Find it at your library!

I loved Agatha Christie mysteries as a kid, and Magpie Murders is styled in that vein with a fun twist: it’s a book within a book (for those of us who like our books with a side of…more books). Susan, an editor, is reading the ninth volume in a mystery series by her publishing company’s most famous (and perhaps not coincidentally, most irritating) author, and we get to read the manuscript along with Susan. Then we get to be eager spectators as Susan puts on her detective cap and investigates a murder herself. That’s a lot of murder for the price of one. What a bargain!

I was nervous to go with the audio version because I worried the two narratives would get confused in my head. I’m glad other readers convinced me to give it a try, because it wasn’t hard to follow at all. There isn’t much switching back and forth between the two storylines because most of the manuscript is delivered in one chunk, and the two narrators (one male, one female, both delightfully British) further differentiate them.

It had been a while since I read a classic mystery like this, so I will admit some of the tropes of the genre grated on my nerves. There were too many red herrings, requiring some of them to be unceremoniously brushed aside once proven untrue, which left me feeling manipulated and even annoyed when one of my favorite theories was explained away in particularly unconvincing fashion. The characters’ naivete also made my eye twitch a little bit. Without getting too spoiler-y, there was a moment late in the book when a character confronted another character who had committed a murder without seeming to realize the danger of doing so. Can you imagine telling a killer you know what they did and expecting it to be a polite conversation that ends with them shaking your hand and saying, “Ah, you got me old chap, now off I go to the police station to turn myself in”? I’m all for dramatic irony, but there’s a line between the satisfaction of knowing something a character doesn’t and wanting to backhand a simple bitch for their stupidity.

Those quibbles aside, Magpie Murders was a lively diversion and made for a nice addition to my creepy seasonal reading list. Just remember, kids, if you discover someone is a murderer, get police backup before blurting out what you know.

Find it at your library!

Is it just me, or is this book criminally under the radar? I’m not even sure where I heard about it or how it ended up on my list, but it’s certainly not one I’ve seen bandied about much. I didn’t even have any immediate plans to read it—I used an Audible credit on it out of desperation one night when the two other books I planned to read next in audio turned out not to be available in the format (#firstworldproblems).

My sweet spot when it comes to mysteries and thrillers is somewhere between cozy and brutal, which in my experience can be a pretty narrow target to hit. I am weirded out by books that are too cutesy or jokey about death, but I also can’t stomach outright gore. So my ideal mysteries are the kind that take crime seriously, but don’t wallow around in the bloody details. As I flipped through my TBR, desperately searching for anything that might fit the bill, I reread the synopsis of The Crossing Places and thought, yeah, that sounds about right. And it totally was!

Ruth Galloway is my jam. I don’t know when I’ve more closely identified with a character. She’s an antisocial nerd, a bit overweight, much more confident in her field of expertise than interactions with people. Her work as an archaeologist leads the police to seek her help on a case dealing with bones found in a salt marsh near her home. The bones turn out to be thousands of years old, and not those of a missing girl, but Ruth gets sucked into the case anyway, partly out of her own interest and partly by forces out of her control. While I’m a little miffed that I hadn’t heard of this series before now, I’m tickled that there are eight other books for me to enjoy, no waiting required.