2020 has been – challenging – but the upside for me was even more reading time, and I read so many books this year it was difficult to winnow my list to 10, so I added a couple extra categories. There should be something for most readers on this list – maybe not the lover of hard boiled fiction – but I’m pretty sure that’s not why you are visiting this website. I’m sure there were some wonderful noir and hard boiled reads this year – they just aren’t my cup of tea. However, if you are a lover of the traditional detective novel, or of the historical detective novel, this was a fantastic year.
A Lady Compromised is the fourth book in the Regency mystery series by Darcie Wilde (a pseudonym for Sarah Zettel) featuring Rosalind Thorne, a gentlewoman living in reduced circumstances after a family scandal. To make a living for herself, Rosalind helps society ladies solve their problems, which, in this book and the others in the series, include murder investigation. At the beginning of this book, Rosalind travels to Cassell House, the country estate of Devon Winterbourne, who has recently, and unexpectedly, inherited the title of Duke of Casselmaine following the untimely deaths of his father and older brother. Rosalind and Devon had been close to becoming engaged before Rosalind’s father’s disgrace, at a time when Devon was a second son, with no prospects of inheriting the dukedom. Now his cousin, Rosalind’s friend Louisa, is getting married, and Rosalind is looking forward to attending the wedding and possibly rekindling her romance with Devon.
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.
I couldn’t keep it to 10 this year – can I ever? My taste does tend toward the traditional and historical fiction side of things, so that’s mostly reflected here. And a note: Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land, while not strictly a mystery, can definitely be enjoyed by his mystery loving fans. Quite simply, it’s the best book of 2019 of any variety, and I hope everyone reads it. I am looking to read it again myself.
There was lots to love this year! Some long-awaited returns (S.J. Rozan), some debuts (Melanie Golding, Allison Montclair, Jess Montgomery), some trying a different format or series (Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths), and of course some solid entries in already great series (Benn, Bowen, Jones, Massey, Shaber). Lots of great, passionate, spectacular writing. I love being a mystery reader!
Jane Langton died last month, just short of her 96th birthday. Through 18 mysteries, her characters Homer and Mary Kelly studied transcendentalism while solving crimes. Langton wrote about the power of nature, art, and kindness. Her protagonists were often besotted with the natural world, or with art, while her villains and comically-awful annoyers were out of harmony with those worlds.
Though Langton hid clues and unveiled solutions, as the genre requires, her voice and presentations were utterly distinctive. She stitched plots together with quirky observations. A World War II-era University of Michigan alumna who studied astronomy and art history, Langton had prodigious powers of invention and spun plot complications from nuggets such as soil chemistry, the water table under a Boston church, and a flooded town under a reservoir. Her line drawings of the settings accompany most of the series, and the settings are integral to the stories.
Jess Montgomery’s debut is our selection for our January book of the month. Set in 1920’s Ohio, it’s set in a tiny mining community and loosely based on the lives of the first female sheriff and Mother Jones. Highlighting the harsh existence of the miners – mostly focused on women – the twining narrative follows the sherrif as she investigates the shooting death of her husband. Unforgettable. Purchase a copy on our store page, and check back each month for a highlighted title. Ms. Montgomery will join our book club on February 21. Contact us for details.
Get your Christmas read on by browsing through our selection of very gently used titles, assorted hardcovers, trade paperbacks and mass markets, This is the time of year to cozy up in front of the fire with a holiday book in hand. Just click on the online store tab and go to the store page. Happy reading!
This is one of the best selling books through our years as an open store. A true account of the murders that took place in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor between 1967-69, and the story of how the killer was caught. This is a used copy with spine creases and a stain on the bottom edge, but still perfectly readable. $5.50.
The third in Candace Robb’s Kate Clifford series, set in 1400 York, finds much has changed in Kate’s world. Kate, a widow who had been shackled by her late husband’s debts, has at last paid them off. She’s a happy mother to her wards – two of them her late husband’s illegitimate children – but she loves all three of her children, one of them saved from the streets of York, equally. Her household is a bustling and happy one.
As the book opens, a friend appears of her doorstep in a snowstorm, requesting shelter. Kate unthinkingly takes her in and only on reflection realizes the danger of taking in a woman who may be regarded at the worst as a traitor, at the least as a fugitive and corpse thief. The woman, Lady Kirkby, has witnessed the beheading of her husband during an uprising in nearby Cirencester.