sebastian and his father-in-law, Lord Jarvis, cousin to the Regent and the power behind the throne.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.