Random (but not really)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Books of 2020: Mysteries

A third of the books I read this year had a mystery element, and not only because I re-read Agatha Christie‘s Miss Marple mysteries. Mysteries have always been comfort reads to me–especially historical mysteries, so I did a lot of re-reading in that genre (which obviously isn’t reflected here).

I also read a fair number of cozy mysteries, because after March I just couldn’t handle violence and tension (and angst).

I’ve noted the various categories to which a story belongs, in case you’re wanting something specific (like I’ve been wanting this year).

Slippery Creatures
Slippery Creatures (2020) K.J. Charles (The Will Darling Adventures)
Historical, LGBT, Ongoing Series (boinking)

Will Darling returned from the Great War without a job or any direction. He discovers a bachelor uncle who takes him in, to Will’s surprise, leaves his bookstore to Will.

Will had gone to the War at eighteen, and come back five years later to find himself useless and unwanted. In Flanders he’d been a grizzled veteran, a fount of professional expertise who knew the ropes and had seen it all. Back in Blighty he’d become a young man again, one with little training and no experience. He’d been apprenticed to a joiner before the war, but that felt like decades ago: all he was good at now was killing people, which was discouraged.

Everything is going well until a thug insists that Will hand over an item–and Will has no idea what the man wants. The leads Kim to Will, a young rather dissolute man who ends up being much more than he seems on the surface.

Kim pretty much lies to Will throughout the story, but considering the work he does, it’s not really that surprising. Nor is it surprising that Will doesn’t take Kim’s lies very well, even if the two personally get along marvelously.

I have a soft spot for WWI mysteries, so this worked well for me. The second book in the series was also published this year, and it was good, but it wasn’t quite as good as this one.

A Stroke of Malice
A Stroke of Malice (2020) Anna Lee Huber (A Lady Darby Mystery)
Historical, Ongoing Series

This is the latest installation in the ongoing Lady Darby series. Sebastian Gage is a private inquiry agent, and Lady Darby (now Mrs Gage) was the widow of a notorious doctor who forced her to draw the illustrations for his anatomy textbook.

Oh. There’s a cholera outbreak. Which, well, 2020.

Her eyes gleamed in her pale face. “The cholera outbreak.”

Her simple reply sent a chill of fear whispering down my spine. The deadly disease that had ravaged Russia and the Baltic lands had reached the shores of Britain— despite all efforts to prevent it— in early November at the Port of Sunderland in northern England. From there, it had begun to spread to the north and south along the coast, leapfrogging its way closer to the densely populated cities, leaving death in its wake.

I highly recommend this entire series.

Hither Page
Hither, Page (2019) Cat Sebastian
Historical, LGBT, Romance, Stand-Alone (boinking)

This is another post WWII story, and possibly one of my favorite stories by her.

The main characters was a doctor during the war, and suffers from battle fatigue so much he is no longer to operate, but instead has become a country doctor.

“No, I assure you that I’m farther gone than most. And I wasn’t even a soldier. All I did was, as you said, stitch people up. What right do I have to—”

“No.” Page laid a hand on his shoulder. “What you’re not going to do is talk about shell shock or combat fatigue or brain fuckery as if it’s a special treat that you haven’t earned.”

Page was a spy and an assassin during the war, and the two of them end up looking into a local murder.

The Deadly Hours
The Deadly Hours (2020) Susanna Kearsley, Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent, C.S. Harris
Historical, Anthology

This is four novellas, tied together by a single object–a cursed pocket watch.

I loved the idea, although the execution was a less than I wanted.

One story I straight-up hated.

Three of the stories had characters from existing books, which was somewhat problematic for the story tied to the book I hadn’t read, because I felt like I was missing something.

The final story, however, was fantastic. Plus, I did love how the themes (and the cursed watch) were woven through all three novellas.

The Safety Net
The Safety Net (2017/2020) Andrea Camilleri translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Inspector Montalbano)
Police, Ongoing Series

I’ll be honest. This book may have made the list because Andrea Camilleri died in 2019, so there are a dwindling number of Inspector Montalbano stories left.

As with all the other books, the story has loving descriptions of food and meals that Montablano has eaten.

The mere mention of the Baltic Sea got Montalbano’s brain whirring. Were there mullet in the Baltic Sea? Were there purpiteddri, baby octopi like the kind Enzo fed him, in the Baltic Sea? And, if so, what did they taste like? Surely they must have a different flavor, since he’d already noticed, for example, that the fish from the Adriatic Sea tasted slightly different from the fish in the Tyrrhenian. So one could only imagine the difference of flavor in a fish from so far north as Kalmar.

Unlike the previous book, this one had a decent mystery–although we don’t really quite see it until the second half of the book.

You shouldn’t start here but instead go back to the first book, The Shape of Water. Then you’ll have decades of these books to slowly savor as we rapidly approach the end.

(The English translations generally come a couple years after the Italian publication, so we do have a few more books left.)

Imperial Stout
Imperial StoutCraft Brew (2018), Noble Hops (2019) Layla Reyne (Trouble Brewing)
Police, LGBT, Romance, Completed Series (boinking)

This is a MM action-adventure-mystery. It’s a sequel of sorts to her Irish Whiskey series, which I utterly devoured. I didn’t love these characters quite as much as I did Jameson & Aiden, but I still gulped down the books.

You don’t need to have read the previous series to enjoy this, but you definitely need to read these on order, since both the mystery and the romance progress through the series.

Murder at Pirates Cove
Murder at Pirate’s Cove, Secret at Skull House (2020) Josh Lanyon (Secrets and Scrabble)
Cozy, LGBT, Ongoing Series

Josh Lanyon writes several LGBT mystery series, and most are the opposite of cozy, with romantic turmoil and explicit sex. This series has no on-the-page sex or violence, and although there is no romance yet, the main character has a crush on the local law enforcement officer.

On the one hand, it was nice to experience a profitable day. On the other hand, Scene of the Crime was probably not a sustainable business model.

Also, he’s the new owner of a struggling bookstore.

I really enjoyed these and have the next several books in the series on pre-order.

Southernmost Murder
Southernmost Murder (2018) C.S. Poe
LGBT, Romance, Stand-Alone (boinking)

Aubrey is the caretaker for an historical house–it’s a job he he is good at despite his narcolepsy. But he is not good at dealing with the skeleton that mysteriously appears in the property he cares for.

I eventually reached a fence in someone else’s yard I had to scale. And I did scale it, which impressed me to no end— but then I fell off the other side and into the Smith garden. At least there was no one around to see that.

It’s a fun story and although it’s tied into her Snow and Winter series (which I also recommend) it can be read by itself.

Requiem for Mr. Busybody
Requiem for Mr. Busybody (2020) Josh Lanyon
Short Story, Romance, LGBT

I love a good short story. But they aren’t always easy to find, as evidenced by the number of bad short stories and novellas I read this fall.

But Josh Lanyon usually writes good short stores, and this one is no exception. In 66 pages we have a murder mystery and a second chance romance, both well done.

Also, she did her research on disabilities, which is even more excellent.

Michael used to be a crime reporter, and used to date Len. Now his world is limited mostly to his apartment complex and his PA. So when his neighbor disappears, he calls his ex, who is a NYPD detective, to ask for a favor.

Ramen Assassin
Ramen Assassin (2019) Rhys Ford
Action, Romance, LGBT, Stand-Alone (boinking)

Trey Bishop’s life went up in flames, sprawled across all the tabloids. But he’s been sober for several years now–slowly putting himself back together. So stumbling across two men moving a dead body–men who then try to kill Trey–is not what he wanted or needed out of life. Luckily for him, the owner of the ramen shop (who Trey has had a crush on for months) appears seemingly out of nowhere to save Trey.

Trey was a disaster, but even though no one really believes it, he’s better, and tries every day to keep it together.

He’d taken his first drink in that office, stealing a sip of something expensive from an unmarked crystal decanter. It burned going down. Much like it burned coming back up. But the numbness it left on Trey’s tongue and eventually his brain was glorious.

Plus, there’s always something fun about an ex assassin turned civilian.

The Books of 2020

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