The British Library Crime Series

Is it possible to have a crush on a publisher?

My heart beats faster, my fingers fondle their book covers, and my wallet giddily opens its arms — all for The British Library Crime Series by Poisoned Pen Press.

Just look at these beauties, I mean really, what mystery reader could resist?

I first became aware of this series with my first purchase of THIS long lost favorite mystery.  Since then I have cultivated a insatiable craving   finely-tuned taste for this Poisoned Pen Press imprint.

In 1997, husband and wife founders, Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters, who are also the owners of the legendary Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona, saw an opportunity to re-publish the wonderful British mysteries novels of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  They tapped into every bibliophile’s secret desire –out of print titles, long lost authors, and beautiful covers to lovingly add to a bookcase:

“We knew that mystery readers wanted complete collections, so we thought we could make a business out of that.”

I’ve read several of these and, while some are better than others, all are well-plotted mysteries graced with some classic crime writing and completely interesting settings – in short they are pure fun escape reading.

There are locked room mysteries (Miraculous Mysteries), murders in Europe (Continental Crimes), small village settings (Death of a Busybody), and dead bodies in crumbling manors (Seven Dead).

In short, there’s a British mystery for you in The British Library Crime Series.  You got to love any publisher/bookseller who states this as their mission statement:

We are a community Bound By Mystery.

and who gathers praise such as this:

Hurrah to British Library Crime Classics for rediscovering some of the forgotten gems of the Golden Age of British crime writing.(Globe and Mail)

Might I suggest you support this fine enterprise by buying the books direct from their website ~  just click this logo.


Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for allowing me advanced copies of many of these titles via NetGalley.

Mrs. Malory (or is it Mallory?) by Hazel Holt

Once upon a time, there was a bookstore dedicated solely to mysteries ~~ called the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore.  

It was a dusty old place, with a chain-smoking, sometimes surly owner who would only glance up from her own reading to give a visiting dog a treat or if you asked a question. Once engaged, she could deftly suggest your next perfect mystery read based on your interests and tastes.  (Good bookstore people share this  skill.)

The bus at our corner would take me directly to the shop, where I would browse away many a foggy afternoon. It had mismatched shelving, small nooks with chairs, a creaky wooden floor, with the books arranged in the owner’s unique method.   There were separate sections for historical mysteries, true crime, British crime, and even mysteries set in San Francisco.  In short, it was a local treasure and one of my favorite places.   Sadly this small, independent bookseller closed their doors in 2011, a victim of skyrocketing rent and the demise of small independent bookstores.  (I guess my purchases weren’t enough to carry this little store, despite Husband’s theories to the contrary.)

It was at this quaint bookshop that I was steered towards the Mrs. Malory series after confessing my love for Agatha Raisin.

Hazel Holt wrote an entire series featuring Sheila Malory, a middle-aged widow, Siamese cat owner, tireless volunteer, and snoop in the sleepy English village of Taviscombe –a modern-day Miss Marple.

This is a veddy veddy British series, filled with English villagers, non-stop teas, old country estates, horses, and gentle humor.  The rich descriptions transport the reader right into the middle of these delightful scenes.  At first, these short little mysteries may seem obvious, but stay on your toes readers, as Ms. Holt cleverly deals out potential culprits, plots that twist around, and the murderer is often a surprise.

The first in the series is Mrs. Malory Investigates and my early 1989 St. Martin’s Press edition has the Malory misspelled as “Mallory” throughout the text.   The later edition, published under the title of Gone Away has this content error corrected.


The second in the series The Cruellest Month is set at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, where Ms. Holt (no slouch) once taught.

Turns out the author was quite the intellectual and a good friend of Barbara Pym.  Ms. Holt even wrote her biography and completed one of Pym’s unfinished novels.  These British authors seemed to run around in the same small circles sharing tea and scones, and probably stealing each other’s plot ideas.

Sadly Ms. Holt died in 2015, so the complete series ends after 21 mysteries.   I recommend you seek out these little gems –you’ll find yourself happily whiling away an evening, turning the pages.

Click HERE  to find your own little local independent bookstore to try and keep in business.


The Blackhouse by Peter May

I sat up and paid attention when The New York Times Book Review (Marilyn Stasio) raved: “Peter May is a writer I’d follow to the ends of the earth.”  So, of course I added this author to my TBR list.

The Blackhouse was the final in a string of thrillers I read in a row –and, it turns out, I saved the best for last.

The Blackhouse is the first in a trilogy based in the Scottish Hebrides and featuring Edinburgh cop, Fin Macleod.   Finn is sent to his childhood home on Lewis where a grisly murder on the isolated island seems to be a copy of a murder he has been investigating in Edinburgh.

Our detective is somewhat relieved to leave Edinburgh, as he grieves over the death of his young son, while half-heartily trying to prevent his marriage from crumbling.

But first a few warnings:

If you’re at all squeamish, you’ll have to tiptoe through; 1) a full and grisly autopsy, and 2) an honored, traditional, but gruesome, gannet hunt on a small island. 

If you’re expecting a standard police procedural set in the unconventional Outer Hebrides, you’re happily in for more than you bargained for ~~ this thriller has depth and power.

Now that you have read the Book Barmy safety warnings, fasten your seatbelts, because you are in for a great mystery read.

Mr. May is an extraordinary writer, able to take us seamlessly between two narratives.  Masterfully moving from first person to develop Fin’s story growing up on Lewis, and then the third person to tell the current day story– Fin’s broken and disillusioned adult childhood friends, the crime, and its resolution. 

Mr. May has a gift for developing his characters, all of which are remarkable, but Fin is an especially likeable hero.  Having the grand experience of staying in the Outer Hebrides many years ago, I can attest that he also gives the reader unbelievably lovely descriptions of the harsh life in the Outer Hebrides — bleak, windy, and yet starkly beautiful.





The plot is a compelling mix of retribution, revelations, and intrigue.  The Blackhouse uses the traditional guga bird (gannet) harvest not only as a pivotal plot point, but also showcases its cultural role in the lives of the island community. Gory certainly, but informative.

High accolades for what turns out to be not only a tightly plotted thriller, but an insightful treatise on growing up, moving away, then coming home — one you thought you’d moved beyond.

From the introduction:

Three things that come without asking:  fear, love and jealousy. A Gaelic proverb

And thank you Mr. May for an absolute stunner of an ending.

There are two more in the Lewis series, guess who found both at the recent library book sale – score!










An advanced readers copy was provided by Quercus via Netgalley


Page Habit

I’ve been hearing about special interest book subscription services ~~ where you sign up, pay a monthly subscription fee, and receive a surprise book box each month.  Much like a book of the month club, except you don’t choose the book, the service does.

Hmmm, I thought — Just the perfect monthly fix for this book addict lover.

Surprise, Surprise… I signed up for such a service, namely PageHabit and have received two deliveries.  Such delight, to get a box in the mail without knowing what’s inside (except that’s it sure be a book of some sort).

I can’t contain my excitement when the box  arrives on my doorstep…


(even better when Husband is out and I can sneak it in the house without the ritual – hey here’s a package for you, what did you get – say whaaa more books – really?).*

My first sign up was for Mystery and once opened, there’s all sorts of nifty  book nerd lover surprises.  (Click to make larger)


In the first photo you see a few tchotchkes — a fox coaster, a patch relating to time travel (the book’s subject) and a pin.  There’s a letter from the author of the book — but best of all (third photo) the book itself is annotated with lots and lots of post-its with the author’s reflections and insights as you read along.

Now really, how cool is that?

PageHabit lets you switch genres at the click of a button, so for October,  I switched to Literary Fiction, and that box revealed two (!) books and the following fun stuff.

The second photo shows the swag this month — a library card pillow case (I know who knew?) a Halloween key chain, a cool bookmark, and (another?) fox coaster.

Again, there’s a letter from the author and here’s a close-up of one of the author annotations in the book.

Also, each month, there is also a little booklet, containing a short story commissioned by PageHabit just for that mailing. I’m keeping them in my bag for when I’m stuck in some long line or waiting in the car outside Home Depot (it happens fairly regularly for some reason).

But the best rationalization bit is, that with every mailing, PageHabit partners with a different organization around the world and supports their efforts in spreading literacy throughout their community. These donations help support building schools, public libraries, and community centers to ensure that every child has access to books.

You can match your PageHabit subscription to your favorite genre, there’s also Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Science Fiction, and many more.

So far, PageHabit has done itself proud – no duplicates to my  book warehouse  library.

I’ve got my eye on Historical Fiction for January…  and the beat goes on…

The subscription is sort of expensive, so I may move to a quarterly subscription but for the near future, I’ll raid my piggy bank.

Brown packages, surprise books, fun swag, and author notes –



* I’m being mean, Husband is actually very tolerant of my book habit collecting and never grumbles ~~ too much.












The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

The Widow’s House is so much richer than the current spate of modern thrillers (my previous book included).  This book has it all.  There’s a crumbling estate, family secrets, haunting ghosts, a vulnerable heroine, a couple of murders, and lots and lots of atmosphere.

Sound confusing — like it may be too much?  Fear not, Ms. Goodman weaves all these elements together into an enthralling and well-crafted Gothic tale.


I’m going to cheat and quote the back cover blurb, just because it’s that good:

When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation–of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is–this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate–it seems to be after Clare next…

Riven House is indeed falling down, has an unusual pentagon shape, and is haunted by ghosts — according to the locals.

As Clare delves into the history of the house, she uncovers a series of tragic deaths.  The ghosts are said to be those of Mary Foley and her baby, both of whom lost their lives at the creepy estate. Then there’s the tale of the Apple Blossom Queen, a local beauty who came to a horrific end at Riven House.

Were these just random accidents or the actions of the reputed ghosts in the house?  Clare decides to try and uncover some answers, and with the help of her former professor, starts to expand this work into her novel. Jess’s writing also seems to be doing well.

At contrast to the ghosts and creepy estate, Ms. Goodman weaves a sensual beauty into the idyllic setting of the Hudson Valley apple country — we can smell the apple blossoms, see the ripening apples in the orchards, and then as fall approaches we can taste the area’s special apples:

The first time you bit into one your mouth was flooded with caramel, but when you took another bite, looking for that taste again, you got plain apple.  You had to sneak up on it. The taste was elusive, but when you caught it you wanted to suck that sticky sweetness right of its flesh.

But, cue ghostly sound effects – nothing is quite right. There’s trouble in Clare and Jess’s marriage, an old boyfriend is with the local police, there’s clandestine meetings between Jess and their sexy real estate agent, and a parade of local characters who range from slightly odd to the definitely strange.

Soon Clare starts to actually see the ghosts and experience the haunting of Riven House.   She comes close to accidental death, and tries desperately to figure out what is real versus her imagination.

Just picture me, in the chilly dark nights of Lake Tahoe, as I snuggled tighter in bed and happily kept reading.

Fair warning dear readers, there is a fairly complicated family tree, babies switched at birth, and family secrets kept for many years — all of which are key to the unraveling of the story line.   So, as much as The Widow’s House is a proverbial page turner — you should slow down and savor the unraveling of a wonderful suspenseful story.

Ms. Goodman is a master at plotting and building tension as she take the reader through her twists and turns.  The ending of the tale will haunt you with this lingering thought — “was any of this real”?

A perfect read for Halloween 

Ms. Goodman has a long list of well-received novels.   A new author to add to my list, given this one was so good.

Thank you to William Morrow/Harper Collins for an Advanced Readers Copy.









Buried in Books

This is the week of the Friends of the SFPL Big Book Sale and I’ve been busy.  Lots of fun, lots of work.

Here are some photos of the wonderful bookish madness.  Click on these photos to appreciate the full enormity of this sale.  A massive amount of work is required by volunteers, corporate sponsored volunteers, and staff to pull off this – the largest used book sale on the West Coast.

Each year, the Friends ask for table sponsors in order to raise money for the sale, so this year Book Barmy took part.  Here’s the sign and the table — Graphic Novels and Comics —  a most popular table indeed.

I must admit after awhile, working at the Big Sale gets pretty overwhelming, so many books ~~ etc.  For a break, I sign up for extra shifts at my regular haunt,  the permanent Readers Bookstore in a separate building at Fort Mason.

While back at the store, I got to meet the delightful Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow blog, photographic evidence here…my bad hair day notwithstanding.

Go to Scott’s blog, it’s fascinating, as he specializes in British Women writers from the mid-20th century.  Even more impressive, he started his own imprint, Furrowed Middlebrow Books, published by Dean Street Press.  This series of books had been long forgotten and unpublished until Scott got them reissued.  ~~~ Those covers, sigh, I want every title…

The Big Book Sale goes on through Sunday, so if you’re in the area, stop by – info HERE.Or any time of the year come by the permanent Readers Bookstores – info HERE

Thus endeth my shameless promotion of the Friends of the SFPL, the Big Book Sale, and the Readers Bookstores.

My enthusiasm knows no shame.


In other news, we’re off to Lake Tahoe for a week.   I’ve plucked a few popular thrillers from my toppling pile of publisher’s ARCs taunting me and causing great guilt.



Back next week.