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Sixkill
by Robert Parker
I finished reading Sixkill, Robert Parker's final Spenser novel. I've read all the Spenser novels. I've liked all of them to one degree or another, and this one was good. I thought that the character of Sixkill was a little too much like the wisecracking Hawk only less politically correct. I liked the mystery itself and how it unfolded. I always like the sparseness of Spenser novels. It's something I aspire to, to write so cleanly and say so much in so few words.
Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James
Yeah, so I love Pride and Prejudice and this was an easy sale. It did a lot of the things I wanted, like do a passable Jane Austen voice so that I could almost imagine this is what Jane Austen would write, if she did murder mysteries. It also brought Wickham, Elizabeth, and Darcy back together in tense circumstances. Wickham was not quite a villain, but never the hero, either. I don't want to ruin what happens, but it was a fun read. Not a romp, really, because everything goes at a very staid, Austenesque pace. What it didn't have was any of the romance I love with Jane Austen. It had some fun ties to other Austen books, and the mystery itself worked well. I enjoyed going back to Pemberley. If you are a diehard Austenhard, you probably will, too.

Icefall
by Matthew Kirby
I read and love The Clockwork Three in 2010 when it came out. Icefall is similar in some ways. It feels like a fantasy, but doesn't actually have any magical elements except perhaps some vague legendary hints. On the other hand, instead of The Clockwork Three, this one has a single narrator, Solveig, who is telling her own story as she learns how to become a storyteller. Now, normally I am annoyed by movies about filmmakers and novels about writers. But this story really worked for me. I loved Solveig's journey from undervalued daughter to heroine. I also loved the deeper threads of meaning about what storytellers do and who they are. Liars, yes, performers, yes. Twisters of the truth depending on who is listening, that, too. But the act of storytelling as heroic is dealt with in a multi-layered way that I am still thinking about as a storyteller myself. Kids will love it, too, with plenty of action, suspense, a forbidden romance, the Nordic setting in winter, and the happy ending.
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
Apparently this book has a lot of swearing in it, which my book club pointed out after I picked it. And also, the characters aren't very lovable. But I LOVED the pacing here, and the unfolding of secrets. Yes, the characters were less lovable than they were flashy and interesting. I didn't care. I desperately turned pages to see what happens next. A woman goes missing and her husband is suspected of killing her. He tells part of the story, and she tells the rest. Who is taking revenge on whom?

The Hidden Child
by Camilla Lackberg
I am really interested in Scandinavian crime fiction, and I tried out this Camilla Lackberg because it is about WWII, one of my obsessions. Camilla Lackberg is apparently the "Agatha Christie" of Scandinavian crime fiction. Every sinle one of her titles has been a #1 bestseller in Sweden, which is pretty impressive. I will say that I think that moving from YA to adult fiction has allowed me to do more world building, have more introspection, and more povs, and this is doubly true of European fiction. A lot of pov characters, very short scenes, and it feels almost like the reader is the detective. But I loved the story about the aging people who fought in the war dying off and their secrets coming out as their children go through their things. I loved the chapters in the past as much as the ones in the present. Also, a fat man dances salsa. What's not to love about that? And multiple stories of women giving birth in different circumstances. This is absolutely a feminist book.
Still Life
by Louise Penny
I only recently discovered this wonderful series starring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and set in a rural village south of Montreal. I especially liked the art aspect of the story, and the gradual unfolding of the mystery of the murals that the dead artist painted. This is a great small town mystery where everyone that you are falling in love with could be the criminal and the answer to the question "Who Done It?" ends up causing more problems than it solves.

The Naturals
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
This is Criminal Minds for YA, only really I like it a lot better than Criminal Minds. If specially gifted teens were recruited to work for the FBI, what would they be allowed to do? What pasts would make them suited for this unique job? I liked how we had two mysteries going on here at the same time, and warning--you don't get all your answers in the first book. I also really liked the different and distinct voices. I had to keep reading.
The Lotus Palace
by Jeannie Lin
This is a great historical romance and mystery all tied up in one. I liked the geisha story retold in a much less objectified and exoticized way. I also liked the explanation of how a geisha might come to be, and the relationships between the girls. Then if you fall in love, what do you do? All set against the backdrop of a murder that has to be solved or both lovers are going to be killed or sent to prison for life.

The Secret Portrait
by Lilian Stewart Carl
This is one of my favorite romance/mystery series of all time. I admire Carl enormously for setting off on her own to self-publish these and I'm selfishly glad she did so. The two main characters are Jean Fairbairn (an American expat living in scotland after a disastrous end to her academic career and a relationship with her husband) and Alasdair Cameron (a Scots policeman who turns to private detecting later in the series). I liked the balance of romance and mystery, and I was surprised to discover that I enjoyed the paranormal element, as well. It isn't overpowering and it doesn't rob the characters of their own power. It's just there in the background, informing the mysteries with a historical element and making things morally ambiguous for the two detectives at all times.
The Lincoln Lawyer
by Michael Connelly
Another one of my favorite mystery series at the moment, and you can read stories from several different lead characters' points of view. This one begins with Mickey Haller. Yeah, he's a typical male series character with a tragic past. His wife has divorced him. He's semi-estranged from his daughter and he has a lot to do to make it up. Plus he's trying to scrape together a living with some shady clients. What happens when he's involved in a murder case? He makes mostly moral choices, but he also squeaks around the law just enough to make you wonder--and there are consequences.

Deja Dead
by Kathy Reichs
Another series favorite for mysteries. I admit, I was drawn to this series because I really loved the early seasons of the TV show Bones. I wanted to see how different the original books were. They are very different. If you are annoyed by the author showing off everything she knows about forensics in pages long explanations, this might not be the series for you, but I am fascinated by the details. Though there is a romance always in the background, these are really more about the individual cases. They feel like they are "ripped from the headlines" at times, but hey, why not? I find the relationships between Temperance and her sister and daughter to be more compelling than the romance, to tell the truth. And I like her voice.
The Pericles Commission
by Gary Corby
Another series favorite set in 460 B.C. in Ancient Greece. I think these just keep getting better and better. The nerdy part of me that studied Greek in college is just delighted by the details about Greek life and politics. The sly behind-the-scenes look at famous Greeks that you've read about in other places--from Plato to Socrates--is hilarious. I loved description of anal impalement in what I am sure is a very sick way, and was amused by the decision to use crucifixion as a kinder, gentler way to execute people. There is even a romance going on behind the scenes here, and I love the girlfriend's spunk.

All The Truth that's In Me
by Julie Berry
This unusual mystery is told from first person point of view and the narrator is seriously mentally disturbed. It takes a while to figure out what is going on, but it is well worth it. The setting is the American West, but it's not your typical Western by any means.First of all, it's set more in colonial times. There are some cultural assumptions that have to be set up, and then there are the delicate family relationships. The romance here is so fraught, it made me cry at times. I wanted them to get together so much, but it seemed impossible for so many reasons. A girl who cannot speak for many reasons tells her story to a world that will assume she is a willing prostitute. War is coming to her village, and only she can save them. But will she bother?
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
I've heard it said that this is a retelling of King Lear, but it's a vastly imaginative one, set across New England American dynasties. I loved the atmosphere and the voice. I loved the magical realism. Most of all, I loved the sense of anticipation. You know things are going to go bad, but you don't know exactly how. I wanted so much to reach into the world and change the ending, and I think that is the biggest compliment to the author that you can give. It felt so real, and I cared about the characters so much.

What Angels Fear
by C. S. Harris
Another favorite series, this one historical. I love the complicated romance here, the chance to see the darker side to Regency politics, which are so often shown in Regency romance with a very different slant. This is the beginning of police work and detecting in England officially, and you get to see the nobility and the ordinary folks side by side. You see the results of war and infidelity. Sebastian St. Cyr is estranged from his father. He wasn't supposed to be the heir anyway. He had older brothers, but they died one by one, until his father was left with him, though he always hated his son in the early years. And Sebastian's mother died a tragic death, as well. Sebastian attached himself to a courtesan/actress, sure he would marry her, but she refused. Now he is trapped in a marriage with the daughter of his worst enemy. Perfect stakes and backdrop for great storytelling.
The CaterStreet Hangman
by Anne Perry
This is the first in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, another of my favorites. Rich historical details, plus a great marriage relationship that develops as the series grows. I see very few authors capable of showing a marriage this believable. There are plenty of ups and downs, but I love Charlotte and Thomas Pitt. The series has grown past the detective origins and is now more of a political thriller, but it makes sense. I love even the smaller characters like the housemaids and Aunt Vespasia.

The Face of a Stranger
by Anne Perry
This is the first book in the William Monk series. He knows nothing of his past but what people tell him of himself, and he doesn't appear to have been a very nice man. He is particular in his dress, his speech, and rather prickly in personality. But as he tries to figure out who he was, he rebuilds himself completely into a better person, until he is capable of winning his true love. These are late Victorian stories and are about Britain's quest for power on the world stage. There is a glittering society world, too.
We Shall Not Sleep
by Anne Perry
Can you tell Anne Perry is one of my favorite mystery writers? Yes, I like almost everything she's ever written. This is a great World War I (not II) series that has only 4 books in it. I love the historical details. I always do with Anne Perry. She is meticulous. Perhaps she goes overboard on occasion, but I feel like she almost always has a good plot-based reason to delve into history.

One Came Home
by Amy Timberlake
A well-deserved Newberry Honor book. I love the first line about "the first time I went to my sister's funeral." Just perfect. Georgie's voice is spot on. She's spunky, smart, and pro-active. I ached for her loss, for her guilt, and was crazy with fear about her impulsive actions throughout--as a mother myself. I love the family here, with all its problems, and I loved the mystery and the romance. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the right combination.
Prisoner of Night and Fog
by Anne Blankman
If you don't know I'm a WWII fanatic, you do now. I could not resist buying this book about Hitler's "niece" who discovers who he really is and what he is planning to do to Jews. There's plenty of suspense as the story goes along, but I especially loved the nuanced beginning, when she talks about how she loves Hitler, what a great man he is, how kind he is, and how he is going to raise Germany. We forget sometimes the human side of the man because we are so busy protraying him as the ultimate evil. True evil has no affect unless it feels human, as well.

Herbie's Game
by Timothy Hallinan
I jumped into this series with this book, and I had no trouble following it. I loved Herbie, but it was the relationship with his "father," the mentor of his thieving that really made this book special. Nuanced and delicately played, with wrenching moments and great details. If you have a father you struggle with, this is a great book. And also, a fabulous thief story, as well.
The Ghosts of Belfast
by Stuart Neville
I loved The Ghosts of Belfast as well as The Final Silence. They aren't related books per se, though both are set in Northern Ireland. It's the meticulous voice that is similar in these. Ghosts of Belfast is not your typical crime story. It's about a hit man who is seeking vengeance against all those who hired him, because ghosts are haunting him. You could say it has a paranormal element or that it's just about a crazy person. Either way, this is gripping writing. Each chapter is counting down until he's finished with his work.

In the Woods
by Tana French
This is another of my favorite series. It's set in Dublin with the Murder Squad there, but each book is told by a different detective in first person. At first, you may not like them all, but gradually you start to hear them in your head all day long. And you fall in love, which only makes it worse when the ending every time ends up being a tragedy on all sides. You can read these in any order: Broken Harbor, Faithful Place, The Secret Place, The Likeness are the others. These aren't just mysteries. They're great psychology and family stories, as well.
Ghost Month
by Ed Lin
I know virtually nothing about Taiwan or about the titular "Ghost Month," but was fascinated about the cultural myths and the historical overlay. I also desperately wanted to try some of the food that was described so lovingly here. The detective in this case is an ad hoc, unwilling one, who has to figure out why the woman he once thought he would marry, has ended up dead and so close to home. He gets in over his head, of course, and nearly dies himself. He isn't aways likeable, but he is always understandable.

Grave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers
This is the first in a series set in medieval France about teenage assassin nuns. Yeah, it's as good as it sounds. I love the history, which is all real. I also love the political intrigue and the nasty characters. The romance that eventually develops will make you cheer and wince. Read these all!
Medicus
by Ruth Downie
Another of my favorite mystery series, this one set in Roman Britain (and in Rome, on occasion). One of the rare books that also shows a working marriage with some interesting partners, the Medicus himself and his native British wife. There's none of the CSI stuff that may bother you about television. This is all working in the dark, asking people questions and making yourself a target. Traditional detective work, right? I love the humor and the culture clashes.

A Grave Talent
by Laurie R. King
A series of child murders leads to detective Kate Martinelli investigating her first case in a small community outside San Francisco. She finds that a famous artist is living here under cover, and she is the reason for the murders, though not the murderer herself, despite the setup. The final pages are riveting and have plenty of revelations about Kate's character and her home life. I loved the interaction between the detectives and the background of the story. Made me squirm and cry.
The Cold Dish
by Craig Johnson
Another great series set in Wyoming with the backdrop of the Indian Reservation. I admit, I got into this because I watched the great TV series with Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff first, but the books stand alone. Great voice, great twists and turns, great relationships and motives.

Fool's Assassin
by Robin Hobb
I love Fitzchivalry Farseer and the world he inhabits, but mostly Fitz. And the Fool. And the magic system here. I love how Hobb reinvents old fantasy tropes at every turn. I suppose this isn't strictly mystery, but it's great fantasy. The first book of the entire series is actually Assassin's Apprentice. I cannot recommend any of these books highly enough. And there are murders to investigate, plus assassins right and left. So, crime fiction. In a fantasy world.
Blood of My Blood
by Barry Lyga
The first book in this series is actually I Hunt Killers, but they are all great. Jazz, the son of a serial killer, is the only one who is going to solve a new series of murders in his home town. And he may have to ask his father's help. The side characters are unique, hilarious, and superbly drawn. I can't say enough good about these. Read them or you will be missing out on something marvelous!

Lock In
by John Scalzi
Set in a future where a certain number of the population are "locked in" to their bodies and therefore use either other bodies or mechanical bodies to live normal lives, a murder takes place that when investigated will lead to questions about virtual worlds, about medical care and politics. I loved the ambiguity about one of the detective's gender, and the story unfolds nicely, but is actually a quick read, easy for non-sf afficionados.
The Cuckoo's Calling
by Robert Galbraith
I admit I did not read this until I heard it was written by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. That said, I feel like it's an amazingly different voice. Rowling has been one of my heroes for a long time, and I think she was courageous to write this under a pseudonym. The voice is authentic and the experience of living with a prosthetic leg felt very real to me. The mystery is twisty and surprising, but it's pretty gritty so don't go into thinking it's a children's book. It's all for grownups.

T is for Trespass
by Sue Grafton
Kinsey Milhone is tough, but vulnerable. I really like this series. It's gritty, and there have been a number of breathtaking scenes along the way, but in the end, it's the message that it's always the closest people who are the murderers of the victim. Always. Grim, but there is some truth in it.
Stranger in Paradise
by Robert B. Parker
I enjoy the Spenser novels, but lately I've been more interested in the Jesse Stone/Sunny Randall crossover. I like Sunny, probably more because of her hangups than despite them, and I like Jesse's dialogue, always a strong point for Robert B. Parker.

Crocodile on the Sandbank
by Elizabeth Peters
I just love the combination of mystery and romance in this story. It surprised and amused me.
The Coroner's Lunch
by Colin Cotterill
Set in Thailand with an aging coroner who is disaffected with the Communist regime, this has plenty of culture and politics, but I also love the assistant with Down's Syndrome and the paranormal elements when they appear.

Icefall
by Jacqueline Winspear
Set in the 1940s in post-war Britain with a female detective, these are whimsical, sometimes sentimental, but also spot on period and voice-wise. I love the whole series.
The Boy in the Suitcase
by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Set in Denmark in the present, this is about Nina Borg, a nurse who serves the illegal immigrants of Denmark who do not otherwise have access to public services, including the police. It begins with the discovery of a tiny child--still alive--in a suitcase. But who is he and why is he here? Nina has her own children, but she jeopardizes them to save this boy. This whole series is gritty and I love the way that Nina's motherhood becomes more and more problematic. A lot of this went into the creation of my character, Linda Wallheim, in The Bishop's Wife.

The Troubled Man
by Henning Mankell
Another wonderful series set in Sweden with Kurt Wallender as the protagonist. Yes, I watched the Kenneth Brannagh series first, and they are very faithful to the books. Nonetheless, the books give you more into Wallender's head and into the culture. I named Kurt Wallheim in my series The Bishop's Wife as a tribute to these incredible books.
The Disappeared
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I am thoroughly addicted to this series. It's set in a future where humans find many alien species and have to make laws that punish humans for what seem like bizarre things in order to make treaties and have trade with these aliens. Some of the humans who are about to be punished pay companies to help them "disappear." But as you can imagine, the aliens want their own form of justice. I also love the female detective who is the pov for most of these stories.

A Great Deliverance
by Elizabeth George
Another one of my favorite series of all time, and a must-buy on my list. I started with the TV series, which is quite different except for the set-up with Inspector Lynley as the snobbish British noble and Barbara Havers as his lower class sergeant. The books always start with the crime itself and the world it's set in, and only slowly bring in the detectives. I love the worldbuilding and the third person voice. The mysteries are always interesting, but it's the relationships that draw me back to it again and again.
Veil of Lies
by Jeri Westerson
Crispin is a medieval detective who has a past as a noble in King Richard's court. Great historical backdrop for these adventures, and I love the dilemmas he gets himself into.

Dark Jenny
by Alex Bledsoe
Fantasy mystery, but more mystery than fantasy in my opinion. I was instantly pulled into the narrator and then into the bizarre murder. The supernatural elements are interesting in and of themselves, but this is a mystery that the detective Eddie LaCrosse has a personal stake in, though he doesn't reveal it to the reader until later. Think of this as Western grizzled detective meets Game of Thrones.
Fortune Cookie
by Josi Kilpack
My daughter introduced me to this series, which is published by Shadow Mountain, an imprint of Deseret Book, which is owned by the Mormon Church. The amateur detective/chef is not nominally Mormon, but she follow Mormon rules of courtship and marriage, doesn't drink, but thinks of herself as "Christian." The recipes are fabulous, and the mysteries are exciting, even if they are cozy.

Murder Plain and Simple
by Isabella Alan
Angela Braddock inherits her grandmother's quilt shop in Amish country, and when there is a murder in it, Angela has to figure out who the real murderer is. This to me has some of the feel of The Bishop's Wife with a look into a traditionally closed society that most outsiders think of as harmless. It is more fun, though, with humor and not nearly all the heavy philosphy. I have been interested in the Amish ever since my English teacher in Germany insisted that "Witness" was practically about Mormons, because we dressed like them and wouldn't use telephones, right? No. But really, their history and religion is very interesting, and I read a lot about it and even worked on a novel set in the Amish world for a while.
A Blind Goddess
by James R. Benn
This is a Billy Boyle mystery and for me, hit many of the notes that drew me to the Foyle's War mystery series now available on Netflix. It's set in WWII as American GIs come to live in Britain before the invasion at Normandy and you really get to see the problems with the division between whites and blacks. There's a great mystery set against this backdrop. Read and enjoy!


Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2014 all rights reserved.
Last revised October 2, 2014.