Cozy to Cold-Blooded: My Auto-Buy Series, Part 2

by Sara Farmer
published in Reading

Last time, I shared part 1 of this list of auto-buy series, so today you get part 2 of my auto-buy series. You will get the authors next time and will probably be surprised at the different types of books. 😉

I recently realized that in the course of writing this column, I haven’t shared my personal favorite mysteries yet. So I recently decided to share 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. 

Here are the rest of my auto-buy series:

Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber

Premise: This series has a very interesting premise, inspired by the 19th-century hysteria surrounding the stealing of corpses from cemeteries in order to provide cadavers to medical schools (and profit from it, of course). Inevitably, the notorious Burke and Hare came up with the idea of producing the cadavers themselves (i.e. murdering people), which greatly increased the already strong stigma and suspicion surrounding “anatomists.” 

Lady Darby’s husband, Sir Anthony, just happens to be part of this profession. He forces Kiera (Lady Darby) to not only witness the dissections but assist him by drawing pictures for medical textbooks. 

Sir Anthony has, thankfully, died and Kiera is staying with her sister and her family at their estate. Kiera hides away and attempts to heal through her passion for painting. But a house party shows her that no one has forgotten her past and she falls under suspicion when a guest turns up dead in the garden. While some suspect her, her brother-in-law asks her to use her knowledge of anatomy to assist the handsome but irritating Sebastian Gage in his investigation. 

No. in the series: 9 plus two novellas, one of which is in the anthology The Deadly Hours (The next is due 4/19/22.)

Why It’s an Auto-Buy: The original premise drew me in. I hadn’t heard of the controversy and scandal surrounding anatomists before I read this series. The plot, the writing, Keira, and the chemistry between Keira and Sebastian kept me reading. I love Keira’s thoughtful, quiet nature and her passion for painting. I blitzed through what was available when I first started and have been excited for every new installment. 

Detective Lavender series by Karen Charlton 

Premise: This charming series is set during the Regency period in London, a time I haven’t naturally gravitated toward in books before. The series begins in 1809. This series also introduced me to the Bow Street Runners, London’s first professional police, who covered the Bow Street Parish. 

Detective Stephen Lavender is a bachelor devoted to his job of protecting London from criminals. He is intelligent and sophisticated. Constable Ned Woods wouldn’t ordinarily be working cases with a detective. But he and Lavender work well together and the detective requests his help when needed on a case. Woods is a family man and rough around the edges. He is smart, but his talent lies more in persistence and understanding people. 

No. in the series: 6, plus 4 short stories

Why It’s an Auto-Buy: Lavender and Woods are a great team and I love to read about them bashing about London and the countryside solving cases together. They are funny on their own (particularly Woods), but the contrast between their personalities and stations in life brings humor and heart. Author Charlton has obviously done her homework and brings the Regency era to life on the page. 

This series definitely has elements of romance, but I would put them firmly in the category of historical mystery. If you enjoy a light-hearted and quick, but immersive historical read, this series is for you. 

Susan Ryeland series by Anthony Horowitz

Premise: The first two installments in this series (how I hope there will be more) detail the adventures of Susan Ryeland, the editor for crime writing superstar Alan Conway, whose books about detective Atticus Pund are wildly popular. Conway has died and it is Ryeland’s job to edit his last novel. As she reads it, though, she senses something different about this final effort. And the reader gets to ride along, as the final Pund book is contained within the narrative of Magpie Murders.

The second installment, The Moonflower Murders, is similarly twisty and also contains a book within a book, which makes both books quite long, but the pages fly by. Susan Ryeland is visited at her new home at a hotel on a Greek island by a couple looking for their daughter, Cecily. The Trehearnes own an upscale hotel called the Farlingaye, once visited by the late Alan Conway, creator of detective Atticus Pund. As Alan’s former editor and solver of the mystery in Magpie Murders, the Trehearnes want Susan’s help. 

A murder occurred the weekend of Cecily’s wedding years ago. Conway happened to be at the hotel that weekend. He promised never to write about it but reneged (probably never intended to keep the promise in the first place) in a later Atticus Pund book. Cecily recently began to read the book, told her parents (who were out of town) that the book revealed that the real murderer was not the one in prison for the crime, then promptly disappeared while walking her dog. The Trehearnes want Susan to reread the book she originally edited and help them find Cecily and the real killer. 

No. in the series: 2

Why It’s an Auto-Buy: These books are set in the literary world and fiendishly clever. If you love puzzles and twisty, book and detail-oriented mysteries where everything comes together with a click leaving you marveling, then these are the books for you. 

Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman 

Premise: Joyce, Ron, Ibrahim, and Elizabeth are residents of Cooper’s Chase retirement home and members of the Thursday Murder Club. Every week they meet in the Jigsaw Room and examine cold cases in hopes of a breakthrough. When a local is murdered, the quartet decides to investigate and in the process, secrets in their past are revealed. But they end up bonded tighter than ever. 

In the second installment, murder comes to Cooper’s Chase itself. A mysterious stranger from Elizabeth’s past shows up needing shelter from bad guys on his tail. But then the first body pops up, soon followed by more. 

No. in the series: 2 (The next is due 9/13/22.)

Why It’s an Auto-Buy: These characters are funny, smart, and a delight to spend time with. Their wry acceptance of the tribulations of aging, their determination to still get out there and solve crimes, and their devotion to each other are heartwarming. I hope I’m like these people when I get older. 

The crimes and plotting are absorbing and the writing excellent, but the characters and the setting are what set this series apart. These books are just wonderful and practically read themselves. 

Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths 

Premise: Griffiths is more well known for her Ruth Galloway series (which I haven’t read yet, but already have the first one loaded on my Kindle), but my favorite right now is this series about the police detective daughter of Indian immigrants. She still lives with them and has not told them she is gay. This awkward situation is made easier by the fact that Harbinder doesn’t have much time for a personal life due to her job. 

Much as I like Harbinder, this series isn’t really about her. It’s about the stories. In fact, I didn’t even know this was a series until the second was published last year. The two books are very different from each other, but they share Harbinder as the detective, England as their setting (although the second one is partially set in Scotland), and writers as characters. 

The first book, The Stranger Diaries, is one of my favorite books ever. It is exactly the type of book I want to write. It’s set in a high school that is the former home of writer R.M. Holland, famous for writing a horror story called “The Stranger” and for possibly murdering his wife. One of the main characters is English teacher Clare Cassidy, who specializes in researching Holland and teaches his story in her classes. 

The story begins with the news that Clare’s friend and fellow English teacher Ella Elphick was stabbed to death in her home. A note left next to her body reads “Hell is empty.” Not long after, the words “Hallo, Clare. You don’t know me” appear in Clare’s diary in unfamiliar handwriting. 

The Postscript Murders has an amazing plot setup. An elderly woman named Peggy is found dead in a chair in her apartment. She is discovered by her caretaker, Natalka. Nothing strange about an old woman dying, right? 

Until Natalka packs up Peggy’s apartment and discovers scores of crime novels dedicated to Peggy, thanking her for “the murders.” It turns out that Peggy was a murder consultant, concocting outlandish murders for mystery authors. When a gunman shows up and steals one of the books from Natalka, she knows she needs to involve the police. They officially don’t believe her, but Harbinder can’t quite let it go. Then the author of the book stolen from Peggy’s apartment turns up dead and Harbinder goes full speed ahead with the investigation. 

No. in the series: 2

Why It’s an Auto-Buy: Griffiths’s plot setups are simply ingenious and she manages to deliver on their promise in her narratives. Harbinder is smart, snarky, and excellent company during her narration. I love how she relaxes playing Panda Pop. The other characters are worthy narrators as well, with Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin being especially funny and endearing in the second book. 

Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny

Premise: Armand Gamache is the head of homicide for the Surete du Quebec, the province of Quebec’s police force. A case takes him to the small village of Three Pines in the Quebec countryside, not far from the border with Vermont. Little does he know that this village and its residents will change his life in extraordinary ways. 

No. in the series: 17, plus one short story (Some have different titles in Canada and the UK.)

Why It’s an Auto-Buy: Gamache is a complex hero. He has a deep commitment to Justice and an unshakeable belief in morals. But he understands the nature of evil, how murders are often sparked by something that happened long before that life was taken. His methods of investigation and training younger detectives are a bit unorthodox, but they produce fine detectives who are also fine people and firmly devoted to him. He returns that devotion. 

This series has a ton of characters and every single one is remarkable. Penny gives each one individuality and nuance and allows them to grow over the span of the series. 

Penny is also a plotter par excellence. Every book contains its own mystery and there is an overarching problem of corruption in the Surete and provincial government that continues for much of the series. Penny somehow keeps track of all of these characters and plot strands, delivering excitement, humor, and warmth, as well as moments of deep sorrow and tragedy. This woman knows how to tear your heart out. But you let her because these characters and Three Pines and these stories are just that damn good. 

Vera Stanhope series by Ann Cleeves

Premise: Northumberland detective Vera Stanhope may lead a police force in the city, but she still lives in her childhood home in the country. The country is in her blood and she has an understanding of its residents that other police officers lack. She is bossy—I mean that as a compliment—and brilliant with a caustic wit, but a good heart. She cares for her team as well as crime victims and their families and endeavors to show it, as well as to make up for it when she blunders and hurts them. 

Vera is noticeable at a crime scene, thanks to her age, sex, and lack of fashion sense. People often don’t realize at first that she’s with the police or a high-ranking detective and underestimate her due to her appearance. But once they’ve seen what she can do, they greet the figure in the trademark bucket hat and trench coat with respect, even awe. 

No. in the series: 9, plus one short story

Why It’s an Auto-Buy: One word: Vera. She is the heart of these books. They are brilliantly written and plotted, but Vera sets this series apart. She knows who she is and is true to that, even when she painfully considers that her mother’s death and her father’s poor parenting might have cost her some things. She works hard, loves hard, and eats hard and she doesn’t give much of a damn what people think about that. A woman after my own heart. 

The books are gripping and enjoyable, but Vera and Ann Cleeves’s writing give them something extra. Cleeves has that magic touch, which is hard to define, but you know it when you’re reading it. It’s what I mean when I say the books practically read themselves.

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 and on Twitter @avonlea79.

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