You might expect a holiday book review bonanza to feature sweet, heartfelt holiday reads but that’s not how we roll here. We know a lot of you are historical, mystery, spy, and thriller fans, and what better way to detox from all the holiday chaos than to curl up with a captivating read that puts your best whodunit skills to use? Whether you’re into historical spy novels, cozy mysteries, or hard-boiled detectives, today’s reviews should be just your cup of hopefully non-poisonous holiday tea. So settle in to find some fun additions for your TBR pile or something for an avid reader on your gift list because, if you’re like me, you’ve probably still got a few last minute gifts or stocking stuffers to find.
Please note: All three of these novels could easily merit a lengthy review of its own, but I’ll try to be as brief as possible while giving you a flavor for these fun reads.
Our first review is a historical spy novel, The Crescent Spy by Michael Wallace. You may recall that we reviewed another historical novel by Mr. Wallace, Crow Hollow. Click here to read that review. The Crescent Spy jumps forward in time from the years following the pilgrims’ arrival to the Civil War era. Mr. Wallace still brings his amazing talent for transporting us through time and in-depth character development to provide us with a rich glimpse into the complexities of this period in American history, all couched in an edge-of-your-seat spy thriller. I’m recommending this one for anyone who likes historical novels, spy thrillers, or gutsy female heroines.
Josephine Breaux can write circles around her fellow reporters at the Washington Clarion even if she has to do it under a pseudonym. Not only that but she’s been able to insinuate herself right in the midst of battles that edge ever closer to Washington, DC. She’s risked life and limb to get a scoop on the real stories behind the major events taking place on both the Union and the Confederate sides in the escalating war between the states.
When her cover gets blown by a rival newspaper, Josephine finds herself accused of treason and being a spy. The newly formed Pinkerton agency wants her head on a platter or, barring that, to at least expel her from Union held territory. The irony doesn’t escape her since, although she’s from the South, she is a firm Union supporter. Talk about no good deed going unpunished…at least it looks that way on the surface. What she discovers though is that she was being tested.
When she passes the test, Josephine is taken directly to the White House and quizzed thoroughly by President Lincoln about what she’s observed as well as her feedback on what is really happening in the field and how the Union forces could improve. And in that moment she really does become a spy, a Union spy. She is sent back to New Orleans with another Pinkerton agent, where she is to gain information on what is happening along the Mississippi River and in New Orleans. Since she grew up on a riverboat traveling the Mississippi, and with her reputation as a reporter and as an accused Confederate spy, she’s the perfect person for the job…or is she? Josephine fled this area for a reason. Will her past rise up to not just haunt her but get her hung as a traitor?
Our second review is a British cozy mystery, Empty Nest by Marty Wingate. This cozy is part of the Birds of a Feather mystery series; however, I haven’t read the rest of the series and had no problem reading Empty Nest as a stand-alone novel. It has all the hallmarks of a fun cozy mystery, from the quaint village to a lovely manor house, lots of busy-bodies and red herrings, and a reluctant female amateur detective. I found it to be a fun, quick read and a great escape from the stresses of everyday life. If you’re into cozies, and have an e-reader or tablet on which to read it, then I’d jump on this bargain book.
Julia manages the village tourist center for Earl Fartheringill. She’s bubbling over with ideas of how to draw tourists to their small village and keep them coming back but she’s going to need a cloning machine to get them all accomplished. Boy do I know that feeling!
When toxic mold is found in her cottage, the Earl offers her a temporary place to stay in his manor house – all strictly on the up and up. Unfortunately she finds herself smack dab in the middle of village politics as she attends manor dinners, and it’s hard to not express her opinion about matters that affect her job and the village’s future. When the Earl’s son suddenly appears and begins to take an unexpected and previously unheard of interest in how the estate is being run, Julia is strongly suspicious of his motivations. Suddenly he’s looking over everyone’s shoulder and judging everything they do, including her – and to say it chaffs would be an understatement.
When Julia unexpectedly finds sparrows poisoned while on a walk across the estate grounds, she knows something is very wrong. And then a guest at the manor is murdered, using the same poison. WTH is going on? I mean nobody particularly liked Freddy Peacock but who would want to poison him? The whole thing has Julia spooked but the more she thinks about it, the angrier she gets. How dare someone come into her village and do something like this? When the police seem to be taking forever, she decides to take matters into her own hands and find the murderer. That decision could be the biggest of her life…
Our third review is Gumshoe by Rob Leininger. It’s Book #1 in a new quirky detective series. If you like hardboiled detective novels, you’ve come to the right place. Mr. Leininger has taken the classic detective novel and put a very original spin on it. I fully expect Gumshoe to get optioned by a major film studio, like two of Mr. Leininger’s prior novels, because it’s got motion picture written all over it. I loved every minute of it and I think you’ll find it a fun, quirky read while being a roller-coaster thriller at the same time – and that, amazingly enough, works beautifully. The humor helps to keep the creepier aspects of the storyline in check, providing a balance that kept me glued to Gumshoe until I finished it.
Mortimer Angel was an IRS agent and he was good at it. The only problem was that he grew to hate that job, so he quit. If you guessed we’re talking classic midlife crisis, you’d be right about that. What Mort had dreamed of being was something more exciting like a private detective. Since his nephew has a detective agency in Reno, Nevada, Mort had decided to give it a whirl and – presto – he’s a PI in training. That’s just how good Mort is – when he wants something, the universe just seems to provide. Sometimes the universe takes a bit of prodding and maybe a little subtle blackmail but, hey, it still provides. He’s not sure why the universe provided a naked blonde in his bed but who is he to look a gift blonde in the…um, forget it.
Luckily for newly minted PI Mort, Reno has a real mysterious problem right now. The mayor and district attorney are quite literally missing. Even though their cars were found parked side-by-side at the airport, they don’t seem to have flown anywhere. If nothing else, it’s embarrassing for a city to lose a mayor and a district attorney on the same day. What the hell happened to them?
Mort is on the case, whether they want him to be or not. Hey, he’s good at this stuff and he’s sure he’s got exactly what it takes to find the two missing officials. Did I mention that he’s good at this stuff? In fact, he’s so good that he finds the mayor almost immediately. Well, to be honest, he actually only finds part of the mayor – his head. And the odd thing is that the mayor’s head is in the trunk of Mort’s ex-wife’s car trunk. What is it doing there? I mean, they are divorced but not because he thought she would decapitate anyone.
Of course, Mort and his ex-wife, Dallas, are now the prime suspects in the case – and media reporters are going nuts with the police not far behind on the crazy train. This whole thing is spiraling out of control, and has been ever since Mort became a PI-in training. Maybe he should have stayed with the IRS…
Knowing when he’s in over his head, Mort phones a real professional PI, Jerry, who he soon discovers is actually Jeri, which is short for Geraldine. Smart move, especially since Mort’s nephew is suddenly also among the headless. Is Mort next?
So, we’ve given you quite a selection of mysteries and thrillers today. Now you see why I had to share these with you. Can’t wait to read one or all three of these novels?
The Crescent Spy is available in all formats (and is a bargain), Empty Nest is only available as an e-book (and is also a bargain), and Gumshoe is available in most formats at a good price – all from your favorite online booksellers below. Time to stock up for some fun sleuthing!
I’d love to get your comments on The Crescent Spy, Empty Nest, Gumshoe, Michael Wallace, Marty Wingate, Rob Leininger, and/or their other work, and/or this review.