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The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander, author of “The Counterfeit Heiress” seems to have one foot in the Victorian era.  She has a good grasp of the people and places in and around London and Paris during that era, and particularly the world of upper class Victorian women.

When Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband Colin attend a costume ball in London they are surprised to see another guest in a costume that looks much like Emily’s.  Some guests recognize that party-goer as the world-traveling heiress, Estella Lamar.  The next day Emily learns that the woman she saw at the masked ball has been murdered and is not Lamar at all, but a woman who for some unknown reason was impersonating her.  Who killed the impersonator?  Where is Estella Lamar?

This period mystery is set between London and Paris in 1897.  The Hargreaves are asked to solve this double mystery by one of Lamar’s old friends, Cecile du Lac.  The settings in Paris give this mystery a rather Gothic, noir feel for many of the scenes take place in and around a Paris cemetery and the catacombs under the city.  This is also a psychological suspense story because it delves deeply into the mind of a reclusive young heiress and the actions of her apparent captor.  The chapters jump between the investigation into the murder and the disappearance of Lamar, and chapters that set up the story about Lamar, her captivity and her mental state that leads to some surprising twists and turns in the plot.

The Counterfeit Heiress” is an exceptionally well-crafted and complex mystery that will be enjoyed thoroughly by fans of her Lady Emily Mystery series and many other lovers of fiction set in the late Victorian era.

Liz Nichols

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Stop Dead by Leigh Russell

Frequently I find that British detective and police procedurals are written using abbreviations and colloquialisms that are difficult for Americans to understand.  Such is not the case with Leigh Russell’s new police procedural mystery, “Stop Dead.”  Russell even provides a short glossary of terms, something that I am sure most American readers appreciate.  This is the fifth novel in her “A Geraldine Steel Mystery” series.  Steel is a smart, savvy Detective Inspector (DI) who recently moved from a police department in Kent to one in London.

Steel and her side-kick Detective-Sergeant, Samantha Haley, investigate the brutal murder of a restauranteur, Patrick Henshaw.  The particular MO occurs in a couple more murders as the investigation progresses and in the end it appears the detectives are looking for a serial killer.  Is this someone closely associated with Henshaw such as his wife, his business partner or a girl friend, or is this a random act of violence?

The novel is tightly written and is hard to put down.

Stop Dead” is highly recommended for fans of British Police procedurals.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Ecko Rising by Danie Ware

Ecko Rising,” a science fiction/fantasy novel by Danie Ware, starts in a gadget-rich London of 2018 and quickly moves to an alternate much more primitive world called Roviarath.  Ecko is a humanoid drone who does the dirty work for a revolutionary named Lugan.  When he is transported into an alternate world with only primitive tools and armaments he learns to adapt and to size up the inhabitants quickly in order to sort out friend from foe.

Ware has created two complex worlds and has a complex anti-hero in the form of the drone, Ecko, who must travel on a quest throughout this new world in order to find his way back home to high-tech, but troubled, London.

Frankly, science fiction and fantasy are not my genres and I found myself anxious to get to the end of this very long book many times.  In fact, I’m not sure why I spent my time reading a book I did not enjoy very much.  I did admire the author’s ability to imagine and describe a complex alternate world, and that is probably what kept me going.    I appreciated the complexity of the plot, although I often found it confusing.  I appreciated the complexity and emotional intensity of the protagonist, Ecko, but I didn’t like him very much and I could not gain any feeling of sympathy for him and the many scrapes he got in to.

I guess die-hard science fiction and fantasy readers may appreciate “Ecko Rising,” but I didn’t.

Liz Nichols



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King’s Deception by Steve Berry

I had to wait awhile to get hold of  a copy of “The King’s Deception” at my local library.  It was worth the wait.

Berry has written a tightly wound thriller about the world of foreign espionage, but instead of the the American spy being a “good guy” he is a very bad guy.  This bad spook, Blake Antrim, is out to expose British historical secrets and in the process to steal his son back from the woman he had an affair with 16 years earlier.  He wants the kid to himself and thus has hatched a plot to kill the man this boy has always called his father, Cotton Malone, a former CIA operative who now owns a bookstore in Copenhagen.   Antrim is the head of a U.S. covert operation in Britain called the King’s Deception.  He threatens to expose that Queen Elizabeth I was actually a man, a bastard grandson of Henry VIII, who was placed in the role of impersonating the young Elizabeth when she secretly died at the age of 13, or so the legend goes.  What the CIA operative wants is for England to force the Scottish government to give up plans to send the mastermind behind the Lockerbie air disaster back to Libya in a humanitarian gesture when the man contracts terminal cancer.  Antrim is pitted against an equally cold-blooded MI6 operative who is determined to keep the rumor about Elizabeth I from ever getting any further, destroying the proof of the royal ruse, and killing anyone who knows about it.

Antrim weaves a rather complex plot to gain his recently-discovered son back by having his boss contact Cotton Malone to ask him to accompany a young man who has stolen British historical secrets back from the U.S. to London.  Malone decides to take his son back to Copenhagen with him, via London, for a Thanksgiving break.  What he doesn’t know is Antrim has designs on the boy and plans to eliminate Malone and eventually his former wife, while he is playing a blackmail game against the British.

There is a lot to “The King’s Deception” that is just plausible enough to allow the reader to get sucked in to the story instead of dismissing it out of hand.  The descriptions of iconic historical places in and around London will fascinate those who have never visited London and bring back fond memories to those who have visited many times and love London and British history.

The thriller is based around an historical legend made popular by Bram Stoker in 1910, based on very thin historical evidence purporting that Elizabeth I was actually a man in drag.  Berry invents a secret coded diary supposedly kept by Elizabeth’s close counselors, the Cecils, which is discovered and finally translated as the smoking gun that provides evidence as to the ruse behind the Elizabethan throne.  This diary is purely an invention the author uses to further his story, and is a most creative way to weave this legend into this modern-day thriller.  One might ask, who could possibly care what happened 400 years ago, but, given that so many English families divided the spoils of Ireland at that time, it is possible to see that the chain of title to a lot of real property could be clouded if the authority that originally gave those rights to many prominent English families were suddenly to be put into question.  Still, it is a pretty cynical proposition to believe that CIA and MI6 officials think historical secrets
are so important that they can justify eliminating civilian men, women and children who discover the secret as “collateral damage.”

The King’s Deception” is a quick read that is highly recommended for those who enjoy British historical themes wrapped around a modern-day espionage thriller.

Liz Nichols

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King’s Gold by Michael Jecks

King’s Gold” is the latest of many in Michael Jecks’ “A Knights Templar Mystery” series.  It is set in London and the Cotswolds area of England in in 1326 and 1327. It is based around the historical events that took place when Edward II was forced to abdicate to his more competent son, Edward III.  Both men had loyal cadres of knights, but eventually, the ones loyal to the old king, later known as Edward of Caernarfon, eventually were defeated and many lost their lives.

The mystery begins with the murders of two innocent young people during a riot that occurred in London following the capture of Edward II.  A young Italian banker, Matteo Bardi, is also injured. One of Edward II’s loyal knights, Hugh Despenser, brings a chest with his treasury for safe storage at the church in the village of Willersey and then is promptly captured and tortured to death.

Edward II is taken to the castle at Kenilworth as a captive of a lord loyal to the new king, but Edward is allowed to have a few loyal knights to stay in the compound in order to protect the former king from any assassination plot. He is later taken to the castle at Berkeley.

The priest from Willersey, Father Luke, decides that he must take the treasure from the former king’s dead knight to Edward as the rightful heir of this wealth.  He travels with a carter from the village who is bringing supplies to Kenilworth.  They accumulate some knights along the way who seem to be interested in finding a way to break Edward II out of Kenilworth.

The author, who lives in the Dartmoor area of England, is an expert on medieval England, especially Cornwall and Wales and he weaves a lot of realistic social history into his fictional tale.

I thoroughly enjoy this period of history, and Jakes has spun a tale of intrigue and deception that will keep the reader guessing until the very end. “King’s Gold” is very much recommended for historical mystery lovers who enjoy the medieval period.

Liz Nichols


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The Demon’s Parchment by Jeri Westerson

The Demon’s Parchment” is the third in Westerson’s Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series, and by far the creepiest. The book is not for the faint of heart and must also be read with its historical context in mind.

The novel is set in 1384 London. Crispin Guest is a former knight who is exiled and stripped of his estate by King Richard II. He had been a knight of the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, who exercised considerable influence over his nephew, King Richard, before the boy turned 18. Crispin settles in a poor part of London and becomes known as the Tracker, someone who will solve crimes for pay.

One day Crispin and his servant, Jack, come upon a crowd who have found a dead boy washed up on the shores of the Thames. Suffice it to say, this was a gruesome death, and Crispin finds out that three other boys have been found in similar condition in recent months along the Thames. There has been little attention cast on these serial killings because the dead seem to be beggar boys or possibly members of a secret Jewish community. With the death toll mounting the London and Westminster sheriffs hire Guest to solve the serial murders.

The plot also gets entwined with the story of a Jewish doctor and his son who are brought from southern France to attend to the Queen. Some parchments relating to the ancient Jewish lore about the making of a Golem, a monster made of clay, is stolen from the doctor’s quarters and he hires Guest to find them. There is some thought that the Golem is to blame for the deaths of the boys and that they have been sacrificed as part of a Jewish ritual.

Most of the Jews had been thrown out of England a hundred years earlier by Edward I on rumors of such ritual killings. Now an inquisitor has come to root out the few remaining Jews who have not converted to Christianity. Crispin must face his own prejudice in helping the Jewish doctor to recover the parchment and to discover the truth that the murdered boys.  He concludes that the boys have not been killed as part of any Jewish ritual and in fact at least one was from the secret Jewish community of potters and goldsmiths.

This medieval noir is full of violence and instances of prejudice. Much of the story, however, is rooted in historical fact. The serial murders are similar to one found in the historical record in France 100 years after the setting for this book. The prejudices and indignities cast upon the Jews in medieval England are accurately told. The life that Crispin and his servant would have led are also accurate for the times. Those were dark, dark times full of violence, prejudice, superstition, and strict class distinctions. The Crispin series is only for those readers who are willing to face the reality of those brutal times.

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading this novel, but I did learn something in its telling.

Liz Nichols

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