Tag Archives: Deborah Crombie

Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

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Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday

open-book

Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday
So a few weeks ago, I did a Four on Friday about BOOK HOOKS.  That got me thinking about what is inside the book.  Obviously, the best part is the story itself (hopefully!!) but I love when there are extra surprises.  It is like getting a Chick-fil-A with an extra pickle or a piece of cheesecake with an extra dollop of whipped cream . . . can you tell that it is lunch time?  It is something beyond the expected.  Here are four BOOK BONUSES that get me particularly excited.

Family Trees
I love when an author puts in a genealogical tree to show how all the characters in a story are related, especially when it goes back a few generations.  Now, I am not talking about a “cast list.”  Honestly, if an author has to put a list of characters and who they are at the beginning of the book, there are either too many characters or they aren’t well represented in the story and that just does not bode well for the book.  A family tree is especially interesting when a story covers several generations or the plot references back to previous generations.  I love to see how all the characters are inter-mingled and related and appreciate that “a-ha” moment when I get how everything works together.

Maps
I love, love, love maps!!!  Seriously, in a previous life, I think I was a cartographer on a sailing vessel that traveled through uncharted territories.  I am a visual person and a map helps me to see where the characters are and where they are going.  I think it can help clarify the plot and move the story along if the reader can visualize the progression of movement of the action by looking at the locations on a map.  Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid/James novels always have a map on the inside cover of the book for the particular part of London in which the story is based.  It is also helpful to have a map when an author creates a fictitious land: John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice series includes maps to show the reader the layout of the countries.   And of course, who doesn’t love Tolkien’s detailed maps of Middle Earth.

Author Notes
As I read a lot of historical mysteries and novels, I enjoy when an author includes the research behind the events in the story.  C. S. Harris does an amazing job with her Sebastian St. Cyr books as she relates the events to the history and the politics of the time.  Her protagonist has a unique ocular condition – not going to explain it, you must read these books!!  She detailed in one book the science and history behind the condition; it was fascinating.  I think the historical and research background really adds depth and credibility to the story.  It is one thing to have a great plot, but when that plot is interwoven into real historical events, the circumstances and conflicts that the characters face become much more real.

Chapter Titles
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a bit of a quirky sense of humor.  I love when authors title their chapters.  Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin series includes lines from Irish folklore and history and Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson chapter titles are sayings found on t-shirts.  I love when an author can have fun with the story but also create even more anticipation by having unique chapter titles.  My all-time favorite has to be Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books.  I mean who does not want to read “just one more chapter” when the title is “We Take a Zebra to Vegas.”  Any wonder why I can’t put books down!?

How about you?  What book bonuses trigger your fancy?

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday

maps

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday
I have to admit that I am Buzz Feed Quiz junkie.  You know, the ones that have you answer questions to determine which Disney Princess you are, which Hogwarts House you belong in, and which decade should you have lived in.  In order, Belle (no surprise there), Gryffindor (I wish I was that brave), and the 1950’s (pencil skirts and cocktail hour all the way!).  I recently saw one that “determined” your book interests based on travel preferences, and it got me thinking about settings.  I went through my list of all my favorite mystery writers . . . of course I have a list . . . and not too surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap of locations.  An honorable mention list must include New Orleans, Washington DC, and New York, but here are the four that made the final cut.

The United Kingdom
Big surprise there!  Obviously London – past and present – is number one of my list.  I have been an Anglophile forever, and although I have only had the opportunity to travel to the UK once, I love the juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.  The history combined with all the cultural influences makes the setting full of literary opportunities.  With such a rich history, mysteries can be set in so many different time periods.  I love to read about the social customs and class mores that are indicative to each era.  Some of my favorite authors include maps of historical London and it is fascinating to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I love to read about modern London in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James New Scotland Yard adventures, Regency London through the eyes of C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr, and Victorian London’s Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch.

Of course, the great thing about the UK is that you can include Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  My favorite mystery writer, Anna Lee Huber, sets her Georgian Lady Darby series in Scotland.  A modern day Wales is seen in Elizabeth Dunnett’s Penny Brannigan series and Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans mysteries.

San Francisco
You have probably also noticed my love of San Francisco.  Ah, if money were no object . . . actually, it is an object, just one I don’t have a lot of!  Once again, it is a city with a lot of history and diversity.  With influences from the West and its role in the American Gold Rush and westward expansion history, there is a wealth of potential for conflict and personality.  The cultural and ethnic enclaves within the city are so vibrant that they are also individual and unique settings within the larger city.

I love Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series that is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; the author does a great job at describing the tone and feel of this vibrant neighborhood.  Kate Carlisle is another favorite author of mine; her stories are set all around the heart of the city but she also travels up 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to the wine country as well.  I just discovered Nancy Herriman’s novel of Old San Francisco set post Gold Rush and I look forward to more in that series.

New England
The crisp fall air.  The smell of apple pie.  The sound the pounding surf.  The sight of a dead body.  Don’t you love New England!!  Having lived in the Northeast, I quickly fell in love with the region and it truly does provide a wonderful backdrop to a great crime!  Seriously though, the history, the topography, and customs of decades old generations makes New England a great setting.

Quintessential New England towns provide the perfect setting for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Russ VanAlstyne and Clare Fergusson contemporary mysteries that feature a small town cop and an Episcopalian priest, and for Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers mysteries set in coastal Connecticut.  Kaitlyn Dunnett channels a Scottish heritage in the fictitious Moosetookalook, Maine.

France
Ironically, France had never been a place I had a huge desire to visit, until I was introduced to two great mystery series sent in this beautiful and culturally rich country.  Wine, cheese, the French Alps, the French Riviera.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Of course I would love to go there!!

Two writers that I really enjoy include Mark Pryor and M.L. Longworth.  Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series is set mainly in Paris and I enjoy reading about both the famous and infamous stops that he visits within the city.  M.L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet series takes place in Aix-en-Provence, which is in southern France not too far from Marseille.  I really enjoy the contrast between the two geographically and culturally diverse areas.

Interesting . . . I have lived in two of these locations; perhaps it is time to move again?  As I wrote this, it got me thinking about specific places from novels that I have read that I would like to visit.  I think I see another blog post topic!  How about you?  What are your favorite book settings?

Ice Blue

Ice Blue

Title:  Ice Blue (Lord and Lady Hetheridge 1)
Author:  Emma Jameson
Publisher:  Lyonnesse
Publication Date:  2011
ISBN:  978-148-192180-0

Book Summary:
It is not easy for a woman to be a Detective Sergeant in the male-dominated New Scotland Yard, but Kate Wakefield is bold and brash and just a bit outspoken.  When her superior makes an unsolicited move on her and she retaliates verbally, she is brought to the attention of Chief Superintendent Anthony Hetheridge.  Instead of firing Kate, Hetheridge is impressed with her insight and thoroughness and brings her on to his team.  Hetheridge is as different from Kate as can be; in addition to being almost 30 years her senior, he is also the ninth Baron of Wellegrave.  His aristocratic demeanor and reputation for solid and comprehensive investigating make him a legend at Scotland Yard.  Struggling to control her quips and comments, Kate find that she enjoys working with Hetheridge and appreciates his calm and collected demeanor.

They are called to investigate a particularly brutal murder of a financier.  Malcolm Comfrey is dead and a number of people are pleased about it.  Complicating matters further, Mrs. Comfrey attempts to take advantage of her past relationship with Hetheridge to hurry the case along as she is less than forthcoming with answers.  The drug usage of her daughter Jules and Jules’ fiancé Kevin further obscures the facts.

Kate, however, is not without problems herself.  As guardian to her 8-year-old nephew Henry and caregiver to her mentally challenged brother Ritchie, Kate is constantly juggling home and work.  Her current “out” with boyfriend Dylan becomes more complex with his sudden disappearance when she has news that must be shared with him.

Kate and Hetheridge are both very private people but in order to solve this case without either of them losing their jobs . . . or their lives . . . they must figure out a way to open up with one another about the crime, their own histories, and the possibility of a future.

Book Commentary:
This is one of those “if you like this, you might also this” books.  I ordered it on a whim and am so pleased that I did.  This first story was good but I felt that much of it was devoted to exposition about the characters and their backgrounds.  That being said, I am intrigued enough about the characters and their crime-solving prowess to check out further books in the series.

The author creates a really dynamic relationship between these two very opposite characters.  Although I figured out early “who dun it,” I was very interested and engaged in seeing how the proof and motive evolved.  The author plays a lot on the challenges of a female detective in a very male-dominated environment.  There is a lot of humorous, and almost to a point crass, interchange between the characters that has a very honest and real feel.

The series is billed as a “cozy” mystery but I think it is a bit more than that.  Certainly not as complex as a Deborah Crombie or Elizabeth George Scotland Yard mystery, there is certainly more depth than your average cozy mystery.  I am looking forward to checking out the next book in the series. 

Who might like this book:
If you like a Scotland Yard contemporary mystery, you might want to check this one out.  The contrast of a titled Chief Superintendent and a lowly detective inspector is one that always holds promise and potential, and this one throws in a massive age difference as well.  Fans of Elizabeth George, Anne Cleeland, or Deborah Crombie may enjoy the similarities.  There are four books currently in the series:

Ice Blue
Blue Murder
Something in Blue
Black & Blue

 

 

Four BOOKS I CAN’T WAIT FOR IN 2016 on Friday

Books for 2016

Four BOOKS I CAN’T WAIT FOR IN 2016 on Friday
New Year’s Resolutions are a staple of January but a much more enjoyable aspect of this month is the look at all the new books to be released in the year.  If you haven’t guessed yet, I am a bit detailed oriented.  I have a running list of my favorite authors and when they have scheduled new releases.  I search through Amazon and look up my favorite authors to watch for their latest books.  I keep a monthly schedule so I can either order the book or reserve it at the library.  As always, there are thousands and thousands of new books released each year, but these are four of the ones from some of my favorite authors that I am most excited about.

MARCH – C.S. Harris, When Falcons Fall
C.S. Harris is one of my foremost favorite authors and I absolutely love her Sebastian St. Cyr series.  I have written about this series previously in my Four FAVORITE MYSTERY WRITERS on Friday, and I feel that the series just keeps getting better and better.  Harris does an amazing job at telling a really great mystery that melds together all the beautiful and horrific elements of Regency London while creating engaging and captivating characters.  Every story is unique and allows the reader to truly become immersed in both the plot and setting.  Her characters are multi-dimensional and the reader feels that there is still so much depth to discover.

This is the eleventh book in the series and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the characters grow and evolve.  Sebastian and Hero seem to have found a common ground and have accepted each other and parts of their pasts, but if anything holds true for this series, there is always more to come.  I really appreciate how the author is able to both keep the story and characters fresh and exciting while still making the reader feel the comfort of old friends.  This new book also takes the characters from London which may allow them some more freedom away from society’s restrictions while providing the opportunity for new encounters and situations.

APRIL – Simone St. James, Lost Among the Living
I had to smile when I put this author and book on my list.  Six months ago, I had never read anything by Simone St. James.  Although I had picked up her first book The Haunting of Maddy Clare numerous times, each time I read the back I thought that it just wasn’t for me.  I picked up her newest release The Other Side of Midnight, devoured the book in a day, purchased everything else she had written, and kicked myself for “judging a book by its back cover!”

St. James’ book are individual stories but all take place post World War I and involve a bit of paranormal and a bit of romance.  They are very gothic and atmospheric, but don’t have the creepy horror factor that my over-active imagination avoids.  I am excited about Lost Among the Living because the premise involves a woman who lost her husband during the war and her time with his family divulges secrets that indicate that perhaps she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought.  It is a bit of a divergence from previous stories and I am looking forward to see what she does with it.

MAY – Anna Lee Huber, A Pressing Engagement (ebook)
JUNE – Anna Lee Huber, As Death Draws Near
Squeak!!  What is more exciting than one new book by a favorite author?  Two!!!  One of my very top favorite authors Anna Lee Huber has both an ebook and a full novel to be released this year.  Although I often have mixed feelings about ebooks, I will never squander any opportunity for more works to be written by a favorite author!  The ebooks allow an author to tell a small part of the character’s story that really can add dimension to the series.  A Pressing Engagement hints to look at the wedding between Kiera and Gage, and as always with these two, nothing is simple.  Readers who have followed the series from the start are truly looking forward to this gift.

The series will then continue in June with the fifth novel.  I like a little romance in my mysteries.  Sometime mystery books can become so bogged down in procedurals that they lose their empathy and humanity.  By blending the real human emotions with the pressing need to find justice and security, I think gives a story a greater sense of urgency and builds the anticipation.  Sometimes when the status of the characters’ relationship changes, the series can’t maintain tension and interest.  I have no fear of this with Huber’s newest book.  She has already hinted a bit at the evolving relationship between Kiera and Gage, and I am excited to see how their new status clashes with the societal expectations of a married couple and their own individual juggling of between part of a pair while still maintaining their independence.

AUGUST – Deborah Crombie, The Garden of Lamentations
It has been almost two years since the last Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James book.  To Dwell in Darkness was released in hardcover in September of 2014, and I am so excited to see that the next book in the series will be out this year.  The Garden of Lamentations is the seventeenth book in the series and I truly admire how the author has maintained the freshness and excitement with each new story.  The characters have evolved from working together, to being in a relationship, to being married with a family.  I love how Duncan and Gemma work on separate cases but often find that through the crimes committed or their own police partners or politics du jour, there is a commonality between the stories.

Another aspect I love about Crombie is that as an American, she seems to have such a grasp of the English culture and lifestyle.  I found that as an American reader, I notice how she highlights aspects of the English that are interesting to me as someone who doesn’t live in the UK.  I am curious if the UK readers find her stories as believable and fascinating as I do.

These are only four of the many books I am looking forward to in 2016.  What about you?  What new release of 2016 is top on your most anticipated list?