STARRED REVIEW
March 02, 2021

Properly confounding puzzles

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Historical mysteries truly allow amateur sleuths to shine. Without modern technology, forensic analysis or instantaneous communication to aid them, the historical detective must rely on their powers of deduction and observation to solve the crime.

STARRED REVIEW
March 02, 2021

Properly confounding puzzles

Feature by

Historical mysteries truly allow amateur sleuths to shine. Without modern technology, forensic analysis or instantaneous communication to aid them, the historical detective must rely on their powers of deduction and observation to solve the crime.

March 02, 2021

Properly confounding puzzles

Feature by

Historical mysteries truly allow amateur sleuths to shine. Without modern technology, forensic analysis or instantaneous communication to aid them, the historical detective must rely on their powers of deduction and observation to solve the crime.

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Historical mysteries truly allow amateur sleuths to shine. Without modern technology, forensic analysis or instantaneous communication to aid them, the historical detective must rely on their powers of deduction and observation to solve the crime.

Deanna Raybourn delivers wit and humor aplenty in her sixth installment of the Veronica Speedwell series, An Unexpected Peril. Fresh from her last case chasing Jack the Ripper, lepidopterist and amateur sleuth Veronica Speedwell is assisting with an exhibition on the small country of Alpenwald for a naturalist club in London—and enjoying some downtime with her partner turned lover, Stoker. 

Trouble is never far from Veronica, however. As the club assembles items donated by the late alpinist Alice Baker-Greene’s estate, Veronica uncovers evidence that Alice was murdered, rather than dying in a climbing accident. Princess Grisela of Alpenwald, who is visiting London and the exhibition, is less than enthusiastic about the discovery. Her small nation relies on tourism for its income, and the murder of a famous English mountain climber would cause a scandal. Veronica is undeterred, and as she and Stoker investigate Alice’s murder, they find themselves embroiled in a second mystery when Princess Grisela vanishes. 

Irreverent, funny and with a razor-sharp intelligence, Veronica is a delightful narrator and a keen detective. Her total disregard for the opinions of “good society” and her vicious wit in cutting down her detractors are a joy to read. As An Unexpected Peril unfolds, we see her relationship with her longtime partner, Stoker, develop as well. Fans of the series have waited five novels for their will-they-won’t-they attraction to resolve, and now that the pair are together, they must navigate the tiny irritations and frustrations that come with any new relationship. Veronica, as always, rushes headfirst into danger, while Stoker tries to maintain a tempering influence.

Best read in order, Raybourn’s Victorian-era series is never bleak, always funny and wonderfully fast-paced. An Unexpected Peril has the perfect blend of action, romance and mystery. 

The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis is the complete opposite in terms of atmosphere. The second Brontë Sisters mystery is set in bleak, frozen West Yorkshire and begins when a neighbor of the Brontës, the eccentric Clifton Bradshaw, finds the skeleton of a young child interred in a fireplace in his late wife’s rooms. 

Rumor has it that Clifton went mad after his wife’s death, selling his soul to the devil and shutting off her rooms completely. The discovery of the bones 13 years later certainly implies that something sinister occurred before her death, and the Brontë sisters are determined to identify the child and how it came to be hidden in the fireplace.

Ellis carefully weaves biographical details into her mystery, and readers familiar with the Brontës’ story will see the beginning of Branwell Brontë’s decline as well as the first glimpses of Charlotte’s relationship with Arthur Bell Nicholls. Ellis portrays Charlotte as a fierce and dynamic figure, Emily as a dreamer and recluse and Anne as the mediator between them. Isolated in their Yorkshire village, these three brilliant sisters yearn for intellectual stimulation, and solving the mystery of the bones is too intriguing for them to resist. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates their meddling. 

Easily read as a standalone, The Diabolical Bones tackles subjects as bleak as the frigid February moors where it is set, from the cruelties of child labor in Victorian England to the limitations of women at the time, as the sisters often have to drag their begrudging brother with them on their investigations. Fans of gothic mysteries will find this novel wonderfully creepy and suspenseful, even if they are unfamiliar with the work or lives of the Brontë sisters. 

With espionage, secret love affairs and hidden treasure, The Dark Heart of Florence by Tasha Alexander offers a mystery set in Florence, Italy in both 1903 and 1480. Jumping in with the 15th novel in the Lady Emily mystery series may seem intimidating, but Alexander provides enough context for characters and events referenced from previous books in the series that very little is lost for newcomers. 

When Lady Emily Hargreaves’ husband, Colin, is summoned to Florence, she knows it’s on secret business. Tensions are rising in Europe, and while Colin cannot admit it, Emily knows he is a spy for England. When a man is killed in their palazzo, Emily and her best friend, Cécile, launch a parallel investigation, determined not to sit by on the sidelines as danger surrounds them.

Interspersed are chapters set in the 15th century, where a young woman named Mina struggles to align with the gender roles traditionally assigned to her while the wonder of the Renaissance surrounds her. Mina enters into a forbidden affair with a young priest that will change the course of her life and entangle her in the fanatical puritan campaign of Girolamo Savonarola. 

Mina’s actions directly impact the murder that Emily and Cecile are investigating in 1903, which is intensified by the increasingly tenuous political situation and the frustration Emily feels at being left in the dark as to her husband’s intrigues. The Florentine setting, both in the Renaissance and early Edwardian eras, is explored in rich detail, allowing the reader to travel vicariously through Mina’s and Emily’s eyes.

With gothic chills, laugh-out-loud humor and international intrigue, these three mysteries whisk the reader off to the past and ensnare them with carefully crafted plots and plenty of suspense.

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Get the Books

An Unexpected Peril

An Unexpected Peril

By Deanna Raybourn
Berkley
ISBN 9780593197264
The Dark Heart of Florence

The Dark Heart of Florence

By Tasha Alexander
Minotaur
ISBN 9781250622068
The Diabolical Bones

The Diabolical Bones

By Bella Ellis
Berkley
ISBN 9780593099155

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