Winter has dragged on this year, as has my reading
My reading momentum flagged in February and March, as it often does, when the grey skies linger, with temperatures teasing spring without delivering. In fall, I’m eager to leap into sweaters and under blankets, cozying up with books, but by the time we reach March, all I want to do is get to a sidewalk cafe and read in the fresh air. Sadly, that has not yet happened even as April begins.
I left it a bit longer before writing the reading round-up post so we’d have a more solid list.
And so here are the mysteries I’ve read since last time:
Der Donnerstagsmordclub, Richard Osman (Thursday Murder Club #1 in German)
Murder in the East End, Jennifer Ashley
The Appeal, Janice Hallett
A Lonely Man, Chris Power
The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, KJ Charles
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Having read the entire series by Richard Osman, I decided to give it a go in German, as what better way to gather murder mystery vocabulary in German than by reading the genre in German?
I quite enjoyed this project, but full disclosure: I read this book over about the course of 9 months, finishing it in March, but by no means beginning it even in 2023. It’s been a fascinating exercise in how idiom is translated and I have moved on to reading the second book in German as well. Look for updates on that sometime in 2024. I wish I was joking about the timeline; we’ll see if I can’t speed it up a bit. It is a good series to try in a second language, if you’re learning one, as the sentence structure isn’t overwhelmingly elaborate and it’s been translated into many languages, so I suspect it’s fun in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and any of the others. If you’re intermediate level, I think it would be a match for you.
Once again, a cozy blanket mystery for cold weather that would not quit. These have a similar pace, mood, and level of tension and I wasn’t up for something too stressful going into a new podcast season over at the Secret Library, so once again, this was a nice retreat between other reading.
I hesitate to even reference these in the lists as I’ve discussed the series before. If you enjoy the first, You’ll likely feel the same about the following installments. A bit of period cooking, a bit of intrigue and murder, sprinkled with hints of romance. If light reading is what you need, this series is a solid choice. She is quite prolific, but I haven’t read any of her other series, so can’t compare them for now.
I nearly let this one pass me by. After being drawn in by the cover, I sat down in my favorite Berlin bookshop and read the first page of a stack of potential choices, and for some reason, this felt completely overwhelming.
Epistolary novels are decidedly not my thing. I didn’t like Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which everyone else on earth seemed to adore (aside from my boss at the time - thank you Dena for feeling the same!). I have difficulty engaging with the story via letters. It feels like an odd show-tell mishmash and I don’t invest nearly as much.
It took Helen Redfern encouraging me to give this another go to turn things around. We have a similar taste in mysteries, so I returned to the beginning. And, lo and behold, I tore right through it. After getting through the first 3-4 pages, which explained what two junior lawyers were instructed to look out for in the pages that followed, I got to the actual file of emails and papers that comprise the lion’s share of the novel. Given that I enjoy the snooping around in files aspect of detective stories, this began to feel much more like getting to snoop directly in the world of the story. And the characters were having conversations over email, although in many cases we could only read one side of them.
There were a couple of late nights, and this was the book I read the fastest during this period, without question. I’ve just started her second book, and am impressed at how she’s able to create a similar snooping vibe in that one, yet with a totally different circumstance and characters. More on that when I return.
If you’re looking for a fresh take on mysteries and, like me, you’re years behind getting to this one — it’s worth it. Enjoy and report back!
I found this novel in a Berlin bookshop that specializes in mystery, and given that the story begins with two people meeting in a Berlin bookshop, it felt too meta not to give it a try.
This one has quite a mood to it. If you’ve ever spent time in Berlin, you’ll enjoy all the detailed references to location. If you’ve never been here, know it isn’t as creepy here as this book makes it sound.
I’m unsure if I can call this a murder mystery, per se, despite people getting murdered in the book, and there being quite a lot of international intrigue. It feels a bit more like a suspense novel with a mystery/thriller writer as the main character.
Said main character meets a man who is quite drunk at a book signing, and then runs into him several days later when the drunk man is outnumbered in a fight on the street. The two men continue to meet up, and stories one tells gives the author the idea for a book, until things go rather sideways.
I enjoyed the writing and was pulled through the story, and due to having less time in the evening to read this month than usual, I was reading much smaller chunks of the book, sometimes with a day or two between, which lessened the urgency of it somehow. If I’d read the entire thing straight through on a plane, I think it would have sizzled. So if you have a long flight coming and want some intrigue, this could be for you.
Let me be clear: this is romance with a dash of mystery, rather than the other way around. But this description on the back cover hooked me:
“An unwary gentleman and his charming smuggler prince find love amidst skullduggery, danger, and murder most foul.
Yes, there is murder. But it’s not the main force in the book. This is a male-male romance with some hot scenes in it, so know that going in. I loved the characters and the exploration of morality that came from both sides of smuggling discussing the motivation for doing it, what loyalty means, and many other questions that really developed character nicely.
There is a suspicious death and disappearance as well as another murder and questions about the disappearance in particular do linger through the story, but if you’re looking for a book where solving the murder is the main objective of the characters, this is not that story.
Even so, I am so enjoying seeing cross-genre books that bring elements of mystery into a second genre and seeing how they can work together. There is certainly a heightened excitement in life and death situations that can add spice to romance. And there is definitely more motivation to find out who the killer is when one’s lover is in danger.
So if you like romance mixed with suspense, I very much enjoyed the time I spent in this world, and am delighted that another book in the same world with a different constellation of characters is coming out later this year.
What have you read recently that you’ve enjoyed? Please share if you’ve read any of these books (and your thoughts) in the comments below.
I’m off traveling next week and have several long flights and train rides in my future, which I’m very much looking forward to filling with reading.
Happy April everyone. More recommendations and reviews to come!
I’m so pleased (and relieved!) you enjoyed The Appeal! I agree with Lenaleah that the structure is fascinating and I’d love to listen to an interview with her where the interviewer really digs into it (hint hint). Going to look at your other recommendations now - the east end one sounds what I need right now.
I loved The Appeal also. The structure was interesting to observe as a writer but once I was sucked into the storyline it started to feel second nature. Thank you for all the recommendations. I’m loving all you share.