An Appreciation of Jane Langton by Nancy Shaw

Jane Langton

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. read more

Start at the very beginning

An overview of First in Series books: find them for sale in our online store.

We’re offering these first in series titles for a couple reasons – one, some are hard to find and mystery readers like to read a series in order!  And secondly, while many of you may be familiar with these series, you may have only read the later books.  These are all incredible starts to great characters and stories.  Reading through all of them will give you a great overview of contemporary mystery fiction, in all its many threads – private eye, police, cozy, British procedural, historical.  Setting has proven to be key for the modern mystery as has a broader array of character types, ranging from Tony Hillerman’s iconic Joe Leaphorn to James Lee Burke’s P.I. Dave Robichaux to Laura Lippman’s kick-ass Tess Monaghan to Dorthy Gilman’s sweet old lady CIA agent Mrs. Pollifax.  If you had walked in to our store, we would have recommended these titles to you depending on your interest.  One of our all time bestsellers was Deborah Crombie’s spectacular debut, A Share in Death.  We hope you’ll dig in!  Here’s a list, and you can find them for sale on the online store page. read more

Carol Potenza: Hearts of the Missing

This book is the winner of the Tony Hillerman prize and thus has some serious shoes to fill, and it fills them fairly well. Set on the Pueblo, Potenza has created a fictional but believable tribe, the Fire-Sky tribe. She then gives each of her four major characters varying degrees of connection to the tribe. At the center of the story is Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a Pueblo police officer, not native herself.

Her best friend, Savannah Analia, the public safety director’s assistant, is full blood. Then there’s Ryan, who makes jewelery and who grew up with Savannah, but isn’t native. He does however have extensive knowledge and respect for native traditions. And then there’s conservation agent, outsider Frank, who is the uneven piece of this four person puzzle. read more

Clea Simon: A Spell of Murder

Clea Simon’s cozies have a bit of extra edge and sparkle to them, and have ranged from a pet psychic to a rescue cat narrator in a long career spanning several series. In this latest outing, the cats are again front and center, and this time they are witch cats. They’ve confused their owner, Becca, who is a fledgling member of a coven – one of them made a pillow appear out of thin air and Becca thinks she’s done it herself, as does the rest of her coven.

The cats are a little disgusted by this but the three of them – adopted by Becca – have a mission to protect and care for her and their powers are many and varied. They range from the very real cat talent of comforting their owners to the talents of making things appear, controlling thoughts, and walking through walls, the better to track Becca undetected. read more

Paula Munier: A Borrowing of Bones

This first novel can almost be slotted into a new subgenre – “dog lit.”  It joins excellent books by Margaret Mizushima and Robert Crais in featuring working dogs (this one ex-military) who have a damaged human partner. (There’s another one in the works from well known dog lover Owen Laukkanen.)  Like Mizushima’s novels, this one has a wonderful feel for setting, in this case, the Vermont woods.

The main character, Mercy Carr, is back from Afghanistan with her partner’s dog, Elvis.  Both are mourning the loss of Mercy’s partner, Martinez, and woman and dog are walking the woods together, trying to move past PTSD and become more of a unit.  As the book opens they are out in the woods and Elvis finds a baby in a carrier with no mother in sight. read more

Catriona McPherson: Scot Free

Scot FreeThis light, funny, delightful novel from Catriona McPherson introduces readers to native Scot Lexy Campbell. She’d fallen for a hunky American and ended up moving to California where they married and lived in what she describes as a “beige barn,” the type of house familiar to many Americans as a McMansion. Objections to her husband’s lifestyle choices aside, he’s also a cheater, and Lexy walks out on him on the 4th of July, moving in to the Last Ditch Motel. She’s sure this is temporary. read more

Denise Swanson: Tart of Darkness

Tart of DarknessDenise Swanson is a wonderful storyteller and one of the things she’s exceptionally good at is creating a “mean girl” character. Herself a high school social worker for many years, I’m sure Ms. Swanson knows the type, but in this outing, the first in a new series, she creates a doozy.

The set-up: central character Dani Sloan has left her HR job and has unexpectedly inherited a Victorian mansion. The mansion has not been totally rehabbed but it does contain a new chef’s kitchen, and Dani, in the middle of reinventing herself as a personal chef and caterer, takes it as a sign that she’s on the right path. When one of her former neighbors, college student Ivy, gets kicked out of her former apartment building, Dani takes Ivy and her friends in as boarders. A perfect setting for a new series. read more

E.J. Copperman: Dog Dish of Doom

E.J. Copperman – I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – is one of the best cozy writers working at the moment. This is the introduction of yet another series from this talented writer, this one about an “Agent to the Paws,” i.e. a showbiz agent who works with animals. Kay Powell lives in New Jersey, sometimes with her aging vaudevillian parents (who are, happily for this reader, en residence in this novel). As the book opens she’s trying to snare a gig for agreeable shaggy dog Bruno to play Sandy in an Annie revival on Broadway. She thinks the audition might be a disaster, thanks to loud remarks made by Bruno’s owner about the ineptness of the director casting the part. read more

Tracy Kiely: The Nic & Nigel Books

Murder with a Twist; Killer Cocktail; and A Perfect Manhattan Murder.

Guest reviewer Angel Connors is a teacher in Grass Lake, a book club member, Nancy Drew lover, and avid mystery reader and lover of old movies.

“Only lanky redheads with wicked jaws,” quips Nigel Martini to his bemused wife, Nic. If one wants a delightful summer read and has a fondness for old movies, look no further than Tracy Kiely’s charming homage to The Thin Man. To be honest, Kiely’s books owe more to the screenplays of the classic movie series than Dashiell Hammett’s iconic crime novel that introduces us to Nick and Nora Charles. Instead of a beautiful heiress meeting and falling for a sexy and wisecracking private eye, Kiely presents an attractive NYPD detective at physical rehab falling for a charming albeit quirky wealthy playboy. read more

E.J. Copperman: Written Off

E.J. Copperman, Jeffrey Cohen’s alter ego, has written, as either Copperman or Cohen (or both) now five series (with a sixth to debut in August of this year), all of them well crafted and enjoyable, and two of them, his Asperger’s detective series and this one, ranking among the very best cozy series ever, in this humble reviewer’s opinion. For me the apex of cozy begins with Charlotte MacLeod, spreads quickly to Sharyn McCrumb’s peerless Elizabeth McPherson series, and trickles down to include writers like Dorothy Cannell and Donna Andrews and continues onward from there. There are many contemporary cozy series I both admire and enjoy, but Cohen/Copperman is top of the pile. read more