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

Susan Hill: The Various Haunts of Men

First in a series novel. 

There are some mystery novels that are as much novels as they are mysteries. Admirers of authors like Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell and P.D. James who favor complex plots, multiple characters and a subtle, slow accumulation of suspense found another skilled writer to savor when Susan Hill published her first Simon Serrailler mystery, The Various Haunts of Men, in 2004.

Branding the book as a “Simon Serrailler mystery” is a bit disingenuous, as Chief Inspector Serrailler is not the central focus, but a rather distant presence, reflecting the elusive nature of his character, particularly to DS Freya Graffam, a newcomer to the small English town of Lafferton, and the central agent of law enforcement in the narrative. Like the traditional English novel there are many other fully realized characters including the killer, his multiple victims, tangentially involved townsfolk and the town itself. read more

Ragnor Jonasson: Rupture

While this series started to come out in Jonasson’s native Iceland in 2015, the books have only now started to make their way stateside, via the UK.  Rupture, which Jonasson wrote in 2016, will be published here in January, is the third in his “Dark Iceland” series which began with the sensational Snowblind. Let me tell you, whatever publishing path this author took to get here is definitely worth the wait, as he is a phenomenal writer.

While I would classify this series as a “traditional detective” series, mostly because of the plot structure, it also has the feel of a contemporary noir.  Jonasson embraces both of these strong  threads in mysteries equally, and with equal aplomb.  His main character is Ari Thor, who began the series as a new detective in tiny Siglufjorour. read more

Emily Littlejohn: Lost Lake

Three books into her series about Detective Gemma Monroe, I am already so smitten that this series belongs alongside favorite series of mine by Sarah Stewart Taylor, Elly Griffiths, Ellen Hart and Julia Spencer-Fleming.  All of these writers – including Littlejohn – create a rich setting, and populate their unique settings or occupations with even richer characters and stories.  All of them feature extremely strong women as their core characters.

Gemma lives in a smallish Colorado Mountain town – but still big enough to have some skiing and some cultural life – and her life is complicated.  Like a real person’s life is complicated.  She has beloved grandparents who raised her, but her grandmother suffers from dementia; she has a baby she loves and is engaged to the baby’s father, but she’s conflicted about him because of a past affair; and her relationship with her partner, Finn, can be prickly. Oh, and the police department is dealing with a leaker. read more

Lynne Truss: A Shot in the Dark

While I was hesitant to pick up this novel – Truss is best known for her grammar book Eats, Shoots and Leaves – I was smitten by her introduction where she confessed her goal of becoming a member of the Detection Club.  After reading that, I was all in, and the book took me the rest of the way on its own.  This is the kind of funny, dry, intelligent humor the Brits do so well, and the set up is delicious.

The novel is set in Brighton in 1957, and makes frequent reference to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, a classic novel about gangs.  Truss’s Brighton, while also beset by gangs, is a slightly less ominous place.  The story opens as Inspector Steine is greeted by a new and enthusiastic recruit, Constable Twitten.  Steine is pretty oblivious and only interested in resting on his past laurels – where two rival gangs took themselves out under his watch – he now insists, Stalin-like, that there is no more crime in Brighton. read more

Stephanie Gayle: Idyll Hands

The third in a series about small town police chief Thomas Lynch, Gayle’s novel manages to be both charming and a straight up police procedural.  It’s set apart a bit from the norm (and I haven’t read the other two in the series, Idyll Threats and Idyll Fears), so I don’t know if the same parameters apply in the other two novels, but the narrators switch back and forth between chapters.

While the central character, as proclaimed on the cover, is Chief Tom Lynch, the other central character, a far as this novel goes, is Detective Michael Finnegan.  The story involves a cold case involving a human bone found in the woods 20 plus years ago; the case and the bone are affectionately known as “Colleen” and a local ghost story has sprung up around her.  When the rest of her bones are discovered early on, the detectives begin their hunt for the real Colleen. read more

Louise Penny: Kingdom of the Blind

All good writers have themes they like to re-explore and think through in many of their books. In Kingdom of the Blind Louise Penny returns to a theme that has long been of interest to her, that of the unreliability of mere appearances. The pleasant facade masking rot within. As she focuses thematically on the yin and yang of her characters and thoughts – at one point, Gamache thinks to himself “that conversation had gone both well and badly. Was comforting and nauseating. Successful and humiliating”, she forces the reader to examine his or her own preconceptions. read more

Emily Littlejohn: A Season to Lie

I read many, many, mysteries, in the neighborhood of two a week, enjoying many of them and loving fewer. When I pick up a novel like this one by Emily Littlejohn, I am forcibly and joyfully reminded of the reasons I love this genre so much. This is simply a wonderful mystery, and even better, it reminded me of another series by another favorite writer of mine, Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Littlejohn’s novel is set in a little Colorado town—one that’s on the “B” ski resort list (unlike the “A” list Vail or Aspen), and happy with that status. The setting, as in Spencer-Fleming’s novels set in upstate New York, is practically a character, as Detective Gemma Monroe drives along the treacherous mountain roads, hemmed in by trees and snow. read more

Carrie Smith: Unholy City

With her clear prose and careful gaze, Carrie Smith has quickly become one of my favorite authors. British or American, I love a police procedural, and some of my favorite authors of all time include Lillian O’Donnell, Leslie Glass, Barbara D’Amato, Lynn Hightower and Lee Martin, all authors of the American police procedural. These writers feature a female cop as the central protagonist and from O’Donnell on forward, all have encountered, in their different ways, varieties of sexism and discrimination. Unfortunately, the history line beginning with O’Donnell’s The Phone Calls in 1972 to Carrie Smith’s 2017 Unholy City hasn’t changed all that radically. read more