Newest Crime (Historical) Reviews

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The Age of Olympus (Duncan Forrester Mystery 2) by Gavin Scott

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Whilst part of an SOE mission to kidnap a German commander in Greece during the war, Duncan Forrester came across an ancient Cretan stone, which he hoped could lead to the deciphering of Linear B. The war is now officially over (although a lot of people are still fighting it, mentally if not physically) and Forrester has returned to Athens with his lover, Sophie Amfeldt-Laurvig, intent on getting the necessary permissions to go to Crete and retrieve the stone. It was whilst they were in Athens that Forrester was the unwitting witness to the poisoning of a Greek poet and where he found himself pursued by a man wearing a mask. Strange as all this might seem, Forrester is convinced that the poet was not the intended victim: it should have been a general who has been approached to lead ELAS, the military arm of the Greek communists. He's the sort of charismatic man who could sway a lot of people to follow him adn that would mean certain war. Full review...

A Time to Tell Lies by Alan Kennedy

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Psychologist Alan Kennedy's fifth novel continues the story he began with Lucy by Alan Kennedy. In the autumn of 1942, Captain Alex Vere and Justine Perry are among the men and women picked up and taken to a stately home in Scotland, where they are trained in spy skills. After this first encounter, Alex is smitten yet uncertain if he will ever see Justine again. The spy's life is dangerous and unpredictable, after all. Six weeks later, though, they meet up again in southwest France, where they have been sent to collect Simone, a Special Operations Executive agent. It's Alex's first mission (Justine's fourth) and all goes horribly awry. Alex ends up in custody at the Gendarmerie, facing a German who knows he has a false passport. Full review...

The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh

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Prudence Pinsent flings her novel across the room. Unutterable bilge is her description of the typical country house murder mystery of romantic novels. The deliberate irony of this is that The Incredible Crime is precisely one such novel. Full review...

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

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Bristol 1792: Lizzie married well. John Diner Tredevant is a property developer who has reached the zenith of his life's work: building a terrace of prestigious houses overlooking the Avon Gorge. In a time of turbulence as France reaches the dawn of revolution, Britain, including Diner, fears it may spread. This puts Lizzie in a difficult position since her mother and step-father both believe in propagating pamphlets and ideas of egalitarianism for and to all, including women. In other words, they think nothing of spreading ideas of the sort that fanned the French flames. However, that's not Lizzie's only problem… there is a darkness in her husband's past of which she's unaware. Full review...

The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis

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Lindsey Davis is one clever lady. Having enthralled readers for years with the adventures of Marcus Didius Falco, the Ancient Roman informer (or, to put it in more modern terms, private eye) she sustains our interest by allowing Falco to take a well-deserved and politically strategic retirement while his adopted daughter Albia takes over the family business. Her wit is dry as dust, she has a highly desirable (well, he's called Manlius: what else could he be?) love-interest and as a Briton, her take on Roman bureaucracy and pettifogging officialdom is just as sharp and funny as her cynical dad's ever was. A new main character, a new way of doing things, which somehow manages to retain all the best elements of the original Falco. Genius. Full review...

Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne and Sam Taylor (translator)

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Sergeant Bowman wasn't just a hard man, he was something else: a dangerous man. If, indeed, there was someone who was ideal for a suicide mission, it was him. Working as a soldier for the East India Company in the rural, remote, outlaw hotbeds of Asia in the 1850s, he's tasked with taking a boat of unknown prospects up the Irrawaddy to try and combat local warlord Pagan Min. It doesn't go well – to start with, he's supposed to run the rule over ruffians saved from the gallows, but can't command them until he's forced his way to having the knowledge of the mission he needs first, only for all hell to break loose. But get back he does, only to find that while his nightmares about what really happened are met with equally dark goings-on, the official record suggests the mission never actually existed… Full review...

Corpus by Rory Clements

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A suicidal overdose and the murder of upper class Cecil Langley and his wife are two events that may be unconnected. However this is England in 1936, a magnet for opposing forces and their first moves in preparation for the coming conflict, assisted or prevented by a royal crisis (depending on which side you're on). Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde may fall into the middle of this accidentally to begin with but his curiosity has been piqued enough to ensure he's not walking away. Full review...

The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire) by Ian Ross

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Warning: spoilers ahead for previous books in the series. 305AD: Castus Aurelius, following the death of his predecessor, has been promoted to commander (or vir perfecctissiums) of the Roman forces at the Rhine. He's also been ordered to take Crispus, Constantine's son and heir, for the character-building experience. That complicates matters as when Castus isn't trying to keep Crispus alive, he's finding it difficult to increase his own chance of survival, especially considering how the last Rhine commander met his end. Full review...

Finisterre by Graham Hurley

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The Second World War is almost lost but in a last, desperate roll of the dice the German High command launch Operation Finisterre. In America the apparent suicide of a scientist working on the atom bomb and off the coast of Spain the shipwreck of a German submarine, become catalysts as the plans spiral out of control, leading to a shattering climax. 'Finisterre' is a crime thriller packed with grit, suspense and style. Full review...

1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay

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A lot of crime happens in St Andrews during 1588 and therefore in the life of law lecturer and local investigator Hew Cullen too. As we travel through the year with him, his recently wedded English wife Frances, doctor brother in law Giles and his sister Meg, the wise woman, we also encounter some of his most interesting cases. In fact there's one to match each of the year's big festivals: Candlemas, Whitsun, Lammas, Martinmas and Yule. Full review...

The Knife Slipped by Erle Stanley Gardner

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Before we begin, I must confess. Confess that I am a hardboiled noir addict. Therefore, I approach each grisly tale of murder, private detectives and femme fatales with a sense of wonder but also scepticism. Surely, I think this one can't be as good as the last, it must have flaws, poor characters and lack the necessary grit to be a true hardboiled noir masterpiece? so you can imagine my trepidation when opening the Knife Slipped. I was wrong, wonderfully wrong. This book for me is the essence of the hardboiled noir genre and E.S. Gardner is a marvel. Full review...

An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney

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It was when Tully gained a step-mother that her education really started. That was the beginning of the road to discovery. The discovery that she can realise ghosts for others, that she can escape the cruelty of an alcoholic father and the discovery of the income and pleasure her body can generate. That, in turn, leads to the rather classy Fairy House brothel and, now, the condemned cell in Newgate Prison. As she awaits her fate, Tully writes her autobiography An Almond for a Parrot and allows us to read over her shoulder. Full review...

The Black Friar: Damian Seeker 2 by S G Maclean

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When a dead monk is discovered walled into a disused monastery the local gossip is awash with remarks on the miracle of his well-preserved body all these years after the monastery was abandoned. Investigator and Captain of Cromwell's guard Damian Seeker has other ideas. This is a recent non-clergy death. This is Carter Blyth, a man on such a secret mission that even Cromwell didn't know about it. This will add complications to the already convoluted and dangerous path that Seeker will take to solve the crime, one of the complications being very close to home. Full review...

The Devil's Feast by M J Carter

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London, the early 1840s: the newly-opened Reform Club is the focal point for the Liberal elite, where Whigs and Radicals can co-exist in harmony. Or such was the intention. With a celebrity chef in its up to the minute kitchen, however, the club seems to have more of a reputation for its dinners than its politics, and when a man dies horribly after eating one the Reform could have a problem on its hands. Particularly when it begins to look like murder. Luckily William Avery agrees to look into the matter with some urgency, but – as everyone keeps asking him – where on earth is his professional investigator friend Jeremiah Blake? Full review...

Associates of Sherlock Holmes by George Mann (Editor)

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The world-famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes needs no introduction; a redoubtable protagonist with an appeal that shows no sign of waning. Associates of Sherlock Holmes, however, moves the spotlight away from our hero and focuses on the exploits of some of the minor players who have featured in his adventures over the years. Here we get a chance to reacquaint ourselves with friends and foes alike, all keen to give their own, unique perspective of the indomitable investigator. Full review...

The Graveyard of the Hesperides by Lindsey Davis

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Our heroine Albia's grey-eyed and broad-shouldered love interest in this, the fourth of the Falco New Generation crime novels (Falco himself has got on the wrong side of Emperor Domitian, and has very sensibly retired to the coast) is called Manlius – that alone should be enough to tell you reams about the wickedly sly sense of humour Ms Davis displays in her novels. The setting is once again Ancient Rome, and Ms Davis provides enough local colour to create a world so convincing you could almost be there. In fact, the descriptions are so vivid that, as you pull in your skirts or bewail the fate of your brand-new sandals to follow our gutsy heroine into picturesque slums like the Brown Toad bar or Mucky Mule Mews, you could be forgiven for suspecting you've wandered into somewhere far more familiar, like, say, the back streets of Brum. Full review...

Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

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Kate Shackleton felt that she needed a holiday and since it was August when nothing ever happened, she decided that it was the ideal time to visit her friend Alma and goddaughter Felicity in Whitby. The timing was good too - Mrs Sugden was going to visit her cousin in Scarborough and Jim Sykes was taking his family to Robin Hood's Bay. Perfect! Well, it would have been except for a couple of things... Full review...

Behold A Fair Woman by Francis Duncan

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Mordecai Tremaine is in need of a holiday. According to the blurb the island of Moulin d'Or seems to be just the destination – except the island isn't called that. Moulin d'Or is the district in the north west of the unnamed Channel Isle to which our hero has been invited by some friends of less than a year's standing: an unlikely start in itself. Full review...

Death's Bright Angel (Matthew Quinton’s Journals 6) by J D Davies

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Captain Sir Matthew Quinton of King Charles II's navy sets out for another day at work. He and his men are charged with helping to subdue the Dutch town of Westerschelling. It's only afterwards that the true consequences hit him, along with some other consequences that are and will be open to conjecture. For the year is 1666 and London is about to face a disaster that will be discussed and theorised over for centuries… Fire! Full review...

A Death at Fountains Abbey (Thomas Hawkins 3) by Antonia Hodgson

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John Aislabie thinks that Thomas Hawkins has arrived at Aislabie's country mansion to investigate murder threats. That's part of it but Thomas' main reason is to carry out a command from Queen Caroline connected to the recent South Sea Bubble scandal. The command was phrased nicely enough, but the sinister intent was clear: Tom's failure or refusal means loss of Kitty, the person he loves most in the world. Those murder threats are a little concerning though… Full review...

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

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1837: Sarah Gale is found guilty of aiding and abetting James Greenwood in the murder of Hannah, his fiancée. It's particularly gruesome as the body was brutally dismembered and left in various locations around London. Bound for the gallows and fearing for the future of her young son George, Sarah petitions for mercy from the Home Office and, as a result, the Home Secretary appoints barrister Edmund Fleetwood to re-investigate the case. Edmund approaches it with an open mind but nothing prepares him for what he'll discover and not just in the professional realm. Full review...

Lawless and the Flowers of Sin by William Sutton

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Much of this book centres on, as we are accustomed to in tales of Victorian London, dastardly deeds done on a foggy night. Indeed the fog runs thick through this novel, draping the seedy events in a soupy broth of vice. Our hero, Lawless, rather ironically, is that most rare of birds, an honest detective, although as we learn he, himself, is not without his vices. What becomes clear however is that he is something of a social crusader when his eyes are opened to the misery and degradation faced by 'fallen' women. At its heart, the Flowers of Sin is a detective story, with Lawless given an impossible task to complete alongside solving a seemingly impossible crime. Along the way he meets a rag tag bunch of misfits who help, hurt and hinder our hero. There is romance and intrigue along the way as well as a sensational public trial, murder and episodes of mayhem. Full review...

In the Month of the Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ekback

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1856, Blackasen Village, Sweden: A Lapp sits surrounded by three dead bodies – the vicar, a constable and one other. The murders coincide with the arrival of Magnus Lille, a geologist sent by the Swedish government to map the mountain that gives the village its name. Magnus doesn't realise what he's walking into as up till now he thought his main problem was his sister-in-law, brought with him at his wife's father's, (the Minister for State's), insistence. The events that will take place will cause them both sleepless nights and a real chance that neither will live to go home. Full review...

A Grave Concern: The Twenty Second Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew by Susanna Gregory

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Chancellor Tynkell was kindly, but ineffectual and everyone was stunned by his murder, not least because it happened very publicly - on top of the church tower, in a high wind with a lot of people watching. Then the murderer disappeared. Some people saw a black cloak being blown along to the marshes outside Cambridge and swore that it was the devil's work, but physician Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael knew better and were determined to prove it. These are not Bartholomew's only problems though: a 'barber surgeon' (free shave or haircut with every treatment) recently arrived from Nottingham is causing problems rather than curing illnesses. His sister is struggling to get her husband's tomb built by the mason she commissioned to do the work: like builders everywhere throughout the ages he keeps moving from job to job and never finishing any. Then Brother Michael is offered a Bishopric - in Rochester. Full review...

Art in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure by Bonnie MacBird

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It's the winter of 1888 and Sherlock Holmes is languishing. After a devastating result concerning the mysterious Ripper investigation, Holmes can find no solace and falls back in to his troublesome relationship with cocaine. Not even his good friend Doctor Watson can cheer him – that is until an encoded letter arrives from Paris from a young French cabaret star who claims her son has vanished. Intrigued, Holmes explores the case only to uncover that the disappearance of a young boy is only the tip of the iceberg. Journeying to Paris and then to the Lancashire countryside, Holmes and Watson become involved in a dangerous investigation, concerning a prized stolen statue, child slavery, and murder – but who is the culprit behind it all? Full review...

Fire by CC Humphreys

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Puritan/former Roundhead Pitman and former highwayman/Cavalier Captain William Coke have formed a deep respect for each other. Their first mission was to track down the Fifth Monarchists, an organisation out to avenge those who were found guilty and hanged for signing Charles I's death warrant. That was then, during the Great Plague. A mere year later, the Plague has lessened but the Fifth Monarchists are back, taking Pitman's and Coke's interventions personally. We therefore find our heroes defending themselves, their families, the monarch, and, on top of that, a new disaster is about to hit the capital. Full review...

Apothecary Melchior and the Ghost of Rataskaevu Street by Indrek Hargla and Christopher Moseley (translator)

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In fifteenth century Tallinn religion and superstition sit side by side. In the midst of this is scientifically-minded apothecary Melchior Wakenstede, known for his curiosity, logical thinking, and ability to solve murders. There are rumours of a ghost a few doors down from Melchior on Rataskaevu Street, though he's not as ready to believe in it as some of his neighbours. When several people die after saying they'd seen the ghost, Melchior can't resist looking for the connection between them and trying to discover the truth behind the tales. Full review...

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

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Jennifer Donnelly wrote one of my all-time favourite books, A Gathering Light, so I was very excited to read her latest novel and see how it compared. Like A Gathering Light, These Shallow Graves is a historical novel with a murder mystery at its heart and a feisty heroine who challenges the standards of the day. Full review...

The Detective and the Devil (Charles Horton 4) by Lloyd Shepherd

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1855: Only a few years after the notorious Highways Murderer left his mark on London's docks, Constable Charles Horton is called back to the area. The disturbing murder of a clerk and his family bears the trademark of the serial killer but Horton's sure he's already dead; Horton saw him die. At this point the hunt for a devil incarnate begins, taking Horton and his wife Abigail to the other side of the world and the darker side of an untouchable Victorian institution: The East India Company. Full review...

Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards (editor)

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I'm not big on short stories, but two factors nudged me towards this book. Firstly, it's broadly golden age crime, one of my weaknesses and secondly, the editor is Martin Edwards, a man whose knowledge of golden age crime is probably unsurpassed and he's done us proud, not only with his selection, but with the half-page biographies of the writers, which precede each story. There's just enough there to allow you to place the author and to direct you to other works if you're tempted. It's an elegant selection, from the well known and the less well known, all set in and around the country house. Full review...

The Body on the Doorstep by A J MacKenzie

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On the marshes of Kent in the late eighteenth century, Reverend Hardcastle discovers a dying man on his doorstep. Narrowly escaping a bullet himself, he is entrusted with the dying man's last words which leave him questioning the mystery behind this anonymous man's death. With smugglers rife along the Kent coast, it seems as though it was a simple falling out amongst thieves, but the Reverend believes the answer to this crime lies deeper. Assisted by the brilliant Mrs Chaytor they set off to solve the mystery – but with smugglers lurking all through the county and the French threatening to invade, there are unsuspected dangers around every corner. Full review...

The Age of Treachery by Gavin Scott

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In the winter of 1946 Duncan Forrester, formerly of the Special Operations Executive, was back at his Oxford college as a junior fellow in Ancient History. He'd lost the woman he loved to the Gestapo and was now feeling guilty about the fact that he was besotted with the wife of his best friend, a fellow academic. To confuse matters further the woman in question, Margaret Clark, had been having an affair with another lecturer, David Lyall and it seemed likely that she would leave her husband for him. Full review...