Everyone has heard of Charlaine Harris these days, since her Sookie Stackhouse mysteries inspired an HBO series. I had read the first of her Lily Bard mysteries (Shakespeare's Landlord) and found it more dark and violent than my usual cozy mystery preferences, and the Sookie Stackhouse series didn't really appeal to me. But after Holly reviewed Real Murders, the first in Harris's Aurora Teagarden mysteries I was interested, so I started reading.
Real Murders by Charlaine Harris: The body count is absurdly high in the series debut, and I felt like I barely got to meet Aurora Teagarden in between dead bodies, but there was something appealing about the series anyway. Aurora ("Roe"), a librarian in Lawrenceton, a small town outside Atlanta, is a member of a club devoted to true crime. It's a bit morbid, as each member has his or her own "specialty": a Jack the Ripper enthusiast, a serial killer fan, etc. And really, Harris doesn't seem to think this is an odd hobby because she doesn't explain the fascination. At any rate, on the evening Roe is due to present an unsolved murder, a mysterious phone call from someone asking for that victim is the first odd occurrence, followed by Roe's discovery of the body of one of the club's less popular members--arranged like the victim in the old murder. A string of copycat murders follows. I rarely guess the murderers in mystery novels, but a couple of things made the right killer pop into my head, and as soon as I thought of it, I knew I was right. I had some complaints about this debut: the ridiculous body count (that didn't seem to kick the police into gear), the overly vague location, and the final confrontation scene, which I thought was unnecessarily harrowing for a cozy mystery, especially given the other person involved (sorry, trying not to give spoilers). However, Roe was self-deprecating and likable, her situation as her mother's employee was funny, and though romance is introduced, it's not central to the story. A note about the location: I like a strong sense of place, and I'm not sure why Harris went so vague on Lawrenceton (which is not a real place in Georgia). It's a small town that's been infiltrated by Atlanta commuters, which could be ANY town within an hour or more from the city, and Harris never gives anything concrete. As someone who lives here, it drove me nuts that she didn't even say whether it was a northwestern suburb, or off I-85, or whatever. I know that's probably just me, but I thought I'd mention it.
A Bone To Pick by Charlaine Harris: This is #2 in the Aurora Teagarden series, and I liked it quite a bit. However, I have the opposite complaint than I did with Real Murders--there was very little action/active mystery solving in this one. Aurora inherits a house (and a fortune) from a member of her now-defunct true crime club, and she finds a skull hidden in the house, along with a note from her benefactress saying "I didn't do it." You'd think she'd set out to find out who DID do it, but you'd be wrong. She's preoccupied with moving and meeting her new neighbors, and she really doesn't dwell on the skull aside from moving it to a safe place. There's no active investigation going on, though she gleans a few facts that her new neighbors toss her way, and she bumbles into the killer's identity in a quick wrap-up at the end. I still found it enjoyable. The premise (inherit not just a house, but a mystery!) was great, and Roe was likable and interesting. We learn a lot more about her than in the first book, and it was fun.
The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Alice Kimberly: Alice Kimberly (pen name for husband and wife team Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini) is also responsible for the coffee shop mysteries under the name Cleo Coyle, but I like this series better. Penelope McClure, a young widow, moves back to Rhode Island to bail out her aunt's failing bookstore. A private detective, Jack Shepard was murdered in the bookstore about fifty years before, and he begins to communicate with Pen after a mystery author (whose books are based on Jack's case files) drops dead during a reading in the store. He's basically a voice in her head, and he can come and go as he likes (though he can't leave the building). This makes for an ingenious pairing of classic detective noir, characterized by hardboiled lingo, and a contemporary cozy. There's just a hint of romance between Pen and Jack, which is no surprise given the title's obvious homage to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (a film I watched with my mom many times), and Jack helps Pen solve the mystery using his invisibility to observe and his expertise to deduce. If the solution is a little pat, that was fine with me, because the Jack/Pen relationship sparkles, Quindicott, Rhode Island and its inhabitants are real and interesting, and the mystery is compelling enough. This is a really fun series.
The Ghost and the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly: A tell-all memoir sets the stage for murder as Angel Stark visits Buy The Book for a reading to promote her account of a murder. The plot was pleasantly twisty, and the skewering of the rich and tacky was enjoyable. The continuing relationship between Pen and Jack is nice, and the other Quindicott folk help out in their quibbling, yet capable ways.
The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library by Alice Kimberly: An old flame of Aunt Sadie's offers the bookstore some rare old volumes, including a complete set of Poe's work said to contain a code that would lead to treasure. As the bodies pile up, the treasure theory seems more and more plausible. I can't get enough of this series, and I think this might be my favorite entry.
The Ghost and the Femme Fatale by Alice Kimberly: The Movie Town theater has finally opened, completely renovated, with a Film Noir festival that brings the likes of screen legend Hedda Geist to town, not to mention several prominent authors. A near-deadly accident, followed by a suspicious death, makes Pen wonder if the past has come back to haunt the film noir actress. Extremely well-done is the connection to Jack's old case. Another complex plot with rewarding character development.