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A Mysterious State of Mind


I've been partying with Poe and dancing with Doyle as I prepare for the new school year, so my mind is on mystery. My work has seeped into my personal reading, but that should come as no surprise since I have been a mystery lover since I first picked up Encyclopedia Brown, Cam Jansen, Nancy Drew, and Trixie Belden. Although, just between us I think From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler solidified mysteries as my forever number one — my OTP if you will.

A few weeks ago, a fellow teacher asked me to name the book that I could read over and over without ever growing bored. As someone with two degrees in English, my first thoughts were of all the old dead men and women of the Western Canon - Shakespeare, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Austen — but then I stopped because the honest answer, and not one born of English major pretentiousness, is From the Mixed Up Files with Harriet the Spy not far behind. Even as I grew and grow older I have never strayed far from mysteries. A quick aside - Is it my imagination or are people with degrees in English and Art History prone to the pretentious? I ask that question as someone with degrees in both. Aside over.

In fact, I'm such a lover of mysteries that most of the book clubs I've joined have focused solely on mysteries. I've talked before about my monthly face-to-face book club — we only read mysteries. We only read cozy mysteries. I usually dislike the books very much and a lot. I could put my reasons for disliking these books on cards and just hold them up instead of speaking, which would give me more time to shovel cookies and cake and shrimp into my mouth, but I like the challenge of bringing some of the members over to my side of the street. My side of the street is behind Sesame Street and we passed a resolution to welcome the the rainy days and the clouds Elmo and Big Bird keep "sweepin' away." I'm usually successful in swaying some suspecting member with my steely calm, cool logic, and sweet loving sarcasm to my side of the street.

I know you're asking why I keep showing up, but I answered that in another post. I know that you're now asking what I dislike very much and a lot about these cozy mysteries we read. I'm pretty sure I answered that too, but I can never pass up the opportunity to disparage Mary Sue characters, so here comes my rant.

The Reasons I Hate Quite a Few, But Not All, of the Cozies We Read:

  • I hate Mary Sues.

  • I hate too cutesy.

  • I hate that the police officer love interest always looks like Legends of the Fall Brad Pitt with the polite, educated poshness of Eddie Redmayne and the secret wealth of Elon Musk, but he's a police detective because he was inspired by some profound quote attributed to Ghandi or MLK or Charlie Brown. He also tends to be an expert chef with great taste in art and an amazing loft style house. Oh, and an adorable dog.

  • I also hate love triangles. the third leg always contrasts with the police officer and tends to have darker hair and bluer eyes, rides a motorcycle, has some secret tragic past, is a painter or sculptor or writer or chef or wealthy philanthropist who lives in a renovated warehouse space with his tiny and adorable puppy. Oh, he's also always new to town and everyone is suspicious except our plucky heroine who thinks everyone in the whole wide world is just the bestest. Basically he's Aaron-Taylor Johnson or my my latest crush, Sergei Polunin.

I sound so bitter, but just know I've secretly considered writing my own cozy mystery series about a widowed mom to two adorable and precocious girls. The widowed mom owns her own pottery shop and cafe. She finds time to solve a murder because she is a person of interest, but also manages to save the bake sale, so the junior Battle of the Books team can travel to the finals in Washington D.C. Of course the police officer will be called Breddie Musk and teach at the local culinary school at night because it helps him relax. Everything I just typed is totally copyrighted and I have already plotted the first three books in my head. I make literary magic in the shower.

Wow! That wasn't even an aside. That was a full blown round the way and back again digression. What I really want to talk about is how as I grew older my interest in mysteries continued. I wanted to talk about my tendency to favor historical mysteries. I wanted to share my thoughts about some of my favorite historical series. I want to do all of that without sounding like a book snob, but I may have 100% failed. I would say let's push forward, but I've already written so much.

What if I just leave a list? What if I just include some boring and not at all clever descriptions? Good, okay.

  • Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson. It is the first in the Gaslight Mystery series. It checks all the marks for a great mystery. It has great characters with complex backstories. This series currently has 20 entries. I will admit that the series has gotten a bit cozier over the years, but I still enjoy it.

  • Seneca Falls Inheritance by Miriam Grace Monfredo. It is the first in the Seneca Falls series. This series is flat out incredible. Every book is as good as the one before and the one after. The one flaw was that that it ended after six books. There was a follow-up series (The Cain series) that is connected through characters. The Cain series is as well written, but it just doesn't do it for me the way the Seneca Falls series does.

  • Murphy's Law, which is the first book in The Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen. I first discovered Bowen when I read her Evan Evans series, which is not a historical mystery series, but is absolutely quality writing. I do not say lightly that Rhys Bowen is the obvious heir apparent to Agatha Christie. She also write the Her Royal Spyness series, which is a must preorder for me. The Molly Murphy series will release book 17 in November, while the Her Royal Spyness series just released book 11 this month. If I had to pick one over the other I'd hold the Her Royal Spyness series up as the winner, but then I'd sneak the Molly Murphy series into my bag under the table.

  • Still Life with Murder by P.B. Ryan was the first of The Gilded Age Mystery series. It was a six book series. I finished this book in a single sitting, no kitchen breaks, no bathroom breaks, no "mommy I made an igloo with ice cubes in the fireplace" breaks — nothing could keep me from finishing this book. It was lush. I don't think I knew what people meant when they said a story was lush until I read Still Life with Murder. I'm not sure why PBS and BBC haven't teamed up to make this part of Masterpiece Mystery. I have some casting suggestions if they need help. This series remains one of my all time favorites. Read the first book and I promise you'll be hooked. If you aren't come yell and me, but know that I'm going to yell some pretty unflattering things back because this book is amazing.

Obviously I've gone on way too long, so this will have to be a two-part or three-part post, which means I won't have to think about a new topic until next week. Go lazy!