This is an utterly charming series debut. Dennison has two other series, but I think this may be my favorite so far. The story opens as recently widowed Evie sits in her lawyer’s office and discovers that she’s basically broke. Luckily, the lawyer’s secretary discovers a secret letter from Evie’s dead husband, telling her that she now owns a hotel thanks to an unpaid debt. Her sister, Margot, who has flown in from LA to be with her in England, heads back to Evie’s now up-for-sale house where she hatches a plan. For a little restful getaway, they will visit the hotel in question.
Libby Hellman is known for her slightly gritty mysteries set in Chicago, often reaching back into the past. Her first novel, An Eye for Murder (2002) looked back to the holocaust; she’s ventured to Cuba, to the 60’s in the United States, to WWII, and to Iran. This is her first novel, however, that’s straight up history. She sets it in Vietnam in 1968, during the war. As someone who came of age in the late 70’s, the Vietnam War wasn’t history. It was news. It was classmates wearing POW and MIA bracelets. It was on TV and in the newspapers almost every day.
Golden age detectives are the perfect characters to provide a continuation of a series. Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot – all have such well established character traits, and yet do not especially develop or change – that they can be taken by another writer and made fresh. Sophie Hannah is obviously familiar with Poirot and obviously loves him, as every reader does, despite his quirks.
Hannah also manages the feat of showing, not telling, Poirot’s cleverness and intelligence as he unravels a tricky case. Like the great queen of crime herself, Hannah’s unraveling is only tricky from a certain angle, from another (Poirot’s) it’s more straightforward. The telling is all in the angles. This is a feat of sheer storytelling power.
Ellen Hart knocks another one out of the park. I continue with my mantra: if you love traditional detective fiction, few writers are doing it better than Ellen Hart at the moment. The air is sucked out of the room by some of the writers of traditional fiction set in England (Ann Cleeves, Deborah Crombie) or Canada (Louise Penny), but make no mistake, Ellen Hart is treading the same ground. She’s just doing it in Minnesota instead of London or Montreal. As much as I love Cleeves, Crombie and Penny, I love Hart every bit as much, and with 27 books in her Jane Lawless series (and counting) there’s plenty to embrace.
This novel will be published on September 8. You can pre-order it here.
Margaret Mizushima must have been a fan of Nancy Drew as a child, as she has the narrative gift familiar to lovers of Carolyn Keene of leaving a little cliff hanger at the end of each chapter (or novel, as the case may be). I love series fiction for many reasons, but a big reason is visiting and checking in with the continuing lives of characters I’ve come to know and love, just as I loved checking in with Nancy, George and Bess when I was a girl.
James R. Benn continues to explore all the nooks and crannies of the mystery genre, keeping things fresh even in book 15 of this long lived and now beloved series. Main series character Billy Boyle started as a beat cop in Boston, learning the “job” from his father and uncles, who get him a (supposedly) soft wartime post with “Uncle Ike”. As any reader of this series knows, Billy becomes an investigator, finding the smaller crimes within the larger confines of WWII. Sometimes the war is front and center but Benn is always a meticulously detailed pure mystery writer, making his books a real pleasure to read.
This book will be published on September 8. You can pre-order it here.
Along with Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson, and Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves is one of the very best writers of traditional detective fiction at work at the moment. With now three strong series to her credit, one of the most delightful features the cranky Vera Stanhope, whose hopelessly messy and unstylish appearance conceals a sharp and perceptive mind. She’s Columbo in the British countryside, just a shade less congenial. This installment finds Vera face to face with the fancier branch of her family, impoverished landholders who can’t keep up the stately family home.
There are all kinds of cozies involving small businesses, but this is the first series I’ve read where the small business in question sells vintage aprons and other types of vintage linens – sheets, dishtowels, etc. As described by Penney, the shop sounds not only mouthwatering but fairly realistic. Iris and her Grammie, who brought her up, run the apron store in Blueberry Cove, Maine (maybe it’s near the more famous Cabot Cove?) and she’s surrounded with a great mix of friends and a great setting.
Every year, for many years now, I’ve set aside a day. If I’m lucky, and there are no distractions, it’s a whole delicious day devoted to Rhys Bowen. This year that day came August 4, when I cracked open the new Lady Georgie mystery, The Last Mrs. Summers, Rhys Bowen’s take on the classic Rebecca.
Georgie is a newlywed with her own house to run – Queenie making scones in the kitchen and starting (hardly any) fires – and life with Darcy to enjoy. Unfortunately, in the first chapter Darcy is off on assignment and when the lonely Georgie goes up to town her friends and even her grandfather are all busy. Dejected, she heads back home, only to run into her buddy Belinda, who has just inherited a place in Cornwall. She and Georgie decide to head to Cornwall to check it out together in quick order.
While Alex Pavesi’s concept in The Eighth Detective isn’t entirely new, it’s still entirely welcome and ingenious. John Dickson Carr, in his novel The Three Coffins (1935), presented a locked room mystery while at the same time breaking away to analyze and discuss the mechanics of detective fiction to his readers. Carr’s hero, Dr. Gideon Fell, takes on the job of explaining the different plot variations. Pavesi has taken it a step further even than the ingenious Carr, however.
Pavesi’s central character in the novel, Grant McCallister, lives a hermit’s life on a remote island. Twenty years ago, he’d written a book called The White Murders, published in the early 1940’s. The book in our hands is a series of short murder mystery stories, interspersed with McCallister’s mathematical analysis of the murder mystery. There are a certain number of required elements and within this structure – and, as mystery readers everywhere already know – there are endless variations.