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Genre Kryptonite: Quiet, Personal Mysteries

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Beth O'Brien

Staff Writer

Beth is an east coast Canadian, born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is (unsurprisingly) obsessed with books and is a public library assistant and book blogger. When she’s not convincing all her friends to be friends with each other, she’s trying to convince them to read YA. She likes poetry and coffee and the ocean, but her true love is her cat Edith.

I love a good mystery. However, I’m also pretty picky about them. I don’t enjoy cozy mysteries, or procedurals, or courtroom dramas. I don’t like anything too gruesome and I don’t care about that rogue detective with a sordid past.

For me, the mystery books to read are personal. I want to know what happens to those directly affected. The family, the friends, the victims themselves. The general fiction section is where you’ll find the kind of mysteries I like.

I am a total sucker for quiet, atmospheric, and personal mysteries. I am so here for those more focused on character and family than the investigation of a crime. If that mystery or crime is a cold case? Even better!

Don’t get me wrong, I love when the tension builds and the plot thickens. I love when my heart begins to pound and my palms begin to sweat. For me, however, it’s not about the twists and turns. It’s about the people, the character development. I love a good twist–but just one–well-executed and well-timed.

These five mysteries that were exactly what I was looking for.

arrowood by laura mchughArrowood by Laura McHugh

Arden Arrowood moves back to her childhood home, plagued by the memories of her twin sisters’ abduction. As she settles into this new life in her old house, she must learn to come to terms with what happened back then and what her life has been since. No one has ever found out what happened to the Arrowood twins. Will Arden be able to put the mystery to rest?

This book focuses on Arden’s memories of the day her sisters disappeared, her relationship with her parents, and the old Arrowood estate. The crime in this story is a quiet thread woven throughout an exploration of memory, loss, and what it means to come home.

the lake house by kate mortonThe Lake House by Kate Morton

Alice Edevane is a sixteen-year old girl with an imagination that runs wild and a love for the written word. She lives on her family’s idyllic estate in England. One night during a party, her eleven-month old brother disappears.

Now an elderly woman, Alice lives in London, a successful writer. One day, detective Sadie Sparrow is vacationing near Alice’s old home and comes across the now decrepit estate. She learns of the disappearance and that it was never solved. Her interest piqued, Sadie seeks to unravel the mystery—hopefully with Alice’s help.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Occasionally reminiscent of S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, Elizabeth is Missing is the story of an elderly woman with dementia trying to unravel a mystery from her past. Told in two timelines, we learn of the disappearance of Elizabeth’s sister as a girl and try to solve the mystery alongside Elizabeth in the present. The reader must follow along, trying to discover what’s lying just beyond Elizabeth’s grasp, knowing that she and her memories cannot always be trusted.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This is the story of the Lees, a Chinese-American family in the 1970’s. We begin with the disappearance of the favourite daughter, Lydia, the one who is meant to have the life that her parents could not. When the Lees are struck this tragic blow, they are forced to deal with their grief and face their own secrets, desires, and resentments. This book is both a mystery and a rich exploration of family, racism, and what it means to truly understand one another.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

An atmospheric modern gothic, The Thirteenth Tale is the story of biographer Margaret Lea as she listens to prolific writer Vida Winter tell her life story. Margaret is surprised and reluctant when she first receives the letter requesting her services. After all, she chronicles the lives of the long dead—not the very much alive and very much famous like Ms. Winter. Eventually she does agree, and as she listens to Ms. Winter’s strange and dark tale, both women must come face-to-face with the ghosts of their pasts.