Because Sometimes You Just Need an Escapist Mystery Novel

[If you’re here for the issues/addresses write-ups for postcarding, just scroll down. They’re right below.]

One of my favorite summer pleasures is reading mystery novels. I confess to a weakness for particular tropes: famous writers as detectives, historical novels with narrators who both reflect and question the times in which they live, unreliable narrators, female detectives, and anything involving epidemic disease, particularly plague. In the last week or so, I’ve read a quartet of mysteries that I can comfortably recommend to readers with similar interests.

Light in the Shadows by Linda Lafferty and Andy Stone, Lake Union Publishing, published 1 June, 2019,

Light in Shadows moves between two timelines: one during the life of bad-boy painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, whose career crossed from the late 1500s to the early 1600s; the other set in the present day and featuring an unlikely trio of characters—an art history student, a gay son from a mafia family, and a retired professor taking classes in Italy while mourning his wife’s death—trying to solve the murder of a priest who may, or may not, have discovered an unknown Caravaggio painting. Caravaggio comes across as a fascinating, but not very pleasant man, which concurs with the little I know about his life. These chapters are action-packed, but the real heart of the novel lies in the trio of amateur detectives negotiating very difficult relationships with themselves and with one another. Discovering whether the painting is a Caravaggio becomes much less important than seeing how the connections among these three develop.

Season of Darkness by Cora Harrison, Severn House, publishing date 1 July, 2019,

Season of Darkness features Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins as the sleuthing team, aided—or not—by housemaid Sesina, who was friends with the murder victim at the heart of the story. Dickens and Collins are an effective pair, the one much more self-assured than the other, which gives them an interesting mix of dissimilar strengths. The author sets enough false trails to keep readers guessing until the fast-paced ending. The depiction of the class divides in English society at the time, particularly the rather condescending “generosity” of some in the upper classes gives readers something to mull over after the mystery is solved.

Black Death by M.J. Trow, Severn House, publishing date 1 July, 2019,

In Black Death our sleuth is Christopher Marlowe, playwright and intelligencer. Robert Greene, a competitor and enemy since their college days, has died after penning a letter to Marlowe claiming he is being murdered and asking Marlowe to bring the killer to justice. From here, the plot grows increasingly complex, with two other possible murders, an epidemic of plague, a subplot set in Bedlam, and both an unscrupulous plague doctor with apprentices and the great alchemist John Dee. Shakespeare—a not particularly bright, not particularly gifted Shakespeare—provides moments of comedy within the action. And, oh yes, there’s a bear. If you have any interest in Tudor history or drama you’ll be delighted with this read that pulls in many of the eras key characters and concerns.

The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson, Severn House, publishing date 1 July, 2019,

I’ve been reading the Tom Harper series, set in late 19th Century Leeds, since its inception, and it continues to reward. In The Leaden Heart, Harper is now a Detective Superintendent; Leeds remains a grimy, industrial city with a significant wealth gap. When the brother of a former colleague commits suicide, Harper finds that a new kind of crime, involving complex financial dealings, is stretching the skills of his station house. Meanwhile, Harper’s wife Annabelle continues to serve as a poor law commissioner, simultaneously struggling against the mistreatment of the city’s poorest residents while battling with the misogyny of the other commissioners, all of whom are men determined to reject any idea proposed by a woman.