An Appreciation of Jane Langton by Nancy Shaw

Jane Langton

Jane Langton died last month, just short of her 96th birthday. Through 18 mysteries, her characters Homer and Mary Kelly studied transcendentalism while solving crimes. Langton wrote about the power of nature, art, and kindness. Her protagonists were often besotted with the natural world, or with art, while her villains and comically-awful annoyers were out of harmony with those worlds.

Though Langton hid clues and unveiled solutions, as the genre requires, her voice and presentations were utterly distinctive. She stitched plots together with quirky observations. A World War II-era University of Michigan alumna who studied astronomy and art history, Langton had prodigious powers of invention and spun plot complications from nuggets such as soil chemistry, the water table under a Boston church, and a flooded town under a reservoir. Her line drawings of the settings accompany most of the series, and the settings are integral to the stories. read more

Sujata Massey: The Widows of Malabar Hill

I was a totally geeked out fan of Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura series about a Japanese American antiques dealer living in Japan.  The books became progressively better and better as the series went forward, and Massey has apparently brought all the knowledge and expertise gained in writing those eleven books to good use in delivering this bravura work of historical fiction.

Set in 1920’s India, young Perveen Mistry is a lawyer – extremely unusual for the time and place – working for her father’s law firm, and though she’s not allowed to argue cases in court she can do all the research and contract work needed by the firm.  Coming across her somewhat sparsely populated desk is the case of a will for three widows who were married to the same man.  Their male agent has submitted documents stating that the women want to give up their inheritance and donate it to a charity instead, and the document is signed by all three. read more

Start at the very beginning

An overview of First in Series books: find them for sale in our online store.

We’re offering these first in series titles for a couple reasons – one, some are hard to find and mystery readers like to read a series in order!  And secondly, while many of you may be familiar with these series, you may have only read the later books.  These are all incredible starts to great characters and stories.  Reading through all of them will give you a great overview of contemporary mystery fiction, in all its many threads – private eye, police, cozy, British procedural, historical.  Setting has proven to be key for the modern mystery as has a broader array of character types, ranging from Tony Hillerman’s iconic Joe Leaphorn to James Lee Burke’s P.I. Dave Robichaux to Laura Lippman’s kick-ass Tess Monaghan to Dorthy Gilman’s sweet old lady CIA agent Mrs. Pollifax.  If you had walked in to our store, we would have recommended these titles to you depending on your interest.  One of our all time bestsellers was Deborah Crombie’s spectacular debut, A Share in Death.  We hope you’ll dig in!  Here’s a list, and you can find them for sale on the online store page. read more

Carol Potenza: Hearts of the Missing

This book is the winner of the Tony Hillerman prize and thus has some serious shoes to fill, and it fills them fairly well. Set on the Pueblo, Potenza has created a fictional but believable tribe, the Fire-Sky tribe. She then gives each of her four major characters varying degrees of connection to the tribe. At the center of the story is Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a Pueblo police officer, not native herself.

Her best friend, Savannah Analia, the public safety director’s assistant, is full blood. Then there’s Ryan, who makes jewelery and who grew up with Savannah, but isn’t native. He does however have extensive knowledge and respect for native traditions. And then there’s conservation agent, outsider Frank, who is the uneven piece of this four person puzzle. read more

Jess Montgomery: The Widows

Jess Montgomery’s debut is our selection for our January book of the month.  Set in 1920’s Ohio, it’s set in a tiny mining community and loosely based on the lives of the first female sheriff and Mother Jones.  Highlighting the harsh existence of the miners – mostly focused on women – the twining narrative follows the sherrif as she investigates the shooting death of her husband.  Unforgettable.  Purchase a copy on our store page, and check back each month for a highlighted title.  Ms. Montgomery will join our book club on February 21.  Contact us for details. read more

Susan Hill: The Various Haunts of Men

First in a series novel. 

There are some mystery novels that are as much novels as they are mysteries. Admirers of authors like Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell and P.D. James who favor complex plots, multiple characters and a subtle, slow accumulation of suspense found another skilled writer to savor when Susan Hill published her first Simon Serrailler mystery, The Various Haunts of Men, in 2004.

Branding the book as a “Simon Serrailler mystery” is a bit disingenuous, as Chief Inspector Serrailler is not the central focus, but a rather distant presence, reflecting the elusive nature of his character, particularly to DS Freya Graffam, a newcomer to the small English town of Lafferton, and the central agent of law enforcement in the narrative. Like the traditional English novel there are many other fully realized characters including the killer, his multiple victims, tangentially involved townsfolk and the town itself. read more

Our Eleven Favorite Christmas Mysteries

Duck the Halls, Donna Andrews (2013). Skunks loose in the choir loft a few days before Christmas, a missing boa constrictor – do I need to say more?  Donna Andrews at her witty best, which is saying a LOT.

The 12 Clues of Christmas, Rhys Bowen (2012).  The body count is high as Lady Georgie hosts a holiday party in tiny Tiddleton-under-Lovey. While Bowen herself denies any resemblance to And Then There Were None, there are really far fewer people in Tiddleton by the end of the book than there were at the beginning – and the deaths are so creative! Delightfully, Bowen includes a guide of English Christmas traditions at the end. read more

Ragnor Jonasson: Rupture

While this series started to come out in Jonasson’s native Iceland in 2015, the books have only now started to make their way stateside, via the UK.  Rupture, which Jonasson wrote in 2016, will be published here in January, is the third in his “Dark Iceland” series which began with the sensational Snowblind. Let me tell you, whatever publishing path this author took to get here is definitely worth the wait, as he is a phenomenal writer.

While I would classify this series as a “traditional detective” series, mostly because of the plot structure, it also has the feel of a contemporary noir.  Jonasson embraces both of these strong  threads in mysteries equally, and with equal aplomb.  His main character is Ari Thor, who began the series as a new detective in tiny Siglufjorour. read more

Christmas Reading!

Get your Christmas read on by browsing through our selection of very gently used titles, assorted hardcovers, trade paperbacks and mass markets,  This is the time of year to cozy up in front of the fire with a holiday book in hand.   Just click on the online store tab and go to the store page.  Happy reading!

Clea Simon: A Spell of Murder

Clea Simon’s cozies have a bit of extra edge and sparkle to them, and have ranged from a pet psychic to a rescue cat narrator in a long career spanning several series. In this latest outing, the cats are again front and center, and this time they are witch cats. They’ve confused their owner, Becca, who is a fledgling member of a coven – one of them made a pillow appear out of thin air and Becca thinks she’s done it herself, as does the rest of her coven.

The cats are a little disgusted by this but the three of them – adopted by Becca – have a mission to protect and care for her and their powers are many and varied. They range from the very real cat talent of comforting their owners to the talents of making things appear, controlling thoughts, and walking through walls, the better to track Becca undetected. read more