Mad Hatter’s Holiday by Peter Lovesey

MadHattersPeter Lovesey’s Sergeant Cribb stories hold a special place in this blogger’s affections as a book from that series was the subject of the very first post on this blog. Since then I have reviewed several other titles in the series but given it has been eight months since I last revisited the character I thought it was time to read another in the series.

Mad Hatter’s Holiday begins by introducing us to Albert Moscrop, a young man who has travelled to the seaside to people watch with his telescope and binoculars. During one of his observations he notices a young woman he had encountered briefly and follows her with his lens. He eventually contrives a meeting and introduces himself to her, learning about her husband and children as well as an issue that has been worrying her.

The first third of the novel builds up our understanding of these characters and suggests some points of conflict between them. We may well be wondering what crime is likely to be committed but when this section of the novel ends and Cribb is introduced we have little knowledge of what crime he is investigating, let alone how it relates back to these opening chapters of the novel.

It turns out that a severed arm has been discovered in a reptile display yet there is no sign that this might have been an accident or of the remainder of the body. While it is clear that someone has been killed, the Police have little idea who the body might belong to, let alone who is responsible. Fortunately for him, Mr. Moscrop is keen to share some evidence with him…

One of the joys of Lovesey’s historical mystery writing is his ability to depict and explore some of the more eccentric aspects of life in the period. Previous titles in this series have explored sporting events and the music halls but what this novel does particularly well is to convey the novelty of a spyglass or binoculars would have had at this time. For instance, the other characters are shown as being intrigued to take a look through a lens for themselves and Moscrop is still experimenting with different degrees of magnification.

While the idea of a man using a spyglass to watch people on a beach has uncomfortable and sinister connotations, Lovesey pitches Moscrop as a social introvert whose usual interest is to simply crowdwatch both to test his lenses and to feel that he is among the people. We are told that the intense interest he shows in Mrs Prothero is a new sensation for him and readers may be disturbed by some of his actions in observing and interacting with her. For instance there is a moment early in the novel where he decides to kidnap her unattended infant son to enable him to return the child and gain an introduction.

Moscrop is not intended to be the story’s hero however and once Cribb arrives he serves a different role within the novel, providing some of the information he has gathered to the police to help with their inquiries. They, understandably, are uncertain how to interpret his actions and behavior and consider him a suspect in that investigation.

The Protheros prove an interesting bunch. Dr. Prothero, for instance, is a vocal proponent of many of the medical ideas of his day and has an obsession with the idea that swimming in the sea is dangerous to one’s health. His son is fifteen but speaks like an adult and has little time for his stepmother who, we learn, is Dr. Prothero’s third wife. As for their nursemaid, Dr. Prothero insisted on her appointment and will not consider dismissing her, even though she is often inattentive in her care for their infant son.

In my review of Lovesey’s previous Cribb novel, Abracadaver, I felt that the characters of Cribb and Thackeray benefited from being introduced at the start. This novel keeps them back with the consequence that Lovesey has to reestablish them at the moment at which we are learning about the crime, slowing down that section of the story. One pleasant aspect of this choice however is that the reader is able to draw upon what they have already learned from following Moscrop to make some assumptions about what the crime will be.

We soon learn that Cribb and Thackeray have been called in to investigate a severed arm found in the alligator enclosure at the aquarium. As Thackeray notes this is even less to go on than in a previous case where they had to work with a headless body. In spite of this, even before Moscrop shares his account with them they have already deduced quite a few things from this section of a body, if not its identity, demonstrating their abilities as detectives.

Those who have not read a Cribb story before may be surprised at the rather leisurely pacing of the investigation but I consider that part of these stories’ charm. Cribb has a rather relaxed, some might say lazy, approach to policing and tends to allow things to play out, only swooping into action when he perceives someone to be in danger or that the criminal might get away.

That is not to say however that Cribb is inactive in this investigation. One of my favorite sequences in the novel takes place in a bathhouse where Cribb is attempting to speak with one of the suspects and even when he doesn’t care to act himself he is more than willing to volunteer Constable Thackeray’s help. Several of those moments are very funny and help establish these characters for those who are not already familiar with them.

The solution Lovesey creates is quite clever and aspects of it are well-clued though I would argue that one part of the puzzle is rather too technical to be considered fair play. It is debatable however and some might argue that Lovesey does give a hint about the nature of the specialist knowledge one might need to work it out. It is, ultimately, only one element of a much bigger and rather satisfying mystery puzzle.

Perhaps the most baffling thing about the book is its rather odd title which conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland, reinforced by a Tenniel illustration appearing on the cover of my recent edition of the book. There are not only no Carroll references, there is also a striking absence of hats. The title appears to come from a line of dialogue in the second half of the book but even that is questionable because that line feels jammed in as if to justify the title. It is a minor thing but the title set the wrong expectations for me and I will admit to being a little disappointed that it really has no relationship to the content.

So, where does that leave me on Mad Hatter’s Holiday? I found aspects of the story and particularly of the historical setting to be very interesting and I appreciated Lovesey’s ability to play off and subvert some of the reader’s expectations about what had happened. It is not the best Cribb story I have read but it is certainly not the worst and while I will always begrudge a late introduction for Cribb and Thackeray they are at least used effectively once they do appear.

A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill

ProphetsA Decline in Prophets is the second in Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series set in Australia in the early 1930s. When I read and reviewed the first story, A Few Right Thinking Men, I liked it a lot. The characters were enjoyable and the historical background to the case was fascinating. My only reservation in recommending it on this blog was that I felt the mystery element felt a little too straightforward.

One thing I should warn readers about up front is that this book reveals elements of the conclusion of the previous story. I have kept discussion of those specific elements out of this review to try to avoid spoiling anyone.

The book picks up shortly after the first left off with Rowland and his friends embarking on a world cruise. Among their fellow passengers are a collection of prominent Theosophists and an Irish Catholic bishop and his retinue.

One evening Rowland spots one of the male passengers aggressively propositioning his friend Edna and the men come to blows. When the man is found dead in the early hours of the next morning with Rowland’s walking stick embedded in his neck he finds himself inevitably under suspicion for murder.

The detective as chief suspect trope is not a favorite of mine so I was quite happy that the author acknowledges it but quickly moves past it, using it as an opportunity to show Rowland’s intelligence and reasoning. He demonstrates how the evidence suggests that he was not involved but while he is curious about the crime, for the first half of the novel he is not actively investigating the death.

These chapters are spent amassing information as we are introduced to the cast of characters which blends real historical figures with possible suspects. In my review of A Few Right Thinking Men I praised the way Gentill achieves this and I think her work here is equally impressive. While readers will likely work out which of the characters are real historical figures it is not because of any difference in the quality of characterization or dialogue.

Further crimes occur while aboard the ship with one incident in particular prompting Rowland to become more involved in discovering what is going on once they dock. As interesting as some of these incidents were, I preferred the second half of the book which mixes more direct investigation with a dose of Sinclair family drama.

Some of the novel’s strongest and most entertaining moments actually do not involve the crimes at all but the tension in the relationship between Rowland and his elder brother Wilfred who disapproves of Rowly’s bohemian lifestyle and friends. Many of these scenes are quite humorous such as an extended sporting sequence but there are also a couple of strongly emotional moments that give the relationship a good sense of balance.

That is not to say however that the mystery elements of the novel dissatisfy and I would suggest that this second Rowland Sinclair novel is actually a more complex and interesting case than his first. While I was disappointed that the solution to that puzzle was quite straightforward, this case is more complex and challenging.

The actual solution is quite complicated but I think it is explained well. Gentill makes it easy to understand the sequence of events that take place and the connections between them. I might question whether one key visual clue in the deductive chain could be noticed by the reader but I think that for the most part it plays fair.

While I enjoyed the book a lot, I should acknowledge that there are a few moments that feel quite extraneous to the plot and that some may feel is padding. I referenced the polo match above which was probably my favorite moment in the novel but there are others including a subplot where Wilfred’s wife is trying to set Rowland up with a friend of hers that perhaps do not add much to our understanding of the plot or these characters.

When I reviewed the first novel in this series I commented that while I thoroughly enjoyed it, it felt more like a piece of historical fiction than a mystery novel. This second installment does address that problem, developing a more complex plot than the predecessor while keeping its historical themes simpler, requiring less explanation and context. I still appreciated learning about theosophy and the lives of the historical figures depicted who I thought were interesting and depicted convincingly.

A Decline in Prophets is entertaining, lively and often quite charming. Its characters are memorable while the murders are genuinely puzzling. While I think on balance I enjoyed A Few Right Thinking Men more, I do feel that this is the superior mystery. Because it spoils the first novel I would not suggest jumping in with this one but for those that are curious I would certainly recommend taking a look.

A Moment in Crime by Amanda Allen

MomentinCrimeA Moment in Crime is the second in a series of novels by Amanda Allen set in 1920s New Mexico (check out my review of Santa Fe Mourning here). The protagonist, Madeline Vaughn-Alwin, comes from a background of wealth and privilege but following the death of her husband in the War she settles in Santa Fe where she works as an artist.

This novel picks up shortly after the first with Maddie attending a display of her work in a gallery. She is surprised when her cousin Gwen turns up to the party looking on the verge of collapse telling her that she needs her help.

Gwen is an actress who has a role in a movie production that is in town to film some scenes on location. She tells Maddie that she had slept with the director, Luther Bishop, who had promised her a big role but that she was ultimately only given a bit part. He blames his wife, the film’s leading lady, for his reneging on the deal and when she has a pregnancy scare he tries to pay her off to take care of it.

Maddie soon discovers that other members of the cast and crew have grievances against their director and that he may have also made some enemies among the locals. The reader will not be surprised when Maddie discovers him dead, hanging from the ceiling in his office in a staged suicide.

Like the first novel in the series, I found this to be an entertaining and lively read. The setting is quite wonderful and appeals enormously to me both in its sense of place and time. There are plenty of interesting historical and cultural details about the city to pick up on and I do think those details help the setting to feel real and vibrant. Both books have given me an urge to travel to Santa Fe and visit the landscape and the La Fonda hotel which plays a prominent role in both stories.

The bohemian nature of Santa Fe’s artistic community in this period allows for a book that can incorporate those historical elements and themes while still feeling modern. Allen develops a great cast of supporting characters surrounding Maddie such as her housekeeper Juanita, best friend Gunther, her English doctor beau David and Chesterton superfan and crime solving buddy, Father Malone. They are all distinctive and charming, making it easy to enjoy their company.

The idea of setting a story around a film production coming to town is an interesting one. The casting couch element of the story feels particularly timely and I think it is handled quite well. Some readers may be surprised by just how messy, improvisational and chaotic a major film production might be in this period but I think the novel effectively conveys the idea that this is a time where the film industry was becoming glamorous but also that this is happening before the studio system reached its heights.

It makes a great setting for a mystery and I think the early part of the case is quite intriguing, setting up multiple suspects and giving them convincing reasons to want Luther dead. Once again Allen gives Maddie a convincing, personal reason to want to dig deeper into a case by having her cousin become the Police’s chief suspect and this works well to motivate her even when things become more dangerous.

There are some issues with the way the case develops that I think do detract from the book when judging it as a mystery. While this is set up to be a detective story, as with the first novel Maddie really stumbles onto the solution as a consequence of an action she takes rather than through deduction. This would not bother me if the reader could have solved it before the reveal but while the solution is clued, at that point there is little to disqualify some of the other suspects.

Similarly, I felt frustrated that Allen identifies several suspects early in the novel but never really does anything with them. One of those suspects has a particularly strong and interesting motive to want Luther dead that I think is at least as convincing as the killer’s and yet it goes unexamined. I do wish that space had been found to take a closer look at that suspect within the investigation as I think it would have not only helped with the case, it could have enhanced one of the novel’s themes.

Though I have a few issues with the manner in which the mystery is resolved, I did thoroughly enjoy the adventure that led to that point. This series has a wonderful sense of character and setting and I thoroughly enjoy spending time with Maddie and her circle of friends. I would certainly suggest these books for those who are looking for a historical setting away from the familiar environments of the big metropolises and I look forward to reading future installments in this series.

Copy provided by the publisher for early review. A Moment in Crime is set to be released on December 11 in the United States. The eBook will be released on the same date in the United Kingdom and on December 27 in print.

Bertie and the Seven Bodies by Peter Lovesey

BertieandtheSevenBodiesA few months ago I read and reviewed the first of Peter Lovesey’s novels that featured Bertie, Prince of Wales as a sleuth. Bertie and the Tin Man was a highly entertaining read, rich in humor and character, but the mystery itself disappointed.

Bertie and the Seven Bodies is the second of the three novels and I am happy to say that the plotting here is far stronger. It probably didn’t hurt that I find a week’s shooting holiday to be of more interest than the world of Victorian horse racing!

Once again Lovesey uses the device of presenting his story as a memoir of the case written by Bertie himself in later life. This enables him to inject his narrative with plenty of character, having Bertie pause at points to reflect on events and to go off on little tangents. Lovesey also has fun presenting us with situations where he has Bertie’s words and actions in the past contradict what the older Bertie claims he was doing.

The events the older Bertie recounts to us take place at a shooting party being held in the country house of an attractive young widow. During the dinner that takes place on the first evening Queenie Chimes, an actress who plays bit parts in West End productions, collapses face-first into their dessert and is rushed to a doctor for medical treatment. Near her place setting is a scrap of newspaper with the word Monday written on it and while the guests do not realize it yet, this is just the first in a series of murders that will take place during that party.

Before long Bertie has decided he will take command of the situation and find the killer himself. This is, in part, due to the practical consideration that he wishes to avoid scandalous press coverage of his proximity to several murders but it is also a reflection of his supreme (and somewhat misguided) belief in his own abilities.

Lovesey illustrates Bertie’s overconfidence in his detective prowess early in the novel with several sequences in which he attempts to make Holmesian deductions about people based on small pieces of physical evidence. These scenes are not only quite entertaining, they also establish one of the running themes of the Bertie novels – that those who orbit around him are obliged to be deferential to him regardless of his actual skill as a detective. In fact the reader may justifiably feel that Bertie’s role as detective is, in part, responsible for the book’s high body count as at several points he moves to reassure the other guests that he has identified the guilty party and it is all over.

A quick look at various Goodreads reviews shows that Bertie is quite a divisive protagonist with multiple reviewers labelling him as ‘unlikable’. Certainly he is a pompous figure and his philandering ways will likely prompt some eye-rolling but he can also be quite charming and self-aware showing that he is all too aware of some of his weaknesses. The comparison I would draw would be to the television character Frasier who possessed several similar faults – the fun is in them seeking to maintain their dignity in the face of potential humiliations such as their amorous misadventures.

As the title suggests, multiple murders await the reader and a large part of the fun is in figuring out who the next victim will be and how they will be disposed of. I appreciated the variety of methods utilized and how well this aspect of the novel pastiches elements found in several Christie works.

Lovesey provides us with an interesting mix of suspects from a variety of backgrounds and personality types. I might argue that the female characters are a little stronger and more richly drawn than the males though that really reflects Bertie’s greater interest in getting to know them. Each character is treated seriously as a suspect however and I think several possess interesting motivations.

The solution to the puzzle is quite clever and fairly clued but I did find that I guessed at it after drawing a parallel to another work. This didn’t hugely bother me as I think the manner of the confrontation at the end is interesting but it did dull the impact of the revelation a little. Your mileage may vary however and if you have not read the book it draws from it will likely come as quite a satisfying revelation.

While this is the second book in a series, you do not need to have read the first in order to understand this and so I would suggest that you skip ahead to this one. Also, if you are an audiobook fan I can recommend the splendid readings of the first two books in this series by Terrence Hardiman whose plummy, rich voice is a perfect fit for Bertie and he handles the comedic elements brilliantly

Overall I found Bertie and the Seven Bodies to be a funnier, more tightly plotted outing than his first. It is not just a very good Christie pastiche, it is a fine mystery novel in its own right and I think it managed to blend its comedic and serious elements together very well to create something quite special and surprisingly original.

Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis

ShadowsSeveral months ago I wrote about the first Falco novel, The Silver Pigs, which I noted I had been trying to read for about fifteen years. I came to the conclusion that I rather liked it and I had been looking forward to seeing more of the character but unfortunately this book reminded me why I struggled to finish the first book for so long.

The novel picks up shortly after the first book left off with the Informer now on Caesar’s staff. He is frustrated with the work assignments he is being given, most of which involve tidying up loose ends from his previous case. The task he is set at the beginning of the novel is to find and bribe or threaten the living conspirators to ensure that they fall in line with the new regime.

That is, unfortunately, about as much as I can say about the plot because what you have in store for yourself is a long, winding novel with new goals emerging in a hydra-like fashion as he completes each task he has set for himself. It gives the plot a sort of rambling, unfocused feeling and I think if you are reading this for the mission you will probably feel frustrated. Davis’ focus, it turns out, is actually on another aspect of Falco’s life.

Now I am not necessarily opposed to an entire novel detailing the status of Falco’s relationship with Helena Justina. She was probably my favorite part of the first novel and I enjoy the interactions between the two and the disconnect we see between Falco’s opinion of his knowledge of women and the actuality where he is clearly quite clueless. The problem from my perspective comes from the lack of surprise in the way that plot unfolds.

Davis is clearly heading somewhere from the moment they first encounter each other again but she plays her hand too clearly, showing exactly where their story is headed in a somewhat testy exchange between the pair. You might argue that this is intended to build suspense except that is not how the rest of their interactions unfold – my belief is that this was meant to be a subtle hint that is anything but and the ending seems to play out as though it is intended to surprise the reader.

This would not be an issue if the case Falco is working on had a stronger sense of urgency or mystery about it but actually for the first half of the book everything feels very straightforward. It can sometimes be interesting to follow how Falco will deal with some of the discontents and to share in his cynical observations about the political elites but there is little here to surprise or shock.

This does change when Davis pulls off a very effective twist in the second half of the novel, giving Falco more immediate stakes in the case and also heightening the danger he faces. I will admit to having been completely surprised by this moment in the novel and it does give the plot a much-needed boost but by that point I was already feeling quite disengaged from the story and that a lot of my time had been wasted with unnecessary details of Falco’s journey and with little purpose.

Which brings me back to the problem that this story is more focused on Falco’s relationship drama than establishing anything approaching a mystery. The reader cannot really predict that twist or many of the developments that follow and by the time it happens it feels like we have strayed a long way from the original mission Falco has been given by Vespasian. Even if I were to focus on appreciating it as a romance rather than as a mystery, the book feels slow and filled with unnecessary padding.

In short, this was a big disappointment given my high expectations for the novel. The characters are still enjoyable but the story here could have been told in half the page count and I do not think much would have been lost. As invested as I am in Falco and Helena’s relationship, the weaknesses in the mystery and adventure elements undermine the novel and make it feel somewhat directionless. My hope is that the subsequent volumes get the series back on track and I will at least be curious to see what becomes of them after the events of this book.

The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble

BloodyBlackFlagThere is something about pirates that just instinctively appeals to me. One of the television shows that I have most enjoyed in recent years is Black Sails and ever since that ended I have been searching for my next piratical fix. It seems I have found it in the Spider John mystery novel series, the second of which will be released next month.

Spider John Rush and his friend Ezra reluctantly sign onto the crew of the Plymouth Dream after the ship they were on is sunk. Unfortunately it turns out that Ezra is known to one of the crew they join and that man broadcasts that he is a descendent of witches, suggesting that he will bring bad luck to their voyage.

When Spider John finds his friend dead with a flask of spirits and battering around his head he refuses to accept that it was a drunken accident. For one thing, he knows that Ezra didn’t drink. He vows vengeance on the murderer, even if it results in his own death.

The Bloody Black Flag is a literary mash-up of a high seas adventure novel and a traditional amateur detective story and I am very happy to be able to say that it does both genres extremely well. While most of my comments will be addressing this book as a mystery novel, I do want to stress that the adventure elements are suitably exciting and capture the danger of working on the seas and are full of details of life on the account. Even if the murder mystery element does not appeal to you, there is still plenty to enjoy here.

The idea of having a pirate character serve as a sleuth in a mystery novel feels so natural that I was surprised that I haven’t seen it done before. Pirates crews were made up of dangerous men living outside the law and keeping that kind of company it would not be surprising that they might come across bodies regularly enough to make a series credible. That challenge is finding a way to make the sleuth care about finding the truth given the danger that will surely pose to their own life.

Goble meets that challenge splendidly with the creation of his sleuth, Spider John. This is a man who has found himself living as a pirate not by choice but as a result of having been forced to enlist in a crew when he first went to sea and the boat he was working on was captured. He has a wife and child he wants to return to back in Nantucket though there seems to be no prospect of that in his immediate future.

John, by his own reckoning, is neither a good man nor a bad one. He does terrible things, being an efficient fighter, but he points out that he could have been far worse and that he does not enjoy that aspect of the work. For example, at one point he silently prays that a ship they are approaching will immediately surrender to avoid any bloodshed. He, like many real pirates, is a man who is simply doing what he needs to in order to survive.

Goble provides him with a strong motivation to look into this death by having it happen to his only friend among the crew. In the early chapters he establishes that the two men have sailed together for a long time and have developed an incredibly strong bond of trust. In spite of that though John might well have accepted the death as an accident if it were not for a clumsy piece of staging.

His skill set as an investigator is credible for a man with his background. He is naturally wary of others, has seen different types of injury (having caused a few of them himself) and is able to draw on his experiences of different crews to notice when someone is behaving abnormally. He is quite an instinctual sleuth but his reasoning for reaching the conclusion he comes to about why his friend was killed is solid and well thought through.

One aspect of his character that intrigues me but which doesn’t have much of a direct impact on this investigation is that he is largely illiterate, knowing little more than how to sign his name. This is not only an example of the author’s attention to historical detail, I can imagine that this might be an interesting challenge for future investigations and will be curious to see if it affects any of his subsequent cases.

The circumstances of the death itself are, appropriately, quite simple but what makes it challenging to solve are Spider John’s status as an outsider within the crew, making the other pirates wary of confiding in him, and a surfeit of suspects. Given how superstitious many of the crew are, their belief that Ezra might be a source of bad luck could be enough of a motive for murder in itself potentially making everyone on board a suspect. Several characters stand out as suspicious and capable of the murder (and subsequent cover-up) however and I enjoyed the process of discovering who was responsible.

The explanation of the crime is pretty clever and I did find the identity of the killer to be a surprise. There is a fair amount of repetition of a question by different characters in the final third of the novel that is frustrating and while the answer to that question will be important to the mystery, I think it does unfortunately feel a little clumsy and this is one of the few aspects of the novel that didn’t work for me.

Goble smartly combines the revelation of the murderer with some high seas action so fans of both genres will likely feel satisfied by the conclusion and he ends the novel on the sort of cliffhanger that will have you searching out the release date for the second volume (September 11th in the US). The Bloody Black Flag is a very accomplished mystery that introduces a compelling sleuth and I cannot wait to see if the second volume lives up to the promise of this first one.

The Betel Nut Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu

BetelNutBack at the start of Summer I read and reviewed the first of Ovidia Yu’s historical mysteries set in interwar Singapore, The Frangipani Tree Mystery, which I found to be a charming and entertaining read with a surprising amount of thematic depth. I was left feeling optimistic about this second novel and have looked forward to picking up where that story left off and finding out what happened to its appealing series sleuth, Su Lin.

At the start of The Betel Nut Tree Mystery the Police are providing protection for a wedding party on the new Governor’s orders. The bride groom gives his protectors a scare when he fakes a bloody death but there is nothing to laugh about when he is found dead a short while later, apparently poisoned.

Though Su Lin demonstrated her ability as a sleuth in the previous novel, here she is has returned to performing light housekeeping and secretarial jobs in spite of her hoping to be placed in active duty once again. As such it takes her a while to find herself in the thick of the investigation although she is well placed to observe much of what is happening and we may feel as much in the dark about Le Froi’s motives for doing this as Su Lin herself.

Le Froi remains quite an enigmatic figure throughout this second book. We are given more information about his life in the course of this story, albeit from a possibly untrustworthy source, but have yet to hear his own perspective on events before he came to Singapore or about his reasons for making certain choices since arriving. I appreciate the slow and subtle exploration of his character across these two books and that even at the end of this he remains quite an enigmatic figure. This is only right as the stories are Su Lin’s but I will be intrigued to get some answers about his life in a future installment.

The author provides us with a healthy array of suspects and there are a good mix of motives to consider. More impressively however the author once again manages to simultaneously have these characters behave abominably towards Su Lin or each other and still have the reader feel moments of sympathy for them, however fleeting. I think Yu captures the complexities of people and their relationships very well and makes the game of working out their relationships with each other and to the dead man quite compelling.

These characters have an interesting mix of secrets they are trying to conceal that Su Lin will draw out in the course of this story. As in the first novel, Su Lin finds herself spending time with the suspects informally in their hotel. Most of the family are wary of her ties to the Police but find themselves giving away information in spite of themselves in their interactions with each other and in a couple of cases quite deliberately sharing information about each other with her or Le Froi.

One of the elements of this series that I think particularly stands out is the handling of the racial tensions and relationships within Singapore. It was handled well in the first novel but here it comes to the fore, always being handled in subtle and naturalistic ways, as we learn about the impact international events such as the rise of fascism in Germany or the Japanese invasion of Manchuria are having within the Empire and, in particular, upon life in the multi-ethnic Singapore.

The event that hangs most over the novel however is the abdication crisis that occurred when as Edward VII resigned his office to marry an American divorcee. We not only hear references to the events in conversations but there are even some direct parallels between their situation and that of the would-be bride, Nicole Covington who had also seen two relationships end in less than ideal fashion. It had never occured to me that the impact of this event would stretch so far. As with the previous novel, these sorts of historical details are impeccably researched and I think it is one of the most distinctive features of the series.

The most important feature of any historical mystery is the case to be solved and I am happy to say that this is well plotted and has some intriguing twists and turns. Arguably the identity of the culprit is clued a little too effectively in the chapters leading up to the reveal but the journey to that moment is gripping and executed perfectly making for a very satisfying conclusion to what is an enjoyable and entertaining mystery. I can only hope that more adventures lie in store for Su Lin!

Review copy provided by the publisher. The Betel Nut Tree Mystery is already available as an ebook and will be released in paperback on October 16, 2018.