Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

Wisp of a Thing: A Novel of the TufaI have loved fairy tales since I was a young child devouring Grimm, Andersen, and Lang. Those tales led me to the work of Kevin Crossley-Holland, Joanna Cole, and Katharine Briggs, and fed a lifelong interest in Celtic folktales and mythology. Which is why I am in love with the Tufa.

The Tufa feature prominently in Alex Bledsoe’s books The Hum and the Shiver and in this newest offering, Wisp of a Thing. The Tufa are modern day faeries, part of a race of creatures who fled land to the east and settled in the mountains of East Tennessee. They have distinctive features that include straight, lustrous black hair, a dusky complexion, and perfect teeth. They use faerie glamour to appear as ordinary humans, but in reality are powerful creatures who use hidden wings to ride the night winds. The Tufa are split into two factions, the First Daughters led by Mandalay, an ancient soul reborn into a child’s body whose “regent” is Bliss Overbay who will protect her until she’s grown. These Tufa do no harm, and communicate love, grief, life, and death through haunting music. The second faction, led by the irascible and sneaky Rockhouse Hicks, are not as nice. These are the dark fae who resent humans and want to use their powers to dominate, control, and destroy.

Bledsoe began the story of the Tufa in The Hum and the Shiver, where he told the story of Bronwyn Hyatt, a First Daughter of the Tufa, who defied the restriction that the Tufa can never leave the hills in which they make their home. She enlisted in the Army and went to Iraq, where she was wounded, returning home a hero. He continues the Tufa’s tale in Wisp of a Thing that reveals the darker side of the Tufa through the story of Curnen, a young woman cursed to live her life out in the woods until she finally becomes a “wisp of a thing” and fades away completely. The night winds which guide the Tufa step in and orchestrate the arrival of a bereaved young man who looks like a Tufa but is not one of the “true.” His arrival in Cloud County stirs up all sorts of trouble that leads to a final showdown between the light and the dark Tufa.

Giving an adequate synopsis of Bledsoe’s work is very difficult because these books are like none I’ve read before. The writing is lovely, the stories full of mythology, legend, and fairy tale as well as plain old human emotion, all revolving around a people we all want to believe in. Recommended for lovers of fairy tales and fantasy.

Clara Benson Mysteries

I have always had a soft spot for English country house mysteries, and when these classics by Clara Benson became available in ebook form, I happily immersed myself. Benson, born in 1890, never published during her lifetime, but considered writing a hobby. Her family discovered her stories years after her death in 1965 and decided it was time to introduce the work to readers. Benson’s mysteries, set in the 1920s, feature amateur detective Angela Marchmont, an American visiting friends in England. Mrs. Marchmont is much more than she appears, having served as a spy in The Great War, and possessing a quick wit and well-developed intellect.

Several books in the Marchmont series have been released, with these being the first two. In both, Mrs. Marchmont is called on by an old friend to investigate dastardly murders. In the first, Murder at Sissingham Hall, Mrs. Marchmont is on hand during a country house weekend when her host, Sir Neville Strickland, is found murdered. The obvious suspect is Charles Knox, recently returned, former fiancé to the current Mrs. Strickland. Mrs. Marchmont untangles multiple threads of deception to finally reveal a most unexpected culprit.

In The Mystery at Underwood House, Mrs. Marchmont is called upon by an old friend, Louisa Haynes, who brother-in-law and two sisters-in-law have died in consecutive years during an annual family reunion required under the terms of the patriarch, Phillip Haynes, will. The “accidents” which claimed the lives of the Haynes siblings have begun to arouse suspicion, and Louisa asks her old friend to investigate. Multiple wills, a devious family attorney, and an illegitimate grandchild all contribute to Mrs. Marchmont’s task to uncover the truth before another Haynes is murdered.

The writing here isn’t bad but it isn’t great either. Given the fact that Benson considered herself an amateur and did not have the advantage of an editor at a publishing house, I expected these to be pleasant country house murder mysteries and I was not disappointed. Mrs. Marchmont strikes me as Nancy Drew all grown up and full of ladylike cleverness, which works here. These are comfortable, well-constructed, if predictable, mysteries that will appeal to fans of Maisie Dobbs and, at a stretch, Phryne Fisher. Recommended for people looking for an easy, pleasant mystery.