The country estate is comfortable and cheerful. Everything in the garden is lovely. The local tavern serves meals several cuts above the usual pub fare.
But murder intrudes on a weekend getaway in “A Bitter Feast” (William Morrow, $25.99, 384 pages), the 18th entry in Deborah Crombie’s series featuring Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James.
Gemma’s colleague and friend, Detective Sgt. Melody Talbot, has invited the couple and their three children to visit Beck House; it’s the Cotswolds retreat of her parents, prominent London newspaper editor Sir Ivan Talbot and his wife, Lady Adelaide, who are about to host a luncheon catered by Viv Holland, the talented chef who co-owns the village pub.
But en route to Beck House, Duncan’s car—Gemma and the kids have already arrived and he’s traveling alone—is struck by an auto driven by local resident Nell Greene, who’s taking an ill man to a nearby hospital. Duncan survives, but Nell and her passenger die, and the authorities determine that the dead man, former celebrity chef Fergus O’Reilly, expired before the crash. Fergus once was Viv’s lover and employer at his tony London restaurant.
Crombie plays her hand adroitly as she places multiple prospective suspects before the reader. Her ability to paint characters with strokes that combine depth with nuance enriches her story. And her continuing development of the Kincaid–James family members deepens the affection in which the reader holds them.
A classic puzzle rendered with grace and sensitivity, “A Bitter Feast” explores how events of the past, if left to simmer, can boil over into murder and madness.
A DEADLY INVITATION
From the battlefields of the Second Boer War to the halls of Cambridge University, Barbara Cleverly takes readers on a serpentine journey in “Invitation to Die” (Soho, $26.95, 360 pages), her second novel featuring Detective Inspector John Redfyre of the Cambridge constabulary.
When the body of an apparent tramp—laid out formally on a gravestone—is discovered in 1924, his greatcoat contains a card labeled “An Invitation to Dine.”
During the course of his investigation, Redfyre must confront past, recent and potential future killings. And he learns that the crimes might be linked to six British soldiers who served in South Africa a quarter-century ago, as well as a malevolent dining club at the college.
What follows displays Cleverly—also the author of 13 historical novels starring Scotland Yard sleuth Joe Sandilands—at her devilishly shrewd finest, as she juggles her narrative between crime and interrogation, South Africa and England.
She does so with eloquence of prose and empathy of spirit—and by striking a fine balance between the essential darkness of her story and the wit with which she lightens it.
Cleverly, as always, creates an intriguing and intelligent plot, multifaceted characters and pitch-perfect period and place. One of the best practitioners of the genre—and one who deserves a wider audience—her latest effort reaffirms her stature and her appeal to discriminating and discerning readers.
GLITZ, GLAMOUR, MURDER
“Autumn in New York,” the song says, means “glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel.”
And murder in “A Dangerous Engagement” (Minotaur, $27.99, 320 pages), Ashley Weaver’s sixth novel featuring upper-crust Brits Amory and Milo Ames, who travel to New York in 1933 for the wedding of Amory’s childhood friend Tabitha Alden to Thomas Smith.
Upon arrival, Amory senses underlying tension within the wedding party, which in addition to Tabitha, Tom and herself includes bridesmaid Jemma Petrie and groomsmen Rudolph Elliot and Grant Palmer. When Grant is gunned down outside the Alden mansion, amateur sleuth Amory—assisted by Milo—tries to unmask the killer.
Complicating her investigation is the victim’s connections to rival gangsters Leon De Lora and Frankie Earl, as well as concern over the financial health of Tabitha’s father, Benjamin Alden. As the Ameses try to crack the case, they move between New York’s underworld and its high society.
A whodunit that evokes and honors the Golden Age of 1930s mysteries, “A Dangerous Engagement” combines Weaver’s skill at plotting, her ability to re-create another era and its trappings and her further progression of the Ameses’ relationship. Add the shocking twist at the climax, and fans of literate historical mysteries will find this installment another pleasing meld of style and substance, wit and grit.