Campion at Christmas – Margery Allingham

campion at christmas cover

“Sir Leo Pursuivant, the Chief Constable, had been sitting in his comfortable study after a magnificent lunch and talking heavily of the sadness of Christmas while his guest, Mr Campion, most favoured of this large house-party, had been laughing at him gently.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for Campion, after enjoying the tv adaptations when I was younger. Took me a long time to get around to any of the books – starting with The Crime at Black Dudley – and to be honest I’ve still only read a couple. However, a set of four short stories from Margery Allingham, based at Christmas, just sounded lovely!

And, they are quite sweet. Three of the four, On Christmas Day in the Morning, The Man with the Sack, and Word in Season,  involve Albert Campion, two of those solving mini mysteries and the other one a slice of family life with a very very large dollop of whimsy. I enjoyed all of these, picturing Peter Davison in the role, and who doesn’t love dogs with the last one? 🙂

The other story, Happy Christmas, the second in the collection, is a different beast. While clearly about Christmas, it doesn’t feature Campion and to be honest I was left scratching my head a little over what it was all about. Nothing wrong with it, it’s still a sweet little slice of period frippery, just not entirely sure what I was missing. It’s the oldest story, too, published in 1937 compared with the 1960s for the others.

If you’re a fan of Campion, this is a short but lovely little compilation of cosy mystery niceness that conjures images of a more gentile time.

NetGalley eARC: 63 pages / 4 short stories
First published: 2018 (as collection), 1937-1965 (originally in various magazines)
Series: Campion short stories
Read from 16th-17th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

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The Novel Art of Murder – VM Burns

novel art of murder cover

“‘What the blazes do you mean I didn’t get the part?'”

Sam Washington’s life has been a bit of a rollercoaster since we first met her in The Plot is Murder, and then again in Read Herring Hunt. Her small town is in danger of turning into the new Cabot Cove (from Murder She Wrote) with yet another mysterious death, and another person close to Sam accused of murder! This time, she has just a week to save her Nana Jo from the Big House, after a rival takes her lead role in the local am-dram play…

Cosy mysteries are my snuggle up for a bit of fluff reads, and I adore books about books. Bonus with this series is Sam’s own efforts at writing a mystery – alas, these are rather the low point of the whole affair. They pad things out nicely, allow for a change of pace, and explain well Sam’s leaps of intuition over the real cases, but they also serve to make the rest of the book look great in comparison. Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie but falling quite far short, especially in dialect, and the whole sub-mystery is tied up in a sudden revelation from nowhere.

Aside from that, the book also allows Sam’s life to continue to grow as has been building in the series. Everything – aside from the murder! – is running rather wonderfully, and that too is a nice counterbalance to the ‘oh no, another death!’.

This leans heavily into the ‘cosy’, with very little in the way of peril despite a few sobbing fits from some of our leading ladies. I still love the elderly band of sleuths helping Sam, although the teenagers are all a little too nice and helpful to be realistic 😉

I like this series, but it’s probably going to remain ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’. And I’m fine with that. This one is a little better than the preceding volume, and I’d still happily reach for the next installment.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 3
Read from 12th-16th December 2018

My rating: 6/10

Shelved Under Murder – Victoria Gilbert

shelved under murder cover

“One thing every librarian learns is that people rarely ask the question they actually want answered.”

Several months have passed since small-town librarian Amy Webber was caught up in the events of A Murder for the Books. Usual warning: if you read on, mention of events in book 2 might spoil some of book 1!

Taylorsford is preparing itself for the annual Heritage Festival, an arts and crafts spectacular. Art becomes the theme for the book, as the discovery of a dead artist seems to tie in with forgery rings and organised crime. Could it be that Amy’s late uncle, himself a struggling artist, might have been more connected to these events than anyone would wish?!

I’ve heard cosy mysteries like this described as ‘palate cleansers’ (or should that be ‘palette’, given the topic? ;)) and this is indeed just that. Light and easy to read, nothing too taxing on the brain, this was a sweet little romance with added murder. Urm…! 😉

I thought the story felt a little more assured than the previous book, or perhaps it was just that less setting up was required. We’re assumed to know who the main cast are, from the first book. Of course, this does mean that new players stand out like sore thumbs, and it was pretty obvious who was going to turn out to be the bad guys. The bigger mystery elements are more reveals about the main characters’ pasts, rather than the more obvious crime of the day.

Still, it served its purpose.  I like that this series is a little less ‘fluffy’ than some cosy mysteries, but it’s still a bit heavy on the romance for my tastes. There’s also the merest hint of something supernatural, which I’m not sure about: I think the author needs to commit to including/explaining some of it, or leave it out. Ymmv, as they say!

NetGalley eARC: ~327 pages / 28 chapters
First published: July 2018
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 2
Read from 5th-9th July 2018

My rating: 6/10

Read Herring Hunt – VM Burns

read herring hunt cover

“‘Did you see the getup that little floozy had on?'”

The Plot is Murder introduced us to Sam Washington, who takes the devastation of her husband’s death as a chance to live their dream of opening a mystery bookshop. Settled in to her new life and recovered from finding her realtor dead in her new yard, Sam is once again about to be thrust into a real-life murder mystery. This time it’s her practically-family new tenant who’s being accused of murdering his tarty ex-girlfriend. Can Sam, along with her grandmother and motley cast of friends, clear the accused’s name and find the real culprit?

I didn’t not enjoy this book. It was a light and easy read, exactly as I hoped and expected, and the characters are all quite fun. However, I felt that the author has really rushed this out – the first installment was only published at the end of November last year! That might not necessarily be an issue, but it’s an obvious culprit behind the too-sudden ending. Although the ‘whodunnit’ was fairly predictable from quite early on, it still seemed an abrupt and jarring chapter that dumped the ‘big reveal’ on us, and even more quickly tied up the peril. It was a little disappointing, to be honest.

Still, cosy mystery readers might find the ongoing personal dramas – dating and ‘learning to live again’ kind of things – enough to smooth over that. I did like the book-within-the-book element, adding an extra layer, although the “Cor blimey gov” dialect gets a bit cringeworthy.

I’d probably give the series at least one more go, and hope that the next book has a slightly stronger mystery element.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 23 chapters
First published: April 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 2
Read from 19th-27th April 2018

My rating: 5/10

Fiction Can Be Murder – Becky Clark

fiction can be murder cover

“Melinda Walter settled her lean Pilates body – the maintaining of which took all her free time and could fund North Korea’s military for a year – into the soft leather driver’s seat of her sleek red 1959 classic Corvette.”

When her unpleasant agent is murdered in exactly the same way as Charlee describes in her new book, she’s instantly chief suspect. Given the book hasn’t been published yet, the list of possible murderers is rather worrying restricted to people she knows: her writing group and critique partners, her boyfriend, her agent’s lovely assistant. Driven to clear her own name and reassure herself that her nearest and dearests aren’t cold-blooded killers, Charlee sets out to investigate the case herself.

Of all the ‘cosy mystery’ series I’ve been reading of late, this new one is pretty straight-forward in terms of the main character working her way through a fixed list of suspects. I was a little irritated by the large number of weird names, from Charlemagne to Einstein to Queue (what?!), wishing we could have just had one weird moniker and a bunch of Pauls and Susans, quite frankly – but hey, small irritations!

Everyone seems to have their own quirks and secrets, too, making it quite a motley cast – but, no problems remembering who everyone is, I suppose.

Overall, it was a nice easy read and I did appreciate that. The mystery was a bit ‘hmm’, especially as a few background things were thrown in as the story progressed, tying things together but feeling just a bit forced.

I’d give the series another go, yes, but so far it’s not my favourite of the recent crop.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 29 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery book 1
Read from 3rd-7th April 2018

My rating: 6/10

Egyptian Enigma – LJM Owen

egyptian enigma cover

“Sipping a glass of hot apple tea, Dr Elizabeth Pimms watched dawn flow over the desert, blushing shades and grey shadows shifting and merging until they coalesced into the vast Pyramids of Giza.”

Tomb robbers and over-enthusiastic early archaeologists weren’t the only dangers to Egypt’s ancient mummies. Pharaohs rewrote history to remove their predecessors, and then stories of female pharaohs were discounted when it didn’t suit the prevailing social norms. Which only makes the mysteries that much harder to decipher.

I’ve missed a couple of books introducing Dr Elizabeth Pimms, the young Australian Egyptologist. That didn’t seem to matter too much – although I could tell when references to previous events were being made, without it impacting too much on the plot here – as it was easy enough to pick up with the story. Past events have led Elizabeth to a quieter-than-planned career as a librarian and tutor, so when she spots some strange markings on a papyrus during a trip to her beloved Egypt, she jumps at the chance to begin an investigation into the ‘Golden Tomb’ and the unidentified mummies that were discovered there.

Interspersed with Elizabeth’s modern archaeology – 3D printers are fabulous! – we get chapters told from the point of view of Tausret, the last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty – and a woman!

I do have a bit of a liking for ancient cultures such as Egypt, and a growing fondness for ‘cosy mysteries’, so I thought I’d give this NetGalley opportunity a go – and ended up gulping it down! The mix of real history – Tausret is real, the Golden Tomb is fictional – and a little insight into amateur archaeology in the technology age was a great mix.

The story is rounded out by various threads about Elizabeth’s friends and family – this is probably the bit most impacted by not reading the first two books, and indeed I’ve probably spoiled the plot to one of those by starting here. Still, the multicultural grandparentage was rather interesting, and I’m also a huge foodie so the descriptions of Chinese, French, and Welsh feasts was rather mouth watering!

Despite those bits, I would offer a warning over some of the ‘cosy’ status: I really shouldn’t have looked up ‘scaphism’ aka death by milk and honey before trying to sleep o_O

Overall: a fairly light yet involving read that moved at a good pace. I am deducting a mark, however, as the biggest non-Mummy mystery is left as a huge cliff-hanger – this isn’t  a stand-alone read, alas!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth book 3
Read from 9th-13th March 2018

My rating: 7/10

The Cat of the Baskervilles – Vicki Delany

cat of the baskervilles cover

“The footsteps of a gigantic hound!”

I’m still enjoying my occasional dips into cosy mysteries set in bookshops or libraries, and it was nice to be able to nab a copy of the third installment of this series, from NetGalley. We first met Gemma Doyle – no relation to author Sir Arthur however much her own uncle Arthur would like to claim – in Elementary, She Read and then Body on Baker Street. Londoner Gemma has moved to the picturesque seaside town of Cape Cod, North America, following the break up of her marriage. She now runs a Sherlock Holmes-themed bookstore, with her best friend Jayne managing the coffee shop next door. She’s got a tangled past with the local police force, as her powers of deduction rival those of the great detective himself – unfortunately making it look like she might have just a little too much information about various crimes.

In this third installment, Gemma’s determined not to get involved in yet another mystery – but of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story unless she does! So when a once-famous actor arrives to play Holmes in an amateur production of Hound of the Baskervilles, the in-fighting of the theatre crowd stirs up something quite deadly…

This was a very quick and easy read, and enjoyable enough, but perhaps not quite as good as the first two in the series. I did think for a little while that the plot from the previous book was being recycled, but things are changed up ‘enough’. I wasn’t entirely sure I was okay with Gemma’s meddling being borderline criminal, right enough! There is a bit of progress on the personal lives side of the stories, but this is kept to background material rather than overwhelming the main plot and mystery.

Book four is due out in the autumn, and I think I’m glad about that – while at the same time hoping the author isn’t rushing too many of these out at the expense of quality.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 3
Read from 11th-14th February 2018

My rating: 6/10