Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam Books, 2011) is
the first of eight, so far, historical thrillers set during World War II
featuring Margaret Hope, an English citizen raised in the United States. When
Maggie’s parents were killed in a car accident, her aunt in Wellesley,
Massachusetts, took her in, where Maggie was raised in an academic tradition.
Excelling in mathematics, in the spring of 1940 Maggie is preparing to enter
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for doctoral work when her
grandmother in London dies. Maggie goes to London to close out her estate and
sell the huge Victorian house, which languishes on the market as war gets
applies for work with the English Government and, despite her excellent
research credentials, is relegated to the job of typist for Winston Churchill
soon after he takes office as prime minister. She takes in a few boarders and
prepares to wait out the war, to the great dismay of her aunt. Churchill is a
demanding employer but Maggie finds the work is immensely rewarding. She also
finds there are those who would exploit the knowledge she gains by typing the
great man’s memos and letters.
This is a
fast-moving story that is mostly faithful to the time and place of its setting,
although there are a few historical discrepancies. The IRA and the pacifist
movement are both represented, as are the brilliant denizens of Bletchley Park.
I liked the sketches of the roommates. Some reviews complain that the book
reads like a history text, and parts of it are overloaded with research. I have
always been in awe of the English people’s spirit and courage during this bleak
and frightening time so I can cut the book some slack. Coincidence plays a
larger role than it should have perhaps as a plot to assassinate Churchill is
foiled, and a couple of the enemy agents are remarkably unprepared to kill
their victims, which I suspect was not the case in real life. Overall a pleasant
read if not terribly realistic.
review and ebook giveaway of "Betrayal by the Sea" by Kathi Daley, along
with a player for our latest Mysteryrat's Maze podcast which features another
of Kathi's books, "Boxes in the Basement" read by local actor Julia Reimer
First and foremost, Barry and I would like to express
our deepest condolences to Patti Abbott and the family over the passing of Patti’s
husband, Phil. Cancer is such an evil bastard. It takes and it takes and
somehow the rest of us are supposed to just go on as if everything is okay when
nothing will ever be okay again.
And, yet, somehow we must go on. That going on is
brutal and it continues day by day. As this is Friday, that going on means it
is time for another FFB review. Neither Barry nor I had anything new, so Barry
suggested I run again his review below which previously appeared in this space
back in June of 2016. His wish was my command and so it shall be. For the full
list of reading suggestions head over to Todd Mason’s Sweet Freedom blog.
THE ROCKS (1990) by William L. DeAndrea
Cobb is the vice-president of the Special Projects division of a television
network identified only as “the Network.” As he explains in his first-person
narrative: “‘Special Projects’ is the title some nameless propaganda genius
gave years ago to the part of the Network that would handle everything too
nasty for the Legal Department, and too sensitive for Public Relations…I’d
never lusted after the job, and sometimes I didn’t want it now, but I had it,
and I did the best I could. I tried to keep things as legal as necessary and as
moral as possible.”
network has been targeted for a takeover by billionaire G.B. Dost, who “bought
companies the way a kid bought baseball cards, and treated them that way, too:
collecting them, trading them, rearranging them, and for all I know, flipping
them against other corporate raiders to see who could get his company closest
to the stoop without touching, winner take all.” But the Network’s president
tells Cobb someone is trying to quash the deal, shows him an anonymous letter
of warning, and assigns him to accompany a number of other Network personnel to
Dost’s northern New York estate, the aptly-named Rocky Point, where
negotiations are supposed to begin in a home whose residents, regular and
temporary, include Dost, his wife, his son, his business partner, and his
longtime domestic help.
It’s February, it’s been
snowing in the Rocky Point area periodically for weeks, and it’s snowing on the
drive up. In fact, it’s becoming a major snowstorm. And so we have the setup
for a very entertaining take on a classic “impossible crime” situation: a
murder victim—in this case Dost—found in a field of unmarked snow.
The nature of the murder is such that the killer would have to be close to the
victim. Traditionally, the only footprints in the snow would be the victim’s,
leaving readers and detectives to ponder how the murderer could have approached
and slain the victim, then departed without leaving prints of his or her own.
For Matt Cobb the question becomes not only who killed Dost, but also how and
why his body lay a significant distance from the house in utterlyunmarked snow.
on the Rocks is written in an engagingly wry-toned conversational style and
filled with its share of semi-hardboiled action and reasonably
well-differentiated characters. This is the first of this author’s series that I’ve
read, though I’ve known of it for years. I cannot only recommend Killed on the Rocks as a clever, fast-paced
diversion, I’m sure if I’m lucky to live long enough, I’ll read other Matt Cobb
Warning: some occasional
raw language, including a few—but
not a lot of—f-bombs, so those easily offended
will want to avoid this one.
Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s written work has
appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of it is
available at Amazon and at Smashwords. That includes his his highly
regarded tale, The Play Of Light And Shadow. His website is http://www.writetrack.yolasite.com/.
THE BORDER by Don Winslow,
reviewed by Chris Roberts
While a battle for control
of the drugs trade rages in Mexico, a man comes to head the DEA in Washington
determined to combat the drug cash that’s buying influence at US government
A CAPITOL DEATH by Lindsey
Davis, reviewed by John Cleal
Informer Flavia Albia must
discover how an unpopular overseer met a death that threatens the triumphal
procession of the Emperor Domitian.
IN BLOOM by CJ Skuse,
reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
No one has ever stopped
Rhiannon killing the lowlifes before. But a little voice inside her says things
are about to change.
SHADOWS OF ATHENS by JM
Alvey, reviewed by Linda Wilson
When aspiring Athenian
playwright Philocles finds a murder victim on his doorstep, he hopes it’s
nothing personal, but events soon prove otherwise.
KILL FOR ME by Tom Wood,
reviewed by John Cleal
Killer-for-hire Victor is
hired by a drugs cartel boss to kill her own sister who she is fighting for
control of their dead father’s multi-billion empire.
JUDGMENT by Joseph Finder,
reviewed by Chris Roberts
A rare departure from her
normal correct behaviour renders Judge Juliana Brody vulnerable to blackmail.
To defeat her adversary, she will need to be as ruthless as they are.
PALM BEACH FINLAND by Antti
Tuomainen, reviewed by Ewa Sherman
Top undercover detective
Jan Nyman travels from Helsinki to a newly established holiday resort, Palm
Beach Finland, to investigate a murder and the main suspect Olivia Koski in
whose house the victim was found.
THE RIGHTEOUS SPY by Merle
Nygate, reviewed by Arnold Taylor
The Israeli Intelligence
Services know that MI6 has information they need and devise an intricate plot
to persuade them to part with it. It involves a young woman from Gaza, but what
part, precisely, is she going to play?
MAN by Jane Harper, reviewed by Chris Roberts
of Australian outback farmer Cameron Bright brings his estranged brother Nathan
back to the family home, where there are plenty of unresolved conflicts.
ANGEL by Chris Brookmyre, reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
has nothing to do with the Temple family, but she is about to uncover their
secret, with devastating consequences.
by Adam Hamdy, reviewed by John Cleal
Patrick Bailey, FBI agent Christine Ash and photographer John Wallace are
reunited in the final battle against an evil organisation.
ACHILLES by Christian Cameron, reviewed by Linda Wilson
soldier Alexanor is now a healer priest in the sanctuary of Epidaurus in
ancient Greece, but when the brutal reality of war ends up on his doorstep, his
fate becomes bound up with the man who will become dubbed the new Achilles.
BELTING INHERITANCE by Julian Symons, reviewed by Arnold Taylor
of Belting, Lady Wainwright, had four sons, the eldest two of whom, Hugh and
David, were reported killed in World War II. However, one day a car arrives at
Belting and a man gets out, claiming to be David.
I WILL GIVE TO YOU by Dolores Redondo, reviewed by Chris Roberts
Manuel Ortigosa is devastated when his husband Alvaro is killed in a car
accident, and astounded when he finds Alvaro is a marquis from a wealthy
CHILD by Rhiannon Nevin, reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
Zach is safe, but the gunman outside his classroom is about to destroy his
CORSET by Laura Purcell, reviewed by John Cleal
visitor Dorothea Truelove hears a chilling story of brutality and the
supernatural from a young seamstress accused of murder.
LANE by Kate London, reviewed by Linda Wilson
of a young gang member sparks off an investigation that threatens to collide
with a long-running covert operation.
ISLAND by Mariette Lindstein, reviewed by Ewa Sherman
accepts an offer of employment at a mysterious New Age movement. She’s excited
about creating a library at its headquarters on an isolated island but
gradually becomes aware how impossible is to leave the cult.
THIN AIR: A TRUE STORY OF IMPOSSIBLE MURDER IN ICELAND by Anthony
reviewed by Kim Fleet
disappearance of two men in Iceland in 1974 still reverberates today
WILL KILL YOU by Chelsea Pitcher, reviewed by Linda Wilson
teens are invited to a murder-mystery evening at an old house. The prize for
the one who solves the puzzle is a valuable scholarship. They all want it, but
none of them expects to have to contend with the mysterious Ringmaster.
win copies of some more food mysteries -"Broken Bone China": A Tea Shop
Mystery by Laura Childs, "Leave No Scone Unturned": A Chef-To-Go Mystery
by Denise Swanson, Murder Lo Mein": A Noodle Shop Mystery by Vivien Chien,
and “One Feta in the Grave”: A Kitchen Kebab Mystery by Tina Kashian
Light It Up by Nick Petrie (Putnam, 2018) is the
third book in the Peter Ash contemporary thriller series. Ash is a veteran of
the Middle East conflicts, dealing with painful PTSD-induced claustrophobia. In
this outing he is rebuilding hiking trails in Oregon, which allows him to stay
outdors. One of the volunteers on the project is a Vietnam veteran named Henry.
After a few months of working together, Henry asks Ash to help him out. Henry’s
daughter has started a security business in Denver to protect deliveries of
legal cannabis. This is a cash-only industry, leaving it especially vulnerable
to robbery. Two weeks previously a shipment vanished, the cannabis, money,
driver, vehicle, and security guards gone without a trace. While Henry’s
daughter regroups, Henry and Ash, with a couple of other ex-veterans, will
ensure the next delivery goes as planned.
Of course it doesn’t. The delivery
truck is hijacked on the side of a mountain in a neatly arranged scheme that
leaves Ash slack-jawed in admiration, when he isn’t trying to figure out how to
escape. The hijackers, who have a considerable arsenal and don’t mind using it,
seriously hurt Henry and kill one of the other guards. Nonetheless, Ash manages
to extricate himself and Henry in a savage dogfight that left me wondering what
could possibly happen in the remainder of the book to top it.
Back in Denver the police are very
interested in Ash’s lethal escape methods, while Ash is very interested in
finding out why this particular security firm has been targeted and in gaining
revenge for his fallen comrades.
Some of the characters are a bit
predictable: flawed protagonist and the psychopath who manages to fool most
people most of the time, for instance. However, Ash is described as having the
thoughtful eyes of a werewolf a week before the change, which is certainly not
routine. The dishonorably discharged Marine, who is more or less blackmailed into
supporting the crime boss, is a new one, though, and more sympathetic than he’s
probably meant to be. Ash’s love interest is a fine twist on the traditional.
June is self-sufficient and unafraid to let Ash know she wants him in her life,
but on her terms. And since she carries pepper spray and a small knife with
her, when she is captured by the psychopath, she doesn’t need to wait for
someone to rescue her, thankyouverymuch. I really like this character.
A fascinating view into the world of
legal cannabis growers and an excellent addition to the thriller genre. A
galloping good story.
have reviews and giveaways of some more food mysteries perfect for your Easter
reading-"Broken Bone China": A Tea Shop Mystery by Laura Childs, "Leave
No Scone Unturned": A Chef-To-Go Mystery by Denise Swanson, "Murder Lo
Mein": A Noodle Shop Mystery by Vivien Chien, and One Feta in the Grave: A
Kitchen Kebab Mystery by Tina Kashian
Hardcover Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (HarperCollins, 1992) is the first in the police procedural mystery series with Guido Brun...
Supporting The Blog
In my wife's memory and honoring a promise I made to Sandi, the blog continues...at least for now. If you would like to make a donation of support, you can do so at the links below. Most of the donated funds go to the purchase of various short story anthologies and collections which eventually are read and reviewed here.