Mini-Reviews: A Most Agreeable Murder & VenCoA Most Agreeable Murder by Julia Seales
Published by Random House Publishing Group on June 27, 2023
Genres: Msytery, Historical, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Received from publisher

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • “A delightful cocktail that mixes elements of the Bridgerton series, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries . . . The payoff is a wealth of wit, hilarity and suspense.”—People (Book of the Week)

When a wealthy bachelor drops dead at a ball, a young lady takes on the decidedly improper role of detective in this action-packed debut comedy of manners and murder.

Feisty, passionate Beatrice Steele has never fit the definition of a true lady, according to the strict code of conduct that reigns in Swampshire, her small English township—she is terrible at needlework, has absolutely no musical ability, and her artwork is so bad it frightens people. Nevertheless, she lives a perfectly agreeable life with her marriage-scheming mother, prankster father, and two younger sisters— beautiful Louisa and forgettable Mary. But she harbors a dark secret: She is obsessed with the true crime cases she reads about in the newspaper. If anyone in her etiquette-obsessed community found out, she’d be deemed a morbid creep and banished from respectable society forever.

For her family’s sake, she’s vowed to put her obsession behind her. Because eligible bachelor Edmund Croaksworth is set to attend the approaching autumnal ball, and the Steele family hopes that Louisa will steal his heart. If not, Martin Grub, their disgusting cousin, will inherit the family’s estate, and they will be ruined or, even worse, forced to move to France. So Beatrice must be on her best behavior . . . which is made difficult when a disgraced yet alluring detective inexplicably shows up to the ball.

Beatrice is just holding things together when Croaksworth drops dead in the middle of a minuet. As a storm rages outside, the evening descends into a frenzy of panic, fear, and betrayal as it becomes clear they are trapped with a killer. Contending with competitive card games, tricky tonics, and Swampshire’s infamous squelch holes, Beatrice must rise above decorum and decency to pursue justice and her own desires—before anyone else is murdered.

Julia Seales’ debut is a delightful caper bursting with humour and wit. This isn’t your traditional historical mystery meets romance – it has elements of parody and even hints at the paranormal – but readers will bust a gut laughing at this loving send-up of the genre. At least, I did!

We follow Beatrice Steele, a proper-ish young woman suffering from classic case of Eldest Daughter Syndrome. Beatrice should really be focused on securing an advantageous marriage, but her head is too full of true-crime to focus on the upcoming ball at neighouring estate Stabmort Park. Forget romance, what lights Beatrice’s fire is reading about murder and mayhem from the London papers – especially when they feature a certain dashing detective. Beatrice knows that she has a knack for solving cases, if only everyone would stop yammering on about ladylike behaviour.

The story kicks off when one of the attendees at the ball is murdered – and the famous detective’s disgraced former partner shows up. The game is afoot! Beatrice teams up with detective Vivek Drake to crack the case, catch a murderer, and if she’s lucky, cap things off with a favourable offer of marriage. This is essentially a locked room cozy mystery, so it’s no surprise the plot is fairly predictable. I wasn’t exactly shocked by whodunnit, but boy did I enjoy the wild ride to the reveal. 

Where A Most Agreeable Murder really excels is the character work. Seales makes use of recognizable character archetypes and introduces farcical elements for some pizazz. Captain Peña’s overuse of sailing metaphors, Daniel’s rhyming maxims, and even Mary’s werewolf tendencies (just go with it) all made me cackle. Of course, the relationship between Beatrice and Vivek Drake is the real winner here. Their push-and-pull partnership made me smile and laugh, and although it isn’t an HEA the future certainly looks bright for these two. 

This is a delightful romp that playfully combines Jane Austen vibes with the historical romance/mystery genre. If you enjoyed the absurdity of The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, then you will find lots to love here. 

Mini-Reviews: A Most Agreeable Murder & VenCoVenCo by Cherie Dimaline
Published by Random House of Canada on February 14, 2023
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Source: the library

From the bestselling author of Empire of Wild, a wickedly subversive, deliciously imaginative, deeply feminist novel of contemporary witches on the rise—a book that only the supremely gifted storyteller Cherie Dimaline could write.

Lucky St. James, orphaned daughter of a bad-ass Métis good-times girl, is barely hanging on to her nowhere life when she finds out that she and her grandmother, Stella, are about to be evicted from their apartment. Bad to worse in a heartbeat. Then one night, doing laundry in the building's dank basement, Lucky feels an irresistible something calling to her. Crawling through a hidden hole in the wall, she finds a tarnished silver spoon depicting a story-book hag over letters that spell out S-A-L-E-M.

Which alerts Salem-born Meena Good, finder of a matching spoon, to Lucky's existence. One of the most powerful witches in North America, Meena has been called to bring together seven special witches and seven special spoons—infused with magic and scattered to the four directions more than a century ago—to form a magic circle that will restore women to their rightful power. Under the wing of the international headhunting firm VenCo, devoted to placing exceptional women in roles where they can influence business, politics and the arts, Meena has spent years searching out witches hiding in plain sight wherever women gather: suburban book clubs, Mommy & Me groups, temp agencies. Lucky and her spoon are number six.

With only one more spoon to find, a very powerful adversary has Meena's coven in his sights—Jay Christos, a roguish and deadly witch-hunter as old as witchcraft itself. As the clock ticks toward a now-or-never deadline, Meena sends Lucky and her grandmother on a dangerous, sometimes hilarious, road trip through the United States in search of the seventh spoon. The trail leads them at last to the darkly magical city of New Orleans, where Lucky's final showdown with Jay Christos will determine whether the coven will be completed, ushering in a new beginning, or whether witches will be forced to remain forever underground.

Lucky St. James has been through the ringer. She’s working a dead-end job and Toronto’s housing crisis means that Lucky and her grandma Stella are weeks away from being evicted. Who could blame her for being intrigued when a mysterious, beautiful stranger makes her an offer that seems too good to be true? Of course there’s a catch: Lucky can have everything she’s ever wanted, but first she has to accept her destiny as a witch – and a member of VenCo.

VenCo isn’t your average coven. This is some 21st century witchery, with computers and an LLC to prove it. Their mission? Saving the world, naturally. And taking down a Big Bad. But VenCo needs to identify their last destined member of their circle before they can succeed – and Lucky’s just the woman to do it.  Fill up the tank and buy some chips, because it’s time for a witchy road trip!

Character work is the focus in VenCo, with plot and world building taking a backseat. Each of the witches has an interesting backstory, and their relationships with one another were so special. Lucky’s relationship with her grandmother, Stella, is the star of the show. The St. James women are Métis, and their bond is made strong by their shared history and traditions, which they keep alive in between their squabbles. Stella’s getting on in years and her memory’s starting to go, but that doesn’t mean she’ll let Lucky cut her out of the fun! I love elderly characters who are dealing with the realities of ageing but remain full of humour – and game for misadventure. 

As much as I enjoyed VenCo for its characters and Dimaline’s consistently great writing, it has its weak spots. The plot is very convenient, and there wasn’t enough actual witchiness for my liking. I would’ve loved to learn more about how the coven actually does magic! Clearly the coven’s magic is effective: Luck is a baby-witch, but she still takes down the villain (a supposedly deadly-dangerous guy) quite easily. I’ll admit that had me raising my eyebrows a bit. 

Quibbles aside, VenCo is an enjoyable read. Dimaline delivers the “woman power,” queer affirmation, and found family vibes that I was after. As she writes, it’s always a good day to hex the patriarchy!