Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review

Rhys Bowen is a force of writing, with few who can equal her.  She writes the Molly Murphy series, the Royal Spyness series, the Evan Evans series, and the young adult Red Dragon Academy series (with her daughter Clare Broyles).  Oh, then there are short stories, too.  So, with all of that writing, which is all brilliant, going on, what does Rhys do?  Take a vacation?  Play the Celtic harp for her amazing husband John?  Paint a scene of the Arizona desert?  No, Rhys writes a stand-alone book.  And, what a book it is!  

In Farleigh Field hits the bookstores today.  Here is my review of another outstanding novel from one of my favorite authors.   

My Review:

I have been a fan of author Rhys Bowen's writing for quite some time, having read and enjoyed all of her Molly Murphy and Lady Georgie series.  I have a few more to go in her Constable Evans   series.  It's already impressive that Rhys can write two series a year that maintain brilliant writing, never slipping into predictability, always evolving.  Now, this prolific author has given her eager readers a stand-alone entitled In Farleigh Field.  I knew it would be good, but it is a stay-up-all-night-reading good.  It hits so many of my favorite reading buttons, with the setting being England during WWII and the involvement of M15 and Bletchley in a thrilling plot of deception and daring.  So many small cogs in the big wheels that had to turn for Great Britain to survive the Germans, and Rhys Bowen places us dead center in the machinations of that survival.

It's springtime 1941 in England, and Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain have already claimed the lives of many soldiers and battered London and its civilians, too.  The men and women who wear the uniform acknowledging their fighting for their country are respected and admired.  However, there are many young people who are vital to the war effort who must remain silent about their participation and suffer the attitudes of others that they aren't really doing much to help.  In this world of behind the scenes participation is young Ben Creswell, 21 years old and the son of a vicar.  Ben suffered an injury to one of his knees before the fighting started, and he is to all appearances doing an unimportant desk job in London.  But, Ben is a part of the central nerve of the war machine, working for M15, and due to his connections to the Farleigh Estate in Kent and its residents, he is tapped for an investigation into the death of a parachutist, who falls from the sky into a field of the Farleigh grounds.  There is much suspicion surrounding the dead man, as he is dressed in a British uniform, but with too many mistakes on that uniform to be considered anything other than a spy. 

Pamela Sutton, the third daughter of five daughters of Lord Westerham, owner of Farleigh Place, is a close friend of Ben's, having grown up with him and played as children on the estate.  She, too, must suffer the appearance of doing boring clerical work for the war, but she is working at the code breaking center Bletchley Park, where her talent at discovering the unusual doesn't go unnoticed.  She is given an assignment to decipher some information that will ultimately lead to a parallel path with Ben's mission of ferreting out why a German spy would end up in a Farleigh field.  Pamela, or Pamma, as friends and family call her has long had the attention of Ben Creswell, but he has never pursued a relationship because she and their other cohort in youthful adventures, Jeremy Prescott, another aristocrat, had long ago laid claim to Pamma.  Jeremy is a member of the RAF and recently escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp in France, now recuperating at his father's estate at Nethercote in Elmsleigh, Kent.  Pamela, Jeremy, and Ben all find themselves reconnected at home while Ben is pursuing clues to the strange death at Farleigh.

And, there is Pamela's sister, Margot, who finds herself stuck in Paris after the Germans invade and occupy France.  Margot's lover is a member of the French Resistance, and, thus, Margot is herself in danger of being arrested by the Nazis.  Ben is also tasked with discovering whether Margot or any other member of Pamela's family may be in collusion with the Germans.  It is hard for Ben to believe that there are English who want the Germans to invade and the fighting to end by their occupation of England.  However, certain aristocrats and others in England are actually involved in efforts for just such an outcome.  The answers Ben needs to discover require dogged pursuit and belief in the unlikely.  Of course, time is always of the essence and lives hang in the balance in finding those answers.

Major kudos to Rhys Bowen in achieving a smashing success with this new novel.  It is historical fiction and mystery combined to their best, a puzzle to piece together in the midst of a war which threatens to destroy a country and its way of life.  The suspense is first-rate, with the chance of betrayal or discovery nipping at your heels.   The characters are so well developed that I felt a personal stake in the outcome, and the parts they play are built upon their relationships to one another.  Pamela and her four sisters are all intriguing in their own right.  The plot is a great puzzler with an unexpected, but absolutely plausible, ending.  And, one of my favorite parts of historical fiction is learning history through the well-researched bits and bobs that we don't usually read in the history books.  The comparisons and contrasts of how the ordinary citizens and the aristocratic families dealt with supply shortages and what were considered hardships by both are most interesting.  In Farleigh Field is sure to be one of the most read books of 2017, and already one of my favorites.

I received an ARC of In Farleigh Field, which in no way influenced my amazing experience in reading it. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Third Annual Valentines Snail Mail Revival

When you belong to the mystery and crime community of authors and readers and publishing personnel, you are set for life with great friends and great reading.  The conferences often seem like love fests as much as book fests.  We truly do love each others' company.  And, there are activities that are always bringing us together to enjoy life and have loads of fun.

Author Lisa Alber started an activity three years ago that is more fun than the law should allow.  I only joined in this year, and I can't wait to do it again next year.  Lisa is the brains behind the Annual Valentine Snail Mail Revival on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/1992323274328230/).  Anyone can join in, and, well, let Lisa tell you about it in her own words:
     "For years I'd lamented the demise of the hand-written letter, and I'd find myself buying stationery and cards that I didn't use, including Valentine's cards--the cute kind kids give each other in grade school. They're adorable! Three years ago I felt a kind of desperation--I wanted to send Valentine's! I took my idea to Facebook and basically begged volunteers to exchange cards with me. The response was awesome--I was so surprised. So the annual Valentine snail mail revival was born!"

I thought it would be lovely to give Lisa credit for a great idea and post some pictures from those who participated.  So, here you are:

From the mantel of Lisa Alber

                              From the sideboard of June Lorraine Roberts

From the entry hall table of Kathy Reel

From the mailbox of Brandi Shelden

From the gathering stack of Stacy Allen

From the welcome home from Hawaii mail of Eleanor Cawood Jones

From the Mocha approved arrivals of Kirsten Hey-Yenser


Friday, February 3, 2017

Garden of Lamentations by Deborah Crombie, My Review

Garden of Lamentations is the 17th book in the Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid series by Deborah Crombie, and the many fans of this series have been waiting a bit to have questions answered brought forth by the previous book, To Dwell in Darkness.  I can tell readers that seldom has a book been so worth the wait.  Crombie writes with the agility of a high-wire performer, and the result is just as thrilling.  And, like that performer, so many things must be gotten just right and kept in balance for the success of the act.  Garden of Lamentations gets all right, and the balance of the different story threads is exquisite.  Each character, each action, each storyline is on cue.  There are indeed the awaited answers, and arriving at them is a journey through 400 pages of great suspense.   In my review of To Dwell in Darkness, I mentioned a deliberate progression of the storyline.  There is, of course, always a progression of character development and personal and work life, but the storyline progression that Crombie achieves from the cliff hanger ending of The Sound of Broken Glass through To Dwell in Darkness and into Garden of Lamentations shows a brilliance of forethought that puts Deborah Crombie in a very special class of writers.

After the tragedy at St. Pancreas Station in London in the last book, To Dwell in Darkness, Gemma and Duncan are finally settling into their new jobs, Gemma as a Detective Inspector at Brixton and Duncan as a member of the Borough of Camden’s murder investigation team at Holborn Police Station in central London.  But, before Gemma can get too comfortable at Brixton, she is requested to attach herself to Notting Hill for a case headed by DI Kerry Boatman.  A young woman, who served as a nanny at one of the affluent Notting Hill houses is found dead in a private community garden.  Reagan Keating’s death is determined to be murder, and Gemma’s connection to the dead girl is twofold.  Gemma’s son Toby takes dance classes at the same studio as Reagan Keating’s charge and one of Gemma’s best friends was using the nanny as a model.   As Gemma and Kerry get closer to the truth of this tragedy, Gemma realizes that there are other losses that will follow its resolution, and she must tread carefully with children involved and nerves unraveling. 

Duncan is at last putting some pieces together in his suspected corruption of Scotland Yard, where he worked before his boss, Denis Childs, had Duncan transferred to Holborn.  Denis had disappeared before Duncan could confront him about the transfer, but now Denis is back at Scotland Yard and requests a secret meeting with Duncan to explain his absence.  Denis is brutally attacked on his way home from their meeting, and Duncan is sure it was a calculated attempt to kill Denis, although it was unsuccessful.  Now, Duncan must determine the connection of the corruption to Childs and other officers who have died untimely deaths.  Past cases require discreet reexamination by Duncan and the only people left he feels he can trust, Doug Cullen and Melody Talbot.  Gemma is too busy with her own case, and Duncan fears for the safety of his family.  Answers will come, but at what price?    

Deborah Crombie has now written seventeen books in this series, and each one is a splendid piece of storytelling.  Crombie compares to Louise Penny in terms of developing unforgettable characters, complexly intriguing storylines, and setting as a tour de force.  It’s no surprise that readers who love one author’s series will love the other author’s series, too.  There’s a brilliance of timing in Crombie’s plots that is deeply satisfying, and her ability to keep the maze on track to its clever conclusion is masterful. 

A note about reading series.  With many long-running series, it is possible to start reading at a later point than the first book or so, and there are places in this series where that’s possible, too.  But, I highly recommend that you don’t start with Garden of Lamentations in this series.  There are issues and secrets set in motion several books back that come to resolution in this book.  It’s possible the reader could start with #16 and be okay, but I suggest that to gain the full effect of #17, the starting point would need to be #14, No Mark Upon Her.  Of course, I think that starting at the beginning of this series is the best, as every book naturally builds upon the other in terms of character development, and the characters of the Duncan and Gemma series are some of the best in my long reading history.