Cozies reconsidered Years ago, as the mystery genre expanded and diversified, one of its subgenres was named “cozies.” I prefer “traditional,” as many of these books are direct descendents of the mystery Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s when authors such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Josephine Tey were establishing the category’s tropes. Today the traditional mystery is loosely defined as a plot with no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence, usually featuring an amateur detective, a confined setting, and characters who know one another.
This month’s traditional offerings include Judith Cutler’s contemporary Death in Elysium, which introduces a computer expert–turned–vicar’s wife and amateur sleuth. And Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot returns to solve another brain-twisting puzzle in Sophie Hannah’s The Monogram Murders, a loving salute to the golden age of conventional crime fiction.
In the Series Lineup, old favorite sleuths make return appearances, including Lucy Stone, Stanley Hastings, Father John O’Malley, and Vicki Holden. Several other series are entering their adolescence with entries from Susan Wittig Albert, Sally Spencer, and Clea Simon. And still others are just hitting their stride: Anne Rutherford, John Salzberg, and Kate Flora.
Finally, for something completely different, Orca Books’s “Rapid Reads” series (see reviews below) are aimed at reluctant adult readers, but teens will also enjoy these short, fast-paced novels by noted authors.
Debut of the Month
Koenig, Minerva. Nine Days. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250051943. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466852662. M
Julia Kalas (not her real name) is a criminal who laundered money through her construction company and then watched her husband get gunned down by the Aryan Brotherhood. Now in the witness protection program, she has been placed in the tiny town of Azula, TX. While working for bar owner Hector Guerra, Julia is intrigued by the Victorian architecture around the town square and itches to begin restoration. But when she starts to look closely into the titles on the buildings, she uncovers an intriguing mystery; most of the structures are owned by a shell company. Town councilman Richard Hallstadt is trying to get a federal grant to renovate the buildings; he also is married to—and divorcing—the town’s police chief, Teresa. When Teresa’s body is found on the roof of Hector’s bar, everyone goes on high alert. And when Julia is kicked out of the witness protection program, she decides she really doesn’t need to follow the rules anymore. VERDICT Small-town Texas is vividly brought to life in this atmospheric and entertaining debut that also introduces a memorable and unusual protagonist. It’s bound to delight fans of Tricia Fields, Lori G. Armstrong, or James Lee Burke’s “Hackberry Holland” books. [Library marketing.]
Hannah, Sophie. The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery. Morrow. Sept. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780062297211. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062297235. M
Hercule Poirot requires a rest for his “little grey cells” and anonymously rents a comfortable room not too far from his well-known address. The Belgian detective settles into his vacance with a new Thursday night routine—a light meal and two cups of Pleasant’s Coffee House superb namesake. On one such evening, Poirot’s rituals are disturbed by a terrified young woman entering the café as if all of hell is behind her. Thus begins a search for a macabre triple murderer who lines up the dead and places monogrammed cuff links between their lips. Edward Catchpool, Poirot’s fellow boarder as well as a Scotland Yard policeman, begrudgingly allows the detective to lead the case. VERDICT Almost 40 years after Agatha Christie’s final Hercule Poirot mystery, Hannah (The Orphan Choir), with the authorization of the Christie estate, has re-created the sleuth’s voice and character as true to the original as anyone could. The egotistical little Belgian, interested in his “order and methods” and employing the “little grey cells” is back. Edward Catchpool is no replacement for the well-intended and captivating Capt. Arthur Hastings, yet fans of all formats of Agatha Christie and Poirot (the BBC TV series as well as original books, plays, etc) will delight in this new foray into the Christie canon. [See Prepub Alert, 3/3/14; see also Hannah’s essay LJ 9/1/14, p. 78.]
Higashino, Keigo. Malice. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2014. 288p. tr. from Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Elye Alexander. ISBN 9781250035608. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250035615. M
In this new offering from the best-selling author of The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint, Det. Kyochiro Kaga steps to center stage to solve a strange and baffling case. When an acclaimed novelist is viciously murdered in his home the night before he moves to Vancouver with his wife, Kaga is brought in to investigate. Arriving at the crime scene, he recognizes the writer’s best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi, who discovered the body. Kaga had known Nonoguchi when they worked as teachers in the same public school. As the detective unravels the relationship between an acclaimed author and his old school friend, it is clear that the link between the two men is based on shifting stories, different motives, and threads of interconnection that travel back into the past. VERDICT This smart and original mystery is a true page-turner that carries the reader through theories and relationships that will baffle, surprise, and draw out suspicion until the final few pages. With each book, Higashino continues to elevate the modern mystery as an intense and inventive literary form. [Library marketing.]
May, Peter. The Lewis Man. Quercus. Sept. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781623658199. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781623658205. M
The well-preserved body of a young man, found in a peat bog on Lewis Island in the Scottish Hebrides, doesn’t need carbon dating when a tattoo of Elvis Presley is found on his arm. But identifying the victim, who is found to have been murdered, is complicated when DNA reveals he was related to Tormod Macdonald, a man in his 70s who is suffering rapidly from worsening dementia. Newly retired Edinburgh police detective Fin Macleod, just returned to his native Lewis, becomes caught up in the case because Macdonald’s now-widowed daughter, Marsaili, was his first love. As Macdonald’s first-person narrative of his difficult youth parallels the contemporary investigation, events lead to a climax fueled by revenge. VERDICT This second entry in the Lewis trilogy (after the acclaimed Barry Award–winning The Blackhouse) lives up to the high standard of the first. May weaves a shameful practice in Scottish history into a compelling story with wonderfully drawn characters motivated by deeply held emotions. The bleakly beautiful Outer Hebrides setting adds to the mood of darkness, and the characters’ reactions to Macdonald’s impairment—ranging from impotent rage to loving compassion—provide a needed touch of humanity. Stunning.
MYSTERY BLOGS TO FOLLOW
I am all about the blogs and want to recommend a few to you:
International Noir Fiction
How much do you know about foreign authors and crime fiction in translation? In this increasingly global world, readers can check up on reviews and news about crime novels published outside the United States.
Mystery Publishing Demystified
Tips and tricks of the thriller and crime fiction publishing trade.
Janet Rudolph, editor of The Mystery Readers’ Journal, the official publication of Mystery Readers International, muses about crime fiction, authors, and publishing.
First started in the early 1970s by Steve Lewis as a printed zine, this blog is devoted to all things mysterious: books, films and television, authors, and lots more.
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Not a mystery blog, per se, but how can you resist the title? While primarily focused on romance fiction, this blog does cover romantic suspense titles.
Albert, Susan Wittig. The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush. Berkley. Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425260609. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698144569. M
The Great Depression is hitting the small town of Darling, AL. Desperate to avoid financial disaster, several upstanding citizens print their own money to help float the community. But when the scrip disappears, they are left wondering: Who made the unauthorized withdrawal? In the fifth series entry (after The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star), the ladies’ garden club investigates.
Coel, Margaret. Night of the White Buffalo. Berkley. (Wind River, Bk. 18). Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425264652. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101607978. M
In the latest installment (after Killing Custer) in this long-running series, Fr. John O’Malley hears a penitent confess to murder and then flee. Two months later, Arapaho lawyer Vicki Holden finds the body of a rancher. Then some astonishing news, a sacred white buffalo calf has been born, complicating an already difficult investigation. How are the two incidents connected?
Flora, Kate. And Grant You Peace. Five Star: Gale Cengage. (Joe Burgess, Bk. 4). Nov. 2014. 330p. ISBN 9781432829391. $25.95. M
A young man bangs on Joe Burgess’s car window, gasping that there is a fire at the mosque and people are trapped. The Portland, ME, policeman (Playing God; The Angel of Knowlton Park) faces his worst nightmare, investigating the death of a child. Mistrustful of authorities, the Somali refugee-congregation is uncooperative. Dealing with motorcycle thugs and businessmen engaged in illegal activities is daunting, but Joe is determined to get justice.
Hall, Parnell. Safari: A Stanley Hastings Mystery. Pegasus Crime. Nov. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781605986371. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605987170. M
Who wouldn’t want to go to Zambia? With a small inheritance and a little scrimping and saving, Stanley Hastings (Caper; Stakeout) books the trip of a lifetime. But a series of unfortunate accidents decimates the tour group. Who is responsible—the gung ho tour guide, perhaps? Or is something more nefarious at work? But when murder and an inexperienced park ranger collide, Stanley has to step up to the plate before he becomes a lion’s dinner.
Rutherford, Anne. The Twelfth Night Murder: A Restoration Mystery. Berkley. Sept. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780425255612. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698144521. M
In her third historical outing (after The Opening Night Murder and The Scottish Play Murder) Suzanne Thornton, founder of the New Globe Players, recognizes the body of a young boy dressed in women’s clothes. He was the alluring doxy who flirted with patrons at the local tavern the evening before. Did someone object to his true gender when it was revealed? Thornton decides to investigate.
Salzberg, Charles. Swann’s Lake of Despair. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Oct. 2014. 284p. ISBN 9781432829360. $25.95. M
The ever-despairing sleuth Henry Swann (Swann’s Last Song; Shamus Award–nominated Swann Dives In) will do anything to make a buck. When the diary of a flapper goes missing, along with rare photographs of Marilyn Monroe, and Swann has to find a missing woman, the three cases collide so strongly that the sleuth himself is surprised.
Simon, Clea. Stages of Grey. Severn House. (Dulcie Schwartz, Bk. 8). Oct. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780727883933. $28.95. M
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz attends a modern theatrical interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis with a disco theme. She is front and center when a performer is killed. Will this doom the struggling theater company? And where does the troop’s feline mascot, Gus, fit in this drama?
Spencer, Sally. Supping with the Devil: A DCI Monika Paniatowski Mystery. Severn House. Oct. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780727884084. $28.95. M
Trying to avoid career assassination by her chief constable, Monika Paniatowski (Death’s Dark Shadows) is assigned to cover the Earl of Ridley’s rock concert. Who will destroy the festival first? The motorcycle gang hired for security or the Dowager Countess herself? When the body of a tabloid journalist shows up, the heat is turned on high for Monika.
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For reluctant readers
Anderson-Dargatz, Gail. Search and Rescue: A Claire Abbott Mystery. Raven Bks: Orca. (Rapid Reads). Sept. 2014. 120p. ISBN 9781459805767. pap. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781459805781. M
Campbell, Melodie. The Artful Goddaughter: A Gina Gallo Mystery. Raven Bks: Orca. (Rapid Reads). Sept. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9781459808195. pap. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781459808218. M
Richards, Linda L. If It Bleeds: A Nicole Charles Mystery. Raven Bks: Orca. (Rapid Reads). Sept. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9781459807341. pap. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781459807365. M
Check These Out
Hayes, Frank. Death at the Black Bull: A Sheriff Virgil Dalton Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Oct. 2014. 312p. ISBN 9780425274293. pap. $15.99. M
Harris, Gregory. The Bellingham Bloodbath: A Colin Pendragon Mystery. Kensington. Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780758292698. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758292704. M
Heley, Veronica. Murder In Time: An Ellie Quicke Mystery. Severn House. Sept. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780727883988. $28.95. M
Hoklotubbe, Sara Sue. Sinking Suspicions: A Sadie Walela Mystery. Univ. of Arizona. Oct. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780816531073. $16.95. M
Ireland, D.E. Wouldn’t It Be Deadly: An Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250049353. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466850354. M
Maxwell, Alyssa. Murder at Marble House: A Guilded Newport Mystery. Kensington. Oct. 2014. 305p. ISBN 9780758290847. pap. $15; ebk. ISSBN 9780758290854. M
Price, Carole. Sour Grapes. Five Star: Gale Cengage. (Shakespeare in the Vineyard, Bk. 2). Oct. 2014. 330p. ISBN 9781432829209. $25.95. M
Shames, Terry. Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek: A Samuel Craddock Mystery. Seventh St: Prometheus. Oct. 2014. 262p. ISBN 9781616149963. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616149970. M
Cutler, Judith. Death in Elysium: A Jodie Welsh Mystery. Severn House. Oct. 2014. 220p. ISBN 9780727883964. $28.95. M
Johnson, Linda O. Lost Under a Ladder: A Superstition Mystery. Midnight Ink. Oct. 2014. 318p. ISBN 9780738740775. pap. $14.99. M
Kennedy, E.E. Murder in the Past Tense: A Miss Prentice Cozy Mystery. Sheaf House. Sept. 2014. 168p. ISBN 9781936438372. pap. $15.99. M
Perry, Carol J. Caught Dead Handed: A Witch City Mystery. Kensington. Sept. 2014. 404p. ISBN 9781617733697. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781617733703. M
Benn, James R. The Rest Is Silence: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery. Soho Crime. Sept. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781616952662. $26.95;ebk. ISBN 9781616952679. M
Fowler, Christopher. Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery. Bantam. Dec. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780345547651. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345547668. M
Mayor, Archer. Proof Positive: A Joe Gunther Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781250026392. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250026408. M