My sister and I loved to share books. Mysteries and suspense were our favorites. Today, I thought I’d share 10 mystery books that make great gifts. Many of these fall into the “cozy” mystery category, which is a relatively new term. A cozy mystery has an amateur detective and a quirky bunch of characters who add some humor, a little bit of help, and maybe a dash of a hindrance to the resolution of the mystery. All of these books can stand alone on their own, but they are also the first book in a great series by the author. These were our favorite series, in no particular order.
The Man with a Load of Mischief is the first book in the Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes. The title is also the same name of a Pub in England. Each title in the series is the name of an English Pub and it’s in or around these pubs where the crimes originate. Richard Jury is a Chief Inspector with New Scotland Yard and murder brings him to the quiet town on Long Piddleton. It’s here that he’ll meet, for the first time, Melrose Plant who will become his quirky civilian side-kick. Plant’s observations on human nature will help Jury resolve this and future cases.
A Morbid Taste for Bones is the first book in the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Set in 1137, Brother Cadfael is a Benedictine Monk at the Shrewsbury Abbey of St. Peter and Paul in Wales. Brother Cadfael is unique in that he entered the Abbey in his 40s after a life spent as both a soldier and a sailor. His knowledge of the outside world and of human nature at its worst helps him to solve the mysteries and crimes that happen in and around the Abbey.
The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry is the first in a long series of books featuring Inspector Pitt and his wife Charlotte. It’s in this book that the two first meet as Pitt investigates a murder that hits close to home for Charlotte. Set in Victorian London, Pitt comes from a working-class background. Charlotte is from an upper-class background and her sister Emily marries a Viscount. Charlotte is able to use Emily’s connections to high society to help Thomas solve many of the crimes that he investigates.
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters is the first book in the Amelia Peabody series. My sister and I loved Amelia Peabody. We meet Amelia as a smart and rich, but headstrong spinster. She is in Egypt to study the Pharaohs and meets up with Radcliffe Emerson who is an archaeologist. While they dislike each other at first, they are soon working together on both his archeological dig and to figure out why there is a mummy roaming around at night. Amelia is a woman before her time who is not afraid to speak her mind and brandishes her parasol as a weapon.
Death on Demand by Carolyn Hart is a series about Annie and Max Darling. Death on Demand is the name of Annie’s mystery bookstore and in this book, it is the center of a crime as a famous mystery author is murdered. Annie is the prime suspect and she and Max must investigate in order to clear her name and find the real killer. The series is filled with quirky regulars as the bookstore is set on a small island off the coast of South Carolina. A Death on Demand mystery was the last book that I read to my sister.
Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod gives us Peter Shandy a cranky Professor at Balaclava Agricultural College in Massachusetts. In this first book, he reluctantly agrees to participate in the Illumination Festival that the college uses as a fundraiser. But goes crazy buying the most annoying display of flashing lights and music and then leaves town for a cruise. When he returns, he finds the event organizer, and annoying wife of his best friend, Jemima dead on his living room floor. The police assume it’s an accident, that she fell while trying to turn off his annoying contribution to the Illumination Festival, but Shandy thinks otherwise.
The Face of a Stranger is another series by Anne Perry. In 1856 a London Police Detective recovers from a serious accident that robbed him of his memories. While hiding the truth, he returns to work and is assigned the case of a murdered Crimean war hero. During his investigation, he learns bits and pieces of his past, including what a cruel person he was. But he also begins to suspect that he might have committed the crime himself. He also meets Hester Latterly, a former Nightengale nurse who now must make her way in a world in which her skills and knowledge are more advanced than society is ready to accept a woman should know.
The Family Vault is the start of another series from Charlotte MacLeod. This series is about Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn who meet in this first book. Sarah’s Great-Uncle died and wants to be buried in the ancestral family vault. When it’s opened, they discover the skeleton of a burlesque queen who disappeared thirty years previously. Max is the private detective called in to help Sarah unravel the mystery before she ends up the next victim.
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun is about the most brilliant cat the world has ever seen. At least that’s what Koko would have you believe. Koko’s human is James (Qwill) Qwilleran who is a former crime reporter now working the art beat at his local paper. And the art world is where the first crime in this series starts. It’s Koko who leads Qwill to the answers he needs to solve the crime.
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie is the first full-length book featuring Miss Marple–she was previously featured in a short story. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster living in the village of St. Mary Mead. Another one of those small villages where intrigue, mystery, and murder seem to happen in abundance. Miss Marple is a shrewd woman who takes an off-hand comment and figures out how it connects to whatever case she is working on. In this book, it’s the murder of the most detested man in town.
This is just a small sampling of the mysteries that we read. Most were stand-alone mysteries or suspense, but this time I thought I’d share some of our favorite series. I hope you find something that you like or better yet, a gift. There is nothing better than giving the gift of reading to someone, which is something my sister Joni did for me.