This seems almost unbelievable, but it’s been 51 years since Tony Hillerman published his first Joe Leaphorn novel, The Blessing Way. The books are now such revered classics I was hesitant when I picked up Anne Hillerman’s first book, thinking there was no way she could continue the work of her father. But Ms. Hillerman has made the series her own. The central character is neither Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee, but Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito, giving the series an entirely new flavor.
I love this vibrant, lively, insanely readable series, a series that takes unexpected turns with its characters but still hews to the traditional norms of historical mystery fiction. The first book in the series, A Death of No Importance, was a fabulous origin story, where ladies’ maid Jane Prescott takes on the nouveau riche Benchley family in the first decade of the twentieth century. The books are set in New York City and the Benchley girls are viewed as rich upstarts, and Jane’s special charge, Louise, is shy and gauche and seems to fit in nowhere.
Murder at Wedgefield Manor is the delightful second book in Erica Ruth Neubauer’s series set in the 1920s, featuring the adventurous American World War I widow Jane Wunderly. After solving a mystery in Egypt in the first book, Murder at the Mena House, Jane, her matchmaking Aunt Millie, and Millie’s secret daughter Lillian arrive at Wedgefield Manor, the English country estate of Lord Hughes, who had been Millie’s lover years ago. Quite possibly, Millie and Hughes are rekindling their romance. Lillian is the product of their brief affair. Lord Hughes and his wife had adopted Lillian and raised her as their own, and as far as Jane knows, Lillian is not aware of the fact that Millie is her mother–a fact that Jane had uncovered in the course of her investigation in Egypt, where she met Lillian for the first time.
This is a favorite new series. The books feature Mercy Carr and her military dog, Elvis, who have come home to Vermont to nurse their wounds (and their PTSD) after losing the love of both their lives, Martinez, in Afghanistan. Both have reacclimated to a degree, though Mercy has a hard time with trust and tends to hold herself back when it comes to relationships. While Mercy is slightly on the outs with her perhaps boyfriend, game warden Troy, her life is a full one. She’s taken in a teenage mother, her baby, and her boyfriend; she has a tight relationship with her grandmother, Patience, a vet; and she and Elvis are now working as a complete team.
This is the third book in the “kinship” series, set on the outer edges of 1920’s Ohio (Chillicothe is the big city), and each book centers itself on a different woman, though the central character is always Sherriff Lily Ross. Lily became Sherriff after the murder of her sheriff husband and the first book was her story, as well as the story of labor organizer Marvena, now one of Lily’s best friends. The second novel was about her friend, schoolteacher Hildy, and this book follows the story of Fiona, who is married to the series bad guy, George Vogel.
I’m delighted to reveal the cover of Jennifer Hawkins’ Murder Always Barks Twice, the second installment in her chatty corgi series, coming out August 3rd. Jennifer lives and writes in Michigan, and as Delia James, writes the Magical Cat mysteries. Find her on twitter @JenHawkinsAuth1. She has a newsletter for events, updates, releases and all kind of book recommendations from very cool people here.
Jennifer says: Thanks to Aunt Agatha’s for helping me share my new cover! I love this one so much – it’s got everything. The house in the background is exactly how I pictured Truscott Grange where the mystery takes place, and we’ve got an adorable rendition of Oliver the Chatty Corgi himself. Plus, all the cake!
Paige Shelton will join our book club via zoom on Sunday, May 16, at 2 p.m. Message us on facebook or contact us at store (at) auntagathas.com for a zoom invitation. We’ll be reading the first book in her Alaska Wild series, Thin Ice. The second novel, Cold Wind, is nominated for a Mary Higgins Clark Award this year!
Here’s a precis of Thin Ice, and you can read my review of Cold Wind here.
Beth Rivers is on the run – she’s doing the only thing she could think of to keep herself safe. Known to the world as thriller author Elizabeth Fairchild, she had become the subject of a fanatic’s obsession. After being held in a van for three days by her kidnapper, Levi Brooks, Beth managed to escape, and until he is captured, she’s got to get away. Cold and remote, Alaska seems tailor-made for her to hideout.
Join our book club on Sunday, April 18 at 2 p.m. via zoom to discuss Alyssa Cole’s Edgar nominee, When No One is Watching. All are welcome – message us on facebook or email us at store (at) auntagathas.com for a zoom invitation. Here’s a precis of the novel:
Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.
Character is key in almost any book. This was brought home to me recently when I read and really enjoyed The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell after having encountered several other true crime books that simply didn’t satisfy. The trend today is to serve up an unsolved mystery and slather it with internet speculation and/or trial transcripts. there may be a few satisfying crime books, fact or fiction, where you never find out who dun it, but it’s certainly very few. I won’t name names, but if you write a book about say, a person who evidently either killed themselves or was murdered in a flamboyant fashion, it’s important to know their character to decide which of the two were more likely, something a journalistic “just the facts” approach doesn’t provide.
Tasha Alexander writes one of the most reliably entertaining series in mystery fiction – every book has a complex plot, often a dual timeline, a bit of romance, plus the reader gets to go on some armchair travel and learn a bit of history to boot. In this latest Lady Emily outing, her dishy husband, Colin, takes her to Florence, along with her friend Cecile, for cover, as he works on something so secret for the Crown that he can’t even tell Emily.
It’s 1903 and they’re staying at Colin’s newly discovered daughter, Kat’s, home in Florence, and merely reading the descriptions of Florence will make you long not just for armchair travel but for the real thing. Emily and Cecile are folded into Colin’s work by a circumstance beyond his control – when they arrive at the villa, one of the workers plunges to his death from the top of the villa and is discovered by one of the maids. Emily and Cecile think they can do better winkling out what really happened to him, and of course, they are correct.