Death at the Deep Dive (Secrets and Scrabble #7)

 Death at the Deep Dive (Secrets and Scrabble series #7)
Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: JustJoshin Publications
Release Date: August 14, 2022
Genre(s): Cozy M/M Mystery
Page Count: 199
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 

This latest installment in the Secrets and Scrabble series is one of my series favorites. In Ellery's brief time in Pirate Cove, he's built up the Crow's Nest bookstore with the able help of his assistant manager / sleuth Nora Sweeney, is restoring his ramshackle Victorian gothic mansion, gotten the pretty much perfectly dreamy boyfriend - Police Chief Jack Carson - and has been involved in far, far too many murders. 

Buck Island's history is a rich melange of pirating and sunken treasure, with the Shandy family featuring prominently. Vernon Shandy has been missing for almost 60 years, and with Ellery's discovery of a sack of Spanish coins, it appears that Vernon did find the famed Blood Red Rose treasure. Ellery believes that Vernon was murdered and Vernon's sister Vera tasks him with solving the murder, offering up a list of suspects, including Ellery's great aunt Eudora. 

Ellery's great aunt Eudora Page has always been in the background of the series, mostly as the vehicle to bring Ellery to the island by willing him the bookstore and mansion, the Captain's Seat. But here we finally get to meet Eudora - as an young attractive woman in 1963. We've grown to love the village of Pirate's Cove and Bucks Island and its residents and in solving the mystery, we poignantly learn Eudora's dreams and her sadness. 

And in the end, the perfectly dreamy Jack Carson comes through with a perfectly romantic scene, and I am left to look forward to the (final?) installment in the series where we meet Jack's parents?? Learn if Ellery returns to acting to finance restoring the Captain's Seat? See if Jack finally learns to cook?? 4.5 stars. 

I received an ARC from the author, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

44.1644 North

44.1644 North
Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing
Release Date: February 9, 2023
Genre(s): Murder/Mystery, M/M
Page Count: 142

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

I find Josh Lanyon's take on this true-crime mystery fascinating. This 140+ page novella uses the framework of an annual gathering at the site of a 20-year-old fictional disappearance of a young woman (Deidre O'Donnell) in a small New Hampshire town in order to discuss the real 2004 disappearance of Maura Murray.

Our MC Skylar Brennan is a podcast host who has a degree in criminal justice and teaches courses in criminology, and as such is a step above the "murder and makeup" crowd or the two "documentary" makers whose research consisted of visiting strip clubs in Montreal. All the usual suspects are discussed - it's the boyfriend, the father, the local creepy-guy, someone in the police department, it's the supposed mysterious passenger in the car, ad naseum. 

Lanyon does an exceptional job of examining Deidre's character (and by extension Maura's) and putting her actions into a context that seems logical and entirely possible. And at the end of the story (and a somewhat hurried heart-stopping resolution), it's jarring to get a fictional solution to a fictional case, while we may never know what actually happened in the case of Maura Murray. 

And because this is Josh Lanyon - we get a hurried but sweet start of a relationship between Skylar and Rory who is sent to investigate the case on the behest of (the unnamed in the book) BAU Chief Sam Kennedy. 

4 stars for a very poignant take on a true-crime story.

I received an ARC from the author, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen (The Doomsday Books, #1)

 The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen (The Doomsday Books #1)
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Sourcebook Casablanca
Release Date: March 7, 2023
Genre(s): M/M Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense
Page Count: Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

With the exception of  Band Sinister, I have shamelessly adored every K.J. Charles book. And this book? Ooh, it's so good. After a thought-provoking quote by Adam Smith about smuggling ...
The smuggler; a person who, though no doubt highly blameable for violating the laws of his country, is frequently incapable of violating those of natural justice, and would have been, in every respect, an excellent citizen, had not the laws of his country made that a crime which nature never meant to be so.
... we meet the MCs at the Three Ducks a week into a passionate connection after seeing each other across a crowded molly house room (isn't that how the song does?) But when Kent (an alias because of his Kentish heritage) tells London that he is going back home, with promises to return on a regular basis, London nastily shuts him down. 

But never fear, Kent and London meet again on Romney Marsh, located in Kent and with its proximity to the English Channel, a hotbed of smugglers since the 1600's. London's (Gareth) father unexpectedly dies, making him a baronet, Sir Gareth Inglis, master of Tench House. And eventually, Sir Gareth encounters Kent again - who possibly has the greatest name ever - Josiah Doomsday, the crown prince of the Dymchurch Doomsdays, a family of smugglers .... er, Free Traders, with a rich history in the Marsh. 

What ensues is an absolutely engrossing story of the life on the Marsh, how the Doomsday family takes care of those in need, how the ethics of smuggling are muddled at best, and how Josh and Gareth get past their minor problems ("Because you're a smuggler and I'm a baronet, You're Josh Doomsday and I'm outmarsh. I informed against your sister and you blackmailed me in public!) and become everything to each other. 

It's equal parts wildly romantic and terrifying, as various nefarious characters start attacking Gareth and his family, claiming they are owed something - something unnamed but they clearly believe Gareth knows what. The suspense ratchets up, the family intrigue continues, and everything resolves in a helluva dramatic ending, and I would gladly read another few hundred pages about Josh and Gareth.

So, I was overjoyed to learn that the second book in this series, A Nobleman's Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel is in the works. 5 stars and I simply cannot wait to read more about Romney Marsh and its families and characters! 

I received an ARC from the Publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Murder at the Seven Dials (A Bow Street Duchess Mystery)

Murder at the Seven Dials (A Bow Street Duchess Mystery)
Author: Cara Devlin
Publisher: First Cup Press
Release Date: January 28, 2023
Genre(s): Historical Murder Mystery, M/M
Page Count: 317
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 

In this first book of Cara Devlin's new Regency-era murder/mystery series, we are introduced to Hugh Marsden, a Bow Street Runner, and Audrey Sinclair, the Duchess of Fournier. They are brought together by a horrible murder - the bloody slashing death of an opera singer in a suite of rooms where Philip, the Duke of Fournier, is found drenched in blood and incoherent, knife by his side. Officer Marsden believes the case open-and-shut, while Audrey is absolutely convinced of her husband's innocence.   

What follows is an intriguing murder mystery, as Audrey recklessly forges ahead with her investigation, only to be stymied and eventually aided by Hugh Marsden.  We quickly learn that Audrey and Philip's marriage is a shield for their respective secrets - Philip's secret is why Audrey knows that Philip was not interested in an affair with a woman, while Audrey's secret is a heck of a plot device as she is able to discern past events when she touches an item.  For example, as she finds an earbob from the dead opera singer, she sees a partial image of the killer. 

Hugh Marsden has a past, which slowly comes into focus as the story unfolds.  The murder / mystery is densely plotted and continues to hold interest as the intrigue gets more complex and more suspects and motives are unveiled.  In addition, the author deftly balances the drudging respect that Marsden develops for Audrey, with his interest in her as a woman.  It's a nicely done very slow burn, which has some interesting possibilities.

When the murderer is finally revealed, it feels a bit too abrupt, or maybe it's just that we've been led along a merry bloody chase and then suddenly it's over.  However, I was delighted to read the first chapter of the next book in the series,  and am anxiously to read more about Audrey and Marsden.  4.5 stars.

I received an ARC from the Publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek 
Author: Josh Lanyon 
Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing
Release Date: October 19, 2022 
Genre(s): M/M Romance, M/M Mystery 
Page Count: 305 
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

I devoured this book in one sitting because, bottom line, I am a total sucker for second chance romance. 

And this story of Andy returning to the appropriately-named Safehaven to help out his injured great uncle Cuthbert and reconnecting with his first love, bad boy Quinn Rafferty, fits the bill.  

Leaving an abusive ex-cop boyfriend, Andy returns to Safehaven to tend the antiques shop "Time in a Bottle" while Uncle Cuthbert lies in a coma, the victim of a savage beating in connection with a break-in. There are a few obvious suspects - the deliciously dysfunctional couple Clark and Fleur Skylar - and as the break-ins continue, the mystery grows. 

When Quinn Rafferty disappeared one night (when he was 18 and Andy was 16), Andy believed him dead ...
"Because otherwise why wouldn't Quinn have let him know where he was? Why wouldn't Quinn have told Andy what was going on? After everything - after what they had meant to each other -  But it turned out Andy had been as wrong about that as all the rest of it. Clearly, Quinn had not felt the same."

Sometimes the bad boy is just a messed-up kid who doesn't know where to turn. And sometimes that kid becomes (how can I say this ....) an "international man of mystery" which works for the story but lets Quinn off the hook in a way by too quickly encapsulating what made Quinn the man he is today.

In any case, Andy finally solves the mystery which has led us through a tantalizing array of suspects and motives.  I suspect some readers are not going to be as forgiving of Quinn; however, the mystery kept my interest throughout and c'mon, the bad boy and a geeky museum curator get back together. 4 stars.

I received an ARC from the author, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.