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)

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Sick of horror stories where able-bodied straight people are the only ones smart and strong enough to survive? Try Even if We Break by Marieke Nijkamp. This deeply inclusive YA thriller is a love letter to RPGs, a Breakfast Club vibe (with shades of One of Us is Lying), and a typical “remote-cabin-on-haunted-mountain” campfire story.

It’s been three years of high school since disabled goth Finn (he/him), cash-strapped game master Ever (they/them), autistic former athlete Maddy (she/her), hardworking “new money” Carter (he/him), and wealthy aspiring seamstress Liva (she/her) first started playing their role-playing game in the mythical land of Gonfalon. Once, the game made them inseparable. Now, they’re barely speaking, and all hiding secrets. Carter is bitterly resentful, Maddy is lost and desperate, Finn is consumed with anger and mistrust, Liva feels disrespected, and Ever is just desperate to keep the friendship going a little longer. They’ve gathered, one last time, at Liva’s mountain cabin to play an immersive game. But soon, strange things start happening, and then in the darkness, someone vanishes, leaving a pool of blood behind…

This book is priceless because of its effort to accurately and compassionately portray the lives of queer, disabled, and trans teens, through their own voices. Touching on chronic pain, the opioid epidemic, poverty, bullying, neurodivergence, and more, this is a thoughtful portrayal of a group of friends and how their circumstances can drive wedges between them. What this book does best is show the friends’ processing of trauma and secrets in order to get back to a place of trust and honesty. While slightly less effective, the thriller plot unravels at just the right rate to keep readers on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next and who’s behind it.

Both the frequent heart-to-heart talks and inconsistent serial-killer-stalking stretch the limits of believability to some degree and, combined, make for a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but as a pioneer of inclusion in the genre – and a nuanced portrayal of disability – this is a tour de force.  Recommended for fans of Stephanie Perkins’ horror work and Karen McManus’ multi-perspective whodunits.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

“It’s not about where you came from. What kind of shit might have happened to you in the past. It’s about who you are. What you do with the opportunities life presents to you.”
― Lucy Foley, The Paris Apartment

The Paris Apartment is a locked room mystery that centers around the people living in a Paris apartment building. Jess needs a fresh start, especially since she doesn’t have a job anymore. After calling her half-brother Ben to ask if she can come crash with him, Jess is surprised that he isn’t there to greet her when she eventually shows up to his apartment building in Paris. He didn’t sound excited that she wanted to come last minute, but he’s family. Ben always keeps his word and would never leave her stranded.

When Jess eventually makes her way inside the building, she finds a very nice apartment that she is honestly surprised that Ben can afford. After all, he’s a journalist who mainly writes restaurant reviews and this is a fancy place. She searches his apartment, but there is no sign of Ben. Time passes and Ben still doesn’t show up. Jess starts digging into Ben’s life, starting with his neighbors. They are a slightly weird bunch, eclectic to put it nicely. Plus they’re not friendly. Jess’s innocent questions about Ben’s whereabouts put them on edge, which only prompts her to ask more questions. Why are they acting so cagey? And where is Ben?

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is an author of eight novels. She is Edgar Award nominated, which honors the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, and television. Heather is also a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her debut novel was an instant bestseller and spent 22 weeks on the New York Times list. Her books have been published in over 20 countries and have appeared on many book lists.

Heather was born in South Dakota, but moved to Iowa at the age of three with the rest of her family. Heather was born with a profound unilateral hearing impairment. As a result, she turned to books as a way to relax and retreat. She read many many books as a child, which helped fuel her desire to become a writer. Heather currently lives in Iowa with her family and her dog, Lolo.

Her latest book, The Overnight Guest, is the story of a true crime writer searching for answers. Suffering from writer’s block while working on her latest book, Wylie Lark decides to escape to an isolated farmhouse in Iowa to hopefully finish her book. She has worked to keep her distance from the residents of Burden in order to not have to answer questions about what she’s doing there and why she’s staying at such an isolated location. When Wylie learns that a big snowstorm is rolling in, she isn’t too worried. After all, she came prepared. She has a fireplace, silence, and a dog to keep her company. She also needs to finish writing her book which is more than enough to keep her busy. The only hiccup to her perfect plan: twenty years ago in the house that she is staying, two people were murdered and a girl disappeared without a trace.

The storm becomes much worse than Wylie expected. She finds herself trapped in this haunted house, trapped with the secrets of who killed those two people and trapped with her own reasons for wanting to escape her family back home. On one of her trips outside, Wylie makes a shocking discovery: a small child lying in the snow. When Wylie brings the child inside to warm them up, she immediately starts searching for answers as to why and how they ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere outside the farmhouse. While she questions them, the storm rages outside bringing more than snow, wind, and ice to her door. Wylie discovers that she isn’t as isolated as she thought she was and what she thought was true was all a lie.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Author photo credit: Erin Kirchoff

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

If you know me you know I love a good retelling, and that I fanatically loved Lyndsay Faye’s retelling of Hamlet. Recently I picked up her 2016 Jane Steele, a tongue-in-cheek retelling of Jane Eyre, in which rather than bearing up stoically under adversity, Jane turns to murder to escape her various oppressors. Once again Faye perfectly captures the spirit of the original while adding certain improvements – with both style and modern sensibilities.

Jane Steele has decided to write her memoir, after reading an interesting book called Jane Eyre. However, while she admires Jane E, Jane S has taken a rather different approach to her own life of suffering. It all started with her uncomfortably attentive cousin Edwin, after Jane’s beloved mother dies. In the spirit of honesty, Jane admits: “Reader, I murdered him.” Through her various trials – a cruel boarding school, her time in London – Jane often resorts to this problem-solving method, until one day she discovers that someone has bought her childhood home. Curious, she makes her way there, and is surprised by her feelings for new owner Charles Thoringfield. But can someone as admittedly wicked as Jane really get her happy ending?

I was impressed at how well this book echoed Jane Eyre‘s narrative style, while also feeling like an original story. Jane manages to be simultaneously sympathetic, relatable, and unique in her unflinching homicidal instincts. The murders themselves become a sort of feminist commentary – at the time this book (and the original) are set, the options for women to succeed are few, and the opportunities for them to suffer are boundless, and so from the beginning Jane’s victims are archetypes for those who oppress women: Jane’s cousin is a sexual predator as well as a demanding relative, the school’s headmaster shames and torments the girls in the name of religion, a later victim abuses his wife, and so on. This allows the reader to feel righteous glee as through murder Jane rejects and destroys these individuals’ harmful and/or misogynist messages.

To balance out the gore and social justice, Jane has her share of tenderness, love, and friendship from her mother, school friends, and others along the way – in most cases Jane only takes drastic measures in self-defense or to protect those she loves. There’s also a good amount of intrigue, mystery, hijinks, and romance, and of course, to lighten things up, the whole thing is shot through with frankness and humor. I think the story works particularly well because it follows the general structure of the original Jane, but puts even more focus on Jane Steele as an individual with power in her own hands doing her best to protect herself and her loved ones from many very real dangers.

For an excellent retelling and feminist romp in the spirit of An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good, don’t miss the vibrant and violent Jane Steele.

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)

Young Adult Mystery Reads: Jane Austen Murder Mysteries by Tirzah Price

Tirzah Price grew up on a farm in Michigan, where she read every book she could get her hands on and never outgrew her love for YA fiction. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a former bookseller and librarian. Now, she’s a senior contributing editor at Book Riot, and co-host of the Hey YA podcast. When she’s not writing, reading, or thinking about YA books, she splits her time between experimenting in the kitchen and knitting enough socks to last through winter. She lives in Iowa.

Tirzah is pronounced TEER-zuh. Pronouns are she/her.

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a brilliant idea, conceived and executed by a clever young woman, must be claimed by a man.’ – Tirzah Price, Pride and Premeditation

I was introduced to Tirzah Price through her Jane Austen Murder Mysteries. The first book in the series is Pride and Premeditation. What first drew me to this book was honestly the cover – the cover looked cross-stitched (there’s a knife and pistols hidden within the illustrations)! As soon as I started reading, I knew I would enjoy this title (this book reminded me strongly of the Lady Janies series by Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, and Cynthia Hand – check those out if you haven’t yet!).

Ok! Let’s talk about Pride and Premeditation. This is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but with additional murder mystery elements. Lizzie Bennett is an aspiring lawyer who hopes to one day work at her father’s firm. When a murder happens amongst London’s high society, Lizzie believes that solving this case will prove to her father that she should be hired to work with him. After she meets the accused, Lizzie’s hopes are dashed when she makes the acquaintance of Mr. Fitzwillian Darcy, the heir to the prestigious law firm Pemberley Associates. Despite Darcy’s protestations and because of her lack of belief in his defense strategy, Lizzie decides to solve the murder on her own. The more she digs into the case, the more complicated it becomes. The more time she spends with Darcy, the more confused she finds her feelings. Lizzie isn’t sure what to do with either of those things, but she knows that she must find answers for the accused man. She knows he is innocent, but finding the truth may result in her injury or even death.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Jane Austen Murder Mysteries

  1. Pride and Premeditation (2021)
  2. Sense and Second-Degree Murder (2022)
  3. Manslaughter Park (2023)

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)

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:

Cozy Mystery Reads: Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien

Cozy mysteries have become one of my comfort reads in the last couple months. One of my favorite series that I have been reading is the Noodle Shop Mystery Series by Vivien Chien. Chien was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio where she grew up in a mixed-race home. She first started writing adventure stories in elementary school. Her love of writing and books only increased in the coming years. She attempted her first novel when she was 16. Now she is the author of the Noodle Shop Mystery series, which has seven published novels and an eighth scheduled to be published in January 2022.

All of the Noodle Shop Mystery series books can be found at one of the Davenport Public Libraries. A complete list of the books in this series can be found at the end of this blog post.

The first book in the Noodle Shop Mystery series is Death by Dumpling. Lana Lee never thought that she would end up back working at her family’s restuarant, Ho-Lee Noodle House. After a bad break-up and a dramatic walk-out from her last job, Lana’s life is in tatters. Not sure what to do, she decides to head back home and start waitressing at the restaurant as a way to begin putting her life back together. The downside: her mother. She wants to find Lana a husband and has been hinting towards various men around Asia Village that they would be perfect for her.

All thoughts of finding Lana a husband are put on the back burner after Asia Village’s property manager is found dead in his office. The restaurant is in the hot seat after it becomes known that an order of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee is found next to the body. Mr. Feng had a severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy that everyone in Asia Village knew about, so the discovery of the shrimp dumplings causes major concern. The whole restaurant is under suspicion and that of course causes the local media to descend upon the plaza searching for clues. Lana must find a way to clear the family and their employees, and restore the restaurant’s name.

Noodle Shop Mystery series

  1. Death By Dumpling (2018)
  2. Dim Sum of All Fears (2018)
  3. Murder Lo Mein (2019)
  4. Wonton Terror (2019)
  5. Egg Drop Dead (2020)
  6. Killer Kung Pao (2020)
  7. Fatal Fried Rice (2021)
  8. Hot and Sour Suspects (2022)