Join Mystery Gardeners in Rooting Out Evil

Land Of Fantasy

Spring blossoms perfume the air, and the garden centers are crowded. Luckily, if you’re a mystery lover with a passion for gardening, the shelves are full of fiction to satisfy both interests! Sleuthing gardeners, or gardening sleuths, can find a kindred spirit in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, a food-loving armchair detective who is also an ardent cultivator of orchids; if you’re new to the series, begin with the seminal first entry, Fer-de-Lance.

Or learn some herbalist arts from award-winning Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael, a 12th century English monk with a keen eye for poisonous human and plant secrets (A Morbid Taste for Bones is a good starting point).

alcatrazThe English are noted for their gardens and their mysteries, so retired botany professors with detective skills seem to abound. That includes Anthony Eglin’s English Garden mysteries featuring retired botany professor Lawrence Kingston (The Alcatraz Rose is an International Book Awards winner); award-winning author E.X. (Elizabeth) Ferrars’ Andrew Basnett, another retired botany prof; and John Sherwood’s Horticultural series with Celia Grant, a London botanist.

 

thymeBack in the U.S.A., gardening mysteries bloom in the cozy category, including Washington, D.C., gardener and housewife Louise Eldridge, who digs up crime in the Ann Ripley series that debuted with Mulch. Meanwhile, Susan Wittig Albert offers China Bayles, an herbalist and former attorney in Pecan Springs, Texas; the series debut, Thyme of Death, was a finalist for Agatha and Anthony awards.

A unique choice is Naomi Hirahara’s sleuth Mas Arai, a Hiroshima survivor and Los Angeles gardener. Snakeskin Shamisen won an Edgar Award and was an Anthony Award finalist.

For more gardening-themed mysteries, see http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/JobCats/HerbsGardens.html

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

A Salute to Mother-Daughter Writing Teams

Teacher teaching student in classroom

Mother’s Day is coming, and it always has a bittersweet quality for me because my mother died right after Mother’s Day 16 years ago. My mother was not a writer, but she was well-read and critically observant, and I’m sure she could give me valuable advice on my writing if she were still here. So I am naturally envious of the successful mother-daughter writing duos out there.

clarkFor example, in the mystery fiction arena, there are the equally well-known Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, authors of books together and separately. Their first collaboration was Deck the Halls, described by Publishers Weekly as a “amiably lighthearted Christmas ornament of a book,” in which Regan Reilly, the dynamic young sleuth from Carol Higgins Clark’s novels, accidentally meets Alvirah Meehan, Mary Higgins Clark’s amateur detective, and they team up to solve a Reilly family-linked kidnapping. Another mystery writing duo operates under the pseudonym P. J. Tracy for mother-daughter team Patricia (P. J.) and Traci Lambrecht. Their debut Monkeewrench, which won a Barry Award as Best First Mystery Novel, is a tale of serial killings inspired by the new computer game of software company Monkeewrench, whose eccentric partners have a secret past that may link to the crimes.

skyIn the Young Adult space, New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Brockmann teamed up with her daughter Melanie Brockmann to write the paranormal Night Sky series about Skylar Reid, a teenage girl who discovers that she is a Greater-Than, meaning she has scary super-powers. Bestseller Jodi Picoult also collaborated with her daughter, Samantha van Leer, to produce Young Adult fare, starting with Between the Lines, a fairy tale-styled teen romance. Sometimes the mothers and daughters who share writing talent work best as mutual inspirations rather than as co-authors, as seen with the late award-winning writer Carolyn See and her best-seller daughter Lisa See (who also has mystery chops via her Red Princess series). Carolyn and Lisa did share the pen name Monica Highland, too. For more about mothers and daughters in publishing, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jocelyn-kelley/moms-write_b_1510114.html

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Happy Birthday to March-Born Mystery Writers!

Couple of Valentine Cupcakes with heart topping on top.

Because I was born in this month, I am naturally curious about other writers with March birthdays. If you look at the whole literary realm, from children’s book great Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) to the Roman poet Ovid, the list is overwhelming. So I narrowed it down to just March-born mystery/crime fiction writers. And they’re a varied lot!

 

juryStart with the late Mickey Spillane (Frank Morrison Spillane, born March 9, 1918). I’m actually not a fan of his PI Mike Hammer, who debuted in 1947′s I, the Jury, but Spillane is a pioneer of “hard-boiled” crime fiction and won the 1995 Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master Award, so you may want to meet Hammer just to indulge in old-fashioned, tough-guy nostalgia.

 

 

 

 

spiderMore modern mayhem comes courtesy of James Patterson (born March 22, 1947). Patterson is probably best-known for the African-American psychologist and police detective protagonist of his Alex Cross series (including Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls), but he has penned standalone thrillers and other series, such as the Women’s Murder Club.

 

 

 

catMeanwhile, there’s Nevada Barr (born March 1, 1952), author of the Anna Pigeon mystery series with a park ranger detective (so naturally set in national parks). Her debut novel, Track of the Cat, won the 1994 Anthony Award and Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

 

 

 

 

 

coldStaying with the wilderness theme, another March writer is Dana Stabenow (born March 27, 1952). Her Kate Shugak mystery series is set in Stabenow’s native Alaska and has a unique protagonist: an Aleut living on a 160-acre homestead in a national park, with a half-wolf, half-husky roommate called Mutt. The first Kate Shugak mystery, 1992′s A Cold Day for Murder, won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

 

 

 

dryBut probably my favorite of all the March-born mystery writers is Peter Robinson (born March 17, 1950) and his Inspector Alan Banks novels set in Yorkshire. The 1999 Anthony Award and Barry Award for Best Novel went to the tenth entry in the series, In a Dry Season. When a drought drains the local reservoir to reveal the ruins of a lost village and the unidentified bones of a murdered young woman, Banks must hunt down a sadistic killer who has escaped detection for half a century.

 

 

For all authors born in March, check out this list: https://www.bookish.com/articles/happy-birthday-authors-a-look-at-writers-born-in-march/ 

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Enduring Appeal of the Pilgrimage Experience

Girl walking on Camino de Santiago

I just returned from India, and part of the trip included visits to beautiful South Indian Hindu temples, which were very crowded because we unknowingly arrived during the local pilgrimage season. Groups of men lined every dusty road, rested in fields, dodged through city traffic and eventually jammed the temple grounds with devotion.

They were dressed simply and minimally, carried little and lived austerely, and traveled in clusters by friendship, family, community or chance-met camaraderie. They had left their homes and embarked on foot to seek epiphany, transformation, redemption or perhaps just an adventurous escape from the daily grind.

canterburyReligious pilgrimage is as common in modern India as it was in Medieval Europe, when it inspired Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic The Canterbury Tales. But you don’t have to go back in time or to exotic lands for a pilgrimage experience. If you think of a “pilgrimage” as a journey of personal or spiritual significance, you can become a pilgrim right now in America.

 

 

 

wildFor example, the popular Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed describes a kind of pilgrimage. In the wake of her mother’s death and a failed marriage, a damaged young woman decides to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone and without training, and ultimately heals herself.

 

 

 

pilgrimIn the Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction book The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, author Annie Dillard describes a metaphysical journey through a dramatic year in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley, exploring nature and its seasons near her home while recording both her scientific observations and her thoughts on solitude, nature and religious faith.

 

 

 

alchemistThe international award-winning novelist Paulo Coelho has written lyrically about pilgrimage, too. He is best known for The Alchemist–about an Andalusian shepherd boy whose dream of treasure sends him on a quest to the Egyptian desert–but before he wrote that fictional tale, Coelho penned The Pilgrimage about his own spiritual quest along the famed pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, still the most popular long-distance trail in Europe.

 

 

Inspired to follow in his footsteps? Check out the many recent pilgrim accounts or guides: https://www.amazon.com/Pilgrimage-Road-Santiago-Complete-Cultural/dp/0312254164 

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

In the Dead of Winter, Embrace ‘Nordic Noir’

Beautiful brunette girl

January, that month of bleak and often icy landscapes, should help you appreciate the ‘Nordic Noir’ mystery writers of Scandinavia. Many American readers immediately think of Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, but there are many other excellent mystery and crime fiction authors from Sweden, Norway, Finland and even Iceland, and 2016 saw a number of notable novels.

 

crowFor those who like dark and disturbing, there’s The Crow Girl, a tale originally published as three separate volumes in Sweden, by Erik Axl Sund (nom de plume of a writing duo). Police detective Jeanette Kihlberg and psychologist Sofia Zetterlund are trying to crack the case of the sadistic Crow Girl, who is capturing and torturing children around the city of Stockholm and who seems to have a strange connection to a mental patient that Zetterlund is treating.

 

 

rosesIn neighboring Norway, Gunnar Staalesen offers Where Roses Never Die, the 19th in a series whose private detective character Varg Veum is actually honored by a statue in the city of Bergen, where he fictionally operates. Now Veum, suffering from alcoholism and haunted by past failures, is seeking redemption by helping a mother find out what happened to her three-year-old daughter, who disappeared nearly 25 years earlier, so the statute of limitations on justice is about to run out.

 

birdAlso from Norway is The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn, a mystery with an isolated, wild setting and Gothic overtones. Allis Hagtorn answers an ad for a caregiver to Sigurd Bagge, a surly and secretive character who seems more in need of companionship than care. As Allis timidly sets out to impress him, she also becomes curious about what happened to his wife–leading to rising dread with hints of the supernatural.

 

 

darkLet’s not forget about Finland. In Dark As My Heart, author Antti Tuomainen’s protagonist Aleksi Kivi is a 33-year-old man obsessed by the disappearance of his mother two decades earlier when she went out on a date and never returned. So he manages to get a job working on the estate of Henrik Saarinen, a wealthy man his mother had dated, and gains his trust. But the nearer he gets to the truth, the closer he gets to losing sane perspective.

For more 2016 Nordic Noir fare, check out http://www.crimefictionlover.com/2016/12/top-10-nordic-noir-novels-of-2016/

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

2017 Reading Resolutions to Broaden the Mind

What makes a man tick?

It’s time to make resolutions for 2017 and for me that includes reading that might help me think more clearly about some of the contentious issues of 2016′s bitter presidential campaign.

worldI’ll start with the touchy subject of race. If you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me — a best seller, National Book Award winner, and Pulitzer finalist — put it on your list. In a personal and literary exploration of America’s racial history, written in the form of a letter to his adolescent son, Coates shares what it means to be black in America, from the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through revelations from Howard University, Civil War battlefields, Chicago’s South Side and even Paris.

railroadIf you prefer fiction, a 2016 National Book Award winner, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, also has something new to say about America’s racial sins via an imaginary tale of slaves fleeing north on a literal underground railroad — complete with locomotives, boxcars and conductors.

 

 

 

hillbilllyAnother book of cultural revelation is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate who grew up in a poor Rust Belt town. Vance offers a personal analysis of white working-class America in crisis through his family’s story and his own experience of growing up amid social, regional and class decline. This book may help the baffled to understand the appeal of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to these “forgotten” men and women.

 

 

bombsWhat about terrorism? Put Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs, also a finalist for the National Book Award, on your reading resolution list. The 2016 novel opens with a Kashmiri terrorist attack in a Delhi market and follows the lives of those affected, including Deepa and Vikas Khurana, whose young sons are killed, and the boys’ injured Muslim friend Mansoor, who grows up to flirt with political radicalism. It’s a book ­that forces American readers to care about the toll of terror even when it comes to a place they may see as alien and violent, to understand, and even like, people for whom terrorism exerts an appeal, and to realize the complexity of Muslim politics and grievances beyond “radical Islam” bashing. In the end, Mahajan reveals the terrible truth that, to quote The New York Times review, “nothing recovers from a bomb — not our humanity, our politics or even our faith.”

For ideas from The New York Times‘ 10 best books of 2016, see http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/books/review/best-books.html

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

After the Election, My Mystery Shopping Deluge

Book as good idea for Christmas present

by gaslightI’m not much of a holiday shopping fanatic, but I need something pleasant to anticipate after the end of this awful election season. So I’m beginning to put together my holiday book list for mystery lovers. Courtesy of Publishers Weekly, here are some ideas: I like the look of Steven Price’s By Gaslight, about two men combing London’s 1885 underworld to find the master criminal responsible for a woman’s dismembered body; you can’t beat foggy streets, smoky opium dens, and Victorian seance halls described with “literary sophistication.”

 

sunlightFor anyone who likes the moody mystery of Edward Hopper’s paintings, In Sunlight or in Shadow is a fascinating idea for a crime fiction anthology, with top authors like Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver, Stephen King, and Joyce Carol Oates each penning stories inspired by Hopper’s art.

 

 

reckoningI’m a big fan of Canadian Louise Penny, and the 12th mystery in her Armand Gamache series, titled A Great Reckoning, has the former Quebec Chief of Homicide back in the village of Three Pines and following an old map into a dangerous web involving police cadets, a murdered professor and a stained glass window with terrible secrets.

 

 

alienistI’m also a fan of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist about a psychologist investigating crime in 19th century New York City, so I’m piqued by a new entry from Carr called Surrender, New York, about a psychologist and a DNA expert solving present-day crimes in upstate New York.

Also set in New York City is best-seller J.D. Robb’s 43rd Eve Dallas thriller, Apprentice in Death, which starts with three ice skaters shot dead on Wollman Rink in Central Park. Plus, best-selling favorite Karin Slaughter has debuted another novel featuring Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Will Trent and medical examiner Dr. Sara Litton; in The Kept Woman, the pair of lovers investigate the death of a dirty retired Atlanta cop.

For more fiction and nonfiction options, see http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/new-titles/adult-announcements/article/71628-holiday-gift-guide-2016-all-our-coverage.html

Had Enough of Earthly Politics? Try Other Planets’ Troubles

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By late October, I find myself exhausted by our political mud-wrestling and yearning for escape to some other galaxy. The sci-fi mystery genre is rife with tales of a futuristic, usually post-apocalyptic, Earth, but I’m hearing enough apocalyptic talk in the election race!

red planet bluesI long to sleuth where the sky is red and home to two moons, where the aliens come from other worlds and not other countries, and where our unhappy Earth is a spaceship’s time-warp away. So here are some choices for those seeking justice in an alternative universe. Start with Red Planet Blues, by Robert J Sawyer, who is a Hugo and Nebula award winner. Set on Mars, the story takes place in the domed city of New Klondike (a future Elon Musk destination maybe). The town was built for miners seeking “fossils” that sell for big bucks on Earth, but the fossils ran out and the town has gone bust. Alex Lomax, a traditional PI character, is hired to find out who has killed the miners who first started the fossil rush, with the possibility of finding a cache of fossils worth millions.

kopThen there’s KOP by Warren Hammond. It’s about a policeman named Juno Mozambe whose family moved from Earth to the planet Lagarto, a promised utopia unfortunately dependent on a single export that has been replaced by cheap knock-offs. Amid the planet’s slums and poverty, cop Juno faces bribes from organized crime and a frame-up by a new partner.

 

 

 

mountainsNow if you want to land on a planet without unethical Earth pioneers, try acclaimed writer Lois McMaster Bujold’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning Mountains of Mourning, set in an imaginary galaxy. Interstellar investigator Miles Vorkosigan is sent to uncover the truth about a murder in a society that values physical perfection. A baby has been killed because of a physical defect, calling up an outlawed custom and prejudices against “mutants.” With the Village Speaker determined to hide the truth, Miles and his team, despite the advantages of special truth serum, must use all their skills to find the real killer.

ruschFinally, there is the Retrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which portrays a universe where humans and alien races try to coexist and respect each other’s differing laws. The penalties in this inter-species legal balancing act can be severe, and Miles Flint, a “retrieval artist,” is tasked with tracking down fugitives across worlds, torn between the demands of his police job and his sense of justice. Rusch is deft with cross-genre writing, as proven by her Endeavor and Hugo sci-fi awards as well as her Edgar mystery award nominations. For more options, check out http://bestsciencefictionbooks.com/best-science-fiction-mystery-books

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Exploring Mysteries with a Mystical Bent

Magic Book With Shining Lights

I just spent a wonderful weekend in Sedona, Arizona, with girlfriends, including visits to shops stocked with religious icons, New Age literature and rocks claiming various mystical properties. We also hiked to a famous “vortex” to imbibe its earth energy. Now I must admit that a number of curious things occurred near the vortex; for example, a strange man suddenly appeared on the trail and handed out free heart-shaped pieces of red sandstone to our group of gals before moseying on. Divine Messenger or Loco Local? Choose the most satisfying answer.

shutter islandNow as a rule, I tend to avoid detective fiction that relies on the workings of angels, fairies, witches, vampires, ghosts, psychics or otherwordly powers, animal or mineral, as plot devices in solving mysteries. But I also make exceptions. Here are some popular mysteries with a paranormal bent, starting with favorite author Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, about U.S. Marshals who go to an island asylum to investigate the disappearance of a criminally insane patient.

 

blackbirdsSome detecting powers I’d rather not have. In Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds, Miriam Black can tell with a touch when you’re going to die, and the hero of The Cypress House by best-selling author Michael Koryta can sense imminent death.

If you like folks who can use magical powers to catch criminals, try prolific author Heather Blake’s It Takes a Witch, whose heroine casts spells to grant wishes, with some murderous consequences. If you believe in psychic sleuthing, read any entry in Kay Hooper’s series about the FBI Special Crimes Unit’s psychic detecting.

deedFor ghost lovers, there’s Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman, about a haunted guesthouse where the ghosts expect the new owner to solve their murders. And that brings us back to Sedona, and Mathew Marine’s Devil’s Moon about a troubled FBI agent who gets involved in investigating a Sedona “murder-suicide” after a young woman is found mutilated in a police officer’s basement, his confession scrawled on the wall above his dead body. Sounds like a straightforward who-done-it? Hey, it’s set in Sedona, so psychic powers, premonitions, angels and mystical experiences abound. For more paranormal mysteries, check out readers’ recommendations at https://www.goodreads.com/genres/paranormal-mystery

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Senior Lady Sleuths: Gray Locks Join Gray Matter

Broken man in interrogation room

By Katherine Sharma

Now that I’m joining the ranks of senior citizens in a few years (I’m holding off true membership till age 65), I find myself more interested in mystery tales featuring older lady sleuths. Of course, Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple, the shrewdly observant spinster of St. Mary Mead, has an international fan base. And Jessica Fletcher, Donald Bain’s retired English teacher and novelist, even won a TV following for the “Murder, She Wrote” series.

There are many other outstanding examples: M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin, a retired PR agent turned PI (with a BBC series); globe-trotting Mrs. Emily Pollifax, grandmother and spy, of the eponymous Dorothy Gilman series; and Eugenia Potter, widowed chef and star of the culinary cozy mysteries of Virginia Rich and Nancy Pickard.

Mature female commissioner during interviewI wondered if there was some special set of skills offered by older ladies to make them appealing to mystery writers. And I came up with five reasons a mystery author might choose to create a gray-haired female detective.

  1. For one thing, as retirees, and often widows or spinsters, older women have more time to devote to detection without the constant, complicating drag of career and/or family on character and plot.
  2. Second, their judgment can be informed by age rather than years of police training, so they can draw on long experience with personal and social interactions to pick up the subtle clues to murder.
  3. Third, these fictional characters can be freed by age, maturely comfortable in their own skins and less constrained by worry over social conventions and sexual politics. This allows authors to create an eccentric, independent, adventurous or even comical character that would be less believable as a 20-something or 30-something heroine.
  4. Fourth, older ladies can approach evil obliquely and catch it unawares, because there are few people seen as less threatening than a grandmother or maiden aunt.
  5. And, finally, these fictional sleuths are not just older people, they are older women. Even today, most societies reward men for action, control and dominance, and encourage women to be more observant, emotionally attuned and socially participant. Female detectives can turn that gender bias into an advantage in terms of honed human observational skills.

For some more senior sleuths, check out author Chris Well’s post at http://chriswellnovelist.blogspot.com/2010/07/retirement-is-murder-10-senior-sleuths.html

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.