I love mysteries that immerse the reader in another culture, so here is a short (won’t burden you with 80!) list of some of my favorites, all written by authors with a gift for conveying a strong sense of place. There is no Nordic noir on my list. A dead body or two and a certain amount of violence are inevitable in all but the coziest of mysteries, but the Scandinavians tend to take it a little far for my taste. Plus I prefer that the majority of the characters in the books I read be people I would enjoy spending time with! So make yourself a nice cup of tea and curl up with any one of these for a satisfying few hours of reading.
Tannie Maria mysteries by Sally Andrews.
Set in rural South Africa, Recipe for Love and Murder is the first in a series featuring Tannie Maria, a middle-aged widow who loves both to cook and eat and also writes a recipe and advice column for the Klein Karoo Gazette. While assisting other people with their problems, Tannie Maria is forced to deal with her own–and with a murder to boot. Recipes included! The second novel in the series, The Satanic Mechanic, is due out at the end of March 2017.
Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator mysteries by Tarquin Hall.
Set in the colorful, crowded metropolis of Delhi, this humorous series features the endearingly idiosyncratic detective Vish Puri (aka Chubby for reasons that will be obvious), India’s Most Private Investigator, and a boisterous cast of supporting characters including Puri’s irrepressible Mummi-ji and his operatives Tubelight, Facecream and Handbrake. Warning: Do not read these books on an empty stomach, the descriptions of food are positively mouth-watering. No need to read in order.
Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon.
Venice is the setting for this best-selling series, which has been running for 25 years and captures the beauty, character and seamy underbelly of life in this glorious city. Brunetti is a good and intelligent man working to keep crime and injustice at bay in his beloved Venice. You read these books as much for his musings and observations about daily life, his beloved family, politics and government as you do for the mysteries. The books are also celebrated for their mouth-watering descriptions of the food, so much so that Donna Leon co-wrote a cookbook featuring some of the fabulous Venetian recipes referenced in her novels. For long-time fans, reading the latest Donna Leon book is like a visit with old friends. Pick up any one in the series and start reading!
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny.
Set in Quebec, these books feature one of the most admirable men to ever command a police force. Or pretty much anything else. Multilayered plots, a large and richly described cast of characters and lyrical writing characterize this series which is made even stronger by its incorporation of the complexities of bi-lingual and bi-cultural Quebec. As one reviewer said, “few writers in any genre can match Penny’s ability to combine heartbreak and hope in the same scene.” Still Life is the first in the series of 12 books, which is best read in order.
The Highland Gazette Mystery Series by A. D. Scott.
Set in the northern Scottish Highlands in the 1950s, this series about a mystery-solving newspaper staff in a small town captures the changing world of post-war Scotland. This series has everything I like–richly drawn characters, complicated relationships and well-developed backstories in a setting both beautiful and bleak. Read this fine series in order–the first one is A Small Death in the Great Glen. There are 6 books in all and the author is working on the seventh. As a bonus, you will meet members of the Highland Travelers, an indigenous group similar to the Romani in Europe.
Bruno, Chief of Police mysteries by Martin Walker.
A small village in the Dordogne region of south-central France is the setting for this series, featuring Benoit “Bruno” Courreges, a soldier-turned-policeman who would rather tend his garden or whip up a gourmet meal than use his gun or arrest a suspect. Part of the pleasure of these richly satisfying mysteries is the contrast between the traditional rhythms of life in a French village and the terrors of the modern world. You may miss a few details if you read this series out of order, but it will not dampen your pleasure in the slightest.
Emily Dickinson said it best: “There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away…”