It’s a mystery — three picks you are sure to love
When I was a little girl, I lived in a very small town with a very small library, but I had a very big appetite for reading books. I devoured everything at my public library, and my mother made the excellent parenting decision to allow me to purchase one book per week at the nearest now-defunct entertainment store (spoiler alert: it was Hastings). I resented her for making me make such a difficult decision (only one?!), but I took it on as a challenge to find the best book, and for the first time, I was completely overwhelmed by choices.
Would I get another "Wishbone"? Some "Goosebumps," perhaps? Or would I settle on some cutesy book that had Mary Kate and Ashley on the cover? Even though there was more to be seen than at my little library, I quickly discovered that not all of the books were completely magical by my 7-year-old standards (I was super picky even then!). It took some digging to find the good ones, but truth be told, I still remember picking out my book, proudly holding it in my lap the entire way home and reading it as fast as I could. I never paced myself on reading, so I was always left wanting more, each and every time, anxious to get a new book as soon as possible.
I get a similar feeling whenever I walk through the mystery section now, nearly twenty years later as an adult. There is so much to discover and quite a lot I really don’t like. At the tail-end of 2016, I decided it was time I added a few mysteries to my literary repertoire, and I haven’t looked back since. I had convinced myself I hated mysteries, and it would be a pain to find anything worth reading, but much like my original disdain for graphic novels, boy, was I wrong!
Mysteries are awesome — I finally get why the genre is so popular now. After reading several books, I’ve settled on a niche that has made me quite a happy reader these past few months — historical mysteries featuring spunky amateur female detectives, finding their way in a male-dominated world and completely excelling. It sounds cheesy, I know, but that’s because it is. When it comes to mystery books, sometimes you just have to embrace the camp and the cliche moments and enjoy the ride.
"A Spy in the House" by Y.S. Lee was what first began my love affair with historical mysteries and is one that checks off all of my literary boxes. Takes place in the Victorian era? Check. Features a diverse main character and a diverse authors? Check. The plot is interesting with a unique situation? Check. There’s an adorable love interest who will show up in later books? Check. The premise is one of murder, intrigue and spying. Mary Quinn, a former thief who was once sentenced to death, was rescued and began working for an all-female spy agency that covers as a finishing school for girls.
Sent out on her first assignment, she must infiltrate a well-to-do family and pose as their maid. Her investigation leads her to a more sinister plot than was originally thought of, and she must use her wits to get herself out of several sticky situations. What I liked most about this book (the first in a series of four) was that the author used the concept of an all-female spy agency to actually give the character more agency in the world she lives in. A poor, young half-Chinese woman in late 1800s London would not have many opportunities, but in this book, the character excels at what she does.
From there, I discovered "A Front Page Affair" by Radha Vatsal, which is set in 1915 just after the Lusitania sank, just after J.P. Morgan was shot and famously fell on his would-be-murderer, and just before the United States joined the Allied Forces in World War I. This book reads like a richly written and highly rewarding history lesson, where the author (born in Mumbai, making this yet another diverse mystery) shows off her knowledge and all of her research of the time period.
Kitty Weeks is a charming but naive young woman who is determined to make her way in the newspaper industry. Tired of writing articles for the Ladies’ Page, she jumps at an opportunity to prove her worth by looking into a murder that occurred at a society party she was supposed to write about. While I would recommend this book to anyone, it’s particularly good for those new to the genre, as they can discover more and get acquainted with mysteries as Kitty hones her detective skills. The sequel is due out later this year.
I know I am late to the game on this one, but I recently discovered Rhys Bowen, and I am hooked. "Murphy’s Law," the first in the hugely popular Molly Murphy series, is a riot and all kinds of wonderful, and why haven’t you read this yet? You should stop everything you’re doing and check this out right now. Molly Murphy is the spunkiest of all of the spunky female heroines. An Irish girl out on her luck, Molly accidentally murders a man in self-defense and flees her homeland to England, eventually ending up in the United States at Ellis Island.
Set in 1900, the story is fascinating and endlessly interesting. The author is especially good at fleshing out her characters and setting so that Molly lives in a complicated and realistic world. I was pulled in by Molly as a person; her positive outlook, resourcefulness, her sassy comebacks and her ability to make a person instantly her friend (or enemy!) will keep me coming back for more. This is a series that I can see myself settling down with.
-Kimberly Lopez is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.