Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver
Series: Electra McDonnell #1
Published by Minotaur Books on May 11, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
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Electra McDonnell has always known that the way she and her family earn their living is slightly outside of the law. Breaking into the homes of the rich and picking the locks on their safes may not be condoned by British law enforcement, but World War II is in full swing, Ellie's cousins Colm and Toby are off fighting against Hitler, and Uncle Mick's more honorable business as a locksmith can't pay the bills any more.
So when Uncle Mick receives a tip about a safe full of jewels in the empty house of a wealthy family, he and Ellie can’t resist. All goes as planned—until the pair are caught redhanded. Ellie expects them to be taken straight to prison, but instead they are delivered to a large townhouse, where government official Major Ramsey is waiting with an offer: either Ellie agrees to help him break into a safe and retrieve blueprints that will be critical to the British war effort, before they can be delivered to a German spy, or he turns her over to the police.
Ellie doesn’t care for the Major's imperious manner, but she has no choice, and besides, she's eager to do her bit for king and country. She may be a thief, but she's no coward. When she and the Major break into the house in question, they find instead the purported German spy dead on the floor, the safe already open and empty. Soon, Ellie and Major Ramsey are forced to put aside their differences to unmask the double-agent, as they try to stop allied plans falling into German hands.
A family of expert safe crackers are set up, caught, and offered a deal to work for the British Secret Service. How could I pass up such an intriguing set up to a new series? I have been meaning to try this author’s older series for ages and got side tracked when this dazzling series starter came to my notice.
A Peculiar Combination introduces Ellie McDonnell and her unique situation. She is an expert thief and comes from a family who subsidize their dwindling locksmith work during the war with a few side jobs relieving home safes of their contents. Ellie was welcomed heartily into her Uncle Mick’s family when she was orphaned and it is to her uncle and family that she is loyal though this is the first opportunity she is given to assist her Uncle in housebreaking and safe cracking. She misses her cousins who are off fighting the war and is restless because she wants to do her part. Who knew that her first ‘job’ would lead her just where she wants to be? That is if she didn’t have to work with the handsome, perfect, taciturn man from the secret service who is none too impressed with a family of thieves even if he does need their expertise for his assignment.
At first, I wasn’t sure if Ellie and I were going to take to each other. It was obvious she’d not really attempted to see the stealing for what it was because it was just the way of her family, and her uncle and cousins made it seem like a lark. Being forced to reassess, because the man who catches her, that she is unwillingly attracted to, looks on with disdain, gets her back up. But, she won me over because she was set aside her feelings about Major Ramsay to serve the greater good even after her deal with him was over. Ramsay was in a jam with the important papers gone, a murdered traitor, and another one on the loose ready to hand over the goods to the Nazis and I was glad Ellie and Uncle Mick dove in and did their part. Major Ramsay has his own skills and tough persona, but he tends to set people on edge so the McDonnell charm helped them work through their list of suspects in social settings.
The story started slow with the introductions, but picked up speed nicely and by the end the suspense was taunt. This is more espionage story than murder mystery, but stayed closer to cozy than thriller. There are some serious romantic sparks, but the romance wasn’t a focal point in this first book. Coming together as a team and working the mission took precedence. The historical backdrop was there just enough to make sure the reader understood it was WWII Era London, but didn’t go deeply into the historical side. Ellie’s past is introduced vaguely leaving the reader curious especially after the major mentioned she was born in prison.
All in all, I was left satisfied with this intro to the series and the author’s writing. I like the characters, especially mischievous Uncle Mick, and I most definitely want more of them and their war-time shadow work. Ellie and the major really click though they are hostile and witty much of the time toward each other. I think WWII mystery lovers and those who enjoy light historical thrillers should definitely give this new series a go.
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