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Posts Tagged ‘London’

THE DAUGHTER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Leonard Goldberg: Book Review

It’s 1914 London.  A young woman, dressed in deep mourning, gets out of a hansom cab and hesitantly makes her way up the stairs to the flat that was for many years occupied by Dr. John Watson and the late Sherlock Holmes.  She has come to ask Dr. Watson for help in investigating the death of her brother, Charles Harrelston, who was found dead on the sidewalk in front of a building where a close friend of his was living.

Mary Harrelston tells Dr. Watson and Dr. John Watson Jr., who is visiting his father when she arrives, that her brother, a soldier during the Second Afghan War, would never have committed suicide and left his family to deal with what would be viewed as a terrible scandal.  However, the testimony of an eyewitness, a gardener working nearby, has been enough to convince the investigating officer, Sgt. Lestrade of Scotland Yard, that Charles jumped.  A somewhat different version, given by a young boy who also saw the the man plunge to his death, has been ignored.

Dr. Watson and his son agree to look into the case, and the next morning finds them at the home of Sir Henry Blalock and his daughter-in-law Joanna.  Joanna, a widow, is the mother of the extremely observant and precocious youth, Johnnie, the other eyewitness.  He insists that the gardener was mistaken in his interpretation of the event.  Johnnie tells the Watsons that the man did not fall from the window but rather from the roof and that he did not try to stop his fall in any way, two details that differ from the gardener’s account.  After hearing the boy’s version, father and son decide that it’s quite possible that Charles was dead before he hit the ground.  That would make his death murder, and they decide to continue investigating.

When Dr. Watson and John return to 221B Baker Street, the senior Watson tells his son an almost incredible story.  Joanna Blalock is actually the biological daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.  The brief liaison (actually it was a one-night stand) between the celebrated detective and the woman, as Holmes always referred to Irene, resulted in the pregnancy.  Aware that neither one of them could take care of an infant, they arranged for the baby to be adopted and never told of her true lineage.  Irene died immediately after her daughter’s birth, and Holmes, once he was convinced that his infant daughter was in a loving home, made no effort to see or contact her.

Now, more than two decades later, three descendants of the original Holmes’ stories are brought together.  The first two I’ve already mentioned:   Holmes’ daughter Joanna and Sgt. Lestrade, a Scotland Yard detective like his father.  The third descendant is the man from whose window or roof, depending on whom you believe, Charles Harrelston plunged.  He is none other than Christopher Moran, son of Colonel Sebastian Moran, an arch-criminal and colleague of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty.

Leonard Goldberg puts all these characters into a clever, delightful mix.  His characters are true to their ancestors in both positive and negative ways.  In this study of nature vs. nurture both sides win, as does the reader.  The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes is an engaging story that, with its many smart deductions, will remind one of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tales.

You can read more about Leonard Goldberg at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

A CAST OF VULTURES by Judith Flanders: Book Review

If I may start this post by lifting part of a quote from the Daily Mail (UK) on the book’s back cover–“You want Samantha Clair to be your new best friend.”  That’s how I felt when I read A Cast of Vultures, the third mystery in Judith Flanders’ series featuring her engaging protagonist, a London book editor.

Samantha has become a go-between for her reclusive upstairs neighbor, the mysterious Mr. Rudiger, and Viv, her friend who lives a few blocks away.  The two exchange seeds and cuttings, with Samantha dropping Mr. Rudiger’s offerings at Viv’s and returning to Mr. Rudiger with Viv’s offerings.  The elderly Viv is a tiny force of nature, never hesitant or shy, always sure of the right thing to do, but this time when Sam stops in to see her she finds her friend distraught and uneasy.

Viv’s upstairs neighbor, Dennis Harefield, hasn’t been home in several days.  A man of regular habits, he and Viv had made plans to have dinner together at Viv’s a few days earlier but he never turned up.  Viv had been keeping alert for sounds from the flat upstairs, but she’s heard nothing for three days.  Now she insists that she and Samantha go there to check on whether Dennis might have fallen or become ill, unable to call for help.

The next thing Samantha knows, she’s climbing over another neighbor’s balcony and illegally entering the missing man’s flat.  Dennis isn’t there; it’s hard to tell whether he left willingly or not, and Samantha leaves an unhappy Viv to continue her vigil.  Then, a few days later, there’s a middle-of-the-night fire a few houses away from Samantha’s, not the first in the area.  It’s an old, decrepit building that several people have been squatting in for years.  At first it appears that all got out safely, but then a body is discovered.  It turns out to be Viv’s missing neighbor, Dennis Harefield.

In addition to her worries about the series of fires in her neighborhood, Sam’s anxious about an organizational change at work, concerned about a book scheduled to be published by her firm that may be an exercise in fiction rather than the non-fiction memoir it purports to be, and upset that her effort to help one of the men who lived in the burned-down building is meeting with resistance from her significant other, Jake, a London police detective.

Judith Flanders has written another delightfully witty mystery, one that will keep you smiling while you are turning the pages faster and faster to learn the truth of what has been happening around Samantha.  Samantha, her lover Jake, the agoraphobic Mr. Rudiger, Sam’s newly promoted assistant Miranda, and Harriet, Sam’s brilliant mother, all combine to make A Cast of Vultures a novel that will leave you anxiously awaiting Ms. Clair’s next adventure.

You can read more about Judith Flanders at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

A BED OF SCORPIONS by Judith Flanders: Book Review

A Bed of Scorpions brings us back for a second visit with the delightful Samantha Clair.  Happy in her career as an editor at a London publishing house, she’s on her way to meet her long-time friend and former lover, Aidan Merriam, for lunch.  Entering their favorite Lebanese restaurant and arriving at their regular table, she’s surprised to find Aidan already seated.  With his very tight schedule, he’s never late but always arrives exactly on time.

Sam immediately thinks that something must be wrong, and when Aidan covers his face with his hands she’s sure of it.  But still she’s not prepared for the awful news–his friend and partner in their art gallery, Frank Compton, was found a day earlier at his desk, an apparent suicide.  And the detective investigating the death is Sam’s significant other, Jake Field.

A note on Frank’s computer saying “I’m sorry” neither adds nor subtracts from the idea of suicide.  But Frank hadn’t been ill, had had the same romantic partner for decades, and a forensic search of the gallery’s assets doesn’t turn up anything suspicious.  Although no one is completely satisfied that Frank killed himself, there’s nothing to prove that someone else killed him.  And there the matter rests.

The gallery is involved in an upcoming Edward Stevenson show to tie in with a major exhibit at the Tate.  Stevenson was an eccentric English artist who vanished more than twenty years earlier, leaving a note for his wife saying he was going to an ashram in India.  Apparently he had been interested in Eastern religions, so his wife didn’t think his leaving was too strange.  But when he never wrote again, and an investigation in India found no trace that he had ever been there, it became an unsolved mystery.  That is, until this year, when his skeleton was discovered in a house in Vermont that was being renovated.

Now that there’s major interest in Stevenson’s work, there’s also a conflict between the gallery and Stevenson’s heirs, his widow and their daughter.  It turns out that Sam met the daughter of the late artist a few days earlier, without realizing at the time who she was.  Celia Stevenson Stein is much more involved with the late artist’s estate than her mother has been, and it looks as if there may be financial ramifications for Aidan’s gallery.

As I wrote in my review of A Murder of Magpies, I really, really like Sam Clair and the people around her.  Sam is smart, funny, unsure around people she doesn’t know, and can be a bit sarcastic, all totally believable characteristics in a book editor, I imagine.  Her solicitor mother, Helena, is equally smart, perfectly dressed, and comfortable in any situation.  Well, at least they have one thing in common.  And there’s Jake, Sam’s lover; Sam’s goth and very efficient editorial assistant Miranda; and the mysterious Mr. Rudiger, an elderly architect who seems to have had an unusual life before he rented the flat upstairs from Sam.

A Bed of Scorpions is just as enjoyable as A Murder of Magpies, and that’s high praise.

You can read more about Judith Flanders at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

ONCE A CROOKED MAN by David McCallum: Book Review

Once a Crooked Man is a terrific read.  Starting with an overheard conversation outside the Fiery Dragon Chinese restaurant in New York City, traveling to South America and London and back again to Manhattan with corpses everywhere, David McCallum will have you hooked all the way.

It all begins when Carter Allinson II stops by a Starbucks in New York City and shares a table with a beautiful young woman.  Fiona Walker comes from a wealthy family, and shortly after their meeting the couple become engaged and Carter is welcomed into Fiona’s father’s investment firm.  As a college student Carter had supported himself by a little drug dealing, but with his upcoming wedding he wants to leave that behind him.

Not so fast, says gangster Sal Bruschetti, head of the organization that has been supplying Carter.  You don’t need to be doing any more minor-league dealing, but we need you for another reason.  We’ll be investing money with your father-in-law’s firm, and you’ll be handling all the investments in legitimate ways.  Otherwise, we’ll let the Walkers know about your history.  Carter doesn’t see that he has a choice in the matter, and so begins the long-term relationship between Carter and the three Bruschetti brothers.

None of this has anything to do with Harry Murphy, a fairly successful actor who works in television, on Broadway, and does voiceovers for commercials.  He’s on a Manhattan street when he has an immediate need for a bathroom.  Spotting the Fiery Dragon, he walks in on the Bruschettis in the midst of a “business” talk.  They order him out, but his need is so great that he decides to use the alley outside the building to relieve himself.  Thus he can’t help overhearing their conversation concerning a man in London that the trio is going to have killed.

The plot of Once a Crooked Man is a great one.  Ever impetuous, when Harry learns what the brothers have planned he decides to fly to England and warn the victim.  Once there, there’s no controlling the events that follow.  But Harry is a resourceful man with many talents.  Sometimes he’s a step ahead of the Bruschettis, sometimes a step behind, but he’s always in the midst of the action.

All the characters in this novel are terrific.  I was constantly surprised by the twists and turns the book took because of the things the individuals said and the ways they responded to events.  Carter, Harry, the British detective Lizzie Carswell, and Sal, Enzo, and Max Bruschetti are wonderfully drawn.  The plot goes from one cliffhanger to another, keeping the reader totally engaged up to the last page.

You may remember David McCallum from his many roles, starting with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and continuing to the present in NCIS.  Now he is an author as well.  Let’s hope for many more books from this talented man.

You can read about David McCallum at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

BEFORE WE MET by Lucie Whitehouse: Book Review

How much do you know about anyone, even the person you’ve married?  And what happens when his/her past isn’t what you expected?

Hannah and Mark are practically newlyweds, having been married only eight months.  They met in New York, where Hannah was working at the time, and he was on a business trip.  After their wedding she decides to move back to London, her birthplace, reluctant to have an international marriage; in doing so she is giving up a successful advertising career in Manhattan.

The company Mark started more than a decade earlier, DataPro, is doing extremely well, and although Hannah has been looking for work ever since she returned to England, they appear to be doing very well financially and have an extremely comfortable lifestyle.

As the novel opens Hannah is driving to pick up Mark at Heathrow Airport in London after his business trip to New York, but although his plane arrives he’s not on it.  Getting more anxious by the hour as Mark doesn’t return her phone calls, she finally hears from him the next morning.  He’s full of apologies for his no-show, citing business, and promises to return in three days.

But before Hannah had heard from him, she had called his assistant Neesha at DataPro, who was surprised that Hannah and Mark weren’t together.  When Neesha lets slip that she had thought they were spending the weekend in Rome, Hannah’s anxiety grows stronger.

Still disturbed, but also angry at herself for her worry/distrust, Hannah starts going through Mark’s personal papers in his home office. She knows where his papers are kept, but his personal file isn’t where she had last seen it.  Seeking to put her mind at ease, Hannah goes to his office to look for it.  She looks through his desk until she locates the file and is stunned to learn that Mark has just taken out a huge second mortgage on their home; he had told her the house was virtually mortgage-free.

Even more upsetting, toward the bottom of the file she discovers that her husband has closed all of his savings accounts.  Then there’s the final piece of paper:  her personal account, holding all of the savings she’d accumulated during her years in New York and which Mark had told her was strictly for her own use, has been cleared out.  From the £46,800 she’d deposited, only £29.02 remain.

Before We Met is the story of what seems to be a perfect courtship and marriage.  When Mark returns, he has an answer for every question that Hannah asks, but her uneasiness never completely goes away.  She realizes how little she really knows about her husband.  His parents are dead, he and his younger brother are estranged, all of the friends he has introduced her to are people he has recently met.  Is there more to his past than he has told her?

Lucie Whitehouse has written a true thriller, with an exciting plot and perfectly drawn characters.  The story is told from Hannah’s perspective in the third person, and we are totally aware of all her thoughts.  Her worries seem legitimate, but so do Mark’s answers to her questions.  And the more questions she asks, the more questions she has.

Lucie Whitehouse doesn’t have a web site of her own, but there are several posts about her on the Internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

HANGOVER SQUARE by Patrick Hamilton: Golden Oldies

What a sad, sad story about dysfunctional lives in pre-World War II London.  What a terrific read.

Hangover Square takes place in a seedy area in the down-at-the-heels Earl Court district of the city.  George Harvey Bone is a twenty-something man with mental illness, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say mental illnesses.  He suffers from schizophrenia, alcoholism, and an obsession which manifests itself only when he is in his schizophrenic state.  During his non-schizophrenic time, George is both fascinated and repelled by Netta Longdon.  During his schizophrenic episodes, his all-consuming desire is to kill her.

In his normal state, George is utterly besotted by Netta.  When he sees her the day after Christmas, he is struck again by her looks.  “Although she was not made up, untidy and not trying,” she bewitches him “with…unholy beauty….”  In his functional state, his wish is to marry Netta and have children with her; in his schizophrenic state, he plots to kill her.  In each state, he has no memory of the other one.

Netta is the leader of a small group of extremely unpleasant people.  She is a wanna-be film actress but is unwilling to put any effort into learning her craft.  Actually, it’s not so much that she wants to act, she wants the money and glory that would come with being in that profession.  But, being too lazy to improve her skills, she hasn’t gotten any further than a couple of small movie roles.

In many ways, the relationship between George and Netta is similar to that between Phillip Carey and Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage In each novel there is a sad, lonely man who falls in love with a sadistic and uncaring woman.  Both Netta and Mildred use George and Phillip, respectively, only for monetary reasons.  They show no warmth, feeling, or compassion for these men, only scorn and distain for the way the men allowed themselves to be treated.

Hangover Square is a hard read.  One goes back and forth in George’s disturbed mind, and both of his states are hard to deal with.  When he appears normal, his obsession with Netta allows her to treat him dreadfully, and although he sometimes recognizes this, he is so enthralled by her he is unable to break the cord that binds them.   When he’s in his schizophrenic state and plotting murder, it’s equally hard to read.

Hangover Square is considered Patrick Hamilton’s finest novel.  He also was a poet and the author of two successful plays:  Rope, which was made into an Alfred Hitchcock film starring Jimmy Stewart, and Gaslight, later to become a movie starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.

You can read more about Patrick Hamilton at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LAST RIGHTS by Barbara Nadel: Book Review

The houses are destroyed, the food is rationed, the nearly nightly bombing raids have the residents of the East End fearing for their lives.  This is London in 1940, as shown in Barbara Nadel’s crime novel Last Rights.

Francis (Frank) Hancock, third generation undertaker, is still reeling from his years in the trenches of The War To End All Wars. Except it didn’t, as the Luftwaffe’s bombings clearly show at the beginning of World War II.  Unlike most of the other East Enders, including his mother and sisters, Frank can’t be persuaded to go into the Anderson, the bunker-like corrugated steel paneled structure provided by the government outside his home.  Instead, Frank runs through the streets of his neighborhood during every air raid, recognized by his bemused neighbors as “the Morgue’s son,” until the bombing is over.

On one such night, Frank comes upon a man clawing at his chest and screaming that he has been stabbed.  Frank tries to stop him, not believing him, but the man curses and runs away.  But his body turns up at Frank’s undertaking parlor two days later.  The man turns out to have been a local tough named Kevin Dooley, with a vicious mother who is about to turn Kevin’s widow and her daughter out on the streets.

Although Pearl Dooley, Kevin’s widow, was abused by her late husband, she insists to Frank that she still loved him.  And maybe she did, Frank thinks.  Who knows what goes on between a man and his wife?  But the Dooley family, headed by Kevin’s mother, doesn’t want anything to do with Pearl, and when Frank tells the coroner that Kevin had told him he was stabbed, a further investigation proves that he indeed died from being stabbed with something long and thin put directly into his heart.

Even though Frank believes he did the right thing by telling the coroner that this might have been a murder rather than a result of the bombing, the undertaker is upset when Pearl Dooley is arrested for the crime. Given her family history, with a mother who had been hanged as a murderess, things don’t look good for Pearl.  And when Frank finds Pearl’s sister Ruby, whose own boyfriend has just died under suspicious circumstances, it simply adds more weight to the idea of “bad blood.”

Frank Hancock is a man who is still reliving his time in the trenches of Flanders. He’s an outsider in homogeneous England, having a white father and an Indian mother.  He’s a man who runs wildly and stutters during air raids.  He’s a man still dealing with his guilt at having killed German soldiers during the first World War, even though they were the enemy.

The characters created by Barbara Nadel are incredibly real. Frank’s sister Aggie has been left by her husband when he ran off with her best friend, and she dresses too provocatively for her sister Nan’s repressed tastes.  Fred, the neighborhood bobby, simply wants to clear the murder case without having to do much work in order to do so.  Pearl, Ruby, and the two other sisters of the dysfunctional Reynolds family have never recovered from their traumatic childhood and live in fear that someone is trying to get revenge for the killing more than twenty years earlier of their mother’s lover.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say one of their mother’s lovers, as each of her four daughters had a different father.  For its insights into war-torn London and its citizens’ psyches, Last Rights is a book to read.

You can read more about Barbara Nadel at http://www.twbooks.co.uk/authors/barbaranadel.html.

FALSE CHARITY by Veronica Heley: Book Review

In the spirit of true confessions, I will say that I read the third book of this series first.  But I really hate to do that, so I went back to see if the first one, False Charity, was as good as its successor.  And it is!

Bea Abbott is newly widowed after a long second marriage.  She and her husband had run a very successful domestic agency dealing with clients who need cleaners, servants, helpers of all types.  But her husband had actually done most of the work, and Bea returned to London unsure of whether or not to try to run the agency.

Still in grief, she’s beset by other people’s problems. Her spoiled son from her first marriage, now married himself and a Member of Parliament (apparently you must always capitalize those words) would like her to close the agency and move out of her house so that he and his even more spoiled wife can move in; her close friend Coral is facing bankruptcy because she was conned by a pair of swindlers; two young people have moved into her house “temporarily,” but as they have no place else to go, Bea’s mothering instinct takes over and she can’t decide whether to make them leave or have them help her run the agency.

The main plot involves Bea, Coral, and the two young people trying to work out a scheme in which they can get Coral the money that is due her; it turns out that the con artists have bilked numerous other people with their bogus charity drives.

False Charity and the third novel in the series, False Step, are definitely “cozies,” although there is certainly action in each.  What’s most interesting is the character development I saw, although I did see it backwards–Bea developing a stronger sense of self and the two young people finding careers in the agency.   The only character who doesn’t seem to be maturing much is Bea’s son Max, as his mother has apparently always solved his problems for him.  Even in the third novel, she can’t seem to let him make his own bed and lie in it.  I did find that a bit hard to swallow, but perhaps Max will improve over time.  I found him to be a rather disagreeable character, but then I don’t have much patience for people who can’t take charge of their lives.

False Charity and False Step are definitely interesting additions to the “cozy” genre.  If that’s your cup of tea, as the Brits say, I think you’ll enjoy this series.

You can also learn more at Veronica Heley’s Web site.