What I most especially like about Stephanie is this: even though she complains constantly about her family, in truth she loves and needs them in her life, even if they are, shall we say, a bit on the eccentric side. Especially Grandma Mazur, an ancient given to wearing spandex and rhinestone studded sneakers. I like that Stephanie cares for her long-lived hamster, Rex, making sure first thing, when disaster strikes, that he is okay. (How this little furry creature has survived all the explosions, fire bombs and attempts on Stephanie's life defies logic and belief, but in a very good way.)
I like that Stephanie is tempted by not one, but two men, Joe and Ranger. I also like that both men, in turn, are tempted by Stephanie. (We should all have that problem.) I like that her car gets blown up in almost every book. I like Lula and the gang down at Vinnie's Bail Bonds. I like the whole mythical Trenton ambiance invented by Evanovich, helping make Stephanie, very much the Joisey Alice in Wonderland. If you have a sense of fun and appreciate the ridiculous absurdities of life, you will love this series.
2) Flavia de Luce in the absolutely top-notch new series (two books old so far) by Alan Bradley. The first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, won just about every award at the Bouchercon By the Bay Mystery Convention last week. The second book: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag is even better, if you can believe it. Flavia joins the elite ranks of ubiquitous British child eccentrics - she is 11 years old at the beginning of this series and already skilled in chemistry. Luckily for her, there's a handy-dandy laboratory on the top floor of her ramshackle house. I love precocious British children, most especially those on the eve of discovering wisdom.
Ignored by her family, Flavia lives a lonely life in the English countryside of the 1950's. But she is indefatigable in her attempt to construct some sort of life for herself excluding her two awful sisters (in a fairy tale they'd be the wicked stepsisters) and an indifferent father who prefers collecting stamps to caring for his family. There's a wistful sadness that lingers over just about everything in these books, but there's also a great deal of humor. Flavia is an astute observer - not to mention, a genius at concocting poisonous chemical experiments.
3) Lady Frances Derwent in Agatha Christie's often overlooked classic, Why Didn't They Ask Evans? Frankie, as she is known to her friends, never appears in another book and I've often wondered why. She is the epitome of the bright young thing with a title and a brain, a character very popular in the mysteries of the 1930's and 40's. But even though her appearance is limited to this one book, it is an indelible one. She is delightful - a slightly snotty, imperiously well-bred, beautiful young woman with a sense of adventure and fun. She is also, in love with the hapless (there's that word again - maybe I have a thing for hapless. ) son of the local vicar. That much-put-upon vicar is played delightfully (another word I'm over fond of) in the PBS Mystery version, by Sir John Gielgud. No one, and I mean NO ONE IN THE WORLD can wince quite so hilariously as Gielgud and in this version of the Christie tale, he is called on to wince quite regularly - his son is a very trying individual.
Once they save each other's lives, Frankie will very likely marry the vicar's son and spend the rest of their lives living on her estate, happily bossing him around (and he, happily, putting up with it) and solving any mysteries that come their way.
4) Hester Latterly in the William Monk books, by Anne Perry. Hester is a Crimean War veteran, a nurse who's served on the horrific front lines and lived to tell about it. Author Perry writes several historical series, but Hester to me is the stand-out character in one of the two series I'm most familiar with. Even if she is not the main character, she is certainly second lead. If not for her, I believe that William Monk, a character who spends most of the books suffering from amnesia, would probably not have managed as well as he as.
Hester is home from the war in the first book in the series, home to a dark and indifferent London, careless of its wounded veterans. A nurse at a time when nurses were seen as low-life drudges capable of nothing but emptying bed pans and mopping floors. She is expected now to put aside her front line medical knowledge and kowtow to close-minded doctors who know less than she does. Finally admitting there's little she can do to change things, Hester leaves hospital nursing and goes into private practise, doing what she can to make a difference. She then meets and becomes friends with the amnesiac William Monk, a moody, troubled detective working some of the more fearful crimes that Victorian London has to offer.
A series best read in order of publication, the first book is titled: The Face Of A Stranger.
5) Clare Fergusson, retired Army chopper pilot and newly appointed Episcopalian minister, in the series set in a fictional town in upstate New York (where it always seems to be winter), by Award winning author, Julia Spencer-Fleming. The first book in this moody, evocative series is the perfectly titled, In the Bleak Midwinter. This is definitely the sort of series about which it is often said, you must begin at the beginning. No jumping into the books mid-way. Well, I mean, you could, but to my mind, you'd be missing the full impact of the growing (and heartbreaking) relationship between Clare and the very married town sheriff, Russ van Alstyne. How this all works out (if it works out) will keep you guessing from book to book, that's why I say you must begin at the beginning.
Clare is the sort of person most would admire, she is intelligent, stalwart, opinionated, driven to duty, wise in some ways and not-so-wise in others and she has a good sense of humor - not always the best thing for a priest. Last but not least, she knows how to pilot a helicopter - I don't know about you, but that impressed the hell out of me. Clare tries always to do what's right, especially within her new calling. I like the unique dichotomy of Clare as conflicted woman and priest. But as everyone knows, always doing right can be the pits.
Lots of murderous acts and intentions in these cold, lonely, snow covered towns lying in the moody hills of upstate New York. Who knew?