Category Archives: Historical mystery

A Jar of Pickles (Lady Vigilante, #18) by Hayley Camille

Super action-filled entry in the continuing story of Betty Jones, Avon Lady extraordinaire!

Episode 18, “A Jar of Pickles,” opens in the middle of a maelstrom! Betty’s daughter, Nancy, has unwittingly discovered and revealed that the man she’s always known as her father is not her biological parent. The shock of her uncovering this secret not only has Nancy reeling but Jacob Lawrence and Adina Sonberg as well, and it leads to a bitter, perhaps relationship-ending, argument between the two.

Hurt and feeling betrayed by the revelation, Adina still heads into work at St. Augustine’s to prepare a big library program for the boys and to spend some time with her favorite orphan, Teddy. Her emotional rollercoaster continues when a woman arrives looking for her son, who had been taken from her at birth and sent to an unknown orphanage. Shocked, Adina covers up the possibility that the child the woman is seeking may actually be Teddy.

Meanwhile, Betty and Jacob follow up on a new lead to the whereabouts of “The Tin Man,” which takes them to the home of Jacob’s mother and father. They believe that his father may hold the key to “The Tin Man’s” background from the time when he was the police commissioner.

Still hurting about her discovery, Nancy is supposed to be babysitting Georgie while her mother is making her Avon appointments. Since Adina had brought Teddy to her home next door to hide him from his birth mother, he and Georgie are happily playing together in the yard, so Nancy leaves them on their own and heads to the neighborhood park to sulk and brood. There she is approached by a sympathetic stranger, a woman, to whom she confides all her woes. But the woman is not just some helpful neighbor, she’s the diabolical mind behind “The Boudoir Butcher” murders, and Nancy has just played into her evil hands.

“A Jar of Pickles” is another super episode in the ongoing Betty Jones series, and it is bigger and more action-packed than ever. Betty’s and Jacob’s pasts are unfolding, and their joint investigation into “The Boudoir Butcher” killings is finally gaining ground.  Emotions run high throughout, and Betty pulls out all the stops to save her daughter. Once again, the fight scenes are fabulous, and the WWII-New York setting remains a winner.

I highly recommend this episode to readers following the exploits of this kick-ass Avon Lady and the entire series to those that enjoy historical mystery/thrillers featuring a strong female protagonist. The books are episodic, and I recommend they be read from the beginning in chronological order.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

(The Lady Vigilante series was formerly titled Avon Calling!.)

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The Golden Scales (A Makana Mystery, #1) by Parker Bilal

Moody and atmospheric with an engaging private detective in Cairo

The year is 1998, and former police inspector Makana, a refugee from his native Sudan, lives on a rickety houseboat on the Nile outside Cairo. He fled his country years earlier when it became too dangerous for him and his family under the radical Islamic regime that had recently overthrown the previous government. He ekes out a bare subsistence working as a private investigator while mourning the loss of his wife and daughter, who didn’t survive their escape. His fortunes have the opportunity to change for the better when he is hired to find a missing soccer star.

Adil Romario has been missing for over two weeks without a word or sighting of one of Cairo’s favorite sones. It is as if the young man has disappeared off the face of the Earth. The Dreem Team’s owner, Saad Hanafi, is desperate to find Adil for his club’s success and personal reasons. Hanafi wasn’t always on the right side of the law, and old enemies may be behind the young man’s disappearance.

As Makana delves into the mystery, he discovers there may be a link between Adil’s disappearance and that of the young daughter of an Englishwoman who went missing 17 years earlier. When the Englishwoman is found dead, Makana, with some support from a friend on the local police force, two agents from Britain’s Special Branch out of London, and a young, local reporter trying to make a name for himself, digs deeper and further afield, coming to the realization that Hanafi isn’t telling him everything he needs to know to find the missing soccer star.

THE GOLDEN SCALES is a complex and intriguing historical mystery set in moody, atmospheric Cairo. The descriptions of place drew me into the story, where the writing and plot gripped me and never let go. The characters who populate the pages are colorful and well-drawn. I could easily visualize their dress, manner of speech, and gestures. I was invested in Makana’s success as if it were my own. The story is action-filled, and Makana investigates like a pro, so I was quite satisfied when the resolution came.

THE GOLDEN SCALES is the first book in the Makana Mystery series by Parker Bilal, a pseudonym of renowned author Jamal Mahjoub, and was originally published in 2012. Currently, there are six novels in the series, the last of which was published in 2017. I recommend this book to mystery readers that would like an intriguing, well-crafted story with historical and political subplots enveloped in a setting that comes alive on the page.


Filed under Book Reviews, Historical mystery

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne by Linda Lappin

With twists and turns at every step, this is a don’t-miss-it historical mystery!

When her husband and mentor, renowned painter, Amedeo Modigliani, dies after a short but brutal illness, Jeanne, 21 and pregnant with their second child jumps out of a window of her parents’ Parisian flat two days later and also dies. As a spirit, she tries to reunite with Modi but eventually ends up returning to the apartment and studio they shared, where she watches people she knew remove her things, even discovering her one last secret artwork hidden in the wall space behind a large cupboard. The painting, one that Modigliani had begun, was of Jeanne and their child, but when he’d rejected his initial work, intending to destroy it and start over, she’d saved it and added his likeness to the family portrait. Dubbed a lost Modigliani, its existence had become a myth in the world of artists and art collectors. But now, she spends her time pacing the floor and practicing the violin, the one thing her ghostly self was allowed to grab and take with her into her afterlife.

Time passes to 1981, and an American art history student comes to Paris to research her thesis on Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, another of the famous Montparnasse artists who happened to live and work on the floor below Jeanne and Modi. But seemingly at every stage of her local research, she runs into persistent whispers of Modigliani, Jeanne, and the lost painting. When a dying woman entrusts her with more than just whispers, she is compelled to follow the story.

Loving Modigliani is a wonderfully imaginative and absorbing story that I honestly did not want to put down. The descriptions of Paris and Jeanne’s life were so vivid I felt I was there.  I know I held my breath as I was introduced to the author’s vision of the ‘Other Paris’ – the Paris of the dead. The characters came to life for me as the story twists and turns both in Jeanne’s afterlife story and the art scholar’s search for the lost painting. Nothing is as it seems!

The amount of research that must have gone into developing this story had to have been tremendous – not only the life and times of the well-known characters but also the places and practices of the era, including health care, medicine, death, and dying, and burial. The story definitely benefitted from all the work; it was interesting and exciting throughout. I am delighted to learn about this artistic woman, talented in her own right, who has apparently been kept in the shadows all these years.

I recommend LOVING MODIGLIANI: THE AFTERLIFE OF JEANNE HÉBUTERNE to readers of historical mysteries, especially those that don’t want to get involved in a series, readers that enjoy stories set in Paris, and those that have an interest in the art world, the art scene of Montparnasse Quarter in the 1920s.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

Author Linda Lappin has written a wonderful story where love never dies.


Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Historical mystery

The Holy City Hustle (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #2) by Ron Plante, Jr.

This series just keeps getting better!

After Duke Dempsey’s success in stopping the seemingly random killings in Charleston during the past summer, the new mayor, Morris Swanson, decides to honor him with a key to the city during a showy, controversial ceremony on Marion Square. However, immediately after the presentation, Mayor Swanson is publicly murdered as he sits on the dais. But Duke and his former partner and mentor on the force, Detective Johnny Stampkin, nab the hitman before he can escape.

Later, Duke gets a visit from a new client, the beautiful and mysterious Isabella Diaz. She claims she holds the key to the mayor’s assassination, a secret ledger that not only names who the dirty cops are at Charleston PD but public officials “on the take” at every level of government in the port city. She will trust Duke and no one else with her information, and considering the evidence points to cops up and down the department’s hierarchy, Duke himself doesn’t know who he can trust either.

This series just keeps getting better and better. The action is non-stop, and there are twists and turns galore as the identities of friends and foes alike are revealed and change sides. Some heart-pounding and heart-breaking moments will keep you turning the pages as well as looking forward to the next entry in the series. Once again, Charleston, South Carolina, is an atmospheric and versatile location for the story, and the time period of 1938 adds its own flavor to the unique setting.

I highly recommend THE HOLY CITY HUSTLE to mystery readers, especially those that like a historical setting.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Readers Copy from Book Sirens.

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The Bowery Flophouse (Avon Calling!, Season 2, Episode #17) by Hayley Camille

Non-stop action in this latest installment in this spot-on historical mystery series!

With the collapse of the Pinzolo crime organization, the criminal underworld in New York City is in a frantic state of flux with each gang trying to take over the number one spot. Adding to the havoc, the Boudoir Butcher is still at large, and no one but Mrs. Betty Jones has an inkling of what’s really going on. Betty tries to get the word on the street, starting with Hell Cat Harry Flynn and the Drowned Rats that the person behind the Butcher is Vladimir Malinov AKA The Tin Man and not a rival gang at all, but it is a slow, hard sell. The Tin Man plans to divide and conquer the gangs through suspicion and violence calculated to keep them at each others’ throats while he takes over.

Betty continues her search for the elusive Tin Man following a lead from Adina Sonberg at the local Boeing sub-assembly manufacturer. Among the thousands of women working shifts at the plant is a group of Russian girls who are believed to know Malinov’s history and whereabouts.

The gangs still clash, and a bloody and violent riot on the streets of the Bowery breaks out, drawing in the New York Police Department, including Betty’s lifelong friend, Jacob Lawrence. During the chaos, Betty saves Jacob from a burning flophouse when he becomes trapped under a fallen ceiling joist; however, she is seen using her super-human skills by Officer Malcolm Parker, finally confirming his suspicions about her.

In the meantime, FBI Special Agent Ratliff is looking to test Betty’s physical capabilities and lures her to an empty building at the World’s Fair’s former site. Finding herself surrounded by half a dozen of the FBI’s biggest guys, Betty must employ her unique skills to avoid being beaten. When Betty wins out, Ratliff threatens her family’s safety to attempt to get her under his thumb.

The Bowery Flophouse is the 17th episode in the wonderful Avon Calling! historical mystery series by Hayley Camille. As is true with the previous entries, the period’s tone is perfectly replicated, spot-on, and interesting tidbits from Camille’s extensive research into the time frame and place are incorporated to make for a delightful and robust story. The action is non-stop as Betty pursues the Tin Man and tries to keep her loved ones safe. Husband George’s letters home are poignant, and I find myself looking forward to them almost as much as Betty. The excitement of the investigation and the gang wars are not all this episode has to offer. Readers can look forward to some unexpected personal revelations for a couple of characters as well.

I highly recommend this entire series but especially this latest installment in Betty’s story. Readers should start at the beginning for the best experience.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy from the author.

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The Holy City Murders (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #1) by Ron Plante, Jr.

Duke Dempsey, formerly a Charleston PD detective, is out on his own as a private investigator, and although business is looking good, he’s still adjusting to his inglorious ouster from public service and the hit he took to his self-esteem and reputation. He’s had success with some big cases but nothing as big as his latest, finding a missing relic for none other than the Pope! Tied up with his investigation is the double homicide his former partner, Johnny Stampkin, is dealing with down on the docks of the Charleston port. A local priest, Father Lorenzo, a favorite in the Holy City as Charleston is known, has been vicious stabbed, and his companion, an off-duty Charleston cop, has had his throat slashed. Father Lorenzo was supposed to have been the safeguard of the Church’s relic, and no one knows where it is. As Duke and Johnny’s cases entwine and the bodies continue to pile up, they desperately pool their resources to go after the killer and find the precious artifact.

The Holy City Murders is the debut novel in the Duke Dempsey Mystery series by author Ron Plante, Jr. I found the main characters – Duke, Johnny, Margo, and Mary – likable and engaging, and the time period of the events appealing. The city of Charleston, South Carolina, made for an appealing setting with its humid, laid-back charm, recognizable landmarks, and unique opportunities because of its diversity for this and future books in the series. I thought the story was very good with the simultaneous police and private investigations of the two former partners. However, I knew who the secret spy was pretty quickly, so the mystery was really how this person would be revealed and how the protagonists would figure things out.

There were a couple of drawbacks for me in the story, though. First, the dialogue seemed more suited to the streets of New York, Chicago, Boston, or Philly. I choose to believe this was done to emphasize the patter seen in traditional detective noir. But Duke is a southern boy, a Charlestonian native, he even brings this up a couple of times, and I don’t see it in the language. Having said this, I still enjoyed the patois.

The other beef I have, and I see that previous reviewers noted it as well, was the plethora of grammatical issues in the version of the story being read. I read an Advance Readers Copy I received from Book Sirens, and there were numerous problems of this nature. However, a quick look at the finished version currently available for purchase or download shows that many of these issues have been found and corrected. Based on that examination, I’m adding an additional star to my original rating.  

With the look and feel of a noir detective story, there is so much to enjoy in Duke Dempsey and The Holy City Murders. The story doesn’t end here, and I look forward to reading more about Duke and his crowd as the series continues. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy a grittier mystery (than a cozy), noir detective stories, historical mysteries, or even a mystery that features Civil War elements.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Readers Copy from Book Sirens.

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Better the Devil You Know (Avon Calling, #16) by Hayley Camille

With husband George only home for a short leave and his memories of the night in the basement of the orphanage slowly returning, Betty must decide whether or not to tell him the truth about herself and what really happened that night. But will the truth destroy her marriage? Then, she receives the word that The Tin Man, the shadowy figure behind The Boudoir Butcher, is looking for a new girl for his next assassination. She and her old friend, NYPD Sergeant Jacob Lawrence, head out to finally meet this deadly killer and take him down.

Everyone’s favorite Avon Lady, Mrs. Betty Jones, is back, and this episode draws together a couple of plots from the previous stories. Betty is caught between a rock and a hard place on several fronts, and this story is particularly gripping because of the various moral dilemmas coming to a head: what to tell George, what to do about daughter Nancy and her growing rebelliousness and desire to expand her burgeoning skills, and whether or not to play ball with Donald Pinzolo. The author maintains a firm grip on the continuity of this long-running series, and the sights and sounds of WWII New York still come on strong. Peppered throughout, as in previous episodes, are little tidbits of the culture and cant of the time that makes this series so vivid and unique.

I highly recommend this latest installment in the Avon Calling! series to those keeping pace with the story. To readers not familiar with the series, I recommend it in its entirety starting at the beginning. You won’t be sorry.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Snowflakes and Sleigh Bells (Avon Calling! Season 2, Episode 15) by Hayley Camille


With the Pinzola trial in full swing and Christmas fast approaching, Betty and Jacob continue to follow any lead they have as to the identity of The Boudoir Butcher, finally, getting an angle on Tilly’s whereabouts. But on the home front, Betty is dealing with daughter, Nancy’s, growing restlessness while worrying that her long-distance relationship with husband, George, is deteriorating as his memory of what happened in the basement of the orphanage returns.

Although this is episode 15 in the Avon Calling! series by Hayley Camille, the author still has plenty of surprises in store. Her description of the time and place makes the WWII New York City-setting a character in itself. I am continually amazed at the little nuggets of history and culture that the author’s research has uncovered that she weaves into the story. I also like the fact that Betty is not just a flash-bang superhero; she’s got emotions and vulnerabilities that every mother and wife has.

Snowflakes and Sleigh Bells is not a standalone story. If you haven’t read the previous episodes in Betty’s story, start now, at the beginning. They are so worth it! For those readers that are already up-to-date, this latest entry feels like a long-overdue welcome back. As always, I can’t wait for the next installment.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery, #3) by Susan Spann


It is August of 1565, and the capital city of Kyoto is in the temporary “protection” of the feared samurai, Matsunaga Hisehide, since the seppuku of Ashikaga, the last official shogun. The city is under a veritable lockdown and everyone entering is viewed as a possible spy including Hattori Hiro and his charge, Jesuit priest, Father Mateo Ávila de Santos.

One morning in the city while purchasing noodles for breakfast, Hiro and Father Mateo see their friend, Ginjiro the brewer, being arrested and hauled off by the yoriki, for the murder of Chikao, a brewer from a poorer part of the city. The two had been heard arguing the night before, and the victim’s body was found outside Ginjiro’s home and place of business with the remnants of one of Ginjiro’s custom saké bottles at hand. The victim’s son apparently owed the accused a considerable amount of money and Ginjiro had refused to advance Chikao any further credit. Ginjiro asserts his innocence and his daughter, Tomiko, begs Hiro and Father Mateo to find the real killer and save her father from certain death at the hand of the executioner.

Author Susan Spann has again crafted a compelling murder mystery against the complex background of 16th century Kyoto, Japan. It is a very robust historical tale as, along with the murder investigation, there is the continuing story of the fall of the Ashikaga clan, the impending approach of the fierce warlord, Oda Nobunaga, and the arrival of the Portuguese and Jesuits in Japan. The relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo is great fun to observe as their two cultures and basic natures try to work together and get along as is the side story of Akechi Yoshiko, the female samurai who may have her eye on Hiro for romantic reasons. Additionally, another fun and interesting side story involves Hiro’s pet cat, Gato. The story explains that cats were not considered pets by the Japanese at this time in the past so having a cat in the house is a new experience for the tough, manly Hiro.

This is the third entry in the Shinobi Mystery series which currently numbers at seven total. Flask of the Drunken Master could be read alone but I highly recommend starting at the first in the series because they are just that good and worth looking for. I recommend this series to historical mystery fans especially those with an affinity for stories set in old Japan.

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Temple of Indra’s Curse by Rachael Stapleton

Quitting her job at the library, our heroine, Sophia Marcil, has relocated to Ireland and is living with the love of her life (or lives if you think about it), Cullen O’Kelley. She’s been completely accepted into his large, rowdy family and soon Cullen asks her to marry him presenting her with an engagement ring – the Purple Delhi Sapphire that she’d lost in Book 1!

As Cullen places the ring on her finger and before she can ask him how he came to have the ring, she is whisked into the past and the body of her great-grandmother’s sister, Zafira. Sophia has had nightmares featuring Zafira almost all of her life wherein she relives Zafira’s murder at the hands of an unknown assailant (whom Sophia believes in Zafira’s own father). She finds herself reliving the final days of Zafira’s life, and all the stories that she’d heard about what was supposed to have happened aren’t exactly true. Before she can stop the killer, she is abruptly returned to the present and her own body where only minutes have passed.

The mysteries around her past and past lives continue to pile up. Strange accidents and incidents haunt her daily life with Cullen. Her former fiancé, Nick Bexx, has tracked her down in Dublin, stalking her, trying to get her to meet with him. Sophia assumes Nick is responsible for the accidents and that he is obsessed with reuniting with her. An American heiress visiting with Nick is murdered: her body found in his hotel suite. He flees, hiding out from the Garda, and still trying to meet with Sophia. Before he can talk to her, he is found bludgeoned to death. However, among his possessions is a letter to Sophia that may help explain what is happening.

Book 2 of the Time-Traveling Bibliophile furthers our knowledge of the families of those associated with the theft of the Purple Delhi Sapphire stolen from the Temple of Indra. As it definitely builds on the story started in the Temple of Indra’s Jewel, I wouldn’t consider this a standalone novel. The Temple of Indra’s Curse is recommended for fantasy readers that like a good mystery incorporated into the action and suspense. This story continues in book 3 Temple of Indra’s Lies.

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader copy of this book.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical mystery, Paranormal