The Avid Reader: Cozy up with a good murder mystery

Published: 3/31/2021 5:16:05 PM

Every so often I settle in on my couch with a pot of tea next to me and a free afternoon ahead of me and read a cozy. These cozy books are, for the most part, either full mysteries or mysteries with a romantic twist. Cozies are popular because they have well developed female characters, a complete absence of vile language, and a murder that usually happens before the story begins. Sometimes it happens early in the plot, so very few gruesome details are provided. Generally, cozy mysteries come in a series, and because the characters are so engaging readers follow them from one book to the next.

The three stories I have selected to review all have something else in common. They are written by female authors of color who have created Black females as their main character. These writers have begun to fill a niche that has long been in need. One of the primary reasons cozy books are so popular is that the reader can easily identify with the main character; and women of color often struggle to identify with white female characters. Interestingly, these books are so well crafted that women of all ethnic backgrounds can relate and read in comfort even if the protagonists are Black!

One other wonderful aspect of these books is that prejudice does not raise its ugly head! Rather, there is always the expectation that a positive, healthy, non-discriminatory interaction is expected among all the different ethnic groups. No, I know this is not reality, but it is wonderful to read, escape, and imagine, even for a little while, how beautiful life could be for everyone if racial parity existed.

My current favorite is “Murder by Page One,” by national best-selling and award-winning author Patricia Sargeant – under the pseudonym Olivia Matthews. Happily, it is the first book in a new cozy mystery series set in a small community called Peach Coast, Georgia. I love the characters and the setting and cannot wait for the next book to come out. And, as a bonus there is a peach cobbler recipe at the end!

In this first book, our heroine, Marvella (Marvey), is a librarian who has moved from Brooklyn to Georgia, with her highly pampered cat Phoenix, in hopes of advancing her career. She hit the ground running and began coordinating reading events, continuing to hand-craft her reading themed jewelry, and organizing her new house, all while attempting to figure out the Southern culture. Although Georgia is certainly a culture shock for her, Marvey fits right in to the community where most all the citizens of Peach Coast are helpful and supportive of the local library and its employees. Then four months after her arrival, the body of a local author is found in the nearby bookstore – which is owned by her new best friend Jo.

At that point, Marvey sets out to solve the murder, because the local police figure if the murder happened in the bookstore – the owner, Jo, must have done it. Evidence is sparse, alibis are specious, and Marvey is convinced Jo is innocent. For help, she manages to rope in the local newspaper owner, Spencer Holt, as well as her fellow librarians (we know librarians love to research – so it’s not a stretch for them to investigate a murder). As an aside, every time a librarian does interact with a citizen of the town the last question asked is, “and, do you have a library card?” No matter what – including murder – the librarians are still building a patron list!

However, when Marvey does get closer to who really committed the murder, she becomes the target of several “near-misses” and finds herself in escalating danger. The level of suspense, pacing, strength of character development, and plot all promise that this will be a strong addition to the genre.

While Marvey is a bit of a geek, Sophie Katz, the heroine in “Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte” by Kyra Davis, is a fun-loving, African-American/Jewish, cat-owning, best-selling mystery author living in San Francisco.

Her life is comfortable, her friends are loyal, and all is well until she discovers that someone is reenacting murder scenes from her books. Sophie tries to convince the local police of these connections – only to be rebuffed. Naturally, she must take up the cause and find the murderer herself – and in the process, she makes herself the murderer’s new target.

A wildly handsome ex-Russian Army special forces officer, now private detective, Anatoly Darinsky comes along to save her a few times and passion blooms. Yes, a bit of a romance cross-over, but the focus is still the murders. Sophie’s efforts to solve the murders, find the killer, and keep her literary deadlines makes this a very enjoyable, and extremely funny read.

This is the first of several Sophie Katz books and each one is a treat. While it is certainly possible to read any or all in whatever order you choose, the traditional approach for these books is in chronological order. So, start with this one and work your way through the series – they are fun.

The discovery of my third selection came about when I tried to join an online literary auction. Some months ago, several romance and cozy writers in the US banded together to raise money for a female politician in a Southern state who was campaigning for state-wide elections. I dropped out of that auction in a very short time because the bidding was far in excess of my budget. In just a few short hours over $400,000 was raised, and my admiration for both the organizers and the readers who were so generous knew no bounds.

One of the writers whose works came up for bid was Selena Montgomery, author of several well-respected novels according to romance aficionados. Naturally, I had to acquire these books because she was apparently an immensely popular author I had never heard of! My favorite “Deception” is the second book in a three-part series that Montgomery wrote, and it involves a murder and a crime syndicate located in Georgia.

Fear not, this can certainly be a stand alone novel. The first in the series details the lives of three “sisters” who are raised in a group home by a truly kind matron who wants only the best for her charges. Kell grew to become a lawyer, Julia a doctor, and Fin a card shark. Fin is the main focus of this second book and she makes an extraordinarily lucrative living on the international poker circuit.

Fin is called home to Georgia by her sisters, to help clear an innocent woman of murder. To do so, she must risk her life taking down the syndicate. But, unbeknownst to her and her sisters, the FBI is there as well, and for the same reason. Special Agent Caleb Matthews, deeply undercover, finds he cannot work alone against the syndicate, and winds up teamed with Fin. This is where the sparks fly. There are some fairly erotic romance scenes, but as they are used so effectively in the plot and not just as an add-on for lascivious interest, they do not detract in any way. Fin is tough, beautiful, smart, and street savvy. The plot is strong and fast-paced, making this action-filled novel a very fast read. Not exactly cozy, but trust me – you won’t mind.

This book, too, is written by a woman who uses a pen name. In the real world, Selina Montgomery is a lady named Stacy Abrams, who many of you may know in another context. There is always a surprise in the literary domain.

Keep reading, keep supporting female authors of color, and keep working to make their archetypical worlds real places for everyone.

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