Katharine Schellman

Books: Mystery | Historical | Queer

Lily Adler: The Body in the Garden (2020), Silence in the Library (2021), Death at the Manor (2022), Murder at Midnight (2023)

Nightingale Mysteries: Last Call at the Nightingale (2022), The Last Drop of Hemlock (2023)

Lily Adler

The Body in the Garden (2020)

The Body in the GardenSet in England in 1815.

Lily Adler has returned to London in an attempt to restart her life after the loss of her husband.

Lily had to take a deep breath before she could respond. It had been two years, but her chest still clenched almost too tightly to breathe every time she thought about Freddy.

She is reunited with her oldest friend, Serena, and Freddie’s best friend, Captain Hartley, who is in London while his ship is in for repairs. But at Serena’s ball she stumbles upon two men arguing in the garden–and soon one of those men is dead.

This was a very well done first book. The mystery is good, the characters are lovely, and the author did her research. The two who help Lily investigate the murder are have mothers from India and the Caribbean, and although both are mostly accepted into society, there are issues with racism.

"Plenty of Lascars in the navy, but precious few of them made post captain, eh!" The admiral chuckled. "And what was it the Indian fellows began calling you in response?"

"Captain English." Jack grinned, though Lily noticed the lines of strain around his mouth. "Forever betwixt and between, I am."

"Above all things, my aunt likes not having to chaperone me about."

Lily frowned. "I had not thought her so elderly as that. But perhaps she is unwell?"

"Neither old nor sick." Miss Oswald’s voice was grim. "She does not care to have me living with her, or to have anything to do with me if she can possibly avoid it. Unfortunately for her, my father made it clear that my London season is one of those things she cannot avoid."

I also appreciated the acknowledgement that there were separate systems of justice for the wealthy and for everyone.

The accusation was not unreasonable; while the fledgling police force at Bow Street was paid a salary to keep the officers from accepting bribes, many still did. But the fault was not entirely one-sided: most members of Lily’s class were more than willing to use their money to turn an investigation in their favor or keep the law away from their families.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Cover by Nicole Lecht

October 2023 | Rating: 8/10

Silence in the Library (2021)

Silence in the LibrarySet in London in 1815

Lily Adler has slowly getting back into life in London, when she received an unexpected visitor: her father. The man disapproves of absolutely everything she does–and isn’t quiet about his opinions.

Although she doesn’t appreciate his demands or her presence, she takes the escape of visiting her father’s best friend, Lord Wyatt, to congratulate him on his marriage. There, she is confused by the Frank’s open hostility to his father’s new wife. She is also unfortunate enough to witness accusations of theft and the ensuing scene.

I am coming to really really like these books.

This story has neurodiversity representation as it would have been seen at the time.

It is a common misperception that because terms like "neurodivergent" are modern inventions, the people they describe are found only in modern times. But plenty of historical accounts show the presence of individuals with what we would consider sensory processing disorders or autism spectrum disorder. The lives of neurodivergent individuals in history varied widely, as they do now, but could be especially challenging if their families did not have the funds for their care.

And as fits into the story.

"On the one hand, he thinks having such a brother reflects poorly on the family and resents him. He especially resents how fond Sir Charles was of Arthur. On the other hand, he’s offended that he’s not one of the people Arthur will speak to."

The mystery was excellent, the characters were wonderful, and I appreciated that things were not easy (or superficially) resolved with Lily’s father.

There is an undercurrent of romance in this series, and another man has been introduced to Lily–one whom her friends thing she would be a good match for. It’s a small part of the story, but I can’t help preferring Jack, even if Simon is also lovely.

I’ve already started reading the next book in the series.

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Cover by Nicole Lecht

October 2023 | Rating: 9/10

Death at the Manor (2022)

Death at the ManorSet in England in 1815.

Jack’s ship is repaired and ready to return to see, and Lily is headed to the country to visit her aunt.

"Will you write me?"

"Of course. I shall tell you how revered I am aboard ship and how no one ever dares tell me I am wrong about anything. Perhaps it will influence you and Lady Carroway to treat me with more respect when I return."

Lily’s aunts were, interestingly, what I was expecting.

"The cottage comes to me, with the provision in her will that Miss Clarke is to be allowed to reside there as long as she wishes. But her income passes to Miss Clarke before coming to me—I believe they have both arranged things similarly so that the other might continue to live independently."

What I wasn’t expecting was Lily’s reaction to figuring things out.

Did she really think she could be the one to untangle it? When she had taken so long to realize what was right in front of her nose—when she had not, in fact, realized, until it had been plainly spelled out for her? She was glad no one was there to see her embarrassment.

In addition to murder, Hampshire contains Mr Spenser. Lily and Matthew has been dancing uneasily around their attraction to each other, and now they will be spending more time together.

I found myself (once again) siding with Ofelia.

"I do not care what the captain would say," she said, lifting her chin defiantly. "He cannot ask me to stay loyal to Mr. Adler forever, however much we both loved him."

"Oh." Ofelia felt her eyes grow wide. She had always thought Mrs. Adler exceptionally intelligent—but apparently even the cleverest of women could have unfortunate blind spots. Either that or Mrs. Adler was protesting a little too much because she knew, even if she had not yet admitted it to herself, what the captain’s objection might be.

The mystery was interesting, and I pretty much guessed wrong. Repeatedly.

But it was a fun story, and I very much enjoyed it.

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Cover by Nicole Lecht

October 2023 | Rating: 8/10

Murder at Midnight (2023)

Murder at MidnightSet in England in 1816

The fourth Lily Adler book finds her at a house party with her late husband’s family, Matthew Spenser, and the Hartleys.

Lily had always found their custom of calling each other by their middle names—the names chosen by their mother, rather than their father—to be deeply endearing.

There is of course a murder and as they are snowed in, Lily is asked (discretely) to help with the investigation.

"He merely needed a woman to deal with delicate tasks such as these," Lily demurred, glancing at Mrs. Crewe out of the corner of her eye. "And a sister-in-law is as trustworthy as one’s mother but easier to order about."

Mrs. Crewe pursed her lips. "I might believe that, ma’am, if I’d seen him doing any ordering."

The mystery was well done, but I feel like I enjoyed the historical bits as much if not more than the mystery.

"There’s a door past the kitchen, between the servants’ quarters and the rest of the house. Anytime we have guests, I keep it locked at night."

"Do you worry about theft?"

Mrs. Reynaud met his eyes. "I worry about the gentleman guests bothering the female staff."

I absolutely loved this bit:

(A)fter a year with such uncommon weather, everyone glanced at the sky as they emerged from their carriages

It was known as The Year Without a Summer. And if you’re a writer who needs an uncommon December snowfall in the middle of England that’s severe enough to strand a houseful of people for several days, that makes 1816 a convenient time to set a book.

For those curious about the romance aspect of the story, there is a proposal of marriage and an answer to that proposal in this story. (Lily has remained oblivious to how Jack feels about her.)

Now I am sad because this book was just published, so I have at least a year to wait for another.

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Cover by Nicole Lecht

November 2023 | Rating: 8.5/10

Nightingale Mysteries 

Last Call at the Nightingale (2022)

Last Call at the NightingaleSet in New York City in 1924

Vivian Kelly and her sister Florence are glad to have jobs, a roof over the heads, and food on the table (even if it isn’t always enough food).

(W)orking at a dressmaker’s shop meant they both had to be fashionable at work, though not too fashionable or customers would think they were getting above themselves. Miss Ethel, the shop’s owner, preferred her seamstresses and shopgirls to look a little conservative—to counteract what she clearly believed were the loose morals of any girl without a family supporting her in the city.

But Vivian wants more, and so heads out most nights to the Nightingale, an underground speakeasy, where her best friend, Bea works, and where Viv can feel like herself when she dances.

If they had been out on the street, Vivian knew that Bea would have never spoken to the distinguished white man at all, and he would never have glanced at the Black waitress or her Irish friend, no matter how pretty they were or polite he was. But the rules could be different behind back-alley doors with no addresses.

But a body in the back alley puts everything at risk, and Viv needs to find the killer to get herself–and the Nightingale–out of danger.

It took me a bit to get into this. Primarily because I have a hard time reading historicals set in the US, because I know too much about US history and how people of color were treated, and that can be hard for me to read if the author does it correctly, but even harder for me to enjoy if the author glosses over the racism of the time as if it never happened.

Luckily for me, the author balances that perfectly. You’re aware of the racism and sexism and all the other isms and violence that the characters live with, but it doesn’t become overwhelmingly dark.

faces of all colors ended up on the dance floor, and Honor wasn’t the only woman who danced with other women. Sometimes there were two men in each other’s arms, and if anyone batted an eyelash at it, they also knew to keep their mouths shut, that night and any days after.

The story shows you the corruption and the dangers of the time.

Do you remember the obituary? It said he died of a heart ailment." "Well, it wasn’t wrong. Getting shot in the heart’s a pretty severe ailment"

But like those who lived then, it slips into the background, and awareness of things be wrong, but the realization that despite everything you should grasp at joy and happiness when you can.

Even better, the author cites sources for the world she build, books on prohibition, the neighborhoods, jazz, and queer subculture.

Publisher: Minotaur.

Cover design by David Baldeosingh Rotstein

January 2024 | Rating: 8.5/10

The Last Drop of Hemlock (2023)

The Last Drop of HemlockSet in New York City in 1924.

Vivian enjoys her new job at the Nightingale–and even more enjoys making deliveries for the dress shop instead of sewing. But when Bea’s uncle, who had just started working at the Nightingale as a bouncer, is found dead and the death ruled a suicide, Vivian is again drawn into investigating.

As with the previous book, I liked how she worked details and elements of NYC in the roaring 20s into the story.

Those who couldn’t afford it had to leave their loved ones’ bodies with the coroner’s office, destined for a mass grave on Hart Island, where the unknown and unclaimed of the city’s morgues were sent.

"He probably thinks the police actually help people."

"They do," Vivian said, an edge of bitter humor to her words. "Just not people like us."

But doesn’t let those details make the story too dark.

"Come on, you’ve got that look in your eye like you’re all jittery and mixed up inside. And I know you like to dance when you’re feeling like that."

And I really do appreciate the details of that time.

"Are you sure it’ll be safe for us there?" Vivian asked as they climbed into the cab.

She was taken aback when Danny gave her a sour look, all his normal playfulness gone. "Why, are you scared of all the Chinese folks?"

"No, I just meant…" Vivian could feel her face heating. "We’ll stand out, is all. Two Irish girls in that part of the city are bound to attract some attention, aren’t we? And that’s the last thing we need right now."

The mystery was a good one, and I didn’t expect the places it zigged and zagged.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Cover design by David Baldeosingh Rotstein

February 2024 | Rating: 8/10