This is a complete re-tooling of a post from 2010 when many of us were not yet aware of each other's blogs and/or of our various predilection for mysteries and other assorted literary minutiae.
Which leads me to these three mystery series which you may or may not be aware of and which certainly deserve to be much better known and appreciated. Not only that, but some of the books had gorgeous covers at one point in time and for that alone, they deserve to be remembered. But turns out, they're also fabulous in content.
1) Oxford historian Iain Pears is known for his stand-alone books, AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST, THE DREAM OF SCIPIO, STONE'S FALL and ARCADIA. But previous to these bestsellers, he had written an acclaimed short term series of mysteries featuring a hapless British art historian living in Italy.
Jonathan Argyll is a Brit ex-pat who unofficially helps Rome's Art Theft Squad (an invention of the author's) solve crimes centering on art theft, forgery. murder and other assorted art-based shenanigans. The thing I like most about Argyll is his complete uncoolness. He is anything but the dashing art specialist with a huge ego, called in to swat an assassin or fend off thieves and high stakes killers.
The murders herein are pretty grisly, but they contrast nicely with Argyll's diffident demeanor and natural inclination NOT to get caught up in murder. After all is said and done, he is just an art historian trying to make a living in the dog eat dog world of Renaissance art. However, murder seems to dog Argyll and his associates so he and the two reps from the art squad, Flavia de Stefano and the gastronomically inclined General Bottando are usually right in the thick of things.
I was heartbroken when Pears stopped writing the Jonathan Argyll books - he only wrote seven. But if you're even remotely interested in art, mystery, Italy, great writing with wonderful characterizations, find and read these books.
Iain Pears Fantastic Fiction page.
THE RAFAEL AFFAIR
THE TITIAN COMMITTEE
THE BERNINI BUST
THE LAST JUDGEMENT
DEATH AND RESTORATION
THE IMMACULATE DECEPTION
2) The Jason Lynx books by A.J. Orde (otherwise known as sci-fi author Sheri S. Tepper), are hard to find but oh-so-well-worth the search. The first in the series A LITTLE NEIGHBORHOOD MURDER is available occasionally on the secondary market. However, this is a series that should probably be read in order so if you stumble across another Orde title, wait patiently until you can get your hands on this first one. It will be so well worth it.
Jason Lynx is an antiques dealer and designer living and working in Denver, Colorado. He is a dog person, the owner of a Kuvasz, a rare breed of Hungarian watch-dog. The dog is named Bela, after Bela Lugosi. This alone told me I was destined to like Jason Lynx. But don't get the wrong impression, these are not cutesy dog books, not at all.
Lynx is a man of mystery. He's never known who his father was - the last name of Lynx was given to him at an orphanage because as a child his blond hair twisted upwards like a Lynx cat's ears. So part of the series' arc is Jason trying to find out who he really is. The second mystery thread in this first book is Jason needing to know more about the accident that may or may not have killed his wife - her body has never been found. The heartbreaking residue of this mystery is especially cruel, rarely have I been so affected by an entrance into a new series.
And more recently, as the book begins - what about the bomb delivered next door?
A LITTLE NEIGHBORHOOD MURDER is a disturbing mystery - the murder a particularly vile and sad one and the denouement is galling.
Don't miss this series, if you can find it.
A.J. Orde's Fantastic Fiction page.
Some titles to get you started:
LITTLE NEIGHBORHOOD MURDER
DEATH AND THE DOG WALKER
DEATH FOR OLD TIMES' SAKE
LOOKING FOR THE AARDVARK
A LONG TIME DEAD
A DEATH OF INNOCENTS
3) Art Historian Nicholas Kilmer writes a wonderfully quirky and often sinister series of books set in Boston, Ma. They feature the charming and eccentric Boston Brahmin art dealer and genius Clayton Reed and his enigmatic all-purpose, but entirely honorable henchman Fred Taylor who is also a genius in his own way.
Fred is a Vietnam vet with dark memories who, lately, appears to have settled down in Boston with a librarian named Molly and her two kids. This relationship is conceptualized well and made believable as the series progresses. Fred owns an old house which he allows other Vietnam vets to use (as long as they follow a few rules) no questions asked, whenever anyone of them needs a place to crash. They are damaged souls and Fred knows from his own experiences, that times can be tough for men like these.
Fred is the direct opposite of his boss, the excitable Clayton, but the two men get along, Fred helping well-to-do Clayton in his never ending search for the next lost painting or rare undiscovered work of art. I would say, that for whatever reason, the first book in the series, MADONNA OF THE APES (released after the series ended and apparently written in some sort of rush) is to be avoided. Other than that one mistake, the rest of the series is splendid.
Begin with HARMONY IN FLESH AND BLACK, (as I did) and continue from there. I love all the books in the series (with the one exception), most especially the wry and very funny, DIRTY LINEN. These are not to be classified as cozies by the way, since some of the murders are front and center and rather gruesome. The world of high stakes art collecting as revealed to us by the author is a murky, complicated place.
A couple of the books have been re-issued with new covers. But I'd try and find the gorgeous covers used the first time around - if you care about good looks. A well-designed book is a thing of beauty as far as I'm concerned.
Nicholas Kilmer's Fantastic Fiction page.
Some titles to get you started:
HARMONY IN FLESH AND BLACK
MAN WITH A SQUIRREL
O' SACRED HEAD
These four titles, by the way, are my favorites in this series, though I've read and recommend them all but for the one exception listed in my comments.
If you have the inclination, check these books out. I can practically guarantee you'll be rewarded by a terrific read. Yeah, I know, I use the word terrific a lot, but let's face it, I only recommend that type of book.
Since this is Friday once again, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.