Avid Readers Recommend: Mystery

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce is a precocious 11 year-old chemist and amateur sleuth. In the summer of 1950, she finds a dead bird on the doorstep of her family's crumbling manor house, a stamp affixed to its beak. Later that day, she comes across a dead man in the garden. For Flavia, these mysterious events are both frightening and exciting. She says, "I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life." Thus follows her investigation, a delightful coming-of-age mystery starring one of the most charming heroines ever written. This series is FABULOUS on audio; narrated by Jayne Entwistle.
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As a black Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews has an intricate understanding of racial tensions in East Texas. He’s proud of his roots and his family, but when his loyalty lands him in trouble, he agrees to get out of town and investigate a crime for a friend. He drives up Highway 59 to the town of Lark, where a recent murder has stirred up hatred and history.
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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 getaway, and trapping 13 potential suspects—each with an airtight alibi—in the train car with Inspector Hercule Poirot. If you've seen the movie, take note: Branagh changes Christie's ending. Hot tip: Dan Stevens's audio narration is fantastic.
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Lady Emily Hardcastle and her companion Florence Armstrong just moved to the English countryside, hoping to pursue leisurely interests and enjoy neighborly gatherings. After a few days of regaling one another with tales from their top secret past, Emily and Flo find it impossible to sit still. When they discover a dead body in the woods, they eagerly offer to help investigate the murder. Much to the village’s surprise, these two ladies are exceedingly skilled at detective work. They’re also hilarious; their witty banter makes for a delightful listening experience.
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The New York Times Book Review calls this a "page-turner to a book that makes you want to call someone you love." People says, "This is police procedural and a thriller par excellence, one in which the city of Philadelphia itself is a character (think Boston and Mystic River). But it's also a literary tale narrated by a strong woman with a richly drawn personal life - powerful and genre-defying." From the publisher: "Two sisters travel the same streets, though their lives couldn't be more different. Then one of them goes missing. In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don't speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling. Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey's district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit - and her sister - before it's too late."
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Gender-bent Sherlock Holmes."From the publisher: "An NPR Best Book of 2016. With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society's expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind."
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This book remind me so much of Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote. It's a fun mystery that will appeal to readers of all ages. Plus, it looks like the first in what will be a series! It's set in a retirement community, where four friends meet in the Jigsaw Room every week to chat about unsolved crimes. This group of 70-somethings call themselves "The Thursday Murder Club." When bodies start piling up in a live and local case, they set out to catch a killer. Completely charming, and so well-narrated by Lesley Manville.
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This is Sayers’ tenth Lord Peter novel, her third featuring Harriet Vane, and undoubtedly one of her finest. (They needn’t be read in order, but most of the series are on sale today.) If you love this, go back and read all the Lord Peter mysteries, beginning with Whose Body?
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Bavarian widow moves to Sicily and rediscovers her love of living. "On her sixtieth birthday my Auntie Poldi moved to Sicily, intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view." So says Poldi's nephew Michael. But life gets in the way: when Poldi's handyman goes missing, Poldi resolves to find him—with the help of the sexy police Commissario and a host of quirky Italians. Her quest brings Poldi back to life, and all she loves about it—namely prosecco, men, and gossip. Big-hearted and funny, smart and escapist: it's like taking your own Italian vacation.
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From the publisher: "Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help. As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?"
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Raybourn writes historical fiction with a twist; she's best known for her Lady Julia Grey mysteries. This is her first novel in a new Victorian series featuring the badass but well-bred Veronica Speedwell. I heard the author speak about her source material for this new series in Raleigh, and I was intrigued: her heroine travels the world hunting beautiful butterfly specimens and the occasional romantic dalliance. When her guardian dies, the orphaned Veronica expects to embark on a grand scientific adventure. But Veronica quickly realizes that with her guardian's death, she is no longer safe—and she begins to unravel the mystery of why she poses a threat to dangerous men. An easy, enjoyable read.
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A MINIMALIST SUMMER PICK. Perveen Mistry is Bombay’s first female solicitor, employed by her father’s respected firm. When her father’s Muslim client dies, he is tasked with executing the will, but the three devout widows “stay behind the veil,” and must not be seen by men. When the duo discover irregularities in the estate documents, Perveen resolves to speak with the widows, because—as a woman—she’s the only one who can. Perveen is determined to protect their interests, not just because of her legal obligations but because of a disastrous past marriage, where she experienced firsthand the cruelty women can endure under the law. Toss in a murder investigation, and you get a tightly-crafted mystery, a vividly-drawn multicultural setting, and a plucky heroine fiercely taking on the challenges of her time.
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This gothic whodunit was blurbed by both Louise Penny and Charlie Lovett. Part procedural, part murder mystery, part campus novel set at a British school. From the publisher: "Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she even teaches a course on him. But when one of Clare’s colleagues is found dead, with a line from Holland’s iconic story 'The Stranger' left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with her favorite literature. The police suspect the killer is someone Clare knows. Unsure whom to trust, she turns to her diary, the only outlet for her suspicions and fears. Then one day she notices something odd. Writing that isn't hers, left on the page of an old diary: Hallo Clare. You don’t know me. Clare becomes more certain than ever: 'The Stranger' has come to terrifying life. But can the ending be rewritten in time?"
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Grafton is best known for her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries. In the first novel, 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 own husband's murder. As the twists keep coming (and the bodies stack up), Kinsey finds herself in more and more danger. Kinsey is a great character: rough around the edges, tough and motivated. If you enjoyed Veronica Mars, check out this series. It has enough installments to keep you happily occupied for ages!
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In the ten years she’s known her, Lucy has never felt her mother-in-law Diana approved of her—an especial disappointment because she’d hoped Diana would finally be the mother she’d never had. Yet she’s distraught when the police show up to announce that Diana has died by apparent suicide—and even more so when they reveal that the evidence points to possible murder. As we get to know the family members, we discover each of them had a motive to harm Diana, and stood to benefit from her death. The story is told alternately from Lucy and Diana’s points of view, so we get to understand what’s going on in their minds, and how badly they misunderstand each other through the years. But is it badly enough to lead to murder? A wholly satisfying domestic mystery, perfect for Liane Moriarty fans, that kept me guessing till the end. I devoured this on audio.
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I know that many people reread for comfort, but I love to reread for structure with a pen in my hand, like a big nerd. That’s what pulls me back. Or sometimes I just like a good story. It would be embarrassing to tell you how many times I’ve read The Pelican Brief.
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Private investigator Celine is a recovering alcoholic with emphysema who specializes in finding missing persons. When a young woman asks Celine to find her missing photographer father, Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park, where it becomes clear someone wants this man to stay missing. Read this for the way Heller writes about nature and explores the intersection of family, privilege, and the secrets we keep.
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If you're all caught up on Penny and Galbraith novels, try this engaging series of Scotland Yard police procedurals. This first installment reminds me of Dorothy Sayers: detective Duncan Kincaid happens to be vacationing at his posh cousin's time share when a body is found in the resort pool. The local detectives rule suicide, but Kincaid is certain there's more to the story. As the series progressives, the police work is only half the content: Crombie devotes considerable ink to her detectives' personal dramas and romantic entanglements as well. Get caught up this summer so you're ready for book #17 Garden of Lamentations, though its release date has (sniff) been pushed back to February 17, 2016. Highly recommended for mystery-loving Anglophiles.
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In the second of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, which can be read in any order, detective Cassie Maddux is pulled off her current beat and sent to investigate a murder. When she arrives at the scene, she finds the victim looks just like her, and—even more creepy—she was using an alias that Cassie used in a previous case. The victim was a student, and her boss talks her into trying to crack the case by impersonating her, explaining to her friends that she survived the attempted murder. The victim lived with four other students in a strangely intimate, isolated setting, and as Cassie gets to know them, liking them almost in spite of herself, her boundaries—and loyalties—begin to blur. A taut psychological thriller that keeps you guessing till the end.
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In a season where every suspense novel is expected to have a "shocking plot twist!" this tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop time and again, without feeling gimmicky or manipulative. I was stunned as I slowly came to see that the story wasn't about what I thought it was about at all. On a dark, rainy night, a mother lets go of her son's hand for just an instant. The devastating accident sets the plot in motion. Part police procedural, part domestic suspense, with the ring of authenticity, no doubt thanks to Mackintosh's own 12 years as a police officer. This is an emotional roller coaster of a book. (Sensitive themes ahead, so mind your triggers.)
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Editor Susan Ryeland has worked with Alan Conway for years, putting up with his eccentricities for the sake of his bestselling detective series. Every Atticus Pünd mystery novel feels pretty much the same to Susan by now, each one set in a small English village, following an Agatha Christie-like formula. When Susan reads Conway’s latest, however, she finds there might be more to the fictional mystery at Pye Hall. The more she reads, the more she becomes convinced of a real life mystery between the pages. A tale of greed and gruesome murder prompts Susan to investigate in this clever novel-within-a-novel.
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This is such a fun YA spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. Jamie Watson transfers to Sherringford, a fancy Connecticut prep school, on a rugby scholarship where he meets the eccentric Charlotte Holmes. Charlotte seems to have inherited her great-great-great grandfather's keen eye and unpredictable temperament, and Jamie decides to avoid her. However, when they're suspected of murdering a fellow classmate, Jamie and Charlotte must team up, much like their ancestors, and solve the case to clear their names. Clever and witty, you'll want to keep reading this series.
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From the publisher: "Inspired by true events - Thomas Sankara is known as "Africa's Che Guevara" - American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working in an old boys' club. In the year that follows, Marie will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American." Ta-Nehisi Coates says, "Spy fiction plus allegory, and a splash of pan-Africanism. What could go wrong? As it happens, very little. Clever, bracing, darkly funny, and really, really good."
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In the idyllic small town of Three Pines, Quebec, where people don’t even lock their doors, a beloved local woman is found in the woods with an arrow shot through her heart. The locals believe it must be a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story is constructed as a classic whodunit but it feels like anything but, with its deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. A stunningly good first novel. Still Life is the first in a series that keeps getting better. Great on audio.
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"You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral." Federal Agent Aaron Falk is summoned home with these words after his best friend Luke dies in a heartbreaking murder-suicide, turning the gun on himself after killing his wife and 6-year-old son. Falk obeys—but he can't believe his best friend could have done such a thing, and so he starts digging, dragging long-buried secrets back to the surface. The setting is the drought-ravaged Australian Outback, and the brittleness and heat are almost palpable. Imagine an Australian Tana French, and you've got this stellar debut about right. (Psst—we're talking with the author in the MMD Book Club this summer.) Publication date: January 10.
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