Sunday, March 28, 2021

Murder in Unsound Mind by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review


There are certain plot points on which you can rely in an Acton and Doyle murder mystery by Anne Cleeland. Acton will be trying to keep Doyle out of harm’s way or away from those cases in which he has a finger in the pie. Doyle will be trying to suss out what Acton is up to and involving herself in the very cases that Acton is attempting to steer her from. While DCI Michael Acton is a powerful man, a man of many resources, DS Kathleen Doyle brings her own resources to the contest, her Irish fey abilities of knowing the truth when she hears it and her ghostly dream intruders who push her along to the answers she seeks. Acton’s game gets flushed out by Doyle every time, but it’s never easy. Watching it all play out between two of my favorite characters in the mystery/crime genre is a scenario of which I never tire.  Murder in Unsound Mind, #13 in the series, continues to give readers an intriguing story with unique characters who are still capable of surprising.

Having had his worst nightmare come true in the last book, Murder in Retribution, Acton is hell bent on nothing dangerous touching his wife or son again. Acton zeroed in on revenge and protection is an unrelenting force. As a result of her husband’s over-protection, Doyle, pregnant with their second child, is struggling to get assigned anything of interest in her police work at Scotland Yard. She fears Isabel Munoz, her arch-rival at work is getting ahead of her in interesting cases and causes for promotion. There are cases tying in with the last book and the criminal activities at the health clinic investigation. And, there are those loose ends Acton is tying up. Yet, it is Munoz who calls Doyle to the scene of an interesting murder, one that Acton would probably rather she avoid. 

A young woman in her thirties, who was the office manager for Acton’s and Doyle’s best friend Dr. Timothy McGonigal, has been found dead in Dr. McGonigal’s office suite. The arrangement of the body and message left behind suggest a murder of unsound mind, which obviously means the murderer was not in his/her right mind when the murder was committed. Doyle has her doubts about it being an unsound murder due to certain “sound” aspects of it. When Acton arrives on the scene and examines it, he has a likely suspect in mind, Martina Betancourt. This links back to the nightmare that occurred at Acton’s and Doyle’s flat in the last book, as Acton reveals that the newly dead office manager had an affair with Martina’s husband, whom Martina helped to heaven last book in the Acton's flat.  So, Martina, who is currently free and awaiting trial for her husband’s murder, is arrested and placed under psychiatric surveillance. Nice and tidy, but of course it’s not. 

The fallout from that horrendous event at the residence of Lord and Lady Acton has long reaching tentacles of cause and effect, and Doyle’s fey senses have her head tingling in alarm that not all is as it seems. One of Doyle’s ghostly intruders, this time Dr. Harding, is urging her to connect the dots in determining what Acton is up to. When she discovers that the murdered office manager was a witness in their case against the medical clinic and that another witness has also met a tragic end, Doyle knows she will have to dig deeper to uncover what lies beneath it all and if Acton is calling the shots. 

Then, there is the other thread snaking its way through the book, which promises to continue to the next book. Edward (Doyle’s and Acton’s son) is under the care of sweet Mary, the nanny whom everyone loves. One of those who love her is her husband Howard, and Howard was loved first by Lady Abby. Lady Abby is not a good loser, and she once again shows up to spread her crazy around. This time Abby has a secret that could endanger careers and reputations. She must be dealt with, but by whom and how. 

One of the best parts of the Acton/Doyle union is how they care for each other. Acton’s concern over Doyle’s eating enough during her pregnancy and taking care of herself. Doyle’s early recognition of Acton drinking to keep the darkness of his worries at bay, a behavior he has greatly curbed with her guidance, but which he thinks she won’t notice now. Then, Doyle has been dealing with an injured hand that has been bothering her since the incident at the flat, and she thinks she can keep that hidden from Acton. Neither is successful at keeping the other one from noticing their problems, and it is the tender way they deal with one another over the problems that endears this couple to readers so much. They seem such an odd match at first glance, but they are absolutely perfect for one another. 

At this point in my reading and discussing Anne Cleeland’s writing, the Acton and Doyle series and her romantic adventure books, too, I have probably sung Anne’s praises with an untold number of superlatives. However, I don’t think I can ever thank her enough for creating the Acton and Doyle series that gives me such a thrill reading each book. Fans of this series, and there are many, aren’t just fond readers. We have rather the same diagnosis as Acton in his uncontrollable passion for Doyle, happily addicted.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Hull Noir Online Crime Fiction Festival


Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Hull Noir Online Crime Festival.  In light of how much I enjoyed it and how brilliantly produced it all was, I feel compelled to do a short write-up.  The brains behind this successful online event are Nikki East, Nick Quantrill, and Nick Triplow.  They are cleverly introduced on the Hull Noir web page under "You're Nicked."  A brief summary of this talented trio is that they all three have a connection to the city of Hull, either born there, lived there, or live there now.  Nick Q. and Nick T. are crime writers and solidly entrenched in a life of crime, so to speak.  Nikki E. has worn many hats in the publishing industry and her work with authors, and who is especially gifted in image production and promotion.  She and Sumaira Wilson began their own publishing company last year, SpellBound Books, with Nikki in the position of Creative Director.  So, the three Nicks set out to create the online Hull Noir, which turned out to be a smashing success.  This event reached over a dozen countries.

I'm going to briefly describe what the panels were about and who was on them.  As the videos will be available to view next week, you should really enjoy it without any spoilers.  The event began on Friday evening, March 19th, with author Peter Robinson in conversation with Nick Quantrill.  Now, that's how to start any festival, online or in-person.  On Saturday, Hull Noir continued with six to-die-for (hey, it's crime fiction we're talking about) panels.  They included: In Cold Blood, Get Carter and Beyond, Wish You Were Here, The Unusual Suspects, Look Back in Anger, and Watching the Detectives.  I list the participants of the panels below.  

"In Cold Blood" is a panel led by Liz Mistry and features two authors who are rather new to the crime scene and one who is a little less new.  The three authors are Alex North, Nell Pattison, and Russ Thomas, and they talk about their foray into the genre.

"Get Carter and Beyond" is a panel that, while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the film Get Carter, takes a look at Ted Lewis (on whose book the movie is based) and his influence.  Nick Triplow (biography of Lewis), Alan Parks, and Nick Quantrill are in good hands with Ali Harper as moderator.

"Wish You Were Here" is led by Jacky Collins and features Helen FitzGerald, Abir Mukherjee, and Marnie Riches.  Location is on the table here, with near and far being looked at for new insight.

 "The Unusual Suspects" puts the police detective under the microscope.  Derek Farrell grills Louise Beech, AA Dhand, and Harriet Tyce on their different detective protaganists.

"Look Back in Anger" looks at a favorite sub-genre of mine, historical crime fiction.  Ian McGuire, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, and Cathi Unsworth have a in-depth discussion on how the history we look back at often explains the here and now.  Rhiannon Ward runs the show here.

"Watching the Detectives" brings the house down with Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre, encouraged by moderator Luca Veste to give it their all.  They do.  Contemporary crime is their topic, and we are treated to a discussion of Mark's and Chris' books.  I think the kitchen sink was in there somewhere, too.  I know a rock band was.   

There was/is also a festival read.  It is Plender by Ted Lewis, first published 50 years ago.  Lewis might be better known to you as author of Jack's Return Home/Get Carter, from which the Michael Caine movie Get Carter (1974) originated.  Although Plender was also made into a movie (French, 2006), it remains lesser known.  And, all I know about any of Ted Lewis' work is that it goes to a darker side than I usually read.  Oh, and you can find a Hull Noir short film production of Plender on the Hull Noir YouTube channel.  I have not watched it, so I can't say enjoy or beware or run.   

As a final part of the festivities, a book launch for Anthrax Island by D.L. Marshall in an interview with Nick Quantrill on the Hull Noir YouTube channel tonight.  


I love British writers, and I was thrilled with hearing authors already known to me and learning of more authors beyond my regulars.  The assembly of the panels, authors and moderators, was perfection itself.  There was a comfortable connection, and the questions were outstanding from the moderators.  Consistency of excellence was assured by the setup and the participants.  I am so excited about adding books to my toppling TBR pile, and I can't wait to meet these fabulous authors in person one of these days soon.  Don't forget that you can watch Hull Noir 2021 on their YouTube channel listed above.  It is so worth the time you take to tune in.

I also want to mention that events like Hull Noir take a lot of work and need funds to support them.  Hull Noir is dependent on the Arts Council and donations to keep going.  To ensure future Hull Noir events, there is a "donate" button on the web site page, .  I encourage you to make a donation, and I'm sure after you see the videos of these panels and the Peter Robinson interview, you will be happy to do so.  Hull Noir began in 2017 when the city of Hull, England was chosen as the country's City of Culture, as part of the celebration of the area.  Funds were raised to sponsor another Hull Noir in 2020, but we all know what happened then.  Postponed to 2021 in anticipation of a live event being possible again, gears had to be switched to an online event, like so many events this past year.  The plan is to next produce a hybrid event, with live and online panels, and that's where the donations will help so much.

A quick mention, too, that The BookCase was the bookstore for the event and has a limited number of signed book plates for books.  Their link is  Of course, using the bookstore of your choice is always good, too.

Now, I'm off to order some great new books to continue keeping my UPS person busy. 






Friday, March 19, 2021

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis: Reading Room Review


Being a person who loves books and reading, the thought of living in a library is exhilarating. Since that isn’t likely to happen, I do what readers do, I search out books for a vicarious experience. So, The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis was a perfect book for me. Taking place in two time periods, the first 1913-1914 centers on a family living in the residential area of the newly built New York Public Library, and the second in 1993 centers on a female employee working as a curator of historical literary items belonging to the New York Public Library. 

Laura Lyons, her husband Jack, and their two children are the first people to live in the residential quarters of the newly built New York Public Library in 1912. The (now) famous stone lions greet them as they enter the building. Jack is the superintendent of the library, in charge of making sure the library runs smoothly. He is also an aspiring author who has been working on a manuscript for several years and is at its point of completion in 1913, when we join the family there. With a household to run and two children, Pearl and Harry, Laura has her hands full, but she has dreams of her own. Having completed a college degree before marriage, Laura is at a point in her life where she feels she can once again seek something of her own, outside of the home. She enrolls in the Columbia School of Journalism, a year-long program, hoping to get her journalism degree and obtain a job at a newspaper. Bringing in more money to the household would be of great benefit to the family and allow her to have a career.

Laura’s pursuit of her journalism degree brings her to involvement in the women’s rights movement in NYC, to its heart in Greenwich Village, and exposes her to ideas and women who want more out of life than previously defined roles of wife and mother. It’s all fascinating to Laura, and it appeals to her longing for a self-worth she could have as an independent woman. As Laura gets deeper into the world of women’s rights and Jack gets closer to his finished manuscript, problems arise at the library. Books have gone missing, and not just any books, rare, one-of-a-kind books kept in a locked stacks area of the library. The library hires a private investigator, and nerves are frayed as suspicions are cast. 

In 1993, Sadie works as a curator in the New York Public Library in the Berg collection, a collection that contains rare first edition books, letters and journals of authors, and other primary literary resources. An important exhibit is coming up for the Berg Collection, one which needs to impress donors and patrons. Sadie finds herself in charge of the exhibit after her boss abruptly leaves to take another job. Sadie is thrilled and is determined to create a stunning presentation of how important the Berg collection is as a keeper of literary and library history. Then, the thefts begin and threaten to derail everything Sadie has worked so hard to achieve. Just like in 1913, it is a theft of rare books, including a page from Shakespeare’s First Portfolio. 

Sadie knows she will have to solve the mystery of the missing items, and it becomes clear that she will have to take on the mystery of the 1913 missing books, too. History has repeated itself, and Sadie has kept a secret from her employers, the New York City Public Library, that places her right in the middle of that history. No one at the library knows that Sadie is the granddaughter of Laura Lyons. With the similarities in the rare book thefts, it’s a secret that may finally have to be told. In another repeat of history, the library hires a private detective to root out the thief, but the current investigation will see a cooperative spirit between library employee Sadie and the detective. Of course, there’s no guarantee the relationship will stay that course.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue is historical fiction, but with the added mystery of missing books and wily thieves. I was thrilled to learn more about this iconic landmark, The New York Public Library, as its history is so rich and enduring. From the famous lions, now called Patience and Fortune, to the ephemera of the treasured collections, this book tells a story of what stands the test of time. It is a story that reaches back 80 years to connect two women, both who long to make a difference and struggle against the odds life has dealt them. And, it is the story of a family’s struggle to discover and accept truths that have stayed buried for those eight decades.

I highly recommend this book to those who love reading and libraries and history and mystery. The author Fiona Davis has written more historical fiction books about New York City icons of history, and I’m looking forward to reading them all.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review









I have not met a book by Elly Griffiths that I don’t love. What a reader’s dream come true, to have a favorite author who always nails it. Of course, my first love is the Ruth Galloway series, as it came to me when I was attending my first Bouchercon conference and meeting Elly for the first time and being completely enthralled by both. I had just read A Dying Fall back in August of 2013, and I was still gushing over it. Ruth is the perfect imperfect character for me, and the stories created around her define great mystery/crime reading. Now here we are at book #13, The Night Hawks, and Elly Griffiths has given readers what is sure to be a favorite for all Ruth’s fervent fans. 

I must note that it is impossible to review this series without spoilers for those who are just starting the series, so it’s best to read any review of the books as you progress through them, not before. In other words, don’t read further if you aren’t up to speed in the series. I want all readers to enjoy each development in each book in its natural flow and gobsmacking moments.

Ruth is now back in Norfolk in her cottage by the sea. At the end of book #12, The Lantern Men, she had left her job as a lecturer at Cambridge, where she had moved with Frank for two years to try and start a new life. But, it is Norfolk and her beloved marshland that will forever hold Ruth’s heart, as well as Harry Nelson. She has been fortunate to time her return when Phil Trent, her old boss, has retired from the head of the archeology department at the University of North Norfolk. The head job seems a natural progression, as over the years Ruth has represented the department in her ties to and work in the community. She is even able to keep teaching, something she enjoys.

Kate, Ruth’s ten-year-old daughter, has adapted from the two years in Cambridge back to Norfolk easily, falling back in step with school and her friends. Ruth and Kate and cantankerous cat Flint are all back to their old routines that no longer include Frank, who has returned to America. Kate is thrilled to have Nelson, her father, back in her life more, and, of course, Ruth has finally admitted to herself that seeing Nelson will forever give her pleasure, even though he still lives with his wife Michelle. Nelson also seems to have conceded that seeing Ruth and talking to her is something he looks forward to. But, the barriers are still up to anything more.

The name of the book, The Night Hawks, refers to the quasi-archeologists who gather at night to use their metal detectors and “knowledge” to search for treasures from the fertile grounds of buried ancient artifacts. They often go out in a group, searching along the seacoast and marshes. One night a group of local night hawks comes across a body that has washed up to shore, obviously dead, but without identification and no clear cause of death, other than drowning. The police are called in, and as it’s the middle of the night, DCI Nelson takes the call as the responder for the Norfolk Police Serious Crimes Unit. The body is at first assumed to be an asylum seeker who had a bad end.

The Night Hawks also have stumbled across a site of human bones close to the body of the dead man. Ruth is called in to excavate the site of the skeleton, her expertise always bringing forth fascinating information in the story about the myriad of people who inhabited the land thousands of years earlier. This particular excavation may bring information about a group called the Beakers, invaders who are thought to have brought a deadly virus to the area and wiped out the local inhabitants over 4,000 years ago. The human initially thought to be an asylum seeker turns out to be a local man who recently got out of prison. His identity will prove of more interest as the story develops.

And, the action keeps coming, with another late night call out for Nelson. This time it’s to an isolated farm, Black Dog Farm, where two Night Hawks, part of the group involved in finding the dead man on the beach, have called in hearing multiple gun shots from the farmhouse. Upon investigation, it’s found that two people are dead from those gun shots. The setting of Black Dog Farm will be a large part of the mystery, with tentacles of connection reaching near and far. Ruth becomes involved in an excavation of the farmhouse yard that answers questions, but not the expected ones. As with all the books in this series, the author masterfully lets readers know that there is danger right around the corner, but we are still thrillingly surprised when it strikes. 

My reviews of this series inevitably reach a point where I extol the brilliance of the author’s characters. Ruth has struggled in her quiet way as she searches for a personal life as fulfilling as her professional one. I feel like she’s finally accepting what she can and can’t change about herself and her world. Nelson, who would guffaw at the word growth, has shown himself capable of an emotional growth readers wouldn’t have believed possible in the beginning. And, the supporting cast of the series has brought us the fan favorite of Cathbad, the captivating Druid, whom Griffiths has integrated so smoothly into the lives of Ruth and Nelson. The police officers Nelson commands—Judy and Tanya and newcomer Tony and moved-on Cloughie (moved on but still around)—bring their own stories and drama to the case at hand, which enrich and often relate to it. Even Michelle is no longer the cardboard cutout pretty wife from the beginning. She has been shaken to the core, and had to face some harsh realities of life. And, can it really have been ten years, almost eleven, since Kate was born. She is now becoming a character in her own right, too. Smart, perceptive, kind, and inquisitive. I can’t wait to see what Elly Griffiths does with Kate as the child becomes a pre-teen and then a teen. The same care and attention to detail is taken with the development of new characters for each story. In The Night Hawks, readers are introduced to David Brown, whom Ruth hires to replace her as a lecturer at NNU. It’s a twisted, intriguing road the author leads us on with David before we know what he’s about. In short, there is simply no author writing that does characters any better than Elly Griffiths

Another element that makes this series so exceptional is the inclusion of the myths and legends Norfolk is famous for. Who better to guide us through these oddities of interest than Cathbad, whose Druid beliefs predisposes him to have great respect for the history and importance of these tales. His knowledge of the area and its otherworldly connections is an invaluable aid to the police in helping solve some of their cases, especially in conjunction with Ruth’s findings. Of particular interest in The Night Hawks is the legend of the Black Dog or the Black Shuck, a giant black dog whose red glowing eyes are a portent of death when someone sees him. And, he is seen more than once in this story, as the body count piles up. The clever weaving of the legends into the storylines is one of my favorite aspects of the Ruth Galloway mysteries. Elly Griffiths seems to accomplish this integration with perfection, creating the suggestion of other forces at play, but never an outright declaration of their effect. The setting of the saltmarshes is cleverly used to its best advantage of being a place that can be magical and spiritual. 

There is lots happening in this thirteenth book of the Ruth Galloway series. Elly Griffiths has given us yet another multi-layered tale with plenty of action and plenty of emotion. And, as always, she has left us wanting more. In fact, readers shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves wanting to reread The Night Hawks. I don’t often read a book twice, as there are just so many books I’m trying to get to, but I do plan to read The Night Hawks again. It spoke to me that strongly, and I think readers, especially the many already established fans, will find this book unforgettable. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin for an advanced copy of The Night Hawks.




Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake: Reading Room Review


When I was asked to read and review Furbidden Fatality, I looked up its description and knew I would be happy to read it. It’s about someone reopening an animal sanctuary, and I am currently looking for a rescue dog, after our sweet rescue Brittany Spaniel Coco died a year ago. And, Furbidden Fatality is a murder mystery amid all the wonderful dogs and cats, so you get cute and cuddly and escalating suspense all in one package. It’s heartwarming while full of dangerous sleuthing. The author Deborah Blake has written books in other genres before, but Furbidden Fatality is her first mystery novel. Her writing chops show in the creation of this entertaining story. 

Kari Stuart already loves cats and dogs when she finds a stray black kitten around her apartment building. But, as she has two cats and a dog in her small apartment, keeping the kitten is just not possible. So, she does the responsible thing and takes the kitten to a shelter, but the shelter is full. Although the name of another shelter, a rescue sanctuary, is mentioned, it’s also a shelter that is in the process of closing down due to lack of funds, so its also is taking no animals. 

What to do? Well, if you’re a twenty-nine-year-old woman, recently divorced, animal lover who has recently won five million dollars in the lottery, and you’re looking for a purpose in life, you buy the run-down animal sanctuary to fix up. So, that’s what Kari does, and, of course, she keeps the kitten, whom she names “Queenie.” How could she not keep her destiny director? This story is on track to its happy ending, right? Well, not so fast. While Kari has bought a new beginning in life, even with a house on site in which she can live with her pets, she has also bought into some complicated problems, including a staff of volunteers with one distrustful member, a sanctuary building that needs lots of repairs and upgrades, a dog named Buster that has his head on the chopping block, and a dog warden who doesn’t seem to like dogs much.

Bill Myers, the aforementioned dog warden, does indeed prove to be a dedicated enemy of Serenity Sanctuary. Kari has her first real taste of just how nasty he can be at the hearing for Buster, the sweet pit bull, Meyers has ticketed and accused of biting a man. As the new owner of the sanctuary, Kari must help plead the case for Buster’s exoneration, as no one at the sanctuary or who has met Buster believes he bit someone. Myers is determined to send Buster off to be euthanized, like he’s done to too many other dogs in the area, but the case is continued and not decided the night of the court date. Myers is livid, and he and Kari have words outside of the court. Kari knows she has a formidable enemy, but then she finds that enemy, Bill Myers, dead by her animal sanctuary building in the wee hours following the court appearance. Now, the problems really begin. While Kari was seen having an argument with Myers, there are plenty of people in small-town Lakeview who had grudges against the ruthless dog warden. However, being at the top of the list of suspects is a big incentive for Kari and her friends to start investigating on their own. What they uncover will shock everyone, including law enforcement.

I thoroughly enjoyed Furbidden Fatality. It is solidly written, with a well-paced ascension to the murder resolution, characters who evoke an immediate attachment and investment, a story-line that tugs at the heart and screams for justice, and the personification of the animals, especially “Queenie” into personalities we adore. The setting of a small town in the upper New York state Catskills is a lovely place for readers to land. And, there is the humor the author deftly interjects. It’s one of the elements that endears the characters and animals to us so much. An early indication of this humor occurs in a conversation between Kari and her best friend and local dog groomer Suz. 

     Kari: I might be crazy—the jury is still out on that. 

     Suz: You bought an animal sanctuary so you wouldn’t have to keep this kitten? I think the jury can  come back in.


Add to all the other reasons to read this book a gorgeous cover and a catchy alliterative title, and I am certain that Deborah Blake’s first mystery and first in the Catskills Pet Rescue mysteries is going to be “fur”vently received by mystery readers. I can’t wait until the next addition to this series.