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Book Author: Judith Flanders

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.


A MURDER OF MAGPIES by Judith Flanders: Book Review

Flat out, I must say this is a totally engaging book!

I googled the word for a group of magpies, and murder is one of them, along with tiding and gulp The last two names are interesting, but how much better murder works with a mystery!

Samantha Clair is an editor at a London publishing house, hoping to release a book by one of her favorite authors, Kit Lovell.  He is a fashion writer and, according to Sam, “the best gossip on the planet.”

Kit’s writings have never caused a problem before, but this tell-all story is different.  The subject of his manuscript is Rodrigo Alemán, Spain’s world-famous fashion designer.  In addition to the very public wild parties Rodrigo hosted and the over-the-top life he led, there was a private side uncovered by Kit that is the crux of his book.

According to Kit, “everyone” has agreed that Rodrigo was murdered, everyone except his family, the Vernet fashion house he worked for, and the French police, who went along with the cover-up because of the pressure the House of Vernet put on them.  But Kit has proof, he tells Sam, that Rodrigo’s murder was an organized crime affair, probably resulting from the information that Kit discovered about the firm’s money laundering.  So, after Sam sends the manuscript to her legal team for a reading and gets their okay that it isn’t libelous, she plans to publish the book.

But then Sam’s flat is burglarized, the motorcycle messenger thought to be bringing the hard copy of the manuscript to her is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Kit doesn’t show up for an important meeting, and she’s unable to reach him after numerous attempts.  All this brings in the police, in the person of Inspector Jacob Field.  Sam’s concerns about the missing Kit escalate, and she begins to investigate the charges he made in his manuscript about Rodrigo and the House of Vernet.

A Murder of Magpies has two wonderful main characters.  First there’s Sam, a forty-year-old woman content to stay single until her meetings with Jacob get more and more interesting.  Sam’s mother Helena, a top barrister, is another terrific creation.  In a great role reversal, here it is the mother who is dynamic, energetic, sexy, and a force to be reckoned with.

Perhaps it is this very list of attributes that has made Sam more reserved, a woman who is content to blend into the background, whether at a meeting of colleagues and in her choice of clothes, which are white, black, and gray.  Every other color is too bright for her, she thinks, and may cause people to look at her.  As Sam puts it, when she’s with her mother she’s “awed into silent astonishment that we could be even distantly related.”

Judith Flanders’ A Murder of Magpies is a fun read, a fact which doesn’t take away from the mystery to be solved.  I hope that there’ll be more mysteries featuring Samantha Clair and her friends to follow.

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

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