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

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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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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.

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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