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.

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.

Nero Wolfe Lives On

When Robert Goldsborough took over Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series in the mid 1980s, he brought Wolfe and his crew forward into the age of the personal computer (for the orchid germination records) without aging any of the characters. He wrote seven books, the last in 1994, before taking a break.

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Wolfe and Goodwin reappeared—and met—in the 2012 prequel Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, and Murder in the Ball Park, published in 2014, drops Wolfe and his usual crew, Archie, Lily Rowan, Fritz the chef, Lon Cohen from the Gazette, and Cramer and Stebbins from the NYPD, back into the mid twentieth century, a few years after the end of World War II. The ball park in the title is the old Polo Grounds (demolished in 1964), and Goldsborough has fun with NYC baseball of the period. He also delves into what we now call PTSD and the difficulties of men returning from combat.

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In Archie in the Crosshairs, Goldsborough stays in the mid-twentieth century, which was perhaps the peak of Nero Wolfe’s (and Rex Stout’s) career, the period many fans seem to prefer. All the usual characters are present, trying to figure out who is taking pot shots at Archie (apparently in revenge aimed at Wolfe) and who is blackmailing a naive young heiress. Could these cases possibly be connected?

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Stop the Presses! is set in the late 1970s, when Nero Wolfe is asked to determine whether or not a highly popular but widely detested muck-raking columnist committed suicide. Before his death he told his colleagues at the New York Gazette that he had been receiving threatening phone calls, and that he believed they were the work of one of five people he had gone after in his column. Inspector Cramer of the NYPD is convinced of the suicide theory, but the owner and the editor of the paper believe the columnist was murdered. As usual, Wolfe solves the case without ever leaving his brownstone. Archie, however, does a bit of traveling.

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I know there are Stout/Wolfe purists who decry the continuation of the series, but I’m enjoying the books. I read all the Stout novels (long ago) and I think Goldsborough has done a fine job recreating the characters and atmosphere. There are three more in the series waiting on my Kindle, and yet another scheduled for May 2020 (and Goldsborough is 82 years old!). Cheers to Open Road Press for making so many mysteries, both vintage and new, available.

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