As someone who started reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels when the series was still in the single digits, I can honestly say that it isn’t the mysteries that keep fans coming back, it’s the characters: perpetually frazzled bounty hunter Stephanie, her push-pull love interests Ranger and Morelli, and especially her pistol-packing, porn-watching Grandma Mazur. If you’ve read the latest, Top Secret Twenty-One, try The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz, the first in a series about a colorful family of private investigators who spend as much time investigating one another as they do solving cases.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is, in one sense, a harrowing story of the Holocaust, one of the most hopeless periods in human history. And yet, it is also a story about the power of books to provide not just an escape from darkness, but also to spark a fire that can hold it at bay. If you were inspired by Leisel’s determination to rescue books before they could be destroyed by Nazi storm troopers, you’ll likely entranced by the literary mystery that drives The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, about a boy’s lifelong quest to safeguard a crucially important tome from The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
In The Hurricane Sisters, by Dorothea Benton Frank, two best friends take a gamble on turning a peeling family-owned mansion into a lavish Lowcountry resort, setting the stage for the perfect beach read, an engrossing, multigenerational family saga filled with lovingly crafted Southern locales and endearing, enduring characters. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, a 1980 Pulitzer nominee, is a clear spiritual forebear chronicling the lives of two orphaned sisters who are passed around by a series of relatives before winding up with their eccentric aunt in small-town Idaho. Over the years, as the trio grows apart then comes together again, the novel demonstrates that housekeeping, in the metaphorical sense, means creating a home and finding a family.
The Romanov Sisters, by Helena Rappaport, is an impeccably researched, revelatory portrait of the daughters of the last Tsar of Russia, girls who were as famous in their day as any heiress whose photos are getting drawn on by Perez Hilton, and whose fame could not save them from a violent end amid revolution. For a complete picture of the tumultuous end of a centuries-old dynasty, pick up Rappaport’s exhaustive earlier work, The Last Days of the Romanovs.
After venturing into the sordid world of high fashion in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (née J.K. Rowling) sends private investigator Cormoran Strike into the underbelly of the publishing world in The Silkworm, investigating the gruesome murder of a two-bit writer murdered before he could publish a scandalous roman à clef that promised to expose a lot of dirty secrets. For another mystery featuring an author behaving badly, check out The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, by Joel Dicker, a blockbuster in Europe, in which a struggling young novelist is drawn into a scandal involving his literary mentor, a famed writer accused of murdering his underage girlfriend.
Have you read any of these books?