Finch, Charles. A Beautiful Blue Death.

NY: St. Martin, 2007.

Mystery novels in a historical setting are very problematic, I’ve found, but my wife recommended this new series so I gave it a try. And it’s not bad. It does have problems, but most of them are common to nearly any first novel. It’s 1865 in London and Charles Lenox, the 30-ish younger brother of a baronet, is one of the unmarried idle rich. Well, not so idle, actually: He’s a talented amateur detective (and armchair explorer who wishes he could find the time to actually travel) who frequently shows up the plods at Scotland Yard,

(more…)

Gruen, Sara. At the Water’s Edge.

NY: Random House, 2015.

Gruen is best known for Water for Elephants, but this novel, her fifth, is rather different. It’s January 1945 and Maddie Hyde is a wild child in New York society. She’s been married to Ellis for a couple of years now, but she’s really more of a mascot for him and his best buddy, Hank, than she is a wife. Also, her in-laws hate her, her own father ignores her, and she feels guilty for her scandal-ridden mother’s suicide a decade before.

(more…)

Swierczynski, Duane. Revolver.

NY: Mulholland Books, 2016.

I stumbled on one of this author’s earlier crime novels a few years ago and became an almost instant fan of his rather noir style. He’s a Philadelphian through and through and the seamy side of the city he knows so well becomes a character in his books, too. And this time, he indulges in an unusual sort of narrative strategy.

(more…)

Ashford, Lindsay Jayne. The Woman on the Orient Express.

Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016.

It’s a historical fact that in the fall of 1928, still recovering mentally from a very painful divorce and not wanting to be trapped by the press in England when her ex-husband married his mistress, Agatha Christie, already famous as the author of ten mystery novels (and also for her public bout of “amnesia”), anonymously crossed the Channel and boarded the Orient Express, headed for Baghdad.

(more…)

Hill, Reginald. The Wood Beyond.

NY: Delacorte, 1996.

This excellent police procedural series has reached the point now where the author feels sufficiently secure to experiment with narrative methods and side-plots. And it mostly works. DCI Peter Pascoe of Mid-Yorkshire CID is away from the job at the moment, overseeing the cremation of his recently deceased grandmother, who (he’s regretfully aware) could be hard work at times. The old lady had a lot of secrets, the most important ones dating back to her girlhood during the Great War. Pascoe is going to spend much of the book gradually uncovering those unsettling revelations and they’re going to have a profound effect on him.

(more…)

Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels.

NY: Random House, 1974.

Shaara had been a professional fiction writer for two decades, and he made a decent living at it, but he never hit the big time until a family vacation visit to the Gettysburg battlefield inspired him to begin researching and writing this book. After he finally finished it seven years later, it took him another two years to sell it. And then it won the Pulitzer Prize. The first time I read it, I was already a history librarian and I knew immediately it was a great piece of work. I know now that it’s not only a great historical novel, it’s very likely the greatest piece of fiction ever written about the American Civil War — not excepting The Red Badge of Courage.

(more…)

Published in: on 19 January 2017 at 4:14 am  Comments (1)  
Tags:

Waters, Sarah. Tipping the Velvet.

NY: Penguin, 1998.

This was apparently Waters’s first novel and it sort of sets the pace for the five books (so far) that have followed. It’s 1888 and eighteen-year-old Nancy Astley spends her days help her family run its oyster business in Whitstable, down in Kent. Though it’s only an hour or so away by train, none of them have ever visited London, but Nance frequents the Palace music hall in nearby Canterbury and knows all the tunes and the comic turns from the big city.

(more…)

Fellowes, Julian. Belgravia.

NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

The famous ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels in June 1815, while Napoleon’s resurgent armies moved in on the city, is one of the great cultural icons in modern British history. Many of the officers in attendance would be fighting for their lives against the French the next day at Quatre Bras, and then Waterloo, and for those who survived, soldiers and civilians alike, the ball was a defining moment in their lives.

(more…)

Edmondson, Elizabeth. The Frozen Lake.

NY: HarperCollins, 2004.

I recently read this author’s A Man of Some Repute and its two sequels, murder mysteries set in Britain in the early 1950s, and found them very entertaining. (She calls them her “Vintage Mystery” series.) This one takes place in the Midlands in 1936, on the eve of the Second World War —

(more…)

Shaara, Jeff. Gone for Soldiers.

NY: Ballantine, 2000.

I’ve read a great many books over the years about the Civil War, both history and fiction, and one of the very best novels about that key event in American history, of course, is Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. When he died in 1988, his son took over managing his estate and then moved into the family business, as well. And, despite the complete lack of literary training or previous experience, he’s turned out to be not too bad at it.

(more…)

Published in: on 27 September 2016 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,