Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: THE DEATH OF COLONEL MANN by Cynthia Peale

Today is Forgotten Book Friday, a weekly meme usually hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, but today's hosting duties are being done by Todd Mason at SWEET FREEDOM. Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.

My entry for this week is THE DEATH OF COLONEL MANN by Cynthia Peale, the first in the Beacon Hill Mysteries which debuted in 2000. (Is it just me or does the year 2000 seem like yesterday?) The series is only three books along, the last book, THE WHITE CROW being published in 2002. (The second book is titled, MURDER AT BERTRAM'S BOWER.)

The lure of this book and, in fact, the series, is the colorful atmosphere, the details - social and otherwise - of 'Victorian' Boston - very similar to Victorian London, except, I suppose, for the accents. 

I also like Cynthia Peale's characters, all of whom seem to me well suited to the ritualized world they live in. Especially Addington Ames, who is both a gentleman and a sleuth and quite familiar with the strictures of  Boston society. His keen mind as well as his physical description  reminded me a bit of Sherlock Holmes. 

Ames stood with his eye pressed to the glass. His tall, thin-legged figure looked as storklike as the tall, thin-legged tripod. In rapt silence he gazed up at the stars.  

In this debut, Ames - to save his young about-to-be married cousin Val from disgrace,  must ferret out the killer of Colonel William d'Arcy Mann, a reviled publisher of Boston's most scandalous gossip sheet - a blackmailer whom no one is crying any tears of grief over. (The character is based on a real Colonel Mann (with a different middle name) who had plied his vile trade in Manhattan.) In Peale's story, Mann had gotten hold of some indiscreet letters which, if they came to light, would put an end to Val's marriage into a very proper Boston Brahmin family.

To avoid disgrace, Addington  Ames, with the help of his spinster sister Caroline and their boarder Dr. John MacKenzie must search for a murderer well-hidden among Boston's elite society - a fierce world...Harsh and unforgiving, as much a battlefield as in any war.

Though the book could have benefited from a more jaded p.o.v. and a soupcon of humor, I still liked what Peale made of it.

As you can probably tell, THE DEATH OF COLONEL MANN is basically a period cozy but perhaps with a bit more elegance. The sort of book that would make a chilly winter night more enjoyable, perhaps with a nice cup of tea in your best bone china at your side. So why am I writing about it today? Well, because if I put it off until the appropriate weather settles in, I'd probably forget about it. You know how old lady memory works - or doesn't.


  1. About that time thing - it's not just you. I still have to be reminded that ten years have passed since 2001.

    Addington Ames is a great character name. I may just read one of these for that reason alone. Though I personally feel that the Victorian era has been shopped out in the historical mystery trade. Why does no one write mysteries set in 18th century America? A sadly neglected time period for mysteries and I would imagine one rife with criminal opportunity.

  2. I know, cool name.

    John, you might enjoy this. If you're in the mood for a cozy sort of thing. I've just realized that I never read the third book, so I'm lining that up as we speak.

  3. It's probably being a foreigner, but I keep thinking the name should be Ames Addington ... but I digress. This series is completely new to me, so thanks Yvette and it does sound fun - I too find myself wishing, as John points out, that maybe that Regency-Victorian-Edwardian triumvirate could be extended a bit in historical mysteries without having to then hop, skip and jump to the middle ages!

  4. This a good series...I ripped through them when they came out. Glad to see it featured.

    @John: Maybe you should get on that 18th C American mystery thing. I'd volunteer...except American isn't my forte. I'd rather research 18th C Britain and do something there.

  5. Yvette, this is a new series for me too. It's funny that this novel should feature the brother-sister team of Addington and Caroline Ames because just two days ago I was wondering if there had been a sibling pair of private eyes. The thought occurred to me while I was reading about the adventures of Tommy and Tuppence (no siblings of course) in THE SECRET ADVERSARY. Thanks for writing about Cynthia Peale's work.

  6. Well, John, this is 19th century America. I feel that 18th century American was just not a very sexy time period.

    I did write about Imogen Robertson's books which are excellent and are set in the late 1700's. Try those. I love 'em.

  7. Sergio, as I mentioned to John. Do try Imogen Robertson's books. They're set in an era not especially well known for mystery settings. 18th century England. There are also several great mysteries (on my 101 list) set just after WWI) and one set during WWI.

  8. Bev: I've just realized that I never read the third book, THE WHITE CROW.
    I wonder if she's writing any more.

  9. You're welcome, Prashant. I'm glad I introduced you to something new.

    Sibling detectives? Hmmm.....Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Though Mycroft hardly ever became really involved.

    I'll try and come up with some more.


Your comment will appear after I take a look.