Thursday, July 14, 2016

Summertime and the reading is . . . WONDERFUL!

by Paula Gail Benson

A significant part of my vacations as I grew up was participating in the library summer reading program. Now, that I work for a state legislature with a session ending in early June, the summer months still mean a time of less activity so I can catch up on all those lovely books on my TBR pile. If you’re looking for some terrific summer reads, here are my recommendations, in two categories. First, short story collections, which are great travel companions, and, second, academic mysteries, in case you crave a vicarious trip back to school.


K. B. Inglee’s The Case Book of Emily Lawrence (Wildside Books 2016)

K.B. writes historical mysteries and learns about the time periods in her stories by being a reenactor and living interpreter. Her Case Book features intrepid Emily Lothrop Lawrence, whose professor father characterized as “intelligent” while calling her older sisters “beautiful” and “talented.” Emily, with her husband Charles, operate a Pinkerton style detective agency in post-Civil War Washington, DC. Reading about their investigations and techniques is both a journey back in time and an appreciation for how technology has influenced detection.

B.K. Stevens’ Her Infinite Variety (Wildside Books 2016).
B.K.’s (or Bonnie’s) stories have frequently found a home in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. In this fascinating volume, they’ve been collected, so you can enjoy four that feature her series detectives, Iphigenia Wodehouse and Leah Abrams, and seven of her “stand-alones,” including one of my favorites “Thea’s First Husband.” For excellent writing, intriguing situations, and clever deductions, this collection is a true reader’s delight.

Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del and Louise: a Novel in Stories (Henery Press 2015).

Winner of two Agatha Awards, the Anthony Award, the Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, Art uses a series of stories to tell the adventures of two intricate and compelling characters. Louise, a Southern girl working in a New Mexico 7-Eleven, is held up by the ski-masked Del, a frugal man seeking enough to meet his “academic” expenses, and gives him her telephone number because she thinks he has nice eyes. She finds it exciting when he calls, then sets out with him on what becomes a cross country journey with stops at such diverse locations as Southern California, Napa Valley, Las Vegas, North Dakota, and Louise’s North Carolina hometown. At first, I wasn’t sure I could like either of these complex characters, but after following them through traditional crime stories and hilarious capers, I had to wait as long as I could to finish the last installment so I didn’t have to say goodbye. Winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and finalist for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, this novel in stories is an engaging read.


Cynthia Kuhn’s The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery Press 2016).

The first book in a new series, Cynthia’s novel features English professor Lila Maclean, who in her first year at a prestigious university finds herself as involved in solving murders as she is in steering clear of academic intrigue. Unfortunately, she keeps turning up on the scene where her colleagues are being murdered. When her cousin becomes the chief suspect, Lila has to find a way to clear her name. A fast-paced whodunit with lots of quirky, yet familiar characters from higher education, which received the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant.

Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books 2014).

Lori’s suspenseful novel alternates between two narrators: (1) sociology professor Amelia Emmet, who is returning to the campus where a student with whom she had no apparent connection shot her, then killed himself, and (2) Amelia’s new graduate assistant, Nathaniel Barber, who came to the college not just to earn a degree, but to study her attack. As they each investigate separately, then in tandem, the reader is plunged through every emotion watching the fascinating plot unfold. Winner of the Anthony Award, Lovey Award, and Silver Falchion for Best First Novel, this is truly superb reading!

I want to assure you that you can’t go wrong with any of these books. So stay out of the pool, pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade, and settle down for some fabulous summer reading!


  1. Thanks for the shout-out here! Such a great list overall--I've enjoyed several of these books already myself and bookmarking the others for later!

    1. Thanks, Art. Another I would add is your edited anthology, Murder under the Oaks. I particularly enjoyed reading Karen E. Sayler's story about Poe's childhood in conjunction with Louis Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye, featuring Poe as a cadet at West Point.

  2. Thanks for mentioning Emily. I am rather fond of her. These are the best of nearly 100 stories I've written about her.

  3. KB, what a wonderful record! I can see why you feel drawn to her. Not only is she a great character, but she lives in a fascinating historical period.

  4. Wow, thank you, Paula! Good company to be in!

    1. Not only have you taught me to write in person, but when I read your work, I learn so much about craft. Thank you so much, Lori!

  5. Replies
    1. Add in Shawn Reilly Simmons Red Carpet Catering Mysteries. Another group of great reads!

  6. Thanks, Paula! Honored to be included. I've read and loved half of these already--adding the others to my list immediately!

  7. Cynthia, looking forward to reading more of your series.