In publishing it has always been called the “mid-list” – that amorphous body of works that don’t get the attention of heavily promoted bestsellers. It is the vast majority of what gets published, and in the mystery section of any good bookstore or library, it is the source of untold riches. Working my way through my alphabet of crime, I stop in the F’s to call out four mid-list writers who share the same last name, more or less.
For readers who prefer their homicide on the tidy side, prolific mid-lister Anthea Fraser writes contemporary English village mysteries that will appeal to fans of Midsomer Murders, and vice-versa. Her latest series features Rona Parrish, a freelance writer and investigative journalist with a knack for stumbling over murders. In series opener Brought to Book, Rona sets out to capture a bestselling author’s life, only to find herself increasingly puzzled by his mysterious death by drowning, and the curious change of heart that may or may not have led him to the water’s edge.
Lady Antonia Fraser is well-known for her biographies of history’s most notorious royals and rogues, but she is less well known on our shores for her contemporary series featuring TV journalist Jemima Shore. Your Royal Hostage is a fine example of Fraser’s relish for intriguing plots with a satiric bite, as a British princess is kidnapped by animal rights activists.
Sara Fraser is a bit of a trick entry, since “her” real name is Ron Clews, but never mind: Fraser’s early 19th century Thomas Potts series is first rate. Making his debut in The Reluctant Constable, the gawkish Potts unexpectedly and undeservedly is appointed the law in a lawless and hopelessly corrupt Worchester village, only to surprise everyone including himself by having a way with forensic investigation that is ahead of it’s time. An immensely appealing hero, great period detail and Jane Austen era CSI gee whizzery (fingerprints!) keep these Regency era mysteries constistently compelling.
Margaret Frazer’s series featuring Dame Frevisse takes us back to 15th Century England, beginning with The Novice’s Tale, in which the nun Frevisse is tasked with puzzling out the unpleasant death by poisoning of the thoroughly unpleasant Lady Ermentrude within walls of the priory of St. Frideswide. Set during the Wars of the Roses, Frazer’s Frevisse books (and her spinoff series featuring Joliffe the Player) give us a fascinating glimpse into the late Middle Ages (some 300 years after the exploits of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries).