Book Review | “Queen’s Gambit” (Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle series, Book Two) by Bradley Harper In this sequel to “A Knife in the Fog” Doyle is not the centre of focus, Margaret Harkness takes the lead!

Posted Wednesday, 18 September, 2019 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I am a reviewer for Prometheus Books and their imprints starting in [2016] as I contacted them through their Edelweiss catalogues and Twitter. I appreciated the diversity of titles across genre and literary explorations – especially focusing on Historical Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Scientific Topics in Non-Fiction. However, their imprints Seventh Street Books & Pyr were merged into Start Publishing in [2019] – wherein I had the pleasure of being approached by their new publicity team via Kaye Publicity in Spring 2019 wherein I was first introduced to the Spice Shop Mysteries as I was told about a forthcoming release [for June] was “Chai Another Day”. From there, I started to work with Kaye Publicity to continue reviewing Seventh Street Book titles and author releases I am both familiar with and/or are considered “new authors” to my readerly life.

As an aside, despite the fact Seventh Street Books has been bought out by Smart Publishing – all links to their website and social accounts have remained active and use the same urls. The new publisher has maintained all their sites and thereby, the transition was seamless for readers who wanted to keep in touch with the authors and the series they come to love by Seventh Street Books & Pyr!

I received a complimentary copy of “Queen’s Gambit” direct from the publisher Seventh Street Books (an imprint of Start Science Fiction) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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On what I enjoyed in the pages of “A Knife in the Fog”:

This novel begins the series introducing us to all the key characters – from Professor Bell, to Arthur Conan Doyle and Margaret Harkness. As the series progresses forward – the characters shift in focus & share the lead.

A reflectively pensive voice gives us the impression the following account of an investigation into the Ripper murders of East London was in effect not only of profound impact on the narrator of this story (of whom I presumed immediately was Conan Doyle) but was in reality, an important marker of time for this person. It envelopes itself into a pertinent relationship of mind and arms; of a person who not only of equal mirth of enquiry and investigative instincts but of common interests and conveyances which were equally dynamic in their own rights. It is here – within the fragmented touchstones of what is yet to come where you start to distinguish the ‘voice’ of the novel A Knife in the Fog to being very decisively Holmesian.

Doyle, similar to Holmes does not suffer fools gently nor does he wish his personal or professional time to be waylaid but people who are less than honest with him on first meeting. It is here where you can infer how much Harper was researching his protagonist not just as the subject study to influence his own series but how Doyle himself could embody a lot of the characteristics we’ve all come to love in our beloved Holmes; than thus even more readily, it would be Harper who gives us a fuller advantage of seeing the inspiration behind Watson. The interesting bit here is of whom was the inspiring force behind both characters as your own mind might have readily adapted itself to thinking it was Doyle to Holmes and Dr Bell to Watson when the reality of the truth is a bit more intriguing to say the least! For my own capacity of interest – I did vacillate at first to make the distinction myself – as there are aspects of both men within both characters, however, there are firm clues towards whom is whom so to speak throughout the narrative Harper has delivered leading to the truer truth behind the designation of which current characters elude to the infamous ones!

Finding little details of historical influence and relevancy like this uncomfortable reaction in Doyle made it a joy to read A Knife in the Fog – as there are other small touches of where the past feels ever-present and where the narrative has a lovely tone and style of being decidedly British and Historical in scope. I believe it is this kind of detailed fine tuning in the story which help alight you into the era we’re being presented – it is lovely when you can find writers who are going the extra mile to give us a presentation of an era which we can find plausible and believable like what Mr Harper has done within his series. Although some of his words and phrasing is wickedly British, he does revert back to writing this in an American voice – I would have preferred it to be more British in the choices of words but blessedly it felt British by how he conveyed the backdrop of the setting and how he approached our immersion into Doyle’s life.

I, on the other hand, took an immediate liking to Margaret – she was her own person, owning her truths and her way of life with the confidence you’d expect from a woman of her nature. She did not apologise for her choices in life (nor should she) and she had an upper edge against Doyle as his presumptive assumptions about her were loudly present even if they were left unsaid aloud. Harkness is the kind of no-nonsense woman who was game for anything and had this zest for believing she could accomplish whatever she needed to simply due to the courage she had to believe in herself. Ironically, her dedication and her fortitude seemed lost on Doyle – at least at this first crossing of their paths.

You truly appreciate how Harper has sharpened our impression of Harkness, as my favourite passage which involves her and Doyle at this junction of the story is when she saves him from a would-be robber. The event itself isn’t a spoiler for the story but it is a clear representation of how foiled Doyle was in thinking he would have held an upper hand in this situation. I love how Harkness not only re-proves the point about how women can be independently secure in their beings but also be resourceful enough to intervene whenever danger arises. It was a classy look at how misconceptions in gender and how unnecessary misunderstandings within the classes of gender can put undo judgement against people. I personally felt it was a rather fitting sequence as it set a tone for how Doyle would view Harkness and how Harkness would become endeared to the reader.

I had a feeling I knew where A Knife in the Fog was directing me in regards to whom would become unmasked as the Ripper. Harper did something quite classic in how he developed the story-line, the characters and the persons of whom they encountered along the route of the story as it shifted forward – he kept you close to the dialogue, the discoveries and the case as it evolved through the investigation. All of which is brilliantly within the guise of the genre this story is set but he also did a hat trick from a magician’s bag of tricks – he re-directed your attention away from something you might have clued in on more readily if you weren’t equally distracted from addressing what it was you thought you had picked up on earlier in the story! Laughs. I actually was quite impressed how long the suspense lasted as it takes you straight (almost!) to the concluding chapters to where Harper knits together the conclusion (some) readers might not expect to be the solution to the mysterious identity of the Ripper. I, for one, felt it was a right proper choice – it staid within the scope of the journey we took walking beside Conan Doyle, Harkness and Bell whilst it also eluded to a reality you could find believable about this infamous case of crime.

It is in the final chapter wherein I felt reconnected to Conan Doyle – as for me, he held within his character (within the scope of the series) a bit more Holmesian attributes than I think Harper even realised he had etched into his nature. He might have meant for us to view Doyle differently but in the final chapter, there was a brilliant moment of recognition and also quiet acceptance of how this characterisation of Conan Doyle was a classic representation of why I have loved Sherlock Holmes. It is fitting truly, Harper has found his voice in fiction to be fulfilling a missing gap in stories which I believe the real Conan Doyle would have appreciated had he lived to see their publication.

-quoted from my review of A Knife in the Fog

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Book Review | “Queen’s Gambit” (Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle series, Book Two) by Bradley Harper In this sequel to “A Knife in the Fog” Doyle is not the centre of focus, Margaret Harkness takes the lead!Queen's Gambit
Subtitle: A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness
by Bradley Harper
Source: Direct from Publisher

Spring, 1897. London. Margaret Harkness, now in her early forties, must leave England for her health but lacks the funds. A letter arrives from her old friend Professor Bell, her old comrade in the hunt for Jack the Ripper and the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

Bell invites her to join him in Germany on a mysterious mission for the German government involving the loss of state secrets to Anarchists. The resolution of this commission leads to her being stalked through the streets of London by a vengeful man armed with a powerful and nearly silent air rifle who has both Margaret and Queen Victoria in his sights. Margaret finds allies in Inspector James Ethington of Scotland Yard and his fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who aspires to follow in Margaret's cross-dressing footsteps.

The hunt is on, but who is the hunter, and who the hunted as the day approaches for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee when the aged empress will sit in her open carriage at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral? The entire British Empire holds its breath as the assassin, Margaret, and the Queen herself play for the highest of stakes with the Queen’s Gambit.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781645060017

Also by this author: A Knife in the Fog, A Knife in the Fog (Interview)

Also in this series: A Knife in the Fog, A Knife in the Fog (Interview)


Genres: Amateur Detective, Classic Detective, Crime Fiction, Feminist Historical Fiction, Hard-Boiled Mystery, Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller Suspense


Published by Seventh Street Books

on 17th September, 2019

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 288

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The Margaret Harkness & Arthur Conan Doyle Mysteries:

per each installment either both are featured or only Harkness takes the lead

A Knife in the Fog by Bradley HarperQueen's Gambit by Bradley Harper

A Knife in the Fog (book one) – (see also review)

Queen’s Gambit (book two)

  • more installments are forthcoming!

This Summer I also featured an Interview with Mr Harper

Published By: Seventh Street Books (@SeventhStBooks)
an imprint of Start Science Fiction, part of Start Publishing

Converse via: #QueensGambit, #HistNov and #HistFic OR #HistoricalThriller
Available Formats: Trade Paperback and Ebook

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About Bradley Harper

Bradley Harper

Bradley Harper is a retired US Army Pathologist with over thirty-seven years of worldwide military/medical experience, ultimately serving as a Colonel/Physician in the Pentagon. During his Army career, Harper performed some two hundred autopsies, twenty of which were forensic.

Upon retiring from the Army, Harper earned an Associate's Degree in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. He has been published in The Strand Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and a short story he wrote involving Professor Moriarty in the Holmes tale of The Red Headed League (entitled The Red Herring League) won Honorable Mention in an international short fiction contest. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Authors Guild, and Sisters in Crime, Harper is a regular contributor to the Sisters in Crime bi-monthly newsletter.

Harper’s first novel, A Knife in the Fog, involves a young Arthur Conan Doyle joining in the hunt for Jack the Ripper, and has been nominated for an 2019 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for Best First Novel by an American Author.

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my review of queen’s gambit:

We arrive in 1881 – where there is a movement to cause harm to the czar in power as this story begins in St. Petersburg, Russia before moving briefly to Germany – as we tuck close to the people who caused casualty and anguish to the innocents who were also victims as they attempted to take out their main target. It was truly a horrific scene and one that is a bit difficult to read (as noted below) as it is quite a bit graphic round the edges but thankfully re-focuses to discuss where Viktor relocated too rather than tarry on the details.

Soon after, the novel resumes our journey with Margaret Harkness, as we time shift forward to 1897 – finding her in London, requesting an audience with the Queen, no less! It is here were we re-establish ourselves into her life – I personally had a fond attachment to Harkness, as she is quite the independently fierce woman of her age who chose to rise above the commands of society and strike out a purposeful life wherein she would rally behind the causes and movements which would help re-align the inequalities facing women of her day and age. She also took great lengths to ensure her successes in life – including but not limiting herself to changing her appearances and style of dress if it meant opening doors which are generally closed to women. I felt she was ingenious, gutsy and an incredibly forward-thinking women who was far ahead of her peerage.

Uniquely she calls herself a Christian Socialist due to work with the disadvantaged and the less fortunate – the people she would rather help and give direct aide than to be like the others of her century and turn a blind eye to their needs. Harkness is a remarkable woman by all counts but especially in how she is presented by Harper, as you gather more insight into her as he pens more stories featuring Harkness directly. In the prior novel, she shared the spotlight but in this sequel, I have a feeling we’ll have a much more intimate portrait of who Margaret Harkness is and how she stands out from the crowd all the more for having the leading focus within this story.

Harkness has recently been diagnosed with a condition most would struggle to accept but she is a formidable woman and isn’t easily swayed to depressive states. She’d rather seek the positive and rise above the adverse effects of her newly found condition than to succumb to it directly. Thus, we find her in fighting spirits within the opening bridge of Queen’s Gambit – celebrating her fortitude and adventurous spirit whilst giving a nod of respect to Professor Bell and Dr Doyle of being colleagues in arms as she fondly remembers how they solved the Jack the Ripper case.

When Harkness met with Professor Bell as “Robert Pennyworth” I was full of smiles – this was her way of fitting into the world of men, under the disguise she created to pass through their gatekeepers. Even Bell gets a kick out of her cleverness and helps her keep the illusion whilst noting whenever she makes an ‘improvement’ on how she is disguised to others who are clueless of her truer gender. In this way, it is also painting a clear picture on how unequal women were and how hard we had to fight for the equality we are still striving towards today. This is a connective thread throughout the series and one in which I applaud being inclusive.

Harkness’s sharp appraisal was in quick order when it came their (ie. hers and Professor Bell’s) first impression of Inspector Ethington whereas Bell attempted to soften her harsh judgements, Harkness was unmovable. I fell between their two assessments, as sometimes it is quite right as Bell said, our first instincts can become misplaced without further information and in regards to Harkness, she had strong points to deduce as well but it only suited if no mitigating circumstances were involved. This was another fine example of how Harper wants his readers to fully understand his characters – their strengths, their faults and the depths of their personalities towards seeking a way to show how they perceive everything round them as they seek out cases to solve. In this instance, Harkness shows she is less inclined to give benefit of the doubt whereas Bell tries to steer towards the higher road without passing quick judgements.

As Harkness and Bell were becoming privy to their duties with their German counterparts working in counter-intelligence, I was curiously reminded about the latter work of Foyle (ie. Foyle’s War) wherein he too, worked with the intelligence community and found that nothing was ever as he expected it to be and the issues of solving crimes and cases increased tenfold due to the complexities of the situations therein. I mused to myself Harkness and Bell would soon find what Foyle had found and I hoped, as I had for Foyle, they would not feel as disillusioned about what they would be capable in achieving as they began to sleuth out the truth. As an aside, those latter seasons of Foyle’s War were the most gutting episodic serials of BBC dramatic crime and I have yet to see the final two episodes or perhaps its just the finale; either way, my heart is not yet ready to let go of that series.

Harkness had a somberness about her I remember reflected in the eyes of Foyle – especially when she resolved a key issue with Bell in regards to why they were brought into Germany; sometimes you seek the truth without understanding the consequences of what the truth will yield in result of an investigation; towards that end, Harkness re-humbles herself constantly with the heavier weight of what being an investigator means and how the job isn’t for the weak of mind nor spirit.

And, then the other shoe dropped as they say,… I had a feeling this series was on the upper tier of what I generally read but as I read with earnest interest A Knife in the Fog until certain passages rather disturbed me to where I knew I couldn’t read another novel about the Ripper case, I still felt that the next installments of the series would be a bit,… gentler? Perhaps even not as difficult to read through as I do read forensic based Suspense and Thrillers, but there is a turning of darkness within Queen’s Gambit which is reflective of what is con-concurrently present throughout A Knife in the Fog – in this particular case it has nothing to do with Jack the Ripper but rather a particular style of telling a Historical Thriller.

I’ve found in reading Queen’s Gambit, I have to discontinue my pursuit of Margaret Harkness, Professor Bell and Dr Doyle’s exploits as for whichever reason rather than feeling more intrigued to continue turning the pages of this novel, I feel a bit more sickened by what I might find revealled to me after passing through another bit of a shock in the descriptive narrative. It is a very intuitive novel, expertly weaving in the historical accuracy of the Victorian era against the tides of History – wherein, Harper puts his characters through the vise so to speak to live amongst History’s most well-known tides of change or tragedy, but where I falter to find footing in the series now is moving past the grittier bits of how the story is told.

A bit similar to why I had to ‘let go’ of other series – both in fiction and televised serials wherein the intensity of graphic nature of the stories was pushing me straight out of my upper levels of tolerance as at some point, some of those inclusions move from being accurately described due to the nature of the stories told to being sickening and nauseating to either read or watch; at least for this reader. Sadly, as said, I truly had such a profound respect for this author’s vision of the series and hope that other readers who appreciate a wicked good story-teller who intuits real persons into their stories will give this series a try as they might find themselves wrapped into a serial they cannot put down.

Before, During or After your own readings:

The back pages of this novel are filled to the brim with the biographies of all living persons featured in this novel – Harper continues to give his readers a firm grounding of understanding of whom he showcased in his evolving series but also, how the History of the era and timescape his stories are running in tandem of society’s forward motions are affecting his characters’ lives. It is a testament to his dedicated research and how he infuses such a deep appreciation for History, Biographical Historical Fiction and the authentic nature of presenting the historic past with a keen sense of how it would have reflected through a real-life accounting of the events.

A Fly in the Ointment: Content Note:

specifically on the forensic and descriptive details of Queen’s Gambit:

Ooh dear my – I should have realised that this series might continue to be a bit on the grittier side of the ledger – pushing me closer to reading a Hard-Boiled Historical Thriller than I first realised, however, given the previous novel was about Jack the Ripper, for whichever reason, I thought perhaps the grit and descriptive bits were inclusive to that particular focus of narrative moreso than the descriptive details generally found in Thrillers like these which become the mainstay of a series. In essence, I was blanching a bit from the details within the first pages of Queen’s Gambit to where I felt perhaps, I might have selected one series I may have to discontinue reading due to the graphic nature of how some of the scenes are described.

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This book review is courtesy of: Seventh Street Books

Seventh Street Books logo badge provided by Kaye Publicity.

and Kaye Publicity

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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Reading this novel counted towards some of my 2019 reading challenges:

2019 HistFic Reading Challenge banner created by Jorie in Canva.

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2019 New Release Challenge created by mylimabeandesigns.com for unconventionalbookworms.com and is used with permission.

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{SOURCES: Book cover “A Knife in the Fog”, the author photo of Bradley Harper and his biography was originally provided by Paste Creative and are used with permission. Book cover for “Queen’s Gambit”, the synopsis for “Queen’s Gambit” as well as the logo badge for Seventh Street Books were provided by Kaye Publicity and is used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. 2019 New Release Challenge created by mylimabeandesigns.com for unconventionalbookworms.com and is used with permission.Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using Unsplash.com (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2019.

The bookish who happily shared this via #bookishTwitter:

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Wednesday, 18 September, 2019 by jorielov in 19th Century, After the Canon, Amateur Detective, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Book Review (non-blog tour), Crime Fiction, Detective Fiction, England, Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller Suspense, Inspired By Author OR Book, Inspired by Stories, Margaret Harkness, Paste Creative, Realistic Fiction, the Victorian era




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