Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott
Ladylike Edwina Davenport advertises for a lodger after her mother’s death. American adventuress Beryl Halliwell replies to her ad by crashing her car into a pillar at the end of Edwina’s drive. After Edwina is attacked while walking her dog, the odd couple, former classmates, pair up to investigate a the disappearance of Agnes, a Land Army girl who went missing two years earlier. Then they find the body of a young film buff in a field. A strong sense of place brings the 1920 English village of Walmsley Parva to life, and the engaging characters and their investigation of the village’s secrets delight in this leisurely-paced British cozy, the first in a new mystery series.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, this first novel is set during the British heat wave of 1976. One Monday, Mrs. Margaret Creasy goes missing, and Grace Bennett, her 10-year-old neighbor, decides to investigate, along with her friend Tilly. They visit all the neighbors on their street, even Walter Bishop in #11, who has been shunned after being suspected of stealing a baby. Flashbacks to 1967 reveal some of the villagers’ secrets, but don’t solve the mystery. A possible image of Jesus captures the neighborhood’s attention at the peak of the heat wave, and almost everyone, even the new Indian family from Birmingham, gathers in the shade to visit and play canasta. I thought the plot quite clever, with some twists, and I enjoyed the occasional humorous scenes, the refreshingly ordinary girls, and the 1976 English village setting.
The Dry by Jane Harper
To begin with, three people in a small town in southeast Australia are dead. Not an opening that draws me, but this first mystery novel is on several best books of the year list and I felt challenged to give it a try. Aaron Falk is back in drought stricken Kiewarra for the funeral, and is asked to do a little investigating by his friend Luke’s parents. Falk is a federal agent in Melbourne and soon finds that Kiewarra’s new police sergeant, Greg Raco, also questions the obvious solution. In general, Falk is no more welcome in town now than when he and his father left, suspects after a friend’s drowning. Newcomers to town, including Raco and his wife, school principal Scott Whitlam, and bartender McMurdo, are pleasant enough, as is Luke’s old girlfriend, Gretchen. Mal Deacon, his old nemesis, is as nasty as ever, even though he’s getting old. Short flashbacks to other points of view keep the reader one step ahead of Falk and Raco, but this is not at all a predictable book. The Dry is suspenseful and riveting, very cleverly written, and on my own list of best books of the year. Film rights have been sold, and another book featuring Aaron Falk is being published in February.
Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
As a big fan of Cashore’s previous novels—The Graceling Series—I have long awaited Jane, Unlimited. I was happy to rediscover her immersive writing style and strong, complex characters. Her newest book is more of mystery with a fantasy twist than her other straight fantasy novels. Jane arrives at “Tu Reviens” Mansion with her friend Kiran for a seasonal ball, but after a number of peculiar things happen—missing art pieces, overhead late night conversations, and the disappearances and reappearances of people—Jane begins wonder what is actually happening at the mansion. As the mystery unfolds, Jane reaches a point where she must decide how she will uncover the truth. This decision changes her future in ways Jane could never have imagined. Created in an interesting format, readers who enjoy mysteries, multiverses, or unearthing new discoveries will enjoy this book. It also gets bonus points for having diverse representation.
Brain Storm by Elaine Viets
The author of two cozy mystery series set in St. Louis and Florida had her life changed by stroke a few years ago. Brain Storm introduces death investigator Angela Richman, working at crime scenes near St. Louis. Severe headaches make it difficult to do her work at the scene of a deadly car crash involving wealthy teens. At the emergency room of the local hospital, neurosurgeon Porter Gravois sends her home, saying she’s too young for a stroke. All too soon, his rival Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt saves Angela’s life with surgery and an induced coma after she has a series of strokes. A long recovery motivates her to investigate a suspicious death in the hospital cafeteria, but her faulty memory doesn’t help. Suspenseful with occasional flashes of humor, this is a promising new series, and should appeal to readers of Kathy Reichs. The author recently completed a death investigator training course in St. Louis, adding authenticity. A sequel, Fire and Ashes, has just been published.
The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
This gothic romantic suspense novel was published in 1960, and may remind readers of both Jane Eyre and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Martha Leigh travels to Cornwall to begin her career as governess to Alvean TreMellyn, age 7, who lost her mother Alice a year earlier. Three other governesses have stayed only a short time in Mellyn, the mansion belonging to Lord Connan TreMellyn. Martha’s room is near Alvean’s room and the schoolroom, but she isn’t meant to dine downstairs with the family, even when guests visit. The house is huge, on a cliff overlooking the sea, with another manor house on the opposite cliff, where Peter Nansellock and his sister Celestine live. Peter quite likes Martha, but Celestine is more interested in Mellyn, and in Alvean, who is quite a handful. Martha gets Alvean interested in learning to ride a pony to impress her rather distant father. The mystery of Alice’s death is clever, the mansion atmospheric, and Connan is intriguing and slightly menacing. Martha has a romantic admirer that’s not totally believable, but rather predictable. This book, while a good read, does seem dated, although gothic novels, such as Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, are still popular.
Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
This book has two mysteries. One is narrated by book editor Susan Ryeland, who is searching for the final chapters of the last Atticus Pund mystery after the author’s sudden death. The other puzzle is the manuscript Susan is reading, a traditional British mystery set in 1955 England that’s a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot books. Very clever writing with plenty of twists and turns in the plot make for an intensifying pace, but Susan is the only really likeable character in either mystery. I don’t want to reveal much of the plot as there are so many clever puzzles for the reader to uncover. Don’t confuse this inventive book with another fine mystery also featuring a book editor, A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders.