historical fiction

A new Phryne Fisher mystery.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 22 minutes
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel

Orchestral director Hugh Tregennis has been murdered, with a stack of musical notes stuffed down his throat. Inspector Jack Robinson is looking for Phryne’s help because the policeman knows nothing about singers. Phryne agrees to help. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Tregennis was universally hated and nearly anyone in the choir could have killed him. Phryne promptly joins the choir and goes undercover.

Phryne has also some more personal troubles. Mathematician Rupert Sheffield is giving a lecture about the art of deduction and out of sheer curiosity Phryne attends. Rupert turns out to be very handsome but very rude and downright insufferably arrogant. But Phryne’s dear friend John Wilson is Rupert’s aide and head over heels in love with him. Rupert doesn’t seem to even notice poor John’s devotion and Phryne decides to educate Rupert.

This one somewhat rewrites Phyrne’s experiences as an ambulance driver in WWI. In a previous book (Murder in Montparnasse), we’re told about Phryne’s first love, after WWI. But apparently, Phryne had a fling with John Wilson just before her first love who was a famous Parisian painter. John was a young doctor who did his best to keep his patients alive. While he’s mostly gay, during the war both he and Phryne hook up, just to feel alive in the middle of death. They parted on good terms and quickly fall into bed together.

This was another somewhat unlikely story, but very entertaining. The familiar cast is back and the new characters are good, too. Most of Phryne’s time is spent in the choir, practicing along with the others. Some of the choir members are large personalities and very entertaining.


The sixth book in the historical mystery Smokey Dalton series set in Chicago 1969.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 20 minutes
Narrator: Mirron Willis

It’s autumn in Chicago in 1969 and Smokey is investigating houses which are owned by his girlfriend Laura Hathaway. One of the houses became empty recently because the manager died inside the building and Smokey is investigating the house’s condition. He’s somewhat prepared for the smell of death which seems to be everyone in the house but then he finds a secret door in the basement and behind it skeletons. Human skeletons. He talks is over with Laura and they decide to keep quiet about them because the building previous owner was Laura’s father so the discovery could be used against her. As a woman who leads a large company, her position is precarious.

So, they decide to document everything in case they can bring the matter to police. Smokey interviews and chooses to men to help him: a nationally known forensics specialist and a local mortician. However, they don’t know Smokey or his fugitive past, so he must be careful around. Also, they must be care while working in the building so that the neighbors don’t suspect anything.

Meanwhile, the trial of so-called Chicago 8 (later 7) has started. They’ve been charged with conspiracy and starting a riot. Seven of them are white men and one black. Racial tensions are heating up, again. There are more police and FBI agents in the city and Smokey must be more careful than ever.

Smokey and his team find more bodies so he has to investigate the past and finds a horrifying history of police brutality against black people.

The story tries to handle both 1969 and 1916. For me, both histories were fascinating, if horrifying at the same time because much of it is true. 1916 was at the beginning of prohibition and the various crimes surrounding it. However, they don’t have much relevance to Smokey’s case so some people might dislike that portion of the story.

The book has several grisly scenes and the tone is very grim. Smokey’s adopted son Jimmy feels almost like a distraction from his work and relationship with Laura. We don’t have much time to revisit other old friends.

Personally, I liked the book a lot but it’s not the best of the series.

The fifth book in the historical mystery series about Smokey Dalton.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 8 minutes plus an excerpt from the next book.
Narrator: Mirron Willis

It’s 1969 in Chicago and summer vacations at school have just started. Smokey Dalton and his adopted son Jimmy are still on the run from the FBI because Jim saw the person who really killed Dr. King, and now the police are after them. Jimmy’s teacher Grace Kirkland asks Smokey to search for her eldest son, Daniel. He had gotten a scholarship to Yale but she found out that Daniel hasn’t been in Yale for the spring semester. He seems to have vanished.

Smokey knows that he can’t do the investigation from Chicago so he has to drive to New Haven. He decides to take Jimmy with him because it would be unfair to the boy to leave him once again to friends. But Smokey also realizes that he needs someone to take care of Jimmy when needed, so he also takes along Malcom Reyner, a young orphan who works as a short-order cook. Malcom can also talk with students the way that Smokey can’t. At Yale, he encounters both systematic and individual racism but also people who try to fight them. However, the deeper he digs, the more disturbing things he finds. The antiwar movement isn’t just nice.

Smokey and the people around him are very human, both in good and bad. They feel real to me. Of course, I’ve never been to USA nor am I black so I don’t know how real they actually are. The plot moves fast and the conclusion is satisfactory. I did miss some of the secondary characters, such as Laura, but it’s also good to see other parts of USA back then.

The cast of character grows a lot because for the majority of the book Smokey and Jimmy aren’t in Chicago. They constantly meet new people and have to adjust to two new cities. We also get a glimpse into Smokey’s past.

Malcolm is eager to get away from his current job but he is will to work hard to achieve what he wants to. There’s rising racial tensions in Chicago and Smokey feels threatened by it; he’s looking for a safer place where he and Jimmy might live. Jimmy is delighted to follow Smokey, at first, but once again he wants to do more than Smokey allows him to do.

Another excellent addition to the series.

One short story and a novella about the adventures of Reginald Worcester and his gentleman’s automaton Reeves. Yes, it’s steampunk Wodehouse!

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook
Page count: 145
Publisher: Book View Café

Humor isn’t easy to write. But this one I really liked. I haven’t actually read much Wodehouse (and I think all of them have been Finnish translations) but I’ve watched Jeeves and Wooster almost religiously. Reading this, I heard Bertie’s voice narrating and laughed out loud several times.

In the first story, Aunt Bertha sends Reggie to a country estate with the mission to end an engagement between Reggie’s cousin Herbert and Josephine Smith. However, the Crandle Castle is owned by an earl whose daughter Reggie has been engaged to previously and it didn’t end amicably, so Reggie doesn’t look forward to the task. Fortunately, he acquires a very useful automaton from the Drone club. Reeves turns out to be indispensable.

In the second story, “Something Rummy this way comes”, Aunt Bertha demands that Reggie will get married and sends him to all the dances of the season. Even feigning a heart attack doesn’t work. So, Reggie and Jeeves concoct plans to make Reggie less desirable in the eyes of the debutants and their family. However, soon Reggie dances with one Emmeline Dreadnought and finds out that several debutants have gone missing. Their families want to avoid a scandal and haven’t told the police. Reggie decides to become a consulting detective and investigate discreetly. Emmeline insists on helping him. Hilarity ensues.

Reggie has his own horseless carriage Stanley Steamer. Reeves is an automaton which occasionally needs his steam topped off. The setting is in England 1903 but Queen Victoria is still in charge. Secondary characters include Reggie’s friends from the Drone club and his mighty aunts as well as several other notable high society people.

This was highly entertaining story where it was easy for me to ignore the flaws, such as a ridiculous plot. Compared to Jeeves and Wooster, Reggie is stupider than Wooster and clearly less intelligent than Reeves and not very socially smart either. Reeves also suggests and uses subterfuge in a way that Jeeves wouldn’t. Of course, Dolley didn’t live in 1903, either.

The fourth in the Smokey Dalton historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 41 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Mirron Willis

Smokey is a black man in 1969 Chicago and a private detective. He has continued his romance with Laura Hathaway, a rich white woman, and it brings some problems with it. The story starts with Laura and Smokey taking part in a charity fundraiser for orphaned black children. Laura’s suggestion of white families adopting them isn’t received well, to say the least.

On their way to Smokey’s apartment, Smokey hears a woman calling for help from his neighbor’s apartment. He and Laura investigate and find an unknown black woman bleeding heavily. They get her to a hospital where the doctors refuse to help her because they suspect that she’d done an abortion, which is illegal. Laura won’t stand for that, though. Smokey tries to find out the strange woman’s identity and ends up investigating on who is responsible for the botched abortion the stranger suffered through. In another plot thread, Smokey works for Laura inspecting the buildings her company owns. When he finds the remains of a baby, he just has to find out who is responsible.

Also, Black Stone Rangers and the Panthers play a significant role in the story.

Several plot threats make this book is bit more sprawling that the previous ones but no less enjoyable. Many familiar characters return and Smokey’s adoptive son Jimmy starts to act out on his teenaged impulses. Jimmy feels left out of Smokey’s life when Smokey deals with problems he doesn’t want Jimmy to know about. The boy’s also afraid that Smokey will be injured or even killed. Even though Smokey’s friends would no doubt take care of the boy if that happened, it’s not enough for the boy.

Nelscott describes Chicago wonderfully even though the racism is hard to read about. And racism does worm its way into pretty much everything. As far as I can tell, the characters are realistic for their time.

The story is a chilling reminder that women’s current rights haven’t existed for long and people are again, or still, working to diminish or destroy them altogether. Even here in Finland.

Another excellent book in the series.

Third in the Smokey Dalton historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 16 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Mirron Willis

Set in 1968 Chicago, the racial tensions are very high and when black people are murdered, the police don’t really investigate, just mark it as gang violence. Also, the Blackstone Rangers are recruiting black boys and rising in prominence.

Smokey Dalton is living under the assumed name of Bill Grimshaw and essentially he has adopted a young boy, Jimmy. Smokey was a black detective in Memphis before he and Jimmy had to flee to Chicago and he returns to his old profession, although without any official papers.

Mrs. Alice Foster asks Smokey to find out who killed her husband, a respectable dentist. Two young people found Foster’s body and when Smokey talks to them, he realizes that something is indeed strange. At the same time, Smokey’s love Laura Hathaway is trying to get control of the company which her father left behind. But the men in control don’t want her there. Laura is white so despite a strong mutual attraction she and Smokey have decided that they can’t be together. Also, the Blackstone Rangers are trying to get Jimmy to join them. Smokey and the local parents are looking for a way to keep their kids away from the gang.

There are a lot of things going on in this book but they’re unified by the central theme: racism and the way the blacks were treated. This is not an easy read but I think it’s an excellent portrayal of the times.

The reader is great. His rich voice suits Smokey and the series very well.

This is a collection of three short steampunk novellas. I got an ebook in exchange for an honest review. The main character Maliha is a biracial woman and she needs a walking stick.

Format: ebook
Page count: 258

The year for the stories isn’t clearly stated until in the third novella. They take place during the reign of Edward II but in an alternate world where anti-gravity machines, called Faraday devices, have been invented and are used by the British Empire. Also, it seems that the British have gone to Venus and Mars which have at least plants.

Alice Maliha Anderson is the daughter of a high-born Indian lady and a Scottish engineer. Her family lives in India but Maliha has been sent to a boarding school in Britain. Unfortunately, the other girls made her life very unpleasant and her leg was also permanently injured during her school years so that she needs a cane to walk around. She’s a determined lady who has learned not to let anyone or anything stand in her way. But she’s keenly aware that she isn’t white enough to be British or dark enough to be Indian. She’s also very used to nobody wanting to even talk to her and keeping all people at an arm’s length. She’s a very proper Victorian woman with regards to personal relationships.

“Murder out of Blue” is the first novella where Maliha is finally returning home to India to her family via Ceylon. She travels by a flying ship which uses a Faraday device. That lessens the effects of gravity and allows her to walk without the cane. She travels in first class with a colorful company. At first, she’s keenly aware that everyone keeps an eye out on her but then she makes a few friends. However, then the body of one of the passengers is found murdered and much to her surprise, Maliha finds out that she’s also a suspect.

Another passenger urges Maliha to investigate; it seems that Maliha had solved another case earlier. Inspector Forsyth from Ceylon police department doesn’t want a woman messing in his case but he quickly realizes that she’s exceptionally perceptive. Maliha also meets Mr. William Crier who doesn’t appear to be intimidated by a strong woman.

The second novella, “Blood Sky at Night”, is set in Ceylon. A woman who Maliha knew at the boarding school is in trouble and she intends to contact Maliha for help. But before she can do so, she’s murdered. The woman’s pupil contacts Maliha instead. The pupil is a princess from a Bali royal line and the only survivor of a recent massacre. This time Inspector Forsyth and his deputy Detective Constable Choudhary can’t avoid Maliha getting involved in the case.

“Halo Around the Moon” is the third novella and it’s set mostly on Ceylon. One of Mr. Crier’s distant friends has died seemingly in a riding accident and he travels to the mainland of India for the funeral. He invites Maliha along because he wants to be sure that his young friend really died from an accident and because he wants to spend more time with the aloof and proper woman.

The novellas are entertaining and each novella gets better (and longer). None of them end in a cliffhanger and the first two can be read as a stand-alones. The short length means that the stories don’t have much space for red herrings, tough. They have romance only as a possible undercurrent, until the third novella. The stories have some non-hetero people and they also deal with racism and colonialism. The one thing the stories lack is humor. Maliha is always earnest and serious.

I enjoyed the stories even though sometimes the sentence structures are awkward (for example “The horse had leapt the fallen tree trunk without a problem and although there had been no pace adjustment but something had gone wrong.” “Both raised their hats as drew closer.”) and I would have liked to get more descriptions of people and places. Maliha is a delightful protagonist and the stories have a historical feel.

The next story, Wind in the East, seems to be a full-length novel.

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