Probably now more than ever, with the world in crisis, readers are longing for books that bring comfort and familiarity, those novels featuring a sense of nostalgia that soothe and distract without requiring excessive concentration. Unbeknownst to her while writing it, Erica Ruth Neubauer has provided just what readers need in this current climate – an engaging mystery that feels vintage, even while it refuses to be old-fashioned, with a new heroine who feels inherently modern, yet who remains authentic to the historical period. Murder at the Mena House is a debut traditional mystery which, despite making its way into the world during a unique global pandemic, still captures the imagination of the reader and transports them to a time when things were maybe just a little bit less dire.
Erica Ruth Neubauer’s Murder at the Mena House is set in Egypt circa 1926. American Jane Wunderly finds herself doing some global travel with her meddling Aunt Millie. As the novel opens, they have just settled themselves into the Mena House Hotel overlooking the Great Pyramids of Giza. The beautiful respite locale brings Jane and her aunt into contact with a wide variety of other individuals, some who become smitten with Jane – despite her best efforts – and some who refuse to be lulled into liking this prickly and very independent woman. Needless to say, it is one of those characters who is less-than-a-fan of Jane Wunderly who eventually winds up murdered, placing Jane at the center of the investigation, as both amateur detective and suspect.
Neubauer has crafted a very strong central mystery that plays fair with the reader without trying to be too clever for its own good. She then surrounds this case with a refreshing romance, brief moments of unexpected humor, and some exceptionally well-researched history. The view out the picturesque windows of the Mena House Hotel will have readers longing to jet away to Egypt, exploring the pyramids and ancient artifacts right beside Jane – especially knowing there is the comfort of that glorious hotel and its amenities to return to when the heat, sand, and camels become too much.
If this all sounds a bit like a lost novel from Elizabeth Peters, you are not mistaken. Erica Ruth Neubauer is clearly a fan of that grandmaster of our genre and this homage to her classic series will delight fellow fans of Amelia Peabody. Rest assured that this is not simply a re-tread of those works, but rather a book designed to further bolster and highlight the subgenre of historical mysteries, infusing it with new discoveries on such topics as feminism and gender politics by reflecting it through the lens and sensibilities of our current society.
Murder at the Mena House is the launch of a new series, so readers have many more adventures with Jane Wunderly to look forward to. Based on the strengths of this debut, Erica Ruth Neubauer proves herself a born storyteller, with the smarts to ferret out compelling stories set in yesteryear but still relevant today. Readers will happily journey with her for years to come.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.