The Next Chapter's mystery book panel recommends 9 books to read this summer
Summer is finally here! And as is The Next Chapter tradition, our mystery panel joins Shelagh Rogers to deliver a brand new list of whodunits.
McMaster University professor P.K. Rangachari, bookstore owner Michael Bumsted and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Cannon have nine books that mystery fans should read over the summer.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Margaret says: "This is a smart, funny, crazy, little novel set in the high tension world of modern publishing. Nella Rogers is the only Black employee at a prestigious New York publishing house. One day, another Black girl arrives — and very rapidly, Nella is swept off her pedestal and starts receiving nasty notes that tell her to get out of the publishing house. She feels threatened and undermined by someone who should be her friend.
If you're a fan of Jordan Peele, you're going to love this book.- Margaret Cannon
"There are four narrators. All of them are unreliable at one time or another, but they're also quite reliable. If you're a fan of Jordan Peele, you're going to love this book. It's a great, funny, smart read."
Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott
Michael says: "This novel is a bit of a mystery 'mash up': It's a historical mystery, in that it is about a town that was founded in 1558 by some Englishmen who are afraid that Mary Tudor is going to kill a whole bunch of child geniuses. The town is then separated from England to be a totally autonomous town. The history of the town or the history of England before 1800 is not allowed to be taught.
"Then we move into the setup of a caper in which a con man is hiring an actress to be his wife and a young street tough to be his son so that he can infiltrate the town, for purposes we don't know.
This novel is a bit of a mystery mash-up.- Michael Bumsted
"Then it is a 'missing persons' mystery, where a young and recently out of work historian finds himself hired to be the modern history teacher at the school. He's the only outsider allowed into the town — and he is only allowed to teach from 1800 onward.
"There are the summer reads that you can pick up and put down as you realize that you need to go turn the steaks or it suddenly started raining — and there are the summer reads that you want to grab and carry and then sort of have with you over the course of it.
"This book fits into that latter category."
The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett
P.K. says: "Queen Elizabeth is the main detective in this book. Of course, being the Queen, she doesn't get her hands dirty — she nudges, she hints, she suggests. Basically, the story is about a pianist, a guest at Windsor, who has been found strangled in some rather odd circumstances — he's naked with only a purple dressing gown. It's unclear if it was a suicide or a murder.
"So the Queen investigates, and she has her Nigerian assistant actually doing most of the legwork.
Queen Elizabeth is the main detective in this book.- P.K. Rangachari
"It's very funny because he brings in a whole lot of new issues, including China's involvement in Africa, Putin, all kinds of things. It's still in the realm of what I'd like to call 'light and larky.'"
Girl A by Abigail Dean
Margaret says: "This is a hard book for a summer read, but it's beautifully written. It's a gripping psychological novel. The central character is a woman named Lex Gracie. We first encounter her when she's on her way to the prison where her mother has died. She discovers that her mother has left a modest amount of money and the house where Lex grew up.
"We discover that she's one of seven children who were part of a terrible, terrible case of child abuse. That's where the Girl A comes from, because Lex was a girl who escaped and rescued her siblings.
This is a hard book for a summer read, but it's beautifully written.- Margaret Cannon
"That opens the story of her beginning now to explore as she meets with each of her siblings to discuss the disposition of the house. This is a story of not so much what happened, but why and how it happened.
"It's quite brilliantly done. It's very well written."
This Town Sleeps By Dennis E. Staples
Michael says: "Dennis E. Staples is from northern Minnesota. He's an Ojibwe writer. This is his debut novel, which is about the after-effects of a crime. A murder has been committed on the reservation, of a teenage basketball star. Years later, our protagonist, a character named Marion Lafournier, has come back to live near the reservation and is investigating. He finds himself, not on purpose, being drawn toward uncovering what happened to the character who was murdered.
"Marion, who is openly gay, finds himself in a relationship with a classmate, a white non-Indigenous character who lives within the community, who is also closeted.
It's certainly a heavy book, but it is so lightly, wonderfully written.- Michael Bumsted
"I read it in about three hours. It moved so quickly for me. It has such a powerful theme — and such powerful points of discussion about reservation life, about secret romances between openly gay and closeted gay men and about alcoholism.
"It's certainly a heavy book, but it is so lightly, wonderfully written."
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
P.K. says: "This is part of the Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery series. It is set in a kitchen that serves Filipino food and there are a whole lot of recipes through the book. One of the characters, the main character's ex-boyfriend, has become a critic, and happens to be eating in the restaurant and dies. That's the start of the mystery.
It is set in a kitchen that serves Filipino food and there's a whole lot of recipes through the book.- P.K. Rangachari
"The story has this intensely claustrophobic atmosphere of everybody giving advice and making comments about you. It's quite funny, actually, and for anybody who wants to know about Filipino cooking and all the desserts, this book is just dotted with eating."
Blood Grove by Walter Mosley
Margaret says: "Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series of books are probably one of the first books to explore not only the Black detective, but the Black historical movement in Los Angeles in the post-Second World War. The series begins with Devil in a Blue Dress in 1946, and this latest book has us up to 1969.
"In 1969, Los Angeles was burning. South Central was full of riots. The anti-war movement was at its peak. In the midst of all of this chaos comes an unusual murder.
We have an exploration of the chasms between Americans at that period in time, which is not all that different from our own day.- Margaret Cannon
"Easy, as fans know, is not a professional detective. He started out as a local investigator, and he's emerged as the local man to go to if you have a problem. This time, the person who comes to him is a young white man who needs help because he's being accused of killing a man who was attacking a woman.
"We have an exploration of the chasms between Americans at that period in time, which is not all that different from our own day. We look at race, we look at caste, we look at class. Mosley brings it all together in this one particular investigation of one particular crime."
So Many Windings by Catherine Macdonald
Michael says: "It's a historical book. It's set in 1900 Scotland. It features the characters from her previous book: Reverend Charles Lauchlan and his fiancée, Maggie. Charles is a Presbyterian minister, based roughly on Ralph Connor, the famous Canadian author of the early 20th century. Charles and Maggie find themselves accidentally on a bicycle tour of the Scottish Highlands.
As an author, Macdonald does a wonderful job of taking her experience as a historian and an archival researcher.- Michael Bumsted
"We find that a murder takes place on the bicycle tour and Charles and his friends and colleagues are there to solve it. Macdonald does a wonderful job of taking her experience as a historian and an archival researcher. She mixes that information together with a lot of the themes of the early 20th century."
P.K. says: "This book is set in a post-COVID world. But it raises the issue that there are older diseases we also have to worry about, such as meningitis.
"The book deals with a vaccine and, as a doctor, Kalla brings in a lot of nuances. We always think of frontline workers. But there's a lot of back line workers that are very important in the production and distribution of a vaccine.
This book is set in a post-Covid world.- P.K. Rangachari
"It's well worth reading — and it raises a whole lot of issues."
The panelists' comments have been edited for clarity and length.