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Top 25 Best Cozy Mystery Books

Best Cozy Mystery Books

Welcome to the world of Murder She Wrote. While I’d never want to live in Cabot Cove, since the life expectancy is less than an hour, people do like to watch the less bloody crimes that these dear old maids investigate.

A cozy mystery, for our purposes (and isn’t that what counts?), is a mystery where the blood is minimal or off-stage. The sex is non-existent and the language is safe for grandma. These are basically mysteries that rejoice in the comfortable solving of mysteries, often while the protagonist engages in serious cooking, gardening, or some other charming low-key hobby activity. It follows that the sleuths are usually amateur ones and often not fitting the typical "private investigator" profile. We are talking mystery solving gardeners, chiefs, monks, and charming old men and chatty old women who are secret sleuths.

Your mystery cant get much more bloodless than finding out that the victims were killed over 500 years ago. Thats the basic story of The Daughter of Time, one of the best cozy mysteries ever written. The plot is relatively simple. Inspector Alan Grant is confined to the hospital. To keep his mind occupied, hes given a series of portraits. He happens upon a serious, yet thoughtful face, only to learn to his horror that this kindly man is King Richard III, the hunchbacked Plantagenet king who killed his two young nephews in the Tower of London. Convinced that his detective instincts cannot be this wrong, he decides to look into the murders himself.

In an era where most books are forgotten as soon as the reader hits The End (or sooner), this book made millions of readers believe that Richard was great guy (even though some historians disagree.) England went so far as to dig him up out of the parking lot and give him a real funeral! This book consistently ranks among the top of ALL mysteries, so its no surprise that its the number one cozy mystery. This is a mystery that not only uniquely entertains, it educates you at the same time. Not a bad deal.

Books in Inspector Alan ... Series (6)

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This tale of lust and greed is told by a mousy narrator whose name we never learn, except to call her the second Mrs. de Winter. The first Mrs. de Winter is Rebecca, who everyone thinks was a real peach. The first half of the book builds up with the suspense of how the shy and retiring new wife will ever live up to the reputation of the first wife. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, girl crushes on Rebecca so hard that all thats missing is a Melissa Etheridge soundtrack. This devotion along with the new wifes ineptness as a homemaker and party hostess drives her to the edge of doing away with herself until she learns her husbands secret.

The author stacks the deck impressively against the couple until you think that the only way out for them is a good lawyer and a special on CourtTV. You should read this for the skilled way the author turns the entire thing on its head and gives you one last shock at the end. The book has one of the most iconic opening lines in all of fiction. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again. Combined with the Hitchcock version of the book, its a must read and must see.

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So what does a crime queen do when she wants to break out to be one of the major forces in 20th century crime fiction? She writes one of the best books of her career and then disappears for 11 days. The result was a skyrocketing career that never looked back.

In reality, the disappearance had to do with her impending divorce more than publicity; however, at the time, speculation ran rampant that the two events were connected. That didnt stop the book from getting its share of critical attention. The mystery, which featured HerculePoirot, broke one of the 10 commandments of mystery writing, and still worked incredibly well. The book is set in a small town where Poirot has gone to grow vegetable marrows during his retirement.

When the titular character is murdered, Poirot decides to break his retirement to solve the case. Its hard to tell much more about the plot without giving away the super-secret ending, but I will go on record as saying that you need to read this book. And alls well that ends well for Christie. She made a fortune off the book and bagged herself a younger man as her new husband. Lifes hard for a crime queen.

Books in Hercule Poirot M... Series (84)

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Sayers penultimate mystery novel is so cozy that it doesnt even feature a corpse in it. Why kill of a character when you can just trash a building instead. Harriet Vane is asked to solve the case of some rather pesky vandalisms at Shrewsbury College at Oxford, her alma mater. Since shes avoiding Lord Peter and his frequent marriage proposals, she accepts and begins research on a mystery writer there.

She starts to see the pattern of the crimes, but is eventually stymied in her efforts. The book is equal parts mystery, love story and thoughtful discussion of the womens place in the 1930s as their roles had begun to change. (There would have been no book if theyd just all strayed in the kitchen!) The book is worthy of a read for its ideas and the view of England between the world wars.

Peter steps forward to help her in solving the crimes and the pair end up engaged as well as the book ends. Its about as soft and quiet a mystery as you can find, but one that will stay with you for days afterwards (but in a good way and not like Taco Bell.) Definitely worth finding.

Books in Lord Peter Wimse... Series (15)

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Its much easier to discuss an inverted detective story, because we know up front who is the murderer in this book. In fact, Iles (which was a pen name for British mystery author Anthony Berkeley Cox) tells us whodunit in the very first sentence. Dr. Bickleigh is unhappy in his marriage where have we heard that before? Hes in love with a beautiful young woman named Madeleine, who seems to return his affections. The good doctor first decides on divorce, but since lawyers charge money and wives want settlements, he decides to bump off his wife instead.

In a rarity for mystery fiction, the doctor easily gets away with his murder. No sooner than the dirt is dumped on Mrs. Bickleigh, the doctor professes his love for Madeleine. Its too bad that shes decided to marry someone else who doesnt kill his wives. Go figure. That means that shes the next to go, and like all killers, he forgets a few things when planning the second crime. The book is filled with dark humor and a weird desire to root for the killer. Its only been made into a BBC TV movie once, but the effort is well worth finding.

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A novel about a paid private detective battling J. Edgar Hoover does not sound like a cozy mystery to the uninitiated, but to those who know Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe, it could be nothing less. Stout created the detective duo of Nero Wolfe, the obese lazy great detective who cant be bothered to leave his own home to solve a crime, and Archie Goodwin, the wise-cracking babe-nabbing private eye who probably shouldnt be on this list. Together, they are a perfect blend of eccentricity and reality. Critics have called the pairs dialogue some of the best writing of the century. So when a client comes to Wolfe telling him that shes being harassed by the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, Wolfe decides to take the case.

Along the way, he decides to solve another murder or two, but the bulk of the story comes from the antics of the two detectives taking on the top crime fighter in the nation. In some ways, the story (set in 1965) was well ahead of its time, in that we didnt know then what we know now about Hoover and his activities (and no, Im not talking about his cross-dressing.) Its no surprise to long time readers of this series that Wolfe comes up with a foolproof way to stop the FBI from harassing his client and making sure that there are no negative ramifications for her or him.

Books in Nero Wolfe Series (188)

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If you want to make sure that your characters arent going to shoot someone or break into curse words, just set your novel in a 14th century monastery. Life doesnt get much more G-rated than a bunch of churchy monks. Friar William of Baskerville (in a nod to Sherlock Holmes dog) and his novice Adso head to northern Italy for a conference over some disputes in the Holy Bible. What happens in Northern Italy stays in Northern Italy, right? After the conference starts a monk commits suicide. William is given the duty of finding out what caused the monk to commit a cardinal sin.

Thats only the first death in the book. For a monastery, the book has a pretty high body count. William encounters the Inquisition movement. Beyond the Baskerville name, we meet William of Ockham whose famous quote says that the simplest explanation is most likely the truth, which of course helps William in his quest to find an explanation for these murders. The inclusion of historical figures and movements along with the word play make the book a fascinating read. The book is steeped in references to other books and characters. This was made into a Sean Connery movie, which you should see, since Connery never made a bad movie.

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So why is one of the foremost hardboiled writers in the US on this list? Because his last book, while still considered to be hardboiled, is really a cute closet cozy mystery. Nick and Nora Charles are visiting New York City around the holidays and stumble upon the case of Clyde Wynant, who has mysteriously disappeared. The rest of the Wynants are trying to find Clyde, because you cant hit up a missing man for money. They offer Nick cash to find him, but he declines the opportunity because for some reason hed rather spend time with his new young rich wife. Even so, most of Charles friends suspect that Nicks already investigating the disappearance.

The Charleses party and drink their way through the story which can pickle your liver if your e not careful. However, most of the violence and murders are done off stage, so the blood and guts are at a minimum. The only thing flying back and forth are the witty remarks that shoot faster than a .38. The book was actually made into a series of movies that were wildly popular. I would definitely recommend reading the book first and then watching the films as well. In a situation not unlike Frankensteins monster, Wynant is really the thin man referenced in the title. However, over time and many films, Nick Charles became known as the thin man instead.

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So why is one of the foremost hardboiled writers in the US on this list? Because his last book, while still considered to be hardboiled, is really a cute closet cozy mystery. Nick and Nora Charles are visiting New York City around the holidays and stumble upon the case of Clyde Wynant, who has mysteriously disappeared. The rest of the Wynants are trying to find Clyde, because you cant hit up a missing man for money. They offer Nick cash to find him, but he declines the opportunity because for some reason hed rather spend time with his new young rich wife. Even so, most of Charles friends suspect that Nicks already investigating the disappearance.

The Charleses party and drink their way through the story which can pickle your liver if your e not careful. However, most of the violence and murders are done off stage, so the blood and guts are at a minimum. The only thing flying back and forth are the witty remarks that shoot faster than a .38. The book was actually made into a series of movies that were wildly popular. I would definitely recommend reading the book first and then watching the films as well. In a situation not unlike Frankensteins monster, Wynant is really the thin man referenced in the title. However, over time and many films, Nick Charles became known as the thin man instead.

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One way to get on the cozy list is to be written 150 years ago, when bloodshed and sex werent written about though people still did them. So that leaves us a place for The Woman in White, written in 1859, which is called one of the earliest known mystery novels. The book is typical of its time, in that the writing style was sensationalist, which lead to this type of novel being called sensational novels.

The plot line is one that were now used to, though it was original when first published. Teacher Walter Hartright is walking one evening when he runs across a woman wearing all white (and now we know where the title comes from!) He helps her only to learn later that shes escaped from the insane asylum. When he arrives for his new gig, Walter finds out that his new student looks exactly like the crazy woman in white.

He falls for the look-alike, since crazy isnt easy to date, but shes engaged to another man. The plot thickens as the woman in white writes to his new love warning her about her fiance. A few weddings, secret societies and exchanged identities later, we learn the secrets that the characters were keeping and all is well at the end. The book is now considered to be Collins best work. Its been filmed no less than seven times and been on the tube no less than 3 times. Hell, Andrew Lloyd Webber even made a musical out of it.

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Not usually on the list of cozy mysteries, but at heart, this is a small town book which points out the problems of racism while getting to the bottom of a heinous crime. Scout is the daughter of Atticus Finch, the man who is tasked with defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. The beginning of the book shows a small Southern town during the midst of the Great Depression. Finch faces growing racism in the town as the trial grows closer and starts. The book continues following the trial and shows the impact that racism has on all of the townspeople.

This is likely the only Pulitzer Prize winner on the cozy list, which tells you that its an American classic. This was Lees only novel, though many people say that she helped Truman Capote with his classic In Cold Blood. Capote is fictionalized in Mockingbird as the boy Dill, who is one of Scouts friends. As is the case with most classics, the book is better than the film, but the film is still a powerful statement made at a time when American attitudes on racism were just beginning to change. This book is a must-read.

Books in To Kill a Mockin... Series (2)

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Though not well liked by the critics who used to leave flaming dog poo on her porch, Rinehart was madly popular with readers and was one of the most successful mystery authors in America during the early days of the 20th century. She was often called the Agatha Christie of the United States, except for the fact that no one remembers her today.

In this book from 1907, Rinehart starts what would become a pattern with her later works. A older spinster decides to rent a house in the country for the summer from the towns banker. Almost as soon as she and her maid move in, creepy things begin to happen at the house. They are soon joined by the old womans niece and nephew and not long after that by a corpse at the bottom of the circular staircase. The dead man is the bankers son and it soon becomes apparent that the trust funds for the niece and nephew are as dead as the son.

The book is best known for its humor and for starting a series of imitation novels. A whole industry of atmospheric womens books that are long on implausible explanations and short on common sense.

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This is one of Christies best examples of the cozy mystery, featuring a small town rocked by murder and the intrepid older sleuth Miss Marple. When the residents of Chipping Cleghorn (not to be confused with Foghorn Leghorn) read in the local newspaper of a murder to be committed at the home of a neighbor, all of the residents manage to show up at the neighbors home at the appointed time. The proceedings seem silly until the lights go out, and shots are fired. However, its the mysterious intruder who is killed, and the town is perplexed as to why a man would play such a deadly prank in a town where he is not known. It just isnt done to die in a strangers home.

In this relatively benign mystery, Christie subtly inserts an accurate portrayal of the way that English society changed after World War II. Though the author is frequently thought of as stagnant or belonging to an age, this work stands above many of that period not only because of the superlative puzzle, but the fact that the puzzle stems directly from the fluid society in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Only a skilled hand could create such a portrait of an era and set a mystery so firmly in that time.

Books in Miss Marple Myst... Series (14)

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Cozy doesnt mean that there cant be a lot of fun in the novel as this next entry proves. Elizabeth Peters was a pen name for Barbara Mertz, a noted Egyptologist. This series is set mainly in Egypt, beginning in the 1880s with the last novel in the series taking place in the 1920s. In this first book in the series, Amelia Peabody who has been left a wealthy orphan by her father decides to see the world. Along her ways, she meets Evelyn Forbes, who has been abandoned by her family for her illicit affair with an art teacher. Amelia, who disdains all silly pretenses, hires Evelyn as a companion, and the women carry on to Egypt, where many of the books in the series take place.

In Egypt, they meet the Emerson brothers and of course romance soon follows. The book details their unorthodox courtship while they try to solve the mystery of why a mummy has been seen walking around the excavation site. Amelia Peabody is stubborn and frequently wrong, which creates a number of hilarious situations and misunderstandings. For those who like a raucous good read, this is definitely a book youll enjoy. Fun, mysterious and a bit of learning about Egyptology is all mixed in together.

Books in Amelia Peabody Series (20)

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Mary Higgins Clark is known as the queen of domestic suspense, which is a nice name for threatening a bunch of kids so moms will freak out. She practically invented this type of book, and her first novel is one of her best efforts.

Nancy Harmon is not the type of mom you want to have. During her first marriage, her two children are kidnapped and then murdered. Nancy is convicted of the crime and sentenced to die. Due to a technicality, the sentence is overturned on appeal. A retrial is impossible, so she goes free.

Moving across the country, she remarries and has another two children. On the anniversary of the first set of childrens disappearance, the same thing happens! This woman needs to stop making babies. Clark gets to scare the moms with two sets of missing kids which makes this book a real page turner. The readers know of a mysterious man who has kidnapped the children, since part of the story is told from his perspective. Even so, Clark keeps a doozy of a surprise for the readers in the last pages. This is the stuff that Lifetime movies are made of and Clark practically invented this type of novel.

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Long before Moonlighting ever came along, there was a series of mystery written by Edmund Crispin that had witty banter between the characters and a broken wall between the readers and characters in the story. The detective of the piece, Gervase Fen, actually encourages readers to buy Crispin titles. Nothing like pimping out your characters.

The story tells the adventures of poet Richard Cadogen who decides to visit Oxford. Upon his arrival, he goes into a toyshop to use the phone and finds a murdered woman. Before he can call the police, hes knocked out. When he recovers, the body has gone the way of the train sets because hes in the same location, but its now a grocery store.

Together with old friend Gevase Fen, they find a set of nonsense verses that give clues to the heirs to a vast estate by making fun of their appearances. Nothing like poetry to mock your characters! If word play is your thing, this is definitely a book for you. Crispin loved literature and nothing says love like ridicule. The book is fun in large part because its so very obvious that Crispin was having fun when he wrote the book. Sadly there arent many Crispin titles in all as the author suffered from alcoholism. Still the ones that are available are great fun, and highly recommended.

Books in Gervase Fen Series (11)

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Who knew that half a book would make the list of best cozy mysteries? But thats what happened with Edwin Drood. Dickens, who had used criminal plots in some of his other works, wrote the book as a magazine serial, just as he had for his other works. Except while writing this one, he keeled over dead before finishing. He hadnt kept notes or outlines or anything else handy to tell the public who he had chosen to be the murderer of Drood, so the world was left stranded without a solution.

The story is clear. Rosa Bud, who is the fiance of Drood, happens to be the object of two other mens affections. John Jasper is a choirmaster with a taste for opium and a friend of Droods as well as one of the potential suitors for Bud. After Drood ends his engagement to Bud, he disappears and is presumed dead, mostly because they saw the title of the book.

Thats not to say that the world didnt try to provide one. Over the years, there have been novels and plays written about the case of Edwin Drood with each author providing his or her most likely scenario for the solution. Even so, well never know the real solution to the mystery unless someone gets a Ouija board.

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Ding, dong, the dude is dead. So starts The Nine Tailors, which is not a story of haberdashery, but a story of bell ringing. Lord Peter is stranded in Fenchurch St. Paul after a car accident. Of course, he is well versed in bell ringing and takes the place of a sick man during the New Years Eve bell ringing. Of course, he rings perfectly. The next day, Lady Thorpe, the wife of the reigning family, passes away. Three months later when her husband dies, they find an extra corpse in the mausoleum. Two for one sale at the funeral home.

The unknown corpse has letters that point to one of the bells in the tower, which has Peter searching for some missing jewels. While many cozy mysteries have sleuths who seem to know everything about every possible topic under the sun from bell-ringing to origami, Sayers includes her knowledge of bell-ringing better than most of the authors attempting to do this. She also draws a fascinating look at the fens of England and how the setting impacts the characters in this book. This is another great book that teaches as it entertains with little blood and a long ago crime.

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Several of the authors on this list have been called the new or the next Agatha Christie. PD James is another of those. Shroud for a Nightingale won the CWA award for best novel when it was released and was nominated for Mystery Writers of Americas Edgars. Though the story features a police detective in Adam Dagliesh, James gave him with the soul of a poet, but the poet wanted it back. None of which is exactly hard-boiled. James writing has a traditional feel to it, even though she includes sexual topics and some violence at times. Some of the minor characters even manage to bring some humor to the page.

When one of the nurses in training at the Nightingale Nursing College is poisoned, the small very closed community of doctors and nurses at the school are all under suspicion. It turns out that the murdered girl was a replacement practice patient that day, and in no time, the girl she replaced is also murdered. Of course since this is a small closed community, everyone has a secret or twelve and Dagliesh has to find out what they are and who would want to kill for those secrets. Its no surprise that this series ended up as a BBC TV series.

Books in Adam Dalgliesh Series (14)

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At a moonlit Indian ruinwhere "thieves of time" ravage sacred ground in the name of profita noted anthropologist vanishes while on the verge of making a startling, history-altering discovery. At an ancient burial site, amid stolen goods and desecrated bones, two corpses are discovered, shot by bullets fitting the gun of the missing scientist.

There are modern mysteries buried in despoiled ancient places. And as blood flows all too freely, Navajo Tribal Policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee must plunge into the past to unearth an astonishing truth and a cold-hearted killer.

Books in Leaphorn & Chee Series (20)

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It takes a certain cunning to tell the reader who did it in the last line of a story. It takes even more cunning to tell the reader who did it in the first line. Malice Aforethought on this list has already been mentioned, but theres a second entry in this category as well. This novels first line has become a classic in the mystery genre: "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.

After telling the reader what happens, the book goes back in time to show the reader how Parchman got to that point. Ashamed of her illiteracy, Parchman takes a job as a housekeeper with the Coverdale family. Shes already a troubled soul, having killed her father and lied about her references. In her anger over imagined slights, she steals firearms and shoots the entire family. This book managed to tie the problems of illiteracy (you wouldnt be able to read my incredible prose if you could read!) but ties it into a shocking crime that keep the reader turning pages. The book has been filmed twice and is well on its way to becoming a classic in the mystery genre. Definitely one to pick up from this list!

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This book is actually a collection of 12 short stories, but Father Brown is a cozy character, not to be missed. Chesterton set out to write a very different sleuth than Sherlock Holmes, and in fact, he does. Brown typically uses inductive reasoning (rather than Holmes ability to turn to the last page of the story.) As a result, the mystery stories tend to pack a bit of a surprise ending for the reader. Brown says that hearing the sins of mankind in confession has made him aware of all the evil in the world. Many of the stories feature seemingly supernatural elements that Brown quickly sees through to find a plausible human solution.

This is the first set of collected stories about Brown, and many of these stories feature a master criminal named Flambeau who in the first case wants to steal a valuable cross that Father Brown is transporting. The later stories have a reformed Flambeau who acts more as a Watson to the priest than criminal. The BBC made a TV series of some of these stories in 2012, and can be found on that station or DVD at this time. Be sure to check out this little priest.

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The wobble in this book is not the result of too much booze; its a type of walk racing that was popular in Victorian London. The event last six days and is as much endurance as anything. This is what England did for sports, before soccer riots became popular.

Its no surprise to the reader that on the second day of the race, one of the walkers keels over dead. At first, the death is thought to be the result of an infected foot blister, but it turns out that strychnine, which our gentle readers will recognize as a deadly poison, was being given to the racers as a stimulant before Red Bull was around. Needless to say, killing the racers doesnt make them move faster.

The time element is crucial, because as the race continues some participants are not able to continue and have to drop out. The tale has a frenetic pace that probably stems from the fact that Lovesey wrote the book in three months to meet the deadline for a writing competition (which he won.) This novel is the first in the Sergeant Cribbs mysteries. The Cribbs stories were made into a BBC series years ago. Look them up if you can.

Books in Sergeant Cribb Series (9)

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This book is not only bloodless; its also boozeless. Craig Rice, the pen name for Georgiana Craig Rice, was notorious for her boozy tales of John J. Malone, the criminal lawyer. However, in Home Sweet Homicide, the demon rum never appears at all. Instead of bars and babes, the story is that of the three children of a struggling mystery writer who find a body and decide that the best way to garner publicity for mom is to solve the crime and perhaps set mom up with the cute homicide detective.

So off they go to solve the crime and play matchmaker. The book is cute, family friendly and surprisingly sober. Rice, who was the first woman mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time magazine, wrote fast and furious. In the same year that she wrote this book, she published two other novels.

It tells you how cozy the book is because the kids actually cry when they turn the murderer over to the police, a rare happening in crime fiction. This family friendly classic was turned into a movie starring Randolph Scott that is fairly close to the original. Highly recommended as an example of children portrayed accurately. Theres no sugar coating the youngster; they behave more like real children than most of the works I read.

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Weve already seen historicals on this list as a way to make the mysteries bloodless and curse-free, but this one is by far the oldest on the list, taking place in 1137. The book features Brother Cadfael in his first adventure. Mystery readers like to be educated as well as puzzled, and historicals like this bring light to an era most people know nothing about.

The prior of Shrewsbury Abbey decides that they need relics artifacts associated with a saint, as a way to increase their own prestige and of course, make a few dollars from the travellers. Coincidentally two of the monks from the abbey have a vision of the departed Saint Winifred while visiting a town in Wales, and Winifred tells the two men that shes unhappy and wants her bones to go home with them. Not one of the better pick-up lines, but it works well enough that they pack her up to go home.

When the townspeople object, someone gets murdered, and Brother Cadfael is called upon to solve the crime and to bring home the relics. The series was made into a long-running BBC series with Derek Jacobi as the monk. The TV show only served to highlight a great mystery series. Definitely not to be missed.

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