Mystery Reads: Veronica Speedwell Mystery series by Deanna Raybourn

“Everyone has a capacity for cruelty. Not everyone gets the chance to exercise it.”
― Deanna Raybourn, A Curious Beginning

The Veronica Speedwell mystery series by Deanna Raybourn has been recommended to me many times by multiple library staff, but I only recently decided to give it a listen. The first in this series is A Curious Beginning, released in 2015. I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Veronica’s world. She is a sassy young woman who knows what she wants and isn’t going to let a few measly men stand in her way.

London, 1887. Veronica Speedwell’s aunt has just died, which has proven to be both a sad and exciting event. Sad because Veronica officially now has no family left. Exciting because Veronica has big plans: she is going to travel the world hunting for more of her precious butterflies in her job as a natural historian. On the day she is slated to start her journey, disaster strikes. Someone attempts to abduct Veronica, which proves to be only a minor inconvenience when a German baron appears out of nowhere to rescue her. Once Veronica and the Baron arrive somewhere new, he introduces her to his friend Stoker. Cashing in on a debt, the Baron offers Veronica sanctuary with Stoker until he is able to figure out who wants to do her harm. Despite Stoker’s bad tempered nature, Veronica is intrigued by this man, mostly as he is also a natural historian. The two form a wary acquaintance that changes when they learn that the Baron has been murdered. As soon as they learn the devastating news, Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run. After all, someone is still after Veronica and maybe now even after Stoker. The two decide to team up to discover the truth behind the Baron’s murder, discovering many other hidden secrets along the way.

This book is available in the following formats:

Veronica Speedwell Mystery series

  1. A Curious Beginning (2015)
  2. A Perilous Undertaking (2017)
  3. A Treacherous Curse (2018)
  4. A Dangerous Collaboration (2019)
  5. A Murderous Relation (2020)
  6. An Unexpected Peril (2021)
  7. An Impossible Impostor (2022)
  8. A Sinister Revenge (2023)

The Verifiers by Jane Pek

“If this were a novel, he might simply be a poorly written character. But there are no poorly written people. Only ones you don’t yet understand.”
― Jane Pek, The Verifiers

Jane Pek’s debut novel, The Verifiers, follows the life of Claudia Lin, the youngest of three siblings whose Chinese mother wants her to marry a nice Chinese boy already. Her older brother has a high paying job and can’t understand why Claudia doesn’t simply get a job like he has. Her older sister dislikes Claudia as their mother always treats Claudia like the privileged perfect child. While dealing with everyone’s expectations, Claudia finds herself keeping secrets that would shock them. First of all, Claudia prefers girls over boys. Second, Claudia has a job, but she can’t talk about it as it would be unsuitable for what her family thinks she should be doing.

Claudia works at Veracity, a detective agency that operates out of a Manhattan townhouse. This business is rather unconventional. Veracity is hired by their clients to verify people’s online dating personas. Claudia spends her days chasing down liars and cheaters. As a lifelong reader of mystery novels, she sometimes finds herself carried away by the backstories she invents in her head. When one of Claudia’s clients winds up dead, she is told to drop the case. Dead client means no more verifying on her behalf. Claudia can’t let it go. She breaks Veracity’s protocols and decides to investigate what really happened. She doesn’t believe the story she was told, but the more she digs, the more she discovers just how big the web of lies extends. Her client, the circumstances surrounding her death, the myriad dating platforms, her coworkers, and even her own family aren’t being honest with her. Claudia decides to tear down the truths she has been told in order to figure out what she should believe.

This book is also available in the following format:

Cozy Mystery Series: Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

“Many years ago, everybody here would wake early because there was much to do and only so many hours in the day. Now they wake early because there is much to do and only so many days left.”
― Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club is the first book in the series of the same name written by Richard Osman. This book has been recommended to me many many times by other librarians since it was published in 2020. I finally listened to this book earlier this month and oh, I wish I would have started it sooner.

The Thursday Murder Club meets every Thursday to solve crime. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron are four unlikely friends brought together by circumstance. They all live in a peaceful retirement village, but all feel like they need more. They meet weekly in the Jigsaw room to discuss unsolved crimes. Ron used to be known as Red Ron, the infamous former socialist who still causes trouble. Joyce is a gentle widow who is pining for another resident, but she seems to be hiding something darker. Ibrahim is a former therapist whose grasp of the darker side of human nature helps the four truly understand the unsolved crimes they discuss each week. Elizabeth has a dark past that is kept deliberately hidden. No one is quite certain of her past, but they all know that one should never underestimate her.

As the four get together as the Thursday Murder Club, they work to solve unsolved crimes kept by a former police officer. When a local developer is brutally murdered, the four decide its time for them to start investigating their first live case. They may be older, but their skill sets mean that they are more well-equipped to solve this case than most people. As they dig into the crime, they inadvertently put themselves in danger, but still hope that they can find the killer before they kill again.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Thursday Murder Club series

  1. The Thursday Murder Club (2020)
  2. The Man Who Died Twice (2021)
  3. The Bullet That Missed (2022)
  4. The Thursday Murder Club 4 (2023)

“You always know when it’s your first time, don’t you? But you rarely know when it’s your final time.”
― Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club

Cozy Mystery Reads: Pies Before Guys Mystery series by Misha Popp

“Like there are these things that matter on a large grand scale, the kind of things Melly cares about, like stopping fascism and curing climate change, and that’s obviously super important, but then there are the little individual things, like a woman who’s getting hit at home or a girl whose rapist gets a free pass for being popular. Do you go for the big sweeping save-the-world changes that will help the most people, or do you chip away at the little problems, fixing one and another and another until you have this huge snowball of good deeds built up?”
― Misha Popp, Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies is the first book in the Pies Before Guys Mystery series. The description drew me in and I knew I needed to read it: a woman seeks vengeance on men who have wronged women by baking pies laced with deadly magic. Best part: there are recipes listed at the end of the book!

Daisy Ellery comes from a long line of magic women. Each woman’s magic manifests in different ways though: her grandmother sewed her magic into beautiful dresses, her mother opened a beauty salon where she used her magic to help cut women’s hair, and Daisy bakes her magic into pies. For years Daisy has believed that the family’s magic twisted and changed for the worse when it came to her. After all, her mother and grandmother used their magic for good, while Daisy’s magic mostly manifests for revenge.

Daisy’s first murder by pie was an accident. She has been on the move ever since, but has still found ways to deliver magic through baking. Daisy travels with her dog Zoe around the country in her refurbished RV baking vengeance into her pastries. Daisy delivers them to men who have done wrong to women in the towns wherever she chooses to stop.

Daisy currently parks her Pies Before Guys van outside a local diner, where she bakes pies for Frank, the diner owner. One day, Frank tells Daisy that someone has been prowling around her van. Daisy later discovers a letter stuck to her door. Her prowler knows about her secret murder pie business and is threatening to out her unless Daisy bakes pies for his own list of targets.

Daisy feels violated. Who dares blackmail her? This person obviously has no idea who or what they are dealing with, but without identifying who has it out for her, Daisy is left floundering. She decides to take whatever action she can: using her databases to research past abusive men, investing in security equipment, and staying aware of her surroundings.

When Daisy learns of a statewide pie contest that has the ability to help her promote Pies Before Guys everywhere, she decides to take the leap and enter. This contest, and the prize money, could change her life for the better as long as her blackmailer doesn’t get to her first.

Pies Before Guys Mystery series

  1. Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies (2022)
  2. A Good Day to Pie (2023)

‘The Murder of Mr. Wickham’ by Claudia Gray

“How unfortunate for public morals that being unladylike feels so… exciting.”
― Claudia Gray, The Murder of Mr. Wickham

Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of author Amy Vincent. Amy has written multiple young adult novels, including the Firebird trilogy, the Constellation trilogy, and the Evernight series. She has also written several Star Wars novels. Her latest novel written under her pseudonym is the one that has captured my interest: The Murder of Mr. Wickham. This book is Claudia’s debut adult historical mystery. It’s a delightful read full of characters from Jane Austen novels.

Mr. Knightley and Emma are happily married and wanting to throw a house party. They have decided to bring together a group of distant relatives and some new acquaintances: Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Marianne and Colonel Brandon, Anne and Captain Wentworh, Fanny and Edmund Bertram, and a couple others. Once the company has assembled at the Knightley’s country estate, they are shocked to discover an interloper: Mr. Wickham. He was not invited, but his arrival coincides with a storm that makes his much wished departure delayed. Wickham’s latest financial scheme has earned him a great number of enemies, quite a few of them at the Knightley’s house party. Tempers flare amongst the guests and secrets are revealed. As the party progresses, many people are heard discussing that they wish Wickham would finally be brought to justice.

What none of them expected though was that Wickham would be found murdered on the estate and that the killer would be one of them! Now almost everyone at the party is a suspect, so two of the youngest guests decide to solve the mystery (after all, they know that neither of them committed this crime). Juliet Tilney, the daughter of Catherine and Henry, is at the Knightley’s estate without her parents and eager to explore beyond Northanger Abbey. Jonathan Darcy is the Darcy’s eldest son with an almost militant adherence to propriety which rivals his father’s. Jonathan and Juliet must set aside their feelings for each other and their mediocre first impressions to discover who the guilty party is hiding amongst the guests.

Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed is an author who knows how to rip at your heart strings. So far, I have read two of her young adult fiction titles and they have decimated me, but in a way that had me thinking about the state of the world. Three years ago, I read Internment and had such a devastating book hangover after I finished that I knew I needed to read whatever she published next (Internment is set in a futuristic United States when Muslim-Americans are forced into internment camps. It tells the story of Layla Amin, a seventeen-year-old who leads a revolution against those complicit in silence). Samira’s latest soul-wrenching title is Hollow Fires. I’m still reeling from this book, yet I believe it’s a necessary read especially in today’s climate.

Hollow Fires is a powerful novel that tells the story of the evil that lives around us every day and how alternative facts created by the privileged bend the truth of a narrative to their will and desire. It’s a story of silent complicity, as well as outright and hidden racism. It’s about the will of a young journalist desperate to uncover the truth of what actually happened to a missing boy. If you enjoyed Sadie by Courtney Summers or Dear Martin by Nic Stone, I highly recommend you read this book.

Safiya Mirza wants to become a journalist. She is currently the editor of her private school’s newspaper, reporting on the facts of what is happening at her school, despite the administration wishing to push their own biases onto the paper. Safiya is a scholarship student, growing up in vastly different ways compared to her privileged classmates. Her desire to report only the facts and leave out any personal feelings changes the moment she finds the body of a murdered boy.

Jawad Ali was only fourteen years old. His public school had a makerspace where he was allowed to take recycled materials and repurpose them for whatever he wanted. Having had his current project approved by his teacher, Jawad built a cosplay jetpack to add to his Halloween costume. He brought the finished project to school to show his teacher and friends. One of his teachers mistook his jetpack for a bomb and alerted the police, which led to Jawad being arrested, labeled a terrorist, and eventually kidnapped and murdered. After his arrest, Jawad was cleared by the police, but his school still suspended him. His peers labeled him ‘Bomb Boy’ and his life as he knew it was changed forever.

Safiya is devastated after discovering Jawad’s body. His presence, voice, and smell are haunting her throughout the investigation, leading her to seek out the entire truth about Jawad’s murder and those who killed him because of their hate-fueled beliefs. Jawad was a person whose life was worth remembering exactly how he lived it and not how the media have spun it. Racist acts have been sprouting up all over Safiya’s school, as well as at her mosque and her parents’ store. Concerned they could be related to Jawad’s disappearance and with a lack of confidence in the local police department, Safiya begins an investigation of her own with the help of her friends and Jawad’s voice in her ear.

This book is also available in the following format:

The Counselors by Jessica Goodman

Jessica Goodman is a bestselling young adult author who has been on my radar for awhile. The Counselors  is her third young adult thriller. As soon as I saw the descriptionI knew I had to give it a read. This book is a summer camp murder mystery. As a frequenter of many Girl Scout camps (and a true crime fan), I was fascinated by the premise of murder happening at a summer camp. Let’s get into it!

Goldie Easton grew up at Camp Alpine Lake. It’s the only place where she really feels safe. Goldie has been involved with camp since before she was old enough to be a camper. Her parents have been working there for as long as she can remember. Camp Alpine Lake helps keep the tiny town of Roxwood in business by providing money, jobs, and a sense of importance to the area. The campers are rich kids whose very wealthy families drop them at camp for eight weeks while paying a hefty tuition. Very few Roxwood locals get to reap the benefits of camp, prompting animosity between the town and camp, but Goldie is one of the chosen locals who gets to escape each summer.

Goldie may be a townie, but the minute she sets foot at camp, she feels comfort and that camp is where she is supposed to be. Having aged out of being a camper, Goldie is now a counselor. This year, she anxiously awaits her best friends’ arrival. She has known Ava and Imogen for years and can’t wait for them to be counselors together. The downside: Goldie has a horrible secret hanging over her though that threatens to destroy the close bonds the three have formed over their years together at camp.

Goldie’s secret isn’t the only one at camp this summer though. The longer camp goes on, the more she realizes that others aren’t telling the truth. Everything is thrown into the open when a teen is found dead in the lake by camp one night. The instant she hears the news, Goldie believes that this death could not have been an accident. One reason: Ava was out at the lake the same night the teen died, but refuses to talk about it or admit she was there. Why would Ava lie? Goldie is determined to find the truth. When she starts asking questions though, Goldie doesn’t find answers. Her questions instead bring up betrayals, deadly lies, danger, and destroyed relationships. The truth could lay waste to Goldie’s family, friends, and the one safe place she knows.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson is a young adult novel described as a mix between Veronica Mars and Agatha Christie. I agree! This book is rumored to be the first in a new series and honestly, I hope that is true.

Alice Ogilve is having a rough go of it. Last summer, her boyfriend Steve dumped her. After that, she disappeared for five days. Alice eventually showed back up, but where she went and what happened to her during those five days is a mystery, mostly because Alice refuses to talk about it. To add insult to injury, Steve started dating one of Alice’s best friends, Brooke, last summer. Well Brooke is now Alice’s EX-best friend. Alice’s ex-friends aren’t talking to her, the entire Castle Cove community is upset, and Alice is marched into her home on house arrest and can’t leave due to her actions.

Flash forward to the present: Brooke is missing. She’s vanished and people are saying that she’s doing the same thing that Alice did last summer, only Alice knows Brooke would NEVER just disappear. There must be a sinister reason behind her sudden disappearance.

Enter Iris Adams, Alice’s tutor. She would love to disappear like Alice did, except she would take her mom with her and escape Castle Cove forever. Unlike Alice though, Iris doesn’t have the money or the means to disappear. When Brooke’s grandmother comes into town offering a large reward for any information about Brooke’s whereabouts, Iris decides to figure out the truth about what happened to Brooke. Iris and Alice begin investigating on their own, fueled by the police’s belief that Steve is the culprit. The two have doubts, so they set out to discover who is really responsible.

In order to get justice, and to secure the reward money, they must figure out who is behind Brooke’s disappearance. Alice has a secret weapon: she spent her house arrest reading the complete works of Agatha Christie, so she has the master to help her solve this mystery. The more the two dig, the more they realize that Castle Cove is full of secrets, but the amount of danger the two have put themselves in is worse than they could imagine.

Like A Sister by Kellye Garrett

Like A Sister is the story of a woman demanding answers and fighting those who are determined to keep the truth hidden.

Desiree Pierce is a reality TV star whose fame plays out on social media amongst her many followers. When Desiree falls from grace, not many are surprised, especially not her half-sister Lena Scott. When Desiree’s body is found on a playground in the Bronx the morning after her 25th birthday party, police, media, and her fans quickly decide that her death must be an overdose. Lena doesn’t believe the official story and starts digging for the truth.

Lena grew up far from the spotlight. As a graduate student at Columbia, Lena has spent the last decade making a name for herself separate from her family. Just because she doesn’t place herself directly in the spotlight doesn’t mean that Lena doesn’t know her sister though. Lena knows that Desiree would never overdose and most importantly she would have never traveled alone to where she was found dead. Despite her truth, no one will listen to her.

Determined even more to find answers after she receives pushback, Lena looks into Desiree’s recent past. The two haven’t spoken in the last two years, but at the core of her, Desiree is the same sister Lena has known her entire life. Desiree may have loved to party hard, but her death deserves to be investigated fully. What Lena doesn’t expect is resistance from their father, Mel, a hip-hop mogul with vast fame and influence. If he wanted, Mel could snap his fingers and make the police jump to do his bidding. Instead Lena finds herself alone digging up family secrets on a journey that might even lead to her own death.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Historical Mystery Reads: Captain Jim Agnihotri series by Nev March

Nev March started writing in her teens, drawing inspiration from authors like Neville Shuts, Rudyard Kipling, Mary Stewart, and Arthur Conan-Doyle. Her love of Sherlock Holmes is apparent in her debut novel, Murder in Old Bombay.

In 2015, Nev left her job in business and returned to writing fiction. She now teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. Nev immigrated from India thirty years ago and currently lives in New Jersey with her family. She is Parsee Zoroastrian.

Murder in Old Bombay is the first book in the Captain Jim Agnihotri series. The plot of this book was inspired by the hundred-plus-year-old unsolved deaths of the Godrej sisters in 19th century Bombay. The author wrote a fascinating article detailing this for the website Criminal Element. Let’s talk about the book!

1892: Bombay is the center of British India. Cultures of all sort mix in the streets. Captain Jim Agnihotri is recovering in Poona military hospital from serious injuries sustained in a battle on the northern frontier. With not much to do, Captain Jim finds himself re-reading his favorite Sherlock Holmes stories and pouring over the news in the daily papers. One day, a case called the crime of the century captures his attention. Two women fell to their deaths of the busy clock tower at the university in broad daylight. One of the victim’s husbands, Adi Framji, is certain that his wife and sister did not commit suicide and writes to the paper demanding justice for them. This case fascinates Captain Jim and he soon finds himself approaching Adi and his family searching for answers. Adi hires him to investigate what really happened to the women.

Captain Jim begins his investigation and discovers that the case is full of more secrets than he originally thought. He must chase down witnesses, running across country looking for answers. Asking questions proves increasingly dangerous as Captain Jim shakes out secrets that haunt the Framji family’s past. Each member of the Framji family wants to help, including Lady Diana who insists on getting more hands-on in the investigation. The friendship between Lady Diana and Captain Jim starts to blossom and soon feelings develop. Captain Jim’s personal and professional relationships are in jeopardy the closer he gets to the truth of what happened the afternoon the Framji women died.

If that description wasn’t enough to make you want to read this book, maybe accolades will sway you! This debut novel won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. It was also 2021 nominees for the following: Edgar and Barry Awards, as well as Anthony, Macavity and Hammett Awards for Excellence in Crime Fiction.

Captain Jim Agnihotri series

  1. Murder in Old Bombay (2020)
  2. Peril at the Exposition (2022)