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09.10.07

Myseries Worth Reading

A good mystery should involve the reader in solving a puzzle, typically figuring out whodunnit and why and how.  It should be entertaining.  It might also offer interesting information about a place or subject perhaps unfamiliar to the reader.

These three mysteries meet these criteria and introduce appealing characters we want to know better.

Ellen Crosby's Wine Country Mystery series, set in northern Virginia east of the Blue Ridge, begins with "Merlot Murders".  Lucie Montgomery is summoned from France, where she has been recuperating from a disfiguring car accident, to the family estate vineyard near Middleburg in Loudoun County to attend her father's funeral. She is shocked to find the once-thriving vineyard, lovingly nurtured by her now-deceased mother, faltering under debt and neglect due to her father's gambling and shady business deals. Lucie's materialistic brother and rebellious sister, who has taken up with her former lover who caused the accident that disabled her, seem overeager to sell the vineyard. When her beloved godfather tells Lucie that her father's death resulted from pressure to sell the vineyard, gives her the key to a box containing a precious treasure, and then is murdered the day before the funeral, she knows she will be next in line.  At the same time, the grapes need to be harvested immediately if the vineyard is to survive, and Lucie isn't sure she can trust the mysterious vintner her father hired just before he died. 

This fast-paced tale is especially interesting because of the setting and the lore of wine making woven throughout.  Additional titles in the series are "Chardonnay Charade", "The Bordeaux Betrayal", and "Riesling Retribution", which has just been published.  Crosby, a foreign correspondent for ABC News, lives in Virginia.

Like Lucie Montgomery, Sam Blackman returns to his home disfigured and disabled, facing family tensions, and wondering what to do with his life in "Blackman's Coffin" by Mark de Castrique.  Sam, a Chief Warrant Officer in the Criminal Investigation Detachment, lost a leg to a rocket grenade in Iraq and is about to be released from the VA hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.  Into his room walks Tikima Robertson, also a military amputee, with the possibility for Sam to do some investigative work for her.  But before she can tell him details, she turns up murdered, floating in the French Broad River.  Tikima's sister Nakayla shows Sam a manuscript found in Tikima's apartment.  Written in 1919, it tells the story of the twelve-year-old son of a white funeral director who accompanies his father in the dead of night to help bury a black man in a neighboring state.  Tikima had evidently wanted Sam to help solve the mystery in the manuscript and make the connection to a present day mystery she was investigating.

"Blackman's Coffin" is the first in a new series starring Sam Blackman written by Mark de Castrique.  The appeal of this mystery is multi-fold.  The setting of Asheville and environs is authentically rendered, the history of Biltmore Estates and Thomas Wolfe are revealed intriguingly, and the characters are well-developed, likeable, and ones we want to know more about.  Mark de Castrique grew up in western North Carolina and teaches at UNC Charlotte.  The second in this series, "The Fitzgerald Ruse", was released very recently.

"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley is our third recommendation.  Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce lives with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and their father, Colonel de Luce, at Buckshaw, an English country house in 1950.  An irrepressibly precocious child, she is a self-taught chemistry whiz with a particular passion for poision.  When the housekeeper finds a dead bird lying on the doorstep with a postage stamp impaled on its beak, Flavia's father goes deadly pale and disappears into his study.  Then Flavia awakens in the night to noises, hears arguing in the study, and finds a man breathing his last in the cucumber patch.  Colonel de Luce is arrested for murder and Flavia sets out to find out who the man in the cucumbers was, how he died, and what her father might have had to do with it.

Like "Blackman's Coffin", this tale involves an interesting cold case.  It is full of interesting tidbits about chemistry (but that should not scare off readers who don't give a fig about science).  Flavia is wickedly clever, and one of the most delightful heroines to show up in quite a while.  The author, who is Canadian, has a background in television and film engineering, which may explain why this seems perfectly made for one of those PBS Mystery series we would love to watch.  Readers of all ages will get a real kick out of Miss Flavia de Luce, and can look forward to more of her adventures as this is the first in a series.

For these and more entertaining mysteries, visit your library at www.tcplweb.org or call 988-2541.

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