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Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Books of Midyear 2019: Mysteries

I’ve loved mysteries since I was little (Encyclopedia Brown! The Bobsey Twins!) and that loved has continued unabated. I read other genres all the time, yet I feel like they’re always better with an element of mystery.

I’ve read a LOT of mystery series this year–some were meh, but plenty were REALLY good.

  

Historical Mystery

I generally like everything Anna Lee Huber writes, but I especially like her Lady Darby series. And I was delighted to finally get a copy of Secrets in the Mist (2016) (Rating: 9/10)

Set in England in 1812

Ella Winterton has spent the past four years dealing with loss and grief and anger. The deaths of her mother and brother sent her father into an alcoholic decline, and being jilted by the man she thought she loved while still in mourning made things worse.

I really liked Ella. She is struggling to hold things together as her father drinks himself to oblivion, regularly promising to stop drinking and then falling into the bottle once again when his struggle with his grief overwhelms him.

I sat listening to his broken weeping, wanting to reach out to him, wanting him to go away. He was my father after all. I wanted to comfort him, to tell him all was well. But it wasn’t. It never was.

Like Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton, we see how alcoholism destroys families. It’s also hard reading, but it’s such a common problem that I think it’s important we see it, and see how characters struggle to deal with it.

An-Artless-DemiseAn Artless Demise (2019) (Lady Darby) (Rating: 8/10)

The second story is another entry in the Lady Darby series.

Set in London in November 1831

Kiera and Sebastian are in London, trying to settle into married life, but murder and body snatchers are reminding people who Kiera left in the first place, and Lord Gage is reminding Sebastian that his marriage to Kiera would bring this down upon them.

Lord Gage is a complete ass, and seems to do his best to make things difficult for Kiera and Sebastian. The mystery is good, as is the struggle between Sebastian and Lord Gage.

  

Who-Slays-the-WickedC.S. HarrisWho Slays the Wicked (2019) (Sebastian St. Cyr) (Rating: 8.5/10)

Set in London in 1814

Lord Ashworth has been discovered naked and repeatedly stabbed in what looks like a crime of passion. But finding the murderer is a daunting prospect.

“Do you have any idea who might have killed him?” he asked Stephanie. “Someone who disliked him?” she suggested, her nostrils quivering with a pinched look. “That should narrow the list of suspects down to virtually everyone who ever dealt with him.”

Sebastian’s problem is that the murdered man is the husband of his niece–a marriage that Sebastian tried to talk her out of, knowing Ashworth’s brutal reputation. And the fact that it looks like he was murdered by a woman makes Stephanie an even more likely suspect, even if there are plenty of others who hated him.

This is the 14th Sebasian St. Cyr series, which I’ve been avid reading since the first book. Don’t start here. Go back to the beginning.

  

Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series

The Heretic’s Apprentice (1989) (Rating: 8.5/10), The Potter’s Field (1989) (Rating: 8.5/10), The Summer of the Danes (1991)  (Rating: 8.5/10), The Holy Thief (1992)


This series is set on the border of England and Wales between the late 1130s to the 1140s–during the war between King Stephen and Empress Maud.

In a country still torn between two rivals for sovereignty, and plagued by numerous uncommitted lords more interested in carving out kingdoms of their own, wise men observed their hospitable duties and opened their houses to all, but waited to examine credentials before opening their minds.

The main character is a monk who came to the brotherhood late in life, having spent his young on the Crusades and at Sea. He’s delightful and I love spending time in Cadfael’s world.

The books are historical mysteries, but each has a romantic sub-plot. Cadfael is marvelous, the mysteries are always good, and I love the historical bits, which are (to my uneducated mind) pretty historically correct (at least for what was known at the time of writing). Of course there are things she makes up, but the war between Maud and Stephen makes up the backdrop of the series, and is fascinating to someone who missed all of this in school. Don’t start here, mostly because you’ll miss some marvelous books.

  

Alissa Johnson’s The Thief-Takers Series

A Talent for Trickery (2015) (Rating: 8.5/10), A Gift for Guile (2016) (Rating: 8.5/10), A Dangerous Deceit (2017) (Rating: 8.5/10)

Often I’ll read a book and not know what to read next, so I’ll often pick a series that I know I enjoyed.

These are historical romantic mysteries. They are boinking book, but they are also enjoyable mysteries.

Charlotte and Esther Walker are the daughters of a confidence man who ended up working with the police. After his death, they–and their very young brother–have their names changed and are sent to the country to live where their father’s enemies won’t find them.

Owen Renderwell, Samuel Brass, and Gabriel Arkwright are the famous Thief-Takers who rescued a kidnapped Lady and then after the furor died down, went out on their own.

These stories are a lot of fun, with plenty of delightful banter and interesting mysteries and some adventure thrown in. And the third book has a heroine who is new to the story, but ends up being one of my favorites, but in a very different way than the other women in this series.

If you want something fun and exciting, I highly recommend this series, which I’ve re-read several times.

  

Michelle Diener’s Regency London Series
The Emperor’s Conspiracy (2012) (Rating: 8/10), >Banquet of Lies (2013) (Rating: 9.5/10), A Dangerous Madness (2014) (Rating: 8.5/10)

  

Mystery

Julie Anne Lindsey’s The Geek Girl Mysteries

A Geek Girl’s Guide to Murder (2015) (Rating: 7.5/10), A Geek Girl’s Guide to Arsenic (2016) (Rating: 8/10), A Geek Girl’s Guide to Justice (2016) (Rating: 8.5/10)

These are cozy mysteries with a heroine who is an unrepentant geek and who has one of the better reasons for vast wealth that I’ve come across in a mystery series.

She’s (obviously) very smart, she loves gaming and ren faires and and an identical twin sister who is in many ways her polar opposite.

She is also well-adjusted and quite aware of her limitations.

I’m just trying to figure out what’s happening, and body language and eye contact, and all those things most people get a bead on, kind of elude me, so if you could just state your intentions, that would be amazing.

The mysteries are fine, but not in any way the strongest part of the series. That would be the characters.

And Mia and everything she thinks.

I nodded in full acceptance. “Whatever. It’s my circus. They’re my monkeys.”

“I don’t understand hipsters and their dull, underenthused lifestyle.”

I highly recommend this series, even if the mysteries aren’t the best part of the books.

  

Mystery, Police

Death at Sea: Montalbano’s Early Cases (2014/2018) Andrea Camilleri translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Rating: 8.5/10)

I love short stories.

I love Inspector Montalbano.

I adore this collection of Montalbano short stories.

If you’ve not read any of these mysteries, this would be a good way to dip your toes in, to see if this brash, rude Italian police inspection is someone you’d like to spend time with.

  

Mystery, LGBT

Josh Lanyon’s All’s Fair series

Fair Game (2010) (Rating: 7/10), Fair Play (2014) (Rating: 8/10), Fair Chance (2017) (Rating: 9/10)

I’ve read multiple Josh Lanyon M/M mystery series this year, and although I liked them all, this is far and away my favorite series.

Elliot Mills loved being in the FBI–until a shootout left him unfit for anything but a desk job.

The pain after his knee replacement had been excruciating, beyond anything he’d imagined or previously experienced, barring the original experience of getting kneecapped.

Yes, I did shudder when I read that.

Now he’s a professor at the same college from which his father retired–living in the shadow of a famous 60s radical.

Elliot was good at what he did, but it’s understandable that he didn’t want to remain if it meant he would only have a desk-job, so I quite liked that element. I also liked that Elliot had physical limitations (many of her characters do in these series, which I very much like, but I can’t ready too many in a row or it starts to bug me). And I love that his dad was a radical hippy who was totally accepting of his son’s homosexuality, but NOT of his joining the FBI.

Each story had a good mystery, and the relationship between the two men developed over the series. Yes, they are together at the end of the first book, but their issues were not magically resolved by their getting back together, which is something else I like about Josh Lanyon’s books: many of the characters have complicated histories, and any HEA is going to be a lot of work, and we get to see the work they put into things.

Also? Elliot is a secret geek.

The rest of the afternoon was spent quietly. Elliot graded papers and did his lesson plans for the following week. In the evening he worked on his Civil War diorama of Pickett’s Charge, which currently dominated the long window-lined sunroom on the west side of the cabin. He had received a hand-painted 15mm miniature of JEB Stuart to replace the former one lost during the move from Seattle to Goose Island. He placed the dashing Stuart with his two cavalry brigades and stepped back to admire. The game table was 4×8 feet and, according to Roland who had helped him construct it, irrefutable proof that Elliot was destined for long and dull bachelorhood.

That totally cracks me up.

So those are the mysteries I’ve read and enjoyed so far this year!

The Books of Mid-Year 2019 Great Covers
The Books of Midyear 2019: Romance
The Books of Midyear 2019: Supernatural Fantasy

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