1st person narrator mystery recommendations (with special requirements)
May 24, 2020 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Recently I’ve discovered a mystery subgenre I really enjoy—clever, witty first person narrator (often a woman) who gets drawn into a twisty, slightly dark (but not too dark) mystery and decides to solve it. Please help me find more like these! The ones I’ve read and enjoyed recently: Elly Griffith’s The Stranger Diaries, Sophie Hannah’s Perfect Little Children, Nicci French’s The Lying Room, Anthony Horowitz’ Magpie Murders and The Word is Murder.

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is I particularly liked about these books—I think mostly it was the tone: the narrator is clever and self aware (no unreliable narrators), there is humour but it’s fairly dry, not silly, whimsical, or slapstick. I am not looking for thrillers/mysteries that are overly serious or where the protagonist is portrayed as traumatized from past or current events, or is currently part of a seriously dysfunctional dynamic (so although good, Nicci French’s Frieda Klein mysteries don’t fit this description). The protagonists I’ve enjoyed most are pretty ordinary people who find themselves in strange or mysterious situations. They aren’t detectives (so Tana French’s The Witch Elm works, but her Dublin Murder Squad books don’t). The narrators are well rounded, with rich inner lives. They are mostly just going along minding their own business when suddenly they’re dropped into the middle of a mystery. I prefer books that pass the Bechdel test, with lots of female characters, rather than a single main female character surrounded by male characters. The women should mostly relate with each other comfortably, rather than just being pitted against each other.

I’m fine with suspense and high stakes; I am okay with the central mystery focusing on a murder. However, I don’t like descriptions of gratuitous or gory violence.

One more request: I really do not want to read a book where the protagonist is/discovers they are pregnant, experiences a pregnancy loss, or already has a baby. Older children are fine. It’s fine if other (minor) characters have babies or are pregnant. Allusions to long-ago pregnancy losses and/or deaths of babies aren’t preferred, but aren’t a dealbreaker.

Any recommendations appreciated!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova may be right up your alley. It does deal with the historical figure upon whom Dracula was based, so there is discussion of violence, but that is not the focal point nor is it gratuitous.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 4:37 PM on May 24, 2020

Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley
posted by JonJacky at 4:44 PM on May 24, 2020

These are goofy but the Agatha Raisin series seems like it ticks your boxes. It takes a while to warm up to her as a character (or possibly she's not your thing) but they're light genre stories and the main character is an independent no-BS lady. They're cozy-esque so you learn a lot about the little town she's moved to. Not great writing but good page turners.
posted by jessamyn at 4:53 PM on May 24, 2020

The Crying of Lot 49?
posted by kickingtheground at 5:01 PM on May 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Absolutely recommend the Flavia de Luce mysteries, starting with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Not all books in the series are equally strong (in my opinion) but the first-person narrator, a precocious 11-year-old chemist in the 1950s, is a delight.
posted by sonofsnark at 6:10 PM on May 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn might fit the bill. Set in Victorian England.
posted by Ftsqg at 6:11 PM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Judith Flanders' A Murder of Magpies, and following.
posted by jeather at 6:13 PM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not my thing, and not books, but do you like Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries or The Bletchley Circle?
posted by Leon at 6:20 PM on May 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

All of Katherine Neville's books: The Eight, A Calculated Risk, the Magic Circle. Caveat lector: I haven't read them for a while so they may be... somewhat outdated in their portrayal of the (different) women protagonists (each book is separate from the other), but I remember enjoying them hugely, not least because the protag was always a bright woman swept up in a mystery she solves in the end. The linked page categorizes them as "thrillers," but they're not really, or at least not in the fiction-genre definition of thrillers.
posted by tzikeh at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you thank you! I have lots to check out here now. The only one I’ve read is the first of the Flavia de Luce books—I enjoyed it, so I should go back and check out the rest of the series. And Leon, yes I have watched and enjoyed Miss Fisher and The Bletchley Circle.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:34 PM on May 24, 2020

Crocodile on the Sandbank is right up your alley. First person, feisty Victorian lady inherits money and decides to see the world. Egyptian mysteries, mild romance sub-plot and a brilliant whodunnit that ends well for all concerned (except the baddies, natch).
posted by ninazer0 at 9:32 PM on May 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Both of these series are really old, however, Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar mysteries are smart, witty, dry and I think you might enjoy them. Amanda Cross’ Kate Fansler books are first wave feminism academic cozy mysteries - which somehow makes the books sound much weirder than they are. Sarah Graves’ home improvement mysteries are newer and mostly pretty good, but uneven and the later ones veer into psych thriller land, don’t go there.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:20 PM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have you tried Kerry Greenwood's other series, the Corinna Chapman mysteries? First person, unlike the Phryne Fisher books. Ensemble cast with a lot of other women. Definitely passes the Bechdel test. Corinna is a competent person, works as a baker, who as you say just happens to find herself in mysteries. The most recent one, The Spotted Dog, does have post-war trauma as a theme, and an earlier one, Forbidden Fruit, has pregnancy as a sort of ... event? Topic? Anyway, an ongoing plot-related thing with another character, not Corinna, who does not have or want children.
posted by paduasoy at 1:58 AM on May 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Good question! And some good suggestions to explore.

Magpie Lane and The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins (although the latter has two points of view I think).

Lots of Sophie Hannah books, although the last one I read - Haven't they Grown/Perfect Little Children - does have a theme about pregnancy and loss so I would suggest to avoid (although it is a good book). What about A Game for all the family? or The Understudy?

Some of the Harriet Vine-focused books by Dorothy L. Sayers? Not first-person though.

Your closest friend by Karen Perry

The Hidden Room by Stella Duffy

I feel I should know so many more - going to check my library records!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 3:01 AM on May 25, 2020

Oh, and Ruth Ware - especially the Woman in Cabin 10
posted by sedimentary_deer at 3:07 AM on May 25, 2020

Not a book, but I think you may enjoy the movie Knives Out.
posted by ejs at 7:53 AM on May 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe Lindsey Davis's Flavia Albia mysteries - historical, Roman. The first is The Ides of April. Albia is a professional investigator but there is a lot about her "ordinary" life too. First person, some humour, other interesting women around.
posted by paduasoy at 9:06 AM on May 25, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for the further suggestions! I’m very appreciative and happy for them to keep coming. I’ve managed to track down some of the ones suggested above via my library’s various ebook and audiobook programs. I’ll probably have more options whenever the paper library book collection is open again.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:24 PM on May 26, 2020

nthing the Flavia de Luce series and Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries! The first Amelia Peabody reads like a light historical romance with a bit of a mystery in the background; the following 20ish books (of which I've read 17) are fun rompy Victorian mysteries set in Egypt. They are a favorite comfort read of mine and the writing is delightful. Elizabeth Peters has a couple other female-led mystery series (Vicky Bliss and Jacqueline Kirby) but I haven't been impressed with them so far.

It's no great literature, but you might enjoy The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (first in a long series). An elderly retired woman in the 1960s sort-of-accidentally joins the CIA and ends up embroiled in intriguing missions to Mexico City, Istanbul, etc. She's constantly underestimated because of her age and appearance, and has a very charming way of getting out of dangerous scrapes. I listened to the first two on audiobook. (The same incredible narrator, Barbara Rosenblat, does the Amelia Peabody audiobooks.)

I can't vouch for the Agatha Raisin books, but we are watching the first season of the TV series right now and it ticks a bunch of your boxes.
posted by wintersonata9 at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2020

Monica Ferris' series Needlework Mystery is about a woman who works at a craft shop and solves murders. I've only read the first two but they seem to meet your needs and are quick reads.
posted by soelo at 9:53 AM on June 10, 2020

« Older Help us explore financial structures for one-house...   |   Looking for non-dairy chocolate candy Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.