2020 Silver Falchion Finalist

The Mask of Midnight by Laurie Stevens

Lovely Digits
by Jeanine Englert

Soul Mate Publishing
$13.99
ISBN 978-1682919576
Publication Date: December 20, 2019
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Lovely Digits

Review by Laura Stewart Schmidt

Lucy Wycliffe has a profession that would make her unusual enough in modern times. But in Victorian England, she is positively unique. Lucy lays out corpses for viewing and burial, and takes special pride in treating her deceased clients with the respect they deserve.

As the book opens, Lucy is preparing two of her close friends, both of whom were murdered, presumably by the same killer. At the same time she is dealing with her grief, she has other troubles: she is trying to support her younger sister and baby niece, and the man who owns the note on her family’s house is calling it in. Unless she accepts his proposal of marriage, Lucy will lose the only home she has ever known.

New Constable John Brodie needs Lucy’s help solving the crimes. He has a terrible secret, however, one that would wreck their budding and fragile romance.

Ms. Englert is a good writer, and she has mastered several aspects of storytelling. The narrative voice is more intellectual than modern readers tend to expect, but it fits with the times. Lucy grabs the reader’s attention and sympathy from the opening pages. John is a good man with a kind heart, and the reader senses that he must have had a good reason for doing the deed that will turn Lucy against him once she learns of it. Lucy’s friend Miss Clara is a hoot, and the reader will never be quite sure what her nephew Abe is capable of—or is actually doing.

Suspense is present almost from the beginning—stakes are high all around; the reader knows John’s secret will come out eventually, and both dreads it and anticipates it. Tension ratchets as a body is stolen and John’s office is broken into. There aren’t a lot of suspects, but the few there are have equally good reason to commit murder. Even if you guess who the murderer is (I didn’t), you want to read on for the beauty of the story. What a delight to have a new writer of this caliber!

Laura Stewart Schmidt is the author of Until Proven Innocent, a YA mystery (Black Rose Writing, 2018), and Don’t Fear, My Darling, a domestic suspense novel (Black Opal Books, 2019). She has degrees in Political Science and Public Policy Administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and has attended enough writing workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to qualify as an honorary Badger. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Her eclectic career includes stints as a family court coordinator, drug court advocate, youth mentor, reading specialist, preschool teacher, and disability support counselor. Laura and her husband, whom she met at a hockey game (Let’s go Blues!), live near St. Louis and are the proud companions of two rambunctious hound dogs.