Not one, not two, but all three of the books in this month’s cozy column received starred reviews!
★ Mango, Mambo, and Murder
Miriam Quiñones-Smith has just relocated from New York City to tony Coral Shores in Miami. A former food anthropologist, she lands a gig teaching Caribbean cooking on a morning show and works to grow a social circle, but at her very first meeting of a women’s club, one of the attendees keels over. Mango, Mambo, and Murder has everything you look for in a cozy mystery but also feels like a breath of fresh air. Author Raquel V. Reyes fills this story with details that make it feel real, despite there being a character named Sunny Weatherman. Cuban American Miriam and her family, friends and co-workers are well-rounded personalities whom readers will be eager to learn more about. Miriam’s attempts to find a killer take her to strip malls filled with questionable folk healers and incredible restaurants serving Cuban American standards like ropa vieja and pollo a la plancha. Reyes incorporates Spanish into characters’ dialogue throughout, adding authenticity, while subtly providing context so that readers who aren’t Spanish speakers won’t miss a beat. Dig into this inviting, suspenseful feast for the senses.
★ The Man Who Died Twice
It’s impossible to single out any one feature that makes The Man Who Died Twice such an absolute treat. The plot is a crackling mystery: Septuagenarian retiree and amateur sleuth Elizabeth gets a coded message from someone in her past asking for help, as he’s stolen a lot of diamonds from some very angry people. When two people are killed, the hunt is on for the killers and the diamonds. English TV presenter and comedian Richard Osman creates real magic with his characters. They are frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious but also entirely real and three-dimensional. There’s also dogged police work, tradecraft most devious, a lot of cocaine and those diamonds. If possible, this sequel is even better than the Osman’s charmer of a debut, The Thursday Murder Club. This series is both a load of fun and an ode to how the power of friendship is important throughout one’s life but especially during the final stretch. Don’t miss it.
★ Seven-Year Witch
Seven-Year Witch finds Josie Way settling into life as a librarian in rural Wilfred, Oregon, and deepening her powers as a witch, thanks to letters left to her by her grandmother. The old mill in town is set to be turned into a lavish retreat center, but rumors that the site is cursed raise local hackles, especially when the disappearance of one of Wilfred’s inhabitants is followed by the discovery of a bloody weapon. Josie’s love interest, FBI agent Sam Wilfred, returns to town, but things between them are complicated by the news that he’s married with a baby. Author Angela M. Sanders uses the eerie atmosphere to great effect and also plays with the assumed charms of a small town. For example, the locals lose some of their warmth when there’s a killer in their midst. Josie’s witchcraft plays into solving the mystery, but the story feels realistic overall. Full of false leads and truly surprising reveals, this terrifically plotted mystery is hard to put down.
Not one, not two, but all three of the books in this month’s cozy column received starred reviews!
Carrie Doyle’s It Takes Two to Mango treats readers to a tropical mystery full of twists and turns.
When high-powered editor Plum Lockhart is suddenly terminated from her job at a luxury travel magazine, she spirals. She has no future employment prospects, her self-worth is at an all-time low and the bitter New York City winters are certainly not helping. When an unexpected job as a villa broker at a resort comes her way, she packs her Prada and flies down to Paraiso, a small fictional island in the Caribbean that I dearly wish I could visit.
Plum is used to the fast-paced city life and harsh deadlines, not Paraiso’s relaxed saunter. With humidity messing with her hair and an office rival messing with her bookings, she becomes desperate to regain control and score a win at work. So she rents her assigned villa, the dingy and dismal Casa Mango, to a bachelor party, despite her boss’s wishes. All seems to be going according to plan, and Plum’s ego is restored—until the best man turns up murdered. Frustrated with the shoddy police work and eager to solve the crime, Plum partners up with the resort’s dashing head of security and takes matters into her own hands. Together they navigate Paraiso’s multitude of mysteries while a possible romance between them blooms.
The paradise of Paraiso is the perfect setting for a cozy mystery, and the resort features an outrageously entertaining cast of colorful characters. In her trusty golf cart, Plum meets uber-wealthy villa renters, social media influencers, yoga die-hards and eccentric staffers. The heart of this story, however, is Plum’s own self-discovery as she transitions from cruel and untethered to confident and kind. But she never loses that spark, that drive, that makes her who she is. It Takes Two to Mango is a fantastic start to a new series, and readers will be eager to return to Paraiso for Plum’s next adventure.
Carrie Doyle’s It Takes Two to Mango treats readers to a tropical mystery full of twists and turns.
Of all the experiences we’ve craved over the last year, high among them is to spend an aimless afternoon browsing in a bookstore or library. When was the last time we thumbed through an overstuffed shelf and found ourselves nose-deep in a book we never would’ve expected? Here are five books we stumbled across and ended up loving.
When a novel is described as “Raymond Chandler meets Nick Hornby,” you expect a certain kind of book. So I might’ve picked up Libby Cudmore’s debut looking for a hard-boiled music mystery, but instead I found myself bopping along to a Gen-X cozy mystery, as self-deprecating Brooklynite and wannabe music journalist Jett Bennett scrambles to solve the murder of her beloved neighbor, KitKat, and ends up digging into her own relationship history by way of a box of mix tapes. The Big Rewind has plenty of nostalgic 1980s and ’90s music references (The Smiths! Talking Heads! Cyndi Lauper!), a little bit of romance, great secondary characters, some too-cool New Yorker griping and, best of all, the comforting arc of a cozy, in which there’s a murder but it’s barely the point. Because what is a murder investigation, anyway, but an investigation into yourself? (Or something like that.) This is a punk grandma of a book, and I think we can all agree there’s nothing cooler than punk grandmas.
—Cat, Deputy Editor
Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge was originally published in 1959, and since then it’s gained a reputation as an underrated masterpiece. In 2012, the Guardian called it an “overlooked classic.” In 2020, Lit Hub called it a “perfect novel.” Meg Wolitzer and James Patterson have praised it in the New York Times and on NPR—but I didn’t know any of that when I checked it out from the library. As I dug into this strange, engrossing novel about an utterly conventional Kansas City housewife, I didn’t know what to expect. India Bridge’s life moves steadily by, with rare flashes of the extraordinary. Other characters experiment and act out, but Mrs. Bridge only occasionally flirts with action before deciding to stay the course of her conformist, upper-middle class, conservative way of life. If that sounds boring, it isn’t—but it’s difficult to explain why not. Connell’s keen insight into the mind of this midcentury woman is compelling, moving and ultimately masterful.
—Christy, Associate Editor
The Diana Chronicles
For the absolute life of me, I could not tell you why or how my middle school-aged self picked up a copy of Tina Brown’s seminal, definition-of-dishy biography of the late Princess Diana. Perhaps I wanted a more modern princess after finishing my umpteenth reread of every Royal Diaries book my library had on the shelves. What I do remember is that I inhaled this book with the rapture of a sheltered young history buff who had never encountered media more dramatic than a Disney Channel Original Movie. Brown, who covered and commented upon Diana’s life while serving as editor-in-chief of Tatler and then Vanity Fair, tells Diana’s story with witty relish and juicy details galore. But under all the tabloid fizz, Brown also paints a refreshingly complicated portrait of her iconic subject. Her Diana is not a sainted martyr or a hysteric with a victim complex, but a woman trying to vanquish her inner demons, who is on the verge of finding equilibrium when her life is cut unfairly short.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
Fall 2001, suburban New Jersey. I was 15, a sophomore in high school. My best friend had moved across the country over the summer, and the twin towers had come down on the fifth day of school. It's almost always a weird time to be a teenager, but that year felt like an especially weird time. And then, on a shelf in the little bookstore next to the ShopRite, a lime green spine caught my eye. Jessica Darling, Megan McCafferty’s heroine, was also a sophomore in suburban New Jersey whose best friend had just moved away. ("I guess your move wasn't a sign of the Y2K teen angst apocalypse after all," Jessica writes to her in the letter that opens the book.) It felt like a sign. McCafferty's funny, heartbreaking, often profane and deeply honest novel, in which Jessica grieves her friendship, grapples with mental illness and even falls in love, was exactly the book I needed at that moment to make 15 feel a little less weird.
—Stephanie, Associate Editor
Peter the Great
I could have chosen any biography of a European leader to read for my college history class. Why I decided to pull go for a 1,000-page book about a Russian czar that was written before I could walk has been lost to time, but the ripple effect has been huge. Robert K. Massie won the Pulitzer for this biography, and his deep understanding of his curious, mercurial subject and 17th-century Russia made me feel like I knew Peter personally. That’s probably why I peppered my conversations with anecdotes about him for weeks. (Your dorm room is too small? Peter’s cabin was only about 700 square feet, and his bedroom was barely large enough for him to lie down! Hate your boyfriend’s beard? Take a cue from Peter and tell him if he enters your presence wearing one, you’ll rip it out!) In the years since, I’ve read the book twice more, as well as everything else Massie has ever published, and have found each of his books as immersive.
When was the last time we thumbed through an overstuffed shelf and found ourselves nose-deep in a book we never would’ve expected? Here are five books we stumbled across and ended up loving.
Angela M. Sanders’ first book in a new cozy mystery series, Bait and Witch, balances paranormal whimsy and small-town charm.
Josie Way had her dream job in the Library of Congress but had to drop out of sight after overhearing a conversation that pointed to political corruption. She essentially creates a do-it-yourself witness protection program by taking a job in the library of rural Wilfred, Oregon, hoping to lie low until things resolve back in Washington, D.C. She’s barely unpacked her bags when a body is discovered on the library property, and her concern that she may have been the intended target prompts her to investigate. Oh, and the books on the shelves at Wilfred’s library? They’re able to talk to her—no big deal.
Sanders fills the town of Wilfred with eccentric locals and blends in a plot about the library property being sold and potentially converted into a retreat center. These elements all collide when Josie’s life back east catches up with her. However, the story’s real heart derives from Josie’s gradual discovery that she’s a witch. From becoming fast and intimate friends with a local cat to developing an ability to recommend books she’s never read or even heard of, Bait and Witch is playful yet grounded, setting up a final confrontation when the decision to refuse or embrace her powers is critical.
Sanders’ light touch leaves lots of possibilities for Josie’s future stories. There’s a potential romance simmering on a back burner, as well as Josie’s commitment to stay and help bring Wilfred’s library into the modern era without alienating any longtime patrons. Most evocatively, Bait and Witch ends with Josie receiving her grandmother’s grimoire, or book of spells, and preparing to learn more about her powers. Some of us think all librarians are at least a little witchy (in the best way), but it’s a delight to read about someone whose powers derive in part from stories and the feelings that readers attach to them. This is a fine debut that promises more bookish fun to come.
Angela M. Sanders’ first book in a new cozy mystery series balances paranormal whimsy and small-town charm.
British TV presenter, producer and director Richard Osman adds "novelist" to his resume with The Thursday Murder Club, an imaginative and witty whodunit set in the luxurious Coopers Chase Retirement Village in Kent, England.
Solving cold-case murders isn’t an activity listed in the retirement community brochure, but it’s quite popular with a quartet of whip-smart resident septuagenarians—Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron—who are dedicated to the cause. The group meets in the Jigsaw Room; the time slot is “booked under the name Japanese Opera: A Discussion, which ensured they were always left in peace.”
Little do they know that Coopers Chase developer and owner Ian Ventham has built the place with ill-gotten money, and he’s got plans to expand while, er, taking care of some criminal-underworld-related issues. When Ventham’s business partner Tony Curran, a talented builder and prolific drug dealer, is murdered, the club seizes the opportunity to work on something fresh and exciting (even if their help isn’t necessarily welcome). Not long after, there is another murder, plus the discovery of human bones that don’t belong in the cemetery where they were found. The investigation’s urgency ratchets up accordingly—and the number of viable suspects increases, many of them right there in Coopers Chase.
Through some hilariously masterful manipulation, the group unearths clues and teases out witness testimony, no small thanks to Elizabeth’s impressive network (she just possibly might be a former spy) and the club members’ talent for using stereotypes about the elderly to their advantage. Joyce, the group’s newest member, chronicles the club’s hijinks in her diary with a tone of hesitant glee, and also muses on motherhood, mortality and romantic love.
Osman’s careful attention to the realities of life in a retirement village ensures that The Thursday Murder Club is a compassionate, thoughtful tribute to a segment of the population that’s often dismissed and ignored. It's also an excellent example of the ways in which a murder mystery can be great fun.
British TV presenter, producer and director Richard Osman adds "novelist" to his resume with The Thursday Murder Club, an imaginative and witty whodunit set in the luxurious Coopers Chase Retirement Village in Kent, England. Solving cold-case murders isn’t an activity listed in the retirement community brochure, but it’s quite popular with a quartet of whip-smart resident septuagenarians—Elizabeth, […]
Coopers Chase Retirement Village is a lovely place to live: the former convent set on 12 verdant acres in Kent, England, is now home to 300 residents over age 65. There’s a swimming pool, exercise studio and restaurant, as well as roaming sheep and llamas. The Jigsaw Room is a hot spot, but not because of its exciting tabletop puzzles; rather, on Thursday nights, a quartet of clever 70-somethings gathers to engage in amateur detective work. Their mission is to solve cold cases, but the group must change focus when multiple new murders happen right in front of them. Soon, they’re wondering: just how well do they know their neighbors?
Debut author Richard Osman is a celebrity in his native England, where he hosts, produces and directs several highly popular TV shows. We spoke with him about his inspirations for The Thursday Murder Club, and what it’s like to dive into an entirely new medium.
Congratulations on your first book! Was it difficult to go from working on TV shows to crafting a novel? Were you able to smoothly transition to a new form of creative expression, or was there a bit of an adjustment period? Thank you so much! I loved the new discipline of novel writing. Of sitting by myself, chatting to my characters, and throwing all sorts of awful trouble their way. The main thing I missed about television is that in TV there is always someone who can go and get a coffee for you, whereas when you’re writing you have to get your own. I can’t believe novelists have put up with this for so many years.
The members of the Thursday Murder Club are so smart, witty and resourceful: the charismatic Elizabeth, who hints that she was once a spy of some sort; Joyce, the observant former nurse; Pilates-loving former psychiatrist Ibrahim; and Ron, the famous trade union leader. Do you identify with any of the club members? I think I am very similar to Joyce, who always gets her own way, but with absolute British kindness and courtesy. I also share Ibrahim’s love of lists and statistics. And also his total fear of spontaneity. I wish I was sometimes a bit more like Elizabeth and Ron, who are both able to steamroll their way through life, leaving chaos in their wake, but always with a pure heart and good intentions. I think somewhere between the four of them might be the perfect human being!
"For large periods of writing I felt I was possessed by the spirit of a 76-year-old woman . . . "
Joyce’s diary entries offer readers a peek at the inner workings of the club—her empathetic nature shines through, as does her delight in documenting the occasions when she follows Elizabeth’s often hilarious lead into extra-legal endeavors. What made you decide to structure the book that way, and to choose Joyce as the diarist? Joyce is the character who thinks most like me. Her mind constantly wanders off in different directions. She was just a dream to write, talking very earnestly about murder, then veering off into some anecdote about her vacuum cleaner. Her insightful, empathetic nature allows her to spot things the others, particularly Elizabeth, might miss. She likes to sit and think, and work things out. I enjoyed listening to her doing that, and writing it all down for her. For large periods of writing I felt I was possessed by the spirit of a 76-year-old woman, and I have to say I recommend it to anyone.
Have you always wanted to write a mystery? What mystery books or authors are dear to your heart? Your brother Mat also published his first book this year—did you commiserate and read each other’s work? (Does this herald a shiny new era of Osman Brothers Literature?) I have always been a crime fiction junkie. From Patricia Highsmith and Agatha Christie, through to Harlan Coben, Shari Lapena and Jeff Deaver. Writing a mystery gives you such a perfect excuse to think up the perfect murder, just in case you ever need one.
My brother is so much cooler than me, just effortlessly hip, and his writing is so beautiful and dark and clever. I adored his novel, and I was thrilled he loved mine. It is a rare and happy day when your older brother tells you he’s proud of you.
How do you think your work in television has influenced and informed your work? For example, did your quiz-show experience give you confidence as you crafted characters who piece together clues and evidence? And do you think producing and directing aided you in managing big-picture aspects as well as fine details of your narrative? Were there any aspects of your story or characters or the writing process that you were uncertain about? In television formats you have to grab people’s attention, and you have to keep it. They could switch over at any second. People will read maybe 30 pages of a new book before making their mind up. They’ll probably watch about 30 seconds of a new TV show, before switching over to “Grey’s Anatomy” reruns.
So in a TV quiz, you grab people quickly, you explain the rules quickly, you give viewers a reason to stay to the end (Who’s going to win??? How much???), and then you give them a host and contestants who they want to spend a bit of time with.
And I suppose that’s naturally how I went about writing. Grab them, and then entertain them, and then give the answer they were looking for. I worried that if I started describing the color of the sky for a page and a half, people would simply put the book down and watch “Judge Judy” instead. And I wouldn’t blame them.
Many of your characters must reckon with the consequences of their past choices, whether through daily efforts to manage emotional pain and regret, or a sudden and dramatic need to avoid getting arrested. The need to take personal responsibility also resounds through your characters’ lives. Is that something that intrigues or is important to you, in terms of themes you explore in your work? I’m a great believer in eventually taking responsibility for who you are, and for the choices you make. We are not defined by our mistakes and failures, we’re defined by how we respond to our mistakes and failures. Some people respond by becoming better human beings, and some respond with anger and self-pity. We all know examples of this. I’m a believer that the qualities of kindness and hard work should be rewarded. In the real world it’s not always the case, but in books we can create the world we want.
You mentioned in your acknowledgments that a visit to a retirement community sparked the idea for your book. What aspects of that visit especially caught your fancy? Did you also visit police departments or interview detectives as you created the characters of Chris and Donna, the police officers who work in collaboration—and sometimes competition—with the murder club? I loved the friendships I witnessed, and the mischievous nature of many of the residents. So much laughter, so much wine and so much wisdom. It was a beguiling mix which I wanted to show to the world.
Some of the residents of the real village are worried that the book will be a hit, and they’ll have to deal with coachloads of tourists disturbing all their beautiful peace. So I promised I would never tell anyone where the real village is.
The truth is, they would love it if tourists came to visit. I guarantee it. They’ll be selling t-shirts and refreshments. You wait. If the book takes off, they’ll have a sign put up within a month. “You are now entering Thursday Murder Club Country.” They’ll be charging for entry.
At various points in your book, the characters muse on the seasons of their lives, and often make swift decisions due to a heightened awareness of time passing. What was it like to inhabit characters who are a few decades older than you are now? Did it feel freeing, or daunting, or something else entirely? I am turning 50 this year, and that seems absurd to me. Basically, in my head I feel like I’ve got about five years left. However, in the next book Ibrahim goes through a statistical analysis of life-expectancy statistics (he is nothing if not cheery) and according to the official numbers I have at least 35 years left, so I think maybe I’m overreacting.
What’s up next for you—and for the members of the Thursday Murder Club? I am writing the follow-up now, and everyone who survives the first book is back. And rest assured, there is plenty of trouble ahead for them all.
I have had such a lovely reaction to the book in the U.S. I am desperate to come out to visit readers and bookshops and libraries. Hopefully, that will be possible sooner rather than later.
Coopers Chase Retirement Village is a lovely place to live: the former convent set on 12 verdant acres in Kent, England, is now home to 300 residents over age 65. There’s a swimming pool, exercise studio and restaurant, as well as roaming sheep and llamas. The Jigsaw Room is a hot spot, but not because of […]
Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!
It seems that more and more books, films and TV shows feature relationships between mothers and children who despise each other and seek each other’s slow death. In Zoje Stage’s debut novel, you can’t blame put-upon Suzette Jensen for wanting to be free from her monstrous daughter, Hanna. Indeed, by page five you’re praying for the little horror to eat it in the worst way possible.
Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall (The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea) and illustrator Lisa Sterle discuss their first graphic novel collaboration, Squad, a story in which teenage girls are never quite what they seem.