Five of My Favorite Mysteries

The Fig Eater. Vienna, 1910. A young woman’s body is discovered. The only clue to her murder is that just before her death she ate a certain kind of fig, a fig not found in Vienna this time of year. The novel is the story of the detective’s search for the murderer, and, unbeknownst to him, his wife’s own investigation as she becomes obsessed with the young woman who died. This would have been a great mystery with just the singular plot, but the addition of the wife’s investigation, and the secret from her husband paralleling the dead girl’s secrets, makes this quiet novel a layered, extremely satisfying read. 

Smilla’s Sense of Snow. This is another literary mystery with a woman at its center. The police have declared the death of a small boy, who falls off the roof of Smilla’s apartment building, an accident. But Smilla’s childhood in Greenland informs her observations of the crime scene and she sees what the others don’t: the yield of the snow from the footprints indicates that the boy was running from someone. And Smilla sets out to figure out who. Denmark. Greenland. Beautiful settings. International conspiracy. A strong female protagonist. And add to that, a stunning translation by Tiina Nunnally. (I figured out that one of the things I love about this book is the translation when I fell in love with another, totally unrelated book, Unwinding the Clock, a meditation on our relationship with time, and realized they shared a translator.)

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. This charming young adult series was my introduction to mysteries. Updated a decade ago to the Girl Detective series, Nancy now drives a hybrid and owns a cell phone.

The Eyre Affair. The first in the Thursday Next novels is a great mystery, a love letter to books, and a nod to science fiction. And Thursday is an awesome female protagonist: smart, funny, and struggling with the same human challenges as readers when it comes to love. At the moment though, she’s focused on pursuing a shape-shifting criminal who, among other things, has stolen the character of Jane Eyre. The whole series is an imaginative romp.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This book is a treat. I am frequently disappointed that I have already read it since it really is a near-perfect read. Centered around a famous 1981 murder that took place in Savannah, Georgia, the book has been classified as true crime, travel literature (Savannah is really a main character), and even (mistakenly) fiction since the narrative is as witty, suspenseful, and engrossing as any novel. Unforgettable characters. Great twists and turns. Extraordinarily well written.