Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for More Mysteries: MacLeod and Marsh


It's Mystery Monday again, and I'm back to suggest some more of my more-cozy-than-gory mystery favorites.

The Bilbao Looking Glass (Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn Mystery, #4)
First up, the grande dame of goofy mysteries and unfettered fun with the English language: Charlotte MacLeod (also wrote at Alisa Craig).  MacLeod wrote several series of mysteries that were never afraid to abuse alliteration, name characters with Dickensian significance, and require the ever-so-willing suspension of disbelief.
Set in Boston, the Sarah Kelling/Max Bittersohn books waltz through the somewhat ingrown soi-dissant upper crust of New England Society (and don't leave off that capital S!).  Max is a detective by trade, but his trade deals with stolen artworks, so the number of bodies he and Sarah stumble over through the years is shocking, but the murders are less disturbing than Uncle Jem Kelling's tales of his extremely misspent youth.

MacLeod's second main series is even more deeply entrenched in word play and bizarre local history (this time in the totally fictional setting of Balaclava County, somewhere upstate from Boston.  Way up state) and the Balaclava Agricultural College.  Professor Peter Shandy is known worldwide for breeding the Balaclava Buster, a turnip that has revolutionized livestock feed, but he is increasingly known locally for solving mysteries.  Usually he is more than a little spurred on by the college president, a Norwegian of mythological proportions known as Thorkjeld Svenson.

Additional stand-alone books and two other short series, the Madoc Rhys books and the Grub-and-Stakers Garden Club books, are set in the almost equally mythological land of Canada (as she explained it, due to family history, Canada was where the stories came from).  The latter series perhaps takes the greatest leave of reality, and embrace of the absurd, of any.

There is nothing serious or substantial about Charlotte MacLeod's books.  But they are a heck of a lot of fun, and clean enough for anyone.

A Man Lay Dead (Roderick Alleyn, #1)Ngaio Marsh is a much more serious writer, of the earlier and more literary period of British mystery writing (even though she was a New Zealander), one of the four "Queens of Crime" between the wars (the other three, if you care, are Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Margery Allingham).   Marsh's books feature Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, and the murders are only slightly more graphic than MacLeod's, but the detective process is a great deal more complex, in the puzzle-unwinding style popular in the period.  

Alleyn is urbane, of the nobility (however much he has let down the side by becoming a cop), and eventually married to Agatha Troy, an artist.  This last allowed Marsh to indulge her love of the art and theatre worlds.  Cozy is probably not the right word for these mysteries, but they are definitely more intellectual pursuits than thrillers, and well worth reading both for a well-crafted story and her excellent use of the language.  As her work spanned the years from 1934 to 1982, there are notable differences in style as you progress.  Marsh dealt with the changes over time, as near as I can tell, mostly by ignoring chronology and aging the characters as she saw fit, while the world advanced around them.


  1. Those sound like really fun books to read! Thanks for the reviews!
    And nice to meet you through A to Z!
    Your blog title is awesome!


    1. Thanks, Tyrean! I took the blog title direction from my book:

      P.S. Click on the A to Z Giveaway badge and enter to win a copy from Jemima Pett!

  2. Great highlights! And spooky cover on that first one!

    1. Yeah, when I do my murder mystery, I want her cover artist!


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