Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mystery and Attempted Mystery

I love cozy mysteries, and I'm always on the lookout for a new favorite series. I really enjoy watching a character develop in the course of a series, revisiting favorite places, and reading a good mystery. This post is about four different first novels in mystery series, three delightful and one...meh.

Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet: This is the first St. Just mystery, written in classic drawing-room mystery style, with contemporary sensibilities. Malliet's prodigious wit is used to great effect in this novel, and she's a fantastic writer. I laughed out loud several times (at least twice with a very uncouth snort). The children of mystery writer Sir Adrian are dragged back home to witness his marriage to (they assume) one of his bimbos. Even Ruthven, widely known as the favorite, has little love for his father. When Ruthven is found dead, DCI St. Just and Sgt. Fear try to untangle the web of family secrets and lies before another murder is committed. The mystery was complex and satisfying, with several unpredictable twists, and St. Just and Fear are likeable but funny investigators. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to the next installment, Death and the Lit Chick.

Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney: This was a promising debut mystery, not a slam-dunk like Death of a Cozy Writer, but a lot of fun and interesting enough that I'll pick up #2, Dead and Berried. Natalie has put all her life savings into the Gray Whale Inn, located on remote Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine. I have always wanted to go to Maine, although my only exposure to Maine is through Stephen King novels and Murder She Wrote reruns. Bernard Katz, a developer with plans to put a resort on Cranberry Island, is staying at the inn. The scenes with Katz remind me of why I shouldn't own a B&B...customers, ick. Katz's son and daughter-in-law live on the island, but they've had a falling-out; hence, Katz's booking with Natalie. When Natalie finds Katz's body, the local law enforcement, her friend John, knows she had nothing to do with it, but he doesn't have any real power in the investigation--and the sheriff is convinced of her guilt. Natalie decides to investigate in between batches of cranberry scones and blueberry coffee cake. I really enjoyed Cranberry Island and its inhabitants, and for the most part, I liked Natalie. I had a couple of quibbles with this mystery--I'm not a fan of the amateur-sleuth-withholds-evidence-from-authorities device. Even with the sheriff suspecting her, there was no good reason not to tell John everything she knew. The other is that she stumbles into a dangerous situation out of pure stupidity. It's like her brain fell out of her head for half a chapter. But I liked this well enough to seek out the second in the series.

Witch Way to Murder by Shirley Damsgaard: This one was a real surprise for me. I've tried paranormal mysteries before (Madelyn Alt) and didn't like them, but this was a well-written, complex mystery with well-developed characters. The paranormal elements complemented the mystery well. Ophelia is a small-town librarian, having left the big city after her best friend's murder, and returning to be near her grandmother, Abby, an Appalachian wise woman. Ophelia herself has "the sight" but she's turned her back on her gift, unlike her grandmother, who is a healer and herbalist. A mysterious stranger comes to town asking questions in the wake of drug-related thefts plaguing the town. Abby senses a greater evil at work and warns Ophelia that she's at the center. I adored Abby and Darci (who turns the ditzy blonde stereotype on its head), even if Ophelia was a bit hard to like at times. She really grew on me by the end, though, and it's clear she'll be more likable in future books. The mystery was decent, if a little pedestrian despite the paranormal elements. I'll be picking up #2, Charmed to Death. There are currently five of these out, yay!

Cooking Up Murder by Miranda Bliss: This one just didn't do it for me. I trudged through 100 pages before tossing it aside. I didn't even bother to flip to the end to see what ended up happening. Mysteries are supposed to be fun and entertaining for me, not feel like work. Annie's best friend, Eve, signs the two up for cooking lessons as a way of cheering up Annie, who still hasn't bounced back from her divorce. Eve is a flirtatious dimwit who takes credit for everything Annie does, and dates half the town. Annie expresses contempt for Eve, supposedly her best friend. They overhear Beyla, a fellow student, arguing with the leather-clad Drago. They also witness an altercation between Drago and the owner of the store hosting the cooking classes. Annie hears Drago's last words, and Eve leaves out important information when talking to the cops because the cop is her ex-fiance's new woman. Annie, who is apparently a total doormat, goes along with this felonious obstruction of justice, so the women feel compelled to investigate. I could see where the plot was going, and I just didn't care. I didn't like Annie or Eve, and the mystery felt like it was going to be ridiculous and contrived. That's it for me on this one!