I really, really love Molly Murphy. For me these books are an inhale – as in, when one is available, I don’t look up from the pages until I am finished reading. Molly came to readers through Ellis Island in 2001 (for Molly, it was 1901), and the books kept appearing until 2017, when I was afraid the series had come to a natural end. Starting her adventures with “The next morning I sailed for America with another woman’s name”, Molly proceeded to shove her way into reader’s hearts as she made her hardscrabble way through New York City, finding work as a lady private detective.
This is the second book in Delany’s series set in the Catskills in the 50’s. While the Catskill resorts that served so many families back in the 50’s and beyond are now gone – even the great Grossinger’s is a ghostly version of itself – Delany nevertheless manages to make the area come alive for the reader. She doesn’t dip into the pure historical novel category. Instead, she provides period details that set the reader where she wants them to be, and she somehow manages to invoke the feel and atmosphere of a very specific place and time. The fact that a Canadian writer who, I am thinking, did not spend her childhood summers in the Catskills, is able to do this with such virtuosity is one of those mysteries of the writer’s art. The time period is close enough that with a little bit of yearning and nostalgia you are right back there with her.
I am a devotee of this charming new series, where the detective is the most famous woman on the planet – Queen Elizabeth II. She shares detecting duties (she’s quite busy of course) with Rozie Oshodi, one of her private secretaries, a London born Nigerian. She and Rozie formed a bond in the first novel as they investigated the mysterious death of a young Russian pianist at Buckingham Palace.
There are many things to love about these books. One is the meticulous backstage look at how an enormous household like Buckingham Palace functions. One is the author’s loving portrayal of the queen – a woman who is busy, organized, intelligent and curious. One is the character of Rozie herself, who is almost, but not quite, a superwoman. She’s respected by her colleagues, but Buckingham Palace appears to be very much an old boy’s club in many ways. It’s something the author turns her observant eye on in this novel.
I’m a huge fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, but in every series, there are always one or two books that have a bit more sparkle than the rest. For me, it’s this book, which combines all of Raybourn’s many gifts into one completely delicious package. In book seven of this series, lepidopterist Veronica has settled in with her beloved Stoker, in an extremely unconventional arrangement for the time (Victorian Britain): they live in sin, and Veronica is very much a working woman.
When we opened Aunt Agatha’s in 1992, we celebrated Black History Month every February by putting the work of black authors in our front window. In 1992, that group of authors was small, and if we were to still be an open store, out window display would be much larger. In 1992 it included Eleanor Taylor Bland, Hugh Holton, Iceberg Slim, Chester Himes, Donald Goines and of course, Walter Mosley, whose first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, was published in 1990. Bill Clinton, a famous mystery fan, had helped his career by mentioning him as a favorite writer.
This charming second novel in Mia Manasala’s standout new series is as delectable as the first. Instead of being set in the main character, Lila’s, aunt’s restaurant, it’s set in the world of a small town beauty pageant. Lila, a former winner turned business owner, is now a reluctant judge. Manansala takes several typically cozy tropes and slightly tweaks them. There’s a bit of a romantic triangle for Lila; there’s a new business she’s setting up with her two best friends, the Brew-Ha café; and then there’s the beauty pageant to provide a rich array of suspects for the eventual murder.
Through now 24 novels, Charles and Caroline Todd have provided their readers with excellence, pure and simple. The first novel in the Rutledge series, A Test of Wills, is a classic, and the rest of the series, elegiac, carefully plotted, and richly characterized, have all been solid and worthy reads. Sadly, this is the last novel written in collaboration with Caroline Todd, who passed away in 2021. She leaves a huge legacy.
In this novel, set in 1921, Inspector Rutledge has been called in from Scotland Yard to look at a case in Essex. He goes where he’s sent by his higher ups, but he is puzzled to be looking in a case that seems to involve a ghost. No-one is better than the Todds at setting up a disturbing premise that sticks in your mind as you read, wondering what’s going on. Twenty-four books in, I was pretty comfortable waiting to discover the solution.
We’ve moved our discussion of Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala to Sunday, March 20 at 2 p.m. via zoom. Our February read will be Death on the Boardwalk by Caleb Wygal. We’ll meet on February 13 at 2 p.m. via zoom. The publisher’s description of Death on the Boardwalk:
The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is normally an idyllic place. Until death arrives on recently widowed bookstore owner Clark Thomas’ doorstep.
When the body of a local businesswoman and environmentalist gets dumped by the back door of his shop, Clark finds himself in a unique position to investigate the crime. But should he? When it comes to murder, something else drives him he doesn’t want to admit.
This is the third book in John Keyse-Walker’s enjoyable Teddy Creque series, set on the fictional island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. Similar in tone and feel to the TV series Death in Paradise, Keyse-Walker’s main character is not an imported British superintendent, but an island born constable, risen to the top of the heap in tiny Anegada. He’s also a fisherman, and his community plays a huge part in the story.
While the first book in the series was a traditional police procedural story with the added zing of the Caribbean setting, this one is a stripped down wonder that embraces the setting completely. The book opens with a hurricane hitting the island (a sadly common occurrence in the Virgin Islands), and Teddy, while trying to evacuate the islanders to safety further inland, goes out to rescue a fellow fisherman who is out in one of the worst storms in island memory.
I was (am) a giant fan of Malliet’s Max Tudor series. I had always been aware of the St. Just series, but had never read one, and I am now a giant fan of this series as well. There are really very few practitioners of the traditional British detective novel working at the moment, and Malliet is one of the best. Her novels are very much golden age in pattern, with a series detective, a fast paced and tidy narrative, and in this case, a setting to die for – the Cornish coast.
Using a trope beloved of novelists from Agatha Christie to Deborah Crombie to Louise Penny, St. Just is on vacation with his fiancée (the wittily named Portia De’Ath – I hope she keeps her maiden name!) Like Crombie’s Duncan and Penny’s Gamache, St. Just seems to be the calm center of the storm. It made it completely believable that the local constabulary would turn to him for advice.