Vicki Delany: Elementary, She Read

This is a charming book, and Vicki Delany is a total pro at telling a story. Brisk, entertaining, and memorable – the whole package. As far as cozies go, she’s top of the line. The set-up is great. Main character Gemma Doyle lives on Cape Cod and owns a Sherlock Holmes themed bookshop and teashop along with her uncle, who is the real Holmes buff but more of a silent partner as he’s off on collecting trips. I’ve read books about bookstores before that I found pretty unrealistic, but Cape Cod is a tourist area and because Gemma’s shop sells more than books, I could believe that she was briskly selling lots of decks of Sherlock playing cards, figurines and other tchotchkes. read more

Con Lehane: Murder at the 42nd Street Library

Murder at the 42nd Street LibraryThis is a noir novel coiled inside the confines of a cozy one, as Lehane explicates layers of family ties and splits. He opens the book with a gruesome shooting inside the actual library. Libraries are one of the last remaining sacred spaces in American culture, and it was with a real sense of outrage that I read this passage. Of course, my eagerness to discover whodunnit was all the greater, which is the mark of a clever writer.

Lehane’s main character, Ray Ambler, works at the enormous New York library as the curator of the crime fiction collection. The man who was killed, James Donnelly, was a writer, stopping by the library to talk to Harry, the director of special collections. read more

Libby Fischer Hellmann: Jump Cut

JumpCutThis book marks the welcome return of Hellman’s original series character, filmmaker Ellie Foreman. While it’s been a good long while since Ellie’s debut, there haven’t been enough books about her as the prolific Hellman has chosen to explore other characters and other times and places along with writing about her signature character. I was more than glad to rejoin Ellie in suburban Chicago, as she’s hard at work on a project for a company that makes all kinds of aircraft. They are trying to appeal to the wider public and Ellie’s videos, meant to be posted on social media, are supposed to be a kind of a friendly gateway for their customers. read more

Loren D. Estleman: Shoot

ShootWhen you think about Loren D. Estleman, you probably associate him with the Amos Walker novels. He is, after all, the premier living exponent of the traditional P.I. novel in all its hardboiled glory. But more than that, he’s simply a very, very good writer, and like one of the progenitors of the genre, Dashiell Hammett, who wrote both The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, Loren is quite capable of distinct variations in tone.

It would be a little facile to say that Estleman’s Valentino series is his take on the “cozy” novel, but in the beginning of the fourth installment, Shoot, Valentino is looking at rug samples. Similarly, the alcohol and violence levels are low, the sunshine and frivolity are high, and the one night stands with endangered Femme Fatales are replaced by long term committed relationships and wedding planning. Valentino even has a smart phone. The detectives are alike in some ways, though, because as Walker is often a seeker after missing persons, film detective Valentino goes down the mean boulevards of Los Angeles in search of the movies of the past that are considered lost and gone forever. And I’m sure it will surprise no one that the sharks of Hollywood are just as rapacious and morally compromised as those of Detroit. read more

Ellen Hart: The Grave Soul

TheGraveSoulEllen Hart is simply one of the very best traditional mystery writers in the business, and if you like a well crafted, thoughtful, traditional mystery and you don’t read Ellen Hart’s Jane Lawless series, you are really missing a bet. Jane, a Minneapolis restauranteur who also holds a P.I. license, is always the calm center of the storm. Except when she’s not.

One of Hart’s gifts is to slightly change things up with each book (and as this is her 23rd Jane Lawless outing, I imagine that’s not such an easy task) and in this one the opening sequence is nothing short of spectacular. We are introduced to a woman who has been beaten, finds brief sanctuary, and is thrust back into the snow. We’re given a Wisconsin setting, so we know it’s cold. read more

Julie Hyzy: All the President’s Menus

presidents-menusIt’s no secret that I’m a giant Julie Hyzy fan, whose White House Chef series just about reads like an episode of “The West Wing” only set in the kitchen. In the last book, to sort some personal stuff out, Chef Ollie Paras has to – gasp – leave the kitchen. Well, I understand. She had a lot on her plate and (spoiler if you haven’t yet read Home of the Braised) she got married to her Secret Service sweetie, Gav.

OK. She’s married, Gav is on medical leave, but she’s – yay – back in the kitchen. There’s a gentle jab from Hyzy aimed at the government sequester (it’s forced Ollie’s prized assistant, Cyan, on leave) and the lack of activity as state dinners have pretty much shut down. Ollie is just wishin’ and hopin’ for a little more of a lively time when word comes down that there will be a team of visiting chefs from the country of Saardisca, and they’ll be working with Ollie’s team to create a dinner for a Saardiscan Presidential candidate, to be held across the street at Blair House. read more

Eva Gates: By Book or By Crook

ByBookorByCrookBerkley reliably cranks out an entire line of cozies, hitting many specialized areas of interest for readers. This one hits several of the cozy tropes – there’s a lighthouse, a library in the lighthouse, a cat, a young heroine, two suitors, and for an extra fillip, Jane Austen. All familiar tropes and yet, Gates brings something a little more kick ass to the cozy table. A little extra verve, and a brisk, hard to put down way of telling a story that will have you flipping pages.

Gates is the pen name of Canadian Vicki Delany, who has a long series featuring Constable Molly Smith, several books set in the Klondike, as well as several stand alones. She’s a real pro and it shows in her narrative chops. She knows how to pace and she knows how to end each chapter making you want to read on to the next one (I finished this is a day and a half, a real inhale of a read). read more

E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen: The Question of the Missing Head

missingheadThis absolutely charming, totally enjoyable book is one of the reads of the year from E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen, a writer with a long and solid history in the cozy mystery genre. His earliest books featured a parent with an Asperger’s child; in this one he’s streamlined his concept and given the main character Asperger’s, something that enhances his skills as a detective. Cohen, the real life parent of an Asperger’s child, illuminates the condition for the reader in the best possible way: by showing, not telling. read more

Jane Haddam: Fighting Chance

Fighting ChanceWhile much of the attention in publishing is focused on dazzling, huge best sellers, it’s the old reliables, steadily publishing year after year, who keep the engine of publishing moving along.  Jane Haddam can now boast 28 novels in her long running Gregor Demarkian series.  While there are some series entries I disliked it would almost be more surprising if there weren’t.  When Jane Haddam is “on,” she’s one of the best, and this turned out to be a favorite of mine in her long series. read more

Denise Swanson: Murder of a Needled Knitter

Murder of a needled KnitterDenise Swanson, 17 books into her Scumble River series featuring school psychologist Skye Denison, has at last married Skye off to her sweetheart, Wally, and sent them off on their honeymoon aboard a cruise ship.  Guess who else turns out to be aboard?  Skye’s best pal, Trixie, on a cruise with her own husband, and her parents.  

Swanson pretty much could have left her plot at that:  your parents on your honeymoon?  Anyone’s nightmare.  But she’s never been a lazy writer and she’s not about to start now, as she also arranges for there to be a group of knitters on board (hence Skye’s mother, May), complete with an obnoxious group leader, hated by all.  It’s not long before the much hated Guinevere is a goner and the entire knitting group including especially Skye’s mother, who had public words with her, are suspects. read more