Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

During the winter of 1926, famed author Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days.  Mrs. Christie was subsequently found, but claimed amnesia of the circumstances of her disappearance once she was recovered.  The mystery of these happenings was never solved.  Marie Benedict is not the first to write about the real-life mystery surrounding the life of the author, but she makes a very compelling case in an historical fiction version of events.

I’ll admit that when reading the prologue and first few chapters of this story I wasn’t entirely sure who was the narrator, only that we were seeing the intimate thoughts of one of the parties involved, as well as a letter and instructions from one of the other main parties.  After a few chapters, the narrator became clear, and this revelation added to the drama already ensued.

Part one, which takes up three quarters of the book, alternates between each chapter with the point of view of Dame Agatha herself, and that of her first husband, Archibald Christie.  In the Agatha chapters, which take place in the past of the main storyline, we catch a brief glimpse of the author’s childhood and youth, followed by Archibald’s courtship of her and their married life.  In the Archibald chapters, which take place in the “present,” we see the events of the disappearance itself, along with the reactions of family and the public to the author’s disappearance.

The second part of the story is told completely in Agatha’s point of view, and details the events of her recovery and the consequences of her, and others’ actions.  This part of the story delves heavily into speculation on the part of author Benedict, but oh what a story she weaves.

Benedict’s Agatha Christie is the epitome of a strong female character.  She has suffered emotional neglect and betrayal at her husband’s hands, but reacts by literally becoming the heroine in her own story.  She “takes control of the narrative of her life” in order not to become the villain to her daughter.  In a time period when divorce and single mothers were frowned upon, she ensures that she has the most favorable outcome for herself and her daughter.  She engineers events so that her husband will be forced to admit his guilt, and thus accept the blame for their divorce, so her reputation does not suffer. 

I loved this book.  The author clearly did a vast amount of research into the Christies’ history, and told a very convincing story of the true events.  While we may never know if some of her theories and conclusions are real, the reader cannot help but wonder and perhaps hope that this is the way it happened.  I give this story five stars, and recommend it to fans of mysteries, especially those of Agatha Christie, and those of historical fiction and romances.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Loch Down Abbey

Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine

Loch Down Abbey by  Beth Cowan-Erskine

Amy Caudill‘s review

In a story that combines the social mores of Downton Abbey with the recent panic created by COVID-19, the staff of a noble household must determine if someone killed the head of the family, the Earl, or if it was a tragic accident.  With an entire household of self-involved relatives with numerous secrets of their own, an inept local police Inspector, and a staff largely bedridden with a mysterious plague, Head Housekeeper Mrs. MacBain has her work cut out for her.

In 1930s Scotland, a prominent family is on the verge of collapse.  Their family business is in ruin, not helped by the death of the father or the ascension to the title of his oldest son, Angus, who does nothing all day but hide in the tennis pavilion with his brother-in-law, Hugh. 

The younger son, Fergus, has had a plan to try to save the family fortune, but neither father nor brother listens to him.  After his father’s death, this situation puts him on MacBain’s suspect list, but she cannot find evidence to tie him in.  Of course, there are others with far more motive. 

When the will is read, the Earl’s wife’s Lady’s maid is left a stipend, as is the family ward, whom was rescued from an orphanage.  Why is Iris given the same stipend as the Earl’s younger children?  The more the family try to hide, the more the secrets will come out, thanks to a depleted staff and a number of family children running wild, as well as a desperate search for valuables to sell to save their home.

Meanwhile, the illness is forcing the remaining healthy staff to wear mask and gloves while waiting on the family, and shortages of flour, sugar, and toilet paper created some humorous situations and tantrums from the more entitled residents.

In the end, the mystery is solved, the spoilt occupants of Loch Down Abbey get their just rewards, and the Abbey is sold to begin a new era, with new owners that remain a mystery up to the end of the book.

This book was more of a spoof than an actual mystery, but it was an entertaining read.  I enjoyed the fact that it combined the setting of a period drama with modern day issues and did so while being true to the time period and the behavior of the characters.

I give the story four stars and recommend it to fans of both mysteries and historical fiction.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Truly Devious

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) by  Maureen Johnson (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

A decades-old mystery, a young girl who is determined to solve it, and a cast of brilliant but dysfunctional teenagers who may or may not know more than they think-sounds like a good recipe for a book, doesn’t it? 

In the first volume of the series by author Maureen Johnson, Stevie Bell has just been accepted at the elite Ellingham Academy, a school for talented and exceptional teenagers.  One of her classmates is a web star for a series he supposedly wrote, starred in, and produced himself.  One is a bestselling author.  Another is an artist. There are also an engineer, a computer programmer, and Stevie, who studies cold cases and wants to crack the case surrounding the school’s now deceased and mysterious owner.

The book transitions back and forth between the present day and the events in the 1930s, when Albert Ellingham received a note, written as a poem with letters cut from newspapers and magazines, which seemingly foretold of the horrifying fate that befell his wife and young daughter.  Iris and Alice Ellingham, whom we only learn of from the accounts of others, were kidnapped, held for ransom, but never returned to Albert in the isolated mountain top school.

Iris’ body is later found, but of Alice there is no trace but a single shoe.  A major investigation by the FBI ensues, and a suspect is arrested, tried and convicted, but the little girl is never seen again.

In the present day, Stevie sees or perhaps dreams that a new message, in the same style and signed by Truly Devious, appears on her bedroom wall at night.  She is not entirely sure if it is real, but the next day a classmate is found dead.  Stevie finally has her chance to participate in a real investigation instead of simply reading about them, but will she endanger herself, alienate her friends, and destroy her relationship with her maybe boyfriend in the process?

I loved the setting of this book, in an isolated mountainside in upstate Maine.  The grounds of the mansion/school are beautiful, and add to the suspense of the story.  I also enjoyed the premise; a modern-day murder that echoes an older mystery; though there were a few points that irked me on this one.  Even though this is the first book of a quadrilogy, I would have expected at least some resolution by the end of its 420 pages.  The story moves at a slow pace, but at the end of this volume we have only one death and the disappearance of another student who may or may not have been responsible.  The solution to the older mystery, such as it may be, was not even touched on. 

I enjoyed the first book, but I’m not sure I liked it enough to stick with it through three more volumes to for the mysteries to be solved.  That is why I only gave this book three stars.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Innocents

The Innocents by C.A. Asbrey

The Innocents (The Innocents Mystery Series, #1) by  C.A. Asbrey (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

As if being a female Pinkerton detective isn’t hard enough.  Abigail Mackay has dealt with numerous skeptical local law enforcement officers, potential witnesses who have good reason to trust no authorities, and plenty of criminals who would rather shoot first and rob later, no questions asked.  But even her experience hasn’t prepared her for the likes of Jake Conroy and Nat Quinn, two outlaws with hidden depths and a peculiar moral code.

When Abigail is sent by Alan Pinkerton to investigate the train robbing gang of The Innocents, she literally collides with one of the Robin Hood-type outlaws.  Naturally though, it’s not them that rob the train she is travelling on; instead it’s a group of murderous bandits who are impersonating The Innocents to ruin their ~good name.  But why would a rival gang pretend to be another? 

This is only one question Abi has to answer when two prostitutes are murdered, and the real Innocents are conducting an investigation that parallels hers.  When Abi is shot and saved by the duo of Nat and Jake, she proposes an unlikely truce while they join forces to take down the murderers before more lives are lost.

The main characters are very engaging.  The dynamic between the two outlaws and the female federal agent is charged with electricity and sexual tension.  I was almost surprised that Abi didn’t end up in a love triangle, but probably the two males are too honorable for that to happen.  Perhaps Abi will be drawn to Nat; that certainly seemed the direction author C. A. Asbrey was going in the final scenes. However, considering this was only the first book in a series who’s to say for sure.

I also was intrigued enough by this story to actually Google female Pinkertons; yes they existed and one in particular helped foil an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln.  Yeah for early female role models; I don’t remember any mention of this group in my high school or college history courses.

Overall, this was a very interesting historical fiction/detective/romantic western novel, and well worth checking out.  I give this book five stars.  

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities

Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities by James Lovegrove

Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities (The Cthulhu Casebooks, #2) by

James Lovegrove

Amy Caudill‘s review

In the second volume of author James Lovegrove’s trilogy The Cthulhu Casebooks, he once again combines the characters from the classic author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with creatures and situations from another classic author, H.P. Lovecraft.

The second book opens approximately fifteen years after the conclusion of the events of the first, as the author shares a somewhat edited manuscript he supposedly inherited from Lovecraft himself, which was written by the real Dr. John Watson.  As before, the text is told in one continuous linear story line, and bears only passing resemblance to Watson’s “fictional” published stories, which are supposedly both a source of income for Watson and Holmes and a sanitized outlet for Watson to share the horrific events the duo have endured.

In “reality,” the “true” events Watson and Holmes have participated in and resolved are much more terrifying than dealing with thieves, murderers and forgers. They are the main champions in a very small selective group of men who are aware that the Old Gods and Gods from Outer Realms are alive, present, and capable of enacting and reacting to events and beings on Earth.  They remain dedicated to not only thwarting and containing this evil, but protecting the world at large from knowledge and panic over its existence.

The first and third parts of this narration are the usual for Holmes and Watson; an event causes a spark of concern, an investigation that leads into danger, a clue appearing at an opportune moment, and a confrontation that may become deadly. 

The second part of the story is actually a journal read aloud by the heroes that was written by Zachariah Conroy, depicting his own encounters with the arcane through a fellow student and colleague, Nathaniel Whateley, at the fictional Miskatonic University, an Ivy League school in Massachusetts. Whateley possesses a copy of the same book that Holmes has fiercely guarded, that allows him to conjure and control various creatures of the supernatural order.  Unfortunately, Whateley does not possess Holmes’ strength of will and moral constitution, and Conroy is too involved in his experiments to understand the true nature of the beast they will release, until it consumes him.

In the end, we see a return of a supposedly dead body-jumping nemesis, as two lives are forever destroyed, and a great threat upon humanity is held back, but for how long?

This novel, as with the first, is faithful to the characterizations of Holmes and Watson while placing them into situations Doyle never envisioned, and at the same time contains enough Lovecraftian horror to satisfy diehard fans of that genre.  Overall a well done and engaging story, that I give five stars.  I will definitely check out the third volume of The Cthulhu Casebooks in the future, and perhaps some of James Lovegrove’s other Sherlock Holmes stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

When I picked up this book I expected a paranormal adventure, perhaps with some female bonding, but what I got was a book that while containing a true horror tale was more about clashes between social classes and genders in 1990s Charleston, South Carolina.

The main character, Patricia, is a typical southern housewife-devoted to her career-minded, neglectful husband, and her two children who have their own issues, and has obligations to society to meet.  She also has a mother-in-law who is senile living in her garage room and a new neighbor that is definitely too good to be true.  Thankfully, she has her friends in the local book club to depend on when things get rough.

Who knew, that in 1990s Mt. Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, the biggest obstacle a group of women would face when confronting a proven killer who has preyed on children and women for decades, would not be the monster himself.  Instead, the real obstacles include their own beliefs regarding reality and religion, but also their overbearing, dictatorial husbands who when they ask for assistance refuse to believe them and are afraid they will embarrass themselves or more realistically, their husbands and their standing in the community.

The men believe the women have concocted this fantasy about James Harris, who is their new business partner, because they are bored housewives who spend too much time reading lurid and fanciful literature for their monthly book club meetings.  The monster, James Harris, insinuates himself into their sheltered little society in such a way that the families all depend on his good graces for their good fortune.  The men do not want to upset their partner, and the women are afraid to go against their husbands, because in some situations, they will pay with beatings and forced medication.

Patricia’s own husband, the doctor in the group, is convinced she is having a breakdown, and rather than listen to her, prescribes anti-depressants and accuses her of destroying their family.  In the face of the overwhelming obstacles, the women let the fight go, until events that include a reappearance of Patricia’s now dead mother-in-law and a fatal attack on one of their own force them to band together and act. 

This book, the first I have read by author Grady Hendrix, is so much more than a horror novel.  It does contain truly terrifying scenes that are not for children or anyone who does not appreciate gore, but the blood and mayhem is not the main focus of the book.  I award the author five stars, and applaud him for a novel that contains depth of plot that surprised me.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

This epic story follows the lives of three sisters, descendants of witches, who have been separated by fate and falsehoods, but are brought together again through mutual pain and longing.

The Eastwood sisters, each having endured separate tragedies, find each other again in New Salem in the 1800s.  They have been apart for some time, but one half-conjured spell is enough to forge an unbreakable link between the three.  While they are rediscovering each other, and dealing with their past issues, they come to realize they meet the archetypes necessary to call back the Lost Tower of Avalon, the last stronghold of witchcraft on Earth which was burned by men who feared the witches’ power and independence.

Bella, The Crone, is a librarian who prizes knowledge, and will become the wise mentor of the group who catalogues all their recovered spells.  Agnes, The Mother, single and pregnant in a time when that was not at all acceptable, but who is stronger and more capable than she realizes.  Juniper, The Maiden, is a fierce warrior, fearless, but with a dark history that will play a part in the outcome.

Together, the three will become The Last Three and uncover The Lost Tower, giving women the power to make their lives a little more bearable in an age when women are considered property and not afforded any real rights, not least of all the ability to vote for their leaders.

The author skillfully hides the lost spells of witches in children’s rhymes and fairy tales, the last place any man would think to look, to keep them safe for future generations.  One male witch, however, seeks to root out and destroy all knowledge of witchcraft so that he alone has power, and can enthrall a city to his bidding.  In the end, the only way to stop a new round of witch burnings, and save Agnes’s daughter, is to destroy the hold Gideon Hill has on the city.  It won’t be easy though, because he has just been elected as Mayor of New Salem and has made puppets of half the population. 

There were multiple points in this 530 page tome where I felt, okay, they have reached their end goal, what could possibly be left?  However, the author quickly wrote in another roadblock, another obstacle to overcome.  While the story was long, it was absorbing, and only in a couple of places, like midway through, did I feel the pacing was slow.

Overall, a very good story, one that takes the reader in completely unexpected directions.  The characterization of the three, as well as the antagonist and a few secondary players, was well drawn.  I especially enjoyed Juniper, who started out so brash and angry at the world but by the end had actually come around to feel empathy for Gideon Hill and was unable to kill him, despite very good reasons to do so.  I give this book 4.5 stars and recommend it to anyone interested in fantasy or paranormal novels that contain very strong, independent female characters.

Happy Independence Day!

I just wanted to wish everyone out there in the U.S. a Happy Independence Day tjomorrow!! With all the fear of contagion and political turmoil, I think that it is more important than ever to remember what this holiday stands for, and to come to together to celebrate not what issues we have with one another, but what brings us together as one nation. I linked this to a post I wrote a few years ago, because I think it is even more important today. Happy Holiday and stay safe out there my friends!

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pexels-photo-461917.jpeg

Happy Fourth of July!  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tomorrow is officially the day we celebrate our Independence in the United States, but the festivities have already started!  (In my neighborhood, we’ve been hearing firecrackers go off in the evening all week!)

On this most important of national holidays, we recognize that our country, despite our differences, our problems, and our political debates, we all share a core of ideals and values.  We acknowledge that though we are far from perfect, we still have such potential, along with the freedom to choose our own destinies.

Tomorrow, and this week, is the perfect time to set aside our petty arguments and embrace that which makes us all Americans.  Take a moment to remember that we have servicemen and women overseas even now, sacrificing to keep our values and our safety intact.

white and red flag Happy Independence Day! Photo by Aaron Schwartz on Pexels.com

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Scorpion’s Tail

The Scorpion's Tail by Douglas Preston

The Scorpion’s Tail (Nora Kelly #2) by  Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child

Amy Caudill‘s review

When Corrie Swanson is given a seemingly routine field assignment by her boss at the Albuquerque field office of the FBI, no one expects that the shooting of a cop at a ghost town will lead to the uncovering of plots of conspiracy, murder, lost treasure, and a huge cover up on a military base. 

Corrie once again relies on the assistance of Nora Kelly to excavate a corpse found in High Lonesome, a relatively untouched ghost town, but one with recent signs of looting and of course, a shooting.  Both Corrie and Nora, the main protagonists in this series, are alumni of multiple novels in authors’ Preston and Child main series, the Agent Pendergast books.

In the last book of this series, Old Bones, Corrie and Nora did not exactly part on good terms, but they seem to respect each other’s abilities and cannot deny that on some levels they need each other’s help.  There is much made of their dynamic, these two who are not friends but connected through their sometime association with Pendergast, as reluctant partners, drawn into the investigation more and more despite pressures from Corrie’s bosses and status as a rookie and Nora’s delayed separate work and aspirations for a promotion to Chief of Archeology at the Santa Fe Archeological Institute.

When the victim is identified as the former owner of a ranch on land appropriated by the military for the first atomic test, and evidence suggests the test is actually what caused his death, the FBI, with Nora in tow, visit the Army base to ask uncomfortable questions of its commander, General McGurk, who apparently has familial ties to the area.

Who is involved in the looting and cover up?  Who is making sure that no witness survives, including trying to kill Nora and Corrie as they make covert trips back to High Lonesome, where only a part of the mystery will be solved.

This book has excellent pacing, going back and forth between multiple scenarios and points of view, as par for the writing team.  The reader is skillfully drawn into the story, without much clue as to where the next clue will appear and the next antagonist show his true colors.  In the end, the token appearance by Pendergast, (in only one short chapter near the conclusion,) will the final mystery be uncovered and the guilty receive their due punishment.

Another excellent novel from two of my favorite authors, that I award five stars for action, drama, strong female leads, all in a FBI procedural that contains so much more.  With the next novel, Diablo Mesa, already out, I’m sure I will be revisiting this universe very soon.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye by Carol Wyer

An Eye for an Eye (Detective Kate Young, #1) by Carol Wyer (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

The first book in this series introduces us to Detective Inspector Kate Young, a driven, successful British cop who has recently survived a trauma that is at first only alluded to in flashbacks and offhand comments, but the reader soon becomes aware affects her entire life, professionally and personally.

We meet Kate as she is attempting to come to terms with a tragedy she witnessed, while being on medical leave.  Each day is a struggle, without the job that gives her purpose.  When her boss calls her in to head a murder investigation, Kate worries that she is being set up to fail.  She has to deal with a team that is concerned with her mental state, a couple of higher-ups that want to look over her shoulder and yet withhold vital Intel, and the fear that she is losing her mind.

The murderer soon strikes again, and a list of potential future targets includes one of her bosses, all while Kate is undergoing withdrawal from anxiety meds and trying to direct a team of seasoned cops who may or may not have her back.  Will she be able to keep it together and prove she can still do the job before she is removed from the case or the killer strikes again?

Carol Wyer has written an excellent mystery with a complicated, driven heroine that I enjoyed reading very much.  The actual antagonist was presented as a minor character in the story, someone that no one would have expected to be a criminal mastermind at first introduction, which gave the book a delicious twist. 

That being said, the background plot was a little bit easier to guess.  Maybe I’ve read too many mystery stories, but I figured out the mysterious fatal weapon before the detectives uncovered that information.  I also understood the secret tragedy that Kate would not admit to herself until three quarters of the way through the book.  I am intrigued with the direction the author chose to help Kate deal with her issue, and how that creates another character foil for her through the end of the story and probably into the next book. 

I probably will pick up a copy of the next story to see how that situation further develops, as well as the tantalizing bits that her husband left for Kate to investigate about corruption in the police force.  All in all, a very good story and a strong start for a series.  I give this book four stars.