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January 4, 2021

2 Mysteries for the Long Winter Nights

by MK French

What better way to pass a long winter night than with a good mystery? Settle in with a warm blanket and these books.

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A Deadly Fortune by Stacie Murphy

A Deadly Fortune
January 2021; Pegasus Crime; 978-1643136301
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); mystery 

In 1893 New York City, Amelia Matthew is an orphan using her modest psychic talent to live comfortably. A head injury expands her gift, to the point that channeling an angry spirit in public lands her in the notorious Blackwell’s Island insane asylum. Her foster brother Jonas is trying to get her out as she struggles with her ability in a place full of despair. Dr. Andrew Cavanaugh, full of despair and grief himself, turns to her for help in a missing persons case when he discovers her gift is real. Along the way, Amelia has to master her skills to catch a killer, or else she might be the next victim.

Psychiatric medicine and research at the turn of the century was very limited, and this novel shows asylum life very clearly. There are few outlets for any of the patients in the asylum, and patients are often at the mercy and opinions of the doctors and nurses caring for them. Some of the staff are more interested in holding power over others than actually helping the patients, and see the mental illnesses as their fault. Some of them are mentally disabled, drunk, dealing with neurosyphilis, etc. There are also some women there who were admitted against their will by husbands wanting to get rid of them, and trying to assert their true identity is seen as a form of insanity because the doctors trust their files more than the women.

There is a lot of tension as Amelia, Jonas, and Andrew move all around the asylum trying to figure out who is making money off of imprisoning and killing women. There are close calls as they break into offices and the apartments that doctors have on the grounds. The tension keeps ratcheting up, even as they find some clues, and Amelia channels spirits hoping for answers. As they come closer, they realize it’s a larger operation than they thought, and then the risk becomes far more personal. Until the very end, I was on the edge of my seat and had to stay up late to read to the end. It’s a melancholic and beautiful ending to the novel, though I still have lingering questions about some of the characters’ futures. I didn’t want to leave them behind and wanted to see what would happen next. Stacie wrote a compelling novel, one that other readers will enjoy as well.

Buy A Deadly Fortune at Amazon

The Dogs of Winter by Ann Lambert

The Dogs of Winter
Oct 2020; Second Story Press; 978-1772601404
audio, ebook, print (328 pages); amateur sleuth
In the wake of a terrible snowstorm sweeping through Montreal, a woman's dead body is found. Her only identification is a photo with Detective Inspector Romeo Leduc's phone number on it. As he navigates his relationship with Marie Russell, a student at her college is the victim of assault. The dead woman might be linked to vicious attacks on the homeless, and trying to solve both cases pits Leduc against social apathy, ignorance, and a ruthless killer stalking the most vulnerable citizens in the city.

The Dog of Winter is the second Russell and Leduc mystery, and I hadn't read the first one. There is a large cast of characters here, from the well-to-do Quebecois to the poor in the city to the First Nations people living in the province. At first the story threads all seem separate, but they eventually start weaving together. Marie isn't formally involved in the investigations, but she pushes Romeo to take part in the death opening the novel, as well as the assault of her student when she discovers it. A former protester, she is driven by social justice issues, and realizes her position of privilege as a white woman professional gives her some protection the Inuit people don't have, and that her gender identity can also mark her as prey.

I like that Marie and Romeo are older, as she's 61 and he's 51. Too many books avoid the age group entirely, as if they aren't capable of physical relationships as well as romantic or emotional ones. They trust in each other even as they guard their independence, and both see the relationship between them as sharing something precious, not a responsibility or burden. A lot of this is told outright at the beginning, but we do see it in action as the novel progresses and they work together. They have different perspectives on life as a result of their experiences and professions, which allows them to come at the cold cases from different angles to solve them.

The sad reality of life on the streets is dealt with in a respectful way. Many of them are mentally ill, poorly equipped to stay in a big city light on resources, and they can't rely on authorities to take them seriously. This makes them prey in this novel, and often out in the world at large. The stats offered by a social worker to the police officer seriously trying to solve the murder are certainly realistic sounding, and would likely be similar in other major cities. Romeo and Marie sometimes argue over beliefs and points of view. They still respect and support one another, and the argument seems to serve as a way to show the main arguments in public view about these social issues.

Some threads are abruptly dealt with, and Romeo doesn't have a clear line of investigation into them. One feels dropped entirely, like that storyline was forgotten or not completely edited out of the book. I think I miss some pieces not reading the prior novel, because I don't know the importance of Hélène, and getting an afterward of sorts with her brought up more questions than answers for me.

Buy The Dogs of Winter at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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