A year has passed since I last wrote a “Summer Reads” column for “Rinker on Collectibles.” During the Golden Age of antiques and collectibles themed cozy mysteries, I typically wrote one or two “Summer Reads” columns and a “Winter Read” column. Like so many aspects of the antiques and collectibles trade, the annual number of new antiques and collectibles themed cozy mystery titles has declined. Authors such as Sharon Fiffer (the last Jane Wheel mystery was published in 2012) and Tamar Myers (the last Den of Antiquity mystery was published in 2011) are part of the historic past in respect to the antiques and collectibles cozy mysteries genre.
[Author’s Aside #1: Fiffer’s and Myers’s titles are available on numerous Internet used book sites. If you have never read any of these antiques and collectibles cozies, purchase a few and enjoy.]
The interval between established series titles is growing longer. Jane Cleland’s A Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series is an example. Josie is alive and hopefully will continue to resurface in new titles.
In the good news department, Kensington Books (www.kensingtonbooks.com) has added Barbara Allan, the pseudonym for Barb and Max Collins, Sherry Harris and Lea Wait to their stable of authors. Although major cozy publishers have moved on to other mystery themes, the resilience of the antiques and collectibles cozy mystery writers never fails to amaze me. Those who wish to continue seem able to find a publisher.
Every antiques and collectibles cozy mystery writer has his or her own unique writing style. While I admire all of them, Barbara and Max Allan Collins’s off the chart, conversational, and witty approach is a favorite. I never know whom to root for—Vivian, the mother, or Brandy, the daughter. Forget Sushi, the clever Shih Tzu. I am past the days when I clean up after animals or grandchildren.
A Trash ‘n’ Treasures Mystery is written primarily in the first person. Although Bandy’s voice is primary, Vivian’s contribution to each successive title continues to increase. It is easy to identify with the daring, defiant and definitely unbalanced Vivian. Life for Vivian is an adventure, albeit not always a well thought out or executed one. With delusions of skills as an actress and director, Vivian’s stage is any location where she is present. If it occasionally is in a theater, so be it. Brandy is conventional, what one would expect from a disturbed and disgruntled divorcée with insecurity issues.
The Trash ‘n’ Treasures series is set in Serenity, a misnomer in every sense of the word, located along the banks of the Mississippi River and isolated from the world by a highway bypass. The series began with Vivian and Brandy seeking treasures to sell in their booth in an antiques mall and later a standalone shop. After a side excursion to Los Angeles and New York, an encounter with a member of the mob, several jail stints for Vivian, all unjustified, and a stint hosting a television show (until the producer was murdered), Antique Wanted, published by Kensington Books in 2018, focuses on Vivian’s decision to run for county sheriff. To her surprise, Brandy becomes her mother’s campaign manager.
In order to raise funds for her campaign, Vivian decides to solicit antiques and collectibles campaign contributions from her friends, several of whom live in Sunny Meadows Manor, a retirement home. Some of the home’s residents retire earlier than expected. After receiving a signed photograph of an old-time cowboy star from the aunt of Vivian’s opponent, an explosion at the retirement home sends Brandy to the ER and the aunt to Boot Hill. Vivian is determined to bring the culprit to justice to prove she has the talents needed to fill the job of county sheriff. Vivian succeeds at both. If you want to learn how, you need to read Antiques Wanted.
Modest would never be used to describe Vivian. Neither would law abiding. Antiques Ravin’, published by Kensington Books in 2019, chronicles Vivian’s first months as county sheriff. Vivian and Brandy travel to nearby Antiqua, home of an annual Allan Poe Days Festival, to investigate a series of local burglaries—home invasions to use the socially correct parlance. A series of murders with Poe overtones occurs right under Vivian’s nose. Bending the law to her whims, Vivian makes one illegal faux pas after another. Brandy, who just happens to be dating the Chief of the Serenity Police Department, enlists his aid to help Vivian return to the path of legal righteousness. All’s well that ends well (Shakespeare not Poe) as Antiques Ravin’ concludes with Vivian’s honest report of her performance resulting in a scheduled hearing with the county commissioners who will decide if laws were broken and whether Vivian’s career as county sheriff is at an end.
[Author’s Note #2: Antiques Wanted is the 12th and Antiques Ravin’ the 13th titles in the Trash ‘n Treasure Mystery series. Each is a complete work within itself. If you enjoy these, acquire some of the earlier titles in the used book marketplace. See www.barbaraallan.com.]
Jane K. Cleland, a friend and recipient of an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University (as am I), is the author of the Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. Antiques Blues, the 12th book in the series, was released by Minotaur Books in 2018.
Josie Prescott owns an auction gallery and appraisal business in the mythical town of Rocky Point, Maine. While antiques and collectibles often play a minor role in other antiques and collectibles cozy mysteries, they are front and center in Cleland’s books. Objects are described in detail and supported with strong background research, a definite appeal to antiques and collectibles aficionados.
Over time, the local police department has come to recognize Josie’s abilities as an amateur sleuth, thus resulting in a collaborative rather than adversarial relationship. Josie also has befriended Wes Smith, a local newspaper reporter, whose nose for news and ability to obtain information not available otherwise contributes to the storyline.
A Japanese woodblock print and a vintage Martin guitar (I knew the Martin family) are the central focus in Antiques Blues. The story features Josie’s narrative of events and focuses on her analysis of what she sees, hears and analyzes. Insider information of how the antiques and collectibles industry operates and the individuals that are part of the trade adds a strong credence of reality to Cleland’s storylines.
[Author’s Aside #3: See https://janecleland.com for a full list of titles. I do not have a favorite. I loved reading all of them.]
Make a list of things found in a kitchen that could be used to kill someone. Chances are more than half of them have appeared in Victoria Hamilton’s (a pseudonym for the romance author Donna Lee Simpson) Vintage Kitchen Mystery series. No Grater Danger was published by Beyond the Page Publishing in 2018. The main character is Jaymie Leighton, a vintage cookware enthusiast, columnist, newly married to Jakob, the owner of a Christmas tree farm, and stepmother to Jocie, Jakob’s daughter.
Jaymie lives in Queensville, Michigan, just across the Canadian border. A strong cast of supporting characters is one of the strengths of cozy mystery series. Hamilton’s Vintage Kitchen Mystery series is no exception. Having grown up in Queensville and having a strong interest in local history, Jaymie is a friend with young and old. In addition, she has strong family support.
Jaymie is active in local historic preservation efforts. When Miss Perry, the elderly descendent of one of the founding Queensville families and owner of a large collection of antique spice graters, is assaulted, Jaymie is determined to find the culprit. A property developer anxious to acquire and develop Miss Perry’s real estate holdings is one of many suspects. No cozy mystery is complete without a murder. Miss Perry is not the victim.
Jaymie has a group of girl friends (males are a scarce and secondary commodity in amateur sleuth cozy mysteries) that rival James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club. As always, they join in the hunt to find the murderer. The book ends with Jaymie discussing the possibility of becoming a regular contributor on an antiques and collectibles television show. Where did that idea come from?
[Author’s Aside #4: There are now eight titles in Hamilton’s Vintage Kitchen Mystery series. All are worth a read. See www.victoriahamiltonmysteries.com.]
Other reads to consider are new titles by Sherry Harris, Judy Sheluk and Lea Wait along with the Ellery Adams Kindle Antiques and Collectibles Mystery series and recent titles in the subscription Antique Shop Mystery series published by Country Sampler.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to email@example.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Copyright © Harry L. Rinker, LLC 2019.