Private School Directory

Discovering a Good Mystery Series, Part 2

Cindy Burnett
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Mystery series

Mystery series that will transport you to another place or time. 

I love reading mystery series, and thankfully there are many from which to choose. In fact, when I sat down to write an article about mystery series in August, my list of entertaining and well-written series was substantial. So substantial that I quickly realized that the list would need to be broken into two articles. I chose to tackle contemporary series set in the United States first. This week, I am focusing on mysteries set in foreign locales or with a historical setting. Series that incorporate cultural and regional aspects and details especially appeal to me because I feel like I have been transported to another place without ever leaving my home. Historical mysteries provide a similar experience, highlighting instead an important period or person in history.

Series set in foreign locations provide a glimpse into an entirely different culture, cuisine and way of life and expose people unfamiliar with that area to its societal norms and landscape. When a friend is headed to visit a country that is new to him or her, I am frequently asked about books/series set in that country or region. Reading a good book set in a different country is a fabulous way to become acquainted with the country before traveling there. 

My favorite mystery series with a historical setting:

  1. The Gilded Newport series by Alyssa Maxwell – The various Newport “cottages” built in the late 1890s occupy center stage in Alyssa Maxwell’s series starring the fictional Emma Cross, second cousin to millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt. Maxwell’s meticulous research shines through in each installment as she details a particular house and its inhabitants while centering a mystery around the house at issue.  Highlight – The detailed descriptions of each cottage and its status today.  First book – Murder at the Breakers.
  2. The Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock series by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Winterhouse – NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a diehard Sherlock Holmes fan and pens stories about Sherlock and his brother when they were younger (Sherlock is in his late teens). The mysteries are clever, and Abdul-Jabbar stays faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters and mysteries. Highlight – a young Sherlock. First book – Mycroft Holmes.
  3. The Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal – Highly educated, American Maggie arrives in London to dispense with a house she inherited just as the Blitz begins. Eager to help the Allies defeat Hitler, she applies for a job and is hired as the newest secretary to Winston Churchill, a job for which she is immensely overqualified. Eventually she becomes a spy for the British, and her exploits take her all over World War II-era Europe. Highlight – the detailed descriptions of war-torn London. First book – Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.
  4. The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn – Lepidopterist Speedwell and her sidekick Stoker solve creative and unusual mysteries in 1880s London. Intelligent, highly adventurous, and independent, Speedwell challenges the conventions of the Victorian era, and her curiosity and charm make her a unique and highly likeable heroine. Highlight – Speedwell herself and the witty banter between Speedwell and Stoker. First book – A Curious Beginning.
  5. The High Society Lady Detective series by Sara Rosett – Houstonian Rosett’s series takes place in 1920s high society England and stars destitute aristocrat Olive Belgrave who stumbles into crime solving when a murder occurs at a house party at which she is attending. Word of her success travels, and Olive finds herself drawn into numerous mysteries and hijinx. Highlight – The expertly detailed 1920s England. First book – Murder at Archly Manor.
  6. The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear – After serving as a nurse in World War 1, Maisie Dobbs decides to become a private investigator in London. Patient and intelligent, Maisie uses her skills and intuition to solve the crimes and mysteries that come her way. Highlight – Maisie Dobbs herself. First book – Maisie Dobbs.
  7. The Billy Boyle series by James Benn – Billy Boyle makes detective in his South Boston neighborhood days before Pearl Harbor, and with family connections (his uncle is General Dwight D. Eisenhower), Boyle is hired as Eisenhower’s division detective to halt a planned sabotage of an upcoming invasion of Norway. Smartly written, the series follows Billy as he learns to adjust to life as a military officer while feeling continually challenged with new cases. Highlight – the World War II stories. First book – Billy Boyle.

Standout mystery series set in a foreign local: 

  1. The Baby Ganesh series by Vaseem Khan – Vaseem Khan’s delightful and unique series is set in Mumbai and stars retired Inspector Ashwin Chopra and a baby elephant named Ganesh. Khan immerses the reader in modern Mumbai culture and attitudes while creating clever and intriguing mysteries. Highlight – Baby Ganesh and the focus on modern Indian culture. First book – The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra.
  2. The Bruno, Chief of Police series by Martin Walker – Bruno is the chief of police in a small fictional town in the Perigord region of France. Walker’s clever murder mysteries paired with a focus on the region’s food, people and culture make this series one of the best. Highlight – the descriptions of the region and its culture. First book – Bruno, Chief of Police.
  3. The Corman Reilly series by Dervla McTiernan – Set in Galway, Ireland, McTiernan’s series is part police procedural and part thriller and tackles present day issues such as drug addiction and suicide. Reilly, new to Galway, must prove himself to his fellow detectives while solving crimes that at times seem to intersect too closely with his personal life. Highlight – the setting and the mysteries themselves. First book – The Ruin.
  4. The Detective Kubu series by Michael Stanley – This series by Michael Stanley, a pair of authors who co-write the books, is set in Botswana and chronicles Detective David Bengu’s exploits as he tackles the crimes that arise under his jurisdiction. Nicknamed “Kubu,” which means hippopotamus in Setswana, Bengu seeks to eliminate those individuals threatening Botswana’s stability, mainly diamond smugglers and poachers. Highlight – the descriptions of Botswana and Bengu himself. First book – The Carrion Death.
  5. The Commissaire Dupin series by Jean-Luc Bannalec - Set in the Breton region of France, this series stars Commissaire Georges Dupin, an initially unwilling transplant to the Breton region. Unusual and unorthodox, Dupin tackles the cases that come his way as he grows to appreciate the distinctly unique Breton culture and topography. Highlight – the descriptions of Brittany and its residents and cuisine. First book – Death in Brittany.

I would love to hear about some of your go-to mystery series. Stories set during World War II and/or in France frequently top the list of my series to recommend, and I am always eager to find foreign or historical series that focus on locales and time periods with which I am less familiar (though I shy away from the very dark and/or violent stories).

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram or Cindy’s Reading Recs.

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