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Austenish mysteries

Jane Austen fan Elizabeth Parker is on a plane from Washington D.C.  heading for London and a Jane Austen Festival.  The obnoxious man seated near her is droning on about the ridiculous sub-texts he sees in Austen’s novels—abortions, incest and all sorts of nefarious deeds.  Elizabeth longs for some duct tape to put over his mouth.   Naturally, he is the one who is murdered at the festival’s costume ball, and the number of people who might have wanted to kill him is astronomical.  So Elizabeth and her Aunt Winnie prove once again that they are very effective amateur sleuths.  Murder Most Austen (Minotaur, Sept. 2012) is the fourth book in the series, each of which mimics themes and characters from one of Jane Austen’s books—this one takes off on Northanger Abbey.  Jane Austen fans who haven’t yet discovered the charms of Tracy Kiely’s Austenish mystery series should run right down to their library.  These sweet confections  are a delight.

–posted 9/30/2012

Posted September/26/2012

Norwegian, not mystery

Protagonist Arvid Jansson deals with loss, grief, political commitment, and frayed social relations in a trio of novels by Norwegian author Per Petterson. Of Petterson’s many novels, In the Wake (Thomas Dunne, 2006), was the first to be published in the U.S. perhaps because the tragedy at the book’s center is modeled after the sinking of the cruise ferry MS Estonia in the Baltic Sea in 1994. The deadliest shipwreck in that area  in recent times—852 passengers died—had perhaps as much impact on Scandinavia as Sept. 11 did here. Petterson’s moving, wry, and probing autobiographical novels are highly regarded in Europe. The newest book to be released in the U. S. is It’s Fine By Me (Graywolf, Oct. 2012).  Arvid  plays only a supporting role in this book when he befriends the odd new kid in his 7th grade class at school.  The main character is Audun Sletten who has come to Oslo from an abusive home in the countryside.  Audun is a deeply troubled and rebellious adolescent who wants to become a writer.  This moving coming of age story takes place from 1965 to 1970.  This introduction to young Arvid and his friend would be a good place to start reading the series.

–posted 9/26/2012

Posted September/26/2012

NASCAR romances

The “Fast Track” romance series by Erin McCarthy is set in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the world of NASCAR and stock car racing where all the men are strong and sexy and the women they attract are beautiful and sexy.  But McCarthy also makes both sexes smart and sassy, a winning combination that makes for fast and funny reading.  The series is loosely connected—characters seem to fade in and out with each book, but faithful readers get updates on characters met in previous books.  The Monroe brothers Elec and Evan, both drivers, and their sister Eve who does their PR, seem to hold the central focus.  Erin McCarthy has been writing since she was in first grade.  She produces two other series:  one about vampires in Las Vegas, another about fallen angels in New Orleans.  Jacked Up (Berkley, 2012) is the sixth book in the “Fast Track” series.

–posted 9/17/2012

Posted September/17/2012

Malin Fors, Swedish detective

Police Superintendent Malin Fors is a new addition to the list of Scandinavian detectives translated into English. She is thirty-four years old, blond, divorced with a 13-year-old daughter named Tove. She works in the small city of Linkoping, Sweden,(pop. 104,000) which is about 100 miles southwest of Stockholm, a picturesque area but an economic backwater. Jobs are scarce and winter sports are the main activity.  Author Mons Kallentoft grew up in this area in a working class family. His books catch the isolated atmosphere of the town and its residents. Some reviewers dislike Kallentoft’s use of voices from the dead victims, a stylistic trend popularized by Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Kallentoft has worked as a journalist and a food critic. Autumn Killing, the third novel in a projected quartet will be released in the U.S. by Hodder & Stoughton in October 2012. Can spring be far behind?

–posted 9/9/2012

Posted September/9/2012

Clerical women sleuths in series

There is an amazing range of variety and tone among mystery series starring female clerics.  From Reverend Lily Connor’s meditative style to Deaconess Theodora Braithwaite’s comic irreverence.  From Reverend Clare Fergusson’s brisk manner, ingrained as a former Army pilot, to Reverend Merrily Watkins paranormal talents which come in handy for exorcisms.  The nine series below run the gamut.

Note:  This list includes women priests and ministers in series mysteries.  Next up will be a list of series featuring nuns as detectives.

1.  Blake, Michelle                Rev. Lily Connor

A Tentmaker is “an ordained priest who works at a trade outside the church, sometimes serving as interim priest for parishes in search of full-time rectors.” Lily Connor is a 36-year-old Texan who feels a strong calling to do this kind of work.  When we first meet Lily in The Tentmaker (Berkley, 1999), she has been posted to St. Mary of the Garden, a posh Episcopal church in Boston that has just lost its long-time rector.  Neither the parishioners nor Lily are comfortable with her appointment as interim priest. But after certain curious events, Lily comes to believe that something more profound than her iconoclastic manner is disturbing her flock.  She turns to Charlie Cooper, a friend from her seminary days, and now an Episcopal monk for help with the problems of this troubled congregation. For thoughtful mystery readers who enjoy complex characters in a sophisticated religious context. There are only three books in this series.

1.  The Tentmaker (1999)

2.  Earth Has No Sorrow (2001)

3.  The Book of Light (2003)

2.  Charles, Kate               Rev. Callie Anson

Cincinnati-born Charles confesses to being a lifelong Anglophile, so much so that she moved permanently to England and took a position with a Church of England parish. Unfortunately her first novel in the Book of Psalms series (so called because each chapter begins with a quotation from Psalms) so unsettled the Anglican powers that she was dismissed from her job. Undaunted, Charles began the Callie Anson series in 2005 with Evil Intent (Poisoned Pen).  Callie is a newly ordained Anglican minister appointed as curate to the Reverend Brian Stanford at All Saints’ Church in Paddington, London.  There are only three books in the Callie Anson series. Kate Charles is the pseudonym of Carol Chase.

1.  Evil Intent (2005)

2.  Secret Sins (2007)

3.  Deep Waters (2009)

3.  Greenwood, D(iane) M.       Rev. Theodora Braithwaite

A deaconess is almost a priest in the Anglican church, i.e., just one step away, so I’ve decided to include these ecclesiastical mysteries. They may be an acquired taste, but they are very well-written, droll and amusing. When we first meet Deaconess Theodora Braithwaite in Clerical Errors (Ostara, 2009) she is in her mid-thirties, serving as the administrator of Medewich Cathedral, which is ruled by power-hungry Canon Charles Wheeler.  D(iane) M. Greenwood took a first degree in classics at Oxford, then, as a mature student, a second degree in theology at London University. She taught at various schools before working as the director of education for the diocese of Rochester. Now retired, she lives in Greenwich. She has written nine Theodora Braithwaite novels between 1991 and 1999, only four of which have been issued recently in the US.  Theodora apparently shares author Greenwood’s clear-eyed and rather critical view of the church bureaucracy.  Theodora is “the product of eight generations of Anglican priests” and she has seen enough senior clergy to know that “they were men whose talents entitled them to be humble”.  Are there any Trollope fans out there?

1.  Clerical Errors (2009)

2.  Unholy Ghosts by (2009)

3.  Idol Bones by (2009)

4.  Holy Terrors by (2012)

5.  Every Deadly Sin (UK: 1995)

6.  Mortal Spoils (UK: 1996)

7.  Heavenly Vices (UK: 1997)

8.  A Grave Disturbance (UK: 1998)

9.  Foolish Ways (UK:  1999)

4.  Holland, Isabelle        Rev. Claire Aldington

Isabelle Holland (1920-2002), a prolific American author, wrote over fifty books in her lifetime.  Her suspense novels were quite popular in the 70’s:  many will remember The DeMaury Papers (1977) and The Marchington Inheritance (1979).  She was equally adept at writing adult and young adult fiction, mysteries, romance and children’s books.  Many of her young adult titles tackle serious subjects such as rape and death. Her best-known book is the controversial novel The Man Without a Face (1972) about a boy’s relationship with a disfigured homosexual recluse, which was made into a movie by Mel Gibson in 1993.  In 1984, she created her series protagonist:  Episcopalian priest Claire Aldington, whose first case was A Death at St. Anselm’s. As happens with many beginning amateur sleuths, Claire is the prime suspect when the miserly church treasurer is murdered and she must find the real killer to prove her own innocence.  St. Anselm’s is an upscale church in Manhattan where Claire is the pastoral counselor.  She is recently widowed with a troubled daughter.  Isabelle Holland graduated from Tulane University in 1942 and worked in publishing in New York. One of the first books she worked on as a publicity director at J. B. Lippincott Company was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, with whom she began a lifelong friendship.

1.  A Death at St. Anselm’s (1984)

2.  Flight of the Archangel (1985)

3.  A Lover Scorned (1986)

4.  A Fatal Advent (1989)

5.  The Long Search (1990)

5.  Ockley, Martha           Rev Faith Morgan

The first book in a projected series, this was so well-received that I decided to include it here in the hope that further volumes will materialize. Rev. Faith Morgan is a former policewoman who has just been ordained in the Church of England.  When she travels to the village of Little Worthy, Winchester, the parish that will be her first assignment, she runs right into a murder.  Romantic interest is supplied by local policeman Ben Shorter, who is coincidentally Faith’s previous boyfriend.  Martha Ockley is the pen name of Rebecca Jenkins, the daughter of a minister. She lives in Teasdale, in northeast England, and is a full-time author.  She has also written two Regency mysteries starring Frederick Raif Jarrett, agent to the Duke of Penrith.

1.  The Reluctant Detective (2011)

6.  Rickman, Phil            Rev. Merrily Watkins

This series begins when Anglican priest Merrily Watkins and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Jane arrive in the bucolic town of Ledwardine, England.  There they solve a series of paranormal/supernatural mysteries.  In the second book Merrily’s special talents are officially recognized when she is asked to be the “deliverance consultant” (aka exorcist) to the diocese of Hereford.  The likable and realistic characters develop as the series continues.  Merrily’s relationship with local musician/poet Lol Robinson matures.  English horror novelist, Phil Rickman, writes fast-paced, well-characterized thrillers set in a rural England in which the past is still very much part of local lives. The novels, originally published in the U.K., are distributed in the U.S. by Trafalgar Square.  So far there are eleven books in the series.

1.  The Wine of Angels (1998)

2.  Midwinter of the Spirit (1999)

3.  A Crown of Lights (2001)

4.  The Cure of Souls (2001)

5.  The Lamp of the Wicked (2002)

6.  The Prayer of the Night Shepherd (2004)

7.  The Smile of a Ghost (2005)

8.  The Remains of an Altar (2006)

9.  The Fabric of Sin (2007)

10.  To Dream of the Dead (2008)

11.  The Secrets of Pain (2011)

7.  Scott, Janice B(easant).         Rev. Polly Hewitt

Recently ordained in the Church of England, Polly Hewitt starts her first post in Norfolk as a curate for Canon Henry Winstone, who is as old and traditional as Polly is young and innovative.  She has wild blond curls and a decidedly wicked sense of humour.  The author describes her as a livewire “with a huge personality but with the sort of impulsiveness that often led her into trouble.”  Polly’s warmth and openness seems to bring out the best in most people.  She is “never shy and rarely at a loss for words.”  Author Janice Scott was raised in London and ordained priest in Norwich Cathedral in 1994 with the first batch of women priests.  She first served as curate in a large city parish, then rector in a rural setting.  Her three books about Rev. Polly Hewitt’s experiences in the church ring with authority.  Now retired, Scott is working on her fourth Polly Hewitt book.

1.  Heaven Spent (2010)

2.  Babes and Sucklings (2010)

3.  Vengeance Lies in Wait (2011)

8.  Spencer-Fleming, Julia           Rev. Clare Fergusson series

The series begins when newly ordained Clare Ferguson is appointed priest of St. Alban’s Episcopal church of Millers Kill, New York.  As the first female priest in this small town in upstate New York, she must work hard to earn the respect of her parishioners. Clare’s rather blunt manner, gained in her former career as an Army pilot, tends to disturb her new flock.  In her first case (In the Bleak Midwinter, 2002), Clare meets Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne as they work to discover the identity of an abandoned baby.  Van Alstyne is perplexed, then intrigued by the new “lady priest”.  So far there have been seven Clare Fergusson mysteries. Millers Kill is modeled after the author’s hometown of Plattsburgh, NY.

1.  In the Bleak Midwinter (2002)

2.  A Fountain Filled with Blood (2003)

3.  Out of the Deep I Cry (2004)

4.  To Darkness and to Death (2005)

5.  All Mortal Flesh (2006)

6.  I Shall Not Want (2008)

7.  One Was a Soldier (2011)

9.  Sumners, Cristina       Rev. Dr. Kathryn Koerner.series

Reverend Kathryn Koerner is minister of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in the small university town of Harton, New Jersey (read Princeton).  The “Divine” series began with Crooked Heart (Bantam, 2003) which introduced the wealthy, witty and erudite priest as well as Tom Holder, Harton’s Police Chief.  Tom is bored working in a town without crime and he is stuck in a very unhappy marriage, so it is no surprise that he falls for the attractive priest.  Kathryn describes Tom as “forty-eight but he looks fifty eight, his belly hangs down over his belt, he’s going bald. . . “  Nevertheless, she becomes attracted to him when she becomes involved in a missing person case, though both of them deny the attraction.  There are only three books in this well-received cozy mystery series.  Perhaps author Cristina Sumners is too busy maintaining her flock—she is an Episcopalian priest.

1.  The Crooked Heart (2003)

2.  Thieves Break In (2004)

3   Familiar Friend (2006)

Note:  Phillip Grosset’s website Clerical Detectives lists a few more series, but the books are largely British or unattainable in the US.

–posted by Janet Husband, 9/7/2012

Posted September/7/2012

Beverly Hills detective

Imitation of Death (Kensington, 9/2012) is the second mystery featuring Nikki Harper, a Beverly Hills real estate agent.  Nikki has survived an unconventional upbringing as the daughter of a superstar actress and has managed to lead a fairly normal life until murder comes her way and she takes to amateur sleuthing.   Author Cheryl Crane is herself a realtor and the daughter of actress Lana Turner.  These confections are spiced with an insider’s look at Hollywood and stardom, and plenty of brand name dropping  (I’m probably the only reader on earth who had to google Michael Kors).  Imitation of Death starts when spoiled playboy Eddie Bernard is found dead with pruning shears stuck into his back.  Crane has also written two non-fiction books:  Detour: A Hollywood Story (1988) and Lana: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies (2008).

–posted 9/3/2012

Posted September/3/2012

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