Janice's Favorite Mysteries

NOTE: I do not pretend that these lists for historical and contemporary mysteries are based on literary merit or critical acclaim -- they merely contain books that I personally like!

(To find out the order of a mystery series, I highly recommend the Stop, You're Killing Me site, through which you can look up a mystery series by author or by character name.)

Historical Mysteries

The list below provides the author's name, the first book in the series, and a brief description of the era and protagonist of the series.
Albert, Susan Wittig The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree Depression-era series about members of a gardening club in a small Alabama town (more insightful than it sounds).
Alexander, Tasha And Only to Deceive Victorian wife in lukewarm marriage whose husband dies in Africa gradually learns more about him, and becomes friendly with his best friend.
Allen, Conrad Murder on the Lusitania Male/female Pinkerton detectives working for steamship lines
Ash, Maureen The Alehouse Murders Wounded Templar works as an investigator for the castellan of medieval Lincoln, UK
Barron, Stephanie Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor By far the best of the "Jane Austen as detective" books/series out there.
Brody, Frances Dying in the Wool Post-WWI featuring the investigative daughter of a policeman, set in Yorkshire.
Dean, Anna A Moment of Silence (in the US, Bellfield Hall) Georgian-era independent thirtysomething heroine, Dido Kent, runs into various odd occurrences while visiting family/friends.
Dickinson, David Goodnight Sweet Prince Victorian baron, a former India intelligence officer, does occasional jobs for the government
Dunn, Carola Death at Wentwater Court Daughter of a viscount in post-WWI England works as a reporter, falls in love with a Scotland Yard inspector (lighter)
Franklin, Ariana Mistress of the Art of Death Sicilian-trained female medieval coroner is hired by King Henry II.
Gellis, Roberta A Mortal Bane A 12th century "whoremistress" with powerful friends
Greenwood, Kerry Cocaine Blues (APA Death by Misadventure) 1920s heiress in Melbourne. Lots of nice period detail with a heroine who might be a little too good to be true but is still engaging.
Harris, C.S. What Angels Fear Regency-era Viscount falsely accused of murder investigates and solves crime, then goes on to solve other sensitive cases. Very well written and interesting personal dilemmas for main character.
Harrison, Cora My Lady Judge 16th century female Irish brehon (judge). A bit more charcter-driven than the Fidelma mysteries.
Harrison, Cora A Shameful Murder Ireland in the 1920s, main character is the well-born Mother Superior of a convent and convent school in a poor area of Cork .
Huber, Anna Lee The Anatomist's Wife Artist widow of an anatomist involved with an enquiry agent in 1830s England
King, Laurie R. The Beekeeper's Apprentice Sherlock Holmes gets a young, female assistant (sounds silly but an excellent series)
March, Hannah Complaint of the Dove Georgian impoverished tutor who works for various rich/noble families
Marston, Edward A Bespoke Murder Well-educated Scotland Yard detective during WWI keeping the Home Front safe (lots of psychologic insight)
Marston, Edward The Queen's Head Elizabethan theatre troupe manager and the troupe's adventures
Marston, Edward The Railway Detective A Scotland Yard detective in 1850s London specializing in crimes involving railroads
Maxwell, Alyssa Murder at the Breakers Gilded Age mystery series set in Newport featuring an investigative female poor Vanderbilt relation
Maxwell, Alyssa Murder Most Malicious Post WWI daughter of declining noble family and her lady's maid
McMillan, Rachel Murder at the Flamingo 1930s Boston: Hero has anxiety and panic disorder, gets involved with semi-mobster cousin and runaway rich girl
McNeal, Susan Elia Mr. Churchill's Secretary During WWII, overqualified secretary with a skill for codebreaking eventually becomes a spy.
Newman, Sharan Death Comes As Epiphany 12th-century French convent novice leaves the convent and has interesting family linkages
Paige, Robin Death at Bishop's Keep Victorian-era American writer of gothics marries scientifically inclined baron in England with noble friends (lighter)
Patrick, Renee Desigh for Dying Post-Depression female movie buff teams up with costume designer Edith Head
Penrose, Andrea Murder on Black Swan Lane Regency-era woman who took over her husband's anonymous political cartoonist career gets involved in murder investigations with a prominent scientist earl
Perry, Anne The Face of a Stranger (William Monk series) Victorian detective loses memory but continues to work at his job (I thought this would take the easy way out and restore the character's memory right away but the author handles this in an intriguing way through several books)
Perry, Anne Cater Street Hangman (Inspector Pitt series) Proper Victorian woman gets involved with social inferior police detective
Peters, Ellis A Morbid Taste for Bones Very well-known medieval mystery series starring Brother Cadfael, a former Crusader soldier now turned monk and apothecary.
Raybourne, Deanna Silent in the Grave Victorian wife whose husband dies suddenly is contacted by an inquiry agent, and they begin working together.
Robins, Madeline A Point of Honour Regency-era "fallen woman" turned investigator
Ross, Kate Cut to the Quick Regency-era intelligent dandy with doctor friend
Ryan, P.B. Still Life With Murder Civil War Irish governess with a shady past working for an unusual Brahmin patrician society woman
Sansom, CJ Dissolution Set in the Reformation; features a hunchbacked lawyer who is a dedicated reformer close to Thomas Cromwell and besides intriguing mysteries also traces the main character's growing disillusionment with the reform. Very well written.
Sayers, Dorothy Whose Body? 1920s - 30s. Lord Peter Wimsey. Read them now.
Smith, Fiona Veitch The Jazz Files 1920s flapper who aspires to be a journalist becomes a private investigator.
Stout, Rex Fer-de-Lance 1930s - 40s detective stories featuring Nero Wolfe, an eccentric and obese genius detective, and his wise-cracking sidekick Archie Goodwin. Classics for a reason.
Thompson, Victoria Murder on Astor Place 1900s New York widowed midwife with Irish police detective friend (lighter)
Tremayne, Peter Absolution by Murder 16th century Irish princess turned nun who is an investigative lawyer (great historical stuff about Ireland)
Weaver, Ashley A Peculiar Combination During WWII in England, a woman who's part of a safe-cracking family is recruited to help a military intelligence investigation.
Wentworth, Patricia Grey Mask Immediately post-WWII, elderly former governess turned private investigator. Impressively well-written prose, nice central character and characterizations. (Note that this first book only glancingly introduces the main character; the subsequent books are more engaging.)
Winspear, Jacqueline Maisie Dobbs Former WWI military nurse becomes investigator. Good look at psychological aftermath of WWI as well as compelling main character.

Contemporary Mysteries

The list below provides the author's name, the first book in the series, and a brief description of the protagonist of the series.
Andrews, Donna You've Got Murder Self-aware computer program solves mysteries with help of human IT staff. Light, but interesting premise.
Atherton, Nancy Aunt Dimity's Death Cozies mostly set in a small village in Britain about a woman who communicates through a diary with a deceased friend of her mother's. (The first book is easily the best but the subsequent ones are fine entertainment too.)
Carlisle, Kate Homicide in Hardcover Brooklyn Wainwright, a rare book expert in San Francisco
Clement, Blaize Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter A personal tragedy has led a former policewoman in a small Florida coastal town to become a cat sitter. More compelling psychologically than it sounds with some interesting personal development twists.
Crombie, Deborah A Share in Death Well written Scotland Yard procedurals with interesting main characters.
Davidson, Diane Mott Catering to Nobody Caterer with violent ex-husband. Nice character arc plus recipes.
Delacourt, Marrianne (pseudonym of SF writer Marianne de Pierres) Sharp Shooter Set in Australia, a contemporary female PI series with an interesting heroine, funky secondary characters, and a lot of humor.
Duncan, Elizabeth The Cold Light of Mourning Cozies, manicurist and expatriate Canadian living in small Welsh town
Edwards, Ruth Dudley Corridors of Death A British public servant gets involved with the police due to his boss's death and continues to help them solve various mysteries. Nice lead character and an interesting inside look at how the British public service works.
Fluke, Joanne Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder Cozies about a bakery owner in a small Minnesota town. Nice main character and continuing characters who are interesting without being too quirky. Be warned: you will want dessert while reading these :->
Fowler, Earlene Fool's Puzzle Female rancher in central California. A bit Christian but well written central characters. (This author also wrote a terrific one-off mystery, The Saddlemaker's Wife.)
Fredericks, Mariah A Death of No Importance A lady’s maid in 1910s New York City.)
James, Miranda Murder Past Due Cozy series about an academic librarian in a small Southern town and his Maine coon cat..)
Kahn, Michael Grave Designs Smart, determined and creative Jewish female lawyer with engrossing secondary characters. The character's life situation matures and changes as the series continues.
Krich, Rochelle Blues in the Night Orthodox Jewish female true crime writer. Easily the best depiction of an Orthodox character where that is only a part of their identity, plus decent mysteries.
Maitland, Barry The Marx Sisters Well written Scotland Yard procedurals.
Maron, Margaret Bootlegger's Daughter Southern female lawyer with interesting family.
Osman, Richard The Thursday Night Murder Club Unsweet senior citizens have a murder-solving club. Better than it sounds.
Robb, J.D. (pseudonym of Nora Roberts) Naked in Death Series set in the near future featuring a kick-ass female New York cop and her husband, The Richest, Most Handsome Man in the World. Addictive.
Rosenfelt, David Open and Shut Series with a smart-ass NJ lawyer where all mysteries relate to someone's dog.
Spencer-Fleming, Julia In the Bleak Midwinter Female Episcopalian priest assigned to small town in upstate New York, has intriguing and non-standard relationship with local police chief. Totally non-formulaic and extremely well written series.
Stanton, Mary Defending Angels Whenever I try to describe this series, it ends up sounding much more cliché and stupid than the books really are. Female lawyer inherits her dead uncle's law firm and gradually discovers that his practice partially consists of working with angels to overturn sentences for the dead who apply for her services.
Swanson, Denise Tart of Darkness Chef-to-Go series about an HR specialist who inherits a house and runs a catering business near a Midwest university.
Swanson, Denise Murder of a Small-Town Honey [Scumble River series, followed by separated related series with the same main characters, Return to Scumble River, first book Dead in the Water] School psychologist at a school in a small town in which she grew up with many relatives in the area. Secondary characters are quirky but not annoying.

In a category all its own...

Science fiction mysteries by Ben Aaronovitch set in London with an elite police force that deals with supernatural crime and criminals; first book is titled Rivers of London in the Commonwealth and Midnight Riot in the US. Highly recommended.

Last updated January 2024.

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