I discovered a new historical mystery series that I'm thoroughly enjoying and that gives me hours of escape from my work in the public health sector. If you like historical fiction with mystery and romance, this series is just the thing for you. I'll be posting reviews of the five novels as I read through them. Check them out and be sure to enter the giveaway to win a $100 Amazon gift card.
Series Title: Henrietta and Inspector Howard by Michelle Cox
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: She Writes Press
Release dates: April 2016; April 2017; April 2018; April 2019; April 2020
Content Rating: R: Books 1-2 do not have any sex scenes, though there is sexual reference, Books 3-5 do have explicit sex scenes (tasteful). There is periodic swearing and violence, but not a lot. There are some dark themes (though not graphic examples) of suicide, prostitution, mob involvement, rape, drinking, homosexuality.
A GIRL LIKE YOU:
Even as Henrietta is plunged into Chicago’s grittier underworld, she struggles to still play the mother “hen” to her younger siblings and even to the pesky neighborhood boy, Stanley, who believes himself in love with her and continues to pop up in the most unlikely places, determined, ironically, to keep Henrietta safe, even from the Inspector if needs be. Despite his efforts, however, and his penchant for messing up the Inspector’s investigation, the lovely Henrietta and the impenetrable Inspector find themselves drawn to each other in most unsuitable ways.
Newly engaged, Clive and Henrietta now begin the difficult task of meeting each other’s family. “Difficult” because Clive has neglected to tell Henrietta that he is, in fact, the heir to the Howard estate and fortune, and Henrietta has just discovered that her mother has been hiding secrets about her past as well. When Clive brings Henrietta to the family estate to meet his parents, they are less than enthused about his impoverished intended. Left alone in this extravagant new world when Clive returns to the city, Henrietta finds herself more at home with the servants than his family, much to the disapproval of Mrs. Howard―and soon gets caught up in the disappearance of an elderly servant’s ring, not realizing that in doing so she has become part of a bigger, darker plot.
A PROMISE GIVEN: This third book in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series provides a delightful romp through the English countryside and back.
Anxious to be married, Henrietta and Clive push forward with their wedding plans despite their family differences, made worse now by Oldrich Exley’s attempts to control the Von Harmons. When the long-awaited wedding day arrives, there is more unfolding than just Clive and Henrietta’s vows of love. Stanley and Elsie’s relationship is sorely tested by the presence of the dashing Lieutenant Harrison Barnes-Smith and by Henrietta’s friend Rose―a situation that grows increasingly dark and confused as time goes on.
As Clive and Henrietta begin their honeymoon at Castle Linley, the Howards’ ancestral estate in England, they encounter a whole new host of characters, including the eccentric Lord and Lady Linley and Clive’s mysterious cousin, Wallace. When a man is murdered in the village on the night of a house party at the Castle, Wallace comes under suspicion―and Clive and Henrietta are reluctantly drawn into the case, despite Clive’s anxiety at involving his new bride and Henrietta’s distracting news from home.
Delicately attempting to work together for the first time, Clive and Henrietta set out to prove Wallace’s innocence, uncovering as they do so some rather shocking truths that will shake the Linley name and estate forever.
A VEIL REMOVED: Murder is never far from this sexy couple . . . even during the holidays!
Their honeymoon abruptly ended by the untimely death of Alcott Howard, Clive and Henrietta return to Highbury, where Clive discovers all is not as it should be. Increasingly convinced that his father’s death was not an accident, Clive launches his own investigation, despite his mother’s belief that he has become “mentally disturbed” with grief. Henrietta eventually joins forces with Clive on their first real case, which becomes darker―and deadlier―than they imagined as they get closer to the truth behind Alcott’s troubled affairs.
Meanwhile, Henrietta’s sister, Elsie, begins, at Henrietta’s orchestration, to take classes at a women’s college―an attempt to evade her troubles and prevent any further romantic temptations. When she meets a bookish German custodian at the school, however, he challenges her to think for herself . . . even as she discovers some shocking secrets about his past life.
A CHILD LOST: A spiritualist, an insane asylum, a lost little girl . . .
When Clive, anxious to distract a depressed Henrietta, begs Sergeant Frank Davis for a case, he is assigned to investigating a seemingly boring affair: a spiritualist woman operating in an abandoned schoolhouse on the edge of town who is suspected of robbing people of their valuables. What begins as an open and shut case becomes more complicated, however, when Henrietta―much to Clive’s dismay―begins to believe the spiritualist's strange ramblings.
Meanwhile, Elsie begs Clive and Henrietta to help her and the object of her budding love, Gunther, locate the whereabouts of one Liesel Klinkhammer, the German woman Gunther has traveled to America to find and the mother of the little girl, Anna, whom he has brought along with him. The search leads them to Dunning Asylum, where they discover some terrible truths about Liesel. When the child, Anna, is herself mistakenly admitted to the asylum after an epileptic fit, Clive and Henrietta return to Dunning to retrieve her. This time, however, Henrietta begins to suspect that something darker may be happening. When Clive doesn’t believe her, she decides to take matters into her own hands . . . with horrifying results.
LCR: Welcome to Library of Clean Reads, Michelle! What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
MC: I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood only reading “the classics,” which taught me more about the craft of writing, by the way, than any writing class. After my third child was born, however, my brain kind of turned to mush for a bit, and I wanted something to read that wasn’t so heavy and literary. At that point I had read very little contemporary fiction, and I had no idea what I even liked. I gravitated toward historical fiction, I think, because, like the classics, I still got to be transported back in time. I’m a very old soul.
I already knew many of the “rules” of Victorian or Regency society—all of the manners, all of the niceties, all of the no-no’s—so it was fun to read a modern interpretation of those periods. I still love it. It’s the ultimate escape.
LCR: I love historical fiction too. What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?
MC: As I just mentioned above, I enjoy reading about the Victorian or Regency era because of all the formal societal rules. But following closely is the Edwardian period, which is fascinating because you have a society disillusioned by the war but still clinging to the old world by a thread.
But then there is the WWII era, which usually contains a heightened sense of danger or despair, and I also, oddly, have a thing for the medieval period.
LCR: Do you find it at all difficult to write a true depiction of a woman living in the 1930's?
MC: Oh, for sure. Because I spent so many years reading classic literature, as well as collecting oral histories, not only at the nursing home but from my own family, plus watching every period drama ever made, I think I have a pretty good grasp of what was expected of women during that time, or what they themselves expected.
The difficult part is writing a female character that a modern reader, especially women, will be able to relate to. You have to make her authentic to the time, but also relatable to a modern reader. It’s a very fine balance. But one way around that is to write a lot of side characters that can embody more of an authentic mindset of the time. This gives the story the flavor of being real so that your main character can act or think a little outside the norm.
LCR: What are you working on now?
MC: I’m taking a break from the series and writing a new historical fiction novel with the working title, The Love You Take. It weaves together the stories of three women in the 1930s Chicago: a rich socialite who is sent to a “spa” for melancholic wealthy women when her baby dies at birth, a “backward” girl who is sent to a “bad girls home” when she becomes pregnant, and a middle-aged spinster nurse who tries to unravel the girl’s disturbing history.
LCR: I'm looking forward to your new novel. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!
About Michelle Cox...
Michelle Cox is the author of the multiple award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series as well as "Novel Notes of Local Lore," a weekly blog dedicated to Chicago's forgotten residents. She suspects she may have once lived in the 1930s and, having yet to discover a handy time machine lying around, has resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting herself back there. Coincidentally, her books have been praised by Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and many others, so she might be on to something. Unbeknownst to most, Michelle hoards board games she doesn't have time to play and is, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music. Also marmalade.