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Book Author: Ashley Weaver

THE KEY TO DECEIT by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

It’s 1940 London, and the city is on edge waiting for the much-feared German bombing to begin.  The war has been going on for a year, but thus far England’s capital has been pretty much spared.  That is going to change quickly, however, and Electra McDonnell is about to play a part in the fight against the enemy.

Ellie is a member of the safecracking McDonnell family.  Before the war they were famous, or infamous, for their ability to break into safes that were previously thought to be burglar-proof, but now they are (mostly) taking legal jobs as part of the war effort.  They were recruited a short time earlier by Major Gabriel Ramsey for their undeniable abilities, and their first job for him had been very successful.  So successful, in fact, that he’s returned to ask for their help.

Ramsey tells Ellie that the body of a young woman was found floating in the Thames.  She had no identification on her but was wearing an unusual bracelet.  It’s locked, and thus far the military’s efforts to unlock it have been unsuccessful.  The major came to ask for Ellie’s uncle Mick’s help, but he is away and out of touch, so Ramsey reluctantly takes Ellie to the morgue to try her luck.

She opens the bracelet and the tiny locket that’s attached to it, although the major takes care to see she doesn’t get a glimpse of what’s inside and sends her home.  After two days, Ramsey calls Ellie to his office and tells her that there’s no doubt the woman was murdered; a puncture behind one of her ears led to the discovery that she’d been injected with a poisonous toxin. 

In addition, when the bracelet was examined it became evident that the piece of jewelry was actually a miniature camera of German manufacture.  Ramsey believes that the woman was an Englishwoman recruited by the Nazis, that she was taking photos of the London docks and manufacturing plants around the waterfront to help them make certain that their bombs hit the most important targets.

At the same time, Ellie is given an opportunity to find out more about her late mother who was convicted of the crime of killing Ellie’s father.  She steadfastly proclaimed her innocence but refused to give any leads to the real killer.  Sentenced to hang, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the authorities realized she was pregnant; she gave birth to her daughter in Holloway Prison and died two years later during the Spanish Influenza epidemic.  The McDonnell family has always refused to talk about the crime, and now Ellie is torn between wanting to know the truth and fearing it.

Ashley Weaver has written a vivid portrait of life in England’s capital at the beginning of World War II — its food shortages, its worries about the men and women in the military service, its fear of upcoming German bombs.  Ellie is a vivid heroine whose abilities, both legal and illegal, bring her to life for the reader, and the supporting characters–uncle Mick McDonnell, Major Ramsay, and her childhood friend Felix Lacey among them–are outstanding as well.

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.

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.

AN ACT OF VILLAINY by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

Once again I am green with envy reading about Amory Ames and her life in 1930s London.  Amory is the beautiful, smart, wealthy heroine of several mysteries by Ashley Weaver, and her life sounds almost perfect to me.  The caveat almost has to be used because her marriage to Milo has always been somewhat “iffy” due to his less-than-monogamous behavior.  But that seems to be in the past, and in An Act of Villainy the Ameses seem to be a happy, loving couple.

While leaving a West End theater one night, Amory and Milo are greeted by Gerard Holloway, a friend of Milo’s.  Gerard is a wealthy man who has just written his first play, The Price of Victory, and it is about to open.  In addition to being the play’s author, he is also producing (read financing) and directing it, so obviously he has a lot at stake in its success.

During their very brief conversation outside the theater, Amory innocently asks Gerard about his wife, a woman whom Amory greatly admires.  After Gerard rather tepidly says that “she’s quite well,” he moves off and Milo looks quizzically at his wife.  Didn’t you know, he asks her, that his new play’s leading lady is his mistress?

The next day Milo meets Gerard at the latter’s club for a drink, and Gerard confides that Flora Bell, his paramour, has been receiving threatening anonymous letters at the theater.  Knowing of the Ameses’ past successes in solving mysteries, the playwright asks them to attend his play’s dress rehearsal to see if they notice anyone behaving in a guilty manner, and Milo now puts the matter before his wife.

Amory agrees to go to the rehearsal, although she is upset with Gerard’s philandering.  As she says to her husband, “this seems a minor matter” because if someone really wanted to harm the actress they would hardly warn her beforehand.  In this, however, Amory couldn’t be more wrong.

Ms. Weaver has written another beguiling novel that bring today’s reader back nearly one hundred years to a social set and time quite different from our own, or at least from mine.  Amory has a lady’s maid, Milo has a chauffeur, afternoon tea is a ritual, and they have three homes.  It’s a charming fantasy life to read about, but there’s an excellent mystery here as well.

I often wonder how authors can write a novel about a time and place in which they never lived.  Ms. Weaver, as far as I can tell from brief biographical notes I’ve read, has never lived in England; in fact, she is a librarian in Louisiana.  But her fertile imagination and creativity will make you believe that, in a former life, she was a member of London high society.

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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.






A first for my blog–two mysteries by the same author reviewed at one time.  I read Murder At The Brightwell a few weeks ago and planned to blog about it; then I read Death Wears A Mask, the second novel in the series, last week.  I have a policy of not writing about two books by the same author within a year, since I want to introduce readers to as many authors as possible, but this time it seems only logical to feature these two books in a single post.

Murder At The Brightwell is a delightful romp through 1930s upper class London society via the person of Amory Ames.  As the novel opens, Amory’s husband, Milo, whom she loves and hates in equal measure, has just returned from two months away with nary a word of explanation.  Unfortunately Amory is used to this behavior, as well as being used to seeing his photo appear with disheartening regularity in the society columns of various tabloids.

Minutes after Milo’s return, the Ames’ butler announces a visitor.  It’s Gil Trent, Amory’s former fiancé. The two had been engaged for a month when Amory met Milo, broke off the engagement, and married Milo.  She hasn’t seen Gil in the five succeeding years, but he has come to ask a favor.

He tells Amory that his younger sister, Emmeline, has gotten engaged to Rupert Howe, whom Gil is certain is no good.  He wants Amory to go to the Brightwell hotel with him and try to convince his sister that her fiancé is not the right man for her.  Amory has met Rupert and knows that his good looks and charm are uncannily similar to Milo’s; perhaps, indeed, she will be able to persuade Emmeline that the man is all surface, no substance.

Deciding that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, Amory refuses to tell Milo where she is going, only that she is leaving the next day on a trip.  Correctly deducing that this somehow involves Gil, Milo offers some advice.  “Leave me if you must, darling.  But don’t go crawling back to Trent, of all people.  Surely you must have some pride.”  And Amory’s sad answer is, “I have been married to you for five years, Milo.  How much pride can I possibly have left?”  So off she goes to do what she can to help her former boyfriend, never thinking that this trip will end with a murder.

In Death Wears A Mask, Serena Barrington, a friend of Amory’s parents, comes to her for help in finding out who has stolen several of her valuable jewels.  A dinner party is arranged for Amory to meet the suspects, but no one there seems likely to be the thief.  A masked ball at the home of one the dinner guests, Viscount Dunmore, a few days later will include these same guests as well as many others members of London society, so a trap is laid by Serena and Amory in an attempt to catch the thief there.  However, everything goes awry when one of the guests at the ball, who was also at the Barrington dinner, is found murdered.

I would use the word frothy to describe Ashley Weaver’s books, but that would be doing them a disservice.  Although they are far from hard core mysteries, each one has a believable plot, witty dialog, and a delightful heroine.  Indeed, I found myself wishing I could be Amory Ames for a while, or at least visit her in one of the three beautiful homes that she and Milo have.  Murder At The Brightwell and Death Wears A Mask are two terrific introductions into a beguiling new series.

You can read more about Ashley Weaver at this web site.

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