Archive for category Cozy

Summer Reading List – Golden Age Mysteries

I’m going to be posting some summer reading lists throughout the, well, summer. These won’t be in-depth reviews, just a list of “hey, these are great and you should drop everything and read them now!” books. I’m going to be doing it by genre, and for my first genre I’m picked Golden Age Mysteries. These are the mysteries that many people think of as the “classic” mysteries, typically written in the 1920’s or 1930’s. I love this era – so much so that they comprise the vast majority of the mysteries on my personal bookshelves that survive my frequent purges. So, here’s your summer reading list for Golden Age Mysteries:

  1. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers. Normally I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one (just because it’s not the first and I’m a bit obsessive that way), but I think it really is her best and if you want to give Sayers a try, this is the one to do it with.
  2. Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie. Probably my favorite Christie, and a great introduction to her work.
  3. Opening Night / Night at the Vulcan (alternate title) (1951) by Ngaio Marsh. I’ve only read a handful of Marsh’s works, but I’ve enjoyed all the ones that I have read. I’d rate her a bit below Agatha Christie, but still very fun to read if you like this genre. She was from New Zealand and worked in the theatre, so several of her works are set in the theatre as this one is (and also features a heroine fresh off the boat from NZ).
  4. Death of a Ghost (1934) by Margery Allingham. This is my favorite Allingham. Her work is a bit darker than any of the others I’ve mentioned, but this one especially is extremely well crafted. Some of her books I found the characters to be flat, but in this one they are more fleshed out.

The four authors above are considered the four original “Queens of Crime”, and reading one of each of their works would certainly constitute a good introduction into the golden age of detective fiction. Another author that I hear frequently recommended along with the four above is Josephine Tey, but I have yet to read any of her works.  So, as a bonus, I’m including:

        5. Anything by Josephine Tey. This is going on my reading list for the summer.

I hope you enjoy your first reading assignment from me – look for more to come!

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Review of Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (2011) (Islands of Aloha Series)

Bottom line: Meh.

Rating: Recommended if

Blurb:

Even “death do us part” couldn’t spoil her wedding day plans… Wedding planner Pali Moon is thrilled when a would-be bride shows up at “Let’s Get Maui’d” inquiring about a lavish beach wedding. That is, until she learns it must be on Valentine’s Day–just nine days away. Oh yeah, and one other little hitch–the groom disappeared at sea a week earlier. But the bride’s convinced he’ll be found safe and sound, so she’s got a plan–and a man–to do a proxy ceremony if necessary. The day before the big nuptials a man’s body washes ashore on a South Maui beach. Has the groom finally shown up? If so, what’s it going to be–a wedding…or a funeral? This is the FIRST book in the “Islands of Aloha” Mystery series.

Review:

I was really excited about this book. I’m always looking for a new mystery series, and if it’s set somewhere fun I’m even happier. I got it for free, and it is very highly rated on Amazon. However, I just never got into it. The mystery itself was decent, but I had a hard time getting behind the characters. They felt clichéd to me, and interacted in odd ways. For example, the cast of good guys included: male gay best friend, quirky/hippie female best friend, and a new potential love interest with secrets. I kept skimming through the dialogue and character development pieces to get to the end, so I could figure out whodunit, why, and then move on with my life. Even then, when I got there, the ending felt rushed, and I had to skip back and read it a couple of times to see if it made sense.

So, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I know that a lot of my impressions as a reader are subjective. Maybe I was just not in the right place when I read it, I don’t know. It was well edited (thank goodness), and the writing wasn’t bad. So if you’re hankering after life in the islands, or you’re depressed because you still have to grab your winter coat when you head out the door, check it out. I probably won’t be reading any more of the series, unless I can grab another one on a free promotion. Hey, my reading habits don’t come cheap.

More Information: The author’s website is here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

 

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Review of Rigged for Murder by Jenifer LeClair (2011) (Windjammer Mysteries)

Bottom line: An enjoyable book, as much for the ambience as the mystery itself.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

High seas adventure turns to high stakes sleuthing when a beautiful but troubled homicide detective and a New England sea captain join forces in this award-winning mystery set on the coast of Maine.

On leave from the Minneapolis Police Department after being shot, homicide detective Brie Beaumont has gone to Maine where she has family roots. She ships out on the Maine Wind for an early season cruise with Captain John DuLac and eight others. Caught in a gale, they anchor off remote and windswept Granite Island. But when someone aboard is murdered, Brie must single-handedly stage an investigation that moves from the ship to a small fishing village on the island. Plagued by flashbacks, and fighting a growing attraction to Captain DuLac, she works to unravel a mystery that will place her directly in the path of a psychopathic killer.

Review:

Two of my favorite things in life are reading and travelling. If I can find a book that is a great story and has enough local flavor to provide a mental journey, I’m an extremely happy camper. Rigged For Murder delivers on both counts. It’s a solid mystery, and there were enough descriptions of both the sailing and the island to give me a good feel for the setting. It’s well written, and the pace flows along nicely. I got it for free, but will be buying the next book in the series, Danger Sector.

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about it. First, there was a lot of nautical jargon, and the meanings weren’t always readily discernible from context. To be fair, I think authors generally tend to overexplain instead of the other way around, so it was nice to be treated as an intelligent creature (even if that might have been an overestimation on the author’s part!). Second, cynic that I am, it annoys me when people fall in love in a couple of days. Lastly, there are a couple of abrupt shifts in perspective, often a couple within the same paragraph. I found these a little disorienting.

Barring these minor issues (none of which are very distracting from the storyline), it’s a really fun read. I thought Brie was a great character – she was more complex than you sometimes find in these types of mysteries. Although you don’t get a lot of insight into the secondary characters, they felt realistic – characters, not caricatures.

Rigged for Murder is what I think of as a “Modern Cozy” – meaning it has several elements of a traditional cozy mystery, but there are aspects that are a little more PG-13 than you would tend to find in a traditional cozy.

What did you think of the book? Ever been sailing?

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Review of Hazardous Duty by Christy Barritt (2012) (Squeaky Clean Mysteries)

Bottom line: An interesting premise for a detective, and with a well thought out story to back it up.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Buying a gun to kill your wife: $3,000
Hiring Trauma Care to clean afterward: $1,500
Having that same cleaner uncover evidence that frames you: priceless

On her way to completing a degree in forensic science, Gabby St. Claire drops out of school and starts her own crime scene cleaning business. “Yeah, that’s me,” she says, “a crime scene cleaner. People waiting in line behind me who strike up conversations always regret it.”

When a routine cleaning job uncovers a murder weapon the police overlooked, she realizes that the wrong person is in jail. But the owner of the weapon is a powerful foe . . . and willing to do anything to keep Gabby quiet.

With the help of her new neighbor, Riley Thomas, a man whose life and faith fascinate her, Gabby plays the detective to make sure the right person is put behind bars. Can Riley help her before another murder occurs?

Review:

I knew I wanted to read a mystery today, and I started several before landing on this one. From the opening line of “Whistling a tune from Fiddler on the Roof, I used my tweezers to work a piece of Gloria Cunningham’s skull out of the sky blue wall.” I was intrigued. There were many things I enjoyed : the main character was three dimensional and interesting, it had a good murder/detecting plot, and the ending leaves you satisfied but with some unanswered questions about Gabby’s past and future. I thought having the amateur detective own a crime scene cleaning business and have gone to school for forensic science was a clever way to solve the age-old mystery writers’ dilemma: how and why would ordinary people investigate a crime?

A couple of quibbles I had with the book are as follows. For one, the supporting characters felt a little flat to me. For example, the supposed best friend is militantly vegan and she’s often described that way: “the animal lover did such and such”, or we see her forcing vegan brownies down her neighbours’ throats while ranting about animal cruelty. All of which is fine, but EVERY time she appears in the story it’s while doing some animal rights activism (not “animal right’s activism.” I shouldn’t have read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. It just made me more obsessive about punctuation – other people’s, not mine, of course!) or something like that. The father is a drunk and a sponge, therefore he’s only a drunk and a sponge.

The other issue I had was with the effort to introduce matters of faith into the book. I respect writers who try to imbue their works with topics that are close to their hearts, like faith and doubt (or environmentalism or healthy living or whatever it is they hold dear), and as a Christian myself, the content certainly doesn’t offend me. However, it felt forced. Several characters brought up God seemingly out of nowhere, and Gabby sure spends a lot of time thinking about how she doesn’t believe in God.

These two issues aside, it was an enjoyable read. I had gotten the book for free quite a while ago and just today got around to reading it, but I was glad I had it on my Kindle. I haven’t decided yet whether or not to pursue the series – it looks like there are several books already out.

Available: As an e-book for $2.99 and a print book, around $10.

More Info: http://www.christybarritt.com/

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Review of Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920) (Hercule Poirot Book 1) Free Kindle E-Book

Bottom line: A classic Golden Age mystery, by the Queen of mystery, although not her greatest work. The first time the world was introduced to the Hercule Poirot – the funny little man with the egg shaped head and impressive mustache.

Rating: Recommended IF – you are looking for a free mystery, you want to try an Agatha Christie, or you are a Christie fan and want to see where it all began.

Blurb:

Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot makes his debut in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” The mystery of the novel is the one of who poisoned wealthy heiress Emily Inglethorp and how did the killer get in and out of her locked bedroom. The suspects are many and Poirot must use Holmesian deduction to discover the killer. Mystery fans will delight in the first installment of Agatha Christie’s famous series of Poirot mystery novels.

Review:

This is Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot mystery, and also her first novel. It was fun to see Poirot introduced to the world for the first time, along with his trusty sidekick, Captain Hastings. However, it was the first time for me to reread this book in a long while, and what struck me was how much it felt like a pilot episode of a tv show. If I’m trying a new show, I always watch the pilot first, and if there are even a few things I like about it, I’ll try the next episode. Often it feels like characters have little depth to them, and the action and dialogue haven’t quite melded into the right style yet.

That’s how I felt about this book – the plot twists felt a little contrived, and the characters (Hastings especially) felt a little one-sided compared to Christie’s later books. It’s still an enjoyable read, and an interesting mystery, I just didn’t think it was as good as some of her other books. However, given the dearth of free e-book mysteries, this is a good way to try out one of (if not the) most popular writers of all time. But if you liked it, even a bit, you must try some of her later books.

Available:  Free Kindle E-Book at Amazon and iTunes, $0.99 – $2.99 for the Nook Book at Barnes & Noble. Also available as a paperback. 

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Review of Cover Her Face by P.D. James (1962) (Adam Dalgliesh Book 1)

Bottom line: I liked this story, although I would have preferred to get to know the detective better. A traditional murder mystery set in an English country house, it was a fun introduction to P.D. James.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

On the same day as the St Cedd’s church fete in the grounds of her home, Martingale, Mrs Maxie learns of her son Stephen’s engagement. By the next morning, her new parlourmaid, Sally Jupp, is dead. Detective Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh investigates murder in the Elizabethan manor house.

Review:

This is P.D. James’s debut novel. It is a good example of a traditional murder mystery – a murder happens near the beginning of the story, people living in this house all seem to have had motives and means, and at the end, the detective gathers the household and explains how the clues led him/her to the murderer, who is —-!

I thought her detective was intriguing. You catch glimpses of what makes him interesting and effective as a detective, but you don’t spend a lot of time with him. I would have liked to see more of the story unfold from his point of view instead of some of the suspects. I’m hoping that the later books in the series will show more of his character.

The other elements of the mystery were well done – the suspects had enough depth to them that they were interesting as more than just Suspect A, Suspect B, etc. and the murder was one of those that seems more complicated than it is due to an unrelated factor which muddies the waters. One thing I particularly appreciated was that enough clues were presented for you to guess the murderer, and none of the clues seemed like they were shown with the sole intent to throw you off the track. I’m probably going to read more of her books, but given that I didn’t get a chance to become very attached to the detective, I won’t rush out to get them right away.

Available: E-book at iTunes and Barnes & Noble (didn’t see it as a Kindle e-book).  Available as a paperback at many book stores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon for $10-$12.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Review of Invisible by Lorena McCourtney (Ivy Malone Series Book 1) (2004)

Bottom line: A fun mystery with a strong Christian presence. If you are looking for a new series to try that isn’t too intense, give this book a shot – especially since it’s free.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

She’s not your average crime fighter! Meet Ivy Malone, an inconspicuous older woman who has a mutant curiosity gene that often lands her in trouble. Unlike most women her age, she snoops and pries her gray-haired self into one hilarious escapade after another. So when vandals romp through the local cemetery, Ivy can’t help but put her snooping eyes to work as she launches her own unofficial investigation. Despite her unconventional sleuthing, Ivy soon becomes discouraged by her failure to turn up any solid clues. And after Ivy witnesses something ominous and unexplained, she can’t resist putting her investigative powers to work again. Even the authorities’ attempts to keep her out of danger and her nosy neighbor’s match-making schemes can’t slow Ivy down. But will the determination that fuels this persistent, spunky sleuth threaten her very safety?

Review:

I tried this book because it was free, and I’m glad I did. It’s simply a fun read. The writing style at times I found to be a little rambling, with excessive explanations and tangents, but it didn’t really bother me. Normally this kind of thing makes me very impatient to get on with the story, but the main character, Ivy, is someone you don’t mind spending extra time with.

One thing to be aware of is that Ivy is a born again Christian, and this features prominently in the book. At times it comes across as preachy (at one point Ivy worries about asking a friend to try to get some information for her, because it had encouraged the friend to create “fabrications”) but mostly I found it a natural extension of Ivy’s character and the world she lives in.

The mystery itself was well done, as is the way that Ivy and the readers discover the hows and whys of it all. I’ve read the next two books in the series, and found them to be very similar in terms of tone (light hearted) but with different enough settings and mysteries to continue to interest me. I’d bought the next two books at intervals of maybe a month apart when I wanted a new yet familiar mystery to read, and they both fit the bill perfectly.

Available: Free E-book at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and iTunes, and also available as a paperback.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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