Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Cinderella Six Feet Under by Maia Chance

Cinderella Six Feet Under
Author:  Maia Chance
Series:  A Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery 2
Publisher:  Berkley, September 1, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print); $7.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780425271629 (print); 9780698140059 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

This Cinderella goes from ashes to ashes in the new Victorian-era Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery by the author of Snow White Red-Handed . . .

Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax’s plan to reunite her friend Prue with her estranged—and allegedly wealthy—mother, Henrietta, is met with a grim surprise. Not only is the marquise’s Paris mansion a mouse-infested ruin, but Henrietta has inexplicably vanished, leaving behind an evasive husband, two sinister stepsisters, and a bullet-riddled corpse in the pumpkin patch decked out in a ball gown and one glass slipper—a corpse that also happens to be a dead ringer for Prue.

Strangely, no one at 15 rue Garenne seems concerned about who plugged this luckless Cinderella or why, so the investigation is left to Ophelia and Prue. It takes them through the labyrinthine maze of the Paris Opera, down the trail of a legendary fairy tale relic, into the confidence of a wily prince charmless, and makes them vulnerable to the secrets of a mysterious couturière with designs of her own on Prue’s ever-twisting family history.

Jennifer's Review

Cinderella Six Feet Under is the second instalment in Maia Chance’s Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery series. The series follows two American ladies, Ophelia and Prue, former variety hall actresses, as they are making their way through Victorian era Europe. Prue is attempting to find her mother, Henrietta, also a former actress, who abandoned Prue in the states and has since married a French nobleman. Ophelia is hoping she can get back to America once Prue is settled with Henrietta. Things go awry right from the start when the girls discover the dead body of Prue’s long lost older sister, Sybille, murdered in the pumpkin patch. Things get even worse when they learn that Henrietta is also missing from the run down Paris mansion she shares with her husband and two step-daughters. Ophelia and Prue must locate Henrietta, fearing that she may be in danger from the murderer. They must find the killer before he moves on to Prue, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the murdered sister she had never met.

Ophelia is a tenacious and bright young woman, who seems to balk at all of the conventions that Victorian society force upon her. She is also a master of disguise, spending much of the book dressed as a rotund, gray haired, matronly chaperone, Mrs. Brand. Prue is a simple girl, with simple hopes and dreams, to be a respectable wife and mother. To this end, she convinces the slovenly, and often inebriated, housekeeper at the mansion to teach her how to be a good cook and housewife. Neither Prue nor Ophelia expect to get swept up into a murder investigation that centers on the Cinderella fairy tale.

We also meet Gabriel again, the bookish English lord who has a fascination with the truth and history behind common fairy tales. Gabriel is often conflicted by his emerging feelings for Ophelia, as she is not a shy, retiring lady, but a bold and worldly actress. Those conflicted feelings do not stop Gabriel from rushing to Ophelia’s side to help her discover the killer, although the fact that the murder is tied up with a family that claims to be descended from Cinderella is also a factor in his eagerness to help Ophelia. For her part, Ophelia is just as skilled as Gabriel is squashing her tender feelings.

The characters that make up the household at 15 Rue Garenne, the very house that Cinderella may very well have toiled in before fortune smiled upon her and her prince charming, are definitely an odd lot. The patriarch is Malbert, Henrietta’s new husband. Malbert is an unpleasant looking little man who has an obsession with clockwork inventions and seems to be scatterbrained and is decidedly unworried about his bride’s disappearance. Malbert’s daughters are Eglantine and Austorga, two unattractive and frivolous ladies who can easily be envisioned as Cinderella’s wicked step-sisters. Baldewyn is the family’s pretentious butler, who clearly feels that Prue and Ophelia, or Mrs. Brand as she is known at the mansion, are below his notice. Bespectacled Englishwomen Seraphine Smythe and her distracted mother, while not really a part of the household, are frequently guests of the sisters.

Ophelia and Gabriel’s investigation into Sybille’s murder and Henrietta’s disappearance takes them often to the Paris Opera, which is, of course, performing the Cinderella story as a ballet. We meet various characters connected to the ballet. Caleb Grant, a smarmy American transplant, is the dancing master at the opera. Ophelia meets the highly eligible and handsome Slovenian Prince Rupprecht at a performance of the ballet. He is the target of every young debutante in Paris, including the wicked step-sisters. Prince Rupprecht’s close friend, Count de Griffe, is a bear of a man with a decided leonine appearance who is quite smitten with Ophelia, in her role of Gabriel’s American heiress cousin.

Other important characters include Madame Fayette, a sought after clothier, and Josie, her overworked head seamstress, and Monsieur Colifichet, a cunning clockwork inventor, and his young apprentice, Pierre. We also meet Lord and Lady Cruthlach, more English transplants, who are both elderly and frail, with an unhealthy and fanatical desire to obtain a Cinderella artifact that is purported to be somewhere in the mansion where Prue and Ophelia are staying, and their sweet and handsome grandson, Dalziel.

The storyline is multifaceted, often moving swiftly, but flowing well from one concept to the next. The author completely weaves the Cinderella story into the events of the mystery in a way that makes sense and works well. The tension between Ophelia and Gabriel is mounting in this novel and makes the plot very interesting. The banter between the two is clever and funny. I will be very interested in seeing where their relationship goes in the next book in the series, which is entitled Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna.


Snow White Red-Handed
A Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery 1
Berkley, November 4, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

Miss Ophelia Flax is a Victorian actress who knows all about making quick changes and even quicker exits. But to solve a fairy-tale crime in the haunted Black Forest, she’ll need more than a bit of charm…

1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a crass American millionaire. But when her new job whisks her off to a foreboding castle straight out of a Grimm tale, she begins to wonder if her fast-talking ways might have been too hasty. The vast grounds contain the suspected remains of Snow White’s cottage, along with a disturbing dwarf skeleton. And when her millionaire boss turns up dead—poisoned by an apple—the fantastic setting turns into a once upon a crime scene.

To keep from rising to the top of the suspect list, Ophelia fights through a bramble of elegant lies, sinister folklore, and priceless treasure, with only a dashing but mysterious scholar as her ally. And as the clock ticks towards midnight, she’ll have to break a cunning killer’s spell before her own time runs out…

See Jennifer's review here.


Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna
A Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery 3
Berkley, February 2, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

From the author of Cinderella Six Feet Under, a beauty must solve a beastly murder.

Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax knows how to win over an audience. That’s why she’s accepted the marriage proposal of the brutish Comte de Griffe to nettle her occasional investigative partner—and romantic sparring partner—the pompous if dashing Professor Penrose.

But with his boorish table manners, wild mane of hair, and habit of prowling away the wee hours, the comte has shredded Ophelia’s last nerve. She intends to disengage from her feral fiancé at his winter hunting party—until Penrose, his lovely new fiancée, and a stagecoach of stranded travelers arrive at the comte’s sprawling château. Soon she can’t tell the boars from the bores.

When one of the guests is found clawed and bloody in the orangerie, Ophelia is determined to solve the murder before everyone starts believing the local version of Beauty and the Beast. But until the snows melt, she can’t trust her eyes—or her heart—since even the most civilized people hold beastly secrets…


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