The Vanishing Man

The Vanishing Man by Charles Finch

I’ve long enjoyed reading and listening to the Charles Lenox Victorian mystery series by Charles Finch, and this prequel is a great entry into the series. Set in London and Kent in 1853, gentleman Charles Lenox, 26, along with his valet Graham, is learning to be a private detective, even though he doesn’t need to charge for his services. His good friend, Lady Jane, lives next door and supports his new endeavor. The Vanishing Man of the title could refer to two mysteries; the theft of a portrait of a former duke and the disappearance of the current Duke of Dorset, whose London mansion is close to Parliament and the Thames River. Lenox is in search of both, and an even more intriguing mystery relating to William Shakespeare. I enjoy the audiobook narration of James Langton, as well as a strong sense of place, very appealing main characters, and a clever plot. Recommended for historical mystery readers and Anglophiles. The first prequel is The Woman in the Water, and the first book in the main series is A Beautiful Blue Death.

Brenda

Secrets of Wishtide

secrets-of-wishtide-jacketSecrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

Kate Saunders, the author of a number of books for children and adults, introduces Victorian widow Laetitia Rodd in her first mystery. After her clergyman husband’s death, Letty moves to an unfashionable part of Hampstead, London where she rents a townhouse from Mrs. Bentley. Letty’s brother Fred, a barrister, pays her to make discreet inquiries for his clients. Letty is sent to the Calderstone estate, Wishtide, as a governess to the young ladies of the house, although she’s really there to investigate the background of Helen Orme, a widow that young Charles Calderstone is determined to marry. Naturally, there is a murder or two, and hints of scandal. Letty, her brother, and Letty’s inquisitive landlady use their skills and contacts to unravel the mystery and save an innocent man from death. Appealing, well-developed characters, clever plotting, and a variety of settings, from drawing rooms to London inns, a prison, and the kitchen of Letty’s home add to the charm of this debut British cozy. I look forward to enjoying more books featuring Mrs. Rodd.

Brenda

 

 

Home by Nightfall

nightfall jacketHome by Nightfall by Charles Finch

Another very satisfying visit to Victorian England as Charles Finch and his colleagues at their London detective agency ponder the disappearance of a German pianist from a theatre dressing room and worry about their business. Charles and his wife Jane are concerned about Charles’ brother Edmund, a member of parliament. He’s in mourning, and waiting for his sons to hear of their mother’s death. In their hometown in Sussex, Charles is able to distract Edmund by asking for his help investigating recent thefts and odd occurrences. The writing is richly detailed; I enjoyed the descriptions of the brothers out riding and interacting with townspeople, and Charles’ occasion frustration with communication with London only by letter or brief telegrams. Charles gets a glimpse of the depth of Edmund’s grief, and this draws them closer together. An attack on a local dignitary leads to dark secrets about his past, and Jane and her friend Toto help the men with the investigations. While the mysteries are clever, it’s the setting and the continuing development of the appealing characters that makes this mystery series a personal favorite. The first book is A Beautiful Blue Death.
Brenda

 

Karen Memory

karen memory jacketKaren Memory by Elizabeth Bear

I’ve read only a few steampunk novels, but I really enjoyed this fast-paced steampunk adventure. It’s set in an alternate 1878, in Rapid City, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, complete with airships and mechanical marvels. Karen Memory finds the best job available to her after her father’s death, and works as a “seamstress” at the Hotel Mon Cherie, run by Madame Damnable. Karen really is a seamstress on the side, but the hotel is a respectable bordello. The ladies gather in the parlor for a meal after their guests leave, and are surprised when Merry Lee shows up, badly wounded while rescuing Priya. Priya and her younger sister came from India for work, only to be trapped by powerful bully Peter Bantle, who wants to be the next mayor. Karen falls hard for the brilliant Priya, and wants to rescue her sister. Next Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves rides into town looking for a killer, and Madame Damnable’s girls volunteer to help along with Merry Lee, hoping the trail leads back to Peter Bantle. Lots of action and adventure in a very unusual setting, with an appealing narrator in Karen.
Brenda

 

 

Eighty Days

eighty days jacketEighty Days, by Matthew Goodman

On November 14,1889, Nellie Bly, an investigative reporter for the New York World, left New York City on a steamship headed east. Her goal: to travel around the world in 75 days, outdoing Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg. Traveling by steamship and train, she briefly visited several points in Europe, even meeting Jules Verne in France, then headed through the Suez Canal for points east, observing and commenting on the British Empire in the Victorian era. Traveling with only one small bag, she took the world by storm, visiting Ceylon, Hong Kong, and Japan. Half-way around the world, she was informed that journalist Elizabeth Bisland was traveling in the other direction, in a last-minute attempt by her publisher to beat Nellie Bly. Elizabeth sets out for the American west, on the new transatlantic railroad, a Southern literary critic surprised to be blazing a trail for American women. The story of their eventful journeys and the aftermath make for a great armchair travel experience for the reader.

Brenda

Dodger

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is best known for his humorous fantasy series set in the Discworld. Some of them, with young witch Tiffany Aching and the tiny gnomes known as the MacFeegles are written for teens, as is Dodger, but this book is set in Victorian era London. Dodger, 17, is a tosher who scavenges for coins and other lost treasures in London’s sewers. One night he hears a scream and climbs out of the sewer to rescue a young women from thugs. Newspaperman Charlie Dickens is next on the scene, along with another gentleman and they take Simplicity and Dodger to a safe house. Dodger is smitten, and agrees to look for the thugs. Dodger’s landlord, an elderly Jewish jeweler, takes him to get a suit and recommends a shave. Of course, the barber is the murderous Sweeney Todd, who is caught by Dodger, who later interrupts a robbery at Dickens’ newspaper. The plot just gets more complicated from there, with Dodger and Simplicity having numerous adventures, but it’s definitely fun going along for the ride and enjoying glimpses of life in London from all angles. Even the bits in London’s sewers make for fascinating reading. Funny in parts, sad in others, well worth a look for readers of historical fiction or humor.

Brenda

Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

James A Garfield was clearly a brilliant man, and one who had no interest in becoming president. He was a college president, a Civil War general for the Union who became a congressman, and was an advocate for freed slaves as well as an inspiring speaker. In 1880, Garfield gave a speech nominating John Sherman, the brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, at the chaotic Republican convention, although the most notable candidates were James G. Blaine and Ulysses S. Grant. The convention became deadlocked and took two days to nominate a candidate for president. Remarkably, James Garfield became the nominee, won the election, and took office in March, 1881. He hired the youngest private secretary in history, Joseph Stanley Brown, age 23, who later married the president’s daughter Mollie. Brown was the only one who could turn away the long lines of office seekers who appeared at the White House daily, including Charles Guiteau, a failed lawyer who wanted to be the French Ambassador. On July 2, 1881, he shot the president as he entered a train station. The president died on September 19, and Guiteau was tried for murder. He used an insanity defense, and also stated that while he shot the president, he did not kill him. Guiteau was absolutely correct, as Garfield died of malpractice. Candice Millard relates the fascinating story of Garfield’s life and family, the misguided pride of Dr. D. Willard Bliss, the valiant attempts of Alexander Graham Bell to locate the bullet, and the surprising legacy of one of our most overlooked presidents, the last to be born in a log cabin. I found this book to be fascinating, and at only 260 pages, it’s a very readable look at a time when the election (and protection) of presidents was very different from today.

For more about Garfield and the book, visit the author’s website.

Brenda