I did some volunteering for the Lithgow Public Library book sale this past summer. My job was to help sort and arrange the books for sale, a delight for a retired librarian. What fun to unpack a box and see the donor had very similar tastes to mine — or reading interests that were completely different.

In the course of this work, I came across several paperbacks by the author Martha Grimes. I’d read several installments of Grimes’ cozy mystery series when she began publishing in the early 1980s. I remembered how I enjoyed the main characters, Detective Chief Inspector Richard Jury and the amateur sleuth and closet aristocrat, Melrose Plant. Though Grimes is American, she set her stories in England, and many had storylines tied to pubs. For an Anglophile and mystery lover like me, they were absolutely delicious.

Why had I given up the series? I was going to have to do something about that.

Of course, it would have to be added to the list. My overstuffed “To Be Read” list, I mean.

Because I am a devotee of traditional mysteries (who also enjoys nonfiction and psychological thrillers), my list is always a messy, sorry sight. My favorite authors come out with a book a year (and I follow at least 10 avidly), plus there are all the other books I want to read. So it was that after I decided in June to reread the Jury books (because I only had the faintest recollection of where I’d left off), I didn’t get around to starting until October.

I was so glad I did. I just finished the first in the series “The Man with a Load of Mischief,” and thoroughly enjoyed it. I get such a feeling of satisfaction when I sink into a good mystery and it’s been that way for me for a long time.


Yes, I was one of those girls obsessed with Nancy Drew. I also loved the Hardy Boys and the Dana Girls. I had a rather strange devotion to the works of Helen Fuller Orton, who wrote mysteries in the 1950s, which were already dated when I was reading them. Then again, Nancy drove around in a roadster, so I guess the mystery even then was the priority for me.

I was soon on to Agatha Christie. Not surprisingly, the first Christie I read was “Halloween Party,” which begins at a children’s holiday event. I did read young adult books (then a new genre) as a teen, but I devoured the classic “Maigret” novels by Georges Simenon, and Ross Macdonald’s noir series featuring private eye Lew Archer.

The latter was one of my father’s favorites. He was a big mystery reader. My parents subscribed to the Detective Book Club, which provided monthly omnibuses of three mysteries, all bound in plain tan bindings. If there were any descriptions of the books originally included with the shipments, they had been tossed before I got to them, so it was a mystery in itself what the stories were about. It didn’t matter to this voracious reader, and I encountered some interesting authors that way.

I discovered P.D. James in college, while working at a library (shelving books was so interesting), and she and Ruth Randell were my favorites during my young adult years and beyond.

I regularly reread James, who I think truly transcends the genre. But by now, I’ve got quite a list of authors I would describe as favorites.

In the top tier are Louise Penny’s novels featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, Maine’s own Paul Doiron and Briton Ann Cleeves. I not only read Cleeves’ three series, but enjoy the “Vera” and “Shetland” TV adaptations.


Other authors I follow include Elly Griffiths (her Ruth Galloway series and her stand-alones), Alexander McCall Smith’s “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and Donna Leon’s tales of Commissario Guido Brunetti, set in Venice.

Richard Osman’s “The Thursday Murder Club” series, which features septuagenarian friends solving dastardly crimes, is poignant and great fun.

I love three series set in France. Martin Walker’s “Bruno, Chief of Police” (set in the Dordogne); Jean-Luc Bannalec’s Brittany mysteries; and M.L. Longworth’s cozies centered around Aix-en-Provence are all wonderful, all capable of sending me on mental mini-vacations to the land of espresso, croissants and vin rouge.

I do enjoy reading series set in foreign locales, although Doiron’s Mike Bowditch has certainly opened my eyes to the people and places of Maine all around me. I like to follow the protagonist’s life from book to book in the various series. And I enjoy the “ensemble casting” these authors employ.

I’m reading the latest “Bruno,” for example, and the book opens with the policeman watching a historic battle reenactment with all his friends. Having the group accounted for right away made me absurdly happy.

While I like to challenge myself with meaty nonfiction and get my brain buzzing with thrillers, series mysteries keep me on an even keel, even if they get intense with drug running, terrorism and international intrigue.

Grimes’ Jury novels are pure cozies, though, which for me equals pure escapism.

With all that is going on in the real world right now, that’s exactly what I need.

Liz Soares welcomes email at lizzie621@icloud.com.

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