I finished Witch Way to Murder a couple of nights ago, the first in a relatively new murder mystery series by Shirley Damsgaard. And since it was a fun fast read, and I'd bought the second book at the same time, I jumped right into Charmed to Death where it looks like the protagonist is going to tackle a murder from her past that they kept mentioning in the first book. I look forward to more in this series.
Which made me decide to list my favorite murder mystery series for you today. Just cozies, mostly. Cozies are the whodunnits that are big on characters and leave most of the grizly details to other books. I've started most of these series by stumbling upon one book from the series and discovering that there's something about the series that appeals to me personally. It might be located in a place I love or know or wish I loved and knew. It might be the protagonist shares similar interests with me - herbs, books, nature. It might be because the plot slides into the edge of urban fantasy, another favorite genre. Whatever it was that originally caught my interest, whether or not I keep reading the series hinges on whether or not I end up becoming friends with the characters. Great characters and I'm hooked, even if on occasion the writing is a bit uneven or the plots thin. But mostly, the writing and the stories are pretty durn great as well. I also like series that carry a nice balance between relationship threads that carry on from book to book, and good, solid, whodunnit stories that hold their own inside each cover.
In no particular order:
China Bayles Mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert - it's sometimes hard to find her as some bookstores shelve her under "A" for Albert and some under "W" for Wittig. The main character is an ex-lawyer who moves to a small town Texas' hill country and opens up an herb shop and later in the series, an accompanying tea house. Her best friend is a flamboyant woman who owns a "New Age" shop next door to her herb shop. The books always have an herb themed title.
Anna Pidgeon series by Nevada Barr - the protagonist is a National Park Ranger and the settings are National Parks or Monuments. The author is a master at describing a place and making you feel like you're really there. She's sort of a local author as she grew up nearby and her parents still live in our community. Her mother is somewhat well known in her own right as the first woman pilot for the US Dept of Forestry - or maybe it's another department, I can't remember.
Benny Harper series by Earlene Fowler - This series always has a quilt pattern title. The protagonist runs a folk art museum in a thinly disguised make believe town that's really San Luis Obispo, CA. There's a lot of side characters who are wonderful as well. There is a sort of "christian" overtone because the grandma, one of my favorite characters, is southern Baptist. But it doesn't ruin the story for me at all because the characters are so great and simply being true to themselves. We have ties to the SLO area on hubby's side, so that's fun too. In fact, a quilting friend of mine is also from SLO and, let's see if I can get the story straight - her best friend still lives there and knows Earlene. It's such a small world, isn't it?
Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris - these are paranormal but also murder mysteries. Wonderful, wonderful characters full of southern style! Sookie might be my favorite character anywhere... hmmm.... she's definitely in the top ten anyway. She's also got a new series out, I think the first book is called Grave Surprise, that I'm itching to start.
Miss Zukas Library Mysteries by Jo Dereske - the protagonist is an uptight librarian, but she has a wild kooky best friend. The setting is Bellingham, WA, libraries of course, and lots of references to the characters' Lithuanian background
Bed and Breakfast Mysteries by Mary Daheim - the writing is sort of sloppy in this series. I think she just cranks them out too fast. But I like the Seattle setting and always enjoy hanging out with the main characters Ruth (who owns a b&b) and her cousin Renie (who is always ready for food and drink)
Chintz 'n China Mysteries by Yasmine Galenorn - these have a paranormal edge to them and they take place in a small town in northern Washington. The main character is a single mom who owns a Tea Shop. I like that her kids aren't just pushed to the background but are part and parcel of each story.
Kate Jasper Mysteries by Jacqueline Girdner - the main character owns a gag gift mail order business (although that's not really an important element of the series). What the author has fun with is that the protagonist lives in Marin County and is a vegetarian. Having lived in Marin County myself, I have fun with all the odd but true stereotypes of the area and people.
A Rowan Gant Investigation series by M. R. Sellars - this one doesn't really count as a cozy, they're really more of a thriller/mystery combination. But I include the series because it's not as well known as it should be and the characters are so wonderful. The main characters are a contemporary married couple who just happen to be witches, with a cop best friend. The stories stretch into the fantastical but the base of real life pagan perspective is a big treat.
Of course I don't have enough to read (SNORT!), so I'm anxious to hear about your favorite mysteries. Finding new characters is like meeting new friends, and ones that will help you avoid housework on a dreary afternoon or have no qualms about climbing into bed with you at night at that! So, what are your favorites?