A Story Told in Cover Art: Murder at the Vicarage

Agatha Christie’s first Miss Marple book, The Murder at the Vicarage, was published by Collins Crime Club in the UK in October of 1930. It’s one of my very favorite books – with its clever plot, humor, beautifully rendered characters and of course, the introduction in novel form of the subversive Miss Marple, it stands the test of time and has never been out of print.  For that reason, it’s fun to look at covers through the years.

The US first edition of Vicarage was published by Dodd, Mead and is what I would think of as a “prestige” cover, with its old English font and decorous arrangement of text.  There’s no art to speak of, no interpretation of the plot. read more

Reading for Black History Month

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. read more

Guest essay: Susan Elia MacNeal on The Hollywood Spy

Today I’m really pleased to welcome Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the beloved Maggie Hope series.  Best news for readers – the new addition to this great series, The Hollywood Spy, will be published on July 6.  Susan agreed to give readers an advance look at what promises to be another great read.  You can pre-order it here.

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Lassie Who? Meet Tallulah, the newest star of The Hollywood Spy.

 The Hollywood Spy has a wide range of characters—there’s Maggie Hope, of course, and her ballerina friend Sarah Sanderson, who’s in Los Angeles to dance in the film, Star Spangled Canteen. There’s Maggie’s former fiancé, John Sterling, a wounded RAF pilot now working for Walt Disney. And there are cameos from historic figures—Cab Calloway, Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, and Lena Horne, among others. read more

Cate Conte: Christmas Traditions

Author Cate Conte/Liz Mugavero joins us with this nostalgic look at Christmases of her childhood and Christmas as it appears in her Cat Cafe books.  Time to get in the holiday spirit…A Whisker of a Doubt will be published on December 1st.

Christmas, to many people, means the most wonderful time of the year. (Note: in my view Halloween takes that award, but I’ve always been a bit off-the-beaten-path…)

Regardless, I understand the appeal and I do love Christmas myself. Growing up, my family always made sure we had the best holiday season, full of traditions, family, and yes, gifts galore. I was very blessed. read more

Cozy round up 2020

“Cozies certainly provide solace from many of the dark edges of the actual world.” — Edith Maxwell in Mystery Scene

I read a lot, and I read lots of cozies, partly thanks to my column in Mystery Scene.  There I am restricted to reviewing mass market paperback originals, and I am generously showered with advance reading copies.  I sort through them by reading the premise and a bit of the beginning.  If the writing doesn’t hit me quite right, I skip that one, and check out another one.  And while I certainly read many, many cozies, I am in no way claiming to have read even a comprehensive number of the books in this sub genre published this year.  For that kind of scope, I highly recommend checking out Dru’s Book Musings, which is a comprehensive review blog of all things cozy.  In addition, Dru has guest posts from authors and publishes a guide to what’s coming out, sometimes weekly. read more

Bella Ellis: How the Bronte Sisters Risked it All, Every Day

Many thanks to author Bella Ellis for this fascinating essay.  Think you have nothing in common with the Brontës?  Read on…and check out Ellis’ latest novel, The Vanished Bride.

Until recently, if you lived in a first world country, you will have become used to living a low risk life. Not one that is totally danger free, but one where you didn’t have an imminent sense of peril when you left your house, particularly in terms of your health. In fact, in recent decades for those of us lucky to lead a relatively privileged life, it’s easy to completely ignore our own mortality without very much effort. What we forgot is that that sense of security is a relatively recent development, and as the emergence of COVID-19 has proven, its one that can still be quickly swept away. We don’t have to look very far back in time to see an age when people lived and died amongst a host of deadly diseases and had to learn to accept the risk. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are shining examples of what can be achieved when life is limited by circumstance. So, what inspiration can we take from them as we navigate our way through this global pandemic? read more

A Little Comfort Reading

As we’re all stuck at home, a little (or a lot) of comfort reading is in order.  Not a re-reader?  I’ve included some newer books, and hopefully there are some authors here that are new to you as a reader.  A great resource, should you want to read whole series in order (and why not?), is Fantastic Fiction.  There you can find authors with their series listed in chronological order.  If you want to delve deeper, check out Stop, You’re Killing Me, and drill down to finding a series by occupation, location, time period or character name.  See what awards your favorite writers have won.  These two sites are essential to any reader. read more

Love Stories in Crime Fiction

Ever since Nancy Drew met Ned Nickerson, love stories have been a part of crime fiction.  Maybe not the main player, but some books have relationships that help define them.  Here are some of my favorites.

In the golden age, Patricia Wentworth stands out, as she always foregrounded romance as part of her stories.  Unlike some of the other authors I’ll mention, she wrote a series, but the romantic characters didn’t recur or involve the main characters, with one exception: Miss Silver Comes to Stay (1948), where Rietta Cray and Randal March, a former pupil of Miss Silver’s and now a Chief Constable, find slightly late in life love.  March is a re-occurring character, and he and Rietta appear in other books, complete with a family to Miss Silver’s doting delight.  Love in a Wentworth novel is quiet, intense and somehow dignified. read more

Snowy Mysteries: Enjoy the Season

A list of snowy mysteries to help you enjoy the winter….

The SnowmanFirst up, of course, Jo Nesbo’s creepy The Snowman (2010), finds Inspector Harry Hole chasing down someone who buries bodies inside snowmen.  You may never, ever look at a snowman the same way again.  Ignore the bad movie – pick up this great read and be completely immersed.

Camilla Lackburg’s The Ice Princess (2008) finds writer Erica returning to her tiny Swedish hometown when a friend is found dead and frozen in his bathtub, wrists slashed.  To process what has happened, she begins a memoir, and finds herself solving a crime.  Atmospheric, full of well drawn characters, and yes, creepy as all heck. read more

If you liked Knives Out….

If you enjoyed the new film Knives Out, and are craving a bit more fun, check out some of these great titles that have a similar dysfunctional family stuck in a big house vibe, often with a sidebar of humor or satire (or both).

A Fatal Winter, G.M. Malliet.  In Malliet’s second novel, the delicious sleuthing vicar, Max Tudor, is dispatched to the home of Lord Footrustle to assist with funeral arrangements, but by virtue of a snowstorm, gets stuck in the middle of a dysfunctional family, all of whom seem to have had a reason for desiring the death of their patriarch.  And it’s all the dead man’s fault, really, as the lonely Lord had invited his far flung family members to join him for Christmas.  While this novel was written in 2012, it hews closely to the golden age parameters established so long ago, and so enjoyably, by Agatha Christie. While definitely tongue in cheek, Malliet breaths true life into her characters and her stories are wickedly clever. read more