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All Cozy Mystery Coverage

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Molly the maid is ready to clean up another murderous mess in the latest offering from Nita Prose.

Molly Gray has come a long way since Prose’s bestselling debut, The Maid, where she was unfairly accused of the murder of a guest at the five-star Regency Grand Hotel. Cleared of all charges, Molly is now the head maid and blissfully in love with her boyfriend, Juan Manuel, another Grand employee. But when celebrated author J.D. Grimthorpe drops dead in the hotel tearoom moments before making a mysterious announcement about his career, Molly’s plunged into chaos once again. Grimthorpe was poisoned, and police, including Molly’s old nemesis Detective Stark, believe a hotel staff member may be the murderer.

The hotel is full of suspects such as Lily, the new maid-in-training who prepared the poisoned tea cart, and Serena, Grimthorpe’s secretary who disappears in the aftermath of his death. Detective Stark still believes Molly is capable of murder, so to protect herself and her friends, Molly puts her eye for meticulous detail to use to help solve the crime. Molly also has a mysterious connection to the reclusive writer—one that may help her crack the case.

The Mystery Guest is a delightful sophomore novel that showcases how Molly has changed since the first entry in the series: She’s as sharp and honest as ever but has grown into her roles of head maid and girlfriend. Molly’s particularly protective of Lily, and it’s a joy to see the lengths to which she’ll go to defend her friends. Molly’s co-workers, including long-serving doorman Mr. Preston and head barmaid Angela are warm and funny, and both contribute to her sleuthing success in unexpected ways. Another bright spot of the novel are the LAMBS: Ladies Auxiliary Mystery Book Society members. A group of Grimthorpe fans who are staying at the hotel, the women are entertaining, helpful and suspicious in equal measure.

Molly’s a singular character—she’s intelligent, unfailingly honest and the epitome of a professional maid—and readers will enjoy checking in to the Regency Grand to follow her and her exploits. Fans of The Maid will miss Juan Manuel, who spends the bulk of the novel visiting family, but hopefully Prose will reunite him with Molly in the next installment of this charming series.

The Mystery Guest is a delightful sophomore mystery that welcomes readers back to the world of Nita Prose’s bestselling debut, The Maid.
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Against the Currant transports readers to the Little Caribbean neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, where Lyndsay Murray is ready to open her own bakery. She just needs to clear her name first.

Lyndsay and her family have worked hard on Spice Isle Bakery. But on opening day, another local business owner, Claudio Fabrizi, visits the bakery and threatens Lindsay. He wants her store shut down before it can eat into his profits. Shaken but ready to fight for her business and family, Lyndsay kicks Claudio out. When he is found murdered the next day, police believe Lyndsay may be involved. To clear her name and ensure Spice Isle Bakery can stay open for business, Lyndsay begins investigating Claudio’s murder.

Readers will enjoy following Lyndsay as she navigates an increasingly dangerous situation. She’s smart, funny and hardworking, but it’s her dedication to her family and bakery that make her truly shine. The Murray family opened Spice Isle Bakery to celebrate their life and success in America, while also honoring their Grenadian heritage. Lyndsay knows all too well how her family poured everything they have—time, resources and money—into Spice Isle Bakery. She’s committed to clearing her name so that her parents, grandmother and brother won’t suffer. Lyndsay’s grandmother is a particularly memorable character: Fashionable Granny is equal parts wise and witty, and unconditionally supportive of her granddaughter’s dreams.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Against the Currant is how author Olivia Matthews brings Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean to life, immersing readers in the tightknit, bustling community. Matthews is a pen name for romance author Patricia Sargeant, who grew up in Little Caribbean herself and whose family history inspired Spice Isle Bakery. 

Cozy mystery fans will devour the fast-paced and exciting Against the Currant.

Cozy mystery fans will devour Against the Currant, which is set in a bakery in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean neighborhood.
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“The Great British Baking Show” meets Knives Out in The Golden Spoon, Jessa Maxwell’s delicious, atmospheric debut.

Celebrated baker Betsy Martin has hosted her popular show “Bake Week” from the grounds of Grafton, her Vermont family estate, for the past decade. This year, change is in the air: The network has foisted a new co-host on her, and Betsy had less input than ever before when selecting which six contestants would compete for the show’s coveted Golden Spoon award. Still, “America’s Grandmother,” as Betsy’s known among her fans, chooses to push ahead with the new season. When the competition gets underway, things start to go haywire. The contestants believe someone is sabotaging their bakes—and when a dead body is discovered, everyone in the baking tent becomes a murder suspect.

The Golden Spoon is impossible to put down, especially for fans of shows like “The Great British Baking Show.” Maxwell expertly unspools her mystery, switching among the perspectives of all six contestants, plus Betsy. The bakers’ voices and observations are a high point of the novel: Each character is distinct and well drawn, with their own motivations for joining the show and secrets to hide. There’s Stella, a former journalist and the most inexperienced baker; Hannah, the youngest contestant, who hails from a small town; Gerald, a rigid teacher who compares recipes to mathematical formulas; Pradyumna, a tech millionaire with nothing to prove; Lottie, a retired nurse with a special connection to Grafton; and Peter, who specializes in the reconstruction of historic buildings.

The novel begins with an eerie prologue from Betsy’s perspective before jumping back in time to when “Bake Week” first started filming. Readers know from the prologue that a gruesome discovery awaits, but most of the book—80%!—is devoted to following the characters through “Bake Week” and getting to know their motivations for competing. It’s not until the last fifth of the book that Betsy’s initial discovery is revealed, and from there, the plot quickly unfolds. Mystery genre fans may find many of the twists easy to spot, but Maxwell’s expert characterization and lyrical prose make The Golden Spoon a delight to devour.

Jessa Maxwell’s expert characterization makes her baking show-set mystery, The Golden Spoon, practically impossible to put down.
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Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto is a delightful cozy mystery that brims with humor and heart while introducing an unforgettable lead character.

The titular Vera leads a quiet life. She runs a tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown that rarely sees customers and spends her days cyberstalking her son, who often ignores her calls. Vera’s routine is disrupted when she discovers a corpse in her store. She springs into action—outlining the body with a Sharpie, just like she’s seen on TV; tidying up her shop and making tea to impress the police; and most notably, swiping a flash drive from the dead man, Marshall Chen. She’s not sure the police will take his death (which is clearly a murder, to her “CSI”-trained eyes) seriously. So Vera uses the information on the flash drive to identify four suspects: Oliver, Marshall’s brother; Julia, Marshall’s widow; and Sana and Riki, who claim to be journalists investigating the suspicious death. All four have something to hide, but as Vera investigates, the group comes together in unexpected and surprising ways. Is a killer truly among this newly found family of hers?

Vera is a tour-de-force creation. She’s feisty and meddlesome, with a big imagination and bigger heart. She’s riotously funny, often without trying to be. She spends a great deal of time dispensing tough love and sage advice, and is almost always correct, much to the annoyance of her new friends. Sutanto also delivers well-drawn, memorable secondary characters, particularly Julia and her daughter, Emma. As Vera worms her way into her suspects’ lives and hearts, so, too, will the characters of Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers endear themselves to readers.

The mystery itself is intriguing, with well-placed clues and foreshadowing. Marshall left behind a trail of lies and enemies, but Vera proves herself up to the task of solving his murder. And along the way, she even helps many of his friends and family heal and become better versions of themselves. Sutanto hits all the right notes in this cozy mystery, perfectly blending meddling, murder and found family.

Jesse Q. Sutanto hits all the right notes in Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, a cozy mystery worth reading for its hilariously meddlesome titular character alone.
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Tempest Raj, author Gigi Pandian’s magician/sleuth, has an intriguing new locked-room mystery to solve in The Raven Thief.

Tempest is still getting used to working for her family’s business, Secret Staircase Construction, when she’s invited to a client’s home for a mock seance. Lavinia Kingsley hired the company to redo her home and erase all traces of her cheating ex-husband, mystery writer Corbin Colt. To celebrate the work’s completion and her new life as a single woman, Lavinia has a seance to purge Corbin from her life. Tempest, her grandfather Ashok “Ash” Raj and her magician friend Sanjay Rai are among the eight guests when disaster strikes. With everyone seated around a table and holding hands, Corbin’s body literally crashes the party, seemingly falling from the ceiling onto the table below.

The police deduce that Corbin was alive only moments earlier, so the only suspects are the seance attendees. When it comes to light that Grandpa Ash had a history with Corbin, Tempest’s beloved grandfather becomes the prime suspect. She and her friends quickly get to work to clear his name and find the real killer.

The Raven Thief is a worthy sequel to Under Lock & Skeleton Key, with all the magic, misdirection and intrigue that fans are hoping for. Tempest is an exciting, engaging lead whose knowledge of stagecraft, magic and classic whodunits, combined with her devotion to her family and friends, allow her to solve a seemingly impossible crime. Genre fans will appreciate Pandian’s many nods to golden age mysteries and their writers, and there are even some delectable recipes at the book’s end.

The Raven Thief is a worthy sequel to Under Lock & Skeleton Key, with all the magic, misdirection and intrigue that fans are hoping for.
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Colleen Cambridge’s Mastering the Art of French Murder is a delightful cozy mystery set in post-World War II Paris with a cast of American expats, including Julia Child.

Tabitha Knight is settling into life in Paris, living with her grandfather and Oncle Rafe. Tabitha spends her days exploring the City of Light, tutoring her fellow Americans in French and learning how to cook from her best friend and neighbor, student chef Julia Child. When a young woman with ties to the Child family is found murdered in their apartment building—killed by a knife from Julia’s kitchen, no less—the police turn their attention to the chef-in-training. The investigation is further complicated when a note written by Tabitha is discovered in the victim’s pocket. To clear both their names, Tabitha sets out to discover who killed the woman and why. 

Cambridge skillfully blends fact with fiction in Mastering the Art of French Murder. Julia Child, along with her husband and sister, really did live in Paris in 1949, but Tabitha and her family are fictional characters. Cambridge captures Julia’s joie de vivre and passion for French cuisine, transporting readers into her kitchen during her early years at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. Cambridge’s Julia whips up several meals during the mystery, each more mouthwatering than the last. 

A figure as iconic as Julia could overshadow the rest of the characters, but Tabitha is a charming protagonist. She’s brave, resourceful and fiercely loyal to her friends and family, and while the former factory worker isn’t a perfect detective, her instincts are sharp. Her charming chemistry with the lead detective, Inspecteur Merveille, is an added bonus that will have readers rooting for their relationship to deepen in future books. 

Mastering the Art of French Murder is a love letter to the sights, sounds and delights of Paris, from the small daily markets to the thriving nightlife. Readers will enjoy navigating the city alongside Tabitha as she untangles the mystery, as well as getting to see a whole new side of the beloved Julia Child.

The charming Mastering the Art of French Murder follows Tabitha Knight—who just so happens to be Julia Child’s best friend—as she unravels a mystery in post-World War II Paris.
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The women of the Marlow Murder Club are back in business in Death Comes to Marlow, the delightful second installment of Robert Thorogood’s cozy mystery series.

Life is returning to normal for Judith Potts. She became something of a local celebrity after she and her friends Becks and Suzie helped solve a series of murders in their quiet town of Marlow, England. But now the 78-year-old woman is back to her usual routine: setting crossword puzzles for the local paper, swimming nude in the nearby Thames during the day and enjoying a glass of scotch (or two) at night. When Sir Peter Bailey, a wealthy Marlow resident, offers Judith a last-minute invitation to his pre-wedding festivities, something about the gesture makes Judith uneasy. Convinced something foul will occur, she attends the party but is still shocked when Sir Peter himself is killed. Local police believe his death was an accident—after all, Sir Peter was alone in a locked room when a heavy piece of furniture fell on him. When Judith, Suzie and Becks launch their own investigation, however, they find that just about everyone close to the aristocrat may have had a motive to kill him. But how did the perpetrator pull off such a seemingly impossible murder?

Judith is a charming protagonist; she’s witty, warm and bulldozes her way into a police investigation with ease. Becks, the vicar’s rule-following wife, and Suzie, a free-spirited dog walker turned local radio personality, may be unlikely companions for Judith, but their friendships are rooted in respect. The ways the trio challenge and complement one another are not only highlights of the book but also the things that help them successfully solve the mystery.

In Death Comes to Marlow, Thorogood expertly crafts a locked-room mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s well-plotted stories. Readers will enjoy piecing together this engaging puzzle alongside members of the Marlow Murder Club.

This engaging cozy mystery is an homage to Agatha Christie with a trio of warmhearted friendships at its core.
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Charlotte Illes’ detective days are behind her. At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself—and anyone who will listen. When she was younger, Charlotte gained fame as Lottie Illes, world-class kid detective. She solved mysteries big and small, nabbing an elementary school crayon thief and helping the British Museum recover a stolen artifact. But Charlotte stopped answering her official detective landline in high school and, at the ripe old age of 25, considers herself officially retired from the mystery-solving business. But then Charlotte’s older brother convinces her to look into some threatening notes his girlfriend received, and Charlotte ends up in the middle of a union-busting scheme, a missing persons case and a murder investigation. 

Katie Siegel’s Charlotte Illes Is Not a Detective has a wonderful, engaging premise: What happens when a precocious child detective grows up? How do they figure out who they are when the world only knows them as a wunderkind? Relatable, imperfect, funny and brave, Charlotte is a high point of the novel. She’s witty and eager to improvise but more than a little lost in her personal and professional lives. She’s still grappling with the fame she earned before her high school diploma, and more than anything, she doesn’t want to let anyone down.

Siegel surrounds her titular sleuth with memorable secondary characters, especially Charlotte’s hilarious friends Gabe and Lucy. Siegel’s dialogue is fresh, funny and authentic to her Gen Z characters as the trio takes on the case while also navigating relatable topics such as dating, queerness, job fulfillment, gender identity and the struggle to find reliable roommates. Longtime genre fans may anticipate some of the twists, but the mystery is still thoroughly entertaining. Charlotte Illes is definitely a detective, and a pretty good one, too.

Katie Siegel’s Charlotte Illes Is Not a Detective has a wonderful, engaging premise: What happens when a precocious child detective grows up?
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Kirsty Manning’s new cozy mystery transports readers to 1938 Paris, where glamour and decadence collide with murder.

Australian reporter Charlotte “Charlie” James has just accepted her dream job: She’s the new Paris correspondent for a major international newspaper. After a devastating personal loss, Charlie is looking forward to starting anew in Paris and jump-starting her career. Her first assignment is to ingratiate herself with well-connected members of Parisian society while covering the extravagant Circus Ball, hosted by British expats Lord and Lady Ashworth. The lavish ball is a smashing success—until a wealthy investor is found murdered. Charlie covers the crime for her paper and her investigation reveals a growing list of suspects, all wealthy and powerful. As Charlie closes in on the truth, she brings herself closer to a murderer who may strike again.

Manning highlights the opulence and decadence of interwar Paris in this engaging and delightful mystery. The City of Light comes alive through her descriptions of haute couture and Parisian cuisine. Charlie is an engaging sleuth, too: She’s intelligent, empathetic and a skilled reporter. She’s keenly aware that the 1930s news industry is a male-dominated profession, but she refuses to let that mindset hold her back. Her relationship with Inspecteur Bernard, the French detective heading up the murder investigation, is also a highlight. Journalists and police officers often find themselves at odds in mysteries, especially cozy mysteries, but Charlie and Bernard quickly strike up a cordial working relationship that benefits them both. 

The Paris Mystery is a fizzy, fast-paced caper full of glitz, glamour and intrigue.

The Paris Mystery is a fizzy, fast-paced caper full of glitz, glamour and intrigue set in the interwar City of Light.
STARRED REVIEW
July 17, 2023

The 15 most thrilling books of summer 2023

Private Eye July, our annual celebration of all things mystery, suspense and true crime, is here! Here are the books that will have us frantically flipping through pages all season long.
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Zero Days

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The Guest Room

Tasha Sylva’s debut novel, The Guest Room, is a creepy, character-driven psychodrama with some truly excellent twists.
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In Heather Chavez’s fresh and surprising new thriller, a botany professor is nearly as lethal as the assassin she’s evading.
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Private Eye July, our annual celebration of all things mystery, suspense and true crime, is here! Here are the books that will have us frantically flipping through pages all season long.

Leonie Swann’s darkly humorous cozy mystery The Sunset Years of Agnes Sharp, translated from the German by Amy Bojang, features a quirky cast of older characters who live together in Sunset Hall on the outskirts of a British village called Duck End.

The residents also share space with a free-range tortoise named Hettie who, in the book’s attention-grabbing first chapter, discovers the body of housemate Lilith in the garden shed—a death the group has not yet reported to the authorities.

Understandably, it’s a huge relief when the police come knocking and it’s not Lilith they’re concerned with, but rather their neighbor Mildred, found dead on her terrace from a gunshot. The group decides their neighbor’s murder presents an opportunity: They’ll simply figure out who killed her and attribute Lilith’s death to the murderer as well. They’ve got the qualifications, as several of them have done sleuthing work in the past, and they’ve got the time. Easy peasy! 

Carrying out their plan is more difficult than anticipated, not least because Agnes, a cranky force of nature who often leads the group, has been feeling and acting off lately. Her memories are jumbled, her perceptions a bit askew and she’s been fainting quite often, making it difficult to inspire confidence while withstanding police questioning. There’s plenty of wariness among the other residents, too; after all, they don’t know each other that well, and why does the house gun keep going missing, anyway?

As tensions mount and the police grow increasingly suspicious of Sunset Hall, Swann conveys with wit and empathy the push-pull of wanting to achieve things but feeling hobbled by age, infirmity or self-doubt. As in her first novel, 2007’s Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story, Swann assembles an unusual group of intrepid detectives and manages to find the fun among the fear in an engaging and offbeat tale of murder and occasional mayhem.

Leonie Swann gives the “quirky older sleuths” trope a jolt of black comedy in The Sunset Years of Agnes Sharp.
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Richard Osman tackles more than murder in The Last Devil to Die, his emotional latest installment of the Thursday Murder Club series.

The sleuthing pensioners of the Thursday Murder Club—Elizabeth, a former MI5 agent; Joyce, a retired nurse; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist; and Ron, a longtime union leader—are ready to enjoy a quiet Christmas season when they learn that a friend of theirs has been murdered. Antiques dealer Kuldesh Sharma helped the group unravel their last mystery; now, he’s been shot execution-style after receiving a suspicious package. The gang quickly launches an investigation, headquartered at their Coopers Chase Retirement Village. DCI Chris Hudson, PC Donna De Freitas and Bogdan Jankowsi return to help the Thursday Murder Club as they interview drug dealers, art fraudsters and professors while trying to figure out who killed Kuldesh and why.

The Last Devil to Die offers more than the tightly plotted mystery that readers have come to expect from Osman’s work. Elizabeth, who usually spearheads the pensioners’ investigations, takes a step back in this novel to spend time with her husband, Stephen, while they grapple with his progressing dementia. Rather than focusing on the life and death stakes of a murder investigation, Elizabeth and Stephen’s story is a meditation on love and grief. Osman delivers some of the most poetic and emotionally resonant writing of the series with their storyline.

Elizabeth’s absence means that Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron step into new investigative roles, with delightful results. Their humor and lighthearted banter carry the novel through the deadly investigation to its satisfying conclusion. And happily, it seems another Coopers Chase resident is joining the group. Bob Whittaker, aka Computer Bob, doesn’t seem fazed by his new friends’ dangerous interests—a sure sign he’ll fit right in with the brave, meddlesome Thursday Murder Club.

The Last Devil to Die is equal parts well-plotted mystery, scintillating repartee and deep reflection on what it means to love and live.

The Last Devil to Die is equal parts well-plotted mystery, scintillating repartee and deep reflection on what it means to love and live.
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When Peregrine Fisher receives a mysterious letter from The Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes, she’s the definition of down on her luck: Grieving the death of her mother, she has just been fired from her latest job and is living in a van. The letter’s mention of an inheritance piques Peregrine’s interest, and even though she doesn’t know what The Adventuresses’ Club is or who would have left her money, she eagerly makes her way to Melbourne, Australia, to find out.

Peregrine discovers that the Adventuresses are a group of exceptional women, all highly skilled in their respective fields, and that she’s the niece of Phryne Fisher, a brave private investigator who’s gone missing in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Her long-lost aunt’s will indicates that Peregrine should inherit Phryne’s fortune: her home, car and, most importantly, her seat in the Adventuresses’ Club. When another member is accused of murder, Peregrine sets out to prove her innocence, live up to her aunt’s reputation as an investigator and earn her spot in The Adventuresses’ Club.

Just Murdered is the novelization of the first episode of “Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries,” a spinoff of the TV show based on Kerry Greenwood’s popular Phryne Fisher mysteries. While Phryne’s stories take place in the 1920s, Peregrine takes up the investigator’s mantle in the ’60s, and author Katherine Kovacic does an excellent job placing readers in the swinging decade with references to music, fashion, cars and more. 

A fun, fast-paced read, Just Murdered also has a great heroine. Peregrine is intelligent and independent, and her jack-of-all-trades background allows her to cleverly unspool the threads of the mystery. The other Adventuresses make for intriguing characters, too, like former spy Birdie Birnside and Dr. Violetta Fellini, a renowned scientist. While Peregrine begins the novel simply hoping her mysterious inheritance will offer some financial security, she finds a much-needed family in her fellow Adventuresses and a calling in detective work. Just Murdered will leave readers anxious to get their hands on Peregrine’s next case so they can follow more of the Adventuresses’ exploits.

Just Murdered is a fun, fast-paced introduction to Peregrine Fisher, the niece of beloved sleuth Phryne Fisher, as she solves mysteries in the 1960s.

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