5 great books that should be on every mystery-lover’s gift list

The Man Who Would be Sherlock, by Christopher Sandford. Thomas Dunne Books, 320 pages.

Is there a Sherlockian on your holiday list? This is a wonderful, fresh biography that digs into a subject explored many times before -- Arthur Conan Doyle’s possible models for his great detective -- but combines a lively writing style and generous detail to delight even someone who’s widely read on the topic.

It’s a deep dive into the zeitgeist as well as Doyle’s own investigative career, his friendship with Harry Houdini, and of course his gullible infatuation with spiritualism. A great gift for that fan who has read the covers off all the Holmes stories.

Murder at the Mill, by M.B. Shaw. Minotaur, 448 pages.

Here’s an English Christmas cozy with all the trimmings, including a body in the mill pond. Painter Iris Grey rents a cottage on the grounds of a famous mystery writer’s home and finds herself unwillingly drawn into family drama and then, apparently very willingly, drawn into amateur investigation when the local police seem inept.

Not of This Fold, by Mette Ivie Harrison. Soho Crime, 360 pages.

Mormon bishop’s wife Linda Wallheim is another who routinely finds herself “nosing around in a police investigation,” but Mette Ivie Harrison has matured her character from someone who once assumed the police were incompetent to someone who now offers help only someone inside the church can give. I really enjoy her thoughtful, faith-based inner monologue and her struggles as an independent woman in a patriarchal religion.

In addition to the gender politics that always feature heavily in this series, in NOT OF THIS FOLD Harrison explores the church’s approach to refugee and immigrant issues through a death in a Spanish-speaking congregation. She also spotlights the work of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, a real-life group that has been fighting the good fight since 2016. (

Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors, by Christopher Fowler. Bantam, 432 pages.

If you’re already a fan of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, you will love this “throwback” that shows us investigators Bryant and May as young men in the Swinging Sixties, solving a murder at a country house weekend. Even if you haven’t read the series, Christopher Fowler gives enough background to put you in the picture.

Sins as Scarlet, by Nicolas Obregon. Minotaur, 320 pages.

I’m breaking my rule against recommending books that open with a “prequel” where a woman is brutalized. Fair warning: This sequel to BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA is grittier than my usual. But the echoes of Raymond Chandler dusted through Nicolas Obregon’s vision of Los Angeles kept me reading.

Private investigator Kosuke Iwata, looking into the death of his sister-in-law, finds a pattern of murders. But since the victims are trans women, the trend isn’t exactly lighting a fire under police detectives. The trail leads to Mexico, where Obregon does not stint on the details of the desperation people are escaping when they migrate north, and the various ways their desperation is preyed on.