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An Honorable Murder by Phillip Gooden

Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers ISBN: 0786715286

Reviewed by Paul Kane, New Mystery Reader

With An Honourable Murderer, Philip Gooden’s series of historical mysteries set in Elizabethan and now Jacobean England (with the death of the Virgin Queen Beth, James the First has ascended to the throne) have broached the year 1604.  Nick Revill, sometime amateur detective and “intelligencer”, is now a player with the King’s Men theatre company (their principal playwright being one William Shakespeare) and the English nation doesn’t only have a new monarch; its capital city has been renovated too. 

London has recovered from the blight of the plague and has been “tarted up to buggery” for the arrival of King Philip of Spain and his ministers.  The grandees are in town to sign a peace treaty with England, their old perfidious enemy, but it is a treaty which an unknown malevolent force seems determined to scupper.  And at the rehearsal of a Masque to celebrate the Peace (a Masque written by Ben Jonson, a bricklayer’s son made good; Jonson is one of the honourable murderers of the title: once, he had killed a man in a duel), a nobleman falls to his death in suspicious circumstances.  Enter Nick Revill, stage right.

An Honourable Murderer is an absorbing mystery in which the classic whodunit formula – a crime has been committed, only a small number of suspects have had the opportunity to carry it out - is accompanied by a convincingly realised portrait of Jacobean London.  We are shown a picture of London as a bawdy city of brothels and ale houses, taverns and stews; as an imperial city of grand houses and ornate courts; and as a city of intrigue, espionage and murder too.

Many of the characters in the novel are actual historical figures and Shakespeare himself appears in a kind of Mycroft Holmes role.  He is magisterial figure and stands well back from the action, but offers Nick his shrewd observations on certain key occasions.

Appropriately enough for a “Shakespearian Murder Mystery”, there are some fine moments of jousting wit.  As when Nick is heard defending the exclusion of women from the English stage against the charges of a proto-feminist Lady, and comes up with the devastating argument that “boys make better women than women”.

If you have an interest in Jacobean London, both the city and the period, you will find Philip Gooden an engaging, agreeable and amusing tour guide.  In An Honourable Murderer he is in terrific form.

 

Drawing the Line by  Judith Cutler

Publisher:  Allison & Busby Ltd. ISBN:  0749083565

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

This one's a keeper! Any mystery buff or reader who likes atmosphere will find this multi-layered tale a fascinating read. 

Lina works for Griff, an antiques dealer, who is teaching her the trade. On a trip to a fair Lina buys a frontispiece taken from an old and valuable book.  The page triggers old and long buried memories of her childhood and sends her on a search for her father.

Once the frontispiece comes into her possession, both she and Griff are attacked and their home is broken into. Are the events tied together or coincidental?  The policeman living next door offers his help, but nothing seems to come of it. 

One memory gives her a clue and Lina begins looking for the place it originated, following a twisted trail that seems to lead nowhere as she travels from place to place visiting old manor houses. 

Highly recommended as a story lived by well drawn characters who will seem alive and you'll enjoy meeting them. The background is lively and offers some great atmosphere that changes and charges each scene with a sense of realism, as if you are actually visiting the sites.  This is a book you will read more than once and find something new each time.  Enjoy.  I sure did.


 

The Nature of Rare Things by Derek Wilson

Publisher:  Carroll & Graf ISBN:  0786715642

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Is there life after death?  Can a self-declared medium communicate with the dead?  

These are the questions that confront Nathaniel Gye when his help is requested by a most unusual person--one who is dead and communicates through his friend, medium Athalie George. The dead man, one who Nathaniel had known in life as Robert Gomer, security guard for a company that handled the movement of valuable items like the painting Gomer was accused of stealing.

Did this theft lead Gomer to suicide? How had he managed to make the painting disappear while locked in the back of a van with it? Where was that painting now? 

What appears as a simple request becomes very involved, leading both Nathaniel and his wife, Kathryn, into danger when they travel to Italy. Nathaniel finds answers he's not sure he wants because of the problems and further danger that arise from them.

A case with twists and turns, excitement and lots of action.  The complications that arise from Nathaniel's investigation will hold your attention, making you read on and on.  Highly recommended. Author Derek Wilson uses his creative talent to weave a plot filled with wonderful characters that will keep you reading. Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

Miss Gazillions by Richard Weber

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books.  St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-33140-1

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Twenty years ago, Dan O’Sullivan went on a field trip to the Caribbean and never left.  Happy running a charter boat for tourists, one day he is shocked by the appearance of two thugs, who tell him his father is dead, repossess his boat, and offer him a job as a superintendent of an apartment building in Brooklyn.  Dan has little choice but to accept.

At his father’s funeral in New York, Dan meets his last mistress, Lydia Sands, who breezily tells him the coffin is his.  It seems his father’s dying wish was to be buried at sea in the Caribbean.  Only problem is, there is no money left to execute the plan.  So Dan finds himself collecting rent and unclogging drains in Brooklyn, his father’s coffin in his living room, trying to save enough money to bury his father.  His only distraction is watching the comings and goings of beautiful upstairs tenant, Celeste.  One snowy night, Celeste shows up at his door, bloody and with two suitcases full of cash.  For reasons that are not entirely clear, Celeste agrees to give him forty percent and they immediately depart for the Caribbean, fearful that the owners of the money are on their tail.

After carrying out his father’s wish, Dan and Celeste depart for Rome, where in a hotel bar, Dan meets Lydia and her new lover, a cardinal.  The cardinal, on administrative leave after some dicey financial dealings for the Vatican, takes over the management of Dan and Celeste’s money, quickly multiplying their original holdings.  But the couple still fears retribution from the owners of the money, which keeps them on the run.

The comparison of Celeste to Holly Golightly, with whom she shares a profession, are inevitable, particularly with her description of the “walking blues,” which sound almost identical to Holly’s “mean reds.”  Aside from her physical attributes, Celeste’s charms are not as readily apparent.  As unrealistic as it is, the book is fun, can’t-put-down read.

 

Death Splits a Hair by Nancy Bell

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-32781-1

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Joe Junior McBride, a popular barber in Post Oak, Texas, was murdered in his own den while his wife Marlene showered upstairs.  Judge Jackson Crain can’t help getting involved in the investigation; in addition to his interest in criminal law, Joe Junior was a close friend, Jackson dated Marlene in high school, and their daughters are close friends.

All evidence suggests that the murder was committed by someone inside the house.  Joe Junior’s son, Joe III or Three, manages to elude questioning by the sheriff.  But everyone in town knows how Three manipulated his father and his tendency toward anti-social behavior.  Was Joe Junior murdered by his wife, son, or an intruder?  Marlene’s unbelievable bad luck continues, as a kidnapping and another murder touch those close to her.  Meanwhile, everyone in Post Oak is fascinated by two new arrivals:  a pretty, young hairstylist Joe Junior hired shortly before his death, and the handsome gentleman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the murdered barber.

Subplots concerning Ray Rice’s descent into dementia, and the blossoming love lives of both Judge Crain and his daughter, Patty, add dimension to this already fine story.  The real mystery is why Mandy d’Alejandro resists the judge’s courtship.  Nancy Bell captures life in a delightful small town that readers will want to immerse themselves in.  Although who committed the murders is not a big surprise, the motive is.