Summer is the perfect time to delve into your To Be Read pile, and I have five superb books to share with you from mine. From a royally good time to a new take on a famous disappearance to a sojourn gone wrong, three novels are fabulous fictional tales about real people. Another finds a renowned private detective out of his element, and the remaining a darker tale involving a superior retired detective.
All the Queen’s Men by S.J. Bennett
As Queen Elizabeth marks her platinum anniversary, it’s the perfect time to read All the Queen’s Men by S.J. Bennett. The year is 2016, and when not dealing with the Brexit fallout, a new prime minister, a dissonant American election, and the daily red boxes, Amateur detective Queen Elizabeth II has other pressing matters.
When a longtime staffer is found dead in Buckingham Palace’s swimming pool, some are eager to dismiss it as a tragic accident, but could it have something to do with a string of poison pen letters circulating among the staff? The senior male members of the queen’s household seem more concerned with the escalating price tag of impending maintenance and upgrades needed for Buckingham Palace than having the police underfoot.
Meanwhile, Her Majesty tasks her trusted assistant personal secretary Rozie Oshodi to track down a favorite painting of The Royal Britannia—that should be hanging outside the Queen’s bedroom. As a complex tapestry of deceit unravels, the danger is closer to the crown than anyone suspects.
All the Queen's Men is the second novel in this refreshing and delightful series, which kicked off with The Windsor Knott. It’s a must for fellow fans of the British royal family and good mysteries everywhere.
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
In this most interesting and clever take on the infamous disappearance of Agatha Christie, author Nina de Gramont takes readers on a journey of what could have happened as told by Archie Christie’s mistress in The Christie Affair. As our storyteller points out: She was there; we weren’t.
Although the author’s disappearance is central to the story, it’s not really the story. The story is about heartbreak. There’s Agatha’s despair, accepting her husband is a rogue and having to learn how not to love him. We meet an ordinary, rather sad policeman who steals our hearts and makes a run at Agatha’s. We follow the life of a young, handsome Irishman, whom war and illness rob him of his dreams.
And then, there’s the other woman. A young girl visiting her uncle in Ireland and falling in love with a charming boy and his clever dog doesn’t dream of growing up to become someone’s mistress. That takes time and, well, life’s cruelty. Her journey is strife with fear wrought by war, then the ultimate heartbreak dealt by society and the abuse of authority and trust.
Author Nina de Gramont takes the characters in The Christie Affair down a complicated path binding them together in pain, fear, healing, and something akin to friendship—Just in time for Agatha Christie to reappear, remembering nothing.
On Harrow Hill by John Verdon
When Angus Russell, the wealthiest and most powerful resident of the idyllic community of Larchfield, is found dead in his opulent mansion on Harrow Hill, residents are left asking if anyone is safe.
This shouldn’t have been Dave Gurney’s problem. But when his former partner shows up at his doorstep needing his help, the retired NYPD detective is curious but not pleased. Being Mike Morgan’s partner had been an exceedingly long 10 months of Gurney’s career, and he knows the chief’s over his head.
While the town appears to be a picture of perfection, it’s anything but quintessential. Deed restrictions placed on land previously owned by Russell enabled the man to control the town, down to dictating the style and color of houses built.
Billy Tate, a local troublemaker whose hatred for Russell is well known, is the obvious candidate for the killer. And DNA backs that up. There’s one problem with his candidacy: The medical examiner declared Tate dead—before Russell died—from a fall from the church roof. In front of witnesses.
Despite being dead, Tate’s coffin has been broken open from the inside, and the body is gone. The town’s logic and reason seem to have disappeared with the body. A series of murders follow, triggering a surge in gun sales and conspiracy theories as rating-hungry TV producers and apocalyptic preachers descend upon the town.
Gurney, backed up by trusted, if rough-around-the-edges, former state police officer John Hardwick, takes control of the investigation and plots to snare a killer who may be terrorizing the community from the grave.
On Harrow Hill is the seventh novel in the Dave Gurney series. I’ve become a massive fan of the series with its dark plots and cunning, ruthless villains—they’re just not quite as clever as Dave Gurney!
Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron
Jane Austen continues to captivate us more than two centuries after her first novel was published. Through her time-honored books like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma, which continue teaching us how to fall in love (and how not to!), to movie adaptations of her work, to the masterful talents like those of author Stephanie Barron, the clergyman’s daughter remains most agreeable to readers.
Baron’s 14th novel in the Being A Jane Austen Mystery, in which Austen herself is the protagonist and sleuth, Jane and the Year Without a Summer, finds us amid one of Jane’s most challenging cases.
It’s 1816, and Jane is ill. Suffering from constant fatigue, fevers, aches, and rashes, she puts it all down to stress from family struggles. Her apothecary recommends she take curative waters, so she uses some of the profits earned from her last novel to treat herself to rest at a spa. Accompanied by her sister Cassandra, the trip to Cheltenham Spa proves anything but a relaxing respite. To start with, the waters she’s to take taste disgusting.
Among the quarrelsome, as well as the agreeable, guests at the boarding house where the Austen sisters are staying are puzzling and troubling undercurrents. Jane, her energy waning, reunites with an old love, Mr. West, and together they work to determine if anyone among the strangers comprising her fellow lodgers is whom they appear—before someone checks out. Permanently.
An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch
It’s 1878, and now-famous private investigator Charles Lenox, having brought down corrupt Scotland Yard detectives, is offered the opportunity to undertake a diplomatic mission on behalf of the queen to America by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Arriving in New York, Lenox is fascinated by the difference between the American city and his home of London. He meets a kindred spirit in Theodore Blaine, a wealthy young man who desperately wants to be a private detective.
Lenox’s diplomatic trip barely begins when he receives a summons from William Schermerhorn. Although intrigued, Lenox bristles at being summoned by this wealthy American. A young woman has been murdered near his home in the ultra-elite community of Newport. But it was not just any young woman.
Lily Allingham was the season’s most beautiful debutante. The 19-year-old wasn’t simply stunning—she was the confident, grace-filled beautiful that ensured her the pick of any wealthy man’s son for marriage. And knew it.
The community lined with magnificent “cottages” is like nothing Lenox has ever seen. He finds himself surprised and uncomfortable with Newport's vast wealth and conspicuous consumption and its robber baron splendor.
Assisted by Blaine, Lenox investigates why the young woman was attacked and thrown from a cliff. He must question some of America’s most wealthy heirs whose fathers want, yet fear, the truth. In this community of luxury and privilege, young men pursued Lily Allingham, and one of them killed her. As Lenox gets closer to the truth, he’s ensnared in a dangerous game of deceit, and it may come down to fate to decide if his career and he both survive.
An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch is the 14th installment in the Charles Lenox mysteries. Fans of Anne Perry will find the series enormously satisfying. He’s also the author of The Last Enchantments.