Book Review: The Butterfly Conspiracy by Vivian Conroy


The Butterfly Conspiracy is a historical mystery with the undertone of an adventure novel.

Miss Merula Merriweather is different from other girls. She has an unconventional family life, not knowing what became of her real parents or who they were. She isn’t the prettiest of ladies, relying on a spotless reputation to secure her future. She puts that spotless future in danger by pursuing her passion: zoology.

Merula has a special interest in butterflies. Her uncle allows her to use the greenhouse as a place to raise imported creatures from their cocoons. She has an impressive collection of butterflies, but one of them—the largest—is her pride and joy. She has raised it and seen it hatch, and makes the decision to let it out during a zoological lecture.

When Merula’s prize butterfly lands on a wealthy woman’s arm, the woman dies immediately. Blame is placed on the insect, which is killed by the butler. It was heartbreaking to read about Merula’s butterfly being disposed of mercilessly, but under the circumstances, what else could they think to do?

Lord Raven Royston was present during the scene at the lecture. He knows that Merula’s butterfly was not the cause of the death, and he wants to bring justice. He helps her rescue the last cocoon of her butterfly species, escaping a greenhouse that has been set on fire. He introduces her to a chemist friend who collects bizarre creatures such as scorpions and giant spiders. When it becomes clear that police are after her, he gives her shelter at the home he hasn’t visited in twenty years.

Merula and Raven are a great team. She isn’t the fainting sort—after all, she worked with insects for fun—and does well under pressure. He is a deep thinker and willing to try explanations that seem absurd. Together, they work out what happened to the woman. If the butterfly did not kill her, and Merula insists it isn’t venomous, what did?

Rarely do I come across a book and realize from the blurb alone that I need to read it. This was the case with The Butterfly Conspiracy; I cheated my October reading list in order to devour the mystery. The characters are very well developed, the mystery seamless, and the ending satisfying.

There is even an air of steampunk to the world described here—I was waiting for the mechanic creatures to come out!

I had already found a great mystery series in the Lady Hardcastle books, but now I will be looking out for these books too. If you want to try a new mystery series, or if you like visits back in time, The Butterfly Conspiracy is a great book!

Death at Scarclaw Fell: SIX STORIES by Matt Wesolowski


Have you ever wondered what would happen if you examined a situation from multiple angles? Round up all of the people involved and ask them about what happened. You’d watch their opinions differ and their accounts mix and match.

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories follows this premise. It is the written transcript of Scott King’s podcast. Scott’s goal is to rake up old graves. He takes cold cases and looks at them, not as a detective or reporter. He gives people involved a space to talk, and they are drawn to him because of this perspective.

The characters interviewed felt so real that it might have been a true story. I appreciated how people with disabilities were given compassion. It was refreshing to read a piece where the narrator (in this case, Scott King) takes into account the status of a vulnerable adult.

The six points-of-view were flawless to me. Motives were clear, backgrounds separate. While they all lived through the same tragedy, they approached it in distinct ways. Some were ashamed by it; others were almost indifferent. Everyone who knew the murdered kid was affected by him in distinct ways. This affected how much sympathy they showed for him later.

I have to admit it: their stories made it easy to single out who was “it.” I wasn’t surprised when the big reveal happened. I don’t know if the author did this on purpose, focusing on the different voices and how they lead to the same conclusion. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the novel.

Perhaps what was creepiest about the situation was how normal it felt. These teenagers were behaving like teenagers. The trouble they got into with smoking and drinking was what you would expect from angsty teens.

Right until the end, when we learn of the horrific, we struggle to believe they are being interviewed about a murder. It might have been an intervention.

This well-written thriller has a wonderful mythical, horror flavoring. I sometimes wondered if there could be spirits and monsters in the marsh. It is bleak, detailed, and–in my opinion–a great idea for a mystery book.

A heads up for those who mind: the novel has strong language. It wasn’t bad enough to distract me from the plot. If you want a good thriller, I encourage anyone reading this to give Six Stories a try.

Review: The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett


The Queen of England is a mystery to us. It only seems fitting that someone should write her into a mystery novel as The Boss, investigating a gruesome murder. The Windsor Knot shows her in a new, delightful light.

When a famous Russian pianist is found dead in Windsor castle the morning after a lavish party, the police first assume that it was a suicide. Soon, a new theory surfaces involving politics and Russian spies. 

Authorities walk on eggshells around Her Majesty while investigating, assuming that she can’t handle the gruesome details–except they’re wrong. The Queen has been solving mysteries since she was a young girl, and she’s tougher than they give her credit for.

There are guest appearances by public figures that we know, such as Sir David Attenborough and President Obama. It’s a shoot off of Netflix’s The Crown. All of these characters, though, are bland compared to SJ Bennett’s portrayal of Prince Philip. 

Philip is the only character who provides comic relief. Despite his unfiltered behavior, it’s clear that he keeps the Queen balanced. He makes her feel like a human, even when he says things that annoy her, and sometimes you just need someone around who’s not afraid to annoy you.

The Queen, of course, never goes to make inquiries herself. She sends her secretary, Rozie Oshodi, to meet people and ask questions. Rozie is a fantastic character. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she represents strength and diversity. She had a humble beginning, but is now the Queen’s confidante. The strong female character trope is often pushed onto readers until it becomes annoying; this did not happen with Rozie. We get to watch her do her job and do it well, never standing over us to announce her presence. I believe this is how the strong woman character should be written: she ought to be admired because of what she is doing, not what she is announced to be. Remember–show, don’t tell.

I don’t know if it’s my fault–sometimes I skim a book–but I never had a solid grasp on what happened to the Russian pianist or why. Descriptions of royal palaces and guests filled my mind with imagery, I suppose. I did not pay enough attention to the clues or the resolution. When I had finished reading, I needed to make a list of events on a separate page. I had to piece them together myself in order to understand what happened.

I cannot say if it was my fault or if there was some flaw in the writing of the mystery; I am, after all, new to the genre. Nonetheless, I can’t ignore the fact that the mystery was lost in the forest of famous locations and people.

In all, I recommend this book to anyone who likes The Crown or is curious to see famous people in novels. It’s well-written, with a crisp writing style that pulls you along. There was never an instance in which I stumbled over word choice. The setting, characters, and portrayal of the Queen made this a light book worth reading. 

I give it three stars only because the mystery aspect was rather lost on me, but again, my mind might have wandered. I’ll figure that out when I reread it one day. If you like royalty or mysteries, you should definitely read The Windsor Knot; it is a charming, entertaining novel, great for lifting the spirits and for escapism.

Entering the Mystery Genre


For the book lover, literature becomes more beautiful over time. With the passing of the years, our tastes in books evolve. We learn about a certain genre, falling for it to an extent that we live in it, and suddenly–another genre whisks us to a new place. We then see the world from a different angle.

I have been immersed in historical fiction for at least three years. I’ve learned a great deal about important events, how life was lived, the way people dressed, and social interactions. This information molded most of my recent manuscripts. Historical fiction continues to be an important part of what I write and will eventually publish.

I didn’t like mysteries when I was younger. Maybe the mysteries that I chose to read were not the best, but I found them tedious and boring. I was more interested in emotional books than the mechanics of building a whodunnit. I never considered reading thrillers–I guess too many of them were overrated? Too many used paperbacks were sent in droves to the thrift store? I can’t account for my aversion to thrillers.

This year, towards the end of May, I was barricaded with ideas for a mystery. I won’t give details, but it is set in the present day (pre-Covid, mind) and it has been delightful to work with characters who have the same advantages that I do. They’re all over my imagination now; I can’t focus on banal tasks without a new scene filling my head. I even find reading difficult to do, since these new characters want to have my attention; they won’t share it with a novel.

Aware that I haven’t the slightest idea of how to write a mystery, I began searching for good ones to read. Ever loyal to the classics, I am reading Agatha Christie–but since what I’m writing is present-day, I’m also looking for modern mysteries. The thrillers that I find present a welcome change in pace from the classics that I had been reading, though Alexandre Dumas still paints better pictures in my imagination.

In short, I am reading things I never thought I would be reading before; is this a sign of maturity in a reader?

The first thriller I’ve read was suggested in a book group. The Couple Next Door was part of a bookhaul I got at a yard sale, and it had been sitting in the back of my closet for three years. It was delightful when I realized that the most popular thriller in that group was already within my reach. I found it and finished it–in one day.

What a change in pace. What a race to an unexpected ending. I definitely want to read more; I’ll be looking for the next book.

The reader’s life involves many forms of growth. Some of them can only be understood by other readers. As I enter the genres of Mystery and Thriller, I want to learn all about them. The first thing I looked up after finishing The Couple Next Door was Which are the first thrillers that were written? Though I did not find a direct answer, I did discover a good list of thrillers here. A couple are good old classics that I was planning to read anyway, including The Moonstone and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

It feels like I’ve taken an unexpected turn in the road of reading and writing, and I’d like to find people already deep in those genres to share with. Do you have a favorite mystery or thriller book? Do you know of any blogs that might help me on this new path? Please comment and let me know!