Stephanie Gayle: Idyll Hands

The third in a series about small town police chief Thomas Lynch, Gayle’s novel manages to be both charming and a straight up police procedural.  It’s set apart a bit from the norm (and I haven’t read the other two in the series, Idyll Threats and Idyll Fears), so I don’t know if the same parameters apply in the other two novels, but the narrators switch back and forth between chapters.

While the central character, as proclaimed on the cover, is Chief Tom Lynch, the other central character, a far as this novel goes, is Detective Michael Finnegan.  The story involves a cold case involving a human bone found in the woods 20 plus years ago; the case and the bone are affectionately known as “Colleen” and a local ghost story has sprung up around her.  When the rest of her bones are discovered early on, the detectives begin their hunt for the real Colleen. read more

Louise Penny: Kingdom of the Blind

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All good writers have themes they like to re-explore and think through in many of their books. In Kingdom of the Blind Louise Penny returns to a theme that has long been of interest to her, that of the unreliability of mere appearances. The pleasant facade masking rot within. As she focuses thematically on the yin and yang of her characters and thoughts – at one point, Gamache thinks to himself “that conversation had gone both well and badly. Was comforting and nauseating. Successful and humiliating”, she forces the reader to examine his or her own preconceptions. read more

Why I Love Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), was one of the four cornerstones of British Crime fiction in the 30’s and 40’s, and that is reason enough to love her. Along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham, they were the original Queens of Crime, reshaping the puzzle based mystery and adding the bonus of continuing characters readers grew to love. Christie’s Poirot and Marple, Sayers’ Peter Wimsey, Allingham’s Albert Campion and Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn are some of the best known British detectives ever created. read more

Jonathan F. Putnam: Final Resting Place

This is a lovely series, full of energy and insight.  This installment, set during the election season of 1838 in Springfield, Illinois, follows the story of a man shot during the 4th of July fireworks and his subsequent trial, where his defense is taken on by Abraham Lincoln.  The two central characters in this series are Joshua Fry Speed, known to history as Lincoln’s best friend, and Lincoln himself.

Why, you may say to yourself, I know all about Abraham Lincoln.  Unless you are an historian, I assure you, you do not.  Putnam has chosen to set his series during Lincoln’s younger years, before marriage to Mary Todd, when he’s living what was then a hardscrabble life as a lawyer.  He and Speed share one bed in a rooming house; there’s another bed in their room shared by two other men. read more

Julia Keller: Bone on Bone

Bone on BoneBell Elkins is one of the greater creations in recent mystery fiction. A feisty, smart, no-holds-barred prosecuting attorney in tiny Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, each book is infused with both the love of the land and the tragedy of it, a shadow that’s deepened and grown darker through the course of the series. From the very first novel, A Killing in the Hills, Keller has had her finger on the pulse of contemporary culture. In that novel, the central event was a mass shooting at a fast food restaurant. In the most recent novel, Fast Falls the Night (2017), Keller focused on an alarmingly high series of overdoses related to opiods in one 24 hour period. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: The Prisoner in the Castle

The Prisoner in the CastleIt’s 1942, and SOE agent Maggie Hope is stuck in the wilds of Scotland, essentially on a time out from the war. She and her fellow inmates on the Isle of Scarra are sequestered there because they know too much or seem to be in danger of spilling what they do know. Maggie, who was whisked to Scarra fresh from a Gestapo interrogation in Paris (The Paris Spy), is resentful she’s not doing her bit for the war effort. Her fellow inmates have all been traumatized by their war experience in various ways, but all of them feel the same as Maggie. Unfortunately, news of the war is almost non-existent and contact with anyone back home is completely non-existent. read more

Simone St. James: The Broken Girls

The Broken GirlsThis book is a knockout. I’ve read several books by St. James, but this one is by far my favorite. While she doesn’t have a recurring series character, her novels are always historical, and they all feature an actual ghost. There are some mysteries where a ghost is suggested but turns out to be something else more explainable. St. James is firmly in the old school ghost story camp and it serves her well.

The Broken Girls takes place at a girls’ boarding school in Vermont. Part of the book is set in the Vermont of the 50’s when the boarding school was still operational; and part of it is set in 2014 Vermont, where we meet central character Fiona Sheridan, who is much scarred by the now 20 years ago death of her sister on the boarding school grounds. read more

Hank Phillippi Ryan: Trust Me

Trust MeTimely, suspenseful, well crafted – all true, and irrelevant, as this novel is impossible to put down, so as you read you may simply be inhaling Ryan’s words. It’s going back into the story that gets you really thinking. Ryan frequently uses her extensive professional background as an investigative reporter to good advantage in her fiction, giving her characters, journalists all, a real ring of truth. It adds to the street cred of her novels. You can believe what she’s saying, because she knows what she’s talking about. read more

Author Interview: Owen Laukkanen and Nick Petrie

Owen Laukkanen and Nick Petrie are two of the most talented and original thriller writers at work at the moment. Owen’s latest book, Gale Force, is a bravura tour de force set on board a salvage ship; Nick burst on the scene with The Drifter and hasn’t made a wrong move since.

Q: I’ve been reading and selling mysteries for so long now I’ve started to feel like a biologist, making categories. I had just read a bunch of cozies before I read your books and started thinking about how thrillers and cozies have some similarities. Certain tropes are expected. Can you talk about how you utilize tropes to structure your books? read more

Essay: Agatha Christie: Her Life and Legacy

This is an expansion of an earlier essay and the basis of a talk I’ve given a couple times.

Like many of you, I started reading mysteries in the form of Nancy Drew in grade school. I was entranced, and in middle school I decided to read every novel by Agatha Christie. I found I could read one a day and after reading a great many of them, I was able to figure out whodunit – sometimes.

During college I discovered Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, and when my husband and I moved to Ann Arbor in 1988, it was only a couple years before we opened Aunt Agatha’s. My husband Jamie worked at Borders for a few years and when we decided to branch out on our own, we went with the mystery genre. We named our store after Agatha and she remains, after 26 years, our bestselling author. read more