Category Archives: Historical mystery

Fact & Fiction (Parker City Mystery, #3) by Justin M. Kiska

Fact & Fiction ( Parker City Mystery #3)Fact & Fiction by Justin M. Kiska
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Compelling dual-timeline plot and engaging investigators in both past and present cases.

When Detective Ben Winters and his partner Tommy Mason are called to the scene of a homicide at historic St. Paul’s, the initial impression is that the priest was the unfortunate victim of a break-in gone very, very wrong. But a day later, when a popular morning radio talk show host is murdered under similar circumstances, they begin to doubt this too-simple explanation.

When they uncover unforeseen common interests between the two victims, further investigation links the murders to Parker City’s past and secrets that have been hidden for over 100 years.

Fact and Fiction is the third book in author Justin M. Kiska’s imaginative and impressive Parker City Mystery series. Like the previous novels, it perfectly combines past and present.

The story unfolds through the eyes of modern-day Parker City police detective Ben Winters during the fall of 1984 and Deputy Sheriff Caleb Post, a predecessor in law enforcement in Parker County, in 1862. Both are young, barely into their 30s, and already have developed good reputations within their circles as forward-thinking investigators.

The author’s writing style is easy-to-read, and I was thrust into both storylines from the beginning. The story switched from past to present and back in alternating chapters, but I had no difficulty keeping both tales in their own lanes.

One of my favorite aspects of the more recent storyline was the relationship between Ben Winters and his long-time friend and partner, Tommy Mason. Their banter flowed naturally, and I was convinced these two characters actually knew each other from childhood, making them a great match as an investigative team.

In the older case, the author established a palpable rigidity between the social classes presented in the story. In this, I was somewhat reminded of the social attitudes and consequences that Anne Perry’s characters contended with in her London-set Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series. I could almost feel the disapproval of the leading families and their staff that I was even reading about their being approached to answer questions.

No matter which storyline I was currently reading, though, I was equally and immediately absorbed into the events. Secrets from the past have ramifications for the present, and I didn’t want to put the book down until I knew why.

With its compelling dual-timeline plotting and engaging investigators in both the past and the present, I recommend FACT AND FICTION to historical mystery readers who enjoy stories with political intrigue, a Civil War era timeframe, and fans of the previous book in the series.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Homicide Hérault (Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery, #6) by Bluette Matthey

Homicide Herault (Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery, #6)Homicide Herault by Bluette Matthey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A compelling mix of old and new characters and cold and current crimes make for a riveting mystery set in the south of France.

Hardy Durkin’s latest excursion was a cycling tour of the south of France, and with new as well as returning clients, Hardy had planned a full ten-day adventure of unique sights and experiences. However, on their very first outing, one of his charges stumbled across the remains of two men, one a French soldier and the other an American, in a wooded area adjacent to the river where the cyclists had paused for a break.

When Hardy saw the corpses, he quickly realized these men were not victims of an accident but had been shot, execution-style, in the back of the head. The dog tags on their bodies placed their deaths almost 50 years earlier, and the hidden microfiche one carried hinted at the reason for their murders.

Homicide Hérault is the sixth book in author Bluette Matthey’s international mystery series featuring former military turned computer geek turned tour company operator Hardy Durkin. The mystery includes both the cold case of the murdered soldiers and another, which occurs right in front of the tour group and an entire audience of festival-goers.

The story is packed with tantalizing descriptions of food, drink, and the countryside of the Languedoc region through which the cyclists travel. The author slips in a wide range of interesting historical details about Roman settlements, the annihilation of the Catholic splinter sect, the Cathars, and the more recent and relevant to the story, events of the Algerian War, which ended in 1962.

Hardy calls on his Legionnaire friends, Lieutenant Colonel Alain Clotiers and Captain Luc Buvain, introduced in book

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Under A Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan Mystery, #2) by Karen Odden

Under a Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan, #2)Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A dedicated and compassionate police inspector unravels a deadly politically-motivated case of historical terrorism.

By 1878, the Whitechapel district of London had long been home to the thousands of Irish immigrants fleeing the famine and seeking work. However, conditions started to deteriorate with the influx of another wave of displaced people from Russia and Poland seeking a new life. Not only were there clashes of culture, but the Irish gang that held sway over the area was being picked apart by a rival gang with a more radical agenda for Irish Home Rule. So far, two of James McCabe’s Cobbwallers had been found shot in the back of the head and left in the road to be found.

Meanwhile, a train derailment that claimed the lives of many passengers and injured even more was suspected of being the deliberate work of the Irish Republican Brotherhood or at least staged to look like it was. Similarly, when a tragic collision on the Thames between two vessels resulting in the loss of over 500 souls soon followed, the London papers were quick to print inflammatory headlines and questionably factual stories blaming the Irish as well, fomenting fear and unrest across the city.

Inspector Michael “Mickey” Corravan is charged with looking into the suspicious nature of the collision of the Princess Alice, a pleasure steamer, and the Bywell Castle, a large commercial vessel. But from the start, the incident looks like no accident but rather another deliberate act of destruction. No group claims responsibility, and pinpointing the actual perpetrator proves to be dangerous and a test of Corravan’s integrity and loyalty.

Under A Veiled Moon is the second book in author Karen Odden’s Inspector Corravan Mystery series, and it is a complex and compelling tale. Incorporating fascinating actual incidents from the time period, it is historical mystery fiction at its best and eerily reflects similarities in our current time and society.

The story unfolds from the viewpoint of Michael Corravan, now the acting superintendent of the Wapping River Police. Corravan, an Irishman, diligently sets aside his biases for his culture and people yet still must suffer through society’s prejudices, including those of his own supervisors and others working the same case. Thankfully, he has the support of his love interest, novelist Belinda Gale, and his former partner at Scotland Yard, Gorgon Stiles. He and Stiles remain a formidable pair working in tandem on the complicated case. While Belinda doesn’t feature heavily in this book, she still has a significant role, with her outsider’s perspective, in helping Corravan view his investigation through a different pair of eyes.

The author breathes life into the time period and the London setting, so much so that I could almost smell the odors wafting off the river. I got a fascinatingly distinct impression of what life must have been like for someone like Corravan and his adopted family, the Doyles, and some of it was downright horrifying. Brief glimpses into Belinda’s life accentuate the discrepancies in living conditions, treatment, and prospects for the future between the classes, especially for the immigrants.

The plot is complex and absorbing, especially when it appears to be headed in one direction only to veer off into another. Some surprising twists and turns really upped the tension and the feeling of urgency to solve the case. Besides the eye-opening political machinations that Corravan must untangle, there is an utterly personal aspect to this case for him that was heartbreaking and absolutely riveting.

With its dedicated and conflicted police investigator, vivid historical setting, and complex plot, I recommend UNDER A VEILED MOON to mystery readers who enjoy historical mystery fiction with a political basis and tense terroristic threats and readers who enjoyed the first book in the series.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Her Sister’s Death by K.L. Murphy

Her Sister's DeathHer Sister’s Death by K.L. Murphy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This riveting murder mystery mesmerized from the first page!

Val Ritter’s sister, Sylvia, was supposed to be on a business trip but when her body is discovered in the suite on the top floor of the Franklin Hotel, Val is shocked and devastated. The police are convinced she has committed suicide, and any further investigation they conduct is just crossing the Ts and dotting the Is on the paperwork. Val is unconvinced. Sylvia had come so far since separating from her cheating husband and had begun to move on. She’d recently started dating someone new, and although Val didn’t know who he was, she knew Sylvia was happy.

As a news reporter, Val knew that the family members of suicide victims frequently refused to believe their loved one could take their own life, but still, things weren’t adding up in Sylvia’s case. While researching some of the information she’d received from the detectives investigating Sylvia’s death, Val experiences a temporary emotional breakdown at the library. A kind stranger offers her his clean, dry handkerchief and willing ear, and she tells him what has happened, and all she’s learned since Sylvia’s body was found.

Terry Martin is a retired Baltimore PD homicide detective who now operates his own security firm in the city. He is sympathetic toward the distraught young woman in the library and provides her a shoulder to cry on and the chance to unburden herself. But when she mentions that her sister died at the Franklin Hotel, he can’t help getting involved in her investigation because he knows this place has a history: a history of death.

Her Sister’s Death is a riveting tale of murder and deception. I was immediately invested in Val and Terry’s investigation and the flashback story of Bridget Wallace. The author makes the story come alive through three points of view: those of Val, Terry, and Bridget, and I was mesmerized by the telling.

All three of the main characters are likable protagonists. Val is steadfast in her belief in her sister and dogged pursuit of the truth. She and Terry make engaging and formidable partners, and I liked how quickly they became an effective team. I wouldn’t mind seeing this pair again in a sequel.

The 1921 storyline was frightening and tragic and all too easy to imagine happening. That poor girl is still so young and is facing a bleak future, even before she understands the true depths of her situation. The interactions with her fiancé and later husband, Lawrence, were almost too painful to read. And for me, there remain the questions: was it something evil inherent in the hotel, or is it the evil spirit of the man that continues to affect the guests of the Franklin, or has the spirit of the man become the spirit of the hotel?

I recommend HER SISTER’S DEATH for mystery readers who enjoy a touch of the paranormal in their stories, dual timelines, or mysteries set in hotels, the 1920s, or Baltimore.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Chaos at Carnegie Hall (A Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane Mystery, #1) by Kelly Oliver

Chaos at Carnegie Hall (A Fiona Figg & Kitty Lane Mystery #1)Chaos at Carnegie Hall by Kelly Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exciting cozy mystery set in historic WWI-era New York featuring espionage and murder.

Fiona Figg, a low-level agent in the British Intelligence Service during WWI, is assigned to shadow a former South African big game hunter suspected of being a German spy. As he is currently a journalist for an American newspaper, Fiona and her partner, Captain Clifford Hall, prepare to take a ship headed for New York City. However, before they leave headquarters, their commanding officer, Captain Hall, tasks Fiona additionally with escorting his niece, Miss Eliza Baker, to school there, neatly separating the girl from the company of an undesirable beau.

Once on the RMS Adriatic, Eliza reveals that the young man her family is trying to keep her away from is taking the same cruise. Between keeping an eye on the girl and getting the goods on another passenger, an American chemist collaborating with the Germans, Fiona discovers the man she loves is also on board. Fiona is pulled in all different directions, and they haven’t even gotten to New York yet!

Chaos in Carnegie Hall is a complex, action-filled historical cozy mystery set during the late 1910s and World War I. The U.S. is an ally of Britain but has yet to join the fighting in France. The luxurious shipboard setting and the descriptions of early 20th New York City are enchanting, and the author peppers the work with entertaining though admittedly highly fictionalized versions of historical figures.

Fiona is a likable and earnest young woman trying to do her part in the war effort. She is fully committed to doing what is right, and I felt her anguish over accomplishing her mission and following her ideals of what was right and ethical. I look forward to Fiona sorting out her feelings and relationships with Frederick and Archie. Clifford made me smile almost every moment he was on the page. I so enjoyed his sociability and his guilelessness. Eliza and her little dog, Poppy, were adorable. The appearances of the actual persons from the time added extra interest to the action, and I got a better feeling for the period.

The plot is not simply about keeping eyes on Eliza and Frederick, though. There are mysterious and puzzling deaths to investigate along the way. Fiona pulls out all the stops (and a few of her famous disguises) to get the information she needs, and Eliza surprises her (and me) by being able to efficiently lend a hand. Together they mount an effective investigation and get to the bottom of everything: murders and espionage.

This is the fourth book to feature Fiona and Clifford but the first to feature them with a new team member. It was my first book to read in the series, and although I enjoyed the story overall, for the best reading experience, I should have read the previous books first.

I recommend CHAOS AT CARNEGIE HALL to cozy historical mystery readers who enjoyed the previous Fiona Figg mysteries, WWI-era tales, shipboard stories, or New York City settings.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Cowboys and Chaos (Magical Mystery Book Club, #3) by Elizabeth Pantley

Cowboys and Chaos (Magical Mystery Book Club, #3)Cowboys and Chaos by Elizabeth Pantley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s time for another book club meeting at the Snapdragon Inn!

As the time approaches for the book club’s next ‘traveling’ meeting, members begin moving back to the Snapdragon Inn. Before this week’s meeting, they must consider who their newest member will be. Everyone brings a dish for the potluck, but before they really get started, they find a stranger roaming around the yard out back.

Dr. Atticus Papadopoulus is an astrobiologist looking into extraterrestrial energy, and the Snapdragon Inn is a significant location for his studies. He and Zell hit it off immediately, and Atticus soon become the club’s new member.

Later, when everyone gathers in the enchanted library, the members present their proposal for the meeting’s book selection. The group unanimously chooses The Mystery of Mollie’s Disappearance, a western mystery set in 1800s Bandana, Arizona, which features a missing saloon girl and hints of a murder.

The globe whirls and turns golden, the mysterious fog floods the library, and the book club members find themselves in an arid but lovely desert overlooking a typical town straight out of Hollywood’s Old West. Dressed to blend in with the population, the group starts their walk into town to find where the Snapdragon Inn has settled, only to run across the one person Paige and Glo never thought they’d see again.

Cowboys and Chaos is another delightful entry in Elizabeth Pantley’s cozy mystery series, the Magical Mystery Book Club, and I hope there will be many more. This book is the club members’ third outing, and I think their adventures keep getting better and better.

Most of the members from previous ‘meetings’ return, and though there are still some clashes between a few personalities, they’ve grown as a group, so these are mild and few and far between. They have progressed to more comfortable interactions with each other.
The story has some good ‘cat snark’ from Frank, the Siamese cat member, and I enjoyed the sassy saloon girl ghost. Forrest’s apparent delight at being in the Old West and arriving wearing a cowboy hat was endearing. I think it was a brilliant choice by the author to have the book club members appear in their book already dressed to blend.

I enjoyed the plot immensely; the book kept me up way late, wanting to read just one more chapter. The book club members ask good questions of their suspects and sources, try to put the pieces they collect into some logical form to develop working theories, and then track down the proof they need to solve the case. Zell has no subtlety or filter but gets answers.

One fun aspect of the series is that that group is always eating or drinking or both. In fact, they are described as taking their meals seriously and often. The new member, Atticus, is a font of interesting historical tidbits, so I learned that the beer in saloons at the time was served at room temperature. Later, Adolphus Busch would create pasteurization and refrigeration methods for his Budweiser brand, which would be the game changer.

With a great group of recurring characters and a well-paced and intriguing mystery to solve, I recommend COWBOYS AND CHAOS (and the entire MAGICAL MYSTERY BOOK CLUB series) to cozy mystery readers who like a unique and fresh paranormal storyline.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours.

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The Lone Star Lit Audiobook Pop-Up Blog-Hop & Giveaway: The Covey Jencks Mysteries: Love and Murder Deep in the Heart of Texas by Shelton L. Williams

Shelton L. Williams
Narrated by: Stephen E. Lookadoo Jr.


Mystery / Amateur Sleuths / West Texas

Listening Length: 17hrs, 44 minutes

Publication Date: July 27, 2022



Shelton Williams’s book The Covey Jencks Mysteries: Love and Murder Deep in the Heart of Texas is more than a collection of mysterious tales of murder and investigation. By bringing to life these characters, the author has highlighted the global issues of racism, drug abuse, political extremism, and women trafficking.
In the midst of it all is our protagonist, hell-bent on finding out what secrets he may find out if he stepped into the dark shadow of Odessa.
This omnibus edition of the Covey Jencks Mysteries includes newly edited versions of Covey Jencks, Covey and JayJay Get Educated, and The Chinese Murder of Edward Watts. It also includes a new preface from the author and foreword by Charles E. Morrison.

The newly updated Covey Jencks collection is delightfully exciting, and narrator, Stephen E. Lookadoo, Jr., brings Covey and JayJay to life.

Author Shelton L. Williams gives us three great mysteries to enjoy in this new Covey Jencks audiobook omnibus collection featuring long-held secrets, murder, mayhem, prejudice, human trafficking, drug abuse, love, and loyalty with settings in the state of Texas. Covey is a native son of the West Texas oil town of Odessa, returned home after a law career in DC, and ready to hang out his shingle in his hometown. The bread and butter of the new firm is helping clients with their business dealings after the creation of NAFTA (remember that), but, thankfully, the cases Covey and JayJay tackle focus on murder.

I enjoyed the description of Covey’s process of forming his new practice. He brings on board an interesting array of talented and, sometimes, quirky personalities who maintain the law practice while he and JayJay travel around the state hunting down witnesses and solving crimes. As a Texan, it was great seeing familiar place names mentioned in the books. But I really was invested in the rekindling love story between Covey and JayJay. The time period of the story is the mid-1990s, and a mixed-race couple was something that would raise eyebrows, so there is an encroaching fog of racism present as the two reunite and team up to investigate the murders in each book. Their love and support of each other get them through this in an admirable and inspiring fashion.

For his part, narrator Stephen E. Lookadoo, Jr. literally breathes life into our hero and heroine, main characters Covey Jencks and JayJay Qualls. I’m usually pretty skeptical that I’ll fall into a female character who a male narrator voices, but I honestly bought into Lookadoo’s portrayal of JayJay. He’s excellent as Covey, but I connected to his JayJay. This made for a story that was all the more immersive and entertaining.

With its great characters and characterizations, solid mystery storylines, and well-done you-are-there settings, I recommend the COVEY JENCKS MYSTERIES: LOVE AND MURDER DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS to mystery readers who enjoy listening to their favorite genre and like stories that tackle real issues or those set in Texas.

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions, and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now the three books in the Covey Jencks series. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.
Each receives an audiobook edition of
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 10/31/22.)


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Blog Tour: The Killing Code by Ellie Marney



Ellie Marney

Young Adult Historical Mystery

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 384 pages

Publishing Date: September 20, 2022


A historical mystery about a girl who risks everything to track down a vicious serial killer, for fans of The Enigma Game and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Virginia, 1943: World War II is raging in Europe and on the Pacific front when Kit Sutherland is recruited to help the war effort as a codebreaker at Arlington Hall, a former girls’ college now serving as the site of a secret US Signals Intelligence facility in Virginia. But Kit is soon involved in another kind of fight: Government girls are being brutally murdered in Washington DC, and when Kit stumbles onto a bloody homicide scene, she is drawn into the hunt for the killer.

To find the man responsible for the gruesome murders and bring him to justice, Kit joins forces with other female codebreakers at Arlington Hall—gossip queen Dottie Crockford, sharp-tongued intelligence maven Moya Kershaw, and cleverly resourceful Violet DuLac from the segregated codebreaking unit. But as the girls begin to work together and develop friendships—and romance—that they never expected, two things begin to come clear: the murderer they’re hunting is closing in on them…and Kit is hiding a dangerous secret.

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5 stars!

Engaging characters, an immersive 1940s wartime setting,

and a suspenseful and baffling murder mystery!

The Killing Code was a tense and suspenseful story set during World War II, just outside Washington, DC, on the grounds of a former finishing school for young women. The tension came from several directions: Kit’s constant fear of being unmasked as an imposter, the stress and urgency of codebreaking and the war itself, and a string of gruesome murders perpetrated against young female government workers in DC. In addition, there is a romantic subplot involving two main characters.

The author obviously did a lot of amazing research in crafting the story. There are even quotes from historical figures involved in codebreaking and cryptography heading the chapters, including one from a distant cousin of mine (Colonel Parker Hitt.) I was particularly intrigued by the colossal about-face in the workforce at the time, with women fulfilling positions men had traditionally held. I had never heard about the all-black codebreaking unit working simultaneously with the white unit but segregated from them the entire time.

The main characters, the core group of women trying to track down the serial killer, come from different backgrounds and circumstances. But I felt the buildup of camaraderie and how they became a family. I liked how they used their knowledge and skills gained at work to profile the murderer and make sense of the information they gathered. They hit some snags along the way in their investigations and relationships, but their perseverance takes them through all roadblocks, much like tackling the Japanese coded messages.

The author doesn’t keep the women restricted to quarters either. I enjoyed that the investigations took them “off campus,” and we got to experience the world of Washington, DC, during 1940s wartime. Social settings, transportation, telephoning, and clothing are all mentioned, and I felt immersed in the place and time. However, with one of the main characters, a young black woman, the attitudes toward race during those days were also fully displayed.

With great characters that I could relate to and root for from the beginning, the immersive 1940s wartime setting, and the engrossing and baffling murder mystery, I was glued to this book to the very end. I recommend THE KILLING CODE to readers who enjoy historical mysteries, especially those set in World War II or including codebreaking.


Ellie Marney is a New York Times bestselling and multi-award-winning crime author who has gone behind the scenes at the Westminster Mortuary in London and interviewed forensic and technical specialists around the world in pursuit of just the right details for her brand of pulse-pounding thrillers.

Her titles include The Killing CodeNone Shall Sleep, the Every trilogy, No LimitsWhite Night and the Circus Hearts series. She has lived in Indonesia, India and Singapore, and is now based in Australia with her partner and their four sons. 

Ellie has been involved in the creation of the national campaign called #LoveOzYA to promote and advocate for Australian YA literature. She contributed to the critically-acclaimed Begin End Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, and co-runs the popular #LoveOzYAbookclub online. She also co-coordinates an online info-sharing group for Australian women self-publishers. She teaches writing and publishing through Writers Victoria, advocates for Australian women’s writing as a Stella Ambassador in schools, and is a regular speaker at festivals and events.

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Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1) by Lee Matthew Goldberg

Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1)Immoral Origins by Lee Matthew Goldberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author’s immersive writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story.

It’s 1978, and Jake Barnum, a young man in his 20s, already has a rap sheet of small-time, petty crimes. Out of a short stint in jail, he’s living with his parents and disabled brother in his childhood home in Hell’s Kitchen with no prospects to improve his situation. The younger brother, Emile, needs costly medical attention and future surgery to survive, so the entire family is living on the razor’s edge, trying to keep it together and makes ends meet. His father works two full-time jobs, his mother picks up occasional work as a legal secretary when she can get someone to watch Emile, who requires constant care, and Jake feels the guilt of failing his parents and not helping out enough. Jake hooks up with a petty criminal in town, stealing and reselling coats through his childhood friend, Maggs. However, it doesn’t net him much, and his father and mother are reluctant to accept what they know is dirty money.

But at the Halloween party dressed as Robin Hood, Jake catches the eye of a mysterious and intriguing woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe. They get to talking, and Jake is taken with her, even though she refuses to remove her “Marilyn” mask or give him her real name. She explains to him that she helps fulfill wishes for a living and wants to introduce Jake to her boss, thinking Jake would be a good asset for their company, The Desire Card. The company motto is “Any wish fulfilled for the right price.”

Impressed by the boss and the company concept, Jake accepts the job offer and is immediately sent on his first assignment: a simple delivery of a small box to a woman at an exclusive address in the city. An extremely generous fee payment follows, and Jake is hooked. But as the assignments edge closer to the illegal and immoral and jobs start hitting close to home, Jake is caught between wanting to maintain his new lifestyle and cash flow and getting away from The Desire Card before the company decides he’s a liability.

Immoral Origins is the first book in a thrilling new series, The Desire Card, by Lee Matthew Goldberg. With its very different sort of hero and plot that includes him successfully performing dirty deeds, I was hooked. I was glued to the story every step of the way, not wanting to put it down until the very last page.

The characters surprised me. I don’t believe there was a genuinely likable one in the bunch. Jake is pretty much a loser. Marilyn is a damaged young woman, and Gable, the boss, a power-mad sociopath (as are all of The Desire Card’s employees.) Thugs, hoods, and mobsters populate the story, showing their very worst sides. But through it all, I was compelled to root for Jake to overcome the odds and come out on top. I had much the same experience when reading The Godfather, heinous people doing horrible things that you still are compelled to get behind.

The Desire Card operation was fascinating. Everyone works incognito, wearing masks when doing a job, visiting the office, and even attending the annual office holiday parties. Their rich and famous clientele also wear masks at the client events hosted by the company, and everyone goes by the name of the person the mask depicts: Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, or Errol Flynn, to name a few.

The late 70s setting encompassed iconic people and places and the headlines and music of the time. It was so well done; I was immersed in that time and that place. Goldberg’s writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story, feeling Jake’s confusion, hopelessness, and fear as he tried to make sense of it all. The story was fascinating, with a heavy dose of bizarreness that had me turning those pages for more.

With its well-defined setting, laden with recognizable persons, places, and events, extraordinary characters, and fascinating plot, I recommend IMMORAL ORIGINS to readers of thrillers and mysteries, especially those who like stories set in New York or organized crimes and like a touch of the bizarre.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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The Emperor’s Servant (Lucius Sestius Mysteries, #2) by Fiona Forsyth

The Emperor's Servant (Lucius Sestius Mysteries #2)The Emperor’s Servant by Fiona Forsyth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is nothing like the secrets, subterfuge, and backroom machinations of Forsyth’s ancient Rome.

It has been 20 years since the Battle of Philippi when Octavian and Mark Antony defeated the Republic to claim leadership of the Roman Empire. The defeated noblemen were exiled, and among them was young Lucius Sestius Quirinalis. Years later, Augustus granted him and others pardons, and Lucius returned to his country home in Cosa to farm, tend his vineyard, and rebuild his family’s livelihood. The family had been stripped of much of their land and wealth as a consequence of choosing the wrong side in the Civil War. Dedicated to the Republican ideal, Lucius stayed away from Rome, out of politics, steadfast in tending to his family.

Time, though, was not kind to the winner. Octavian, now Emperor Augustus Caesar, was ill. Concerns for the continuation of the Empire in the event of his sudden death have been under much discussion. Trying to lessen his day-to-day burden, he sends his representative, Gaius Maecenas, to Lucius to have him return to Rome to take on the role of consul, just until the end of the year.

Although not enamored of the idea, the positive impacts that having served as consul would have on his children’s futures tip the scale in favor of accepting, and he does so with trepidation. But, in truth, what choice does he have?

Of course, immediately after starting this book, I began to wish I was more familiar with the history of Rome. Well-known historical figures feature prominently, and I know I missed getting some of the implications of certain conversations that I wouldn’t have had a more intimate understanding of that time and place. However, this didn’t detract from my pure enjoyment and satisfaction with the story. There is nothing like the secrets, subterfuge, and backroom machinations of Forsyth’s ancient Rome. The Emperor’s Servant vividly conveys all the complexities and totality of the scope and reach of these definitive puppet masters.

The book’s main character is Lucius Sestius Quirinalis, and he has been a favorite of mine since his introduction in Rome’s End. He seems like a regular guy, trying to do the right thing. He is always polite and conscientious of his family, retainers, and the people of Rome. I was sad that he had come to depend on wine to cope with his life, though he’s been through plenty to need a drink. He is relatable, too. The scene of him weeping in relief after his election as consul made him seem even more real. A number of years have passed since the conclusion of book one, and at first, I thought Lucius was no longer the innocent he was then. However, even after all he’s been through, he still has a natural innocence, which causes him to be surprised by what others around him do.

The looming disaster, the insidious intrigue lurks, and you know that disaster is only a page away at any moment. I was so engrossed in the story that I felt myself holding my breath at times, the muscles in my shoulders tightening as the story’s tension built. When the shoe finally dropped, I was stunned. I had become emotionally engaged with this man and his family and wondered how anyone could come back from that. But people do. All the time. The story concludes on a hopeful note, and I hope there are further adventures for Lucius in the future.

I want to note that the author’s writing flowed so smoothly that I was immediately drawn in and immersed in Lucius’s life. Small, everyday details enhanced that you-are-there feeling. Forsyth is incredibly skillful at weaving in little tidbits of information and history that had me itching to read about further. For example, Lucius remarks about the Greek physicians who never ceased attending Rome’s citizens during a terrible pestilence that their devotion to their work all came down “to an oath that they have sworn” – the Hippocratic Oath.

I recommend THE EMPEROR’S SERVANT to readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially those that like political intrigue and suspense-laden stories.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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