Smoke & Cracked Mirrors by Karen Charlton

Smoke & Cracked Mirrors (York Ladies' Detective Agency Mysteries #1)Barbara’s rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Series: York Ladies’ Detective Agency Mysteries #1
Publication Date: 4/15/22
Period: WWII (1940) York, England
Number of Pages: 364

As a fan of this author’s Detective Lavender mysteries, I was itching to give her latest mystery series a try. Goodness, I’m glad I did. First, I read the short story that is the prequel to the series – The Mystery of Mad Alice Lane. There we are introduced to the protagonists and the seed is planted that they might open their own detective agency someday. Then, I came to this excellently written, richly descriptive story with multiple mysteries and the introduction of some intriguing supporting characters. Just as an aside, this author always has the best author’s notes, etc. at the back of the book – they are broad and very informative. Frankly, I usually read the notes first because it enhances my enjoyment of the story as I move through it. However, it might give you some hints about the story, so if you don’t want that, wait to read the notes – but do read them.

Jemima (Jemma) James (nee Roxby) and Roberta (Bobby) Baker have been the best of friends for most of their lives. Though Jemma married and moved away, she has now returned to York because her husband (Michael) is missing and presumed dead. Jemma was at loose ends because she couldn’t keep their repair shop up and running without Michael. Living with her brother, Inspector Gabriel Roxby of York City Police, will have to suffice until she can plot her path forward.

Bobby Baker works as a store detective at Grainger’s Department Store. It pays little, but at least it helps keep food on the table for herself and her parents. She’d leave it in a minute if something better came along. Lucky for her, it does. It comes along in the shape of two shoplifters at Grainger’s store and her friend Jemma who helps her apprehend them. What is a more logical next step than for Jemma and Bobby to start up their own agency?

Their fledgling agency’s first cases run the gamut from sleazy cheating husbands to industrial espionage, to blackmail, stolen identities, and even spies. As they move through the cases, they enlist the aid of several characters who may or may not become recurring. I liked all of them and will be happy to see them continue, but if they need to go their own way, I’m okay with that as well.

Each of the cases is excellently plotted and all of the loose ends are neatly sewn up before the end of the book. However, there is an event that puts a twist in Jemma’s knickers and I’m assuming that twist will be recurring throughout at least several more books. It will be interesting to see what happens with it in the second book – Dancing With Dusty Fossils – which releases in November of 2022.

I hope you will give this fun, exciting mystery a read and that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. Jemma and Bobby are great characters who embody the resilience and fortitude of England during that stressful time of nightly bombings and war. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and cannot wait to see where they go from here.

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Avid reader/reviewer of historical romance and historical mysteries.

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