Move Over, Miss Marple

Ever since Edgar Allan Poe introduced readers to Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin in 1841, the amateur detective has played an important role in the world of mysteries. However, perhaps because of the influence of Agatha Christie’s redoubtable Miss Marple, who spent more than 40 years weeding out murderers in St. Mary Mead, or the presence of Jessica Fletcher, whose Murder, She Wrote adventures in detection (via Angela Lansbury) have influenced generations of television viewers, many readers associate amateur detectives with women of a certain age. But the truth of the matter is: readers have an incredibly diverse range of choices when it comes to amateur sleuths. Need proof? Here are 10 new amateur detectives, each putting a distinctive stamp on the mystery genre.

Tannie Maria

Introduced in Recipes for Love and Murder (2015), by Sally Andrew
Latest Case:  The Satanic Mechanic (2017)

Middle-aged South African widow and contributor to the Klein Karoo Gazette Maria van Harten (whom everyone calls Tannie Maria) loves sharing her recipes with readers. That is, until the paper decides to ax her cooking column in favor of an advice column à la “Dear Abby.” Though Tannie Maria combines advice with her recipes so she can keep working, when one of her readers turns up dead, Tannie Maria takes on a new role: amateur sleuth. In this warmhearted and wonderfully wise series, Andrew not only treats readers to a wonderfully unique new sleuth, but also immerses readers in the people, culture, and geography of South Africa’s Klein Karoo region.

Kate Turner

Introduced in Muzzled (2014), by Eileen Brady
Latest case: Chained (2017)

Set in the small but picturesque upstate New York town of Oak Falls, Eileen Brady’s appealing series stars Kate Turner. A veterinarian, Kate opts to leave Long Island and her romantic troubles behind to take over the practice of another animal doctor, who is on a year-long, once-in-a-lifetime cruise around the world. But as Kate settles into her new job, she finds herself taking on the unexpected duties of an amateur detective when she keeps stumbling across dead bodies while out on house calls. Brady deftly draws upon her own decades of experiences as a veterinarian (and pet lover) to craft her series’ plots, and to give her protagonist a firm depth of knowledge about animals big and small (in the first book, for example, Kate saves a hamster from a vacuum cleaner!).

Lena London

Introduced in A Dark and Stormy Murder (2016), by Julia Buckley
Latest Case: Death Waits in the Dark (2019)

For author Julia Buckley’s fictional sleuth, Lena London, an aspiring writer fresh out of grad school, it was the job of a lifetime; best-selling romantic suspense novelist (and Lena’s own favorite author of all time) Camilla Graham needed an assistant—and she picked Lena. Now, not only does Lena get to live in Camilla’s lovely home in the small town of Blue Lake, Indiana, but she’ll also have the chance to help Camilla write her next book. Then a dead body is discovered on the grounds of Camilla’s estate. If Lena wants to catch the killer, she will have to put the theoretical knowledge she gained from reading about solving murders into practical use. With her Writer’s Apprentice mysteries, Buckley both delivers a solid new amateur sleuthing series and pays homage to marvelous old gothic and romantic suspense novels by Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Elizabeth Peters, treating readers to snippets from Camilla’s work-in-progress along the way.

Lana Lee

Introduced in Death by Dumpling (2018), by Vivien Chien
Latest case: Murder Lo Mein (2019)

After a bad breakup and a parting of ways with her employer, twentysomething Lana Lee finds herself back at Ho-Lee Noodle House, her family’s restaurant in Cleveland, working as a hostess and waitress while she tries to figure out her next step. But in between dodging her mother’s attempts to fix her up with a suitable man and Lana’s own efforts to settle into her new life, Lana finds herself playing amateur detective when murder turns up on the menu. In this fresh and funny series, Vivien Chien brilliantly depicts Asian Village, the neighborhood in which Lana’s family restaurant is located, and where everyone knows one another.

Samantha “Sam” Claire

Introduced in A Murder of Magpies (2015), by Judith Flanders
Latest case: A Howl of Wolves (2018)

Journalist and nonfiction author Judith Flanders delved into the Victorian obsession with death and the birth of crime fiction in The Invention of Murder (2013), but she also proves herself adept at crafting entertaining mysteries in her Sam Claire series. Perhaps inspired by Flanders’ own literary background, the star of the series is middle-aged amateur sleuth and London book editor Samantha “Sam” Claire. And with some help from her boyfriend (a Scotland Yard detective), Jake Field, Sam soon finds herself swapping out her red pen for a magnifying glass in order to investigate murderers in the worlds of fashion, art, and theater. Mystery fans who miss the wonderfully erudite puzzlers crafted by Amanda Cross will fall in love with Flanders’ equally clever literary confections. And the icing on this mysterious tea cake is the author’s writing, which is richly imbued with a deliciously dry British sense of humor.

Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag (and Lulu)

Introduced in The Man Who Died Laughing (1988), by David Handler
Latest case: The Man in the White Linen Suit (2019)

David Handler’s Stewart Hoag mysteries are not new, but they’re included in this list because the series has recently been relaunched by the author—and because they’re just too good to be omitted. Handler launched the witty series, which features both Hoagy, a one-hit wonder novelist who turned to ghostwriting, and his beloved basset hound, Lulu, in 1988 with The Man Who Died Laughing. Seven more books followed Stewart’s adventures in detection, but the series seemingly came to an end in 1997. Then, a miracle occurred and in 2017, 20 years after the last book was published, Handler delivered another tale with Stewart and Lulu in The Girl with the Kaleidoscope Eyes. Another installment published the following year, and now it seems the series is back on track. Hoagy always finds himself in situations that converge at the intersection of murder and the creative arts (writing, drama, painting), and Handler has chosen to keep the recent Hoagy books set in the early 1990s to provide continuity with the earlier titles in the series.

P.S. Hands down, Lulu wins the award for cutest dog in mystery fiction!

Gethsemane Brown

Introduced in Murder in G Major (2016), By Alexia Gordon
Latest case: Fatality in F (2019)

Alexia Gordon’s delightfully imaginative series stars American classical musician Gethsemane Brown, who finds herself stuck in Ireland without the job she was promised (or even her luggage). It is there Gethsemane accepts a commission to transform a group of out-of-control schoolboys into something resembling a respectable orchestra. Fortunately, the job does come with some perks, such as a cliffside cottage once owned by Gethsemane’s favorite composer. Unfortunately, the cottage is still occupied by the composer’s ghost, who won’t rest—or let Gethsemane rest
—until his name is cleared from a wrongful murder charge. Readers who like their mysteries served up with a generous soupçon of snarky humor and an abundant dash of the paranormal will find Gordon’s books to be music to their ears.

Riley Ellison

Introduced in The Good Byline (2017), by Jill Orr
Latest case: The Ugly Truth (2019)

Journalists have a talent for sniffing out a good story; this skill set also makes them great amateur detectives. At the start of this series, Jill Orr’s protagonist, Riley Ellison, is working as a library assistant. But Riley’s grandfather was a legendary newsman with a special gift for writing obituaries, and it isn’t long before she starts following in his journalistic footsteps. After all, when Riley is asked to write an obituary for a friend who died by suicide, she discovers clues that point to murder instead. The author’s sassy, southern sense of humor shines through in the sections of the story where Riley signs up for an online dating service and receives advice from a personal romance concierge at Readers will also enjoy the antics of the quirky cast of secondary characters who populate Riley’s hometown of Tuttle Corner.

Chuck Restic

Introduced in The Silent Second (2017), by Adam Walker Phillips
Latest case: The Big Con (2018)

Anyone who has spent any part of their career working in a large corporation may well have been tempted to commit murder at one time or another. Author Adam Walker Phillips cleverly plays off cubical culture by introducing Chuck Restic. Though Chuck has spent the last 20 years working in a large L.A. corporation’s HR department, when he decides to locate an employee who has mysteriously gone missing, he finds new career opportunities as an amateur sleuth. If there is such a thing as corporate noir, Phillips nails it, and the literary flavor of these terrifically entertaining mysteries can be best described as Philip Marlowe meets Dilbert.

Sister Agatha

Introduced in The Shadow of Death (2018), by Jane Willan
Latest case: The Hour of Death (2018)

There have been a number of religious amateur detectives in the past (Father Brown, Rabbi Small, and Sister Mary Teresa Dempsey, just to name a few), but
with her Sister Agatha mysteries, Jane Willan brings the concept of a crime-solving nun into the twenty-first century.
The inviting setting for this coziest of cozy mysteries is Gwenafwy Abbey, which is less than a mile from the blessed, bucolic Welsh village of Pryderi. There the nuns spend their days praying and making their award-winning organic Heavenly Gouda, the proceeds of which help keep the abbey open. But when each nun at the abbey turns 60 years old, their fellow nuns do whatever they can to allow that particular sister to realize a long-held dream. In Sister Agatha’s case, that dream was to become a mystery writer. So, when the sexton is found buried under a stack of gouda, Sister Agatha is convinced it was no accident. Drawing on all the knowledge she’s gained from her favorite mystery novels (and the advice she gleans from her favorite mystery podcast), Sister Agatha, with some help from her sleuthing sidekick, Father Selwyn, sets out to find the killer. Sister Agatha’s musings on her own favorite mystery novels are just one of the delights in this charming series, which also realistically examines the ongoing struggle of convents today to find young women interested in the vocation.

About the Author:

The Romance Writers of America 2002 Librarian of the Year, Charles has been reviewing romances for Booklist since 1999 and is the author of Romance Today: An A to Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance. After working for the Scottsdale Public Library System for 30 years, Charles retired and went to work for Scottsdale's independent bookstore the Poisoned Pen, where he still gets to push books but has to deal with far fewer computer questions.

Post a Comment