Readers, one of the most common requests we hear from our online community is for mystery series recommendations, so if you’re in that camp, you’ll definitely want to listen in to today’s conversation!
Houston Luke’s been a reader since her grandmother signed her up for a library card at the age of two, and while she loves reading broadly, she always has a mystery on her nightstand.
But with only a few titles left to read in the well-established series she’s loved, Houston is looking for a new character-led mystery series (or ideally, several) she can devour. I’m here to help stock her mystery shelves with some multi-book series featuring characters she’ll connect with and evocative settings that invite her into the story.
Do you have a mystery series to recommend to Houston? Let us know in the comments!
Connect with Houston on Instagram to see what she’s been reading lately.
ANNE: Series are a sort of security blanket, and you can take a break for a few books, or a few dozen books, but …
HOUSTON: But why would you want to? [ANNE LAUGHS]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 323.
Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?
We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.
Readers, with everything going on in the world right now, it’s nice to know there are concrete ways to support the people and things we love. One small action that has a big impact is pre-ordering books from your favorite authors.
My new book journal for 8-12 year old readers called My Reading Adventures comes out on August 2, and it’s available for pre-orders now. By pre-ordering this book, you’re telling publishers and retailers that you are invested in books like this, and you want to do what you can to help prevent shipping delays, inventory challenges, and the other problems plaguing the publishing industry in 2022. Some can’t be avoided entirely—like, say, a shipping container sinking to the bottom of the ocean—but by pre-ordering, you’re sending an important message of support to your favorite authors, and believe me when I say, it truly makes a difference.
Find out more about My Reading Adventures at modernmrsdarcy.com/kidsjournal. That’s modernmrsdarcy.com/kidsjournal.
Readers, today’s guest loves reading mysteries, but as she approaches the end of several well-established series, she has her own mystery to solve: what to read after she’s all caught up on Louise Penny?
Houston Luke was given her first library card by her grandmother when she was just 2 years old, and reading became one of her true loves. (As a geologist, Houston’s the first to tell you that her other true love is rocks! You’ll hear about that today.) Houston grew up in a reading household and was introduced to a wide range of genres, and as an adult, she still reads broadly, but one type of book is always on her nightstand: mysteries that let her play both Sherlock and Watson.
Houston’s read many of the well-known and well-loved character-led mystery series that we’ve discussed here on the podcast, including Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Louise Penny’s Gamache, and now she’s looking for a new detective she can connect with. Because Houston MUST have a mystery going at all times, she's looking for an established multi-book series—or better yet, several of them—that will pull her into the world and let her get to know the characters, while making it easy to know what she's reading next. My recommendations today will give her a full caseload to investigate!
Let's get to it.
Houston, welcome to the show.
HOUSTON: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here today.
ANNE: What made you think it might be fun to come on?
HOUSTON: Oh, I wanted to come on, I think since I started listening to the podcast, which was about, I want to say, about four years ago now. I kinda came in late to the game, and I had started work at a lab at my university where we were kinda in like by ourselves in like very monotonous work for hours at a time and one of my co-workers had recommended me getting on podcasts and audiobooks to kinda fill that dead space while I watched machines just kinda spin. [ANNE LAUGHS]
So I ended up kinda just started looking at everything and she gave me several other podcasts that ended up finding What Should I Read Next because I actually used to grow up in Thomasville, Georgia, and so I knew of The Bookshelf and then whenever I started following them, they mentioned you, and so that's kinda how I got connected to all the book podcasts people.
ANNE: Oh that's so fun. Well thank you Annie Jones and all the friendly folks at The Bookshelf. Now tell me more about that lab because I'm not sure any other guest has previously said while listening to podcasts in my laboratory. I like it.
HOUSTON: Probably one of the best jobs I've had. I was a student employee at the University of Georgia in a laboratory called the Center of Applied Isotope Studies in which they utilized chemical makeup of different elements to kinda help with archeology digs. When they would go back and do kinda analysis on either like artifacts or other organic materials from dig sites and that would end up kinda giving them a lot of background information that they wouldn't just know from any written documents and stuff like that.
ANNE: Okay, Houston, what is an isotope lab? I mean you told us a little bit about how it's applied, but I don't even know what to ask with my liberal arts degree, not a science one.
HOUSTON: I worked specifically with the elements strontium and lead because they could be used the most in different types of metals and archeological objects. And so we would get either shells or bones or clay pots and we would break them down using different types of acid to get them down to where we would only have one element in front of us, and then it would get put into this machine called a mass spectrometer and basically what happens is that isotopes are the different types of proton to neutron levels in an element.
So you have carbon 14, but you also hear of carbon 16, and that's just because they have more electrons than the other one, and so they can actually measure how many of the different levels of those different isotopes in that element there are, and that can also tell them location and different types of information about archeological digs because they're very particular to what a certain area of the world.
So every location on the globe has its own specific isotope reading, and so when you put it in the mass spectrometer, which basically just kinda like throws the elements around and the heavier elements will kinda get pushed out and counted separated from the lighter elements and then that ratio is what they use to locate where this person may have lived their whole life or if they moved during their lifetime, that's kinda what it ends up telling you.
ANNE: I'm often asking our guests like is there a moment when you just fell in love with reading? But what I really want to know first is was there a moment where you fell in love with geology, where you thought like yes, I can see myself doing this for decades?
HOUSTON: One thing that like even people growing up with me would tell you, I would pick up rocks literally all the time. I was that kid like all kids love rocks at some point during their upbringing and will just stick them in their pockets and you have to find them during laundry day. [ANNE LAUGHS] And I just never stopped really.
It never really occurred to me I could do it until I was applying to colleges 'cause I was thinking I would go for a literary degree and then it was like you could be a geologist and I was like oh, I can? [LAUGHS] I'll do that then. [ANNE LAUGHS] As I started doing the classes, even with life happening, every which way you go, I just kinda felt like yeah, that was what I needed to do and wanted to be just where it went.
ANNE: Okay, now I do want to know. Was there a moment where you remember just falling in love with the written word?
HOUSTON: I'm trying to think 'cause honestly books have just always been a part of my life. When I was born, my family were huge readers and specifically my grandmother kinda spearheaded that in our family and so she … From the moment like you could hold a book we were at the library. And it wasn't until college, I actually was in Athens setting up my own library card at their public library system and it's the PINES library system here in Georgia, and they were like oh, you already have a library card with us. And I was like I don't think I do. What are you talking about? And they were like yeah, it got set up in '97, and I had to go back and think about that my grandmother apparently got me a library card when I was two years old.
HOUSTON: As soon as I was able to like sit up basically she was like yup, you're going to be a reader.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] How else has your grandmother's love of reading affected your reading life?
HOUSTON: Definitely like she would take us to the library, like everyone in our family was taken to the library since they could walk basically, so she kinda got everybody at least would read something. So like my mom and her siblings, they each kinda have their own genre that they stick to, but she really kinda was always like you should have a book with you at some point. You might not read it, but you're definitely going to want to read it eventually, but her strongest genre that she would go to was mysteries. She had mystery books all the time in her house and she loved mystery shows and just everything like Murder She Wrote was big growing up for me. [LAUGHS]
HOUSTON: We would just read a lot of Agatha Christie. That became a comfort for me if I read murder mysteries was like this is my relaxing environment.
ANNE: I think it's been so interesting to see how mysteries have become even more popular in the pandemic. I mean, obviously they’re a very popular genre and a stable in many readers reading lives, but during the past few years when so much for so many of us has been so out of our control and out of our hands and we don't know how it's going to end, you can pick up a murder mystery. 375 pages. A problem is presented. It is worked through. It is solved. It is over. Super satisfying. But I don't have to tell you that. [HOUSTON LAUGHS] I'm guessing you already know.
HOUSTON: I really do. I enjoy … I think the way I sometimes would describe it is I like being Sherlock and Watson. Because I … [ANNE LAUGHS] I really want to try and figure it out for myself but then someone has to walk me through it to know if I'm right or not, so I'm always sitting there like tell me what it was. What did I miss?
ANNE: Houston, tell me what your reading life is like these days. I know that you mentioned a strong love of audiobooks and of mysteries. How else would you describe your reading life?
HOUSTON: I will pick up probably any book that strikes my fancy and see if I like it or not. Like I said, all of my family members each kinda read their own genre and when I came in I was an only child and kinda the only grandchild and only niece and nephew for kind of a long period of time so everyone wanted to share what they did with me.
My mom was in to fiction and any kind of fantasy novel that could just be light and fun and while my grandmother obviosuly did a lot more of the murders and procedure books and then my two uncles both are very different. One reads kinda nonfiction exclusively, and so he can help me find very good nonfiction books and so some of my favorite books actually have the nonfiction surprisingly enough. And then the other uncle was like into sci-fi and all like the really high fantasy, more obscure titles.
So there's like almost nothing off the table except horror just because books will stay with me, so anything that will like actually kinda make me scared and like true crime especially, even as much as I love mysteries, is a little too wild for me [ANNE LAUGHS] and it'll just escalate with me.
ANNE: Oh, I love that reading is a family affair for you guys and that your grandmother and your uncles set you up with such a strong foundation. Houston, I would love to hear examples of a nonfiction book you picked up because your uncle found it, or a high fantasy book where the same thing happened.
HOUSTON: Well, obviously Lord of the Rings. My uncle actually ended up having like three copies of the whole series, like just three separate copies, and finally he was like I don't need three. You should read these, and of course that opens the door to Tolkien and all of that world so, kinda no turning back there. And with nonfiction there's an author named Simon Winchester who writes exclusively about geological events, like historic, geological events. My uncle's pulled books for me from his kinda reading that he's like you should read this.
ANNE: Well, Houston, I'm really excited to see where today's conversation takes us. I know you have a literary dilemma that I am really excited about digging into more. But first we're going to explore more of what you enjoy in your reading life book wise. Are you ready to dive in?
HOUSTON: I am.
ANNE: You know how this works. You are going to tell me about three books you love, one book you don't, and what you've been reading lately and we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next. Houston, how did you choose these books for today?
HOUSTON: So obviously I chose anything that was very murder mystery, but I also tend to say I'm a very cozy mystery person, so for me it is all about the lead character in my murder mystery books. I chose kinda widely from my entire life of reading where these are kind of the books that like will have stayed with me and all of them are from kind of different points in my life, so I think they each kinda really helped me focus in on what makes me love these books so much.
ANNE: When you say cozy mystery, what are the qualities you have in mind?
HOUSTON: For me I think it's definitely like you obviously have a murder mystery going on, but a cozy mystery are armchair mysteries – I've also heard them called that – is going to be the same location basically through all the books and you're going to have the same lead detective through all the books.
I really like kinda that sense of I know who I'm going to be with and where I'm going to be during the story, and then they're really kinda more heavy on the characters and everyone around in the mystery kinda takes a backseat but it kinda drives the catalyst of everything that's happening in the story, but we're not solely like obsessed with who did it in this sense. It's kinda going to be unfurled through the character interactions through the rest of the book.
ANNE: Right because your friend the detective or the officer or whatever has their own life to live and you need to know what's happening in it.
HOUSTON: Exactly. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Alright, that's super helpful as we dive in. Tell me about the first book you love.
HOUSTON: So the first book I picked is obviously starting back at my first kinda intro to cozy mysteries. She is the queen of mystery for a reason. Agatha Christie. Poirot is really the one that I connect with the most just for some reason I love him more than even the smart bowl. So obviously from his books I chose Murder on the Orient Express because I just don't feel like anything is ever going to hold a candle [LAUGHS] to that mystery and how it comes about because especially it's kind of one in the semi middle of all her books that she wrote, so it's not her first book so you have a pretty good idea of his character by that point, and you're familiar with him.
So how he responds to everyone that he's having to speak to in this investigation and it's one that also really kinda tries on his world beliefs about what his job is in the world and you know him so well that you're sitting there wrestling with him about the decisions he has to make. The end for me was probably one of like the most interesting book endings I've ever read and I recommend it to people all the time to be like you should definitely read this one.
ANNE: What else made this such a great reading experience for you?
HOUSTON: I'm trying to think, like I'm trying not to give it away. I don't know if there's [ANNE LAUGHS] anyone who hasn't read the book to be perfectly honest, so I don't know how much I could give away if people just already know, but it kinda breaks the traditional like point A to point B to point C murder mystery while still having all the elements. It made it for a very unique storytelling experience, which I feel like Agatha Christie also was like really good at as she establishes basically the entirety of this genre and then would sit there and be like I'm going to change it though. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Houston, you love audiobooks, so I feel it's important that we put on the record here that I only listened to this for the first time in the last five years. I've never read this Christie novel, but so many friends, especially writer friends have said like she is the queen. This one is the best. What are you even doing, Anne? [HOUSTON LAUGHS] So I did. I finally listened, and I listened to the Dan Stevens narration, and it was wonderful.
HOUSTON: Oh, I didn't know he narrated it. That would probably be like such a good narration for the book.
ANNE: It was good. Okay, I'm so glad that you loved it and that obviously you had to start there. Was it difficult to choose your other books?
HOUSTON: Not really that hard actually ‘cause like especially my second one was not hard at all. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, tell me about it.
HOUSTON: So my second one I feel like I want to call her the contemporary queen of mystery is Louise Penny.
HOUSTON: I found Louise Penny actually right after I started listening to What Should I Read Next. It was like the second podcast episode I listened to in real time that you started talking about Louise Penny, and I was like well that sounds fun. I like murder mysteries. I'll give her a chance. I have not looked back after listening to the first one. [ANNE LAUGHS]
I was in that lab and found Still Life, her first book, on audio when they were still read by Ralph Cosham. Rest in peace. That was like still kind of a hard thing to deal with, with his passing, but whenever I read that I just fell in love with the entire Gamache series, but I felt like I had to at least narrow it down to one book.
But my choice was actually All the Devils Are Here which was her next to last current book out. I also wanted to establish that Bury Your Dead was my favorite. That was book five in the series and that was seriously my favorite all the way up to All The Devils Are Here, which is book fifteen. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: All The Devils Are Here is the Paris book, yes?
HOUSTON: Yes. So it's the one they actually do like I said they kinda went out from their cozy mystery element of being in the same place to a different location. Bury Your Dead also kinda leaves Three Pines when I think about it, so I don't know what that says about my list now.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] It's still the same characters. They just take trips every other novel. But it's the one set in Quebec City during winter carnival I think.
HOUSTON: Correct, yes.
ANNE: Okay. I'm glad to hear you liked Still Life right away. Listeners, what I often say about this series is Still Life is slow to develop. The murders in book two and three are kinda weird, and then the series really hits it stride in book four, but it's now been a long time since I've read those early books. I don't know, what was your experience like, Houston?
HOUSTON: I think especially also starting with audiobooks made a very different impression 'cause when you get a good audio narrator, that's going to change your perspective of the book, which you talk about on the show I feel like a lot, and Ralph Cosham just really did bring those characters to life and then the specific recordings that they did ‘cause I believe she works with MacMillian Audio, they have interviews almost every end of the book with Louise Penny herself.
ANNE: Oh, really?
HOUSTON: Yes, and so it was kinda like I would finish the book and then she would kinda debrief with me about the book is what it feels like.
HOUSTON: She kinda was talking about how the first four books were the only things she thought she was going to write and they were each set in a different season of Canada, so it was like winter, spring, fall, and summer. Probably about like ten or eleven books with her and Ralph Cosham having little interviews with one another at the end of each audiobook gave a lot more depth and life to the books so it almost kinda feels like the characters in the book are real people and I have to remind myself that they're not. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I do enjoy those interviews at the end of some audiobooks, but I don't know that I've heard one for a Louise Penny novel. I know that Ralph Cosham was beloved by listeners, but then he died before Louise Penny was done with the series. That’s an awkward way to put this, but after his death Robert Bathurst has taken over and what do you think of those audios, Houston?
HOUSTON: So actually going back to those little debriefs of Louise Penny, the first audiobook after Ralph Cosham passing, before the audiobook even started, they had a recording with Louise Penny in which she kinda was telling fans of the books who had been listening specifically to her books through audio only, which I was one of those people, she kinda sat down with us and was like Ralph Cosham is my best friend. I miss him dearly, but we want to keep giving you all like a very good experience, so we went through the ringer trying to find someone to replace him and so we have ultimately chosen Robert Bathurst and she's kinda like here's my seal of approval. You're okay. You're in good hands, and so I think that definitely made me give him more of a chance to listen to his audiobooks ‘cause I probably would have just stopped listening.
ANNE: I love the way you described that. She sat us down. [LAUGHS]
HOUSTON: Well, she did. It was the first thing, like usually it starts with kinda like the introduction of the audiobook company, but it was like her voice first going like okay let's talk.
ANNE: Aww, that makes me wanna go listen, Houston.
HOUSTON: It does.
ANNE: And track down book eleven and listen to Louise Penny's pep talk.
HOUSTON: And I think for me like kinda knowing that she cares that much about her books also makes me wanna care about the books.
ANNE: Uh- huh. Okay, so the series. You love it. Now you're what, sixteen, seventeen books in?
HOUSTON: Yes, I actually just got from the library off hold the latest book. So The Madness of the Crowd I am kinda in the beginnings of that book and I'm a little bit sad about it 'cause I know it's not her last book. At least I hope it's not her last book that she's going to write for us, but it means I've caught up 'cause I've spent probably about like three years going through the audiobooks. The first ones, all the old backlist titles, I could get just kinda immediately from the library.
ANNE: Yeah, yeah.
HOUSTON: And then started as they got newer and newer had to wait longer and longer for the audiobooks.
ANNE: And now you have to wait for the actual book to be written and published.
HOUSTON: Yeah, now I have to wait and it's going to be such a weird ...
ANNE: Aw, that's such a bummer. [LAUGHS]
HOUSTON: It feels weird after like getting to just read her books whenever I wanted to on audio and now I'm like oh, huh. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I mean, it's amazing and terrible to be caught up.
HOUSTON: Yes. [LAUGHS] Exactly.
ANNE: Well I know many listening right now completely identify with your experience there. Houston, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
HOUSTON: The Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman. So this book series is set in a British retirement village where all of the four main characters are in their 80s and 90s. They solve murders that happen around the town that their little retirement community is attached to, kinda just for fun. I just truly fell in love with the characters. They're presented first off like oh, they're old and doty and here they are now in a retirement community and it really is like no, we still have interests and we know how to have fun and we're going to prove you all that we're still way smarter than you. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: I haven't read the second one yet but I did listen to the first one on audio. Is that how you read this book?
HOUSTON: I bought it when it came out 'cause it was one of the books my book club chose to read.
ANNE: [GASPS] You read this in print?
HOUSTON: Yes, I did read it in print.
ANNE: I'm so surprised.
HOUSTON: I know.
ANNE: Okay, tell me more about that.
HOUSTON: So I had to be able to start and stop it a little bit more so I could follow what our chapter readings were, so as an audiobook like I can't do that, like if it's going I'm not going to stop it. [LAUGHS] 'Cause even in like the printed version I think I would still read ahead 'cause I just had to know what happened.
They wouldn't do it to be mean, but the characters definitely like to trick people into thinking they were like not as like capable as they truly were and for some reason I found that just delightful and just wanted to see how [ANNE LAUGHS] they would pull the wool over someone's eyes in the next scene.
ANNE: I remember listening to book one. I think it begins with the young detective dropping in on the group that becomes known as the Thursday Murder Club and she thinks oh, I'm going to go talk to seniors about, you know, security and to lock their doors and to watch out for themselves and be savvy and not get fished on the Internet. [LAUGHS] Instead they have all these like super detailed questions about like solving murders and her slow dawning realization about what she's stepped into is just so delightful.
HOUSTON: It really was.
ANNE: There's some pretty grisly stuff in The Thursday Murder Club, but it sounds like that's okay for you when it's wrapped in this package.
HOUSTON: It definitely is. It's not like the main focus of my book, I can kinda jump over I feel like hard things, but I do think a lot of the books kinda more heavy elements are tied so closely to the characters and I feel very much for these characters that I'm like okay, I'm going to sit here with you 'cause you have to go through it.
ANNE: I'm a little surprised at Thursday Murder Club because, Houston, I've been developing this picture in my mind of you as a reader of lengthy, ongoing series that'll keep you busy for a good, long time. As we're speaking now, there's just two books, and there's a third one planned. Planned for release in September of 2022, so knock on wood because publication dates continue to be disrupted for very strange and uncontrollable for reasons. That's not the like oh, 20 books to look forward to kinda series that I thought you might be gravitating towards. Tell me more about that.
HOUSTON: So I chose Thursday Murder Club to kinda show how character really is something that means a lot to me, like I think I talked about it with Gamache and Poirot, just how connected and how much I wanted to sit with the characters is kinda one of the things that helps me gravitate 'cause as soon as the second book came out I grabbed it up and read it, but then of course like with Louise Penny now that I am caught up, it's like, oh no, what do I do now [ANNE LAUGHS] that I've read them?
ANNE: Series are a sort of security blanket. You always know what you can read next, and you can take a break for a few books or a few dozen books, but ...
HOUSTON: But why would you want to?
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I think that says a lot about your reading personality, Houston.
HOUSTON: Probably. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So today we want to find you some new murder mystery series, but first to help us narrow it down, tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.
HOUSTON: The book that I picked that wasn't right for me was A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, which I've actually heard on the show has been people's favorites and so I was kinda curious about that for me. It just did not draw me in and I think the main reason is because the protagonist that's solving these mysteries that are presented to her – the best word I can choose is unapproachable, like you don't really want to sit down and have tea with her is the way it makes me feel.
I really did not care what happened to her in her book, kinda going back to that character development, like I kinda want to be the Watson as well. Like I want to stay with you in this book and as annoying as some characters can be, there's always something that's still likable about them, like Poirot's kinda very rude to people when he really think about it in [ANNE LAUGHS] his books. But you still like him 'cause you know he's not a bad person. Her character was just so selfish and really did not care about people around her. It felt like that it was all about her, and I was just like not for me.
ANNE: Okay. So in A Curious Beginning, which you're right, that has been a guest favorite and a book I've recommended to guests who are really drawn to her as a heroine in the Victorian era as in convention flouting, I don't care what you think, like badass, butterfly-catching Victorian, you know, take your opinion and shove it lady detective. I mean, she's got some strong like enneagram-8 energy.
HOUSTON: Yes. [LAUGHS] Very much so.
ANNE: But I hear you describing scholarly, methodical detectives who are going to walk you through their very detailed and logical thought process and you really enjoy that puzzling aspect of it. And they’re also like inside their worlds and not like hammering against it.
HOUSTON: That probably is it 'cause I love like you said the cozy like here is your city you are in. Here is the person you are with. We also kind of one other books that kinda think of are the Alan Bradley’s Flavia De Luce mysteries. Her little town of Bishop's Lacey, like I could probably sit here. I've only read three of his books but I could name you probably every one who lives in Bishop's Lacey. But I can't even remember [ANNE LAUGHS] the other characters in Veronica Speedwell.
ANNE: Houston, what have you been reading lately?
HOUSTON: Lately I've been reading The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H. G. Parry.
ANNE: Oh, I don't know that one. Tell me about it.
HOUSTON: So I actually heard about it from Strong Sense of Place podcast. I'm just going to do all the name drops in my episode.
ANNE: Oh, hi, Mel and Dave. That's so fun.
HOUSTON: So I do love all their recommendations and this book specifically kinda takes us back to a lot of literary characters that are more familiar 'cause in this story basically one of the characters has the ability to read characters out of their stories, but they're always a little bit in the guise of how he interprets their character from the author's writing. And then the catalyst of this book, 'cause this won't give super cool away, characters are popping up he has not been reading out of the book, and so him and his brother have to start kinda solving this mystery of like why these characters are showing up if it's not him.
And it kinda explores a little bit about literary theory and just kinda what your interpretation of books are and how you like and read the books that you do. So I think it's been kinda this really exploration of the love of reading but through the guise of this like very fantasy but fun novel about what's happening with these characters coming to life. I have gotten like I mentioned The Madness of the Crowd by Louise Penny.
ANNE: Uh huh. And how's that feeling?
HOUSTON: It makes me want to read it slower, so I actually listen to audiobooks at 1.3, which shaves off actually a lot more time than I even expected it would, which means I will probably finish the book faster than I want to and I don't want to finish.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] That is a commerisatory laugh. I hear ya. I mean, it's going to be a happy day when you get to finish a new Louise Penny novel, but also a sad one for reasons we have discussed.
HOUSTON: Especially this one I think 'cause I know there's not one going to be automatically waiting for me at the end of finishing it, and so then I have to wait for the book to come out and then I have to either wait for it on hold to get the audio at the library or I might just go like buy the audiobook for that one just so I don't have to wait that time.
ANNE: Houston, let's talk about what you're looking for in your reading life right now. You're looking for more murder mystery series that … I want you to finish. How would you describe it specifically?
HOUSTON: So I definitely would like to find more maybe backlist titles of murder mystery series that I have just not been able to stumble across, and especially ones who authors have probably a lot of books that would allow me to get through them because especially with Thursday Murder Club and the Louise Penny books, I'm kinda now running out of murder mystery books. I still have the Alan Bradley books to get through. With his series I'm kinda going through them slowly, trying to make them last 'cause there's only nine in his series.
But I definitely need books to kinda have and I especially after writing down all of my lists I've realized all of my murder mystery books take place in England [LAUGHS] with very, very English protagonists and it does seem to be like the English got a hold of the cozy murder mysteries [ANNE LAUGHS] that have more of the elements I like the best but I think it would also be just really cool to be able to spread out from England and get other nationalities in that as well, so from different perspectives and different areas and not just like the solely anglocain set of murder mysteries that would also be a good way to broaden what I've been reading in that genre alone.
ANNE: Okay, so the series springing immediately to mind, they're English. They're Canadian. We might talk about them anyway, but duly noted.
HOUSTON: I think maybe more like unusual characters as the protagonist 'cause I also, I don't know if it's just is not going to be something we can fix or not fix but they also tend to all be male protagonists and I don't know if there's like finding ways to get more diverse and even the protagonists because the three I listed kinda had male protagonists and the one I didn't like was the only female protagonist really on my list.
ANNE: Uh huh.
HOUSTON: I kinda don't want it to be like I don't like female detectives. I'm like I don't know. I just didn't like this female detective. [LAUGHS] Maybe that too.
ANNE: Okay, Houston, let's see what we can do here. You love Murder on the Orient Express and a whole bunch of other works of Agatha Christie, All the Devils Are Here and all the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny, and then a newer series, The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Not for you, A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, and the Veronica Speedwell series because you have a pretty solid idea of what you enjoy in murder mysteries. It has a lot to do with what the protagonist is like and what the protagonist's relationships and world is like and that isn't quite what you were looking for.
Lately you've been reading your final Louise Penny book. Hopefully not the final Louise Penny book, but the final one out right now that you have not yet read, The Madness Of Crowds, and The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H. G. Parry, and you're looking for some more series and if they featured female protagonists and/or they were not set in England. It sounds like you’ve read a ton of English mysteries and then Louise Penny, your favorite, happens to be Canadian. But to branch beyond those cultures and that geographies would be welcome. Does that sound right to you?
HOUSTON: Yes it does.
ANNE: Okay, and we talked a little bit about the kinds of protagonists you enjoy and I mean, the good news is that I do think there are a fair number of series out there that can keep you happy for a good, long time and I want to start with a long running series that I'm sorry to say is set in England. Can we do that?
HOUSTON: Yes. We can definitely talk about them. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. Okay. And there's several, I mean, I mean there are other authors that we could certainly talk about but this is my favorite for you and I think also for Louise Penny fans. This is a long running series by Deborah Crombie. It's the Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series and it has been running for a good, like your lifetime basically. Her first book, A Share in Death, was published in 1993. I don't know if she intended to write a series when she got going, but a new book has come out every two to four years since that time. The 19th book in this series is slated for publication in February 2023. Even if you catch up and read the first 18, like she – like Louise Penny is still writing and I think this series holds a lot of appeal for fans who do enjoy that Inspector Gamache series.
I especially love how the Scotland Yard police work is only half the content, but I'm getting ahead of myself. So the protagonists in this series are Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. And I don't want to give any spoilers away as the series develops, but when the series begins, Duncan Kincaid is the London-based Scotland Yard detective and Gemma James is his assistant who's eager to demonstrate that she has the chops, like to do great police work, like what it seems like all the men around her and she feels like she really has to prove herself.
The first book is A Share in Death and it's set at a posh, because it's British, so it's posh resort where Duncan Kincaid happens to be on holiday, but you know when a Scotland Yard detective goes on holiday in a novel, I mean, you know, what's going to happen and that is a body is found in the resort pool and the local detective says oh, suicide. Easy. Done. Over. But Kincaid is certain there is more to the story and Gemma pops over to help.
That is just the beginning of this long running series, but as the series progresses, I mean, this is true from the beginning but you get like more and more details and more of like a fully built out, oh these people are my friends and neighbors, how are they doing, what are they up to feel as the series progresses. You get so much storytime dedicated to the detectives and their colleagues' personal lives, the dramas, the romantic entanglements. So for that reason I would really recommend reading these in order, but I think this has a whole lot of what you are looking for. Characters that you really get to know over a long, long time. You get really deep in their lives and you get to come along as they do their work and solve the contained crime that exists in every novel. How does that sound?
HOUSTON: That sounds great, especially the reading them in order part ‘cause I probably would have done that anyway but knowing that it's acceptable in this is great. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: You know, I'm glad you said that because the way you were describing your approach to these series, I just assumed you were reading them in order but that's – it's good to have that out in the open on the table but I do think that would be a really good fit for you, Houston.
Next I want to go to Canada, but we're going to Toronto, not Quebec, so it's a little bit different, but these are more contemporary. I wish I knew if the series was still ongoing. I want it to be for what it's worth, but again this series takes its name from the two detectives at the core of the book, and just like Deborah Crombie, this series features a male detective and a female detective working in tandem. But there's something just really fun about those partnership duos that often have their own like little troubles and triumphs that make for such interesting reading, but this is the Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty mysteries series by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Are you familiar with these, Houston?
HOUSTON: I have not, but it already sounds super great with the author 'cause I'm assuming she's from the Pakistan area of Toronto.
ANNE: I know that her heritage is South Asian and I know that she has written about the specifics in her like wonderful author's note, or if you look up her bio, but I like that appeals to you right off because that is really crucial to these books actually.
Esa Khattak and his assistant Rachel Getty are part of the special unit, I think it's called Community Policing in the Toronto force, and what their unit does is represent the needs and interests of minority communities in Toronto, but with their presence in those communities they also represent law enforcement to them as they’re solving thorny and complex crimes that take place in those communities.
And actually I think you would really relate to the author's personal background because what she says is that when she begin this series I'm going to say like 2016 ish, give or take a year or two, she grew up loving crime novels and crime TV and she really enjoyed reading about, you know, the whipsmart detective probably with the tortured past [HOUSTON LAUGHS] that was informing like his understanding of how people were going to act and the emotions driving these terrible crimes, but what she said is she hadn't seen a lot of people in these books that she loved so much with backgrounds like her own, and she's written these detective novels and she's also written a lot of fantasy novels which I think is so interesting. I haven't read her fantasy work, but in this series, her two detectives who very much work together and you get their whole personal back stories.
The first book of the series – it's called The Unquiet Dead and in this book the two are called in to investigate what again was just in A Share in Death looks like an accidental death. A wealthy local man dies, but it slowly becomes apparent that the roots of this crime ... it's not just an accident. It goes far deeper and far further into the past than the detectives could ever, than anyone could have dreamed.
There are five books in this series and I think I mean these are really excellently done procedurals but I think that extra layers could be another point of interest. They're called upon to investigate crimes often in the Muslim community of Toronto, the way they navigate cultural and political divides as they work to solve these crimes, I think you could really enjoy that.
HOUSTON: That actually sounds amazing 'cause I do love in Louise Penny books how layered some of the stories get so that sounds actually just so fantastic.
ANNE: Okay good I'm glad to hear it. Okay so I know that we can't stay in the same parts of the world as we chose in other series. I'm not going to do America either, although there is a YA series that I think you may really enjoy. How about Italy?
HOUSTON: Ooh, that sounds great.
ANNE: Do you know the Auntie Poldi series?
HOUSTON: I actually do. My mom got the first one of these books and read it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I'm thinking about Auntie Poldi because they are as much there's some kind of bloody crimes that happen in these books because they are murder mysteries they have a lot of heart and humor. They have a lighthearted feel. Auntie Poldi, the protagonist and [LAUGHS] self-appointed detective here, she's a Bavarian widow who moves to Sicily from Germany I think. Mario Giordano is German. These books are written in German and we're reading them translated into English. I assume that you're not reading the German. I was a German minor in school. I could actually aspire to that, but that's not – that's not my current plan. [HOUSTON LAUGHS]
She is 60 when the first book begins. That's called Auntie Poldi and The Sicilian Lions, and the story is narrated by her nephew and just the narration is really clever. Auntie Poldi is completely over the top and now I'm actually wondering if this is going to be a good fit for you. I think her nephew brings like a more like hard nosed like let's be logical, auntie perspective to it. The two of them together are a lot of fun. Michael narrates the first book and he is just really funny and he's got the dry humor of narrating his aunt's escapades that is really fun.
In this first book her handy man goes missing and she decides she has to find him for multiple reasons. Some of which are selfless and some of which she's like really interested in getting her guy back so he can finish the project. And there's a sexy police comensario and a whole bunch of quirky Italian friends. She had moved to Sicily feeling old, washed up, depressed, but this quest to solve the crime and I don't know what the “and” is. Her quest to solve the crime like really brings her back to life and reminds her of what she loves about it, so you do have her personal story dovetailing with the murder plot.
So this is definitely escapist. It's funny, but it feels very akin to The Thursday Murder Club to me in a different setting. There are four books in this series right now. I don't know if there are plans to continue but that would at least keep you busy for a thousand pages. [HOUSTON LAUGHS] How's that sound?
HOUSTON: That sounds actually pretty nice and I know that my mom still has the book. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I'd love to hear what you think if you end up picking that up. Okay, Houston, we talked about The Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie, The Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty series by Ausman Zehama Khan, and The Auntie Poldi series by Mario Giordano. Of those books, what do you think you might pick up when your Louise Penny runs out?
HOUSTON: I'm really curious about The Unquiet Dead book set in Toronto and I think that's going to be the one I pick up next.
ANNE: Houston, this has been great. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.
HOUSTON: Thank you so much for having me today.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Houston, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. We share Houston’s instagram account, as well as the full list of the titles we discussed today, at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/323.
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Tune in next week when I’ll be talking with a grandmother who made it her mission to support her family’s reading health and happiness during recent pandemic lockdowns. Make sure you’re following us in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast and more so you never miss an episode.
Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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• The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
• Simon Winchester (Try Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883)
❤ Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (audio version narrated by Dan Stevens)
• Still Life by Louise Penny (audio version narrated by Ralph Cosham)
❤ All The Devils Are Here by Louise Penny (audio version narrated by Robert Bathurst)
• Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (audio version narrated by Ralph Cosham)
• The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (audio version narrated by Robert Bathurst)
• The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny
❤ The Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman (#1 The Thursday Murder Club)
△ A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell series)
• Alan Bradley Flavia de Luce series (#1 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)
• The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H. G. Parry
• Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie (#1 A Share in Death)
• Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty series by Ausma Zehanat Khan (#1 The Unquiet Dead)
• Auntie Poldi series by Mario Giordano (#1: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions)