As much as I love to read, mystery series fiction is not high on my list of favorites; I’m more into classic English and American literature or historical nonfiction. I’m not sure what it is about mysteries; maybe the same story told over and over again, the complexities of following it all (and making sense of it), or just the fact that there are so many out there, but a mystery series has to be pretty unique, engaging, and well-written for me to read it. That said, here are four mystery series (with the first in each series listed) I have thoroughly enjoyed reading (and recommending) over the years. And, yes, you should read them in their series order for them to make sense and for character and story development.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. My husband and I listened to the first book in this series on a vacation drive to northern Michigan, but the drive wasn’t quite long enough for the entire book. I checked it out from the library as soon as I got back to finish it and we’ve been hooked ever since. Set in London in the period between World Wars I and II, Maisie Dobbs is the background for the entire series. Maisie was raised to be a maid in Lady Rowan’s household, but her thirst for knowledge and self-betterment catch the attention of Lady Rowan and her friend, Maurice Blanche, a psychologist/investigator. They recognize her gifts for inquisitiveness and keen perception and decide to college educate her and thus, set her life on a much different course. The series is now up to seven novels, each one devoted to a different case, with the changes in Maisie’s life, her career as a psychologist/investigator, and relationships. What’s fascinating about this series is its vivid and poignant descriptions of the effects of war on a generation (and the people of England), class distinctions, and chilling momentum as it brings you ever closer to a second world war.
Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton. This one is really one-of-a-kind. Okay, so it requires a great stretch of imagination. To be specific, it’s about a ghost who communicates through a diary to the protagonist. The other unique thing about this series is that nothing horrible ever really happens; it’s truly a mystery series. American Lori Shepherd grew up hearing stories about what she thought was an imaginary “Aunt Dimity” from her mother. After her mother’s death, she inherits money and a cottage in the small town of Finch, England and the knowledge that Dimity was in fact her mother’s best friend during World War II, whom her mother corresponded with for years after the war. Through a series of sixteen novels now, Atherton has created an idyllic village of colorful characters in the English Cotswolds with ever-inquisitive (read: nosy and impulsive) Lori solving mysteries with Dimity’s advice and clear-headed counsel. Along the way, Lori falls in love, marries, has children, and becomes enmeshed in the life of the village and its inhabitants. A truly lovely series.
Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs. In 2006, in part because I read this Tea Shop mystery series and because it is a must-see for die-hard historians, I visited Charleston, South Carolina. Theodosia Browning (love that name, don’t you?) owns the Indigo Tea Shop and, with Drayton (her tea connoisseur) and Haley (her chef) stumbles upon murder while hosting and catering soirees in tony Charleston society. This one, too, is filled with quirky characters who (sometimes) border on caricature, but it’s the plucky heroine who keeps me reading along with the descriptions of Charleston, too.
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters. I haven’t made my way through all of the series yet (there are over twenty) but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Set in early 12th century England, Brother Cadfael, a former Welsh warrior, is a Benedictine monk who specializes in herbs and homeopathy. He tries to lead a good and contemplative life amid the harsh realities of the Middle Ages. He becomes involved with murder mysteries and, often through the study and science of plants, he solves them. Ellis Peters died in 1995 so the series is no longer being written, and she was also a romance writer so, sometimes, there is a secondary romantic storyline in the plots that I don’t much care for; I don’t think it needs them. What keeps me reading is the atmosphere of medieval England, the descriptions of a primitive and monastic life, and the good heart of Brother Cadfael. This was also a very popular British television series starring Derek Jacobi.
What are your favorite mystery series?