The winners for the Agatha Awardsfor 2020 Books (named for Agatha Christie) have been announced. The awards were given to mystery and crime writers during the virtual More than Malice conference in July, 2021. The nominated books were first published in the United States by a living author between January 1 and December 31, 2020.
The Agatha Awards recognize the “traditional mystery,” meaning that there is no graphic sex and no excessive violence in the writing. Thrillers or hard-boiled detectives cannot be found here, but instead, picture Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot at work.
Congratulations to all the nominees and winners (indicated in red)!
Best Contemporary Novel Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews Murder in the Bayou Boneyard by Ellen Byron From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day
Best Historical Novel The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen Fate of a Flapper by Susanna Calkins A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder by Dianne Freeman Taken Too Soon by Edith Maxwell The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson
Best First Novel A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison Winter Witness by Tina deBelgarde Derailed by Mary Keliikoa Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer Murder Most Sweet by Laura Jensen Walker
Best Short Story “Dear Emily Etiquette” by Barb Goffman (Ellery Queen Mag) “The Red Herrings at Killington Inn” by Shawn Reilly Simmons Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories (Level Best Books) “The Boy Detective & The Summer of ‘74” by Art Taylor (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Jan/Feb) “Elysian Fields” by Gabriel Valjan California Schemin’: The 2020 Bouchercon Anthology (Wildside Press) “The 25 Year Engagement” by James Ziskin In League with Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon (Pegasus Crime)
Best Children’s/YA Mystery Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce Saltwater Secrets by Cindy Callaghan From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco by Richard Narvaez
Edith Maxwell writes award-winning short stories, has several series of full-length mysteries out and has been nominated for Agatha Awards in both the Short Story and Historical Fiction categories for 2017’s Malice Domestic mystery conference. At this writing, she has eleven published novels since 2012 under the names Tace Baker, Maddie Day, and Edith Maxwell, with #12 due out next month. She is working on three more to be published in the near future. She is the one of the most prolific traditionally published authors I know and she is loving all of it!
I first met Edith at a Writers Police Academy conference in the Fall of 2012. At the time, she had just published her first Lauren Rousseau title, “Speaking of Murder,” as Tace Baker. I was hooked by the intelligent, worldly, complex female lead character. She attended WPA in order to research police procedure, and also gathered tons of information about firefighters and EMS personnel that she might use in future novels.
While following her career the last few years, it’s become apparent that solid research underpins all her books. Happily, combined with her own personal experiences, the result is richly developed backgrounds and storylines.
For the Country Store series, Maxwell took a trip to Indiana in order to investigate the setting, special southern Indiana phrasing (“I can’t eat another bite ’cause I’m as full as a tick”), and foods specific to the region. As it happens, she was also returning to the area of her grad school days and the site of a university packed with her own Maxwell family history. Friends of hers in the grad program had restored an old country store and turned it into a restaurant and bed & breakfast, the basis for Robbie Jordan’s ‘Pans ‘N Pancakes’ establishment in the series. In addition, Maxwell loves to cook and there are virtual cooking lessons woven throughout the stories as well as yummy recipes to be found.
Fun fact: my mom had an amazing collection of antique cookware, so when Robbie chats about the vintage pieces in her store, I can see the tools in my mind’s eye. Maxwell/Day’s details? Wonderful!
The Local Foods series features an organic farmer as the lead character, and guess what? Edith ran her own small certified organic farm for a few years and that expertise infuses the series with effortless realism. Readers can pick up tips about what it takes to grow produce organically, both the pitfalls and the plusses, while enjoying the cleverly crafted mysteries.
The Quaker Midwife series is a project close to Edith’s heart. She is a Quaker herself and some of the history and the daily practices of the Society of Friends have found their way into this series. Maxwell now lives in Amesbury, Massachusetts where the books are set, and the local history influenced her short story writing. One of the short stories became the impetus for a 19th c. midwife character. Rose Carroll, the Quaker midwife, is perfectly placed to be a sleuth, since she gets to go where men (and the police) can’t in 1888, and hears all kinds of secrets that help solve the crimes. Beautifully written, “Delivering the Truth” is well-deserving of the Agatha historical mystery nomination this year.
Click on the link to check out Maxwell’s YouTube video of a walking tour of Amesbury, Massachusetts. Maxwell is wearing an authentic self-made 1888 dress and bonnet while she conducts the tour and chats about the sites mentioned in “Delivering the Truth.” What a fun and terrific way to launch a series!
Plus, as Maddie Day, Edith has a new cozy foodie mystery series, Cozy Capers Book Group, set on Cape Cod. “Murder on Cape Cod” will be the first title launched in 2018. The lead character runs a bicycle repair and rental shop and hosts a weekly cozy mystery book group. My dad’s family came from the Cape, and I’m looking forward to reading Maxwell/Day’s take on the region.
So, how does she keep up this writing pace and still maintain the quality in her books? First, she is doing what she loves. She has a writing schedule for each day – mornings are the best for her – but when a deadline looms, she sometimes goes away for a few days on retreat. She turns off the internet so that there are no distractions at all and she can write from dawn ‘til midnight if she needs to. When slipping away to a retreat, Maxwell likes to take along comfy clothes, walking shoes, a laptop, a favorite pen, and an actual paper notebook. Oh, and of course, wine and dark chocolate. 🙂
Maxwell writes traditional mysteries with absorbing puzzles to solve, and appealing characters that engage us on every page. With strong female leads, fascinating details, and multi-layered plots, this is an author we want to follow, wherever (or whenever) she leads us.
Read the review of “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” (Local Foods series) here.
Read the review of “Grilled for Murder,” (Country Store series) here (written as Maddie Day)
Read review of “Delivering the Truth” (Quaker Midwife series) here. 🙂
“Delivering the Truth” has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery. And “The Mayor and the Midwife” has been nominated for an Agatha for Best Short Story. Read the short story here.
Ruth Clagan’s grandfather, a clockmaker, dies during a robbery in “Just Killing Time” and leaves his Massachusetts clock shop, the Cog & Sprocket, to her. A rift between them caused by her ex has kept her away from the Berkshires for five years and now she has been robbed of a chance to reconnect. Why would anyone do this to a lifelong member of the community?
To complicate matters, the business is a puzzle, the shop is a mess and Ruth must deal with the oddly massive inventory as well as her grandfather’s widow. It makes sense to sell the Cog & Sprocket and get on with her life, but does Ruth really want to? Why did her grandfather have so much inventory? Could it be the reason he was killed?
“Just Killing Time” is complete with small town politics, reunions with old friends, and beautifully written dialogue that makes you feel as if you could join the conversation and fit right in. The wonderfully diverse cast of characters made me yearn for the days of small towns and friendly neighborhoods, where everybody knows your name. There is a real connection to the past with Orchard’s grandfather clocks and clock towers and small businesses on Main Street. Ahhh… life as it used to be outside the metropolitan areas of the country, before big box stores and fast food joints.
I connected immediately with Ruth, a fellow coffee addict. 😉 Julianne Holmes’ richly drawn Clagan clicks as a character trying to begin again, sorting through her life’s complications, but adapting as she sees alternate paths to follow. How many of us are given the opportunity to go back home to something familiar when life has taken an unexpected turn? And this clockmaker is always late? A giggle of a quirk.
We learn a great deal about the fascinating world of clocks – how they function and what makes the business model succeed in a time where digital seems to rule our lives. Grandfather’s repair specialty was clock towers, which require a tremendous amount of skill to maintain. Coincidentally, I saw a TV show about Big Ben (the clock tower in London) at the time I had started reading “Just Killing Time.” There’s more to its operation than climbing the steps to wind the clock or replace the parts. Wind can catch at the hands, pulling at them and slowing down the time. Minute changes in the atmosphere can affect the clock time. When I picked up “Just Killing Time” again, I found that it wove technical information in with the clever plot, giving us a clear understanding of why the Clagans love the business they’re in.
The layered storyline in this Agatha nominated debut novel involves possible fraud, people with hidden agendas, a tug-of-war between those that want a more modern town and those who wish to create an historic district. Happily, there is the potential for a little romance with a suitably hunky barber. “Just Killing Time” also includes some deviously nasty characters who will do anything to get what they want, including murder.
The second book in the series, “Clock and Dagger,” has recently been released and you should make time to read both.
Please visit www.jahennrikus.com for more information about Julianne Holmes and her alter ego, J.A. Hennrikus.
‘Stan’ (short for Kristan) Connor leaves Hartford, Connecticut after being unfairly downsized from her high paying, high pressure PR job. It’s time to take a breather from the fast lane and move her life in a different direction. When she arrives at her newly purchased Victorian in Frog Ledge, a town so small that everybody knows your business before you say hello for the first time, she knows she is home.
Her boyfriend doesn’t agree, and pressures her to get another job ASAP before she regrets her decision. Plus, he’s not happy about the commute to see her. He keeps trying to arrange job interviews for her, despite her protests. Not needed, not wanted. She has two years severance pay, after all. This pair is definitely not on the same page.
Stan soon finds herself in a fix when she visits the obnoxious town vet with her Maine coon, Nutty. The vet is dead; kibble sprinkled over her body, and hardly anybody misses her. Stan is a suspect in the murder, just because she found the body. Well, small town people do have to blame the outsiders, don’t they? 😉
As Kristan seeks to clear herself in “Kneading to Die,” she finds it hard to know whom to trust. Even her childhood friend, an animal rescuer and now the owner of Pet’s Last Chance, Nikki Manning, comes under suspicion as the case unfolds. But, then Nikki delivers some inside info about the deceased and a possible motive for the vet’s death.
Colorful characters (and suspects) abound, including alpaca farmers/bed & breakfast owners, a sweetshop owner, dairy farmers, gossipy townspeople, long-lost relatives, a homeopathic vet, and more.
Kristan bakes healthy treats for pets, made from scratch like people cookies, but without the additives usually found in commercial cat and dog food. One of my mother’s cats suffered with clumps of hair falling out, traced back to his completely canned diet. As soon as mom put him on a diet of home cooked fish and other fresh goodies, the condition cleared up. Mugavero is definitely onto something with this aspect of “Kneading to Die,” and has generously included recipes for dog and kitty treats at end of the book.
The hunky potential love interest, Jake McGee, owns a seemingly untrainable, sloppy, big dog that loves Stan’s treats and shows up on her doorstep at odd hours, waiting to get fed. The dog keeps throwing Kristan and Jake together, at times embarrassing them both.
The underlying theme of this dog-and-cat-filled cozy is advocacy for animals. Mugavero weaves the nasty side of pet sales, abandoned animals, questionable veterinarian policies, badly prepared pet food, etc. into the murder plotline and raises awareness of the real-life issues involved. Fortunately, the unpleasant side of the pet industry is balanced with the warm, caring behavior of the assorted animal lovers in “Kneading to Die.”
P.S. If you’ve ever owned a cat or a dog, you’ll find the descriptions of the animals in “Kneading to Die” hilarious and spot-on. I was checking a detail at the beginning of the book and reread about Nutty’s tail delivering opinions – still sooo funny. Mugavero clearly knows her animals.
“Kneading to Die” is the first book in Pawsitively Organic series, and happily, Kristan Connor will be back in the next.