Review of A Matter of Love and Death by Carmen Radtke

This may be my first historical cozy mystery set in Australia and it’s the first in a series I plan to continue reading! I was introduced to this book through an author request. The premise sounded promising, so I said yes… and what a good thing!

See no evil, hear no evil?

Adelaide, 1931. Telephone switchboard operator Frances’ life is difficult as sole provider for her mother and adopted uncle. But it’s thrown into turmoil when she overhears a suspicious conversation on the phone, planning a murder.

If a life is at risk, she should tell the police; but that would mean breaking her confidentiality clause and would cost her the job. And practical Frances, not prone to flights of fancy, soon begins to doubt the evidence of her own ears – it was a very bad line, after all…

She decides to put it behind her, but it’s not easy. Luckily there is the charming, slightly dangerous night club owner Jack. Jack’s no angel – six pm prohibition is in force, and what’s a nightclub without champagne? But when Frances’ earlier fears resurface, she knows that he’s the person to confide in.
Frances and Jack’s hunt for the truth puts them in grave danger, and soon enough Frances will learn that some things are a matter of love and death…

If you love sparkling dialogue, glamorous settings and the charm of the Golden Age mysteries, you’ll enjoy Carmen Radtke’s cozy whodunnits, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Rhys Bowen and Carola Dunn.

Available on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited.

The historical setting: I’m no expert on Australian expressions from the 1930s, but I think the author did some good research and the reader is treated to several of them. I really should have made a note of a few to share. I quite enjoyed the colourful flair they provide the story. In addition to the expressions, there are specific types of appliances and gadgets that would have been in use at the time. There’s also the representation of the effects of the economic depression of that time period. Jobs are hard to come by, many are unemployed, neighbours help support one another and no one lets a penny get away if it can be helped. These elements are all woven into the storytelling (and into Frances’s character too) and help create a very vivid and enlightening setting.

The mystery: The lay of the mystery is a bit different from your regular cozy, yet i think it works in this context. Frances overhears a murder plot and she and Jack try to figure out the validity of that conversation and if they can find the potential victim. It isn’t until well after the halfway mark that we know the murder has been committed. Also, there are several quite amazing coincidences that lead to Frances finding clues about the identity of the culprit. It’s not the strongest plotting of a mystery but I love the ‘big reveal’ and the drama that unfolds with Frances and Jack at the centre of it all.

The romance: What this tale may lack in mystery plot, it makes up for (and then some) with absolutely charming characters. Let’s start with Jack and Frances who make quite a pair and complement each other handsomely. Frances is young, Jack a little older. Frances is a touch naive, Jack is very worldly. Frances is practical but brave and caring, Jack wants to keep her safe but delights in her keen mind and sense of justice. The affection between these two builds up gradually over the course of the story and leaves the reader with the sense that more is certainly to come.

The other delightful characters I’m looking forward to ‘seeing’ again would be Uncle Sal, formerly Salvatore the Magnificent, a retired stage player who keeps an eye on Frances and her mother…and plays peace maker when necessary. He’s also always in the know about the latest gossip. Jack’s friends Dolores, the very sought-after singer at his night club and Bluey, his over-sized man of business, who really is a big softy at heart, were two more of my favourites.

If you like historical cozies featuring charming characters, this is one you might want to check out too.

I give A Matter of Love and Death 4/5 espresso shots.

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