Monday, July 9, 2012

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Dorchester Terrace (Thomas and Charlotte Pitt Series #27) by Anne Perry

Kirkus Reviews –

A dying adventuress holds entirely too many secrets for the miscreants who threaten Queen Victoria's government, whose peace Thomas Pitt is sworn to keep. Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, the wise and knowing aunt of Pitt's wife Charlotte, is right to be concerned about her old friend Serafina Montserrat. It's not just that Serafina's life is drawing to a close; her illness makes her mind wander, and oftentimes she says things she shouldn't--and, according to her niece, Nerissa Freemarsh, things that just aren't true. But Serafina speaks very much to the point when she tells Vespasia that she's afraid "they'll kill me" because "I know too much." Sure enough, the next time Vespasia comes to visit, Serafina has already died. Pitt, who's already been put on high alert by the hints about very contemporary terrorist threats Serafina has intimated to Vespasia, ascertains that the cause of death was an overdose of laudanum quite impossible for Serafina to have administered to herself. Whodunit? And even more important, why? It doesn't take long for Pitt (Long Spoon Lane, 2005, etc.) to focus his concern on Duke Alois Habsburg, a decidedly minor noble whose upcoming visit to his cousins in England seems increasingly likely to end with his assassination. But which of the slippery bureaucrats Pitt must deal with in his new capacity as head of Special Branch is the traitor behind the plot? And how can Pitt, who continues to be superstitiously reverent toward his alleged social superiors, smoke out the traitor and deal with him? Slow to catch fire, but full of pleasing twists once it does--one of Perry's most successful attempts to cloak contemporary geopolitical anxieties in plummy faux-Victorian periods.

Gypped (Regan Reilly Series #15) by Carol Higgins Clark

Publishers Weekly –

In this flat and formulaic 15th installment in the Regan Reilly mystery series (after Mobbed), the titular PI and her husband, Jack, are in L.A. for a meeting and some downtime, but when Regan runs into a former fellow game show contestant, their trip takes a turn for the worse. Seven years ago, Zelda and Regan met and made nice on Puzzling Words. When they run into each other while shopping, Zelda divulges that she has recently inherited million from a deceased neighbor, and has used some of the money to bid on and win a weeklong stay at a Hollywood Hills mansion. Though Jack has to work, Regan agrees to attend a dinner party at the estate. Surprised to find the manse in deplorable condition, Regan rallies and stays for tea after the other guests have left. Zelda suddenly falls ill, and so Regan stays the night. The next morning she discovers a butcher knife hidden by her car, and soon the newly minted multimillionaire is entreating Regan to investigate her new cohort, including her pushy lawyer, Rich; her flamboyant assistant, Norman; and even Zelda's new stepmother, Bobby Jo, who married Zelda's father in Vegas after a distressingly brief courtship. As Regan digs deeper, she discovers that she and Zelda might be danger. Fans of the series will get they're looking for, but a barebones plot and lack of suspense make Clark's newest unlikely to appeal to new readers.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Kirkus Reviews –

First-time novelist Rogan's architectural background shows in the precision with which she structures the edifice of moral ambiguity surrounding a young woman's survival during three weeks in a crowded lifeboat adrift in the Atlantic in 1914. The novel begins with Grace back on American soil, on trial for her actions on the boat. Two other female survivors who are also charged, Hannah and Mrs. Grant, plead self-defense. Grace, guided by her lawyer Mr. Reichmann, who has had her write down her day-by-day account of events, pleads not guilty. Rogan leaves it up to the reader to decide how reliable a narrator Grace may be. Newly impoverished after her father's financial ruin and subsequent suicide, New Yorker Grace set her sites on the wealthy young financier Henry Winter and soon won him, never mind that he was already engaged. They sailed together, pretending to be married, to London, where he had business and they legally wed before boarding Empress Alexandra (named for the soon-to-be-assassinated Tsarina) to return home. When an unexplained explosion rocks the ship, Henry gallantly places her, perhaps with a bribe, into a lifeboat already packed to over-capacity. She never sees him again. An Empress crewmember, Mr. Hardie, quickly takes charge of the passengers, distributing the limited rations and organizing work assignments with godlike authority. As hope for quick salvation dims, passengers fall into numb lethargy. Some go mad. There are natural deaths and (reluctantly) voluntary sacrificial drownings. Dissention grows. Mr. Hardie's nemesis is the sternly maternal Mrs. Grant and feminist Hannah, who plant suspicions about his motives and competence. Grace avoids taking sides but eventually helps the other women literally overthrow him into the sea. Is she acting out of frail weakness, numbed by her ordeal, or are her survival instincts more coldblooded? Even she may not be sure; much of her conversation circles morality and religion. The lifeboat becomes a compelling, if almost overly crafted, microcosm of a dangerous larger world in which only the strong survive.

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