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The Top 5 Mysteries I Read During the 2020 Pandemic

IN THE November 18 ISSUE

FROM THE Uncategorized SECTIONS

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Here is the latest installment of our new column, Top 5 Mysteries I Have Read During the Pandemic, this one from mystery author Jeannette de Beauvoir. 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.

I began the lockdown last spring with delight. More time to read! More time (perhaps even more importantly) to challenge myself a little. Find some authors I didn’t know about before. Read something a little difficult, a little unfamiliar, a little out of my ordinary.

That plan lasted for not as long as I’d hoped. Because, as the year wore on, as the pandemic worsened, as people I knew began dying, and as the country was more and more torn apart by politics, I found I didn’t really want to be challenged; reality was actually challenging enough, thank you very much. So you’ll note a shift as we run down the list, which I’ve constructed chronologically rather than in order of quality.

I obviously read far more than these five selections—I think my total for the year is going to end up over 100—but these are the five that really “got me through” and that I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

• Early spring: I began with Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott. Years ago—2008, when the book was first published—I’d heard the author interviewed on NPR and put a mental pin in the recommendation at that time. And I have to say is the book more than lived up to expectations; it was nothing short of mesmerizing. When historian Elizabeth Volgelsang is found drowned—clutching a glass prism that belonged to Isaac Newton—by her son, Cameron, she’d been working on a biography of Newton that revealed his interest in alchemy… along with some deaths of other academics that seemed suspicious. Cameron invites his former lover Lydia Brooke—a writer Elizabeth had mentored—to move into Elizabeth’s cottage and finish her work. Almost immediately things start to happen. From the publisher: “Filled with evocative descriptions of Cambridge, past and present, of seventeenth-century glassmaking, alchemy, the Great Plague, and Newton’s scientific innovations, Ghostwalk centers on a real historical mystery that Rebecca Stott has uncovered involving Newton’s alchemy. A riveting literary thriller, Ghostwalk is a rare debut that will change the way most of us think about scientific innovation, our perception of time, and the force of history.” I stayed awake until 4:30 in order to finish this book, and that truly says everything. Brilliant, haunting (you’ll still be thinking about it long after you close the book), and stunning. Read it.

• Later in the spring: I love G.K. Chesterton, though I didn’t re-read any of his Father Brown mysteries this year; I did, however, see his opinion on the brilliance of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, so I decided to give it a go. I think that perhaps Dickens isn’t the best author to undertake during a pandemic, but this book surprised me—Chesterton was right, it is brilliant. Myriad of characters and subplots spiral off the obscure case of a disputed will in a complex portrayal of all levels of London society. (And, come on, how can you not love a novel that includes a copyist called Nemo who dies of an opium overdose?) It is at once a complex mystery story that fully engages in the work of detection, and an unforgettable indictment of an indifferent society. From the publisher: “But it is his symbolic art that projects these things in a vision that embraces black comedy, cosmic farce, and tragic ruin. In a unique creative experiment, Dickens divides the narrative between his heroine, Esther Summerson, who is psychologically interesting in her own right, and an unnamed narrator whose perspective both complements and challenges hers.”

• Early Summer: I was rather chuffed with myself to have voluntarily read Dickens, but I was also coping with more and more in the “real” world by then, so I’ll be honest and admit that I just had to re-read a book I already knew I’d love, and so I turned to Josephine Tey and The Daughter of Time. This is definitely one of my all-time favorite mysteries. Tey’s detective, Scotland Yard inspector Alan Grant, is laid up in the hospital and bored to tears when a friend encourages him to solve a historic mystery. Quite by accident he happens upon Richard III. Grant knows little about Richard, but, as one whose career depends on being able to read faces, he begins to doubt the man was a murderer. Grant conducts an investigation, four hundred years after the fact, to determine the accuracy of the charges against Richard… and he’s pretty convincing! There is indeed a whole Richard III Society that champion’s Grant’s point of view (and scholars such as Alison Weir who argue against it), so it’s still a live question. See what you think!

• Midsummer: Another depressing aspect to 2020 is that Phil Rickman is apparently quite ill and therefore the publication of his next novel has been, again, delayed. So I did the next-best thing and re-read his entire opus, all of which I recommend, but especially December (what else would one read in July?). From the publisher: “Thirteen years ago on a cold December night, a rock band called The Philosopher’s Stone gathered in the ancient ruins of an abbey to record their new album. The evening ended in bloodshed and death. Now, the tapes from that fateful recording session have been released as The Black Album, and the scattered members of the band know it’s time for a reunion. Time to return to that dark December night—for one final performance.” Don’t be put off by reviews that characterize his work as “horror”—it’s absolutely not, and Rickman himself in an interview he gave me expressed an aversion to the term. Rather, there are almost always two plausible explanations for things that go bump in the night in Rickman’s novels. Is it natural, or supernatural? His stories and his characters live on the knife-edge between the two. This one will keep you up all night, too. Promise.

• Fall: October 5th couldn’t arrive soon enough for me, as I had pre-ordered Tana French’s The Searcher. (After Phil Rickman, French is my current favorite author.) It was worth the wait. And yes, not only did this one have me reading deep into the night (you may be sensing a pattern here), I also got up at one point to make sure my front door was locked. That kind of book. From the publisher: “Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a bucolic Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens. But when a local kid whose brother has gone missing arm-twists him into investigating, Cal uncovers layers of darkness beneath his picturesque retreat, and starts to realize that even small towns shelter dangerous secrets.” This isn’t French’s best book, and it’s not part of her amazing Dublin Murder Squad series, but it’s a great mystery and filled with plot twists you won’t see coming. As is always the case, her characters have terrific psychological depth and are well-drawn. Definitely worth a read—and then go back and read all the rest!

If you are looking for more book ideas, check out Jeannette’s latest book The Lethal Legacy:
Despite a slew of weddings to coordinate, Sydney Riley refuses to miss the Women’s Community Dinner—the high point of Women’s Week in Provincetown. During the festivities, she meets vocalist Jordan Bellefort, a direct descendant of a fugitive slave whose diaries suggest the Race Point Inn was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Then Jordan’s wife, Reggie, is murdered while Jordan performs onstage before a crowd of adoring fans. When Sydney probes Reggie’s death, she uncovers a tainted legacy that may provide a motive for the killing and place her own life at risk.

The Lethal Legacy explores the past’s influence on the present in a world-famous seaside resort with a rich history of diversity and acceptance. This seventh book in the Provincetown Mystery Series maintains the masterful blend of gripping suspense and unique characters Sydney Riley readers have come to expect.

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 Play, and Spotify. A new episode goes up next week.

You can use this link to purchase many of these books from indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, and KRL gets a portion of the sale:
mysteriousgalaxylogo

Jeannette is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Author’s Guild, and the National Writers Union. Find out more (and read her blog or sign up for her newsletter) at her website. You can also find her on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Patreon, and Goodreads.

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.

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