Available 11 July, 2023

Jane Hunter is a retiring professional librarian and archivist, pushed out of her career path by a younger crowd and tough economic times. Divorced from her abusive husband, and with her grown actress daughter touring the world, Jane takes a job curating a rare collection of mystery novels at a private estate. The job seems like the perfect place to land and figure out her next steps in life… until her new employer becomes embroiled in the center of a startling murder.

From the first few sentences of A Cryptic Clue, I knew two things: Victoria Gilbert has clear skill as a prose stylist, and a commanding love and respect for the work of the classic golden age mystery authors.

The care taken in crafting the scenes, in describing the world, and in building the relationships between the characters, is impressive. While remaining inviting and fast-paced, A Cryptic Clue manages to offer the same tone as the classic mysteries it is clearly built up. This is a modern example of the golden age mystery tradition done right.

Each scene’s arc pulls you through, offering personal mysteries and growth alongside the dual-sided murder mystery at the story’s core. The dynamic between Jane Hunter and her eccentric new boss, Cameron Clewe, is intriguing, and leaves you constantly wondering if theirs is a partnership or a dangerous game of cat and mouse. But the secondary characters are all equally well-defined, offering a deep canvas into which you can easily become immersed.

There are points within this novel where certain elements are thinner than they could be, or where certain twists betray the authorial hand behind the action: but these elements don’t detract from the work as a whole, they feel more like the growing areas any writer must tackle as they continue to master their craft.

As a fan of cozy mysteries, I often find myself dissatisfied with the quality of the writing, where sheer theme is presented in the place of strong prose and meaningful content. In A Cryptic Clue, I feel the balance has been struck perfectly: there’s danger alongside safety, and mystery alongside certainty. There is also more depth of character than you find in many classic mysteries, reminding me more of something like the 1990s Poirot series with David Suchet: there is a whole cast to become invested in, as well as a central character who is flawed but, ultimately, someone you constantly root for.

This is the first book in a planned series, and clearly sets up a strong world within which the main characters can share future adventures. What gets set up in A Cryptic Clue is the platform of character relationships that can clearly persist into future stories, and is destined to grow and evolve alongside the mysteries to come. And I will be there, happily immersed in every single one.

-Odin Halvorson

A Cryptic Clue by Victoria Gilbert

ISBN: 9781639102525
Price: $26.99 (USD)
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover/Ebook

Hi, my name is Odin HalvorsonI’m a writer, editor, and itinerant volunteer. I founded Round Table Writers after completing my MFA in creative writing, and my own writing can be found around the web. My regular book review column here at The Strand focuses on mystery and science fiction books from across the genre spectrum.