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 Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, this first novel is set during the British heat wave of 1976. One Monday, Mrs. Margaret Creasy goes missing, and Grace Bennett, her 10-year-old neighbor, decides to investigate, along with her friend Tilly. They visit all the neighbors on their street, even Walter Bishop in #11, who has been shunned after being suspected of stealing a baby. Flashbacks to 1967 reveal some of the villagers’ secrets, but don’t solve the mystery. A possible image of Jesus captures the neighborhood’s attention at the peak of the heat wave, and almost everyone, even the new Indian family from Birmingham, gathers in the shade to visit and play canasta. I thought the plot quite clever, with some twists, and I enjoyed the occasional humorous scenes, the refreshingly ordinary girls, and the 1976 English village setting.
The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker
Edgar’s not much of a father or husband. When news of the end-of-the-world crisis comes, he’s drunk. But he’s mentally prepared, and helps Beth and their two little kids survive. Later, the family gets separated and Ed is left behind in Edinburgh with a small group. He needs to get to Cornwall in a hurry to find his family again, but the roads are mostly impassable. Surprisingly, Ed won’t ever give up, and the group starts running southwest through the bleak landscape, where they have encounters alternately charming and malevolent. I found the completely ordinary Ed appealing and memorable, and the story very compelling reading.
Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
This book has two mysteries. One is narrated by book editor Susan Ryeland, who is searching for the final chapters of the last Atticus Pund mystery after the author’s sudden death. The other puzzle is the manuscript Susan is reading, a traditional British mystery set in 1955 England that’s a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot books. Very clever writing with plenty of twists and turns in the plot make for an intensifying pace, but Susan is the only really likeable character in either mystery. I don’t want to reveal much of the plot as there are so many clever puzzles for the reader to uncover. Don’t confuse this inventive book with another fine mystery also featuring a book editor, A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders.
Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone by Phaedra Patrick
This is the second charming novel by Phaedra Patrick. The Tuesday Evening Book Group is discussing her first book, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, on June 27 at 7 pm. Set in the small Yorkshire village of Noon Sun, Benedict Stone is miserable and eating too many sweets. His wife Estelle has moved out of their house after years of struggling with infertility, and is preparing for a show of her colorful paintings. Benedict is a jeweler who doesn’t use gemstones, at least until his niece Gemma comes to visit and they find a family journal about gemstones in the attic. Gemma, 16, has some secrets, but she shakes up her uncle’s life, helps him remodel the jewelry store, and comes up with ideas for winning Estelle back. Heartwarming, clever, and quirky; a good vacation read.
The Lost Book of the Grail, by Charlie Lovett
Arthur Prescott teaches English literature at the University of Barchester so that he can live in his grandfather’s home town, where he spent many happy weeks as a boy. He loves to read in the cathedral’s rare book library, and attends Evensong and Compline services in the cathedral, where his friend Gwyn is the dean. He meets weekly with his friends David and Oscar to discuss book collecting, and is content with his life (except for faculty meetings) until young Bethany Davis arrives from America to digitize the cathedral’s books and unsettle his world. She demonstrates the usefulness of online research to Arthur, who avoids computers, befriends Oscar and David, and helps Arthur finish his overdue guide to the cathedral. Arthur is looking for information on St. Ewolda, who founded the monastery, and is stunned to find that Bethany shares his secret interest, searching for the Holy Grail. The contemporary story alternates with short accounts of the guardians of the lost book of St. Ewolda from 560 AD to World War II, and the dangerous times they lived in. Arthur, Bethany, David, and Oscar race against time to steal a rare book, explore the cathedral’s crypt, and crack a medieval cipher before the cathedral’s board must vote on an offer to buy the rare book collection. Barchester is the fictional town described in Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope’s books, and is a charming setting for this clever academic mystery that has a little romance.