Tag Archives: cozy mysteries

Review: Shadow of a Butterfly, by J.A. Menzies

Shadow of a Butterfly, by J.A. MenziesShadow of a Butterfly, by J.A. Menzies (MurderWillOut Mysteries, 2015)

In typical Golden-Age mystery style, J.A. Menzies creates a tapestry of well-formed characters whose interplay offers – and masks – motive and opportunity for murder. The dynamics between old-school detective Paul Manziuk and his much younger partner, Jaquie Ryan, add another satisfying layer.

The murder takes place in an upscale apartment complex for senior citizens, making everyone on that floor of the building a potential suspect. The novel includes a list of characters for helpful reference, as well as a floor plan.

I’m one of the many readers who’ve been looking forward to a new Manziuk and Ryan Mystery, and Shadow of a Butterfly does not disappoint. The title is significant on two levels, but you’ll have to read the novel to find out why.

Favourite quotes:

… their appearance bore no similarities beyond the fact that each was dressed in the manner she felt most likely to intimidate the other. [Kindle Advance Review Copy location 169]

… when we begin, we only have our dreams. If we could see the sacrifices and struggles ahead, how many of us would set foot on the path to reach those dreams? (Hilary Brooks) [Kindle Advance Review Copy location 2669]

J.A. Menzies is the alter-ego of Canadian author N.J. Lindquist. Shadow of a Butterfly is book 3 in the series. If you haven’t read book 1, Shaded Light, it’s available for free on all ebook platforms. For more about the author and her books, visit jamenzies.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: Death by the Book, by Julianna Deering

Death by the Book

Death by the Book, by Julianna Deering (Bethany House, 2014)

In 1930’s England, Drew Farthering is developing a bad habit of encountering dead bodies. This time it’s his solicitor, bludgeoned to death… and sporting a cryptic note in flowing calligraphy, fastened to his body with a fancy Victorian hatpin.

Chief Inspector Birdsong grudgingly allows Drew to participate in the investigation—ostensibly because Birdsong can’t ignore any potential source of assistance, but probably because he knows Drew’s curiosity won’t leave the mystery alone.

Drew works best in company with his best friend Nick and the young American woman, Madeline, who Drew hopes to marry. That will be harder this time, since Madeline’s Aunt Ruth has arrived to “protect” Madeline’s virtue and hardly lets them have any time alone together.

As the bodies begin to pile up, can Drew solve the mysterious notes, find the murderer, and win over the formidable Aunt Ruth?

I enjoyed Death by the Book‘s light, lively tone. Without minimizing the tragic deaths, Drew and company nonetheless try to see the lighter side of daily life.

Favourite line, describing Aunt Ruth:

She turned her head sideways, peering at him [Drew] over her wire-rimmed spectacles as if she were some enormous parrot in full mourning. (p. 19)

Drew has only recently begun to trust God to be personally involved in his life, and as the danger presses closer to home, he finds himself praying for safety. As he uncovers the motivations and moral lapses behind the crimes, his awareness of his own failings and weaknesses keep him from giving in to the anger that wants to lash out.

I had no idea whodunnit. None. Looking back from the end, the clues were there all along. I’m not sure if I missed something or if there was more coincidence involved in the plot than I like to see, and I can’t give details without leaking major spoilers. Either way, Death by the Book was a fun read and I hope we see Drew, Madeline and Nick again in another adventure.

Julianna Deering‘s website lists a third title in the Drew Farthering Mystery series, Murder at the Mikado, releasing July 2014. I like the covers for this series. They’re light, fresh, and they suit the tone. To read a sample of Death by the Book, click here.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan BradleyThe Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley (Random House, 2014)

[This review contains a spoiler for the previous books in the series.]

There’s so much to love about Flavia de Luce: her quick wits, her unusual view of the world, her propensity for chemicals and poisons. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is book six featuring the somewhat dysfunctional de Luce family in their crumbling ancestral home of Buckshaw, England.

It’s 1951. Flavia will soon be 12. She and her sisters have matured, and events have bound them together—somewhat—but old habits of mutual torment die hard.

I confess I misunderstood the ending of the previous book, Speaking from Among the Bones. Flavia’s missing mother, Harriet, found? She’d been lost in a Himalayan expedition when Flavia was still too young to remember her. I envisioned a joyful reunion, expecting the accident had caused amnesia which would somehow now go away. A happy ending would be so heartwarming.

Instead, Harriet comes home in a coffin as sensible readers expected all along. It makes for a better story, including the requisite mysterious death, and as Flavia and her sisters find closure, Flavia also learns the truth of her mother’s death—and of her life.

The novel is more about unravelling the mystery surrounding Harriet than about who killed the man at the train station, but it all comes together in the end. If you had questions about Flavia and her unusual upbringing, they’re likely answered by The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

Internationally-bestselling author Alan Bradley’s bio says he’s working on more Flavia de Luce mysteries—reassuring, since The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches wraps things up so nicely. I’d been afraid we’d seen the last of Flavia. It will be a challenge writing this character as she grows up, but in many ways Flavia’s an old soul. I look forward to her next adventure.

[Review copy borrowed from a friend.]

Review: Rules of Murder, by Julianna Deering

Rules of Murder, by Julianna DeeringRules of Murder, by Juliana Deering (Bethany House, 2013)

Drew Farthering: From the tip of his black Homburg to the crease in his cheviot trousers, he’s the epitome of a stylish 1930s English gentleman. His only problem? The body he just discovered. (from the back cover)

Drew is charming, urbane, and he wants more than the party circuit that absorbs many of his peers. He and his best friend Nick (son of the family butler) enjoy mystery novels, so what better sport than to investigate this crime? Except when the second victim appears, the deaths become personal.

Madeline Parker makes a delightful third member of the sleuthing team. Newly arrived from America, she catches Drew’s heart at their first meeting. But in a house of mourning, it’s not a good time to explore their mutual attraction.

Rules of Murder has the delightful tone and setting of a Golden Age English house party murder mystery, worthy of Agatha Christie herself. It has a gentle thread of faith, as Drew begins to wonder about the God he thought he outgrew.

The title comes from Father Knox’s Decalogue: The 10 Rules of (Golden Age) Detective Fiction, regularly quoted by Nick in the novel. Drew and Nick – and author Julianna Deering – know the rules, but this case wants to break each one.

I’m not much for villains who give a full explanation at the end, although in this case I’m not sure how else readers could have had our questions answered.

Rules of Murder is a satisfying mystery novel notwithstanding, with well-developed characters, layers of meaning and splashes of humour. I’m looking forward to the next Drew Farthering Mystery.

Julianna Deering is the pen name of historical fiction novelist DeAnna Julie Dodson. Check out this excerpt from Rules of Murder (the first paragraph convinced me to settle down and enjoy this book) and the author Q&A with Julianna Deering. You can read another interview with the author at Divine Detour.

 [Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley (Doubleday Canada, 2009)

Flavia de Luce is an 11-year-old girl whose approach to her older sisters’ pranks is “letting the soup of revenge simmer to perfection” (p. 4). The girls’ mother died when Flavia was a baby, and their father has never recovered. He’s distant and inattentive, and the girls have the run of their sprawling, centuries-old house in 1950’s England.

Flavia concocts some rather beastly revenges, such as dissolving sister Ophelia’s pearls in acid and adding poison to her lipstick, but it’s with a child’s spitefulness rather than any sense of evil. Although she’s a genius in the house’s private chemistry lab (poison is her passion), she’s a bit short on interpersonal skills. As the novel opens, she’s vaguely fond of her father and would happily embrace never seeing her sisters again. She takes the people in her world for granted, as children do.

Flavia would be a terror to live with, but she makes a charming narrator. Her point of view is never dull and often sprinkled with humour and clever turns of phrase. There are too many wonderful descriptions to quote, but here’s how she describes her home: “[The] two yellow brick annexes, pustulently Victorian, folded back like the pinioned wings of a boneyard angel, which, to my eyes, gave the tall windows and shutters of Buckshaw’s Georgian front the prim and surprised look of an old maid whose bun is too tight” (p.5).

Mr. de Luce loves his stamp collection more than his own daughters. Perhaps he feels it’s safer ground. One day a stamp turns up at the kitchen door—impaled on the beak of a dead bird.

That evening Mr. de Luce has a secret visitor, and the next morning Flavia finds the man’s body in the cucumber patch. Fearing that her father or the family’s gardener might be involved, and irritated with the police Inspector for excluding her from the crime scene, Flavia determines to solve the mystery herself.

She reminds me a bit of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, minus the fairies and criminal tendencies. Like Artemis, the dangers she faces help her begin to understand her family and her heart. I think that’s where the novel’s title fits in. It refers to a quote from William King’s The Art of Cookery, “Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?”

As with her human relationships, Flavia doesn’t give much thought to faith. It’s there in the background, another part of her life’s framework. Author Alan Bradley treats it with care, something I rarely find but always appreciate in a mainstream-audience book.

I must also say, as a Canadian, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book with Canadian spellings. That too is a rare experience these days.

I read the novel once to see what happened, and a second time to enjoy the language. Flavia may be 11 years old, but this isn’t a book for children. It’s rich in nuance, vocabulary and detail, clearly designed for adults’ experienced palates.

I’d love to share the best lines with my husband but I’ve resisted—for the most part. I don’t want to spoil it for him.

Canadian author Alan Bradley has created a fascinating character in Flavia de Luce, and I’m glad to see two more novels to follow this one: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag [or Tied Up With Strings] (2010) and Dance, Gypsy! Hang, Gypsy! (2011). Flavia certainly seems to be capturing the imaginations of readers the world over. There’s even a Flavia de Luce fan club—for adults.

Mr. Bradley is co-author (with Dr. William A.S. Sarjeant) of the non-fiction Ms. Holmes of Baker Street and author of The Shoebox Bible. Before being internationally-published, his first novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie received the (British) Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award in 2007.