Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Potential Addiction Grows

It started with my desire to find a few mystery novel series that I could relate to. I bought a few last year, including The Case of the Missing Books, a Mobile Library Mystery series by Ian Sansom; Dog On It by Spencer Quinn, first in a series about a boozy private detective and his faithful dog, the story told by the dog; and Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline, the first in her "Rosato & Associates" series, which, despite my most fervent love for her books of essays, didn't click with me. Meridith won a paperback copy of The Ritual Bath, the first in the Decker/Lazarus series by Faye Kellerman, but I still haven't read any of those, save for Scottoline's.

I'm not likely to read Michael Connelly or anything in that mainstream vein. I've been looking for mystery novel series that have something I can latch on to, that I could think of as being my series, one or more that I would go back to over and over as new installments are published. I have many favorite books I can go back to for the deep connections I enjoy (I've got a yen to reread Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly just to absorb the gentleness of his prose again), but I want characters who last through many books, and as I saw when I began searching, there's a lot of mystery novel series. Whatever interests you, you can probably find it as a mystery novel.

So far, I've found one series, which is Julie Hyzy's White House Chef Mystery series. The White House aspect grabbed me right away, and I know a bit about the history of White House chefs (Not as much, and probably never as much, as Hyzy), so I naturally started with her first one, State of the Onion, which I had bought much earlier last year, but which sat in a stack in my room for months. I pulled it out because I wanted something different, something related to one of my passions in life.

I read State of the Onion in one day. Same with Hail to the Chef, the second installment. Eggsecutive Orders took a day and a half because we were out on errands that particular day, though I did bring it into the Golden Valley Target with me and read some of it while we were sitting at the Starbucks there.

I love this series because Hyzy introduces Ollie Paras as the assistant White House chef, in line to become the new Executive Chef upon the retirement of Henry, a really good man. Ollie knows the importance of serving the First Family, tending to whatever they need, and she doesn't lust after the power that comes with such a huge promotion. I relate to her because she works hard at what she does and is dedicated to it, and treats others equitably, no matter what transpires, such as President Campbell hiring the stuck-up, conceited, nasty Peter Everett Sargeant III as the White House Sensitivity Director. She gets frustrated with that one, but doesn't let it show, nor justified anger, which doesn't happen with her. The job is the highest priority and it must be done with excellent professionalism, which she exudes at all times.

Today in the mail, I received Affairs of Steak, the fifth book in the series and the newest one to be published. I'm still waiting for Buffalo West Wing, which is where I need to continue, and I won't read this series out of order.

As I read Hail to the Chef, I found out that Hyzy has been writing another series, about Marshfield Manor, a stately home turned into a museum, and the main character, Grace Wheaton starts out as an assistant curator, just like Ollie was the assistant chef in the first book. I have great respect for people who reach high positions, yet retain the kindness that they've always exhibited. That's how it is with Ollie, and that's how it sounds with Grace, though I've not yet really gotten into the first novel, Grace Under Pressure, save for the sample pages I read on Amazon which made me order it because it reminded me of the calmness and tranquility of the Nixon Library, Hearst Castle, the Getty Center, and other museums I've been to. Plus, Hyzy is obviously doing something right in her writing since I read her novels in one day.

Lately, I've read Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke, the first in her Hannah Swensen Mysteries series, the center being Hannah's shop, The Cookie Jar, which sells all kinds of cookies, made from some inspired recipes. Fluke's writing is considerably weaker than what Hyzy offers, with some slow-going character development, but I decided to order Strawberry Shortcake Murder, the second novel in the series, after reading Hannah conspiratorially joking with the maid of the society matron of Lake Eden, Minnesota. I get along with anyone, no matter who they are, no matter what their job is. I relate to this completely. I'll try Strawberry Shortcake Murder and see how it goes, whether I want to read the other books in the series. Maybe the writing will get better. I think I was spoiled by State of the Onion being so strong right from the first page.

It appears that Berkley Prime Crime is the chief supplier of my new interest. Fluke's books are published by Kensington, but Hyzy's books are published by Berkley. Plus, there's another series I decided to try by Avery Aames, a Cheese Shop Mystery series, with The Long Quiche Goodbye the first of three books so far. The latest, Clobbered by Camembert, is being released this Tuesday.

On the Prime Crime website, the novels they offer are divided into numerous categories, including "Culinary," "Hobbies," "Private Eye," and "Cozy." Through this, I've found that there's a Fresh-Baked Mystery series by Livia J. Washburn (I read the first page, and the writing doesn't suit me), a Memphis BBQ Mystery series by Riley Adams (Possible, based on the first few pages, but not one I'm going to dive for right away), a Farmer's Market Mystery series by Paige Shelton (I've never been to an honest-to-Organic farmer's market yet, but I want to, in a search for real blackberry jam, so this series interests me), and a Haunted Souvenir series by Christy Fifield, which begins on March 6 with Murder Buys a T-Shirt. This one interests me because it's about a woman who has "inherited her uncle's Florida souvenir shop," according to the copy on the website, and I still have many soft spots for my native state. I'm not sure yet if I'll pre-order it on Amazon, but I want to try out that one.

And there's also the Country Cooking School Mystery series also by Paige Shelton, and two book-themed mystery series: Cat in the Stacks by Miranda James, and Library Lover's Mystery by Jenn McKinlay.

It's fortunate that not all the books listed on the Prime Crime website interest me, though I'm also curious about private eyes, and that opens up another list. It's a near certainty that over the next few months, I will be a resident of Henderson, so, armed with Henderson and Clark County library cards, exploring all these mystery series will be a lot easier on my bank account. Just as I've been writing this entry, I found a series called Maternal Instincts by Diana Orgain, the first novel called Bundle of Trouble. It's about a first-time mother who becomes a private investigator, and I couldn't let that one sit, so I ordered it. That's all I'm going to do right now for this newfound interest until I read the latest two novels in Hyzy's White House Chef Mystery series and her Grace Under Pressure, start on The Long Quiche Goodbye, which I bought last week, and try out Dog On It and The Case of the Missing Books. I don't have any desire to write any type of mystery series (I'm not that brave, and I've got seven nonfiction books to write after I'm done with Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies), but this is a lot of fun. I'm just hoping there's more enjoyable writing to be found through many of these authors.