The Red Hill cover

Reviews: Historical Mysteries

I’ve been on a roll with historical mysteries lately after having taken a break for a while. I think I’m too cynical these days to really relax and enjoy most of them, but I count them as light reading. All the following were ebooks.

The Wayward Apprentice (A Stephen Attebrook mystery Book 1)

The Wayward Apprentice coverby Jason Vail

The title character is a widowed knight in 13th-century England. He’s lost part of his foot and that means he had to give up fighting. Now he’s a deputy coroner in a small town and thinks it might be a quiet billet. That is until several murders throw him into a conflict between local lords.

The setting is very gritty and the lives of the inhabitants coarse. No bad language or sex, but this isn’t a happy story.

Although Stephen doesn’t seem very likable, his sidekick and some of the local folk are easier to like (or hate, as the plot thickens). There were many formatting errors in the ebook and the book itself is poorly edited. The plot is very uneven and there are large holes left for the next volume.

The Red Hill (Thomas Berrington Historical Mystery Book 1)

The Red Hill cover by David Penny

A unique and interesting setting helps to pull this mystery forward, but only so far. Moorish Spain in 1482 is a place of power struggles and politics. The English physician to the Sultan of Granada, Thomas Berrington, is drawn into investigating a number of murders in the palace. He reluctantly follows his orders, along with a palace eunuch, Jorge, who helps with logistics and advice when dealing with the harem.

The characters are fun (even the bad ones), the setting is different, but the pace is very drawn out. Thomas and Jorge stumble along with little help from others. The middle of the book was slow, and even the denouement was sluggish.

Again, there were quite a few spelling and usage errors throughout the ebook, which makes me wonder how much the author cared about his work. Penny was apparently not a rookie author, either, so what happened to the editing?

This is the first of four (so far) in this series. This one included quite a bit of violence and sexual references (but not gratuitous).

Uneasy Spirits (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery Book 2)

Uneasy Spirits coverby M. Louisa Locke

The second in a cozy historical mystery series set in 1879 San Francisco, this was better than the first one. Annie Fuller, a widowed boarding house manager, is a compelling heroine and she and her friends are very well described. Her sometimes boyfriend, Nate Dawson, also has a good back story and he struggles as a young lawyer to get some meaty cases.

The plot is based on the then-popular fad of spiritualism and seances. Annie tries to help a friend by debunking a husband and wife team who practice their craft on unsuspecting victims. However, Annie does make some foolish choices and the “accidents” that keep happening are obvious to everyone but her.

I think the pacing and the length of this book were very good, and the author is skilled with description. What I didn’t like was the large number of characters. Were they all necessary to this plot? The mystery itself was well done and although it wasn’t a huge shock, it was a nice twist.

No foul language or sex, and very little violence.

Murder at Merisham Lodge: Miss Hart and Miss Hunter Investigate: Book 1
Murder at Merisham Lodge cover

by Celina Grace

Another first in a series that has two amateur detectives working to solve a murder in a large English manor house, circa 1930. The two young women, one a lady’s maid and one a cook’s assistant, must work hard to keep their places in the household. When their mistress is killed, they investigate while going through their daily chores…over and over.

As another reviewer on Amazon pointed out, there are no hunky leading men to save the main characters from themselves. Instead, the local police accept the help of the servants to try to solve the case. Highly unlikely, but it makes for a decent mystery.

Like so many of this kind of story, the rich are made out to be the spoiled bad guys while the lowly servants work hard to improve their sorry states. Blah, blah, blah.

Light reading for a winter’s evening by the fire. Very little violence, no sex, and no foul language. Recommended for cozy lovers of English house mysteries.

Runaway Girl (Runaway Girl Series Book 1)

Runaway Girl coverby Emily Organ

Yet another widow, but also a strong leading woman, Alice, is the main character of this mystery set in 14th-century London. After the deaths of her husband and child, Alice removed herself to a monastery, where she cares for orphan children. One of the nursery helpers, 14-year-old Constance, is abducted, and Alice sets out to find her, with a little help from one of the monks (with a very small hint of romance).

Medieval England is not one of my favorite settings, and this proves my case. Like the above rich-vs-poor conflict, this one includes nuns that are downright mean and men in charge who don’t think much of women. Yes, that setup might be authentic, but do I really need to see again how corrupt the church was in that time or how much the streets stank or how cold it was?

The writing was fine, although the dialog left something to be desired, and there were noticeably fewer errors in this ebook; what a nice change! I was somewhat disappointed by an intended twist of the story, which I thought pretty much gave away the solution. And the ending of the book was not very satisfactory. I just don’t care enough about the setting or characters to continue this series.

Some violence, no sexual content, and no foul language (just foul living conditions).

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