Two cozy mysteries by African American authors that are unique, addictive and fun. Barbara Neely's “Blanche on the Lam” and V.M. Burns' “The Plot is Murder”.
What makes a mystery a cozy mystery?
A very good definition can be found on the web site www.cozy-mystery.com
- The person investigating the murder is usually a woman who is forced to become an amateur detective by the circumstances.
- They usually take place in a small town
- The central character usually has a friend or friends who help them discover the hidden clues
- The murder victim is usually someone who had it coming
- The police do not take the central character seriously but are usually missing key clues that the armature sleuth picks up on easily
- Authors of cozy mysteries often create a series based around the central character
- Readers fall in love with the central character and that motivates readers to pick up the next book in the series.
First of all, I need to thank the Eleanor Taylor Bland, Frankie Y. Bailey and the Sisters in Crime website for the creation and maintenance of Frankie's List. Author Frankie Y. Bailey continued the work of Author Eleanor Taylor Bland in building a list of African American Crime Writers. I have always been a fan of Walter Mosley and I have pretty much read all his books, but I always wanted to find other black mystery writers. This list, that is now maintained by the Sisters in Crime website, is a wonderful starting place. This list helped me discover Barbara Neely and V. M. Burns.
Blanche On the Lam by Barbara Neely
This is a very fun read that has its share of suspense, humor, social commentary and a good mystery on top of all that. The story starts out with Blanche White, a domestic worker, in court for a minor crime that resulted in her getting sentence to a stay in the city jail. We quickly see that Blanche is smarter and more observant that others realize when she finds a clever way to escape. Blanche then finds employment with a wealthy family that is about to go away for an extended stay. As the characters are introduced, Barbara Neely uses the fact that people often overlook and ignore people in the service industry to have the members of the family show way too much of their true selves. As the family is revealed the reader learns of the tension in the family. There is also the background tension of Blanche White's need to avoid being discovered and returned to jail.
This story is a little different than traditional cozy mysteries since the murder takes a while to unfold. This does not hurt the story at all. As a matter of fact, it adds to the suspense. You know someone is going to get it, but you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see who and how.
I love the observation skills and wisdom of Blanche White. You will find yourself nodding your head in agreement to her nuggets of wisdom. You will love the way Barbara Neely uses her central character to provide insight into how race and class are used to mistreat people. She does this without being preachy. It is just a natural part of the story.
Blanche On the Lam is the first in Barbara Neely's Blanche series. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the books.
The Plot is Murder by V.M. Burns
Ok, take a bookstore that only sells mysteries, add the owner who is writing a mystery set in 1930 England, add a small town and two cute poodles and you have the fixing used by V.M. Burns to create a wonderful cozy mystery. This is the first book in V.M. Burns' Mystery Bookshop series featuring Samantha Washington. North Harbor, Michigan is the home of Samantha Washington's new book store. It is a new life for Samantha after the death of her husband.
This story is more of a traditional cozy mystery but what makes it unique is the story in the story. Samantha is in the process of writing a mystery set in 1930 England and as the reader you get the read portions of the story as it is written. Writing is how Samantha relaxes. All is going well until real estate agent Clayton Parker is murdered on her property and Samantha is forced to prove that she is not responsible. Samantha's Grandmother and her lively and lovable friends from the retirement community help her uncover all the long-hidden secrets of North Harbor. As they turn over the rocks, the characters begin to scramble to hid their secrets and the suspense builds.
I love the way V.M. Burns builds a group of allies for Samantha. Every clue they discover is very believable and they slowly put the puzzle pieces together. Also, the contrast between the murder mystery Samantha is writing and the real-world mystery is handled well. I had no trouble keeping the stories straight and I wanted to know who did it in both.
Finally, V.M. Burns paints such a great picture of the bookstore. I just want to take a trip to North Harbor and spend some time there. The book cover says it all.
I listened to the audiobook version of both books. For both books the narrators did a wonderful job of voicing all the characters. The pace of the narrator’s speech was perfect. Not too fast and not too slow.
So, if you want to start reading cozy mysteries, these two books are a good place to start.