Books to Love: March Madness: Murder Mysteries


It’s March Madness, and while I won’t be writing about basketball- a sport of which I know little- I have dipped my quill into my ink pot of alliterations and deemed this month: March Madness: Murder Mysteries. 

I heartily enjoy a well crafted murder mystery, whether I’m watching it or reading it. Today, if your sleuthing nose hasn’t sniffed it out already, is all about the murder mystery books I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. (Well, that’s not completely true. If I started listing them all, I fear, we’d be here all month. Don’t worry. I’ve culled the herd.)

The author Lauren Willig (see posts here, here, and here) once said that she succumbs to reader’s anxiety. She defined this as the agitation of spirit which occurs when one finishes a book and doesn’t know the next book she will be reading. (While I won’t call it acute, I do know that feeling when you’re sort of lost after closing the back cover of your latest read.)

What was her solution? Series. Series are a wonderful way to ensure your next read, but also to grow with the characters. 

So, if you have a yen to wonder down the weaving roads of murder and mystery, I offer you the following murder mystery series:

Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene


Raise your hand if you’re a Nancy Drew fan. (Don’t worry. No one can see, unless you’re in your office. Someone might see there. Tell them you’re stretching.)

Nancy Drew was one of my best friends growing up. I vividly recall my father and mother taking me to the Richmond Hill Library every Saturday so I could pick out the books I would read throughout the week. Invariably, I ended up perusing the shelves dedicated to Drew. Now, since her creation in 1930, there have been over 600 books involving her in mysteries. When I went to the library, the Nancy Drews available were the hardbound yellow books The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories and a newer adaptation of Drew, modernized and trendy, called The Nancy Drew Files. Since then, there have been many different series introduced, some even including the teaming up of Nancy Drew with Frank and Joe of Hardy Boys fame. 

From the original 56, I think my favorite would have to be The Secret in the Old Attic. Looking back, I think this is because I was destined to love Gothic novels (see post here). 

From The Nancy Drew Files, I remember loving two: The Secret of Solaire (I loved it for the location) and Crime in the Queen’s Court (I imagined myself attending that Elizabethan Festival; I even put my costume together mentally).

When I was in high school, Applewood Books republished the first 34 unabridged novels. I didn’t realize, but starting in 1959, the Syndicate (the company who published the yellow bound books- not the nefarious rogue agency hellbent on destroying the world- see post here) re-worked the original 34 Nancy Drew books to streamline them. I recommend getting your hands on the re-issues. The prose is more mature, and the stories are longer, allowing for better character and plot development.

The Lady Emily Series by Tasha Alexander


I started this series out of order because I didn’t realize A Poisoned Season was actually part of a series. So, I read the second book first. No matter. This Victorian sleuthing series captured me. (If you haven’t noticed already, I’m a great lover of historical fiction- see posts here, here and here.)

Of course, I recommend you start with the first book- And Only to Deceive- a plot which I haven’t read in years but still recall. Lady Emily is newly widowed. Alas, the true tragedy for her is that while she cared for her husband, she didn’t really love him. When his dearest friend, Colin Hargreaves, shows up on the scene less than six months into her mourning, he introduces a theory that Lord Ashton was murdered. You see, Lord Ashton was on an archeological dig when he died- thousands of miles away from his wife. Well, bored with mourning, Lady Emily starts to investigate- on a cursory and clumsy level. What ensues is uncovering of evidence, and perhaps, more poignantly, a discovery that had she given true time to getting to know her late husband, she would have loved him quite wildly. Even as I write this, I remember the pathos and acute grief of going through this and slowly falling in love with Lord Ashton along with Emily. 

The series is now twelve books long. My favorite has been A Fatal Waltz. I bought it the day it came out and, by the next morning, had read it all the way through. No sleep, but I couldn’t complain. Not after such a great read. Although, I confess to adoring her latest- Death in St. Petersburg- too.

The Lady Julia Grey Series by Deanna Raybourn


From Tasha Alexander, I learned about Deanna Raybourn. And, after reading the first line in Silent in the Grave (see post here), I was absolutely hooked. This is another Victorian series, but while Lady Julia and Lady Emily come from the same social stratosphere, I can assure you they are very different women. Not to mention that Lady Julia has one of the most unique families you’ll come across. The Marches are eccentric, to put it mildly.

In the first novel, Lady Julia’s husband is murdered and she enlists the help of Nicholas Brisbane to find the culprit. Brisbane is a fabulous character- a seeming black sheep, the bar sinister of a misalliance between the noble gentry and the Romany, who possesses almost supernatural abilities to help divine the next course of action. Lady Julia does a lot of growing in this first novel as she discovers what she is truly capable of achieving. She’s a firebrand in the making here, and, as the series unfolds, she turns into quite the intrepid character. Oh, and did I mention there’s a talking raven. Yep. From the Tower of London. (100% historically accurate, that. Not a joke. The Tower really had talking ravens.)

My favorite of the Lady Julia’s is Silent on the Moor. It has Gothic overtones, yes, but it also has a taste of Egyptology. (Ancient Egypt might be another of my favorite things.)

The Veronica Speedwell Series by Deanna Raybourn


If you, like me, wanted to travel the world- particularly to Egypt- and uncover hidden tombs of pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings, then you need to read the first two novels (A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking) in Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series so that you can read her newest one, the third installment, A Treacherous Curse. Egypt and archeology and ancient curses feature prominently in it. I won’t go into great detail about this series, because I want to cover two others, but Veronica is awesome. Intrepid doesn’t even begin to define her. Not to mention Stoker- Revelstoke Vane-Templeton. How’s that for a fabulous name? Believe me, the name goes with the man. And that’s all I’ll say.

The Julian Kestrel Series by Kate Ross


If you need a break from the Victorian, or perhaps you’re more interested in the Austenesque, then dip you toe into Kate Ross’ four book series with her first installment, Cut to the Quick. It’s been some time since I read these, but there are a few things I remember that are boons in their favor. Julian Kestrel is the Beau Brummel of Regency sleuths. For some reason, that just warms my heart. He’s a member of the gentry, though he’s somewhat impoverished, with a keen nose for deducing. He surrounds himself with people from different walks of life- his man is a reformed pickpocket- and is a bit of a dandy, what with his wit- reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey or Baroness Orczy’s Sir Percy, only Kestrel is Regency. The last book in the series, The Devil in Music, is centered around the opera. (If you’ve been with me for any length of time, I don’t think I need to elaborate on why that’s exhilarating for me.)

The Charley Davidson Series by Darynda Jones


All right. Now for a complete departure. This murder mystery series by Darynda Jones is unique in oh so many ways. Charley Davidson is a part time private investigator in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Seems pretty normal, no? But she has a special card up her sleeve; she’s the grim reaper. Yep, as in Death. While trying to solve the mysteries around murders, she has the added boon of encountering the bloodied apparitions of the victims and ushering them into the Afterlife. Oh, and she’s romantically involved with a man who may or may not be the son of Satan. Yeah, I just wrote that.

I picked the first book- First Grave on the Right- up at my local library and rented it purely based on the cover. I didn’t even read the book blurb. From beginning to end, it surprised me in mostly good ways. I have only read the first three in this series, but I can tell you two things: you will be kept on the edge of your seat, but you should hang on to it, because you’ll be laughing so hard, you might fall off. Charley Davidson (tell me that’s not the greatest name) is hilarious. 

I could keep listing more, I promise, but I’ll stop here.

What are some of your favorite murder mystery book series?