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A PECULIAR COMBINATION by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

Is it nature or nurture that has made Electra McDonnell an expert safecracker?  Her ability to bypass the most sophisticated locks may be a product of nature since she is the niece of master cracksman Mick McDonnell.  Or it may be a product of nurture, growing up in his household and being taken on jobs with him for years.

Either way, Ellie as she is known, has a talent that, strangely enough, brings her to the attention of the authorities during the dark days of the Second World War.

Ellie and Mick are consistently cautious when they decide to do a job, but this time, despite their care, Ellie has an uncomfortable feeling that she can’t shake.  As always, she’s in awe of her uncle’s ability to master any safe’s combination, and she feels that “watching Uncle Mick open a safe was like watching an artist paint a picture or a violinist play a complicated piece of music.”

Mick naturally has no trouble opening the safe at the site of their latest job, and reaching inside he takes out various pieces of jewelry.  As the two leave the house as stealthily as they entered, Ellie feels a change in the air.  Almost before she knows what’s happened, her hands are pulled behind her back and she and her uncle are in handcuffs.

To Ellie’s surprise, she and Mick aren’t brought to a police station but rather to what appears to be a private residence.  Ellie’s interrogator tells her he has a proposition for her, an exchange of favors, and if they accept she and Mick will be freed.  “He needed a safecracker,” she realizes.  It’s agreeing to the proposal or going to prison, so Ellie and Mick feel there’s really very little choice.  And so begins their work for the British Secret Service and the war effort.

The interrogator is Major Gabriel Ramsay, and he tells Ellie he needs her to recover some papers from a man who may or may not be a German spy.  They make their plans, and two days later Ellie and Ramsay enter the house of the suspect and go up to the room where the safe is hidden.  But as she flashes her torch around the room, she sees that the large painting that would have hidden the safe is askew and the safe is open.  And on the floor lies a man in a pool of blood.

As she has shown in her Amory Ames series, Ashley Weaver has an amazing knack for bringing English history to life.  A Peculiar Combination takes readers to the darkened streets of London as the city deals with the fear of a German invasion and possible espionage.  In addition to the main story there’s a mystery about Ellie’s past, and it’s clear that it’s an issue that will continue in the next novel of this intriguing new series.

You can read more about Ashley Weaver at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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