Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Calico Spy by Margaret Brownley

This is the third in the Undercover Ladies series and while I have enjoyed them all, I think this may be the best one yet. The combination of mystery, humor, and romance makes for a very enjoyable reading experience.

As with the others, our main character is an undercover Pinkerton detective. Katie has the assignment of solving the murder of two women in Calico, Kansas. She takes a job as a Harvey girl in the town's Harvey House. It's one of Harvey restaurants that serves quick meals to train passengers during the short stop the train makes there. The murder victims were Harvey girls and Pinkerton figures the best way to solve the crime is for Katie to be on the inside.

Brownley adds to that mystery by including a town sheriff who hates Pinkerton operatives. But Branch, a handsome widower, grudgingly realizes he'll have to work with Katie if he wants to identify the murderer. Before too long he finds he is counting her freckles and admiring her auburn hair.

Brownley has added plenty of additional elements to this mystery and romance to make the novel very interesting reading. I enjoyed finding out about the Harvey House idea, restaurants providing meals for those traveling through on the railroad. It was hard, but interesting, to read about tornadoes that rolled through the area. One newborn had been preserved in the deadly tornado eight years before by having been put in the oven of a cast iron stove. There is also the whole idea of investigating murders in the late 1800s, without the use of modern techniques.

The characters in the novel are well done. Brownley has added many secondary characters with stories of their own that add to the enjoyment of the novel. One of the Harvey girls has run away from her abusive husband. The matron of the girls is a stern woman whose fiance was killed in the Civil War. One of the kitchen girls is a young black woman who knows she'll never be allowed to work with the public. It was fascinating to read how these women grew during the course of the story.

There are important issues in the novel too. Besides those of the women I mentioned, Branch has a huge decision to make. He must face the choice of placing the child he loves into the hands of God, knowing he may lose him. It is a choice like Abraham's and it greatly tests Branch's faith.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy a good historical mystery interwoven with romance and sprinkled with humor. I really enjoyed it. There are discussion questions provided so it would make a good choice for a reading group.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Margaret Brownley is a New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels and was a RITA finalist and INSPY nominee. You can find out more about her and her novels at www.margaret-brownley.com.

Shiloh Run Press, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
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