Review: Bacon’s Dozen by Anna Castle

This collection of thirteen stories is a must-read for fans of the Francis Bacon mysteries. Some of the short works are mysteries featuring Bacon. Others star major characters from the series, and one features the woman who does his laundry. My favorite series-linked short is All Englishmen Look Alike, not only for the colorful adventure, but for what it reveals that the main characters in the books don’t know. Yet.

The short works not related to the Bacon series are also historical with one exception. They range from the tale of a Mayan beekeeper coping with the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico to a Western caper set in northern New Mexico on Jicarilla Apache land. There’s also a sample Moriarty mystery, a chance to discover Castle’s other historical series. The non-historical exception is Extinction, a mystery with a subtle paranormal touch set in modern Austin TX. The Sneeze is a hybrid of modern Texas and Elizabethan England. If you’ve ever experienced the pollen of the Southwest in early spring, you’ll appreciate this one. Or if you’ve ever gotten lost in your research.

I strongly recommend this collection for an intelligent, original escape from 2020.

 

First in Series #Free

Discover a variety of mystery series, from crime fiction to mystical to historical, with a #freedownload of the first book.

 

 

 

 

 

Ant Farm by James M. Jackson

Botulism as a murder weapon. A hit man who calls himself the Happy Reaper. Villains who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets.

In this page-turner, we meet Seamus McCree, a single father who wants to fight for the little guy against those who abuse their power.

When police can’t figure out why someone murdered thirty-eight retirees at a Labor Day picnic, they ask Seamus, a financial crimes investigator, to follow the money. He’s anxious to move from behind his computer to the front lines to help investigators ask the right questions.

As Seamus untangles a web of financial chicanery, those threatened place a target on his back.
And there are consequences. He’s willing to risk his own life to bring justice, but when his actions place his son in danger, Seamus must overcome his deepest fears.

The Calling by Amber Foxx

The first Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Obeying her mother’s warning, Mae Martin-Ridley has spent years hiding her gift of “the sight.” When concern for a missing hunter compels her to use it again, her peaceful life in a small Southern town begins to fall apart. New friends push her to explore her unusual talents, but as she does, she discovers the shadow side of her visions— access to secrets she could regret uncovering.

Gift or curse? When an extraordinary ability intrudes on an ordinary life, nothing can be the same again.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

Murder by Misrule by Anna Castle

Francis Bacon is charged with investigating the murder of a fellow barrister at Gray’s Inn. He recruits his unwanted protégé Thomas Clarady to do the tiresome legwork. The son of a privateer, Clarady will do anything to climb the Elizabethan social ladder. Bacon’s powerful uncle Lord Burghley suspects Catholic conspirators of the crime, but other motives quickly emerge.  Rival barristers contend for the murdered man’s legal honors and wealthy clients. Highly-placed courtiers are implicated as the investigation reaches from Whitehall to the London streets. Bacon does the thinking; Clarady does the fencing. Everyone has something up his pinked and padded sleeve.

Even the brilliant Francis Bacon is at a loss — and in danger — until he sees through the disguises of the season of Misrule.

Review: Flash Memory by Anna Castle

Photographing her boyfriend Ty’s ranch and future eco-spa, Penny Trigg climbs an old windmill and falls onto an oddly soft piece of ground. A fresh grave. The suspects for putting a pushy developer in that grave include Ty, his sister Diana—who’s gone missing—and some local officials Penny has been photographing for their campaign posters, including one who works in law enforcement. Since she ends up photographing a couple of crime scenes as well, her investigations occur so naturally I never once questioned an amateur’s involvement. She gets enthusiastic help from Ty’s cousin Perline, co-owner of a local diner. Perline and her husband Cracker are great additions to the Lost Hat cast, and their diner is so eccentric I wish it were real. Penny’s brother Nick is another lively new character, with a past that enables him to grasp a clue Penny wouldn’t have understood.

As in the other Lost Hat book, there are some elements that aren’t typically cozy—in this case, characters with a history of drug and alcohol problems and those who currently use drugs. This isn’t just backstory; it’s central to the story. And it’s a tightly crafted story, with the right balance of humor and suspense.

I again enjoyed Penny and Tillie’s friendship, and the way they work together in spite of the stresses it puts them through. Penny’s efforts to solve the crime run her into some uniquely local types of dangers, such as her encounter with a bull named Blackberry. Though there is one of those confrontation-and-confession scenes, it’s an original variation on that convention.

I hope there’ll be more books in this series so I can spend more time with the characters.

*****

Universal link: books2read/FlashMemory

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130958636

iBooks US: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1457418389

iBooks UK: https://itunes.apple.com/uk/book/id1457418389

Kobo US: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/flash-memory-1

Kobo UK: https://www.kobo.com/uk/en/ebook/flash-memory-1

Kobo CA: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/flash-memory-1

Kobo AU: https://www.kobo.com/au/en/ebook/flash-memory-1

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.co.ca/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.co.au/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO

 

Review: Black and White and Dead All Over by Anna Castle

Colorful Cozy with Texas Sass

I love Anna Castle’s way with words. The first person narration of this book has so much personality, humor and style, I could have enjoyed it for the writing alone, but the setting, characters and plot are equal to the words. The fictional town feels true to the region, a mix of Anglo and Hispanic, of Southern and Western. Athletic, witty, and independent, photographer Penny Trigg stands out among cozy mystery protagonists, and the book as whole is refreshingly free of the features that have made many cozies too much alike in recent years. If you’re allergic to cuteness, no worries. You can read this book with pleasure.

Being a little too impulsive for her own good, Penny makes some decisions that get her in trouble, and her path to getting out of it leads her into the citizens of Lost Hat’s secrets, the investigation of two murders, and of course, more trouble.

The first character to die was so real and likeable, I had no discomfort at all with Penny’s involvement in finding out why he died and who did it. Amateurs’ motives need to be plausible, and her stakes are high. She has additional good reasons to investigate murder and blackmail, as does her new friend Krystle, an equally original character, not the typical sidekick. I especially loved the scene where Krystle talks Penny into a reckless attempt at sleuthing, and Murphy’s Law kicks in with hilarious results.

There’s a third member of the sleuthing trio: intelligent, cautious, and self-effacing Tillie. She’s an asset as well as a contrast. Their investigative teamwork ranges from adventurous and funny to patient and still funny, and their encounters with their suspects take the reader on a colorful tour of Lost Hat. I didn’t figure out whodunit. The last two suspects stayed in the running right up until the end.

The romantic subplot is tightly integrated into the mystery plot, as are Penny’s work as a photographer and her boyfriend’s computer expertise. Every element serves the story and gives the reader’s reasons to care what happens.

I seldom binge read a series, but I’m already on the second book. Stay tuned for the next review.

*****

Universal link: https://books2read/black-white-dead

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1457418389

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/black-white-dead-all-over-anna-castle/1121869639

Kobo US: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/black-white-dead-all-over-1

Kobo UK: https://www.kobo.com/uk/en/ebook/black-white-dead-all-over-1

Kobo CA: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/black-white-dead-all-over-1

Kobo AU: https://www.kobo.com/au/en/ebook/black-white-dead-all-over-1

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Black-White-Dead-All-Over-ebook/dp/B00WFISKMA

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-White-Dead-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00WFISKMA

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.co.ca/Black-White-Dead-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00WFISKMA

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.co.au/Black-White-Dead-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00WFISKMA

Review: Publish and Perish by Anna Castle

In this fourth Francis Bacon mystery, author Anna Castle strikes a perfect balance among her lead characters, each pursuing his or her own life goals and his or her unique approach to solving the same mystery, the murder of a several writers hired to counter the pamphlets of a popular and witty critic of the Church of England sometimes. (Pamphlets were the popular media of the day.)

The reader is onto a secret known to Lady Alice Trumpington but not to Bacon or his clerk and her close friend, Tom Clarady. I won’t say what it is, even though it’s revealed to the reader fairly soon. Even at that point in the book, it’s such a wonderful revelation, I won’t spoil it. The secret adds a layer of fun to the men’s attempts to solve this aspect of the puzzle. It was a hard mystery to solve overall, with believable red herrings, and I never did figure it out, but when the solution was revealed, it made sense. I could see the clues and motives.

The themes of women’s roles and restrictions, the complexities of the law, and the politics of church and state may sound dense and heavy, but they’re not—not in Castle’s hands. The story is lively and colorful, with diverse settings ranging from the offices of the most powerful people in Elizabethan England to the rough neighborhoods and taverns where writers could be found. Sometimes collaborating, sometimes keeping things from each other, the three leads take the reader on a lively journey peopled with historical personages of the day.

Castle handles backstory well, giving just enough to keep the story flowing with clarity, so if you should decide to start here and go backward, the other stories wouldn’t be spoiled. However, I recommend beginning the series at the beginning and getting to know the characters.

Buy links: https://www.annacastle.com/francis-bacon-series/publish-and-perish/

 

Review: Death by Disputation, by Anna Castle

cover-death-by-disputation

This second book in the Francis Bacon mystery series is a strong as the first. At times bawdy and rowdy, at times thought-provoking, it centers around outgoing and adventurous Thomas Clarady, student and first-time spy, but the scholarly Bacon plays a key role as Tom’s spymaster. The contrast in their characters and lifestyles gives depth and texture to the story. Castle weaves religious-political intrigue, murder mystery, and Tom’s colorful friendships and love life into a tightly-paced plot. The murder mystery and the spy story mix, and though the latter often takes the upper hand, the author keeps track of all the threads. Christopher Marlowe, who is portrayed with quite a flair, plays a role in both plot lines.

The writing is never pedantic, yet each scene is crafted with well-chosen historical details that gives the reader a full sense of the times—the smells, the sounds, the clothes and furnishings, and the beliefs and customs of Elizabethan England. Some historical novelists feel the need to dump all of their research into a book, smothering the story. Castle knows better. She has such a grasp of the times she can use settings, props and costumes as needed, to reveal and enhance characters and events, but never clutter the story. And speaking of costumes, there is a Shakespearian feel to various layers of disguises employed by some of the characters.

One particular scene I found fascinating and revealing was the Rogation Day event. It illustrates the contrast between the Anglicans and the Puritans and the tensions between them. While the issue of religious fanaticism in politics is serious, and the insights Tom gains into how it feels to be a member of such a zealous community are also serious, there are comic touches such as the conflict between two young ladies of opposing views, and Tom’s delightful response to it. I’m sure my neighbors heard me laugh. The balance between comedy and food for thought is just right—and suited to a story told primarily in Tom’s point of view.

The final chapter, amusingly, shows Tom from Bacon’s point of view, so different from how Tom experiences himself. At first the ending seemed a bit dry as the conclusion of such a vivid and juicy book, but then it struck me a sort of “after the ecstasy, the laundry” realism, as Francis Bacon gets on with getting on in the world.

Note: I recommend reading the series in order, starting with Murder by Misrule.

Sales links to buy from all e-book retailers can be found on

http://www.annacastle.com/francis-bacon-series/death-by-disputation

 

How I Choose a Good #Indie Book

Never bought an indie book before? Try it. A lot of readers haven’t, but it’s a low-risk adventure. I’ve paid as much $14.99 for a traditionally published e-book that I didn’t like, and I just paid $8.49 for one that’s only 67 pages. (Fortunately, I like it so far.) The most I’ve ever paid for an indie e-book is $4.99 and I’ve liked almost all of them. The only way I take traditional or indie publishing into consideration as a factor in choosing a book is that I love indie prices. Of course, there are a lot of other factors that go into my choice of a book, and this may explain why I’ve had such a satisfying indie reading experience. The following criteria have helped me find some great writers.

  • Have people whose opinion I respect given it good reviews? These might be people I know well on Goodreads, reviewers I follow on Booklikes, or personal friends, but they are all people who care about quality. I found Martyn V. Halm’s compelling Amsterdam Assassin Series this way. I’ve reviewed on one of the short stories in this series on this site, and all the books and singles on both Goodreads and Booklikes.
  • Is the author a member of Sisters in Crime? http://www.sistersincrime.org This has been a 100% reliable way for me to find good mystery authors. (By the way, though Sisters in Crime started as an organization to support women writing in the mystery genre, we have male members.) The organization educates its members with classes and workshops and discussion groups, and local and national chapter meetings. SinC’s “Guppies” group—short for the Great Unpublished—has many published authors who continue their membership because of the support they get and can give to new Guppies. I’ve never read a SinC member’s book that let me down. SinC members whose books I’ve reviewed on this site include J.L. Simpson, DV Berkom, Anna Castle and Diane Vallere. I’m currently half-way through SinC member Lois Winston’s hilariously inventive cozy mystery, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. Even the title made me laugh. Look for a favorable review coming soon.
  • Did the book earn a B.R.A.G. Medallion? This award for the best in indie writing isn’t a contest—it’s an ongoing process. Books submitted to the Book Readers’ Appreciation group are read and evaluated by numerous people, not just one or two judges or critics. I’ve never read a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree book that let me down. DV Berkom’s and Anna Castle’s books mentioned above earned B.R.A.G. medallions. (So did my murder-less mystery Shaman’s Blues, but of course I haven’t reviewed my own work.) If you’ve never read an indie book before and you like #mysteries and thrillers, you could start with one of these books. I think you’ll get your money’s worth—probably more.

Reviews:

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/two-reviews-the-daisy-dunlop-mysteries/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/review-designer-dirty-laundry-by-diane-vallere/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/review-murder-by-misrule-by-anna-castle/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/review-the-body-market/

To find the books not linked to reviews, Shaman’s Blues and Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun (and many more) go to

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery/

Review: Murder by Misrule, by Anna Castle

History, Mystery, and Mastery of Both

 CastleMurderbyMisruleElizabethan England comes to life in this colorful, tightly plotted murder mystery. It follows the classic conventions of the genre creatively. When the plot takes a surprise turn—it’s a big surprise. The characters are three-dimensional and original. The middle-class working women give depth to what could have been told as a man’s story and still worked well enough. The young lawyers-in-training are complex, lively characters, and their tutor Francis Bacon is the perfect historical personage to cast as a detective, with his knowledge of law, his scientific thinking, and his strong, somewhat quirky personality. It was fascinating to meet the great thinker at twenty-five years of age, early in his career.

Anna Castle did her research. Her dialog feels true to the times without being stilted or archaic. She portrays the clothing, the social customs, the law, law school and the manners of the queen’s court, as well as the details of life for the working people, without being pedantic, integrating the details into active, suspenseful scenes. I double-checked the one thing I thought might be an anachronism—a song—and found that it actually is that old. I should have trusted her. An author this good wouldn’t mess up a little thing like that. From the brightest and wittiest scenes to the darkest, every page rings true. The dances and the masque and the scenery were wonderful. The scenes in Newgate prison were grimly accurate. If you’ve ever doubted that an indie book could be as polished as a traditionally published work, give Murder by Misrule a try. I think it could change your mind.