From a Raven's Shelf: August 2023
From a Raven's Shelf
August 2023 Edition
By Sarah Young
Hello, Friends, I hope you have had wonderful reading experiences so far this summer. There are always so many wonderful summer titles to explore. I notice that my reading recently has been full of LOLs—as in “Little Old Lady” mysteries. The tradition spawned by Agatha Christie’s creation of the wonderful Miss Marple continues in so many great novels.
The first is one of my traditional “rereads.” An oldie but goodie comes from Dorothy Gillman, the author of the highly enjoyable “Mrs. Pollifax” series. In The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, Emily Pollifax contemplates aging and loneliness and decides that she wants to contribute to the world, so she marches into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and volunteers to be a spy. From this astonishing moment, Gilman carries Emily through several books, all of them tinged with Emily’s gentle wisdom and extraordinary resourcefulness. If you are an audiobook reader, I highly recommend the recordings of the Pollifax books read by the incredible Barbara Rosenblatt.
Written by the author of the phenomenally popular “Chet and Bernie” series, Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge is the tale of seventy-something Loretta Plansky, who is busy living the life of a widowed Florida senior. When someone who sounds like her grandson calls in the middle of the night needing ten thousand dollars immediately, she is determined to help. Of course, it’s a scam. Mrs. Plansky loses everything, but she isn’t going to take this lying down and sets out to recover her money and her self-respect. How she ends up in Romania chasing the scammers and her money is part of the excitement of this unexpected novel.
The third of my “LOL” mysteries is The Marlowe Murder Club by Robert Thorogood. The main character is the slightly mysterious and completely loveable Judith Potts, who sets out to investigate the murder of her neighbor after she hears the gunshot ending his life. That she was swimming naked in the Thames at the time is irrelevant! She teams up with a quirky dog walker and the vicar’s wife to investigate as more murders come to the village of Marlowe. As she says, no one pays attention to little old ladies, so they are in a perfect position to do a little constructive snooping. Judith seems to me to be in the best tradition of Miss Marple, and Thorogood is clearly planning a series as the second Marlowe mystery is already out.
Speaking of Agatha, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is Marie Benedict’s reimagining of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Agatha Christie for eleven days in December of 1926. When her car was found abandoned at the edge of a pond, the nation feared the worst. When she reappeared eleven days later with no explanation except that she had amnesia, one of the intriguing mysteries of the twentieth century was born. What really happened to Agatha? Why did she never return to the events and offer any explanation? Benedict offers an astonishing and fascinating explanation as she unfolds Agatha’s absorbing life and tempestuous relationship with her husband and family. This is my staff pick for August at the store.
NOT in the “Little Old Lady” tradition is Death in Fine Condition by Andrew Cartmel. This weirdo mystery should satisfy anyone’s desire for an off-the-beaten-path, oddball, slightly amoral, quirky protagonist. Cordelia is a “paperback sleuth,” a connoisseur of vintage crime novels with their artistic and occasionally lurid cover art. When she discovers a complete set of “Sleuth Hound” paperbacks with their famous cover designs, she must have them—by hook or by crook or by cat burglary. If you have ever lusted after books, first editions, salacious book covers, or crime noir, you will enjoy this unconventional character and Cartmel’s latest reinvention of pop culture into murder.
In a more traditional mystery genre are Clara McKenna’s Stella and Lindy mysteries that begin with Murder at Morrington Hall, a delightful series with great characters. Stella is tricked by her father into accompanying him and the thoroughbred Kentucky racehorses he is selling to the Earl of Atherly at Mornington Hall in the New Forest region of England. As it turns out, he is really “selling” his daughter Stella with the horses as part of her dowry. She becomes one of the “Dollar Princesses,” daughters of wealthy Americans who married into the British aristocracy. Their money braced up the resources of foundering old families and their crumbling estates. The women’s social-climbing American families gained inroads into British society and improved their social cachet in the United States. Stella is understandably distressed, furious, and embarrassed and refuses the match with the Earl’s son Viscount "Lyndy" Lyndhurst. However, when the vicar who was to have married them is found dead in the library at Morrington Hall, she and Lyndy are caught up in the investigation of his murder. This is the first of four published books in the series. You have enough time to read them all before Murder on Mistletoe Lane comes out in October.
Are you an Ann Cleeves fan? The upcoming The Raging Storm is a twisty, on-the-edge-of-your-seat, wild ride of a novel. If you are lamenting the end of the Shetland novels, rejoice in this new Ann Cleeves series starring Matthew Venn, a slightly uptight, gay police detective, who cannot quite believe how much he is loved by his husband, or how deeply he is respected by his team. The darkness of the Devon coast competes here with the darkness of the human soul as Venn and his team investigate the strange death of a local-boy-turned-celebrity-adventurer who returns to his home village under cover of night, awaiting a mysterious woman visitor. The clannish villagers, many of whom belong to the evangelical sect upon which a teenaged Venn turned his back, are suspicious and wary of the police, even as they cast their eyes about among themselves, wondering who has awakened old ghosts and old enmities. This third book in the series arrives at the Raven in September. If you want to begin at the beginning, the first book is The Long Call.
So it looks like my reading has had a decidedly Anglophilic trend recently. Well, my TBR (“To Be Read”) pile contains many new books from my favorite American authors as well, including the new William Kent Krueger novel called The River We Remember. This is a “stand-alone”—not part of the Cork O’Connor series—and I am hearing rave reviews, as is to be expected. It comes out in September as well. I’ll let you know what I think.
Happy Reading, everyone!
Now with a beautiful new series look, Agatha Christie’s first mystery to feature the beloved investigator Miss Marple—as a dead body in a clergyman’s study proves to the indomitable sleuth that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide.
Mrs. Plansky's Revenge is bestselling author Spencer Quinn's first novel in a new series since the meteoric launch of Chet and Bernie--introducing the irresistible and unforgettable Mrs. Plansky, in a story perfect for book clubs and commercial fiction readers.
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2023 EDGAR AWARD NOMINEE, LILIAN JACKSON BRAUN AWARD
"An absolute joy to read. Funny, entertaining, and beautifully written." —B. A. Paris, New York Times bestselling author
A delightfully clever new mystery from creator of BBC One's hilarious murder mystery series Death in Paradise
THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLER!
"A stunning story... The ending is ingenious, and it's possible that Benedict has brought to life the most plausible explanation for why Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926."—The Washington Post
Launching a new series, a cast of lovable rogues face fiendish puzzles and murderous villains in this love letter to Agatha Christie murder mysteries and classic whodunnits.
Introducing a new series from the creator of the beloved, bestselling Vinyl Detective novels.
Stella Kendrick is an all-American heiress who can’t be tamed. But when the lively aspiring equine trainer tangles with British aristocracy, she meets her match—and a murderer . . .
American heiress Stella Kendrick and her husband, British aristocrat Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst, prepare to celebrate their first Christmas together as newlyweds in Clara McKenna’s latest historical mystery set in England’s New Forest region at the turn of the 20th century…
Ann Cleeves—New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—returns with The Raging Storm, the extraordinary third installment in the Matthew Venn series.
Fierce winds, dark secrets, deadly intentions.
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!
NOW A BRITBOX SERIOUS STARRING BEN ALDRIDGE AND PEARL MACKIE
The Long Call from Ann Cleeves—bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—introduces the first in a gripping new series, told with deep compassion and searing insight.
In 1958, a small Minnesota town is rocked by the murder of its most powerful citizen, pouring fresh fuel on old grievances in this dazzling standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the “expansive, atmospheric American saga” (Entertainment Weekly) This Tender Land.
On Memorial Day, as the