Murder in a Cornish Alehouse (Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries #3) by Kathy Lynn Emmerson

The third book in this Elizabethan-era mystery series fills in some history for our main character, Rosamond Jaffrey. (Books 1 and 2 in the series, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe and Murder in the Merchant’s Hall, were previously reviewed here and here.)

Murder in a Cornish Alehouse front cover (Severn House)

THE PLOT: Rosamund and her husband Rob are finally enjoying some happy marital time when Rosamund gets word that her stepfather has died. Although she had never reconciled with her mother or stepfather after eloping with Rob, Rosamund sets off for Cornwall to pay her respects. Her mother, who is both wacky and wildly unpleasant, claims that her husband was actually murdered, not just killed in a horseback-riding accident.

Rosamund doesn’t believe it at first, but a few of Walsingham’s agents are flitting around, and pirates are mentioned. Then a second murder takes place, and Rosamund is on the case. Is piracy the problem, or are pirates actually working for the Crown? Is there a Catholic uprising in the works? And why do Rosamund and Rob keep getting pulled back into Walsingham’s spy network despite a desperate desire to get out?

MY TWO CENTS: I have to admit, I don’t think I’d recommend this book as a stand-alone read. Although the mystery part is only covered in this book, you just get a lot more out of it if you’ve read the other books. You probably get even more if you’ve read the “Face Down” mysteries featuring Rosamund’s stepmother, but I still haven’t gotten around to those. (I DID, however, find the short story in which Rosamund and Rob eloped. It’s called “Any Means Short of Murder” and can be found free on Kathy Lynn Emerson’s website, or this handy link here.) 

I was a little confused by all the characters, which makes it difficult to try to figure out who the murderer is. I don’t know why I had a hard time in this book; I haven’t had difficulty following the other two mysteries. But every time I picked it back up, I had to think, “Now wait, WHO is this guy again?” I also felt that the ending was rushed. Suddenly, it was just over with very little wrap-up. Maybe it will lead directly into Book 4?

Although I enjoyed it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two books. I tend to think this is more of a “middle story” and a stepping stone to the next adventure. I wonder if we’ll see some of these characters in expanded roles later (I don’t want to elaborate, because…murder mystery.)

COVER NOTES: This cover is totally different from the headless woman covers of the first two books. I usually hate it when series covers go a completely different direction midstream, but I really like the Cornish alehouse! Maybe the headless woman covers tended to make readers think these books were more romantic historical fiction, so this is an attempt to break that perception.

BOTTOM LINE: A must-read if you’re following the series as Rosamund and Rob are continuing to develop. But I wouldn’t recommend reading it before the other two in the series, or as a stand-alone. Start with Book 1, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall (Mistress Jaffrey Thriller #2) by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall is the second book in Kathy Lynn Emerson’s new series, which is also connected to her “Face Down” mystery series. I enjoyed Book 1, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, previously reviewed here. (This author also wrote the “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series as Kate Emerson. Book 6 in that series, Royal Inheritance, was reviewed here.)

***NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Book 1. ****

 

Murder in the Merchant's Hall Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

THE PLOT: Having successfully brought her husband Rob home safely from Russia, Rosamond is trying to get back to normal life. Rob has returned to studies at Cambridge, and Rosamond has been released from the service of Walsingham. But then she receives an urgent summons from Lady Susanna Appleton and returns home to reconcile with her estranged stepmother. Rosamond learns what the summons was really about: her childhood friend Lina has been accused of murdering her brother-in-law, Hugo.

Hugo, a fabric merchant, had been trying to force Lina to marry a wealthy Italian silk merchant, Alessandro Portinari. A neighbor had warned Lina that Portinari had the “French pox,” so she was fighting with Hugo about the marriage the night she later found him stabbed to death. Lina’s sister, Isolde, found Lina standing over Hugo holding the knife, so she’s certain her sister is the murderer.

Adding to the drama is Portinari’s handsome nephew, Tomasso, who was also romancing Lina. But was his affection real or feigned? How does Portinari fit into the story? Why was Hugo insisting that the marriage take place? And why is Walsingham’s own henchmen warning Rosamond and Rob to stay away from the investigation?

MY TWO CENTS: I enjoyed this second book in the series even more than the first. The various factors in the case come to light slowly, leaving the reader to wonder what twists are coming next. In addition to the mystery is the growing relationship between Rosamond and her young husband. Rosamond married him when they were both 16 so she could take control of her inheritance, which left some bad feelings in the families. While Rob and Rosamond seem to enjoy “married life,” one wonders if eventually the friendship between them will become real love.

Rosamond acts for more like a liberated woman of the 21st century than someone living in 1585. She constantly protests Rob’s concern for her as trying to “control” her as any other husband would, or trying to “save” her when she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. While I applaud the independence, it’s eventually a bit off-putting and wearying to the reader that Ros SO often mistakes aggression for independence. Hopefully she will eventually learn that she can be independent and still have a real partnership with her husband.

As far as the mystery, it definitely kept me guessing. I was focusing on a different suspect entirely until close to the end.

BOTTOM LINE: An Elizabethan whodunit with some twists and turns and without an obvious conclusion. I’m very much enjoying these mysteries and plan to check out the “Face Down” mysteries that precede theme when I get the chance.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is on sale now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe is the beginning of a new series from Kathy Lynn Emerson, but also a bridge from a previous series. I had never read any of her Lady Appleton/”Face Down” mysteries, but I had read her “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series, written as Kate Emerson. (Book 6 in that series, Royal Inheritance, was reviewed here.)

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

THE PLOT: Elizabeth I has been on the throne for 25 years when Rosamond Jaffrey is tapped to become a spy for Walsingham. She’s especially motivated when she finds out that her estranged husband, Rob, is in trouble in Russia, where he went as part of the Muscovy Company. As her cover, Rosamond is accepted as a waiting woman into the household of Lady Mary Hastings, who expects to become the bride of Ivan the Terrible.

The household is invited to the Queen’s Wardrobe of Robes in Whitehall so Lady Mary can have one of the Queen’s castoff gowns. Rosamond is planning to meet the contact assigned to her, but finds that the man has been poisoned. No one seems to believe that the man was murdered and didn’t just choke to death, but Rosamund has some knowledge of herbs and poisons. From that point, she realizes that Lady Mary may be in great danger—and Rosamond herself may be as well. But who is trying to sabotage the Russian marriage, and why?

MY TWO CENTS: I really liked the Russian connection in this story. That’s something I really don’t read about a lot in novels of the Tudor era, and I found it interesting and unusual. The point of view switches occasionally from Rosmand in England to Rob in Russia. The mystery was okay; I started to figure out who was behind it all from the clues, although the motivation wasn’t necessarily clear.

I do believe I would have enjoyed the book much more if I had read the preceding stories that include these characters. I know this is starting off a new series with this character as the lead, but I did feel that readers are somewhat dropped into something they should already be familiar with. I also felt that the end was clearly a setup for the next book in the series. Although there is a resolution to the mystery, I feel like Rosamond’s personal life is far less certain.

BOTTOM LINE: Works okay as a standalone novel, but the reading experience would probably be much enriched by reading the Lady Appleton novels first. Otherwise, an engaging enough mystery set in Elizabethan England. I’m interested enough to check out those earlier books as well as any sequel.

TEACUP RATING: Between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in hardcover on March 1, 2015. (At this time, I cannot find any information about eformats, but most books do have them nowadays. There is an ISBN listed for an e-book in my ARC.)

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Firebird’s Feather by Marjorie Eccles

 

The Firebird's Feather Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

The Firebird’s Feather Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

What drew me to request The Firebird’s Feather: A Late-Edwardian Mystery? To start with, the cover, this awesome cover. LOVE the hat, the jewelry, that hint of the dress. Having the hat pulled down over her eyes adds to the “mystery” theme. WHAT is going on in this woman’s mind? What was she up to? Second, “Late-Edwardian” basically means the period right before George V’s coronation, so 1911. A wee little bit before the beginning of Downton Abbey, for those interested; think Mary Poppins. The question is, did the book live up to its cover?

THE PLOT: Lydia Challoner was born in Russia, emigrated to England with her father, and married into London society. Her daughter, Kitty, is about to debut in society, but Lydia is shockingly murdered while riding in Hyde Park. Who could have killed her, and why? Her husband Louis, Kitty’s father, is acting suspiciously, and his gun is missing. Kitty’s aunt Ursula is a society matron, and her two children (Kitty’s cousins) are both rebels: son Jonathan runs a socialist newspaper, while daughter Bridget is a burgeoning suffragette. Could the socialists or suffragettes have had anything to do with the murder? Are the socialists tied into Lydia’s Russian ancestry? What about Bridget’s friendship with Kitty’s maid? Louis’s business partner, Paul Estrabon, is a slimy character, and his wife, Fanny, was Lydia’s best friend and gambling partner. Do gambling debts factor into the murder? Finally, Lydia had a boy toy named Marcus. What’s his deal? What is he really after? Is the upcoming coronation of George V involved? Detective Chief Inspector Gaines and Detective Sergeant Inskip investigate the various suspects and their motives.

MY TWO CENTS: The introduction quickly pulled me in, but I was somewhat jarred with the way the murder was handled. Chapter Two ends with Lydia being late to lunch and her family wondering where she is. Chapter Three begins with Kitty already trying to accept that her mother has been murdered. So readers do not see the murder, nor do they see the family receiving the news of the murder. That just seemed very odd to me. It definitely pulled me out of the reading experience, and I felt like I had to adjust my mindset significantly to continue from that point.

Another thing you may notice from my summary is that there are a lot of characters. Family members, friends, friends of friends, people who aren’t friends. The strange thing is, there isn’t a lot of interaction among these various characters. For example, Aunt Ursula seems to act as a link between Kitty and her cousins because Kitty interacts more with Ursula than she does with either Jon or Bridget. Louis interacts more with the detectives than he does with his daughter. I felt that Kitty was fairly isolated as a character, and her main interaction ended up being with Marcus. And then, although Kitty is the main character, she really wasn’t even part of the climax.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting, readable, and different story, but it doesn’t exactly gel together completely for me. I would have preferred more character development and interaction to add depth to a good story framework.

TEACUP RATING: I give it around three-and-a-half out of five teacups. If you enjoy mysteries or are interested in the time period, give this one a try.

ON SALE DATE: The Firebird’s Feather will be available in hardcover on December 1, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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