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A Surprising Ingredient to a Pot of Ale - an Editorial Review of "Sleight of Hand"

Sleight of Hand book cover

Book Blurb:

In the spring of 1354, all was well in the town of Colmar - until Efi Kleven discovered a hand in her pot of new ale…a hand that was not attached to a body. Now, Gritta, Appel, and Efi, the three alewives of Colmar, must solve the mystery of the severed hand before suspicion falls on them. While they attempt to keep their fledgling brewery afloat, more bodies turn up outside of town - along with more suspects.

With few allies and several powerful men working against them, the alewives find themselves flummoxed: How did the hand of a man from Vogelgrun end up in a cooking pot in Colmar? Why were none of the victims local? And would this most inconvenient ingredient get in the way of Efi's plans to find herself a new husband?

Book 2 in The Alewives of Colmar mystery series, Sleight of Hand follows the three alewives as they confront life after the Black Death with bravery and wicked humor, showing resourcefulness and determination in the face of poverty, misogyny, and murder.

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Author Bio:

Elizabeth R Andersen

Elizabeth R. Andersen's debut novel, The Scribe, launched in July of 2021. Although she spent many years of her life as a journalist, independent fashion designer, and overworked tech employee, there have always been two consistent loves in her life: writing and history. She finally decided to put them both together and discovered her true love.

Elizabeth lives in the Seattle area with her young son and energetic husky. On the weekends she usually hikes in the stunning Cascade mountains to hide from people and dream up new plotlines and characters.

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 - Find photos of hikes and daily author life at Elizabeth's Instagram: @elizabethrandersen

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Elizabeth is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Editorial Review:

From the first line of her story, Andersen exhibits her mastery of language, laying the groundwork for a dark and whimsically satirical tale. The way the first stunning and captivating revelation that launches the story is presented captures your interest and establishes the scene for the story that follows.

It was Efi who made the gruesome discovery.

All morning she had worked at a new dark ale, coaxing the water to boil in the large pot that sat atop the fire in the yard on an iron trivet, then carefully adding scoops of malted barley to make a fine, frothy mash. The ale that she and her friends, Appel and Gritta, once concocted was so fine and sweet that travelers and merchants passing through the district often stopped along their way to see if a green branch hung on a peg near the door of Appel’s house, signaling the ale was available to purchase.

Elizabeth R. Andersen's historical mystery "Sleight of Hand" is a standout in the growing genre of historical mystery due to its vivid depiction of post-Black Death society and its captivating plot. This second book in The Alewives of Colmar series deftly combines historical realism, suspense, and character depth to provide readers with an engaging story that is both thought-provoking and enjoyable.

The plot of "Sleight of Hand" hooks you right away: in the spring of 1354, a peaceful village called Colmar is plunged into mystery after a severed hand is found in a pot of fresh ale. Not only is this a horrifying mystery, but it poses a threat to Gritta, Appel, and Efi's livelihood and their life altogether.

Gritta rushed to her and examined the object, which had fallen to the hard-packed dirt. A hand lay there, dark red and bloated from being boiled with the malted grain. A long, dark spot stretched from the base of the thumb to the first knuckle. She blinked and looked around, expecting to see an arm and an elbow lying somewhere, perhaps behind the stack of firewood, but this hand appeared to be unaccompanied by the rest of its body.

Well,” Gritta smoothed her dress with satisfaction as she spoke. “No, Efi, I feel confident that my children did not put this hand in the ale mash.”

Humor keeps the story moving along, despite the gruesome details. The plot intensifies as bodies start to emerge, drawing us into more mystery and suspense. Through Andersen's clever writing, the story moves along quickly and keeps you interested all the way through. The uniqueness of the story is one of the best parts.

"Sleight of Hand" sets itself apart with its original setting and concept. The historical backdrop of alewives offers a novel perspective for examining themes of self-reliance, resiliency, and community. By adding historical data, Andersen enhances the narrative and provides context for understanding the social mores and difficulties of the time.

Editing and formatting are done very well, which makes it easier to read and lets the rich story and nuanced characters shine through. The smooth transition between speech, description, and action demonstrates Andersen's attention to detail and dedication to providing readers with a polished and engaging experience.

In addition to that, the character development is one of the best qualities of “Sleight of Hand”. A remarkable cast of characters with a multitude of facets is brought to life in this novel. With their unique personalities and life stories, the three alewives are shown with nuance and empathy, enabling readers to identify with their challenges, goals, and anxieties. Their development throughout the narrative demonstrates Andersen's skill at character description and is both believable and immensely fulfilling.

Friar Wikerus trudged along the rutted, winding road from Colmar to Vogelgrun, setting one foot in front of the other and focusing on each step as a meditation on God to distract him from his misery. Next to him, Brother Tacitus took a deep breath and continued his soliloquy. Having spent the first mile from Colmar preaching about the sin of gluttony, his favorite topic, he now professed the wrath of God for man’s sins was responsible for the Great Pestilence.

And furthermore, I do believe that this town in particular suffered from the scourge of the pestilence because of our compulsion to eat pork sausages, Brother Tacitus intoned. He paused a beat, waiting for Wikerus to acknowledge him.

And why are pork sausages such a great evil, Brother Tactitus?”

The conversation between characters helps us get to know them, as well as the timeframe and the world around them. With a few carefully chosen words, Andersen's evocative and precise prose can conjure up complicated emotions and vivid images. Her skill at fusing interesting storytelling with historical truth is impressive; the result is a narrative that is both educational and entertaining.

Despite being the second book in the series, "Sleight of Hand" does a great job of keeping things cohesive without losing its appeal as a stand-alone novel. Andersen skillfully weaves together the events of the preceding chapter to provide returning readers the pleasure of reintroducing themselves to well-known characters and locales while giving new readers enough background information to enjoy the novel on their own.

"Sleight of Hand" has a shocking and rewarding climax that puts the mystery to rest while leaving enough unanswered questions to tease the next chapter. Andersen skillfully ties everything together, making sure that the conclusion is both emotionally and logically satisfying.

"Sleight of Hand" has a masterfully crafted story arc that incorporates a thoughtful blend of character growth, plot twists, and building tension. Because of Andersen's mastery of narrative pacing, the plot never loses interest and builds to an incredibly rewarding and surprising ending.

"Sleight of Hand: An Alewives of Colmar Mystery" demonstrates Elizabeth R. Andersen's skill as a storyteller and her in-depth knowledge of the era she vividly recreates. The novel provides an engrossing and educational historical voyage with its intriguing plot, deep character development, and realistic location.

In addition to telling a gripping story of mystery and survival, Andersen honors the tenacity of women who successfully negotiated the difficulties of a society that frequently opposed their independence and intelligence. For lovers of historical mysteries and anybody curious about the untold histories of the past, this book is a must-read.


“Sleight of Hand” by Elizabeth R. Andersen receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company


HFC Highly Recommended Award of Excellence


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