Book Review: For You Were Strangers–A Handley and Rivka Mystery by D.M. Pirrone

pirroneIn For You Were Strangers, D. M. Pirrone continues the budding romance of Chicago Police Detective Frank Hanley and Rivka Kelmansky started in Shall We Not Revenge. This time Hanley is investigating the suspicious death of Ben Champion, a Civil War officer, whose death may have ties to a secret uprising during the Civil War in Chicago. Rivka’s long-lost brother returns to her house with his African-American wife and her son after they were burned out of their home. When Rivka turns to Hanley for help in protecting her brother, little do they know that both cases are intertwined and connect to the infamous Northwest Confederacy conspiracy. The more Hanley uncovers in the cases, the closer he and Rivka become to one another.

The story is told through two narratives: Hanley and Rivka in post-fire 1872 Chicago, and the life of Dorrie Whittier in the late Civil War and early Reconstruction years. Both the sweltering, rebuilding city of Chicago and the ruined South are described in a rich tapestry that captures the time and mood of their people. Pirrone’s writing is as detailed and crisp as her research into the people, vice, and lingering racism of Chicago. While it is not difficult to surmise Ben’s killer, the intrigue with which Pirrone surrounds the murder is well-crafted. For fans of Chicago history this is one not to miss, but the story will also hold the attention of anyone looking for a little mystery with their history.

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Review originally appeared in HNR May 2016: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/for-you-were-strangers-a-hanley-rivka-mystery/

Book Review: The Constable’s Tale by Donald Smith

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When a travelling tinner enters New Bern clutching a baby in his arms and announces that the rest of the little child’s family has been murdered, there is only one possible culprit that the citizens can accept: an Indian attack. But volunteer constable Harry Woodyard doesn’t believe that possible. So, he sets out, defying the orders of the county sheriff and powerful judge, to find out the identity of the true murderer. When the people of New Bern arrest the old Indian Comet Elijah—Harry’s mentor and friend—his task becomes all the more serious. Harry’s journeys take him from North Carolina, through Virginia and Boston, and up to the imposing city of Quebec at the height of Wolfe and Montcalm’s battles. What Harry discovers is that more than just a murder has happened, that there is a traitor conspiring to destroy the British, and Harry knows who the man is.

The Constable’s Tale is set during the French and Indian War and is rich in historical details and character. Smith’s writing is well-paced, and his attention to historical detail is such that it does not overwhelm the reader, but still brings colonial America alive. The middle sections of the book felt a bit sluggish, but if you can work past that, the ending will leave you wondering how you missed it. A nice light read.

Review originally appeared https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-constables-tale/

Book Review: Brooklyn on Fire–A Mary Handley Mystery by Lawrence Levy

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Mary Handley is a young, feisty woman trying to break into the male-dominated world of police and detective work at the end of the 19th century. When Emily Worsham arrives at her office, Mary gets her chance. Emily asks Mary to locate the killer of her uncle, John Worsham. As Mary digs more deeply into the case, nothing is what it appears, and Mary is thrust into the depths of a political power struggle between the cities of New York and Brooklyn and the corrupt men who run them. Mary finds herself immersed in the deceitful world of New York’s business elite, who are willing to lie to protect their interests. Mary’s only ally comes from an unlikely source: an adventurous George Vanderbilt, with whom Mary falls into an unexpected romance. Ultimately, her search for John Worsham’s killer takes her to North Carolina for an unexpected plot twist and forces Mary to take on the murders of two other people and a case that presents a danger to people close to her heart.

Lawrence Levy’s Mary Handley is a fun, unconventional woman, and the world he’s built for her is as boisterous and rebellious as she is. Populating his novel with famous names like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller, Levy brings to life both the impoverished and stratosphere-defying elite of New York and everyone in between. Brooklyn on Fire is a fast- paced detective novel with a lead character who is both humorous and a serious sleuth. A great book looking into the corruption of New York in the late 1800s, and one that readers will enjoy.

Review originally appeared https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/brooklyn-on-fire-a-mary-handley-mystery/

Book Review: Charlotte’s Story–A Bliss House Novel by Laura Benedict

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Bliss House is an old Virginia manse that holds many secrets. In the fall of 1957, Charlotte Bliss, upon the death of her mother-in-law, becomes keeper of the ominous home along with her husband. Shortly after Olivia Bliss’s death, Charlotte’s daughter Eva dies. Immediately, Charlotte is thrown into the depths of sadness and depression. But is her depression leading her into madness, or is Bliss House trying to show her the truth? When two friends of Charlotte’s husband die, on the way to Bliss House for Eva’s wake, Charlotte soon learns that nothing about Bliss House or the community around her is what it appears.

True to its Southern Gothic roots, Charlotte’s Story is both frightening and revealing. It is a “house” story where Bliss House becomes a significant character in the story, and Benedict gives the house as much depth as the characters themselves. Benedict lulls the reader into her haunting story with an idyllic beginning that quickly spirals into layers of “proper” Southern society hiding terrifying secrets. Full of paranormal elements that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, and an ending that will both shock and horrify, Charlotte’s Story is not to be missed.

Review originally appeared https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/charlottes-story-a-bliss-house-novel/

Book Review: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

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Anna Blanc is the daughter of a wealthy banker in Los Angeles. She cannot abide by the rigid rules of 1907 high society, and she bucks the system whenever she can. She hides crime novels in the covers of more appropriate reading, and she longs to live the life of a sleuth. When Anna sees an ad in the newspaper for a police matron position, she knows it is an opportunity she cannot pass up. But, first she has to get away from her horrendous chaperone. All it takes is a little bribe, and Anna finds herself downtown applying for, and getting the matron position – in disguise, of course. There, Anna learns that prostitutes are being killed, but that the police are ruling them suicides and not investigating. Anna resolves to do some detective work on her own and discover who is killing L.A.’s prostitutes. But doing so threatens to expose her identity, destroy her engagement, and face disownment by her father. To complicate matters, Anna is falling in love with a police officer from her station.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc won the 2013 Colorado Gold contest in the mystery category, and as a mystery it is a fine book. However, Anna’s character often comes off as a spoiled, petulant child who toys with people for the fun of it, and that can be off-putting. The mystery-romance is, as a whole, a good story, and the look into parts of Los Angeles society in the early 1900s is interesting. For me, the focus on all the fashion got in the way of the story, but it is a fairly well-written book that has enough plot twists to hold your attention.

Review originally appeared https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-secret-life-of-anna-blanc/