Three More Series Cozies

Dead in the Doorway is the second installment in Diane Kelly’s House Flipper cozy mystery series, set in Nashville. Whitney Whitaker and her cousin and business partner Buck have bought a house on Songbird Circle to restore and sell, but their plan hits a snag when Whitney and her cat, Sawdust, find the body of one of the neighbors at the foot of a staircase.

No one on the cul-de-sac liked Nelda Dolan very much, but that hardly seems like a reason to push her down the stairs of an empty house. But what was she doing in the house? Searching for something? The previous owner’s family has taken everything they might want, and their late mother, Lillian, didn’t have much to leave behind, unless you count her recipes for prize-winning pies. There doesn’t seem to be anything else worth looking for—until Sawdust finds a secret hiding place.

Whitney can’t resist a bit of sleuthing between tearing out appliances and re-tiling floors (and she makes that all sound so simple!), and Detective Collin Flynn is pretty hard to resist, too. Between the two of them they’ll surely uncover the secrets of Songbird Circle.

Some Like It Shot is the latest installment in Zara Keane’s Movie Club Mysteries, featuring Maggie Doyle, a one-time San Francisco cop now working as a private investigator on the small Irish island where her father grew up and where Maggie spent summers as a child. Business is slow: her main case involves searching for a wandering Maine Coon cat. Then an American movie company arrives on the island. Maggie’s younger sister, an online “Beauty Influencer” (yes, apparently this is a Thing, although I have trouble wrapping my brain around it), has landed her first movie role—as the female lead.

Maggie is not thrilled; she and her sister have a rather dysfunctional relationship. But the movie shoot has been plagued with “accidents,” and Maggie and her off-the-wall assistant Lenny are hired to sniff out any possible sabotage. Maggie and her boyfriend, the sergeant in charge of the tiny Whisper Island police station, suspect that most of the accidents were just that, but when there’s a death on the set the danger ramps up quickly.

I really enjoy this series (this is the sixth book) with its mixture of mystery, humor, and small town Irish life (I did have to look up the pronunciation of a couple of names: the Irish clearly have their own version of the alphabet) and I hope there will be many more.

The Study of Secrets is the fifth installment in Cynthia Kuhn’s Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries. As it opens, Lila is winding up her sabbatical from Stonedale, staying in a cottage on the grounds of Callahan House, a Victorian mansion associated with Callahan College and now the property of Bibi Callahan. Long ago Bibi published three mystery novels under the name Isabella Dare, and Lila has been researching and writing a book on these nearly-forgotten works, while hoping that Bibi will admit publicly that she is, in fact, the author.

Lila has been organizing Bibi’s study for her, and in a locked drawer she finds the manuscript of an unpublished fourth novel. When one of Bibi’s life-long friends is murdered in the house and the manuscript vanishes, Bibi admits that the novel was a barely fictionalized version of the night when her younger sister disappeared, suggesting that she was killed by one of Bibi’s tight-knit circle of friends during a night of celebration between high school and college.

Bibi never meant anyone to see the manuscript, with its unfounded speculation, but when it gets out, and perhaps causes another death, Lila races to solve the long-ago mystery that appears to be the source of the present trouble.

Lila is still trying to finish her book on Isabella Dare—and find a publisher for it—and she’s also writing a mystery novel of her own, so I hope we’ll see another adventure before too long.

The Tudor Legacy Novels

The Virgin’s Daughter is the first volume in Laura Andersen’s Tudor Legacy Trilogy, opening about twenty years after the conclusion of The Boleyn Reckoning, the last of the Boleyn King trilogy. Elizabeth is Queen of England, and her daughter, Princess Anne Isabella of Wales, is eighteen years old. Elizabeth wants nothing more than to dissolve her twenty-year marriage to King Phillip of Spain. Phillip’s only other legitimate child, the unstable Don Carlos, has died, leaving Anne as the heir to both the Protestant English and the Catholic Spanish thrones. He needs another heir. Meanwhile, yet another plot to free Mary Queen of Scots from her imprisonment in England is brewing.

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The central figure in The Virgin’s Daughter is not Anne (known to her close friends as Anabel), but her friend Lucette Courtenay, sent by spy master Francis Walsingham to visit family friends in France. Lucette knew the LeClerc brothers, Nicolas and Julien, when they visited her family in England some twelve years past, when Lucette was only ten and the boys teenagers. Now they are all adults, and both Nicolas and Julien are hiding terrible secrets. But are either—or both—of them plotting against Elizabeth?

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Most of the characters in this book are familiar from the earlier trilogy, and I recommend reading the series in order. I deliberately left a long gap between reading the first and second trilogies, because I knew I’d get sucked into Andersen’s almost-like-the-history-books-but-not-quite world, and indeed I did. I’ve already opened the next book, The Virgin’s Spy. But what better time than “Stay Home, Stay Safe” to dive into Andersen’s richly imagined and intricately plotted Tudor time line?

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The Virgin’s Spy centers on Stephen Courtenay, Lucette’s brother, who is sent to Ireland to infiltrate the Kavanaugh Clan, one of the many groups rebelling against English rule. The leader of the clan has recently died, leaving his niece, Ailis, in charge. And Ailis has her own reasons for hating the English in general and seeking revenge against one Englishman in particular. Stephen’s experiences in Ireland will change him forever.

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Meanwhile plans for Anabel’s eventual political marriage are swirling. Will she marry King James of Scotland, several years her junior, or the pock-marked but charming Duc d’Anjou, heir to the French throne? She knows she will have to make a political marriage, but her heart lies elsewhere. And for the first time we get a glimpse of the continent, as the Courtenays visit Spain, delivering gifts for King Philip’s new heirs—and picking up intelligence along the way.

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In The Virgin’s War, the long-simmering tensions between England and Spain boil over into the naval invasion we remember as the Spanish Armada, changed in Andersen’s history by the presence of Princess Anne in the English north country, where she courts the Catholic nobles for support. Has she broken with her mother over religion and her possible allegiance to her Spanish father, or is something else going on?

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All the characters we have come to know are back, Tudor and Courtenay alike, Princess Anne and Pippa Courtenay taking center stage. Amid the political maneuvering, romances are kindled and resolved, battles are fought, hearts are broken and sometimes mended. Loose ends are tied off, some more neatly than others.

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The action moves all over England and even into Scotland, where we meet King James, who has become a surprisingly canny king at the age of twenty. Throughout we see Queen Elizabeth fighting to preserve a country threatening to split over religious lines and to unite her people in opposition to foreign interference.

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I’ve loved the whole six-book series. Andersen’s research and imagination are equally impressive. One can’t help but wonder what changes in the world might have resulted if the Tudor line had continued. Maybe Laura Andersen will take another guess at it someday.

Mystery and Humor

If you stop by here often, you know that mysteries and humor are two of my favorite reads, all the better if combined. Here are three more I’ve enjoyed.

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A Novel Way to Die is the second in Tamra Baumann’s bookshop mystery series, following Plotting For Murder and continuing the misadventures of Sawyer Davis, an accomplished chef who has found herself back in the small northern California town where she grew up, running the mystery bookshop she inherited from her mother, trying to understand the fifteen-year-old girl her mother had adopted, fighting her uncle over the very strange terms of the family trust, and making sense of her feelings for the local sheriff, the man who jilted her years ago.

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As if that weren’t enough, Sawyer keeps stumbling into homicides. This time the husband of an author signing her books at Sawyer’s shop turns up dead in the freezer of Sawyer’s best friend Renee’s ice cream shop. The victim and Renee once had a bad break up, too, and all the evidence points to her as the killer. But Sawyer knows that’s impossible. Now all she has to do is prove it.

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That requires the computer expertise of Brittany, Sawyer’s adopted sister and ward, inside information from Madge, the gossip loving manager of the sheriff’s office, and support from the members of the shop’s book club. Even Max, Sawyer’s third-rate magician dad, pops in with a few good ideas.

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A Novel Way to Die is a thoroughly entertaining tale, solving the mystery but leaving that strange family trust begging for another installment.

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Stayin’ Alive is the latest installment in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders, set in Kansas City in the mid 1970s. The setting here is part of the fun, taking the reader back to the days when people did not carry cell phones or while away their time on computers. Ellison Russell is an artist, the mother of a teenage daughter, and a widow, and her talent for stumbling over bodies matches that of Jessica Fletcher. This horrifies her mother, who regards Ellison’s involvement in murder investigations—and her friendship with homicide detective Anarchy Jones—as a threat to her social standing.

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In Stayin’ Alive, Ellison chairs a fund raising gala for a local museum’s touring display of Chinese funerary art—and finds a body during the festivities, albeit in a closed section of the museum. And that’s not the last body. Meanwhile Ellison’s relatives and friends contribute both information and aggravation, and Max, Ellison’s incorrigible dog, falls in love. It seems like nothing surprises Ellison any more—until she finds out that even Anarchy Jones has been keeping a secret from her.

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This is number 10 in the series. I recommend reading the Country Club Murders from the beginning, because it’s so much fun getting to know the characters and following the threads running through Ellison’s adventures. Number 11 is due out in late June.

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Twisted Twenty-Six is, not surprisingly, Janet Evanovich’s 26th Stephanie Plum novel. I’ve been reading them since the first one came out in 1994. I recently replace my shabby paperback copy of that first one (One for the Money) with a newer trade paperback edition, and I have all the rest in hardback on my keeper shelf. Clearly, I’m a fan.

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When I opened Twisted Twenty-Six, the first line rang a bell: “Some men enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.” One for the Money opened with almost exactly these words, referring to Stephanie’s relationship with Joe Morelli (I, by the way, am Team Morelli: Ranger has his charms, but Morelli is the keeper). In Twisted Twenty-Six the line refers to Jimmy Rosolli, and his forty-five minute marriage to Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur.

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The aftermath of that brief union leaves Grandma Mazur at the center of a complicated web of intrigue involving missing keys, the Jersey mob (or at least a small, elderly, but definitely dangerous branch called the Laz-Y-Boys), Rosolli’s ex-wives, and random enemies. While Stephanie and Lula, Morelli, and Ranger try to figure out who is gunning for Grandma, life goes on at the bail bond agency, and Stephanie and Lula search for the usual motley assortment of oddballs who Fail To Appear for their hearings.

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Twisted Twenty-Six continues with Evanovich’s trademark combination of humor and mystery. It’s the characters that keep me coming back year after year, and Grandma Mazur has always been a favorite. She’s front and center in this one, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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