Hannah March, The Devil’s Highway
Former tutor Robert Fairfax is about to begin a new position as Sir Edward Nugent’s secretary. As he and Sir Edward travel to the latter’s country estate, they encounter an overturned stagecoach whose coachman and passengers have all been shot to death. Public opinion assumes a local highwayman is to blame, but Robert isn’t so sure — especially when one of the victims is incorrectly identified, and a woman who was supposed to be on the stagecoach is nowhere to be found. I enjoyed this book at least as much as the first in the series, if not more. Robert Fairfax is a sympathetic sleuth, and the Georgian setting is well realized, with this book touching on the state of mental asylums and the rise of Methodism. The mystery itself is perhaps a bit too convoluted, so I think this series is more for historical fiction fans than mystery buffs. But as a lover of both genres, I’d recommend it!
J. Jefferson Farjeon, Seven Dead
A petty thief breaks into Haven House hoping to steal a few valuables — but instead he stumbles upon seven corpses in a locked room. Who are they, how were they killed, and what brought them to Haven House? The local police are on the case, assisted by journalist and amateur yachtsman Thomas Hazeldean. The investigation takes Hazeldean to Boulogne in pursuit of the house’s absent owners, where he becomes embroiled in additional mysteries — and falls in love. I’ve tried a couple of Farjeon’s books in the past, with mixed results, but I liked this one a lot. The mystery isn’t particularly shocking in terms of whodunit, but there are plenty of twists and turns as readers learn just how horrible the culprit really is. Despite some dark elements, the book also has a fair amount of humor (plus the romantic subplot), which keeps it from getting too depressing. Recommended for fans of Golden Age mysteries.
Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, The Roughest Draft
Katrina and Nathan met at a writers’ workshop and instantly became writing partners and friends. They wrote two books together, the first moderately successful and the second a huge best-seller. But then they had a falling-out, and they haven’t spoken to each other in four years. Unfortunately, they still have a contract with their publisher for another co-written book. Reluctantly, they agree to work together one last time, but they’ll have to finally confront the issues that drove them apart. I liked the premise of this book, but in practice I was underwhelmed. Neither Katrina nor Nathan is very likable; they’re both extremely privileged (she lives in a $4 million house, he has a trust fund, neither has to work an actual job), and they’re mean to each other for a significant chunk of the book. The novel also focuses so narrowly on Katrina and Nathan that it feels somewhat claustrophobic — don’t they have any healthy relationships (family, friends) in their lives? The central romance is somewhat compelling if you like a lot of angst, but overall this book just wasn’t for me. I would consider trying something else by these authors, though.