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All Cozy Mystery Coverage

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September 19, 2023

3 delightful mysteries with older sleuths (that aren't 'The Thursday Murder Club')

Everyone loves Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series, which stars a quirky and lovable group of retirees. But if you’ve already read all of Osman’s cozy mysteries, there are some other detectives we’d like to introduce you to.

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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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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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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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Everyone loves Richard Osman's Thursday Murder Club series, which stars a quirky and lovable group of retirees. But if you've already read all of Osman's cozy mysteries, there are some other detectives we'd like to introduce you to.
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Blackmail, jealousy and murder haunt a luxury ski resort. Can two sleuths crack the case before a blizzard traps them alongside a killer?

Darby Piper and Tate Porter are still getting used to working together as PIs when they agree to take on a case brought to them by Tate’s ex-girlfriend, Cecily Madd. Cecily’s husband, wealthy dermatologist Dr. Garret Madd, has received several threatening anonymous notes. Dr. Madd dismisses them as nothing more than a nuisance, but Cecily isn’t so sure. She wants Darby and Tate to investigate the threats during a conference that Dr. Madd is hosting at Garden Peak Lodge, a luxury ski resort. The pair agrees to go undercover, but problems begin almost as soon as they arrive. Cecily suddenly refuses to hand over the notes, an unscrupulous paparazzo threatens to blow Darby’s cover and Dr. Madd is soon found dead on the ski slopes. Darby and Tate’s harassment case is now a murder investigation.

Frozen Detective is the second installment in Amanda Flower’s Piper and Porter Mystery series, but readers need not be familiar with the first book to enjoy this whodunnit. Flower plunges her sleuths straight into the action: There’s very little rehashing of the previous installment, with necessary information for newcomers expertly weaved in as Darby and Tate get cracking on the case. Both characters are likable protagonists who, after only one previous case together, are still finding their groove. They struggle to develop shorthand as partners and trust each other’s instincts, but despite these realistic growing pains, their chemistry and shared sense of humor shine through. Garden Peak Lodge is a superb setting, and with multiple guests with motives for murder and an impending blizzard added in, the result is a particularly engaging cozy mystery.

Amanda Flower’s second Piper and Porter mystery is an engaging cozy with a glamorous ski resort setting.
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Ann Claire’s deeply enjoyable Dead and Gondola transports readers to the fictional mountain village of Last Word, Colorado, where snow is falling and murder is in the air.

Ellie Christie has just moved back home to help her older sister, Meg, run the Book Chalet. The shop has been in their family for generations, and now the two bibliophile sisters are ready to make their mark on the business. When a mysterious man interrupts their weekly book club meeting and leaves behind a rare edition of an Agatha Christie novel, the sisters are puzzled. Spotting him in a crowd the next day, Ellie and Meg try to get his attention to return the book, but by the time they catch up with him on the gondola, the man is dead. Even though the sisters aren’t related to the famed Christie, they grew up reading her novels and are determined to put their sleuthing knowledge to good use by figuring out who the man was, who killed him and why.

Dead and Gondola is a lighthearted, fast-paced cozy mystery with a cast of likable characters. Besides Ellie and Meg, the Christie family includes their beloved Gram, who’s keen to trade baked goods for gossip, and Meg’s tech-savvy daughter, Rosie. Their bookshop cat is also a delight, with a personality as strong as any human’s—she’s named Agatha, of course.

Claire effectively heightens the stakes for the Christie women at the very start of the book, when an unexpected storm cuts off Last Word from the outside world. No one can get in or out, which means Ellie, Meg and their family are trapped in the small town with a murderer. In spite of this, Claire makes Last Word sound awfully appealing: Who wouldn’t want to ride a glass-domed gondola to a historic bookshop and cozy up by the fire with a good read?

Ann Claire’s lighthearted cozy mystery, Dead and Gondola, transports readers to a deeply appealing mountaintop town in Colorado, complete with gondola and historic bookshop.
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The sleuthing pensioners of the Thursday Murder Club are back and better than ever in Richard Osman’s The Bullet That Missed.

Life in the idyllic Coopers Chase Retirement Village is far from quiet, especially for the Thursday Murder Club. The group’s four members—Elizabeth, a retired MI5 agent with connections across the globe; Joyce, a former nurse with a knack for solving puzzles; Ibrahim, a well-mannered psychiatrist; and Ron, a retired union leader who never backs down from a fight—are trying to crack the cold case murder of TV presenter Bethany Waites. Ten years ago, Bethany was investigating a multimillion-dollar fraud operation. She told colleagues that she was close to unraveling it all, but before she could file her story, Bethany’s car was pushed off a cliff, and her body was never recovered.

As The Bullet That Missed begins, Osman’s septuagenarian sleuths have picked up the mantle. They’re working to uncover who’s behind the fraud and Bethany’s murder, not to mention the more recent deaths of two suspects in Bethany’s disappearance. In a parallel plot, Elizabeth’s past catches up with her when a mysterious man tasks her with carrying out an assassination. If she doesn’t comply, her and her friends’ lives will be forfeit. To protect herself and the people she loves, Elizabeth reconnects with an ex-KGB colonel (and former lover) to lay a trap for the man threatening her. 

This intricately plotted novel weaves its multiple mysteries together with aplomb, all while bringing back familiar faces from previous installments such as Police Captain Donna De Freitas; her partner, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Hudson; and Bogdan, who’s still fiercely loyal to Elizabeth and the group. Osman’s wry humor continues to shine, especially in the sections of the story told through Joyce’s lively diary entries. 

If there’s a flaw in The Bullet That Missed, it’s that readers need to be familiar with the previous books to fully appreciate some of the characters’ motivations and deepening relationships. However, with only two previous books in the series, it’s easy to get caught up. And mystery fans should absolutely do so, because this latest entry in the Thursday Murder Club series may be the best one yet.

The latest entry in Richard Osman's wry and hilarious Thursday Murder Club series may be the best one yet.
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Fans of Laurien Berenson’s long-running Melanie Travis canine mysteries will be thrilled with Peg and Rose Solve a Murder, the first entry in a new spinoff series featuring Melanie’s engaging aunts, Peg Turnbull and Rose Donovan.

Peg and Rose are not friends. They’re sisters-in-law, linked by their love for Peg’s late husband, Max, who was Rose’s brother. After 40 years of fighting, Rose shocks Peg with an olive branch: an invitation to join the local bridge club as partners. Peg and Rose are surprised to find that they can enjoy each other’s company, but just as they begin to build a tentative friendship, a member of their bridge club is killed. As the newest members, the sisters-in-law are considered suspects. To clear their names, they must work together to solve the murder—before another is committed.

Readers don’t need to be familiar with the rules of bridge to enjoy Peg and Rose Solve a Murder; the actual gameplay takes up very little space, with the bulk of the story devoted to introducing Peg and Rose to new readers and, of course, solving the mystery. Fans of the Melanie Travis series are already very familiar with these sisters-in-law, and in Peg and Rose Solve a Murder, they stand on their own as capable, witty women who are more than up to the task of crime-solving. Berenson’s fans will also enjoy seeing Peg in action as a dog breeder, owner and show judge, as her passion for poodles features heavily in the book.

While Peg and Rose work together to clear their names, they must also come to terms with decades of infighting, grudges and hurt feelings. When the women finally begin to trust each other, readers can see a great friendship starting to blossom—one that will hopefully form the backbone of this new cozy series.

Laurien Berenson's new spinoff series will thrill fans right out of the gate thanks to its capable, witty sleuths.
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A Killing in Costumes, Zac Bissonnette’s first Hollywood Treasures mystery, deftly balances a tightly plotted mystery with glamorous characters and a unique setting in the world of movie memorabilia.

Decades ago, Cindy Cooper and Jay Allan were bona fide celebrities. The married-in-real-life performers starred as a couple in a popular soap opera to great acclaim—until they decided to reveal their true sexual orientations to the world. Jay and Cindy lost their acting careers and ended their marriage but remained close friends. 

They now own Hooray for Hollywood, a movie memorabilia store in Palm Springs, California. Business is slow, and they’re in danger of having to close the shop for good until they’re offered a chance to represent retired silver screen legend Yana Tosh in the sale of her personal collection of film costumes and memorabilia. When a vice president of the auction house competing for Yana’s collection is found dead, Jay and Cindy become suspects in the investigation. To clear their names, keep their business afloat and win Yana’s collection, the friends must work together to solve the case—before the killer strikes again.

Bissonnette does an exceptional job constructing A Killing in Costume‘s central whodunit: Each entertaining suspect has believable motives and opportunities, and mystery fans are sure to appreciate his deftly hidden clues. But the heart of the story lies in Cindy and Jay’s close friendship, which has weathered the collapse of their careers, new jobs and relationships, and every success and loss along the way. Both are deeply funny people who are fiercely protective of each other, and their passion for and knowledge of the film industry will delight readers who are also movie buffs. Finally, Cindy’s struggle to find a new normal after the loss of her beloved wife to cancer provides a serious note that is both touching and authentic.

A Killing in Costumes has all the hallmarks of a great cozy: a unique setting, an intriguing cast of characters and an exciting mystery.

A Killing in Costumes has all the hallmarks of a great cozy: a unique setting, an intriguing cast of characters and an exciting mystery.
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Jennifer J. Chow kicks off a new culinary cozy series with Death by Bubble Tea, a delicious mystery that centers on a family-run food stall.

After Yale Yee loses her job at the local bookstore, her father talks her into running a food stall for the family’s dim sum restaurant at the inaugural Eastwood Village Night Market. Yale hasn’t worked for Wing Fat in years, not since her mother’s untimely death. Everything about the restaurant reminds Yale of the loss of her mom, but she still agrees to help out, even though it means working with her cousin Celine, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years.

The women are polar opposites: Celine likes to flaunt her wealth and is a tech-obsessed foodie Instagrammer, and Yale, who doesn’t even own a cellphone, prefers to learn about the world through books. But Yale’s tasty drinks and Celine’s marketing know-how help their food stall, Canai & Chai, find success. Then one night, Yale literally stumbles over a body on her way home from the market. Police believe the victim, local foodie Jordan Chang, was poisoned, possibly by something from Canai & Chai. Yale and Celine are forced to work together again, this time to clear their names in a murder investigation that could also ruin Ba’s business.

Set in west Los Angeles, Death by Bubble Tea takes readers to real locations like the historic Gladstones restaurant and the Lake Shrine Meditation Gardens. Chow’s choice to set the mystery in a night market is a stroke of genius. Not only are there dozens of vendors, guests, witnesses and potential suspects, but the impermanence of the pop-up market makes it even more difficult for Yale, Celine and the police to solve the crime. Also, be warned: Chow’s descriptions of the food vendors’ offerings may make your mouth water. Luckily for readers, she includes a few recipes at the end of the book.

Death by Bubble Tea is a fun, fast-paced mystery, but the heart of the story lies in Yale and Celine’s deepening relationship. Though they grew up in different circumstances on opposite sides of the world, the women learn to trust and rely on each other, finding out what it’s like to have not just a cousin but also a friend.

Death by Bubble Tea is a heartfelt and delicious mystery that, in a brilliant choice by author Jennifer J. Chow, centers on a family-run food stall.

Vera Vixen, ace reporter for the Shady Hollow Herald, is a very busy bee. Well, busy, yes, but a fox rather than a bee. As in the previous two volumes in author duo Juneau Black’s Shady Hollow Mystery series, Mirror Lake follows Vera as she juggles work, love and crime-solving in her beloved Shady Hollow, which is populated solely by animals.

Although it is technically her day off (try telling that to her boss, B.W. Stone, a skunk in both fact and temperament), Vera’s delight in the annual October Harvest Festival is somewhat tempered as the day progresses. She learns that her burly bear boyfriend, Deputy Orville Braun, is throwing his cap in the ring for chief of the Shady Hill Police. With claws secretly crossed for his triumph, she determines to remain neutral in reporting on the heated campaign.

Vera’s raven friend, Lenore Lee, owner of the aptly named bookstore Nevermore, also needs support. Lenore is all a-flutter over the approaching book-signing event with Bradley Marvel, a bestselling author of thrillers who thinks rather too highly of himself. In his attempt to charm the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Vera, he proves to be a wolf in wolf’s clothing.

But these intrigues pale in comparison to the possible murder of Edward Springfield, a rat beloved by his eccentric wife, Dorothy. “Possible” because, well, Edward himself (or someone who looks exactly like him?) is standing beside Dorothy as she announces his murder! The most likely suspect is Edward’s older brother, Thomas. But he’s dead, too! Or is he? And whose headless body lies in the deep dark woods? All of Vera’s sly sleuthing skills are put to the test as she tries to solve a seemingly unsolvable case.

Mirror Lake opens with the authors’ plea for us to suspend our disbelief as we enter the realm of Shady Hollow. (Would all these animals be found in the same habitat in real life? How do you square carnivores and herbivores living in harmony?) It’s not hard to do: The anthropomorphizing of the cast is so unobtrusive that this reader often forgot the nonhuman nature of the characters. The occasional reminders of their animal nature add charm and humor to this pleasant tail—sorry, tale.

While some readers might roll their eyes at the simplicity of the plot, others will be chuffed as they attempt to outfox the wily Vera and solve the puzzle before she does. Mirror Lake doesn’t offer much emotional or intellectual complexity, but it does offer the pleasures associated with a cozy, close-knit community. Who wouldn’t want a cuppa at the coffee shop owned by Joe, the amiable moose? Who could resist the fine fare offered by panda master chef Sun Li? What could be cozier than a B&B run by the chipmunks Geoffrey and Ben?

Cold comfort is easy to find in our world these days. It’s much harder to find the humor and winsome warmth of the Shady Hollow mysteries.

Cold comfort is easy to find; it’s much harder to find the winsome warmth one encounters in Mirror Lake, a cozy mystery populated by woodland creatures.
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Readers will instantly be taken with ex-cop-turned-caterer Jodie “Nosey” Parker in Murder on the Menu, a delightful start to a new cozy mystery series set in the Cornish countryside.

After serving nearly 20 years on the force with the London Metropolitan Police and undergoing a contentious divorce, Jodie is ready to start fresh. She and her 12-year-old daughter, Daisy, move to Penstowan, the small Cornish village where Jodie grew up. There, she opens her own catering company, and her first client is Tony, a longtime friend and onetime ex-boyfriend who hires her to cater his upcoming wedding. Several uninvited guests show up the night before the service, including Tony’s first wife, Mel, who promptly gets into a fistfight with Cheryl, the bride-to-be. When Cheryl disappears and bodies start to pile up, Jodie takes off her caterer’s coat and dives into the investigation in order to clear Tony’s name. 

Author Fiona Leitch’s excellent writing, witty dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor elevate each scene, and the well-plotted mystery will keep readers guessing until the end. It’s easy to root for the entertaining Jodie, who’s still exceedingly capable as a detective despite having left the force. Detective Chief Inspector Nathan Withers, the lead investigator, is both annoyed and impressed with Jodie, and watching their budding chemistry is a delight. Leitch also ably explores the bittersweet, complicated nature of Jodie’s return to Penstowan: While she’s happy to live closer to her mother, a firecracker with a busy social life and wicked sense of humor, Jodie’s still coming to terms with living in the shadow of her late father, who dedicated his life to protecting the village as chief inspector.

Murder on the Menu will delight cozy mystery fans, especially those who want just a touch of melancholy amid all the crime-solving fun.

Fiona Leitch’s excellent writing, witty dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor elevate each scene in this cozy mystery set in the Cornish countryside.
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Mystery fans and dog lovers alike will enjoy Peggy Rothschild’s A Deadly Bone to Pick, the first in a new cozy mystery series featuring former police officer-turned-dog trainer Molly Madison.

Looking for a fresh start after the death of her husband, Molly makes a cross-country move to California. With her loyal golden retriever, Harlow, at her side, Molly hopes to heal and put down roots in the coastal town of Pier Point. On her first day there, she befriends a slobbery Saint Berdoodle (named Noodle) and volunteers to train him after learning that his owner can’t properly care for him. But when her new charge digs up a severed hand on the beach, Molly quickly goes from new kid on the block to murder suspect.

Readers will enjoy Rothschild’s fast-paced and well-plotted mystery, especially its small beach community setting. In Pier Point, the locals keep tabs on their neighbors, and everyone has a secret to hide. The town is filled with memorable characters, including Miguel Vasquez, the handsome detective investigating the murder, and Ava, Molly’s precocious 8-year-old neighbor who’s in need of tips for both training her dog and making friends her own age.

Molly’s lessons to other Pier Point residents and their dogs blend seamlessly into the central mystery, and animal lovers will appreciate seeing the reality of loving and living with pets depicted on the page. Rothschild shows that while it’s easy to love our dogs, they can also be a lot of work: There’s no sleeping in for Molly, not when Harlow needs to be let outside or fed. A Deadly Bone to Pick is a satisfying debut that will leave readers eager for more adventures with Molly and her canine companions.

Mystery fans and dog lovers alike will enjoy Peggy Rothschild’s A Deadly Bone to Pick, the first in a new cozy mystery series featuring former police officer-turned-dog trainer Molly Madison.
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The Shadows of Men

Calcutta, 1923: Then, as now, the state of Muslim-Hindu relations evoked an image of a short-fused powder keg, awaiting only the striking of a convenient match. The murder of a prominent Hindu theologian provides said spark, setting the stage for Abir Mukherjee’s fifth novel, The Shadows of Men. Police Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee are tasked with unraveling the circumstances of the homicide before holy war breaks out in the streets and alleyways of West Bengal’s most populous city, Calcutta. Things take a complicated turn almost immediately, as Banerjee finds himself framed for the aforementioned murder and thus removed from the state of play, at least in any official capacity. But he and Wyndham have never been what you’d call sticklers for the rules, and this time will prove to be no exception. Their investigation, at times in tandem but more often in parallel, will carry them to Bombay, which is unfamiliar turf to both of them. There they will discover that there is more afoot than just age-old cultural and religious enmity, and that certain third parties may harbor a keen—albeit covert—interest in fanning the flames of mutual intolerance. The narrative is first-person throughout, switching from Wyndham’s perspective to Banerjee’s in alternating chapters, an unusual and clever approach that keeps readers dead center in the melee, while at the same time poised on the edges of their seats.

All Her Little Secrets

Wanda M. Morris’ debut novel, All Her Little Secrets, is a multilayered, atmospheric thriller with subplot atop subplot. In a 200-odd-word review, I can barely scratch the surface. The main characters are Atlanta corporate attorney Ellice Littlejohn, a Black woman who is the lead counsel for a thriving transport company; her brother Sam, a ne’er-do-well who skates very close to the edge of legality, and sometimes over the edge; her auntie Vera, once a ball of fire, now laid low by advancing episodes of dementia; and CEO Nate Ashe, a Southern gentleman who might be looking out for Ellice’s interests but who also might be a corrupt businessman attuned to the optics of displaying a minority woman in a position of power. Then there is a murder, and another, and it becomes next to impossible for Ellice to determine who is in her corner. Examinations of racism, sexism, ageism and classism (and probably other -isms I have forgotten about) abound, making All Her Little Secrets a very timely read, in addition to being one heck of a debut.

Psycho by the Sea

A handful of pages into Lynne Truss’ hilarious new installment in her Constable Twitten series, Psycho by the Sea, I found myself imagining it as a BBC TV series with an eccentric “Fawlty Towers” sort of vibe, perhaps with a screenplay penned by Graham Greene. The characters are delightfully overblown, the storyline whimsical (well, if a cop killer who boils his victims’ severed heads fits your notion of whimsy).The novel is set in 1957 in the English seaside town of Brighton, which is not the sort of place that jumps to mind as crime central. Still, a number of locals make a good living pushing the boundaries of the law, including Mrs. Groynes, the lady who makes the tea at the Brighton police station. Privy as she is to the daily departmental goings-on, she ensures that the constables will be conveniently far from wherever her crimes are set to take place. When the severed-head-boiling killer escapes from the psychiatric detention facility he has called home for several years, perhaps aided in that getaway by a staff psychotherapist, all manner of ghoulish things begin to take place in the otherwise somnolent resort. While Psycho by the Sea is not the most suspenseful story on offer this month, it is easily the funniest, the quirkiest and the most entertaining read of the bunch. 

★ Silverview

When John le Carré passed away in December 2020, he left a gift behind for his readers: Silverview, one last novel from the master of espionage. The story goes that le Carré began work on the book nearly a decade ago, but it was held for publication as the author “tinkered” with it (a sly nod to his 1974 book Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?). The tinkering paid off. Silverview is one of his best works, an intricate cat-and-mouse tale in which just who is the feline and who is the rodent is up in the air until the final pages. When bookshop owner Julian Lawndsley meets Edward Avon, he is virtually bowled over by the larger-than-life demeanor of the elderly white-haired gentleman. Together they hatch a plan to expand Julian’s bookstore. Meanwhile, British intelligence has launched an investigation into a long-ago incident in Edward’s life, one that suggests he may still be in the spy game. If this is true, it’s anybody’s guess who his employer might be, for it is certainly not the home team. Not that the home team could even remotely be considered the good guys, mind you. But I suppose treason is treason, irrespective of the morality of the players. Perhaps even more world-weary in tone than the le Carré books that preceded it, Silverview will make readers look askance at the sort of things their countries do on the world stage.

The Shadows of Men Calcutta, 1923: Then, as now, the state of Muslim-Hindu relations evoked an image of a short-fused powder keg, awaiting only the striking of a convenient match. The murder of a prominent Hindu theologian provides said spark, setting the stage for Abir Mukherjee’s fifth novel, The Shadows of Men. Police Captain Sam […]
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Anne Perry’s new Victorian murder mystery, Half Moon Street, begins in classic style, with the finding of a body. But this one isn’t in the drawing room of a country mansion; it’s in a small boat drifting against a London dock. It is the body of a man. His hands are manacled, and he is shockingly attired in a woman’s dress.

The constable who finds the body warns our hero, Superintendent Thomas Pitt, the head of the Bow Street Police Station, that scandal is waiting in the wings. He fears the body is that of a missing French diplomat. Soon Pitt is caught up in a tour of the dark underside of Victorian London, trying to find out where the worlds of diplomacy and the theater have crossed paths — and why the encounter ended in murder. The tour is far-ranging and allows the author to paint a mural of the times.

Although Anne Perry is not the only contemporary author to set mystery novels in the foggy, charming days of Sherlock Holmes, nonetheless, she has made the era her own. Because of her chosen milieu, Perry is predictably compared to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens. Actually, although she shares their taste for the grotesque, she lacks their easy humor and writerly sensitivity to language. Her style is plain and straightforward, her emphasis on the social interactions of a busy period.

What amuses Perry is to populate her novels with prominent figures, and give us glimpses inside the lives of the people that made the era so significant in history. In the case of Half Moon Street, they include Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and some of their illustrious colleagues. The surprising element in these mysteries is that the secondary characters are deeply engaged in social issues and the arts, thereby pulling Pitt into controversies outside the world of crime. For example, when Pitt attends a play, he finds himself immersed in the feminist issues of the day.

These are topics usually overlooked or ignored in period mysteries, and they lend Perry’s books a lively cultural tone. Readers get to experience the pace of a changing world through the eyes of intelligent observers such as Thomas and his wife Charlotte, all while piecing together clues and moving closer to the author’s famously satisfying denouements. It’s a powerful combination and, after two decades, explains Perry’s still-growing reputation.

Anne Perry’s new Victorian murder mystery, Half Moon Street, begins in classic style, with the finding of a body. But this one isn’t in the drawing room of a country mansion; it’s in a small boat drifting against a London dock. It is the body of a man. His hands are manacled, and he is […]
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It is fascinating how two mysteries with first-person narrators, similar settings (small towns) and heroines (women struggling over whether to divorce their husbands) can be so different. Working Stiff goes for laughs, while For Better, For Murder tugs at the heartstrings.

In Working Stiff, set in Wisconsin, Mattie, a former nurse, has just started working as a coroner after finding her surgeon husband in a compromising position with another nurse. Since the house she shared with her husband is right next door to her new place, Mattie can’t help spying on him, and one night she witnesses him arguing with the other woman. Shortly afterward, Mattie is called to a murder scene: the victim is the other woman, making her husband the primary suspect.

Mattie has earthy sensibilities and big appetites; despite her unresolved marital situation, she finds herself very attracted to the detective investigating the case. Unable to contain her own curiosity, fueled by her need to know if her husband is guilty of more than infidelity, Mattie, in her new role as deputy coroner, starts her own investigation. Since she knows everyone in the victim’s world, she can do this with some ease. Both Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie are invoked, and several funny episodes occur on the way to Mattie solving the crime and coming to a decision about her marriage.

Here’s hoping Annelise Ryan will give us more of Mattie’s mother (“a modern day Nostradamus” and “many-times honored member of the Disease of the Month club”) in the next installment.

Meanwhile, in Lisa Bork’s For Better, For Murder, set in New York’s Finger Lakes, Jolene Asdale is struggling to keep her car business alive when a dead body falls out of the Ferrari she is showing to a customer. That’s bad enough, but the victim is a man she briefly dated and recently had a widely witnessed (and wrong interpreted) discussion with about business zoning. The man who is investigating the murder is the husband she hasn’t been able to bring herself to divorce even though she left him three years before. And then Jolene’s bipolar sister, who has been overhearing threats to Jolene (or are they just more of her voices?), disappears from the state psychiatric facility. Is she now part of a team robbing local convenience stores? Jolene’s husband Ray is convinced Jolene knows more about everything than she is admitting. Meanwhile, she’s trying “not to notice that Ray still carries a picture of [her] in his wallet.”

Jolene turns detective to save herself and her sister, giving Bork a chance to explore what’s it’s like to own a small business in a small town where everyone knows your business. Like Ryan, she includes gay characters while taking care to point out that there are still difficulties with being gay in a small town. Jolene, whose family history of mental illness haunts her, is a touching character. The plot is a little complicated, but the series has promise and the book ends with a happy twist.

Joanne Collings cozies up with a good book or two in Washington, D.C.

It is fascinating how two mysteries with first-person narrators, similar settings (small towns) and heroines (women struggling over whether to divorce their husbands) can be so different. Working Stiff goes for laughs, while For Better, For Murder tugs at the heartstrings. In Working Stiff, set in Wisconsin, Mattie, a former nurse, has just started working […]

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