Mystery Series Mini-Reviews: the Kopp Sisters, Jackson Brodie and Maisie Dobbs

I don’t often write about books in series, but I read a few recently and thought it might be helpful to discuss them together.  For those who haven’t read these series, or aren’t caught up, I’ve avoided spoilers and focused more on the series in general than on specific plot details.

I should also say that the first two really aren’t mystery series in the traditional sense.  The Kopp series is more historical fiction and the Brodie series is more modern-day thriller.

kopp quitAmy Stewart’s Kopp Sisters series (Book 4: Miss Kopp Just Won‘t Quit): 

This series combines so many things I love: a historical setting, strong female characters, good writing, and a sense of humor.  As an added bonus, the Kopp family that Amy Stewart writes about actually existed, and Stewart’s storylines are pulled from real headlines of the day.

The Kopp series is set in New Jersey in the 1910s.  Constance is one of three sisters, along with her eccentric (but maybe brilliant) older sister Norma and their much younger sister Fleurette.  In the first book, the family is threatened and Constance has to work with the local sheriff to protect her sisters.  This results in her becoming one of the first female deputy sheriffs.

The other books focus on Constance’s struggles in her unique role as a woman in law enforcement.  While the first book is a fairly straightforward mystery/thriller, the other books in the series don’t follow a single plotline and focus much more on the Kopp family and legal issues that faced women at the time (it seems a woman could be imprisoned for doing just about anything that her parents or husband don’t like).

I have thoroughly enjoyed each book in the series. They make for quick, fun reads with entertaining characters but also talk about interesting historical issues.  Some readers may find the pacing of these stories a bit slow — they are introspective rather than action-driven, but that’s just what I like. The fifth in the series just came out last month.

 

big skyKate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series (Book 5: Big Sky):

If you’re looking for a modern-day detective series written with literary heft, you can’t do better than Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series.  I just finished her newest novel in the series, Big Sky.  I read the other ones quite a while ago, and I know I enjoyed them all but can’t really speak of them meaningfully.  In a way, I read Big Sky more like a standalone than a series, and I think that worked just fine.

Brodie is a former cop turned investigator in current-day London.  There’s not much unique about this set-up.  He’s brooding and lonely just like most investigators.  Where Atkinson shines is her writing and character development, raising a standard detective thriller to a much higher level.

Atkinson focuses this story on three related cases. In one, two junior cops are investigating new leads in an old molestation case.  In the second, a woman with a complicated past is being followed, and the third involves a sex trafficking ring. A warning that this book is pretty disturbing. But it was also a perfect book to read on a long flight home and I didn’t want to put it down.

I found it a bit hard to get into at first, because Atkinson introduces a number of characters in short bursts, and she also begins the book with a mysterious scene involving Brodie and a runaway bride. Some of the characters were a little hard to differentiate at first (for example, two characters have teenage sons and I had a hard time keeping them straight).  Once the story settled a bit and I had the characters straight, it was much easier to follow.  It was insightful, gripping, and disturbing.

 

featherJacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series (Book 2: Birds of a Feather)

A lot of people love this series, and I enjoyed the first book.  I listened to both on audiobook and enjoyed Winspear’s detailed references of the time, like the use of WWI-era songs to heighten the mood.  The first book in the series is Maisie’s background story, about her relationship with her father, her education, and the path that leads her to post-war detective work. The book spends time describing Maisie’s mentor and her psychological approach to detective work, which makes it a bit different from similar historical mystery series.

But I found the second book in the series off-putting, although I did finish the book to find out the resolution. The story itself was quite interesting, especially regarding the white feathers (I won’t say more), and I really like Winspear’s use of detail about the period (though perhaps more time than needed is devoted to Maisie’s wardrobe).

A few things bothered me, and based on Goodreads reviews I’m not alone here.  One thing was Winspear’s use of a subtle supernatural effect in this second book.  In the first, Maisie operates based on instinct and psychological training, but in the second book there are spiritual forces guiding her to the right clues.  I also found her heavy-handed treatment of her assistant troubling, and I found her interactions with various men in the second book annoying.  Every single male wants to date her and her reactions are very unemotional. Winspear also has Maisie find clues but then holds back the details from the reader. That’s not a make it or break it for me but I don’t love it as a writing technique.

I love historical mysteries, but there are so many series in this genre, I struggle with finding ones I really like.  Most are a little too light for me.  My favorites are Anne Perry’s William Monk series, and I’ve also enjoyed Kate Ross and C.S. Harris.  Karen Odden and Donna Thorland are less well-known writers with fun and interesting historical novels that I recommend.  I like really complex, detailed historical novels with main characters who aren’t perfect.

Which mystery/thriller series are your favorites?

 

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