A mystery can unfold anywhere at all, but there’s something about England—with its fascinating history, class divisions, that ever-present fog—that makes it a consistent favorite setting. Two books cover three eras in England between them, and you can be confident that things get dark and stormy throughout.
Moonflower Murders, Anthony Horowitz’s sequel to Magpie Murders, opens with Susan Ryeland living on Crete and running a hotel with boyfriend Andreas, having retired from her career in publishing and with England well behind her. She’s done and happy. Or is she? When a couple visit the hotel and ask her to investigate a disappearance that may be linked to a novel by her old client Alan Conway, she agrees to travel back to England. She needs the money, and the job includes a stay in a much fancier hotel than her own. From there, this nested mystery only gets more twisted.
The neat trick of clues to a current dilemma being salted away in a fictional novel is as delightful here as it was in Magpie Murders. This split narrative keeps the reader hyperalert as they bounce between Susan’s investigation and the Conway mystery that might hold the key to it all. Susan has mixed feelings about Crete, the hotel, maybe even Andreas, and is nostalgic for the world of publishing. Revisiting her old haunts and connecting with friends lifts her spirits, and that high sometimes blinds her to red flags. Alan Conway based the Atticus Pünd mystery in question on the owners and guests at the hotel where Susan is now staying—and where a grisly murder once sent a young employee to prison. His brutal caricatures of an already twisted cast of characters made nearly everyone angry, and Susan makes a handy target for that rage, since her edits to the novel did not soften the blow.
Both stories play dead straight, but there’s glee under the surface in the way Horowitz uses the tropes of modern and cozy mysteries. The pursuit of justice gets rather messy, but in both stories, unraveling means and motives leads to satisfying, highly traditional reveals, one by a seasoned fictional detective, the other by a woman in midlife, weighing her future options.
In Death and the Maiden, Adelia Aguilar, Mistress of the Art of Death, has also comfortably retired and is teaching her daughter, Allie, the trade—a combination of anatomy, forensics, and the subtleties of detection, medieval-style (1191, to be exact). Allie excels at the work and bristles at her parents' pressure to marry. When a family friend becomes ill, she’s honored to be able to help and unaware of a matchmaking scheme that leads her to meet the dashing Lord Peverell. There’s scarcely time for romance, though, as the village is being terrorized by the serial kidnapping and murder of young women. Masterfully written, this series closer is a creepy wonder.
Samantha Norman has finished the series begun by her mother, Ariana Franklin, based on ideas Franklin had laid out prior to her death. The story has some poignant mother-daughter moments that resonate even more powerfully in context. But even beyond that, it’s a stellar bit of storytelling. Allie’s family ties are strong and part of why she’s in no rush to marry. That independence can make her cocky, though, and when she sees evidence on the body of a victim that is disregarded, following the lead means putting herself in danger. The village is having other problems as well: Visiting royalty and religious edicts that won’t allow burials for the dead (who are then left in trees or by the side of the road) give a real sense of the gulf between rich and poor.
While this is a true nail-biter of a mystery, many of its best moments are quiet ones, when characters have a moment alone to talk while waking up in the morning or gathering plants for medicine. Series fans will love this volume even as they grieve Franklin’s passing. Norman has done her mother proud.