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The Romanov Empress by C. W. Gortner, Ballantine Books/Bantam, US $28.00, Pp 428, July 2018, ISBN 978-0425286166

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, US $26.00, Pp 290, August 2018, ISBN 978-0425283523

A Gathering of Secrets: A Kate Burkholder Novel by Linda Castillo, Minotaur Books, US $26.99, Pp 320, July 2018, ISBN 978-1250121318

The Bouncer by David Gordon, Mysterious Press/Grove Press, US $26.00, Pp 224, August 2018, ISBN 978-0802128003

The Romanov Empress is the story of Maria Feodorovna — nee Danish Princess Minnie — who was the mother of the last Romanov tsar. At nineteen, daughter of Denmark’s King Christian IX — Princess Minnie — married the Romanov heir, Prince Alexander, and moved to Russia. Russia was already in revolutionary turmoil when she arrived there. Czar Alexander II was trying to take the situation under his control by enacting liberal reform such as the abolition of serfdom, it was too little and too late. Living in their palace, the Romanovs were far removed from reality. The Russians were living in abject poverty.  When Prince Alexander ascended the throne, she became Empress Maria Feodorovna and became fully involved in crushing the resistance to her husband. But, when her husband, Emperor Alexander, died, their inexperienced son Nicholas ascended the throne of an empire that was deeply and irretrievably divided and crumbling. Maria Feodorovna was totally determined to help and guide her son to reform and modernize Russia. But, she faced resistance from Nicholas’s wife Empress Alexandra who was in some sort of relationship with mystic Rasputin. The two women become entangled in a personal intriguing tug-of-war at a time when revolutionary republicanism is on the rise in Russia. C. W. Gortner takes us from the conspiracy-ridden palace in St. Petersburg to intrigue-filled salons of Russian bureaucracy to rural Russia where Bolsheviks are fast advancing to the killing fields of First World War and Romanov Russia is falling into the hands of Communists. If you find Maria’s story was a royal soap opera, it actually was a soap opera. C. W. Gortner has a unique ability to fictionalize complex history without distorting history. The Romanov Empress is a story of glamorous Russian but decadent royalty, family intrigues, female rivalry, poverty, and revolution. The Romanov Empress is one of the best historical novels of 2018.

C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and a degree in fashion marketing. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has experienced life in a Spanish castle and danced in a Tudor great hall. Half-Spanish by birth, his novels have been translated in over 20 languages to date.

*****

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding is set in England in the 1930s. Lady Georgiana Rannoch was 35th in line to the British throne when she withdraws from the royal line of succession. She preferred to marry her love Darcy O’Mara, an Irish Catholic with no royal blood in his veins. Moreover, he is doing a government job with hardly any wealth. But, then, Lady Georgiana Rannoch isn’t a wealthy woman either. After marriage, Lady Georgiana Rannoch and Darcy will be able to afford only a small apartment in a not-so-chic London neighborhood. As Lady Georgiana Rannoch is planning her married life with Darcy, she receives a letter from Sir Hubert Anstruther who offers her the use of Eynsleigh, his beautiful estate outside London. Sir Hubert is one of her one of her mother’s exes and Lady Georgiana Rannoch’s godfather. Sir Hubert tells her that he travels a lot and when he does not travel, he needs only a suite of rooms in a big house. Lady Georgiana Rannoch accepts the offer but gets a rude surprise when she arrives at the estate. She discovers that the house and grounds have been neglected in recent years. Butler Plunkett does not hesitate to show his unhappiness on her arrival. She discovers that the gardeners sell most of the produce and pocket the money. As this is not all, she is set to get the rudest shock the morning after when she discovers that the gas tap in her bedroom was left on. Someone wants to kill her. As she always sleeps with the windows open, she survives. Most of the valuables have been stolen. The police suspect a man who recently called at the house. Lady Georgiana Rannoch decides to investigate but this decision will likely delay her wedding plans. Rhys Bowen weaves a mystery story around romance in a delightful way. The unique plot with an impoverished royal playing a detective makes Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding an extraordinarily entertaining novel. If you want to read a mystery novel with a bit of romance, Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding is what you should be looking for.

Rhys Bowen, a New York Times bestselling author, has been nominated for every major award in mystery writing, including the Edgar®, and has won many, including both the Agatha and Anthony awards. She is also the author of the Molly Murphy Mysteries, set in turn-of-the-century New York, and the Constable Evans Mysteries, set in Wales. She was born in England and now divides her time between Northern California and Arizona.

*****

Miriam and Gideon Gingerich and their four children are a respected Amish family who live in Painters Mill, Ohio. When their barn is burned to ashes in the middle of the night, they are unable to understand how a well-maintained barn can catch fire. The local police chief, Kate Burkholder, is assigned to investigate the fire. When she visits the scene of the burnt barn, it looks like an accident until she finds the body of eighteen-year-old Daniel Gingerich — burned alive. Kate suspects the barn was set on fire to kill the young man. But why would somebody want to kill a gentle young, hardworking Amish young man? Kate believes that Danny was locked in the back room before the fire was deliberately set. But, Kate feels she is being stonewalled by the local community. Is the collective silence because of the Amish tenet of separation? Or something else? Kate remains undaunted and discovers a number of secrets and chilling details of crimes that shatters her confidence in her Amish community. Kate learns that Danny was planning to marry Luane Raber. When Kate questions her, she is evasive. However, Luane’s father tells Kate that Danny had had a fight with his best friend, Milo Hershberger, a horse trainer, who tells Kate that Danny was not a nice guy. Emma’s parents are unable to say why she might have killed herself six months earlier, while her former boyfriend thinks that Danny may have raped her. As Kate goes ahead with the investigation, she finds herself face-to-face with her own violent past and an unthinkable possibility. She concludes that revenge must have been the motive of the killer but the real question whether there were other victims of Danny. A Gathering of Secrets burst the myth of the Amish having a superior culture. Linda Castillo explores a young man’s sexuality and how that can impact the society. This is a captivating story by a gifted storyteller.

Linda Castillo is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Burkholder novels, including Sworn to Silence, which was adapted into a Lifetime Original Movie titled An Amish Murder, starring Neve Campbell as Kate Burkholder. Castillo is the recipient of numerous industry awards including a nomination by the International Thriller Writers for Best Hardcover, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, and a nomination for the RITA. She lives in Texas with her husband and is currently at work on her next novel.

*****

Joe Brody is a strip club bouncer with a highly classified military history. Joe — known as “The Bouncer” — is a hard-luck character who is a roller coaster of comebacks and blown opportunities. He was expelled from the Harvard University although he is an avid reader. Joe Brody’s best friend from Catholic school is head mafioso Gio Caprisi. FBI agent Donna Zamora is a single mother who is assigned to take tips and leads on the hotline. Their paths cross when Donna receives a tip that leads to a raid on Gio’s Club Rendez-vous in Queens — the finest gentlemen’s club in the town. Joe “The Bouncer” is also arrested in what is a city-wide sweep against most wanted local terrorists. The operation is conducted jointly by the NYPD, a SWAT team, and the Feds. When agent Donna and Joe ‘The Bouncer’ meet outside the jailhouse, they try to measure each other. Inside the jail, Joe comes across an old acquaintance who invites him to join his gang in a weapons heist. The heist goes awry but Joe ‘The Bouncer’ survives and ends up in a difficult situation. Donna is frustrated as she is trying to move from receiving tips on the phone to actual field work where all the excitement is. Joe finally proves his worth in tracking down local terrorists. The Bouncer has a nonstop plot that begins with back-road gun show intervention to high-stakes weapons heist and touches everyone from the CIA to the Flushing Triads. The sinister minds manipulate to cause chaos on a massive scale. The Bouncer is packed with high octane action, violence, murders, FBI agents, high military security classification, terrorists, weapons robbery, CIA, drugs, organized crime, double-crossing, and more. The story in The Bouncer will keep you glued to the book. As there are too much action and several plot lines running parallel to one another, you need to focus if you do not want to lose track of the story. This is an extraordinarily captivating and entertaining thriller.

David Gordon holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature and an MFA in Writing, both from Columbia University, and has worked in film, fashion, publishing, and pornography. He is the author of The Serialist, which won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award, and Mystery Girl, as well as a short story collection, White Tiger on Snow Mountain. His work has appeared in the Paris Review, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications. He was born and lives in New York City.

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