Category Archives for Great Mysteries

Introducing Mary Russell, a Female Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Meets His Match in a Formidable New Enemy—and His Surprising New Partner”

This statement on the front cover of “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” made me put the book down several times before I finally bought it. I was sure it was just hype.

It wasn’t.

Laurie R. King’s series about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes is even more fun to read than the original series. It begins with a chance meeting of the two heroes in a field. Sherlock you know. Mary Russell is a young female with many of the same quirks, including brains, know-it-all tendencies and independence.

“I am watching bees,” Sherlock tells Mary upon meeting her.

The book continues from inside Mary’s head.

There were indeed bees, industriously working at stuffing pollen into their leg sacs of theirs, moving from flower to flower. I watched, and was just thinking that there was nothing particularly noteworthy about these bees when my eyes were caught by the arrival of a peculiarly marked specimen. It seemed an ordinary honeybee but had a small red spot on its back.”

This brief conversation begins our introduction to Mary Russell. In a few paragraphs, Laurie R. King sets up a female version of the famous detective, who has retired by the time of these stories. The first book contains fourteen short mysteries that tie together to show a growing friendship and the making of a partnership between our heroine and the famous directive.

That first book is the beginning of a series that now encompasses twelve books. I have read seven of them. Each has been more enjoyable that its predecessor. King’s stories are fascinating, not just because of the mysteries they contain, but also because her new female character and her version of Sherlock Holmes honour and extend the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

They are contained within a farcical story about the original author sending them as manuscripts—an additional fun premise that fits the entire design.

The stories so far are:

  • LaurieKingThe Beekeepers Apprentice, 1994
  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women, 1995
  • A Letter of Mary, 1997
  • The Moor, 1998
  • Jerusalem, 1999
  • Justice Hall, 2002
  • The Game, 2004
  • Locked Rooms, 2005
  • The Language of Bees, 2009
  • The God of the Hive, 2010
  • Pirate King, 2011
  • Garment of Shadows, 2012

The entire series is outlined in more detail on the author’s website at

I highly recommend these well-written novels.

They’re almost as good as Sherlock, the BBC’s television program about a modern Sherlock Holmes. The television series  manages to modernize and renew the Sherlock Holmes stories while also keeping the original character intact. Check it out at


Home Renovation Tips Integral Part of Entertaining Mystery Series

Knock Down

Life in a small Maine town, the life and death risks taken by people who work on the sea and the challenges of raising a teenager whose father used to abuse you, are just some of the insights readers get by reading Sarah Graves’ Home Repair is Homicide mystery series.

More than all these benefits though, are the many entertaining hints about how we might repair an old house.

The notched side pieces on wooden steps are called stringers. To replace them exactly, use the old ones as templates on new lumber, then cut notches along the lines you’ve drawn.

Tiptree’s Tips”

Our sometimes sleuth Jacobia Tiptree spends most of her time repairing her antique house in the town of Eastport. Every now and then she finds a body or stumbles onto crooks and becomes an amateur detective.

The stories are funny, surprisingly-light given their complicated content. The characters are surprisingly life-like too. I feel like I know Jake, as Jacobia is called, Sam, Ellie and George who are key characters in every story.


The series includes:

  • The Dead Cat Bounce, 1998
  • Triple Witch, 1999
  • Wicked Fix, 2000
  • Repair to Her Grave, 2001
  • Wreck the Halls, 2001
  • Unhinged, 2003
  • Mallets Aforethought, 2004
  • Tool and Die, 2005
  • Nail Biter, 2006
  • Trap Door, 2006
  • The Book of Old Houses, 2007
  • A Face at the Window, 2008
  • Knock Down, 2011
  • Dead Level, 2011
  • A Bat in the Belfry, 2012

For more information, refer to the author’s website at

Everyone loves Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache

It’s been only eight years since Chief Inspector Armand Gamache was introduced to mystery fans, but he already feels like one of the family.

Louise Penny’s fictional super sleuth first appears on the first page of Louise Penny’s Still Life. Seven books later, it’s still the most concise version of his character yet.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûrete du Quebec knelt down; his knees cracking like the report of a hunter’s rifle, his large, expressive hands hovering over the tiny circle of blood marring her fluffy cardigan, as though like a magician he could remove the wound and restore the woman. But he could not. That wasn’t his gift. Fortunately for Gamache he had others…His little secret was that in his mid-fifties, at the height of a long and now apparently stalled career, violent death still surprised him. Which was odd, for the head of homicide, and perhaps one of the reasons he hadn’t progressed further in the cynical world of the Sûrete. Gamache always hoped maybe someone had gotten it wrong, and there was no dead body.”

Gamache has become a household name not only in Quebec, where he was born, nor in Canada, but also in the U.K., where he first appeared. Penny’s “Still Life” came in second for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger award in 2004. Unpublished authors compete for the Debut Dagger. The Crime Writers of Canada then awarded Penny their Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel after it came out here.

Seven books later, I adore Gamache. He loves the wackiest people. The fact that he is happily married, intensely loyal and a clear enemy of all sorts of evil and vindictive people makes him lovable. His incredible cunning makes him someone to respect. Too bad he’s not real.

Most of the novels take place in a small town in Quebec called Three Pines. The town’s characters include a self-conscious artist, a famous poet who reveres ducks and has no social skills, and two openly gay inn keepers. Every novel includes a death under unusual circumstances, but it’s the varying relationships between characters that make each a compelling read.

The titles speak to the Canadian landscape and culture like no other mystery series:

  • LouisePennysmallStill Life, 2005
  • Dead Cold, 2006
  • The Cruellest Month, 2007
  • The Murder Stone, 2008
  • Brutal Telling, 2009
  • Bury your Dead, 2010 and
  • A Trick of the Light, 2011

Except for A Brutal Telling, every death seems a preordained tragedy given the circumstances.

I haven’t read Penny’s A Beautiful Mystery (2012) yet, but her next novel, How the Light Gets In (2013) is already due out at the end of August. Her publishers can’t wait to get her work onto bookshelves and in electronic readers everywhere.

For more information, refer to Penny’s official site at

The Mysteries of PD James

PD James, , or Phyllis Dorothy James White, is brilliant at writing complex mysteries that read more like novels than straight who-done-it.

James book

More than that, though, she’s an honest woman who has a strong sense of fair play. Yet she still has no compunction in using only part of her own name to deceive sexist people.

I love that her official website at includes hints for writing. The wonderful woman not only assumes we’ll all try to copy her eventually, but she seems to believe we can.

Her British sensibility seems to shine in every point she makes, especially the paragraph in which she describes her working habits:

“I get up early, make tea and settle down to about two hours writing. I have no special room, require only a comfortable chair, table or desk at the right height, and sufficient space for my dictionary and research material. I do, however, need to be completely alone. When my secretary arrives I dictate to her what I have written. She puts it on the computer and prints it out for editing and correcting.”

Her best character by far is Commander Adam Dalgliesh, a police officer poet who seems to fall in love with everyone around him. I don’t like any of her other mysteries.

Her books include:

  • The Private Patient, November 2009 
  • The Lighthouse, October 2006
  • The Children Of Men, May 2006  
  • A Taste For Death, November 2005 
  • The Murder Room, November 2004 
  • Devices And Desires, May 2004
  • Death In Holy Orders, April 2001 
  • Original Sin, January 1995
  • Skull Beneath the Skin, 1982
  • Innocent Blood, 1980
  • Death of an Expert Witness, 1977
  • The Black Tower, 1975
  • An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, 1972
  • Maul and the Pear Tree, (co-author) 1971
  • Shroud for a Nightingale, 1971
  • Unnatural Causes, 1967
  • A Mind to Murder, 1963
  • Cover Her Face, 1962


Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen Series an Easy-Reading Way to Tie Food and Mystery Passions Together

Joanne Fluke's 4th book

Hannah walked closer, peered inside, and made a face. It was one of the lemon pies she’d baked on Friday. Only one piece had been eaten and the rest was crawling with an endless line of small black ants that were industriously carting away the sweet pastry. ‘You’re right, Mother. This pie is ant fodder. I’ll dump it in the garbage.’”

Oh no. Hannah doesn’t know it yet, but this scene from the Lemon Meringue Pie Murder is a vital clue that someone has been killed. Partially-eaten dessert remains always indicate murder in Joanne Fluke’s humour-filled easy-reading mysteries featuring bakery-owner Hannah Swensen and the small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota.

Hannah is a know-it-all who constantly diets, hates exercise, spoils her cat and runs around doing errands all the time. Despite such a full life in which she’s constantly getting up at five a.m. and then cooking at 11 p.m. for various friends and family members, everyone trusts her to capably solve the remarkably-high number of murders that take place in her small northern town.

The light-weight stories don’t harp much on violence or suspense and instead feature the day-to-day struggles of a red-headed plump woman running a small business, trying to choose between two suitors and solving mysteries all at once. Known as “cozy” mysteries, these stories can be quickly and easily read in an easy chair without causing too much emotion, other than a need to perhaps visit some of the featured locales.

After 2008, Kensington changed the size of the Hannah Swensen books, so the first eleven books in the series were easier to hold than the later ones.

Other than that though, they definitely fit within the cozy genre. The scenery is entirely captivating, as are the characters. A few nasty characters appear on occasion as well, but happily, most of them get murdered off eventually.

Most of the Fluke’s focus is on characters anyone can love. I enjoyed meeting Hannah’s mother, her two sisters, her partner, the dentist, the doctor, the police, the mayor and all the other community members who appear over and over again throughout seventeen different books so far. (Fluke began writing romances in 2010 and Hannah appears in one called Sugar and Spice, but I haven’t included it in this count.)

Despite the crucial dessert destruction near the beginning of every book, I always crave sweets while reading these mysteries. Perhaps that’s because every novel contains several delicious-sounding scenes about food. There are also recipes for cookies, cakes and pastries in every one, including the title dessert. You can’t help but be encouraged to experiment in the kitchen, perhaps pausing to read while waiting for the yummy treats to finish baking.

Like her characters, Fluke enjoys her cookies super sweet, but her recipes can be easily modified for denser tastes or to meet the needs of various allergy sufferers. Cookies don’t require a careful measuring hand as long as you keep the balance between wet and dry ingredients stable.

For a less sweet cookie, don’t bother with icing and remove from a quarter to half a cup of sugar from each batch. Or rather than using white sugar, consider beet sugar, brown sucranet, maple syrup or agave.

Replace almost half of the flour in each recipe with whole wheat for people without allergies. For gluten free goodies, add two teaspoons of agar or guar gum and replace whole wheat flour with quinoa and regular white with brown rice flour. More variations can be had by replacing some of the brown rice flour with almond, tapioca, potato, garbanzo, flax meal, etc.

If you have vegans or other allergy-prone types in your family, replace each egg with with half a cup applesauce or pumpkin mash. Many of the recipes taste much better if at least half the eggs are replaced this way.

I’ve modified lots of Fluke’s recipes to great results. My favourites are the chocolate chip crunches, black and whites and the decadent fudge on top of shortbread bars that Fluke calls Chocolate Highlander but which my family calls “harvester cookies.”

To get a copy of a monthly featured recipe to try for yourself or for summaries of all the Hannah Swensen mysteries written by Fluke so far, check out her website at

Books in the series include:

  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, 2001
  • Strawberry Shortcake Murder, 2001
  • Blueberry Muffin Murder, 2002
  • Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, 2003
  • Fudge Cupcake Murder, 2004
  • Sugar Cookie Murder, 2004
  • Peach Cobbler Murder, 2005
  • Cherry Cheesecake Murder, 2006
  • Key Lime Pie Murder, 2007
  • Candy Cane Murder, 2007
  • Carrot Cake Murder, 2008
  • Cream Puff Murder, 2009
  • Plum Pudding Murder, 2009
  • Gingerbread Cookie Mystery, 2010
  • Apple Turnover Murder, 2010
  • Devil’s Food Cake Murder, 2011
  • Cinnamon Roll Murder, 2012

The next one, the Red Velvet Cupcake Murder will be published in February 2013.

1 2