Sunday, September 18, 2022


People who are arrested for serious crimes today look for any mitigating factors to deflect blame from themselves. Murder by the Book proves that this tactic is nothing new. In 1840 the elderly Lord William Russell was found murdered in his bed when his servant came to wake him up one morning. His throat had been cut but all of the blood had soaked down into the mattress. The police quickly arrived and detected valuables missing but no signs of any intruders. There had been an attempt made to look as if one of the doors had been forced open, but it was determined this had been done from the inside. With no intruders to blame, interest turned to the servants in the house. There were not that many: a female cook and housemaid as well as a male valet were the only staff who "lived in." When some skirting boards in the valet's room were noticed to be askew, some of the missing valuables were discovered hidden there and the valet was quickly arrested.

The valet, François Courvoisier, was originally from Switzerland and had been employed by Lord Russell for only a month. On the day of the murder, Lord Russell had been angry with his valet for forgetting to send a coach to pick him up at his club. This and the missing valuables were seen as enough of a motive to keep him locked up for trial.

At the same time as this scandal was rocking the city, a book and play about another famous criminal were dominating the social life of Victorian London. Jack Sheppard was a young thief who became famous when he repeatedly escaped from various jails before eventually being hanged for his crimes.  In early 1839 the author William Harrison Ainsworth, who was one of the most popular authors of the day, published his "romance" called Jack Sheppard. It was so popular that it was printed in numerous editions and variations, while plays loosely based on the book were popping up all across London, to the delight of theatregoers. Some other writers, including Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, became disturbed by the glamorization of the criminal and his illegal lifestyle. 

Once Courvoisier was convicted of the murder and sentenced to hang in only a few weeks, he offered several different versions of what happened the night of the crime. In one of his later confessions, he said that he had become consumed with the idea of turning to a life of crime after reading the book Jack Sheppard and seeing the play several times. He wasn't the only one to blame the book for his crimes, as petty crimes and thefts increased after the publication of the story of the daring criminal.

The book was very enjoyable and took an in-depth look at the crime, the accused, and the literary firestorm that raged around the author and the subject matter. Many interesting figures of the day are also drawn into the fray, including Dickens, Thackeray, and even Edgar Allan Poe. The disgust at the behavior of the crowd during the public execution was also something that disturbed many of the authors of the day (although they, too, turned up to witness the spectacle). The possible motive for the crime and the possibility that Courvoisier didn't act alone are also discussed in fascinating detail. A very interesting Victorian true crime mystery!

Wednesday, September 14, 2022


Everyone who goes away to begin college or university can relate to the feelings of wanting to fit in and "find your tribe." Clare is no different. She heads to Edinburgh to begin her studies not knowing anyone in the city. Clare's background is also rather murky with something having happened in her past that caused her parents to disown her. She has two roommates, but she doesn't really feel any close connection with either of them. In one of her classes, she becomes intrigued by a striking girl, Tabitha, and is soon thrilled to be befriended by her and her group of friends. Ava and Imogen live in Tabitha's house, and her old friend Samuel is also around frequently. They all seem rather wealthy and Clare can't imagine at first why they want her to join their circle. When Tabitha invites her to France with the rest of the group, Clare is excited but also wary -- especially when she's told there is a "project" the group wants to propose to her.

The book moved at a glacial pace while Clare was taken into the circle of friends. Chapter after chapter of her wondering what every glance or phrase meant or didn't mean. It was very tedious. Things picked up about 1/3 of the way through the book when the group's interest in Clare was finally revealed. It took way too long for anything to be explained, and the events played out in such a drawn-out fashion that there was no tension. It's one of those books where you really don't like anyone, so there's no real investment in how any of them end up.

I received a copy of The Things We Do to Our Friends from NetGalley

Monday, September 12, 2022


The 1986 unsolved murder of then Prime Minister Olaf Palme has remained one of the world's great mysteries. It is the backdrop of Blaze Me A Sun, where the first in a series of murders takes place on the same evening in a small Swedish village. Local police officer Sven Jörgensson is called to the scene when a young woman's body is found in a car at a remote farm. He quickly drives her to the hospital, but she doesn't survive. The murder is overshadowed by the more prominent murder in Stockholm, but Sven does his best to investigate a case that will soon consume him completely.

The book begins in 2019, when the writer "Moth" comes back to his hometown after a bitter divorce. He's living in his old familial home, next door to elderly retired police officer Evy Carlén. Thirty-three years earlier, there had been three murders and an attempted murder that were never solved in the village of Tiarp. Now the perpetrator has been found and the writer knows this will be the story to break through his writer's block. He begins talking to people in the area to hear their memories of the time of the events thirty years before. He also talks to Vidar, the now deceased policeman Sven's son, who also worked for a time on the police force. Sven died with the murders still unresolved and his failure to find the killer contributed to his early death (so many of the townspeople believe). 

The story goes from the present, back to the events surrounding the murder, then on to Vidar's time on the force, before coming back to the present. One thing that was somewhat annoying in the book was the way so many town names were thrown around. For instance, the first page of chapter 43 talks about Halmstad (the city where the story takes place) but then mentions Tiarp, Ringenäs, Villshärad, Valläs, Åled, Kvibille, Haverdal, and Tylösand. All of these various place names add nothing to the story and the overall impression is that the author is trying to work in every town name in Sweden into the narrative. Every chapter threw around all these place names -- people living in one but working or going to school in another; the bus passing through this town and then that one, and then another one before turning around at a different one and passing back through; cops studying maps and feeling compelled to point out various towns where the killer might be from or have passed through . . . why??? It made for an alphabet soup of town names that were meaningless. I even asked my Swedish husband if he knew what this or that town meant (in case it had some significance that a non-Swede would miss) but he didn't know most of them either. Other than that, the story was interesting and contained enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing how it would all turn out in the end. 

I received a copy of Blaze Me a Sun from NetGalley

Tuesday, September 6, 2022


Poor Queen Victoria is 80 and really not amused this time. Just as work is beginning on the extension that will become the Victoria and Albert Musuem, a man is found dead at the construction site. Luckily for her, the museum detectives, Daniel and Abigail Wilson, are available to take the case. This is the 8th book in the "Museum Mysteries" series.

When the body of museum pottery curator Andrew Page is discovered at the museum construction site, Queen Victoria becomes concerned that the negative publicity and scandal will taint the memory of her beloved dead husband Albert.  She calls in the Museum Detectives to investigate. As Daniel and Abigail begin to investigate the dead man's life, they discover many possible motives for murder: someone is stealing from the museum's budget; Andrew has many mistresses which his wife knows about but can't be too happy about; and Andrew's German brother-in-law has been staying with him and relations between Germany and England aren't too friendly at this point in time. There are many routes to investigate, all while the police chief remains incensed that these "amateurs" are stealing his limelight.

The story and setting were quite intriguing, but I thought the story got bogged down at times by all the history lessons. There were long passages about the history of the Victoria and Albert Museum, how museums are funded, the English/German/Boer conflict in South Africa, Queen Victoria's children, etc. It was also a bit annoying how smug Daniel was when he was waving around a letter from the palace instructing people to talk to him with regards to the murder case. The middle of the book got quite muddled and off-track, I thought, but the resolution was satisfying.

I received a copy of Murder at the Victoria and Albert Museum from NetGalley

Friday, September 2, 2022


Picture it: Paris 1949.  The city is still recovering from the devastation of WWII.  Julia Child and her husband Paul have recently moved to Paris due to his job with the diplomatic service. Once in Paris, Julia experiences the delights of French cuisine for the first time, and the rest is history. Shopping for ingredients for her latest culinary masterpiece at a local market, Julia encounters fellow American Tabitha Knight. Tabitha is half-French, so after the war, without many prospects at home in Detroit, she moves to France to stay with her grandfather. The two American ex-pats strike up a friendship and Julia attempts to help Tabitha with her cooking skills and her love life.  Sharing a flat with Julia and Paul is Julia's sister Dort. Dort works in the theatre and often brings back her pals for long boozy evenings. One night, Tabitha leaves one of these parties at the same time as a young woman she just met, Thérèse. Tabitha only lives across the street, so she bids Thérèse farewell and leaves her to wait for a taxi. The next morning, Thérèse is found murdered in the stairwell of Julia's building. Even worse, the murder weapon turns out to be Julia's favorite chef's knife. This means that someone who attended the party that night must be the killer.

Handsome Inspector Merveille doesn't believe that Tabitha is telling him all she knows about the mysterious Thérèse, especially after a handwritten note containing Tabitha's name and address is found in the murdered woman's pocket. Tabitha's father is a policeman back in Detroit, and she grew up listening to his stories of crime investigation. She's also an avid reader of mystery novels, so it doesn't take much persuading from Julia to convince her to do some investigating on her own. Julia sometimes helps out in the sleuthing (and she definitely wants to hear all about it), but she spends most of the novel cooking up delicious concoctions that keep everyone occupied as Tabitha goes about Paris looking for clues. Julia also has her own mystery to solve: why does her mayonnaise only work on certain days?  It's a puzzle . . .

The book is a wonderful love letter to the sights, sounds and smells of Paris. Even though it's a large city, Tabitha and Julia live in a small neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, and the gossip is gentle.  Julia is forever gathering ingredients for delicious meals she makes whirling around in her kitchen like a tornado. The story is very cozy, featuring grandfather and his partner "Uncle Rafe" and their spoiled pets, Oscar Wilde the dog and Madame X the aloof black cat. I also enjoyed the plucky Tabitha, complete with her trusty Swiss army knife, who fearlessly takes on danger in pursuit of the truth.

I received a copy of Mastering the Art of French Murder from NetGalley in exchange for this review

A delicious Christmas mystery set in a spooky isolated old house with a group of estranged cousins will certainly get us all in the mood for the holiday season. The Christmas Murder Game brings together the cousins of the Armitage family to play a game to see who will inherit the old mansion. Every day from Christmas day to the 6th of January, a clue will be revealed. The 6 cousins who are in the running to inherit must decipher the clues and be the first one to find one of 12 keys hidden around the house. Only one of these keys will unlock a secret door, and the cousin holding the lucky key will be the winner.

The cousins are: Lily, whose mother Mariana died in the house's outdoor maze when Lily was a child (suicide or murder?); Sara and Gray, who are the children of Mariana's sister Liliana, who took in Lily after the death of her mother; and siblings Ronnie, Tom and Rachel, whose parents were killed in a car accident when they were young.  Aunt Liliana has recently died under possibly mysterious circumstances, but before her death she devised the Christmas inheritance game for the next generation. The six cousins are summoned to Endgame House to play the game, and the housekeeper/cook, Mrs. Castle, will be left with them. They must surrender their cell phones and the Wi-Fi is disabled to keep anyone from possibly cheating during the challenges (which is odd since all the challenges refer to the house or family history, so it's unclear how the Internet could help). When a snowstorm traps everyone in the house, blocks the roads with downed trees, and knocks out the single landline at the house, the participants are well and truly trapped. Of course, then the bodies start to pile up . . .

I enjoyed the story and the setting, but the main character, Lily, was a bit of a letdown. She really doesn't like the house, since she was living there when her mother died, and since the death occurred in the maze, she really, REALLY doesn't like the maze. We know this because at least once on every page, she tells us.  Lily is a costume designer/dressmaker, and when she's not whining on about the maze, she's going on about her amazing corsets that she wears every day (despite being pregnant and starting to show) or rubbing her "tummy." She's always tired, or upset, and claims to have no interest in inheriting the house, although she races to solve every clue first so that everyone will know how clever she is. Annoying character aside, the story would make an interesting and atmospheric film!

I received a copy of The Christmas Murder Game from NetGalley

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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