Jessica Fletcher is my hero

I’m very late to the Murder, She Wrote party, but now that LeAnn and I are watching the show, I realize what a wonderful character Jessica Fletcher is. Wise in the ways of the world, kind to everyone she meets, and filled with empathy for all. Her previous career as a high school teacher and her upbringing as a Mainer both come out in her down-to-earth manner.

Like all great detectives, she’s curious, always asking questions, fearless once she’s on the case in pursuing leads wherever they take her, and relentless in investigating.

She’s also persistent in her writing, always working on the next book, wishing she could focus more on her writing and less on the promotion side, but happy to give a talk on a TV show, or a school library, or wherever she’s asked to speak.

She’s charming in a straight-forward way, and relates to everyone, especially working class people. In Murder to a Jazz Beat, she becomes friends with the taxi driver who picks her up at the airport, Lafayette, played engagingly by Garrett Morris, he helps provide knowledge of the music and food scene in New Orleans. They have a great rapport, which is typical of the friends Jessica makes.

Even when Jessica loses her temper, almost always justified, she regains her composure quickly.

Murder, She Wrote, is a comedy mystery, to me at least. True, it’s a bit of a stretch that the police almost always defer to her in solving the crime, but that’s the “suspension of disbelief” we viewers willingly make with the show, because it’s so much fun to watch our hero tackle crime and restore order.

To me, she’s an archetypical cozy mystery hero, filled with hope, a sense of adventure, intellectual daring, and a drive to find the murderer, not stopping until she does.

The best kind of amateur sleuth.

Finding your next great read

It was a question and a statement we got a lot at the libraries I worked at. “Can you help me? I just finished this awesome series and I’m looking for another book like those. Oh, and I’ve read everything by that author.”

I’d ask them a few questions (librarians will always ask a few questions to help zero in on what you might actually be looking for).

“What was it you liked about that series or that novel?”

“Are you looking for something that has a similar setting, characters, type of story?”

Then we would listen. In library-land this is known as “doing reader’s advisory.” In other words, helping a reader find the next great read.

You can ask yourself those questions, especially if you are searching your library’s catalog from home. You can do a keyword search. Say you really like Joanna Fluke’s Hannah Swenson Cookie Jar mysteries. Well, you could type in “baking mysteries.” I did. I found seventy titles. Many were duplicates, because a title being available in print, large-print, and other formats.

Right off the bat I’m suspicious of those search results because that’s nowhere near the number of baking mysteries a typical library would own. I look up a title, go to more details, and discover the category for that book is actually “baking-fiction,” not mystery. Below that might be another subject category, like “mystery and detective fiction,” or “mysteries.”

It can quickly get complicated. That’s where stopping by your local library to get some assistance, both with your next great read, and a lesson in how to do the searching in the catalog can really pay off. “It depends” is often all-too-true when it comes to trying to find a book by it’s subject.

However, there’s another resource you can use: NoveList. NoveList is available online at many, if not most, public library websites.

NoveList is searchable database of fiction and non-fiction books. You can look up a particular title and find out more information about it, including any reviews from various publications like Booklist or Library Journal. That’s helpful, but where NoveList can really help is with finding your next great read is in its ability to also display “read-alikes,” books similar in someway to the one you just looked up.

Right there, you will have more books similar in someway or ways to the book you just finished. Sometimes very similar in tone, storyline, characters etc.

You can also look through the subjects listed and click to find more books in that category. Often NoveList lists more categories for a particular book than your library’s catalog, simply because NoveList’s categories are compiled with different criterion and by different people.

Also, NoveList will display “Recommended reading” lists by subject on the starting page when you log in, providing some great lists to browse through. And remember, you can look for more information and read-alikes with any of those books as well.

Of course, your local librarian can show you around NoveList, and give you more tips and tricks.

It used to be that libraries stocked various genre guides, but alas, those have mostly gone away, replaced by NoveList as well as book lists your local library may have created which you can find on your library’s website.

I hope these tips are useful, and remember, librarians are here to help!

A Passion for Cozy Mystery

When I first began reading mysteries, years ago, I started with Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, and Robert B. Parker. I loved Parker’s Spencer. I also read some of the classics, starting with Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, Poe’s short story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and of course, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

But it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I read my first actual cozy mystery, On What Grounds, the first Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse mystery, after a friend recommended it. I loved the novel. It took place a coffeehouse in Greenwich village in New York City, and had humor, a little romance, and best of all, a fun mystery. Since then I’ve read a number of cozies, as well as more traditional mysteries like Nemesis by Dame Agatha and The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey, who deserves a blog post here in her honor.

I didn’t think I’d like cozies. I saw many come across the return counter at the library, and helped patrons find them, but until that first Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse mystery, I didn’t understand the attraction.

My how things have changed since then. Cozies have become my favorite sort of mystery, including Joanna Fluke’s magnum opus, the Hannah Swenson Lake Eden baking mysteries. I cheerfully said how much I love Hannah’s sleuthing and her little world to a friend who prefers much darker, grittier stories. Which is fine, not every book and every genre is for every reader.

I’ve also become a huge fan of cozy mysteries on television as well, starting with Queens of Mystery, Father Brown and Midsomer Murders, followed by Columbo, Monk, and now, at long last, Murder, She Wrote.

What is it about cozies I like so much? In a word, everything. The humor, the fast pace, the fun mysteries, the colorful characters, the worlds they inhabit, and the kindness and caring. Sure, being nosy can seem intrusive, but it’s always in a good cause when it comes to being a cozy. I prefer my cozy sleuths more intrepid than fearful, more determined than uncertain when striving to get to the bottom of the mystery they find themselves in.

I love seeing order restored and justice done, but above all, I like being engrossed in a book. Again, not every cozy will appeal to every reader, and I’m no exception. But when the right cozy pulls me, it’s pure reading bliss.

My own library cozy, A Shush Before Dying, currently on pre-order, is aimed at readers who like a fast pace, an engaging storyline, humor, hints of romance, a cast of characters that they would enjoy spending time with, and readers who love libraries and the stories they tell.

These days more than ever, as a reader, viewer, and especially as a writer, I appreciate the lighter side of things. Comedy gives us the gift of laughter, and I hope my own mysteries can bring some of that, along with a mystery that keeps the reader turning pages.

Here’s to cozy mysteries and the comfort and fun that they bring.