To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear
In 1940, London psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs and her assistant, Billy Beale, are asked to look for Joe Coombes, a young painter’s apprentice. His parents, Phil and Sally Coombes, own a local pub and are worried they haven’t heard from Joe, who had been complaining of frequent headaches. Maisie and Billy learn that Joe had been applying fire-retardant paint at aerodromes, and wanted to apprentice to a sheep farmer in Hampshire. Billy notices that the Coombes seem to be unusually well off.
Maisie finds a weekly respite at her country home in Kent, visiting with her extended family, including young evacuee Anna, who has the measles. The British Expeditionary Force in France is in retreat, and Maisie’s godson Tim runs off to help with the evacuation at Dunkirk.
I learned that the World War II experiences of the author’s family inspired this story, especially her father’s work as a young painter’s apprentice. This compelling mystery with engaging characters and strong sense of place would be a good place to start reading this series, especially readers who enjoy historical fiction, British mysteries, or strong female protagonists. I especially enjoyed this book because Maisie and her family are happier than in recent books. This book will be published on March 27.
Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott
Ladylike Edwina Davenport advertises for a lodger after her mother’s death. American adventuress Beryl Halliwell replies to her ad by crashing her car into a pillar at the end of Edwina’s drive. After Edwina is attacked while walking her dog, the odd couple, former classmates, pair up to investigate a the disappearance of Agnes, a Land Army girl who went missing two years earlier. Then they find the body of a young film buff in a field. A strong sense of place brings the 1920 English village of Walmsley Parva to life, and the engaging characters and their investigation of the village’s secrets delight in this leisurely-paced British cozy, the first in a new mystery series.
The Tuesday Evening Book Group will discuss When the English Fall, by David Williams, at 7 pm on March 27. This is a post-apocalyptic novel, set in an Amish community near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A compelling, beautifully written novel; here’s my earlier review.
The Crime Readers gather at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien at 7 pm on Thursday, March 15 to discuss The Ghost, by Robert Harris. In this thriller, a ghost writer working on the memoir of a British politician finds out too many secrets. Meet at 6 pm for an optional dinner. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
Copies of the books are available four weeks in advance at the Adult & Teen Services Reference Desk.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Mercenary Deviana Morris wants to join the Devastators, the King’s own guard on Paradox. To gain experience, she takes her high-tech suit of powered armor and applies for a position as security guard on the unlucky Terran trading ship Glorious Fool. Attracted by the handsome ship’s cook Rupert, she is stunned to meet the ship’s doctor, a potentially dangerous xith’cal. Fast-paced and entertaining, with a kick-ass heroine who’s curious, stubborn, loyal, and passionate, this book will appeal to fans of military science fiction or space opera. This is the first book in the Paradox trilogy, followed by Honor’s Knight. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a good readalike, along with books by Elizabeth Moon and David Weber.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
As a girl, Anna Kerrigan visits Manhattan Beach with her father Eddie, and meets Dexter Styles, who has ties to the Syndicate. The sea calls to the three of them, and to Anna’s sister Lydia. Years later, Eddie is missing, Dexter owns a nightclub, and Anna has a tedious job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Anna competes to be a diver at the Navy Yard, and pursues Dexter for answers about her father. We learn about Eddie’s adventures at sea, and the secrets the characters all have. While there are tender family scenes, the focus is on work, and on coworkers and crewmates. Anna takes risks and craves adventure, wanting to contribute to the war effort, reinventing herself more than once. Plenty of danger and intrigue add to the intensifying pace, leading to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion, with complex, memorable characters. Widely acclaimed, it’s a pleasure to read a book that lives up to high expectations. The first historical novel from award-winning novelist Egan, this is sure to be popular with book discussion groups.
Walking the Americas by Levison Wood
Levison Woods, former British Army paratrooper, takes readers on another adventure, this time with Mexican photographer Alberto Caceres. They hike from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Cortes landed in 1519 all the way through Central America to the Colombian border in South America. Eight countries, 1800 miles, in just over four months, including the dangerous jungle of Panama’s Darien Gap, visited by Balboa in 1513. The sense of adventure and occasional danger is a little artificial when I know that Wood has a support team and is filming a documentary mini-series, but the accomplishment is still impressive. Each country makes a different impression on Wood, from the people and culture to the landscape and food. While spider bites and river crossings are a real danger, along with quicksand and snakes, walking along sections of the highway for part of their journey seems the greatest hazard. There are funny parts, some awesome scenery, and the occasional silly mistake. Wood has previously hiked the Himalayas and walked along the Nile River, and his latest hike has been circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula.
Wood’s adventures make very entertaining armchair travel reading, especially as Wood hikes through parts of Central America rarely seen by tourists.