I’ve talked before about my mother-in-law and her propensity towards mysteries. Every time I visit, she has a new one that I am always welcome to pick up–this is how I got addicted to Diane Mott Davidson and Joanne Fluke. So fluffy . . . so wrong . . . and yet so right. Yes, I am a conflicted person. My brain tells me that I should constantly be ingesting Great Literature and churning out amazing thoughts about how the power of the woman/goddess figure is in direct contradiction with her liminality, and how the psychology of the stock figures . . . blabbity bla . . . well, something-or-another super smart, but let’s be real here. Sometimes all I want is a predictable story with a sure-fire resolution.
A few months ago I got started on Mary Daheim’s Alpine series. Beginning with “The Alpine Advocate,” there is a mystery for each letter of the alphabet. Cut me some slack on the above picture–I know those covers are kind of grim–but these books are seriously enjoyable. And not nearly as fluffy as the books mentioned above! Hence the reduction of my guilt factor . . . and hence my increased pleasure while reading them.
First of all, the main character, Emma Lord, is not your run-of-the-mill mystery-book heroine. She is a 40-something big-city transplant to a small town in Washington; she’s a single mom, a Catholic, a career woman, a smoker who’s always quitting, and a snappy tongue with a soft heart underneath. In the mountainous, frequently snowy community of Alpine, she runs the local paper: the Alpine Advocate. Grumpy at times, full of good intentions at others, generous, and often lonely, Emma makes for a very three dimensional character.
She has a small staff at her newspaper office–the flaky college grad Carla who is both full of the energy of youth and full of rampant typos, ad manager Ed who Emma just doesn’t have the heart to fire (though he’s possibly the Worst Employee of All Time), and finally her strong-willed House and Home editor, Vida, who always wears a hat and unfailingly acts like she’s the boss.
Not all the mysteries are solved. And I don’t mean that there are frustrating loose ends left or holes in the plot–just that the books are more true to life than other mysteries I’ve read, which tend to wrap things up in such a nice and tidy package that it leaves you almost . . . disappointed. When comes out a little too nicely, it’s just not as satisfying, you know what I mean? Not so with this series. The disappointments, relationships, twist and turns, are much more fleshed out than your average cozy mystery.
The books are sometimes suspenseful but mostly character-driven. They are rarely gruesome (though you wouldn’t guess by the covers of the older edition) and just dark enough to be realistic while still being satisfying and an overall happy read.
So in conclusion: if you’re hankering for a nice, long series that doesn’t require too much emotional investment and yet still has enough depth that you don’t feel embarrassed just picking it up, check these books out!