Charles Maddox’s client turned out his daughter years ago for having “fallen,” in the way that Victorian women were said to do. She disappeared into one of London’s many workhouses and by the time her father wanted her back, there was no trace of either her or the child she bore for an unknown father. Lynn Shepherd’s The Solitary House leads readers on a tour of the sights, sounds, and smells of old London’s worst and best neighborhoods—places that often lay cheek by jowl to one another, as Charles struggles to find the missing girl.
There are graphic novels that literally paint then print images onto the page. The Brother Athelstan books are another kind of graphic novel. They have a very visual feel to them, only it’s done with words. Some medieval mysteries are as stuffy as a centuries-old cupboard. P.C. Doherty’s The Nightingale Gallery isn’t like that. Its characters breathe and move and love and murder with a striking vivacity.
In 1760s Boston, there is trouble brewing, and it’s not just the upcoming tea party. A young and beautiful girl from a wealthy family has been murdered mysteriously. It isn’t only a mystery as to who killed her and why—the bigger mystery is how. There’s not a mark on her body. It seems as though it was done by magic, and, in D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker world, magic is a definite possibility.
Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old genius with a flair for chemistry, lives a lonely but intriguing life in the crumbling family mansion. Her lovely older sisters delight in tormenting her, and she returns the favor with diabolical brattiness. What one can do with certain itchy plant extracts and a tube of one’s sister’s favorite lipstick! The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by C. Alan Bradley, is set in post-World War II England. It’s a simpler time in many respects though things get rather more complicated when Father’s annoying visitor turns up dead in the garden by moonlight.
Twenty years before Jamestown was founded, over 100 women, men, and children came to Virginia to try their luck at starting a colony. They arrived on the stormy shores of what we know now as North Carolina. They were not the first to land there. Two years before, another group of colonists, all men, gave up trying to settle Roanoke Island and sailed back to England. The supply ships arrived too late to save the abandoned first colony, but they left behind fifteen soldiers to mind the fort who soon vanished into the wilds, driven off by an Indian attack.
Widower William Rees drove his wagon into town like a man possessed. Normally an easy-going, itinerant weaver, Rees has just discovered that his kinfolk have cheated him, and his son has run away to be with the Shaker religious community. In 18th-century, rural Maine, it is not so easy to retrieve a teenager who hates you, get your land back, or solve A Simple Murder.
In Steven Saylor’s debut hard-boiled historical mystery, Roman Blood, Gordianus the Finder is an intrepid soul, living in a seedy section of long-ago Rome. All roads lead here and all the up-and-coming politicians--along with displaced, often enslaved people from war-torn lands--make for a sea of trouble in an atmosphere that is by turns torrid, glittering, and dangerous.
For those who have followed Charlotte and Thomas Pitt from their awkward yet charming days of courtship in The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry’s recent Dorchester Terrace is a very enjoyable continuation of the series. Thomas has risen far since his days as a regular London policeman. He’s now head of Special Branch, a reward for his brilliant detective work and, probably not incidentally, saving Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot.
But, in class-conscious, 19th-century Britain, family background matters a lot to some people. Thomas, a gamekeeper’s son, often encounters people who question his ability to do his job when they find out who he isn’t. One of those is his immediate predecessor as head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway. In the preceding novel, Victor lost his job to Thomas almost but not quite disgracefully and rather lost his heart to Thomas’ clever and kind wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, born to live in Narraway’s world of privilege, has assisted her husband’s investigations through the years, but now that he is privy to so many state secrets, that will surely change—won’t it?
Carlos Ruiz Zafón completely understands what it means to be seduced by a book--to get lost in a plot and feel overwhelmed by perfectly-formed words and phrases. Perhaps that is what allows him to describe--and replicate--that experience in his own novel, The Shadow of the Wind.
The Shadow of the Wind opens in Barcelona in 1945. Daniel Sempere’s father is about to introduce him to a mysterious and labyrinthine place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. In the Cemetery, the young boy is taught some very important things about the lives of books: “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
Harley Day was a mean, shiftless, good-for-nothing drunk. He regularly beat up on his wife and kids. So when he was found frozen to death in a snowbank outside his house, no one seemed to mourn. After all, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming—which is the title of the first Alafair Tucker mystery, by Donis Casey.
Set in 1912, this book introduces Alafair Tucker, who lives with her husband and nine children on the Oklahoma frontier. It's an interesting look at frontier life at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the details seem so modern, but much of the day-to-day life for a frontier ranching family seems like unbelievable deprivation and hardship 100 years on.