This month for my regular series highlighting some of the most popular and recommended Cozy Mystery Series, I decided to try a “new to me” author I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while, Victoria Hamilton, largely because she’s been recommended by site visitors multiple times. Since her Merry Muffin Mystery Series is what has been recommended more often than not lately, I decided to start with the first entry in that series, Bran New Death. As always when something is repeatedly recommended, I wasn’t disappointed.
Bran New Death is firmly in the new style of Cozy Mysteries that has proliferated so much in the last decade – a woman no longer happy with her big city career, going back to somewhere from her past, to take up a long beloved hobby on a more professional basis. That said, it does distance itself somewhat from this formula through many minor variations that help to make it a bit more distinctive than the average modern Cozy. First, the sleuth, Merry Wynter, isn’t going back to her hometown – instead, she’s going to the family’s hereditary castle in upstate New York that she only visited once, now bequeathed to her upon the death of her estranged uncle. She also isn’t coming off of a bad breakup with a cheating spouse, either – instead, she is a widower, one who loved her spouse very dearly and has had trouble moving on since his accidental death several years earlier. Finally, she’s not originally intending to settle in Autumn Vale permanently, at least at the beginning of the novel – rather, she’s just hoping to clean up the castle enough to sell it, as she has recently been fired by a demanding and erratic employer.
These sorts of little touches help show that the author is willing to variate from the standard formula for modern Cozies, which can be very appreciated. What Victoria Hamilton doesn’t skip out on is the eccentric characters who populate small town Autumn Vale. Supporting cast is vitally important in a series like this, as they serve both as recurring characters and the original set of potential victims and criminals, and it’s always a pleasure when the characters walk that fine line between being interesting and being “wacky”. Fortunately, that is the case here – none of the supporting cast verged into the more cringe-worthy “zaniness” that can sometimes be found in Cozies, but at the same time are well characterized and interesting enough that you want to learn a bit more about them.
All told, if you’re looking for something well written and interesting in the “modern” Cozy style, the Merry Muffin Mystery Series is probably worth checking out.
Victoria Hamilton also writes the Vintage Kitchen Mystery Series, and has also written under several different names before this – she is the author of the Teapot Collector Mystery Series under the name Amanda Cooper, and the Lady Anne Addison Mystery Series under the name Donna Lea Simpson.
PS: For those who are swayed by such (and you know who you are!), this mystery does contain several recipes at the end – two for muffins, obviously, but also one for a chowder soup that sounds quite interesting as well.