Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler

If you like Stephanie Plum, Agatha Raisin, and cozy mysteries with unique casts of characters where shenanigans ensue, you won’t want to miss Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler. Funny and warm, with a caring center, this whodunit is both a fascinating mystery and a love letter to Seattle and the LGBTQ community.

Hayden has had an interesting night. At his regular queer bar last night, he’d finally worked up the courage to tip the handsome go-go boy dancing on the table, only for the dancer to lose his balance and kick him in the face. Despite the black eye, it wasn’t a total loss, because the dancer turned out to be a sweetheart named Camilo, who took Hayden home. Unfortunately, when Hayden woke up the next day, there was no sign of Camilo anywhere, just his dog Commander. Oh, and the police at the door. Hayden can’t shake his concern, and starts asking around to see if anyone knows where Camilo has gone (not least because having Commander at his apartment is escalating his feud with a nasty neighbor). In consequence, he meets Camilo’s friends Burley and Hollister, and all three are swept up in a quest to get to the bottom of the mystery and bring Camilo home.

What works well in this mystery is a balance between serious caring and lighthearted fun; for instance Camilo’s immigration status and Hollister’s experiences as a 6 foot Black lesbian are treated sincerely as good reasons to feel unsafe around (and less than confident in) law enforcement, but this is balanced with Hayden charmingly out of his depth (but remaining compassionate) as a petite teacher/blogger thrust into a world of jealousy and danger.

Mystery readers, don’t miss out on a self-identified “pocket gay” going on a journey of dog-sitting, wise 90-year-olds, butch lesbians, sinister pet stores, a borrowed Prius covered in religious bumper stickers, and a missing go-go dancer with a heart of gold.

Cozy Mystery Reads: Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson

Victoria Thompson is an Edgar nominated author who writes both historical mysteries and historical romances. She has also won the Romantic Time Career Achievement award and was an Agatha Award nominee five years in a row. Before she started writing mysteries, Victoria Thompson had written twenty historical romances. I was introduced to this author through her Gaslight Mysteries series which is set in turn-of-the-century New York City and features midwife Sarah Brandt who does a bit of detecting on the side.  The Gaslight Mystery series was Edgar and Agatha Award nominated. Thompson also writes the Counterfeit Lady series, which features con artist Elizabeth Miles and attorney Gideon Bates. That series has been nominated for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award.

Thompson currently lives in a suburb of Chicago with her family and teaches at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. She is a member of Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime, as well as serving on boards and being a founding member of many other organizations: Novelists, Inc, PENNWRITERS, Romance Writers of America, and New Jersey Romance Writers to name a few.

Murder on Astor Place is the first book in the Gaslight Mysteries series. This series came highly recommended to me by other library staff. This series can be seen as both cozy and as historical, so I leave that distinction up to you readers. I have only read the first book so far, but I understand the appeal!

Murder on Astor Place introduces readers to midwife Sarah Brandt. She lives in turn-of-the-century tenements in Manhattan. Sarah was born into a prominent wealthy family, but is now estranged from them. When Sarah is called to help a woman in labor, she recognizes one of the young women boarding in the house. After the baby is safely delivered, Sarah returns to visit the patient and young baby a few days later. Upon that visit, Sarah learns that the young woman she previously recognized had been killed. Sergeant Frank Malloy is on scene and requests that Sarah help him search the girl’s room. In the midst of the search, they discover that the victim is also from one of the most prominent New York families, like Sarah. In fact, she is the sister of one of Sarah’s oldest friends. Knowing what she knows about these wealthy families, she has doubts that the family will want to investigate and she is sadly proven correct. They are feaful of scandal. Having doubts that Malloy is putting his full effort into solving the case and wanting to get justice for the victim, Sarah starts searching for information about what really happened. Malloy reluctantly helps her, but her investigations quickly turn dangerous for all involved.

Complete series list can be found at the end of this blog post. Certain titles are also available in other formats: for example, CD audiobook, large print, and OverDrive eAudiobook.

Gaslight Mysteries

  1. Murder on Astor Place (1999)
  2. Murder on St. Mark’s Place (2000)
  3. Murder on Gramercy Park (2001)
  4. Murder on Washington Square (2002)
  5. Murder on Mulberry Bend (2003)
  6. Murder on Marble Row (2004)
  7. Murder on Lenox Hill (2005)
  8. Murder in Little Italy (2006)
  9. Murder in Chinatown (2007)
  10. Murder on Bank Street (2008)
  11. Murder on Waverly Place (2009)
  12. Murder on Lexington Avenue (2010)
  13. Murder on Sisters’ Row (2011)
  14. Murder on Fifth Avenue (2012)
  15. Murder in Chelsea (2013)
  16. Murder in Murray Hill (2014)
  17. Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (2015)
  18. Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue (2015)
  19. Murder in Morningside Heights (2016)
  20. Murder in the Bowery (2017)
  21. Murder on Union Square (2018)
  22. Murder on Trinity Place (2019)
  23. Murder on Pleasant Avenue (2020)
  24. Murder on Wall Street (2021)
  25. Murder on Madison Square (2022)

Cozy Mystery Reads: Library Lover’s Mystery series by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay has found her niche in cozy mysteries. She has a number of cozy mystery series, but the only one I have read so far is the Library Lover’s Mystery series and it is a joy to read. Usually I am hesitant to read anything about librarians for fear that they are portrayed stereotypically with no clue as to what being a librarian actually means, but the author’s background clearly helped her write this series. McKinlay studied English Literature and Library Science at Southern Connecticut State University and then worked as a librarian in Cromwell, Connecticut. She then left that job and moved to Arizona and began writing romances. After writing romances for a couple years(and deciding she needed a break), she started writing mysteries. McKinlay wrote mysteries for years and then began writing women’s fiction as well. The bulk of what she writes now consists of mysteries and romantic comedies. Three of her series have ended up on the New York Time’s best seller’s list so far.

The first title in the Library Lover’s Mystery series is Books Can Be Deceiving. In this book, readers are introduced to the life of Lindsey Norris, the new director of the Briar Creek Public Library located in Connecticut.

Lindsey is just getting settled into her new job as director of the local public library in Briar Creek. She has made friends within the community and has an established rhythm with her staff and library patrons. Lindsey’s friend, and children’s librarian, Beth always makes work more interesting. Outside of work, Beth has a goal of becoming a published children’s author. Beth’s boyfriend is already a famous children’s author and lives on one of the islands local to Briar Creek.

When a New York editor comes to town, Beth wants to meet with her to pitch her the children’s book she has been working on. When their meeting goes awry and Beth’s boyfriend gets in the way, Beth and Lindsey are flabbergasted. They decide to go to his island home to confront him. When Beth goes into his house, they find that he has been murdered. Since Beth found his body and was known to be upset with him, the police see her as the prime suspect. Lindsey knows that Beth could never kill anyone, but her opinion seems to be in the minority where the authorities are concerned. Lindsey must find out who really killed Beth’s boyfriend before she is arrested.

This book also contains a readers guide, knitting pattern, and recipes for food made throughout the book. A different Briar Creek Guide to Crafternoons can be found at the end of each book in the series.

A list of the books in the Library Lover’s Mystery series can be found at the end of this blog post. Certain titles can also be found in large print, CD audiobook, and on OverDrive.

Library Lover’s Mystery series

  1. Books Can Be Deceiving (2011)
  2. Due or Die (2012)
  3. Book, Line and Sinker (2012)
  4. Read It and Weep (2013)
  5. On Borrowed Time (2014)
  6. A Likely Story (2015)
  7. Better Late Than Never (2016)
  8. Death in the Stacks (2017)
  9. Hitting the Books (2018)
  10. Word to the Wise (2019)
  11. One for the Books (2020)
  12. Killer Research (2021)

Cozy Mystery Reads: Italian Chef Mysteries series by Catherine Bruns

Catherine Bruns is a USA Today Bestselling author of many cozy mystery series: Cookies & Chance Mysteries, Cindy York Mysteries, Italian Chef Mystery, High Heels Mystery, and Maple Syrup Mystery series. She is also a contributor to the Aloha Lagoon Mystery series. Catherine is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She is also a former newspaper reporter and press release writer. She began writing when she was eight. Catherine currently lives in upstate New York with her family.

The Italian Chef Mystery series is the series of hers that I discovered while shelving new mystery titles. It’s engaging and relatable, while also containing mysteries that aren’t easy to solve. Penne Dreadful is the first in the Italian Chef Mysteries. Italian recipes are included at the end! (Major plus if you like to cook or if all the food talk in this series makes you hungry!)

Tessa Esposito is a local Italian chef. While she has worked in a handful of restaurants, she’s most known for her love of cooking for her family and friends. It doesn’t hurt that she has also won awards and accolades for her sauce. Eventually Tessa wants to open a restaurant of her own with her husband, but she knows that it will be longer down the road. Life, however, has other plans for Tessa and her family.

After her husband Dylan’s fatal car accident, Tessa is struggling to find her way. It’s been hard to get back into the swing of everyday life without her partner. When her cousin Gino, a local police detective, knocks on the door with news, she discovers that Dylan’s death wasn’t the accident that they all thought it was. They need Tessa to help them figure out why someone would have wanted to kill her husband.

Confused and desperate to find out what happened to Dylan, Tessa starts working at Dylan’s favorite local pizza parlor, Slice. Hired as the new chef, Tessa relishes her new role cooking and starts to find herself again. Slice was the last place that Dylan was seen before he died. Tessa believes that something shady is happening behind the scenes at Slice, something that only becomes more apparent the longer she works there. The more she investigates, the more secrets she finds. Tessa may be finding answers to some questions, but at what cost?

This book is also available in the following format:

Italian Chef Mystery series

  1. Penne Dreadful (2019)
  2. It Cannoli Be Murder (2020)
  3. The Enemy You Gnocchi (2021)

Farm to Trouble : A Farm to Table Mystery by Amanda Flower

Shiloh Bellamy has ditched bright and sunny Los Angeles and has made a road trip back to her childhood farm in Cherry Glen, Michigan, accompanied by her loyal pug, Huckleberry.  Farm to Trouble is the first book in a new cozy mystery series, Farm to Table Mysteries by Amanda Flower.  Shiloh’s mission is simple : to reignite her family homestead, Bellamy Farms, with financial help from an investor in order to make the farm profitable again as an organic and sustainable farm.  Bellamy Farms has fallen into despair and Shiloh’s father is in no condition to bring the farm back on his own and has enlisted her help.  Just days after her arrival into town her investor, Jefferson Crocker, is found dead by Shiloh at the farmer’s market and all eyes in town turn to the Bellamy family.

As the town focuses on Shiloh as a likely suspect, she begins to learn that her investor was not a very popular man in town with his big plans to install wind turbines across the serene pasture of the countryside.  Shiloh is now doing double duty – trying to find a new investor willing to take a chance on Bellamy Farms and attempting to catch the real killer.  She learns that numerous townspeople had reasons to hope for Crocker’s demise and as the police close in, Shiloh knows time is of the essence for her to try to find the real culprit.  The list of suspects grow and as Shiloh uncovers more about the master wind farm plan, numerous suspects rise to the top of the list, which includes many Cherry Glen residents that Shiloh has known her entire life!

Farm to Trouble kept me guessing the culprit until the very end and the novel does a good job of balancing a cozy mystery with creating a sustainable, organic farm narrative.  The second book in the series, Put Out to Pasture, is already scheduled to be published in early 2022.  I’m looking forward to the continued saga between Shiloh, the residents of Cherry Glen and Huckleberry and to see if Shiloh turns the family farm around!

 

Deception at Thornecrest : An Amory Ames Mystery by Ashley Weaver

I have been a big fan of the Amory Ames mysteries by Ashley Weaver since the series debuted in 2014.  Primarily set in 1930s England, these cozy mysteries give the reader a glimpse of the pampered life of Amory Ames and her circle of friends as they jet set between England, New York and the warm Mediterranean coast.   The seventh book in the series, A Deception at Thornecrest, is another exciting and richly detailed mystery with a cast of interesting and memorable characters.

At the start of the novel, Amory and her husband, Milo, are currently residing at Thornecrest, Milo’s family estate in England.  They are eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child.  While Milo is away in London, a strange woman appears at the door and declares that she is Mrs. Ames, wife of Milo.  As Amory tries to process the news of how this mishap could have occurred, the woman confirms through a wedding photo of Amory and Milo that she is, in fact,  married to the man in the picture!  Amory’s mind spins with this news and it could not have come at a worse time, with the baby due any day.  All she can think of is that maybe Milo is up to his old tricks again.

After getting word to Milo that he must return to Thornecrest at once, he begins to answer Amory’s expected questions.  With the answers it quickly become apparent what has happened when an unknown man shows up at their door and looks very familiar to Amory and Milo.  This stranger brings a second set of mysterious developments to Thornecrest and with a bit of digging, long dead secrets resurface and questions are answered.   With one mystery somewhat solved, Amory focuses on planning the Springtide Festival in the village.

The day of the Springtide Festival arrives and all is proceeding smoothly until Milo’s stable hand, Bertie, is found murdered during the horse race.   Honing her amateur sleuth skills, Amory sets out to solve the case but she can’t help but wonder if the arrival of a few strangers to town has something to do with the murder.

If you like cozy historical mysteries set in England, I highly recommend the Amory Ames series.  You could read this book as a stand alone or consider starting the series with Murder at the Brightwell.  

The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart – American Mystery Classics

The Haunted Lady  by Mary Roberts Rinehart is enjoying a new rebirth thanks to Otto Penzler and his American Mystery Classics series.  Originally published in 1942, The Haunted Lady is one of a handful of reprinted mysteries hand selected by Penzler for a new generation of mystery readers.  Even though the American Mystery Classic series includes a multitude of vintage authors, the reissued titles have a common theme in their beautifully modern covers that give the books a uniform look and feel.  The cover of The Haunted Lady is exactly what drew me to the book in the first place.  Known as “the American Agatha Christie”, Rinehart apparently lost popularity after her death in the 1950s.  Penzler provides a short history of the author’s work at the beginning of the book.  Featuring nurse Hilda Adams, The Haunted Lady is one of three books featuring Adams.  Even though this book is the second in the series, picking up the book without reading the first in the series was seamless.

When we meet Hilda Adams, she has been recruited by Inspector Fuller to insert herself into the wealthy Fairbanks household to look after the elderly matriarch Eliza Fairbanks. Mrs. Fairbanks is convinced someone in her household is trying to kill her by initially feeding her arsenic and then by driving her mad with loose bats in her bedroom.  Nurse Adams charge is to keep an eye on Mrs. Fairbanks and report back to Inspector Fuller.  She meets a cast of characters in the Fairbanks family, and almost immediately more odd occurrences happen.   After a murder is committed in a seemingly locked room under Nurse Adams watch, she and Inspector Fuller team up to uncover the baffling truth.

For fans of early 20th century mysteries and cozy mysteries, I recommend The Haunted Lady as well as other novels in the American Mystery Classics series.  At the time, Mary Roberts Rinehart was  a very popular mystery writer and although not well know today, her mysteries still hold the reader’s attention and keep them guessing as to the culprit.  This series reintroduces vintage authors to an entirely new set of readers in today’s world.

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing : A Zofia Turbotynska mystery by Maryla Szymicazkowa

Set in southern Poland at the turn of the century in 1890, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing , is the first book in a new series by Maryla Szymiczkowa, a pseudonym for two Polish authors.  The book offers a  unique look at the culture, lifestyle and social climbing of the upper class society in Cracow, which comes alive through our heroine, Zofia Turbotynska.  Zofia is the  wife of a university medical professor who is looking to strengthen (and elevate) her social status with a variety of charitable endeavors but finds her true calling as a newly minted sleuth.

Her favorite organization of the moment, Helcel House, is a retirement home run by a bevy of nuns who she finds in panic one morning upon the disappearance of an elderly resident, Mrs. Mohr.  Mrs. Mohr is finally located dead in an attic room that would be impossible for her to reach in her immobile condition.  Zofia starts her own investigation after the police rule the death an accident.  Soon thereafter, another resident of Helcel House goes missing and then a third disappears and Zofia is confident that someone is targeting the elderly residents of the home.  Investigating the cases with only her cook and one inquisitive nun in her confidence, Zofia is able to solve the complex case near the end of the book while gathering all the parties together at the Helcel House for an unveiling of the real killer.

Its glimpse into the changing landscape of Poland is what initially caught my attention.  As mysteries are my genre of choice, the cultural context and hierarchy of their society was fascinating as well.  The author provides a nice summary at the beginning of the book that details the complex history of Poland during the 1800s, which includes being partitioned by the empires of Prussia, Russia and Austria.  If you like the feel of a cozy mystery with a rich historical glimpse into the past, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing is a great choice.

Dying in the Wool: A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody

We meet amateur sleuth and former World War I nurse, Kate Shackleton a few years after the conclusion of the war in her small village of Bridgestead, England in the first book of the Kate Shackleton Mystery series, Dying in the Wool  by Frances Brody.  Kate is still reeling from her husband being declared missing in the war but, at the same time,  continues to hold out hope that he is alive.  As a nurse in the war, Kate has picked up the skills of a sleuth in helping a few fellow nurses find missing loved ones.  She has gained quite the reputation as a novice detective and based on her reputation one fellow nurse, Tabitha Braithwaite, calls on Kate for a mystery of her own.

Tabitha is engaged to be married within weeks and her wish before she walks down the aisle is to find her father, Joshua Braithwaite, who mysteriously disappeared and no trace of him was ever found.  Was Mr. Braithwaite, the owner and operator of a textile mill, a victim of someone with a grudge, did he stage his own disappearance or is the truth something more sinister?  Kate has little time to dig to the bottom of the mystery before Tabitha’s wedding day.  She meets a cast of characters in the village, including many mill workers who may have a grudge against the powerful mill owner and are potential suspects.  Kate, along with Sykes, a former detective who she hires as an employee, get closer and closer to finding the truth with potential murderous results.  Told in alternative chapters merging past and present, Dying in the Wool  gives the reader a glimpse into British society and culture in the early 1920s within a cozy mystery.

One of the most unique aspects of this mystery is the detail that Brody adds to the novel regarding the British textile mill industry immediately following WWI.  It is clear she has done her research, giving the reader a sense of the intricacies of how this industry was run.  Readers of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series may want to consider starting this series (the eleventh book in the series came out in November).  I’m already nearly done the second book, A Medal for Murder, and am looking forward to the third!

Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey

Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey caught my eye the minute I saw the cover illustration and read a quick summary of the book.  I’m a huge fan of the traditional “cozy” mysteries and this book, first in the Manor Cat Mysteries series, takes place in rural England during the spring of 1912.

Lady Cecilia Bates spends the majority of her time on the grounds of her family’s estate, Danby Hall, living a life of leisure by assisting her mother, the Countess of Avebury, with parties and other domestic duties.  Her family’s estate is run like clockwork by a household of servants who cater the the family’s every whim.  Cecilia lives here with her brother, Patrick, who is the heir apparent of the estate.  To an outsider, Patrick seems an unlikely heir, as he would much rather be alone with the exotic plants he lovingly cares for in his laboratory.

As Danby Hall has increasingly become more difficult to maintain with the family’s finances, a glimmer of hope arrives in the form of Miss Annabel Clarke from the United States.  She, along with her vast wealth, arrive for a host of parties with the hope of an engagement to Patrick Bates who will become Earl of Avebury in years to come.

Immediately upon Miss Clarke’s arrival, an elaborate dinner party celebrates all that is best of Danby in order to impress the American heiress. What the residents of Danby Hall did not count on was the murder of a guest by poison just as drinks were served!  The victim is a renowned naturalist in between explorations who was making a quick stop at Danby Hall, but it quickly becomes apparent that maybe the poison wasn’t meant for him.

Lady Cecilia, along with Miss Clarke’s maid, Jane and her stowaway marmalade cat Jack, hit the ground running in an attempt to find the culprit and save Danby Hall from further scandal.  With the amateur sleuths finding clue after clue within the house, evidence points to someone close to the family or someone attempting to capitalize on the family’s dwindling fortune.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey.  Some of the twists and turns were to be expected, but the mystery kept my interest and was a true “cozy” mystery.  My only criticism is that I would have liked the manor cat, Jack, to have more of a starring role.  Maybe he will in the second installment, due in the summer of 2020.