The Deadly Hours
The Deadly Hours is a multi-author anthology featuring four new historical novellas which revolve around a watch known as La Sirène. The timepiece, made from gold stolen from a church during a deadly raid, is said to be cursed as a result of the bloodshed surrounding it. But is the artifact truly to blame for the misfortunes which befall its owners or are their own actions responsible for their misadventures?
Weapon of Choice by Susanna Kearsley
Setting: Portofino, 1733
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Kisses
Hugh and Mary McPherson from Kearsley’s book A Desperate Fortune are on a sea journey when their vessel is forced to seek a port of shelter during an atypically harsh storm. Originally, the only other guests at the seaside inn are Anna O’Connor and her husband Edmund whom Mary is acquainted with from her previous adventures, but they are soon joined by a mysterious man named Douglas. Well, not so mysterious to Anna who knows he is – an assassin sent to kill the Duke of Ormonde. Since Hugh is supposed to be joining the Duke’s party as his bodyguard this is an awkward enough situation, but the circumstances become perilous when the Duke himself, miles from where he is presumed to be, suddenly appears at the lodge.
Kearsley’s writing is lyrical and her tale redolent with the history of the era. While this story involves characters established in a previous novel, the author does an excellent job of giving us a clear sense of their priorities, personalities and relationships as well as creating a narrative which is complete in itself and doesn’t require the reader to have knowledge of prior events. Weapon of Choice makes an excellent beginning to our anthology, giving us a clear history of the watch’s origins and initial owners.
In a Fevered Hour by Anna Lee Huber
Setting: Edinburgh, Scotland 1831
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Kisses
Kiera Darby and her husband Sebastian Gage had planned to honeymoon in England’s Lake District immediately after their wedding but the trip has been delayed since Gage’s testimony is needed in the trial of a poisoner the two had recently helped bring to justice, which is why they have the misfortune to be at home when Bonnie Brock Kincaid comes calling and rants almost incoherently about a cursed watch before passing out in their drawing room. Concerned about Mr. Kincaid’s criminal gang, who are sure to blame them for their boss’s sudden unexplained illness, Kiera and Gage race to find out the truth behind their unwanted guest’s ravings.
This is a smoothly written, action-filled story that is easy to follow even if you, like myself, have not read the other books in the Lady Darby mystery series. The author does an excellent job of giving the reader a strong sense of her protagonist’s personalities and establishing the relationships between all her characters in the short space she has. It’s a strong enough story that I find myself eager to read the previous novels .
A Pocketful of Death by Christine Trent
Setting: Edinburgh, Scotland 1870
Grade: C- Sensuality: Kisses
Violet Harper, heroine of the Lady of Ashes series, is a female undertaker, a rare breed in her era, but she is possessed of an iron will and an enormous sense of self, both of which aid her in forging a path in her peculiar profession. Currently, she is employed in moving Lord Ashenhurst’s dead relatives from the unfashionable Greyfriar’s Kirkyard to the new family plot at Abney Park Cemetery, a job which involves her standing around while her business partner does the actual back breaking labor of digging up the dead. At one of the grave sites they find a peculiar item, a watch wrapped in a pair of gloves which Violet then takes to her employer. Alas, the watch proves to be quite troublesome, causing all manner of havoc in his lordship’s neighborhood, which Violet winds up investigating.
This tale is both anachronistic and illogical. It seemed rather ridiculous to me that someone would involve their undertaker in the resolution of crimes. I was also confused by the fact that Violet was dealing with Lord Ashenhurst rather than with his secretary or man of affairs regarding the reburial of his ancestors, since this seemed the sort of detail that would have been that man’s purview. Additionally troubling was that Violet flatly refused to use the tradesmen’s entrance, a point which I could somewhat sympathize with but still found irritating since such things were the custom of the era when dealing with the nobility. And finally, the heroine didn’t seem to actually have to work at her job, unusual for the middle-class of any time period. These technical issues repeatedly pulled me out of the story and I didn’t enjoy it as a result.
Siren’s Call by C.S. Harris
Setting: New Godwick, Kent, England, 1944
Grade: A- Sensuality: Kisses
Rachel Townsend-Smythe arrives at her friend Major Crosby’s doorstep to find he’s been murdered. Surprisingly, when the police are called, the investigation is handled not just by the local constable but also by two men from Scotland Yard who just happen to be in the area. Or so they say. Rachel distinctly hears the younger of the two, Jude Lowe, mention their search for a German spy. When she questions him about it, he responds with several inquiries of his own before admonishing her not to mention what she has seen or heard as she goes about the rest of her day. She leaves having no intention of ever speaking to him again but on her way home discovers an ornate wooden box which held her late friend’s favorite collectible – the watch case for a legendary timepiece known as La Sirène. It is empty, with only an impression on the fabric to indicate what it once held. Rachel knew the Major had been searching for the other components of the fabled relic and can’t help but wonder uneasily if that’s the reason for his demise. As a museum curator she’s aware of just how far some antiquarians will go to obtain the objects of their desire. When she brings the issue to Jude’s attention he is at first dismissive of the tale she tells, even while he finds himself fascinated by the storyteller. But as those associated with the watch begin to die, he wonders if perhaps Rachel might be right after all and La Sirène might be at the heart of his investigation.
Siren’s Call achieves an excellent balance between romance and mystery, blending the two factors into a deeply satisfying whole. Rachel’s independence, charming manners, compassionate nature and cleverness make her a terrific heroine and the brave, quietly patriotic, heroic Jude is a perfect foil for her. The tale does a fantastic job of capturing the history of the era but also showing how Jude and Rachel are more open minded regarding issues like immigration and homosexuality than the villagers around them. I liked that the author addressed what was typical of the time while also showing her characters’ rising above the more questionable norms of the period. The author also does a nice job of capturing the appropriately slow burn romance between her two leads. She managed to convince me of their HEA even though they barely had time to build upon their relationship. While the ending is a tad ambiguous in regards to the ultimate fate of La Sirène, this narrative still served as a terrific ending to the watch’s saga.
I don’t read many anthologies because I’m not a big fan of short stories, but the majority of tales in this set were of high quality and well worth perusing. If you enjoy novellas, are a fan of any of these authors, or interested in getting a taste for their writing before committing yourself to a full length novel, The Deadly Hours is definitely worth picking up.
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