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Two mysteries: Cozy Puzzlers and Feisty Characters

Book reviews
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Sechelt author Gwendolyn Southin reads from her mystery series.

Fans of murder mysteries will want to check out two books by local authors: Death as a Fine Art (Touchwood Editions) by Sechelt’s Gwendolyn Southin and The Agatha Principle (iUniverse) by Garden Bay’s summer resident, Elizabeth Elwood.

These are not your grisly forensic blood spatter mysteries full of dreary police procedure. They are cozy British-style mystery stories with beloved characters in the tradition of the grand dame of mysteries, Agatha Christie.

And the books have something in common — the dead body is discovered on page one and they both employ feisty women sleuths that readers have come to love.

In The Agatha Principle, the fourth book in Elwood’s series of short stories, Philippa Beary returns to detective work along with her crusty father Bertram, her police officer brother and a handsome new beau, Robert Miller. Philippa puts her mind to work in solving the mystery of the body found in Blood Alley, Gastown, in the title story. Much of Elwood’s background involves opera and theatre — consequently that’s where the action takes place. In another story, Philippa sings a major role in South Pacific, knowing that her new swain will be in the audience. But her performance is upstaged when one of the singers goes missing. 

Each story is a puzzler designed to test your armchair powers of observation.

Most of the stories are set in Vancouver (except for a trip to Louisiana by the elder Bearys where they solve a centuries old mystery), and one story revives a Pender Harbour legend.

In The Window in Room 21, Elwood has woven a spooky tale around a heritage hotel, not unlike the former Sundowner Inn in Garden Bay. After reading this story that describes a frightful car accident, I guarantee you will always drive carefully on the winding lakeside road into Garden Bay.

The Agatha Principle and Other Mystery Stories is available at most Coast bookstores for $17.95.

Death as a Fine Art features another strong-willed character, the redoubtable Margaret Spencer, who with her private eye sweetheart Nat Southby, embarks on her fifth murder investigation.

Set in the 1960s — the days before DNA evidence and tracking devices — the two leave no clue unturned as they determine who-dun-it to the artistic owner of the Silver Unicorn Art Gallery. Previous books by Southin were set at well-known B.C. locations, notably Death as a Last Resort, which took place on the Sunshine Coast. The current book takes us to Victoria where tea at the Empress is de rigeur, and later to Galiano Island in search of a killer.

Though the plot gallops along smoothly and the clues are satisfyingly puzzling, the real strength of Southin’s book is in the characters. Maggie Spencer’s life truly began at age 50 when she walked out on her fussy husband and decided to try detective work, making her the heroine of every mature woman reader who has ever wondered if she’s missed out on an adventure. Southin’s writing career (this is her fifth book) also began late in life and there’s more than a trace of feisty Maggie in the author.

Death as a Fine Art can be found at most Coast bookstores for $14.95.   

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