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Suspenseful stories

Good old-fashioned mysteries to ponder and puzzle over

Suspenseful stories
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Although publishers put out a steady stream of new mystery titles, finding stories that are clean and well-written can be difficult, especially if you don’t want to read about deranged serial killers or rapists. The mystery website “Stop, You’re Killing Me!” is a good place to find new writers and oldies that you may have missed. Here are a few older series worth checking out:

Birder and nature writer Steve Burrows begins his Birder Murder Mystery series with A Siege of Bitterns. The series features an unconventional police inspector who loves bird-watching more than he loves detecting. Detective Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune is a Canadian who has just landed a job in the U.K., where he lives near a salt marsh that’s home to many species of birds. Naturally, the first murder victim is a fellow birder. The book will appeal to those who enjoy nature writing and murders growing out of the seven deadly sins rather than a deranged psyche. Though Jejeune is in a cohabiting relationship, there’s no sexually explicit material or language.

Tricia Fields won a Tony Hillerman Prize for her 2011 novel The Territory, set in a small West Texas border town. Like Tony Hillerman, whose Navajo tribal detective stories made the rugged high desert landscape a character, Fields turns an observant eye on the land near the Rio Grande. Unlike Hillerman, Fields’ novel has a more ripped-from-the-headlines feel: A clean cop risks her life to keep corruption, drug cartels, and violence from spilling over the border onto her turf.

J.A. Jance also pens a series set in the Southwest—Brady. It features female sheriff Joanna Brady, who is also a mother and wife. In the most recent book in the series, Downfall, Brady is pregnant, dealing with the violent death of her mother and stepfather, and coping with family tensions surrounding the funeral. She’s also working on a double homicide. Her investigation uncovers sexual abuse and domestic violence, but Jance deals with those hard subjects without graphic detail or language.

Sharan Newman’s Death Comes as Epiphany won the Macavity Award in 1994 for best first novel. Featuring brilliant young novice nun Catherine LeVendeur, the series set in 12th-century France begins with the abbess Heloise sending young Catherine back to her parents under the pretext that she’s too prideful to become a nun. In reality the abbess wants Catherine to investigate a potential heresy that threatens the convent. Historical figures like Peter Abelard and Heloise mingle with fictional ones in this series. Newman’s degrees in medieval history help her bring everyday details to life. For other medieval mysteries see Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries and Mel Starr’s Hugh de Singleton. Starr’s series has the advantage of a protagonist who ponders theology as he goes about his medical and bailiff duties.

Two decades ago Francine Mathews wrote a series of Nantucket mysteries featuring policewoman Merry Folger, daughter of the local police chief. Soho Crime recently reissued them. Death in the Off-Season is the first book in the series. In it Folger must solve her first murder, that of a man found dead in a cranberry bog. All the novels exploit their island setting, playing up the tensions between locals and summer people. Mathews (under the pen name Stephanie Barron) went on to write a series featuring Jane Austen as a detective.

Coming in August is From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias Boström. This entertaining account of Sherlock Holmes shows the famous detective’s beginning in Arthur Conan Doyle’s imagination; his proliferation through the work of agents, editors, and actors; and his current revival.

–Please read the next page in this issue’s special Summer Reading section: "Adventure awaits"

Susan Olasky

Susan is a former WORLD book reviewer, story coach, feature writer, and editor. She has authored eight historical novels for children and resides with her husband, Marvin, in Austin, Texas.



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