The Allingham Minibus – Margery Allingham

allingham minibus cover

“Dornford killed Fellowes somewhere in Australia.”

I’ve written before about being a fan of Campion and the period-gentle kind of mystery. Here we have a collection of short stories, some with the famous detective, others a little more random. All in all, a rather good mix!

We open with a foreword from Agatha Christie – what better stamp of approval can another mystery writer of the time get, really?

The first story surprised me, as I didn’t know the author dabbled in horror. This is a perfect mystery-come-terror story, which I can wholly imagine being told around a campfire. And, despite the age (so much is reused, and loses something from the familiarity) still gave me a fun little chill. The rest of the stories mix this kind of ‘ghost story’ with mysteries, and a large dose of whimsy.

The strength of the writing is clear. There’s a lovely mix of cosy period elements, throwbacks to more genteel times, but with mysteries that genuinely kept me wondering where it was going next, whether they involved ageing, publicity-hunger actors, or church men who aren’t very godly, haunted parrot cages (!), or a more domestic tale of a couple’s last evening before an agreed divorce.

The Campion stories are scattered between, few of them and one I’d read before (in Campion at Christmas), but always a pleasure to imagine the character as portrayed in the TV series I loved.

Overall: an old-fashioned but nicely so collection of mysteries and light chills, perfect for the season – and beyond!

NetGalley eARC: 269 pages / 18 short stories
First published: 1973 and most recently rereleased October 2019
Series: Campion and other non-series stories
Read from 7th-27th October 2019

My rating: 7.5/10

Last Pen Standing – Vivian Conroy

last pen standing cover

“Even though the sign of her destination was already in sight, calling out a warm welcome to Tundish, Montana, “the town with a heart of gold,” Delta Douglas couldn’t resist the temptation to stop her car, reach for the sketchbook in the passenger seat, and draw the orange and gold trees covering a mountain flank all the way to where the snow-peaked top began.”

My foray into the cosy mystery genre has so far centred around books set in bookshops or libraries. This new series is set in the world of craft supplies and notebooks, another topic that appeals to me greatly.

Delta Douglas has been lucky enough to come into enough money to leave her stressful graphic design job in the city and pursue her dream: to own a stationery shop. But her move to a picturesque tourist town quickly goes from glitter to murder. Worse, her best friend and business partner is implicated in the case. Can Delta enlist the help of the ‘Paper Posse’ crafting group, find the real murderer, and save her friend – or will poking her nose into the crime put her in more danger?

This book ticks all the boxes for a cosy mystery: dream job, move to a small town, helpful locals, possible love-interest, hobbies, cake, and dogs. It’s also well written, with plenty of mystery to keep me guessing. The big reveal doesn’t quite pack a (craft) punch, but that’s as expected from the genre, I think.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing voice, the story and descriptions, and will definitely be looking out for the sequel. I’m also feeling quite inspired on the crafty front – bonus! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 18 chapters
First published: September 2019
Series: Stationery Shop Mystery book 1
Read from 21st-10th September 2019

My rating: 7/10

Buried in the Stacks – Allison Brook

buried in the stacks cover

“‘The blue-cheese burger and fries are calling to me, but I’m going with a small salad, no bread,’ Angela said, looking up from the lunch menu with a sigh.”

Librarian Carrie Singleton is once more caught up in a murder mystery, following the events in Death Overdue and Read and Gone. This time, though, she might also get to the bottom of what happened to Evelyn, the library’s ghost.

The homeless of the town have started to use the library as a warm shelter during the cold days. When this causes troubles with other patrons, Carrie finds herself helping out with an ambitious project to refurbish an old house as a refuge. But is the project as above-board as it seems? Could the death of a local resident be connected? And can Carrie curb her sleuthing ways long enough to stay out of danger?

The answer to that last question is a resounding no, and that’s maybe the big irritation here. If someone had broken into my house and left threatening messages, I might be looking to take a holiday – not still poking my nose into shady situations!

Still, plot needs must, I suppose, and Carrie continues to investigate while otherwise leading her normal life: planning library events, eating a lot of avocado, getting her boyfriend to move back to town, and helping her best friend plan her wedding. And looking after a cat, of course! The charming normality is layered on quite thick, but that’s what makes a cosy mystery.

Points off, however, that the mystery is wrapped up rather abruptly and in a very trope-y confession scene. So, enjoy the pleasant meander through Carrie’s life again, but don’t expect too much of a thriller.

NetGalley eARC: 316 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 10th September 2019
Series: Haunted Library Mystery book 3
Read from 3rd-10th September 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

Foul Play on Words – Becky Clark

foul play on words cover

“Waiting for someone to pick you up at the airport is like being forced to be eight years old again.”

Fiction Can Be Murderthe first book in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery series, introduced us to Charlemagne (Charlee) Russo, the mystery writer in question, after her unpleasant agent is found murdered.

Book two picks up a few months later, with Charlee due to speak at a writer’s conference organised by her friend, Viv. However, she instead finds herself in charge of organising the whole about-to-be fiasco, as Viv is a little more concerned with the kidnapping of her daughter! Can Charlee juggle hotel cock-ups, double booked doggies, and dark suspicions?

I hadn’t been completely enthralled with the first book, but this one feels like an improvement. Certainly, I was kept guessing as to which way the plot was going to turn. Charlee is reasonably relatable here, trying to help in awful circumstances, and behaving in a pretty plausible way – not often the case in such books!

I enjoyed the easy, mostly fun read and the not entirely obvious twists and turns. The ending is perhaps a little weak, but more in terms of how we get to the big reveal rather than the solution itself.

I was unsure about continuing with this series after book one, but after this instalment I’d be happy enough to continue.

NetGalley eARC: 257 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery book 2
Read from ?-24th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

Murder at the British Museum – Jim Eldridge

murder at the british museum cover

“Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton walked through the high-barred black iron gateway in Great Russell Street that gave entrance to the British Museum, then strode across the wide piazza towards the long row of towering Doric columns that fronted the magnificent building.”

Former Scotland Yard Inspector Daniel Wilson now works as a ‘private enquiry agent’ – private investigator to the rest of us. Along with new partner (which would be a spoiler for book 1, it turns out), historian Abigail Fenton, he’s called in to investigate a murder in – as the title suggests! – the British Museum. Who would have wanted to viciously stab the author of a book about King Arthur?

Set in London not long after the Jack the Ripper investigation, one of the appeals of this book was the period setting. I don’t think it worked quite as well for me as I’d hoped, nor the handling of the female lead. She’s quite kick-ass, and modern, and then does some daft girlie things that had me rolling my eyes a little.

I could imagine the author identifying quite strongly with his lead character, but the rest of the cast can be a little flat. In particular, the Scotland Yard Chief Inspector feels like quite a stereotype. I also found the author’s expansive historical knowledge a little too spelled out at times, with mini-info dumps at regular intervals. Likewise the geography of London is a little too in-depth at times.

And yet, despite these perceived flaws, I still fairly enjoyed the read. The chapters are short and the pace brisk, and the tone is relatively light but not remotely fluffy. I was in the mood for an easy read, and this fit the bill well – so much, that I’ve requested the first installment from the library.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Museum Mysteries book 2
Read from 15th-20th July 2019

My rating: 7/10

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic. But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great

A Scandal in Scarlet – Vicki Delany

a scandal in scarlet cover

“I love owning a dog.”

Of all the book-related cosy mysteries that have become my go-to ‘palette cleanse’, easy-read choice, this series is almost certainly my favourite. Gemma Doyle is smarter than me, but I relate to her logical way of looking at the world, and both her love-life and dog ownership are thankfully kept as just a backing piece to the stories of murder and books.

The Scarlet of the title refers to a historical museum, popular with school parties and tourists in Gemma’s peaceful (well…!) little town. When a fire destroys a large part of it, local residents rally round to help raise funds for the restoration. But as Gemma soon learns, the volunteer board isn’t all sweetness and light behind the scenes…

There are a few over the top, unbelievable moments here – Gemma disguising herself to poke around asking questions, for instance – but they are played with tongue in cheek humour that does lift the slightly darker elements, from murders to adultery, and downright pantomime-ly unpleasant fellow shop owners. The author does perhaps over-do telling us about all the “dark red – scarlet” clothing etc that highlights the museum and book name, but not too irritating!

The crime element is played out very well, with plenty of twists and red herrings. More than most cosy mysteries, this really is the main thrust of the narrative. The background of location, bookstore, cake and friendship is lovely, but unlike other series I’ve tried, we’re not mainly following the romance woes, or getting minutiae of the ins and outs of pet ownership…!

Hit all the right buttons. Excellent example of the genre!

NetGalley eARC: 296 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 4
Read from 19th-26th May 2019

My rating: 8/10 – excellent example of the cosy mystery genre 🙂