Historical Mystery reviews by Roberta Rogow

41ug7cZO+oL._SY346_An Artless Demise (A Lady Darby Mystery) by Anna Lee Huber (Berkley, 2019, $16.00) brings Lady Keira Darby back to London, the scene of her first husband’s criminal activities that still haunt her, even after her second marriage to Lord Darby. It’s 1831, and the horrendous deeds of Burke and Hare in Edinburgh have sent the people of London into a panic, suspecting anyone and everyone connected with the medical profession of body-snatching, while political tensions run high with the passage of a Reform Bill that would re-adjust the voting requirements across the country. When the heir to a great title is murdered on the street, apparently for no reason, the grieving parents call on Lord and Lady Darby to investigate. Was this a random attack by the body-snatchers, or was there a more personal motive for the young man’s death? The newly-formed Metropolitan Police are targeting the shadowy world of “resurrectionists”, but Lady Darby feels there is more to these murders than mere ruthlessness in pursuit of gain. Her own dark history is being brought to light in ways she cannot control, but she and her husband persevere, and uncover a vengeful yet conscience-ridden killer. A look at a city in turmoil, at a key turning-point in history.

51UYHClMEcL._SY346_Another city in turmoil is Chicago in 1909. In Death at the Selig Studios (Allium Press, 2018, $10.00) Frances McNamara takes us behind the scenes at one of the earliest film studios, where comedies, dramas and even slightly fake newsreels are being churned out for the growing nickelodeon market. Emily Cabot, sociologist and reluctant sleuth, is called to the studio by her brother, Alden, who is being accused of shooting one of the actors on the set. Emily is sure Alden is innocent, but the whole business of making brainless entertainment for the masses appalls her, and she is reluctant to assist her ole friend, Detective Harry Whitbread, in sorting out the complicated lives of the actors, writers, directors, and technicians involved in making films. To make matters worse, Alden seems to have been involved in an affair with one of the dashing leading ladies of the Selig Company, and he is threatening to leave his family to follow his dream career of writing screenplays to faraway California! Emily has to choose between her family and her relationship with Whitbread, and makes a fatal error in judgment. By the time the dust clears, a murderer is revealed, Altden finds a new career, and Emily bows to the inevitable. Encounters with early film stars like Tom Mix and Bronco Billy Anderson enliven a look at a little-known slice of movie history.

519gYNUu9GL._SY346_A year later, 1910, New York, is the time and place of A Death of No Importance, by Mariah Fredricks (Minotaur, 2018, $9.99). Lady’s maid Jane Prescott takes on the job of caring for the spoiled heiress, Charlotte Benchley, whose social-climing mother is trying to break into New York Society.
Charlotte thinks she’s landed a perfect catch when she announces her forthcoming engagement to playboy Norrie Newsome, but the prospective groom is found dead at the party where the announcement was supposed to have been made. Charlotte is devastated, and insists on going into mourning, although the Newsome family refuse to admit that their son would even consider uniting himself with upstarts like the Benchleys. As the fear of Anarchists grips the city, one of Jane’s friends is accused of the crime. Jane isn’t convinced of his guilt, but who else could have done it? Old sins cast long shadows, and Jane’s search for justice leads her to a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania where a mine disaster leaves scars on both the deal and the living. A look at high and low society in a changing city.

519NjjA0ceL._SY346_The Black Ascot, by Charles Todd (HarperCollins, 2019, $26.99) begins in 1910, with the so-called “Black Ascot”, the race meeting after the death of King Enward VII, where the usually glittering crowd was draped in black, mourning the demise of one of the most fervent racing enthusiasts in Enghlish society. A well-known sportsman and his wife are caught in a dreadful car accident; he survives, she doesn’t. A man is accused of tampering with their automobile, but before he can be formally tried, he vanishes. Ten years later, Inspector Ian Rutledge gets information that the wanted man is alive, and in England. The case is re-opened, and Rutledge must go over every aspect of the previous investigation, to reveal a more sinister plat than anyone thought. More murders reveal the true killer, and an innocent man is allowed to continue his life on his own terms. A well-thought out addition to an excellent series.

51rTUYqI7cL._SY346_Another decade, another war; Jacqueline Winspear’s Masie Dobbs is back in The American Agent ((HarperCollins, 2019, $$25.00). The Blitz is devastating London in the autumn of 1940, and Maisie is serving as an ambulance driver and nurse, dragging the wounded out of burning buildings and away from falling debris. Amidst the chaos, an American war correspondent is found murdered in her own flat, and Masie’s Scotland Yard contact, Robert MacFarlane, asks her to work with
American FBI agent Mark Scott, whose other jobs tend to be mysteriously connected to the American Embassy. Catherine Saxon’s death brings up bittersweet memories for the girls in her lodging-house, and upsets her dear friend, now married to a British banker. One person’s death might seem trivial when so many are being destroyed, but Maisie’s search for truth leads her to uncover a forgotten love story and evokes memories of a case Maisie prefers to forget. A child’s welfare is at stake, and Maisie makes several decisions that lead to the final conclusion. Justice will be served, even in wartime.

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