The banquet was last night and we are getting close to the end. The winners were announced and there were a few surprises. Ellen Byron won contemporary for her southern mysteries. There were ties in two categories which I don’t think has happened before. Sujata Massey won in historical. Probably every book in the historical category deserved a prize.
A special shout and congratulations to Grace Topping on the publication of her first book and first Malice Panel!
The best novels, short stories, and nonfiction books have been nominated for the Agatha Awards. There are a lot of keepers such as Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan and of course Louise Penny has a book nominated too. I’m going to have a particularly hard time voting for only one Best Short Story and one Best Historical Novel. Take a look. The novels are worth picking up, and you can read the short stories at malicedomestic.org/agathas.html
Best Historical Novel
- Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen
- The Gold Pawn by LA Chandlar
- The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
- Turning the Tide by Edith Maxwell
- Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson
Best Short Story
- “All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz
- “A Postcard for the Dead” by Susanna Calkins
- “Bug Appetit” by Barb Goffman
- “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” by Tara Laskowski
- “English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor
It is a problem, is it not mon ami? Agatha Christie introduces us to Captain Hastings, our master sleuth Hercule Poirot, and our friend Inspector Japp all in one fell swoop.
For some of us the country house is a wonderful setting, giving us a hint of how the war had changed life in England. It is easy to picture the rolling grounds, the ancient house, and the nearby village. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s influence is also evident in the creation of the somewhat dense Captain Hastings acting as Hercule Poirot’s Watson. But Christie’s story and characters are uniquely hers.
If you’ve never read her first Poirot novel, this is a must read. Not only does it set the stage for all of his future exploits, the book is a masterful puzzle starting with a locked room, plenty of clues and red herrings, and suspects with motives and opportunities.
I suppose that the “Mrs. Roosevelt” above was a giveaway that this is another historical mystery! MacNeal’s book starts shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. has officially entered World War II. Someone, we soon know who, has made the murder of a young woman who works for Mrs. Roosevelt look like a suicide, and produced a suicide note that casts aspersions on Mrs. Roosevelt herself.
For those of you who enjoy tons of historical facts, you’ll love this one. MacNeal produces many interesting characters including my favorite, her version of Winston Churchill. I probably would have been happy developing her material into four different books and slowed the pace. It is difficult to read quickly as I would have thought was expected from the tone of the book. But that’s just me. Those who are World War II buffs, will love this one.
I’ve always read mystery short stories, sometimes in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine or Ellery Queen, occasionally in literary journals or anthologies, and often online. Short stories are difficult to write. Ask anyone who has managed to write a book and decides to contribute to an anthology. But short stories are a great way to get a taste of mystery even if you have time to read a novel.
The characters in all of the nominated short story mysteries are interesting people who are in unusual circumstances. What I wonder as I read them is what will the twist be, that aha moment where the author manages to change, in a perfectly logical way, the solution to the mystery.
In Barb Goffman’s “A Year Without Santa Claus” published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, the director of all magical New Jersey things must solve three murders so that Santa will come for Christmas.
In Edith Maxwell’s “A Questionable Death published in History and Mystery, Oh My, a Quaker midwife and her friend unravel a mystery in 1888.
In Harriette Sackler’s “Suffer the Poor” also published in History and Mystery, Oh My, tells the story of a young woman who ministers to the poor in London’s East End.
In Terrie Farley Moran’s “A Killing at the Beausoleil” published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, two friends use knitting wiles to solve a murder when they rent a condo on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
In B.K. Stevens’ “A Joy Forever” published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, is it really murder when you encourage someone to kill themselves?
All five stories are good reads. You can find links to all five at Malicedomestic.org under the Awards tag.
I thought for sure this author had a few books under her belt, that’s how well this is written. It appears though, that this is Arlen’s first book. Well done! I usually think that switching points of view is a mistake. Arlen does this deftly using the Lady of the house and her housekeeper. As all of us who enjoy an occasional historical novel know those of different classes in this time period usually did not talk with each other, at least not in an honest straight forward way. That is one of the charms of this book. The reader is always wondering how far the two main characters will go outside their comfort zones to solve the murder of the very unlikeable nephew in the book.
The writing style of Arlen is wonderful. I would give her book top honors in all categories except the ending made me wonder what Arlen had not said. After I read that the manuscript had been much longer at one point, I understood that she did have to cut quite a bit to bring the manuscript down to a more reasonable length. Perhaps it should have been left at its original length? I look forward to her next book.
Here’s another finalist for a historical mystery Agatha. Bowen provides us with a lively, fast paced mystery starring Lady Georgianna Rannoch who is thirty-fifth in line for the British throne. While Georgie is staying with Princess Marina of Greece (future wife of Prince George) a murder outside Kensington Palace puts her in danger. There’s also a lovely little romance with its ups and downs between Georgie and her mysterious beau Darcy.
The novel starts off at a good pace and keeps it up through the end making it a very quick read. Sometimes, I wished she would have slowed it down a bit. Her heroine however, is a charming, usually broke, lady that is fun to read about. The humor is taken a little bit too far when the broken English of a Countess is part of the jest. All in all a good read from an experienced author who allows few opportunities for the reader to lay down the book.
In this Agatha-nominated historical mystery, Lucy Campion who was previously a maid is now a printer’s apprentice. In 1667, women were starting to be accepted in other occupations after the Great London Fire and the Plague. Her self-confidence make her the perfect amateur sleuth. In this her third novel, Calkins weaves a mystery with just the right amount of complexity against a lush historic background.
It’s not surprising that she is a serious student of history. While it takes a while to accumulate all the information at the beginning of the book, Calkins creates a completely believable world which becomes transparent as Lucy comes closer to solving the mystery. This is a definite must read.