I’ve talked before about my mother-in-law and her propensity towards mysteries. Every time I visit, she has a new one that I am always welcome to pick up–this is how I got addicted to Diane Mott Davidson and Joanne Fluke. So fluffy . . . so wrong . . . and yet so right. Yes, I am a conflicted person. My brain tells me that I should constantly be ingesting Great Literature and churning out amazing thoughts about how the power of the woman/goddess figure is in direct contradiction with her liminality, and how the psychology of the stock figures . . . blabbity bla . . . well, something-or-another super smart, but let’s be real here. Sometimes all I want is a predictable story with a sure-fire resolution.
A few months ago I got started on Mary Daheim’s Alpine series. Beginning with “The Alpine Advocate,” there is a mystery for each letter of the alphabet. Cut me some slack on the above picture–I know those covers are kind of grim–but these books are seriously enjoyable. And not nearly as fluffy as the books mentioned above! Hence the reduction of my guilt factor . . . and hence my increased pleasure while reading them.
First of all, the main character, Emma Lord, is not your run-of-the-mill mystery-book heroine. She is a 40-something big-city transplant to a small town in Washington; she’s a single mom, a Catholic, a career woman, a smoker who’s always quitting, and a snappy tongue with a soft heart underneath. In the mountainous, frequently snowy community of Alpine, she runs the local paper: the Alpine Advocate. Grumpy at times, full of good intentions at others, generous, and often lonely, Emma makes for a very three dimensional character.
She has a small staff at her newspaper office–the flaky college grad Carla who is both full of the energy of youth and full of rampant typos, ad manager Ed who Emma just doesn’t have the heart to fire (though he’s possibly the Worst Employee of All Time), and finally her strong-willed House and Home editor, Vida, who always wears a hat and unfailingly acts like she’s the boss.
Not all the mysteries are solved. And I don’t mean that there are frustrating loose ends left or holes in the plot–just that the books are more true to life than other mysteries I’ve read, which tend to wrap things up in such a nice and tidy package that it leaves you almost . . . disappointed. When comes out a little too nicely, it’s just not as satisfying, you know what I mean? Not so with this series. The disappointments, relationships, twist and turns, are much more fleshed out than your average cozy mystery.
The books are sometimes suspenseful but mostly character-driven. They are rarely gruesome (though you wouldn’t guess by the covers of the older edition) and just dark enough to be realistic while still being satisfying and an overall happy read.
So in conclusion: if you’re hankering for a nice, long series that doesn’t require too much emotional investment and yet still has enough depth that you don’t feel embarrassed just picking it up, check these books out!
I always love to see what folks are reading. Makes me want to run to the library and spend hours picking out new titles.
What a great recommendation! And just think: a series longer than the usual 6 or 7. I can’t believe she wrote so many.
Also, it’s nice to know that I, too, don’t have to be ingesting only “Great Literature”. It’s okay to read the fun stuff! Thanks for giving me permission!
I love books like this in the summer! Sometimes it’s nice to not have to think so hard and just enjoy the story. Believe it or not, one of my recipes will be in the next Joanna Fluke novel!
Oh my gosh!! How the heck did that happen? I must know!! My mother in law will get a huge kick out of that.
I tend to enjoy character-driven novels much more than plot-driven ones, which is perhaps why I could never get into sci-fi and fantasy. Thanks for the recommendation!
You should try Lisa Gardner. I just started reading her books and I love them. The Other Daughter was great and so was the Third Victim. I’m now reading The Next Accident and I just love it. (The first one, The Perfect Husband, was my least favorite so far, but it was still good. Not required to read – it gets mentioned sometimes, but nothing crucial).
Nice! Thanks for the recommendations. I’m still working through everyone’s suggestions from the last time I posted a book review–and loving every moment!
I have read the Emma Lord/Alpine series almost from the start. I have always read it concurrently with Mary Daheim’s other series about bed and breakfast owner Judith McMonigle Flynn. Between the two, Emma Lord/Alpine Advocate is definitely darker, the bed and breakfast series is definitely funnier . . . Judith’s mother is a hoot. However, the last few years, both of them have kind of lost their spark for me. They are just beginning to be a little tired. There are a couple of mystery series that I have really enjoyed as well, all with female protagonists . . . Joan Hess writes a couple of good series, Claire Malloy/Farberville and Arly Hanks/Maggody (the second book in the Maggody series is one of the funniest books I have ever read). I enjoy Carolyn Hart’s Annie Darling series (she owns a mystery bookstore). The one male author who I read who writes female detective stories and absolutely amazes me is Jasper Fforde with his Thursday Next series (1st book is The Eyre Affair). If you have ever read any of the old classics, such as Jane Eyre, Crime and Punishment, Great Expectations, you will be delighted to meet some old character friends again . . . I have never, ever, read books written with such imagination. Mr. Fforde is an absolute genius.
I haven’t read the Alpine series. I’ll look out for them.