Ellen Hart: Twisted at the Root

The 26th novel in the Jane Lawless series is as good, as crisp, as memorable, as the first in the series. Jane, the calm center of every storm in her life, agrees to investigate a closed case (the alleged perpetrator is in prison) when her father, lawyer Raymond Lawless, asks. The case involves the murder of one partner by another – the partner was an obvious choice as the killer and was duly convicted. But.

Everyone Jane talks to – including her old friend, the flamboyant Cordelia – affirms the man’s goodness, and their disbelief that he could harm anyone. Many threads swirl around the case, which at first looked like a suicide. Ellen Hart, in her masterly way, uses these many threads to paint her complex portrait of a crime. read more

The Cozy: a Purely American Art Form

In 1962, a woman named Phyllis James sat down and wrote Cover Her Face, the first Adam Dalgleish mystery.  Two years later, in 1964, Ruth Rendell wrote her first Reg Wexford mystery, From Doon with Death.  These two women pulled the golden age format created by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers into the present, and as they wrote, they deepened the form psychologically, writing darker, more intense and longer books as their careers progressed.  They were the godmothers of what I think of as the contemporary noir police novel, and writers like Jill McGowan, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George and many others have carried it forward. read more

Annelise Ryan: Needled to Death

This book has a cozy look, but I wouldn’t say it’s a cozy. It’s kind of a half cozy, but if you shop by cover art, the cute dog isn’t going to quite give you the picture of what’s inside. I’m a fan of Ryan’s Mattie Winston series because of the complex characters and situations, and this book, the first in a “new” series, actually features a character introduced in the last Mattie Winston book, Hildy Schneider.

Hildy is a hospital social worker who leads a grief group. As the book opens, the group is meeting, and a new member to the group has lost her son to addiction, a sadly unremarkable story. What’s different is that the woman insists her son wasn’t involved with drugs and that he was murdered. The cops are skeptical and have closed the case – the young man was found with a needle hanging out of his arm, and after all, does a parent always know what their child is up to? read more

Terry Shames: A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary

This is the first Samuel Craddock mystery I’ve read, largely on the advice of other readers I met at Left Coast Crime this year.  As when I had a bookstore, the best recommendations often come from fellow readers, and I decided to give this one a try.  I was intrigued when I sat next to Terry at a panel and she told me this was a police series, by far one of my favorite sub genres.  This is a softer police story than say, one by Michael Connelly, but it’s still a police novel and a very good one. read more

Kylie Logan: The Scent of Murder

Kylie Logan, author of numerous cozies in paperback original form, has hit the big time via a Minotaur hardcover with her latest book, The Scent of Murder.  Jazz is a school administrator who also works with cadaver dogs.  As the book opens, she’s taking her dog through his paces in an abandoned building, hoping he’ll find the tooth she hid on another floor.

As she steps back to let the dog work, the dog alerts in the “wrong” place – or is it?  When Jazz investigates, she find, so her horror, the body of a young woman, and worse, she’s a former student at the high school where Jazz works.  While Jazz had known her as a studious and creative young woman, the corpse is full goth – white makeup, black eyeshadow, black clothes, tats, piercings.  She’s puzzled about how this has happened in the few short years since the girl graduated from high school. read more

Cozy Queens: Denise Swanson & Heather Blake

The second in a new series from the talented Denise Swanson, and a wrap up to a favorite series by Heather Blake, by our reviewer Cathy Akers-Jordan.

Leave no Scone Unturned, Denise Swanson.

Former corporate executive Danielle (Dani) Sloan helps solves murders, when she’s not busy running her catering business, that is. Set in the college town of Normalton, IL, Dani is busy selling lunches to students and catering private dinners as a personal chef. She can’t help it that she keeps getting involved in murder cases or the fact the she’s attracted to the campus head of security, Spencer Drake. read more

Terry Shames: A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary

Terry Shames A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary is our book club selection for May.  We’ll meet Thursday, May 30, 6 p.m. at the Classic Cup Cafe.

This book is the eighth in a series featuring small town police chief Samuel Craddock, where he follows up on the case of an online dating meet up gone very wrong.   All are welcome to join the discussion!  This book can be purchased at a discount on our online store page.

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