It was much easier to get away with nefarious deeds in eras past. Crime fighters didn’t have the aid of DNA testing or security cameras, and it was relatively easy for a guilty party to slip away, change their name and evade justice entirely—all of which makes the sleuths in these three historical mysteries even more impressive.
An Artless Demise, the seventh installment of Anna Lee Huber’s Regency-era series, brings Kiera Darby back to London after scandal sent her to Scotland. Newly married to her partner in investigation, Sebastian Gage, Kiera hopes their return will be without incident. But when the killing of a young migrant boy resembles the methods of notorious criminals Burke and Hare, who sold their victims’ bodies to medical schools, polite society can’t help but recall Lady Darby’s late first husband, who purchased corpses from body snatchers in order to further his study of the body. Kiera tries to keep a low profile, but when a gentleman is similarly murdered in Mayfair, she and her husband are hired to investigate.
Huber highlights the simmering chemistry between the main couple, reminding readers of their physical and intellectual compatibility. Because the plot relies on the emotional toll of Kiera’s abusive first marriage and the criminal activity of her late husband, this installment—more so than other books in the series—will be best enjoyed by readers familiar with the first book. However, a solid whodunit and the atmospheric London gloom anchor the novel well, even for a new readership.
Inspectors Ian Frey and “Nine-Nails” McGray are summoned to a remote estate in Oscar de Muriel’s Loch of the Dead. The islands of Loch Maree are rumored to harbor healing powers or evil curses, depending on who’s telling the tale. The detectives are tasked with protecting Benjamin Koloman, the illegitimate son of one of the estate’s heirs, by his mother—who believes her son is in grave danger. After the unexpected death of the father he never met, Benjamin has been invited to take his place among the wealthy Kolomans. But does the close-knit clan really want him there, or is there something darker afoot? Frey and McGray deal with murder and metaphysical mayhem as the family’s past gradually comes into the light.
McGray and Frey are constantly bemoaning the other’s shortcomings in entertaining, relatable asides, although it’s clear a mutual respect has blossomed. McGray’s sincere belief in the supernatural is a unique twist on the hardened sleuth archetype, and Frey’s funny, fussy adherence to decorum grounds the reader in the time period. The mystery itself is delightfully gruesome and unhinged right up to the heart-pounding conclusion. Readers who love bickering banter and want a historical mystery with a twist will be pleased.
The intrepid Maisie Dobbs returns in The American Agent, set during World War II and the terror of the London Blitz. When Catherine Saxon, an ambitious American journalist, is found murdered, Maisie is enlisted to assist. Also working the case is Mark Scott, the American agent who helped Maisie get out of Munich two years prior. Maisie must balance her determination to find the killer with the suspicion that Mark isn’t telling the whole truth. As Londoners face the fire with stiff upper lips, Maisie homes in on the truth.
Jacqueline Winspear captures the juxtaposition of the utter chaos and eerie normalcy of the Blitz with cinematic style. Maisie is much in the mold of a Golden Age sleuth, with a sharp eye and almost unrealistically good instincts. The looming question of whether she will be able to balance motherhood with her dangerous career is brilliantly relevant both to the era Winspear writes about and the current era. A straightforward yarn with excellent historical detail, The American Agent will satisfy fans and newcomers alike.