Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Review: Smoke and Ashes, by Abir Mukherjee

Smoke and Ashes (Sam Wyndham, #3)Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The first drag of the first pipe was a deliverance, like the breaking of a fever. With the second pipe, the shaking stopped, and with the third, the nerves steadied."

Sam Wyndham's error was calling for a fourth. Smoke and Ashes spotlights Wyndham's opium addiction in the first scene--and nearly ends his career with the CID at Lal Bazar, when the vice division raids the Calcutta den he's visiting. During his escape from the authorities, Sam discovers a dying man, curiously mutilated. He continues his flight, but begins a low-key investigation into the murder, which mysteriously appears to remain undiscovered as far as the authorities are concerned.

A more pressing matter is on his superiors' minds - the Indian National Congress and its leader, Mahatma Gandhi. The cause of self-rule have swept the country, with protest rallies, labor strikes, and the burning of British textiles. The Prince of Wales is touring India to restore goodwill and the status quo, and he is coming to Calcutta for Christmas. Alas, there will be no carols about it. One of Gandhi's primary supporters, C.R. Das, is leading the non-cooperation movement in the city, and Lord Taggart is sending Sam and his sergeant, "Surrender-not" Banerjee, to persuade him not to stage protests or stunts during the visit.

Sam Wyndham isn't looking forward to the job:

"I hated this new breed of pacifistic Indian revolutionary. So often they acted like we were all just good friends who happened to disagree about something, and that once the issue was resolved - obviously in their favour - we'd go back to taking tea and being the best of chums. It made punching them in the face morally difficult."

Shortly after their first visit to see Das (fruitless, of course), the second body turns up - mutilated like the man from the opium den.

The Das intervention and murder investigation turn the wheels of the plot after that, taking us into an unsavory part of British history in India, until all the elements come together at the climax of the book, shifting what was a mystery into a thriller.

My greatest pleasure in reading Abir Mukherjee, comes from his use of the language, his ability to slide between cultures, and his philosophical view of his subject matter. His commentary through Sam reminds me a bit of John D. MacDonald's writing.

"Calcutta was a city divided in more ways than one. To the north, there was Black Town, home to the native population; to the south, White Town for the British; and in the middle, a grey, amorphous area full of Chinese, Armenians, Jews, Parsees, Anglo-Indians and anyone else who didn't fit in. There was no law demarking the city, no barriers or walls; the segregation was just one of those things that seemed to have evolved when no one was paying attention."

His observations and seamless writing make the entire series a worthwhile read.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Review: That Old Scoundrel Death

That Old Scoundrel Death: A Dan Rhodes Mystery (Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries)That Old Scoundrel Death: A Dan Rhodes Mystery by Bill Crider
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession: I haven't read a lot of Bill Crider, unlike most of the literate world. So, I'm reviewing his final Dan Rhodes novel as an outsider looking in.

The book opens with Sheriff Rhodes making what he thinks will be a motorist assist, only to discover that he's stepped into a road rage incident. Kenny is not appreciative of 'Cal Stinson's' driving, and is threatening him with a gun. Rhodes, who appears to always be clear-minded under pressure, subdues Kenny and arrests him.
The next time Rhodes sees 'Cal', the young man has been found dead in an abandoned schoolhouse in Thurston. His true name is Lawrence Gates, and he's not local.

The old schoolhouse is the center of community debate at the moment; some people want it torn down, others want it restored. Rhodes must tangle with the families at the center of the conflict, along with all the other problems Blacklin County can muster. The mayor is angry because a local blog has called him a nincompoop, the local buttinsky Seepy Benton has decided to become a private eye, someone is trying to kill Kenny and Noble (for good reason), and Rhodes' cohorts, Hack and Lawton, constantly complain about being left out of "the loop".
His wife Ivy keeps feeding him kale, which he hates, and he must sneak in his donuts and hamburgers while handling his duties. Meanwhile, reporter Jennifer Loam has reminded him that an election is coming up, and Rhodes isn't sure he wants to run again.

Despite these speed bumps, Rhodes continues his investigation into Gates' death. The closer he gets to the truth, the more he realizes that the schoolhouse issue is just the window dressing for the real issue.

What I enjoyed most in this novel were the gentle humor in the author's voice and how very realistic the characters were. I worked at the reports desk for a police department back in the Stone Ages, and Crider's depiction of Kenny Lambert (a miscreant with a snake tattoo on his neck) and Noble Truelove (badly named) reminds me very much of some of the jokers our officers encountered. The witnesses he interviews are also typical Southerners: they take forever to get to the point, and you're going to learn some history along the way.
Rhodes gets into dangerous situations, but they aren't due to macho behavior or idiocy; they're just things he has to do as sheriff. He also resolves them without loud bravado or action hero moves, something else I respect.

"I want to think that my end will be handled the way I'd like it to be handled. It would be a comfort to me to know that."

The above was from a thought-provoking conversation between Clyde the undertaker and Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Bill Crider was open with his cancer diagnosis, and writing what was likely to be his last Rhodes novel.

I couldn't help but notice the enormous cast of characters in this book, and I discovered that many appeared in previous adventures. He also showed us the new people who took over Hod Barrett's grocery store in Thurston. I couldn't help but think that this was a gift to long-term fans - giving everyone a last glimpse at their favorites, and perhaps concluding a few arcs. He, too, was handling the end the way he wanted it to be handled.

In an afterword, Crider thanks many of the people who helped him along the way in his writing career. He also gives his own opinion on whether Rhodes should run for sheriff again, but I'll leave that for you to discover.

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Guest Post: Daniel Dark

As a historical mystery writer, I was intrigued by the notion of a hosting Daniel Dark, a Victorian chef, on my blog. I've read a lot of fiction from the era, and it's fairly clear that their daily dishes were quite different from our own. I asked Mr. Dark if he could educate us, and he obliged:

Well, let us take a look at a few of those items, starting with one that I wrote a whole cookbook about.

1) Catsup: I am not offering the thick over sweetened flavored corn syrup that most know about now. In Victorian times, Catsup was made from many things before it became tomato starting with spiced and seasoned fermented fish brine. Later on, the word became associated to any spiced acidified sauce. There were many variations to this according to where the sauce was being made and the available base products. In England you had mushroom, walnut, and fish or oyster catsup in most shops, but you would have been pressed to find banana. In the northeastern coastal areas of America, there would be no lost for supply of lobster catsup or cranberry catsup. (For more info, see Victorian Catsup by Daniel Dark.)

2) Today if I offered you roasted pigeon or blackbird pie with little clawed feet sticking out of it you may think I would be crazy. Now, if I offered you the French delicacy of roasted Squab, you might be more interested. Now, that pie has graduated to a more common dish of a pot pie.
3) In Victorian times no part of an animal came to waste. With all of the government scares, you may be able to find hog jowl or cheek in some groceries, but what about the rest of those delectable parts found in the head such as eye balls or brains that mix so well with eggs?
4) Other parts of animals that were of high regard were feet, bone marrow, and testicles (also known as mountain oysters).
5) Desserts were more common to be savories than sweet. This was normal considering the high cost of sugar, which was at the time a commodity that was kept under lock and key in most houses that could afford it.
6) Now. on the other hand, in the Victorian times lobster was fed to the convicts in prison considered the cockroach of the sea and thought of as inhumane to feed it to them more than three times a week.
7) In Victorian times until the late part refrigeration was almost unheard of, so eating was done seasonal with canning or curing done during certain parts of the year according to when the crops came in.

This is effectively a short list of how things have changed in a short two hundred years. And it could be expanded many times over.


Daniel Dark Knife's Tell & Vctorian Catsup Blog Tour!

February 20-27, 2019

Explore the shadows of Victorian Era London and encounter a new Jack the Ripper tale like you’ve never read before in Daniel Dark’s Knife’s Tell & Victorian Catsup Blog Tour, taking place February 20-27!

Knife’s Tell contains a tantalizing blend of thriller, horror, erotic, and alt. history elements. As an added bonus, author Daniel Dark (a former Victorian chef) also has included the authentic Victorian Era recipes of the dishes that are featured in the story!

In addition to Knife’s Tell, this tour also highlights Victorian Catsup: Receipts of the Past, which features history and recipes for a wide variety of authentic, Victorian Era catsups. The book itself also has a great story behind its development, and it is attached to a wonderful cause!

About the author: Daniel Dark, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, grew up with homicide every day. Having a homicide detective as a father, he was able to learn about those that were brought to justice, and the ones that were not.

Spending many hours in Central police headquarters and in his grandfather’s hematology lab gave Daniel an unusual childhood and a love for science. Along with this, his great uncle owned the oldest book store in Nashville. His parents took him there regularly, where developed a love of reading and found out about history.

Daniel went on to become an Electrical Engineer and Industrial Maintenance Manager till NAFTA took away his job. A year later he went to culinary school and studied Victorian cooking, after which he opened a Victorian-style restaurant.

He became a heart attack and stroke survivor at fifty years old, where he used writing to rehabilitate his brain. The first book written by Daniel was on Victorian Catsup, which had over two hundred catsup recipes in it from the late 1700’s to 1910, with over sixty different flavors. Daniel used the book to start his 1876 Catsup company as Mr. Catsup.

Knife’s Tell represents his debut novel as an author.

Book Synopsis for Knife’s Tell:  
In 1888, one of the most notorious serial killers in history plagued London’s East Side.

Knife’s Tell is not about those murders, but the life behind them. What would cause a normal person to slay in such a horrific way?

Daniel Dark has explored an alternative tale of a doctor lost in reality trying to correct his past. With the help of his personal servant, he searches the Chapel for answers about his connection to the man with the knife.

Where did he come from? And how is the doctor part of his plans for escaping the police at every turn?
Read Knife’s Tell to learn the story behind the blade that killed London.

Book Synopsis for Victorian Catsup- Receipts from the Past: 
The book you now hold in your hands is nothing new, only forgotten by most.

It is, however, how Chef Daniel, the Victorian Chef, recovered many missing segments of his knowledge after having a stroke in 2012. At that time, he had a forty-seat restaurant where he was recreating dishes from the Victorian Era. He was also developing his signature catsups to serve with each receipt that he placed on the menu.

After the stroke, he was forced to give up on his dream for the time being and start the long journey of rehabilitation of both body and mind. When Chef Daniel was able to stand in front of a stove again, he went back to what he knew best, making small batch catsup that he took to local fairs and sold so that he could make more.

This book is a big part of what kept Chef Daniel going each day. Now he wants to share that with others by contributing ninety percent of his proceeds to the Blood Banks that kept him alive by furnishing over twenty units to him when he was in need.

Author Links:

Twitter: @1876Catsup


Tour Schedule and Activities

2/20     The Sinister Scribblings of Sarah E. Glenn    Top Ten's List

2/21     Breakeven Books   Guest Post

2/21     I Smell Sheep            VLOG

2/22     Horror Tree     Guest Post

2/23     Sheila's Guests and Reviews        Guest Post

2/24     The Book Lover's Boudoir         Review

2/24     Books, Reviews, and More   Interview

2/25     Jazzy Book Reviews           VLOG

2/26     MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape       Interview

2/27     Honestly Austen        Review

2/27     Willow's Thoughts and Book Obsessions            Review

Amazon Links for Knife’s Tell:

Print Version:

Kindle Version:

Barnes and Noble Link for Knife’s Tell:

Amazon Links for Victorian Catsup:

Print Version:

Kindle Version:

Barnes and Noble Link for Victorian Catsup: