Book Review of The Tenant by Katrine Engberg

The novel The Tenant by Katrine Engberg is a superlative literary mystery set in Denmark. It’s more on the dark side than I usually like to read, but the beautifully detailed wording of the first pages drew me in.

I continued to read through a scene that, though not overly gruesome, creeped me out a bit. The literary style of writing never let me down, however, as I read on.

An elderly gentleman literally stumbled upon his neighbor’s body and there began the mystery. A pair of Copenhagen police detectives are saddled with the task of unraveling the relationships between the disparate personalities who inhabit an apartment building and their landlady.

Truth and fiction are intertwined in this suspenseful, emotion stirring thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

We are lucky that Katrine Engberg left the performance entertainment world to captivate us with her word artistry.

Book Review of Harvest of Secrets by Ellen Crosby

I’ve just returned from a virtual visit to the lovely area of Atoka/Middleburg, Virginia. From a visit to my friend Lucie Montgomery, owner of Montgomery Estate Vineyards. It was a lovely, inspirational experience, in spite of the murder which occurred on a neighboring vineyard, uncertainty concerning the approach of a potentially harvest devastating hurricane, a somewhat disturbing historic discovery and the appearance of a new family member.

Sorry for the run-on sentence, but Harvest of Secrets, a Wine Country Mystery, contains a lot of plots in a concise package. Oh, to possess the smooth writing ability of author Ellen Crosby. Her worldly knowledge from life experience pairs so well with her love of history and nature, her accurate portrayal of the trials of life we all must face, accept, rationalize in our own way.

Lucie and Quinn, her winemaker/fiancee have few secrets from each other, but Lucie takes her time in telling him and the rest of her family of the discovery she makes after a DNA test. Ever the investigator, Lucie is compelled to unravel the mystery behind the discovery unearthed by her vineyard staff and the murderer who may turn out to be a friend, relative, neighbor, valued employee.

This is, I believe, the ninth installment of the Wine Country Mystery series. How can I come close to describing the spirit of these stories? They are a bit melancholy, yet uplifting, educational, entertaining. The series began shortly after Leland, Lucie’s father’s passing. Twenty-something Lucie was burdened with the task of renewing the estate and the wine business.

She has fulfilled that role efficiently over the years and the relationship we readers hoped would form between Lucie and winemaker Quinn has come to fruition. The latest in the series will be one of my next reads. I haven’t yet found a story in this series which wasn’t superlative. They’re not your typical modern, lighthearted cozy. Still, they never fail to leave me feeling better.

The Key to an Enduring Mystery Series – Creating Captivating Characters

picture of leslie meier easter bunny murder book

Endearing characters create enduring mysteries

What is it about a favorite mystery series that makes us wait breathlessly for the next edition? Is it puzzling plots that twist and turn until the final page, or spectacular settings that make us wish we were there? I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s truly the main characters, the ones that appear in every series that keep us mesmerized – turning the pages through the wee hours, book after book. Creating captivating characters doesn’t always come easy to authors, but it’s essential to writing successful cozy mystery books, or any type of fictional tale.

Some favorite characters are unique and complex, others simplistic but reliable and reassuring. But they have one thing in common. We long to spend time with them. How can an author create characters that invite readers to visit? I believe it’s time I take a refresher course on the topics of how to create a likeable mystery sleuth and captivating supporting characters – for personal reasons.

Mystery authors must create characters they themselves love

Nearly six years ago, I completed a full length manuscript and had plots planned for several more installments of a lighthearted mystery series involving historic discoveries and a hint at the supernatural. I ended up setting the script aside, at least temporarily. As the adage goes, the first book most authors complete is basically a learning experience. Perhaps some day I will tweak it into saleable shape, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

In the meantime I’ve started several new stories with the intention of beginning a whole new series. But in each case, upon rereading what I believed to be my masterpiece first pages, I lost interest in the characters. In each story, the sleuth exhibited some of my own characteristics, a situation common to many fiction characters and their creators.

Creating characters readers will love is the obvious objective. But the author must love them too, in order to offer his or her best effort throughout the course of writing a full length manuscript plus revisions – let alone a long-running series, the goal of every aspiring cozy mystery author. A brief search hasn’t revealed any posts telling me how to create characters I will love forever, as an author. But I did discover this post on How to Start Loving Your Characters.

Evaluating character concepts via their reactions

The advice from the article’s author, goes thus:

As Mark Twain said, “Don’t tell us that the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” To paraphrase, readers get to know characters through their actions—not through their thoughts or words.

Aaron Bauer

Aaron’s message makes sense. It has inspired me to perform a new exercise with the intent to create characters I will love forever; people who will become a beloved part of my virtual family, as the characters that populate my favorite mystery series’ have. Hopefully an agent, publisher and a large group of loyal readers will love them too.

I do a lot of driving and often stories come to mind, prompted by people, places, the weather, various situations I encounter. I scribble the concepts or key lines I come up with on index cards I keep in the car, in the hope I will find enough free moments to finish them some day.

Allowing characters to develop without becoming a control freak

My newly inspired plan is a twist on that concept. Now, when main characters enter my mind, instead of focusing intensely on details of character personas and tending to write plots around them, I will use intuition to “channel” basic ideas for characters then quickly switch to envisioning plots that involve a wide variety of settings and happenings. Consider how the trial characters would react to each of the varied scenarios should offer the insight I need to determine whether I will enjoy spending long hours of writing time with them.

This technique should result in developing characters who will be comfortable in the types of settings I create. People who will respond in ways that are sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising, always appropriate to the style of my writing.

I’m in the car now, on errand day, with a long list of stops and several shopping lists. I’ve take a break, in a parking lot, to compose this post and grab a late breakfast. My interlude may bring a breakthrough. When I start up the car and head out to address my responsibilities, I will do my best to open my stream of consciousness and allow characters trying out for the plot of my cozy mystery series to flow through the scenes, expressing themselves without my usual restrictions. Then I’ll choose the ones I love to populate the mystery series I hope time permits me to compose before too long.

Who are your favorite cozy series characters? It’s hard to choose but Lucy Stone is at the top of my list, as are other “Maine characters”. There’s something about that state . . . and the entire New England Region . . . that makes it the perfect mystery setting.

Book Review of A View to a Kilt by Kaitlyn Dunnett

The latest Liss MacCrimmon Scottish mystery, A View to a Kilt, by Kaitlyn Dunnett was a great story, though as a pet lover I mourned the loss of Lumpkin, Liss’ long time pet who passed between the last book in the series and this one. A sad fact of life we who give our hearts to four legged friends must inevitably face. Glenora, Liss’ younger female cat, who seems to be channeling Lumpkin in the form of imitating his behaviors, plays prominently in this story.

When a body is found close to home, the identity of the murder victim a complete surprise, Liss has a more compelling than usual reason to seek the identity of the killer. Her investigation involves a trip to Florida with her mother and some other risky ventures, cause for concern as usual for husband Dan, her police chief friend, the new and not so friendly state police detective. . . but they do understand this case is way more personal for Liss and her family than the other cases she has taken on over the years.

What Liss discovers involves a happening which has implications for everyone in town. Can she convince the town’s selectmen – and selectwoman – to change their plans – without risking her own life – again and again?

I don’t believe I would be tempted to attend the March Madness Mud Season Sale, a special event in the town of Moosetookalook, Maine, where this series is set. But it seems to be a popular event in spite of the fact that the competitions really do involve the participants becoming covered in mud. It serves as the story’s climactic scene. A second murder nearly occurs the day of the event, before the initial crime is solved and Moosetookalook returns to normal, for now.

A fun virtual visit to a small town in rural Maine and a cast of characters I’ve loved for many years. Can’t wait to see what happens next to this family who founded a Scottish Emporium which reminds me of a real Scottish specialty store I used to visit near Quechee, Vermont. Such fun to browse the selection of everything from expensive kilts to small fluffy souvenir sheep made of real wool. Oh, and they had the cutest flock of sheep outside! Our little dog was fascinated by them. I digress . . .but it’s such fun to reminisce.

Book Review of Invitation Only Murder by Leslie Meier

Wow. That’s my first reaction on finishing Invitation Only Murder, by Leslie Meier, the 2019 edition of one of my very favorite Maine based mystery series’.

Lucy Stone, the heroine, spent many years and story plots raising her son and three daughters and working at The Pennysaver, a small newspaper in a modest seaside town in Maine. Now that her children are grown, the stories have branched out from her farmhouse home to include some exotic locations.

This one’s setting isn’t exotic but it’s off the grid. I’ve always wanted to spend time on an island off the coast of Maine, but am having second thoughts after reading this fantastic horror story.

Lucy signs up to spend time on the island of a wealthy businessman, with his family and the native islanders and others who work for him. She plans to write a story about the venture for The Pennysaver, but she never bargained for the murder mystery and kidnapping and the near escape from death she experiences.

The happenings are so far fetched they’re beyond belief by the book’s ending. But the suspense and the pace made it impossible to stop reading. The story includes some good information on the terrain and wildlife of a Maine island.. A secondary plot of great interest, involving Zoe, Lucy’s youngest daughter, begins before Lucy leaves for the island, comes to a surprising conclusion when she returns.

I’ll never miss the chance of a visit with my friend Lucy, though the plots have changed a lot, as everything in life must, whether I like it or not.

You probably won’t be able to put this one down. A great reading choice for a late winter’s evening.

Book Review of Overkilt by Kaitlyn Dunnett – A Liss MacKrimmon Scottish Mystery

The New Age Pilgrims dominate the tale, Overkilt, by Kaitlyn Dunnett. Apparently the cultlike group has lived outside the borders of the town of Moosetookalook Maine throughout the story series but I don’t believe they’ve been mentioned previously.

These Maine based mysteries have been among my favorite cozies for many years. This one didn’t intrigue me when it began, but the plot intensified consistently and continued to twist until nearly the last page.

Dan, Liss’ most often even tempered husband, loses his composure and nearly throttles a surprising person. The town’s female sheriff must reign him in, but she understands and shares his concern about the growing threat to peace and harmony in the village and business at the shops that line the street.

When one of the New Age Pilgrims becomes a murder victim, Liss is forced to do her best to solve the puzzle in order to exonerate friend and family suspects. All amid adjusting to her parents’ return to Moosetookalook from years of living in Arizona, the early online Christmas rush at her Scottish Emporium, and plans for Thanksgiving with Dan, her parents, Aunt Margaret, and Lumpkin and Glenora, her feline family.

Book Review of A Crime of a Different Stripe by Sally Goldenbaum

It took me a while to finish this tale. Intricate details of a network of friends living on the enchanting peninsula of Cape Ann, Massachusetts are featured in A Crime of a Different Stripe.

I’ve read a mystery in this cozy series previously, featuring the friends and pets residing in the neighborhood of “The Seaside Knitters Society”. The stories are charming. They feature pets, quaint shops and cafes, coastal settings, the perfect combination for a pleasant adventure.

Sally Goldenbaum even included a custom designed baby hat pattern for knitting lovers, inside the back cover of the book.

I’m not much of a knitter, but I did pretty much unravel the plot to this story on my own, about three-fourths of the way through. Nevertheless it gave me a great excuse to mingle in my mind with those in the fictional town of Sea Harbor – what a lovely name. An award-winning photographer and a professional yoga teacher play prominently but that’s all I’m saying about the plot. You’ll want to spend a few gray winter days reading it yourself.

I’ve been to Cape Ann, and also set a story there myself – it was published! A unique place. The real setting and the ones crafted with artistic lincense.