In the course of writing this column, I haven’t shared my personal favorite mysteries yet. But today, for the debut of my Sunday columns, I made it all about my favorites. I’m sharing the books I don’t even read a description of before clicking buy, the ones I binge in between reading for my column or researching for my book—the books I auto-buy.
It turned out I had a much longer list of auto-buys than I thought. I ended up dividing it into series and authors. You get part 1 of my auto-buy series today. You will get part 2 in a couple of weeks and the authors another time and will probably be surprised at the different types of books. 😉
Here are some of my auto-buy series:
The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series by Vicki Delany
Premise: Transplanted Londoner Gemma Doyle (no relation to Sir Arthur) partially owns and runs the Sherlock Bookshop and Emporium at 222 Baker St. in West London, Massachusetts. Her globe-trotting Uncle Arthur is her co-owner in that business as well as the one next door Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, run by Gemma’s best friend Jayne, who has a stake in the Tea Room along with Gemma and Arthur. But like Cabot Cove, West London has more than its fair share of murders and Gemma is there to help the police, sometimes under protest.
No. in Series: 7
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: Sherlock Easter eggs and references abound. The store cat named Moriarty is probably my favorite one. The main character, Gemma, is intelligent, fun, and struggles with relationships somewhat due to neurodiversity. I sympathize with that and always appreciate seeing neurodiversity in books. Plus, this falls firmly in the cozy category, despite having a bit of bite to it, and returning to the world of a well-loved cozy is comforting.
Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas
Premise: In this intriguing and complex series, Charlotte Holmes takes unusual steps to avoid being married off. She doesn’t quite reckon with the consequences, but luckily finds her Watson, a Mrs. Watson in her case. Together, they set up Charlotte’s “brother,” Sherlock Holmes, as a detective. But he is ill and unable to receive visitors, so Charlotte acts as “intermediary.”
No. in the series: 6
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: Thomas is an award-winning romance writer and you can see why when a romance develops for Charlotte. Also, the series is an ingenious reimagining of the Sherlock stories, but very much its own creation. The world is rich with beautiful descriptions and imagery, the dialogue witty, and the mysteries twisty. Each book has its own mystery while continuing the overarching saga of the truly chilling Moriarty, whose fiendish plot gradually infiltrates Charlotte’s life and threatens those she loves.
Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal
Premise: British-born, American-raised Maggie finds herself in London at the beginning of World War II. Her grandmother has died and she moves into her old Victorian house while settling the estate. She discovers that she likes life in London and finds roommates to live with her in the house. She also finds a job at No. 10 as a typist through her friend David. Maggie, however, studied mathematics at MIT and soon discovers a coded message in a newspaper. After that, her life is never the same.
No. in the series: 10
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: Where do I begin? The meticulous without being overpowering historical detail? The intelligent, kick-ass main character? The well-plotted mysteries with WWII as the backdrop? Exciting, tension-filled denouements? You also get to learn about the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a team of undercover saboteurs Churchill sent to “set Europe ablaze!”
Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear
Premise: After serving as a nurse in WWI, Maisie Dobbs turns to private investigation to support herself. Maisie has had both great luck and great pain in her life. She lost her mother and had to go out to service when she was a young teen. But her employer Lady Rowan Compton discovered her secretly reading books in the library at night and saw her potential, becoming her patron and friend. She hired Maisie’s tutor, Maurice Blanche, and paid for her college education.
No. in the series: 17, plus one companion book
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: Maisie is brilliant, kind, and empathetic, but unflinching about duty and responsibility. She has suffered and moves forward so bravely and determinedly. These books also really bring home the reality of the inter-war years in Britain. For instance, the treatment of the soldiers who came back with PTSD (known then as shell shock) and visible injuries was atrocious, with people anxious to hide away these living reminders of the war’s devastation. The two wars tend to overshadow this time and I never paid much attention to it before, but it is fascinating, heartrending, inspiring, and important. That, combined with Maisie’s epic journey, leaves me riveted every time.
Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn
Premise: Veronica Speedwell is anything but the stereotypical Victorian lady. A spinster by choice and happy that way, she regularly takes lovers to satisfy what she considers to be natural needs. She is a scientist, a lepidopterist who travels the world studying butterflies. But her world is rocked when her aunt (who raised her) dies and a stranger attempts to kidnap her after the funeral.
While on the run, Veronica takes refuge in a warehouse, the home of Stoker, a taxidermy artist and erstwhile gentleman. Sparks fly, but the forces pursuing Veronica haven’t given up. If they have any say in it, Veronica won’t live to see if she and Stoker will ever be anything but contentious allies.
No. in the series: 6 (The next is due 2/15/22.)
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: Veronica is a fascinating character with verve and courage to spare. The chemistry between her and Stoker sizzles, but doesn’t dominate the narrative. It adds to it in my opinion. As the series progresses, each book has its individual mystery with an overarching storyline about Veronica’s past and her identity. Reading these books is fun and absorbing. The pages fly by.
Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey
Premise: Lady Emily Hardcastle and her companion and housekeeper Florence “Flo” Armstrong have decamped from London for a quiet life in the country. In fact, that’s the title of the first book. They retired from a mysterious career, the details of which come out over the run of the series. But Flo knows martial arts and Lady Hardcastle readily begins to investigate when a body is discovered in the woods near their new home. There is definitely more to these two ladies than meets the eye.
No. in the series: 7, plus one novella (The next is due 6/7/22.)
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: The relationship between Lady Hardcastle and Flo is an absolute joy. They tease and joke and seem much more like friends or even sisters than employer and employee. Their back and forth banter and seamless teamwork in dangerous situations is balanced by an obvious affection and deep bond between the two.
The setting also has that charm peculiar to fictional English villages at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. Like any good mystery series, that charm overlays a network of relationships and resentments sometimes going back generations.
Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey
Premise: Perveen is based on the first woman lawyer in India. She works for her father’s law firm in Bombay and at first seems to be a spinster. But as her story unfolds through flashbacks, we discover her painful past and the risks it still poses to her happiness and independence. We also see her frustration at society’s reluctance to accept a female lawyer and her delight when she finds a niche helping women in purdah, who don’t leave their home or see strange men. The excitement and the mysteries start rolling from there.
No. in the series: 3
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: I haven’t gotten to the third book yet, but it is next on my TBR. If it’s anything like the first two installments, it will be exciting and packed with fascinating details of 1920s India. The setting and characters in these books are so richly drawn and they navigate well-plotted narratives. I also loved exploring the social, political, and religious environment of the period. It was a whole aspect of the 1920s and the world that I never knew about before and I can’t get enough.
Myrtle Hardcastle series by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Premise: Myrtle Hardcastle is a young girl living with her father and her governess, Miss Judson, in Victorian England. She loves science and is fascinated by crime. Starting with the first book, she gets plenty of opportunities to investigate the world around her.
No. in the series: 3
Why It’s an Auto-Buy Series: Myrtle is one of my very favorite characters. She despises the rules for Young Ladies of Quality (her capitals!) and is desperate to dig into every crime that occurs around her. These books are witty, funny, and have elements of a cozy feel with the comfort evoked by Myrtle’s lovely home and relationships with her father and governess.
Miss Judson is an intriguing character, being a woman of color from French Guiana, living in England with an upper crust white family during the Victorian era. She is well educated and proper, but holds her own with Myrtle’s father and relishes investigating with Myrtle, despite her initial protestations. She is wistful for her home at times, but loves Myrtle (and perhaps Myrtle’s father) fiercely.
These mysteries are adult caliber, despite being written to be appropriate for children. They strongly remind me of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce (another favorite series that is sadly now defunct). The plots, Myrtle’s arch narration, the dialogue, and the characters are all top notch.
Tell us in the comments: Do you have any auto-buy series?
Sara Farmer lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, three kids, and two cats. When she’s not chasing kids and cats, she reads and writes mysteries. You can find her at www.kittymomma.com and on Twitter @avonlea79.