For several years the library staff has chosen their top 5 reads for each year. These stories are my top mysteries from those years. I highly recommend them
In honor of Topsham Public Library’s 15th anniversary I have chosen my Top 15 DVD Mystery Series (coincidentally all BBC)
Doctor Blake Mysteries
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Mrs. Bradley Mysteries
Top Reads 2018
Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
I can’t help it! This Inspector Gamache book just has to jump to the top of the list. Louise Penny never disappoints. She has painted her characters with deep strokes and they just keep growing into themselves. There are no wasted words in her books and every sentence has depth beyond the obvious. This one is one of my favorites, as Gamache seeks to undo the consequences of his last investigation. The stakes are higher than ever. Just how far is Armand willing to go to stop the carnage? And why did a woman known as “the Baroness” make him an executer to her will, when he had never met her? Once again, I recommend that if you have not read these, you might want to start at the beginning of the series and read in order. The subplots running throughout the series make it far more interesting that way.
Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh
This is the first book in a series about Beatrice Stubbs, a British detective. Having been involved in ‘an incident’ Beatrice’s career has been stalling. Her superior knows that she is an exemplary officer and he assigns her to a puzzling case. Four high powered men have died on the continent and he sends Beatrice to head up the investigation. But can she trust herself? And can she prevent the next murder? This is an exciting romp around Europe after a clever and efficient killer. Beatrice Stubbs is a well drawn character, flawed though she is, and I found myself rooting for her all the way.
The Dry by Jane Harper
This mystery takes place in Australia, in a small farming town devastated by a multi-year drought. The people are struggling and tensions are already high when a young family is killed in an apparent murder/suicide. To make matters worse, the town bad boy, turned cop, returns for the funeral of his friend. Of course, not all is as it seems and a 20 year old case may be bleeding into the present. Jane Harper sets the scene well, placing the reader right in the dust with the characters and there are no easy answers. This isn’t a happy story but it is a good one.
Murder on the Oxford Canal by Faith Martin
This quintessential British police procedural is the first in a series previously published in Britain and more recently in the U.S. DI Hilary Greene was married to another DI, Ronnie Greene, who was recently killed. However, everyone knows that Ronnie was dirty and made millions in tainted money. Now circumstances have put DI Greene in charge of her own murder case, which she is determined to solve in order to save her own career and see justice done, while ducking the attentions of internal affairs. Her team is a varied group including the young sergeant who has a crush on her, a female sergeant, aspiring to greater things, including hooking up with the Chief Inspector who oversees their unit, and an old-school detective who was almost certainly her wayward husband’s right hand man. All of this makes for an interesting stew of events, leading to an exciting climax.
Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen
This twelfth in the Her Royal Spyness series is pure charm and delight. Could Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line to the British throne, actually be marrying the Honorable Darcy Fitzwilliam, handsome man of her dreams? With wedding arrangements getting more complicated by the minute and a secret assignment from the Queen on her mind, Georgiana is not so sure. And where are they going to live on their paltry earnings? Just in time Georgiana receives a letter from one of her mother’s past husbands, giving her his family home to manage in his absence. When she arrives to take residence something does not seem quite in order there and thus the adventure begins. Who is the new butler and who actually hired him? What are those strange noises from the closed off wing? And where are the family heirlooms she remembers from her childhood? Even more importantly, will she still be alive for her wedding day?
Top Reads 2017
Glass Houses by Louise Penny: Once again Ms. Penny is number 1! Her use of historical knowledge and classical literature build a frame for the exploration of human nature and our deepest motives. She is an incredible wordsmith turning and twisting words into succinct declarations with the tap of one letter – “clever, cleaver words” that cut straight to the heart of the matter. She uses simple children’s rhymes to remind us what we all know, but don’t want to think about. Once again her plot is tight and complex, taking us to the brink and pulling us back again with a sudden burst of humor. Inspector Gamache and his entire cast of characters are at their finest in a deadly match with infinite risk and consequences for the idyllic Three Pines and those they love most.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan: A down and out young man hangs himself in the attic of the bookstore and is found by Lydia, one of the cashiers. He was one of her favorites and the tragedy hits her hard. Why would Joey do that? Things get really strange when Joey’s landlady finds Lydia and tells her she is Joey’s contact person and she has to come get his stuff. In his belongings Lydia finds a picture of her 10 year old self on her birthday. Lydia has a secret past that no one is supposed to know about. How did Joey get this picture and what did he know about her? These questions lead Lydia on a return journey to the worst moment of her life; the murder of her childhood friend, Carol, which has never been solved. The plot carries this book with plenty of twists to confound and puzzles to unravel. This book reminds us that every action we take sets in motion a ring of consequences, for good or for evil.
Pulse by Felix Francis: This book made my 2017 Top Books list for one reason only – it surprised me! In some respects it is quintessential Francis, horses, racing, murder, tough protagonist. It was like visiting an old friend and quite enjoyable, until several pages in – a brand new twist, one I never saw coming. This hero is flawed, like most, but in a rather unique way. It took me places I’ve never been and gave me new insights into human frailty and strength. Felix Francis would make his father proud with this one.
Demon Spirit, Devil Sea by Charlene D’Avanzo: My favorite thing about this book is the setting. It takes place on an island off the coast of British Columbia in Canada and centers around the culture of the native people there and the impact of global climate change on their lives and the choices they face. Once again Ms. D’Avanzo educates through entertainment. The story was engaging, catching me up in the swirling waters of the first kayak trip and carrying me through to the conclusion. Her protagonist, Mara Tusconi is quickly becoming my friend. I admire her principles and her courage in carrying them out. This is the second book in this series and I can’t wait for the next one.
Loch Ness: I just discovered this DVD in our collection. It is brand new and it is quite a treat. In a way it reminds me of Broadchurch because it takes place in a small village, in which everyone has secrets. Once again we are dealing with a cunning serial killer. This first season kept me on the edge of my seat, so to speak. If I had the time I would have watched all six episodes in one sitting. The acting is very good and I didn’t guess the killer until the final reveal.
Top Reads 2016
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny – Once again Ms. Penny hits one out of the park. This is the twelfth in the Inspector Gamache series and does not disappoint. Does Armand also have secrets he does not wish revealed? In this installment the inspector is the Master Chess player, moving characters around in ways that will reveal their best, and worst, selves. This book was a delight to read. After twelve books Louise Penny still excels at inspiring and surprising her readers. If you have read this far into this series you will certainly enjoy this episode. If you have not read these, it will serve you well to start at the beginning and read them in order. It’s a delightful, complex, and fulfilling journey full of action, excitement, and twists that will keep you guessing throughout the series.
Poison Flower by Thomas Perry – This is a great thriller. I couldn’t put it down, read it in one day. Jane Whitefield, Seneca Native, helps people disappear when they are in danger using finely honed gifts and techniques passed down through the centuries by her ancestors. In this story, Jane attempts to rescue a wrongly convicted man from the courthouse but this time she makes a mistake. Would she pay for it with her life? See Jane run. Run, Jane, run!
The Chill of the Night by James Hayman – It is the middle of winter and brutally cold, when a frozen body is found in the trunk of a car at the Portland Fish Pier. It’s a well-known young attorney hoping to make partner in a high-powered local firm. On the night of the murder a young woman, known to be mentally unstable, shows up at the small police station on a nearby island, telling the tale of a grisly murder she witnessed, but the cop on duty doesn’t believe her. Now she is missing too. Portland Police Detective Michael McCabe is on the hunt, hoping to find Abby Quinn before the killer does. This fast-paced suspense filled mystery will keep you reading in front of the fire right up to the last page.
Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley – Flavia is a precocious (but not obnoxious) child of the manor born. Her life hasn’t been easy though. Her mother died giving her birth and her two older sisters tease her mercilessly. Flavia has gained the upper hand, ever since she discovered her uncle’s chemistry lab in the attic and learned how to create her own diversions. She also discovers bodies all over town. She and her trusty bicycle, Gladys, travel the county following the clues wherever they take her. With her unwitting ally, Chief Inspector Hewitt, and her father’s man, Dogger, no criminal is safe. Now a teenager, Flavia is growing into a young woman, but as astute as always, she solves the crime. Flavia is a delightful character who will capture your heart and keep your attention with her fearless attitude and her sleuthing skills. Mr. Bradley does a phenomenal job of bringing this child to life and describing the essence of a growing girl. And man can he turn a pretty phrase.
Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen – This is a light, charming British mystery that takes place in the 1930’s. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie Rannock, is 34th in line to the throne. As nobility, she is expected to live up to royal standards, but hasn’t a penny to her name. Forced to live on her own, thanks to her selfish and greedy sister-in-law, Georgie, as her friends call her, finds enterprising ways of providing for herself. She has a dashing Irish suitor who disappears and reappears under very suspicious circumstances and friends who help her keep up appearances. Still, the Queen seems to favor her and gives her assignments but somehow they always seem to lead to murder. This is the ninth in this series that I find fun and amusing whenever I need a quick amusing book. Back to Top
Top Reads 2015
The Cutting by James Hayman – The set-up is familiar. Big city cop moves to a smaller New England town (Portland) to live a more peaceful, family friendly life with his teen age daughter. A body is found in a local scrap heap, a star athlete with his heart cut out. The adventure begins as Mike McCabe and his partner, Maggie Savage, rush to find this cruel murderer before there is another grisly crime. This is a real page turner with lots of action and suspense. It’s not for the faint of heart.
The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields – It’s 1892 Portland, Maine and the body of a young prostitute is found pinned to the earth with a pitchfork and laid out to form a pentagram. Deputy Marshall, Archie Mclean is assigned to the case. He is soon joined by noted criminalist, former Pinkerton Agent Percival Gray, who is also half Abenaki. I loved this book for its historical detail and the uniqueness of the story. The characters are engaging and realistic as is the setting.
A Study in Revenge by Kieran Shields – This the second in the Archie McLean/Percival Grey series. Something is definitely not what it seems when McLean finds the burned body of a man he knows was buried two days earlier. Once again he seeks out his friend Percival Gray for assistance. Mr Grey, busy with his own case, which also may not be what it seems, agrees to help. Could the two cases ultimately be related, and will they live to tell the tale? This is another great historical mystery that will take you on an exciting journey from the streets of Portland to towns to the south and all the way to Boston.
Sunset by Al Lamanda – Ex police Detective John Bekker lives in a little trailer on the beach. Following the death of his wife and the institutionalization of his traumatized daughter, he hides there in a bottle, until one day he is kidnapped by two men in a big black car. John comes to a week later, all dried out, in the home of Crime Boss, Eddie Christ, who supposedly had Mrs. Bekker killed to punish John. Mr. Crist, now dying of cancer, wants his name cleared. He insists he was not responsible for the crime and hires John at an exorbitant fee to find the real killer. Needing the money to care for his daughter, John agrees. I enjoyed the fast pace of this book, and the concise writing style of the author. The characters are well drawn and the relationship between John and his “next door” neighbor at the beach rings true. There is plenty of action too.
Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz – Beginning at Reichenbach Falls not long after the deaths of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones and Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase meet over another body found there. In his pocket is a clue to a meeting scheduled between Moriarty and a new American criminal who wants to take over London. The two men quickly join forces to bring an end to this new and even crueler menace to city. Full of action, adventure, twists and turns this novel will take you on quite a ride. Written in the Holmesian style this is the second mystery sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate by Horowitz. It does not disappoint. Back to Top
Top Reads 2014
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George – Inspector Lynley plays the back up role as Detective Sargent Barbara Havers gets caught up in the kidnapping of her young friend, Hadiyyah, and the complications of that act. This volume moves back and forth between England and Italy. The small Italian town is a great setting. I did find the use of Italian phrases annoying, but they did lend depth to the setting and the problems Barbara faced not knowing the language. I loved the Italian, Inspector Lo Bianco. He should get his own series.
The Yard by Alex Grecian – This book is dark. We are in London, post Jack the Ripper, and everyone is angry that Scotland Yard couldn’t catch him. Their reputation is on the line again, especially when policemen start getting killed. This is a gritty book, not for the faint of heart. It is a tense page turner with particularly grisly murders.
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley – This delightful sixth book in the Flavia DeLuce series is, I think, the best one so far. Flavia is starting to grow up. I don’t know how Mr. Bradley understands the slow process of maturation in a young girl but it is marvelous to see the subtle ways Flavia is changing in her words and actions. With this book, this series takes a twist I never saw coming, but it promises even more adventures to come.
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves – This book takes place in a very small village in the Shetland Islands. It is very suspenseful, and somewhat dark, showing the negative side of insular living in a small, isolated village. Outsider Jimmy Perez, a detective that grew up in an even smaller island community, heads up the investigation of a dead teenager. Once before in Shetland, a young girl disappeared, never to be found. There was a prime suspect but neither a body nor the proof was ever discovered. Is there a connection? The locals certainly think so, but Detective Perez isn’t so sure. This one kept me guessing right up to the moment of the arrest. Back to Top
Top Reads 2013
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny – Once again, Louise Penny is at the top of my list. Each installation of her Inspector Gamache series is better than the last. In her sixth mystery, she actually weaves together two complete storylines, which could stand on their own, and for a coup de gras, adds a ribbon of plotline that wraps up her last novel, The Brutal Telling, like a gift. All of this excellently and brilliantly carried out, holding the readers interest, right up to the last page. This one is not to be missed. This is definitely a series that must be read in order, though. So if you haven’t had the pleasure of getting lost in Three Pines with Inspector Gamache, start with the first one, Still Life.
Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley – This 5th in the series is just as delightful as the other four. Flavia de Luce, precocious and daring 11 year old, lives in a small English village in the 1950’s. Her mother died in a plane crash when Flavia was very young and is greatly missed by all. She has two sisters who are the bain of her existence and a father who cannot keep up with her. Thus encouraged to find her own amusement, Flavia has a penchant for finding trouble, and dead bodies. Alan Bradley does an excellent job creating this small village and populating it with interesting, some might say, eccentric characters. Yet for all this the mysteries are engaging and challenging. If you haven’t read these I suggest you start with the first installment, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and watch the story unfold from the beginning.
Killing Floor by Lee Child – After hearing so many complaints from Jack Reacher fans over the movie casting, I had to try this series. I was not disappointed. This thriller/mystery/action story was thoroughly enjoyable. It is the kind of book I just can’t put down. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time! Jack Reacher, retired military policeman, loner, and stranger in town was arrested for murder. Everyone wants him to be guilty. It’s up to Jack to get himself out of this nightmare. Jack Reacher is a man’s man, tough, strong, capable, and trained in hand to hand combat. He’s also a gentlemen and has a way with the ladies. Accompanying him on his journey is some ride!
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen – Cute! Perky! Charming! are the words I would use to describe this mystery series by Rhys Bowen. Meet Lady Georgiana, 34th in line for the British throne. Georgie, as her friends call her, is not interested in an arranged marriage to a foreign prince so she leaves the family castle in Scotland to make her own way in the world. Alone in the family home in London it’s not too long before she finds trouble, in the form of a body in her bath. Light and easy to read, these books are the perfect companion for a day at the beach or an evening on the couch.
Dead Level by Sarah Graves – I enjoy this series that is set in Eastport, Maine. Jacobia Tiptree, New York transplant to the island, has an uncanny knack for finding bodies and getting in the way of killers. In this episode, the killer gets up close and personal, making Jake his main target. After all, she did get him put away. There are plenty of thrills as Jake and her BFF Ellie do their best to outwit their stalker. There is plenty of action and excitement in this one. It’s a real blast! Back to Top
Top Reads 2012
House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz – Brilliant! is the one word description I would give to Anthony Horowitz’s House of Silk. The characters came to life through Mr. Horowitz’s pen; and his descriptions of the lavish and indulgent life of the privileged juxtaposed against the desperation of the poor and the orphaned provided the perfect setting; all wrapped up in the dirt and fog of a raw English winter. I was there with Sherlock Holmes and Watson in Victorian London. But it wasn’t only the weather that chilled me to the bone. The subject was so shocking to Watson that he ordered the manuscript not to be published for 100 years. With two very different murders to investigate the plot is deliciously complex. While some answers seemed obvious, others took me by surprise. This mystery was fulfilling on every level. The writing was beautiful, the descriptions vivid, and the puzzle engaging right to the end. Written as a reflection by Dr. Watson, some years after the death of Sherlock Holmes, the characters were completely true to the originals. It’s no wonder that this was the first Sherlock Holmes novel written by another author to receive the authorization of the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate.
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny – Once again Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache makes my top 5 list. Armand is a rare breed indeed – relentless in his search for truth; yet honest, noble, intelligent and kind. The complex storyline, lovable characters, and delightful setting for these mysteries make them irresistible!
A Cold Treachery by Charles Todd
Ian Rutledge, inspector in Scotland Yard has returned from WWI, wanting to pick up right from where he left off before the war. But he knows he is not the man he used to be. Can he keep his ‘shell shock’ a secret and get the job done? This case kept me guessing right up to the end. The mother-son writing team offers a great study in human nature along with an engrossing mystery.
Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George – The latest in the Inspector Thomas Lynley series will not disappoint his followers. Thomas must go undercover so to speak and use his aristocratic connections and friendships to discreetly puzzle out what really happened in the boathouse late that night. Surely, it was just an unfortunate accident.
Bloodline by Felix Francis – I am happy to say that Felix Francis has filled the shoes of his late father, jockey cum mystery writer, Dick Francis. Without missing a beat, this story provides the excitement and intrigue of the British Horse Racing world that the elder Francis provided. It’s like a quick and enjoyable romp among old friends. There is no faulting of bloodlines here. Back to Top
Top Reads 2011
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn – first book in a series which could be all five of my favorites! Lady Julia Grey and her husband Edward are having a dinner party when her husband suddenly becomes very ill and dies. His whole family is of poor constitution so this is hardly unexpected. Enter the dark, brooding, enquiry agent recently contracted by her husband, who declares that Edward has been murdered. He and Lady Grey do not exactly hit it off and the sparks fly. This Victorian mystery is satisfyingly complex with many a twist and a surprise ending. Some swashbuckling adventure and romance add to the mix to create a fun and satisfying result.
The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill – Meet Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler and his whole family in a character driven mystery series written by British author Susan Hill. The first book is called The Various Haunts of Men. Ms. Hill is a writer in the same league with P.D. James or Elizabeth George and her exploration of human nature and complex issues is superb. This book is more than just a mystery, though the mystery itself is compelling. A middle age woman is missing but the police do not seem overly concerned. After all she has no ties that bind and could be off on a jaunt. Only Freya Graffam, the new transfer in from London, seems to be convinced there is a crime to pursue; until someone else turns up missing. Then the game is on. The suspense will keep you reading into the night and the ending will keep you up even later. I highly recommend this book, but it comes with a warning. It’s definitely not a cozy.
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny – Each volume of the Inspector Armand Gamache series gets better. In this one Armand and his wife, Reine Marie, have gone to their favorite out-of–the-way place to celebrate their anniversary. A rather strange family is also staying there. The weather is stormy and so are the relationships. When one of the family ends up dead, Armand’s team must uncover the secrets hidden in this idyllic place. If you haven’t read any of her books, start with her first book – Still Life
A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott – Set in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1950’s this mystery features Joanna Ross, a housewife who wants to be more. Against local custom she takes a job outside her home working for the Highland Gazette. Her husband Bob is a rough and tumble kind of guy who isn’t too thrilled with this arrangement and they have two young daughters. When another young child goes missing and then is found dead, the rumors and supernatural stories begin. The police are getting nowhere and Joanna, afraid for her own girls, is determined to uncover the truth. But will she be in time to save the next victim? This atmospheric tale takes us back to the good old days, which may not have been as good as we remember them.
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths – Ruth Galloway is an archeologist, who teaches at a local university. She lives alone on the edge of a Saltmarsh near Norfolk, in England. When the bones of a child are found near there the police call on Ruth to find out how old they are. Her bones are over 2000 years old and Det. Nelson is disappointed because he thought they might be the bones of a long cold case he has never forgotten. The killer never forgot him either and has been taunting him ever since. When another girl goes missing he calls Ruth in to help because of her knowledge of the area. She gets a little too close for comfort in more ways than one, and her life might be the next one on the line. The setting and the history and folklore of the area add suspense and depth to this story. Back to Top