Completely tempted by the cover, I dove into Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood and met a new female detective that I hope I will meet again in future novels. Willowjean Parker has just run away from circus life and used her knife throwing skills to save New York PI Lillian Pentecost, an unorthodox but quite successful detective with Ms. Lillian takes “Will” under her wing, mentoring her so she can help keep up with the caseload. Fast forward three years, and this dynamic duo is investigating the murder of Abigail Collins, wife of the deceased steel magnate. Add a seductive spiritualist, a crush on the daughter of the murder victim, and we have a story!
I felt like I was reading an old master, or was tucked into a 1940s noir film. This book was deliciously atmospheric, the detective duo admirably bold for 1940s women, and the mystery well crafted. Despite my efforts to compare Fortune Favors the Dead to an Agatha Christie mystery, a Sherlock Holmes enigma, or even Phryne Fisher’s suspenseful conundrums, Parker and Pentecost really are an original duo. I can hardly wait for their next mystery!
I love-love-loved this book! I had a winter a couple of years ago-my brother died at 40 and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was bereft. There was a certain point when I was ready to read for comfort and for understanding, and that point coincided with a friend giving me two books. Those books started a personal list of “grief” books. I now think of that list as “Wintering” books, and put Katherine May’s book at the top.
May’s premise, that we all experience winters and don’t have control over when they come, resonated loudly, as did the idea that once one survives a winter, it is one’s responsibility to be there to pay it forward in someone else’s winter. I appreciated the idea of slowing down, of changing habits and traditions, of caring for your soul and accepting the time it will take to heal. There is a beautiful exchange while May is watching her son jump at a trampoline park that absolutely mimicked an experience I had watching my youngest skate at the local outdoor rink. May meets a group of other mothers, who completely understand May from the other side of their winters, and offer their presence and friendship-a comfort that requires no words. I valued the literary references, and the descriptions of May’s natural world. I could feel her weather and her surroundings; I felt soothed by her visits to the beach. It takes as long as it takes, and May shows the reader ways to accept that period of time.
Covid has been a kind of a winter-a forced slowing down and drawing in while simultaneously reaching out, making Wintering a perfect book to read now, and to know about when your winter arrives.
Thank you NetGalley for the ARC of Wintering. It was savored and purchased copies will be gifted.
“Wintering” Books to read or share:
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
Find the Good by Heather Lende
Tell Me More and The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
I loved Murder in Old Bombay, a Nev March’s Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award-winning debut, and I hope this is the first of a series. Captain James Agnihotri is recovering from a war injury in 1892 Bombay, and reads of the deaths of two women who fell from a tower. Intrigued by the story and fancying himself a bit like Sherlock Holmes, the Captain sympathizes with the widower who believes the women were murdered and did not commit suicide. He decides to investigate and is hired by the family, only to experience the dark shadow of ill fortune that clouds their lives.
For the first quarter of the book, I thought I’d stumbled upon a nice neat mystery that would be enjoyable but somewhat predictable. By the halfway point, I found this mystery to be much more. The historical backdrop of the Sepoy Rebellion was a great anchor to the development of the characters. The atmosphere is incredible—I felt the heat, I smelled the smells, I didn’t see the attackers coming even with the hair on my arms raised. The characters and the narrative grew in depth to a satisfying conclusion. I hope there is a book 2 and I am curious to see how the relationships continue, and if the setting will change.
When I’ve mentioned to friends I was reading and loving a new book of poetry by Barbara Kingsolver, they all said “I didn’t know she wrote poetry?” Yes! She does! I am in love with this collection! Each poem reminds me of the importance of poetry in my life, of it’s meaningful facility with expressing the world around me and the feelings inside me. It is like savoring a high end piece of dark chocolate, a fresh peach from the local orchard, the hug of a best friend, the memory of my brother, my mother’s meatloaf. Kingsolver so beautifully uses the everyday to share these transcendent truths; her poems are deeply moving and yet very accessible.
I hope you will spend some time with these poems. Some I savored (more than others): How to Cure Sweet Potatoes How to Knit a Sweater How to Be Hopeful The Visitation By the Roots
Yes, I have already ordered a copy to gift. Yes, I will be including this in my Christmas Eve book flood.
I am liking this mystery series! Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers features one of my new favorite crime-solving-while-falling-in-love-while-sharing-some-WWII-history in an interesting enigma. Poppy is writing script for a recruiting movie about the Air Transport Auxiliary Flyers, and the pilots keep dying. Poppy and Griff try to fly “under the radar” and figure out who is behind these deaths before another pilot is murdered. If you like an historical mystery series, this charming novel is definitely one to add to your TBR stack.
In 1910, Olive MacLeod traveled to Africa to find her missing fiancé, Boyd Alexander, a seasoned naturalist and adventurer. A striking 30 year old socialite might seem an unlikely candidate for a search and rescue mission, but Olive was courageous and determined. Boyd Alexander was in the jungle for “unfinished business” related to the death of his brother, so his own disappearance seemed immediately nefarious. She partnered with the Talbots, an older couple very experienced at travel in Africa and companions of Alexander, to journey through swamps and deserts and face a multitude of wildlife creatures, native tribes, and weather to find Alexander and bring him home.
My take: I listened to Olive the Lionheart on Audible, which was a good format for me to follow the narrative, letters, and journal entries. I for sure needed to pay attention with so much detail, and the back and forth in time. I was fascinated, moved by the deep emotions and intense grief, and I felt I escaped to a completely different time and continent. Olive is non-fiction and that somehow makes this romantic adventure that much more powerful. Though this book is well researched and full of detail, get ready for a deep dive into some additional sources. You might find you want to know even more!
I had the incredibly awesome opportunity to ask one of my favorite mystery authors, Fiona Veitch Smith, some questions about the Poppy Denby Mystery Series, her writing process and what might be next. Here is our exchange:
What is your writing process like? Where do you write?
I write three days a week in the afternoons, unless I am approaching the end of a novel in which case I write any time I possibly can! In the mornings I work in my study, either on admin work or editing (of other people’s books) or, on my two non-writing days, I work for the Crime Writers’ Association. But on my writing days, after lunch, I take myself into the bedroom and write in bed. I like to have a hot beanbag on my feet and a cup of coffee to hand. On the rare warm days in the north east of England I will be so bold as to write on top of the duvet, instead of under it. Shamelessly slothful, I know, but there you go.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I only started thinking about being a professional fiction writer around the age of 32. Before that I was a journalist, so still a writer, and that is something that I had wanted to do from an early age. But as a child I made up plays rather than writing stories. I have dabbled in writing for theatre ever since.
Poppy is pretty young. Will Poppy Denby age in this series and will you venture into later decades with her?
Poppy is 22 when we first meet her in The Jazz Files. She’s young and naïve in many ways, but she has an inner strength that we know will see her through. I intended when starting the series to take her up to 1929. In The Art Fiasco she is now 26 (1924) and the current book I’m writing, she’s just turned 27. She is growing with every book. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll take her beyond 1929 – I’ll have to see how I, the readers and my publishers feel then. However, I draw inspiration from Dorothy L. Sayers who continued with Peter Wimsey for a number of decades.
How did you select the names of your characters?
My characters introduce themselves to me. I ask them their names (in my imagination of course) and the first thing that comes to mind is usually the name I stick with. Although Poppy introduced herself to me as Daisy Denby. However, I decided to change it as it was too close to Daisy Dalrymple. My fellow author Elizabeth Flynn (of the DI Costello series) suggested Poppy instead, as it referenced the war. I thought it worked well. Denby was the name of a deceased cat of a dear friend of mine. The name must have been hovering in my sub-conscious (either that or the cat wanted to make a comeback!). I always do a quick internet search to see whether there are other characters or real people with those names that might cause confusion.
Poppy’s love life…will she find happiness with her photographer Daniel? Do you see her marrying and settling down? Do you see her always being independent and devoted to Aunt Dot?
I’m afraid I can’t tell you that! The relationship with Daniel ebbs and flows across the series, but whether or not they end up together must remain a surprise. The tension, of course, is what will happen to Poppy’s career if she were to get married. Might it be curtailed? Or might she and whoever she ends up with (if she does), like Harriet Vane in the Peter Wimsey books, continue her detecting work. Regarding Aunt Dot, she will always remain devoted, but I think she will soon be moving out into a place of her own. Dot doesn’t need her for her day to day needs (Grace is there for that) but they enjoy living together and so far it’s been convenient for the plot.
Is Poppy Denby based on or reminiscent of any one in particular? How about Aunt Dot?
Poppy is in some ways based on myself as a young, female journalist trying to get a start in the business. She is quite different in personality to me, although we do share the same deep commitment to justice and truth, and some of the evangelical angst. A few of the situations she gets into in the earlier books are similar to stories I covered (such as the Midsomer Nights’ Dream interview and the drunk actor who falls into the orchestra pit) and the tension she has with the police in all of the books is something similar to what I experienced covering the crime beat in Cape Town. I would say though that Poppy is the journalist I wanted to be rather than the one I really was. I’m living vicariously through her now in my middle age (!). Aunt Dot is an amalgamation of a number of actors (male and female) and amdram divas I met when I was working on the newspaper and later on magazines. Rollo is a totally made-up character, although I did have a number of male editors who were positive mentors.
You have several characters with disabilities and neurodiversity in each Poppy Denby novel. Is this a conscious choice? Is it plot related or plot driven?
I didn’t plan in advance to have disabled characters in my books, apart from Aunt Dot who needs to be in a wheelchair for the purposes of the plot. However, as the books progressed more and more disabled or neurodiverse characters emerged. I have written about this in an interview with disability advocacy charity, Through the Roof, if anyone would like to know more about it – you can read it here. To summarise though, there are disabled and neurodiverse people in my family, so for me they are just part of the fabric of daily life and it’s inevitable that they would also be characters in my books. However, there is another reason. All my books deal with the experience of outsiders, whether that be by gender, race, disability, sexuality or some other reason. I tend to have characters for whom society is stacked against them, and that they have to overcome obstacles to be accepted and to thrive. In my Poppy Denby books that is primarily the experience of women in a male-dominated world, but it is also the experience of people with disability. The disabled character who is one of my readers’ favourites is Rollo Rolandson, Poppy’s editor, who has dwarfism. But it is his personality and gifts that define him far more than his size.
What are you reading now? What books are on your bedside table?
I always have a few on the go. I am currently reading a historical mystery set in 1930 by Martin Edwards called Gallows Court. I am also reading a non-fiction book called The Thirties – and intimate history by Juliet Gardiner. And I’m just finishing off a biography of Keir Hardie (the socialist founder of the Labour Party) by Bob Holman. In my devotional time I am reading Christianity in a Nutshell by Leonardo Boff.
Will your next book be a Poppy Denby mystery or a stand alone?
My next book, which I’m currently writing, is the 6th Poppy Denby mystery. After that I will leave Poppy for a while as I am planning to start a new detective series set in the 1930s about another character. And on a completely different plane, I have a children’s graphic novel coming out in the spring of 2021 called Charles Babbage and the Curious Computer (SPCK) the first in a new series about time travelling children who go back in time to visit scientists of faith.
Goodness, I can’t say that I have a favourite. I have a number. I adore Dorothy L. Sayers. I also love Lindsey Davis (the Falco series) and Alexander McCall Smith. I have recently discovered Vera Brittain, who writes so elegantly. EM Forster is another stylist I admire. Sorry, I can’t pick one!
The 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum Heist remains the single largest property theft in the world. In 81 minutes, thieves removed 13 works from the Museum valued at over $500 million. The crime remains unsolved today, and the Museum continues to offer a $10 million reward for information leading to the direct recovery of these works of art. Carol Orange, author, has worked in the art world for 20 years, and was an art dealer in Boston. She deftly spins a tale of Art Dealer Portia Malatesta working with the FBI to try to solve this mystery and recover the 13 pieces of art she is personally devastated to miss. She profiles the thief and becomes part of a high-stakes sting operation that involves the Mafia, drug lords and the complicated underworld of Medellin. A Discerning Eye is a great read with a tantalizing build. The combination of a heist that took place in my life time at a museum I have visited and Orange’s clever imagining of a solution kept me engaged and curious. Orange’s expertise in the art world, and her meticulous research create a fast-paced read. Portia’s home life and her flirtation add some zest to the story, making it even more believable. Fans of historical fiction, unsolved mysteries and the art world will want to add A Discerning Eye to their TBR stacks. Thank you NetGalley and Smith Publicity for the ARC of A Discerning Eye. It was a delicious read!
Hello Poppy Denby, journalist, amateur sleuth and old friend! I was delighted to read a new installment in Poppy’s adventures, this time in Northumberland circa 1924. (Are you too noticing the increase in historical fiction mysteries just after World War I?) Poppy leaves London for a vacation to visit her Aunt Dot, and finds herself reluctantly filling in for the press liaison of world renowned artist Agnes Robson. Agnes is staging an exhibition of her paintings at the Laing, and needs Poppy to run interference with the press. The local reporters dug up some of Agnes’ past and she does not want her secrets to come out. Poppy soon finds herself helping a DI from the local police department with a murder investigation.
The Poppy Denby mystery series is one I enjoy more with each book. Poppy is an endearing leading lady, and the gentle bit of romance and unrequited love in the background of the mystery, plus her vivacious Aunt Dot only add to the reading experience. These books are best read in order, but feel like you could jump in at any point and catch up as necessary without feeling like you are rereading an earlier book. Perfect for fans of Maisie Dobbs, Maggie Hope, Tessa Arlen’s Poppy Redfern and Cheryl Honigford’s Viv and Charles mysteries.
If you love Poppy Denby as much as I do, stay tuned for a very special Q & A with author Fiona Veitch Smith! I had a chance to send some questions to Fiona about the series and her writing process. I will post her thoughtful answers on Friday, October 30th!
Thank you NetGalley and Lion Hudson Limited for the Advanced Reader Copy of The Art Fiasco!
Fiona Veitch Smith, author of the popular Poppy Denby mystery series, will publish The Art Fiasco this month.
The Falmouth Book Barista review is coming on pub day, but I had a very special opportunity to do a Q & A with Fiona for a stop on her blog tour. She generously answered my questions and I will share that dialog on Friday, October 30th!