I took an extended break from blogging while I recovered from the never-ending virus that was going around town. Now that I’m back, I thought I would start with a blog that features an author I’ve recently discovered, although she’s been around for a while, and is highly acclaimed. In case you don’t know of her books, here are my thoughts on the ones I’ve read so far. If you are looking for a new author, I highly recommend you give her a look.
Although many mystery authors write multiple series, too often the series are more similar than they are different. Perhaps there is one series that is a group of knitters who solve problems, another where it’s a group maid up of cooks, another a group of book lovers. You get the idea. There isn’t anything wrong with this approach. The personalities and the locations are usually different and many readers are drawn to one series over another because of the location or the characters in the specific series while others are drawn to all of them because they like the basic premise, in this case a group of amateurs who get together to solve crimes the police can’t or won’t solve on their own.
I enjoy the occasional book in these types of series, but I find I rarely read all the different series by one author because they are often so similar. Rather I’m looking for that writer like Agatha Christie who writes, if not series, books that have the same main character but which are different one group from the other. In other words, there are many books by Agatha Christie featuring Miss Marple, but they are completely different from those Ms. Christie wrote featuring Hercule Poirot or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. When you open one of these books, you enter the world of Poirot, which is distinctly different from the world of Miss Marple.
The similarities in these books have more to do with the skill Ms. Christie possesses as a writer. Across the board her books are well plotted, the clues are right in front of your nose, although you frequently don’t recognize them, and the red herrings are just prominent enough to engage your thoughts without being so blatant you automatically think they are just red herrings.
When I do find a writer who writes series that have excellent plotting and structure but maintain individual integrity in terms of the world the characters inhabit, I want to read all the books that author has written. Faith Martin falls in that category for me. Ms. Martin has written three series that I know of, one featuring DI Hillary Greene, one featuring Jenny Starling, professional cook and gifted crime solver, and one featuring WPC Loveday, a young constable and Coroner Clement Ryder, a coroner nearing retirement.
While I haven’t read any of the books in the Hillary Greene series, I have read several in the Jenny Starling series and one in the Loveday and Ryder series. What I found were classic detective fiction that had unique characters in distinct locations that offered excellent pacing with clues and red herrings that were prolific enough to allow me the opportunity to try and solve the mystery before the ending was revealed. The two series I have read are quite different, with the Jenny Starling series having a central character who is larger than life in many ways, often described as a Junoesque cook who is surprisingly attractive. These books seem to take place in the modern day and Jenny works closely with a different policeman for each book as her job as professional cook takes her from place to place for specialty work. In the Loveday and Ryder books, the setting is Oxford in the 1960’s. In addition to offering an intriguing mystery, this series provides a peek into the early days of women becoming part of a police force.
So, if you are looking for a new to you author, I highly recommend Faith Martin. I can personally recommend the Jenny Starling series or the Ryder and Loveday series as I’ve experienced both and found them to be satisfying in every way. At some point I plan to take my own advice and read at least one of the books from the Hillary Greene series and I have ever expectation they will be as satisfying as the ones I’ve read so far.
If you want a bit more information on the ones I’ve read, I’m attaching copies of the reviews I wrote for NetGalley on the ones I got through their website. From my limited experience, I would think the Jenny Starling books can easily be read in any order. As for the Loveday and Ryder books, each mystery is fully contained within the novel itself, however their relationship shows evidence of growing and changing over the course of the books. For this reason, you may enjoy reading them from beginning forward if that is an option for you. As always, I wish you Happy Reading.
From the first sentence of Faith Martin’s new novel, The Birthday Mystery, you are immersed in the world of Jenny Starling, supersized chef extraordinaire who is completely comfortable with herself. That comfort level translates to a woman who exudes confidence and sex appeal without even trying, an unusual feat for a woman who is 6’1” tall with curves in places other women don’t even have places.
Of course, Jenny’s size has nothing to do with her ability to solve a murder, that is left up to her exceptional mind and her ability to interpret situations, clues, etc. and reach the correct conclusion. This ability is recognized early on by the detective in charge of the case and his sargent, although they are reluctant to actively involve Jenny in solving the murder. As the story moves forward, however, they begin to recognize the value of Jenny’s intelligence and abilities which leads to Jenny being able to share information and ideas with them without any sense of resentment or attempts to thwart her ability in order to preserve all the glory for themselves.
For her part, Jenny is not intent on becoming the next amateur sleuth to be covered in accolades. In truth, she would much prefer to spend her time in the kitchen, baking the perfect cake and cooking up other delightful dishes using plenty of butter and fresh ingredients. That is somewhat more difficult as, being contracted to prepare the meal for a very fancy birthday party, she is resented by the regular household staff and finds herself functioning almost completely without help. No matter, nothing seems to bother this unflappable woman who cheerfully accepts apologies and seems to be exactly the person she presents to the outside world.
In this, the first book of a new series, Jenny is hired to cook for the twenty-first birthday party of Alicia and Justin, twins to a wealthy family. Alicia has planned every portion of the party, down to when the champagne for the birthday toast will be uncorked. Not surprisingly, it is a mystery after all, the party is marred by the death of Justin during the toast. This gives rise to Jenny’s suspicion that the first death that occurs, that of Jimmy Speight, was actually murder and not an accident as it was designed to appear.
There are suspects galore, clues a plenty and red herrings to be found throughout the book. The difficulty for the reader will be determining in which category to place each of the facts in order to reach the correct solution. This was a thoroughly satisfying read and while I solved the mystery correctly, I often found myself with the same questions Jenny had, at the same time and only reached the answers at the same time as Jenny. The answers required both an understanding of the clues and the personalities involved and it was the need to understand personality that created the biggest stumbling block for the police.
This is a book I highly recommend, and I look forward to reading the next one in the series. My only regret is the story which Jenny references as having happened prior to the invents in this book only exists in the author’s mind and isn’t a book I can obtain and read. I am reluctant to give specifics of the story as I think the book is best enjoyed by slowly getting to know Jenny and the other characters in the setting in which they find themselves. I look forward to additional books in this series. My thanks to NetGalley and Joffe Books for providing me an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
THE RIVERBOAT MYSTERY by Faith Martin is another enjoyable entry in the Jenny Starling series. Slipping between the pages is like slipping into a comfortable outfit that is a perennial favorite. Beginning the book is like returning to an old friend, although there is no requirement that you read the first two books in the series to enjoy this one. Each book is a complete, stand alone mystery, filled with complex clues, some clever red herrings and one of the most likeable, unique heroines in detective fiction.
Jenny Starling, a “junoesque professional cook” is a complex combination of a beautiful, plus size woman, an excellent observer and a superb puzzle solver. In this novel, as in the previous two, she is hired for a temporary cooking job which takes her onto a riverboat for the weekend. Once again, her only goal is to cook excellent food, but fate intervenes in the form of a murder on board. The police are called into the case and, true to form, have heard of Jenny’s ability to solve crimes. This time it is their hope to solve it before she does.
As one might expect, the case is much more complicated than one would expect. Everyone on board the boat has a reason to wish the victim dead, with most of their reasons presented in the first few chapters leading up to the murder. The cast of characters include the riverboat owner who loves the boat more than anything he’s ever owned, it’s crew, who are also devoted to leisurely sailing on the Thames, and two couples, one a besotted young couple expecting their first child and the other a more jaded couple who married out of individual desires. It is more fun to read the initial pages and determine the victim prior to the murder than to know in advance, so no spoiler here.
In the best style of mystery novels that are like puzzles, this one is full of clues and ideas which need to be accurately interpreted. As Jenny points out when the solution becomes apparent to her, you simply have to turn the dial of the kaleidoscope so that the pieces all fall into the correct places in order to understand how to unravel the complicated facts in the case. There is an interesting twist to the case with all the information laid out in front of the reader so that they can solve it at the same time Jenny does, if they are paying attention to the right things.
This is my third read in the series, and all of them are equally enjoyable. When I opened this book, the writing felt comfortable and familiar in a way that welcomed me into the world of the book. The pacing is superb, as is the length of the book. It moves at a pace that is just fast enough to keep you engaged and provides enough new information as you progress through the book to keep you wanting to move forward.
The only change I would make would be to possibly give the two police officers in this novel a little more depth. Jenny hints at unplumbed depths, particularly on the part of the sargent, but doesn’t get the chance to explore them nor does the reader get the opportunity to experience much other than what Jenny observes. This is a minor issue, however, as you could substitute almost any officers of the law here and have the same result.
In summary, this is another excellent entry in the cozy mystery category with the added fillup of having a police presence to help with the believability of the story. As in previous novels in this series, Jenny is in no way intent on proving herself better than the police and shares her information and ideas almost as quickly as she gets them. I recommend this novel, along with the others in this series. Read them in any order you chose. If you are a fan of cozy mysteries with a believable murder, an engaging protagonist, and some interesting characters placed in unique settings, this is one for your consideration.
My thanks to NetGalley and Joffe Books for providing an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Winter Mystery is the second book in the new Jenny Starling Mysteries series by Faith Martin. Both books have been completely independent of one another and it is not necessary to read them in order of writing to enjoy them. Jenny Starling is the central character and she works as a cook for hire. In this book she has accepted a job to cook for a farm family for two weeks over the Christmas holiday.
From the first page, the reader is plunged into a cold that has been created by an extraordinary snowfall. They sympathize with Jenny and agree with her negative assessment of the situation and the inhabitants as the book opens with Jenny trudging through snow that hasn’t even been plowed, not to mention that although the farm’s patriarch has carts and horses he hasn’t bothered to send anything for her to insure she is spared ill effects from the elements.
As Jenny meets the various members of the household she is quick to question how wise it was to agree to a two week stay. The patriarch, Stan, is filled with hatred and anger which he spreads around equally among his two sons, his daughter, his brother, and his grandson. Jenny comes in for her share as well, with his insistence that she will have to mop the floor every time someone comes in as they aren’t going to take their shoes off when coming inside for any one of their several daily trips. She learns almost immediately the only person who demonstrates any compassion toward others is Sid, Stan’s brother. While the children and grandson may have some positive personality traits, Stan has managed to bully them all to the point they have become defeated in any attempt toward kindness or independance.
Martin is excellent in creating such an atmosphere it feels as if the reader is actually experiencing the cold, inhospitable weather and the equally unpleasant atmosphere that pervades the farm’s inhabitants. As expected, a murder occurs and Jenny hikes to the nearest telephone callbox to call the police. While not totally incompetent, the police as clearly out of their comfort zone in considering murder and are greatly relieved to learn of Jenny’s experiences in solving murders in the past.
As soon as Jenny’s skills are realized, the police inspector in charge begins to include her in his efforts to solve the murder, all the while hoping she will prove to be as talented as her reputation indicates. The inspector’s sargeant is moderately more self-assured, but still needs Jenny’s help to reach the correct solution.
The reader has ample opportunity to solve this mystery along with Jenny. There are logical clues throughout the book, although not so obvious as to call attention to themselves. I solved this mystery prior to the end, but didn’t have the clue as to what would provide the solution to Jenny until she was explaining it until she named the killer and explained how she reached the correct conclusion.
This is an enjoyable series and was as excellent in terms of clues and solutions as the first book in the series. It was a little more difficult to read because Martin does such a good job of describing the scene, leaving the reader to desire some warmth and human kindness throughout the book. Jenny, the plus-sized and unexpectedly sexy protagonist is someone you want to know even better and would welcome in your world.
Thank you to NetGalley and H O Digital Publishing for this advance digital read copy of A FATAL FLAW by Faith Martin. This is the third in her Ryder and Loveday series featuring Coroner Clement Ryder and WPC Trudy Loveday.
This series takes place in the 1960’s and offers a picture of the treatment of women in that era. It also touches on the fact that women were not welcome by many of the policemen who were part of the establishment, and often given only work that was deemed fitting for a woman such as searching handbags or chaperoning woman who had come in contact with the police. Trudy is determined to make a success of her chosen profession and Dr. Ryder sees her as having more intelligence and potential than is being put to use by her supervisor. This forms the basis of their partnership.
In this book, Trudy is approached by Grace, a friend from school who says she has suspicions about the death of a girl in the upcoming Miss Oxford Honey contest, sponsored by Grace’s employer. From the beginning the reader is made aware that Grace has information and motivation she isn’t sharing with Trudy, however these are not revealed until well into the book.
Trudy takes information from Grace to Dr. Ryder who is the coroner presiding over the inquest. Based on her information and the lack of conclusive evidence, he urges the jury to issue an open verdict. Once that is accomplished, he and Trudy begin an investigation of their own with Trudy going undercover as a contestant and Dr. Ryder being named a judge.
It is clear to the reader from the outset that there is a murderer at work, although the motive for the murder isn’t clear. The book is punctuated in spots by short chapters that are dedicated to the murderer’s thoughts and plans for the future, however they are done so without revealing information about the murderer in terms of gender, motivation, or other identifying data.
There is a second murder which causes Trudy’s superior to assign the case to a more senior officer, although he agrees to let Trudy remain in her undercover capacity. His decision is largely attributed to his desire to have Trudy anywhere other than at the police station, as he doesn’t feel women are suitable for the force.
The book is well paced with some good clues and reasons to suspect several of the characters in the book. While I was correct in my assessment of who the murderer was, it wasn’t until Trudy and Dr. Ryder revealed the motive that I understood why the person committed murder. This is a relatively non-violent police procedural which dwells more on the investigation and spends little time describing dead bodies or setting traps that might endanger the detectives. I enjoy this more than the heart pounding type of mystery, however if you are looking for one that is filled with danger, tension, mayhem, and murder you may think this one is too mile.
While I enjoyed the book, I did not care for the ending which was a bit of a cliff-hanger seemingly designed to encourage the reader to get the next book in the series. The murder itself is resolved, but the reader will need to continue reading the next book in the series to learn how the situation is resolved. I have not read the first two books in the series, so I do not know if this is a regular ploy used in this series.