For years I pooh-poohed mystery novels, considering them inferior to literary fiction. Then I met my favorite writer, Madeleine L’Engle, who admitted to not only reading but loving mystery novels. She touted the genre for its ability to teach plot to the would-be fiction writer. Like a good student, I took down the names of her favorite mystery authors: Josephine Tey and Dorothy L. Sayers. After reading all of their books, I began to discover my own favorites: Elizabeth George, P.D. James, and Martha Grimes. Since those early years of reading mystery novels, I’ve discovered a long list of favorite writers. The booksellers at Boswell Book Company have introduced me to many more. Here’s a short list of good reads to relax with before the summer ends.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley. Set in an English village in the early 1950s, Bradley’s series of mysteries features an 11-year-old girl sleuth intent on pestering her older sisters, cooking up trouble in her chemistry lab, and solving local murder mysteries. Flavia is the girl many of us wish we could have been—she reads chemistry journals, cooks up poisons, avoids chores around her ancient home, and manages to learn the secrets of most everyone in town. Comment on the blog today for your chance to win the second book in the series, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag.
Caught by Harlan Coben. My dad, who is an avid mystery reader, introduced me to Harlan Coben. I spent the last day of my summer vacation reading Caught, absolutely riveted by the mystery’s twists and turns. If you are looking for the perfect way to beat the heat, this is it. You will be so busy figuring out ‘who done it,’ you won’t have time to feel hot.
Sizzling Sixteen and Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich. If you’re in need of a good laugh along with your mystery, try Evanovich’s series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. The mysteries won’t keep you up at night, but laughing at the antics of Plum and her sidekicks might get your abs ready for your bikini! If you’ve already read all of the Stephanie Plum books, try The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz (first in a series). Izzy Spellman, like her parents, is a private eye, and she wants out of the family business (or maybe she just wants the family out of her business). Either way, Izzy Spellman is funny and her supporting cast offers enough aggravation to make this a fun read!
Full Dark House: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler. This is the first book in a series featuring 80-year-old police detective Arthur Bryant and his longtime partner, 76-year-old detective John May. The story begins with poor Mr. Bryant being blown up inside the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit headquarters. As May investigates the death of Bryant, he reflects on their first case together. The book is part police procedural, part cozy mystery, with a big dose of quirkiness thrown in. Get a cup of tea and settle in for a good read.
The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey. This first book in a series features Michael Kelly, a Chicago detective turned PI, who drinks tea as well as beer and quotes from Greek tragedies. This is a classic detective noir book, set in modern-day Chicago, with plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing until the final pages.
Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny. Still Life is the first book in a series featuring Quebec Chief Inspector Armand Garmache and the delightful but deadly little village of Three Pines. Penny has created a series of well-plotted, beautifully written crime fiction novels set in the kind of village we all dream about living in. There’s a bistro, a bed and breakfast, and a used bookstore, and the people are eccentric and interesting. I think this series has been my favorite find of 2011—and I will be at my bookstore on August 30, 2011 to get the newest book, A Trick of Light.
What’s your favorite mystery novel or author? Leave your comment below. One of you will win a copy of Alan Bradley’s book, The Weed that Strings the Handmaid’s Bag and one of you will win Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich.