Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Too Many Mysteries

I grew up loving mystery books. I read Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Dana Girls as a young girl and grew into Alfred Hitchcock and Dashiell Hammett in my teens. Eventually I fell in love with Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell. Over the last year I've been reading quite a bit of Christian fiction and political non-fiction, and I've fallen away from mysteries. Only since I started blogging have I started reading mysteries again, and I have to say, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mysteries out there. Not just mysteries, but niche mysteries. It seems not just private detectives and the police are investigating murders anymore. Now there are mysteries written featuring midwives, nannies, Victorian-era female attorneys, fashion designers, interior designers, nosy old ladies, shipboard police officers, scrapbookers, housekeepers, vampires, gourmands, genealogists, archaeologists, nurses, 20's era dilettantes, Hollywood caterers, housemaids, and I'm sure there are more that I'm missing, but doesn't this seem a little over the top? I mean really, scrapbookers?? I even found one today on that looks like it's about a laundress. A lot of these books don't even really seem to be mysteries, more like chick-lit with a twist and much of the wit in them seems to be in the titles. It seems to me that it would be easy to get stuck in a rut writing those kind of stories. Here are a few mysteries that are sure to please, and while they are all historical (I've lately been fascinated with the era shortly before and after World War I), the writers are definitely not stuck in a rut.

Murder on the Lusitania by Conrad Allen is the first book in the Shipboard Mystery series starring George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield. Dillman is hired as security by the owners of the Lusitania to make sure that her maiden voyage goes smoothly. His job is to fit in and keep any crimes to a minimum, but when some blueprints show up missing, an annoying reporter turns up dead, and a Stradivarius is stolen, everyone's secrets start coming out and Dillman has more than he bargained for. This book is full of lots of great detail about the real luxury liner as well as bits about etiquette from Edwardian times. The dialogue is very clever, especially the repartee between Dillman and Masefield. I was a bit disappointed in the revelation of the bad guys, especially because their motivation was glossed over without real thought, and some of the dialogue during the climax from the villains seemed horribly cliched, of the 'let me tell you my whole horrible scheme while I have you tied up' variety. Surprisingly, Allen allows some subplots to be carried through without touching the main story, which on a huge passenger ship makes perfect sense. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Murder in a Mill Town by P.B. Ryan is the second fantastic book in the Gilded Age series featuring Boston governess Nell Sweeney. When a poor Irish family's daughter disappears, they turn to their employer's wife, Violet Hewitt, for help. Violet turns to Nell to investigate Bridget's disappearance and finds more than she bargained for, including a figure from her past. The reader finally gets to find out the truth of Nell's past in this book, and it's not pretty. I love the dialogue between Nell and William. It's filled with electric undercurrents and double entendres without being dirty. While Bridget's disappearance may be the main plot of the book, the true story is the growing relationship between Nell and William. Williams' opium addiction is again dealt with, and he finds himself with even more reasons to try and beat it. And just when readers are hoping that the two can be together, Ryan ingeniously throws a monkey-wrench in the works, ensuring many more books with brilliant banter and longing looks. I can't wait to read the next book!

Murder on St. Mark's Place by Victoria Thompson is the second book in the Gaslight Mystery series featuring New York midwife Sarah Brandt. Sarah investigates the death of a "Charity Girl" named Gerda who got caught up in the glamorous, but dark underside of life in late 19th century New York City. And of course if Sarah is involved, then Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy can't be far behind. Sarah gets herself a little caught up in the seedy side of Gerda's life in trying to find the murderer's identity and almost gets killed herself twice! Despite that bit of over-the-top, I enjoyed this mystery very much. Thompson does a great job of getting inside Sarah and Frank's heads and showing us their growing attraction and care for each other without either acknowledging it. Sarah's involvement in Frank's son's Brian's life really helps keep the characters tied together emotionally as well. The twist at the end about the killer is fairly well projected. It's another good solid entry in the series.

Last night I finished Donald Miller's Through Painted Deserts and started reading a partial biography of Theodore Rooseveldt called River of Doubt. I'm having a hard time staying away from it today, looks like a good one.