Posted in Book Review, Cozy Mystery, Crime

Death at Beacon Cottage – A Sukey Reynolds Mystery Book 3 – 4* #Review @bookouture @BettyRowlandsFP #PublicationDay #CozyMystery #Crime #SOCO #SukeyReynolds

The sun breaks through the clouds to shine on a little cottage where a mossy path leads to the front door, but inside something terrible has happened…

Police photographer Sukey Reynolds is looking forward to a quiet weekend gardening at home when she gets a call that there has been a shocking break-in at a local manor house. Once she begins to gather evidence, Sukey realises that this is the latest in a spate of well-crafted burglaries in the Cotswolds. Someone is targeting expensive houses with valuable art collections…

Thankfully, the police soon have a suspect in custody. But, during questioning, he suddenly catches a glimpse of Sukey, turns deathly pale and calls out to her. Sukey is sure she has never met this man before… Is this a bizarre joke, or is there a stranger out there who is Sukey’s perfect double in every way?

Just as Sukey begins to suspect she’s being followed, the police are baffled by a spate of local murders. With the body count rising, and the police unsure of where to turn, is Sukey herself a clue in this strange case? Can she unmask the killer before she becomes the next victim?

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

I missed out on the second book in the Sukey Reynolds series, but no matter, this third book reads well as a standalone and is an enjoyable read.

Sukey comes to the fore as the main protagonist in this story. Art thefts and murder spoil the idyllic Cotswold’s setting, and Sukey becomes an integral part of the mystery when a suspect thinks she is someone else. This leads Sukey and her family into the direct line of fire and makes this an exciting story.

Again cozy mystery and police procedural are fused together to produce an intriguing, well-characterised story, set in the late nineties. The retro setting adds to the story’s ambience.

Looking forward to more adventures in Book 4.

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Posted in Book Review, Cozy Mystery, Murder Mystery

Murder in a Country Garden – 5* Review – Betty Rowlands @bookouture @BettyRowlandsFP #MurderMystery #cozymystery #MelissaCraigMysteries #publicationday

A perfect country garden is full of flowers and gently buzzing bees… But the man lying dead beneath the trees can no longer see the beautiful scene.

Melissa Craig is thrilled that summer has arrived. She has decided to give up her career as an amateur sleuth and enjoy a quiet life in her beautiful cottage. The only digging in Melissa’s life now happens in her garden.

However, when a keen beekeeper is found dead, covered in multiple stings, her new resolve is tested. As she gets to know the family of the dead man, she realises he was no saint. Could someone have possibly wanted him dead? Could this be a very clever murder?

As Melissa starts to probe the victim’s friends and acquaintances, another member of the family is also stung to death. Who could have turned the bees against their keeper? And when will they strike again?

With the residents of Upper Benbury now fearful to open their windows to the summer air, and the police treating the deaths as accidental, Melissa must solve this case herself. To find the killer with the sharpest sting, she may have to delve deep into the hive…

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

After reading book one in this series ‘Murder at Hawthorn Cottage’, I said in my review’ that the book is ‘The quintessential cozy mystery… the storyline is fast-paced and engaging… builds to an adrenaline fuelled ending, full of action and powerful imagery. An enjoyable, escapist read that I suspect may become my secret addiction.’.

Now, after reading book twelve ‘Murder In A Country Garden’ the end of the series, all these things are still true, and since I have read twelve books in under eight months the stories are addictive.

If you enjoy dastardly crimes, committed in beautiful country settings, with larger than life characters, who all have secrets, but are not all murderers this series is for you.

Melissa Craig is the perfect reluctant detective, with sound knowledge of crime, and how its perpetrators are motivated, from her career as a crime novelist. Melissa is perfectly placed to discover the truth behind the crimes she discovers.

The last book in the series can be read as a standalone, as the story is complete and the main protagonist and characters are well described. The plot is clever and full of twists and the family where the deaths have occurred very mysterious. For fans of the series, we get to enjoy the final instalments of developments in Melissa’s private life, which adds depth and authenticity to this likeable retro cozy murder mystery.

This is an enjoyable end to a lovely series.

Posted in Book Review, Cozy Mystery, Crime, Murder Mystery

Murder in the Dining Room – 5* #Review – Betty Rowlands @bookouture @BettyRowlandsFP

A grand old house soaks up the golden summer sun… but inside the dining room, something dreadful has happened.

Melissa couldn’t be happier that summer has arrived. She’s delighted to have her mother back by her side, and she is extending her beloved Hawthorn Cottage so her new family can live together.

Meanwhile, Melissa’s mother Sylvia is back in good health and enjoying a brief stay at a stately retirement home. She loves getting to know the residents, until first a dog and then his owner are both found dead in the dining room. Like mother, like daughter, Sylvia decides to do a little investigating of her own.

Convinced that the deaths are suspicious, Sylvia starts probing her fellow residents, trying to find out who might have wanted the dog and its owner dead. Could it be the once-married couple, or the glamorous actors or the harassed manager of the home?

When one of Sylvia’s friends falls ill in suspicious circumstances, Melissa realises her mother has rattled someone, but who? And what happens if the killer realises they’ve been rumbled? Will Sylvia find herself meeting a villain in the dining room? And can Melissa find the culprit before another life is taken?

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

It seems that Melissa’ Craig’s talent for becoming embroiled in murder mystery may have been inherited from her mother Sylvia. Whilst convalescing in a retirement home, Sylvia is certain that the death of a beloved pet and then its owner is not from natural causes.

This is quirky murder mystery is set in a retirement community, Melissa’s mother like many there is a temporary resident but she soon makes her presence felt. The plot is fast-paced with many possible suspects and shows older people in a refreshingly positive light.

It is Sylvia, Melissa’s mother who is the main sleuth in this story, which gives it an added dimension. Melissa worries about her mother’s emotional state, can her revelations be trusted or are they the result of her recent surgery?

This is an enjoyable read with cameos from favourite characters and a rekindling of the mother and daughter relationship for Melissa and Sylvia. A lovely escapist read, which lets you test out your detective skills.

Posted in Book Review, Cozy Mystery, Murder Mystery

Murder In Langley Woods- 5* Review -Betty Rowlands – @bookouture @BettyRowlandsFP

A body is found near a picture-perfect Cotswolds village… but the upstanding local residents couldn’t possibly be involved, could they?

Murder is the very last thing on Melissa Craig’s mind when one of her neighbours pops in to complain loudly about a minor local robbery. She’s far too busy thinking about her next book…

But when the evening paper lands, there is a shocking headline. A young woman’s body has been found in the nearby woods, and it seems the local robbery may offer a crucial clue. Suddenly the whole village is talking about the murder, but none of Melissa’s neighbours has come forward to say they know who the victim is.

Convinced that the police have got the wrong end of the stick, Melissa can’t resist doing some more digging. When she finds a photograph of the dead girl at her former family home, she realises this is the clue she needs, if only she can find out who took the picture…

Melissa finds an exciting new lead and rushes to follow it. But might she be walking into a trap? Can she work out the truth before she puts herself in harm’s way?

Amazon UK

I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

So lovely to be back in The Cotswolds with Melissa Craig and a cast of wonderful characters. The murders get darker and more menacing and even though this can be read as a standalone story. If like me you’re addicted to this cozy mystery series, you’ll enjoy the developments in Melissa’s life too.

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Anita Davison – The Bloomsbury Affair – Guest Post – Extract – 4* Review

1905 London is a heady mix of unimaginable wealth and simmering political tensions, and with war looming Flora Maguire wants to keep her family safe.

So when her beloved charge Viscount Edward Trent is accused of murder, she’s determined not to leave the investigation to the police. Flora has trodden the path of amateur sleuth before, but with so much at stake, this time it’s personal.

Slowly the body of the victim found stabbed on a train bound for Paddington starts giving up its secrets, and Flora and her husband Bunny become mired in a murky world of spies, communists and fraudsters. And with the police more sure than ever that Edward is their murderer, Flora must work fast to keep him safe.

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Guest Post – Is Flora Maguire a Suffragist or a Suffragette? – Anita Davison

Book 3, A Knightsbridge Scandal is set in London in 1903 which was the year Emmeline Pankhurst broke away from the National Union of Women’s Social Societies and formed the controversial Women’s Social and Political Union.

My knowledge of Suffragettes was restricted to the scandal of the hunger strikes and Glynis John’s wearing a ‘Votes For Women’ banner in Mary Poppins – well perhaps not quite as simplistic as that, but my facts were sketchy so some serious research was called for.

As an intelligent, forward-thinking woman, it would be odd for me not to give Flora at least a passing interest in the movement. She treads carefully because as a former governess given entry into the middle class, she isn’t secure enough to make waves. By the time Flora gets involved,  Millicent Garrett Fawcett had been campaigning to instigate change in Parliament for women forty years before Emmeline Pankhurst threw her first brick through a window.

I imagine Mrs Fawcett, the sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – England’s first female doctor, must have been dismayed by the ‘Deeds Not Words’ policy of the Pankhurst’s, whose methods would surely paint the movement as dangerous and uncontrolled. Many, and Flora is one of them, felt the Pankhurst’s put the movement back years by vandalism, arson attacks and dangerous stunts.

In 1908, one in three of the male population over 21 did not qualify for the ballot unless they owned property or paid a minimum rent of £10 a year. Younger men were happily conscripted to fight Britain’s wars, but had no vote, nor were they old enough to have a pint of beer in a pub. It was certainly a time of responsibility over rights.

That the ‘Votes For Women’ was aimed, initially at least, for women over thirty who owned property and personally paid taxes while domestic workers, shop girls, office staff and even teachers were excluded from their manifesto. The poor and indigent, men as well as women, weren’t seen as worthy of a vote in their own government.

The 1918 Representation of the People Act brought more than five million men over the age of 21 into the electorate without regard to property or class as well as over eight million women over 30; although the majority of these did not qualify for reasons of property ownership. It wasn’t until the 1928 Act that this changed.

Flora is a modern young woman who sees the need for change, but she isn’t the type to vandalise a work of art or chain herself to railings to make her point. She admires Mrs Garrett Fawcett’s principles as the way forward, but regards Mrs Pankhurst’s strategy will become a self-fulfilling prophesy in that women are what men believed all along; irresponsible, flighty creatures in need of guidance and control, incapable of choosing a government.

Also, with so many young men about to be killed in WWI, suppose the remaining women voters outnumbered the men? A prospect which must have terrified the Government of the day.

Flora is also keenly aware that had she remained a governess and not married a solicitor who owned property, she too would have been excluded from any legislation achieved by these women.

While in search of a murderer, Flora attends a National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society meeting and hears Miss Evelyn Sharp expound the new Women’s Social and Political Union formed in Manchester who advocates a campaign of civil disobedience.

As a result, Flora becomes a passive Suffragist, as opposed to a Suffragette. She believes society needs to be more equal, not just for wealthy, upper-class ladies who preside over tea tables in drawing rooms. That progress will be made naturally and organically, not by slashing paintings or setting fire to post boxes.

Millicent Fawcett worked tirelessly until her seventies for international women’s suffrage, the opening up university education to women, raising the age of consent, making horticulture a possible employment for women, criminalising incest, providing homes for middle-class working women, and even for offering a German ‘open-air treatment’ to tuberculosis sufferers.

An excellent Blog which provided me with facts and interesting stories on the Women’s Suffrage Movement is Elizabeth Crawford’s Women and Their Sphere:   https://womanandhersphere.com/

My Thoughts… 

Historical fiction with a murder mystery brings together two of my favourite genres. This is a later book in the ‘Flora Maguire series’, but it reads as a standalone. The mystery is created and solved within the book, and any backstory for the characters and their interrelationships is provided in the early chapters. 

England in 1905 was characterised by political intrigue and a shifting in the social and gender class systems.  This story uses the ethos of unrest to dramatise and authenticate the mystery Flora sets out to investigate. There are lots of historical facts, so the reader is able to step back in time as the story progresses.

Flora’s social conscience and independent spirit, make her an intriguing and believable protagonist.  Her husband Bunny is an excellent sidekick and the long-suffering Inspector, the essential final ingredient for this type of mystery.

Like all murder mysteries, the plot is twisty and full of false starts, with numerous suspects. The motive behind the mystery is well concealed and trying to decide what really happened is a satisfying experience.

I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Extract 

Chapter 2

Flora tugged her shawl tighter around her exposed shoulders and shivered in the cool wind gusting across the porch. It had been a warm day for April, but as night drew in, splatters of rain-streaked the windows from air cooled to a wintry chill. She raised a hand to wave at Alice who occupied the seat beside William in his two-seater Spyker motor car.

‘She’s a real beauty, isn’t she?’ Bunny sighed.

‘Indeed, she is.’ Flora leaned into her husband’s one-armed hug. ‘I hope I’ll look as good when I reach Alice’s age.’

‘I meant William’s motor car.’

Flora tutted, nudging him. ‘Our Berliet is perfectly adequate and far more practical. Besides, there would be no need for a chauffeur and you would have to discharge Timms.’

‘Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.’ He followed the gleaming green vehicle with his eyes until it disappeared around the corner.

Flora knew the prospect of losing Timms would not appeal. The chauffeur’s previous employer, a former client of the firm of solicitors Bunny worked for had been jailed for fraud. On learning that the man’s out-of-work valet was also a keen amateur mechanic, Bunny installed him in the mews behind the house. The pair spent hours tinkering with the engine of Bunny’s beloved motor car; more like friends than employer and chauffeur. In their brown coveralls and with their heads ducked beneath the metal hood, even Flora was hard put to tell them apart.

‘Well, despite the host’s unexplained absence, I think the evening was a success.’ Flora returned to the relative warmth of the hallway.

‘I’ve already apologized for that.’ Bunny tightened his arm around her and nuzzled her hair just above her ear before guiding her back into the sitting room, where Stokes was clearing away the coffee cups and empty brandy glasses. ‘You do realize bringing them together without warning like that could have gone horribly wrong? Suppose they had harboured some long-buried resentment in the intervening years, or worse, didn’t like the person they had each become?’

‘That didn’t occur to me,’ Flora lied. ‘I was confident they would behave as if the last twenty years had never happened.’

‘William couldn’t keep the smile off his face, and all those long looks.’ Bunny chuckled.

‘He was like a young boy with his first tendre.’

‘Except this particular tendre had already produced a grown-up daughter.’ Flora summoned a distracted smile, her thoughts still on William and whether or not he might be recalled to Russia if the situation there worsened.

‘Stokes,’ Bunny halted the butler on his way out with a loaded tray. ‘Before you retire, would you kindly bring us some fresh coffee?’

‘Of course, sir.’ Stokes bowed and left.

‘None for me, thank you.’ Flora frowned. ‘I shan’t be able to sleep. After such a long day, I would have thought cocoa would have been more appropriate’

‘Coffee.’ Bunny’s eyes hardened and he caressed her shoulder. ‘I have a feeling we might need it.’

‘You’ve been very distracted tonight,’ Flora dragged her thoughts back to the present. ‘Are you sure something isn’t bothering you?’

‘Don’t change the subject. We were talking about your parents.’ Bunny took the place beside Flora on the sofa. ‘I sensed at some point during the evening you became somewhat tense.’ 

‘Did I?’ She sighed having hoped he had not noticed. ‘You might think I’m being selfish, but in all the drama of getting them together again, the past – my past has been overlooked.  I still don’t understand why Riordan told everyone that Alice, or Lily as she was known then, had died.’

‘She left him, Flora. Did it occur to you that might have hurt his pride? Pretending to be a widower meant no one would whisper about him behind his back.’

Flora silently acknowledged he was probably right. Her mother had married the head butler at Cleeve Abbey when she had fallen pregnant by William. The family had made it clear a marriage between Lily and William was out of the question and sent him abroad. Too young and overawed by their respective families to fight back, they had both obeyed. However William pined in America and Lily was miserable at home, until she could stand no more and ran away leaving Flora behind to be raised by the man she married to preserve her reputation. 

Riordan Maguire had adored Flora and despite Lily’s urging, had refused to let her see Flora again, preferring to explain away her absence by spinning a story acceptable for a child.

‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if William and Alice found happiness together after all this time? It’s just—’ she broke off, smothering a yawn at the reappearance of Stokes who set down a tray in front of them, wished them both goodnight and withdrew.

‘I’m going up to bed. Enjoy your coffee.’ As she rose to leave, he grasped her hand and tugged her gently onto the squab.

‘Could you give me a moment, Flora? There’s something I need to tell you. Well, more show you actually.’

‘Something which explains why you were late for dinner?’ she asked, yawning again.

‘In a way.’ He stood, one hand held palm downwards in a command for her to stay. ‘Wait here. I’ll be back in a moment.’

‘Can’t whatever it is keep until morn—’ she broke off with a sigh as she addressed an empty room.

More for something to do than a desire for some coffee, she poured herself a cup and stirred in milk, the gentle tinkling of silver against china the only sound in the room as the hot, aromatic coffee triggered her senses.

The evening she had anticipated with such pleasure should have been one for celebration, but as she had observed her parents smile at each other across her dining table, all her unresolved feelings had resurfaced.

The knowledge that Lily Maguire had cared for other people’s children in a London hospital while her own daughter grew up without her remained a cruel irony. That Alice had instigated contact again went some way to compensating for the past, although a deep-seated antipathy persisted for all the lost years in between.

Flora’s childhood had been far from unhappy with Riordan Maguire, who had always been a loving parent if an uncompromising one. His halo had slipped slightly when she discovered he had known Lily had been alive all this time. He had even destroyed the letters she sent him pleading for forgiveness.  Letters Flora had known nothing about, but which Alice had told her she had written in an effort to see her again. That he had been killed protecting Flora made it impossible to harbour bitterness against him, but also meant he could never explain.

At the sound of the rear hall door closing, she returned her cup to its saucer. The smile she had summoned in anticipation of Bunny’s return faded instantly when she realized he was not alone. A young man with light brown hair hovered a pace behind him, his head down and shoulders hunched as if unsure of his welcome. He lifted his head, his eyes meeting Flora’s for a second before he ducked away, his cheeks flushed red.

‘Eddy!’ A shaft of delighted recognition ran through her and she leapt to her feet, crossed the room in two strides. ‘How lovely to see you. But why are you here this late? Has something happened?’

Born in London, Anita has always had a penchant for all things historical. She now lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, the backdrop for her Flora Maguire mysteries.    Twitter  Website

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Review

Murder in the Morning – Betty Rowlands – 4* Review

Melissa Craig is settling in nicely to a new teaching position in the quaint little village of Upper Bembury, getting to know her way around, drinking tea with the eccentric staff, even sewing the first seeds of romance…

But when she arrives one morning to find police outside her classroom, Melissa is shocked to hear that her beautiful colleague Angelica has been found dead in her home.

As everyone in Angelica’s life comes under suspicion, Melissa makes it her mission to go in search of the truth, not least because she’s romantically entangled with none other than the police’s prime suspect.

The discovery of a vandalised portrait of the murdered girl might be just the clue that Melissa needs to clear her lover’s name, but when a second body surfaces, she knows she needs to act quickly. Can Melissa uncover the ugly truth in this beautiful village before another innocent life is taken?

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

I eagerly anticipated the next cosy mystery featuring crime writer Melissa Craig, but sadly didn’t enjoy this as much as the first in the series.

Diversity doesn’t feature in this story, which is lacking in political correctness. However, written and set in the late twentieth century it is an accurate representation of the culture.

The story has all the right ingredients, infidelity, domestic abuse, romance and prejudice to make a worthwhile cosy mystery, but the characters are a little sketchy in parts and lack necessary development to make them potential suspects. The real murderer is obvious, but perhaps that is the intention?

The story starts with an incident that introduces significant characters, and then there is a jump in time to the present day when the mystery develops. There are incomers to the village who are also critical to the story, and Melissa’s celebrity status means she’s invited to a party at the village gossips’ house to meet them.

Clues and misinformation are plentiful in this story, which concentrates more on Melissa’s new job and the people she encounters. The beautiful village where Melissa lives takes a back seat in this story, and that’s a shame because the vivid descriptions of the setting and the suspense created there is what I loved about the first book.

The ending while, not a surprise is well-paced suspenseful and even poignant.

I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review

Betty Rowlands – 5*Review Murder at Hawthorn Cottage

Meet Melissa: cat lover, caring mother… daring detective? 

Melissa Craig is absolutely delighted with her new life in an old crumbling cottage, spending her days pruning the primroses and getting to know Binkie, the ginger cat next door. She only wishes she had made the move to the countryside sooner.

But when a knock at the door brings news of a shocking discovery, she suddenly finds herself thrown into the middle of a baffling mystery: the bones of a young woman have been found in the woods just behind her new home.

Perhaps the little village of Upper Bembury is not as idyllic as it first seemed? 

Strange phone calls in the night convince Melissa that the police are barking up completely the wrong tree, so she can’t resist doing a little digging of her own. From the bingo hall to the beauty salon and beyond, her search ruffles a few feathers and uncovers many of the village’s most scandalous secrets, but gets her no closer to finding the culprit…

The discovery of a tatty old photograph in a drawer is the final piece of the puzzle she needs, but as a newcomer in this close-knit community, does Melissa have what it takes to get to the bottom of this extraordinary murder mystery alone?

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

The quintessential cosy mystery a beautiful rural setting, a village full of quirky, nosy characters and female crime writer who courts danger and trouble in the same way the characters in her books do.

Melissa seems much older than her mid-forties, I have to admit I imagine Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher when I visualise her but apart from this misconception, she is the perfect protagonist for a cosy mystery. Initially published under a different title in the twentieth century, the book is only dated by its philosophy on relationships and women living on their own.

The storyline is fast-paced and engaging. Melissa’s independent character and mindset come across well in the story, and the plot twists are just the right side of believable. The suspense in the final chapters builds to adrenaline fuelled ending, full of action and powerful imagery.

An enjoyable, escapist read that I suspect may become my secret addiction.

I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.