The Celtic Cozies are Coming!

#MysteryMonth special to the Booklist Reader

CATRONIA MCPHERSON was born in Scotland and lived there until 2010, before immigrating to California. A former academic linguist, she is now a full-time fiction writer, the multi- award-winning and best-selling author of the Dandy Gilver detective stories, set in Scotland in the 1920s.

She also writes a strand of award-winning contemporary standalone novels including Edgar-finalist The Day She Died and Mary Higgins Clark finalists The Child Garden and Quiet NeighborsCatriona is a proud member of Sisters in CrimeMystery Writers of AmericaThe Crimewriters’ Association and The Society of Authors.

 

When I was offered the chance to recommend cozies on a theme of my choice, the possibilities were dizzying: Christmas? Cooking? A sub-genre within cooking? The theatre maybe? Historicals?

But one of my favorite cozies of all time is Sheila Connolly’s Buried in a Bog, and Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series fills me with joy. So Celtic cozies it is. So there it is: my personal selection of Celtic cozies. I should probably make it clear that my latest book, Scot Free, despite the bright jacket and promised humor, is decidedly not a cozy. But vive la difference, right? Or as a Celt would say: we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.

Here are my seven favorite Scottish, Irish and Welsh cozy mysteries.

 

 

Buried in a Bog, by Sheila Connolly

Sheila Connolly needs no introduction to cozy fans; she is a safe pair of hands, yet has a sense of playfulness undimmed after more than 30 novels. And B in a B is belter: Irish-American Maura Donovan goes home to the land of her granny, snags a job in a pub (she’s gratifyingly rubbish at pulling pints) and gets mired in a murder. Charm never tips into kitsch and the plot is as strong as the setting.

 

Bonnie of Evidence, by Maddie Hunter

Just across the water, where the grass is less green and the drunks don’t sing, Bonnie of Evidence sees Emily Andrew-Miceli, travel escort, wrangling a pack of senior tourists on a trip through the Scottish Highlands. The setting is ripe for comedy, and Hunter knows how to time a wisecrack and land a pun. I love the relationship between Emily and her dishy husband, Etienne, not to mention the redoubtable Nana.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Pale, by Clare O’Donohue
Speaking of relationships, I’m making a case for Beyond the Pale, although it might be a traditional mystery rather than a pure cozy. Or maybe it’s a caper. It’s a humdinger of a story, for sure. The central couple—think Nick and Nora—who find themselves in Ireland chasing a fabled lost manuscript by Brendan Behan, have one of the bestwritten marriages I’ve come across in a long time: warm, crotchety, balanced and authentic. The plot zips along, and Ireland is certainly one of the characters, but it’s Hollis and Finn that make you glad this is the start of a series, not a standalone. (And on the topic of stretching the cozy definition to snapping point: Lisa Alber’s Killmoon series is even further from a cupcake solving a murder, but it too is as Irish as the Blarney Stone and getting better with every book.)

 

The Sunday Philosophy Club, by Alexander McCall Smith 

Right back in the middle of the sub-genre and back in Scotland again, McCall Smith starts the story of Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, solver of problems, and possessor of the biggest heart in fictional Edinburgh. (The biggest heart in real Edinburgh beats in the chest of Sandy McCall Smith, IMHO.) There are 14 novels in the series. Nothing major actually happens in any of them, but they open a world of wit, warmth and sheer civility that’s quite irresistible.

 

 

 

 

Murder in G Major, by Aleixa Gordon

This debut novel opens a world thats unlike any other in the cozy scene. The Gethsemane Brown series has the eponymous African American classical musician stranded in rural Ireland. With a ghost. It shouldn’t work, and I’d have loved to hear the initial pitch, but from chapter one, all the elements are in harmony, and as you read on, suddenly a paranormal, fish-out-of-water, orchestra-conductor murder-mystery seems as unremarkable as a police procedural. Quality is quality. There are three books now, and Gordon, from a strong start, is still improving.

 

Death of a Scriptwriter, by M. C. Beaton

In some long series, with completely reliable authors, there are still unexpected stand-outs. This is Beaton’s 14th Hamish Macbeth mystery, and it is something else again. In it, a film crew lands in Loch Dubh, the locals lose their cool, the jaded London telly types fail—hilariously—to cope with rural Scotland and, inevitably, someone dies. The chief suspect is—and I quote from the jacket—“the aging mystery writer, furious that her musty old cozies are getting a risqué face-lift in their TV reincarnation” Oh, Marion, you are awful! But we like you. There are 34 and counting Hamish Macbeth mysteries. If you’re new to them and daunted by tracking them down in order, I recommend starting here.

 

 

 

The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer, by Cathy Ace

The women of the WISE agency are a Celtic smorgasbord (with one token Englishwoman), being Welsh, Irish and Scottish, hence the name. They workfor reasons made clear in series debut The Case of the Dotty Dowagerin a glorious ducal estate in rural Wales and are the core of an ensemble of characters oozing charm and wit in equal measure. The series is four books in now, and all are terrific, but I do love a Morris dancer. There is nothing more British or more bonkers than a Morris dance, and Ace’s take on the tradition is to die for.

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