Dead Man’s Leap by Tina deBellegarde

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Dead Man’s Leap

by Tina deBellegarde

May 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Dead Man's Leap by Tina deBellegarde

DEAD MAN’S LEAP revisits Bianca St. Denis in Batavia-on-Hudson, New York

Rushing waters…dead bodies…secrets…

As Bianca St. Denis and her neighbors scour their attics for donations to the charity rummage sale, they unearth secrets as well as prized possessions. Leonard Marshall’s historic inn hosts the sale each year, but it is his basement that houses the key to his past. When an enigmatic antiques dealer arrives in town, he upends Leonard’s carefully reconstructed life with an impossible choice that harkens back to the past.

Meanwhile, when a storm forces the villagers of Batavia-on-Hudson to seek shelter, the river rises and so do tempers. Close quarters fuel simmering disputes, and Sheriff Mike Riley has his work cut out for him. When the floods wash up a corpse, Bianca once again finds herself teaming up with Sheriff Riley to solve a mystery. Are they investigating an accidental drowning or something more nefarious?

My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed deBellegarde’s first book in the Batavia-on-the-Hudson series, and was pleased to find the same intricate plotting, character development, and vividly drawn action in this sophomore effort. The same characters are back and show promise of being further developed in future books. Here we get to learn a bit more about some of the key people among the village population. Small towns have big secrets, and deBellegarde explores that conundrum with a fast-paced story that includes two murders, decades apart. We learn a lot more about protagonist Bianca, and a little bit more about her potential love interest, Mike. I’m not sure how I feel about the burgeoning romantic situation between the two, but it does lend some tension to the narrative. Fans of small-town mysteries featuring an endearing set of characters will enjoy this.

Dead Man’s Leap explores the burden of secrets, the relief of renunciation, and the danger of believing we can outpace our past.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN: 1685120849 (ISBN-13: 978-1685120849)
Series: A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

He inched toward the precipice, his toes gripping the stone ledge as if they had a will of their own. He lifted his head and squinted into the sunlight still streaming through the blackening clouds. He took in the expanse of rushing water below. In all his eighteen years, Trevor had never seen the creek roil so ferociously.

A clap of thunder startled him. His toes relaxed, and he felt as if the slightest wind could take him over the edge. Lightheaded for a second, he regained his footing and his purpose.

He had no choice if he wanted all this to stop.

He needed to do it.

And do it now.

The downpour would break again soon. But for now, all he could hear was the rushing of Horseshoe Falls beneath him, the roar drowning out the noise of his past.

Of his father.

Of his mother.

Yes, his mother. He had expected his father to be weak, and wasn’t surprised at all after he left. But his mother? A mother’s love is supposed to be unconditional. At least that’s what she had always said before she had turned their world upside down. It was bad enough when she had played at being the sexiest woman in town. At least when his friends teased him then, it was meant to be fun. But this was worse, far worse. Now they wanted nothing to do with him. Now they used him as a punching bag.

His gang no longer looked to him as their leader. They ridiculed him for what his mother had done. From the beginning, he knew those kids were bad news. What choice did he have? In grade school he’d been bullied. Well, he had put a stop to that in high school. Can’t be bullied if you’re the biggest bully.

His mother was gone. His father was gone. And now his posse. First, it was the cold shoulder, and a few snide remarks. Then he was cornered in the locker room after the game one day. That was the hardest. He hadn’t taken a beating like that since the fifth grade. But the tables had been turned on him so fast that he never saw it coming. Trevor realized now that they were never friends. They were just a group of trouble makers who hung out together. Good riddance to them. He didn’t need them anymore.

Another thunderclap reminded him where he was. On the edge. Right on the edge. He either had to do this properly or he would be going over anyway.

Trevor looked over his shoulder one last time and heard a faint commotion in the background. Once they rounded the path, he closed his eyes and jumped.

* * *

Bianca St. Denis stretched to grab the cord just out of reach above her head and yanked on it with all her force to bring down the attic staircase. She tilted her head to avoid being struck as it made its way down. She unfolded the retractable stairs and put one foot on the first rung. But there she stopped, not sure she could take the next few steps. At forty-two the issue wasn’t her physical ability to climb the steps, she was active, even fairly athletic. The old saying went “the mind was willing but the body was not.” Well, in her case “the body was willing but the mind was not.”

She had stayed out of the attic all these months since Richard’s death. She had made do without her ski parka this past winter, and used Richard’s barn jacket she’d found in the mudroom instead. She had made do without the spring curtains she would normally switch out in the living room each March. The winter ones still hung heavy and foreboding. And she made do without the patio cushions she had sewn two seasons ago. She simply sat on the raw wood when she wanted to read or eat in the backyard. She hadn’t realized the number of things she had been doing without by avoiding the attic, not until the town started buzzing about the rummage sale. She pretended it was because she hadn’t had time to search for the items, but she knew better.

She took her foot off the rung, bent and picked up the stairs again, refolded them, and let them float to the ceiling. The hatch closed with a neat click.

* * *

Once Trevor hit the water, his tension disappeared. He welcomed the release and let himself drop. Slowly he was pulled down into the chaos of the rushing water, but his mind had floated above it all. He didn’t feel a thing, he observed it instead. He watched as his body sank, as it swirled in the vortex of the overfull creek. He watched as his body escaped the current and floated peacefully in the murky water. And he watched as he gave in to full renunciation and allowed the water to decide what was to become of him.

His thoughts slowed, as muddy as the water surrounding him.

They slowed, but he could not make them disappear.

He had managed to avoid jumping off Dead Man’s Leap every summer, but this year he knew he couldn’t get away with it. They had already threatened to make sure he jumped this year. That was only part of what the summer had in store for him. Who could he turn to? His grandparents had no idea what he was going through. They always hid their heads in the sand anyway. There was nothing they could do for him. So, he had taken matters into his own hands.

He was shocked when his head broke the surface, and despite himself he gasped for air in enormous mouthfuls until he gagged. He bobbed there, undecided, until he finally attempted the few strides to reach the cove. It took him longer than he expected, like swimming in molasses. A cross between his fatigue, his indifference, and the strong current kept him from reaching the bank in the three strokes it would normally require. On his knees, he crawled out of the pull of rushing water and dropped on the shore.

* * *

Leonard Marshall picked up the package, the paper crinkling in his hand. He carefully unwrapped one layer, then another. Layer after layer until he held the smooth tiny statuette in his hand. He trembled, and smiled, attracted and repulsed at the same time. How could such a tiny thing hold so many emotions for him? So much power over him? It was so small he could cradle it in the palm of his hand. He closed his fingers around it. It disappeared. He opened them again, and there it was. With it came a flood of memories. Exhilarating. His heart raced with a quick pat, pat, pat.

The basement door creaked. He took in a breath.

Time slowed and his heart with it.

Thump……thump……thump.

The light clicked on.

Another creak. Above him a step, a pause, another step. The door ached on its hinges as it opened wider. The light flicked off. The door closed. The steps faded. He let out his breath.

* * *

Trevor had never experienced fatigue like this. He crawled onto shore in the shadow of the cliff and collapsed. He never expected to make it out of the water, and now that he had, he lay there drawing in large mouthfuls of air, as if his lungs would never get enough. He stayed there, staring up at the sky, watching the dark clouds shapeshift. The rain would be there any moment, and to his surprise, he welcomed it.

As his breathing relaxed, he realized that the pain he felt was a sharp object stabbing his back. He rolled over, removed it, and threw it off to the side. As he turned to lay back down, his blurry eyes focused on the object. It was a bone. A human bone? He scrambled onto his knees and slowly made his way over to it. He was repulsed and fascinated, but mostly he was frightened by the sight of a bone and what that could mean. What had happened here, right here in this cove?

In the distance, he heard their drunken voices again. He knelt and grabbed handfuls of dirt to cover the bone. He heard them approach the edge of the cliff.

“He came this way. I saw him jump.”

“He’s too chicken, he didn’t jump. But when I find him, he’ll jump alright. He’ll jump or I’ll send him flying.”

“He jumped, I tell ya. Leave him alone. You wanted him to jump, and he did. I saw him. Let it go, already.”

“Yeah, well if he jumped, where is he?”

“You think he’s still under? You think he hit his head like that kid a while back?”

“I’m telling you, he didn’t jump.”

“There’s nowhere else to go but down. Of course, he jumped.”

“I’m going in. If he did jump, we’ll find him down there. He’s probably hiding under the cliff.”

Trevor carefully picked his way out of the cove. Scraping up against the cliff as close as his body would allow, he followed the contours until he came out on the other side of the falls. With his last bit of strength, he climbed up the rocky trail alongside Horseshoe Falls.

***

Excerpt from Dead Man’s Leap by Tina deBellegarde. Copyright 2022 by Tina deBellegarde. Reproduced with permission from Tina deBellegarde. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Tina deBellegarde

Tina deBellegarde has been called “the Louise Penny of the Catskills.” Winter Witness, the first book in her Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery series, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, a Silver Falchion Award and a Chanticleer Mystery and Mayhem Award. Her story “Tokyo Stranger” which appears in the Mystery Writers of America anthology When a Stranger Comes to Town edited by Michael Koryta has been nominated for a Derringer Award. Tina’s short fiction also appears in The Best New England Crime Stories anthologies. She is the vice-president of the Upper Hudson Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a member of Mystery Writers of America and Writers in Kyoto. She lives in Catskill, New York, with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby where they tend to their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She winters in Florida and travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro.

Catch Up With Tina deBellegarde:
tinadebellegarde.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @tinadebellegarde
Instagram – @tdb_writes
Twitter – @tdbwrites
Facebook – @tinadebellegardeauthor

 

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Never Broken by Lori Duffy Foster


Description

A near-corpse hiding in her back seat, whispering of a teen missing for seven years.

A split-second decision to protect him.

A sweatshop owner who will kill to get him back.

The near corpse of a stranger had no idea where he’d been, how long he’d been there or who had kept him captive. But one thing intrigued journalist Lisa Jamison even more than his story: recent memories of a woman named Chandra Bower.

Seven years had passed since Chandra disappeared from Seneca Springs without a trace. Police investigators still compared DNA records whenever an unidentified body appeared, hoping to at least bring her family closure. Lisa still chased down leads from desperate family and friends, being careful to hide her investigations from an editor who thought she’d become obsessed with a woman who was clearly dead.

But this man had just seen her, sewing designer clothes in a dark, filthy basement with about twenty other men and women under horrifically inhumane conditions. And the sweatshop workers all had one thing in common: All were people of color.

A split-second decision to help the man takes Lisa on a race against time. His captors want him back, there is evidence someone on the police force might be involved and the man knows that if he were recaptured, they would torture him until he revealed the names of the two people who helped him escape: Lisa Jamison and Chandra Bower.

Lisa promised her teenage daughter she would stay away from the dangerous stories ever since her job had nearly gotten them both killed two years before. But she no longer has a choice. She must keep the stranger hidden while she gathers enough evidence to turn the case over to city police or the FBI. At least three lives—her own, the stranger’s and Chandra’s—depend on it.

My Thoughts

This is the second in Duffy Foster’s Lisa Jamison series and I am calling this out as a series to watch for readers who appreciate really, really good crime fiction.

I sometimes have trouble getting through some crime fiction that incorporates troubling topics like those here. However, Never Broken is just the right length, with just the right amount of description and revelation for this tired old mystery reader.

The author’s experience as a crime reporter adds authenticity to her voice as she builds an intricate and shocking plot, leading to a nerve-jangling climax. The main character, Lisa Jamison, is fleshed out a bit more here, as are are other characters…leading to a developing relationship and stake in the series for the reader. The exploration of the horrifying world of human trafficking and modern era slavery seems well-researched and is certainly stomach-turning. This might be triggering for some readers, but the author handles the topic with honesty and some restraint.

In my review of the first entry in this series, Dead Man’s Eyes, I compared the author to Scottoline and Evanovich. I stand by that comparison and recommend this fresh voice in crime fiction.

Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: April 12, 2022
Thanks to the author for the advanced copy

A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear


Description

In the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series, a series of possible attacks on British pilots leads Jacqueline Winspear’s beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs into a mystery involving First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

 October 1942. Jo Hardy, a 22-year-old ferry pilot, is delivering a Supermarine Spitfire—the fastest fighter aircraft in the world—to Biggin Hill Aerodrome, when she realizes someone is shooting at her aircraft from the ground. Returning to the location on foot, she finds an American serviceman in a barn, bound and gagged. She rescues the man, who is handed over to the American military police; it quickly emerges that he is considered a suspect in the disappearance of a fellow soldier who is missing. 

 Tragedy strikes two days later, when another ferry pilot crashes in the same area where Jo’s plane was attacked. At the suggestion of one of her colleagues, Jo seeks the help of psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs.  Meanwhile, Maisie’s husband, a high-ranking political attaché based at the American embassy, is in the thick of ensuring security is tight for the first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, during her visit to the Britain. There’s already evidence that German agents have been circling: the wife of a president represents a high value target. Mrs. Roosevelt is clearly in danger, and there may well be a direct connection to the death of the woman ferry pilot and the recent activities of two American servicemen.

 To guarantee the safety of the First Lady—and of the soldier being held in police custody—Maisie must uncover that connection. At the same time, she faces difficulties of an entirely different nature with her young daughter, Anna, who is experiencing wartime struggles of her own. 

My Thoughts

I have so enjoyed following Maisie Dobbs through this wonderful series by Jacqueline Winspear. This entry gives us a supremely adult Maisie who is settling in to a comfortable if somewhat dangerous life during World War II. She’s busy with her investigative work, still in love with her American husband, and learning how to be a loving and effective mother to Anna, her adopted daughter. There’s not much to say about Winspear’s writing that hasn’t already been said. She is one of the best authors of historical mysteries out there today. Her plots are well-constructed, her characters written with depth and attention, and her historical research impeccable. Here, she treats us to an inside look at the work of women pilots in England during World War II, something of which I was not familiar prior to reading this book. I spent several enjoyable hours afterwards researching the female pilots, an activity which for me demonstrates the effects of a great historical novel.

If you haven’t read the series before, start at the beginning and savor every one. I also recommend the audiobook versions, which are extremely well-done.

Published By: Harper
Publication Date: 3/22/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the the review copy

Lady in the Silver Cloud by David Handler


Description

Ghostwriting sleuth Stewart Hoag investigates the murder of his wealthy neighbor—and discovers her dark, mobbed-up past.

A 1955 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud is a fantastically expensive car, especially in the pristine condition of the one owned by Muriel Cantrell. Living in a luxury apartment building on Central Park West, the delicate, sweet 75-year-old woman is a neighbor of Merilee Nash, the beautiful movie star, and Stuart Hoag, whose first book was a sensation but whose career crashed when he became involved with drugs and alcohol. Divorced ten years earlier, Hoagy has been welcomed back into Merilee’s life and apartment.

Apparently universally beloved in her building, residents are shocked when Muriel is murdered after a Halloween party. No one takes it harder than her long-time chauffeur, Bullets Durmond, whose previous job was as an enforcer for the mob. Who in the world would want to harm the silver-haired lady whose major vices were buying shoes and Chanel suits (always in cash), and watching day-time soap operas?

Lieutenant Romaine Very of the NYPD is called to investigate and again seeks help from his friend Hoagy who, along with his basset hound Lulu, has been an invaluable aide in the past. The investigation leads to the unexpected source of Muriel’s wealth, the history of her early years as a hatcheck girl at the Copacabana, how her chauffeur came to be called Bullets, her desperate meth-head nephew, and her wealthy neighbors, who have secrets of their own.

My Thoughts

Handler’s Stuart Hoag mysteries are always a treat to read. They bridge the gap between cozy and hardboiled, nicely blending elements of both. The recent proliferation of cozy mysteries has resulted in a lot of ridiculous but mostly fun stories that can be read in an afternoon. What I enjoy about the Hoag series is that the stories incorporate the basic element of a cozy ( very little to no graphic, gory detail) with some well-crafted writing and plotting paired with witty and clever dialog.

The characters introduced here, especially Muriel Cantrell and her driver Bullets Durmond, are as over the top as we expect in a Hoag story. Their backstory was well-done and fitted into Hoagy’s world of cool, calm, and unexpected. I will say, however, that Lulu tipped her beret at the killer early on. Always listen to the pup!

Handler delivers his trademark witty dialog and a well-crafted mystery, along with plenty of whimsy in the form of Lulu, Hoagy’s trusted sidekick and my favorite literary basset hound. If you’re a cozy mystery fan looking for something a little different, try this series. You can start from the beginning, but each book stands alone so you can really pick up any title in the series and start there.

Publication Date: February 22, 2022
Published By: Mysterious Press
Thanks to the Publisher for the review copy

Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian


Description

Known for her wonderfully addictive characters, multiple award-winning author Gigi Pandian introduces her newest heroine in this heartfelt series debut. Under Lock & Skeleton Key layers stunning architecture with mouthwatering food in an ode to classic locked-room mysteries that will leave readers enchanted.

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her.

My Thoughts

I found Gigi Pandian’s books through another favorite author – Juliet Blackwell – and was thrilled to find a new series featuring two of my favorite things: magicians and hidden staircases/rooms. Pandian introduces Tempest Raj, the youngest in a line of magicians on her mother’s side and artists and builders on her father’s side. Tempest is an appealing, sassy, smart female lead who has tremendous potential to grow through the series.

Tempest is calm, cool, and collected – most of the time – and lives in a magical compound with her father and grandparents. Readers who grew up with Nancy Drew, Narnia, and the Secret Garden will fall in love with the setting.

Pandian uses the familiar series set up of a singular mystery that is introduced, investigated and solved in the course of the book, overlayed by a bigger mystery that will span multiple books. Here that bigger mystery is what happened to Tempest’s mother 5 years earlier when she truly vanished during a magic act.

I was especially happy to see the inclusion of the master of “locked room” mysteries – John Dickson Carr – used as part of the investigation here. I hope that continues. I’m looking forward to the next in this series.

Published By: St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books
Publication Date: 3/15/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Game of Fear by Charles Todd


Description

In this newest installment of the acclaimed New York Times bestselling series, Scotland Yard’s Ian Rutledge is faced with his most perplexing case yet: a murder with no body, and a killer who can only be a ghost.

Spring, 1921. Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Rutledge to the sea-battered village of Walmer on the coast of Essex, where amongst the salt flats and a military airfield lies Benton Abbey, a grand manor with a storied past. The lady of the house may prove his most bewildering witness yet. She claims she saw a violent murder—but there is no body, no blood. She also insists she recognized the killer: Captain Nelson. Only it could not have been Nelson because he died during the war.

Everyone in the village believes that Lady Benton’s losses have turned her mind—she is, after all, a grieving widow and mother—but the woman Rutledge interviews is rational and self-possessed. And then there is Captain Nelson: what really happened to him in the war? The more Rutledge delves into this baffling case, the more suspicious tragedies he uncovers. The Abbey and the airfield hold their secrets tightly. Until Rutledge arrives, and a new trail of death follows… 

My Thoughts

Another solid entry in the Ian Rutledge series positions the reader in Essex as Rutledge investigates a “murder” witnessed by Lady Benton and committed by the “ghost” of a man she knows to be dead.

Charles Todd has created a relatable, vulnerable, but very capable character in Ian Rutledge, who struggles with PTSD from WWI as he conducts his business as a Scotland Yard detective. There are nods to previous Rutledge adventures but a reader new to the series can follow along with ease.

The plot was a little slow to start, but picked up and kept me going well past my bedtime to a satisfying conclusion.

Recommended for historical mystery fans.

Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: 2/1/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose by T.A. Wilberg

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Description

The envelope was tied with three delicate silk ribbons: “One of the new recruits is not to be trusted…”

It’s 1959 and a new killer haunts the streets of London, having baffled Scotland Yard. The newspapers call him The Florist because of the rose he brands on his victims. The police have turned yet again to the Inquirers at Miss Brickett’s for assistance, and second-year Marion Lane is assigned the case.

But she’s already dealing with a mystery of her own, having received an unsigned letter warning her that one of the three new recruits should not be trusted. She dismisses the letter at first, focusing on The Florist case, but her informer seems to be one step ahead, predicting what will happen before it does. But when a fellow second-year Inquirer is murdered, Marion takes matters into her own hands and must come face-to-face with her informer—who predicted the murder—to find out everything they know. Until then, no one at Miss Brickett’s is safe and everyone is a suspect.

With brilliant twists and endless suspense, all set within the dazzling walls and hidden passageways of Miss Brickett’s, Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose is a deliciously fun new historical mystery you won’t be able to put down.  

My Thoughts

I enjoyed the first Marion Lane adventure so much that I was worried the sequel would be less. My fears were unfounded as the author has delivered another cracking good adventure featuring Marion, Kenny, Bill, and the rest of the crew from Miss Brickett’s.

This time, Marion must unravel the mystery surrounding the mysterious Florist while at the same time figure out what the heck is happening internally with the mysterious posters and clandestine meetings that are splintering Miss Bricketts from within.

One of my favorite things about this second novel is the introduction of Ambrosia Quinn, a minor character who I hope we see much more of in future books.

There’s plenty of action, witty dialog, and enough suspense to support the exploits of our plucky heroine.

Recommended.

Published By: Harlequin Trade/Park Row
Publication Date: 2/1/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Deadliest Sin by Jeri Westerson


Description

Crispin Guest is summoned to a London priory to unmask a merciless killer. Can he discover who is committing the deadliest of sins? 

1399, London. A drink at the Boar’s Tusk takes an unexpected turn for Crispin Guest, Tracker of London, and his apprentice, Jack Tucker, when a messenger claims the prioress at St. Frideswide wants to hire him to investigate murders at the priory. Two of Prioress Drueta’s nuns have been killed in a way that signifies two of the Seven Deadly Sins, and she’s at her wits end.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing outside of London when the exiled Henry Bolingbroke, the new Duke of Lancaster, returns to England’s shores with an army to take back his inheritance. Crispin is caught between solving the crimes at St. Frideswide’s Priory, and making a choice once more whether to stand with King Richard or commit treason again.

My Thoughts

The final Crispin Guest story?!? I was crushed when I read the author’s introduction to The Deadliest Sin because I have enjoyed this series very much. Here, we find Crispin’s past returning with a vengeance when his former Lord and Master John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, dies in the first chapter, foreshadowing radical historical events that will change Guest’s life.

At the same time, he is called in as The Tracker of London to unravel a series of brutal murders happening in a a Priory where nuns are being killed according to the Seven Deadly Sins. This part of the story is a tricky mystery which Guest handles with his usual aplomb, discovering the truth behind the murders about halfway through the books, leaving the remaining chapters to deal with the brewing battle between Henry and Richard for the English throne.

Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this series. I would recommending starting the series from the beginning, although this one can be read on its own.

Publication Date: December 7, 2021
Published By: Canongate Books; Severn House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Spanish Daughter by Lorena Hughes


Description

Set against the lush backdrop of early twentieth century Ecuador and inspired by the real-life history of the coastal town known as the birthplace of cacao, this captivating #OwnVoices novel from the award-winning author of The Sisters of Alameda Street tells the story of a resourceful young chocolatier who must impersonate a man in order to survive…

Puri inherited two things from her father: a passion for chocolate, and a cacao plantation located in Ecuador. After learning the art of chocolate-making from her grandmother, Puri opened a chocolate shop in her native Spain. But the Great War that devastated Europe has also ruined her business. Eager to learn more about the source of her beloved chocolate, Puri sets out across the ocean with her husband,
Cristóbal. But someone is angered by Puri’s claim to the plantation…

When a mercenary sent to murder her aboard the ship accidentally kills Cristóbal instead, Puri dons her husband’s clothes and assumes his identity, hoping to stay safe while she learns the truth. Though freed from the rules that women are expected to follow, Puri confronts other challenges at the plantation—newfound siblings, hidden affairs, and her father’s dark secrets. Then there are the dangers awakened by her attraction to an enigmatic man as she tries to learn the identity of an enemy who is still at large, threatening the future she is determined to claim…

My Thoughts

The story is just outright captivating. Puri’s disguise – will she or won’t she be discovered?? — had me turning pages as quickly as possible. Her budding relationships with her newly found siblings also add to the tension, and all of this human emotion and action set against the gorgeous backdrop of early 20th century Ecuador’s chocolate plantations make this a winner.

I am an impatient reader at times, so I appreciated that the story begins right away. There is no tedious backstory build-up; the author reveals details of the past throughout the book which complement the action taking place.

I have also come to appreciate beautifully descriptive writing that makes the setting pop off the page. This is the second book set in Ecuador I’ve read recently, and I am now captivated by this lush and beautiful country. It’s the landscape that is just as important to this story as the cast of characters., reminding me a bit of the descriptive landscape chapters in Grapes of Wrath.

At its heart, this is a story about family and how choices can build or break a family unit, no matter how tight or loosely connected the individuals. I can see this one making the rounds of 2022 book discussion groups. So well done.

Publication Date: December 28, 2021
Published by: Kensington Books
Thanks to the Publisher for the review copy

The Murder Dance by Sarah Rayne


Description

Researching the history of a dilapidated Elizabeth manor house, Phineas Fox uncovers the shocking truth behind a mysterious – and deadly – dance.

Having unexpectedly inherited an Elizabethan manor house in rural Norfolk, new owner Quentin Rivers has asked Phineas Fox to investigate the house’s history. Phin soon becomes immersed in The Tabor’s dark and mysterious past, and in the course of his research uncovers tales of a curious dance, the Cwellan Daunsen: a dance that has not been performed for centuries but whose strange legend still lingers. The dance has a dark side; whenever it took place, children were told to stay indoors – and on no account to look through their windows . . .

As Phin delves further, the terrible secrets of The Tabor and the Rivers family ancestors begin to reveal themselves, secrets stretching back more than six hundred years. But as the past gradually creeps up on the present, is history destined to repeat itself . . . ?

A darkly chilling novel of Gothic suspense which will appeal to fans of DAPHNE DU MAURIER, LAURA PURCELL and PHIL RICKMAN.

My Thoughts

Sarah Rayne offers a new mystery for Phineas Fox and Arabella Tallis, which is just as good as the previous entries in the series. I enjoy Rayne’s template of creating an imaginative mystery tied to a mysterious performance piece buried in the past. Here it is a dance – the Murder Dance, which children were not allowed to witness and which has haunted a family and a village for generations.

Rayne is skilled at blending suspense in the present with the same in the past and weaving a tale that encompasses both. Her present day characters seek to unravel the past while also dealing with trauma, deception, and betrayal in the present. Rayne’s creation of the mystery from the past is always intriguing and seemingly well-researched. The Murder Dance is just as creepy and horrifying as the Executioner’s Song in her last book.

Here, too, we see Phin’s relationship with Arabella progress and we get to know Arabella a bit more intimately. They make a great team, and I particularly like how Rayne writes the couple as intellectual equals. The other present day characters, cousins Quentin and Zillah, are two of the creepiest I’ve read in a while.

I recommend Rayne’s books all the time and this one will be no different. Well done!

Publication Date: January 4, 2022
Published By: Severn House; Canongate Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy