I had a really, really hard time keeping this to 10 books – hence my lengthy honorable mention list this year. This is the first year this list is all women! That was my goal when I closed the store – to cover new series and books by women and it looks like that’s what’s happening organically. These are the books that stuck with me all year, books that when I read them, I was entranced and transported. They appeared in different ways. Mariah Fredericks pressed an early advance copy of The Lindbergh Nanny into my eager hands at Malice Domestic last spring – it was a book I was very excited to read and I was not disappointed. I saw the cover of Blackwater Falls and it called to me – again, I was not disappointed. I was interested to see Deanna Raybourn doing something so different – again, no disappointment. It’s such a fun journey of discovery. Some on this list are veterans turning in great books, some are new series or standalones – all have that great, memorable sparkle. What a wonderful year to be a reader. I did include one reference book this year, one so exceptional it would be criminal not to give it a shout out.
Our two regular reviewers, Cathy Akers-Jordan and Vicki Kondelik, have shared their top 10 lists with us, and the book club chimes in on their favorite reads of the year as well. Lots of good reading here!
Daughter of the Morning Star, Craig Johnson. The new Longmire book is always the highlight of my mystery-reading year. The rez isn’t part of Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, but when Tribal Police Chief Lolo Long recruits Walt and Henry to protect her niece, we learn the shocking statistics on the abuse and murder of Indian Women. Walt deals with a teenage basketball star while trying his best to keep her alive.
After we closed the store and my reading was slightly less proscribed by authors visiting or the latest new thing, I realized that one of the genres I truly love is historical mysteries. The range is so wide – in story telling style, in time period, in characters, and the armchair history lessons always, always add to my reading enjoyment. The fact that the books are set in the past makes the detective rely much more on old fashioned, golden age style sleuthing methods, another attraction, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to Mystery Scene Magazine as well as my own reading, I find I read pretty widely in this subgenre. Here are my 10 favorites this year. One of them I liked so much it’s on my all around top 10 list (stay tuned!)
I love this vibrant, lively, insanely readable series, a series that takes unexpected turns with its characters but still hews to the traditional norms of historical mystery fiction. The first book in the series, A Death of No Importance, was a fabulous origin story, where ladies’ maid Jane Prescott takes on the nouveau riche Benchley family in the first decade of the twentieth century. The books are set in New York City and the Benchley girls are viewed as rich upstarts, and Jane’s special charge, Louise, is shy and gauche and seems to fit in nowhere.
Death, Diamonds, and Deception is the fifth book in Rosemary Simpson’s Gilded Age mystery series set in New York City in the 1880s. It’s the first I’ve read, but I enjoyed it so much that I will definitely look for the others. The two protagonists are heiress Prudence MacKenzie and ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, who are partners in a detective agency. Prudence is the daughter of a wealthy judge, a prominent man in New York, who died about two years before this book begins. She is part of the city’s elite, the world of the Astors and Vanderbilts, even though she defies the standards of that society by becoming a detective. Geoffrey is a Southerner who came to New York around the time of the Civil War because he was anti-slavery. He is quite a bit older than she is. Prudence is around twenty, and, although Geoffrey’s age is not specified, it seems that he was already an adult at the time of the Civil War, so he must be in his early forties at least.
I remember when Rhys Bowen started writing her Molly Murphy series. I inhaled them the second they were published. I loved (and still do) the mix of the feisty Molly, her journey of discovery as a new immigrant, the clever mysteries, and the turn of the century settings. Rhys Bowen has the gift of narrative. I am so happy to tell you – because I want to make you a fellow fan – that Mariah Fredericks has that very same gift.
I have so far inhaled all three of her books featuring ladies’ maid Jane Prescott, who works for the wealthy Mrs. Louise Tyler around the 1910’s. She has a way with a story, and a way of getting you to care about and be invested in her characters. In this novel Jane is on “vacation”, so she goes home. Home for Jane is a refuge for fallen women, run by her uncle, a Presbyterian pastor. He takes women who come from the streets and gives them a place to live, something to eat, and a little hope for the future and a different way of earning a living.
I was knocked out by Mariah Frederick’s first novel, A Death of No Importance, and wasn’t sure how her book about a maid in a wealthy American household slightly after the turn of the century could be translated into a series, but it seems it surely can be. Jane Prescott, a woman of her time in some ways, is grieving over the recent loss of the Titanic like everyone else, but unlike everyone else, she’s shepherding her charge, Miss Louise Benchley, through the trials and tribulations of a giant society wedding.
Mariah Fredericks wrote one of my favorite books of 2018, A Death of No Importance, featuring Jane Prescott, maid to the wealthy Benchley family in 1910 New York. The next book in the series, Death of a New American, will be published in April of 2019. and it’s every bit as terrific, vital, and hard to put down. Mariah was nice enough to answer a few questions about her books.
Q: I like that you include the Titanic but it’s just almost background. Did you feel that as you were writing a novel set in 1912, it had to be a part of the canvas? How did you approach it?
Black and White Ball, Loren D. Estleman, Deep into a now 80 book and counting career, and 27 in to his iconic Amos Walker series, what is Loren Estleman going to come up with that might be new? You might be surprised. In this novel Walker crosses paths with one of Estleman’s other characters, Peter Macklin, who hires Walker to look after his ex-wife. The meet up of these two classic characters delivers true energy and snap to this tight, well written novel. Paced perfectly, set in a gritty yet realistic Detroit, and sporting the truly lovely prose and incredible dialogue that are an Estleman trademark, this is a great addition to a classic series by the greatest private eye writer at work at the moment.