I am only a baby mystery reader, but I’m loving the puzzle-solving, the danger, and the intrigue. Here’s a tiny post of my mystery recs so far! (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
“Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it’s not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they’ve needed to keep others out. And now they’re worried they’re keeping a murderer in.
Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.
Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He’s seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn’t extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning.
When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.”
I listened to this in audio, and narrator Philip Battley did an excellent job. I’ve also listened to the second in the series, which isn’t actually a mystery (as many reviewers were quick to point out), but I was fine with that.
“Oxford, Spring 1353. When young bookseller Nicholas Elyot discovers the body of student William Farringdon floating in the river Cherwell, it looks like a drowning. Soon, however, Nicholas finds evidence of murder. Who could have wanted to kill this promising student?
As Nicholas and his scholar friend Jordain try to unravel what lies behind William’s death, they learn that he was innocently caught up in a criminal plot.
When their investigations begin to involve town, university, and abbey, Nicholas takes a risky gamble – and puts his family in terrible danger.”
Just such a kind, tender… uh, murder mystery. With kissing.
“A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.
James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.
The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.
As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.”
If you like messy main characters, this mystery series is for you. Roxane Weary is a private investigator, daughter of a slain police officer, and very definitely an alcoholic. She has an ill-advised on-again off-again affair with her ex-girlfriend, who married a man, and Roxane is also sleeping with her father’s former partner on the force. In the first book, The Last Place You Look, She’s hired by a Black woman to investigate the long-ago disappearance of a white teenage girl, because the client’s brother is awaiting execution for the murder of the girl and her parents. Roxane pursues the case doggedly, especially once she finds a possible connection between the case and an unsolved case of her father’s. It’s clear that Roxane’s substance abuse is increasingly as much of an obstacle to solving the case as the lack of solid evidence and interference from suspicious local cops; as a fictional device, her blackouts and other incidents only increase the tension.
I was so wrapped up in the writing and Allyson Ryan’s narration of the first book that I barely resented doing hours of physical therapy exercises at home while listening to the audiobook. If that’s not a sufficient testimonial, I don’t know what else I can say!
I really enjoyed the second and third books as well. The fourth didn’t click as well with me, but I still love the characters, so I’m looking forward to the fifth.
I loved this set-in-1942 murder mystery about a young bi woman working for a circus who ends up as the assistant to the country’s most famous female private investigator.
This first book in the series has plenty of intrigue and danger, a beautiful heiress, disability rep, a spirit medium… what more could you need? I didn’t care for the second book in the series as much, but the third one came back strong.
CW: The past details of the first book’s case include a suicide.
“It’s 1942 and Willowjean ‘Will’ Parker is a scrappy circus runaway whose knife-throwing skills have just saved the life of New York’s best, and most unorthodox, private investigator, Lillian Pentecost. When the dapper detective summons Will a few days later, she doesn’t expect to be offered a life-changing proposition: Lillian’s multiple sclerosis means she can’t keep up with her old case load alone, so she wants to hire Will to be her right-hand woman. In return, Will is to receive a salary, room and board, and training in Lillian’s very particular art of investigation.
Three years later, Will and Lillian are on the Collins case: Abigail Collins was found bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball following a big, boozy Halloween party at her home—her body slumped in the same chair where her steel magnate husband shot himself the year before. With rumors flying that Abigail was bumped off by the vengeful spirit of her husband (who else could have gotten inside the locked room?), the family has tasked the detectives with finding answers where the police have failed.
But that’s easier said than done in a case that involves messages from the dead, a seductive spiritualist, and Becca Collins—the beautiful daughter of the deceased, who Will quickly starts falling for. When Will and Becca’s relationship dances beyond the professional, Will finds herself in dangerous territory, and discovers she may have become the murderer’s next target.”
I’ve read five books so far in this mystery series set in Calcutta in 1919. I’m a baby mystery reader, so I can’t give you an in-depth analysis of it on a genre basis, but I’ve hugely enjoyed the combination of the main character being a mess (and his growth), the cultural & historical richness of the setting he’s operating in, the wonderful secondary character of his assistant / partner, and the whodunit in each book. The fifth book’s change in narration is exceptionally powerful.
“In the days of the Raj, a newly arrived Scotland Yard detective is confronted with the murder of a British official—in his mouth a note warning the British to leave India, or else…
Calcutta, 1919. Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, is a new arrival to Calcutta. Desperately seeking a fresh start after his experiences during the Great War, Wyndham has been recruited to head up a new post in the police force. He is immediately overwhelmed by the heady vibrancy of the tropical city, but with barely a moment to acclimatize or to deal with the ghosts that still haunt him, Wyndham is caught up in a murder investigation that threatens to destabilize a city already teetering on the brink of political insurgency.
The body of a senior official has been found in a filthy sewer, and a note left in his mouth warns the British to quit India, or else. Under tremendous pressure to solve the case before it erupts into increased violence on the streets, Wyndham and his two new colleagues—arrogant Inspector Digby and Sergeant Banerjee, one of the few Indians to be recruited into the new CID—embark on an investigation that will take them from the opulent mansions of wealthy British traders to the seedy opium dens of the city.”
This is the second book in a series, and I did read the first one quite a while before it, but I really think it works as a standalone and it’s a stronger book. You can backtrack if you want to know more.
“Was Bill Ryan’s death an accident? Henry Rios has his doubts.
The first new Henry Rios novel in 20 years from six-time Lambda Literary award winner Michael Nava is a brilliantly plotted mystery that weaves together the gripping story of two gay men against the backdrop of 1980s San Francisco as the tsunami of AIDS bears down upon the city.”
I *loved* both characters and the worldbuilding in this. The second book was even better, IMHO, because the threat they were facing was so frightening. Highly recommended! Content warning: remembered physical and sexual abuse at boarding school.
“His practice newly established, metaphysician Ned Mathey can’t afford to turn away any clients. But the latest Londoner to seek Ned’s magical aid gives him pause: Mr Edgar Nevett, an arrogant banker, is the father of the bully who made Ned’s life hell at boarding school. Nevertheless, Ned accepts the commission to ensure the Nevett family silver bears no ancient or modern curses, and then prepares to banish the Nevett family to unpleasant memory again. Until Edgar Nevett is killed by an enchanted silver candlestick—one of the pieces Ned declared magically harmless.
Calling on his old school friend Julian Lynes—private detective and another victim of the younger Nevett—Ned races to solve the murder, clear the stain on his professional reputation, and lay to rest the ghosts of his past. Assisted by Ned’s able secretary Miss Frost, who has unexpected metaphysical skills of her own, Ned and Julian explore London’s criminal underworld and sodomitical demimonde, uncover secrets and scandals, confront the unexpected murderer and the mysteries of their own relationship.”
And that’s the list!