One Block Empire, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-935560-46-3
Cozy Mystery, 2017
Blades of Justice is more of a compilation of three cozy mystery stories with lesbian or bisexual protagonists rather than romances. In fact, the focus is more on the mystery than the romance, so much so that I suspect that readers seeking romance first and foremost will be disappointed. There is some lovely prose here, though, and there is enough atmosphere to provide a pleasant vicarious trip to a charming, idyllic Cornish village where people only happen to get murdered now and then.
The theme tying all three stories is this pair of scissors hung over the door of a cottage called Teagrove. The pair of scissors, like the title of the anthology suggests, are often linked to the wrongdoings in the stories, often with the revelations of the wrongdoing helping to set right some wrong committed in the past. But don’t worry too much about this – the stories function just fine without the scissors playing too much of a pivotal role in them.
Helen Angove starts the show with A Cut May Heal, which is also the most poignant story of the three. It is 1798. Eseld, a financially independent spinster, learns of the death of Rosie Hocking and is crushed. Rosie had been ill but Eseld had hoped… You see, years may have passed and Rosie eventually married and had a family of her own, but she would always be a part of Eseld’s heart and soul. She goes over to the household to offer her help, and in the process discovers that there is foul play involved in Rosie’s death.
This story cuts into the heart the most, as the author details the protagonist’s emotions in a manner that is both raw and poetic. This is a good thing, as the mystery is nothing special. In fact, the villain is so obvious from the moment this character shows up, I am actually hoping that this character is merely red herring and the author has something trickier up her sleeve. Alas, no such luck in the end, sigh. Also, and perhaps it is just me, I feel that the story would been stronger if the flashback scenes were removed on minimized. Some things are best left to the reader’s imagination, I feel, instead of being laid out all in the open. Not to mention, I’m far more interested in what is happening in the present time line, so the flashback scenes tend to kill the momentum the story had going.
Next up is Jess Faraday with The Kissing Gate. We now cut forward to 1888. This story is told from Dr Eliza Bell’s point of view. She has retired from what she was doing in London, which seemed to involve solving crimes, doing doctor things, and maybe walking on the Thames in her free time. Now, she spends a more quiet life in Teagrove with her girlfriend-cum-housekeeper Alice. And then, one day, Alice brings her friend to Eliza. This friend, Morwenna, once married Davy Snowden, who is a bad man through and through, before finding happiness with Arthur Dowrick. Thing is, Davy showed up again, causing problem, and Morwenna foolishly did not divorce him properly before marrying Arthur. But before more legal problems arose, Davy showed up dead. Worse, the scissors in Eliza’s cottage is found in – yes, “in” as in “used to stab that SOB” – the body. Now that she is a prime suspect, can Eliza use her detective skills to solve the case and clear her name?
This one would normally be a lovely story, but in this instance, it has the misfortune of following A Cut May Heal. This one isn’t bad, but it doesn’t get to me as much as the previous story. Also, I can’t help wondering whether this is part of an ongoing series, as it feels like I’m either supposed to be familiar with Eliza’s wide array of skills or get the impression that the author is just pulling things out of her rear end when it comes to making Eliza so awesome.
Finally, Rachel Green closes the anthology with Greetings from Penbreigh. It’s 1977. Melanie comes to this quiet place to take up a teaching job. Her landlord is a sexually harassing creep, but the daughter Bernadette is alright. She and Bernadette soon find themselves poking their nose into Bernie’s family secrets, and you know what they say about poking your nose where it doesn’t belong.
This is the longest story of the three, but it is also the weakest, mostly because it lacks the subtle nuances of the previous two stories when it comes to portraying people. Everyone here is either hideous and disgusting or nicer by default when compared to the disgusting folks. Also, heroine Melanie Atherton has an obnoxious tendency to judge people or think lowly of them from the very moment she encounters them, which only adds to the whole dreary and drab “we are all stuck in the company of unpleasant people” vibe of the story. Also, this is an unsatisfying story because things seem to happen just because or due to coincidence – the main characters don’t seem to have much control over events in the story – and twists and turns also seem to pop up from nowhere. This is the most paranormal-ish of the three stories, but the paranormal elements feel inelegantly slapped onto the story. All in all, a pretty bland story that is all over the place.
Blades of Justice has one good story, one alright, and one meh. All things considered, three oogies would be a fair rating for this anthology. It’s fine if you read it, and it’s equally fine if you don’t.