In the past year a wonderful thing has happened. All four of Charlotte MacLeod’s mystery series have been issued as ebooks. Why do I think that’s such a big deal? Because until the ebooks came out, readers were left squinting at the tiny print in the paperback editions of Charlotte’s novels, courting eyestrain and headaches in order to enjoy the adventures of Max and Sarah, Professor Peter Shandy, Rhys of the Mounties, and the Lobelia Falls Grub and Stakers Gardening and Roving Club. The latter two series have Candian settings and were originally published under the pseudonym Alisa Craig. The electronic editions are under her real name.
Charlotte MacLeod’s mysteries are witty and full of humor, much as the lady herself was. She had a command of the English language that was nothing short of stunning. She wore hats with panache, was fond of cats and, according to the remarks she addressed to the crowd at Malice Domestic III, at which she was the guest of honor, avoided distractions by remaining in her nightwear until she’d finished her writing for the day. This meant she often greeted the postman while wearing a bathrobe. Like many of her characters, she was probably regarded as slightly eccentric. Perhaps that’s why she chose to live in Maine for the last twenty of her eighty-two years. Both writers and eccentrics feel right at home here.
Now that I don’t have to squint, I’m determined to reread all thirty-two series books. I took a great gulp of them the first month or so, devouring Rest You Merry and The Luck Runs Out and Wrack and Rune, the first three novels dealing with mayhem and wackiness at Balaclava Agricultural College, located in a fictional Massachusetts county of the same name. I named the cat in my Liss MacCrimmon series after a family of ne’er-do-wells who appear in that series, the Lumpkins of Lumpkin Corners. Next up is Something the Cat Dragged In. Don’t you love the titles? I’ve also reread The Family Vault, The Withdrawing Room, The Palace Guard, The Bilbao Looking Glass, The Convivial Codfish, and The Plain Old Man from the Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series. The Kellings are a large, upper class Boston family with lots of secrets, assorted peculiarities and, in Sarah’s case, a desperate need to find a way to make a living.
The Alisa Craig titles are just as entertaining. Charlotte was born in New Brunswick, so she had a proper claim to write about both sides of the border. Madoc Rhys of the RCMP and his wife Janet are the sleuths in a series that begins with A Pint of Murder and subsequent books introduce Madoc’s eccentric family, all musicians except for him. The five mysteries with titles beginning The Grub-and-Stakers (The Grub-and-Stakers Move a Mountain, The Grub-and-Stakers Quilt a Bee, etc) follow the misadventures of a young woman named Dittany Henbit who types manuscripts for a living. Her most important client is novelist Arethusa Monk, but it is Arethusa’s nephew Osbert who helps Dittany solve mysteries. Osbert secretly writes Westerns, using the pseudonym Lex Laramie because, as he rightly points out, who would buy a Western written by someone named Osbert Monk?
If you’ve never read a Charlotte MacLeod novel, give one a try. And if you’re looking for a recommendation, start with Rest You Merry. The first chapter will have you in hysterics. Murder is never funny, but the bumbling efforts of both the well- and the evil-intentioned to achieve their ends surely are.