Three new mysteries gain extra depth from their settings in decadent Gilded Age New York, interwar London and rural World War II-era Britain.
Dowager countess Philomena Amesbury left England behind for the bright lights of turn-of-the-century Manhattan when the miserable husband she was practically sold off to finally had the good sense to die. Now Phil is determined to live life to the fullest—and it certainly helps that her bills are paid by a mysterious benefactor, Mr. X, who periodically leaves clues in her path. In Tell Me No Lies, author Shelley Noble turns Phil loose on a case with suspects to spare.
When the young heir to a fortune is found stuffed into a laundry chute after a party, investigating detectives would like nothing more than for Phil to butt out. But she received a heads-up about the case from Mr. X, and before long she’s on the intriguing trail. The clues lead her through the Plaza Hotel and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but much more is revealed at a country house where tempers grow short and the fog makes it dreadfully hard to see who’s milling about. Add in some tantalizing romantic potential (Lady Phil’s benefactor won’t show his face, but he does occasionally show up and spend the night) and a hot air balloon chase, and you’ve got suspense steeped in Gilded Age glamour, and a very good time indeed.
The Body on the Train pits investigator Kate Shackleton against, well, almost everyone by story’s end. Scotland Yard enlists her to help identify the titular body, which was found in a sack on a train carrying rhubarb. Kate finds credible information hard to come by among the Yorkshire residents she talks to. The train may have departed from there, but the community’s internal struggles have made them wary of outsiders. Soon Kate is investigating a second murder along with a labor dispute and a battle over land use—and trying to save her own neck in the bargain.
Author Frances Brody lets Kate wander at will, and it’s a pleasure to follow her. She stays at the home of a friend under the pretext of creating a local photography feature, and the photos she takes of people and places are described so vividly you can almost see them. The struggle to balance the rights of workers and the needs of an impoverished community makes for a tense backdrop, and Kate’s relationship with her friend is strained as she learns more about the friend’s role in both. When everyone’s motives are suspect, it’s impossible to know who to trust, and this thriller makes great use of that fact in a truly chilling climax.
Poppy Redfern is doing her bit for England’s war effort. Her family home and farm have been seized so the U.S. Air Force can use them, and Poppy serves as an air raid warden, helping with drills and checking the village for any glimpse of light through the blackout curtains. But when two young women who had been dating American servicemen are found strangled to death, suddenly wartime allies seem like potential enemies stationed too close to home. In Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders author Tessa Arlen layers suspicion on top of suspicion against a backdrop of privation and English resolve.
Local distrust of the “Yanks” runs so high that it may well divert attention away from a killer hiding in plain sight. But Poppy’s easy friendship with one of the Americans could be leading her to trust too readily. (It’s hard to be mad at someone who can get real beef in the midst of rationing.) She works out her theories of the case via a novel in progress whose protagonist always seems to have the answers she lacks. Vivid settings and high emotions keep the suspense at fever pitch, but it’s the characters that make Arlen’s series kickoff such a stunner.