by Neil Plakcy
& Merrilee Robson
Top 5 Mysteries I Have Read During the Pandemic is a brand new midweek column we are starting this week. As we continue to spend most of our time at home, we are all looking for book suggestions so we asked mystery authors and reviewers to share the top 5 mysteries they have read during this pandemic. This week mystery authors Neil Plakcy and Merrilee Robson share theirs!
Top 5 Mysteries I Have Read During the Pandemic
by Neil Plakcy
A lot of us have short attention spans these days, so I found these books, both short and long, caught and held my attention.
Frank W. Butterfield is another author who writes short, addictive mysteries. In his case, they are set in 1940s Daytona Beach, Florida, and feature a widowed attorney and his private eye. They’re more than Perry Mason and Paul Drake, though; they’ve been in love since high school and are finally moving forward with their relationship while solving cases. The first is The Sailor Who Washed Ashore.
I really loved Slippery Creatures by K.J. Charles. A down on his luck World War 1 vet has inherited his uncle’s bookstore. But the British Foreign Office and a disreputable noble want to find something mysterious that has been sent to the uncle. Unfortunately, no one knows quite what it is or how to find it. The first in a projected series.
Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery is the second in the series by Rosalie Knecht, but I enjoyed it without having read the first one. Vera is a lesbian ex-CIA agent who has set herself up as a private eye in 1960s New York City. The glimpses of that world are just fascinating, as is the case that makes up the book, finding the lost son of a pair of Dominican political exiles.
For my final choice I’ll jump into YA fantasy. The Confectioner’s Guild is about a young baker who discovers she has the ability to imbued her pastries with magic just as she witnesses the death of the head of the guild—from eating one of her cupcakes. There are two more in this series by Claire Luana that I’m looking forward to.
My own new book is Soldier Down, a cold case in my Mahu Investigations series. A very powerful politician in Washington asks my hero, openly gay homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, to investigate the death of her father, a soldier on R&R in Honolulu in 1968. The resolution to the story came to me in a dream—or perhaps it was a nightmare? Either way, it’s my very favorite murder!
Top 5 Mysteries I Have Read During The Pandemic
by Merrilee Robson
The life of mystery writers I know usually consists of two parts – time spent alone writing and time spent mingling at mystery conferences. I was in San Diego at Left Coast Crime in March, in the bar with short story writers, when California declared a state of emergency and the conference shut down.
In the months since then, I’ve gone through a period of denial, when I hoped it would all blow over quickly. Then there was the anxious period, doing what I’ve learned to call doomscrolling or doomsurfing, obsessively reading news of the pandemic and other disasters. Now, we seem to be getting into a period of acceptance. Books are still being published and sold, writers are still writing, and the conferences have gone on line.
My reading habits varied during the last few months – normal at first, then a great need for comfort reads, and now coming back to normal again. Here are a few of the books that stood out:
Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan
A grieving journalist is given a chance to rebuild her life through a contract to write a true crime book. The subject is a heinous killer who swears she’s innocent. With the tagline, “There are three sides to every story. Yours. Mine. And the truth,” the novel will you keep you guessing along with the protagonist, and wondering who to trust. Full of plot twists that will keep you up past your bedtime. This is a standalone psychological thriller.
Blanche Cleans Up by Barbara Neely
I’m sad to say that I had never read Barbara Neely before her death earlier this year brought forth many tributes. Although the third novel in this series was written more than twenty years ago, it could have been written today. Blanche is an intelligent, independent Black woman who cleans houses for a living. As a favor for a friend she takes on a short-term job as cook-housekeeper for a prominent politician and his family. The death of a young man in the family’s pool draws Blanche into a scandal, and Blanche relies on her ties to her community to investigate the crime. One delight for me was the discovery that Blanche lives in a non-profit housing co-op – the first time I’ve found a mention of a co-op in any mystery other than my own.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Sometimes, a Golden Age mystery provides the distraction you need and what could be better than Agatha Christie’s first mystery. Written in 1916, in the middle of the Great War, and published four years later, the novel introduces Hercule Poirot, a recent refugee from Belgium, and Arthur Hastings, who is recovering from a war wound. A country manor, a quiet English village, a dysfunctional family, and poison!
Death’s Door by Jim Kelly
On a hot August day in 1994, seventy-six people travel to an island beach off the Norfolk coast, but one doesn’t return alive. When the case is reopened twenty years later, thanks to new forensic technology, the apparent suicide of one of the witnesses leads DI Shaw and DS Valentine in a race to discover the culprit as more people die. If you can’t travel to the UK, a British police procedural is almost as good. This one has loving descriptions of the Norfolk coast, and the plot kept me reading without stop. It is the fourth in a series.
A Match Made for Murder by Iona Whishaw
Iona Whishaw’s charming descriptions of her ex-spy heroine’s home in a British Columbia hamlet has drawn fans to the Kootenays where the Lane Winslow books are set. This latest outing takes place in post-war Tucson, Arizona, where Lane and her inspector husband, Darling, are enjoying their honeymoon until another hotel guest is shot right by the swimming pool. Back at home, Darling’s sidekick Ames struggles with both a puzzling car accident that turns out to be much more and with his own love life. This seventh in the series can be read as a stand-alone, but it’s worth starting with the first to watch the relationships develop between these delightful characters.
If you’re looking for more pandemic reading, you might consider my own Murder is Uncooperative. In this traditional mystery, single mom Rebecca thinks she’s found the perfect home for her family, until she finds a body. You can compare the housing co-op Rebecca lives in to the Boston one in Barbara Nelly’s book. I also have a number of short stories being published later this year. A flash fiction piece will be be published August 4 in Stop the World: Snapshots from a Pandemic, which includes essays, poetry, and short fiction by forty writers from around the world. Find out more at https://merrileerobson.ca.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A new episode just went up! Both Merrilee and Neil have had stories on the podcast.
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.