Charlene D’Avanzo: Several mystery novels avid readers (including me) repeatedly endorse:
The Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries have gained dedicated fans over 17 novels (and counting). The first, Still Life, introduces Gamache who investigates murder in tiny Three Pines, Quebec where folks don’t lock their doors. Serene small town life is upset when a woman is found in the woods, an arrow in her heart. Locals call it a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story evolves as a classic whodunit but feels like anything but with deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. Reader note: These stories are best read in order.
Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery and Murder on the Orient Express is one her most famous works, a genre classic. It was supposed to be the perfect crime. But an avalanche stops the Orient Express in its tracks just before a passenger is found murdered in his berth, foiling the perpetrator’s escape, and trapping 13 potential suspects – each with an airtight alibi – on the train with Inspector Hercule Poirot.
The bingeable mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear is a perfect balance of cozy and compelling, with darker details of WWI as backdrop and a wonderful heroine to root for. Book one introduces Maisie Dobbs who trades wartime nursing for her own private investigation practice at the Great War’s end. Her first case seems like a run-of-the-mill infidelity, but looking deeper Maisie finds disturbing secrets connected to the war, and she must confront her own trauma to solve the case. Maisie’s strong empathy and nurse’s training make her uniquely suited to detective work, and learning more about her is just as enjoyable as following the mystery.
Gaudy Night, a Lord Peter Winsey-Harriet Vane mystery, is Dorothy Sayers’ tenth Lord Peter novel, the first told from the perspective of Harriet Vane’s perspective, and one of her finest. (They needn’t be read in order.) When Ms. Vane returns to Oxford for her college’s reunion (the title’s “gaudy”), a festive mood is threatened by an outbreak of murderous threats. Sayers makes this much more than a crime novel, though it’s a good one—through Harriet who struggles with questions of love and friendship, life and work, gender and class, and the writing life. Read this and then go back and read all the Lord Peter mysteries, beginning with Whose Body?.
Sue Grafton is best known for her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries. In A is for alibi Kinsey sets up a new detective agency in Santa Teresa, California. She’s a classic noir detective—twice-divorced, a loner, fond of the underdog—and she finds herself drawn in by a woman out on parole for her husband’s murder. As twists keep coming (and the bodies stack up), Kinsey is more and more danger. Kinsey is a great character: rough around the edges, tough and motivated.
I’ll end with a book sitting on my bedside table: Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon whose books are called “the next best thing to being in Venice.” Here, a world-renowned conductor’s intermission refreshment comes one night with a little something extra – cyanide. Guido Brunetti, vice-commissario of police and detective genius, finding a suspect isn’t a problem but narrowing the large group of enemies down to one is. As Brunetti pieces together clues, a shocking picture of depravity and revenge emerges, leaving him torn between what is and what should be right — and questioning what the law can do, and what needs to be done.
Must add Donna Leon to my list.