Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Reviews

Some of these books were published several years ago, but they should not be forgotten


By Jane Finnis

ISBN 1590581938

Pub 2005 by Poisoned Pen Press

338 pages, Hard Cover $24.95

This is Jane Finnis second historical adventure set in the Britannia of Roman times. It is another winner. We are in the first century of modern dating. The location is set near Eboracum, a Roman town that evolved over the years into the city of York. The story concerns the family, workers and slaves, of a local innkeeper named Aurelia Marcella, her younger sister Albia, and her much-traveled and somewhat undisciplined older brother, Lucius.

The time of the year is December and the Roman citizens are preparing for their winter celebration, called Saturnalia. As anyone who has planned large celebrations knows, one hopes for appropriate weather, decent guests and a minimum of unplanned uproar. As soon as Lucius arrives from the garrison town one frigid night, Aurelia’s flee like geese in the thrall of an autumn day. Lucius arrives at about midnight. In those times wandering about the countryside after dark was often dangerous and was looked on with great suspicion. Lucius bring unsettling news. He is fleeing an irate husband. He was discovered dallying with the wife of an important official stationed in Londinium. Now there are suspicions that the family Marcella is plotting with others to overthrow Caesar.

That there are plotters scattered across Britain is undeniable and Lucius has been sent by his superiors to go deep undercover to discover who the plotters against Caesar may be. Is there a connection between Lucius affair and the slander against his family and his new assignment? There is more to be discovered and while Aurelia worries about her brother, combats the scandal mongers, and prepares for Saturnalia, a quarrelsome group of guests arrive to stay at the inn.

It’s almost all too much for the bright and intrepid Aurelia. But this is after all, a novel and we know Aurelia will solve the mystery. She has too, because the author’s growing audience wants to read more adventures of this charming, intelligent and witty innkeeper.

Jane Finnis has suggested that those who consider history as a dead topic are in error, and here is ample evidence of the charm, the wit and the fascination any reader can find in these novels of ancient Roman times.



BY Mary Anna Evans

ISBN: 1590580567

Poisoned Pen Press

May, 2003


A thriller with an angst-ridden interesting female protagonist.

The protagonist in this interesting novel, Faye Longchamp, is a mixed-race single female who can usually pass in either camp, yet is clearly uncomfortable in either. Moreover, neither camp is welcoming. Consequently, Faye Longchamp, bright, ambitious, wary of entanglements, generally goes her own way.

She’s technically a squatter, living in the ruins of her ancestral home on a small island on the western coast of Florida, an area known as the panhandle. Title to the land is in question and her situation constantly grows more desperate as she tries to find the money to pay taxes and living expenses. She’s a pothunter as well as an experienced and well-trained archeologist. These conflicting elements of her life, as well as her personality and background, even more than her racial composure, raise conflicts and a considerable amount of angst on an almost daily basis. Then she unearths a body and two young interns on the professional dig where she is working are murdered.

The deaths close down the site and leave Faye without a job and without income. Clever plotting takes the reader inside Faye’s life, inside her family history and through a compelling history lesson. Archeology is far more than the simple antiseptic study of old bones and former generational trash. Author Evans infuses vibrant life to the history of the region and the nation through the circumstances of one family. Her illumination of the region and its special characteristics is excellent. The story lines move with vitality and good pace.

Although there are a few to many coincidences in the plot for some readers, the lively characters, unique and fascinating locale and the competent writing carries us through.


Baltimore Blues

by Laura Lippman

Publisher: Avon Books, Inc.

ISBN: 0-380-78875-6

pub. date: February, 1997

290 pages, paper

This author has become an important voice in the mystery genre. ( I wrote that line ten years ago) Lippman’s observant eye, her skill with the language, and her sense of pace and timing are all on exhibit here. If Tess Monaghan, ex-newspaper reporter, is not the most unusual lead character readers may have encountered, many of the other characters are unusual enough to satisfy our needs. Moreover, as a character that shines and sometimes dominates in these pages, the city of Baltimore is a star.

This excellent first mystery presents us with Tess’ buddy and fellow rower, Darryl Paxton, accused of the murder of a prominent Baltimore attorney. Out of work anyway, Tess agrees to help Paxton’s attorney build a defense. In her sometimes emotional and mistake-ridden efforts to help Paxton, Tess encounters several off-beat characters ranging through the many levels of Baltimore’s social structure. Some of them are ordinary, and some are fascinating, and some threatening.

Lippman writes with economy and verve, and if Monaghan spends a little too much time in internal communication, it’s a small price to pay to be present at the beginning of what will become a strong mystery series.

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