I really, really love Molly Murphy. For me these books are an inhale – as in, when one is available, I don’t look up from the pages until I am finished reading. Molly came to readers through Ellis Island in 2001 (for Molly, it was 1901), and the books kept appearing until 2017, when I was afraid the series had come to a natural end. Starting her adventures with “The next morning I sailed for America with another woman’s name”, Molly proceeded to shove her way into reader’s hearts as she made her hardscrabble way through New York City, finding work as a lady private detective.
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!)
Poor Lady Georgie. She’s at last married to Darcy, in residence at a lovely estate, and all she wants is to have a happy family Christmas at her new home. A typical wish for any young bride, but Georgie seems to have left her planning late, and her invitations are unfortunately declined as all and sundry seem to have made other plans. Luckily Georgie’s grandfather is able to come, and sadly for Georgie (but happily for the reader) her brother and sister in law, Binky and Fig, also plan to make an appearance.
Every year, for many years now, I’ve set aside a day. If I’m lucky, and there are no distractions, it’s a whole delicious day devoted to Rhys Bowen. This year that day came August 4, when I cracked open the new Lady Georgie mystery, The Last Mrs. Summers, Rhys Bowen’s take on the classic Rebecca.
Georgie is a newlywed with her own house to run – Queenie making scones in the kitchen and starting (hardly any) fires – and life with Darcy to enjoy. Unfortunately, in the first chapter Darcy is off on assignment and when the lonely Georgie goes up to town her friends and even her grandfather are all busy. Dejected, she heads back home, only to run into her buddy Belinda, who has just inherited a place in Cornwall. She and Georgie decide to head to Cornwall to check it out together in quick order.
I couldn’t keep it to 10 this year – can I ever? My taste does tend toward the traditional and historical fiction side of things, so that’s mostly reflected here. And a note: Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land, while not strictly a mystery, can definitely be enjoyed by his mystery loving fans. Quite simply, it’s the best book of 2019 of any variety, and I hope everyone reads it. I am looking to read it again myself.
There was lots to love this year! Some long-awaited returns (S.J. Rozan), some debuts (Melanie Golding, Allison Montclair, Jess Montgomery), some trying a different format or series (Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths), and of course some solid entries in already great series (Benn, Bowen, Jones, Massey, Shaber). Lots of great, passionate, spectacular writing. I love being a mystery reader!
Every time I finish a Lady Georgie book by Rhys Bowen I think to myself, well, there’s no way she can write another book that’s so insanely enjoyable. But every time…she does write one that’s just as positively crazily enjoyable as the one before. She has the gift of narrative in spades, but she also has a light hand with it. Each time, she puts her characters in a fresh situation, and this is book 13 in a series. In the last book (Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding) Georgie and Darcy were married at last. So what comes next? A honeymoon, naturally.
This wonderful essay comes to us from occasional contributor Nancy Shaw.
The wait is over. The recently-released Maisie Dobbs mystery, The American Agent, puts her in the middle of the London Blitz on ambulance runs, bringing her back to the scenes of wartime carnage that molded her life into “psychologist and investigator,” the job she created after nursing in France in World War I. Jacqueline Winspear makes the trauma of war her major subject through her beloved series. Shell shock lingers in the lives of Brits and pops out in a variety of malignant ways, volume after volume.
We are welcoming a new reviewer, Cathy Akers-Jordan, an avid mystery fan, long time Aunt Agatha’s customer and all around lovely human. Her more official bio follows this review.
Towards the end of WWI, 21-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She defies her parents and joins the Women’s Land Army. What follows is a coming-of-age story full of history, romance, and a little mystery with a satisfying twist at the end.
What makes the story fascinating is the focus on how British women adapt to their new roles while the men are at war. Even in the tiny village of Bucksley Cross on the edge of Dartmoor, where Emily ends up, social dynamics are turned upside down. There are no more servants because women are busy doing men’s work: planting, tending, and harvesting crops; caring for livestock; and running all the shops in the village, including the Blacksmith’s forge. Women from all classes of life work together side by side, freeing themselves from their corsets and social classes, in order to feed Britain.
Duck the Halls, Donna Andrews (2013). Skunks loose in the choir loft a few days before Christmas, a missing boa constrictor – do I need to say more? Donna Andrews at her witty best, which is saying a LOT.
The 12 Clues of Christmas, Rhys Bowen (2012). The body count is high as Lady Georgie hosts a holiday party in tiny Tiddleton-under-Lovey. While Bowen herself denies any resemblance to And Then There Were None, there are really far fewer people in Tiddleton by the end of the book than there were at the beginning – and the deaths are so creative! Delightfully, Bowen includes a guide of English Christmas traditions at the end.