My mom was a mystery lover of the highest caliber. Since she could read a book in a day (and often did), she plowed through mysteries like actual murders needed to be solved. So in honor of what would have been her 66th birthday next week, I bring you this list of great mysteries from some of her favorite writers and mine.
1. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters – Mom adored Amelia Peabody, the detective in this mystery, for her smarts, her calm spirit, and her ability to get in trouble with more or less grace. In fact, she reminds me of Mom in that way. A fun read, especially if you love Egyptian history.
2. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears – Another of Mom’s favorites (and one I haven’t read yet.) I suspect it was the history and Pears’ renowned facility with the English language that won her over.
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – I read this book and then wished I hadn’t read it, not because I hated it but because I so wanted to have the pleasure of reading it again. Literary mystery at its best.
4. Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell – Set in Richmond (near my parents’ home), Cornwell’s mysteries always give the pleasure of places known. Plus, they’re detailed and rich. (The later books in the Scarpetta series got a bit too grisly for me, but I still loved the mystery.) A favorite that Mom and I shared.
5. A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – Monks, history, and mystery – things Mom and I both love. Brother Cadfael is one of my favorite detectives because he bucks monastic tradition, even as he adores it. A little like Thomas Merton in that.
6. The Litter of the Law by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown – Another Virginia writer (from just north of my home here at God’s Whisper Farm), Rita Mae Brown and her cat Sneaky Pie write fun mysteries set locally. Plus, they include a chubby cat named Pewter. . . can’t wait for this new one to come out in October.
7. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – Mom started reading these later in her life, so I didn’t have as much time to talk about them with her. But she did love the setting and the quirky characters. If she were still here, I’d buy her this boxed set for her birthday.
8. Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman – I introduced Mom to Lippman a few years ago after I discovered her during the years I lived near and in Baltimore. I love the protagnist, Tess Monaghan – she’s a rower, and she lives above a coffee shop. I would like to be her, with less murder involved.
9. The Book of Old Houses by Sarah Graves – Since I do a lot of work around the farm here, the books in the Home Repair Is Homicide series are sometimes scarily apt for my life. Well-written and fun.
10. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – My favorite mystery of all time, Eco’s book involves monks, illumination, great architecture, and all the wonders of postmodern fiction. A little more challenging than a more typical genre mystery but oh so worth it.
I will always be grateful that Mom (and Dad) instilled a great love of reading in me. And while I miss my mom severely, reading books she loved, well, that brings her a bit closer again.
Any great mysteries you’d recommend?