December 8, 2023

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

Elsa Hart’s Cabinets Of Barnaby Mayne Now A Publishers Weekly Best Of 2020- Being A Collector Of The World’s Wonders Can Be… Murder

When The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne showed up in my mailbox, I couldn't make heads or tales of why. But I figured I'd give it a shot and completely fell in love with Elsa Hart's lovely, quirky murder mystery set in 18th century London.

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne By Elsa Hart Review-

Now Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2020

There are… rules to my review of The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne. I’m stating them upfront. Also, a disclaimer: to Elsa Hart, the author of The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne. These rules have nothing to do with you or this lovely novel. It is all about me and those, if any, that follow this website regularly. First, I WILL NOT BE JUDGED. Do you think I can’t hear all of your snickering and side-eyeing? I am very well aware that Elsa Hart’s Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne is not a twisted psychological thriller or even a thriller/suspense procedural. I KNOW. The second rule comes with a story. I know how much everyone loves stories. UPDATED BECAUSE IT IS NOW A PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST BOOKS OF 2020: MYSTERY/THRILLERS. At least I know when I detour, I detour to the best. And yes, there are updates and new thoughts throughout the review below.

This story does not involve mom. It includes the lovely, if not utterly confused, publicists, at Minotaur Books. After The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne showed up in my mailbox, and I’d uncrossed my eyes, I settled down with it. After reading it, my shock and awe were palpable. I have never read a novel like The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne, but I knew I adored it.

Meaning I didn’t see my loving it coming- DON’T JUDGE ME- I don’t mean The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne and Elsa Hart hitting the Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2020– Just to be clear.

It was obviously a mystery, but was it a Cozy Mystery? No. I don’t think so. Is there such a thing as Historical Thriller Mysteries? I wasn’t sure. And for some unknown reason, I didn’t look it up online. Instead, I asked Minotaur. And while they have every right to judge me. You need to refer to rule number one, which applies to everything from me loving Elsa Hart’s latest book, to this story, and the review. Minotaur kindly explained that indeed, it is a Historical Mystery/Detective novel. Yes, I believe they are still talking to me. While we are at it, I’ll add this here because truer words have never been spoken.

Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart Publishers Weekly Best of 2020

Thank you to Minotaur for an ARC in exchange for putting up with my idiocy, expanding my genres, and an honest review without judgment. And also, for sending this to me for no reason other than it is a damn good book. I would not have picked up otherwise and you knew better than I did. So, now I got to review The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne and throw it at people, and HELL YES.
PSST. I bought the audible on my own. It was not provided by the publisher.

What is rule number two of my review of The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne (now a Publisher Weekly Best of 2020- did I mention that yet)? This genre is entirely new and foreign to me, and as such, I ask that everyone bear with me. I will give you the summary. If anyone notices any fundamental basics, structures, etc… that are not labeled or spoken of correctly, please let me know. I definitely would like to learn what I need to expand my knowledge of the genre. Also, it is most definitely not intentional. This is also why I am providing the summary. I want to make sure that in my newbie status, I provide everything needed in a review.

The Cabinets Of Barnaby Mayne: Summary

London, 1703. In a time when the old approaches to science coexist with the new, one elite community attempts to understand the world by collecting its wonders. Sir Barnaby Mayne, the most formidable of these collectors, has devoted his life to filling his cabinets. While the curious-minded vie for invitations to study the rare stones, bones, books, and artifacts he has amassed, some visitors come with a darker purpose.

For Cecily Kay, it is a passion for plants that brings her to the Mayne house. The only puzzle she expects to encounter is how to locate the specimens she needs within Sir Barnaby’s crowded cabinets. But when her host is stabbed to death, Cecily finds the confession of the supposed killer unconvincing. She pays attention to details—years of practice have taught her that the smallest particulars can distinguish a harmless herb from a deadly one—and in the case of Sir Barnaby’s murder, there are too many inconsistencies for her to ignore.

To discover the truth, Cecily must enter the world of the collectors, a realm where intellect is distorted by obsession and greed. As her pursuit of answers brings her closer to a killer, she risks being given a final resting place amid the bones that wait, silent and still, in the cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.

NOW A Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2020: Mystery/Thrillers

Shut. Up.

Elsa Hart- Atmospheric Who Done It

There isn’t any place more atmospheric than 18th Century London, is there? Elsa Hart plays it up to the tilt. Within Sir Barnaby’s grand home, you often felt like the walls could close in on you. There was this feeling that the extensive collection of unique objects, from around the world were watching characters as they moved. It provided a foreboding sense that clicked with a murder mystery and the unknown that followed.

As characters moved about and into London, there was a perfect vibe of gloominess and a tangible presence of danger. Hart utilized every part of the time period and drew out the creepiness of objects within Sir Barnaby’s collection to create an additional character. One that crept right out of the pages as both formidable and perilous.

Also, funny. There are quite a few quirky and deadpanned sarcastic pieces of dialogue through The Cabinets of Sir Barnaby Mayne. Elsa Hart nails them perfectly without losing the tone she works to build throughout The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne, now a Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2020. Look, as the White Stripes once said, it bears repeating. 

Just a friendly reminder because…

Cabinets Of Barnaby Mayne: Someone Get Me A Blender

I don’t know how else to do this. So, please take this with a grain or a thousand grains of salt. And, also remember that the summary is above. Plus, none of what I’m about to mention is set in 18th Century London. Hence, the section above this one. You need to add that into the blender, too. Lastly, no judging.

Here’s how I see The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne boiling down (Lord help me, I hope Elsa Hart happens to take this is as a compliment or has a sense of humor).

  1. Take Knives Out
    • Exchange the detective for two intelligent, capable, fearless women sleuths that go poking their noses in where no one wants it. Namely, the world of eccentric, male-dominated, competitive collectors that borderline obsessive and even dangerous at times. Well, I mean, uh murder?
    • Plus, as always…

Knives Out I suspect Foul Play

  1. Add The Golden Girls episode The Case of The Libertine Bell
    • Of course, not staged and not that goofy. BUT competent, intelligent women sleuths unite!
  1. Throw in Clue
    • Quirky cast going to dinner, then there is a murder.
      • THIS CAST- Christ on a crouton. I don’t even know. They are as colorful, deceptive, and harboring more stories than O’Henry. Elsa Hart brings them to life effortlessly. And that is not easily done with such a large assortment of individuals in need of backstories, timelines, and secrets that could or could not be of interest.
  • Michael Che Weekend Update
    • Except, take out all the campy. While it is funny, it is not this campy. Not even close. It is clever and funny to the tune of Knives Out.

[videopress lL23jjRi]

  1. Then add-in the Fraiser episode of Ham Radio.
    • Speaking of which, I also bought (on my own- not publisher-provided) the audible of The cabinets of Barnaby Mayne. I went back and forth with the book. That is what made me think of the Fraiser episode. There aren’t any sound effects, of course. However, the narrator is fantastic, and it does have the feel of one those old-time (Like back before TVs existed) mystery radio shows.
        • Again, the narrator of the audible is incredible, and Ham Radio, of course, has Niles in a pickle. But parody is the best form of flattery.

Non-Spoiler Hot Takes/End/Wrap-Up

  1. I love how the ending is set-up structurally. This is not a spoiler. It has the old-time feel of the guilty party spilling the tea on his dastardly plan.

Ultron Plans Meme

  1. Also, the ending leads me to believe this will be a series. AND I HOPE IT IS. I want more of these two lovely ladies solving more mysteries, together!

I HAVE TO ADD THIS… because the more I think about it? THERE ABSOLUTELY HAS TO BE. Because I’ve been dying for another movie like Knives Out. There won’t be. Or another book like Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne. There won’t be. And I’m just a mess because of it. 🙁 Hence why there were Golden Globe nods, almost Oscar nods, and now a Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2020 nod.  Both are so unique and old-fashioned in a glamourous sort of way. Not needing the blood and guts, screams, or insanity to make them work. Just great writing, plot, and structure.

knives out WHTDTMO

  1. No romance or ambiguity. Two old-time friends are rebuilding an old friendship and solving a murder.
  2. Seriously?

Read the Book


Seriously. Look I know PW has its faults. But, if you won’t take my word for it? Or you are gun shy about the genre? Listen to me and the Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2020: Mystery/Thrillers. Go get it. Read it. Listen to it (the narrator is insane good). But it is fantastic.

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