I am on a serious mystery kick lately, from the Spellmans to Tommy & Tuppence to Chet and Bernie. As I was finishing up those series, I scored a find at the Brattle for $1: The Family Vault, the first in Charlotte MacLeod’s mystery series featuring Sarah Kelling. Corrie, a friend and blog reader, had recommended the series a while back, so I bought the book. Bet you can guess how I liked it:
The series is set in Boston (ca. late 1970s-early 1980s), among the upper-crust society of Beacon Hill (one of the city’s most historic and beautiful neighborhoods). Sarah, a Kelling by birth and by marriage (she married her fifth cousin once removed), is part of a large, eccentric family with plenty of wacky characters and skeletons in their (lavish) closets. Max Bittersohn, art detective, shows up in the first book, and when Sarah is widowed, their relationship takes a number of delightful turns.
The first book begins with the discovery of a burlesque dancer’s corpse in the family vault (hence the title), and the crazy plots go on from there. Every book deals with either theft or murder (usually both), though MacLeod spares readers the gory details in favor of Sarah’s and Max’s attempts to figure out whodunit. Meanwhile, Sarah plays the straight woman to her blustering cousins, suave uncles, busybody aunts and a rotating cast of boarders (after she turns her home into a rooming house). So far, I’ve laughed out loud at least once during every book. Sarah’s relations are the kind of rich folks you’d see on a TV show, but most of them are a little tough to live with, which provides the potential for lots of comedy.
Great literature these books are not, but the writing is pretty good and I always love following Sarah and Max as they track down thieves and murderers, while enjoying a little romance (and witty repartee) on the side. Great for bedtime reading or those lunchtimes when my brain needs a break.