DALTON — "No, I don't know what time it is, but I'm pretty sure it's Wednesday."
"Yes, these are my pajamas. Why?"
"Very funny. I know it's January."
These are some typical examples of my half of dialogues with my charming family members (names withheld to protect the sarcastic).
What better way to spend one's waking hours on cold January days (and nights) than to curl up with a stack of mystery novels? After all, said sarcastic family members are the ones who gifted me with the books — all I ever want for Christmas. January weather being what it is, who needs to venture outside? So let me catch you up on what I've been reading in case you too have a few spare hours at your disposal and the need to vicariously escape the snowy landscape of the Berkshires.
First, I traveled to the nearby state of New Hampshire for a local history/mystery novel, titled "Murder on Mount Monadnock" by J.S. Winter. Set in the summer at a tourist hotel sometime in the early 1900s, the plot centers on a young woman found dead at the base of the mountain. Was she pushed or did she fall? A retired Boston detective and his writer-brother are called upon to solve the mystery when the local police accept death by misadventure as the obvious verdict.
Usually, it is easy for me to suspend disbelief when reading detective fiction, but this time it was difficult. The author chose to include several real-life, famous people in her cast of characters. I find it hard to imagine that Franklin Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Smokey Joe Wood (the ball player), and Jack Johnson (the prize fighter) would all be rubbing shoulders with women like Mary Rinehart and Lillie Langtry at this sleepy resort. Because I have never hiked the mountain, or any mountain for that matter, I was easily bored by all the treks up and down various trails.
The solution to the crime was satisfactory, and the locale piqued my interest enough that I would like to take a trip to the mountain sometime next summer. I am not looking for any more novels by J. S. Winter.
Next in the stack was a much more satisfying mystery, "An Echo of Murder" by Anne Perry. While I'm not the greatest fan of historical fiction, the Victorian-era setting of this novel did not detract from my enjoyment. The best-selling writer served up a fast-paced telling of a series of gruesome murders in a waterside neighborhood of London. Police commander Monk threads his way through a community of Hungarian exiles to unravel the mystery while the subplot deals with the practice of medicine in that time.
That's the book I stayed up all night to finish, and I will definitely look for more Anne Perry novels which feature William Monk.
Ann Cleeves is a favorite author, whom many people recognize because several of her novels have become the British television series: "Vera" and "Shetland". Her newest novel, at the top of my book stack, "The Long Call" introduces a new detective, Matthew Venn. I can't wait to get started; but I'm trying to wait until the Christmas decorations are put away before I decide to pull another all-nighter.
Another repeat writer is Anthony Horowitz whose earlier novel, "Magpie Murders" was also an example of a "can't put this down" mystery. This year I have his new "The Sentence is Death" waiting in the wings.
Because I love cats, and because there are several cat-related mystery series, I have "Lady Takes the Case," first in the Manor Cat Series, on my nightstand. I am looking forward to see how Elizabeth Casey fits in the cat-writers hierarchy.
Finally, I'm set to read "Birds of a Feather" by Jacqueline Winspear, another historical mystery set in London. After all this travel, I will be ready to ditch the pajamas for outdoor clothes, and head down to twenty-first century Pittsfield for a good old cheeseburger and fries.
Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.