Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany read by Carrington MacDuffie

Every hyphenated family is unhappy in its own way. And so the Wyatt-Yarmouth family is unhappy not only because its son has died in a small town in British Columbia where a sweet, incompetent, merry constable is trying to keep the peace. There is also a venomous unpretty daughter, an insecure husband, and a dispassionate wife, member of the Order of Canada.

Fresh, overcurious and awkward, Constable Molly Smith is singularly naive, singularly enthusiastic, and singularly unaccustomed to her office.

Molly (nee Moonlight) with her short, red-haired, hippie ex-patriot mother and her draft dodger father, is at the center of a local catchment of friends, neighbors, merchants and townspeople who treat her like their favorite niece. With her polite, blushing demeanour she is the key to the authenticity of each Canadian mystery, as she accompanies Detective Sargeant Winters in his interrogation of suspects.

J.M. Gregson: The Inspector Lambert Series

Deliciously understated English murder mysteries against a background of Hereford cows and curmudgeonly coppers. Here’s a taste:

Bastard, bastard, bloody stupid game! He beat the turf with his five iron and considered dispatching it after his golf ball into the undergrowth. Then he trudged on morosely, feeling the blood pounding in his head. A balanced equable man reduced by the trials of this slow quiet game to a murderous lunatic.

One taste might be enough, though.

Vino Veritas, A Good Walk Spoiled, An Academic Death. It is the same story over and over again, populated by the same types: the murdered man is a lecherous and successful jerk, unloved by his wife, his workers, or his women. He leaves a trail of immoralities behind him, which the plodding Gloucester policemen unearth and convert into sharp shiny clues.

Hanging by a Thread by Monica Ferris read by Susan Boyce

She sounds like your high school Home Economics teacher, or the Hall Mother in your college Dormitory, or your new semi-retired accountant: clear, crisp, well organized and about 23 pounds overweight. She sounds pretty and pinkish and lipsticked. She is in her mid fifties and owns a Needlework Shop in Minnesota, which is confusing and full of lakes and coldish people. She has also developed a refreshingly useful talent for finding the truth about a murder. She never takes money, admits her amateur status, and uses nothing but her friends and neighbors and her clear, crisp, organized accountant’s mind as sources of information. She makes you feel like your world is only temporarily messy, and can be good as new and cute as a button if you just found her kind of Mary Poppins — inside your head. Good luck.

Also Recommended: Crewel World (the first and best of the Needlecraft Mystery series), A Stitch in Time, Buttons and Bones, A Murderous Yarn

Nemesis of the Dead by Francis Lloyd read by Gordon Griffin

A jolly, fat, overcurious middle aged caterer, and her homicide detective husband are off to Catastrophus for a long delayed honeymoon. There they are told by Charon, the boat operator, that there there is no way on or off the island for two weeks. A series of demi-tragic catastrophes follows, comically distributed among 7 fellow tourists: Diana, a beautiful unashamedly lusty wife of a fanatic (Every time you tear a lettuce leaf it screams…) botanist; Sidney, a likable plumber; Sky, a trained, embittered nurse; a pair of sappy vapid young lovers who dress in matching outfits, an ill-mannered, unpleasant, nasty brutish husband and his submissive, pliable, apologetic middle aged wife.

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy read by Barbara Caruso

Maeve Binchy is the grand-mistress of the domestic imaginary: that hearty, busy, pretty  space where women make themselves primal. It is late Capitalism and the lumpen proletariat of Dublin are caterers, not cooks.   Katy is prole and caterer and the figure of a Dublin that caters to others, to Europe, to America, to Money. Spunky, sassy, no-nonsense ..Katy Scarlet is a full bodied, red-blooded Irishwoman with a disinclination to bow to class structures, and a desire to cater private parties to the eating population of Dublin.

Here is just one of a series of magical books about women in between old and new worlds. Read and re-read and recognize Maeve Binchy as treasure.

A Storm at Fairacre, Village Diary, Changes at Fairacre by Miss Read read by Gwen Watford

A pleasant lyrical description of the minute details of English country life presents the full world of a small town’s folk, in all their deep old  habits, their social quirks and irritabilities, and their precious sense of the finite order of inherited obligations.

Mrs Willett can tackle a hundred jobs without having been taught any of them. She can salt pork or beef, make jams, jellies, wines, chutnies and pickles, she can bake pies with all manner of pastries, cakes, tarts, and her own bread, which is particularly delicious, she can make rugs, curtains and her own clothes, she can help a neighbor in childbirth, and at the other end of  life’s span compose a corpse’s limbs for decent burial. She is as good a gardener as her husband, can distemper a room, mend a fuse, and sings in the choir. …. There are so many different activities to engage her that when she tires of one there is another to which she can turn and get refreshment. From turning her heavy old mangle in the washhouse she will come in and sit down to stitch a new skirt. She will prepare a stew and while it simmers on the hob filling the little house with its fragrance, she will practice her part in Mr Annets new anthem, ready for the next Church festival. And… she sees a satsifying result from her labours. The clothes blow on the line. The skirt is  folded and put away in the drawer ready for next Sunday. Mr  Willett will come in and praise her bubbling stew…

In this little English village is a little English school with children who are kept busy snipping gum nosed paper in all the colors of the rainbow.

“Make just what you like: flowers, leaves, lambs, birds, butterflies…anything that makes you think of Spring.
Most of the class had flung themselves with abandon into this glorious snipping session but there were as always one or two stolid and adenoidal babies who were completely without imagination and awaited direction apathetically. “Make grass then”…had said Miss Jackson…

 

From Fairacre to Thrush Green, a  village inferior in coziness and character, whereof spring faithless wives, drunken gravediggers,  vain architects and  stingy spinsters.. With this inferiority comes humor: imagine a fat food-loving Nellie housecleaning for three aged sisters, who spoon out a teaspoon of silver polish each time she comes to clean the house.

 

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Threading the Needle by Marie Bostwick read by Hilary Huber, Bernadette Dunne

Imagine a Cobbled Court Quilt Shop. A Blue Bean Bakery. A For the Love of Lavender Herbal Boutique. Farms, handiwork, handicraft, prudent, helpful, hardware-toting neighbors, dainty small town gossip, happy volunteers, lavender soap: the fantasmatic drift of post-Madoff sub-urban female regret. What does a pretty pacified community look like when the women take over the finances and the values? New Bern, Connecticut.

Madelyn, “the widow Madoff”, is back in New Bern, Connecticut because that’s where the inherited house is located. But she might as well be “the ex-Mrs. Madoff” or the “Green Mrs. Madoff” or the “recovering Mrs. Madoff”. She and the house are ready for a reconstruction. Tessa is a new Christian, newly broke. She runs a lavender shop and quilts and prays. Listen:

..Then one day when I was in the shop, repairing some stitching on Madelyn’s quilt, I started praying. I prayed for Lee, for Josh, for Madelyn, for Margo, for Virginia, Evelyn, for all my doubts and worries as well as all the things I’m grateful for… Somehow as I was praying, rocking that needle back and forth the way Virginia taught me, I forgot to be awkward. Prayer flowed from me naturally, in a plain and continuous pattern that mirrored the motion of my needle; simple, rhythmic, thought by thought, stitch by stitch, forgetting to be worried about the outcome, focused only on that stitch, that inch, that curve, until I came to the end of my thread and myself and pulled my gaze back to discover the bigger picture….

Madelyn rebuilds her life at the same time she rebuilds the old house, from the inside out, with the help of a one-eyed recovering alcoholic Vietnam Veteran who runs the hardware store, and Tessa, and Lee, Tessa’s reconstructed farmer-accountant-husband, and all the girls from the Quilting Circle, and their friends…

A Table by the Window by Lawana Blackwell read by Andrea Gallo

When she catches some of her wealthy highschool students plagiarizing their English papers, Carly wants to fail them. Instead, the School Headmistress tells her that she is being vindictive, and that Carly must overlook the “childish lapse in judgement” and give them another chance. It is on that very same morning that Carly is told that her grandmother has died, that she has inherited a house in Tulula, Mississippi.

It is not obvious that an educated single woman would want to leave San Francisco for a tiny little Southern town where little old ladies go to buy antiques and collectibles. And yet, Carly is charmed. She is also willful, pragmatic, resourceful, and a good cook. She does not look in a mirror in order to describe herself to us. She does not go shopping for shoes. She does not think about clothes, or boys. She buys books. She thinks about her white trash mother and her insecure childhood. She longs for a family she does not have. She wants to be useful, helpful, economic.

Perhaps the will to be economic is taking the place of the will to be free, for this type of woman, this type of American, in this type of century.

Nosy Neighbor by Fern Michaels read by Andrea Gallo

As tempting and tasty as yellow cake are these novels about single but not terribly singular women, suddenly alone or suddenly in trouble or suddenly displaced. If they had worked they become domestic, if they had had money they no longer do, if they had been married, they are divorced, if they had been transient and urban they inherit old houses, if they had been housekeepers, they lose their house. Now, after all, is not the age of keeping, houses or wives or economic models or anything else.

Something is lost and these women are forced to find it — some Lacanian objet a — again… Like all lost objects their identities must be refound, rebuilt or redecorated. And so must Lucy’s.

Lucy is, or was, a successful criminal lawyer until the day she discovers that one of her clients is, or was, guilty. She quits, moves to the suburbs, and makes popcorn balls. Yep. She does not however quit her more or less absentee boyfriend, whom she plans to marry sometime soon. Then the Feds pay her a visit, and she is told that the man who she thinks is her boyfriend is really someone else, a very bad someone else… (Amazing how often this kind of thing happens. See: Taken by Barbara Freethy; Pacific Heights, Paul Harper)

To add to her woes, she is hit by a power line which has fallen during a storm, and is now able to tell what the people around her are thinking. This is disconcerting, but useful in dealing with FBI agents.

Lucy also has a dog and a neighbor with a dog who are fond and protective of her throughout her ordeal.

First Impressions by Jude Devereaux read by Cynthia Darlow

Cynthia Darlow always lends coziness and warmth to stories about Southern life, Southern manners, and Southern towns. Like many, this story begins with an inheritance: the old Farrington mansion along with its papers, pictures, and privy things. This time, the heir is a 45 year old single mother and editor, who was once sheltered and loved by Mrs Farrington, the grande dame of Arundel, North Carolina.

When Eden returns to this very small, very traditional Southern town she finds herself courted by a local lawyer, a wily FBI agent, and a killer.

She also finds herself.