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

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)

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)

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

To tell you the truth, I don’t get how we can almost unanimously agree that murder is wrong, yet when it comes to rape some people still see shades of gray.  – Megan Goldin, The Night Swim

Megan Goldin’s latest The Night Swim is a psychological thriller that covers a controversial trial in a small town. Content warning: this book talks about rape, violence, sexual assault, sexual battery, murder, and domestic violence.

Rachel Krall is a true crime podcast host. She has become a common household name after a previous season set an innocent man free. The attention this garnered her has been both positive and negative. Some of the public also see her as the last hope of those seeking justice, constantly wanting her attention.

For her third season, Rachel has come to the small town of Neapolis to cover a controversial trial pitting a local golden boy against a young girl. This rape trial has torn the town apart. A swimmer on track to compete at the Olympics has been accused of raping the young granddaughter of the police chief. Rachel need this latest season to be a success, so she throws herself into the investigation and attends every day of the trial.

Rachel’s concentration is derailed when she finds a note under her car windshield asking for help. Thinking it was a one-off, Rachel continues her investigation into the trial. More mysterious letters keep showing up asking Rachel to find out what really happened to the writer’s sister twenty-five years ago. Officially Jenny Stills drowned, but the writer insists that she was actually murdered. Despite the pressures of the podcast weighing on her, Rachel can’t stop her desire to look into Jenny’s case. The more questions she asks, the more non-answers she receives. No one wants to dig up the past. Rachel’s investigation into Jenny’s case takes a turn when she realizes that both the present trial and the past mystery are connected. What she discovers could have devastating consequences for all involved.

This book is also available in the following formats:

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

‘She felt quite light-headed. Low blood sugar, maybe, or perhaps it was the dizzying effect of watching her horizons, narrowed for so long, expanding once again.’

Paula Hawkins’ latest thriller A Slow Fire Burning is a book that messes with your mind, but in a good way. Hawkins has written a book that talks about how far someone is willing to go to find peace (or revenge).

Someone has been killed. A young man was found gruesomely murdered in his London houseboat. When the authorities start investigating, questions begin to mount surrounding three women who knew him and the others living in his periphery.

Laura is a troubled young woman who was the last person seen both with the victim and in his home. Their one-night stand was fraught with violence, something that Laura admits to the police when questioned. Laura was in a devastating car accident when she was young that left her hot-tempered, rash, and dangerous. Others judge her, something that has left Laura living as a loner.

Miriam knows all too well about how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the person who lives in the houseboat next to the dead man, Miriam has a unique insight into his life, plus she’s nosy. She also knows that just because she saw Laura leaving the houseboat covered in blood, that doesn’t mean she killed him. Miriam has been taken advantage of one too many times, so she will do whatever it takes to clear Laura of any wrongdoing.

Carla’s nephew was just brutally murdered. Her sister died in an accident eight weeks earlier. So much tragedy in such a short amount of time has left her completely stricken and at a loss. Carla no longer trusts anyone and views those around her as damaged creatures. All she wants is peace. Or does she?

Others circulate behind the scenes: Carla’s husband Theo and the women who lives next door to the deceased man’s mother. Everyone in this story is filled with resentment. While their reasons may be varied, they all desire to right the wrongs perpetrated against them. Their journeys to revenge will lead them to peace or destruction, risks they are all willing to take.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

I’m not a spooky book person: hauntings, ghosts, unexplained mysteries keep me up all night. I decided to be brave and try The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James, even though the reviews I read described mysterious happenings throughout the book. It was worth it (and the many positive reviews didn’t let me down)!

The Sun Down Motel tells the story of secrets. A rundown roadside motel in Fell, New York has been the scene of many unexplained happenings. What’s even more chilling is that the city of Fell has a high number of young girls who have mysteriously disappeared without a trace. One of these missing girls is Viv Delaney.

Viv moved to Fell in 1982. She is desperate to move to New york City, but in order to help pay for it, she finds herself working as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel. She was only supposed to be passing through Fell – not staying to work. The more she works at the motel, the more Viv realizes that something isn’t quite right there. Something haunting and scary has taken over the Sun Down Motel. What’s even scarier: they are determined to get Viv’s attention no matter what.

Flash forward to Fell in 2017. Carly Kirk has been consumed by the story of her Aunt Viv, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances while working the night shift at the Sun Down. Viv disappeared before Carly was even born, yet her disappearance has cast a shadow over her life. Determined to finally find some answers, Carly decides to move to Fell and visit the motel where her aunt spent her last known moments. Once she steps foot at the Sun Down Motel, Carly quickly realizes that nothing has changed since 1982. The more she investigates what happened to her aunt, the more Carly realizes that both the town of Fell and the Sun Down Motel are ripe with secrets. Soon Carly finds herself wrapped up in the same haunting and scary mysteries that consumed her aunt back in 1982. Carly needs answers though and will stop at nothing to find out what really happened to Viv all those years ago.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Careful What You Wish For by Hallie Ephron

Hallie Ephron is known for writing mystery and suspense novels. Her newest novel Careful What You Wish For is her latest offering.

Emily Harlow is a professional organizer. She loves to help people declutter their lives which is a bit ironic because Emily’s own life is a complete mess. Her husband is a hoarder. He has filled their basement, attic, and garage with all of the treasures that he has found at different yard and estate sales. Emily and her husband have an understanding though that she will not touch his finds. This marriage compromise is slowly making Emily’s life more stressful as his belongings spread throughout more of the house.

Desperate to get back to some sort of normalcy, Emily is relieved when she has two new clients sign up. One is an elderly widow finally ready to clear out her house of any reminder of her husband. Said husband also left behind a storage unit that the wife had no idea existed. Emily’s other new client is a young wife who wants to get rid of all of her belongings that have been sitting in the garage ever since she moved in with her husband. You see, her husband didn’t allow any of her belongings into the house. At all.

After the initial meetings, Emily discovers that both of her new clients are hiding something. The mess Emily finds herself in has the power to destroy her life. She must get creative in order to find her way out or she may lose her marriage, her job, or even her life.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Tiffany D. Jackson is the master of soul searching young adult fiction. Her first young adult novel, Allegedly, was published in 2017. This novel is based on a story that was in the headlines years ago that caught the author’s attention.

Allegedly tells the story of Mary B. Addison. She killed a baby. Allegedly. After the police were called and she was brought in for an interview, Mary didn’t say much. In fact, she didn’t talk. Mary’s situation was very much a trial by media. Since little was being said about the circumstances surrounding the baby’s death, the media drew their own conclusions. A white baby had died while under the care of a black woman and her daughter. The woman went to church while her daughter was only nine-years old. Mary went to trial. The public and the media had all but convicted Mary of the crime and the jury sentenced her.

Mary was sent to baby jail for six years before being placed in a group home. She never came out and said what actually happened, so her fellow prisoners and jailers all treated her as if she was guilty. The group home is bad. Mary lives in a state of constant fear and the other girls who live there constantly torment her. The women in charge of the home degrade the girls and treat them badly.

The only bright spot in her life is Ted. Since Mary is in a group home, she is able to leave for certain things: one of them being her assignment to work at a nursing home. It is at that nursing home that she meets Ted. He sees her for who she really is: a young woman in desperate need for kindness. Ted also doesn’t know Mary’s dark past and she isn’t quite sure when, or even if, she should tell him until she discovers that she is pregnant. With the state threatening to take away her baby, Mary needs to get the truth out about what happened the night the baby died. She won’t lose her baby over something that she didn’t do. In order to prove her innocence, Mary has to fight. She also has to get her Momma to tell the truth.

You see, no one but Mary knows the real Momma. Momma puts up a huge front and since the baby died, she has been born again. She has written out the nasty story of what Mary did and is working to start anew. Mary must get her to acknowledge the truth of what happened that night if she has any hope of keeping her baby and staying with Ted.

This book is also available in the following formats: