These days, mysteries are my genre of choice: people solving problems, answering questions, seeking justice. And, of course, plots that hold my attention when I’m tired and easily distracted. Audiobooks, too, are good when I’m tired and distracted. The library and the free titles included in my Audible subscription have encouraged me to try new authors. Here are some I’ve enjoyed recently:
Catherine Aird’s Calleshire Chronicles, read by Derek Perkins
This series has been going for 40 years, and I’ve listened to 10 or so in random order, from Audible. (My library has some in e-book, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy them as much that way). These are British mysteries with village settings; not much seems to have changed in Calleshire since the first book was published in 1966, and DI Sloan and the hapless Constable Crosby don’t change either. They are classic puzzle-type mysteries, not gory but not quite twee, with a touch of comedy and a love of literary allusions. Perfect for falling asleep or lying awake with. I find them immensely soothing, partly because they are set in a timeless England that probably never quite existed outside fiction–much like Betty Neels romances.
Sally Rigby’s Cavendish and Walker series, read by Claire Corbett
Less soothing than Aird’s series because it features serial killers, which I don’t love. However, there is not a ton of villain point of view, we don’t see the crimes take place, and Rigby’s writing isn’t super graphic. What I do enjoy about this series is the team of DCI Whitney Walker and forensic psychologist Dr George (that’s Georgina) Cavendish. Their relationship is initially antagonistic. George is successful in her field but doesn’t have practical experience. When she finds the body of one of her students, she wants to help. But Walker, who joined the force instead of going to university after becoming pregnant at 17, wants nothing to do with this posh academic who’s trying to nose into her case. Slowly, they learn to respect each other, see past their surface differences, and work as a highly effective team. I’m three books in and hooked by their evolving friendship and personal lives as much as the mystery plots. I love a book with two highly competent female leads.
Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi Series, read by George Guidall
My library must have purchased access to some Recorded Books back catalogue package, because they suddenly have a ton. It includes Kemelman’s books about Rabbi David Small. This series also began in the 1960s, and it shows sometimes in things like the gender roles. But the Rabbi’s gentle humor and wisdom mostly don’t age, and I love how his scholarly vagueness leads people to underestimate how observant he is, and his ability to solve practical problems. More soothing listening.
Kia Abdullah, Take It Back
I read this because I read a positive review of the sequel, but I had mixed feelings. You can see my comments on them at Goodreads.
Rosalie Knecht, Who Is Vera Kelly?
A friend recommended this unusual coming-of-age spy story. It reminded me a bit of Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy. In that book, Wilkinson considers the complex nature of loyalty for an African-American used to spy on an African leader, and links spying to passing. Knecht’s book, cutting back and forth between Vera’s childhood and recruitment in the 50s and a surveillance job in Argentina in the Cold War 60s, is less overtly political, but links spying to Vera’s sexual interest in women. Vera is always playing a role and hiding things. There’s a sequel, and I plan to read it.
Toby Wilkinson, A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology, read by Graeme Malcolm
This isn’t a mystery! Or is it? I love archeology in my mystery. They’re a natural fit: both are about interpreting clues and weaving them together to form a plausible narrative. And Egyptology might be my favorite archeology-mystery blend of all. Partly, of course, that’s because I love Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody books.
But I think my fascination with Egyptology goes further back than that. If you’re old like me, you might remember the King Tut craze of the 1970s, when the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit sent artifacts from his tomb outside of Egypt for the first time, making the pharaoh a pop cultural phenomenon (not for the first time). And then there were childhood visits to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Museum, the founding of which is covered in Wilkinson’s book. What kid doesn’t want to see mummies?
Whatever its roots, my interest in Egyptology was satisfied by Wilkinson’s narrative history of its “golden age,” covering the century-and-a-bit from the Napoleonic Expedition of 1878 to Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Readers of Elizabeth Peters will find familiar figures here (Mertz had a PhD in Egyptology from Chicago and knew her stuff), and there are plenty of other outsize personalities as well. Wilkinson doesn’t ignore the colonialism inherent in the competition between European powers for control of Egypt and its ancient artifacts. Politics are inherent in adventuring and research, not background scenery. But the main focus of the book is squarely on the (mostly) men taking on the mysteries of ancient Egypt: interpreting hieroglyphics, finding tombs, understanding the cultures that produced them. This sweeping history was an enjoyable, well-informed escape into another world. Just the kind of non-fiction I like on audio.
I missed the King Tut craze of the 70s but I was very into Pauline Gedge in the 90s! I want to check this out.
Interesting round-up! I started Who Is Very Kelly and then quit it, I don’t really recall why: it might be as simple as the library book was due back. I liked the sound of the premise and if you liked it enough to be willing to read the sequel, I count that as an endorsement.
My book club just finished Jo Baker’s The Body Lies: if you haven’t read it, I would recommend it as a smart take on the never-ending crime fixation with the trope of ‘women in jeopardy’.
I found the beginning quite slow, but stuck with it because I trusted the friend who recommended it to me. I got more interested as I went—and as I realized my preconception of what kind of book it was was wrong, and adjusted expectations.
Thanks for the Jo Baker rec! The Anna Porter books you mentioned elsewhere are also appealing.